An Interlude

Friday, December 28, 2018 0 comments

Max and Mary

So after I posted the first part of the Epilogue to my Serial Tales, I was asked a couple of times about Max and Mary Formingham, the wife of Admiral Sir Gordon Formingham. As people suspected there is some history there.😎

In fact during our role playing Mary Formingham figured fairly prominently in Max's world and the story as it progressed. I wrote the following piece early on to give some context.

It needs a bit of a backstory to place it in the timeline.

If you have been following my serial stories, in Frozen Sky you may recall the conversation that Max had with his old shipmate from Esquimalt Lt John Barbesly. It was mentioned that after flying from Esquimalt in British Columbia all the way to Portsmouth in the winter the ship was attacked and badly damaged while in the Portsmouth Airdock!  The attack killed two of the crew and nearly killed the Captain. Naval Intelligence decided, in the interests of trying to catch the saboteurs, that they would let everyone think that the Captain had been killed too.

It is while working to repair the damage that the following episode occurs.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.

An Interlude
From the Airship's Messdeck

Max is sitting at his desk in the engine room of the Velvet Brush after a long day working on repairs. He pulls a rum bottle out of the drawer and calls the Black Gang over for a drink.

"Right lads, that's it for today I think. Come and have a tot before we heads for the mess, eh?"

There follows a chorus of "Aye AYE Sir!" and a scramble to grab tin cups from the rack.

Max carefully pours out a shot of the thick navy rum into each cup. This is not Grog but the pure black rum from Jamaica, not a drop of water has ever touched it! Once everyone has their shot Max raises his mug.

"Gentlemen, I give you 'Our ships afloat and aloft.'"

Everyone says "Our ships!" and takes a sip. Nobody drinks the shot all at once, it's a waste of good rum to do that.

Watkins says "Sir, have you heard anything about the skipper?"

Max takes a quick look around to see if there is anyone other than his black gang about.

"Aye Watkins I has, I got word that the skipper is healing up pretty well considering, and he's as anxious to get ta grips with whoever done us as we be. Tough bastard he is, always was a bit of bear that one."

"You knew him before, right sir?" asks Simpson leaning on the generator casing.

"Aye lad, I did, that was nigh on 20 years ago now."

The black gang, recognizing the signs, begin to shift and slide into more comfortable positions.

Where to start Max me lad, where to start...

Max takes s sip of rum and stares off into the distance before starting.
It was when I was newly appointed to the EAD, a shiny new single stripe Lieutenant I was, full of ideas and plans and all sorts of mischief. I was assigned as the aide to Admiral Gordon Formingham, now Sir Gordon, who was then in charge of the EAD. We worked long hours on some very novel ideas. In those days there was no shortage of ideas flying around, good and bad. The Airship service was still pretty new and nearly everything was experimental. The EAD was charged with sorting the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. To bring forward ideas worth testing and to try as much as possible to prevent expensive and impractical ones from wasting everybody's time. It was always a tug-a-war between the Surface navy, with their tried and true ironclads, and the Airship service, with our experimental, and very dangerous craft.

Well, one day the Admiral tells me that there are plans for an airship base to be built at Portsmouth and that he would be going down to personally oversee the survey of the potential site. Which was actually on the other side of the harbour from where we are today.

But there was a catch, you see Admiral Formingham had gotten married 6 months before and he was damned if he was going to leave his bride kicking her heels in London while he was in Portsmouth. So there was nothing for it but that Mrs Formingham would have to come along. With her would be her best friend and Ladies Maid Sylvia Baxter. The Admiral informed me in no uncertain terms that it would be my duty while in Portsmouth to insure that the Ladies needs were taken care of.

I was not pleased I can tell ya!

Here I was, full of the glory of my new shiny gold stripe, working for one of the most prestigious engineering and scientific organizations in the whole bloody Empire, and I was to be nursemaid to the Admiral's wife and her friend! Well there was nothing for it, thems the trials of being an aide I supposed.

So come the following Wednesday we loaded an enormous pile of baggage into a couple of carriages and headed for the station to get on a train for Portsmouth. The Admiral and his wife and maid got a private carriage of course, whereas I got a public compartment. I was sitting there feeling a might sorry for myself when this big Highlander, complete with bearskin hat and kilt comes in and sits down.

I didn't pay him much heed, but he kept staring at my cap badge.

"Are you in them airships laddy?" he says.

"Aye I am that" I says.

"Must be wonderful to fly eh?"

"It is indeed."

I must say I felt a bit disrespected as he didn't say "sir" and he could plainly see my gold stripe. Oh the trials of the newly minted officer.

We rode in silence for a while and then he introduced himself as Malcolm Lewis MacLeod, a sergeant in the Black Watch regiment. He was on his way, on leave, to go take in the sights of Southern England. He was also mad about airships. He knew quite a bit and was fascinated with their design and uses. Needless to say by the time we were approaching Portsmouth it was as if we had known each other for years. Well as such acquaintances go I expected to see him off the train and that would be that. At least he had made the trip to Portsmouth more pleasant than it would ordinarily have been.

However, as we were nearing the station Admiral Formingham, his wife, and her maid came down the corridor. I jumped up and saluted the Admiral. MacLeod did too, but much slower, slow enough to be obvious in fact.

Arrogant bugger I thought.

As the Admiral was telling me about the name of the hotel we would be staying at and what the rest of the day's schedule would likely be, I noticed that MacLeod was staring at Miss Baxter. He was staring at her so hard she started to blush and turn away to look out the window. He looked like he had been hit on the head with something hard, the poor bastard.

As the Admiral headed back to his compartment, followed by the ladies whispering and giggling as they went, I turned to look at MacLeod. His face was red and he was shaking his head. "My God man have ye no seen such beauty afore".

"Aye they are a fine couple of Ladies to be sure". (Definitely a good eye that one)

As we pulled into the station I said my farewells, wished him a pleasant leave and headed off to wrestle with the porters and all the baggage. I thought nothing of him further, just another passing acquaintance on a train.

The hotel in Portsmouth was pleasant, much better than any I had stayed at on my own penny that's for sure. And to be honest my duties were anything but onerous given the pleasant company and all. Mrs Formingham and her maid were always chattering and giggling but also very attentive when I tried to explain naval terms to them.

So it must have been a couple of days after our arrival when Admiral Formingham comes by and announces he is going to be off to the survey for a few days and would I please make sure that Mary and Sylvia have entertaining things to do.

Two days later and we had already toured the dockyard, the local churches, and seen one play.

What to do now?

"Maxwell" says Mary, "You were once a surface sailor if I recall, perhaps you could take Sylvia and I on a tour of the harbour. There are such big ships there and they are so hard to see from the seawall."

*The black gang looks at each other, "Mary" not "Mrs Formingham"*

"Aye ma'am we could do that, the weather is looking good." I says, and we head out to see about hiring a launch for the day. Well as luck would have it there were none for hire. But as we were walking back along the seawall who should we see standing in a row boat at the dock side but Malcolm MacLeod, in full highland finery. Every button polished so that it fairly gleamed in the hazy light.

He waves and haloos until we come up to him. Whence he makes a grand bow and proclaims "Dear Ladies, I understand ye are wishing 't go afloat 't see them big ships and such. An I hear you were unable to hire a vessel for your outing." At which he gives me a broad wink. "Well it seems as how some of these laddies were not actually using this fine vessel and decided I could use it. Now not being a sailor I will now turn command over to my mate Maxwell for our voyage? What say you laddy shall we sail the briny with these fine Ladies in company"

"MacLeod you would make a grand Pirate and all!" says I and we promptly board the boat. I was not at all convinced that we wouldn't soon have the constabulary down on us for stealing it so rowed forth with gusto.

