The steel tower – A resounding failure – David and Goliath – Traitors among us – Nerves of steel – No place like home
I am sure most of you read with great interest, as I do,
the reports of the expeditions to remote places in the world.On top of our assignments? I think not! Study points or no dice. –RP
While the lion share of the attention is, properly,
on the expedition leaders,Especially if they look good with their shirt off. –LD
You’ve seen him with his shirt off? –RP
I have pencil. I have paper. What more do I need? –LD
I want to see that drawing! –RP
and the scientific results brought back to the University, and the
world at large, the sheer logistics of setting up an expedition is
fascinating. It starts with the equipment needed for scientific
observations. In most cases, these devices are disassembled into
manageable parts, so bearers can carry them. Then, there is the
small matter of keeping expedition and bearers fed. This is no
picnic, pardon the expression.Ah, it pleases Mr. Tennant to insert a droll jocularity. Shall I cut this out? –RP
He’ll notice. Leave it in. It’s dry enough as it is. Get on with the daring chases and mortal danger already! –LD
Not to mention the savage passion and how he met Mrs. Fatin. You did ask him about that didn’t you? –RP
Thought he might mention it without prompting –LD
It means bringing cooking equipment, pots and pans,A kitchen sink, a kitchen, a fireplace… –RP
the food itself, and for the larger expeditions. people to do
the actual cooking. Add to that tents, weapons, basic living
equipment such as knives, hatchets, some tools, clothes,
and anything else one needs to live away from home in a small
measure of comfort. This amounts to a heavy load to bear. With
the advance of technology, especially airship technology, it is
no longer necessary to carry that equipment on one’s back.Is Mr. Tennant suggesting someone hire his father’s dirigible at a very reasonable price? Do we allow this? –LD
This allows expeditions to travel much lighter, being supplied
from the air. Still, we cannot simply fly over the area to be
explored, as ably demonstrated by the expedition of Dr. Samuel
Ferguson, who crossed the whole continent in a balloon, without
bringing in any data of value.Oh meow! Aren’t our Brave Men of Science supposed to be above such petty competitiveness? –RP
If I had done that, I would never have met and befriended
the tribe that I spent almost a year studying.Now we are getting somewhere. Please tell us more about this ‘befriending’ you speak of, it sounds absolutely fascinating. –RP
I have fond memories of the hunts I was asked to join, where
the tribal huntsmen honoured me with the moniker “Feeder of
Lions”, for my efforts in keeping them safe while they stalked
the wily kudu.Mr. Tennant, unless you brought us one, we are not interested in your picnics with the hunters. –LD
Behave yourself, you shameless hussy! And ask him to bring enough for all of us! –RP
If we had flown over this wild and beautiful land, we would never
have known the kind hearts of these people, seen their deep and
enduring love of the forests where they dwell. We would have
observed from afar their naked bodies, their primitive spears,
their rude huts, and never have guessed what skill is involved
in hunting one’s prey, how experienced these people are in the
construction of their dwellings. I would never have known the
sheer joy of living in such a place, and I would never have met
my beautiful wife.And then he stops! Honestly, Mr. Tennant… –RP
I concur. Shall we set Jocelyn on him for a follow-up interview? –LD
Tempting, but… probably better not. I’ll do a little introduction for the front page, and then we can put the bulk on page three. – RP
— Carl Tennant, “The care and feeding of expeditions”,
article in the Algernon Clarion.
I asked Miss Davenport if I could use Mr. Tennant’s article
to add a bit of charm to the expedition report, and she sent
me, perhaps by mistake, the version with the editorial notes
still attached. I have elected to reproduce them here for the
fascinating insight they give into the editorial process at
the Algernon Clarion. — Wadcroft
Mr. Slate had given us two very good reasons to join him on board of his dirigible. One was that we might stand at the cradle of a new, enlightened, young civilisation. The other was that we wouldn’t die. Excellent reasons both, but nevertheless we had declined, and now we were facing a problem. The slight tremors that we could feel in our feet, had been steadily growing stronger, until we could now hear the steel supports groaning. Alex peered up through the network of metal beams.
“Do they have some kind of saw sawing through the supports?”
Wadcroft shook his head. “I think it’s something to do with the resonant frequency of the whole tower. They have something that shakes it with just the right time. For the same reason that soldiers are not allowed to cross a bridge in formation.”
