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The Hawaiian Triple-Cross - Page 6: October 3, 2013 - November 22, 2013

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Meaty Hands
Elenchus
Crossing Mexico
La Princesa Azteca
Light Feathery Beats
Subterfuge


Meaty Hands

Entry for October 3, 2013 Written by David L. Drake

Edwin Llewellyn woke with a start. He felt large meaty hands firmly around his throat. He instinctively grabbed at his assailant’s wrists to pull them off. The sheer girth of the limbs prevented him from gaining purchase. He opened his eyes as far as he could, letting in all the feeble light that a stormy midnight ocean provided, only to see a massive shape in the dark of his cabin. It loomed over him, decisive in its actions. Edwin thrashed as anyone being choked would, his legs kicking out in all directions, looking for some foothold from which to push off, twist his body in some manner as to make himself harder to hold. He found no advantage, save a wall that he could bump up against, making far less sound than the howling wind ripping across the upper deck.

He swung his arms in hard up-and-out arcs against the attacker’s forearms, trying to force the arms away from his throat, using his best leverage against the thumbs of those great hands. Despite several attempts, this too, failed. For his efforts, his assailant placed a strong knee across his abdomen, causing his thrashing legs to have no real effect other than to exhaust himself even faster.

Edwin delivered two more punches to the arms of the aggressor, and then his eyes rolled up in his head. The fencing master’s arms went slack, as did his legs. The fight left the man who had spent his life teaching warriors how to survive.

The hands stayed around his neck for a short time longer and then withdrew. The large man left quietly, leaving his inanimate victim in the bunk. The cabin door clicked shut and the wind whistled mournfully in the night.

Flourish Break


Erasmus woke to the sound of the San Juan creaking as it did battle with the gale blowing across the water. This was not his first rousing that night. He lay in his bunk, wondering when complete exhaustion would simply set in and allow him to get more then a couple hours of sleep at a stretch. His eyes slowly adjusted to the light, which provided a vision of subtle greys and blacks within his cozy cabin. The ship rolled and rocked, making Erasmus curious to look out of his porthole at the angry ocean, knowing full well that all he would see is the pitch black of a cloud-shrouded nautical night. So in his bunk he stayed.

Without warning, his door opened, the weather masking whatever sound it might have made. The opener stepped in, turned to check the hallway, and closed the door. By the time the intruder turned back to Erasmus, the chief inspector was standing in the middle of his cabin, unsheathed sword cane in hand.

“Put that thing away,” the interloper hissed, “I need your help, not a belly-full of steel.”

“Edwin?” Erasmus asked.

“Yes, yes, of course. Can we put a lamp on? I do not trust the darkness anymore.”

Erasmus tossed both sections of his cane on his bunk and lit the small oil lamp on the wall. It warmed the room with its amber glow. Erasmus offered this chair to Edwin.

Edwin looked at his host for a second and temporarily forgot his mission. “What are you wearing for pajamas? Is that a dress shirt?”

“It is the most comfortable piece of clothing I have with me. In fact, it is the same one I wore to the Howgill wedding…and everything else that happened that day.”

Edwin pointed to Erasmus’ bare knees sticking out below the bottom edge of the shirt, asking, “Would you feel more comfortable with pants on?”

Erasmus squinted and raised an eyebrow at Edwin’s cheekiness. “Why are you here, if I may ask? You are disturbing my insomnia.”

“I was just attacked by one of the Hawaiians. He thought he choked the life out of me in thirty seconds. I faked my death. Luckily he was not a very accomplished assassin, and did not finish or verify his criminal deed.”

Animatedly, Erasmus asked, “Just now!? Should we search for him?”

“No. I took my time getting over here to make sure he would not try to finish the job properly. He is long gone. I could kick myself for not scratching him or doing some sort of violence that would uniquely mark him. That is right, I do not know which Hawaiian it is.”

Now comes the hard part,” Erasmus thought. “Rather than doing all of the stupid things we could do, like hiding you, or pretending we buried you at sea, or whatever farcical tactic that you may have come over to wish of me, we should handle this like…well…grown ups.”

“You must be very tired, Erasmus. I do not want to use
farcical tactics.” Edwin took a long deep breath. “I am ready to tell you the truth. As to why I am here…on this ship. And why you are here.”

Erasmus sat carefully on his bunk, realizing the weight of his mentor’s words. He also realized that he had been frequently sarcastic to Edwin ever since the beginning of this trip because he felt he had been being lied to. Lies that had put his, and his fiancée’s, lives in danger. He knew that this brush with death put Edwin in the unique position to know that his life was forfeit if he didn’t get real support and a plan for the remainder of this trip.

“I am truly sorry for my harsh words. Frankly, I would love to hear the truth.”

Edwin rubbed his sore neck as he contemplated the apology. He nodded his head when he was satisfied that it was heartfelt and cleared his throat to start his story.

“I have taught many things throughout my career: sword fighting, intelligence gathering, confidential couriering, offensive assault, …”

“…assassin techniques?” Erasmus interjected.

Edwin raised his eyebrows and scrunched his mouth.

“Not the words I would have used. And I believe words are important. I do not teach my students tactics for gain or treachery. I teach them how to perform a particular duty for Queen and Country. But permit me to continue. I am getting older. I have a sizeable collection of lesson plans and notes. To pass them on, I wrote…an instructional book.”

It was Erasmus turn to raise his eyebrows. “Really? That could prove…”

Edwin butted in quickly.

“Dangerous? Oh, yes. And when Her Majesty heard of my accomplishment, she forbade my release of all copies of the book. She made it clear that it was too informative to carelessly pass to anyone, even within our own military. Too great a chance that it would get into the wrong hands. Of course I complied, as any good subject would. But then the Hawaiians visited: Lota, Alexander, and Dr. Judd. Their initial request was for training, but they also told me their whole story, and that their island nation was fighting to stay autonomous and independent. It was not only being infiltrated by outsiders, but is also being torn by factions from within. They needed what I knew.”

“The book? Did you…?”

“Yes. I secretly promised to send copies of the books to them. I bought a small printing press, and bound them myself. This ship was to be the one to transport the books to King Kamehameha III.”

“The books are in the hold below?”

“A small crate of them. But listen. After the books were packed up in a lorry and sent to Portsmouth, the three Hawaiians insisted I come with them, mentioning that bizarreness about a key. I did not want to leave. There was too much evidence that I had printed the prohibited book. I still wanted to help them. So I wanted to see you and request that you cover my classes and…well…cover my tracks until I got back. I tracked you down via Scotland Yard, and found you at the wedding. The Hawaiians must have gotten nervous, and planned a fast escape. I am so sorry you got dragged along.”

“I am not. One or more of these men are trying to kill you. We need to work together to keep you alive.”

“Thank you. I have taught you well.”

“And you were willing to tell me the real circumstances. Now we can get something done.” Erasmus thought about his lack of ability to sleep at night, and added, “How about I watch your cabin door at night, and I will catch up on sleep during the day. You check on my cabin every now and then during that time. Deal?”

“Of course, my friend, of course. Now I will get myself back to bed. I strongly suggest pants for your guard duty.”




Elenchus

Entry for October 9, 2013 Written by Katherine L. Morse

The captain stood at his charts spread in front of him, considering the improving weather. “I still have what it takes to skirt the big ‘uns.” Although in his heart, he knew that it was Dr. McTrowell’s suggestion to cut north of Cuba that allowed them to survive the hurricane battering the island’s southern coast. “Bah,” he thought, “I’m tired of being second guessed by that pack of loose cannons. Strapping a sea beast to me boat! Outrageous! I think I’m ready for them and their flying contraption to get off the San Juan!”

As Drake and McTrowell conjectured, the captain was overjoyed at the twin prospects of increased remuneration and good riddance to the passengers he found to be nearly as bothersome than bilge rats. He even went so far as to send a small crew ashore at Puerto Padre for provisions during the last vestiges of the storm so they could be underway the instant it was clear sailing.

Flourish Break


With the vertiginous squall behind them, the warm tropical climate, and the prospect of being airborne soon, Sparky threw herself into preparing the Peregrine for flight. The distance from Veracruz to Acapulco was right at the edge of its range, so the craft had to be in perfect working order. And the airship had taken a few bumps despite being secured during the storm.

Sparky climbed up to the deck at dawn on the third day after leaving Cuba to be greeted by the sight of land. She hurried to the captain’s side at the helm, “I thought it was going to be at least two more days to Veracruz!” She dearly hoped she had misunderstood or miscalculated because she was most anxious to be away from the San Juan.

“Don’t git yer petticoats in a twist, missy. Tha’s Yucatan.”

“Yucatan? Are we stopping for provisions?”

“Nah. They’re too busy killin’ each other,” and then he continued under his breath, “which mos’ people seem ta be doin’ mos’ places these days.” Sparky stood and looked out at the tropical beach for a minute or two. She tried not to think of the atrocities going on inland. “
We cannot help everyone,” she thought, “Best to just keep sailing.”

Flourish Break


As keen as her distaste for the captain was, the airship pilot had to admire his nautical prowess. True to his projections, they sighted Veracruz on the morning of the fifth day. She headed below decks to round up Drake, Llewellyn, and the Hawaiians to prepare the Peregrine to launch. Tiny begged desperately to help. She was busily giving her makeshift crew orders for hoisting the large components when the captain descended from above cursing a blue streak the likes of which she had never heard, and that was saying something.

“What now?” she demanded, her arms akimbo with her fists planted firmly in her fists.

“You an’ your clever ideas!” he shouted back. “I’m told that Veracruz does no’ let new ships anchor withou’ paying a so called ‘tariff.’” He fairly spat out the last word.

And by “tariff” Sparky understood him to mean, “bribe.” When she stopped to think about the business of smuggling, she realized that such bribes were probably required at all ports. However, one probably didn’t want to find oneself in the position of having to negotiate terms in extremis. Such were the captain’s current circumstances.
“Well,” she thought, “as the great American philosopher statesman said, ‘He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.’” As long as she was trading in aphorisms, she considered the British, “in for a penny, in for a pound.” They had thrown in with the smugglers and it was in their best interest to aid and abet them, at least to the point where they parted company, which she dearly hoped would be very soon.

She commenced a mental inventory of potential currency with which to pay the bribe. She didn’t want to suggest legal tender because there was no telling how much more they would need for the rest of their journey. She considered and dismissed every individual part of the Peregrine; she could envision scenarios in which she would need every single one of them. What had they seen in their initial foray into the cargo hold? EPACTs! Perhaps it was all the days at sea that put her in an uncharitable mood, but she was struck by a truly wicked plot.

“Captain, does a notorious reputation aid in the negotiation of these ‘tariffs?’”

“Well o’ course.” The expression on his face conveyed his opinion of her as a coddled simpleton who didn’t know the ways of the world. He, on the other hand, was unfamiliar with the instructional methods of a certain hemlock-doomed Greek philosopher.

“And would such a reputation be increased by leading an opponent to believe that he had gotten the upper hand, only to discover that he had made a deal with the devil…er, so to speak?”

“O’ course,” he drawled impatiently. By this time, Erasmus had taken note of the conversation, and was listening silently, but intently.

“And reputations are like legends, which is to say, they expand as they are embellished from sailor to sailor and port to port?”

“I take your meaning. We da no’ have all day! Wha’ are you suggestin’?!”

So much for Socratic irony.

“You are carrying crates of mechanical contraptions in your hold. They are bound for San Francisco to be use as spare parts. I believe you are unaware that they are not scrap. They are functional, to say the least.”

Drake muttered under his breath, “Oh dear.” He continued out loud, “Darling, what are you plotting?”

“Just a spot of mayhem, no more.” She proffered her “winning” smile.

The Chief Inspector continued, “Captain, I feel obliged to warn you that my fiancée has a plan to significantly increase your notoriety.”

And then the captain smiled the first genuine smile either of them had seen on his face, even broader than the ones with which he greeted the prospect of increased payments for the same work.

“Well, that is settled. Kalei, Peo, and Pa’ele, finish hoisting the Peregrine to the poop deck. Tiny, please fetch Mr. Llewellyn to the deck and then meet me and Drake in the cargo hold.”
By the time Tiny rejoined Drake and McTrowell, they had dragged a crate of EPACTs to the hatch up to the deck and pried it open. They each had a few of the mechanical menaces spread out around their feet.

“What are you doing? Can I help?” The sailor reached enthusiastically into the crate.

“No!” Sparky yelped. “I am sorry, Tiny. This is a very delicate operation. These devices work together cooperatively, rather like the ship’s crew. We are winding just a few and setting their activation switches as loosely as possible.”

Drake continued calmly, “We have to move the container to the shore as smoothly as possible to prevent starting them. We do not expect the harbormaster to be as cautious. As soon as they jostle the crate, these few,” he gestured at the EPACTs at his feet, “will engage and begin activating their mates.”

“Then what?” Tiny asked, trying to divine the purpose of the automata.

“It will not be unlike stirring up a hill of fire ants,” Sparky replied. The sailor took a couple of steps as if he expected to be swarmed at any second.

Drake continued, “You are very important to our plan, Tiny. It will work best if the fewest people know about it. Sparky and I must be aboard the Peregrine prepared to launch while the crate is being moved. Someone else must ensure its gentle delivery. I am entrusting you with this critical task. If you can do this for us, your debt to me will be repaid.” Drake extended his right hand. It was completely swallowed in the sailor’s. The handshake that followed was so vigorous that Drake was grateful for being left-handed.

Drake watched out the porthole of the Peregrine with trepidation as Tiny supervised the offloading of the crate of EPACTs. The young sailor guided the cargo net with his own hands, vigorously waving away offers of assistance. Drake caught sight of the Tiny’s face during his final inspection of the transfer; he was grinning proudly. The chief inspector dared to congratulate himself in some small way for steering Tiny along his path to responsible manhood.

Sparky navigated gingerly off the San Juan’s poop deck and around her sails. Drake stood with his nose pressed to the porthole, watching events unfold below. After the safe deposit of the tightly-wound, hair-triggered cache of EPACTs, Tiny waved at the Peregrine and gave Drake a parting thumbs up.

Although Drake didn’t like to encourage his beloved’s more sinister proclivities, he struggled to suppress a smirk as he anxiously awaited the harbormaster’s examination of the extracted tribute. Recognizing the need for the “armed” EPACTs to remain amongst their inactive compatriots, and the high probability that the devices on the top layer might be removed during inspection, Sparky and Erasmus had buried the live ones in the second layer. It had been a tricky decision because they weren’t certain how long it would take for the EPACTs to activate each other recursively. Erasmus crossed his fingers, a gesture he couldn’t recall using since his childhood.

