The Great Airship Race, Normandy

by Tamalain

Copyright© 2017 by Tamalain

Action/Adventure Story: The next leg in the Great Airship Race. Will the entire field make the channel crossing?

Tags: Steampunk   Science Fiction  

Enzo Ferrari chuckled as he looked in the mirror he held out over the side. He saw what he expected to see, the entire field of racers bunched up behind his cone of ships. He had had this happen before, just not so many at one time. He thought about his current employer, the French Government. They had hired him and his team after the Official French team went down in flames. He never did find out what caused them to crash like they did, all twelve at the same time, and he felt it best not to ask at this point.

“Helm,” he called, “Current speed.”

The man at the helm yelled back without looking back, “35 knots, slight wind off the port stern, but not bad. Giving a bit of a push in the right direction.”

“Good enough, signal fleet, maintain speed and heading until back over land.”

“Aye sir.” The helmsman waved at the signal man to send the order. Once he confirmed the order was sent and understood he reported back, yelling over the wind and screaming steam engines. “All ships report maintaining speed and heading until over land and new orders sent.”

Enzo nodded and returned to his well padded chair and strapped in for the next ten hours of flight time. He just hoped the weather held until they where back over land. A storm would force them to break formation and cost time in speed and maneuvering, that he could not afford after watching the two Alliance flyer taking off and leaving him behind like they did. He pulled a flask from pouch on the chairs side and took a long pull of the wine from the monastery in northern Italy. It was some of the best in the world. Now to just wait and pray for steady weather.

Mary Taylor looked at the tightly packed airships ahead of her and cringed. She had no intention of getting in that fur ball, a crash was immanent the way they were all bouncing around in the back of the cones wind shield.

“Tama, how’s our speed holding.”

“35 knots boss, 35 knots, that is the best I can do right now, so don’t ask for more. I push the engine much beyond this and we will throw a rod for certain.”

“Good enough.” She considered the situation then ordered a climb to eleven thousand feet. She knew the wind for this time of year over the channel and figured they might be able to catch the jet streams lower edge. If they did it right, they could leave the rest of the field in their wake. As they arrived at the new elevation, they felt the vibration of the fast moving winds caught them and pushed them along. Looking back and down, Mary could see she had passed the rest of the fleet and was pulling away from them rapidly.

Linda yelled that the cables had begun to hum from the stress being placed on them, Mary heard it now as well. She looked up and saw the wind was beginning to deform the gas bag, “Drop us to ten thousand five hundred, and maintain max speed. We have what we needed from the wind.” Linda tilted the wheel and the straining vessel slowly pulled free of the wind river and dropped to the safer altitude. Looking back again, she saw they had gained a good mile on the rest of the teams. That was a good thing and she was able to relax.

Sir Riggers looked around him as the main part of the fleet of airships floated around him. He was now more angry at himself than and Ford. “Take us up and back, we can’t stay in this mess or we will be wrecked.”

“I can’t sir, to many ships in the way.”

“Are you saying we are trapped in here?”

“Yes sir, that is exactly what I’m saying.”

Riggers frowned deeper as the situation went from bad to awful behind him. He heard the sound he had dreaded hearing. Two of the ship had collided in the turbulence at the rear of the pack and the one was going down in flames. It had bumped its gas bag into the stack of the flyer above it. He couldn’t tell who it was that was about to die as their flyer was now a brick. “Jump you fools, jump out now,” he whispered. All the crews carried parachutes as part of the standard gear and required by the race commission. As he and the other teams watched, they saw first one, then two more chutes open. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief across the fleet and pilots began falling back and giving more room to be safer.

Enzo watched the little drama play out and was relieved when he saw three chutes and the fleet falling back and spreading out.

The Leader of the Russian saw the flames as the lone Scotsman flyer went down to what could be a watery grave. He smiled and cheered when the chutes opened and felt the race might not be a total disaster after all. He came to a decision and yelled to the helmsman, “Ivan, back us out of this mess and swing slightly to port. Put us in formation with Enzo, he can bitch at me later.”

“Aye sir, swing to port and join the speed cone.” The airship slid along until it was spaced evenly with the outer edge of the cone, giving it the start of another ring. Boris looked on and saw that several other pilots had come to the same conclusion and slid into slots around the French teams ring. He smiled as this would keep the accidents down, even if Enzo did complain about it later that day.

Enzo watched as his racing cone suddenly gained an entire new ring and part of a second. He shook his head and just smiled. “At least we will be together when we land tonight, and safely too.”

