Wages of War – Chapter 2 Fire and Fury

Chapter 2       Fire and Fury

     The reason these pointy helmeted fiends were finding new and interesting ways to extract information from me was due to their complete confusion as to how three college students and what they consider the minions of Satan himself defeated three of the best in the southern sea fleet of the Reich. The Kaiser himself was the man ordering my “treatment”. I felt almost honored to be considered so important. If only the likes of Kurt Vander, a pompous bully from prep school could see me now. I was important enough to be on the Kaiser’s most wanted list and what’s he doing? Probably living it up in Providence at Brown University getting pretty girls convinced that his money and jawline are the keys to their hearts.

     My thoughts returned to the bistro. The striking Parisian girl that worked in the bistro had come to clean up my wine from the cobblestone. As much as I wished to say, “thank you,” I knew that my voice would give away what my false moustache and hat are barely concealing. I didn’t wish to go back to that goddamn prison and be questioned by the German thugs again. Besides they never got from me how exactly we defeated the fleet.

     What I wouldn’t tell them was what occurred late on the first night just past the Panama Canal. Cavan and I were awake in our stateroom aboard the Ascienda restlessly attempting to talk about the events of the last two months. We went from calm average college students to being internationally wanted men.

     “What the hell did we do to deserve all of this?” I posed the question.

     “I haven’t the vaguest idea. I thought we were just out for a little cruise.” Cavan said and we both chuckled. He fingered the case containing his father’s journal. The point of it traced the intricate pattern and gear works that locked the journal in place with Cavan holding the only key. I could see the loss on his face now as he thought of his father dying in his arms. His father’s hands reaching up to touch Cavan’s; the same hands that crafted the clockwork box he held. He continued.

     “I thought this was only going to bring us to my father. I never imagined, I’d suddenly be a leader. I don’t know if I’m ready for this, Jules. I’m just an artist, I don’t know how to be a statesman.”

     “Cavan, your creativity is what makes you perfect for this. You don’t think like a statesman, that’s what will make it work. Let’s face it, we’re flying with ten thousand creatures that the world doesn’t know even exist. This is no place for a statesman.” As the last words left my lips, an explosion ripped through the air and the stateroom shifted as if gravity had suddenly decided to play ball with the dirigible. I looked out of the window to see in the inky black of the night sea, flashes coming from the water’s surface followed by the eerie whistle of incoming shells.

     Cavan and I ran up the tilted floors to the hatch. With both of our weights, it began to creak open. Our feet were braced on the doorframes as we struggled for leverage. The oval portal finally gave in to our collective battle and swung so that it collided with the wall on its return flight. The wall was now a peaked ceiling and Cavan and I found ourselves running through the halls as if we were in a carnival ride.

     Madness and chaos filled the halls. Smoke billowed from the starboard engine and fumed in through the halls. By the time we had navigated to the bridge, Towhay warriors were in flight outside of every window, torches alight. I grasped the handle next to the helm and peered out the large bridge window as the helmsman and first mate struggled to right the ship without any propulsion on one side. What I saw was a meandering spiral of fire and speed diving like a cannon shot down a well. The Towhay were in formation speeding toward the blackened target with wings folded allowing for gravity to pull their hurtling bodies directly into the center of combat. With a gasp I could not control I watched as the elegant shape of diving warriors turned into what appeared as a single ball of fire that abruptly changed direction just above the water’s surface.

     The choppy reflection of the fireball trailed it while the ball itself hung just centimeters above the waves. As this embodiment of fairy power reached the ship on a pass, it fractured into hundreds of flame tongues, which I knew were the warriors’ staffs. Then disappeared into the gun turrets and caused silence. The blasting ceased and one by one each set of guns suffered the same fate. The entire operation took less than two minutes. The guns lay silent and what we could now tell was only an armored corvette. We hoped the serious Dreadnoughts were all closer to home waters.

     The corvette began to list. Rocking unsteady in the current with an obvious loss of power. Within seconds the bridge burst into flame and the same hundred tongues of fire leapt from the explosion as if they were shrapnel set ablaze. The small flickers hung in the air before returning to our battered and still lopsided craft.

     I suppose I would have been more scared if I had actually known at the time what happened to the exterior of the ship I was on. We did not suffer a direct hit to the starboard engine, but rather to the armor just above it lining the bottom of the gasbag. It had hit in just the right spot to dislodge a rather large and pointed piece of metal that found its way into the engine housing. The odd tilt of the ship was due to the dislodged piece not the engine.