“But Mr. Eiffel designed this with the wind in mind,” I said. “This pile of scrap isn’t supposed to have a resonant frequency.”
“Speak no words of ill omen,” said Alex. “So how much time do we have before things get… unpleasant?”
“By my calculations, exactly ten minutes and thirty-two seconds,” said Wadcroft, irritably. “How should I know?”
“The tower sounds afraid,” said Fatin. “As if it knows it will fall soon.”
I stared at Fatin. “You can hear that? Could you ask it what the matter is?”
Fatin’s dark eyes burnt at me. “Don’t be an idiot, my love. It is not a living thing. It just sounds like one.”
“Just before he left, I could see Mr. Slate pull a piece of wire leading up,” said Mr. Pike. “I’ll wager that that is what activated this Hellish contraption. You can see it hanging there.”
“I don’t suppose we could turn it off by pulling it again?” We walked over and I peered up, gave the wire a tentative tug. Nothing useful happened.
“They didn’t chain up the stairs leading up,” said Alex. “Maybe we can follow the wire and see where it leads.”
“If we are going to be climbing…” Fatin shrugged her shoulders. “Can someone please loosen this dress for me?”
I reached behind Fatin and pulled the laces. There was a quiet snap and Fatin’s dress blossomed out, allowing her to breathe. Alex gave me a look.
“You are very handy with a lady’s corset, my brother.”
I gave Alex an enigmatic smile, and said nothing. A gentleman does not divulge. In general. Divulgement is frowned upon.
We left Wadcroft below to organise the panic. Fatin, Alex and I trotted up the stairs. Fatin turned out to have the best night-sight between us, and could follow the wire as it snaked up one of the supports. We heard a metallic noise about two hundred steps up, and Alex pointed at a small device attached to one of the metal supports holding up the tower. I put my hand on one of the beams, and it was noticably shaking.
“Someone needs to get out there and turn that damned thing off,” said Alex.
“Someone dressed for the occasion,” I said. “Who doesn’t have a family to support. Someone expendable.”
“Oh I can feel the flood of brotherly love,” said Alex. She unbuttoned her shirt, took it off, and handed it to me. She made to climb onto the balustrade. I put my hand on her shoulder, and looked into her eyes a moment.
“Don’t fall off, little sister,” I said.
“I won’t.” She smiled at me. “It’ll be fun!”
And with that, Alex climbed onto the balustrade, balanced a moment, then leapt out and caught herself on the next beam. I turned to Fatin.
“She does that to give me a heart attack.”
“What’s a heart attack?”
We watched Alex climb from beam to beam to the device that was causing the very Eiffel Tower to shake in its boots. I have seen Alex climb trees, mountains, walls, roofs, and recently a dirigible. This tower didn’t seem too difficult. Still, I was gripping the railing with white knuckles until I heard a noise and looked behind me. Propellers spinning lazily in the Parisian summer breeze, Lady I was making her way towards the tower. She was heading towards the bright lights of the restaurant. I leant out and waved Alex’ shirt at them, shouting, even though they were too far for them to hear it on the bridge.
“They don’t see you,” said Fatin.
I looked at the nice frilly white shirt in my hand.
“Alex is going to hate me.”
I pulled out a box of matches and lit the thin fabric, which burnt with a bright yellow flame. I waved the improvised torch at Lady I, until she changed course. The flames were scorching my hand, and I threw the shirt over the edge. Lady I‘s search light ignited and bathed us both in a bright light. The side door opened, and in the opening stood Father.
“Hello my boy! Are you trying to set fire to the tower? It won’t work, you know. It’s steel.”
“It’s good to see you, Father, but how did you see something was wrong?”
“We saw a ruddy big dirigible hovering by the tower, and the place is crawling with Gendarmes. They can’t seem to get up so I thought we’d come and see what the blazes is going on. But you look fine to me, so tootle pip, enjoy your evening!”
“Wait! We found some kind of earthquake device. It’s going to destroy the tower. Alex is climbing towards it to dismantle it.”
“What, a bomb? Is she mad? Get her out of there!”
“No! It’s some kind of vibrating device that’ll make the tower shake itself apart. Give her some light to see by!”
Father called inside, and the light widened and became less bright. I looked back to where Alex was now sitting on the beam that held the device, looking at it. She turned round and shouted.
“It’s some kind of automatic hammer. It’s making me feel strange in my stomach.”
“Can you turn it off?”
“There isn’t any lever. It’s bolted to the beam. Got a spanner?”
