The Admiral’s visit had disrupted Victoria’s schedule, but she had ensured the departure from England was timely, and by early that same evening her airship was slipping quietly over demilitarized France towards the Alps.
0sc4r filled her cup to 1/8th an inch from the rim precisely, as he always did, while the senior staff took their seats at the table. Space on an airship was limited of course, but a briefing room was invaluable for precise operations such as this, so the Chesire class had been designed with a suitable, if somewhat cramped, area to fill that need. She brought the tea up to her nose and inhaled deeply, catching the faint scent of flowers. Fresh and inviting. 0sc4r, her batman, leaned in to whisper something to her in his hiss-and-click accent.
“I reminded the *click* Quartermaster *click* of your preference for *click* Jasmine Oolong *click* before we left, *click* Ma’am *click*. I hope you find it too your liking.”
“Thank you, 0sc4r,” she said as she took a sip. It was a clean, refreshing taste that quenched the thirst while exciting the appetite. 0sc4r knew her tastes well. The automaton had been in her family for nearly thirty years, and had been Victoria’s batman for the last five.
Jackson, to her right, being of “less sophisticated” taste, sipped on a coffee of some sort. The Professor, a flustered mess with papers and notes spilled across the far end of the table, had taken a tot it seemed, and his cheeks were flush as he nervously riffled through his papers.
O’Reilly, ship’s Bombardier, came in, slapped the chief engineer on the shoulder as he passed, causing the man to nearly spill his tea down his overalls.
“Ev’ning, Marshal,” he said clicking his heels together and saluting. The acrid smells of his workshop down by the engine clung to his clothes, causing the eyes of those near him to water.
“Have a seat, Mr. O’Reilly,” Victoria said returning her cup to its saucer, “We’ll begin right away. 0sc4r, if you’d please.”
“Of course, *click* Ma’am *click*,” 0sc4r drew the curtains, turned to face the blank interior wall, and a whirring sound began rising his cranium. His utterly precise mechanical fingers opened a small box and drew out a set of projector slides. He inserted the first into a slot at this temple and from his eyes an arc of light fell across the wall. The image projected was a high altitude photo of mountains, marked in the corner as property of British Military Intelligence.
“This is the Brenner Pass, just over the Italian border from German Austria. And this,” Victoria stood to point to a barely visible line, “Is the road from Innsbruck, through the Alps, into Northern Italy.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen. I intend to destroy that road.”
“Oh, Oi already loike this plan,” O’Reilly clapped his hands. A stifled chuckle rippled through the staff. Victoria let it slide, giving them a moment to recover a professional air before continuing.
“With the main road out, our quarry, a german diplomatic envoy, will be forced to take an alternate route,” She pointed to an even thinner line that wound it’s way lazily through the mountains, “Where an ‘unfortunate’ landslide will trap our german friends in this village here, where they have no phone lines and no hope of a radio signal escaping the valley without a thousand foot climb up the mountain.”
“Once we have them trapped, we’ll fly south to Venice, where a meeting between German, Italian, and Turkish diplomats is set to discuss the Balkan situation. The new revolutionary element in the Balkans disturbs the Turks, which disturbs the new Italian government and their plans for the Adriatic, which brings the Germans into it as mediators. We will send in an impostor as the German envoy, at which point Professor Quirke will provide us with the proper procedures to intercept the Italian message to Berlin, requesting confirmation of the diplomat’s credentials, and send our fake confirmation.
Once in the meeting, our man inside will convince the Italians that the Kaiser is behind them 100% no matter the cost, while telling the Turks that the Kaiser values their alliance far more than the alliance with Italy. Then we’re on to phase three. 0sc4r, if you’d please.”
0sc4r removed the slide from his temple, and replaced it with another from the box.
“These are Turkish garrisons along the border in Greece. We will, and please control yourself Mr. O’Reilly,” A good natured chuckle circled the table, including O’Reilly himself, “stage three false flag operations against these garrisons.”
O’Reilly grinned ear to ear.
“Three attacks, all under the guise of Balkan revolutionaries, who are actually chafing under German-Austrian and Ottoman rule. The attacks are plausible and evidence is left behind. In addition, there will be evidence of Italian military aid to the revolutionaries. If all goes according to plan, we will have successfully fabricated an international incident from whole cloth, and severely hampered the ability of these three powers to work together. I can’t tell you how important that is if it does come to war between the King and Kaiser.”
She gave a moment for questions. Jackson leaned her chair back with a smug half smile on her face. She had no questions of course, as she’d been a part of planning the operation. The Professor was too busy coming to grips with how important it was that he have a fake confirmation protocol ready in less than four days and handling it, Victoria thought, quite well for an academic (thanks in all likelihood to the alcohol). O’Reilly had a question though.
“Operational range o’ this ship is limited. You cahn’t stay in Venice an’ fly false flags in Greece. ‘Ow we pullin’ that off, then?”
“We’ll have to leave our operatives on their own for a time in Venice.”
“Who’s the operative?” the navigator asked.
“A specialist with MI. They’re already in Italy on another assignment. We’ll rendezvous with them en route.”
With no more questions, 0sc4r removed the slide, dimmed his eyes, and brought the lights back up.
“I’ll need charges for the landslide ready in the next twenty-four hours, Mr. O’Reilly. Ms. Jackson’s plane is already painted with Italian colors and prepped to go. Professor Quirke?”
The Professor jumped at the mention of his name.
“Will your progress report be ready by tomorrow night?”
Issac winced, but after a moment, he nodded. If he wasn’t ready by then, he doubted he would ever be.
“Excellent,” Victoria stood, adjusting her uniform, “dismissed.”
Beth had the conn tonight. Flying over demilitarized France was a dull stretch as the only job that needed doing was keeping the ship in plenty of cloud cover when possible, and as high an altitude as possible when the clouds were sparse. She found it quite boring, but someone needed to be on duty while the Marshal was asleep, and Beth had volunteered. She drank her coffee in the silence of the night, watching clouds part against the bow of the ship.
There was a burst of clacking from the comms station as a message was typed out. Beth sat bolt upright.
“Report?” she asked as the comms officer checked the type against her code books.
“MI code. Report out of Milan.”
“What’s it read?” Milan was where they were supposed to rendezvous with their MI specialist.
“Safehouse compromised. Friendly pilot dead. Going to ground. Apologies,” The comms officer read.
Beth took the decoded message from her and checked it twice.
“Well fuck,” she sighed.