“Won’t they know?” Issac asked 0sc4r as he peered out the small circular window at the passing clouds.
“I beg your *click* pardon?” it replied.
“One landslide is suspicious, but two almost certainly is sabotage. Won’t the German’s figure out that somebody didn’t want this convoy making it to Venice?” Issac said hopefully. He thought to himself, of course this mission is doomed to fail. How could the skymarshal not see it. Once she realized that the Germans would figure it out in no time they’d be forced to call the whole thing off. “And furthermore, even if they didn’t figure that part out, wouldn’t…um…word eventually get back to them that a German envoy was at the conference, even though their real envoy was stuck in the mountains?”
“Of course, *click* Sir. *click* But *click* They will not know *click**click* Who *click* is responsible *click*. Any number of *click* Interested Parties *click* could be responsible. *click* The Russians *click* The Spanish *click* French Terrorists hiding in the Alps *click* so long as *click* We *click* leave nothing to tie *click* His Majesty’s *click* Government *click* to the deed, *click* They can do nothing,” The automaton’s voice and tone were incapable of much deviation, but Issac got the impression that it was trying to console him. It was an odd sensation, being consoled by a machine. Issac imagined a mirror telling him “no, no, really, you look just fine.”
The machine was right of course. Blocking mountain roads was exactly the sort of petty thing the French Imperialists had been reduced to, and a fake envoy (while unconventional) was hardly an unthinkable tactic from any of the Great States of Europe. And of course members of Parliament and his Majesty’s councilors could deny it. The Admiral himself had said this ship wasn’t on any of the fleet’s lists. What was the phrase Lord Babbage had used? “A few simply honest men” who could simply and honestly deny everything.
Issac was stuck. He knew he was.
“I am not a man of intrigue, Mr……0sc4r.”
“Worry not, *click* Sir. I *click* will be with *click* you *click* the entire time. *click* There is no cause for concern.”
That was most certainly a lie. He’d been uncomfortable knowing he was flying over enemy territory, but this was completely intolerable.
Yet, O’Reilly had explained that his own home in London wasn’t exactly “safe as houses” as Issac’s mother used to say.
“What would I have to do exactly?”
“*click* Introduce yourself. *click* We have a *click* Dossier *click* you will have to *click* Memorize. *click* From there you will *click* Carry out *click* False Negotiations *click* Also laid out in the *click* Dossier.”
“I recall from the meeting,” Issac removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He’d been working all through the night, and the ache in his head reminded him exactly how unwise it was to drink so much when one is working till dawn. A hangover is mildly less unbearable when one has at least slept more than an hour.
“You will be what? My bodyguard?” Issac asked.
“No, *click* Sir. *click* I will be *click* your *click* Foreign Ministry Attache.”
“Why not my bodyguard? The Germans use machines for that sort of thing all the time, and I would certainly feel much better having an armed associate down there.”
“Yes, *click* Sir. *click* But *click* it is impossible for *click* Me *click* to be *click* your *click* bodyguard *click* as *click* I am *click* unable to carry a weapon.”
“Well, yes, the law is the law in England I suppose but surely if posing as a German-”
“You *click* misunderstand *click* me, *click* Sir. *click* I am *click**click* Literally *click**click* unable to carry a weapon.”
“Surely…I mean…I know you can’t break the law, but we’re not in England-”
“I am *click* Incapable *click* of *click* physically *click* carrying a weapon. *click* It is how *click* my *click* Difference Engine *click* is tuned. *click* Were *click* I *click* to pick up anything *click* recognized as *click* a weapon, *click* my hands would fall *click* entirely *click* limp. *click* I *click* would drop *click* it.”
“…I see…,” Issac put his glasses back on.
“Shall *click* we *click* go to see *click* Skymarshal Winthrop, *click* Sir?”
Issac nodded, gathering himself and his papers. He thought he might as well present his plans for the transmissions now.
A ship of His Majesty’s Airborne Division has very stringent weight restrictions, allotted primarily to the ship’s engine, fuel, and munitions. Naturally this means the flight deck of the Cheshire class the largest and most open area of the ship, as it is one of the only areas the engineers will absolutely refuse to shrink, scale down, or encroach on. The ship must be so light yes, but the runway and hanger must be so large.
This also means that the flight deck is the default location for crew recreation, both official and unofficial. When the deck is not otherwise in use, of course.
Once the missions pilots and bombardier were safely back aboard, Nathanson sealed up the flight deck, and called up to the skymarshal that the mission was complete. This is essentially when the festivities began.
