Episode 9: A Cutting-Out Expedition
Everett called a halt at the edge of the trees. Before them, the village lay
quiet and still in the dark tropical night. The moon had yet to rise, but
the stars were bright, and the Magellanic Clouds gleamed to the south with a
faint ghostly light. To their right, the men could see the lamps of the
governor’s house shining from the windows, but the only other sign of life
was the riding lights of the airship moored to the mast on the other side of
"No dogs?" Everett whispered to their guides.
"I had wondered about their absence myself," said Pierre. "It does make
things easier for a businessman such as myself."
"Mummy couldn’t stand their barking," Sarah explained, "so she ordered the
cook to serve them as the first course of a feast to celebrate our annual
truce with the Migo tribe."
"What was the main course?" asked Iverson.
"That was the last time the Migos ever came to visit," the girl reminisced.
"But I didn’t miss them. They had terrible taste."
"Let’s go," said Everett, before his lieutenant could ask more questions.
"We need to reach that ship before anyone notices us."
Silently, they crept through the village. Around them, the strange
conical-roofed huts towered into the night. From the distant mansion, they
could hear faint sounds of music and revelry. Closer at hand, some young
mother was singing her children to sleep with a soft French nursery rhyme.
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Ding, dong, ding. Ding, dong, ding."
At last they reached the mooring mast. This was more substantial than it
had appeared from a distance, and fashioned with some skill. A single
guard leaned against one of the wooden columns, cupping his hands around a
cigarette. Everett frowned at the man’s lack of discipline in the presence
of several million cubic feet of hydrogen.
"I could take him," whispered Rashid, raising his sling.
"No bloodshed if we can avoid it," replied Everett. "Wallace, do you think
you could subdue the fellow without raising the alarm?
"I’ll subdue him all right," muttered the scruffy East Ender. He slipped
away to melt into the shadows. A few minutes later, they heard the sound of
a blow, a grunt, and the light of the cigarette went out. Peering ahead,
Everett made out a short figure beckoning to them from the place the guard
had been standing. He rose and gestured for his men to follow.
"What next?" asked Iverson, when they’d reached the base of the mast. The
guard lay near their feet, insensate after a blow to the skull, but they
were no closer to reaching the ship, for someone above had pulled up the
ladder to the handling platform.
"Abercrombie," Everett said to his rigger, "do you think you could climb
The Scotsman stared up into the night, a dubious expression on his face. It
was clear he didn’t relish the prospect.
"Leave that to us," said Pierre. He doffed his jacket and hat and handed
these to Jenkins for safe-keeping. Meanwhile Sarah shrugged off her dress
to reveal a tight-fitting leotard, such as a circus performer or ballet
dancer might wear. Fleming managed the beginning of a whistle before
MacKiernan clapped his hand over the youth’s mouth.
"Are ye daft, lad? You’ll give us away."
"Was war das?" came a cry from the control car, followed by a
light. Forewarned, the Everett and his men dove for the shadow of the mast.
"Ist 'ne nachtfogel," came a muffled reply and the light went out.
The Frenchman and his companion waited for a moment to make sure it was
clear. Then, as Everett and his men watched in amazement, they clambered up
the mast, sure and agile as monkeys, and vanished into the dark.
"He suggested he was a businessman," said Iverson. "I cannot help but wonder
about the precise nature of his business."
"I rather imagine it involved jewelry," said Everett. "And perhaps other
small valuable objects such as might be found in the upper floors of fine
manors and townhomes."
Seconds later, a rope ladder rattled down beside them. One of the climbers
-- Everett imagined it was Sarah -- had found time to pin a flower to the
lower rung. "That’s our signal," he whispered.
One by one, the men started up the ladder, with Everett in the lead and
Iverson bringing up the rear. Everett noticed the lieutenant pause to
remove the flower and place it in his lapel before beginning the ascent. He
shook his head, foreseeing interesting times.
At the top, they found Pierre and Sarah crouching by the gangway that lead
across to the ship.
"What happens next?" whispered the Frenchman.
"Now it’s our turn," Everett replied, turning to his men. "We’ll do this
just like the drills," he announced. "Jenkins and I will handle the
control car. Iverson will take Fleming and Wallace to secure the crew
section. MacKiernan and Davies will deal with the engine cars.
Abercrombie, you stay here at the bow station. As soon as you hear us
release ballast, drop the mooring."
"What about us?" asked Pierre.
"You and Miss Sarah will stay here with Abercrombie. If we fail or get
captured, you can claim you were our prisoners."
A short time later, Everett and his men were creeping down the keel passage,
setting their feet carefully to avoid making noise. The gloom was absolute,
and the ship was quite unfamiliar. This made the route treacherous.
"I wish we had a light," whispered Fleming.
"Be you don’t," Wallace whispered back. "It would give the game away. I
remember one time me and me mates was creeping into a warehouse and...
bloody hell!" There was a loud thump as he tripped over some unseen
obstacle. Then he was rolling down the catwalk, flailing to keep from
going over the edge.
"After him!" hissed Everett. Ahead, they heard the clump of boots,
followed by the glimmer of a flashlight as someone poked his head above the
companionway that led down to the control car.
"Was ist... oof!" cried the German as the hapless airman slammed
into him. The light went flying and the two men tumbled down the
"Ist ein verrücktrollendesmann!"
"Was ist ein verrücktrollendesmann?"
"Das... oof!" came a cry from below.
"The rest of you! Go!" ordered Everett as he reached the companionway. He
slid down the banister, followed by his signalman. At the bottom, he found
Wallace holding a sap, standing above the body of an unconscious German
airshipman while two others advanced on him, fists at ready.
"Get them!" cried Everett, slamming into his man with a rugby tackle. Beside
him, Jenkins took down his man with a blow to the jaw and the battle was
"Are there any more?" asked the signalman.
"It seems this was the lot," said Everett, straightening his jacket.
"Wallace, would you be so kind as to bind these fellows up while we look for
the ballast toggles?"
"This control panel here looks promising," said Jenkins.
Everett studied the unfamiliar board. The layout looked fairly standard,
and whoever maintained the chalkboard had been considerate enough to mark
down release times as well as ballast weights.
"It looks like 5 seconds on 150 should do it," he said. "I hope
Abercrombie is paying attention." He reached for the toggles and gave them a
pull. Somewhere aft, a shower of water cascaded into the darkness. From the
bow, they heard a distant clank and the altimeter began to climb. Moments
later, Iverson poked his head down the companionway.
"We’ve checked," he said, "and there’s no one else aboard."
"Then the ship is ours!" said Everett.
"That all seemed rather straightforward," said Jenkins. He sounded
Next week: The Prize...