The noise outside the doors was astronomical. The Admiral had merely been carrying out some routine paperwork, finishing his more tedious assignments for the day before he oversaw the new arms shipment. Today was supposed to be a relatively leisurely day in a relatively tedious time for the seasoned veteran. The noise that was steadily moving closer to his door suggested that this was in jeopardy.
The Admiral considered reaching for his ceremonial sabre mounted on the wall behind his desk, but thought better of it. Instead he poured himself a large scotch from the crystal decanter on his desk and waited patiently for whoever or whatever was approaching to arrive. The steam-powered doors were almost torn from their hinges as Count Louis de Theudubert entered, his face screwed into a look of pure anger, possibly hatred but definitely a full amount of pain. In the doorway behind him stood several members of his so-called crew and in small snippets of the hallway which could be seen around the large frames of Lieutenant Davenport and Bjorn Hauptmann lay several well-battered members of the Royal Navy. Davenport looked more than a little uneasy with this situation, but it was clear that he knew where his loyalties lay, at least in this scenario.
Without batting an eyelid, a brass and steel cutlass was drawn from its scabbard and unceremoniously thrust against the Admirals throat. This was a strange turn of events, for ever since the Skypirate had been enlisted into the Navy as a state sanctioned privateer, the two men had almost always seen eye-to-eye. Surely Louis did not think that all members of the Navy were given as much freedom as he was!? At the same time, the Admiral had, since their first meeting, been shown a strange kind of respect from the pirate who usually held nothing but contempt for anyone in a military position.
The Admiral took a draft of Scotch from his crystal glass, he paused to let the sweet liqueur trickle down this throat, he then set his glass down slowly and raised an eyebrow at Louis.
You will release my ship immediately Admiral or I will spill blood this day. The Count was used to giving orders, but not usually in these circumstances.
Ah, if it isnt the infamous Captain De Theudubert! In England we normally knock first, but it seems your business is more urgent than such obvious formalities. The Admiral mused, reclining in his padded chair. Im more than a little surprised to see you here though Young Charles
Captain! Davenport interjected.
Shut it Davenport! Skye spoke, shaking her head at him incredulously.
This is too far! Davenport responded.
You have the right to take your leave from this situation should you see fit. The Count responded, his eyes never leaving the Admirals own. You have come further with me than I expected on this particular assignment Charles, I expect nothing further from you.
Charles Christophe Davenport stood taken aback. That was not what he had meant at all, he was certainly not backing down now after throwing in with Louis up to this point. They had knocked a fair few officers unconscious on the way in here. Already the rest of the crew was making the Valkyrie skyworthy, having fought their way aboard. The original plan was to simply steal back their ship, but it was clamped into the ground and even Genevieve was unable to free the ship. It needed authorisation, and that was why they were here.
We do not take kindly to threats, Count. The Admiral spoke coolly, his blue eyes unwavering as they stared back into the single visible brown eye that the Count was presenting. In truth, he only now noticed just how terrible Louis de Theudubert was looking. His face was shallow and gaunt, his skin paler than usual, the hair visible beneath the brim of his hat was matted to a forehead beaded in sweat and was unstyled. For the first time, it looked as though the Count had forgotten to shave, as the stubble on his face made him look several years older. The Count had never been a thin man, in fact, stories of his conquests were confusing due to his large frame and always slightly protruding stomach, but for some reason he looked as though his face had lost weight while his body had gained. Something was terribly wrong.
AND I DO NOT TAKE KINDLY TO MY SISTERS BODY BEING PULLED FROM THE THAMES! The Count shouted back, a small bead of crimson liquid falling from where the blade of the sword and been pushed further against the Admirals skin.
The great pacifist, raising his sword in such a manner. So the body that was dumped last night was one of your relatives? Count, explain fully and then we shall talk.
If I had the time, would I be doing this!? The Count asked with an air of urgency.
The abridged version then, if you please.
Count de Theudubert sighed audibly and then in a brash, angry and rushed tone, Louis explained what had happened. They had been caught on land now for over a month and that came vastly close to the time that his familys kidnappers had told him that the first member of his family would die. It had been true that the Admiral had been seeing him more and more often asking about the Valkyries status.
The Count went on to explain that almost simultaneously he had received a telegram while the body was dropped. It was now spreading through use of newspapers that a tiny dirigible had thrown an object overboard into the Thames near Tower Bridge and it was discovered to be the body of a teenage girl. The mystery lay in how the airship had managed this feat without being spotted taking off or landing as it had virtually appeared in the sky, a small vessel that would need three men at most to man, shaped like a tiny galleon suspended from a balloon, the whole thing pitch black. It was a very noticeable airship and one which no RPV police ship had managed to capture or even follow.
At this point, Louis threw the telegram onto the desk in front of him, his features contorting. It had been the reason he had known to go to the morgue and how he was able to identify his sweet sister Angelique de Theudubert, whom he had been close to even after leaving his aristocratic life behind. The short message simply said Enjoy your present, for it has been very nicely wrapped. One is lost, two are left. Can you find us in time Lou?
This raised a number of questions to the Admiral. Firstly, how had this ship evaded the authorities in the skies around London, some of the busiest skyways in the world?
How did they know where to find you? The Admiral asked, looking up as the blade relaxed.
I visited my home, and a porter brought this. They must have known I would visit it at some point since I have been trapped her for so long. The last sentence was virtually spat from his lips.
The other members of his crew looked on sadly, strangely, even Swiss looked much more downtrodden than usual and he had just witnessed a member of the Navy being held at swordpoint. Genevieves eyes were red and puffy, as if she had been crying not long before. Skye looked hurt, but she maintained her gruff demeanour despite this all. Charles was hurt and touched at the same time by what Louis had said to him. Hurt because Louis had not been expecting him to follow this far and touched by the fact that the Captain clearly knew how breaking so many military rules was sitting with him and allowing him leave should he wish it.