“Not on me, no.”
Alex shifted, and gave the device a good hard kick. It kept on hammering away in its specially designed rhythm.
“Alex? Maybe we can attach a steel wire to it, and Lady I can rip it away.”
“That light is Father? Has he come to chaperone us? Good grief, this is like my graduation ball all over again!”
I shouted the plan back to Father. He threw Fatin a long thin line with a weight on the end, to which he attached a strong thin steel cable. Lady I turned and lowered its mooring cable to us. One end of the steel cable, I attached to the mooring line, the other to the thin weighted line. I swung the weight round my head a few times, then threw it over Alex’ head so she could catch it and pull in the steel cable. She attached it to the device, and headed back to the safety of the balustrade.
Due to her acrobatics at the start of her climb, she couldn’t reach the balustrade from where she was. I quickly climbed over the railing, anchored my hand and feet securely, and held out my arm to her. Our hands were still one or two feet apart. I looked into Alex’ eyes and nodded once. With a heart-stopping leap she flew towards me, and we grabbed each other’s wrists securely. Of course, she couldn’t resist looking down to the ground far below her before I pulled her up. She put her arms round my neck so I could grab her by her belt and pull her to safety. I held her a moment, looking into her eyes, aglow with the thrill of danger.
“You’re mad,” I said.
“I love you too, big brother.”
Fatin shook her head. “Your brother once climbed a tree and hit a hornet nest to show how stupid he was. I hope nobody wants me to kick a sleeping lion or walk over hot coals.”
“Oh you can…” started Alex.
“Actually, that’s not…” I looked at Alex. We both burst out laughing.
There was a shout from Father. “Would you circus monkeys get your selves downstairs? We’re going to pull! Once this thing comes loose, we’ll give you all a ride to the ground!”
We all ran down the stairs far enough to be out of danger, then looked up as Lady I backed up. The steel cable pulled tight, and with a loud snap, the device came loose from the beam. The tremors that had been going through the tower lessened, then disappeared. So if ever you visit the Eiffel Tower, you have Alex to thank for its continued existence. We never brought this up with the tower’s owners, because none of us felt like explaining what we were doing climbing around on the outside.
We rejoined what was left of the party, where the general mood had shifted from screaming in fear of their lives to loudly complaining to the one person who looked like he was taking charge, despite him being English and not having anything to do at all with the operation of La Tour Eiffel. Wadcroft looked ready to explode. Mr. Pike had taken a seat, and was watching the crowd with amusement, sipping a glass of red wine from a bottle that hadn’t fallen over. Beyond a few champagne glasses fallen over nothing seemed to be very wrong with the restaurant. The staff were quietly moving about the place with mops, dustpans and brushes. No doubt, they would have the place looking spotless and up to their very high standard again within the hour.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” I shouted, “Mesdames et Messieurs. In a few moments, the airship Lady I will be mooring at this tower and you will all be able to descend while the authorities repair the elevators. Please follow exactly the instructions of the crew, namely myself, my sister, and my wife.”
One of the ladies stepped up to me, outraged. “Are you expecting me to get on a dirigible with a…” she glared at Fatin, “a cannibal?”
I stared at her, then looked at Fatin, who looked a picture of amused innocence.
“It is entirely at your option to stay here, Madame, and wait for the authorities to free up the elevators. Anyone else, please form an orderly queue.”
A few minutes later, Lady I appeared majestically at the Tower’s mooring port. Now at this point, I have to explain that queueing is a bit of an art on the British Isles. People have been beheaded, or worse, glared at, for jumping the queue. Even the most violent of hooligans will form an orderly queue to get into a sports stadium, even courteously rolling forward with their feet one of their number who has decided to take a little nap due to a slight miscalculation in the strength or quantity of their ale.
Clearly, for all their cultural accomplishments, the French have not mastered this particular art form. Alex and I scarcely had the time to secure the gangplank to the tower before a wall of human flesh rolled over us and bundled into the doorway. It was a miracle that nobody fell off. Inside, I could hear the voices of Professor Enderby and Father herding this stampede into the cargo bay. Above that, I could hear the hiss and thunder of the hydrogen pumps as Taras Nerandzic pumped more gas into the envelopes to compensate for this sudden extra weight. I looked over my shoulder to see if we had missed anyone. The staff were still going about their business. If they were to leave the restaurant they were doomed to haunt for all eternity, they would simply vanish into thin air. Fatin was standing in front of one of the ladies, hands on her shoulders, talking to her in a soft voice. I walked over.
