Death by Airship

steampunk zeppelin

Steampunk zeppelin wallpaper image found at wallhere.com.

“Grandfathers are just antique little boys.” –Unknown

They got a lot farther than Keisha thought they would. Adrenaline and panic drove her and young Josiah up the first quarter of the trail, but after that, fatigue started to set in. Then fear rose again as they encountered the first unconscious mech man about halfway up. Some of the cogs and gears on his mechanical body parts were still spinning and whirring, as if trying to get the organic mass they were attached to back up and running.

What made the climb worse was the massive, clunky breathing masks which fit over their heads like helmets, and had goggles and a nose pieces that jutted out like an insect’s. Her breathing, already labored because she was trying to run uphill, sounded more like Darth Vader. Why was this taking so long? Isaiah needed them and Keisha couldn’t let the nine-year-old boy lose both his Mom and Dad.

Finally they reached the top of the trail. The gas was much thicker here and the drone of the airship louder. The teenager looked up, but amazingly couldn’t see the enormous dirigible for all the gas and smoke. What had happened to Isaiah?

After catching their breath, the duo ran across the park-like expanse. There were shapes on the ground; more unconscious steam-driven cyborgs. Keisha kept waiting for them to rise from the dirt and grass and attack them as if they were zombies and this were some cheap horror movie. None of them did, though most of them continued to move slightly as their machine components operated, unaffected by the sedative gas.

“Isaiah!” Keisha’s voice was so muffled by the mask, she wondered if even Josiah could hear it. Still, she had to try. “Isaiah! Where are you?”

Prone mech men bodies continued to fade in and out of view in the mist as they ran forward. There was a structure off to the left, just a shadow, and too small to be Tyson’s mansion. Maybe the guard’s quarters or a carriage house. It didn’t matter. Isaiah would have made for the main house where he believed his wife Eralia was being held prisoner.

“Do you think they got Pa?”

Keisha was surprised to be able to hear the boy, though he sounded like he was talking from inside of a burlap sack.

“I don’t know, but we’ll find him and your Mom. We’ve got to.”

“If all the metal men are knocked out, then why did Pa let off the flare.”

“We’ll find out. Just keep going.”

Josiah was holding his rifle, but Keisha hadn’t drawn either of her pistols out of their holsters. She hoped there wouldn’t be any shooting, especially because she had disobeyed Isaiah and brought his son with her into the danger zone. If she had to, would she be able to shoot anyone, even these half-mechanical assassins?

After long and terrible minutes, a dark shape took form and loomed ahead of them.

“The mansion.”

As they had been going further in this direction, the concentration of unconscious mech men increased and now there were so many, they had to step around them on the ground. It gave Keisha the creeps how the mechanized parts still moved, but luckily, none of the robot hands had done anything more than spasm.

The thicker gas around the house made it very hard to see, which was another reason for them to go slow. Keisha kept looking down hoping one of the bodies wasn’t Isaiah’s.

They were at the doors which were wide open. Hopping over the last mech man, the two stepped inside. There were no bodies on the foyer floor but clearly the knockout gas had made it into the house. The doorway to only one room was open. It was a large study or library on their right.

“Pa!” Isaiah was lying on his back in middle of the floor, hopefully just unconscious. He wasn’t wearing his mask or guns, and Keisha didn’t see them anywhere around. She didn’t see Eralia either, which was the more unsettling development. Why wouldn’t Tyson keep them prisoners together?

Both of them knelt down beside the inventor. Keisha put her hand on his chest and felt it rise and fall slowly. “He’s alive.” Then they both heard footsteps, heavy footsteps accompanied by metallic clanking and grinding.

“The mech men!” Josiah stood and whirled toward the door in a single motion, but before he could raise his rifle to fire, he saw he was vastly outgunned. A dozen mech men swarmed into the room, all with weapons drawn and pointed at the three of them.

“Drop it.” Keisha was surprised how human the leader’s voice sounded, even through his gas mask. She expected some sort of electronic droning, but this one must not have an augmented jaw or voice box like some of the others.

“Do as he says, Josiah.” The girl unbuckled her gun belt and let it drop to the floor next to the unconscious man. She watched the child reluctantly toss the rifle forward.

“Step back.” The teen obeyed by taking the boy’s hand and walking backward just past Isaiah, toward a large window on the opposite wall. The mech men strode forward and picked up their weapons.

