Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER VI. Prisoners of the Air.
“Oh, my dear Mr. Weyland, I have a long list. But in broad outline, we are headed for Andorra, where I can turn you over to my father after I have enjoyed myself sufficiently.” Miss Kun came nearer and joined us at the window. “It’s my father’s own invention, this airship. Isn’t it pretty up here?“
“You said this one was yours,” I remarked, watching the sun rise over the increasingly distant earth. “Does that mean your father has one as well?”
“Oh, Mr. Peevish, he has a whole fleet of airships. When they are unleashed from their secret ports around the world, the Andorran Air Navy will rule the skies. Since my father’s discovery of large deposits of goesuppium gas in the Pyrenees, we have been silently building up our air power. We now have a larger fleet of airships than Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein, and the Maritime Republic of Eastport put together.”
“Impressive,” said Weyland. “But you will be stopped.”
“You speak very confidently for a man about to be locked up in a cell,” said Miss Kun. “Priests! Take these men and lock them up in a cell.”
Two priests with revolvers appeared beside us and indicated that we should precede them.
“Farewell for now, gentlemen,” said Miss Kun. “I am very much looking forward to the fun we shall have when we reach Andorra.”
We were conducted through a small dining room into a short hallway, and thence pushed into a small room with two chairs and a table bolted to the floor. The door was locked behind us, and there was nothing to see but white walls, floor, ceiling, and table and chairs,—and of course Weyland, who was not looking as unhappy as I felt.
“I say,” he said, “what an extraordinary woman!”
“A fiend incarnate, I replied.”
“Yes, but a dashed attractive one. As fiends incarnate go.”
“I hope you of all people haven’t fallen under her spell,” I said gloomily.
“Under her spell? Certainly not. But still, the”—he made a gesture at chest level—“and the”—another gesture at hip level—“and, well, you can’t tell me you didn’t notice, Peevish, old man, because I won’t believe you at all.”
“I’ve always preferred brunettes,” I mumbled.
“Oh, give me a redhead every time,” said Weyland. “Especially one with fire in her veins. I like that in a woman.”
“So is our plan just to see what she does to us when we get to Andorra?” I asked, probably in a rather surly tone.
“Certainly not. My plan is to escape long before that, and I have a fair notion of how to do it.”
This was more like the Norbert Weyland I knew. “What can I do to help?”
“They have to feed us sometime,” he said. “I propose we use the tried-and-true prisoner’s strategy: we wait till the guard comes in with the food, and then we conk him over the head.”
“What will we conk him with?”
“Have you got a tire iron or a baseball bat or a fireplace poker in one of your pockets?”
“I’m afraid not,” I admitted.
“Then I’ll have to use my bare hands,” said Weyland. “It will help, of course, that I am a black belt in Ju Jube.”
“And what shall we do after we disable the guard?”
“Then, of course, we simply take over the airship, land it at the nearest aerodrome, and turn over our prisoners to the properly constituted local authorities.”
“Sounds simple enough. Now all we need to do is wait.”
“How about states and former capitals?” Weyland suggested, referring to a game we used to play to while away the time in biology class.
“West Virginia,” I said.
“Wheeling,” he replied. “Pennsylvania.”
“Tricky: Philadelphia and Lancaster. Virginia.”
“No,” I said. “I always trip you up with that one. Jamestown was the capital of the colony, but never of the state. Williamsburg is the only other capital the state has ever had, unless you count Wheeling as the capital of Unionist Virginia during the early part of the Civil War, which I would also have accepted.”
“Are you absolutely sure about Jamestown? Oh, well, you were always better at this game than I was. I concede the point. Your serve.”
I fell silent at once. A key was entering the lock.
Weyland silently took his position against the wall by the door, and I sat at the table attempting to look as nonchalant as possible.
The door swung open, and a head appeared in the doorway.
Immediately Weyland leaped and brought the edge of his hand down on the back of the man’s head.
There was a loud singing clang.
“Here’s your breakfast,” said the priest in the doorway, and he set a covered tray down on the table. Then he turned to Weyland. “You know, I might have resented that if I hadn’t been wearing my conkproof helmet.” He left and locked the door.
“Well,” said Weyland, “we tried our best.”
“Did you hurt your hand?” I asked with some concern. It had been a very loud clang.
“It does smart a bit. What’s for breakfast?”
I lifted the lid from the tray, disclosing a very tempting selection of pastries.
“Ah!” said Weyland. “Perhaps all turned out for the best after all. Eat up, Peevish, old boy. We’ll need the calories for our next attempt.”
We shared the Andorran pastries between us while Weyland detailed his alternate escape plan.
“Have you noticed, Peevish, that this entire ship is very lightly constructed?”
“Well, that door seems sturdy enough,” I observed.
“Yes, but the ceiling seems quite flimsy. If there’s not another layer above it, we might be able to punch through it with something hard and sharpish. Are your car keys still in your pocket?”
“They went down with the Nash, I’m afraid. But I did keep my apartment key on a separate chain.” I produced the key from my pocket.
“Bravo, Peevish! Finish that tart, and let’s see what use we can make of your key.”
I soon found myself standing on the small table with my key in my hand. It surprised me to find that Weyland was entirely correct: the ceiling was made of a very thin and light material, almost like cardboard, and the key poked right through it when I applied some pressure. By sawing up and down with the jagged edge, I was able to make a cut in the ceiling through which I could see daylight.
“Make sure you cut a neat rectangular hole,” said Weyland.
“Why?” I asked as I continued cutting in a straight line.
“Because a thing ought to be done well or not at all,” he replied. “Keep going—you’re making excellent progress.”
It took the better part of an hour, but at last a neat rectangular section of the ceiling came down. A fresh breeze filled the room, and above me I could see the bottom of the great gas bag from which the habitable portion of Miss Kun’s airship was suspended.
“Well done, Peevish,” said Weyland. “Now we’re going up, and we shall have to be very careful to walk only on the structural members rather than on the ceiling itself. Then we shall find Miss Kun’s control room and, so to speak, drop in unannounced. You first, Peevish.”
I carefully hoisted myself up to the roof, trying to put most of my weight only on the cross members rather than the insubstantial ceiling. It was rather terrifying up there, I must say, with the great gas bag above me and a view of miles of very hard-looking ground thousands of feet below me.
Weyland soon appeared beside me, and we carefully made our way along one row of the thick cables that suspended the gondola from the gas bag.
“It ought to be here,” Weyland said after we had walked about thirty feet, steadying ourselves by holding the cables.
But then there was a quick gust of wind, just enough to jolt the gondola a little and throw Weyland off balance. He tried to steady himself, but his foot slipped and punched straight through the roof below him. He withdrew it quickly, but through the hole I could see Miss Kun and two very surprised priests.
“Don’t shoot, you moron!” I heard her say. But even as she was speaking, a shot rang out. Weyland was rolling out of the way, but the bullet, missing him, punctured the gas bag above us.
Instantly there was an infernal noise of rushing gas, and the airship suddenly jolted backward. While Weyland and I clung to the cables, the ship described a madly irregular path across the sky, quickly accelerating to hundreds of miles per hour as the gas jetted out of the puncture at incredible pressure.
“Hang on, Peevish!” Weyland shouted to me. “Your only hope of salvation is to hang on!”
“Believe me,” I shouted back, “no other course of action had even occurred to me!”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: