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The Bavarian Airship Regatta - Page 6: September 5, 2011 - September 26, 2011

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The Downhill Run
Ishild
To Munich!


The Downhill Run

Entry for September 5, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus, J.B., and Lord Ashleigh had been silently watching the final minutes of the regatta leg into Vaduz from the main hall. They saw the Iron Eagle’s nose retreat from the Burke & Hare’s final sprint, but when they heard the shouts of the crowd, they knew that they had taken the leg. Manly “harrumphs” and “well, of course” were voiced quietly, and handshakes went around the small circle, as if they had contributed to the triumph through their mental cheerleading as opposed to just adding weight to the vessel.

Even Wallace walked over and joined the small circle and added his hand into the ritual, but he was more subdued than the other three men. Wallace flatly added, “This is a proud day for the Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines,” with the passion traditionally reserved for “I think I got mud on my shoe.”

Erasmus was surprised that Wallace joined them, since he had been solitary throughout the trip and regatta, but also that he wasn’t pumping the room full of false enthusiasm. “Something for me to ponder about later,” he thought.

Over the voice pipe one of the crew members in the lower deck requested, “Dr. McTrowell! Please meet with us in the boiler room.” This announcement was loud enough that the common room congregation could hear it. The timing of the request, right at the finish of the leg, concerned Erasmus. Sparky answered in the affirmative and turned the helm over to her able co-pilot to bring the airship into port.

“May I accompany you?” Erasmus enquired of Sparky while she smartly rounded the corner to head down the flight of stairs to the mechanicals.

“Certainly, but ...,” she trailed off for a second, as if pondering if she should finish the thought. “... I don’t believe I’ll need protection for this little outing.”

Erasmus smiled. “I understand. You should know then that I am no longer concerned with the hand kissing you received from Herr Dampf. It seems your response was to whip his backside. Twice. My interest is why the engine crew solicited you. Just appeasing my curiosity.”

“Very well.” With that, Sparky hurried down the stairs while waving Erasmus on to follow.

In the boiler room, three crew members in oil- and soot-stained overalls were standing around the two spherical boilers. Sparky joined them.

“Excellent work, gentleman. We won the leg! Now, how can I help you?”

“During me last hourly inspection, I found t’is little beauty. Boiler number two ‘as a ‘airline fracture,” the tallest of them declared, emphasized with a point of a finger, adding, “‘ere.” Sparky leaned in a bit to see the nearly undetectable line. The boilers were still incredibly hot, being used for propelling the airship into port. The line was faintly redder than the surrounding iron.

“What is your assessment? Will it hold through the next leg?”

“Given its size, it may just be superficial and doesn’t go through to ‘ta water chamber. On the other ‘and, it could burst if ‘ta pressure gets ‘igh enough. We ‘ave a couple of choices ...”

“One choice is obvious: run on only one boiler. Not a good choice for a race.”

“Rather, the blokes and I figure our first choice is ‘ta run t’is boiler at 80% maximum, and use it only as needed for ‘ta final leg.”

“And the second choice?”

“Well ... we know we cannot replace it ‘ere in Vaduz. It’s a very unique boiler. Any replacement t’at could be found is going to weigh ‘undreds of pounds more than t’is one. We can’t drill or replace any parts without making it weaker. Me’n ‘ta lads t’ink we can wrap it wit’ an additional iron band to keep the crack from getting worse.”

“How long will that take?”

“Most of ‘ta night. And we’ll need to buy a barrel ring or two.”

“You have yourselves a job for the night. But even with the wrapping, let’s plan to run number two at 80% tomorrow. A boiler explosion would ruin everybody’s day. We’ll get a replacement in Munich. And lads, good job spotting this. You may have saved us from a rough patch.”

Sparky received three broad smiles and a couple of tugs on the brims of their caps. Erasmus was impressed that Sparky handled the situation so well, but the idea of a potential boiler explosion would clearly counter his goal of keeping everyone on the Burke & Hare safe. He decided to frequently check on the status of the boilers tomorrow. It might save a life or two.

Vaduz was a smallish city and the gathered crowd was justifiably meager compared to Munich and Salzburg. But their spirits were high and all wanted to meet the famed “lady pilot from the Americas.” Confetti rained down on the Burke & Hare crew as they descended their tower stairs, Sparky leading the way with her hands in the air, waving to the shouts of “Spar-Key. Spar-Key. ...” Erasmus and J.B. brought up the rear, clanking a bit from their weaponry. Erasmus ran through his mental checklist: sword, check; loaded revolver, check; knives, check; truncheon, check; and sword stick, check. It seemed odd to be hauling this amount of armaments into this placid town with it’s rolling green hills, old stone Vaduz Castle, and its majestic Saint Florin cathedral steeple. But he was thinking that this was the last evening that he was truly concerned about the safety of the Burke & Hare crew and passengers and he wanted to be prepared.

The ceremonies were on smaller scale than the last two, but the merriment of the participants was much greater. Rather than receiving the trophies for the leg on a specialized platform, the three airship pilots stood at different heights on a stone staircase leading to the castle. Sparky stood a head or so higher than her competitors and was beaming at the crowd. A trio of German-style accordion players squeezed out exuberant music while backed by booming tubas and bass drums. Sparky pulled off her pilot’s headgear and waved it in one hand, while in the other waving a miniature handheld flag bearing the Vaduz Coat of Arms. The crowd danced and hooted, and returned the wave with their own handheld flags. The pilots were mobbed as they descended and were treated as ambassadors of modern technology and exploration.

The Vaduz Coat of Arms
The Vaduz Coat of Arms

J.B. agreed to watch the high-profile entourage through the traditional banquet and whatever after-supper festivities they would participate in, while Erasmus agreed to guard the boiler room crew.

The day passed into night too quickly for the lads. With a deep-pit fire raging a safe distance from the airship, they alternately heated and hammered two thin iron rails into the correct circumference for wrapping boiler number two. The borrowed anvil got a full workout that night. Erasmus knew that the blaze and clamor might draw in curious townsfolk or worse, nosy regatta competitors, so he cooked up a story about adding support braces to the airship in case someone came around. It wasn’t good practice to have your opposition knowing that the Burke & Hare couldn’t withstand a prolonged sprint. But the effort was for naught; all of the celebrities, and their associated festivities, were in town, which was much more interesting than noisy craftsmen. They were left alone to work late into the night with the exception of one lone figure, who approached using a military stride as if reporting for duty.

“J.B., all goes well, I assume.”

“You are correct, Chief Inspector. Everyone is safely back on the Burke & Hare except for Mr. Reginald Wallace. He stayed on board when the rest of us disembarked, and he wasn’t there when we returned. Do you think we should search the town for him?”

Erasmus thought for a few seconds. “I don’t believe so. Drawing us away to search for one person, and leave the rest of the airship unguarded is a poor plan. I also believe that our crew, particularly the pilots, are the ones most in danger, and they’re safely aboard. Mr. Wallace has returned on his own before. The lads here are nearly finished with this part of the task, and will soon be moving to finish in the boiler room. I’m hoping for everyone’s sake the remainder of this job is quieter.”

“Agreed, regarding both Mr. Wallace and the noise. Are you planning to stay up with them, or get some sleep?”

“I’ll see this through. You should get some sleep so that one of us is fresh for tomorrow.”

“A sound plan. Good evening, Chief Inspector.” With that, J.B. turned and headed straight back to the tower stairs, striding militarily.

The lads deemed the two bands were now properly hoop shaped, and finished by drilling three holes at each of the hoops’ ends. Afterward they doused the fire and gathered their tools to move the activity into the boiler room. Erasmus helped by carrying one of the bands. The actual banding of the number two boiler took less time than expected, but it did require a great deal of exertion to get the first band on tight enough to have a positive effect on the boiler. Three rivets were banged into place to retain the tension, but the racket was over in just a few minutes.

“What are you going to do with the second band?” Erasmus asked.

The tallest replied, “If we only shaped one, then it would ‘ave broke when we tensioned it. If we shaped two, then the first one will ‘old fast. It’s ‘ta nature of the beast.” He added a toothy grin that indicated that he was both half kidding and half truthful. Erasmus shook has head in mock disbelief. He knew that if something were to go wrong with the first band tomorrow, the second would be there to replace it. But that story is less colorful.

Now well past midnight, the band on tightly, the lads called it a day. Erasmus, fatigued, headed up to the cabin hallway to get some needed sleep. As he passed cabin number one’s open door, Erasmus noticed a lit candle on the bed stand and the silhouette of Mr. Wallace sitting on the bed, his head buried in his hands. Erasmus gave a polite knock on the door, but the shadowed figure didn’t react.

“I thought I’d just see if you’re doing well, Mr. Wallace.”

Reginald stood slowly, and took a few shuffled steps to round the bed toward Erasmus. The man was still fully clothed for the evening, complete with jacket. He listed a bit to the left, then caught himself, and continued his shuffle. That was when the smell of whiskey hit Erasmus. It was the smell of a man that had been drinking for hours, letting the sprits seep into his very soul until his clothes had the aroma of the drink.

Erasmus took a step toward Reginald, fearing that he would fall, and he would need to catch him. Instead, Reginald wrapped both his arms heavily around Erasmus’ arms in a sloppy drunken bear hug, placing his head on Erasmus’ shoulder.

“Waa shed leeb mem? Waa?”

“Reginald, I’m afraid I cannot understand you. Are you hurt?”

Reginald raised his head and looked straight at Erasmus as best he could, given the effort it took to prevent his head from wobbling. Fresh tears were streaming down his face over the tracks of previously dried tears. Reginald managed an overemphasized head shake that indicated that, no, he wasn’t hurt. Then he attempted his question again.

“Why did she leeb me? I loved her.”

“Who left you, Reginald?”

“My wife! Just before we left London. Gone.”

Erasmus considered his predicament. He was effectively slow dancing in the middle of the night with an unsteady drunk who reeked of alcohol with every exhalation, who had finally confessed to a progressing marital difficulty, and since he owned the airship on which Erasmus stood, just dumping him in his bed to sleep it off might not be the best diplomatic tactic. Erasmus didn’t predict this situation when he signed on to the Burke & Hare outing.

Erasmus thought hard for a couple of seconds about the best approach to get out of this situation to his cabin’s bed without endangering his assignment. The two extremes were spending the next hour listening to the man’s matrimonial issues or telling him to be the man he needs to be and leave him wallowing in his own sorrows. Erasmus decided to split the two and still be able to get to bed as quickly as possible.

“I can see she means the world to you. Let’s sleep on it, and you can tell me about it in the morning. We’ll put together a plan, you and I. Agreed?”

“Thatz a GREAT idea! Oh, thank you. You’re my best friend on this trip!”

“I suggest you prepare for bed now. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Reginald nodded his understanding and with an uncoordinated twist, let go of Erasmus and fell backwards into his bed, feet still on the floor. In seconds he was drunk-snoring, fully clothed. Erasmus moved is legs, his shoes still on, onto the bed so that he would at least be horizontal throughout the night. Determining that his job was done here, Erasmus snuffed out the candle, closed Reginald’s cabin door, and retired for the evening.

Erasmus played unintentionally with his spoon at the breakfast table. He had arrived a few minutes late, and he needed his morning cup of Earl Grey to get himself fully awake.
Luis-Miguel was busy serving the crew that had made it up to the common room on time. Erasmus became aware of the fact that is was nice to be waited on but he missed just making his own morning tea.

Reginald sat down beside Erasmus. Erasmus gave him a quick look over, and determined that the man had an incredible capability to hide a hangover. Erasmus wanted to appear sensitive to Reginald’s plight.

“Mr. Wallace, a good morning to you. Would you like to set aside some time today to chat?”

“And a good morning to you, Chief Inspector. That would be fine. What would you like to discuss?”

“The matter we spoke of last night.”

“We spoke last night? I’m afraid I don’t recall our discussion. Was it business?”

Erasmus was greatly relieved that Reginald actually didn’t remember or pretended to not remember the discussion. Either way, he was off the hook from listening to a problem for which he probably wasn’t the best advisor. Now he needed to politely back out of this conversation and he would be liberated from the whole affair.

“It was a trivial matter about the repair of one of the boilers I observed last night. I just wanted to say that I thought the crew did a superb job of completing the task, on time and with minimal supplies.”

“Oh, wonderful. I’m not concerned with the details of the day-to-day activities, just the big picture. Like winning this regatta! Today’s the big day, is it not? Is there anything else you wanted to discuss?”

“No, no. I am also looking forward to the day’s events. Ah! Breakfast has arrived.”

Erasmus’ steaming cup of Earl Grey arrived, and the men dug into their morning eggs and sausage.

After breakfast, the entire Burke & Hare crew was asked to stay seated in the main hall, and Herr Fenstermacher stood to make an announcement.

