The airship rocked as another shot from the giant flying city hit its metallic walls. Its Tesla coils crackled in protest against the barrage. The air sailor steadied the craft and tried to take it away from the electro cannons that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere from the body of the island. This was supposed to have been a covert mission, one of secrecy. The giants on the flying island had switched off the transport pads so the rescuers had attempted to reach the Queen by airship instead. Now they were encountering resistance they hadn't planned for.
“They know we’re here for sure,” whispered Lizzie to Paul as she lined one of the ship’s cannons up on the defences of Gersbalk. A beam of light shot out from the tip of her weapon and hit its target. “One less,” she smiled. The smile didn't last long though for another shot from the island hit the Princess Tawa.
One of the coils shorted out. Without the coils exactly cancelling each other out then they lost the anti gravity effect needed to maintain flight. The craft started to dive towards the flying island.
“We’re going to crash,” cried the other air sailor, “hold on to the rails.”
She held on for dear life. I should have stayed back at base. At least then I could have had some spotted Dick.
Though the air sailor tried to line the planes up to make the ship land more smoothly it did not work and the Tawa crash landed on a promontory of the island. Lizzie hit her head on a loosened strut and fell into unconsciousness.
24 hours before…
There was a meeting in the house that they had been allocated by Tyreen High Command. For a week now they had been drilling on the Princess Tawa with the two air sailors that were seconded to them. Between all six of them (seven if you counted Lukin) they were able to fly the airship and use its weapons adequately. The first to make his voice heard was Simpkins. “We must try something, the longer we wait the more they can mess up her mind, or… even kill her.”
When they had first arrived on Thera they had discussed just putting in the co-ordinates to the giantish kingdom to the East, the one that Parvill had used to escape with Queen Victoria. They sent Lukin to scout ahead and report his findings. He ended up in a slave market and was nearly captured.
When they did check it out they could find no trace of Parvill or the Queen and had difficulty accessing a transport pad to return to the airbase.
Eventually Admiral Shore gave them the name of a contact within the eastern giant kingdom. When they contacted him he told them that Queen Victoria had been taken to Gersbalk for conditioning. That was a week ago now and a week since they found out that the travel pads no longer transported them there.
“But we are not ready,” fumed Paul who was used to training and drilling soldiers, “if we try too soon then all may end in failure.”
“Then let us put it to a vote,” said Professor Wagstaff who looked at the others who were seated at the table with him.
The air sailors were present and voted against the mission, so did Paul. Wagstaff, Lizzie and Simpkins voted for it.
“A split vote,” observed Simpkins.
“We could get Lukin to vote?” nodded Lizzie enthusiastically.
Paul laughed, “You can’t be serious?”
“We need a vote to break the tie.”
“You may as well just ask him to generate a random number. No, I should get the deciding vote, I am the ranking officer.”
“I am a founding member of the VAS, I should get the deciding vote.”
Paul looked at her as though he was going to argue, but then relented and held his hands up in submission.
“Do we go then or not?” asked Wagstaff,.
“Yes tomorrow, when the repairs to the Princess Tawa are complete.” She clenched her lips together waiting for somebody else to disagree with her but none did.
Simpkins caught up with her as she was walking to the hangar to see how the repairs were coming along. “What was I going to say?” he shook his head.
“She looked back at him, “I have no idea.” She was flattered because Simpkins was showing some interest in her.
“I’m glad you pulled rank on him, we need to try for a rescue as soon as possible.” They both entered the hangar and saw two ships being repaired. The other was the Queen Isabella, Captain Reena’s ship.
Captain Reena was there, one hand on her hip, inspecting the Queen Isabella and she looked a little angry when she saw Lizzie and Simpkins.
“Hello Reena,” greeted Lizzie, a smile on her face as she came over.
“Miss McBean,” nodded Reena. She snubbed Simpkins.
He looked a little embarrassed.
“It was an accident Captain Reena,” explained Lizzie, hoping to bridge the barrier that had come between the two.
“Who let Simpkins pilot the Tawa? If you had let the air pilot do his job then none of this would have happened. My boots still don’t fit right after we were downed in the sea.”
