Monday, June 22, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 37

< Chapter 36                                                                                                 Chapter 38 >
Princess Callan flies off in the Tercel, hoping to find David and Jade.

I stood in the bow of the Tercel accompanied by Captain Jorson and an ensign with a spyglass. Captain Jorson kept the airship no more than seventy feet off the ground, choosing to forego the advantages of altitude for the advantages of a quick landing. During the first part of the journey, I gave the captain my third-hand explanation of what was going on. Jorson listened attentively to everything Captain Cochran told me about everything Raoul told David. The captain’s face grew graver with each passing moment.

“If I understand this, Your Highness, these galactics have figured out how to install one of those implant machines and give a man Boost, just like Captain Rice has?”

“It appears so,” I replied. “I know that is supposed to be classified information in the Terran Federation, but you know as well as I do that secrets of that nature eventually get out.”

Jorson nodded, conceding the point. “They’ve also figured out how to smuggle their blaster weapons onto Aashla in pieces and have armed men and trogs with the weapons. And if all of that weren’t enough, they’ve got some kind of machine that creates windstorms so violent they knock large warships out of the sky. Is that about it?”

“Begging the Captain’s pardon, sir, you left out the airship which flies without an envelope,” the ensign added.

“Yes, thank you, Ensign Bodver,” Jorson growled. “Since you’ve obviously been listening to our discussion, perhaps you would be so good as to tell me what you should be on the lookout for?”

“The strange airship, obviously, sir.” Bodver appeared unfazed by his captain’s demand and answered without taking his eye from his spyglass. “But I think the strange glowing ball which shoots off little lightning bolts is the main concern. Does Her Highness know where on the mountain this ball will be found?”

“I only got a quick look at it,” I said, “but it was near the top of the mountain, Ensign Bodver.”

“Very good, Ensign,” Jorson said. “Sing out if you see the wreck of the Vanguard or that glowing ball.”

“Aye aye, sir!”

“Captain, might I offer a suggestion?” I asked quietly.

“You are my princess, Your Highness. You command, should you so desire.”

“I would only consider commanding in the direst of emergencies, Captain Jorson. The Tercel is your ship and you know her and her crew far better than I.” Jorson smiled, inclining his head slightly at my comment. I continued, “If Ensign Bodver spots that glowing ball, it’s imperative the Tercel land as quickly as possible. May I suggest you pass word that the crew treat the ensign’s warning as an order to land?”

Jorson gave a sharp nod. “I should have thought of that, Highness. I’ll pass the word.”

Fortunately, the night sky provided more light than it had years ago when I sailed into Beloren under the cover of darkness to rescue David. Unfortunately, my night sight was no better than it was all those years ago. The ensign had much better eyes.

“Captain Jorson, I see the glowing ball!”

The crew, already poised for landing procedure, leapt into action. Men pulled out anchor lines and heavy mallets. Others vented gas from the envelope and the big ship settled toward the ground. The engine crew dowsed the fire in the boilers, leaving the airship running on the remaining pent-up steam.

Even with the crew’s rapid response, the wind whipped up quickly. The taut rigging thrummed as the storm blew around them and the airship bucked in the driving wind. We were ten feet from the ground when the wind caught the envelope and pulled the ship back up into the air.

“It’s going to be dangerous landing in these conditions, sir!” an officer shouted over the wind. “If we’re not careful, the wind will catch the envelope and wreck us. It might also pull us higher before doing so!”

Jorson gave his officer a sharp nod. “Have crew stand by to cut the envelope loose—but not until I give the order!”

The officers relayed the command around the airship. Dozens of knife-wielding crewmen ran to stays, ready to saw away at the lines should the order come. Meanwhile, the helmsman worked the ailerons, trying to drive the airship as close to the ground as possible.

“Ensign Bodver,” Jorson yelled over the wind, “Do you see any possible cover from this wind?”

The young man lowered his spyglass and looked about the ship. A few seconds later, his arm shot out, pointing to starboard. “There, sir! A small alcove in the foot of the mountain!”

Captain Jorson didn’t even look where Bodver was pointing. “Helmsman—hard to starboard and follow the Ensign’s directions!”

Jorson took my arm and pulled me into the meager protection of an inner railing. “Stay here, away from the railing, Highness. It’s safer.” He turned to a nearby crew member. “Airman, protect the princess until we’re safely down!”

“Aye, sir!” Covering my body with his own, the airman shouted, “Pardon my familiarity, Your Highness!”

“There’s no pardon necessary,” I replied as I wrapped my arms around the airman and buried my head against his chest.

All around me the lines sang with the wind, snapping and popping as the envelope bucked in the wind. And then comparative silence descended as the Tercel sailed into the small alcove and out of the worst of the wind.

Officers shouted orders and the mighty airship dropped to the ground with a bone-jarring thump.

“Winch the envelope down, men! Quickly!”

A minute later, the envelope was nestled down on top of the Tercel, seriously cutting into our headroom. But the ship was down, safe, and intact.

But what of David and Jade? Was the pinnace caught by the storm? Watching the wind roar around us, I could only wonder and worry.

What is going on with David and Jade? Find out in Chapter 38, coming Wednesday!