“Guten tag. Vith da final lek of da regatta today, I want to announce da standings of each airship. Deez times are ovicial. Da airship Le Lapin has been eliminated due to damage. Da airship El Toro Rojo has been eliminated due to illegal action.”

A couple of the boiler crew pumped their fists in delight and loudly said, “Yes!” Although this outburst was frowned upon by the remaining polite assemblage, its sentiment was secretly shared. Someone fake-whispered, “First time a rabbit stopped a bull!” Tittered chuckles went around. Herr Fenstermacher ignored the interruption and continued.

“In third place, 13 minutes und 46 seconds behind, is da airship Da North Wind. In second place, 3 seconds behind, is da airship Da Iron Eagle. In the lead is da airship Da Burke und Hare. Da objective for overall victory is to have da least overall flying time. Best of luck! Danke schön.”

After Herr Fenstermacher left to perform his usual pre-race airship inspection, Sparky signaled for the team that did the repairs to join her in the bridge room. Erasmus figured he was “part of the team,” and added himself to the group.

“Good morning. I trust you all got sufficient sleep for the final leg. Are you satisfied with the repairs? Do you have any concerns?”

The three workmen looked at each other to see who had any concerns, and after a few shrugs, looked around to determine who was going to make the report. Finally, the tallest lad piped up.

“All went well, Dr. Sparky, except for taking a good deal of ‘ta night. We made two bands in case we need a replacement during ‘ta run. ‘Ope ‘ta not be needing it, we do.” With that the lads al nodded approval of the summary.

“Tell me more about the repair.”

“‘Ta band runs perpendicular to the ‘airline fracture. ‘Ta lads and I will need to keep a sharp eye out to see if the fracture spreads outside of the band. We ‘ad to guess at the amount of tension. We settled for just using all of our might. Well, two of us pulling with leavers and ‘ta other ‘ammering three rivets home. It’s a clean fix, Dr.”

Again a round of approving nods. Sparky seemed satisfied.

“Well, I’d still like to run number two at 80%. Our race is with the Iron Eagle, and its a fast airship. I’d like to have just one sprint today to stay safe, but properly timed to win the regatta. So please stay alert for instructions from the helm.”

“Of course. ‘Ta lads and I’ll prep the boilers and engine now. God speed.”

The three of them hustled out to the main hall and downstairs. Sparky turned to Erasmus and flatly stated, “Let’s finish this race.”

One of the castle cannons was used to sound the start of the final leg. Sparky knew the real race was between the Burke & Hare and the Iron Eagle. Her plan was to stay side by side with the German airship and then sprint at the end. It was a fairly straight-forward plan, but it had worked for many racers.

The North Wind took off like a shot, as if they wanted to sprint the entire distance.

To Krasnayarubashka, Sparky strategized, “I know their plan. They want us to chase them, and make some tactical error. I’m not going to take that bait. Let’s see what the Iron Eagle will do.”

“Da, I agree. Let them run ahead.”

The run was out through the valley, bear to the right, and make a straight run to Munich. As predicted, the Iron Eagle made the run at a more reasonable pace. Sparky stayed close, and the two airships were side-by-side through most of the valley. Twenty minutes into the race, and Sparky was looking at the final valley between two peaks. As before, the airships were staying low to avoid the high air currents.

Sparky crinkled her brow and strained to see the obstruction ahead. “What is that?”

Krasnayarubashka replied, “Is not look good ...”

Sparky’s spyglass was snapped open and was up to her eye in an instant. She gasped. The North Wind was lower than the Burke & Hare, but more than three airship lengths ahead, steaming forward at full speed. Beyond that in the narrowed valley pass were three giant black hot air balloons supporting a net that hung all of the way to the ground. Above the balloons were three small sleekly shaped airships with multiple propellers on each. All of their envelopes were jet black, save for the nose of each ship, which displayed a white rough-hewn rendering of a human skull.

“How uninventive,” thought Sparky. Were they really pirates of the air? What could they possibly want from three stripped down racing vessels? But more importantly, why haven’t any of the officials of the race sounded their whistles indicating that the race is delayed due to obstruction?

The North Wind had no choice but to stop, climb up to the altitude of the sinister balloons, or turn and run. Either way, it had to slow down significantly. It only took seconds for Sparky to determine their decision. The speed of The North Wind dropped off as they diverted their heat to the envelope, causing it to distend slightly, resulting in the ship rising quickly.

Upon this development, Sparky slowed the forward thrust of The Burke & Hare to see what would befall The North Wind and to keep her own airship away from harm. The two pirate airships on the outside of their formation sprouted glider wings and nose dived off of the their positions, propellors spinning wildly. In synchronization, they both leveled off as to pass rapidly by The North Wind where they both fired a single canon round into the sides of the entrapped racing vessel. Both Sparky and Krasnayarubashka cried out at the report of the guns. Two gray puffs of smoke hung in the air, pinpointing the three dimensional location of the assault. Both projectiles hit the lower fore compartment, just under their bridge. The North Wind stopped its ascent, debris falling from the punctured sides of the craft. What is that falling out, wondered Sparky, pots and cooking apparatus? They must have perforated their galley on both side of their gondola.

Sparky grabbed the voice pipe. “We’re under attack! Repeat! We’re under attack! Bring number two boiler up to 100%. Stand by to take evasive maneuvers.”

The two swooping pirate ships nosed up and climbed back up, close to their original height. They were now above the Burke & Hare and the nearby Iron Eagle. The wounded North Wind continued forward toward the gigantic net just being pushed by the ambient wind. On her decks and visible through her port holes, her crew was running every which way, perhaps preparing for another attack, putting out a galley fire, or addressing the fundamental concern that the North Wind could plummet in to the valley because of its damage. Still no whistles from the officials!

Sparky shouted out a set of orders to Krasnayarubashka that detailed how they planned to climb as quickly as possible and get out of the valley. Krasnayarubashka reacted by grabbing a set of lever releases that diverted the steam from the engine to the envelope from boiler number one, since it was already at 100% pressure, and could spare the heat. If Sparky timed it right, both boilers could be back to 100% when they got to the altitude above the barricade, and could sprint out of the valley confines.

The door of the bridge flew open and Erasmus and J.B. were at their best heroic crouch, each with a revolver in one hand and a sword in the other.

Erasmus spoke up. “We’ll prepare the passengers and then position ourselves if boarded. Any special orders?”

With her eyes fixed on the instruments and chaos external to the airship, Sparky replied, “Please find out why Herr Fenstermacher has not blown his whistle! The airships need to retreat to safety!”

“Understood!”

The door was quickly shut and off they went. The plans that Erasmus and J.B. had worked out back in Munich was that they would each take one side of the ship: Erasmus would take the starboard side and J.B. would take the port side. First was to inform each passenger to take up arms or take cover, depending on the nature of the attack and the constitution of the passenger. The next was to position themselves along the outside of the airship and defend it as needed, with the help of the passengers with the stomach for combat. Erasmus entered cabin number one, belonging to Reginald Wallace. J.B. went unannounced into cabin number two, which contained Lord Ashleigh and Virat.

The voice pipe in the bridge came alive with an otherworldly echoey british voice with great concern. “Bridge, diversion of the steam to ‘ta envelope was successful but ‘ta envelope is not ‘olding the pressure load. We probably ‘ave a leak! We don’t ‘ave a spare man down ‘ere. Can someone else ‘andle it?”

Krasnayarubashka instinctively reached under the console and pulled out a rectangular green bag marked
Emergency Envelope Repair Kit. “I vill fix,” is all he said and ran out through the common room, out through the external door to the starboard side catwalk. Krasnayarubashka threw the strap of his bag over this head and shoulder, messenger bag style, and climbed the ropes toward the top of the envelope. To the untrained person the only way to spot where a leak is was to either see the hole or to feel the softness of the exterior of the envelope that was due to the loss of pressure. But to Krasnayarubashka, he could just look out across the vastness of the envelope and see where the skin was not tight enough. This skill made it a much quicker task of patching holes while aloft. What he didn’t realize as he inspected the envelope was that pirates were descending from lines dangling from the menacing airship above.

Cabin number one was darkened to the point that Erasmus had to wait for his eyes to adjust to see shapes in the room. The curtains were drawn, and not a single lamp was lit. “Reginald?” Erasmus queried into the darkness. A grunt came from the corner, and Erasmus could finally make out Reginald sitting quietly in a chair. Erasmus pulled back the drapes, pouring some much needed light into the room. Reginald winced and grunted at the change in his surroundings. What Erasmus discovered was Reginald sitting in his undergarments, an opened bottle of whiskey in one hand and a cork in the other. Reginald looked up and sleepily asked, “I thought you were going to help me with my wife. You never came back to talk to me. Why?” Erasmus didn’t have time for this. “Stay here and don’t leave your room. We are under attack. We can deal with these other issues when its over.”

Leaving the room, Erasmus shut the door, and proceeded to cabin number three. He figured he only had a few moments to get through the odd numbered cabins and secure his team. By the time he had finished with cabin five, he had Luis-Miguel armed with a small single shot pistol and a butcher knife. Cabin seven was Erasmus’ own cabin. In cabin nine was Aldrich Fremont and this his son, Jake.

“We’re under attack by foreign airships! Do you have any weapons to defend yourself?”

Aldrich looked nonplussed. “We are on a pleasure ride. I don’t plan to get involved with a scuffle.”

“Then take cover and stay quiet. Lock your door after I leave.”

Jake chimed in. “I will help. What can I do?”

Aldrich was initially dumbfounded, then incensed. “What are you saying, boy?! Let these men do their jobs to defend us. It is none of our concern.”

“Father, I’d rather stand and fight than cower. Chief Inspector, do you have a weapon I can wield?”

“Of course. There is a truck in my cabin, number seven. Out of it grab a truncheon and a knife. Join me and Luis-Miguel on the starboard catwalk. Aldrich, stay here and stay safe.”

“Jake!”

“Sorry, father. This is too important to quarrel about.”

With that, the two of them left the room.

In cabin fifteen, Erasmus found Herr Fenstermacher cringing in the corner of his room, his whistle buried in his hands, clutched to his chest. He was literally sitting on the floor scrunched into the intersection of the two walls and the floor. Erasmus open with, “Herr Fenstermacher, why haven’t you called off the race? We need your assistance in this matter!”

“Day vill kill me! I vas told not to stop the race. Leave me be!”

“What do you mean? Have you made a deal with these devils?”

“Dey vere paid to permit da race to pass drough da valley! Dey veren’t supposed to attack. Dis is not supposed to happen! I do not vant to die!”

“None of us do. Give me your whistle, so I can end this.”

“NOOOooo!” Herr Fenstermacher clutched his whistle tighter to his chest. Of all of the items that Erasmus didn’t bring on this trip, it was his policeman’s whistle. He wasn’t about to wrestle with this man when an attack could rain down on them at any point. Time was too precious.

“Very well. I will deal with you later. I have an airship to defend.” Erasmus slammed the door as he left.

Krasnayarubashka found the offending puncture in the envelope. This feat was akin to finding a coin in an airfield. It was almost on the top of the envelope, so the surface was not too sloped. The puncture was small enough that the envelope was still helping support his body weight, but the surrounding surface was very soft, and he had to stick to hanging onto the support ropes to make sure that he didn’t cave in the surrounding airbag. The Burke & Hare had twenty-four chambers, allowing for multiple perforations before a catastrophic failure. After belting himself and the repair bag to one of the support ropes, he freed up his two hands to perform the repair.

The hole had air escaping from it. There was no whistle since the hole was a ragged thick cloth, but the rate of loss was significant. The repair tool allowed a small umbrella-like tool to hold a round piece of cloth. Glue was placed on the underside of the small umbrella, and it was pushed through the hole, opened and then allowed to stick to the inside of the envelope, held there by the air pressure. The flat tines of the umbrella are left in place, and the umbrella shaft was removed to allow other repairs. It wasn’t perfect, but it would save the craft from deflation. A real repair could be done while docked, where a gummed patch would be sewn into place. A large rip or a sizable hole couldn’t be repaired this way, but it would do a fine job for this size leak.

As Krasnayarubashka put the finishing touches on the task, he noticed that the edges of the hole looked slightly burnt. “A bullet hole,” he thought, “it must have been fired from above.” He instinctively craned his neck to look up. That’s when two black boots landed on the envelope next to his face.

Over the bridge voice pipe came, “Bridge, ‘ta pressure in ‘ta envelope is ‘olding again. Pressure is building in bot’ boilers. One is at 70%; Two is at 90%; wit’ bot’ rising.”

“Prepare to ascend,” Sparky barked into the voice pipe.

Erasmus joined Luis-Miguel and Jake on the starboard catwalk. “All looks clear from here,” Jake offered as a report, sounding concerned that the call to arms was unwarranted.