The harbormaster plucked up one inert EPACT and examined it top and bottom. He tossed it aside in frustration and repeated the action with another, with the same lack of response. Drake held his breath in tense anticipation. The harbormaster reached in with both hands, pushing and shoving the devices left and right in anger. And then, to the Chief Inspector’s relief, the mass of machinery began to push back. The EPACTs forcibly ejected the human intruder and boiled out onto the dock. They scrabbled everywhere, sending everyone on the dock running for cover or diving into the water.

“Dr. McTrowell, perhaps you could spare a moment to look down,” pointing nonchalantly to the screaming men below seeking refuge in the harbor from the mechanical menace swarming the dock.

Sparky did so and smiled back wickedly, “
I do not know what route we’ll take on our return to London, but I advise against coming back through Veracruz.




Crossing Mexico

Entry for October 21, 2013 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus remembered when the Raptor class yacht was announced and all of the wealthy Londoners wanted one. Well, only those of the male gender, of course. But as with all very expensive toys, many wanted it, but few could afford it. Those who had prosperity thrust upon them as a birthright usually gained it as ancestral estates or as a series of ongoing businesses. Few of them had funds freely available for such frivolities. Advertisements for the airship appeared in the finer magazines and on the fancy color broadsheets that were posted about London. That meant, Erasmus realized to himself, there were many, many more announcements for the airship then there were actual airships sold.

One of the things that stood out was that an airship of the Raptor class, such as the Peregrine, was a way for the wealthy amateur pilot to ferry his companions from town to town, alighting wherever he pleased for a picnic, a grand walk, or a shopping spree. But Erasmus remembered the small print always emphasized that this class of airship was built for light travel: the pilot, his engineer, and maybe three guests. Four passengers could be squeezed on, if they were composed of two couples, the ladies hopefully being dainty in size, and thereby not straining the Peregrine’s weight limit. He recalled overhearing the pilots say, between sips of their gin and tonics, “For the fastest flight, keep it quite light.” He found the saying supercilious, bordering on arrogant, and not that far from the condescending remarks the same blokes would say about the laziness of the working masses. But today, the maxim would not get out of his head.

Erasmus stood at the rail of the borrowed Peregrine, watching as it labored to rise up over the jungle forest near the Veracruz shoreline. On board was Sparky, at the helm, Edwin Llewellyn, three large Hawaiians, and himself. It didn’t take a trained ear to tell the engine was struggling to provide lift as well as propulsion forward.

The tall mangroves and palms that lined the village of Veracruz and its shoreline seemed like the walls of a fort that stretched as high as they could to prevent the progress of the small airship. Erasmus watched as the craft crept higher, passing over the palm fronds with just a few feet to spare. The airship spooked a group of brightly-colored birds that had been resting in the treetops, and they took to wing around the struggling craft. For an instant, they were surrounded by the sound of flapping and coo-cooing, which quickly dispersed in all directions.

At that, Erasmus headed to the engine compartment to play the role of stoker. He threw in two more shovelfuls of coal to keep the boiler pressure high, poking at the fire to spread the glowing embers evenly. He used the hot end of the poker to shut and latch the firebox door. He turned and looked at the odd assortment of fuels provided for their trip: a bin of coal, a couple handfuls of kindling, a stack of rough-hewn dried wood, and a container of flammable oil. He tried to guess what order Sparky would utilize these combustibles, but he thought it best to simply ask rather than guess incorrectly.

Erasmus opened the door that separated the unadorned engine room from the elaborate pilot’s cabin, and smiled at the incongruity of the scene within. The three Hawaiians were crowded into the aft of the cabin, sitting in grumpy heaps. Edwin sat facing them, playing the role of nonchalant warden. Sparky, at the controls, groused audibly about most aspects of the flight. “Come on! Up! Let’s go, you sagging bucket of air!” Her usual feathering of the instrument controls was replaced with an unkind pumping of the throttle and an aggressive forcing of the heat pump lever as open as possible. “Arrg!” she continued, “With our present load aboard, this flies like a
pig!

“Sparky, my dear,” Erasmus interrupted as nicely as he could, “I have a question.” He then turned sideways and pressed his way past the arms of Keō and Kalei. They still had to move their arms and lean away to let him pass.

She turned and gave him an “I am
very busy” look, complete with squinted eyes. The vista out of the front showed the canopy of treetops slowly dropping away, revealing a flat costal plain of dense tropical vegetation.

Erasmus recognized his opportunity to not make her mood worse. He decided to instead ask a less trivial question. “I was going to ask you which order I should use for feeding the boiler fire, but it may help if we discussed, I mean, you let me know what your plan is so I can accommodate it.”

Sparky turned her attention back to the front of the craft, but answered Erasmus as she eased off the heat pump lever. “We are traveling ‘fat,’ meaning we have too much weight aboard to optimally use the shape of our canopy and our engine. Our propellers are too small for the task, and the load distribution is not very good either. The god-awful map of Mexico that the captain of the San Juan gave us shows that we have about three hundred nautical miles to travel from here to get to the other coast. Acapulco is our best shot. The Californian should be docking there tonight. At our present sloth-like speed, thirty to thirty-five miles per hour, it will take us ten to eleven hours to get there, very optimistically. The only thing I know from this map, and my distant memory, is that there are two mountain ranges running north-south down Mexico, like ridges on the tail of an alligator.”

“Right,” Erasmus thought, “Like I know the hindmost anatomy of large amphibians.”

Sparky took a deep breath and exhaled in exasperation. “My immediate plan is to stay low over the treetops. In the ocean of air through which we fly, the air is denser near the ground. It is harder to fly through, but it gives us better buoyancy. With the type of engine we have, we will get farther going ‘low and slow’ rather than ‘full and fast.’”

She pointed to the distance, slightly off to her right. The entire horizon in front of them showed a jagged blue-grey mass.

“That mountain range in front of us is our first obstacle. There is a break right there to our right. We can run through that rift and get to the central valley. After that we are navigating by compass for six to eight hours. I want to make it through the next range before nightfall, since we are flying low and navigating by sight.”

She turned, revealing a stern face usually worn by soldiers re-entering a battle. The blond pilot looked at each passenger in the eyes and cleared her throat for emphasis.

“This will be a long trip today. Anything unexpected may cost us time, and at worst, our lives. No foolishness. No moving around unnecessarily. No one is to assist in any way without checking with me. If we are forced to ground for whatever reason, we are unlikely to survive. Eat and drink only what you need. If you need to relieve yourself, do so through the aft hatch and be quick about it. Erasmus, the boiler’s firebox is to be kept closed all the time and only stoked every half hour with a minimum of fuel. Use the heaviest first, which is the wood, then switch to coal. The oil is not a viable firebox fuel; along with a number of other issues, it does not produce enough heat. The Mexican sun and the engine in the next room will make this cabin quite warm. Drink the water we brought on board but keep as much in reserve as possible.”

She looked around to see if she could think of any other technical issues. She started to turn back to her piloting task, hesitated, and rounded back to the passengers.

“One more thing. Mr. Llewellyn, you have my permission to do whatever you need to enforce these rules.”

Edwin mocked a grim face of seriousness. “I have the means to use deadly force, my lady. I assume that I should double my efforts for the scruffy one in the bowler.” He slowly pointed a finger at Erasmus, making everyone smile, despite Sparky’s dire mandates. But then he shifted his position in his chair and revealed that he was wearing a military-style sword in scabbard.

