Inside the kidnappers flyer, Harkins could see that there was another woman at the controls in the cockpit. This one was considerably more ragtag than the woman who called herself Lovac. She wore a threadbare vest and shirt that appeared to have been resewn many times. She took the flyer low, skimming over the waters of the Thames to avoid detection. The passenger compartment was a cramped space with two facing rows of seats, and not much space between them. The Hessian forced him into a seat, fastened his harness and then sat across from him, his gun across his lap. He examined the man more closely. He was slightly older than Harkins. Maybe approaching his fifties? His long coat had a series of metals over his left breast and his right shoulder had the chain of an airship captain hanging from the epaulette. A veteran, perhaps? Perhaps a Germanic malcontent who thought kidnapping him would force the Crown to take the cause of German independence seriously?
“Who are you people?” Harkins asked him.
“Landsneckt,” the man said smiling. Clearly he was making a joke.
“A free company,” the man said.
“And who may I ask is employing you?”
“Captain, I demand to know why you’ve kidnapped me.”
“May I shoot him, sir?” the man called to the cockpit.
The pilot sighed and looked back, “Take the controls Schafer, I’ll have a chat with our guest.”
The man and woman switched places. Not an easy task in the small flyer with a one person cockpit, but they accomplished it quickly, with only a slight wobble in their flight. The woman sounded like she was from the American colonies. She wore breeches like the swordswoman and had a disruptor slung low on her hip.
“You wanted to know why you were kidnapped?” she said in soft voice.
“If you’d be so kind…captain” Harkins replied. He looked this woman over thoroughly. She was thin, incredibly so. Wild brown hair had been braided, and then held back by an old handkerchief tied about her brow. The holster in which her disruptor sat was worn, old leather, and it fit the weapon like a tailored suit, polished smooth in places showing it had been drawn often.
“You were kidnapped because you are Daniel Harkins, and you are the Prime Minister. Seems fairly obvious to me,” she smiled, and sat down across from him, “But don’t worry Mr. Harkins. If all goes according to plan, no harm will come to you and you’ll be released soon.”
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word.”
The woman shrugged. “It will be a long flight once we’re back to the ship, so make yourself as comfortable as you can, and please don’t pester me and my men the whole way there.”
“Captain, I don’t think you quite realize what you’ve done.” Harkins said fuming. The Minister was not accustom to be addressed in this manner.
“Oh?” The woman tossed her braid over her shoulder, leaning back in her chair, her legs crossed, her demeanor one of mock interest. “Do tell. What is it I’ve done?”
“You’ve kidnapped the Prime Minister of His Majesty’s government. If you think you’ll get off the Isles in this flyer you are a fool. By now two full battlegroups will have been rerouted, with almost a thousand flyers. They will surround London and work their way in. You will be detected, and you will be captured. Your only hope is to land this craft, let me go, and surrender.”
She snapped her fingers. “Oh darn it. If only we had thought about all the security which would be involved. It’s not as if we just got a flyer a literal stone’s throw away from Parliament or anything.”
Her grin was small and smug, like a child who knows a secret and is just dying to tell someone. Harkins suspected this was the case. The Hessian was a professional, even the Lovac woman seemed a professional. This captain seemed a child at play.
“You clearly do not understand. You will die. His Majesty does not negotiate with terrorists. His airmen will destroy this flyer before they let it leave England.” It was true. Harkins had knowledge of fleet movements, garrison statuses, operations in progress including the next Iberian offensive. The order for his death would be preferable for the empire than his capture.
“Trust me they won’t,” She said with utter certainty. She looked to the cockpit, and called to the German, “Baring?”
“1-9-5 at 80 knots,” the german called back. He had almost no accent. Perhaps he wasn’t a veteran. Perhaps he was just as crazy as the man in maille, or this woman who thought her flyer was immune to etheric detection. Any minute now, if Harkins knew his own country, this course would put them right in the path of the battlegroups he spoke of earlier. Any moment, the flyer’s wireless would hiss to life with demands from pursuing airships to land or be blown from the sky. He need only wait.
Carol Lovac sipped her tea while the two brutes shouted and crashed great mugs of beer together. The knight was trying to teach the barbarian a scottish drinking song, but if Charles (the christian name the captain had given the brute in favor of his unpronounceable foreign name) could sing he was hiding it very well. George didn’t let that stop him of course.
Carol sipped her tea in the corner of the pub, with a small wireless set up next to her. The pub’s wireless was old and rusted, but the barman insisted that it still worked. George sat down while the big man went back to the bar for more beer.
“A fine day’s work deserves stronger drink than tea, my lady. Rejoice! Was not the venture a resounding success? Was not the enemy cut down before us like so much wheat before the sickle? Come! Sing with us,” George yelled in his absurd manner.
Carol shook her head. “I’ll drink when the job is done, and it’s not done until we’ve been paid.”
“Bah! The quest is done. All that remains is bookkeeping.” He leapt up with a shout to catch a barmaid as she passed, whirling off in a silly dance that bore little relation to the music being played by the violinist in the corner. Carol remained where she was. She looked at the horn of the wireless, sipped her tea, and waited.
Schaffer heard the ticking of the sensor before he saw anything. It was dusk now and they were passing over Worthing, headed out into the channel. The Etheric Sensors began a steady ticking almost as soon as they came over the water. The ticking began to speed up and grow louder the further out to sea they went. Soon, the airship they were picking up came into view on the horizon. A monster of a ship, she was almost two hundred paces in length, kept aloft by eight vril powered engines. Her hull bristled with guns, many of which, to Schafer’s eye, seemed pointed right at him. His false eye twitched, darting from gun to gun, and hoping they wouldn’t fire out of pure spite for his nervousness. He took the bird up and over the deck at a respectful distance.