Barrington and Anavoir rushed to O’Reilly, congratulating him on getting the better of the Fliege and demanding he tell them how he’d managed it. Jackson appeared (having snuck away very briefly) with a cup filled with O’Reilly’s very own contraband liquor. Back slapping and cheers passed around the technicians as O’Reilly explained his use of the projected hydoxic acid. One of the junior techs produced a phonograph and then it was officially a party. Word spread throughout the ship (as it will on a ship of less than 30 crew) and posts were largely abandoned, as most of the crew went down to the flight deck to join in the merry making.
Victoria heard about it of course, and though it was hardly proper for the crew to be leaving their posts, a good captain knows when a crew needs to celebrate. Their first mission had nearly been smothered in the crib, but today had gone well. She called down to Nathanson, gave the party her blessing, and allowed most of the bridge officers to go down and join in. The work was done for the day, afterall. All that was left was to turn the ship South so as to arrive at the Venice conference on time. She checked the ship’s clock; they were actually ahead of schedule since they’d skipped the Milan rendezvous. What could it hurt?
Still, she would need to debrief O’Reilly. She left the bridge, still wearing her monoggle, and ordered that any new developments be forwarded to her immediately.
Down on the flight deck, O’Reilly was the center of attention, particularly among the engineers, who were quite eager to hear about his mid-air admixture. The crowd surrounding him parted for the Skymarshal and O’Reilly leapt up to salute her.
“At ease, bombardier. Report?” She said over the music.
“Got the li’l Basterd wit a bit a fan-say alkemmy, Skymarshal,” Garrett said relaxing, “Evan ef t’ey put da t’ing beck toget’er, d-ingeen’ll be scrembled.”
Garrett laughed heartily and Victoria smiled. She didn’t bother to restrain her smile here, it was a party after all, anything less than a smile would be a sign of disapproval. She extended a hand, and Garrett took it enthusiastically.
“Well done, Bombardier,” She gave him a small nod, “Carry on.”
Vic left Garrett to his small but vibrant audience, and made her way over to Beth, who was dancing with a smiling young d-engine tech (whose name Victoria could not recall, and she made a note to learn it). They were whirling to some upbeat American fair when the tech noticed Vic. She hastily separated from Beth, blushing even worse, and made a hasty salute.
“At ease, Corporal,” Victoria returned the salute casually, “Ms. Jackson, may I have a word?”
Beth nodded, but before going she turned back to the tech, took her hand and kissed it. The tech turned as red as a beet, but couldn’t hide her smile as Jackson walked away. Vic walked with Beth over to her plane, away from the party, and out of earshot.
“What’s wrong?” Beth asked, keeping her smile up as she looked back towards the party.
“Intelligence on this mission has been absolute rubbish from the start Beth,” Vic said calmly, also maintaining her smile for onlookers, “I’m sure you’ve noticed by now.”
Beth nodded, “The Fliege.”
“Military Intelligence reported that the convoy didn’t have any flyers with them, manned or automata. The thing’s launch/maintenance contraption was the size of a truck. That’s not the sort of thing you miss.”
“Are you certain?” Beth murmured, “They could have picked it up on the way.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. But this and Milan….”Beth’s smile wavered. Vic surmised that Beth must share her suspicions, “You agree then?”
“…I agree we should be very careful,” Beth advised.
“I’d like you on the ground in Venice.”
Beth looked at Vic like she’d said that grass was mauve colored. “Why?”
“Just the first day. I want you to shadow 0sc4r and the professor. I need somebody I can trust, and I’m certainly not sending O’Reilly anywhere that calls for a low profile,” Vic paused as a message flashed inside her eye-piece, “I have to go. 0sc4r and the professor are looking for me.”
“Of course,” Beth said somberly.
“Don’t worry about it Beth. We’ll get this done.” Elizabeth stared at Victoria’s back as she left, feeling the knot in her stomach tighten rather than loosen.
Right there! She growled at herself, right there is where you should have told her. She’s already suspicious, you could tell them she figured it out for herself. Beth scowled as she ran her hands over the wing of her plane.
She’d won this plane. Literally won it, in a bet with a senior flyer in First Fleet. Sometimes, senior pilots in First Fleet were allowed to install custom modifications to the ones issued by the Fleet. This one was beautiful. She’d been caught of course, and another citation for gambling had been added to her record, but the Skymarshal who issue the citation let her keep the plane. She had won it with sweat and blood and a raw talent other pilots would kill for. It wasn’t the Fleets’ plane, it was her plane.
But only so long as she was in the service.
She still couldn’t tell Vic. Vic couldn’t help her.
Her patron had made it clear what would happen if she didn’t cooperate. Beth closed her eyes for a moment and sighed heavily.
She couldn’t give up flying.
So she steeled herself. She would do everything she could to help Vic, and do as little as possible to help whoever was holding her hostage. Victoria was good, the best, she’d make it work no matter what surprises were in store.
She went back to the festivities, to find that tech she’d been dancing with. The one who looked so wonderfully kissable.