The rotundness of the envelope prevented them from looking straight up, but they could see the disabled North Wind drifting towards the suspended net. At that moment, one of the North Wind’s crew members was leaning out of the splintered hole on its port side, surveying the airship’s damage.

The Burke & Hare suddenly, but gracefully, started to ascend. Unlike most of its upward movements, this was forceful and continuously accelerating. Erasmus grabbed tighter to the rail and felt it in his legs. His companions did likewise and looked at Erasmus with a “wow, that was unexpected” look.

Suddenly a man’s scream was heard from above, then the thud of a heavy weight bouncing off the side of the envelope, followed by an upside-down human body plummeting over the edge of the envelope overhead. The scream continued as he fell. In the split second that Erasmus saw the falling silhouette against the bright blue sky, he also saw that it was struggling with a rope wrapped loosely around its leg.

The rope went taught, whipping the arms and head downward, bouncing the living marionette once, then settling at suspending him by one ankle.

“Ivan!” yelled Luis-Miguel. From his actions, it was clear to Erasmus that the rope was not tied to him, simply entangled. Krasnayarubashka carefully but quickly climbed up his own leg to get to the little bit of rope wrapped near his left foot. The airship continued its ascension, making Krasnayarubashka appear to descend, but more importantly, the rope to visibly vibrate as it rubbed against the airship’s envelope.

In an instant, the rope gave up its hold, Krasnayarubashka cried out, and the three men helplessly watched as their co-pilot fell.

Jake, his mouth frozen in a silent scream, leaned hard over the railing, as if wishing to grow impossibly long arms and catch Ivan.

“Jake, don’t look down. Stay on task. We need to deal with whoever is above us.”

Jake looked up, bent on retaliation. Luis-Miguel held his weapons all the more tighter, and mumbled a Spanish phrase that was not for the faint of heart to hear.

“Luis-Miguel, run and tell Sparky about Ivan. Then on the port side, tell Sergeant Fox the same. Join Jake back here and make good our defense. I’m going up to the top. Neither of you follow. I need you here.”

Sparky manually inventoried her three challenges: ascend to clear the curtain-like net, avoid the three smaller, faster and armed airships, and have the resources and the head of steam to sprint out of here without causing a boiler explosion. She saw the two attacking airship disappear above her, so she was ascending as hard and fast as possible to get above them, bump them, or scare them out of the way. Hopefully, this action wouldn’t rip an unrecoverable gash in the envelope.

Then she saw the net part like the curtains of a stage. “How odd,” she thought. The North Wind was going to drift through the barrier’s opening, allowing them access to the other side. Sparky’s speculation continued. Are they letting them pass to win the race? Have they taken enough damage that they are no longer considered a threat? Or are they separating the regatta participants, with the remaining pirate airship above the net planning to attack The North Wind separately? But she realized that she had plenty to worry about right here on her vessel, and she needed her co-pilot back.

The door flew open, Sparky turned to see who it was, and a breathless Spanish messenger relayed the sad news. Sparky straightened her stance, held her breath for a second, and tears sprouted from her eyes. She couldn’t help it. She wanted to be strong, but this was truly unfair. She quickly pulled a handkerchief from within her jacket, wiped her eyes and nose, nodded her understanding of the message to Luis-Miguel, and turned back to her controls. Luis-Miguel solemnly closed the door and rushed on to complete his task.

Erasmus stashed his revolver in a pocket inside his leather cape coat, and secured the saber into his belt. His hands free, he started the climb that took him up the outside of the envelope, rounding the bottom of the inflated sausage that held the Burke & Hare aloft. He was not unfamiliar with climbing up such ropes, his attention not being on the hazardous climb, but on the unknown dangers ahead.

Erasmus crested the envelope crawling, even though the slope was minor enough that he could stand, the scene was not quite as he had expected. Two smaller airships were about fifty feet above the Burke & Hare, both of which must have been rising at the same pace, since the distances didn’t seem to be changing. Three lines were hanging down onto the top of the Burke & hare’s envelope. A fourth line limply ran off and over the starboard side, posthumously indicating the path that Ivan took on his descent. In front of himself Erasmus saw five darkly clothed figures wearing dirty-black tricornered hats. Four of them were facing away from Erasmus toward the port side, one was looking around, to make sure no one snuck up on them from their rear. Due to the curvature of the envelope, it was difficult to see who or what the four were looking at. Erasmus crept closer.

“We not be needing more lives lost, my friend. Surrendering your ship is the wisest of choices.”

“They speak English?” wondered Erasmus. After covering a few more yards, Erasmus could see the full setting. Standing on the far side of the pirates were Lord Ashleigh, J.B., and Virat, in that order. J.B. was also wearing some complicated harness and backpack, with some type of stakes and canvas jutting up out of the backpack behind his head. Pistols were leveled, and a standoff was in progress. But a five-to-three standoff meant that the pirates really had no interest in just killing everyone or they would have discharged there weapons long ago.

Sergeant Fox replied, with a vocalization reserved for clear, fearless intent. “Leave. Now. We are commanded to guard this airship and I have no plans to fail in that duty. Again, leave now.”

If it’s a standoff, Erasmus reasoned, then joining the fray will only help sway the pirates to our side of the argument. With that, Erasmus slipped the revolver out of his cape coat, put it into his right hand to leave his left free, and carefully stood on the envelope. The pirate lookout noticed him.

“There be one more of them,” he stated quietly, and indicated Erasmus’ direction with a well-aimed point of this pistol. Then the lookout squinted, and smiled. “Drake? Drake! How ye be?”

The hoarse voice was familiar to Erasmus, but who could it be? His face was weathered and old ...

“Tobias?”

“Have not seen ye for ... what? ... twenty or twenty-five years! Still go by ‘Drake’?”

“Yes. Yes, I do. Why are you with this crew? You were a first-rate lieutenant.”

“Ahh, you poor lad. You still be ignorant of the truth.” Tobias shook his head and laughed. “These be my people, all along.”

Erasmus came to a sudden realization. A pure clarity came over him that flipped over his childhood beliefs and showed the slimy creatures that lived under it. His stomach twisted.

“Not one of you told me. I thought we ...”

Turning fast to face Erasmus, the coattails of the center pirate flew out, and a commanding female voice added, “Well this is good, we have a reasonable man aboard.” She started the long walk over toward Erasmus. The other pirates cowered slightly when she spoke, hinting that they were not looking forward to where she was taking the conversation. She added, “Please to be making your acquaintance, Drake. Let us come to some mutual understanding to put this all to an end.”

As she approached, Erasmus saw her scandalous outfit. She was primarily in black, with a few hints of dark purple. Her open frock coat revealed a leather corset worn on the outside of her black blouse, a brace of pistols transversed her torso, and her skirt raggedly ended above her knee. Her tricornered hat looked like it had been used to beat a rat to death, and then fastened with gold trinkets to hide its disreputable state. Her black boots were almost knee-high and their leather untended. Although she may have been considered handsome by some when unmarred, she now had two facial scars, one that ran diagonally from her left forehead to the bridge of her nose, and the other drawing a line from her right earlobe halfway to her chin.

She forced a quick smile, and sheathed her sword as she replaced her pistol back into the brace. “No one needs to get hurt here,” she stated flatly as she advanced.

“Unfortunately it is too late for that. We lost our co-pilot when he fell off the starboard side.”

She stopped in front of Erasmus, right hand extended. He noticed that she also blocked his aim at the four others. Being left-handed himself, he willingly slid his revolver back into his coat, and extended his right hand for the ceremonious handshake.

She replied, “An unfavorable loss. When we landed we spooked him. He lost his balance and fell overboard.”

She took Erasmus’ hand firmly, and shook it slowly, as if she wanted the moment to last.

Erasmus retorted, “I do not believe it was an accident. He was a very accomplished airship engineer. He would have tethered himself. And that remaining half of a cut tether that I see over there flapping in the wind means that he had help going over the side.”

She screamed, “Now!!” and all hell broke loose. She squeezed Erasmus’ hand with the grip of someone that climbs mast lines with ease, and within the blink of an eye drew her sword out of its scabbard with her left hand, edge-side outward. Erasmus twisted to avoid the initial upward cut but it still sliced his face just between his right eye and temple. In the same motion, he drew his sword and pulled it back for thrust at the same time, pulling hard on her right hand to get inside the reach of her armed left hand. Erasmus’ thrust hit her square in the midriff, but the corset turned aside the point, as it was apparently metal-lined body armor.

Neither was willing to let go, figuring that the close range tussle was to their advantage. She punched the rounded hand-guard into Erasmus’ side, and flipped the blade up to prepare to drive the pommel into his hipbone. Erasmus countered by dropping his tip and driving the sword into her thigh a few inches above her right knee. “That should slow her down,” he thought.

Shots rang out as two of the other pirates took fast, poorly aimed shots at J. B. and Lord Ashleigh. Tobias ran to the lines with that hunched-over run reserved for running from gunfire. He obviously didn’t want any part of this.

As if orchestrated, Lord Ashleigh dove to his right and Virat to his left, and before either of them hit the envelope, they had each drawn, thrown, and buried a throwing knife in to the chest of a pirate. It happened so quickly that both pirates looked down in unison to see the fatal throws, before collapsing into the canvas. Erasmus saw this out of the corner of his eye and thought, “Ahh, they have been secretly practicing together.”

But the hellcat that Erasmus had skewered wasn’t ready to quit. She let out a bloodcurdling scream, her eyes grew large, and she clenched her grip down all the more. Despite the wound that went both in and out of her leg, she bellguarded Erasmus in the same location as the cut, just inside his right temple. The splash of blood blinded his right eye. She pulled back to repeat the blow. Erasmus withdrew the sword, and hammered down on her right wrist, again meeting metal hidden under the her frock coat. The second blow to the right temple was hard and all the more vicious. Erasmus reeled, and was then kicked in the chest by the remaining pirate that came to aid their queen. She finally let go of Erasmus, and stumbled on her wounded leg.

Erasmus stumbled back, blind, trying to stay on his feet. He waved his sword to find his opponent, but with no success. He reached up to clear his eyes, but only found warm wetness. With a bloodied hand he grabbed his revolver, leveled it, but then realized that he had a greater chance of hitting the airship’s canopy than any of the pirates. Wait! That’s it. He pointed his revolver skyward and fired off six shots into the general vicinity of the two airships above. The screams of pirates rang out indicating that he had hit his mark.

An incredibly hard punch, or was it a kick?, was delivered to his stomach and Erasmus staggered back once again. But this was no ordinary stagger. It was that gut-wrenching unstoppable stagger off the side of a mountain where the more you try to right oneself, the faster you backpedal. He fell. He rolled and then bounced. He let go of the sword and the revolver, there was no way to hang on to them. Flashes of sky and darkness went zipping past. He reached out for ... well ... anything. Then, the hardest jerk on his right arm he ever felt, followed by his right hand finding a rough-hewn hemp rope and instinctively grabbed it for all he was worth.

Despite the fact that he was hanging by one hand, he stopped and let his head clear. What had happened? It was apparent that he had fallen near the edge of the airship envelope. With his free left hand he wiped his left eye and saw a lone coil of rope, most likely used for mooring the vessel, perhaps in high winds or bad weather, and that he just happened to stick his right arm through it and lassoed it. The second miracle is that he also grabbed it. He was not all the way to the edge, but he was close, so he was laying on the lip of the canopy. His right arm hurt like it had been pulled out of the shoulder.

More gun shots were heard, and more scuffling. The lasso of mooring rope was attached to another rope that ran down the side of the envelope. Erasmus knew he couldn’t stay here; he had to climb down to safety. He slipped his left hand around the vertical rope and tested his strength. His grip felt strong enough. He let go with his right to start the climb down.

Lord Ashleigh landed on the port side catwalk, and ran into the main hall, and over to the bridge. He flung the door open and reported, “Stop the ascent! The two airships above us are damaged and descending!”

Sparky adjusted two floor mounted levers, and the upward movement of the airship slowed.

“Is it safe to flee the area?”

“Stay in the vicinity! Virat and J. B. scaled the lines to the pirate ship. They are in the process of further disabling it.”

“Is everyone else safe?”

“Erasmus took a tumble off of the starboard side. You didn’t see him fall?”

“No!”

With that they both sprinted to the starboard side catwalk.

Sparky shouted, “Look for Erasmus!” With that, she took the remainder of the team, Jake, Lord Ashleigh, and Luis-Miguel, and spread out along the catwalk to look up to see the Chief Inspector.

The lone pirate ship swooped down, headed for the Iron Eagle. The Iron Eagle’s envelope opened a large vent from the top and descended 100 feet in the wink of an eye, spoiling the pirate ship’s shot at the Iron Eagle. They swooped back up to hold the high ground.