“I was joking,” said Fatin. “I do not eat people.”
“No matter how delicious,” I said.
Fatin shot me a look, shook her head. “Come on dear, get on board. We’ll take you down and the carriage will take you home.”
Fatin gently nudged the lady into Lady I‘s entrance, and pointed her at the cargo bay to rejoin the rest of the party. Fatin leaned into me, and I put my arms round her.
“She had stepped on a bees’ nest,” said Fatin, “and the bees were buzzing around inside and outside her head. No use being angry at her.”
The cargo bay was filled to the very corners with the awful noise of everybody trying to shout over everybody else. In some cases into each other’s faces at a distance of two inches. I looked at Alex, who looked as worried as I did.
Like a valkyrie out of a Wagner opera, Professor Enderby strode down the stairs, scattering all in her path, until she came to one of the crates that were still in the hold. She clambered on top. I could see her taking a deep breath, and her impressive clear voice rang out over the din.
Allons enfants de la patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Contre nous de la tyrannie…
The effect on the masses was pure magic. Everybody turned towards Prof. Enderby and joined in, all enmity, fear, and danger forgotten for a few glorious moments as, accompanied by the notes of La Marseillaise, the airship Lady I drifted majestically towards the ground.
It took Navigator Nerandzic only ten minutes to find a clean spot to land and set our airship down, but by that time, Father was quite ready just to open the bomb hatches and cover the Champ de Mars with annoying Frenchmen. The wheels hit the ground, and Alex and I ran out to tether Lady I to the ground while Nerandzic pumped more hydrogen out of the envelope, anticipating a sudden drop in weight from discharged passengers. The device that had almost collapsed the Eiffel Tower was still hammering away furiously, hopping about on the ground. I picked it up by the steel wire, and took it inside. The last passengers stepped down to the grass, and Father slammed the door shut behind them.
“Navigator! Take us away from this place!”
“Aye-aye Kapitan,” said Nerandzic.
There was a loud hiss of hydrogen, and Lady I rose up into the air. We hadn’t climbed more than a hundred feet, when there were some forceful Russian terms from the bridge. We all sprinted for’ard, and stared.
“Daddy,” said Alex. “I want a bigger dirigible. Buy me a bigger dirigible please.”
Taras Nerandzic turned round abruptly. “Size is nothing. Speed is everything. We leave now.” He pulled the two levers that transported more coal to the furnace, turned the hydrogen valves fully open. Like a cork in a bathtub, Lady I shot upwards, leaving the Prometheus vessel far below her. He pushed the collective levers forward, and Lady I set herself in motion, deliberately flying over the larger vessel so they would have to turn before pursuing. His eyes glued themselves to the dial that indicated pressure in the turbines, until they started to climb and hit the red. The large turbines, no longer purring along at ease, now growled in the bowels of the ship. The propellers shredded the sky, pushing Lady I forward, outstripping the larger vessel with every moment. Nerandzic laughed.
“Our Lady, she is quick on her feet, no? We will hide in the clouds, and then turn towards England.”
At that moment, there was a loud bang off our starboard bow, and a rain of sparks. A moment later, another explosion on our port. It was clear that due to Lady I‘s well thought out colours, which were dark on top to reflect the Earth seen from above, and light on the bottom to reflect the sky, they could not see us in the distance. This was little comfort, though. They had plenty of ammunition to throw at us, and it was only a matter of time before they’d get lucky.
“We need to stop them somehow,” said Father.
“Stop them?” I said. “Have you seen how big that thing is? What way do we have of stopping a dirigible?”
“I’ve got a great way of stopping a dirigible,” said Alex. “Kill the pilot, stop the dirigible.”
“I’ll spot for you,” I said.
Alex and I ran to the aft section. Alex disappeared into her cabin to grab her rifle and spotting scope. I stepped into Fatin and my cabin. She was sitting on the bed, gently rocking Raage in her arms, singing to him, and I suppose to herself as well.
“What is happening?”
“The big dirigible is after us, but we’re running faster. They are throwing fire at us. We’ll try to tell them not to.” I leaned over and kissed her. “Don’t be afraid. We’ll get away from them.”
Fatin wrapped her free arm round me, pulled me close for a moment. “I am still glad I came with you, Feeder-of-lions. A good hunt to you.”
