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Endeavour’s Fall #11: First Impressions

Jan 31, 2017

 

 

 

The power of ‘impressing’ crew into the Royal Airship Navy, ever to be reprobated, except in cases of emergency, is, nevertheless, of ancient and long-continued exercise, and its legality has been repeatedly recognized…
-Sir William Blackstone

On a clear day off the coast of New England, Adams struggled to read a letter from home high on the crow’s nest, but the wind pulled playfully at the pages. Frustrated, she refolded the thin paper and stuffed it in her vest.

“Not a word!” she said. “He did not add even one word.” The wind snatched the words from her lips.

A crew was patching the Endeavour’s hull a hundred feet fore of the main. Adams watched them critically. Then, just offshore, a dark shadow on the waves caught her eye. She did not hesitate.

“Airship Ahoy!” Adams yelled down the tubes. “Three o’clock!”

Surprisingly, the airship had turned towards them. Surely no captain was foolish enough to engage an Imperial airship from downwind with no cover.

Adams whistled and waved down to the deck crew. Their young foreman, Jack, looked up and promptly signaled the crew. They ran for shelter.

“Lookout, report!” A French-accented order rang up through the speaker tube.

“Unflagged airship spotted at three o’clock, low.”

“Aye, Aye.” A moment later, the order for battle stations blasted out of the bridge.

Adams grabbed her rifle and strapped in. Most of the repair crew was already at the hatch. A new hand was limping along, well behind the rest.

“Lookout! Confirm that the enemy ship is alone!”

“Sir, confirmed sir.” There were no clouds nearby, and the sun was still high on the horizon.

“Hold your fire and watch the horizon.”

“Aye, sir.”

The Endeavour turned with the wind and closed the distance to the enemy airship.

Adams heard yelling from the deck below.

“Let’s go! Let’s go!” shouted Jack at the straggler.

“I got him!” Adams yelled down from the mast.

Jack shrugged and dropped through the hatch.

The enemy had no power and few sails. It frantically dropped ballast to keep behind the Endeavour. The Endeavour’s airscrews whirred as they spun up and drove her swiftly towards bumbling ship.

Adams shouted down as the slowest young hand reached the hatch: “Bring up some magazines, will you?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” The boy yelled back up.

“Call me Airman. Or Adams,” she said when the boy finally pulled himself up into the crow’s nest.

“Yes, Airman. I’m Sam.”

“Is this your first battle, then?” She asked. Adams scanned the horizon, but it was still clear. Only the wooded shore could be hiding any threats, but even the shore fell far behind as the airship crossed open waters.

“Yes, Airman.”

“It should be a quick one. The Captain makes short work of pirates.”

“How do you know they are pirates?” Sam asked.

“Do you see its flag?”

“No.”

“That makes it a pirate.”

Adams sighted in on the enemy ship. She did not see many signs of crew on the pirate ship. She had not yet seen any weapons.

The Endeavour opened fire long before Adams thought the enemy was in range. Three long, thin streams of fire raked across the hull of the enemy airship and tore it into pieces. It hardly seemed possible that just three weapons could do so much damage so quickly and quietly. Adams could barely hear the buzzing of their fire below. It was very unlike the booming of cannon.

Without so much as a flash or a bang, the pirate ship simply folded in on itself and dropped to the sea below.

“Was that it?” Sam asked timidly. He pulled himself up from where he’d been hiding, and looked over at the falling wreckage.

“That, Sam, is what a battle looks like. Well, pretty much. Were you expecting something different?”

“I pictured more sword fighting, maybe some explosions. And flags.”

“Flags are a brave sight, but war is heartless, Sam. So we may as well win as efficiently as possible.”

“But still,” said Sam. “I did not even hear our cannons.”

“That is unusual,” said Adams. “Captain took some new guns aboard in Albany. I haven’t seen them on an airship before.”

“So maybe the Captain tinkers with things too,” said Sam, “like we do back home.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” said Adams. “The Royals are just as strict with their own officers as with the Colonials, even if the punishments are milder. I suspect they won’t forgive a breach of protocol like this. The Captain may be in for some stormy weather next time we land.”

Sam climbed leaned over the rail to watch the wreckage on the waves below. The Endeavour dropped and circled slowly. As Sam and Adams watched, the weapons fired again, and small splashes dotted the floating canvas.

“Aren’t there airmen down there? Look, he’s trying to swim away.” Sam flinched as a stream of bullets splashed around the swimming man. “That doesn’t seem very sporting. Shouldn’t we capture them?”

“No. It isn’t sporting,” said Adams, “The Navy deals very harshly with pirates. It is no use sinking one airship just to have them build another.”

“I see.” Sam said timidly. “What about the war on the Continent? Have you ever seen that?”

“I haven’t. The Endeavour has always had a colonial assignment while I have been aboard. Do you really think it would be that different?”

“Maybe with the giant guns and crawlers battling it out head to head the battles would be more, well, direct,” said Sam.

“It isn’t. The Huns lob long-range cannon fire at our soldiers and we lob cannon fire back. Once in a while they send crawlers against the fortress at Maginot, but even then, the big guns are just battling it out. The soldiers either feed shells to the big guns, or feed coal to the big crawlers. Usually, they hide in muddy holes in the ground and hope that a crawler won’t squash them like bugs. These new guns the Captain stole are probably intended for those battles.”

“I see,” Sam said, shaken.

“I have had friends and family come back from the French and Spanish territories, Sam, with stories you wouldn’t believe. And they are not the kind of stories you’d want to be a part of.”

Sam nodded.

“The Empire has dug into trenches against the Huns—the Holy Roman Empire are mostly Germans, you know—and nobody has moved more than a couple of yards for decades.”

“What about the airships? Don’t they help?”

“We have airships, but the Huns have them too. And we all have big guns that can shoot into the sky,” Adams said. “They have their coal-fired behemoths as well. We hit them with our big guns when they get too close. It’s a stalemate.”

“I didn’t know…” said Sam.

“There is no way you would. The Empire doesn’t want to look weak. But the truth is, they barely have the troops to keep a few forts in the colonies. Why do you think they are letting colonials and women fight? I haven’t seen another Imperial airship on this side of the Atlantic for years. It’s a good thing the pirates are so poorly built and manned, or we’d be up to our necks in them.” Adams gestured to the floating wreckage below.

© J. O. Evans 2017. All Rights Reserved.