Erasmus’ feet dangled over the side of the envelope. Sparky shouted for him to hang on. Exhausted and weak, he responded by rapidly going hand over hand to get to safety. He put a single foot onto the railing, and leaned in, reaching for any handhold. His foot slipped on the rail and he fell to his chest, bouncing unceremoniously, catching the rail with only his bloody right hand.

“Sparky?” he gasped.

And his grasp slipped to his fingertips.




Ishild

Entry for September 13, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Sparky threw her body on the railing, grasping for Erasmus’ hand. Her hand came away slick and sticky with his blood. “No,” she thought, “do not let it end before it has even begun!” She searched frantically for somewhere to wipe the blood off so she could get a better grip when the wind whipped her new, “lucky,” yellow silk scarf into her face. The scarf! She whipped off the scarf, not bothering to wipe her hands, and wrapped it quickly around his right wrist. “Give me your other wrist!” Weakly, he reached up in the direction of her voice. She was nothing more than a blonde blur through the blood in his eyes. She whipped the now bloody scarf around his left wrist and rotated her own wrists, reeling in the slack across the palms of both hands. She bent her elbows, pressed the flats of her fists to her clavicle, and braced her feet against the base of two rail posts. This was going to hurt…both of them. She tightened up all her muscles and threw her body backwards. Drake screamed in pain as his bruised and bloodied body was dragged over the railing. He landed squarely on top of Sparky, all elbows and knees and 50 pounds heavier than her. She exhaled a grunt of pain.

When the realization of their success hit them a second later, they smiled slightly to each other and she whispered in his ear, “Silk is like true love, beautiful to behold, soft to the touch, but strong when tested.”

“You are truly a remarkable woman.”

Lord Ashleigh reached them first and helped Drake to his feet. “My dear friend, you gave us a terrible scare.”

“I fear the worst of today’s horror is not yet over.”

Luis-Miguel reached down to help McTrowell off the catwalk. When he took her hands and began to pull, she winced in pain and grabbed her right shoulder.

“Augh! As if the situation weren’t bad enough already!” She got her feet under herself and rose on her own. “Luis-Miguel, please see to cleaning up Chief Inspector Drake and try to stop the bleeding. I’ll sew him up properly later. Mr. Fremont, you’re with me.”

“But, ma’am, I want to defend the ship.”

“Jake, the best way to defend this ship is to get her out of harm’s way. She needs four strong arms and with the loss of the brave Mr. Krasnayarubashka, I’m down to one. Your two will have to make up for three. Now, will you help me save the lives of everyone aboard her?”

“Yes, ma’am!” He fairly ran after her as she made as much haste to the bridge as she was able.

Aboard the pirate ship, Sergeant Fox was marveling at the stealth of Virat, and his ability to understand what Fox wanted him to do with just minimal hand signs. Under cover of the panic caused by the unexpected defense mounted by the Burke & Hare, the two of them had managed to sneak into the pirate ship’s engine room, which the pirates had left woefully undermanned. There was only one “engineer” and he was running about like a rat trapped in a rapidly filling bilge. Fox and Virat were conferring silently about their next move when Fox accidentally dropped a grenade he had been hoping to use on the mission. It was a small device, but it hit the wood deck with an echoing thud. Despite his attention on the mechanics of the ship, the sound got the engineer’s attention. He whirled around to face its source in time to see the sergeant vault a steam pipe; no small trick given the leather, wood, and canvas contraption strapped to his back. Fox wrapped his muscular arms deftly around the pirate’s throat and choked him out before he could raise the alarm. By the time Fox turned back around, Virat had snatched up the grenade, lit it from the steam engine’s furnace and wedged it firmly under a boiler mount. They didn’t need hand signs to communicate the urgent need to get off the pirate ship.

They scrambled up the ladder out of the engine room and onto the tight catwalk, headed directly for the lines leading back down to the Burke & Hare. And came face to face with four angry, cutlass-wielding pirates hell bent on mayhem. They were well and truly done in. Retreating would send them to a fiery death in the engine room. Even if they could defend themselves against the pirates, though they were outnumbered two-to-one and in such tight quarters as to make it almost impossible to wield their weapons, they surely could not dispatch the pirates before the boiler blew. Fiery death again! Virat had just an instant to spare for a sad wistful thought of the beautiful, deep eyes he would never see again and the small, gentle hands he would never hold again. He braced himself to fight to an honorable end, taking as many of his foe with him as possible. He was jerked off his feet by one of those muscular arms that were such a prominent feature of Her Majesty’s Aerial Marine.

“Hang on tight to me!” J.B. shouted right into his ear. Then the fool leapt over the railing out into open space. This was not an honorable death. They would plummet to the earth, their bodies becoming food for scavengers. And yet, a lifetime of servitude made Virat reflexively follow the direct order shouted at him. He clung to Fox with his arms and legs. Fox worked an arm between himself and Virat and yanked on a handle in the middle of the harness crossing his chest. The mysterious, cumbersome device on Fox’s back transformed into the most miraculous thing Virat had seen in his long, eventful life. They became the outstretched wings of a roc.

Virat was still marveling at the device when their trajectory was rocked by the explosion of the pirate ship behind them. Drake and Ashleigh saw and felt the explosion from the catwalk of the Burke & Hare. Drake watched helplessly as Ashleigh’s face turned gray. He had never known a life without Virat. When Virat wasn’t right at his elbow, he was no more than a bell ring away. Jonathan was suddenly a boy again, a boy who had just lost his father. His chest hurt. Drake grasped him firmly by the shoulders.

“My dear friend, I can’t imagine the pain you’re suffering, but we must fight on if Virat’s death is not to be in vain. He has sacrificed himself to give us this advantage. Let us seize it.” And then he saw something over Ashleigh’s shoulder than his brain could not make sense of. It looked like a giant bird with a huge, lumpy body. It was making straight for the Burke & Hare. “Oh dear,” he thought, “let this not be some new treachery.” He was trying to decide what defense might possibly succeed when the lumpy body of the flying predator resolved itself into Sergeant Fox with Virat clinging to his neck and legs. Drake let out an uncharacteristic whoop of joy and spun Ashleigh around.

Drake called to the chief steward, “Sevilla, step up here on the rail with me!” Drake climbed up on the railing and held his arms out wide, gesturing for Luis-Miguel to do likewise. Fox slowed his approach by tipping the wings up slightly. The wings filled the field of view of the three men on the catwalk. Fox grasped Virat around the waist and said to him, “Prepare to let go on my mark… Now!” He flung Virat away from his body and into the waiting hands of Drake and Sevilla who more or less caught him. Mostly they stopped his forward trajectory and the three of them landed in a heap on the catwalk. Drake thought to himself, “I have had quite enough of this maneuver for today.”

Relieved from the awkward burden of a passenger for which his wings were not designed, Fox swooped away toward the net blocking the valley. Ashleigh quickly wiped a tear from his eye before the pile of his comrades on the catwalk could see it. He glanced out into the open space left by Fox’s departure, trying to think of the right thing to say when one of the two remaining pirate ships rounded the back of the Burke & Hare. He found himself staring right down the barrel of a cannon preparing to broadside the Burke & Hare. It was so close he could see the cannonier touching his glowing linstock to the fuse. With barely a thought, he reached up to his brace and unleashed a single knife in one smooth, continuous motion. It snipped off the smoldering tip of the fuse and lodged into the throat of the cannonier. The look of glee on the pirate’s face evaporated into one of utter astonishment before he keeled over in a gurgling mess. Feeling that he had sufficiently regained his composure, Lord Asheigh turned to aid his comrades.

On the bridge, Sparky and Jake were watching the third pirate ship harry the Iron Eagle. The marauders couldn’t get close enough to fire their cannon or board because the Iron Eagle was armed with Potsdam rifles and several crewmembers who knew how to use them. Neither had the crew of the Iron Eagle succeeded in damaging the pirate ship, but a couple of the pirates would undoubtedly be looking for a new line of work if they survived their injuries. The two racing airships really needed to work together if they were going to put a stop to this attack without more casualties. She needed one more good idea. Drake opened the door. She barely glanced at him before returning her attention to the Iron Eagle.

“You’re still bleeding.”

“Thank you for your concern. Virat and Sergeant Fox returned safely. Fox has departed again.”

“Yes, I saw his dramatic leave-taking. A truly marvelous invention those extensible wings; I wish I had invented them. I believe he’s trying to make a passage for us.” She snapped the cover off her telescope and handed it to Drake and pointed ahead at the net. Drake opened the telescope and focused on the net. Fox had landed on the net and was climbing up it toward the middle balloon. Fox had made the hard decision to relieve himself of the wings, probably because they were too great a burden to make the climb possible. There was the bravest of them all. If he succeeded in his mission of bringing down the net, he would probably go down with it.

“Courageous Sergeant Fox may be in need of rescue,” Drake remarked.

“Yes, I’ve added it to my list of miracles to perform today. Do you still have a bladed weapon?”

“Yes, I have my sword stick.”

“Are you still physically able to wield it under duress?”

“Yes, why?”

“I have an idea.” She breathed warm air onto the brass cover of the telescope and polished it on her corduroy skirt. She waved frantically across at Willy Dampf until she caught his attention. “I hope he is current with his signaling.” She played with the telescope cover until she caught the light and then began flashing the reflection toward Dampf.

Dot-dot-dot-dot dot-dash dot-dot-dot-dash dot pause dash-dash-dot-dot dot-dash-dot-dot-dot dot-dot-dash-dash pause dot-dash pause dot-dot-dot dash dot-dash-dot dot-dash-dot-dot-dot dash-dot dash-dash-dot pause dot-dash-dot-dot dot-dot dash-dot dot

She could barely make out the perplexed expression on his face, but he nodded. She gave the telescope cover another burnish.

Dash dot-dot-dot-dot dot-dash-dot dot-dash-dot-dot-dot dot-dash-dash pause dot-dash-dot-dot-dot dot-dot-dot-dash dot dot-dash-dot

Again the perplexed expression, but this time followed by a gesture of exasperation with his arms in the air, but finally a head nod. Sparky turned to the two other occupants of the bridge.

“Mr. Fremont, fetch Mr. Sevilla and double time it to the starboard catwalk. Prepare to catch a line that will be cast from the Iron Eagle. Once you have secured the line, leave Mr. Sevilla there and return here. Chief Inspector, please fetch your sword stick and meet Fremont and Sevilla on the starboard side.” She grabbed the voice pipe. “Mr. Wilkinson, have the spare boiler band carried to the starboard side. Grab your tools and meet me on the bridge.” As everyone hurried off to carry out her mystifying set of orders, she thought to herself, “This had better work and that boiler had better hold, because there’s no hope without the spare.”

Wilkinson arrived on the bridge promptly, clanking in his full tool belt. He received his orders in absolute bafflement. He had never flown with the peculiar American woman pilot before, but he had heard some truly outrageous stories. He had always imagined these stories to be drunken embellishments, but now he wasn’t so sure. On the other hand, all his mates who had regaled him with such epic yarns had all lived to tell the tale, so he too headed dutifully to the starboard side.

As soon as the pirate ship made its most recent pass at the Iron Eagle, a huge crewmember dashed out onto the port side catwalk carrying an enormous armload of rope that he dumped unceremoniously. The two crewmembers laid down their rifles and helped unwind the rope. The big fellow snatched up a large iron bar with a lightweight line tied to it. With a mighty grunt, he hurled the iron bar across the open space between the two ships. Jake and Luis-Miguel stood ready to catch it. At the last instant they thought better of standing in the path of a flying iron bar and jumped back. It struck the side of the Burke & Hare’s gondola, leaving a nasty dent. Wilkinson commented, “At’s gonna need fixin’.” Sevilla and Fremont sprang forward to grab the lightweight line. Wilkinson slipped a pulley over the line before helping the other two haul in the heavy line attached to it. They tied the line securely to the railing as the crew of the Iron Eagle did likewise on their side. Wilkinson commented again, “Make it fast, boys. A man’s life depends on it.” The newly minted first mate and the chief steward looked at Wilkinson quizzically, but considering the events of the day, neither of them could work himself up to a real sense of surprise. They tied off the line solidly and gave the thumbs up to the Iron Eagle crew who returned their affirmation. Having successfully executed his ordered task, Jake hurried back to the bridge wondering what was coming next.

Wilkinson set to work immediately, pulling a length of chain and a pair of mated nuts and bolts out of his kit. “Keep a lookout there will ya, Sevilla?” He worked quickly, threading the chain through the eye attached to the axle. “Inspector, and up that boiler stay, will ya?” Despite his fatigued arms, he picked up the stay and propped it on the rail. Wilkinson deftly fastened the two ends of the chain to the bolt holes in the opposite ends of the stay, pulling the right wrenches from his tool belt without even looking. He gave a good tug to each junction to ensure it was fast. He slapped Drake on the shoulder, “Good luck to ya man.” And he headed back to the engine room.