The observation deck at the very top of Lady I was cold and windy. We secured ourselves to the ship with tethers. Alex lay down on the deck with me crouched behind her. I pointed the spotting scope at Prometheus’ dirigible. I had to shout over the wind to make myself heard to Alex
“Range thirteen hundred meters, increasing.” I saw Alex adjust her scope. “Wind sixty five knots in our back.” I scanned the gondola underneath the massive envelope of Prometheus’ airship. It had three decks. The middle deck held their bridge. I tried to ignore their rather impressive artillery on the lower deck.
“Middle deck, off to the left a bit.”
“Got him. On target.” Alex squeezed off a round. A bright streak of light shot out to the Prometheus airship. Alex looked up. “Oh shoot!”
Through the scope, I saw the helmsman collapse. The next thing I saw was the cannons training on us and firing. The grenades exploded a little short of us, but that was not a great comfort. They had seen us, and once seen, always remembered. Meanwhile, Alex was working through an impressive list of very unladylike expressions under her breath.
“Alex? You got him!”
“I know, blast it! With a bloody tracer! If it wasn’t going to cost us our bloody lives, it would be bloody funny!”
I looked through my spotting scope. The front window of the bridge now had a single bullet hole. Now they knew about Alex and her rifle, the replacement helmsman was kneeling behind the instruments, peering over the edge of the window.
“Think you can hit the new one?”
Alex had pulled the magazine from her rifle, and was flipping out the tracers into her hand and flinging them over the side.
“I think so. I use high-velocity rounds. I can hit him straight through the instruments. Let me reload.”
I didn’t need to remind her to be quick about it. Despite their trouble steering, the Prometheus airship kept firing grenade after grenade at us. She took aim again and I looked at the airship. Riflemen had now appeared and were firing from cover at the gondola, expecting us to be there rather than up top. I could hear bullets hit, and a cold hand squeezed my heart. They were shooting at my family, my friends, my wife, my child.
As she looked round at me, I could see in her expression that she had come to the same conclusion I had, and had likewise lost all inclination to play nice.
“Do you have more tracers?”
“Yes. But giving away our position…”
“Why don’t we put a few in their supply of hydrogen?”
“There’s people on there who aren’t trying to kill us.”
“It won’t make the whole thing go up in one fireball, but a couple of fires should keep them busy. Maybe too busy to bother with us for now.”
Alex’ face tightened. She nodded once, pulled one magazine out of her rifle and put in a different one. She aimed.
“You don’t need me to spot for this, do you?”
“Broad side of a barn, dear brother of mine. Even you could hit it.”
“Good. I’ll head down and warn the rest.”
I dropped down the hatch and slid down the ladder to the in-envelope deck with the massive steel tanks that held our supply of hydrogen. As I turned to the other ladder into the gondola, a strange man stood in front of me with a pistol. He raised it, aiming for my head. I looked into his eyes.
“Really? You are going to fire a gun, surrounded by several tons of hydrogen? You’ll arrive in Hell before even I do.”
The man gave a contemptuous little half-laugh. “Da haben sie Recht,” he said. He put away his pistol and instead pulled out a long knife. “Knives are more fun anyway. Hurts more.”
He slowly walked towards me, knife in front of him, slowly turning it round in his hand so I could see it glint. With a sudden lunge, he slashed out, trying to scare me into a freeze. I fell back, positioned my feet. He gave a sudden shout and leapt at me, knife out. I ducked, grabbed his wrist, and pulled him on, tripping him up. He landed on his face, with me lying on his arm. Filled with a wrath that drove out all compassion, I grabbed his wrist in both hands and pulled up till I felt and heard the bones of his elbow crack and his arm bent the wrong way. He screamed, and the knife fell from his hand. I caught it, turned round and stabbed him in the back. His screaming stopped, for a choking noise. I turned round, put the point of the knife at the back of his skull, and rammed it in with my hand on the butt. The noises stopped. He twitched, then lay still.
“Brother? Why is there a dead Hun on our nice clean deck?”
Alex came sailing down the ladder, rifle on her back. She rolled the dead Prussian over, reached into his jacket and pulled out a pistol. She popped out the magazine, counted the bullets, put it back in and pulled the slide. A cartridge jumped out and fell to the floor, where it rolled away somewhere into the envelope, never to be seen again. Alex put her rifle behind one of the hydrogen tanks and opened the hatch that led into the gondola. Slowly, she descended the stairs, pistol following her gaze. Before I could follow her, she had dropped to the ground, and disappeared into the corridor to the bridge.