Now that was a picture in the sternsheets it was. There was MacLeod in all his finery flanked on one side by Sylvia looking very coy indeed and on the other by Mary with that fine straightforward look of hers. MacLeod turned his whole attention to Sylvia who fairly glowed in the light of his buttons.

We had a very pleasant row amongst the great ships and when we finally arrived back at the landing we were greeted by a couple of very angry looking sailors. MacLeod told them off broadly, and then quietly tossed them a sovereign with a wink, and we headed back to the hotel.

That my lads was the start of many an adventure I can tell you. Mary, Sylvia, MacLeod and I were inseparable. MacLeod even got himself seconded to the Marines at the EAD for a while and we had many a lark there the four of us.

*Knowing winks and smiles amongst the Black Gang but Max doesn't seem to notice*

*Max pauses and stares into his mug for a second then shakes his head*

Well, all good things lads all good things.

When I was assigned to the old Pelican I lost track of that Scottish bugger. Didn't see him again for many years and by then he was an Instructor of Marines and out ranked me by a long shot. Then I didn't see him again till he became the Skipper of our ship in Esquimalt. Strange how things go round like that eh?

Poor Sylvia, I don't know what ever happened between them, I never asked. I figured he'd tell me sometime.

When I saw her at Mary's...

*Max looks around at the attentive faces and coughs*
"Ah... Sir Gordon's, in London, she was beside herself with grief at the thought that the skipper had been killed. Broke my heart to know he was still alive an not be able to tell her it did."

"Well lads that's enough yarning, they'll have given our meals away by the time we gets there so... Watch below!"

"Watch Below!" and all the Black gang crowd up the ladder an head towards the Last Step[1] and their dinner.

Max pours himself another shot of rum and leans back in his chair.

"Aye that were the time of yer life that were, Max me lad, and that's a fact."

Continue on to Part II of the Epilogue here.
1 The "Last Step" is the entrance to the airship and if you walked out while the airship was flying it would be the last step you ever took!

Ice and Clockwork Epilogue Part I

Friday, December 21, 2018 0 comments

Back in England!

I have been posting three serial tales from our Role Playing group The Airships Messdeck.

All take place after our airship, the experimental HMAS Velvet Brush,  has been taken out of service for a major refit.

Most of the crew were assigned other duties but Lt. Cmdr. Maxwell MacDonald-Smythe (known as Max to his shipmates) Chief Engineer and acting commander, along with other members of the bridge crew and two of the airship's marines, were sent to Scapa Flow to test a new piece of equipment. Their adventures are detailed in the first two serial tales Frozen Sky and Lost at Sea. The third serial tale Ice and Clockwork tells the story of what happened to Acting Lt John Watkins and the two marines who had been left behind in Scapa Flow when Max sailed off on the old steam trawler Argo.

<<<<Spoiler alert>>>>

At the end of Ice and Clockwork Watkins receives the glad tidings that Max and his shipmates have been found and are being returned to England!

<<<<End Spoiler Alert>>>>

Here follows the first of three parts that continue the story.

In this Epilogue to those tales we catch up with Max as he is called to the EAD Headquarters at the London airdock after his return to England.

Enjoy Part I.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.

Ice and Clockwork Epilogue
A serial story from The Airship's Messdeck.
Part I
  by Kevin Jepson

Headquarters Building EAD Dockyard London

Max pays the Steam Cab driver his fare and, brushing cinders from his now slightly too large uniform, walks up the steps of the EAD's Main office at its London dockyard.

Would have liked to get over to see the ship first but the message from the dockyard commander was emphatic. Wonder what the hurry is now after all this time.

He walks up the steps and gives his credentials to the Marine at the door. An orderly comes quickly to collect him and takes him to the office of the Dockyard Commander. Max is pleasantly surprised to note the name on the door is Admiral Sir James Wilcox. Admiral Wilcox had been in charge of the Portsmouth dockyard when they left for their adventures on the way to Moscow almost two years ago. He is now the head of the EAD itself.

The orderly tells Max to wait outside the office as the Admiral is busy at the moment. A Marine sentry beside the door watches him with a studied blank stare. After checking to make sure his uniform is adjusted properly, Max starts to look at the pictures arrayed around the waiting room.

He stops in front of one old and faded lithograph of a badly damaged airship, barely aloft, creeping into the airdock in St Johns Newfoundland. "I'll be damned if that ain't the old Pelican and all."

Max reaches down to rub his bad leg, memories rushing back, memories of struggling to keep the badly damaged engine running, his leg a mass of bloody bandages and searing pain, every second expecting the crash of icy water to come pouring in as they hit the sea...*


Max jumps.

"Sorry Sir, the Admiral will see you now." The Marine sentry is looking at him strangely.

"Eh, thank you corporal, fine ship the old Pelican."

"Aye Sir, if you say so Sir."

Steady on Max, maybe the Pelican is a good sign now... maybe. Let's see what's what shall we?

Standing straight he marches into the Admiral's office.

Max comes to attention in front of the desk and salutes. He half expects to see Fleet Admiral Chicheley lounging in a chair as well, but there is no one there but Admiral Wilcox. That gentleman, with a broad smile on his face, rises and returns Max's salute then reaches across his desk to give Max a hearty hand shake.

"Welcome home Commander!"

"Thank you Sir."

"Please stand easy and have a seat."

"Sir." Max takes a seat before the desk, acutely aware of how his uniform jacket sags as he does so.

When did you become such a clothes horse you old fool...

As if reading his mind Admiral Wilcox, still smiling, says "You look well after your adventures."

"Thank you Sir, bit light on the ballast at the moment though Sir."

"Ha, not surprising! Some good English roast beef will soon have you filling out again I'm sure. I have read your report, it would make a good book frankly, perhaps we should have it serialized in the Strand Magazine eh? Although I suspect the Intelligence mavins might have something to say about that."

"Aye Sir."

"Your crew performed well Commander, my compliments on keeping them going. Also your request that Mr Angus be reimbursed for the loss of his ship while in Her Majesty's service has been submitted I expect that will occur."

"Thank you Sir"

"As you have no doubt heard, the Velvet Brush has completed her re-fit and will soon return to service."

Max sits up very straight at this.

The Admiral smiles "Anxious to get back into harness eh?"

"Aye Sir, I've had enough of the briny and all that's for sure Sir."

"Indeed. Well you will be happy to know that you will be assigned to her as her commander, if you want that post that is?"

"Ah... er... Aye Sir! Thank you Sir. And the rest of the crew Sir?"

"They are being informed that their services will be required when the Velvet Brush is re-commissioned." Admiral Wilcox sighs. "It seems that Intelligence has uses for you and your fellow crew members although what uses those may be they have not deigned to inform me."

The Admiral pulls a thick folder of paper from the pile of similar folders on his desk and hands it to Max.

"Your orders Commander. You will take command as soon as the EAD releases her back to the Admiralty. Until that time you are to collect the crew and review the changes that have been made during her refit. She will return to active duty, on detached service for Naval Intelligence. You will report to Admiral Chicheley directly."

Of course...

"Aye aye Sir."

The Admiral steeples his fingers and watches Max for a moment.

"Is there something else Sir?"

"There is indeed Commander, it concerns Lady Formingham."


Max sits back in his chair. "Lady Formingham Sir?"

"Yes, you were ordered to not have any contact with Sir Gordon or Lady Formingham yes?"

"Aye Sir"

"Those orders are still in force Commander."

Blast and damn!

Admiral Wilcox reaches into his pocket, pulls out a small envelope and carefully places it on his desk in front of Max.

Max can see a doodle of a pelican clearly, "Ah... I don't understand Sir."

"Be careful Commander."

Max takes the envelope and slips it into the folder with his orders.

"Well... I wish you success with your new command."

"Thank you Sir"

"Carry on Commander."

Standing up Max comes to attention and salutes the Admiral before turning and marching out of the office.

Bloody hell, back a week and it's like nothing has changed!

Part II will follow after an Interlude

* After a scandal involving the wife of the then head of the EAD, Admiral Sir Gordon Formingham, Max had been assigned as engineer on the old patrol airship HMAS Pelican. During a skirmish with five pirate airships off the coast of Newfoundland Max was badly wounded in the leg. Despite that he managed to nurse the engine along to keep the Pelican going until she was safely back in St Johns.
He still walks with a cane as a result of that wound.

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day...

Friday, November 9, 2018 0 comments

Lest we forget.

Photo by Neil Zeller

The Steampunk Worlds we play in are based on the real Victorian world.

So it is important to note that this weekend as we remember those who sacrificed themselves in service to Empire and in response to the commands of their Kings and countries, that we must also remember that ALL the men and women who participated in WWI were "Victorians" and those who served in WWII were mostly "Edwardians".

These two titanic conflicts changed the worlds of these people in unimaginable ways. Neither the Victorians or the Edwardians, as we tend to study and re-create them, remained when the smoke and dust settled.
Not only did hundreds of thousands of them die, but the very cultural structures in which they had grown up were swept away.
In 1914 a farmer in Western Canada, a fisherman on the Coasts, a labourer in the factories of Eastern Canada, or a miner in the far north, went when their King called because that was what one did.
100 years ago when the guns fell silent at 11:00 am on November 11th they did not know that everything had changed forever but they hoped that at least war was done with.

Alas their children found that was not true.

There are none alive now who remember the world of WWI and few indeed that remember WWII.
We owe it to them that WE remember, we also owe their World, the Victorian and Edwardian World we celebrate, that it not be forgotten either.

Lest we forget.
God Save the Queen!

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Ice and Clockwork Part VII

Thursday, November 8, 2018 0 comments


Previously  Watkins has retrieved the secret package from the remote Aetherwave Station and has arrived back at the airship field outside Reykjavik.  While loading it onto the HMAS Francis he discovers that his two wayward Marines have returned aboard. After giving them a mighty dressing down they tell him some exciting news concerning Max and their missing shipmates!

Enjoy the conclusion of Ice and Clockwork part VII.

You can start from the beginning of this story here.

Thanks for reading along.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.

Ice and Clockwork
A serial story from The Airship's Messdeck.
Part VII
  by Kevin Jepson

"News? What news."

The two Marines are now grinning again.

"They have been found Sir! Miss BB... er Lieutenant Buckert and Max and Lieutenant Baleva and Mr Simpson and all Sir. They found the Argo wrecked on the coast of Norway and they are bringing them all back. They'll be in London on Sunday Sir!"
Watkins lets out a whoop, all pretense of rank gone, "Damn! I knew it! Wow, after all this time! Fantastic news Ellis!" Grinning broadly now he shakes Cooke's hand, and even gives Fraser a big hug. "Was this a general announcement?"

Cooke still smiling says "No Sir. Were a private message for you direct from Naval Intelligence, which was odd. Sweep couldn't decode it so me and Sarge looked it over. It looked kind of like that code the Admiral had the Sgt Major and Max use in Cape Town."

Fraser chimes in. "Since it were addressed to you and you wouldn't know the key either as only the Sgt Major and Max were supposed to have it, we figured it would be a key you would think of. Took a few tries but then we hit on the name of our ship and it worked! The Skipper must have had second thoughts about keeping two such crazy marines on his ship!"

"Well, bloody fine news indeed, wish we could be there when they step back on to the shore of old Blightey!"

"There is more Sir, the Velvet Brush is finished her refit and will be ready to start flying again, Sweep was reading the news and told us."

"Bloody hell, and us up here in Iceland!"

Fraser asks "Any chance we could get back aboard her?"

"Well if Max has anything to say about it I suspect so, but we got to get back there first. At least my orders are to deliver this package personally to Portsmouth 'With Dispatch'. So we can make a beeline there, if the Captain agrees that is. Get this lashed down and hooked up, I'll go report to the Skipper and make sure we are ready to be about getting under way as soon as we can!"

"Aye aye Sir!" The two Marines still grinning like schoolboys set to work with a will.

Watkins hooks up the ships power cable and once he is sure the power levels are correct switches over to the ships systems. As he heads to the ladder to climb up to the keelwalk, Fraser says "A moment Sir."

"What is it Kade?"

"That were a fine tirade Sir, worthy of a full lieutenant that was!"

"Hah! Go to hell Sarge!"

"With pleasure Sir, at least it would be warm!"


Just outside the gates of the EAD's London Dockyard. An icy fog rolls across the cobblestones almost as thick as liquid water. It hangs close as if it is not sure whether to turn into frost or just fall as rain.

Kade Fraser stamps his boots and blows on his hands, his crimson Airship Marine coat is wet through and icy water drips off his cap. "What's taking Watkins so long anyways, he just had to drop that package off at Whitehall and then meet us here."

"I don't know Sarge, could be he had to get debriefed or something." Corporal Cooke is also stamping his boots and rubbing his hands.

"Well it's been a great big run around and all, first we was supposed to take it to Portsmouth and then, once we flew all the way down there, they tell us to take it to London... on a bloody train!"

Cooke chuckles. "Still can't believe that one Sarge, you see the look on Watkin's face when he was trying to figure out how long the batteries would last on that containment? Thought he would have a fit. Still, if you need to nurse a potentially dangerous gadget across the North Atlantic John Watkins would be your man and no mistake."

Fraser looks over at the gate and then up at the towering walls of the vast Airdock beyond. "True enough, I know where he wants to be right now and that's on the ship floating inside that airdock."

Cooke follows Fraser's gaze and says "Aye and I don't mind tellin you I'd like to be there too! Say Sarge, you think old Max will share some of his rum with us? We's practically Black Gang now."

Kade Fraser laughs. "Now there's a thought to warm yer cockles!"


Here is the first part of the Epilogue.

Ice and Clockwork Part VI

Friday, October 19, 2018 0 comments


Previously  after arriving in Reykjavik to retrieve a secret package from one of Her Majesty's Aetherwave Stations, the sledge and its two sleeping Marine passengers was stolen. The Marines have still not been found when Watkins takes the recovered sledge out to an extinct volcano that British Intelligence uses as a base. Picking up the package Watkins heads back to Reykjavik.

Enjoy part VI.

You can start from the beginning of this story here.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.

Ice and Clockwork
A serial story from The Airship's Messdeck.
Part VI
  by Kevin Jepson

The steam sledge grinds its way back through the icy night towards the lights of the docking field. The Francis has been moved out of the hangar and is tied firmly to the docking tower. She is floodlit by lights and looks like a great snowy whale against the dark arctic sky. The Auroras can be seen flickering their greens and reds far above.

The sledge had stopped on the outskirts of Reykjavik to get more coal and water and then had skirted the city so as not to arouse any more "interest" than necessary.

"Well I wonder where them Bullocks have got off to. I'll take a strip off them good an proper if I find them." Watkins checks the power gauges on the containment box. The box buzzes slightly to the touch but otherwise it could be any wooden shipping crate.

The sledge pulls up to the entrance of the docking field and Watkins hands the appropriate pages over to the watchman at the entrance. There are a couple of British soldiers there too, and they take a quick look through the sledge.

The corporal in charge asks "Sorry to be a bother Sir, but we still haven't found your Marines. It is like they just vanished in the snow. Checked every pub in the city and no sign of them. The Major asked me to tell you that they will be charged with theft if they are found and to make sure they do not leave Iceland."