This was difficult to watch; the constantly merry and mirthful Count was in such pain and suffering and had been steadily getting worse over the past few weeks. He no longer smiled, his laughter usually rang false and he had been drinking more and more heavily. Charles had been looking forward to being on the ground again for a period of time, but the fun had been stolen from it of late.
You wish to chase this vessel?
I wish to at least investigate! Your forces have clearly been useless in this endeavour, so I do this my way. Release my ship.
Give me three hours Count. The Admiral replied, much to the surprise of the crew. This had been easier than anticipated!
Too long. The Count replied, shaking his head before turning to walk away. Bjorn, it seems you may get to detonate the clamps after all.
No smirk stretched across the Germans face as it would have done usually when given the chance to blow something up, especially something which the military owned. It was too painful to watch his old friend in such a state.
Count, think! Should you blow the clamps and attempt to depart without my authorisation, you will be fired upon by this air stations anti-aircraft batteries and picket vessels. Please, see reason! I will arrange for provisions to be brought to restock your ship. With your crew and the naval ratings I assign to you working together we can have everything done within the hour, then a few tests on the repairs and you can be on your way. Lieutenant Davenport you will need to get your men to lend a hand as well. Time is of the essence. I hereby give you leave from Naval reports for three months. Meaning you have no need to check-in with the Navy during this period. Take it and go.
Louis froze in his tracks, surprise evident in his face as he span on his heels to face the Admiral once more.
The only condition being that you must comply with orders already given. Miss Hawkesworth is prepared to board when I give notice. The Treasury still want someone aboard that ship Captain. No-one must know that I had allowed you to break away for even this short amount of time. During those three months you will keep the HMS prefix and still fly our flag so I need you to be careful as to what you do. If I simply gave you three months leave, you would not be allowed the Valkyrie, and you will need the speed she provides.
What the hell was this!? Louis had no idea what was going on, but he really could not complain against it! Still, he had to say something! After the spectacular entrance he made and all of the anger he had vented, to get given these kinds of concessions
he could not merely bow his head and leave with thanks!
The Treasury woman will slow us down.
She will be taking notes and ensuring that all commandeered material is split equally. She will not slow you down. Assemble your crew. When Amelia Hawkesworth has arrived and all of your provisions are loaded you may depart. Have you any idea where they were headed? The Admiral stood as the blade fell away from his throat entirely.
A rather embarrassed Count sheathed the blade, the small feeling of pressure as it clicked into place assuring him that it would not slip from the scabbard unless forcefully pulled. He had been trained with a rapier, but had found some difficulty in using such weapons on board enemy ships due to close quarters and the thick blades some opponents swords possessed. They were just too long and too fragile for such conditions.
They veered north-east before moving at great speed against the winds. With our jets, we might be able to catch them as the increased speed will pull the envelope down against the hull more substantially, making the headwind less of a problem. Louis replied, his eyes meeting the Admirals once more. It now felt as though the two of them were on the same side instead of preparing to go to war with each other!
The Admiral leant over his desk, looking down at a map that had been partially hidden under his papers which he swept to one side now. He began scouring it carefully, looking at the places with the most airship docks.
Youre thinking Ipswich?
It could be either there or Cambridge, the Count added, but in all honesty, a craft that small could have landed anywhere.
It isnt a bad start. They say the ship merely vanished into thin air though Count, what say you to that? The Admiral asked with a smirk, as if he were testing Louis.
I say that there are no mirrors or trap doors in the sky Admiral, so such a thing is impossible. Louis replied with a faint smile, shaking his head.
Captain? Should we not be outside? The faster we get ready, the faster we can get back into the sky. Genevieve had walked up to him and put a hand on his arm. The Count turned and nodded.
Admiral, can you co-ordinate the men that we did not have to incapacitate so that we can begin loading? Louis asked, his eyes conveying the silent message of apology. The Admiral merely nodded and followed them as they walked to the door. The crew all began filing out, stepping over bodies as they went.
The Admirals eyes widened as at least fifteen men lay slumped against walls or sprawled across the floor. Some were slowly coming around, groaning as they rubbed sore heads, their moans making for an eerie cacophony. As the Valkyries crew turned a corner, the Admiral smirked to himself, holding in laughter. Louis de Theudubert reminded him so much of the upright but brash man that he had once been before the Royal Navy taught him discipline and control. It was probably why he allowed him so much leeway all of the time
* * * * *
Get that loaded now! The Count yelled to an engineer as he had paused for a second with a large crate of spare parts for the engines. He scrambled with the box and then passed it onto the next crew member in the assembly line. Two lines were loading into various parts of the ship, one of which moved much slower due to the fact that it would be loading into the uppermost part of the ship. Their holds were almost full now as they had been loading for over an hour.
Louis noticed that the many cranes and maintenance gantries which had previously been used by the naval mechanic to repair his vessel were now back in their silos, tucked into the sides of the hanger bay in anticipation of the Valkyries departure. Over the noise of the flurry of nearby activity in loading his vessel, he could hear the distant sound of hammering and machines coming from nearby hangers as other vessels underwent refit or repair. As he cast his eye over his pride and joy, he noticed with a begrudging respect that the Admiral was good on his word and the repairs to his vessel were complete to an impeccable standard. It took Louis some time to tell the recent repairs apart from the hull of the original vessel.
The Counts reverie was interrupted by an approaching commotion. A small steam-powered automobile pulled up and the driver stepped out, opening the door for Amelia Hawkesworth who stepped out and walked straight towards the Count with purpose.
Captain de Theudubert. I have been informed that you plan to get airborne within the hour? She asked this as if it was an accusation rather than a question and the Count smiled, trying hard not to laugh at the presumptuous tone.