“What’re they saying, commander?” the captain called forward.
“Nothing yet, sir. I do hope we have the right boat,” he called back. Even as he said it though, there was a squawking from the wireless. Docking instructions.
“Bring her in Schaffer. Make sure the street is clean,” She said turning back to the prisoner.
“Aye, sir,” Schaffer moved to follow the instructions for docking, and took note of the gun positions around the flyer bay.
Captain Henrietta Seul released the Prime Minister’s harness and pulled him to his feet. He wavered a bit on the floor of the moving flyer, but her stood tall and proud.
“Where are we,” he demanded.
“Hands,” she demanded back to him. Harkins reluctantly held out his hands and allowed her to bind his hands with a slim set of manacles. Henrietta had no problem standing as the flyer made its unsteady landing inside the behemoth, but Harkins still hadn’t found his skylegs yet. When she reached over to steady him, Harkins made a clumsy grab for the captain’s pistol. She caught his hand and smiled.
“Minister, so far you’ve managed to get through this without injury. It would be a shame for you to break a hand so close to your rescue.”
“Rescue?” Harkins was so confused.
The flyer’s hatch was opened and Harkins was shoved through. He was in the gaslight of the deck, he could see a dozen red coated soldiers standing at attention, and beyond them, a pale fellow with jet black hair, prosthetic arm, and a thin mustache beneath his sharp nose. Field Marshall Kestrel, Duke of Norfolk and His Majesty’s Chief of Staff.
“Lord Kestrel? What is going on here?” the Prime Minister asked bewildered.
“Shut up Harkins,” barked Kestrel. The Duke looked past Harkins to the captain, “It was loud and messy, as advertised I hope?”
“Plenty,” Henrietta pushed the Prime Minister forward, “The prime minister, also as advertised. If everything is to your satisfaction, I’ll just take my money and be on the way.”
“I don’t–What the devil is going on here!?” Harkins shouted.
“Oh don’t be so naive Harkins!” Kestrel shouted back, “You’ve seen the plans for invading Mexico. Did you really think the public would support another land war in the new world without cause? Now we have it. Revenge for kidnapping Prime Minister Andrew Harkins. Even now the King is announcing via wireless that Spanish privateers attacked Downing Street and killed you. And Air Marshall Rawlins.”
“K..Killed?” Harkins grew pale.
“Oh for God’s sake Harkins, don’t piss yourself. His Majesty made sure you weren’t to be killed. We’ve a wonderful retirement for you set aside in Southern France. I assure you, you’ll be quite comfortable.”
“I’m sure you two have plenty to talk about, but I’d just as soon be off. I hate to sound churlish, but I do still need my payment Mr. Kestrel,” Henrietta was getting uneasy about how much she was being allowed to hear, “My crew is waiting for me to rendezvous.”
She watched Kestrel’s reaction when she said this. She’d been wary of this job from the beginning, but the payday was so huge, she had decided that the risks were worth it. Still, risks could be mitigated, worked around, with the proper planning. She decided now had been a good time to remind her employer that there were other members of her crew who were out there, just in case he got any ideas.
Kestrel smiled, “I know.”
Carol swore under her breath as she reloaded her pistol. A disruptor blast hit the overturned table behind her, filling the air with smoke and the smell of burning wood. The wireless unit on the floor had been hit by a stray shot within a few seconds of the redcoats bursting in. Charles had lept over the bar and was throwing bottles at the reds between disruptor shots and unintelligible curses. George was with her behind the table, hissing in pain as he tore his tunic to bandage a shot on his leg.
“Unchivalrous curs!” he growled as he tightened the bandage, “Attacking during our revelry. How did they find us?”
“They must have been tracking us since Downing Street. Stupid. Stupid! I should have been more careful. Should have seen them coming,” Carol said peering over the table.
Charles roared from the bar, throwing more bottles of liquor at the five remaining marines. He was running out of bottles.
Carol hummed and thought for a moment.
“Can you run?” she asked, looking at George’s wounded leg.
“Like Achilles, my lady, when I am uninjured,” he replied, “Now? Not with quite that celerity. What is your plan?”
Carol turned, putting herself in a crouch, sword in one hand, pistol in the other.
“When I give the word, we’re charging forward. Table as battering-ram. You understand?”
“Aye,” George smiled as he turned and braced his arms against the underside of the table.
George strained and shouted in pain, but he pushed forward, the table scraped across the floor of the pub, knocking over chairs in the way. It crashed into the reds and Carol leapt over it.
Three hit by the table were cut down in moments by her sword. A fourth leveled a pistol, but a bottled crashed into his face, thrown by Charles with a roar. Carol finished him with her own pistol, and rushed the fifth. This one had already drawn his own sword, and parried Carol’s thrust, but Carol bashed the red over the head with her spent pistol. He yelled and swung his sword wildly, but George was on him already, tackling him to the floor. A swift strike knocked him out once there.
Charles peered out from over the bar. He garbled a question in his native tongue.
“I don’t know, Charles,” Carol grumbled, “the captain is smart, but until we know she’s alive, I’m assuming command. Mr. George?”
“Aye?” George said standing with some pain.
“We’re headed back to the ship,” Carol said holstering her pistol, “We’re leaving England now.”
“What about our captain? How will she divine our location?”
Charles growled his agreement.
Carol wiped the blood from her sword and sheathed it, “One thing at a time, gentlemen.”
to be continued