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.

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