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Endeavour’s Fall #13: The Bridge

Feb 12, 2017

 

 

 

Paris is worth its Mass.
-Emperor Henry XII

Earlier that evening, while Sam was still winding rope high in the rigging, Boulanger entered the airship’s bridge. Lockhart looked up from his charts.

“Anything to report?”

“Everything is ship-shape, Captain. Here, let me get you some light.”

“Yes, the sun seems to have set, thank you.”

Boulanger was one of the few aboard entrusted to light a flame. Even on the bridge, as far below the large gasbags as one could be, fire had to be carefully controlled. A small copper pipe let some of the pressurized gasses escape and burn inside glass, under a reflective tin shade. The light flickered and reflected around the bridge.

Lockhart had drawn a series of lines over the plot of the pirates’ last know position. They all lead various degrees of northwesterly inland from the sea. The course of the Endeavour likewise was marked. It ran roughly parallel to the coast.

“I know it is not my place to ask, my Captain, but…”

“You are right, Boulanger. It is not your place to ask questions of me. How have the crew reacted to the new guns?”

“I have heard very little, Captain, I admit.”

“What does your nose tell you?”

“There was little hesitation when we first used them. That was a good sign. The second time we used them, there was even less. I think they have proved their worth in battle now, what, three times?”

“That is certain. And still no sign of any curse,” said Lockhart, with a smile.

“The Star Chamber has not caught up with us yet,” said Boulanger.

“Indeed.”

“I have seen them burn an entire village for just a rumor of blasphemy.”

“Of course. And the Academy pounded their catechisms into your young French skull from an early age no doubt.”

“Certainly. And the skull of my parents and grandparents as well.”

Lockhart scoffed. “Fortunately, few of my crew were trained as you were. They might let superstition cloud their sense of duty.”

“My Captain, you know I would never disobey an order.”

“Of course Boulanger. That is not what troubles me. If I had a dozen more French just like you, I would not be concerned.”

Boulanger did not ask any questions this time. He just waited respectfully for Lockhart to voice his thoughts.

Finally, Lockhart spoke. “These battles, well, these skirmishes we have seen since Albany… have you noticed anything in common about them?”

Boulanger paused to remember. “Captain, the new guns have made short work of each of our enemies. First was that lightly crewed pirate blimp. Then we ran across that barge. Then the native lookout tower opened fire on us.”

“Yes, do you see?” Lockhart asked, “None of them had any place picking a fight with us. A captain with any sense would immediately run for cover at first sign of an Imperial airship. No stationary lookout post would risk a provocation.”

“Perhaps they were acting on, well, on principle,” said Boulanger. “We are well north of our borders.”

“Perhaps,” said Lockhart. “But I do not think it is a coincidence that all three of these battles happened so close to the shoreline.”

“Is it not fortunate that we have been able to test our new guns under these conditions,” said Boulanger, “before our lives are at risk?”

“Yes, it would seem so,” said Lockhart. “If one trusted in good fortune. I do not.”

“I do not follow you, Captain. What place do we have to question a bit of good luck?”

“I question everything,” said Lockhart. “Everything that threatens, or might threaten, my mission or this airship.”

“Of course, my Captain. That is why you are the Captain,” said Boulanger.

“And nothing has threatened this airship as much as that ambush out over the North Atlantic,” said Lockhart flatly.

“Of course. We lost so many hands,” said Boulanger.

“That is not all,” said Lockhart. “Think of the planning involved.”

“Planning?” said Boulanger. “It was simply bad fortune, was it not?”

The Captain smiled. “I prefer to see a more shadowy hand in it. If the pirates we tracked from Greenland managed to lure us into position to be ambushed by that airship, there must have been considerable thought put to it.”

“I’d say,” said Boulanger. “More thought than our enemy seems capable of.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” said Lockhart.

“If you suspect a trap, then why are we…”

“Why are we charging back into it?” asked Lockhart.

“I just meant to ask…”

“No, you’ve made your meaning clear,” said Lockhart. “I for one am eager for another crack at these smugglers or pirates, or whoever is pulling the strings. It is better done on our timetable than theirs.”

“I see,” said Boulanger.

“However, I cannot help but wonder if the pirates had some help,” said the Captain.

“Help?” asked Boulanger. “From this ship?”

“Precisely. It would be much easier to track us with help from the crew.”

Boulanger thought it over. “It must be the colonials,” he said at last. “I’ve never trusted them.”

“I know, I know,” said Lockhart. “But we really couldn’t do without them.” Lockhart reached under the charts and pulled out Sam’s clockwork leg. “Even just part of a colonial is nice to have around, isn’t he?”

Boulanger grimaced. “Of course. It is unlikely that our new hand has anything to do with it.”

“You’ve made your feelings about the other colonials clear,” said Lockhart. “I need you to be a bit more observant. I doubt more than one or two of the crew could be disloyal at once. We must determine who it is.”

“Of course, my Captain.”

“You do not have much time,” said Lockhart, tracing his finger across the lines on the chart. “We are approaching the latitude where that pirate sloop disappeared. If I am correct in my calculations, we should reach our destination tomorrow. When we do, we will need to know who is with us and who is against us.”

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