How lovely it is to see you again Miss Hawkesworth. You seem to have packed very light for a journey that will take three months before our next return to London
I shall take that as a yes. It is a good thing that I had my emergency bags packed. If I did not know any better I would say that you were attempting to leave me behind. Her eyes narrowed and she waved to the driver who unpacked a large trunk and carried it over to the pair before leaving it at their feet. Amelia dismissed the driver with a curt nod and he returned to the vehicle before driving away once more.
Louis shook his head.
You make it sound as though the world revolves around you. I have been stuck here for too long and plan to leave as soon as humanly possible, that is all. If you wish to make ready, I can show you to your quarters? The Captain was doing all that he could to keep his gentlemanly composure with this woman being so stuck up about all of this.
That would be most satisfactory, thank you. I can manage my own bags; do not stop your crew loading if you wish to be in the air so soon. The member of the Treasury lifted her trunk and the Count smiled, taking it from her. A lady who offers to carry her own bags earned her respect automatically in his eyes, but he was still a gentleman.
Lads, I will be back within twenty minutes, ensure that we are ready to go by then ok? You all know why we move so fast and I apologise for that but please do not let me down! The Count received a loud shout of YES SIR! as the crew began to even double their efforts.
Louis had to turn and walk towards the ship, because such a show of support was a little much for him and he would be damned if the crew saw him with teary eyes!
If you would follow me Miss Hawkesworth, I believe your quarters are up to standard, they are not far from my own and as such are decorated quite well. The Count coughed lightly and climbed into the shop with Amelia following behind him. He threw the case over the edge of the doorway and climbed through, cursing the click he heard in his right knee. It was a good thing that they had taken the rather lengthy rope ladder that led into the main compartment of the ship, just below the bridge, for it meant that he could grab his cane from the storage bin beside the door, which he then leant on as he picked up the case in his right hand.
Amelia noticed this and the look of pain in his face temporarily as she too stepped through the door. She would have offered to take the bag back, but the pride of men in this world was far too great and she would not embarrass him in such a way. Her eyes focussed on the room around her. To her left the forward-facing windows of the ship were quite narrow, to minimize the amount of damage that could be done internally. The bridge would be the only place with large windows, as they needed visibility to be at its maximum. Still, this must have been one of the most luxurious looking military ships she had ever seen! Amelias father had been a trader by nature and as such she had been on a great many ships over the years, but mostly merchant vessels and military ships. This was
Why the devil did they have such lavish carpets put in? And those light fixtures are surely not regulation! She pointed to some very lavish looking kerosene lanterns which were attached to the walls at various points, unlit so far. This must have cost the Treasury a fortune to serve no true purpose other than-
Looking pretty? Indeed. That is why I commissioned them myself out of my own pocket. The wooden floors were not of the best standard and the lighting were little more than a few candles, my crew had difficulty seeing at night. I look after them out of my own pocket my dear. The Captain had pre-empted her complaints about them squandering Treasury money. This was one of the reasons he considered the Valkyrie his own. His family were wealthy, incredibly so with his father being a banking tycoon as well as a keen investor and that was before Louis had taken to the skies and amassed his own private fortune by liberating both goods and money from their previous owners. He would have had a dazzling career as a trader if nothing else, as he knew where items he picked up would be best sold on, he had a keen eye which had also helped him amass one of the most talented and diverse crews in the world.
Oh, you mean to tell me that all of this was bought privately? Amelia asked, somewhere between impressed and appalled by the sheer exquisiteness of the items around her. She dreaded to think how much money he had spent on his own quarters!
Bought privately or commandeered Miss Hawkesworth. Let us not forget my true profession. The Count smirked as he led her along a corridor, forgoing showing her the bridge until after she had seen her own quarters.
The silence made it obvious that Louis comment had caught Amelia uneasily and he smiled to himself as they turned right into a corridor that had two doors on each side a fair distance apart and then, at the very end, a large crimson door lay. It was embossed with Captain de Theudubert and had clearly not been originally here when the ship was crafted. The heavy door had a brass doorknob; the inlay of the door was either brass or copper, with gold detailing. This was far too extravagant! The doors that led off on either side of the corridor as they passed were dark blue with similar brass detailing but no hint of gold or names put to them. These were clearly reserved for important people, however, that much was obvious due to the large amounts of space between the doors which indicated the size of the rooms.
I will apologise now for the size of the windows, but I believe the room is lavish enough to make up for that. The Count smiled and opened a door, one of those closest to his room and stepped aside to let her in.
Amelia was taken aback by how much this would resemble a room at a high-class hotel! She stepped in and looked around with an air of something between astonishment and disgust. To her left was a daybed, thick crimson velvet cushions lining it with well embroidered ropes handing from each end. The carpet itself was a deep red and felt very plush beneath her feet. The three windows were not very large, portholes at best but the same elegant lamps were attached to the walls here as well so as to provide plenty of light. The bed at the far end was lined with what seemed to be satin sheets, the same rope as was on the daybed was wound around each of the four posters, hanging from the thick velvet drapes which were held back by small hooks attached to the wooden posts. Four thick pillows topped the bed and a quilt was folded at the bottom, ready to be used should the need arise.
I would have loved to install a fireplace, but my room is the only one that has enough space for an extraction pipe for the smoke. Ah well, lifes little luxuries and all! The Count winked and placed her suitcase at the foot of the bed. I hope these furnishings are to your liking. It was happenstance that it matches your choice of outfit so well, it is just one of my favourite colours.