"Ah, I'll keep that in mind Corporal. We will be leaving shortly I imagine. Good hunting!"

"Thank you Sir, safe flight."

The sledge moves towards the Francis and parks far enough away that there is no chance of sparks or hot cinders igniting any leaking hydrogen. A couple of the ground crew come up and help Watkins manhandle the package out of the sledge onto the ground.

Watkins goes to the driver and pays him for the trip, plus some extra for the inconvenience of having his sledge stolen. "Thank you for all your help driver."

"You're welcome Sir, is pleasure driving you." The sledge trundles its way off into the darkness in a glowing cloud of steam lit by the lights of the field.

"Right, lets get this aboard shall we."

They load the package onto a cargo sledge and drag it over to the cargo bay of the Francis.
She is floating some 10' or so above the field so they will have to use the cargo hoist.
The cargo door is open and the hoist is rigged ready to winch the package up. Watkins can see two of the Francis' crew, bundled up against the cold ready to load the package.

After checking the power and re-checking the cargo hoist straps, Watkins gives the order to hoist away. Once the package is moved into the hold he dismisses the ground crew and climbs up the ladder to supervise the stowage and connection of the power to the ship's systems.
As he enters the cargo hold it takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light, the main hatch has been closed so the bright floodlight of the docking field is cut off.

There is a stamping of boots and the two crewman snap to attention and salute.

"Good evening Sir!" Cpl Cooke and private Fraser are standing ramrod straight beside the package with their hoods thrown back.


It is obvious that they have something to tell him, but unfortunately they are both grinning like school boys caught sneaking out of the girls dormitory and Watkins is not amused.

"Christ! What the hell were you thinking! Where the hell have you bastards been hiding?" The two Marines don't stop grinning which infuriates Watkins even more. Not waiting for an answer he proceeds to berate the two using many of the same terms that he had been subjected to by Major Woolsley-Hampton, MBE. That does it and the two Marines turn stoney faced under the raking.

Watkins realizes he is being unreasonable and stops his rant. "Well, yes hmmm... What do you have to say for yourselves, report!"

Cooke glances at Fraser who is looking straight ahead like he is under inspection.

"Um. Sir we didn't steal the sledge Sir, but we have news Sir!"

"Never mind that what the hell happened Corporal? Start at the beginning."

"But... Aye Sir. We were waiting in the sledge as you asked and the driver went off to get some coal and food. It was warm and we got kind of sleepy, since we were not sure how long you would be we thought we would have a bit of a lie in. That was all. Next thing I know Fraser is shaking me awake and it is bloody cold and black as pitch in the sledge. We were way out of town on the side of the road, the boiler was stone cold, were the cold that woke us."

"Your asking me to believe you slept while the sledge was driven out of town."

"I know that sounds crazy Sir, but it's true. Must have been given something to keep us asleep, maybe a gas or something. Found this note pinned to the seat beside me Sir."

Cooke hands Watkins a paper with a message written on it. Watkins looks at it closely the characters are rough.

It says Спи спокойно красных мундирах .

"It's in Russian!"

"Aye Sir. Couldn't read it so just stuck it in my pocket. Sweep translated it for us when we got back Sir, it says 'Sleep well Red Coats!' bastard must have been riding inside the sledge with us Sir."

"Ah, creating an incident, why didn't you report this to the authorities then?"

Cooke looks a bit sheepish and glances again at Fraser who is just as stoney faced as before, "Ah I wanted too Sir, we talked about it but Fraser said there was no way they would believe us and it wouldn't be worth taking a chance on not being handed over to the locals."

"Private Fraser explain!"

Fraser, still staring straight ahead says "Sir! I figured first thing that would happen when they started to look for us would be that they would get our records Sir, would look bad after my stay in the brig at Scapa Sir."

"Hmmm yeah, that did come up as it happens, carry on."

Fraser continues "Also Sir, I have visited some far off locales and I find the local garrisons are more than happy to grab any Marine found adrift and add them to the local detachment, on pain of being hung for desertion Sir. That is AFTER their ship has left while they are cooling their heels in the local gaol."

"Ah." Watkins recalls the change in the Major once he found out who had trained the Marines.
"Probably not an unreasonable conclusion there too. Carry on, what happened once you got back to the ship?"

Cooke continues on with "Well Sir, we figured the best approach would be to get back to the Francis and explain to the captain what happened. When we approached the docking field it was crawling with local police, we had to wait out in the snow for most of the morning till we seen Sweep being lowered out of her snug in her box. Taking a chance we walked over to her as if we were ground handlers. She was surprised to see us and told us the Captain had been asked to hand us over if we came back to the ship. She told us to clear off, but just then one of the local peelers came over so she ordered us to help her across to the terminal. Once there I found some ground handlers coats and we started acting like we belonged Sir. Then we just came aboard when we brought sweep back to her Snug."

"How did the Captain react?"

"He were fed up with the locals and the officious Consulate people Sir. I think he agreed with Sarge and was not going to lose his Marines to the local detachment so let us stay. That's when Sweep got the news Sir!"

Cooke is fidgeting and even Fraser is starting to smile.

"News? What news."

The two are now grinning again.

"They have been found Sir! Miss BB... er Lieutenant Buckert and Max and Lieutenant Baleva and Mr Simpson and all Sir. They found the Argo wrecked on the coast of Norway and they are bringing them all back. They'll be in London on Sunday Sir!"

Part VII is here.

Ice and Clockwork Part V

Saturday, September 29, 2018 0 comments

A remote Aetherwave Station

Previously The two Marines, Cpl Cooke and Private Fraser, have disappeared after apparently stealing an Icelander's Steam Sledge. Watkins, having endured a rough afternoon at the hands of the local military commander, has been sent off to collect the package from the Aetherwave Station while the search for the missing Red Coats continues.

Enjoy Part V

You can start from the beginning of this story here.

Keep your sightglass full, your water iced, and your firebox trimmed.

Ice and Clockwork
A serial story from The Airship's Messdeck.
Part V
  by Kevin Jepson

The steam sledge slips and bounces across a rough terrain that is equal parts snow and blocks of lava rock. They have been grinding along, climbing steadily for almost three hours in the dim morning light. Watkins shivers as he scrapes the frost off the window of the sledge and looks out at the multi coloured rocky volcanoes that dot the country side.

They are all extinct and have been for a thousand years.

"Could use a little molten rock about now." he mutters as he tries to warm his hands over the steam coil that is trying valiantly to put heat into the cabin.

There had been no sign of the two Marines by the time he left. The Major had been exceptionally helpful this morning, cheerful even. Which by comparison with the previous day made Watkins quite nervous.

"Bugger is hoping I have to leave on the Francis before Fraser and Cooke show up so he can dragoon them more an likely. Hate to have to explain to Sgt Major Briggs how I lost his Marines!"

Finally the sledge bounces to a stop and the driver taps on the window to indicate that they have arrived.

Watkins climbs down from the sledge, his boots crunching on the snow.

AETHER WIRE STATION WEST #3 is not much to look at, several long buildings surrounded by a kind of wire stockade. In the center is a wooden derrick, like those used at coal mines to handle the crew cars and coal hoists. Rising from the top is the great Aetherwave cable that rises up into the clouds like a pencil line drawn on the sky. Many thousands of feet above, invisible because of the clouds, is a captive balloon, like a small airship, complete with a lonely crew of three, that maintains the tension and position of the cable regardless of the winds and weather.

A Marine guard steps out from a sentry box near the gate in the stockade and asks to see Watkins' pass and papers.

"Welcome to Thrihnukagigur*" he says as he hands the papers back to Watkins.

"And what pray tell is a Thrihn... er... whatsit?"