“We needed to let him get a bit of practice in an action situation.”
“Does he speak for himself or hide behind your skirts?”
This irked Simpkins, “You are a patriot aren’t you Reena.”
She was a bit taken aback, “Of course, why?”
“If your Queen Isabella was kidnapped then wouldn’t you do all in your power to get her back?”
“That is what I am trying to do,” he turned and stormed away.
Reena softened a little around Lizzie. “So you like him then?”
“He’s not bad I suppose, a bit too English for me.”
“I haven’t seen Charlie, since…” Now Lizzie was still a little hurt over Reena and Charlie’s relationship. She bucked herself up, “…since he came through the IWTD with Lukin.”
“No, he’s doing a special mission for me.”
“Getting some stretchers for your boots?”
“It is a secret.”
“Getting some secret boot stretchers for you?”
Reena shook her head, laughed a little then invited Lizzie for a cup of coffee over at the canteen.
As they were drinking their coffee the two air sailors who were part of Lizzie’s crew came in and sat next to them to eat their breakfast. “Johnson, Hawkins,” acknowledged Lizzie.
“Roland please,” said Johnson as he sat down with his tray.
Reena looked at Hawkins, “Do you have a first name?”
“Edwin,” replied Hawkins curtly.
Reena raised her eyebrows to Lizzie at the obvious grumpiness of Hawkins.
“How are the repairs going on the Tawa?” Roland asked Lizzie.
“Aye she’ll be ready by tomorrow,” she replied in a West Country accent.
Roland laughed and put his hand over his mouth. Hawkins just glanced at him.
“Well I must be off,” Reena told Lizzie, “the Isabella is nearly ready, not as much water went into her as the Tawa,” she got up and smiled then left.
Hawkins spat out his food, “This is dire, I need a drink.” He also stood up and left without another word.
“He’s a cheery fellow isn’t he,” commented Lizzie.
“No, not really, he’s always grumpy.”
Has this guy ever heard of sarcasm? She thought as she looked at him quizzically.
Hawkins went back to his barracks. In the latrine section, under a sink, he retrieved a small communications device. He made sure there were no others around then he used it. “Butterfly to Spey, Butterfly to Spey, come in.”
There was no reply to begin with so he opened the channel again, “Butterfly to…”
A voice came over the device, “Butterfly, what do you want?”
“I was successful in crashing the airship, they thought it was the tall Englishman’s fault. But the ship will be ready by tomorrow, they will attempt to land on Gersbalk to rescue the Queen then.”
“Gersbalk’s defences are being restored, only a third of its cannons are in working order, you must delay the mission or sabotage it again.”
“Understood,” as he said this he heard someone enter the barracks and so put the communications device into his pocket.
“Hawkins,” said the NCO, “the commodore wants to see you.”
As he was walking towards the outer barracks door he threw the communications device under the pillow of another air sailor.
The NCO looked back, “What was that?”
“I was trying to swat a fly.”
They both made their way across the courtyard to the administrative building.
Ichabod was in the development section of the administrative building, Lizzie went to see him with a cup of coffee. He heard her coming up the steps, “Is that you Lizzie?”
“How did you guess?” she asked as she came in and put his coffee on the side.
“Ooh, not there, that’s where I keep my notes,” he picked the cup up and put it on the windowsill.
“I have a distinctive walk?” she asked as she sat on a spare chair.
“Yes, the heels of your boots make an unusual sound.”
She thought about the sound of her boots as she looked around to see what he was working on, “What are you doing?”
He picked up his coffee and took a sip, “I am developing an electric shield for the ship. If it works it could direct energy weapon fire away from the hull.”
“Would that mean we were invulnerable?”
“Not from laser beams or regular weapons.”
“Still that’s good, there are quite a lot of ships that have energy weapons.”
Tapping his finger on his cup to denote his frustration he replied, “I can only make it work when it’s not flying at the moment, the earth gives it a grounding effect.”
“Can I see it in action?” she stood up and went closer to the machine Wagstaff was working on.