The temporary lightness of Edwin’s comment lasted but a minute. Sparky was back to piloting in earnest. Erasmus pulled out his pocket watch and noted that it was already five minutes before ten o’clock in the morning. He decided that he should stoke the firebox again at half-past, simplifying the timing of the iterative task.

Sparky requested, “Erasmus, please join me. Now.”

Erasmus took the few steps forward to be by her side. “How can I help, my dear?”

“I will not be able to stand here for ten hours. I need you to learn the basics of piloting so you can spell me.”

Erasmus was hesitant in answering. He didn’t want to play the novice to his fianceé’s expertise, but he also knew that it was critical that he boldly play his part.

“I can pilot,” Kalei butted in. “I flew the rented airship and I have …”

“No!” Sparky corrected him. “I can not trust you. You may have been the one who tried to kill Mr. Llewellyn! And you might …”

Edwin interrupted next, stating, “Doctor…we did not plan to…reveal that fact.”

The Hawaiians first looked among themselves, shocked. Kalei jumped to his feet, “Who tried to hurt this man?!” He pointed at Edwin, but stared into the eyes of his countrymen. “He is the only one who can save our King!”

“I would never do such a thing!” cried Keō, making an indignant face. “Who of you is the traitor?” He also rose to his feet and grabbed Pa’ele by the upper arm for emphasis. Edwin grabbed the handle of his sword and kept it there to show that he was ready to draw it.

“Sit down! Now!” shouted Sparky without taking her eyes off the distant mountain range. “I will not repeat my instructions. Talk if you wish. As gentlemen, preferably. But I will point out that each person Mr. Llewellyn guts and tosses overboard will speed up the trip for the rest of us.” She hesitated for a beat and added, “And thank you for flying Western and Transatlantic Airship Lines.”

Erasmus chuckled quietly and stepped in closer to his beloved as the Hawaiian’s re-found their seats. She pointed out the basics of the controls that kept the craft aloft and flying straight. She demonstrated the ease with which the rudders affected the flight path and the effects of inertia on an airborne object under power. She showed how to use the lightest of touches to start turning maneuvers and prevent over-steering. Erasmus spent a few moments with his hands on the controls. He displayed the shakiness of a first-time penny-farthing rider, but he soon reached a level of competence that she let him pilot the craft for a short while.

After taking back the helm, she worked her way through a description of each of the gauges and pedals, and what to look for to prevent disaster.

Sparky’s voice was calm and reassuring. “Piloting is a marriage between managing course and speed corrections, maintaining a healthy power plant, and keeping the envelope topped up. Maybe that is too many things to be a marriage, but you get the idea. None of those items can be ignored. Mother nature really wants all airships to fall out of the sky, so the pilot’s task is to prevent that from happening. If in doubt, call for me. Now, please check the engine room gauges and then come back to watch until you need to re-stoke the firebox.”

Flourish Break


The first two hours passed in this manner, with Erasmus learning by watching. Behind him, the Hawaiians grumbled, but didn’t say much. The mountain pass was easy to traverse and the central plain looked like a never-ending jungle dotted with lakes. Each man loosened his collar as the temperature rose as Sparky predicted.

Sparky turned to Erasmus, calmly requesting, “Take the yoke. I need to…take a break.” Erasmus stood and stepped into place and took the yoke.

“Just keep flying west-southwest,” she instructed, pointing to the in-dash compass to make sure his attention was on the correct dial. “I have been sighting for that darker green patch on the horizon…right there…for reference. Just hold it steady.”

Sparky turned and exited through the aft door leading to the engine room. Erasmus tried his best to change absolutely nothing about the direction or speed of the Peregrine. In his head it seemed to be drifting to the left, but he was not sure. And then he thought the engine seemed much louder.
“How could that be?” he thought. “It is just my mind playing tricks.”

A few moments later Erasmus heard the aft hatch door latch shut, and Sparky reemerged. She flapped her loose collar to fan the air near her neck and stepped back up to Erasmus’ side.

“For such a fancy airship,” she quipped, “it has abysmal facilities for ladies. I shan’t look forward to repeating that process.”

The men were stunned into silence. Erasmus offered her the controls back. She declined and asked to sit for a while to rest her legs, letting Erasmus endure a full fifteen more minutes of captaining the airship.

Flourish Break


Around two in the afternoon, Edwin broke out the food store and mess kit, making small sandwiches for everyone of crackers and sliced press meats. The water keg was unstopped and tin cups passed around. The heat of the day prevented Erasmus from eating very much, but the Hawaiians still had their appetites compared to the other passengers.

The large windows afforded a nice view of the rugged land and its variation of vegetation. Other than the occasional flock of birds that rose above the green canopy, there was little to see of animals. The constant whine of the engine and the whirring of the propellers also prevented Erasmus from hearing any of the valley’s noises, so he found the trip was less interesting than if it were, say, over the quaint English countryside.

Flourish Break


Erasmus checked his pocket watch; it showed half past six in the evening. He knew as he entered the engine room that he was about to put the last of the wood into the firebox, and it was to be coal that Sparky wanted used next. He pushed the two wood pieces in and smoothed out the red-hot coals with the poker, securing the fire door when the task was completed. He took a moment to stretch his arms high while in the privacy of the back room. The pose loosened his sweat-soaked shirt from his body, which provided a minor relief from the sweltering mugginess of southern Mexico. While in this stance, he heard Sparky yell, “Drake!”

Busting through the door and squeezing past the large-armed Hawaiians, he got next to her side. She was staring out at the horizon with the greatest concern.

“I do not see a break in the mountains! Look there. These closer ones are high, but so are the ranges on each side. Do we have enough fuel to fly over them?”

“I am not an expert on boiler fuel. The last of the wood has gone in. We are now changing to coal. I can handle piloting while you look at what remains.”

They performed a quick switch and Sparky ran to the engine room. She was only there for a moment before she rushed back.

Her words came out in nervous clumps. “I do not trust…flying over those mountains…without more fuel or time. The wind coming across the mountaintop may prevent our forward progress. We need to find a rift in the mountains we can follow. The question is…should we go north or south?”

Erasmus was beside himself. She was the expert. He could only offer suggestions.

“Is there something that usually accompanies a break? Vegetation change? Waterways?”

She bit her lip as they continued toward the green wall in front of them. “Yes. Yes. All those things. But if we get too close, we will not be able to see those differences. Rivulets will…be coming off the mountains in many places.”

“So should we…just pick going north or south along the mountain range until we see a break?” Erasmus had tried his best to not sound like their choice was to be completely capricious, but he felt he failed when he saw Sparky’s reaction. “Let us take another look at the map,” he offered.

She pulled it out and pinned it down on the map board. It had rough outlines of the two Mexican coasts, dotted with the coastal cities. Two rudimentary lines that were meant to represent the mountain ranges wiggled down the paper, but showed little hint of breaks or features of any kind.

Sparky was the first to state her opinion, “This map is primarily for ocean-going vessels. It is not much use to us. Not while we are here.” She jabbed a finger at the interior of the continent, between the two mountain ranges. “Since the California is going north, so shall we. When we see a break, we will cut through.”

Erasmus tried to sound optimistic. “That sounds like a fine plan.” But not a person on board knew if they would find a pass before one of their resources became dangerously low.

Sparky turned to starboard and headed north, keeping the mountains ten to fifteen miles to their port side.