Erasmus turned to Luis-Miguel. “Are you strong enough to steady the sling? I’m putting my life in your hands.”

“Si, señor Drake. Vaya con dios.”

When Jake returned to the bridge, Sparky was signaling the Iron Eagle again.

Dot-dot-dot-dot dot-dash-dot-dot-dot dot-dash-dot-dot pause dot-dot-dash-dot dot-dash dot-dot-dot dash

Willy Dampf saluted her.

“What do we do now ma’am?”

“Now I need your two strong arms. When the pirate ship comes around again, I’m going to pull hard aport until that line you tied draws taut.”

“And the pirates will run right into it?”

“I’m hoping they will think that’s our plan. If I give you the signal, I want you to push forward on both of those levers with all your strength. Our gambit depends on you. Are you ready?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

She spoke into the voicepipe in what she hoped was a calm, reassuring voice, “Mr. Wilkinson, how is that repair holding.”

“She’s sound.”

“I fear I may be about to test the quality of your repair. Give me full power.”

“Aye, aye, captain.”

She saw the pirate ship round the front of the Iron Eagle. Just as she had explained to Jake and warned Wilkinson, she opened up the throttle and steered sharply to the port side. The tether between the Burke & Hare and the Iron Eagle snapped straight and she felt the ship jerk like a dog on a leash, but she held the Burke & Hare straining to the port side. Dampf held the Iron Eagle hard to starboard. She tried not to listen to her heart pounding in her ears as the approaching vessel seemed to slow to a drift.

Outside on the starboard catwalk, Sevilla removed his vest, wrapped it around his hands and leaned over the railing to hold the pulley a couple of feet away from the railing. Drake climbed shakily over the railing, grasping the sword stick in his right hand. He sat down in the sling, slid the sword stick down the front of his vest, and extracted just the blade. Drake and Sevilla waited for the signal. Sevilla began to tremble and sweat from the exertion of holding Drake and the sling against the side of the ship that vibrated frantically from the tension on the line. He didn’t want to think about the possibility of the line or a railing giving way because there would be no way to save Drake. He would be lucky not to be pulled overboard himself.

On the bridge, Sparky whispered to herself, “Go on, take the bait.” She saw the pirate ships flaps lower before the ship itself changed course. “Now, Mr. Fremont! Push for all you’re worth!” The Burke & Hare shot up, stressing the engines so hard Sparky could hear the keening through the ship. The pirate ship nosed under the line. Out on the catwalk, Drake and Sevilla watched the prow of the pirate ship pass right under them.

“Bueña suerte, Señor Drake,” and Sevilla let go of the pulley. Wilkinson kept his pulleys in tip top form because it zipped right along the line as Drake clung fast to the sling with his right hand. He stuck his feet out in front of himself to counter balance so he could lay back and reach down with his left arm. He steeled the muscles his neck, arms, and back. He felt the blade of his sword stick make contact with the envelope and every fiber of his being shook with the effort of holding steady, an effort made even harder by the air geysering up from the slash in the envelope. He felt the blade skip over three seams in the envelope which meant he had cut at least four separate pockets.

He didn’t have a chance to admire his handiwork because the railing of the Iron Eagle was coming up fast and he was closing on the Iron Eagle’s crewmembers who were there to stop his traversal. One of them was the size of a Black Forest oak. Drake’s ride was getting more precarious because the tension between the ships was lessening, causing the rope to slacken. The oak tree pulled the rope up from the railing and held it above his head, removing the slack and aiming Drake right at his chest. Drake suddenly realized he still had his sword stick in his hand. He hated to lose the lovely blade, but couldn’t very well land safely without risking self-injury or stabbing his rescuer, so he pitched his blade toward the catwalk as best he could. He was too early with his throw, the gleaming blade disappeared as Drake careened toward the German airship, hopping up slightly just before he made contact. And make contact he did. He bounced squarely off the tree’s chest and landed at his feet on the catwalk. Drake thought to himself, “Yes, indeed, I have had quite enough of this maneuver for the rest of my life.” He struggled to his feet once more. “Danke schön,” he said to no crewmember in particular.

He then allowed himself a peek over the railing. He had to admit to himself that he felt a touch of pride at his excellent work as the pirate ship sank like a rock into a very deep crevasse. Two down, one to go. One of the crewmembers signaled for Drake to follow him to the bridge where he was greeted warmly by Dampf, despite the seriousness of the situation.

“You und your frent, Dr. Sparky, make quite a gud team, Herr Drake.”

“Thank you, Captain Dampf, but we must still deal with the remaining ship and find a way to recover Sergeant Fox, assuming he doesn’t give his life in the line of duty opening the net.” Although he was first and foremost a man of duty, Drake still wished fervently for Sparky to win the race. As nonchalantly as he could manage, he continued, “Herr Fenstermacher has refused to stop the race despite the attack. Has your referee also refused?”

Being likewise a keen competitor, Dampf paused a moment before answering as he recognized Drake’s motive. “Ja, und I haf srown him in za brig.” Drake momentarily lost his composure and his eyebrows shot up at the revelation that the Iron Eagle had a brig.

Before the two of them could confer further on a plan, the third and final pirate ship dove, nose-down, in front of them from the cover of a cloud, then abruptly leveled out a few hundred feet above the racers and approached very slowly. They were too high to fire their cannons on either regatta competitor at their current altitude. They couldn’t be planning to ram because they were too high, moving too slowly, and their vessel was too small to have any effect. Then they started to climb still higher and move toward the Iron Eagle’s port side. What could they possibly be doing? They dropped three lines just as they were moving out of view of the Iron Eagle’s cockpit and Drake’s stomach sank.

“I have to get back to the Burke & Hare.”

“Herr Holzfäller, sent Herr Drake bek ze vay he came!”

True to his name, Herr Holzfäller literally lumbered as he ran down the port side catwalk. Drake felt like he was running downhill and uphill all at once as Dampf set the Iron Eagle on a steep climb. By the time they reached the line between the two ships, the Iron Eagle was higher than the Burke & Hare. Drake was looking straight across at the pirate ship as the Pirate Queen disembarked from one of the dangling lines and slid over the far side of the Burke & Hare’s envelope. Before he could step up on the railing, Holzfäller snatched him up like he was a ragdoll, swung him over the railing, and stuffed him into the sling. He barely had time to grasp the slides of the sling before Holzfäller gave him a hearty shove off while holding the line taut. At least Sevilla hadn’t abandoned his post at the far end. As Drake stuck out his feet to brace for impact, he realized what would immediately follow. He wondered if there were airships with padded catwalks. To be fair, Sevilla himself provided quite a bit of padding and they would have lots of bruises to compare if they got out of this predicament alive.

“The pirates have boarded.”

“Si, Señor Drake, I know. I am not the fighting man you are, so I was staying out of sight waiting for an idea. Do you have one?”

“Only that we have the element of surprise on our side. I expect they will focus their attention on the bridge and the engine room. I see you still have the butcher knife. Do you still have the single shot pistol?”

“Si.”

“It requires a very steady hand to use as an offensive weapon.” This statement only served to cause Sevilla more consternation that showed visibly on his face. It was clear to Drake that Sevilla could not use the pistol to shoot an enemy, even if his life were in danger. “Now I have an idea. Boiler number two is in a fragile state. As quietly as possible, sneak into the engine room. If it is occupied and Mr. Wilkinson and his crew are not there, shoot the boiler. I don’t believe it will fail completely, but it may spring a leak sufficient to fill the engine room with scalding steam. Retreat to a safe distance as quickly as possible and defend yourself with the knife if necessary. Can you do that?”

“Si, I think so.”

“Good man. I’m heading to the bridge.” But he didn’t make it all the way to the bridge. As he attempted to open the door to the main hall stealthily, he spied the back of a pirate guarding the door. He could see Sparky facing a little to his left, toward someone he couldn’t see through the crack. Why was she just standing there? He’d seen the results of her handiwork against the Duke of Milton and Abusir. She wasn’t entirely overmatched. And then he remembered young Mr. Fremont whom he couldn’t see or hear. He must still be on the bridge under guard and she wasn’t willing to risk his life. Then he heard that terrible icy voice again.

“I suppose you thought you could just sail right into Melköde and steal my throne because you are the great Dr. Sparky McTrowell.”

“Miss Ishild..”

“Queen Ishild!”

“Queen Ishild, I fear that you read too many penny dreadfuls. I’m here to fly a race, no more no less.”

“If that is so, why did you bring the famous Aerial Marine Sergeant Fox and that traitor, Drake?”

Sparky made a mental note of the adjective “famous” and the noun “traitor” for later research. “I did not bring them. They were sent by Her Majesty who does not confide her motives to me.”

“Her Majesty,” Ishild fairly spit out the title. “It is easy to be a queen when someone has already built you castles and you have thousands to protect you while you drink tea. I must defend my people from her treachery with my own sword!”

“Technically, I believe she’s an empress. However, this is not as germane as this alleged act of treachery. As I said, Her Majesty does not confide her motives to me, but I believe she is generally regarded as an honest monarch.”

“Then why after twenty five years does she build railroads and send airships?”

“In addition to fewer penny dreadfuls, I also recommend an up to date atlas. This is Bavaria. Railroads and regattas are arranged at the behest of King Maximilian.” Drake winced at Sparky’s condescending tone. He feared it would only further enrage the pirate queen, whose name was apparently Ishild, and indeed it did. The next words out of her mouth were nearly a scream.

“He is just a lap dog for her! I know this Ludwig-Süd-Nord-Bahn is all her idea and I will put a stop to it like I put a stop to your first mate!” Erasmus could see Sparky’s jaw muscles clench and relax.

“What do you mean ‘put a stop to my first mate?’”

“Surely you don’t imagine he just fell?” she jeered nastily. And then to emphasize her point she made a swift, downward slicing arc with her sword. The flash of the tip revealed to Drake how close she was standing to Sparky, too close for him to get to her before she got to Sparky. “And then I will finish making your Drake not so handsome.”

Erasmus saw a look cross Sparky’s face that he had not yet seen. It was as cold and still as a frozen lake. The intonation of her next words was so flat, he couldn’t tell if they were a question or a statement. “That was you.”

“What if it was? What do you care for him? I owe him for what he did to me. And what he did to my father.” He saw Sparky’s shoulders bunch up and then a small wince. He’d forgotten about her shoulder. No wonder they had gotten the drop on her! Then her shoulders relaxed again and she drew her right hand up in a fist.

“Ha! You think you can stop me with that?” The last word wasn’t out of her mouth before Sparky threw a roundhouse punch with her left hand, knocking out the pirate queen whose body fell into view. Seizing the element of surprise, Erasmus threw his entire body weight against the door, knocking over the pirate standing guard. He fetched up a good knock on the back of the man’s head, knocking him out too. Drake smiled at her, “We shall make a southpaw of you yet.”

Sparky whirled toward the cockpit door, yelling at Drake, “Jake!” They both heard a loud thud from the other side of the door. Sparky snatched open the door and the inert form of yet another pirate fell onto her boots. Jake was standing there with the truncheon in his hand and a look of jubilant amazement on his face.

“I hid it in my coat and waited for a diversion,” he waved the truncheon in illustration.

Drake fairly glowed, “Well done, lad. Can you keep an eye on these three and give them another clout while I go fetch my manacles and rope?”

“Yes, sir!”

When Sevilla reached the engine room, he found a less menacing standoff. Wilkinson and the pirate Tobias were dancing around the boilers, Wilkinson with a spanner in his hand and Tobias with a cutlass. Tobias was no longer young or nimble, and Wilkinson didn’t want to risk damaging his precious engine, so neither was much of a threat to each other. Wilkinson spotted Luis-Miguel out of the corner of his eye. “Sevilla, what are you doing ‘ere?”

Sevilla drew the pistol, struggling to steady it in his sweaty, jerky hand. “Chief Inspector Drake says I should shoot boiler number two, but you will need to get out of here first.”

“Ye’ll do no such bloody thing to me boiler!”

“Those were the Chief Inspector’s orders.”

“Well this is me engine room and I give tha orders ’ere!” Wilkinson had stopped stalking Tobias during this exchange and Tobias took the opportunity to catch his breath.

Just then the captain’s familiar voice came over the voice pipe. “The bridge is secure. The pirate queen has been taken captive.”

With that, Tobias sighed, “Hallelujah,” and sat down on the greasy floor.

“Wha in bloody ‘ell are ye doing?” Wilkinson shouted.