I tried to follow Alex, armed with only a knife, but before I could, there was a subdued “Psst” coming from the starboard cabin door. I looked round to see the face of Mr. Pike in the door opening.
“Come in,” said Mr. Pike. I pointed at Alex’ back, but he shook his head. I stepped into the cabin. “They’ll see her. No sense in them seeing you as well. Do you know who these plebeians are?”
“Prussians. I think they are with a man named Gustav Klemm.”
Mr. Pike sucked his teeth in a thoughtful way. “I’ve heard of him. Mostly in connection with civilian casualties at the Khartoum siege. I saw someone walk onto the bridge. No shots were fired, which is heartening, but there was a lot of shouting in Russian, which is less so.” Pike looked at the porthole. “I also note that the bombardment has stopped. Good. I like the quiet.”
“They’ll be back once they put out a few fires,” I said.
“Hmm. Follow me. Quietly, please.”
Quiet as a proverbial quiet thing, we made our way to the bridge. The door was open, and Alex was standing in the middle of the room with her back to us, pistol wavering back and forth between two people. One was Mr. James Riley. The other was Oberst Gustav Klemm, who was sitting in one of our observation chairs. Both had their revolvers out, and were aiming at each other. Riley had found a cane and was leaning on it, glaring at Klemm. Navigator Nerandzic was lying on the floor, moving feebly, a thin trickle of blood running from his bald head.
“Thank you, Fräulein Tennant, for distracting our pursuers. They were over zealous in bringing us all down. I comfort myself with the thought that if they had known I was on board, they would have tried a boarding party instead.”
“Wouldn’t bet on it, you goddamn Kraut,” said Riley. “You’re a liability.”
“Please leave me my illusions,” said Klemm, with a little smile.
“Alex,” said Riley, “Shoot the Hun already. He’s not your friend anymore.”
“Fräulein Tennant, if you shoot me, Herr Riley will thank you by shooting you. He is an agent with Prometheus.”
“That’s a bit rich coming from you,” said Riley. “You are the piece of garbage that did this to me. You’re in Slate’s pocket.”
“I might be,” said Klemm, “or you might be lying. I offer services of a rather brutal nature to discerning customers, but I have never been in anyone’s ‘pocket’. Not since my military days natürlich.”
“Alex…” Riley said.
“Shut up Riley,” said Alex. Her pistol turned to Klemm. “Herr Klemm, what proof do you have Riley is a Prometheus agent?”
“Did Herr Riley tell you about the horrible tortures he endured? Bravely holding out where lesser men would have crumbled?”
“Yes. What of it?”
“What makes you think he actually did hold out?”
“He’s an obstinate bastard.”
“Come now, Miss Tennant. Every man has his limits, even Mr. Riley.” Klemm shook his head. “He isn’t even the most… hartnäckiger Mann. Not by far.”
“You have yet to give me a reason to believe you, Oberst.”
“Let me ask something else. Have you seen or heard of our mystical friend, Herr Nazeem? Who was the last person to see him alive?”
“Alex! He’s messing with your head. I don’t know where on Earth that bastard is, but I’m sure he’s fine. Now let’s stick that goddamn Hun in the tank and I’ll tell you everything I have.”
I started to get up, knife in hand, but Mr. Pike held me back. He put his lips to my ear. “We have to know which of these two is the traitor. With our luck, both will be traitors.”
Pike reached into his jacket and pulled out a silenced small-caliber handgun. He pulled back the slide with what I thought was a far too audible click. A moment later, Alex raised her pistol, aimed at Riley and fired. Riley cried out and fell to the deck.
“Danke, Fräulein,” said Klemm. His revolver swiveled round. At that moment, there was a noise like a cork popping, and a tiny hole appeared in Klemm’s forehead. He slumped into his seat. His revolver dropped to the floor. Pike put away his pistol and walked up. He kneeled by Mr. Nerandzic, and put a finger at his throat. Apparently satisfied, he turned him onto his back and walked on.
“You utter goddamn syphillitic bitch!” It appeared that Riley was still alive. Gladsome tidings indeed.
“Shut up Riley,” said Alex.
“What the hell did you have to shoot me for?”