"Heh, took me a long time to get my tongue wrapped around that one too. It means 'Three Peak Crater' in Icelandic." the guard says with a smile. "Sounds better than AETHER WIRE STATION WEST #3 eh?"

"Aye it does that. I'm to see the Security Officer."

"Right this way, he will be below I expect, but I'll ring him up when we get inside."

After passing the gate they enter the first of the two long buildings that butt up against the derrick. Inside is a hallway flanked by workshops and offices. There is a steady hum like some massive beehive buzzing under their feet. As they walk down the hall towards the derrick Watkins can feel a kind of tickling on his scalp and arms. It is like each hair has decided to walk around on its own. He shakes his hands and rubs them together.

The guard sees him and says "It's the Aether waves, there is so much power in that cable it makes your skin jumpy. Can't feel it below though."

"Below? What's below?"

The guard looks at him oddly. "You don't know? I figured with that security pass you would have been briefed."

They stop outside an office with a brass plaque on the door labeled "Security Officer" and the guard ushers him in. "Take a seat and I'll get Captain Fisher. Won't be a minute. There is tea in that flask there."

"Thank you." As the guard leaves, Watkins looks at the pictures and maps on the wall above the desk. Mostly sketches and paintings of the wild and desolate, yet colourful, landscape surrounding the station.

In a glass topped case against the far wall are various rock samples of different colours, some with exotic crystals glinting. In another case are small mechanical devices some obviously autonomous. Watkins leans closer to look at a pair of small mechanical spider like machines tucked in one corner.

"Blimey! How the hell did you get all the way to Iceland?"

"Ah, enjoying my little museum?" Captain Fisher enters the office and tosses his uniform jacket on the back of his chair.

Watkins comes to attention and starts to salute but the Captain says "Never mind about all that here Mr...ah"

"Watkins Sir. Engineer on the HMAS Francis. I have been ordered to retrieve a package from you Sir."

"Ah, I have that ready out back, do you have the authorization?"

"Yes Sir." Watkins hands the papers over to the Captain who looks at them briefly and drops them on his desk.

"Did they give you anything else to give to me?"

"No Sir, I don't think so... unless... ah, Sorry Sir, Argo"

Captain Fisher smiles.  "Very good, you would think the Intelligence folks would be more creative but I suppose it's the best they can do on a limited budget."

"Sir, if I may, these mechanicals in the case, where did you get them from."

"They are fascinating aren't they? These beauties come from below right here actually. They occasionally get away and make it up the shaft. Whenever one of the guards catches one he brings it to me and I keep it in the case. Have to deactivate them first of course which is a pity some have quite extraordinary behaviours."

"I seen some just like it in Cape Town, like them big spiders in the corner."

"Did you indeed, fascinating. They were some of the first ones here, I always thought he built them too fast to have been a new design."

"Sorry Sir, I don't understand."

"No reason you should Mr Watkins. Now let's see about getting you fixed up with the package. You are aware of the standard precautions regarding power and containment?"

"Yes Sir." Watkins repeats the requirements from the orders he received from Sweep back on the Francis.

"Yes that's them, make sure you follow them to the letter. I do not know what this particular package does, don't want to frankly, but you don't want to be taking any chances understood?"

"Aye aye Sir!"

Captain Fisher takes Watkins out the back of the building. Next to the base of the derrick the package is resting on a pallet made of wood. The container is indeed not overly large, but the batteries that will power it are. It is currently connected to a cable that heads to the base of the derrick and disappears below. Watkins can see that in addition to being used to send up supplies and the occasional crewman to the captive balloon far above, the derrick also has cables and pulleys to run cages up and down a shaft at its base very much like a mine working.

As Watkins is inspecting the package he asks the Captain what is below the shaft.

"I'm afraid that's classified, need to know and all that, sorry."

Watkins decides to try a different tack, the security officer seems to be a tech at heart so he asks, "Sir,  where is the power coming from to run this station? I don't see any smoke or steam from a power plant, nor any coal piles and I don't think this is a coal mine."

"No it certainly isn't." Says the Captain with a smile. "Much of what happens here is classified but you are an engineer and you'll get a kick out of this, and it isn't classified for what it's worth. The Aetherwave Stations power themselves."

Watkins looks over towards the wooden derrick with its cable stretching up into the clouds. "Power themselves? How?"

"A fascinating system really, up here in the near arctic the magnetic field of the earth starts to get close to the ground, eventually the lines of force actually enter the surface near the pole. So when we stretch a long cable up several thousand feet into the air we cut a lot of those lines of force. This generates some pretty significant currents between the cable and the ground."

"It's a giant generator!"

"It is indeed, the entire facility is powered by it, never goes off, and there is more than we can use actually. Plus it allows us to setup shielding for other... ah... projects."

A gate in the stockade is opened by the guard and the steam sledge trundles through.

"I'll leave you in the capable hands of trooper Walsh to load this up. Safe journey Mr Watkins."

"Thank you sir."

Watkins watches as the Captain gets into a cage at the base of the derrick which quickly drops out of sight. Keeping an eye on the large pulley at the top, Watkins estimates the number of turns the wheel takes before coming to a stop.

"Blimey nearly 600 feet!" he mutters as the guard comes up.

"You say something Sir?"

"Aye I did, that shaft is really deep!"

"Oh it is that and there be mighty strange things at the bottom I can tell you."

"Really?" As Watkins, with the help of the sledge driver and the guard, start to manhandle the package over to the sledge Watkins tries to get more info from the guard.

"Captain Fisher was saying as how some of them mechanical critters get up the shaft sometimes."

"Oh Aye they do that every now and then, was tough when he first got here but eventually they figured out a damping field that deactivated them before they could get up. He's figured out how to get through it lately."

"Argh these batteries are heavy... Who has?"

"Oh our most recent guest."


"Well prisoner really I suppose, hard to tell, he gets pretty much anything he wants. He's just not allowed to leave. Plays a kind of cat and mouse game with the Captain, seeing if he can get his mechanicals out just for fun it seems like. Strange fellow, artificial legs, absolute whiz with mechanicals. I was here when he were brought in about 6 months back actually. You'd think he were the Prince of Wales or something with the number of Marines around. The Lady in charge must have been very high up in the ranks judging by the way everybody deferred to her. Tough bit that one, smoked these awful smelling little cigars."

"Ah, I met her in Cape Town, same place I saw those spiders in the Captain's case."

With a lot of pushing and shoving they finally get the package and the batteries wedged into the cabin of the sledge. Watkins checks the power and makes sure everything is ready to go, then he carefully unplugs the cable.

"Thank you for your assistance trooper."

The guard touches his cap. "My pleasure Sir, safe journey."

Part VI is here.

*Thrihnukagigur is an actual place in Iceland.
The magma chamber of the volcano drained out leaving a 650' deep chasm first explored in 2011.

Ice and Clockwork Part IV

Sunday, September 9, 2018 0 comments

Under fire.

Previously Watkins and his two Marine shipmates have been ordered to collect a mysterious package from a remote Aetherwave station in Iceland. On reporting to the local headquarters of the British Airship Service in Reykjavik, the steam sledge that brought them there has disappeared, along with the two Marines who were waiting in it!

Enjoy Part IV

You can start from the beginning of this story here.

Keep your sightglass full, your water iced, and your firebox trimmed.

Ice and Clockwork
A serial story from The Airship's Messdeck.
Part IV
  by Kevin Jepson

It is late afternoon and almost night this far North. The office of Major Woolsley-Hampton MBE bears a distinct resemblance to a kicked over anthill. Local dignitaries, police officers, friends of the sledge driver, and members of both the Major's staff and the local British Consulate are coming and going almost continuously.