“I’m too old for this nonsense. Now that the valkyrie is finished, I’m going back to my quiet farm and my old lady.”

“What are ye blubberin’ about?”

“The lot of us got tired of pirating twenty-five years ago and settled in quiet, little Melköde. We mostly minded our own business, married the steadier of our wenches, and sent the troublemakers away. It was all going just lovely, except that old Captain Benjamin Tuttleford III just couldn’t resist telling his daughter, Ishild, grand tales of the old days, filling her head with the glories of pirating days. Well that one, she has a temper like her mother. When ‘Tuttle’ died, she decided that being the king or queen of the pirates was like being king or queen of a proper country, which it ain’t, and so she was the pirate queen inherited from her father. We mostly put up with it seeing as how there weren’t any more ships and we were mostly too old for such flights of fancy. But she got the other younguns all fired up and back when King Ludwig decided to built his railroad, she decided that he was invading our sovereign domain.” He stopped, took a breath, and wiped his sweaty forehead with a threadbare old handkerchief. Wilkinson and Sevilla just stood there staring at the old pirate, dumfounded.

“Now, where was I? Oh yes, the railroad. So she goes a recruiting a right nasty bunch of layabouts from around about the area that are all out of sorts about the unfairness of their station and they start thieving their way to fortune. So, she sends a fellow to parlay with our new King Maximilian to demand he stop with his railroad. Now, being a real king, he’s used to getting his way and he knows how to go about it. So he offers up good money for us to keep out of it. When we all hear this news, we think, ‘Right, that’s marvelous. The barn needs fixing and the missus would love some fabric for some Spring dresses.’ But, no, her highness wasn’t having nothing to do with old Maximilian’s generous offer and she declared that it was war, and she sent her fellow back to Maximilian to say as much. Like I said, Maximilian’s a proper king and he’s used to getting his way, one way or ‘tother. ‘Tother way was sending back a message, but not all the bits of the messenger, if you get my meaning.” Sevilla swallowed hard and tried not to “get too much” of the meaning.

“Then Maximilian must have figured he needed his message to be absolutely plain, so he planned this regatta to show who was sovereign of this bit of land. Some of us old hands who know something about pirating thought we should sign on to keep her from complete catastrophe, but I don’t see that this plan was any better than the rest of ‘em. And I think you fellas can figure out the rest.” He picked up his cutlass, turned it around hilt first, and offered it to Wilkinson. “If you would be so kind as to tell Drake that I’ve surrendered and lock me in some quiet little cabin until the rest of this flapping is over, I’d be much obliged.”

Wilkinson took the cutlass, turned to Sevilla, and said, “You tell the Chief Inspector. This makes my head hurt.”

For all the pulling and maneuvering, neither the Burke & Hare nor the Iron Eagle had made much forward progress, but they were drifting inexorably toward the net. Because the net was meant to catch something the size of an airship, the mesh was very widely spaced, making Sergeant Fox’s climb long and strenuous since he had to climb the individual lines rather than climbing it like a ladder. However, he was persevering and McTrowell could see that he was reaching the center balloon. With the prisoners securely bound in the main hall and within sight, Drake opened the door to the cockpit to confer with McTrowell.

He opined, “Sergeant Fox is a brave and direct man. I don’t believe he will have considered his own rescue, but only the target of his mission.”

“I was just having the same thought. I’m also quite concerned that we have seen neither Lord Ashleigh nor Virat in some time.”

“Right you are. I’ll look for them while you think on Sergeant Fox’s dilemma.”

Drake found Ashleigh and Virat the first place he looked, in Ashleigh’s cabin, or at least behind the door of what had been his cabin. The interior looked as if the pirates had ransacked it, but there was no sign of pirates. Little bits of silk were everywhere, but mostly it looked as if every silk throw and coverlet in the cabin was in a motley pile in the middle of the floor. Completely uncharacteristically, Lord Ashleigh himself was sitting on the floor next to the pile, rapidly, although not entirely deftly, wielding a needle and thread. Drake heard hammering sounds from the bedroom. Virat was hammering the planks from the bed frame into another type of open frame with a chair seat nailed to one of the planks. It looked somewhat like a catapult, but somewhat cockeyed.

Without looking up from his sewing, Lord Ashleigh said, “I understand that the ship is secure.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“And how is Sergeant Fox proceeding.”

“He has very nearly reached the central balloon.”

“Very good. If you would be so kind as to help Virat carry the components of the frame to the starboard side, I believe we have a method for recovering Sergeant Fox, or at least ensuring his safe extraction. I certainly hope the good sergeant is as clever and informed about the machinery of aerial combat as I think he is.”

Drake, unaccustomed to having no clue as to how to resolve the situation himself, felt obliged to do as Ashleigh asked. When they reached the catwalk, Virat began securing the frame to the railing.

Ashleigh continued, “Please tell the good Dr. McTrowell that she should get as close to the net as she feels is safe. The instant she sees any sign that Fox has succeeded, she should proceed with all haste, keeping the Burke & Hare as steady as possible given the difficult circumstances.” Without reply, Drake headed straight to the bridge and delivered the message.

“What is he about?” McTrowell asked.

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“Nor have I, but I’m quite happy for someone else to give the orders for a bit. Tell Lord Ashleigh that I have understood his instructions and will execute them to the best of my abilities.”

Drake returned to the catwalk where Virat had finished stabilizing the framework. Ashleigh was rolling his motley, silk quilt into a tight log. At the end, it was sewn to the back of one of his straight, silk, traditional Indian tunics. He tied the log securely with a silk sash. “Virat, I believe we’re ready for the spring.” Virat extracted a throwing knife from his jacket and threw it directly at the Iron Eagle, or rather the railing where the tether between the two ships was still tied. The far end of the line fell away, unceremoniously dumping the iron hoop sling into the valley below. Drake was none too sorry to see it go. He didn’t care to experience that ride ever again. Ashleigh cut the near end of the rope, threaded it across the frame and back, and tied it off. He and Virat picked up two lengths of wood, inserted them between the two lengths of rope and twisted. When the rope was twisted as tightly as they could manage, Lord Ashleigh jabbed his head toward the plank with the chair seat nailed to it. “Drake, would you be so kind as to pick that up and insert it between these two levers with the chair seat pointing upward?” When he did so, the chair seat leaned over the railing. Virat took hold of the seat and held it as far down as the railing would allow. Lord Ashleigh picked up the silk bundle, and both he and Virat turned their attention to the net and the balloon.

Drake could stand the suspense no longer. “Pray tell, what is the bundle?”

“Why, my curious Chief Inspector Drake, it’s a parachute. I’m trusting that Sergeant Fox will recognize it as such despite its colorful nature.” Drake could think of nothing further to add to the conversation, so he turned his attention to the net as well.

J.B. Fox paused underneath the balloon to catch his breath. He would need to be fully prepared when he boarded. He looked up at the bottom of the basket where the two halves of the net connected. The lines of the net were as thick as his forearm. They fed up through the floor of the basket. There was no way to hack through the lines from below because he was only carrying a boot knife and there was no way to brace himself to get enough leverage. He would have to storm the basket. He grasped the lip of the basket in both hands and pulled himself up, hopping between his hands to land on his feet in the basket with his hands free. These pirates clearly were unschooled in close quarters combat because the lone defender of the balloon was armed with a musket. Fox performed a sweeping block with his right arm, disarming the pirate and knocking the musket to the floor of the basket. He performed a swift chop upward at the pirate’s Adam’s apple, instantly knocking him unconscious.

Unfortunately, the musket discharged when it struck the floor of the basket, firing straight up into the canopy. Fox leapt from the lip of the basket and caught the top edge of the net. He hoped that the balloon was only slightly damaged, and would drag the net and the other two balloons to the valley floor slowly enough that he would survive the fall. Within five seconds he realized that hope was futile. The crown of the balloon was shredding and he would soon be in free fall. Well then, Queen and country.

On the bridge of the Burke & Hare, McTrowell was watching the center balloon intently through her telescope. She saw it wobble during Fox’s brief tussle with the balloon’s defender. And then she saw a small puff as the crown of the balloon blew out from the musket blast. That was the sign! She opened the throttle all the way. When Fox made his flying exit from the basket, she turned to Jake Fremont. “Mr. Fremont, steer so that Sergeant Fox is as close to the starboard side as possible without hitting him. You will have to adjust your course to match his trajectory.” She watched through the telescope while gently adjusting the throttle and giving Jake instructions for small course corrections. She hoped desperately that Lord Ashleigh knew what he was about, because they were swiftly approaching the net and Sergeant Fox was dropping precipitously. She clenched her hand on the throttle, preparing to shut it off lest the Burke & Hare collide with the still suspended net, obviating the Aerial Marine’s sacrifice when she spotted a large, brightly colored projectile not unlike a large chaise cushion sailing up in an arc from the starboard side of the ship. It was aimed right at the sergeant. Why were they firing on him?

Fox spotted the airborne upholstery at nearly the last possible instant, barely snagging the silk sash of the bundle with one hand while hanging on with the other. His catch pulled the sash loose and the bundle started to unfurl. He let go with his other hand, executing a graceful back flip and catching the jacket with his other hand. He snagged the next rung of the net with the backs of his knees. No sooner had he opened the jacket than he realized what a gift Lord Ashleigh had sent him. He struggled into the jacket that was, not surprisingly, a bit snug. But better tight than loose enough to be pulled off. From his bat-like perch he watched the Burke & Hare pass closely overhead, or rather, underfoot. He let go with his knees, letting the breeze fill the parachute and carry him downwind toward Munich.

Drake, Ashleigh, and Virat held their breath, watching the arc of the package and Fox’s aerial calisthenics. They dashed to the railing to look down as the airship passed over the sinking net. Even Virat shouted and danced with joy as their acrobatic brother in arms floated safely free.

Sparky and Jake could hear their jubilation on the bridge, even over the noise of the engine. She turned to the young Fremont. “
Mr. Fremont, what do you say that we win this thing?




To Munich!

Entry for September 26, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Herr Axel Richter’s feet dangled, wishing to touch the floor. He was a slight, bookish man, with wisps of grey in his hair, and small round glasses. Björn Swenson, the Swedish airship captain, was pinning him against a support column, his two meaty fists clutching Herr Richter’s jacket lapels, the vest and shirt underneath, and a good bit of the man’s armpit skin. Their eyes were at the same level, despite that Captain Swenson would normally tower over the German.

“Answer me!” the Swede boomed in his native language, into Herr Richter’s face.

“Which question?” Herr Richter weakly responded. His Swedish was passable. Even though Captain Swenson, as well as the rest of his crew, knew German, the Captain made it clear that Swedish, and only Swedish, was to be spoken on The North Wind.

“All of them! Are we still racing? Are we in danger if we continue? Why haven’t you called off the race?”

Herr Richter swallowed hard and looked around using only his eyeballs. What a sight to see! The North Wind’s boiler room was larger than most racing airship’s, and was normally better lit than most, given its series of square windows that ran the length of both sides of the craft. But right now, additional light was flooding in from where the very tidy galley used to be, which was now a jumble of birch planks, cooking utensils, and broken stone- and glassware, all covered with a light dusting of flour. He saw the crew hard at work trying to clear the area in hopes of patching the breaches on the port and starboard side.

“I had no idea ...,” Herr Richter stammered out. “King Maximilian’s men said they would leave us be! You must understand that we were told that the regatta was safe to pass over Melköde. I was told ... not to stop the race.”

Captain Swenson made a face that clearly indicated that his questions were still not being answered directly, and he slid Herr Richter a couple of inches higher.

“It’s safe! It’s safe! Continue to Munich as fast as you can. I’m not calling off the race!” Herr Richter squealed, kicking his feet uselessly around.

Captain Swenson’s commands were shouted into the face of the official even though they were meant for the crew. “Bring up the boiler to full! Clear the galley debris. Use the broken planks to feed the firebox! Re-plank the hull from interior walls, and make her fair as best you can! Flank speed, boys! Flank speed!”

The twelve-man crew redoubled their activity. Splintered boards were tossed from the galley area toward the boiler room. The planks were shoved whole into the secondary stage firebox to heat the boiler tubes to red-hot. Captain Swenson slid the official down to his feet, and left him standing, alone and unimportant. The Swede turned and clambered up the ladder to the bridge, while Herr Richter sheepishly adjusted his glasses.

Captain Swenson yelled to his co-pilot, “We must fly! I don’t know if it is safe here, and the race is still in progress. Spare nothing! To Munich!”

The North Wind had been designed and constructed by Captain Swenson so that its birch planks were of uniform size and fastened together in a regular manner. His primary reason for this painstaking process was to allow for easy configuration at the start of a regatta and to reduce the difficulty of obtaining replacement planks. He had never thought that he would be reconfiguring his airship during an actual race, but a captain has to do what a captain has to do. Rather than using bulky nuts and bolts, small threaded fasteners that could be loosened with a handheld L-shaped hexagonal-sided bar were used. One or two quick twists, and interior walls planks were freed from their supports, ready for hull repair.