Amelia suddenly realised just how similar to her shrug jacket the velvet upholstery looked. She was dressed very elegantly and quite similarly to the apparel she wore when the Count had first met her months ago. On top of her head she wore a black velvet top hat, smaller, the style which many women chose and it sat at a slight angle on her head, a long feather stretching out from the side. Her hair was styled very well and draped down her neck to her shoulders where her maroon velvet shrug top covered her skin. A black corset began just above the line of indecency, covering her curves but also seemingly highlighting them to near perfection. At her waist was what appeared to be a sword belt, but no sword hung at her side. The Count made a mental reminder to enquire about this fact later on but would leave it for now. Cascading down the back of her legs was the bustle of her skirt, highlighting her status of class although the front of the skirt was cut to the knee which made manoeuvrability much easier than the longer skirts which many wore. Hanging from her wrist was a parasol and on her left upper arm was tied a pair of goggles, clearly she had been prepared for a voyage on board an airship!
It is exquisite, bordering on the ridiculous Count.
On board this ship my dear; it is Captain if you would not mind. After all, I cannot have my crew thinking I am giving you preferential treatment, even if that does end up happening. The Count smirked and winked coyly as he walked back towards the door.
I require no preferential treatment! I told you once that I am here to work! This is no pleasure cruise Captain. She made sure to emphasise the word Captain so that it struck much like the tip of a dagger.
Oh I assure you, this will be quite pleasurable if we find what we are after. Anyway, I shall leave you to unpack and-
I would rather see the bridge if you do not mind?
More inspections already?
Personal taste more than anything.
They both stared at each other for a few moments as if sizing each other up and then Louis nodded, bowing his head and stepping through the door first.
After me then, I can lead the way to the bridge, my favourite place besides my quarters.
They followed the same corridors back, passing most of the crews quarters which, for the main crew, were all nearby the Captains own. There were plenty of crew members who did not sleep nearby of course, such as the gluemen who needed to remain near the envelope at all times, and certain engineers remained in the rear of the ship. Towards the end of the corridor was a large reinforced door that led to the quarters of the British Army contingent onboard of this vessel. They slept separately from the same crew but shared communal areas with the crew of Valkyrie.
Louis led Amelia to the door and allowed her to peer through the porthole so that she could see a row of ten bunk beds, each perfectly made. Looking through the glass at the end of the room, a separate door could be seen leading to Charles personal quarters in the anteroom. The Count noticed how clean and tidy the room was, not surprising considering their military training. Every member of the small platoon had his kit perfectly squared away in the lockers assigned to each of them at the foot of the bunk beds. It was certainly obvious that this ship had been of military design!
As they moved on and passed through a pair of large metal doors the Count wondered why his own crew found it impossible to remain that tidy. He recalled how Genevieve would spend an age looking for items from her fondly named floordrobe. Otherwise known as the heap of spare parts and clothes mingled on her floor.
May I ask what this room is for? Amelia asked as they passed a room which was clearly larger than the others and whose door was black rather than blue or red. It was a room which the Count had visited only a couple of times thankfully, but it was a vastly important one.
That is our Medical Bay and Doctors quarters. Dr. Elizabeth Knight is probably the best physician I have ever encountered and came along at quite an opportune time I might add.
The Count smirked as he thought of the one member of this crew who could not seem to pass the door without squirming. That man stood in stark contrast with Bjorn who visited the physician so often that he had joked about setting up a hammock outside.
They began climbing the metallic rungs of the ladder that led into the bridge.
I was taking part in the defence of Birmingham from an air raid. Such things are an occupational hazard of being enlisted it seems. At any rate, I was unfortunately on my way down a ladder into the engine room when we were struck by stray cannon fire from a German Battlecruiser and most of the ladder shrapnel became embedded in my abdomen, which is not only incredibly dangerous, but also incredibly painful I might add.
The Count smirked as he held out a hand to help her into the bridge and off of the ladder she had now been looking at with a newfound sense of fear. She stood and looked around, quite impressed by the size and function of this bridge, especially in relation to the size of the vessel.
Skye turned from where she was preparing for takeoff and laughed lightly before turning back to the controls, shaking her head. She hated the aristocracy and seeing a lady of such obvious standings aboard the bridge of a ship like this was truly comical to her. It may have been Louis de Theuduberts ship, but as far as Skye was concerned, this was her bridge!
At any rate, I was forced to take the ship down as even a glancing shot from a calibre that large was enough to do some quite serious damage to my vessel as well as myself. As we descended out of the conflict zone for an emergency landing, we got a message to the nearest Air Station asking for medical assistance. I hated to take the ship down, but in essence, it was good news for me as it meant that I would get treatment fast. I was new to the Navy and had until then not had a need for a medic on board the ship. We put down in a field near Wolverhampton and by chance her ambulance team was first on the scene, she not only removed all of the shrapnel without damaging any organs, but also had me stitched up and feeling very little pain within no time. It turned out she was also a skilled herbologist. The Count laughed. A balm made from some weeds, that was all it was, but suddenly I felt very little pain at all!
Bloody miracle worker thatun. Skye added with a smile. She liked the doctor because of her dry wit and somewhat dark sense of humour.
I shall look forward to meeting her. I must say that for now I am quite impressed with your bridge Captain. The visibility is excellent, you have adequate space for co-pilots and some of the most sophisticated controls I have ever seen on board an airship of this size. The lady stepped behind the helm and touched the wheel slowly, carefully as if it were highly delicate.
Louis eyes took all of this in carefully and he looked to Skye for confirmation of what he believed. The look on his now Chief Pilots face told him all too well what she was thinking and it was agreeing with the Count: This woman knows her way around a dirigible.
I see you are no stranger to an airship my dear.
Louis words snapped Amelia back into the room she was standing in and she immediately stepped away from the helm, taking a deep, steadying breath.