“It’s only a nick, Riley. I am a sharp shooter, remember? I could have fired into your lughole. Nothing vital there.” She glared at Riley. “I heard someone’s pistol behind me. They didn’t kill me, so they had to be friendly. And I wanted to know if I could trust Klemm.”
“You bitch! You could have shot him and found out about me.”
Alex bent down and picked up Riley’s revolver. “I already know I can’t trust you.”
There was some low-level swearing from behind the wheel. Navigator Nerandzic got to his feet, then steadied himself. He bared his teeth, and growled. “Which suka is on the wheel? Can’t you see we’re heading the wrong way?”
We looked out of the window. To our port side, we could see the bulk of the Prometheus airship, with bright flames spouting up in several places. Against the light, we could see dark figures, and the water plumes of fire hoses. Alex studied her fingernails.
“Is there anything else you want me to shoot?”
Nerandzic grabbed the wheel and spun it round. Lady I turned about. He adjusted the collective, trimmed the hydrogen supply to take us up, and pulled back on the aillerons.
“Now I am setting course for England. You get these damned Prusskiye off the ship.”
“We will,” I said. “When we are gone, lock the door and don’t let anyone in.”
As soon as Mr. Pike crossed the doorstep, the heavy iron door slammed shut. We all stalked into the cargo hold, pistols out, and up the stairs.
“Halt! Stehen bleiben!”
We all froze. At the far end of the dining table stood one of Klemm’s Jäger. He had Prof. Enderby bent flat over the table, and a pistol against her head.
“Drop your weapons. Meine Damen und Herren. Or Frau Professor will have extra holes in her head.”
We all hesitated.
One look at Professor Enderby’s face was enough. We all dropped our weapons on the floor.
“Very good. Now you will join your captain sitting down against the wall. Do keep in mind that I have more of your women to kill. The Negro girl and her little half-blood are in the next cabin. Now move!” We all shuffled towards the wall, except for one man: Riley. Riley stood still, glaring at the Jäger.
Möller slowly started to smile in a very unpleasanty way. “Ah, Mr. Riley. We meet again. How is your hand?”
“Hurts like hell,” said Riley.
Möller laughed. “A reasonable precaution, Herr Riley, given your skill with firearms. When we have all your friends securely tied up, maybe we can renew some memories.”
“There ain’t no ‘we’, Möller. You’re the last. Schmidt is dead. Klemm is dead. They’re all dead.”
“Get your Arschloch against the wall, Riley. I can smell it when you’re lying. If you think I won’t kill this sow, you are mistaken.”
“There’s still a few things you don’t know about me, Möller.” Riley bent down, leaning on the table, and calmly picked up Alex’ pistol.
“Riley…” Möller poked his pistol into Professor Enderby’s neck, making her gasp.
“First thing, I’m a southpaw. And the second thing is, I don’t…” In mid-sentence, Riley raised the pistol and shot Möller in the head. Professor Enderby screamed. Möller fell to the floor dead. “Give a damn about anyone on this whole goddamn airship.”
Riley flicked on the security and tossed the pistol at Alex, who fumbled twice before catching it.
“Now one of you assholes put a goddamn bandage on my arm. Think you can sweep the rest of the ship for Krauts without me?”
We had cleared our airship of intruders, gathering them up and dropping them out of the bomb hatches into the English Channel. Lady I was sailing at a moderate speed towards England. We hadn’t seen any pursuers yet. Alex had led Professor Enderby to her cabin, given her a strong sedative, and put her to bed. The rest of us were on the bridge. Nerandzic was at the helm. Father was in the Captain’s chair. Fatin was sitting on my lap with Raage in her arms, both fast asleep. Wadcroft was reading a book. Riley was in one of the chairs a little distant, looking outside and brooding. We didn’t trust him enough to let him out of our sight, but on the other hand, we didn’t distrust him enough to slap him in irons and put him in the closest lockable cabin. Alex was sitting cross-legged on the floor with her rifle in parts on a white sheet in front of her. She was looking out of the window and thoughtlessly oiling all the parts. My tough little sister was now at fifteen confirmed kills. As for me, I never started counting. She felt me looking at her, glanced at me and smiled. I smiled back. Our brains were busy beating down what our hearts were telling us. Our brains would win. Both Alex and I would do the same again, even this very evening if need be. Fatin stirred in my arms, and I wanted to stroke her hair, but didn’t want to wake her up.
With the engines droning on steadily, we sailed on to Ipswich.