Since the Major's return from his inspection things have gotten pretty warm indeed for Mr. John Watkins. The Major has made Watkins acutely aware that not only is it his men, for whom he is responsible, that have possibly stolen a sledge and disappeared, but that it is the Royal Navy and by extension the British presence in Iceland itself, that has also been called into disrepute.

Watkins standing stiffly to attention in front of the Major's desk is trying to defuse the issue.

"No Sir. I do not believe my men would run off with a steam sledge. What reason could they have for doing that?"

The Major, dressed in a business suit with only an embroidered rank flash on one sleeve to indicate he is actually a soldier, is having none of it.

"What reason do sailors need to head out on a spree when ashore!"

"They are not sailors Sir, they are Royal Marines and Airship Marines at that..."

The Major dismisses Watkins remark with a wave of his hand. "Yes, yes, I know all about the great Red Coated Bullocks of the Senior Service, but what about this Fraser fellow..." The Major rummages around in the papers on his desk and holds up a report that had arrived with the consular aide. "Busted to private for trying to steal a frigate or something at Scapa Flow!"

Watkins had expected that to come out. "Sergeant Fraser was trying to join the search for our Commander and other members of the crew lost in a North Sea Gale Sir!"

"Hmph! Maybe Watkins, or he was trying to desert and you just brought him to Iceland and let him do just that!"

"No Sir! I do not believe that of Kade Fraser or Ellis Cooke either. They are exemplary Marines who I have served with for more than two years Sir!"

"Well it is damn bad timing Watkins, bad timing indeed!"


"Bloody hell, stand a ease Watkins, you're making my back ache standing there like a bloody rifle barrel!"

Watkins relaxes, into what a sailor considers "at ease" but what a soldier would consider as "slouching". The Major looks like he is going to say something but then thinks better of it.

"You are aware no doubt of the diplomatic row with the Russians and that ship last year?"*

"Yes Sir, I was on the Airship who found her, outside Russian waters as it happens."

"Well the Russians claim she had been inshore supplying, or transferring, spies or something. They claim they can prove it too. They are also pressuring the Icelanders to remove or curtail our Aetherwave Stations here! Your Marines may have just added some fuel to that particular bonfire!"

Before Watkins has a chance to answer there is a knock on the door and the Major's clerk comes in.

"What is it Helga?"

"Excuse me Sir, but I thought I should tell you that they found the sledge the details are here, and there is also a message from Whitehall for you Sir." The Clerk hands the major a paper and leaves, closing the door behind her.

Resisting the urge to grab the paper himself, Watkins waits while the Major quickly scans the report. "Hmmm... sledge was off the road outside the city heading North. Ran out of fuel by the look of it. No sign of your men Watkins. It was snowing hard out there so no tracks either. No matter, the Icelanders are used to hunting in the snow they will be tracked down in the morning and brought in, if they haven't frozen to death somewhere."

"I suspect they won't be found Sir, not if they don't want to be."

"Come Watkins, I've not heard that Airship Marines can disappear."

"No Sir, but they are very well trained Sir. Their Sgt Major made sure of that. I heard a rumour that he was famous for it."


"Yes Sir, they called him the Horseman."

The colour drains from the Major's face. "The Hell you say! That bloody devil is a Royal Marine?"

"I don't know for sure Sir, but the Marines seemed to think it likely."

"Yes well, it would suit a Sergeant Major for his troops to think that would it not?"

"Yes Sir."

The Major turns and looks out into the darkness of the Icelandic night and mutters to himself. "Still, Marines trained by the Horseman would come in very handy in a scrap."

"I beg your pardon Sir?"

The Major turns back to Watkins. "Never mind, since we have the sledge back it won't be long till we have your run away red coats as well."

"Yes Sir. What about my orders to retrieve that package from the Aetherwave balloon station?"

"I will get you some transport for the morning. Maybe we should hire that fellow's sledge again, to ease his mind with a few more of Her Majesty's sovereigns eh?"

"Yes Sir, Thank you Sir."

Part V is here

*The HMAS Velvet Brush had been sent into the Baltic the year before to find a Royal Navy surface ship that had supposedly been forced into Russian waters. They found the cruiser battling a storm outside Russian territory thus avoiding a nasty diplomatic incident.

World Championships Sept 8 2018

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 0 comments

 It's that time of year!

Keep your sightglass full your firebox trimmed and your water iced!

For more information and to find out more about this great sport go to:
Madame Saffron Hemlock’s Parasol Duelling League for Steampunk Ladies

Click here for information on the history and development of Parasol Duelling
or click the Parasol Duelling tag.

The Rules for Parasol Duelling

Ice and Clockwork Part III

Saturday, August 18, 2018 0 comments


Previously  John Watkins, acting Engineer of the HMAS Francis , and his two Airship Marine shipmates, Cpl Ellis Cooke and ex-sergeant Kade Fraser, have received orders to retrieve a secret package from one of her Majesty's Aetherwave stations in Iceland.

They are to report to a Major Woolsley-Hampton MBE  in Reykjavik for further instructions.

You can start from the beginning of their adventure here.

Enjoy Part III
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.

Ice and Clockwork
A serial story from The Airship's Messdeck.
Part III
  by Kevin Jepson

Reykjavik ,Iceland

Watkins and the two Marines have arrived at the Operations HQ for Her Majesty's Airship Service in Reykjavik. The city is blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Thankfully there is almost no wind, but it is still many degrees below freezing. The steam sledge on which they rode from the landing field is slightly warm courtesy of its boiler.

Watkins opens the sledge door and steps out to go inside. There is a burst of fog when the icy outside air floods in. "Hang onto the sledge I shouldn't be too long."

"Aye aye Sir." Corporal Cooke quickly closes the door and says "I'm getting sick of all this cold Sarge."

"Aye, give me a posting in the Med anytime! Haven't been warm since before we left London on the Doris."

"Watkins says we are off to some Aetherwave Balloon station on a Volcano out in the country somewheres."

Fraser chuckles. "Well maybe that will be warm if it's erupting eh?"

"We can hope Sarge, we can hope!"

There is a tapping on the window to the driver's position which opens revealing the rugged blond head of the driver. His accent is very strong, "Going to get more coal at depot, be back in a few minutes. You want I can bring some drink and food back?"

"Wonderful much obliged." says Cooke.

The window closes and the sledge rocks a bit as the driver jumps out and trudges off through the snow. "You know you just gave him permission to go to the pub on his way right?" Fraser says with a grin.

"Eh? I did no such thing Sarge, he offered to bring us back some food."

"Aye and where do you suppose he is going to get that? We'll be lucky to see him again by nightfall I'm thinking"

"Ha, just cause that's what you would do Sarge doesn't hold that Icelanders would."

"Well how about we bet on it then?" There is a gleam in the ex-Sergeant's eye that warns Cooke not to be stupid and comply.

"Oh no! I recognize that look! Between you and Miss BB* I near lost me last button so no thank you. I will say I'll be surprised if he ain't back by the time Watkins is."

"We'll see, in the meantime I'm going to try to get some sleep while I'm not quite frozen."

"Good idea Sarge, the sledge ain't going anywheres without a driver so we don't need to stand watches."

In a remarkably short time the two Marines are sound asleep.


Inside the office of Major Woolsley-Hampton MBE there is a redly glowing pot-bellied coal stove in the corner next to an ornate desk piled with papers and maps. The room seems very warm compared to the hallway outside, and impossibly warm compared to the street.

The major is off on an inspection of some sort and expected to return shortly, at least that is what Watkins was told by the Major's clerk, a striking blond Icelandic lady with the most amazing blue eyes he has ever seen.

Watkins makes himself comfortable on a chair next to the stove to await the Major's return.
After what seems like an eternity, he awakes from a doze with a start.
The sound of raised voices comes from the hallway, he can make out the stern voice of the clerk and the deeper tones of someone else. They are speaking Icelandic so he cannot understand them but there is definitely something amiss.