“Stay here.” All of their captors retreated to the double doors of the library, exited and then locked them in.

“Why didn’t they take our masks like they did Pa’s?”

Before she could answer, metal slats on two large vents mounted in the ceiling snapped open, and then what sounded like a huge fan started humming.. They could feel air rushing around them as it was being recirculated.

“They’re venting the gas.” Keisha pressed her hands to her ears vainly trying to shut out the high-pitched screaming of the fan’s motors. Then it died abruptly and the vents clamored shut. Moments later, Keisha and Josiah heard a new noise from outside, the sound of gunfire.

“The mech men are shooting at the airship!” Josiah looked up as if he expected to see what was happening hundreds of feet above his head. As scores of rifles accompanied by machine guns continued to fire, the engines of the zeppelin grew more distant. “It’s climbing. They’re leaving us behind.”

Keisha screamed as something grabbed her ankle.

“Miss Davis.” Isaiah’s voice was more of a croak and he was flailing about as he tried to stand.

“Take it easy, Isaiah. They’ve pumped the gas out of this room so you should be okay in a few minutes.” She pulled off her own mask and experimentally sniffed the air. Besides a little dust and the odor of ozone, it seemed fine.

Isaiah sat up, still obviously woozy from the sedative’s effects. “Why are you and my son here? I expressly gave you instructions to return to the Dakuwaqa upon seeing my Very Gun flare.”

“We couldn’t just leave you and Ma here.” Hearing his own muffled voice, Josiah realized he was still wearing his mask and took it off. Dropping it like a toy, he knelt down and hugged his Dad. “I had to help you.”

“I know son. I know.” Isaiah’s voice sounded kind, but looking over Josiah’s shoulder, he shot her an angry glare. “Miss Davis, you deliberately brought my child into the serpent’s nest. I trusted you to protect him.”

She felt herself tremble with conflicting emotions and fought down the urge to cry.

“Excuse me.” The unexpected voice made both Josiah and Keisha jump. It was coming from over the fireplace. A panel just above the mantel and below the large portrait she assumed was Stanley Tyson was opening, and behind it was a metal grill.

“My mechanical men have informed me that your associates have been driven away and that you should be conscious by now, Mr. Covington. You may reply. This communication is two-way.”

“Mr. Tyson. I require the return of my wife. Please have her join the rest of us in your library.”

Keisha looked up at the portrait of the man who had engineered their capture. He looked to be about middle age, graying at the temples with otherwise dark brown hair. His eyes were an amazing blue, and he had the complexion of someone who spent a lot of time outdoors, which didn’t seem to fit a corporate giant. He was clean-shaven and his face was thin and angular, like that of a runner. She expected his expression to be cruel, but the portrait exuded an image of calm patience, like a dispassionate spider knowing its next meal would be along any minute.

“That would be difficult to accomplish, Mr. Covington, as your precious spouse is nowhere near my residence. She is, in fact, in the company of a dozen of my finest mech men in my corporation’s headquarters, and I have been examining the document she possessed with great interest.”

“Grandpa’s journal.”

“May I assume the person who has just spoken is the Keisha referenced in several sections of this volume?”

Like the image of his portrait, Tyson’s voice was not angry or harsh, merely polite and inquisitive. He sounded more like Isaiah than a criminal mastermind.

Keisha was opening her mouth to reply when Isaiah waved her off.

“You obviously knew we were coming, Mr. Tyson. May I know how?”

“Seriously, Mr. Covington. Do you believe I am unaware of your schemes and the fact that you have numerous confederates, some even within my own company? I have a laboratory within my wireless communications division monitoring pirate radio transmissions. We were fortunate enough to capture one detailing plans for your assault of my home.”

“Which explains the gas masks on your guards.”

“Not quite. We were not aware of the exact nature of your attack, and so the sedative gas was quite effective, but I had only deployed half of my force. Once your strategy became known, the mech men I had held in reserve were instructed to take appropriate precautions.”

“What do you plan to do with us?”

“Anything I want. I am holding your wife to hostage, so I expect your full cooperation. You see, while I have found the elder Mr. Covington’s journal to be of great interest, I cannot gather how you planned to use its contents along with the airship from the other world to foil my plans.”

