West Wind Blows – Plans of attack – Once more into the breach – Pulling teeth – Our constant companion – Nothing left to do but run – Death from above
The less there is, the more powerful
Rina Prescott reporting
I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with Prof. Dr. Janice Brassica, of Homoeopathy. For those who have not chosen this subject, Homoeopathy comes from the Greek word ηομοιος, meaning “The same” and πάθεια, meaning “Patience”. The basis of homoeopathy is that to cure a certain disease, we must look in Nature for a thing that closely resembles the disease to be cured.
Because Professor Brassica prefers a practcal approach, she illustrated this to me by chopping up an onion and holding it to my face. This caused minor irritation of the tear ducts, and a stinging sensation. She then proceeded to dissolve some of the onion juice in water, shaking vigorously in a process called ‘succussion’. That solution, she then dissolved one-to-one hundred into more water. She repeated this process ten times, creating what is known in Homoeopathy as a C-10 solution, which she then had me drink. Sure enough, the symptoms vanished instantly.
“Science has yet to break the surface on the qualities of water,” Prof. Brassica told the Clarion. “Especially in the higher frequencies of existence. How simple water, the most abundant resource in the world, can retain memories of the substances dissolved in it, and apply these to heal, not the disease, but the person, in a holistic sense of the word, is still a mystery that we must probe, always keeping an open mind. Science does not yet understand even a fraction of what there is to know about this most marvellous liquid.”
When asked about this, Prof. Lowe of Alchemy was of the opinion that yes, we bloody well do, that water is the simplest molecule after hydrogen gas, and that Prof. Brassica was speaking from orifices not usually associated with speech. Make of that what you will. Your reporter, for one, finds her thirst for both water and knowledge thoroughly quenched.
There is a specific altitude for Lady I where she runs fastest. The air is thin enough to let her long sleek shape through, yet gives enough purchase to the propellers for strength. The Khartoum airfleet had a lead on us of about thirty minutes, due to Agent Wainwright wanting to send some postcards to Ipswich, but we were rapidly overtaking them. After about half an hour, they appeared in our telescopes below us, flying like migratory birds in a V shaped formation. We gave them no signal, and whether they even saw us, I don’t know. They soon disappeared in the distance behind us. With Fatin at the helm, and Andrew Parsons’ turbine engines in her belly, I honestly believe that there is no faster craft in the sky today than our Lady I. Which was good. Every mile gained on them would give us more time to enter the Eagle’s nest, and steal their eggs. Exactly how we were to achieve this, was still a matter of some debate.
I was at the helm, having relieved Fatin so she could feed Raage, who was being very well behaved. Riley was at the navigation table, looking at the map. Father was in the Captain’s Chair in front of me, pipe unlit in his mouth, looking into the distance.
The bridge door opened, and Alex came walking in, slowly but on her own legs, using Father’s crutches. Miss Brenda Lee was a step behind her, not assisting her, but ready to spring into action at the first sign of trouble. Alex walked to the steps down onto the bridge deck, handed one of her crutches to Miss Lee and walked down the steps, holding on to the railing. Just a few days ago, she would have leapt down all those steps without a second thought. I looked at her from behind, and could see her shoulders tightening. I know my sister. I know when she tries to hide what she feels. There are times for pushing through that barrier, but this was not one of them. She reached the bottom of the steps, made her way to one of the observation chairs, and sat down. She turned the chair away from us and looked outside.
Agent Wainwright was in the next chair, trying not to look at Alex. The first time they had met, Alex had put a wrist lock on him for making inappropriate comments, unaware that he was there to protect her. Miss Lee joined me at the helm.
“Steady as she goes, Helmsman,” she said.
“Aye aye, Captain,” I replied.
“Mutiny?” My father glanced over his shoulder. “Time to break out the cat-o’-nine-tails.”
“Always wanted to fly,” said Miss Lee.
I stepped aside. “Take the helm. Due East.”
“Really?” She put her hand on the wheel. Lady I drifted a bit to the south, and she compensated. With the thin black line once more pointing East, she gave me a quick look, then turned her eyes back to the compass. “You’re trusting me.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Riley, turning away from the maps for a moment. “When push comes to shove, our little soldier will run right back to her old friends.”
