Episode 1: Lords of the Air, More or Less
"I believe we're going to die, sir," said the signalman.
Everett glanced at the man in annoyance. "Remain calm, Jenkins," he said.
"Matters are not as bad as they appear."
"Really, sir, I think we're going to die."
"Nonsense," said Everett. "This situation is entirely under control."
They were clinging to the bow section of a broken airship, thousands of feet
above the Pacific. Below them, waves stretched endlessly toward the horizon.
To the northwest, a small patch of cloud flecked the sky, but there was no
land in sight. And they were losing altitude.
"I don't know how to swim, Captain," said Wallace, a scruffy airman from the
East End who perched next to them on the remains of Frame 155.
"That won't be necessary as long as we keep our wits about us," said Everett
reassuringly. Leaning back to look up into the hull, he cupped his hands and
shouted. "Sound off, men, starting with `A'!"
"Abercrombie," came a distant voice from the nose, which was now high above
them, for their fragment of the ship had pitched up until it was pointed
toward the heavens.
"Davies," came a shout from the other side of Gas Cell Seventeen, where the
marine still clung to the what used to be the upper machine gun station.
"Fleming... Iverson... Jenkins... MacKiernan... Rashid... Wallace..."
Everett listened as the names came in. There were nine survivors, including
himself. This was better than he'd expected, for they'd escaped by the skin
of their teeth. He'd been last one out, pushing his men up the ladder from
the control car as it broke free to plummet into the sea. But even though
only a fragment of their ship remained, they were not entirely without
"Lieutenant Iverson," he called. "How much ballast do we have?"
Above him, a young blond man edged along a girder until he reached a large
metal tank that was slung next to the remains of the keel. He rapped this
with his knuckles at several points along its length, then shouted down to
"A hundred eighty gallons. Maybe a bit more."
"I could jettison the Lewis gun," called Davies from across the hull.
"Hang onto that, marine," ordered Everett. "I suspect we might have a use
for it later on. But can you reach the maneuvering valve for Cell
"Aye, sir. Making my way there now."
Everett glanced at his watch, then examined the altimeter he'd salvaged from
the bridge, compared its reading with one he'd made earlier, and did a quick
mental calculation to determine their descent rate. "Mister Iverson," he
ordered. "Release five seconds."
Above them, the lieutenant pulled a lever. Water spouted from the tank,
cascading down the inside of the hull envelope to drench Everett and his
companions before it rained into the yawning gulf below them.
"Sorry, sir!" yelled Iverson.
"No matter," said Everett. He studied the altimeter again, tapping it with
a finger to keep the mechanism from sticking. Its hands, which had been
dropping slowly, began to creep upwards.
"That's one problem solved," he announced pleasantly. "Jenkins, could you
hand me the log?"
The signalman reached under his sopping peajacket to remove an oilcloth
packet. Everett accepted this, unwrapped the book inside, and uncapped his
pen to make an entry.
June 21, 1926, 1000 hrs. Lat, 22 36' Long 168 57'. His Majesty's Airship
Flying Lady, R-212, Captain Roland P. Everett cmdr. At 0730 hrs, we were
attacked by a cruiser of unknown nationality that approached flying false
colors. In the ensuing action, our vessel broke in two. The stern section,
along with First Officer Lloyd and most of the crew, plunged into the sea
and is presumed lost with all hands. The bow section, with nine survivors,
is drifting northwest with the trade winds at 3100'. We have approx 800 lbs
of ballast and supplies we can jettison, and Gas Cells Seventeen, Eighteen,
and Nineteen are approx 70% full, though Cell Seventeen appears to have a
slow leak. I intend to operate the wreck as a free balloon until we reach
Should he add more, he wondered? This hardly seemed necessary. They were
most certainly going to die, but they were Englishmen, so he saw no need to
whine about it. Folding the book shut, handed it back to the signalman for
safekeeping and examined the gas cells above him. Cells Eighteen and
Nineteen were expanding as they climbed, but Cell Seventeen was the same
size as before. This was a bad sign. "Wallace, " he ordered, "see if you can
find the leak."
"How will we patch it, Captain?" asked the rigger. "Our supplies are gone."
He gestured downward, where an intercom box surrounded by shreds of hull
fabric, was all that remained of the forward damage control station. A
toolbox, preserved by some freak of fate, was wedged into the angle of a
girder beside it.
"We've got to find it first," Everett announced. The War had taught him that
action, any sort of action, was the best antidote to panic. The rigger
departed with an expression of relief, grateful for something to keep him
"Who do you think they were?" asked the signalman after the man was gone.
"The fellows who attacked us?"
"I don't have the slightest idea," said Everett. "But that ship must have
belonged to one of the Great Powers. No one else could possibly commission a
vessel that size."
The signalman nodded, for the enemy cruiser had indeed been a monster, at
least three times the volume of their own ship. The action had been no
contest. "Russian, do you think?" he asked. "The French don't have anything
with those lines."
Everett shrugged. "I'd guess German. They never really forgave us for
Jutland. But for all we know, it could have been American. They have
interests in this area."
"Altitude, sir?" yelled Iverson. Everett glanced at the altimeter and saw
that they were dropping again. He edged to the side, out from under the
ballast tank, followed by Jenkins. When he was sure they'd moved far enough,
he yelled back up to the lieutenant.
"Give me another five seconds."
Iverson gave the lever another tug. The cascade of water, weaker this time,
took a different trajectory, missing their old perch to strike their new one
squarely. Everett bit back an expletive. It would never do to show emotion
in front of his men. "A bit bracing, that," he observed.
"This is not shaping up to be a good day," said Jenkins as he wiped water
from his face. "I'm not so sanguine about our chances."
"Courage," said Everett brightly. "We're Englishman. Something will turn
At that moment, Abercrombie gave a cry from his perch high atop the bow
Next week: Landfall, in Several Senses of the Term...