Isaiah and Keisha exchanged puzzled looks and the former put a finger to his lips instructing silence.

“Pa, the guns outside. They stopped.”

“Your son is correct. The airship and crew you had convinced to assist you has climbed out of range of my defenses. However, police airships are on their way even now to intercept it and with that accomplished…”

Tyson stopped talking in mid-sentence as if distracted by something, but they couldn’t hear anything through the speaker. Then from outside, the buzz of motors and then machine gun fire, but not coming from the airship or the mech men.

“Aeroplanes, Pa!”

“Indeed.”

Keisha could tell from Isaiah’s expression that he expected this.

“What the hell? You could have told us.”

In reply, the inventor nodded toward the speaker which was now issuing only a faint hum and intermittent static.

The house shook, nearly knocking them off their feet, as the first explosion sounded just outside the front of the house.

“Away from the window! Quickly!” Isaiah grabbed each one and pulled them down to the floor. The second explosion destroyed the entire exterior wall, and Keisha thought she’d choke from the smoke and dust. The air was alive with the drone of angry mosquitoes as they buzzed across the sky, strafing the grounds. Rifle fire became infrequent and then almost non-existent.

“Outside! Hurry!” Keisha felt Isaiah’s tug on her arm and jumped up. Josiah was already running. They had to walk carefully through the still smoldering crater, but could run again once on the other side. Too late did the girl remember the discarded gas masks, but although the air was still thick with haze, it was smoke from bombs and firearms, not sleeping gas.

“Wait here. She’s coming.” The three of them looked in the direction of a new sound. It was an aircraft, but its engines were different from the biplanes that were causing the mech men’s retreat to the north. Keisha first saw the rope ladder approaching and then the shape of something that was a cross between an airplane and a helicopter.

“Granger’s right on time with the autogyro. You go up first son, then you Miss Davis.” Even in an emergency, he still acted like manners and formality were important.

The autogyro was hovering over them as Josiah leaped onto the ladder and started scrambling up. Then Keisha grabbed on to the rope rungs and almost slipped off as it swung back and forth. Isaiah seized the ladder below her to steady it until she started climbing higher, and then ascended after her.

“Hurry, Miss Davis. She can’t keep us here much longer.” Josiah was already on board and extending his hand back down the hatch.

“Get inside. You might fall. I’m fine.” Keisha didn’t feel fine, and in fact she dreaded every moment. It was like trying to climb a slinky. Even when she was close enough, she ignored his proffered hand, afraid her weight would pull him out of the ship. There were metal handles mounted on either side of the interior hatch opening, and she used those to hoist herself up as Josiah grabbed at her backpack and pulled.

She was catching her breath on the metal deck when Isaiah climbed in.

“Shut the goddamn hatch and get the ladder up. We’ve got to go.” It was a woman’s voice coming from the cockpit and she didn’t sound happy.

Isaiah slammed the port shut with a clang, locked it off, and pulled a handle marked “winch,” as they felt themselves driven skyward. With nothing to secure them, they slid into the walls and seats.

“Sorry about the rough ride, but we’ve got company.”

Keisha managed to grab the brass leg of a chair bolted to the deck to steady herself, but by then, the aircraft had achieved level flight.

“In you go.” Isaiah’s arm lifted her into the seat. She quickly pulled her rucksack off and got the seatbelt buckled across her lap as both Covington’s did the same.

She saw there was only one pilot, the woman they’d heard a moment ago. Her back was to them, but Keisha could see she had long, raven-black hair and was wearing a headset. That’s when she smelled the cigarette she was smoking and almost gagged. It was the first time she’d seen anyone smoke here besides Isaiah’s pipe, at least up close.

“Final approach, Oscar. Get ready.”

The smoke and clouds cleared to let them see the pilot was heading straight for an open hanger suspended from beneath the massive airship. Inside there were five biplanes parked at the far end with a sixth just maneuvering into position.

“It’ll be close. Tell Henderson to get his bloody damn Nieuport out of the way.”

Just as they crossed the threshold, their engines started screaming in reverse, then the wheels hit the deck and a screeching sounded like the prelude to a car accident. They were thrown forward hard against their restraints as the autogyro halted just five feet from Henderson’s biplane.

“Get us the hell out of here, Oscar!”

The pilot pulled off her headphones just as the reply came over. “Working on it, Boss.”