“Little Marine,” said Miss Lee.
“Well pardon the hell outta me, Devil Bitch.”
“That’s more like it,” said Miss Lee. “We had orders to beat the crap out of anyone even thinking of leaving and make a damn example of them. What do you think’s gonna happen if I turn up again with a cheery Zu Befehl?”
“You’ve just given me fantasies to last me nights.”
“Riley?” Father turned a weary eye to Riley. “Be nice. Miss Lee is about to give us invaluable information on the Eagle’s Nest.”
“I suppose I am,” said Miss Lee.
She handed the wheel back to Fatin, who had put Raage back in the pram, and hopped down the steps. She looked round and picked up a blanket from one of the observation chairs. She spread it out on the ground, folding in the ends to make a rough circle.
“This is the main cavern. North is forward. Main building for the whites is here.” She put down a seat pillow on the blanket. “It’s got Slate’s quarters here…” She put down a coffee mug. “Main hall there…” One of Raage’s nappies joined the artwork. “Brain Pen is there. That also has the laboratories.” She looked round, picked up one of Raage’s toys. “This is the jail, but you already know where that is.”
As she went on, more and more odds and ends joined the map on the floor, indicating entrances and exits, buildings, mine shafts. She talked about patrols. Lookout posts. Father asked questions, which she answered without hesitating. We all stared down at the improvised map.
“And that’s it,” said Miss Lee. “Good luck.”
“Good luck to you as well,” said Riley. “You’re joining the picnic.”
Miss Lee’s brown eyes narrowed at Riley. “You really want me to go back in there? Why are you trusting me all of a sudden? What if I suddenly turn tails and scream my head off?”
“Given what happened to sweet Hester Klemm, that’s an interesting turn of phrase,” said Riley. “But we have only three people here with two functioning legs, apart from Missus Tennant, and she’s gonna be at the helm.”
“Do I get a gun at least?”
“Sure you do,” said Riley, grinning like a wolf. “With one bullet in it. We’re not unreasonable. If it looks like we’re gonna lose, you can take a lead pill.”
“Gee thanks,” said Miss Lee.
“What did she do, Riley?” I said. “Piss in your whisky?”
“She’s one of them goddamn Jäger. I still can’t walk right because of them. And I’m not the only one here.”
We all looked at Alex, who seemed to have drifted off into thoughts of her own. She blinked.
She poured herself a glass of water, reached into her pocket, and took out a bottle of morphia. Riley pointed at her.
“Stop that. I need you with a clear head.”
Alex sneered. “What do you want me to do, Riley? Walk through the desert on my hands? I have no suit, no gun, and no bloody legs.”
“Can you sit on your ass and pull a trigger? Cause that’s what I need you to do, and I don’t want you shooting at damn yellow pixies.” He turned round, looking at all of us. “Black girl is gonna be at the helm. Captain’s gonna be on the bridge. I’m gonna be at the rear guns or the bomb bays, whatever is best. That leaves young Mr. Tennant, our Redcoat spy, and soldier girl, sorry Marine girl to go out and score the goals. Maybe if Nazeem isn’t dead yet, he can help, but I wouldn’t count on it. So you sneak in, we fly round and make a lot of noise, and then you sneak out again with the eggheads on a leash.”
“What if they don’t want to come?” I said.
Riley looked at me, waved a hand. “You persuade them with physical evidence and reasoned logic. Or you shoot a few in the head to win them over.”
“Nice,” said Miss Lee. “Good to know I’m with the good guys now.”
“There’s seven hundred tons of fire and brimstone heading for them. Don’t matter one damn bit how they die. Explain that to them and they’ll come.”
Lady I was floating only a few dozen feet above the ground, engines spinning at low speed, creeping towards Slate’s lair. I was in my khakis, rifle on my back, pockets stuffed with ammo, revolver and kukri by my side. Wainwright had picked up a Mauser pistol left behind by the Jäger who had joined us on board at the Eiffel Tower and didn’t need it anymore. Miss Lee was wearing clothes of Alex’ that were a bit large for her, a large caliber revolver with a good supply of bullets, and a Bowie knife of the kind that the Hammond Expedition used to give to tribe elders such as Elder Hanad of Fatin’s tribe. I looked at Miss Lee, leaning against the wall, with no expression on her face.