“All right, I’ll do a test now, we do need to be over the other side of the room though.” He placed an insect within the range of the machine, stood back and then switched it on. She saw a slight blue hue surround the machine. Wagstaff fired his own electric pistol at the machine and the bolt from it dissipated around the shield and hit the wall behind, scorching his map of Thera. “Oh dear,” he sighed as he switched the shield off and patted the map, “I’ve singed the North Pole.”
“Why can’t it bounce a cannon ball off?”
“Well it could if I had more power, but the engine and coils on the ship aren’t big enough. You would need the coils and engine from something like the Volans Terrorum.”
This reminded her of the air battleship she had flown on to Kashlum. She had seen it being refitted in the dry dock. Then she laughed.
Looking over his glasses he asked her, “What are you laughing at?”
“I was just imagining those big coils on the Tawa.” She moved toward the machine again, “So what could it stop if I threw something at it?”
“Maybe a tennis ball.”
“Can I try?”
“Of course,” he moved the insect back to the machine and switched it on again, then he gave Lizzie a tennis ball. “Try to squash the insect,” he told her.
She caught the ball and then threw it at the insect. It bounced off the shield, landed on the windowsill and spilt the rest of his coffee over some of his notes. “Oh no, oh no,” he moaned as he switched the machine off and dabbed the notes with his scarf, “I always seem to get into trouble when you’re around Lizzie McBean.”
As she left she looked a little embarrassed and closed the door behind her.
For the rest of that day she took in the sights of nearby Teredon and also decided to do a little shopping to get some new boots so they didn’t make a distinctive sound. She returned later, ate her evening meal and went to bed early.
The airship repairs were finished in the morning and as a team they were already making plans to fly up to Gersbalk because its current position was quite close to Tyreen. Lizzie was looking in the base armoury for some more ammunition when she overheard a conversation between the stores man and another air sailor. “It was Keith, they found it under his pillow as part of an inspection. Who would have thought old Keith would have been a spy for the giants.”
“A communications device that small? The things we have are like boxes!”
She was on the other side of some shelves and the stores man was a bit startled when she came out from behind, “Cor, love a duck, I forgot you were there. Did you get everything you needed?”
“Erm, can I have a revolver as well, and some shells?”
“You’ll have to sign for them, so I can tell the Commodore where they’ve gone.” He picked a DN35 off the shelf close to him, “This should do you, not too big, six shots, .45 calibre.”
Looking at the barrel and then pointing it at the shelves she said, “Thanks.” Then she collected up the rest of her ammunition, said goodbye and went back to the Princess Tawa.
She stowed away her gear in the box below her bed. Simpkins came in with a new rifle. “Nice,” she commented.
“I thought it was better to get one myself instead of using Paul’s.”
“Did you hear about that spy they caught?”
“Yes, the Commodore told me earlier.”
She felt a little miffed that she had not known.
Within another half an hour they were travelling toward the flying city of Gersbalk.
There were some clouds in the sky but Lizzie was just able to see the flying city in the distance. It grew bigger and Lizzie swore that she saw giants moving through its outer areas. Hawkins took Wagstaff’s advice and tried to advance upon the city from above. As they started to ascend Johnson noticed that some of the cannons were lining up on the ship. “We have movement from those guns.”
She looked down, it was quite disconcerting to be so close and to see the enemy’s guns line up on you. But she also saw that other guns were inert. When she looked at Wagstaff he seemed to be in a bit of a tizz. “What’s the matter?” she inquired.
“I can see those guns getting us in their sights and I don’t know whether to switch the WES on.”
“The Wagstaff Electric Shield.”
“Why? What difference does it make?”
“We could lose altitude, it could affect the way the coils balance each other out.”
He didn’t have chance to switch it on before a shot came from one of the guns on one of the concourses. “She seems to be all right at the moment,” said Wagstaff. Then they started to dive. The Professor ran into Hawkins to find out what was the matter.
“She seems to have lost lift.”
Wagstaff ran to the engine area below. He called up, “Both coils are fine.” but by then another shot hit them and they started to fall towards a promontory on the island.