My father was a trader. He was often away from home but he did sometimes take me on some of the short-haul journeys. I have been on several airships but most were simple merchant trader vessels. Amelia walked over to the railings which separated the main flight deck from the control panels where there were three chairs, the far-right being the one which Skye currently occupied. A man sat in the far left, the co-pilots position. His name was Steven and he was one of the crew whom the Captain had least knowledge of, but Skye had trusted him enough as a pilot to almost always have him at her side these days and it was not for the Captain to doubt his Chief Pilots decisions.
Louis then realised just what it was that Amelia had said and he turned to her with a curious expression.
A trader named Hawkesworth? Francis Hawkesworth perhaps?
Amelia span, her eyes almost angry as she stared in shock at the Captain of the HMS Valkyrie.
How do you know my father!? Her right hand moved to her left hip and the Counts eyes widened as a grin spread across his face.
You were just going for a non-existent sword were you not? I noticed the sword belt earlier. You are far more than you first seem Miss Hawkesworth. Do not fear, your father was simply someone I met in a pub once in Manchester. I just remembered the last name as being quite unusual and it did not click inside my mind until now. My apologies for startling you. The Count bowed a little.
You mean you didnt-
Steal from him? Louis finished her sentence for her and inhaled deeply as he shook his head. We pirates are not as horrible as you seem to think my dear.
Skye smirked and shook her head as she pulled a large lever and turned some keys in the dashboard. She stood and walked along the ramp that joined the main deck Louis and Amelia were stood upon. Since being given her new rank, Skye had become a little more complacent with showing the proper respect for her Captain and showed this now by saluting before she began to speak.
Ready when you are Capn. Her right hand fell back to her side. Or more like when the resta the damned crews finally finished loadin er up sir.
Louis nodded and walked over to a speaking tube, leaning into the funnel-like opening.
Charles, status report of the loading if you please? As the most efficient person on the entire ship, Lieutenant Charles Christophe Davenport was an obvious choice to lead the loading operation. There were two loading lines and Charles had ordered people into place quickly, efficiently and with authority before they commenced with the heaviest items first. Louis had been very impressed!
98% complete Captain, the reply came rather fast, almost startling Louis, just a few more crates to go into the envelope now. The rest is complete!
Damned impressive Davenport! Get those last few crates loaded and then get up here. We can have the military lot take the message to the Admiral to release the ship.
On it Captain.
Louis smiled as he leant back. To think he had once doubted that having military on board would be useful. Without them, some of their more recent missions would have ended in more than failure; they would have ended in death. It was not just their usefulness in boarding missions, but Davenport himself was incredibly useful in discovering the innermost workings of military minds. Charles had of course studied past military battles in the academy, including several major aerial battles that were required reading for all cadets. Even so, since embarking upon the HMS Valkyrie, he had learned first hand very quickly and even spent some of his shore leave researching beyond the call of requirement. He had come back several times with newfound knowledge of spectacular military manoeuvres which although were not often directly applicable to the Valkyrie, still gave them invaluable knowledge about how to act when faced with military ships.
* * * * *
The propellers had been spinning for a few minutes now as the engines warmed to their upmost efficiency and the clamps were now being removed, large steam-powered vehicles pulling them back away from the landing gear to be stowed once again in one of the storage silos at the side of the hanger bay. The vertically-aimed propellers were creating enough suction to hold them relatively close to the ground now and they could hover while awaiting final authorisation.
The Count looked to his left onto one of the smaller rooftops where one of the naval flagmen stood with his semaphore flags which he used to quickly signal that they were now authorised for takeoff. It had taken some getting used to for Captain de Theudubert, but he was now well versed in understanding this system. Flags were held at various positions, looking very similar to that of a clock as the positions moved and changed in quite rigid motions to signal various letters of the alphabet. It almost looked like some sort of strange dance, but the Captain read it and gave the order for the signal to be returned. He had no dedicated flagmen, but three members of his crew could give the signals as they were ex-navy and therefore were put to use whenever taking off, requesting landings or to signal passing ships.
Of course, more often than not they were not used as the ships they closed on were usually targets rather than allies
Captain? Skye asked, looking up from the control panel as he took the wheel.
Ready whenever you are Tabitha.
The young woman cringed, turning from the console to glare at him as she flipped a couple of switches, switching the vertical propellers into reverse so that the ship began to lift off, the large propellers aiding the natural buoyancy of the ships envelope. Slowly the HMS Valkyrie began to rise out of the hanger bay, nose angled upwards at it gracefully swept over the gantries, cranes and dormant Naval vessels in the hangers that had previously surrounded her. Heading out across the base the Valkyrie cast a long shadow in the afternoon sun over the mass of men and machines below. Louis' gaze was instinctively drawn to the nearest anti-aircraft battery. It was tracking his vessel, he knew it! It was not unknown for the various foreign governments or criminal gangs to attempt to hijack one the British Empires warships. What he was witnessing now was very similar to what he had seen when they had entered the base not so long ago, just simple procedure. He breathed a sigh of relief as the battery broke its lock on the Valkyrie and continued to scan the skies for potential threats. The Count smiled to himself as the Admiral was keeping to his word so far. He would not miss RNAS Ramillies as he knew fate and duty would draw him back here eventually.
The Count looked through the window as he began to steer towards the nearest Skyway, the path still clearly marked with pearl white flares that glittered in the sky like stars even in this bright light. As they approached the far perimeter of the base, they were once again joined by the picket vessel HMS Fortitude which slowly came alongside, escorting them up towards the Skyway until they departed, allowing them their leave to enter at the next available space.
Then they were free, able to steer the ship out to the right and also to pull up, almost out of the Skyway entirely.
The wheel is yours Tabitha. I am going to double-check the rest of the ship. The Count stepped away from the wheel as they pulled higher into the clouds and Skye took it from him, comfortable to let Steven slide into the pilots seat so that she could steer.