Behind the North Wind, a musket shot let out, and the middle of the three black balloons suddenly stopped supporting the center of the substantial rope net. As the structure started to collapse, the figure of a man leapt off of the top of the net, significantly slowing his fall with a bright patchwork of cloth puffed out above him.

The North Wind’s bank of propellers whirled to a frightening speed, and the airship sprinted forward.

To Sparky, watching The North Wind as it rushed away, it appeared as if unpainted birch planks were magically materializing from within, healing the craft’s wounds, and galloping away as a healthy beast. Her competitive drive kicked in. A flurry of activity by her and Jake on the Burke & Hare’s bridge maneuvered their vessel, adjusting to a steeper angle of climb to avoid the descending net. While the Burke & Hare was effectively stalled in mid-air, the Iron Eagle shot past the Burke & Hare’s starboard side at an abrupt angle, breaching over the rope webbing, clearly in hot pursuit of the North Wind. Sparky yelled a few choice words, nothing that Jake hadn’t heard before down at the docks, but not from a woman.

She grabbed the voice pipe. “The race is on, lads. Give me all you can! Take boiler number two up to 90%, and keep an eye on her.”

Sparky knew her best strategy was to not try to catch up with the North Wind. The true race was with the Iron Eagle. That was, of course, if the North Wind didn’t get
too far ahead. Due to a slight head wind, she wanted to actually stay behind the Iron Eagle, let it do the work, and then come from behind. But as before, she couldn’t directly draft. They had to stay back enough to be legal, but close enough to take advantage of the Iron Eagle blocking the current.

Out of the starboard side, Sparky could see the tail of the Iron Eagle as it continued to increase its speed, still tipped. Sparky feathered the controls to sneak in behind the German airship. Unexpectedly, the Iron Eagle nosed up even farther. Sparky muttered, “That doesn’t make a good deal of racing sense ...”

Jake gasped and pointed at the figure of a man, clearly a pirate from his garb, tumble spread-eagle off the back of the Iron Eagle’s envelope. If it was any consolation, the man just barely missed the whirling propeller before he plunged into the valley below. Jake watched, open-mouthed, as the man dropped. “Don’t watch ...,” Sparky offered, but Jake didn’t heed her advice. The Iron Eagle leveled off. There was a small band of her crew on the aft catwalk that had been watching to verify that they had rid the airship of its unwanted passenger, and let out a whoop when they confirmed the desired outcome.

Sparky was unsure if this was the right thing for a young man to see. “I wish I could have spared you that,” she said quietly. Jake worked hard to get the words out. “I ... I appreciate that. But this was a fight, and ... I am here to do my part. I just didn’t expect to see another man ... die ...”

Erasmus appeared at the bridge’s doorway. His crimson hand was pressed hard against his right temple to staunch the bleeding, but it was failing. Fresh blood was dripping from between his fingers, staining the front and sleeve of his jacket. His voice was steady, but somber. “Doctor, this may not be the best time, but I could use your assistance in securing my wound.”

Sparky turned to Jake, inquiring about his confidence, “Can you hold her steady right here at the tail of the Iron Eagle? Be honest with me.”

“I believe so.”

“It will only be for a few minutes. I’ll get one of the boiler room lads up give you a hand, but I must mend our Chief Inspector.”

Sparky grabbed the voice pipe once again and requested Mr. Wilkinson to come to the bridge to stand in for her.

She turned and grabbed Erasmus by the arm. “Come with me. I have a kit in my cabin.”

“Much obliged,” he replied. But on the way to the cabin, he found himself with the odd feeling that he was assigned to the Burke & Hare to protect the passengers, and was now dependent on others to put him right. He understood teamwork, but this was, well, different. He was supposed to be the one fighting the good fight, not amplifying the problem.

Sparky flatly stated, “I know what you are thinking. Stop it. You did a great deed in confronting and resisting the marauders. Let me patch you up.”

“Is my stoicism showing? I had hoped to conceal that affliction.”

“If I have time, I’ll lance that delightful masculine virtue.”

Erasmus managed a smile.

Inside Sparky’s cabin, she led Erasmus to a chair, retrieved her medical kit, a bottle of alcohol, and a clean cloth, and then sat in a chair facing him.

“On my command, remove your hand, I’ll wipe the area once, seeing the extent of the damage, and then I want to you pinch the wound closed with both your hands. Then I will sew you back together as best I can. I will fix you up properly in Munich, assuming we get there safe and sound. This will hurt, if that makes you feel better.” She smiled at him quickly, immediately followed by her serious doctor expression. “Ready? Now!”

The door of the bridge flew open. Mr. Wilkinson took a quick step in and surveyed the situation. The Burke & Hare was a tad over 50 yards away from the back of the Iron Eagle, a safe distance, but proceeding at close to full speed. Jake was at the co-pilots helm, with one hand on the rudder control and the other on the throttle. He was white as a sheet. He didn’t want to make a single mistake. A trickle of sweat dripped from his forehead and landed on his left eyelash, but he didn’t move a muscle or even blink.

“Steady, lad. I am ‘ere to ‘elp ye.”

Mr. Wilkinson stepped up to the pilot’s controls and took them softly.

“Ye can relax now, I got ‘er.”

Jake forced his hands off of the levers, and took a small, unsteady step backwards. Snapping out of his stupor, he blinked hard twice, wiped his forehead with his sleeve, and took hold of the handhold to steady himself.

Jake voice faltered through his confession. “I’ve piloted a few boats on the Thames, and rode my share of horses. This was like directing a flatboat with an elephant on it through a flood. Every touch made the whole airship move! I just wanted to hold it steady.”

“You did fine, lad. Take a breather.” Mr. Wilkinson smiled to himself. He was used to minor docking maneuvers, and he had handled this size craft in moderate winds, but under near full speed, the Burke & Hare was no easy piloting task. Jake’s labors at the helm put him at ease a bit, knowing that he would have an easier time of it. Still, he looked forward to Dr. McTrowell’s return, allowing him to retreat to his sanctuary below.

The bridge door opened a second time, and Herr Fenstermacher marched in. He had gotten his confidence back, as if he had not personally caused anything of consequence. “Dis is quite unusual to switch pilots. Do you gentleman know vat you are doing’k?” he queried.

Dr. McTrowell knotted off the stitches, retrieved a pair of small scissors, and cut the thread. “I had no catgut available, so I used silk. I’m afraid that we will most likely need to re-open the wound and re-suture it when we have the time and facilities. ‘Queen’ Ishild did you the disservice of adding an extra jab at the end of her cut. The wound is deeper than it appears. My handy work will keep you from bleeding externally, however you will be showing a serious bruise. I’m afraid this may leave your countenance quite rakish and dashing.”

“Just what I need,” Erasmus joked. Then he became serious again. “I must let you get back to the bridge. Without Sergeant Fox, I need to verify the safety of the vessel myself.” He started to stand.

“Not so quick! I need to wrap a bandage on your head to keep this clean. It will only take a minute.” She produced a spool of gauze that she wrapped over his eyebrows, across the wound site, and around the back of his head. Three times she circled his head before deftly knotting it in the back. While Sparky was performing this, she added, “You were lucky, it appears that she was taking aim on your right eye.”

“I think that was her second choice, actually. If I hadn’t dodged most of her initial cut, she would sliced me from neck to crown, if I may be so blunt.”

Sparky winced at the thought. She stood up, wiped her hands on a clean cloth, and proclaimed, “You’ll hold, my dear Chief Inspector. Now I do need to return to the bridge.” With that, she tossed the cloth to Erasmus, turned and left, leaving the door open for Erasmus’ exit.

Erasmus cleaned himself up as much as he saw fit. The blood on his clothes would just have to be addressed later. He found a hand mirror on a side table, held it up to survey the bandage. The silk thread was black and he could make it out through the three layers of gauze. Sparky’s work was a row of tidy x’s on a hillside of unhappy skin that was already distended and angry. He reached up and lightly touched the bandage that was over the wound, causing himself to flinch. Well, he thought, no wearing my bowler any time soon.

As he left the cabin, he mentally checked off the things he wanted to do, in priority order. He needed to check on the prisoners to make sure that they were still secured, check on the status of boiler number two, and then go room to room and verify that they didn’t have any unexpected guests aboard and that the crew and passengers were safe, and finally check the exterior locations where someone may be hiding. That included the top of the envelope, despite his shoulder injury and a touch of anxiety about returning to the site of his near-death. Perhaps he could get some aid in that pursuit.

Erasmus proceeded directly to cabin number two. He knocked loudly to make sure that he would be heard over the engines, which seemed to roar more than usual. Ironically, the door to cabin one opened. There stood Reginald Wallace, still in his undergarments, a near-empty bottle of whisky in his hand.

“Did you want to see me?” Reginald slurred. “Have we finished the race? Did we win?”

“Not quite. But I do suggest you get fully dressed for the ceremony,” Erasmus teased.

“Capital idea! We can talk about my wife at that time.” Without waiting for Erasmus’ answer, Reginald closed the door. Erasmus immediately heard some shuffling from within cabin one when the door of cabin two opened. Lord Ashleigh had opened his own door, and it was clear that he and Virat had been busy putting the cabin into some semblance of organization after the removal of most of the silk cloth. They had made good progress, but cushion padding and cotton wads were still scattered about. Virat was still scooping up the fluffy masses and stuffing them into a cotton pillowcase.

“Erasmus! Nice bandage. No doubt Dr. McTrowell’s efforts. How can I be of service?”

“I need to secure the vessel, but my right shoulder is quite impaired. Can you and Virat verify that the top of the envelope is secure?”

Lord Ashleigh, glanced quickly in Virat’s direction, and received a nod of approval.

“Why, of course! We’ll be right on it. We just need to stock up on throwing knives. We’ll see you as soon as we get back.”

“Thank you, my dear friend.”

Erasmus turned and headed to the common room where Queen Ishild and her two confederates were secured. They were seated on the floor leaning back on the aft wall of the chamber. They were not happy. Erasmus gave them a good look over. Not only were they manacled behind their backs, but they were also tied about the arms and ankles. To add a measure of security, the ropes about their arms were also secured to a rope handhold that was affixed waist-high on the wall. It allowed them enough slack to sit on the floor. This was to allow the Queen to keep weight off of her leg, which was still weeping a dark stain onto her black stockings and skirt.

Ishild was glaring at Erasmus. “My leg needs attention. Fetch a physician.”

Erasmus thought for a second, and replied unsympathetically, “I think not.” He punctuated the response with a light kick to the sole of her right boot, causing her to wince in pain. She snarled at him, and them grimaced for a second with the continued pain of the wound.

Erasmus offered his reasoning, “My blade was thin and sharp, not like your meat-chopper of a cutlass. You see; you’re hardly bleeding. Our doctor is busy, and you’ll live until Munich. It’ll help if you hold still. I’d hate to have them amputate. It would be a waste of a perfectly good boot.”

The pirate next to her could not sit idly by any longer. “Cut ye tongue out meself, I will, talking like that to me Queen,” he hissed out between his too few teeth.

Erasmus smiled. “Love to stay and chat, but I have a vessel to secure. Just stay here in our sitting room. We’ll be arriving at your jailhouse before you know it.”

He headed down the stairs to check on boiler number two. Halfway down he met Luis-Miguel, who was carrying a cutlass, followed by Tobias.

“Er, Hello. Luis-Miguel, what are you doing?”

“Taking this prisoner to a cabin for locking up.”

“Then why is he behind you? Tobias, did you surrender?”

“Aye,” Tobias sighed, and he told Erasmus the shortened version of how he didn’t want to be involved in this raid in the first place. He just wanted to go home.

“Luis-Miguel, hand me the cutlass, and place Tobias in cabin number nine and tell Aldrich Fremont to watch him. It’ll make Aldrich useful. And serve him right.”

As he passed, Erasmus patted his old friend Tobias on the back, and Tobias responded in kind.

Sparky entered the bridge and saw the three men, and felt the tension in the air. She didn’t have time for this.

“Good job, men. I’ll take it from here. Herr Fenstermacher, if you have something to say, say it to me.”

Mr. Wilkinson relinquished the helm to Sparky with a tip of his workman’s cap, and made a hasty exit out of the bridge door.

“Nothing at dis time, Doctor.” Herr Fenstermacher followed this with an unpleasant smile, but he held his ground and stayed on the bridge, as if he were waiting for some racing violation that he could use against the crew.

Sparky ignored him. “Mr. Fremont, let’s finish this race.”