A metallic slamming sounded behind them as the hanger doors closed, and then large propellers roared with increasing speed and intensity. Keisha was pulled to her right as the gigantic dirigible turned.

“Come on.” The woman opened a door to her left and jumped out.

“We should follow.” Isaiah unlatched his belt and Josiah followed suit. The boy was leaving through the cockpit as Keisha stood up, grabbed her backpack, and went after his Dad.

The hanger deck was alive with activity, men and women running in different directions, some securing the smaller aircraft to the deck, and others heading to their duty stations.

“What are you waiting for?” The woman was now at an open hatch heading forward.

“Let’s join Granger. She’s not known for her patience or her manners.”

The three of them ran toward the woman who threw her spent cigarette at her feet and stepped on it. Then Keisha was surprised to see her pick it up and put it in her jacket pocket. “Can’t stand a messy ship. What are you looking at?”

Keisha reached Granger with the others, but then stood and gaped. The pilot was supermodel beautiful. Her long, silky black hair almost glowed in its own light. Her lips were painted ruby-red, and you could fall into the flawless doe-brown colored eyes. The tight leather jacket accentuated her figure perfectly. Her brother would have called Granger “smoking hot.” The projection of classic beauty and sexuality however, was broken every time she spoke.

“Isaiah, tell snookums here that I’ve had enough of being gandered at and to get a wiggle on. We don’t have all day.”

“What?” Keisha went from admiration to confusion.

Granger had already turned and started walking up the stairs when Isaiah took Keisha by the elbow. “Come along, Miss Davis.” They walked to the upper level and then through a main corridor, but Keisha was hurried along too fast to get a look at the side passageways. Finally they were in the main control center at the front of the gondola. Granger took a seat to the left of the person the adolescent assumed was Oscar. There were empty seats toward the rear and following Isaiah’s example, Josiah and Keisha sat and secured themselves. She dropped her backpack at her feet and held it between them.

“Fog bank’s still holding ahead. If we can make it, we’ll lose them.”

“Got our own fog bank working for us?”

“Ever since you landed, but we can only spit out pea soup for a few more minutes. Used most of it up hitting Tyson’s place.”

“If we don’t beat it into that fog soon, the coppers will be all over us.”

“I’m not goldbricking here, Boss.”

“I know you’re not, you goof. I just ain’t looking forward to getting slammed in the hoosegow.

“Getting something from the rear gunner.”

Granger put on her own headsets. “Ah shit. Looks like the hoosegow’s not going to be a problem.”

“Right, Boss. They’ve got eight, no make that a baker’s dozen, all Spads, and three airships in support with forward mounted cannons.”

“Must be Feds. Local coppers don’t have that kind of firepower. Hey, Isaiah. What kind of jinx you hauling around with you? I’m thinking I pulled a major league boner letting you talk me into this operation.”

“Here they come, Boss.”

aerial battle

Steampunk aerial battle – found at multiple sources – credit: ornicar.

Granger yelled into her mike, “Gunners, give ’em everything you’ve got or we’re yesterday’s news!” The Kestrel shuddered as aerial explosions burst around them. Then two Spads climbed in front from below and started firing their machine guns directly at the pilots.

Oscar screamed, “Duck!” The glass windscreen shattered and then the cabin lights went dark.

  1. The Adventure Begins!
  2. Aerial Encounter
  3. Police Pursuit
  4. Desperate Attack
  5. Submersible Disaster
  6. Menace in the Dark
  7. Below the Waves
  8. Prelude to Piracy
  9. Farallon Sojourn
  10. Forlorn Rendezvous
  11. Assault on Red Rock Island

Alas, rescuing Isaiah’s wife is getting harder and harder all the time, and first Isaiah, Keisha, and Josiah have to avoid being killed in aerial combat aboard the airship Kestrel. Who is Granger and how did someone like her get involved in Isaiah Covington’s crusade against the robber baron Stanley Tyson? Hopefully, we’ll find out in the next chapter, that is if everyone survives.

Oh, I decided to give “Granger” (not her real name) a “mouth,” and to that end I looked up Slang words from the 1910s and 1920s Reading through the list, I was surprised to find out I knew most of them, but then I think many of those words and phrases made it into the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

The next chapter is Subterranean Hideaway.

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