There is a tapping on the door of the office and the clerk comes in.

"Your pardon Sir, but this gentleman has a... a concern."

"A concern is it? Sounds like a right row it does. May I be of assistance?"

The clerk looks somewhat embarrassed. "Yes Sir there may be. This man says your marines have stolen his sledge!"

"The devil you say!"

Grabbing his coat and cap Watkins leaves the Major's office and stepping out the door to the street sees no sign of the sledge, or its two lobsterback passengers. There is a slushy spot where the heat of the sledge's boiler had melted the snow but that is all.

The driver is standing shaking his head, at his feet is a bag of coal, two flagons of ale and a ham. "I go get coal, food and drink and when I come back no sledge!"

"Bloody hell! Where would they go damn their eyes! Not like they could drive the damn thing anywhere without anyone seeing."

The tracks of the sledge are clearly visible in the snow heading out into the street where they disappear in the welter of other tracks.

"I have no sledge, now have no money, my wife will not eat if I have no sledge!"

"Aye mate that may be and all, but I don't think my men have stolen your sledge, they are Airship Marines and not taken to joy riding. I'm thinking something else must have happened, but what?"

The driver simply shrugs and shakes his head.

Part IV is here.

* Lt Beulah Bueckert, aka Miss BB, is the Communications Officer of their previous airship the experimental HMAS Velvet Brush. She was with their Commander and the rest of his crew when they went missing at sea after the great gale described in the previous story. Miss BB is an incredibly lucky gambler.

Happy Anniversary!

Saturday, July 21, 2018 0 comments

6 Years!

This blog started six years ago today!

Thanks to all my faithful readers, I hope you have found something of interest in all these posts.

Looking forward to continuing to bring you interesting and entertaining information, both  Steampunk and historical.

Thanks for reading and as always...

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed , ad your water iced.

Ice and Clockwork Part II

Thursday, July 19, 2018 0 comments

New Orders

Previously, three members of Max's crew, Engineer John Watkins and the two Marines, Kade Fraser and Ellis Cooke, had been left behind in Scapa Flow to try and get the engines from the old Doris running again. After Max and the rest of his crew are lost at sea in a great gale, Watkins and the marines are assigned to the HMAS Francis. The Francis is a Royal Navy cargo airship that makes a regular run to Iceland to supply the British Aetherwave stations there.

On their first trip to Iceland, Watkins is summoned to the airship's Comms room to receive a message from Naval Intelligence.

Enjoy Part II
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.

Ice and Clockwork
A serial story from The Airship's Messdeck.
Part II
  by Kevin Jepson

As Sweep, the Comms Officer of the HMAS Francis, scans the Aetherwave gear before her, transcribing the messages into her Comms Log with a whirring and chirping of her mechanical arm, Watkins peers at the tightly packed characters of the message.

To: John Watkins, Chief Engineer (temp) HMAS Francis
Classification: PRIVATE and CONFIDENTIAL
Follows: One (1) document Classification: SECRET
Orders from: Naval Intelligence Portsmouth
Urgency: With Dispatch
Their Lordships Hereby Order and Command:
1) On arrival Iceland proceed to HMAS Operations HQ Iceland.
2) Report to Major Woolsley-Hampton MBE.
3) Arrange transport to AETHER WIRE STATION WEST #3
4) Contact AWSW3 Security Officer.
5) Present credentials supplied by HMAS OHQ Iceland and code phrase. You will receive a package. Details of package transport parameters follow.
6) Proceed on board HMAS Francis for return to SCAPA FLOW.
7) Return Portsmouth and personally deliver package BY HAND to Naval Intelligence Portsmouth.
Signed: Hon. Algernon Biphington IV
Authorization: Chief Naval Intelligence

Watkins looks up from reading. "Hmmm... No rest for the wicked it seems."

Sweep nods her head, at least it seems to Watkins that she does by the motion of the wires and gears along the side of her face which turns towards him. She finishes transcribing the current message. "I have the follow up message here, tricky to decode this one, it is a new code specific to Naval Intelligence. Just started using it actually, still not familiar with the details, let's see where did I stash that..."

With more whirring and buzzing a section of the desk starts to rise up. Watkins can see what looks like card catalog trays. Even as Sweep starts to transcribe a new message coming in, her real arm begins to riffle through the trays. It is disconcerting to see her doing two things at once like that.

"Ah, here we are." She hands the paper to Watkins.

"That is a burn after reading one. Try not to blow us out of the sky dear." There might be a smile hiding under the gears and linkages, Watkins can't be sure, but he can hear it in her voice.

Watkins smiles back. "Aye aye Ma'am."

He looks at the long columns of characters and says "Ah, I have never received SECRET orders before, do you have to hold your tongue in a particular way while reading it?" He hands the message back to Sweep with a grin.

She looks at the paper and laughs. "Ah sorry, that is the raw code." Her real hand rummages in the tray again. "This should be clearer."

"Thank you Ma'am."

To: John Watkins, Chief Engineer (temp) HMAS Francis
Classification: SECRET
Follows: None
Orders from: Naval Intelligence Portsmouth
Urgency: With Dispatch
Their Lordships Hereby Order and Command:
1) Package is human transportable not fragile but requires careful handling.
2) Package must remain in container at all times.
3) Containment requires electrical power at all times equivalent to Mark VII Stable Tech Source 4/b-11
4) In event of containment breach or loss of power on no account must package be outside containment for more than 3 minutes!
4a) If over sea dispose of over the side immediately.
4b) If over land dispose of in sea water if available or destroy with heavy hammer.
Code Phrase: Argo
Sweep watches Watkins reading. Seeing his eyes widen at the last part she says, "Oh don't worry too much about that dear, we have transported such things before. You will find that my Aetherwave power setup matches those specs."

"It don't say what happens after three minutes though."

Sweep snickers. "No it doesn't and it never does. Tricky folks the Intelligence gang, always playing with things that could be really dangerous, or just messy. Doesn't pay to take a chance though."

"Aye that! Our last ship* had a fearsome thing at its core, gave me the willies every time I had to deal with it. That much power and heat coming from such a small thing ain't natural."

"Heard about that ship, was the one they tried to blow up in Portsmouth right?"

"Aye Ma'am that was her, fine ship all in all. Odd things about her though. Experimental craft always have them. Some things work fine others don't, and some just don't seem to do anything at all. We had half a hold full of weird junk left by the company boffins. They were still working on her when we took her over. Might still be in her hold for all I know."

Watkins hands the secret message back to Sweep who loads it into a small box on her desk. With the push of a lever it shreds and then burns the paper. A second lever blows the ashes over the side through a screen that insures no sparks or still burning pieces can ignite any leaking hydrogen.

"Good luck with your travels Mr Watkins."

"Thank you Ma'am. Can I bring you anything Ma'am?"

Another message begins to come in on the Aetherwave and even as Sweep's mechanical arm begins to transcribe it she waves her real arm. "Nothing at the moment thank you."

"Ma'am." Watkins touches his cap and leaves the Snug.

"Well now this is going to be interesting."

Part III is here.
* The HMAS Velvet Brush an experimental airship whose design is documented in my Practical Airship Design series.

Ice and Clockwork Part I

Sunday, July 1, 2018 0 comments


Here is the third serial story inspired by our Role Playing group "The Airship's Messdeck."

In the first story, Frozen Sky, Lt. Cmdr(E) Maxwell MacDonald-Smythe (aka Max), Chief Engineer of the experimental airship the HMAS Velvet Brush, and his crew are sent north to the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow in the dead of winter. They fly an old cargo airship, The Doris and their mission is to test a secret device that works very much like sonar.

