“So, what are we looking at here?” she asked.
He sighed “Well, they’re supposed to be mounting the next engine on that wing” he shuffled the schematics on the board in front of him, his voice trailed off as he watched the workmen crawling about the massive wing of the seaplane.
“Doesn’t look like they’re having much luck” she replied.
“No, they’re not” he grumbled.
On her starboard side by the passenger door, 26 glistened in freshly painted red block numbers. Her gaze drifted to the numbers, “I keep telling you we need a name, it’s bad luck for a ship to not have a name”
“Nonsense” he replied, “Besides, we’re not a ship.”
“It floats on water doesn’t it?” she’d turned to stare at him, any hint of humor had left her normally placid features.
“Yes, but it flies… that makes it more a plane than a ship” He countered and smiled at her disarmingly, then looked back at the wing.
“Close enough” she retorted and turned back to watch the workmen struggle with the engine. “Where’s Reggie?” She asked. “I haven’t seen him since we docked”
“He’s at the maintenance barn, stocking up on parts, said something about having to get new tools as well,” he replied.
“More like at the tavern” she grumbled, their flight engineer loved a good drink.
The captain turned to look at her, “That too” he laughed.
The “Twenty-Six” sat in the Chiselton drydock, her hull mounted securely on wooden blocks. Overhead a new radial engine hung suspended from the drydock crane. Swinging wildly in the wind.
“Maybe they should wait until the weather clears” She remarked, watching the workmen struggle against the guide ropes.
To the west, a bank of dark, wicked looking clouds were shuffling ever closer, and from the distant horizon, a rumble of thunder crawled across the ground.
“We can’t afford to wait,” he replied. “We need to beat that storm, and I’m not paying them to sit around”
She sighed deeply, lines of concern etched across her face. “Whatever you say Cap, I’ll be at the inn.” She stomped off grumpily, behind her the engine swung too far and bumped one of the workers screaming off the edge of the wing. He hung suspended from the wing in his safety harness cursing as he spun in slow circles.
“Oh! That’s gotta hurt!” she heard the Captain exclaim, “gotta be what? fifty feet up there?” he laughed as all work stopped and the workmen grouped together to pull the man back up.
Later that Evening…
She awoke with a start, slamming her head into the bunk above her as the door to the bunk room crashed open. “Lucy! Up Up Up! She’s ready!” she rubbed her head ruefully, blinking the sleep from her eyes, squinting at the last rays of daylight drifting in through the deluge of water slapping against the window.
“Goddammit Cap, you know it’s bad luck to fly at sunset…” He dismissed her concern with a wave, tossing her shirt and trousers to her.
“Nonsense! We’ve paying customers… let’s go!” He disappeared out the door, it wasn’t an argument, it was an order.
“Just one night…” she swiveled around and hung her legs off the bed until her feet touched the bare wooden floor. “Can’t I have just one night, evening even! I’d take one evening….” She rubbed the welt on her head and stood up, pulling her trousers on. Then looked back at the bed longingly and stumbled as she pulled her boots on. A loud snore erupted from the sheets and she rolled her eyes, she’d probably never see him again.
“LUCE!” the captain’s voice echoed up the stairs outside, doors opened in the hallway in response, angry mutterings about the time of day and quiet oaths of kicked asses. She stopped to look at herself in a mirror, pulling her black hair back in a loose ponytail and forcing a small smile on her face, reassuring herself it was going to be alright.
“It’s just superstition,” she whispered half-heartedly; then, pulling her jacket on, she left the room. The stranger in the bed slept on, oblivious.
The wind whipped the rain into a sideways frenzy, sending curtains of water shimmering in the gas lamps light down the street. “He wants to fly in this?!” She grumbled and leaned forward as she stepped off the front stoop and walked down the edge of the street, cursing every time the wind pushed her off course, lightning crawling across the sky overhead. She wasn’t looking forward to this.
The “Twenty-Six” rode in the water, bobbing up and down with the waves, rain streaming off her six propellers. The gangway up the massive seaplane rotated up and down as the plane drifted up and down, her passengers struggling gamely to get onboard.
“Are we really flying in this?” she asked as she scrambled up the crew ladder to the flight deck, still dripping water.
Captain Brock swiveled in his seat and grinned at her, his green eyes alight with the thrill of a new challenge “In this headwind? We’ll be off the water in no time!” he replied as he turned his seat back around.
“or crash on takeoff…” she muttered, sitting down in the copilot seat.
Brock pulled a receiver off the wall and keyed it “’ey Reggie, everybody aboard?” he asked, flipping switches as lights and dials flickered to life on the dashboard, the altimeter clicking audibly in the background as it zeroed itself.
“Aye cap, miserable lot they are too, all a bitchin’ about the weather, look like a buncha wet rats” the engineer snorted a laugh before continuing
“You know it’s bad luck to fly without a proper name, right?” he asked. Lucy gave him a “what-did-I-tell you!” look before he keyed the receiver “Don’t you start too, we’ll be fine” he hung the receiver back up.
“Aye Cap” the engineer replied but he didn’t sound reassured.
Below them a dull WHUMP sounded as Reggie closed the passenger door. “Hull secured and mooring lines disconnected Cap” his voice filtered through the static of the receiver.
Lucy had just become aware of the nose of the aircraft as it pitched up and down with the waves, this wasn’t going to be an easy flight.
Then the captain spoke again, “Precheck good, let’s start ‘er up” outside the wind buffeted the airplane, bumping it up against the rubber stoppers mounted to the dock.