Flourish Break


By seven, the sun had gone down below the mountains. Although it filled the sky with a brilliant orange glow, the details of the foothills were in shadow. Sparky had Keō and Kalei dangle lines off the side of the bow to tell if the airship was getting too close to the palms below. To Erasmus, this seemed like an extreme precaution with the current light, but he knew that it would make sense once the sun ducked below the horizon on the far side of the mountain range.

Sparky slowed their progress by half to get more lift, and rose up a few hundred feet. Within minutes the sun set, their glowing sky faded to a dark purple, and the features of the terrain below were swallowed in black.

Everyone on board was quiet, listening for the lines to brush against palm fronds. The small oil lamps over the pilot navigation panel were lit, and the yellow glow of the flames illuminated the brass and wood of the navigation panel, but made it more difficult for Sparky to see out. As the foothills of the mountain rose and fell, so the Peregrine had to rise and fall to prevent collision.

Flourish Break


Two hours of slow progress crept by. At nine at night, the darkness was mesmerizing. The drone of the motor was all that gave the band a feeling of forward progress. The humid stillness of the night began to settle in.

They took turns to help Sparky read the gauges as she strained her eyes to see the subtle hints of the terrain, and Erasmus had to spell her frequently. Her legs were aching, but she knew that there was no resigning for the evening. There was no place to land safely.

Flourish Break


Just before eleven, Keō called out that he heard water. Not just a tinkling, but a mid-sized river’s worth. “That is good news, men,” Sparky declared. “We will follow it west.”

Erasmus pointed to a gauge that Sparky had been monitoring in the flickering light. “This is good news. You see that water level? Do you think we can gather a few gallons while we are aloft?”

When the rush of the river was directly below them, they lowered the water bucket into the inky blackness using the feeler lines, and Sparky carefully descended until the Kelei could feel the grab of the water in the pail. It took a number of haulings and lowerings, but they retrieved sufficient water from the unseen waterway below to replenish the boiler and store a reserve. At a quarter to midnight, they started their journey up river following the sound, dangling the feeler lines, and watching the stars appear lower and lower in the black view before them.

Flourish Break


At half past two, they crested the mountain pass. The sound of the river long gone, and past the danger of the mountain landscape, they could now use the stars to fly west toward the ocean.

Flourish Break


By three in the morning, Sparky estimated that they should put as little effort into going forward, and instead, just stay aloft, reserving their fuel. Come daybreak they would fly by sight to the seaport of Acapulco. They took sleeping shifts wherever floor space was available, leaving only a circle of bare hardwood for Sparky and Erasmus to trade off the duty of monitoring the Peregrine’s gauges. The airship hovered in the early morning hours somewhere over Mexico’s western shoreline as the crew awaited daylight.

Flourish Break


The sun popped over the mountain range at seven in the morning. Erasmus stoked the engine, and the sleepy crew trudged to their stations, on the lookout for Acapulco, and the California steamship. The trip down the mountain was short, no more than forty minutes by Erasmus’ pocket watch. The pastel buildings of the town were easy for Kelei to spot from his vantage point on the bow.

“There! There is the town. And the port. Sailing ships right there!”

Erasmus ran back and carefully swept what was left of the coal chunks onto his shovel and feed it to the fire. That was the end of their fuel. He ran to the helm, and let Sparky know of the situation.

The Peregrine smoothly sailed over the houses toward the bay. Keō was the first to spot the receding smokestack headed north, it’s two mid-ship paddlewheels churning through the ocean water. “There she is. The California!”

Every man dashed to a window and fixed their eyes on the two hundred foot, three-masted metal ship about a half mile away.

“More fuel!” Sparky shouted. “Anything that will burn!”

The men turned their distressed faces toward Sparky when Erasmus stated what was on everyone’s mind. “Except for our stored clothes, maybe soaked with oil, we are out of fuel.”

“The books! Throw a couple of Edwin’s books into the fire.”

Edwin blurted out, “No! Absolutely not! Each of those books was press-printed and hand-bound for royalty. Color-tinted illustrations. Gold-leafed titles on the leather cover.
We will not, under any circumstances, use them for kindling.”

Sparky pushed in the throttle and slowed the Peregrine’s engine to a near halt.

Keō was the first to ask. “What…what are you doing? It is right there!”

“Yes. There it is. Running at about eight to ten knots. We cannot catch it. And we are out of fuel. Unfortunately, Edwin is right. Welcome to Acapulco, gentleman. Someone help me land this pig before I collapse.”

Erasmus looked over at Edwin, who was struggling to stand and seething in exasperation. On the floor next to him was Pa’ele, using a bundle of line for a pillow, already dead asleep, exhausted from whatever he had helped with all night.

“It is time for me,” Erasmus thought, “to help my dearest find our first landing site in Mexico.”




La Princesa Azteca

Entry for October 30, 2013 Written by Katherine L. Morse

“It is fortunate that I am a trusted retainer of King Kamehameha. I was able to get us passage aboard a cargo steamer bound for Lahaina tomorrow morning,” Keō announced imperiously.

“Fortunate would have been if you had not kidnapped my fiancé’s foster father at our dear friend’s wedding and dragged us half way around the world,” Sparky grumbled tiredly through gritted teeth. She clambered to her feet from where she’d been slumped on the ground, leaning against the gondola of the Peregrine. It pained her to see the abuse that the lovely little airship had suffered on this “mission.” She thought it looked rather like she felt.

They had been forced to set the Peregrine down on the beach because the surrounding jungle was too dense. The only saving grace of being out of fuel was that it simplified shutting down the engine when they bumped to a halt just above the high tide line. The Hawaiians had hopped out when they were still a few feet from the ground and more or less caught the gondola to hold it upright while Drake & McTrowell deflated the envelope.

The exhausted airship pilot continued, “Let us get busy disassembling the Peregrine. We will need some carters to take the pieces to the docks.”

“You misunderstand. Only the people are going. The airship stays.”

“No, it is you who misunderstands.” She raised her voice menacingly. “Either the airship goes or the people stay.”

“You do not have the authority to make us stay,” the Hawaiian countered nastily.

“No, but I have the power to make the Chief Inspector and Mr. Llewellyn stay.” The sound of raised voices attracted the attention of Erasmus who had been resting nearby in the shade of some palm trees. He approached in his best nonchalant manner.

Keō responded, “I believe Mr. Llewellyn
wants to go to Hawaii. Where he goes, his foster son will go. And I think you must follow.”

Sparky considered this potential chain of events carefully. She had learned only a few things from her dissipated gambler father, but all of them applied under the circumstances. Lesson one was to always have an escape plan. The Peregrine was their only means of rapid retreat. If she let it go, they would be at the mercy of the Hawaiians and she would never see the air yacht again. Lesson two: play to win. Well, she did that every day. Which meant it was time for lesson three, only bluff big when your life depends upon it. “That is going to be hard to do if you are in jail.”

“In jail? For
what?”

“Kidnapping.”

“And
who is going to arrest me for that?”

“The local authorities. You see, I have spent most of my life in Mexican territories and I speak fluent Spanish. I should have no trouble convincing them that I am a Mexican citizen. How do you think you will fare against the accusations of
una senorita llorando?” She wrung her hands and dabbed at her eyes to amplify her point.

Sensing that Keō might be wavering, Drake thought it the right instant to tip the balance, “If I were you, I would not tempt her. I have seen her flatten a man twice her size. Nothing will stop her when she is this determined.” Keō trudged back down the beach toward the docks, defeated, but seething.

