The Admiral was not a man to believe in coincidences. He was certain they happened, but in an abstract sort of way, the way one is aware that somewhere someone will win the lottery. It will happen, but almost certainly never to you.
“The price of grain is down in the Americas,” he mused to no one.
He was alone in his carriage of course, but the thought came aloud unbidden.
“Grain is down and tensions are high in the Americas,” He said to the empty seat across from him. He imagined himself seated there, retorting, “so what?”
“Low prices on food means surplus; means more spending money; means happier people. Happy people don’t start wars on a whim. So why the trouble at the border?” the Admiral explained, (still to no one).
“Best reports say armed Spanish farmers crossed the border first. The most likely culprit is racism,” his invisible double replied, “The oldest excuse. The Spaniards have always resented the resurgent Inca, and blamed them for Bolivar’s success. Seems simple enough to me.”
“Farmers?” the Admiral was frowned, “Racism maybe, but racism as a rallying cry for something more mundane. A farmer is the only man to resent a surplus of his crop. Lower prices means a thinner margin. Thinner margins makes a man resent his competition. Hatred born of sour grapes but justified by racism. All the more ridiculous given the Inca don’t grow the same staples as the Spanish for the most part.”
“And yet that Spanish Admiral,” the ghost mused.
“And yet the Spanish Admiral. This could get out of hand very quickly if cooler heads don’t prevail,” the Admiral tapped his cane on the floor of the carriage as this thought.
“Our operation in Panama will help, no doubt,” the empty seat said reassuringly.
“Forestalling the inevitable, I fear,” the Admiral frowned, “The peace in the Americas was never built to last. Stop gap after stop gap, but the Inca and Spanish are destined to fight the next great war over some damn stupid thing in Colombia.”
“Unless we fight it right here in Europe,” his alter ego said smiling.
The Admiral tapped his cane again. He looked out the window of his carriage at the passing streets of London.
No one was watching his carriage, nobody was paying anymore mind to him than to step out of his way.
All the same, he took out the small box in his coat pocket. He opened it, wound the crank, and set it on the seat beside him.
“We could just talk silently you know?” he reminded himself.
“I prefer it this way. If you don’t like it leave.”
The Admiral chuckled to himself.
“I haven’t heard from Victoria in too long. Quirke is doing fine I hear, but Victoria has remained silent since the Alps. Nothing on the wires about a captured or downed airship. But no reports, no updates, no news whatsoever,” the Admiral tilted his cane up, stabbing a few times at the roof of the cab, “Makes me…”
“Nervous?” he offered.
“Heaven’s no!” the Admiral denied quickly, “Angry more like. I’m accustomed to being in the loop on this sort of thing.”
“So what do you do?” the emptiness asked, “Trust Winthrop to do the job or start meddling?”
“Meddling has a certain appeal,” he nodded, “But with no eyes and ears meddling could give up the game. All the same, there’s that matter of the Fliege, Milan, and those chatter code cylinders. I cannot do nothing.”
“A more measured approach then?”
“What do we have in mind?” the Admiral asked.
“What we need is information. And to get it, I think we need to lay an ambush.”
The Admiral tapped the floor again, “Victoria has been silent for some time.”
“She’s likely changed the target, but won’t radio in the change to our people on the ground till the last minute.”
“If our enemies know that too, we can use that,” the Admiral nodded to himself, “We fabricate a transmission from Victoria, with details about her new target.”
“We send it through our normally secure chatter code, with a directive that the attack is imminent…”
“…And we see who blinks.”
The Admiral smiled to himself as the carriage came to a halt in front of an unassuming printing house office.
The carriage door opened and an automata opened the door for him, “Welcome back *click* Admiral *click*”
“Good to be back, R0b3rt. I trust the house hasn’t burned down whilst I was away,” the Admiral said, practically bounding towards the doors of the office.
The machine man made a clicking approximation of laughter, “You seem in *click* high spirits today, *click* Sir.”
“Terribly high, R0b3rt, terribly high. I feel I shall take on the world today.”
“So *click* like every day then, *click* Sir.”
They shared a hearty, and occasionally clicky, laugh.