Somewhere behind them they heard the groans of the passengers, then a disheveled looking man, clutching a top hat stuck his head in the door. “Excuse me sir… Huurrkk” he held up a finger and disappeared, footsteps retreating down the hallway followed by the unmistakable sound of a day’s meals being regurgitated into the latrine.
They both stifled a laugh as they fired the engines, one after another the radial engines rumbled to life, spraying the water behind them into waves. The vibrations rattled the ship from wingtip to wingtip then steadied as the engines settled into idle. The same man from before stuck his head back in, looking pale faced and near death, dabbing at his mouth with a white handkerchief.
“Excuse me sir… Uuuughhh…” he pursed his lips together and took a few deep breaths through his nose, looking down as he steadied himself against the bulkhead doorway. A few moments passed before he looked back up again, having composed himself “Is it safe to fly in this?” He gestured to the rain pounding on the windshield.
Brock didn’t acknowledge the man, instead he grabbed the receiver from the wall next to him and keyed it, “Reggie! Need your help up here!”. The red haired, bearded engineer appeared next to the man, crunching and slurping on a large pickle, juice running down his face to his oil stained overalls.
“You rang Cap?” he asked around a mouthful of pickle, the unmistakable stench of dill and vinegar wafting into the flight deck around him. “Get our guest back to his seat Reggie” Brock wrinkled his nose, trying to wave the smell away.
The engineer looked from the Captain to the man and grinned, “Aye Cap.” Reggie saluted “Come along sir, follow ol’ Reggie, I swear on me mothers grave, we’ll get ya where ya need going” he wrapped his arm around the man’s shoulder, steering him back through the door.
“Oh… dear god what are you eating…” the man asked in disgust, covering his nose and mouth. Cries of dismay echoed through the door as the man threw up again, this time he hadn’t made it to the latrine. “Oy steady on sir!” Reggies voice filtered back to them.
“What a miserable lot” Brock grinned as he flashed a bright light to the tug outside.
“Hey Cap?” Lucky asked, pausing her checklist. “Hmmm?” he replied without looking up from the oil pressure gauges.
“Why would these people want to make this flight, right now?” She gestured again to the deluge that currently pounded away at the windshield. “Why couldn’t they wait?” Brock pulled a flask from his leather jacket and took a pull from it, the sharp scent of alcohol drifting from his lips.
“The Syndicates” he coughed putting the flask back “Oh god that’s the stuff” he smacked his lips appreciatively as he shook himself out “Brrraaaaghhhh!”
“What about them?” she asked. She knew little of organized crime or the floating city that was their destination and not enough to care, the passengers payments cleared, and there were always men looking for a good time anywhere she went, that was good enough for her.
He flipped a few more switches as activity around the plane intensified, the rumble of the engines continued around them. “All those moneyed folks back there?” he gestured through the doorway, “None of them would make an effort to fly in this if they didn’t have debts to pay”
“Cap, the passengers settled but they’re complaining about the heat” reggies voice filtered through the receiver. “Not your breath?” Brock replied with a grin “Har. Har. Har you boy faced prick” the engineer replied.
“What do you mean?” she asked, suppressing a smile as she flipped the environmental system on, powering the air conditioning units. “Whiteboar doesn’t belong to any one nation” he replied, “Means the Syndicates have a neutral territory to do business out of” He looked at her, assuming she’d make the connection. “Meaning…” she asked, searching his face for any clues to where he was going with this.
He sighed “Meaning, if anybody owes a debt to the Syndicates, they have to go to Whiteboar to pay it”. “Ohhhh.. oh!” “she replied, looking mildly shocked.
He nodded, “So, all those fancy folk back there?
“Probably owe money to one of the syndicates,”
“Would prefer to keep that quiet,”
“Airship travel is to slow,”
“and we’re the only unregistered flight heading that way in the next week.” He counted along on his fingers as he listed the reasons.
He sat back in his seat as the tugboat outside pulled them further from the shore. “Which means easy fares for us” he finished. She nodded but didn’t say anything, still trying to digest this new information.
Beneath them the tugboat turned into the wind, struggling doggedly on; its motors churning the waters as it pulled the massive seaplane out to sea.
Brock pulled the receiver from the wall again and flipped a switch on the control panel. His voice echoed through the plane, treating the passengers to the most alarming welcome message they’d ever heard.
“Good evening everyone, this is your Captain speaking, and along with my First officer Lucy and flight engineer Reginald, we’d like to welcome you aboard the Twenty-Six and we’ll be your crew on your journey tonight to Whiteboar Landing”
Beneath them the tugboat had disconnected its tow line and was arcing away from them, her captain eager to return to the safety of the harbor.
“As I’m sure you’ve heard, disreputable types, air pirates and such, have been spotted along the Southern Merchant Corridor, and unfortunately, that’s the route we have to take due to this weather. In the event of any hostilities, weapons will be provided to you by our Flight Engineer and defensive positions assigned as needed, if you have any questions please direct them to him, oh and travel time is about six hours. Thank you..”
A cacophony of protests and questions erupted from the passenger cabin. “Get off yourselves you cowards!” Reggie yelled at the passengers, Lucy and Brock looked at each other and laughed.
The captain keyed the receiver again, “Oh,” and buckle up please.” He hung up the receiver and nodded to Lucy. “Let’s go.” She looked up from the yoke her reverie broken. “Aye Cap.” She grinned, despite the danger she always felt a sense of excitement at the start of a trip.
The engines rumbled angrily as they pushed the throttles forward, and the plane started moving. The outboard pontoons on the wing tips sliced through the waves as the plane plowed forward, the nose lifting up, then down as it rode the waves. Then slowly, steadily, the giant plane lifted off the choppy surface of the water and sailed into the night sky, the rain and wind tossing it around.
Stay Tuned for Part II