Ice and Clockwork Part II

Thursday, July 19, 2018

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.


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