Erasmus continued his tour. Boiler number two was holding steady at 90%. None of the cabins had any issues, although Reginald was truly struggling to get himself fully dressed. Aldrich did not like his assignment, but grudgingly accepted it.

Lord Ashleigh and Virat returned to proclaim that not only was the envelope clear of marauders, but that they had crawled the length of the envelope, and miraculously didn’t find any punctures in the envelope surface. The three of them together verified that the catwalk was clear of interlopers, and Erasmus reported to Sparky the security of the Burke & Hare.

Björn Swenson could see the steeples of Munich in the distance. “Good, good,” he said out loud in Swedish. The first mate stepped onto the bridge. “Captain Swenson. To maintain flank speed, we have used all of the broken planks as fuel. We will be switching back to coal.”

“No. Start removing the interior walls and burn them, too. We must increase our lead as best we can. The removed walls will also lighten our load. Keep the boilers at 120% or higher.”

“Aye, aye.”

The first mate disappeared, and the sound of industry continued as the interior walls came down as the engine roared on.

Willy Dampf knew he had a fast airship, but with the Burke & Hare as close as legally possible, it would still come down to a sprint. Willy conferred with his co-pilot, young Herr von Zeppelin, “Ve haf tried going faster zan ze Burke & Hare, und ve haf tried changing altitude. Zo far Doctor McTrowell has out-maneuvered us tvice. How about ve fake our final sprint early?”

“Ya, that may work. Or you can do the opposite. While they are following, slow down slightly a good distance from the finish. They will either slow down themselves, or they’ll swing alongside of us to pass. Either way, we are free to sprint to the finish. We have the faster vessel, even if they have more fuel.”

“A zound plan, but it must be done at just ze right time. We need to be ahead by more zan 3 seconds.”

The young co-pilot grabbed a compass, scale, and pencil out of his tool pouch, and turned to the detailed chart of Munich, already marked with the visual points for dead-reckoning. With a quick calculation in the margin and two swings of his compass he marked one point along their trajectory. “Here is the optimal point for the start of their sprint.” A couple of more calculations and a pair of compass movements, another location was marked. “Here is our best deceleration point to force them out too soon. Then we sprint to the finish. I’ll check with the crew on fuel levels to verify the plan.”

“Egzellent. I’ll check on ze points of visualization,” Willy added. At that, his co-pilot ran out to check with their crew.

Sparky was worried about her strategy. Ivan had been a good sounding board. Losing him made this task all the harder. She decided that to get past these thoughts, she would walk through her plan out loud, letting both Jake and her hear it.

“At this speed, we are traveling about 90 feet per second. The Iron Eagle is about 400 feet long, and we are about another 150 feet behind her. So we are currently a little over 6 seconds behind them. We need to be less than 270 feet from the Iron Eagle’s nose to win the regatta. That’s two thirds of her length. To be safe, we need to be less than half of her length away when they cross the finish line.”

She and Jake looked at each other. The last two victories were well-timed sprints. A two-boiler sprint now might endanger the crew, not to mention the crowd in Munich. Sparky swallowed hard.

Captain Swenson looked at his watch. At this speed, they should cross the finish line in about eight minutes. Neither of his opponents were in sight. He silently congratulated himself on the modularity and composability of his airship design. He smiled, nodded to himself, and pictured the podium at the finish line, with a tall Swede at ...

A loud whooshing sound followed by a hiss, and the deceleration of the North Wind sent the crew off-balance, grabbing for the nearest brass handholds.

“Status!” the captain cried.

The gold-blond first mate anxiously reported, “Sir! Some of the secondary heating pipes have melted! We are losing steam into the firebox. We can only give you about one quarter power now, and we cannot add more fuel to the secondaries at this time.”

“Hell! What’s our alternative?”

“We can seal off the secondary firebox, allow it to pressurize, and keep going. However we may foul the engine if we do.”

“Damn the engine! Seal off the secondary, and give me ten more minutes of steam!”

“Aye, aye!”

Four of the Swedish crew grabbed their thick heat-protecting gloves, and scrambled through the toolbox for the right wrenches. They cranked down the seals on the secondary heating unit, despite the water vapor that was spurting out in sticky-hot swirling clouds. The fire within died with a horrible sound, and the whole unit trembled under the shock of being pressurized. The propellers grudgingly continued to turn, and the airship went from locomotive speed to penny-farthing speed.

The crowd at the Ludwigsvorstadt field gasped as the North Wind’s venting tubes suddenly gushed black smoke, and the airship slowed. The steam engine, which was audible, lost its high pitch. The whoosh of the high-speed propellers stopped even though the devices continued to turn, the individual blades were now visible as they swung through their arcs.

The race now became watching an ailing floating sausage drift toward the finish line. The anticipation of the cannon to sound the achievement became the singular emotion of the crowd. The minutes went by in agony, and the low murmur of “come on” and “you can do it” in German turned into a rolling chant. At the apex of the incantations, the cannon sounded, and the crowd cheered, jumped up and down, laughed, and threw their Bavarian alpine hats into the air.

After the initial excitement died down, the other two ships popped over the horizon, the Iron Eagle in the lead, the Burke & Hare alongside. The crowd was back to cheering again, with the race reborn.

To watch the behemoths at top speed was breathtaking. The nose of the Burke & Hare was near the middle of the Iron Eagle, but the Iron Eagle appeared to be gaining on her. Everyone spun around in unison to watch them pass by overhead. The cannon didn’t report again, since the first airship had already crossed over the finish line. The spectators on the finish line cried out when the Iron Eagle crossed, and the wave of cheers emanated from there.

The docking of the airships went smoothly, despite the acrid smoke that was still coming from the North Wind. The crews descended their towers to the rambunctious applauding and hooting of the throng. Brass bands struck up and the celebration was underway, even though the ground officials were still huddled and studying their watches.

Erasmus mixed into the crowd, carrying the scabbard of his walking stick, not sure what to do with it. He had lost his policeman’s sword, his revolver, and his sword cane blade. “Yours,” a deep resonating voice from behind him said. Erasmus turned and saw Herr Holzfäller, the German who had broken his fall. He was holding out Erasmus’ sword cane! “Stick in hull of airship. Yours!” Erasmus lovingly took back his weapon, and slid it back into its scabbard, where it clicked into place. “Danke schön. Danke schön.”

Finally the officials walked in unison to the grandstand and made their announcement.

“Coming in third place, twenty-three seconds behind the winner is the North Wind!” the lead official boomed. The cheers went up, applause rang out. Björn Swenson jogged up to the podium on the stage of the grandstand. He waved a Swedish flag in one hand, and his hexagonal wrench in the other. The Swedish ground crew started a bouncy chant in Swedish that Björn swayed to while he enjoyed the attention.

“Coming in second place, one second behind the winner is the Iron Eagle!” the official bellowed. Willy Dampf was picked up by his crew onto their shoulders, and carried to the grandstand. On the podium, Willy took a deep bow, and then waved his hands at the cheering crowd.

“In first place is the Burke & Hare!”

Sparky proudly took the top tier of the podium. She raised her pilot’s headgear and her two crossed flags of the Americas and Great Britain. Confetti rained down on the three pilots, and she smiled her biggest, trying to hide the emotional pain of losing her co-pilot.

Erasmus could tell, even though he was a dozen rows back in the crowd. He wanted to hold her and tell her that it was acceptable to celebrate the victory now, and grieve later.

Suddenly above, in the crewless Burke & Hare, a hissing sound was heard over the crowd. Steam poured out of the port-side emergency release pipe.

Mr. Wilkinson’s voice rang out, “We just lost boiler number two!” and Sparky joined the crowd in a laugh.

Erasmus felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw a young man dressed in the uniform of Her Majesty’s Aerial Marines, the same that J.B. had worn when they first met.

“May I help you?” Erasmus enquired.

“Sir, I’m here to escort you to an important meeting. Please follow me.”

Erasmus knew better than to ask questions as to the nature of the meeting, or where it was going to be held. All the information that this soldier was going to relay to Erasmus had already been said. The young man turned crisply and marched off toward an ordinary brick townhouse; Erasmus was right behind him. At the door the Marine knocked twice, the door was opened from within, and two more Marines crisply waved them in. Erasmus couldn’t help but notice that they had revolvers in their right hands, both kept surreptitiously by the side of their legs, but ready for use if needed. Must be an important meeting, Erasmus thought.

It was a plain entryway for an urban household, with a small foyer for the removal of jackets and boots, and a plain stairway leading to an upper floor. One of the door guards flatly stated, “Chief Inspector Drake, your sword stick, please,” and held out a hand to receive it. Erasmus surrendered the newly regained weapon. “Please proceed up the staircase. Thank you.” Erasmus nodded his understanding, replying, “You’re welcome.” Erasmus took the first few steps upstairs. All three Marines stayed at the entryway. Erasmus continued his mysterious climb.

At the top of the stairs was a short landing and an open door leading to a small, carpeted room with comfortable furniture circled around a lit fireplace on the far side of the room. Another Marine gestured him to enter the room. Erasmus stepped in, and the Marine stepped out onto the landing, closing the door behind him. The fire crackled, and the logs shifted a bit, changing the way the light played throughout the room.

A woman’s voice came from one of the chairs facing away from Erasmus, strong and clear. “Chief Inspector, please pardon the secrecy and the urgency of this meeting. Come forward so I can see you.” Erasmus proceeded around the chair and turned to face the handsome woman that sat very erect, wearing brocade and velvet.

“Your Majesty!” Erasmus immediately knelt to one knee and bowed his head.

“You may stand,” she said in an authoritative voice. Erasmus did as requested. His head was swimming with numerous questions, which he was trying to silence so he could give his full attention. He also became very aware that his head was bandaged, and how odd he must look to her.

She continued. “Since you are here, I take it that you were able to suppress Ishild Tuttleford’s attack. Am I correct that you have her in custody?”

“Yes, your majesty. Her and two of her marauders.”

“Sergeant Fox is not here with you. Did he survive?”

“Yes, to the best of my knowledge. He was gliding to the valley floor near Melköde when I last saw him. The three attacking airships were disabled, so I believe that he is out of harm’s way.”

“Good. I want to inform you about this assignment on which I sent you. Listen carefully. I am not one to repeat myself. As you were informed by Sergeant Fox, I am trying to secure alliances with other heads of state. One of my goals was to strengthen our association with King Maximilian as he addresses a strenuous internal conflict within Bavaria. As part of that, I offered to help clear the routes of the Ludwig-Süd-Nord-Bahn railroad, which involved quelling the upstart Ishild Tuttleford, who has threatened me personally in missives in her own hand. We agreed to hold this international regatta directly over the area that Ishild Tuttleford claimed to control, to show that it is a safe passage. From our reports, it was not clear if Ishild Tuttleford would stand down or attack. Britain sent you on a perilous mission, and you persevered.” She paused, but her eyes indicated that she was not finished speaking.

“As you now understand, the other airships were not aware of the probable attack since King Maximilian thought the route had been secured. The attacks are not to be discussed. Any errors in judgment by the officials should be overlooked. There is nothing to be gained by humbling the Bavarians. With Ishild Tuttleford captured, the Bavarians can proceed with the railroad as planned, and King Maximilian will be grateful for our support.” She paused again, eyes fixed on Erasmus.

“Given what I have seen from this assignment, and knowing your background ...” Erasmus’ eyebrows raised, and he opened his mouth to speak. “Shush! I have ten thousand eyes and ten thousand ears! Of course I know!” She paused for only a split second, and then restarted. “Knowing
your background, and given what I have seen from this assignment, I am offering you an opportunity to join the ranks of a newly formed agency that will work to secure my international interests. This agency will remain entirely secretive, reporting to me. Sergeant Fox has already agreed to be part of that agency. May I have your allegiance on this endeavor?”

Erasmus blinked twice as he processed the offer.

“Yes, your majesty.”

“As I had hoped. You will retain your employment at Scotland Yard. You will be requested for assignments in a similar manner as before. Your loyalty to Britain is recognized and appreciated. That is all. You are dismissed.”

Erasmus bowed deeply, and started to exit the room.

“One more thing. Please give this to the Burke & Hare pilot.”

She handed Erasmus a purple envelope with the name “C. Llewellyn McTrowell” written on it in perfect script, which he slipped into his interior jacket pocket.

In the street, he distantly remembered descending the stairs, getting his swordstick back, and leaving the building. He wasn’t sure if he wandered the streets of Munich for a while or not, but he found himself back in the celebrating crowd.

“Erasmus?”

He looked up to see Sparky, full of life and enjoying the moment, standing right in front of him. Without hesitation he leaned over and kissed her, square on the lips. They both pulled back an inch, shocked that it had happened. Then Sparky grasped his injured face gently with both her hands, pulled him close, and kissed him hard.

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