“Hm?” Miss Lee looked at me.
“You don’t have to do this, you know. Wainwright and I can find the eggheads without you. If it comes to serious blows, we’re stuffed, whether we’re two or three.”
She gave me a kind of half smile. “What is it you Limeys say? In for a penny, in for a pound.” She looked at the door. “There’s someone in there I need to get out. I don’t give a damn about the others, but he needs to get back to Paris.”
Miss Lee laughed out loud. “He’s a little brainy geek. I like my men a bit bigger. But he’s a good guy. He don’t deserve being bombed to death.”
Fatin came walking up from the bridge, put her arms round me and kissed me. Wainwright looked away. Miss Lee looked on with interest.
“Good hunting, my love,” she said, in Ajuru. “Be the lion tonight, not the kudu.” She grinned at me, and ran her finger along my jaw. “Also after you come back.”
Sometimes it is nice to have a whole language all your own.
“Did you forget? Lions eat out of my hand. I am the Feeder of Lions.”
Fatin laughed, kissed me again, then went back to the bridge.
“Girlfriend?” said Miss Lee.
“Wife,” I said. Though we were as married as anyone in Fatin’s tribe was, we hadn’t actually got round to the paperwork. “Ish,” I added.
Riley came walking from the bridge. “We’re on the doorstep. Time to go. We have a four and a half hours lead on the Khartoum lot. Don’t waste it.”
“Right,” I said. “See you soon.”
Miss Lee went first, setting a brisk pace through the night. There was no moon, but the stars were out and after a while we could see. We had gone for the side entrance so often that by now, they would have either blocked it up or would be guarding it more closely. Instead, we set off to climb to the top, and enter through the top entrance. Lady I would wait three hours, then head for the side entrance and create a diversion with gunfire. Alex had carefully lowered herself into the front gun deck. She had not taken any morphia, so her mind and the pain in her knees would be sharp. I honestly would have preferred her to sleep through the whole expedition, but Riley was right. We needed her, and Alex knew it.
We arrived at the foot of the mountain and started to climb. Since I had made this climb before with the Hammond expedition, I took over the lead from Miss Lee. It was an easy climb. All we needed to do was keep going. Miss Lee skipped up behind me like a mountain goat. Agent Wainwright trudged on doggedly, being more of an urbanite.
At a noise from above, I raised my fist, dropped down flat. Miss Lee dropped next to me, looked up. She raised three fingers, then made a sign like a pistol. I looked at my watch. It had taken us two hours to climb up. We had another hour before the diversion. Miss Lee moved her lips to my ear.
“Anti airship gun,” she whispered. “Not good for your wife-ish.”
“Going to be knife work,” I said.
Wainwright crawled up. “Three against three. Easy.”
“Amateur hour,” said Miss Lee. “Give me that rifle, and I’ll knock them over before they know what hit them.”
“Too much noise,” said Wainwright. “Gunshots will bring the whole camp down on us.”
“It’ll bring the whole camp here,” said Miss Lee. “We will be long gone.”
“We’re planning to leave through here,” I said. “The less they think of this place, the better. Let’s try to do this quietly.”
“As you wish, my lord. We gonna keep talking about this? Me and my corps buddies would be half way inside that mountain by now.”
“These used to be your comrades,” I said. “Do you want to stay back?”
“We haven’t known each other that long, Tennant. Still. Have you ever heard me say that I liked being with the Jäger? I loved my brothers in the US Marines. They stand for something. They keep America safe. You don’t like America, that’s not my problem. These people? They’re goddamn hired butchers. I got in ’cause if I hadn’t they’d have killed me. We get through this, I’ll tell you the whole story.”
“I know a couple of stories myself,” I said.
“Then stop yakking and get the sons of bitches.”