Louis opened the trap door that led down into the corridors and offered his hand to Amelia, indicating that he would help her down should she wish to accompany him. She accepted the offer, taking his hand and then stepping down onto the rung of the ladder before she let go of his hand and began to climb down. He followed her, leaving the trap door open for easy access, only closing it during battles or as part of takeoff/landing procedures to minimise risks of injury.
Where are we going? Amelia asked, pulling a clipboard out of where it had been tucked inside her belt. She detached the quill from the side, the peacock feather ending in a metal tip that she now dipped in the tiny pot of ink attached to the side of the clipboard. She then closed the lid on the ink pot and began to write, realising that she had not taken notes on the previously visited rooms yet.
The Count rolled his eyes and slid his Telescopic Diagnostician up away from his eye for a second to let some air in before he settled it back into place as they walked.
I just wanted to double check the cargo and see if it was loaded correctly. I trust my crew, but there were random members of the Navy on board my ship loading and those I do not trust as much.
What is this room? The woman asked, noting the green of the door and the two next to it as well.
This is the armoury. The Count told her, placing a hand between her shoulder blades and advancing her walking pace almost forcefully as they moved swiftly on. Just around the corner is the mess hall which has brass doors. I have attempted to colour-code most doors. The red doors are locked and are my private quarters or personal study. The blue are crews quarters no matter where you find them on the ship. Green
you have just seen. The black is medical bay and storage area. Any golden or orange doors you see involve maintenance areas.
They had rounded a corner and reached a grey door, a door which they had never bothered to paint it seemed.
The unpainted doors are cargo holds. He told her as he opened the door and scanned the room quickly; happy with the way it had been ordered as he closed the door once more.
That system seems to be very efficient as it means that even newcomers like me can tell what each room is. It means I will not stumble into somebodys quarters by accident when looking for the armoury for example. She replied, looking up suddenly to catch his awkward expression.
Damn, the Count thought, why is she so interested in our armoury!?
Well, I would try to avoid stumbling into any male crew members quarters at least my dear. We would not want your honour tarnished in any way while aboard a Pirate ship now would we?
The Counts raised eyebrow and crude smirk caught her off guard as he turned to continue walking. She pulled the clipboard close to her chest, feeling somewhat violated by those remarks alone. Amelia had not considered such a thing, how a lady like herself would be treated when in the air and surrounded by a crew which consisted of at least 80% males
I was kidding.
She looked up from the floor and into the Telescopic Diagnostician, seeing her own fearful face reflected back at her. His words broke her out of her thoughts and her armour was attached once more as the gruff, cold exterior returned.
I had clear knowledge that you were joking Captain, but the outright crudeness of such comments is not befitting someone of your class or rank! You should be ashamed of yourself!
The Counts blank face stared back at her and he pointed to himself. I am a pirate dear
Louis laughed and turned once more, leaving her blushing and quite agitated as she followed him.
This is the mess hall, where you can now meet most of the crew since we are stabilised and they seem to rush here as soon as they can
True to his word, there was quite a bit of noise coming from behind the brass coloured doors which he pulled open.
Captain on deck! One of the crew shouted above the raucous and all stopped what they were doing and stood as if this really were a military ship.
Whose idea was this? Louis asked, laughing incredibly hard.
Swiss Captain. But we thought it was a rather funny one. Genevieve interjected, standing nearby and even saluting before she winked.
At ease! He told them with another chuckle as he stepped in. Men, women, this is Miss Amelia Evelyn Hawkesworth. She has been sent from Her Majestys Treasury to make sure that we are keeping our end of the deal in regards to the splitting of our captured goods.
All eyes were suddenly on Amelia and she felt suddenly sheepish but stood her ground, stepping out from behind Louis to address them.
I am merely here to ensure that this ship is keeping with the protocols set out in Sky Navigational Law
and to ensure that you are all keeping with the Governments private agreement. She took a deep breath and nodded as she could almost feel the scorn being aimed in her direction and she suddenly wanted away from here.
Capn, is it true we only go so far as Cambridge? Bjorn Hauptmann stepped forward, his metallic hand clamping shut almost as if in outrage. Why only this far? We could have walked that journey!
As Louis opened his mouth to answer, Amelia interjected, feeling the gaze of the crew even more than she could notice it with her own eyes.
I can look around for myself now Count, thank you. Her bustle was turned and she was gone, back out into the dim corridors once more and around a corner before he could even react, leaving the Count to tell the remaining crew what their current mission was and just how personal it was.
The news about his sister had of course been given to Bjorn as well and he had heard exactly why they were bound for Cambridge, but he had insisted before they had come back on board that the Captain made it open knowledge. He was right, of course. How could you give orders to a crew without letting them know the full story? He had made that mistake when they had boarded the German Destroyer ship and now knew that it was wrong of him to have asked that of his crew. Especially with dangers being that great!
Ok, crew; this is a personal mission that I am asking you to embark upon. We are hunting another vessel, a vessel that dumped my sisters butchered carcass into the Thames
The Count stared down at the floor, his eyes stinging as he remembered being led into the cold, dark room at the morgue where his sisters body had been laid out for identification.
* * * * *
What happened to her? Louis had asked, struggling hard to keep the tears back as he turned to the coroner.
Sir, I think it would be in your best interests if you did not ask such questions. I am unsure if I am even authorised to-
I am a Commodore of the British Navy and I wish to know what happened to this civilian so that I can carry out a full investigation into the airship which dumped her body! Now answer me! The Count looked up at the coroner, his eyes rimmed with red from the amount he had been crying not long before.
The man shook his head and sighed heavily, removing his glasses to clean them as he did so.