Jamie, the captain of the Scottish flyer saw the bag hit the stack of the flyer above him an yelled for his two men to get ready to bail out once clear of the main group. He yelled to jump as they fell and he saw the other two chutes open. He yelled for them to come over towards him so the would land in the channel together as he had the inflatable raft on his chest. His engineer had flares so they had to stay together. He waited until he was only a few seconds away from hitting the water to pull the release for the raft. It pushed away from him as it began to inflate. It hit the water at the same time he did, and his crew came down almost on top of it. All three released their chutes and climbed aboard, being careful to not tip it over.

Jamie looked around and saw smoke on the horizon, a ship he hoped. He pointed it out and the engineer fire one of the flairs up and in that direction. Two hours later, they were on board and being taken back to Dover to report what had happened and then would head back home, happy to still be alive and safe.

Wilbur checked the frame and supports for stress as they raced across the channel at over 75 knots. This was faster than any Airship had gone before that he knew of. He could hear the wind and feel the vibration of it as searched for any weakening of the vessel. What he did eventually find was the source of the unexplained weight.

He saw the figure in a heavy black pea coat huddled by the port rear engine stanchion. Reaching down, he grabbed the figure at the collar and pulled it up. He quickly saw it was a young girl in her late teens, and she was terrified. Without a word, he pulled her out of the compartment and pushed her to the bridge.

Shoving her in ahead of him, he called out, “Hey Orville, I found our odd weight.”

Orville turned and did a double take at the sight of the scared girl. “What is she doing here Brother.”

“Please sir, I didn’t want to do this, but the man said I had to or my pa would be killed,” she said in a quivering voice, tears flowing down her cheeks now.

Orville had to stay at his control so Wilbur handled the interrogation. “Who girl, who sent you and what is your name.”

“Wendy sir, Wendy ... Riggers.”

“As in Sir Riggers, the Racer that is blowing a gasket in the pack most likely at the moment Riggers,” asked Wilbur.

The girl blushed then answered in a quiet voice, “Yes sir, he is one of my Uncles.” She tried to shrink into her coat as Orville glared at her, “Girl, why did he send you, what did he use to force you here.”

“Please sir, I if fail, he will kill my Da, his own older brother. My Da owes him money and told him to send me and the debts would be forgiven, if I fail, he will send his men to kill my family. He is a bad man, but his money and position keep him in power.”

Wilbur sat her in the navigators seat and asked, “Just how were you to stop us from racing Wendy.”

Now she really blushed and looked down at her feet, fear in her looks. “I ... I was to try and ... Oh I can’t do it, I am a good girl I am. I have to get you fighting over me, to make you split up and quit the race.”

Wilbur’s face darkened in anger while Orville laughed. Orville calmed down and looked at her after checking that the controls were set and he could take his eyes away for a few minutes. “Girl, if you want Wilbur, take him, I have little interest in the fair sex to be quite honest. He on the other hand is the quite womanizer,” Pointing at his now raging brother.

“Oh get over it Wilbur, you have six women over six separate states back home, so don’t get upset over that, just make her seven and marry her. That will torque Riggers ass but good.”

“What about her family Orville, how do we protect them.”

“When we arrive in Normandy in three hours time girl, you will send a cable to your family to go to the Alliance Embassy. Tell them to run fast, I will cable the Embassy at let them know they are coming. Yes, we have that sort of pull with them.”

Now, take off your coat and sit in the seat over there so we can get back up to speed or Ford will catch up to us in short order.

As Wendy sat, she noted the straps on the chair and secured them over her lap. “What will you do to me now,” she asked once she felt she would not be bounced around the cabin by the movement of the vessel.

Wilbur considered a moment, “Well girl, rules state that we are not allowed to carry passengers. Just having you aboard like this can get us disqualified. We can do one a of three things.” (1) “Throw you overboard.” Wendy went pale and started to look faint. (2) “Report you as a stowaway at Normandy and put you off there, but that news would most likely cost you your family.” (3) “Or lastly, and this is the tricky one, I make you a crew member and teach you how to help keep this bird in the air.”

Wendy looked ready to throw up at the first two options. The third gave her some hope, but she knew it was not good either way. She had to stay away from Riggers at all cost.

Wilbur could see what was thinking by her expressions. “As I said before, you can’t get us fighting over you, but I can pretend if you like and you can report that it will take time, but we will be out before the halfway point.”

Now Orville spoke, “Yeah, as a crew woman, she can punch our bags and send us into the drink.”