The guards were sitting at their cannon, looking intently up at the sky. We crept round them in the dark and attacked from behind. Wainwright had brought a piano wire. I had my knife. Miss Lee moved like a predatory animal, clapped her hand over her target, and nearly sliced his head off. We dragged the bodies away and dropped them in a ditch.
“There you go,” said Miss Lee. “All guards individually hand-killed by skilled craftsmen.”
“Saves ammo,” said Wainwright.
The Eagle’s Nest was in a volcano that the Hammond Expedition geologists had assured me was quite extinct. The mouth was a hundred yards across, and then it opened into a wide cavern. There were stairs leading down, but they would be guarded. Instead, we fastened a rope on the opposite side of the crater. I was the first to slide down. I reached the floor of the cavern without incident, crouched down with my M4 Garand out, and pulled the rope. Wainwright came sliding down, then Miss Lee.
Lights were on in the Brain Pen, where our poor deluded scientists were busily crafting Slate’s new world by day and by night. The barracks were quiet. Miss Lee pointed at lights, moving round in set patterns, going from building to building, making sure the miners were fast asleep in their warm beds for a busy day tomorrow.
We hid in the shadow of one of the wooden buildings, waiting for the guards to pass by. I looked at my companions, made a gesture to move on.
“Look out!” Miss Lee turned in a flash and chopped someone in the throat. Wainwright got his legs kicked out from underneath him, and the next moment he was being held to the ground by two men.
I was jumped by a very large dark individual. Before I could do anything, he had me on the ground. His hand was on my throat, and he raised a hammer, hissing something at me I couldn’t understand. I tried to push his arm away, but I couldn’t breathe, and red spots swam in front of my eyes.
One of his friends grabbed the arm that held the hammer. He looked round, annoyed that someone was disturbing him at his game. His friend spoke to him, fast. The vocal sounds were faintly familiar to me, almost like Fatin’s language, but I couldn’t understand a word of it. He pointed in the direction of the jail, then at me, whispering furiously. Finally, he drew his hand across his throat. My assailant’s mouth fell open.
“Ahhh,” he said, in his own language. He let go of my throat, lowered his hammer, and patted me on the shoulder with a bright grin on his dark face.
I looked round. Wainwright was being helped back to his feet. Miss Lee grinned broadly at me.
“You are the Great White Head Hunter. Play your cards right, and maybe they’ll make you their king!”
“I’m Feeder-of-lions,” I said. “Really. You chop off one head, and suddenly you’ve got a name.” I turned to my new friend. “Nazeem?”
“Ah. Nazeem.” He nodded his head and walked off. We all followed him into the sleeping quarters.
“Greetings, Carl Tennant. Miss Lee. Mr. Wainwright. Nazeem welcomes you.”
“Greetings, O Grand Poobah,” said Miss Lee. “How’s things here?”
“Nazeem has spoken to the miners, and they have listened. Our intentions are now at one. To destroy this place, then leave. With all of us acting in accord, we cannot fail.”
“Leave where?” I said. “Back to the mine? Did you tell them what happened there?”
“On that matter, Nazeem has kept silent, though there are those among us who have guessed. The Order of Cross and Moon will take these men in care. We will teach them to speak Arabic and English and French, and bring their minds to tranquility. Then, we will offer them a warrior’s seat in our Order, or they may leave if they so desire.”
“They will need a warrior’s seat sooner than that,” said Wainwright. “There’s an airfleet heading our way. They’ll be here in two hours or so. They are not concerned with the well being of anyone here.”
“Then we will bring our anger down on the men on patrol, and make for the side entrance.”
“No,” I said. “Within the next hour, Lady I will attack the side entrance, and draw their attention there.”
“That is not wise,” said Nazeem. “There are guns on the mountain that can destroy her.”
“I know,” I said. “We took it out.”
Nazeem looked at me. “You took it out. There were three batteries, now there are two left.”
“Oh dear,” said Wainwright.
Nazeem turned to two of his companions and spoke to them. They nodded, opened the floorboards, and took out hammers, pickaxes, and a few sticks of dynamite that must have been very difficult to obtain. They disappeared into the gloom. Nazeem turned to me.