     The other three dirigibles seemed unharmed but we were forced to turn north and find land. The extent of the repairs could not be made in the air.

     Four more slow hours in the air and we approached the coast of New Orleans. The captain had decided a safer northwest course was in order. Perfectly suited for airship and naval vessels, this hub of the Polk province made for a well-earned respite from the days in the air. The Harcos had distributed themselves between the remaining three airships leaving only humans and Inkaritath aboard the Ascienda. Our companion vessels remained in the air as we pulled gently over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico coasting at a mere ten meters from the surface.

     As we cleared the levy that blocked the waters of the ocean from destroying the city in the distance, we saw the soft glow of lights. It was a welcome sight after so many days in the jungle and flying over open water. Civilization approached us as we flew with cargo that would potentially destroy it. It was confirmed that the airships would all refuel without any ground crews aiding the process. This kept us in the port for longer than expected, but allowed us to hide our living cargo. We did not wish to repeat the incident in Quito.

     The repairs to our ship were extensive. She had suffered little damage to the hull or airbag, but the armor, starboard supports and engine were a complete loss. The German corvette knew precisely where to hit us in order to disable but not destroy. We were to be at port for two weeks to affect repairs. Inkaritath had other ideas.

     In the dim light of dawn, we docked, locking into the side of a large paddock make specifically for airships. It was typical New Orleans, however. A flair of French frippery strewn the tops of the two towers that were joined by ornately carved bridges from which the passengers exited to the docks. The boardwalks leading away from the docks to the city were littered with vendors and shops calling for the attention of new arrivals to the city. The only thing more welcoming than the architecture was the people. Several languages rang through the humid morning air requesting attention from steamship and airship visitors alike as the shops opened their doors.

     All of this went temporarily silent as our ship docked. Damaged and weary, it brought the wars to New Orleans’ shores. Workmen instantaneously started repairs. They flooded the exterior, tools in hand, climbing the ropes, etc. The charred, blackened, side of our ship made the impact to not only the repair workers, but also to the crowds below; of how close to home this war had come. The oddest part of it all in hindsight is how the real war hadn’t even started yet.

     As I exited the dirigible onto the port side paddock bridge, I looked up to see the remainder of our small fleet circling overhead. Something caught my eye. Something was moving on the side of our gasbag. It was inordinately quick, jumping from rope to rope with the agility of a monkey. The glimpses I caught revealed little, as not much of the sun’s morning ascent had reached into the paddock itself.

     On one pass the jumper missed a rope and began to fall. Two meters of wings sprung to life and glided the figure back to the receiving surface of the gasbag. Inkaritath. He was trying to leave the ship without being seen. We did not want to repeat the incident at Quito. I tried not to call attention to him as I watched with tension the crowds of people gathered in the streets and pouring like waves from steamboats, ferries and airships. No one seemed to be looking up. I was relieved until I saw Inkaritath break into the sunlight at the top of the dirigible.

     One of the repair personnel stood in shock as the largest of all fairies alighted to the top of his work. The worker began to lose his foothold on the bag and slipped off. The crowd still went about their business.

     The man, speechless with fear, collapsed over the side of the dirigible falling into the shadow of the paddock. The worker must have realized his plight as the safety cable rigging him to the ship snapped stiff with his weight. He screamed out of sheer panic. Within seconds, Inkaritath had swooped down past the man in a decisive dive that abruptly turned as his wings reached full extension, moving him swiftly upward with enough force to grab the poor soul and return him to the top.

     All of this was in clear view for the masses filling the morning market to see as their eyes trained upward following the sound of the screams. We had not planned this to be the way the Harcos met the world. However, if there was to be some sort of precipitating event – a daring rescue wasn’t half bad for positive publicity. At the time I was just beginning to think of strategy and how we could best pull all of this off.

     No need for us to think of cover for the event at all anyway. Within seconds, Cavan, our crew and myself was surrounded by men in dark suits and hats shooing the onlookers away with lies such as, “Wasn’t that a great trick?” “You’ll have to excuse these foreign circus people, they can never resist a show!” “No more freebies, folks, you’ll have to buy a ticket for the real show.” The suited gentlemen walked us quickly up the planks to the crippled ship.