She was tortured. From the looks of some of the wounds it was days that it lasted, some of the lacerations were made post-mortem, meaning that she was still being cut into even after she was dead. She was likely dead several hours before the body was released. The man looked up, withholding the worst of the facts from the girls brother. A girl who was that attractive being held by enemy forces for that amount of time
the poor man could probably guess himself what more had happened, but he would not say it aloud!
I want the body cremated and I want the ashes placed inside my family mausoleum. I want no funeral or no news of her identity leaked.
Count, I am not the person to make such-
I am likely to be leaving the country tomorrow. Pass the information on to whomever the bloody hell DOES make such arrangements! Louis shouted back at him, grabbing the mans collar before pushing him backwards and limping out of the room, leaning more heavily on his cane than usual.
* * * * *
As such, I am asking you to work as hard, as fast and as efficiently as possible throughout this journey. I doubt that we will find the vessel in Cambridge, but we are looking for information first and foremost. The Count clenched his eyes shut tightly and sniffed hard then looked up to find them all saluting once more.
This is serious damn it!
We are being serious, sir. Bjorn told him, smiling gently. We will do all we can.
Everything within our power Captain. Genevieve added with a soft smile.
Louis nodded and then looked away quickly. Carry on then!
* * * * *
The moonlight reflected off of the clipboard, lying to one side but with a parasol resting on top of it to keep it from blowing away with the air which was billowing past. The woman was sat not far behind one of the thick pipes which ran from the deck down along the side of the ships hull, enjoying the feeling of being out on the deck of an airship once more.
Amelia sat with her back to the pipe despite the warmth that it gave off, her knees were bent and she hugged them to her chest as she felt as if she had taken too much on this time. She was now stuck in the air for three months with a crew that hated her, an airship that seemed destined to get into aerial battles with ships much larger than it! She had always enjoyed being on an airship, it reminded her of the childhood which she had loved so much before she had forced herself to grow up.
Her father had been very successful in his business and she knew she had a lot to live up to, but at the same time, everywhere she went for work there were people who dealt with her father and so had no problem offering her a job
but it was not what she wanted. Amelia Hawkesworth would always fight hard for her position, and the role at the Treasury was testament to that! Somehow, none of them had heard of her father, or at least, none would admit it. She got her original position of her own merit and had worked hard to get where she was today!
Still, had she pushed too hard this time? This was bigger than an audit and had both financial and national importance, plus was a risky assignment. If successful, it was bound to carry some prestige with it, and would advance her career even further! Her parents were both deceased now, and that was what made this job so much harder on her.
Francis and Victoria Hawkesworth were killed by pirates.
There had been a raid carried out on one of the very few occasions Francis had ever allowed his wife on board his ship. It was only a short voyage, a trip from London to Paris before making the return trip
but as they crossed the British Channel they had been attacked. The ship was taken down before the pirates had even managed to board! One of the usual warning shots had hit the ship, causing the alcohol in the storage hold to explode violently
they had no chance! By the time a rescue vessel had arrived, all that could be found was floating debris and wreckage. No bodies had ever been recovered
Now Amelia found herself sitting on board a ship filled with pirates! It was true that there had never been a death shown to have been caused by Captain Louis de Theudubert and his crew, but since when did that prove what they had done in other countries!? Did that account for lives ruined by torture or rape or ships downed in the sea!?
What am I even doing here? She sobbed gently to herself, her eyes closed as she leant her head back. The light that had been filtering through her closed eyelids suddenly disappeared and her eyes snapped open.
Are you alright? Louis squatted down beside her, his eyes filled with concern and what looked like there might have been recently shed tears of his own. He held out a deep red handkerchief and she took it, dabbing at her eyes to stop her makeup from running more than it already had done.
Do you honestly care? She asked, looking up at him with somewhat panda-like eyes.
I would not have bothered with coming out here and checking on you if I did not. Louis held out his hand to her and she took it, gathering her things up with her other hand before tucking both under her arm. The Count offered his elbow to her, allowing her to rest her hand in the crook of his arm as he escorted her back into the ship.
Why are you bothering exactly? I am not a member of your crew, nor am I from the military. Your crew sees me as an invading force, why do you not? She was clearly confused from her tone of voice.
At one point or another, every member of this crew was the new one. The one everyone was suspicious of. I know people. I have not built myself a crew of this much skill and loyalty through luck alone, although I admit that lady luck has been on my side more times than I care to remember. Louis laughed lightly as they turned into the corridor that led to their respective quarters. Come, I want to show you something. You have clearly been missing something since boarding my ship, we shall fix that!
Amelia raised her eyebrow as the Count unlocked not his own door but the one immediately to his right, opposite Amelias room. It had a blue door, but was clearly not a room of the crew! Within was a vast collection of swords, mostly rapiers although it was clearly a collection that was for display as well as use.
I really cannot do with any member of my crew not having their own weapon of some sort. You clearly are used to swords of some kind and my guess from your frame and your status is that it would most likely be a rapier or a fencing foil. Louis smiled and let go of her arm, enjoying the look of awe on her face as she followed him in. The entire left side of the room was covered in various cutlasses and rapiers, some looking as though they would cost more than this ship to replace.
The right side was mostly eastern weapons, katana, tanto, wakazashi
it was a very impressive collection! There were even ancient broadswords at the far end of the room, large claymores and two-handed swords that she feared were taller than she was!
How can you afford all of this!? She asked in astonishment, walking over to the left and looking at a rapier with a ruby encrusted hilt.
Do I need to remind you of my unofficial occupation once more dear Amelia? The Count laughed. I have bought most of these, but by no means all of them. Many of them I won in duels. I would never steal a weapon; it is apparently against some sort of ancient moral code in Japan.
Amelia had drawn a lightweight but wonderfully crafted musketeer-style rapier from its scabbard and was admiring it. Louis had joined her on the far side of the room and unbuckled his sword belt, hanging up the small but somewhat heavy cutlass and smiling at his guest.