“Our enemies think they know us,” he said. “And before, they would have been right. They taught these men to mistrust each other. They taught them that they were weak. They taught them to betray each other, and fight each other. Nazeem has shown them otherwise. What are your plans?”
“Create a diversion at the side entrance, then lead out the scientists through the top exit and take them on board Lady I before the airfleet arrives.”
“That would not have gone well,” said Nazeem. “The Jäger can defend both the top entrance and the side entrance at the same time. My brothers will help.”
“Tell them they have my thanks,” I said. “I think it is time to visit our learned friends.”
Wainwright, Miss Lee, and I slowly made our way to the Brain Pen. It was guarded by two Jäger, who we were able to take by surprise. We hid their bodies in the shadows behind the building, but with each attack it became more likely that our victims would be missed. I carefully opened the door, and we went inside. The building had a foundation of stone, with tiles on the floor in a black-and-white pattern. We found ourselves in a hallway with the mountain side on one side and doors going into the laboratories to the other. In some of the laboratories, the lights were on. The Future was being made.
The doors opened outward, to facilitate that rapid exit that many alchemical experiments make so desirable. Miss Lee stood on one side of the door, Wainwright on the other, hand on the handle. I stood a few steps back in the corridor, revolver and knife in hand. At my nod, Wainwright pulled open the door and I stepped in. This laboratory was an Alchemical one, and the three scientists didn’t even notice me coming in, so concentrated were they on their work. One of them was watching a thermometer, one was standing by a gas tank, hand on the valve, and a third was dripping drops of liquid into a complicated piece of glasswork with a pipette. I coughed politely.
“Deux cent cinquante… who the hell are you?”
The man at the tank turned off the gas, and the rushing of flames stopped. The man with the pipette looked up, disturbed, and then saw me, armed to the teeth. He stared at me, mouth hanging open.
“Bonsoir Messieurs,” I said. “I am Carl Tennant, of the airship Lady I. Would any of you like a lift to Paris?”
Wainwright and Miss Lee entered. The scientists drew together and whispered furiously in French, too fast for me and my school-boy French to follow. Miss Lee stepped forward and poked one of the men with a finger.
“You. Where is Dr. Dupont?”
The man raised himself to his full height. “Who are you to ask? What are your intentions?”
“You bastards don’t remember me? I’m Brenda L. Lee, formerly of Klemm’s Jäger, formerly of the United States Marine Corps, and I’m the one who’s going to kick your butt all over the place if you don’t answer my question.”
“I’m Wainwright.” Nobody seemed to mind him much.
“Do you realise that we were carrying out a synthesis of a highly volatile molecule?”
“Wow,” said Brenda, much impressed. “Where is André Dupont? Don’t make me ask again.”
“You and your friends could have caused this synthesis to go vigorously hypergolic! Do you even realise what that means?”
Miss Lee slowly looked round to me, nodded her head in the direction of the scientist.
“Go on,” I said.
Miss Lee took two steps forward, grabbed the scientist’s arm, and slammed him head first into a table.
“I do not give a rat’s ass about your synthesis,” she said, and put a little more pressure on the man’s wrist. “This laboratory and everything in it, is going up in smoke in less than two hours.” She moved her face close to her scientists’s. “Now if your next words are not ‘Dr. Dupont is…’ I will rip your arm off and beat you to death with it. Where is he?”
The scientist looked into Miss Lee’s soft brown eyes and made a choking noise. “Dr. Dupont is in his sleeping quarters. I can take you there.”
Miss Lee let the scientist go and beamed at him. “Thank you! That’s really kind of you.” She turned to me. “He’s my new friend. Can I keep him?”
“Certainly,” I said. “Everybody needs friends. Is there anyone here who does not wish to leave? No? Then let’s go find your colleagues. Things are about to get a bit noisy around here.”
It took us surprisingly little time to wake up all the scientists. There were no guards in the sleeping quarters, luckily. Comings and goings between Brain Pen and sleeping quarters were no reason for alarm. It was fairly common for a scientist to wake up, a fresh idea just sprouted in their fertile minds, and run to their laboratory, sometimes still wearing their pyjamas. Two, maybe three dozen men were now standing in the corridor to their bedrooms. They were sadly not as quiet as they could be, being used to debate and discussion in their daily lives. Wainwright solved this problem by grabbing the first loquacious scientist, putting a big hand on his mouth and hissing at him.