     The man at my right side, taller by a good twenty centimeters than myself, gripped my right arm with a hand that could well double as a vice. His muscular frame and those of all but one of his companions seemed as if it would burst the seams in their suits should they flex. As if some bizarre form of vaudevillian act, the man leading them was practically a dwarf. His skinny frame and toothpick thin legs kept time quickly as he paced our trip rapidly back to the ship. The valise at his side bulged slightly as it swung to and fro attached precariously to the end of his fragile-looking arm by a wiry set of fingers.

     Once out of the crowd’s earshot he turned on his heel mid-stride and faced us. His expression was an oddly stoic grimace. Framed so absurdly by a wide moustache that it almost sent me into a full out laugh. As I coughed and watched Cavan’s hand travel to his face also trying to appear as if he was clearing his throat, the little man with the valise spoke.

     “I am Lieutenant Carlin of His Majesty’s Special Police. We are here to escort you and your ‘cargo’ to the palace.” He said with the unmistakable haughty twang of a Virginian. He continued, “Our operatives have watched your careless and reckless trip from Quito with trepidation. When you were attacked just off the coast, Prime Minister Wilson ordered us to step in and take over should you land on North American soil.”

     He handed the valise to Cavan.

     “You’ll find all of the necessary paperwork in this case declaring your obligation to the ‘cargo’ null and void, gentlemen. We are commandeering your vessel and all of its contents in the name of the Empire. Prime Minister Wilson sends his warmest regards and sincerest thanks for completing your father’s expedition.” With this, the men holding us let go, following Carlin up the gangplank and into the ship.

     A wave of panic came over me. The journal. Cavan’s father’s journal was in that ship. Everything else was useless tripe compared to that. In the hands of anyone but Cavan, it could be used to destroy the Harcos. All of their anatomy, the research he did that he purposely omitted when he published his initial findings in 1899, its all in there. Cavan and I exchanged a glance knowing that the journal was the only thing that mattered.

     I stopped dead in my tracks and said without thinking, “What the hell do you lot think you’re doing going into that airship?” As the words passed through my lips, I felt almost possessed. “You can’t just waltz into any damn ship you want.”

     I was being attacked by stares from two fronts – Cavan and Carlin. Both men fixed a gaze on me but for very different reasons.

     “Just who are you to be able to question my authority in this matter, boy?” Carlin breathed with utter condescension in his low measured voice.

     “No one except a person that understands by the Empire’s decree of seizure act that Prime Minister Polk put in place in 1847, you have no damn authority on that ship. It states, and I quote, ‘No officer(s) of the Empire be he in any branch of service to the crown of the North American Empire, may enter a foreign vessel should that vessel be incapacitated in any manner until a proper royal master shipbuilder has inspected said vessel to declare it’s ability to occupy a search without impending harm to afore mentioned officer(s).’

     “I believe it continues with an addendum added after the onset of airship technology at the turn of the century, ‘If the vessel be an airborne ship, and her disability force her to a dock within the Empire for safety of her crew and passengers, said vessel will be allowed to make it’s own repairs prior to boarding by officer(s) of the crown.’” I finished with a small amount of wonder at myself.

     Carlin processed this in his abnormally small head. After nearly a minute, he responded, “You are correct, but you did forget one important caveat- ‘all but the crew essential to repairs shall be sequestered under guard in the nearest facility that will accommodate them, until such time as the vessel is again safe.’

     The tension between the two parties of men; Cavan and myself versus Carlin and four armed gorillas in suits, was daunting. Cavan then started to form a thought and pronounce it but was cut off by the first of the brutes to speak.

     “Sir, we should let them at least get their things if we’re going to be holding them for that long.” He suggested. Thank the heavens somebody here had some sense. Carlin agreed grudgingly. Cavan and I were allowed to fetch our belongings, including the journal.

     We quickly packed our bags with all of the evidence of our adventure in the jungles of Ecuador; The maps, the Huntington tranquilizer pistols and the coins given to us by the Harcos. Checking the stateroom three times, we finally declared all was out for prying eyes. With that we left the ship for the last time and were taken to a holding facility just north of the French Quarter.

     We were taken a boarding house. The matronly Creole woman who showed us to our room never spoke a word. Her demeanor was elusive and suspicious. It was only Cavan and Myself that were staying here so I didn’t imagine at the time it would be much of an imposition. Little did I know what Inkaritath was planning among his people aboard the two remaining aircraft.

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