Pa’ele and Kalei returned half an hour later with several large, strong men, but not Keō. Kalei announced, “We will have to work for our passage to take the airship.” He seemed a bit put out, but Sparky thought she detected a slight smile on Pa’ele’s face. Perhaps he was as tired of the imposed indolence of seafaring travel as she was.

Even with the hired laborers, it took three trips over the rest of the day to transport the Peregrine to the cargo hold of the steamer
La Princesa Azteca. The ship’s romantic name was a gross exaggeration; it was serviceable and reliably seaworthy, but royal she was not. Sparky used her command of Spanish to supervise the process of securing the Peregrine while Drake went in search of food. She noticed Keō peeking in on her progress a couple of times, so she took the opportunity to raise her voice and rattle off long, complicated sentences in rapid-fire Spanish. She thought it best to keep up the bluff until they were well out to sea.

Drake returned just before sunset with her reward for all her hard work. He was gingerly balancing a large, flat, hot, clay pot. On one side was a mixture of rice and beans that reminded her considerably of her days in
Nuevo Mexico. The other dish reminded her more of Anu’s curries, but it was thicker. Amazingly, it contained chocolate. At least that’s what Drake claimed. It wasn’t sweet as she would have expected, but the sauce was deliciously smoky and spicy. Its flavors combined perfectly with the chunks of slow-roasted pork that were hiding within the dark brown seasoning.

They spread out their leather coats on the main deck for an impromptu picnic while they watched dusk settle over the Pacific. As much as she enjoyed the view and the delicious repast, it made her a little homesick. Western sunsets always reminded her of the butterscotch and cinnamon hard candies she enjoyed as a child. Erasmus noticed the distant look on Sparky’s face. “Is something bothering you, my love?”

“I am just tired. And I miss home.”

“Hmm,” he nodded and kissed her cheek. He wondered which home she was missing, but he didn’t dare ask the question for fear that he wouldn’t like the answer.

Flourish Break


True to its name, the Pacific was much quieter than the Atlantic. Adding this to the fact that the steamer was considerably faster than the San Juan, and the final leg of their voyage passed without incident…for a change, and in only four days. The other delight that this portion of their journey offered was Sparky’s discovery that Pa’ele had a particular gift for woodworking. They spent many hours together repairing the abuse the Peregrine’s hull had suffered in the undignified landing on the beach. He was his usual taciturn self, even when she complimented him on his skills.

“I learned from my father,” he replied without verbal embellishment. But the expression that crossed his face was a competing mixture of pride, nostalgia, and bitter pain.

Flourish Break


Kalei fetched Sparky and Erasmus as
La Princesa Azteca pulled into the whaling port on the leeward side of Maui. He waved expansively at the ramshackle smattering of buildings crowding the waterfront.

“Welcome to Lahaina. It means ‘merciless sun.’”

“Oh dandy,” thought Sparky. I will feel right at home.




Light Feathery Beats

Entry for November 13, 2013 Written by David L. Drake

The late morning sun was high in the clear sky, soaking La Princesa Azteca with the famous Lahaina heat. Erasmus wore his shirt loose and unbuttoned at the collar, and had given up on hiding the perspiration that ran down his back and wet his sleeves. He had grown used to wearing sailor breeches that fastened just below the knee, and long stockings that covered the whole of his lower legs. Sparky wore her green canvas work vest, but kept the sleeves of her blouse rolled up past her elbows to address the oppressive temperature. Her blonde hair flowed loosely down to her shoulder blades, her head unencumbered with any hat or cap.

As the steamer came abreast a jagged line of ships weighed within sight of the shore, mainly fishing sloops but a few whaling ships and schooners, the captain called for the clearing and dropping of the anchor. Erasmus could see three smaller boats from the shore approach
La Princesa Azteca. Not far from shore, Erasmus could see a collection of European style houses and the walls of what was most likely a fort. Behind that lay green fields, and further back loomed rough-honed volcanic hills, impressively covered with dense vegetation.

“Are we going ashore?” Erasmus asked one of the English-speaking deck hands.

“Not likely, mate. We’ll unload a number of cargo boxes here in Lahaina. Spirits and textiles. We’ll press on to Honolulu by mid-afternoon. Plus, none of our sailors really want to take liberty here.”

“Why is that?” Erasmus queried.

“The whalers ruined it. They used to fight, drink, and carouse all night. It attracted the missionaries, who don’t tolerate any of those things. If that ain’t bad enough, the town’s got a curfew, and if you’re caught, they lock you up in the prison all night in the Lahaina Fort. I would rather take my supper in Honolulu, thank you.”

Erasmus smiled at the deck hand’s honesty. He was glad to hear that after coming all this way, Sparky, Edwin, and he might be able to dine in a town bigger than Lahaina.

Lahaina, from the Anchorage
“Lahaina, from the Anchorage”
A wood-engraving by Benson John Lossing and William Barritt

The movement of cargo on and off the ship was orderly enough. The three boats pulled alongside, two in the fore of the ship, the other in back near the galley. Deck hands tossed down ladders made of rope and wood, and a single man climbed up from each while the crew swung spars with blocks over their boats for the cargo exchange.

Out of curiosity, Erasmus edged closer to the exchange in the back, which involved the loading of fresh fruit, wine, nuts, roots, and meat. The man that popped up and over the rail was a native Hawaiian, in what must have been traditional native clothing that consisted of an off-white loincloth and not much more. He was quick with a bill of goods and with a handshake, waved to his two-man crew below to haul up the crates of produce.

The man stepped back and let the crew do their work.

Erasmus took a few steps closer. “English?” he asked.

The man turned and greeted Erasmus with a shy smile. “English good. Hello. Aloha!”

“What are you selling?”

“Pumpkin. Taro. Breadfruit. Beans. Cabbage. Potato.” He thought a bit, and then changed lists. “Cow. Pig. Goat. Salt fish.”

“Smooth sailing today?” Erasmus continued, just to make conversation during his first interaction with someone of the islands that hadn’t kidnapped him.

“Water smooth. Flat. Good travel between islands. Flat, yes.” The native thought about his words and was pleased with his selection and pronunciation.

Erasmus was enjoying the interchange, adding, “We are headed to Honolulu.”

The native’s response was friendly but emphatic, “Go around Lanai. Not between.”

Erasmus’ memory of the nearby island layout made that request odd. The obvious straight path to Honolulu passed between the islands of Moloka’i and Lanai and was through calmer waters than traveling on the open ocean. Erasmus mimed the two islands with his hands by putting out his left fist and saying “Lanai,” and his outstretched right hand while saying, “Moloka’i.” He then showed a path through the two with the movement of his right hand, his pointing index finger tracing the line of the ship passing between the islands.

“No. No. Kamoho unhappy god. Drowned boats. Big like this. Go around Lanai.” The native added his own index finger path to the outside of Erasmus’ left fist.

Unsure as to what to say, Erasmus added a hesitant, “Thank you.” The two men turned their attention back to the progress of the work, and they watched as the deck hands finished hauling the sizable crate to the top of the spar and tied off the line. The men rotated the spar, dangling the food supplies over an open hold hatch on
La Princesa Azteca. Loosening the line, the sailors lowered the crate carefully through the hatch, finishing with a satisfying thump.

The native turned back to Erasmus, giving his practiced goodbye, “Thank you! Mahalo! Thank you! Aloha!” And he scurried back down the ladder.