“Ta gueule!” He turned to Brenda. “That’s French for shut up.”
“He’s Prussian,” said Brenda. “Just keep his throat shut till he stops talking.”
Once more, frank and open discussion in the Marketplace of Ideas was stifled by the threat of violence. What has this world come to, I ask you.
“Gentlemen,” I said. “We will now wait for our friends to create a diversion on the East side of the mountain. We will take you to the top of the mountain, where the airship Lady I will take you on board and fly you to safety. Meanwhile, please keep quiet, so as not to draw the attention of the Jäger.”
A deep hush descended as we waited for Lady I to open fire. Before that happened, there were other noises. Shouts. Gunfire. Running feet. Brenda, Wainwright, and I looked at each other.
“I think Nazeem’s friends and the Jäger have found each other,” I said.
“Great,” said Wainwright. He opened the door a few inches and looked out. “They’re attacking the barracks. Can’t tell who is winning.”
I looked at my watch. “Diversion is in fifteen minutes. We wait for that, then make our move.”
There was a hand on my shoulder, and I looked round into the face of Nazeem. Nobody had seen him arrive. Nobody seemed to have realised that he was not there before. I know all of his so-called magic is nothing but stage tricks. But they are good stage tricks.
“I think it would be wise to leave now. My friends are keeping the Jäger from leaving their barracks, but they cannot hold forever. Leave by the West door and past the mine shafts, to the stairs. Nazeem cannot be with you, nor will he board Lady I with you. His word to the miners prevents him.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “Messieurs? Meine Herrschaften? Gentlemen? Make ready to leave.”
“Move quickly, Carl Tennant, and do not worry about being seen. The time of silence has passed.”
“Now we’re talking,” said Miss Lee, drawing her revolver. She pointed at one of the scientists. “You. Come with me, and stick to me like glue.”
“Oh Mademoiselle,” said Dr. Dupont, with a smile. “I thought you would never ask.”
“Would you two like to be alone for a while?” I said.
“Shut up, Tennant. Don’t you have an escape to lead?”
I took out my rifle, and led the way past the mine shafts, staying close to the cavern wall. We kept the scientists between us, with Wainwright in the middle, and Miss Lee taking up the rear. Gunshots could be heard echoing through the cavern. Not all the scientists had seen the need for physical exercise in their lives, so we could move only at a slow trot, with some of our guests wheezing and struggling to keep up the pace.
To the South of the deep mine shafts was the place where the miners’ tools were stored, and the buildings where the mysterious ore was stored in lead-lined coffins stacked high. I led our group into the shadows between the ore storage buildings, looking out on the stairs up.
I looked up at another loud noise, this time coming from the outside. The regular, fast rapport of Lady I‘s armaments. I imagined Alex sitting at the gun, pouring down hate and discontent on any unlucky Jäger foolish enough to show himself in the entrance. On the other side of the crater, I could see the second barracks and guard house, placed there specially to guard the winding stairs leading up to the airship bay. I swore. Half a dozen soldiers came running out of the guard-house and running up the stairs, blocking our escape.
I aimed my rifle at the soldiers on the stairs, fired, cursing Riley’s lack of foresight and trust not to give Miss Lee a rifle. I managed to bring down two Jäger. The rest escaped up. No doubt they had guessed something had happened to the top side gunners, and were rushing to their guns to shoot down Lady I.
I turned to Miss Lee. “We have to get up there.”
Miss Lee didn’t get a chance to reply. Bullets whizzed past us. We had been seen. We put the ore storage between us and the Jäger coming from the guard house. I returned fire with my rifle across the hundred yards or so. It was useless for either Wainwright and Miss Lee to waste their ammo at that range. I emptied my magazine, rammed in another clip of bullets, continued firing.