Now Wendy was insulted and getting red faced. “Never sir, I would never do that. I would die just like you and never go home again. That and I would be denied heaven for killing myself.” She turned her head back to Wilbur, “I will work sir, I will learn to help you fly.” She shook herself then continued, “I just hope I can fool that nasty man enough to keep my Pa alive.”

Sir Riggers looked around, feeling the smooth flow of air as he held position with the French team. He wasn’t happy about this, but he had little choice in the matter. It was this or crash. Looking back towards Dover, now out of sight, he saw a ship closing rapidly from behind. It was the over sized Lincoln. It was gaining on the fleet and pulling upwards. As he watched, it seemed to accelerate once it reached an altitude well above the rest of the flyers. It accelerated and was soon passing them and out of sight.

“Blimey, he is riding the jet stream,” he thought. That was a trick he knew would tear his ship apart in less than a minute should he try it. That bag is more reinforced than any he had ever seen.

On the large airship the pilot was hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life. The wind kept trying to spin them to the side. Mr. Lincoln sat in his padded seat, smiling at the thought of having blown past the rest of the fleet like they had. He knew Riggers, the bounder had to be about ready to have a heart attack from the way he was going to lose this race. Now he just had to catch up with the other two Alliance Flyers. He wanted to be with them when they landed so to show the Alliance was no longer a joke to be laughed at as in previous years.

“Hold her steady Bill, we only need to hang up here for about fifteen more minutes if I have the distance right.”

“Aye sir, but if we spin out, we will break up for sure.” He grunted as a sudden gust from the port jarred the flyer, pushing it off course for a few seconds before the pilot spun them back on the proper heading with the tail to the wind. He looked out the portal to the large mirror and saw that the deployed sails had survived so far. “Sir, the sails held, I think we will make it this time.” He looked ahead and saw what he had been hoping to see. Two dark specks several miles ahead and below them. “Sir, I see them, we will be on top of them in a few minutes at the most at this speed.”

“Excellent, once we are even with Ford, pull in the sails and drop us to his altitude.” He pulled a speaking tube from it’s holder and blew into it, then put it to his ear to listen. Once the person on the other end responded he yelled into it of the sound of the wind. “Prepare to bring the mains online for a race Randy, we are almost caught up to them.” He put it back to his ear listening, once the engineer had confirmed the order, he put the whistle cap back on the tube and placed it in it’s rack to keep it secured and out of the way. He smiled again and waited for the moment to surprise Ford and the Wrights by being there with them.

Ford was shocked as the massive Lincoln flyer descended and pulled next to his, maintaining the speed he was holding. “Son and a dog,” he yelled, “How the hell did he pull that off?”

Orville looked in the mirror and saw the big ship gaining on them along with Ford. “Wilbur take a look at our tails!” He pushed the throttle forward another notch to keep ahead of the other flyers, only to find he was fully open already. Wilbur looked in the mirror and gasped, “How the hell did he get that big ass monster up to this speed. There is no way they could have engines strong enough to pull that off, much less a strong enough hull to take this strain.”

Wendy joined them and asked, “What’s wrong, are they going to pass us?”

Orville answered her in a tone of worry, “If they can hold that speed, they just might, but they are using standard pistons, so should be about ready to shake apart at this speed.”

Wilbur pulled a floor panel up and dropped down into the small compartment below the control cabin. It had windows facing all around them so he was able to see clearly. Using a spy glass, he looked at the two racers. He smiled when he saw the smoke they had coming from their stacks, they were pushing the drives well past there safe limits. He yelled up to his Brother and Wendy, “They have blowers running, but at the rate they are burning coal, they will need to stop and do repairs once down.” He climbed out of the small observation cabin and slid the cover back in place.

He saw the look Wendy had as she looked at the floor, “Don’t even think about it little girl, I am risking my life every time I get in there.”

She blushed and nodded, knowing she had better do as she was told.

Tama was looking up when she saw the larger ship fly past them at an impossible rate of speed. “Oh that is so wrong,” she yelled at Mary, pointing up and now ahead.

Mary saw the big ship as it pulled away from them, and laughed, “He built it to ride the streams, that son of a bitch will win if he can use the streams most of the way.” She nodded as pulled out her spyglass and looked at the rapidly retreating ship of the sky. She saw sails extended from the side just forward of the mid line on the ship. They stuck out about thirty feet of so but extended above and below the cabin. She wasn’t able to make out any further details as they had moved to far away. She secured the glass and ordered, “Take us up to just below the stream, I have an idea.”

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