Garrett knew how he’d like to attack the Fliege. On a perfect day, he’d approach from right behind the tail, it had the worst vision there. He could zip in, toss a proper, cathartically sized bomb, and the thing would turn to a million pieces of falling debris. No more fuss.
He couldn’t do that here. The damn Germans would spot him if he did it like that. Fliege’s were quick as death, so he’d be zipping back and forth trying to stay in its blind spot. Easy for a few of those metal bastards on the ground to start taking potshots at him. Not to mention that the automatas’ memories could be extracted, and then the Germans would have proof of British involvement. The Skymarshal wouldn’t approve of that. He’d have to find another way.
He had a rifle, but the Fliege was too fast for him to hit from any real distance, and those little bastards could change direction in the blink of an eye. No, he would have to get tricky to take this one. Inventive. Perhaps even downright stupid. He took a quick look through his collection of volatiles.
He had a few sticks of dynamite (not useful here), some crystallized alkahest (maybe 5 grams, he hadn’t really checked), some albedated Mercury, four Aurorium Nitrate flask-bombs, about 200 ml of Vril…plenty of chemicals to play with, but what could he use on the Fliege?
Maybe if he had some hydrogen but….wait….
He pulled out his canteen. Grand!
He emptied two of his flask bombs into the snow, filling them halfway with water. He added a few crystals of alkahest to one, and gave it a few quick swishes. He felt the flask heat up, and the water began to disappear as the bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen began to break down, with bubbles of the gases forming throughout. He then carefully, added a dash of Vril, dropped the flask, and dove behind a boulder.
There was a loud pop, the shattering of glass, and Garrett felt a wave of warm, moist air rush over the boulder. When the moist air made contact with his skin, he felt a jolt of a static shock.
Garrett stood. That had been roughly four seconds. That’s how long he’d have. He’d have to add the Vril mid-flight. This was going to take some juggling. He didn’t have time to practice either. Any minute now the scouts would spot the landslide over the main road and report it back to the column, then there’d be seconds before they launched the Fliege to relay the delay to Berlin and Potsdam.
This wouldn’t be easy.
But it would be fun.
It occurred to Garrett, as his jetpack billowed out a column of white steam below him, that perhaps he should have radioed this scenario into the ship (which in his opinion was in desperate need of an actual name despite the skymarshal’s insistence that it didn’t need one for covert operations) where the difference engine could have crunched the numbers for him. It could have given him the exact timing to drop, and how close to the ground he could get before he couldn’t help but go splat.
But that sort of arithmetical jib and jab took time, and Garrett was a busy man. There would be quite a lot of eyeballing it for this maneuver.
He ascended up nearly to the cloud cover (which wasn’t terrible high up here in the Alps), outside the Germans’ range, and then turned to position himself immediately over their column.
Automata had keen eyes. Especially weaponized German automata. As high as he was though, and as small as a single man with a large rucksack, he wasn’t likely to be spotted up here. This was the entire reason Third Fleet had begun training so many bombardiers and gunners in the use of jetpacks (despite the safety issues with such devices). British soldiers could easily shadow enemy troops without noisy, conspicuous aircraft alerting them.
The German’s had taken a different approach of course. They relied on small flying automata like the Fliege Garrett meant to destroy to do their recon work. Cold, metal eyes in the sky. Garrett hated that. He hated all those metal monsters, and the god-damned krauts who gave them weapons. What in the hell did they expect to happen?
He didn’t even like the skymarshal’s batman, but at least that one couldn’t hurt anybody.
Garrett realized he’d been clenching his fists on the jet controls and was gaining altitude. He relaxed his grip and waited.
It happened more or less as he had expected it to. He spotted the commotion through his binoculars, making note of anyone near the flyer’s launching contraption. It took just a few minutes for them to decide to launch it, and when they did, Garrett took off after it.
One advantage Garrett had was that the machine couldn’t send the transmission right away, for the same reason the German’s on the road couldn’t: it had to get out of the ravine. Once it was high enough, it would serve as a relay between the convoy and Innsbruck, and so on to Berlin, but the Fliege was an ornithopic flyer, not a Davincian. It couldn’t manage a strictly vertical ascent. When it launched it went out and up at approximately 50 degrees from the ground.
At speed he readied the vials, preparing himself.
The Fliege had the worst vision directly behind him, but its next worst vision was directly above it. Being built for ground survey and reconnaissance and forward flight, things directly above it weren’t considered a priority.
This was something Garrett could exploit.
He started a silent count, watching as the machine gained altitude. He fumbled for a moment with the vials, but he managed to get the alkahest into the flask of water with only a few crystals falling to the snow below. He gave it a swish. The Vril was harder, and a good portion of it was splattered on his fingers. That would start to hurt in about an hour. Once the Vril was in the vial as well, he sealed the lid, began a four count, and cut his engines.
He could feel the flask heating up. He’d put almost twice as much in this one.
The Fliege was almost out of the ravine. If he missed this toss, or if it didn’t work, he’d have a lot to explain to the skymarshal. He was almost on top of it. He’d hit it if neither of them made a move to dodge.
The Fliege had spotted him. He was sure of it. At least had noticed that ‘an object’ was falling towards it. It tilted, altering its course to evade the obstacle. Bombardier Garrett Francis O’Reilly smiled. Too little too late.
O’Reilly tossed the flask and gave his jets a momentary burst to push him laterally away from the contraption. The flask exploded mere inches from the Fliege, releasing a cloud of charged steam. Projected Hydroxic Acid, was the alchemical term. The alkahest had broken down the bonds between the hydrogen and the oxygen, allowing it to rebond around the Vril. The result was like an airship’s engine in microcosm. The new projection of water had a boiling point of 250 Kelvin, and an electrical charge to boot. At the edges of the cloud, one might feel a tingle or a small jolt, but the epicenter of the reaction was akin to being on the receiving end of a lightning bolt. The engine that served as the machine’s brain was completely ruined, and the Fliege fell back to earth.
Garrett himself was still falling. He did not dare engage his pack until he was low enough to be blocked from the Germans’ view by the mountains. He had a moment of sober reflection as the rocks came closer, debating internally if all this trouble was really worth crashing a damn meeting. It was fortunately very brief. He engaged his pack’s engines, landing roughly on the rocks in a cloud of steam and dirt.
Garrett stood, brushed himself off, and made sure none of his equipment was going to explode (unintentionally anyway).