There was a loud Prussian shout behind me, and I looked round to see a large Prussian running towards us from behind the other building. He ran straight at Miss Lee, aiming his pistol. As I watched, Dr Dupont leapt up and recklessly threw himself at a man twice his size, wrestling with his pistol.
Miss Lee shouted, “No!”
The pistol went off, and Dr. Dupont, stiffened, fell to the ground. Miss Lee aimed for the Prussian’s head and fired five rounds so fast that it seemed almost like one stretched-out shot. His head exploded in a mess of blood and bone. Brenda ejected the empty shells, reloaded, slammed the cylinder back in. Then, she fell to her knees by Dr. Dupont, turned his face towards her.
“Hey hey! Stay with me!”
I could only see him smile, briefly, and say a few words to Brenda. Then, he choked, coughed up blood, and died. The expression on Brenda’s face was frightening to see. She took Dr. Dupont’s arm, and in one motion lifted him across her shoulders.
On my other side, Wainwright opened fire with his Mauser. I pulled out my revolver, and together we shot down the soldiers storming over the sand, running towards us. We looked round, but for now, no more enemies came.
There was a massive explosion upstairs. Wainwright and I stared at each other, fearing the worst, but then there was the merciless bright light of Lady I‘s searchlight, and the rapport of her guns. As I watched, one of the Jäger came tumbling down the cavern and landed on the floor with a sickening thud. Lady I‘s guns were silent. The searchlight blinked twice, then went out.
“That’s our cue,” I said. “Let’s go! Go! Go!”
Wainwright moved out first, followed by a rather shaken group of learned men. I looked round. Brenda had gone. I called out her name. Wainwright looked round.
“Trying her luck with the Jäger again?”
“I doubt it. Planning a private rampage, more likely. You take them upstairs, I’ll go find her.”
Wainwright nodded briefly, then made his way towards the stairs, trailing scientists like a pied piper. I ran round to find Brenda.
I didn’t have to look far. Brenda came out of the tool shed, carrying the body of André Dupont, a shovel, and a pickaxe. I ran towards her.
“What are you doing?”
Brenda looked at me, an angry look on her face. “I’m gonna bury him.”
“Are you mad? Just leave him here. He’s going to be buried under tons of rock in an hour!”
“Piss on that,” said Brenda. “He was the only decent man in this god-forsaken place. Know what he said just before he died? Thank you for saving me! I’m not going to just leave him behind here.”
“There’s no time!”
“I don’t care. I’m going to dig a grave for him, I’m going to put him in it. Either pick up that pickaxe and help me or piss off.”
I gave Brenda a long look. Then, I picked up the pickaxe and started digging with her, my revolver loose in my holster. The grave was small and shallow. Before putting Dr. Dupont’s body in, Brenda went through his pockets, found a small black notebook and pocketed it for any family Dr. Dupont might have. We filled the grave, and stood a few moments in silence.
“I oughta say a prayer, but ain’t nothing coming.” Brenda looked up at me. “We’re in a bad, bad place.”
I turned at a noise, and saw Nazeem and a group of miners walk towards us. All of them had weapons, taken from the dead bodies of the Jäger.
“It is done,” said Nazeem. “Now, Nazeem will lead these poor men to a place of tranquility, that they may put their grief and fear behind them. Farewell, Carl Tennant, Miss Lee. We will meet again. This, it is given Nazeem to know.”
Nazeem crossed his arms and bowed to us, then he turned round. A moment later, he and his new soldiers had disappeared into the gloom. I turned to Brenda.
“Are we done here?”
Brenda nodded, then looked up. “Airship’s gone. Sorry.”
I smiled at her. “Let’s try the side entrance.”
Now that we had done what we needed to, a sense of urgency struck us, and we ran side by side across the cavern, towards the familiar exit.
“You know what I’m wondering?” I said.
“When this place is going to come down on our heads?”
“Besides that. I wonder where the hell Slate is. Did they get him?”
“Doubt it. They’d be playing football with his head if they had.”
“They’re headhunters?” I grinned at Brenda. “What kind of man does that?”
Brenda laughed. “Shut up and run.”
“Oh bugger,” I said.