Erasmus went to find Sparky, who had disappeared off of the top deck. He found her in the first place he looked: preparing the Peregrine for assembly. She was pushing a wheeled bucket that resembled a wheelbarrow, which was full of coal. He caught up with her and tried to get her full attention, but knew he’d have to settle for half.

“Do you know the ship’s schedule?”

She didn’t slow down her manual labor while answering. “Of course. Do a cargo exchange here in Lahaina. Steam over to Honolulu. More cargo exchange in the harbor and we stay the night. In the morning, we fly the Peregrine to the airship port on Honolulu, and
La Princesa Azteca steams back to Acapulco. As suggested by Pa’ele, we meet with King Kamehameha, transfer the books and settle everything with the three Hawaiians. After gathering the medical supplies I need, I fly to Kalei’s village to help the sick, with your and Edwin’s help, of course. Why, what is your concern?”

Erasmus was taken aback by her very complete understanding of the agenda, and the fact that if he had heard it previously, he hadn’t remembered all those details.

“I just talked to one of the natives, and he suggested that we do not steam between Moloka’i and Lanai to get to Honolulu. Something about angering the water gods.”

Sparky set the coal transport down near one of the sections of the Peregrine’s external hull, and turned to Erasmus. She looked at him with intent for a second, and then wiped her brow with the knot of gathered sleeve at her right elbow.

She pursed her lips, her signal that she had a soliloquy mentally prepared. “We need to get this mission done. Now is not the time for us to be skittish. I doubt watery sea deities are going to strike at us midday in, what appears to be, nearly perfect weather. I need to have the Peregrine ready for flight in less than eight hours.” She tipped her head slightly to the right while looking directly at Erasmus’ face. This was another tell, one that indicated she had a question with only one good answer. “Would you like to help me?”

He was no fool. His answer came quick and decisively. “Of course.” But, he also knew that the more help he could get involved, the better. “Should I get Edwin to lend a hand?”

A porthole popped open on the nearby hull and Edwin’s face peered out. “Already on the job, my young friend. You best grab a spanner and hop to.”

The three made good time storing fuel and water, cleaning boilers, testing the tension of cables, cleaning windows, and oiling moving parts. During that time, they heard and felt the hauling of the anchor and the starting of the steamer’s engine. Once underway,
La Princesa Azteca’s engine made an impressive low grumble that the Peregrine’s crew found comforting. It was the sound of progress.

After half an hour of cleaning and prepping, Sparky declared that the components of the Peregrine were ready to assemble. While wiping engine oil off her hands with a rag, she added, “We could use some assistance in rocking the components into place to latch them together. Edwin, can you find our Hawaiians?”

“Be glad to. Since we are departing in the Peregrine today, should I have them bring their belongings, too?”

Tossing the rag onto a pile with other used rags, she replied, “Great idea. We all should retrieve our things from our cabins and assemble them over…” She pointed to a clear spot on the deck that was relatively close to the disassembled Peregrine, but not so close that their possessions would get in the way during the assembly, and completed her sentence, “…there!”

Flourish Break


Soon the clear spot on the deck was piled with luggage bags, and Edwin’s crate of books, Sparky’s Gladstone bag, hats, loose shoes and boots, and a few other odds and ends. The six of them stood and looked at the pile.

Sparky felt compelled to ask the obvious question. “Did we have all of this before? Is not this pile even bigger?”

Erasmus was the first to confess. “On our way here, I traded one of my heavy sailor outfits for two new shirts and a pair of new shoes. It should not add too much weight.”

Kalei followed, “I won a few rounds of cards, getting a new luggage bag and a new suit. The outfit does not fit me, but I can sell it in Honolulu.”

Edwin confessed, too. “I obtained a new sabre. It is over there on the far side, near Erasmus’ cane. For a sabre, it has a nice balance.”

“How did you…
obtain…it?” Sparky queried.

Edwin weighed his choices for answering, and decided to go with the truth. “I won it in a knife throwing contest with a few of the hands. It was held at night on the lower deck. We placed candles on each side of the mast foot, put out all the other lights, and saw who could hit between the candles with three throws from the farthest distance. I won.”

Erasmus chuckled. “I assume you used his personal throwing knives?” Edwin nodded. “And you won after only one set of throws because your opponent could not duplicate your performance?” Edwin nodded again. “And you also gained a good deal of money as part of the deal?”

Edwin made a long face to indicate that he was an honest man. “Actually the sabre was added to the deal for the gold coins he promised but did not have. I am not a sore winner. I took the weapon.”

Erasmus chuckled again and patted his mentor on his back, adding, “Let us put this bird together.”

Sparky pointed out the best positions for everyone, where the best handholds were to work the pieces into place, and gave the instruction to heave ho. Within a few minutes she was free to run around the airship turning the hasps in place to secure the parts into an operational craft again.

Soon they were all sitting on the deck, leaning their backs against the Peregrine, sweating from their work and the heat of being in the under-deck of a metal steamer. After a minute, Sparky pointed to the deck hatch above, indicating it was time to open up the upper deck so she could test the engine. That’s when they heard the shouting.

¡Monstruos! ¡Monstruos del mar!” Both Erasmus and Edwin jumped to their stash, the Chief Inspector grabbing his sword cane, and his foster father grabbing his newly obtained sabre. The two of them flew up the stairs, just behind the three Hawaiians, with Sparky bringing up the rear.

Emerging onto the upper deck, Kalei screamed, “Nanaue! Have mercy on us!” He turned and sprinted back down the stairs, followed by his fellow countrymen.

On the port side of the steamer was the strangest of sights. It looked to Erasmus like ten incredibly tall beings walking on the ship scaring the crew to the extent that four or five had jumped overboard, perhaps thinking they were going to swim the five miles to Moloka’i. The monsters must have been nine or ten feet tall, and draped in seaweed and covered with coral and starfish. Each had a unique head: one looked like a sea turtle, another like a shark, and the others like slimy creatures of the deep. But what surprised Erasmus the most was that each had a long metal spike out of the end of each of their upper limbs. They used them to help walk, as they were a bit clumsy on the dry surface, but the skewers were also used to stab at the sailors as they ran from the intruders.

Erasmus looked about, but there was no ship in sight from which these creatures could have come. And they were soaking wet.
“Are they from the deep?” Erasmus asked himself as he unsheathed his sword. He noticed that Edwin had done likewise. They both kept their scabbards in their non-weapon hands, Erasmus’ in his right and Edwin’s in his left.

Edwin jumped into the fray, distracting the interlopers away from the deck hands. Two of the demons turned on him, jabbing and poking, as if to pin an insect specimen to a display board. He swung his sabre in mighty arcs, each flourish impeding multiple attacks at a time.

Erasmus followed suit and took on the turtle-headed one. It stood tall on its six-foot hind legs, rocking side-to-side as it made careful, deadly thrusts at Erasmus’ head and chest. Out of the corner of his eye, he could tell that Edwin was still in perfect balance, and was not struggling with fending off four pointed weapons trying to pierce him. Edwin rotated his position to have one of his opponents obstruct the other, cutting his labors in half.

“Look how they wield their weapons!” Edwin shouted.

“Really, you are going to test me now?” Erasmus thought. The Chief Inspector was parrying as fast as he could, given that the creature had two weapons to thrust with, and given that the metal shafts were over four feet long, the watery beast had the height and distance advantage. Despite Erasmus’ swirling two-handed parries and his constant retreats, he had no opportunity to strike with a riposte since the creature was too far away.