After spending months of flying back and forth over the waters of Scapa Flow the engine in the old Doris fails.  The Admiralty then sends Max out into the North Sea to continue the testing in a steam trawler.

The second story,  Lost at Sea,  tells how Max and some members of his crew aboard the old steam trawler Argo, are caught in a massive storm and blown towards the rocky coast of Norway.

This story concerns the remainder of Max's crew, John Watkins and the two Marines, Kade Fraser and Ellis Cooke, who had been left behind in Scapa Flow to try and get the engines from the old Doris running again.

Enjoy Part I.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Ice and Clockwork
A serial story from The Airship's Messdeck.
Part I
  by Kevin Jepson

John Watkins is sound asleep in a hammock slung along side the keelwalk of Her Majesty's Air Ship Francis. There are ice crystals glittering in the dim frosty light that comes through the fabric cover of the keelwalk. Unlike the open keelwalks of the old Doris, the Francis has her's covered over so that the crew can use them for their quarters on the long cold flights across the North Atlantic to supply the Admiralty's Aetherwave stations in Iceland.

She is two days out of Aberdeen and, having had to swing South around a nasty depression, is now heading Northwest towards Iceland. Watkins is the Chief Engineer, temporarily at least, replacing the regular engineer who is suffering one of his recurring bouts of some nasty tropical disease picked up someplace in Her Majesty's service. A place very much hotter than the middle of the North Atlantic in Winter.

Corporal Ellis Cooke comes along the keelwalk and gently taps Watkins on the shoulder.

"Sir...  Mr Watkins Sir..." Watkins opens his eyes and groans.

"Eh, what is it Ellis?"

"Sorry to wake you Sir, but there is a message. Sarge says it is marked private for your eyes only Sir."

"Alright, I'll come forward. See if you can rustle up something hot to drink eh?"

Cooke smiles. "Aye Sir I'll see what I can do." Always the same request, always the same response. Also, unfortunately, not much chance of getting anything hot outside of meal times.

"Do you think it could be something about Max and the others finally?"

Watkins shakes his head sadly. "Perhaps, but I'm thinking we ain't never going to know what happened to em." At the crestfallen look on the young marine corporal's face Watkins says, "Aye, well you never know, stranger things as happened and that's the truth."

As Cooke heads back forward Watkins reaches for his fleece lined boots, hanging on a hook beside his hammock, and then grabs his heavy winter coat before finally, carefully, climbing out of his hammock onto the keelwalk. He moves with the smooth but cautious motions of an experienced airship sailor. A slip or misplaced foot here could send him through the fabric cover on a one way trip to the icy Atlantic nearly a thousand feet below.
Airshipmen on the North Atlantic run.

Watkins pauses on the keelwalk listening to the steady thumping of the engines. Once he is sure that nothing is amiss he heads forward towards the control car.

The HMAS Francis is very much like the old Doris, but longer and with twin engines instead of one. She is otherwise laid out the same with a control car forward, cargo amidships and an engine car aft. The Francis is therefore a typical cargo carrying hydrogen airship. The long flights over the ocean, ferrying supplies to the Admiralty outposts in Iceland, are tedious but necessary. The captive balloons that hold the Aetherwave antennas high up in the atmosphere are the only way to make transatlantic communications work.

After months of hanging about in Scapa Flow, Watkins had been offered the chance to fly as the replacement Engineer on the Francis. It would probably only be a couple of crossings before the Admiralty figured out what to do with him, but at least it was better than painting buoys and brooding on the loss of Max and his shipmates aboard the long overdue Argo.

He hadn't felt right about abandoning the two marines, so he had managed to get them assigned aboard the Francis as well. It had been tricky springing Fraser from the brig. More than likely the Marine Colonel was happy to get Fraser off his hands, it wasn't right to lock up a man for trying to do right by his shipmates, but stealing their Lordships property was just not on.

As Watkins approaches the access down to the control car a marine sentry snaps to attention and touches his cap. Kade Fraser, ex Sargeant now Private, looks very much like any of the other crew, heavy leather fleece lined coat, heavy boots, fur lined cap. The only thing marking him as a Marine is the incongruous white cross belts. The Skipper of the Francis always pictured himself as a Post Captain of the Old Navy so was happy to have the two Marines available to add some colour to his crew. Strictly speaking the Francis was too small to warrant a Marine presence at all, but that didn't seem to matter to the Skipper.

Watkins nods to Fraser. "Mornin' Sarge, all well?"

"Well as could be expected Sir, bit nippy."

"Not used to this 'Sir' stuff yet Sarge, makes me want to look over me shoulder in case a real officer is lurking there."

Fraser smiles. "Well you are Chief Engineer now, doesn't matter if you don't have a stripe to go with it... Sir"

"Still... Ellis says Sweep's got a message for me."

"Aye that she does Sir, says it is marked private and personal. She's in her snug as usual. Skipper was not happy to hear there was a message he couldn't see, heard him say 'Always some bloody cloak and dagger business on this run'. Seemed quite resigned to it all though Sir."

"Ah. Thanks Sarge carry on."

"Sir." Fraser touches his cap as Watkins climbs down into the control car.

Looking to see if the Captain is on the flight deck, and seeing only the helmsman and the elevator man, he salutes anyway as any officer would when coming on the Quarter Deck of a warship, and then knocks on the door of the Comms room, 'The Snug', as the crew call it.

Knocking is necessary because in addition to being the room with all the aetherwave gear it is also the quarters of the most unusual crew member of the Francis.

"Enter!" comes the gruff voice from inside.

Watkins enters the Comms room. It is not much bigger than a large closet really, a larger than normal Aetherwave setup takes up almost half of the room, the other half is a desk/bed combination at which sits Sweep, the Communications officer of the Francis.

Sweep is an elderly lady officer, a full Lieutenant in fact, long past retirement but sharp as a pin. Badly injured in an action against the air pirates in the Far East she has many mechanical parts replacing her legs, one arm and part of her face. She has a reputation as being one of the best comms operators in the service.

She is called Sweep because of her penchant for the heavy smoking of the nasty smelling cheroots, like those smoked by Fleet Admiral Chicheley, thus making her smell like a Chimney Sweep.

Living aboard a hydrogen lift airship means not being able to smoke at all while aboard. This was not good for her state of mind... or that of her shipmates. One of the first things Watkins did on joining the ship was figure out a way that Sweep could safely smoke while they were in flight. So now as Watkins comes into the crowded room and touches his cap her eyes sparkle.

"Ah Mr Watkins, how are you this fine frosty morning?"

"Not too bad Ma'am, Cooke says you have a message for me?"

"I do indeed." Rummaging through a pile of paper, with a whir of gears and linkages, Sweep hands Watkins a page with a message written out in the precise fine letters of a master code smith. "Spot of tea?"

Of course there is no tea and won't be any for an hour or so yet, but Watkins smiles and says, "That would be fine Ma'am."

Turning the message to get a clearer look at it he starts to read.

Continue to Part II


Thursday, April 12, 2018 0 comments

And a Lady's mind turns to...

Parasol Duelling!

Yes  the 4th annual Spring Regionals are coming up on April 29th in Calgary Alberta.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.

For more information and to find out more about this great sport go to:
Madame Saffron Hemlock’s Parasol Duelling League for Steampunk Ladies

Click here for information on the history and development of Parasol Duelling
or click the Parasol Duelling tag.

The Rules for Parasol Duelling

Maddie Hatter and the Timely Taffeta

Monday, February 5, 2018 0 comments

Maddie Hatter's adventures continue!

Here is a book trailer I did for Maddie Hatter and the Timely Taffeta by Jayne Barnard


Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.

About Gears, Goggles, and Steam oh My!

Here I collect interesting bits of information related to the world of Steampunk.

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