Two Jäger, who had faithfully remained at their post when the rest of the world was going to pieces around them, were now standing in front of us, aiming very businesslike pistols at us.
“Ach, Fräulein Lee. How nice to see you again. Did you bring these people down on us?”
Miss Lee made a remark that I hadn’t learnt in my German classes. The Jäger laughed at her.
“We are going to have some fun together, Fräulein. For old time’s sake.”
I pointed a finger up. “Listen, you idiots. Do you hear?”
There was a hush, only broken by the deep drone of airship engines.
“Na und? They have to find us first. And then, our cannons will take care of them.”
“Didn’t you hear those explosions a while back?” I said. “Your cannons are now a smouldering heap of twisted metal, burning brightly like a beacon in the night. Shall we continue this discussion somewhere else?”
The two Jäger looked at each other, turned round, and ran.
“Bright chaps,” I said. “Shall we?”
“I think we shall,” said Brenda.
United States Marines spend a good deal of their time running. It is excellent exercise, good for heart and lungs. I could just barely keep up with her, encouraged as we were by the drone of the massive engines of the Khartoum airfleet making straight for the glowing remains of the cannons that were supposed to keep the Eagle’s Nest safe from attack. I had come this way before, in a similar hurry, but this time, Lady I was not there to snatch us from the jaws of death. We ran through the crevasse, out into the desert, past the abandoned campsite of the Hammond expedition that started this all, then simply out into the desert. Much too close behind us, we heard the whistle of bombs falling to their target, then bright flashes lit up the world round us. A moment later, we felt the explosions in our chests. We stopped, fell to the ground, looked round. Behind us, it looked like the volcano of the Eagle’s nest was erupting, casting its red glow on the bodies of the airships above it.
“Now that is some serious firework,” said Brenda.
“We’re alive,” I said, and laughed madly. “Alive!”
I got up, staring at the devastation in front of me. Brenda sat back leaning on her hands. She looked up at me.
“We’re alive in the middle of the desert. All we need to do is walk back to Kodok. Piece of cake. We’ve got a full water bottle each. Soon as you go to sleep, I’ll slit your throat and then I’ll have two water bottles. Keep me going for weeks. I like this plan.”
“It’s a good plan,” I said, and pointed. “I’ve done it before. Nearest oasis is that way. About a week, give or take.”
“Right,” said Brenda, and got up. “Turn round, please? I want that bottle before you empty it.”
“Or,” I said, pulling out a flare, “We fly to Paris comfortably in the airship I call home.”
I aimed the flare up, pulled the ignitor. A bright light shot up and gently drifted down on its parachute. There was so little wind that it almost came down on top of our heads. Ten minutes later, Lady I‘s search light shone down on us.
I stepped into the cargo bay, which was a bit noisy at the moment, with at least two dozen men all arguing at the top of their voices. Alexandra was standing in front of them on her crutches, while Agent Wainwright sat on a crate filling his pipe. He gave us a little wave, and went back to looking at Alex, who was rapidly losing patience with them.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“What kind of ship are you running here.”
“Have you even given thought to the problem of meals?”
“Where are we supposed to…”
“What are your plans? Do you even have any?”
“Quiet!” Alexandra glowered at them. “We are setting course for Paris. In a straight line. A distance of about three thousand five hundred miles, which we will cover in a little under three days, depending on weather conditions. Should we feel inclined to do so, we will find something to feed you.”
“Madam, you are taking us against our will.”
Alex bared her teeth, and limped over to the bomb bay door handle. She pulled it down and the bomb bay door fell open. A sudden gust of wind blew through the cargo hold, making her hair blow in front of her face.
“We have prevented the bleeding Eiffel Tower from coming down on the heads of your colleagues. We have been shot at, stabbed, taken prisoner, tortured, all by that bastard Slate that you were so keen to take up with. We are now taking you to sodding Paris and handing you over to the police. Anyone of you who doesn’t like this arrangement can leave now!”
Alex angrily pointed into the bomb bay with her crutch. It slipped from her hand and went tumbling into the night. A deep silence fell, as Alex looked down through the hatch.
“Bugger,” said Alex.