Are you at all skilled with that weapon my lady?
The corner of Amelias mouth lifted upwards in a sly grin as she stepped out away from the Captain and began thrusting through the air, her footwork almost text book as she carried out actions he knew were correct down to the perfect stance. That was impressive. He turned to the case and drew his own favoured rapier, a basket-hilted thick-bladed sword which he had used many times in the past.
Ah, but what of with a partner my dear? The Count asked, taking a traditional fencing stance.
Amelia turned to face him and laughed lightly, placing her clipboard and parasol down outside of the raised surface in the centre of the room that was clearly used as some sort of arena. She took a stance that mirrored the Counts own, but her blade pointed slightly upwards as his was pointed slightly downwards.
Begin when ready sir.
Ladies first. The Count told her, pulling his top hat from his head before throwing it to one side.
Amelia stepped forward and deftly knocked the Counts rapier to one side, aiming a thrust towards his ribs which he thankfully parried, sliding his blade along her own before throwing his arm out away from him. This was highly dangerous without the protective armour, but he would go easy on her and ensure that-
Louis eyes widened as she ducked under his slash, half-turning before knocking his blade upwards and slashing at his leg. The Count pulled back just as the tip of Amelias blade sliced through the very front of his trousers, tearing a gash that showed his skin.
Louis looked down, stunned before he glanced back up, deciding that he would have to take this seriously or end up seeing Dr. Knight far sooner than he would have liked!
Amelia laughed a little, covering her mouth with her hand.
Shocked Captain? Did you believe me to be some spoiled brat who had no idea how to use a sword? Pish posh! Face me properly or admit defeat before you lose some skin!
The lady ducked forward again, planting her foot before connecting her blade with Louis attempting to spin it from his grasp by using the ornate hilt-guard of the sword. Louis smirked and pulled back, spinning to the left before allowing his movement to bring his sword crashing into Amelias with a great deal of force. She was thrown off balance and almost stumbled to her knees as he moved in, but her composure was regained and she parried his thrust expertly, using his own momentum to push him away once more.
This is a far stranger dance than I expected my dear, but no less sensual in nature if you ask me! The Count laughed as he caught her right wrist with his left hand, pulling her towards him so that she stumbled, wide-eyed, almost straight into him. Her blushes made it apparent that he had seemingly invaded her personal space more than he was supposed to, but this worked well to his advantage! The Count side stepped and paused, holding the blade against the back of her neck before she got a chance to turn around.
That was not part of the manoeuvres, Captain. Amelias eyes had narrowed and she obviously deemed this cheating.
Oh my dear, this was no fencing class. If you were defending yourself against Scandinavian pirates for example, they would not stick to careful duelling procedure. Still, you are clearly well trained and handle yourself with strength that your frame hides. Louis bowed and then moved to the left side of the room again, sheathing his sword.
Amelia followed to do the same but the Count halted her, taking the scabbard from the rack and handing it to her.
It is yours. I told you, you need a weapon. There is already a frog attached to the scabbard so you have no need for one of those either.
Well, thank you Captain de Theudubert. I shall borrow this until our mission is complete, for then I shall no longer need it. Amelia blushed a little as she sheathed the sword and collected her things from the floor.
No, I suppose there is little call for weapons when you are an accountant. Louis smirked and lifted his sword belt from where it had hung, carrying it rather than putting it back on.
Louis placed his face in his hands as Skye called him over the speaking tubes, annoyed at her inability to remember how to use his noble name properly.
Yes Tabitha? He emphasised her name as he moved to the tube, purposefully to annoy her this time.
Tweny minutes offa Cambridge now sir, thought you oughta know.
Thank you Tabitha, I shall be up to the bridge before then. I need to freshen up. The Captain looked to Amelia with a smile as she moved towards the door herself, smiling back at him and nodding as if stating that she had to do the same before she closed the door behind her.
For a while there, he had forgotten all about recent events and had merely been having fun. Now, as Amelia left him in the room alone, he felt the waves of depression wash over him again. He placed his back against the wall and sank down into a seated position, looking down into his palms which were now slightly sweaty. The hands came up to his face, bathing him in darkness and separating him from the rest of the world. His eyes pricked with tears again as he saw his sisters body once more, cleaned but obviously having suffered much in life due to the numerous wounds that he could see on her shoulders and face, for that was all that had been revealed from beneath the sheet that was draped over her. The Counts sobs echoed within his palms, making him sound even more pathetic than he felt.
Louis suddenly lashed out, his hand crashing into a stand and knocking it, and all of the swords that lay on it, to the floor. He felt wracked by anger, pain and guilt. Why had these people targeted him!? And why did they take his family without asking for ransom or even asking for the slightest clue!? WHAT WAS GOING ON!?
I swear we will get them Angey, we will not let them escape. No matter where we have to chase them to! The Count promised himself and his departed sister.
Outside, Amelia stepped away from the door, tears prickling at her own eyes. She had not been told what happened, but had heard of the kidnapping of his family and could link that with his sister, Angelique de Theudubert, for she had done her research. To think that the Count was in such pain but masking it so successfully from everyone
and less than an hour ago she had been bawling her eyes out because of a mission she volunteered for!
Louis stood, a shuddering sigh escaping his lips as one final tear traced a small rivulet along his left cheek. He removed his monoggle, the Telescopic Diagnostician, and let it hang by the wires connecting it to the analogue computer on his forearm. It had begun steaming up from both the heat and the fact that he had cried.
No more! He needed to be stronger! The crew were strong for him and he would be just as strong for them! No-one would prevent him from getting to the truth! Not the British, not the Germans and certainly no other Skypirate!
I will come for you mother, father
I promise you that!