Image courtesy of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library.
Author’s Note: Here’s the second part of the story I wrote for a short story anthology published by my local public library. Part one can be found here. You can purchase the anthology here. All proceeds go to the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. This story has been reformatted for easier reading on this blog.
Eluding the police proved to be an easier task than Gravat imagined. In addition to her skills as a solicitor, Betsy possessed the ability to evade the authorities. It took about five minutes of travel through dark alleys and trespassing through a muddy slum, all of which Gravat never even knew existed. After that brief detour, the group made their way to the Kenton Aerodrome.
The aerodrome itself was an open field with giant wooden hangars dotting the north, west, and south edges. Airplanes and gyroplanes took off on the east, while balloons and zeppelins came in from the west. When Gravat stopped to think about all the traffic coming and going, he realized he’d never actually flown before. “My first visit here is to steal an airship,” he muttered.
“Not just any airship,” said Betsy, pointing to a massive wooden hull suspended a thousand feet in the air. Six gargantuan propeller engines along each side churned the atmosphere, keeping the airship aloft. Dozens of steel cables descended from the ship to the ground, keeping it from flying off. Betsy folded her arms and said, “Now you can see why my employer is so interested in recovering her.”
Felicity licked her lips and adjusted her goggles. “Those are VX-2300 steam engines running those propellers,” she said, as if she was describing a paramour. “I can’t wait to get up there and get my hands on those-”
“That’s the most difficult part,” Betsy interrupted, her narrow eyes burning a hole through the back of Felicity’s head. “The moorings are electrified, so we can’t climb them. We’d need a dirigible to get up to the ship, but they’re all guarded.”
“Why not use a wireless and trick the crew to landing her for us?” asked Flannigan. “Well, for you all. I’m not suited for flying.”
“There’s no crew on board,” Betsy explained. “The only good news is that if we could somehow get on board, a single person could get the ship ready and away before the Kesperrians respond. However, they know this, so they’re sure to have the entire aerodrome crawling with their agents.”
“So what’s the plan?” asked Gravat.
Ginny produced a pencil from her tangled hair and wrote notes in the air. “I could teleport us up there, if we found an electromagnet, a lightning rod, and some dephlogisticated spirits.” She continued scribbling. “Our odds of survival are quite good – one percent.”
Flannigan quivered and his face blanched. Everyone except for Gravat and Betsy rolled their eyes. “I’m not – hic – not drunk enough to try that yet,” said Jim.
“I vote for using fire,” said Isak, pushing his bowler hat back on his head to scratch his scalp. Betsy looked at him dubiously. “As a pyrologist, my interest is purely scientific.”
“That shouldn’t be necessary,” said Gravat. “Since Betsy is our employer, I figured she ought to have a plan of action.”
“Actually, coming up with a plan is entirely out of my hands,” said Betsy. “I was hoping for ideas.”
Gravat frowned. “If this were a military operation, we’d take a few days to come up with a plan of action.”
“Well, we only have a few hours,” said Betsy. “The Kesperrians will return to the ship and then leave for Schweiberia.”
“It won’t take long for me to make a personal teleportation device,” said Ginny, who somehow managed to find some wire. She was coiling it around an apparatus.
“I think we can call that Plan C,” said Gravat, putting everyone else’s minds at ease.
“That implies you have a Plan B,” said Flannigan, his voice dripping with skepticism.
Gravat surveyed the bustling crowds along the aerodrome’s perimeter. Aircraft took off and left at a decent pace, despite the late hour. All sorts of people made their way to passenger terminals to board airships or planes. Then, Gravat noticed a crew of people making their way along the outer edge of the manicured field beyond the hangars. They all wore the same brown coveralls, and they slipped past the passengers through a door into one of the hangars. “I do now,” said Gravat. “First, we need to get our hands on some work clothing. We’ll figure out what to do next after that.”
“That’s not a plan at all,” said Flannigan.
“It’s as good a start as any,” said Felicity, her eyes lingering on the Sky Princess a little longer. She let everyone else head out first so she could get one last glance at the prize.
Most of the land around the aerodrome was soft, grassy field which made it perfect for rough landings in an emergency. It also helped Gravat and the others move quietly towards a large tent serving as quarters for aerodrome staff. If he was being honest, the sergeant didn’t think they would have been able to make it so far unnoticed. He wasn’t fully comfortable leading a group of strangers in committing grand larceny. But it was for his country, and he was nothing if not a patriot.
Their cover broke when Jim let out a disastrously loud belch just a few feet from the tent. Gravat looked over and saw him searching for his top hat in one hand and holding a flask in the other. Inside, one person said, “Did you hear that? It sounded like a goat in distress.”
“Nonsense,” said another person. “Nobody would bring a goat around here again.” The flap opened, and two men stood there staring at the seven people huddled outside. “Are you lost?” asked the one on the right.
The one on the left said, “Look at that man’s flask! You can’t drink alcohol here!”
Taking the flask from Jim’s hand, Gravat screwed the cap back on and hid it in his coat pocket. “It’s not alcohol,” he said. “It’s punch.”
“It’s what?” asked the man on the right.
“Punch!” Gravat said, and swung a fist right into the man’s jaw, knocking him out cold.
“A melee! How exciting!” said Isak, who took down the man on the left with his own swing.
“I abhor violence,” said Flannigan, his voice coming from behind Felicity.
“Gimme back my – my happy flask,” said Jim, dusting off his hat.
“There’s no time. We have to get to the ship before these two wake up,” said Gravat, opening up the tent flap and shepherding the people inside. They were in a small enclosure, with lockers stacked everywhere. He wondered how he was going to search them all when Betsy produced some lock picks and started popping them open left and right. Within minutes, they all had their disguises, although Jim’s had to be left open above the waist.
The group made their way past the passenger areas close to the hangars. Betsy pointed them towards a smaller hangar, where they entered from the back. Inside, they found a large group of dirigibles the Kesperrians used to ferry people from the ship to the ground. They all had a ring of guards armed with heavy steam guns. “Well, so much for stealing a craft to get onto the ship,” whispered Gravat.
“What’s that in the corner?” asked Betsy, pointing to a heap of canvas and iron.
Felicity muscled her way forward between the two. “That’s a DG-300 series balloon craft. It’s old, but if it has an engine, I can get it flying again. In fact,” she said, adjusting her goggles, “I think that’s the engine underneath the deflated balloon. How are we going to get it out of the hangar?”
“We need a distraction,” said Gravat. “Something flashy to get the guards interested for a while.”
“I have the perfect idea,” said Isak. “When it happens, you’ll know.” He left the group, disappearing out the door they entered. About five minutes later, Isak came running towards the Kesperrians, his hand holding his bowler in place. They raised their weapons, not sure what the crazed man was getting at. One of them shouted at him to halt, and he slid to a stop, resting his hands on his knees. “The water tank!” he shouted, trying to catch his breath.
Behind him, a jet of white flame spiraled into the sky. All of the Kesperrians gasped in terror. Half of them dropped their weapons and ran towards the inferno. The other half gave up watching the hangar and kept their eyes on the incinerated water tank. Isak let them pass and then went over to find the others. He was beaming. “Good call setting a fire next to the water tank,” said Gravat.
“Oh, pish-posh,” said Isak. “It was the water tank.”