Erasmus tried his best to answer Edwin during the flurry of activity. “Small circles…to the outside. Staying on the blade…for parries. Light feathery beats. Oh, that is it! They are French!”

“Right you are!” Edwin shouted back. “So now you know what to do! Are you ready?”

“Yes! Now!”

Both men made a quick but short jump forward while they threw down their scabbards. Their opponents instinctively thrust with their right arms. Both men grabbed the blades with their off-hands, did a quick quarter turn and yanked hard on their opponent’s weapons, pulling them forward and off-balance. They immediately thrust their weapons deep, employing a full lunge, landing simultaneous deadly stabs to the ersatz deities. “Sacre bleu!” one of the fiends cried out. The two intruders crumpled to the floor, the remaining taking notice at the fallen.

“Now we have a winnable fight!” Erasmus shouted, and pounced in the direction of the nearest intruder, the one with giant fish eyes.

Erasmus and Edwin closed in while their adversaries pulled back, retreating toward the port railing. Using their spike arms like spider legs, they crept backwards, right off the side of the ship. As the last of them retreated, it called out, “Continue forward, Englishman, and die. Hundreds of us will come for you!” And they disappeared over the edge of the steamer.

Sparky jumped in to help the wounded deck hands as Edwin and Erasmus investigated the fallen attackers.

“Incredible!” Erasmus declared, as he inspected the dead interlopers. To himself, he thought,
“I have never seen such an illusion before!”




Subterfuge

Entry for November 22, 2013 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Drake began tearing away fronds of seaweed from one of the “monsters” supine and dead on the deck. In the process, he snapped the threads tacking bits of coral and shells to their forms. With more shredding and rending he managed to strip away great piles of marine flora and painted oil cloth to reveal what was obviously a male form clad in a closely fitted leotard also painted in aquatic shades. The dance attire was not terribly remarkable except for the fact that it was out of place on the deck of the steamer. What was startling were the long, pointed stilts strapped to his arms and legs, and cleverly concealed beneath the layers of “camouflage.”

“Erasmus, dear, how did you know they were French?” Sparky asked as she inspected her stitching handiwork on a wounded crewmember while her fiancé completed the deconstruction task.

“I will explain later, sweetheart. Right now we have a mystery to solve and time is of the essence. We need to convince the captain to continue on the original route to Honolulu rather than going around Moloka’i to the north. It is the only way to discover where these villains are hiding and how they boarded unobserved.”

“Are you mad? There is no way he is going to expose his ship to the risk of another attack!”

“He must! This is our only chance to solve the mystery and nip these assaults in the bud.”

“This is not our fight.”

“None of this is our fight.”

She screwed her face in an expression of defeated chagrin. “Why does it have to happen now?”

“We have three things on our side. First, we know the perpetrators are human, not monsters…assuming you consider the French to be human.” Sparky pursed her lips at her beloved’s anglophile insult of their Gallic attackers. He continued, “Second, we have the element of surprise. They will expect us to go around after the attack. Only a madman would continue to pursue this course.”

At this statement, Sparky arched her eyebrows as if to say, “Clearly.”

“Finally, we have the Peregrine.”

It began to dawn on the airship pilot what her favorite chief inspector had in mind. She remarked, “Have you forgotten that it is my job to get us in trouble on airships and it is your job to get us out?” But her smile revealed her defeat in the face of his argument.

Erasmus stood up and looked around for the captain, who had still not immerged on deck despite the fracas. “Now we just need to convince the captain. I believe this will require your Spanish-speaking skills.”

“It will require more than
español, mi amor. Not to be too much of a polyglot, but cui bono?”

Pardon?” he quipped with a French accent.

“Latin for ‘Who benefits?’ What is in it for the captain? Despite what you might have heard, war is bad for business. There must some monetary benefit to the captain…in addition to convincing assurances that we will not allow any additional harm to come to his ship.”

Drake pondered for a moment. “I shall go talk to our Hawaiian companions. I should think they are in a position to offer favorable docking and trading concessions on behalf of King Kamehameha in exchange for quashing this menace. You go work your charming wiles on the captain. We will meet back on the deck at the Peregrine.” He dropped a quick kiss on her sweaty forehead before departing.

Erasmus had Edwin and the Hawaiians assembled next to the Peregrine by the time Sparky returned. He knew she had succeeded because
La Princesa Azteca was executing a slow turn that he would have almost described as reluctant. She made a sour face at him, “Thank you so much for that assignment. Have you made a plan?”

“Edwin and the Hawaiians will stay aboard
La Princesa Azteca to defend it if necessary.”

Kalei, who had been pacing in a tight circle, interrupted Drake’s briefing with an outburst, “I will break them with my bare hands!”

Drake patted his shoulder to calm him down, and continued, “I hope that will not be necessary. Dr. McTrowell and I must get the Peregrine well aloft and out ahead of the ship. We must patrol between Moloka’i and Lanai. We do not know what we are looking for, but I daresay we will know it when we see it.”

Llewellyn interjected, “We should arrange a signal in case it is too dangerous for
La Princesa Azteca to proceed.”

Sparky thought out loud, “Signal flags? No, you might not see them from down here. Light a torch?”

Drake shook his head. “Not visible against this bright blue sky and white clouds. Maybe dangle something by a line? Hmm, that would not work either.”

“We could drop pumpkins,” Sparky offered brightly.

“Surely you jest.”

“They would make a big splash! And they float.”

Llewellyn raised his eyebrows in surprise, “Right, then. Pumpkins it is.”

Flourish Break


Sparky was making for the nearest cloud cover against which to hide when Erasmus asked, “What does one of these Raptor class air yachts cost?”

“If you have to ask, you can not afford one. Why do you want to know?”

“It just seems that it would be a convenient means of travel, at least if you had regular airship ports.”

“I think the tropical heat is affecting your brain, my love. On the other hand, Reginald Wallace might be willing to make you a bargain on this one when we return, assuming there is anything left of it.” She glanced around the cabin that now contained a bright orange pile of five pumpkins. The shiny little mechanical hawk was definitely showing signs of the abuse her adventures had inflicted. “In the meantime, take my spyglass and scan the path between the islands. The water here is much clearer than I had growing up in San Francisco and certainly cleaner than the Thames.”

Drake began making rounds between the port and starboard portholes, searching for any clue at all in the scramble of white caps below. After several minutes he uttered a “hunh” before picking up his pace considerably. He hurried to join Sparky at the helm. He traced a line with his finger between the two islands. “Do you see that?” He handed her the spyglass and took over steering the Peregrine.

“Maybe.” She squinted as hard as she could. “Oh no! Look! I do not think that is a whale.” She reversed their previous trade of duties and pointed toward the shore of Lanai. With the aid of the spyglass, Erasmus could just make out a large, dark oval moving underwater along the line toward Moloka’i.

“What is it?”

“I do not know, but if we do not stop it, its course will intersect the steamer’s in less than five minutes!”

“We need to give the signal to retreat.”

“I have another idea. You said we have the element of surprise on our side. Let us give them a surprise they will never forget.” She steered the Peregrine back along the mysterious shape’s path toward the smaller, southern island and began to descend rapidly.

“I do not care for the look on your face. I hope never to see it directed it at myself.”

“Do you see that large thatched structure on the beach?”

“Yes.”

“Get the coal shovel.”


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