This is the third of four posts from The Cost of Empire. Click here for post 1.
Another repeater above their heads spun, giving the tillerman a new bearing. He released the stop and heaved the chest high lever to his right. A linked lever in front of Daniel moved with it and he grabbed hold to add his strength. The tillerman could move the great ship’s rudder alone, but in time of need the Eye officer’s added power made things move faster.
Of course, faster is a relative term. Old Ugly never maneuvered with anything like speed. Now her bow swung slowly to starboard. Daniel could feel the increased trembling in the platform underfoot as her engines quickened far below and behind him.
Daniel’s arms felt the jolt as Jons locked the lever. Following the course was Jons’s duty; taking bearings was Daniel’s. Now he said, “Commander, the shark is moving parallel to the convoy, at high speed. Specification follows.”
David’s hands went to the sides of the cage surrounding his helmet, playing the levers there. He focused on the shark’s fin, set a lever, waited a slow five count, focused again and reset. Then he reported, “Twenty-nine knots, Sir.”
He heard the Commander acknowledge, then add, “Farragut class. We are honored by their newest.”
That didn’t require a response, so Daniel kept his mouth shut. They were moving to cut the sub off. Fat chance! The new diesel engines in that sub were much more powerful than the naphtha vapor engines in the Anne of Cleves, but also much too heavy for an airship to use.
Now the shark’s fin turned toward the convoy. Daniel had been waiting for any change in velocity. He took a bearing as it turned, counted a slow five, took another, and said through the speaking tube, “Changing course toward the convoy. New bearing coming on repeater. New speed — twenty-seven knots, but accelerating.” Daniel was taking readings continuously now. “New speed — twenty-nine knots. New speed — thirty-one knots. New speed — thirty-one knots. He seems to have maxed out.”
Daniel gritted his teeth at having added that unnecessary interpretation. The Commander didn’t need him to state the obvious.
“Thank you, Mr. James.” There was a judiciously measured touch of ice in Commander Dane’s voice and Daniel felt a flush in his cheeks.
He swallowed his embarrassment and continued taking bearings. The dirigible had made two more course changes; he had not aided Jons because all his attention was on the oncoming shark’s fin. The Anne of Cleves was small and slow, but she had an advantageous position.
Far below, Lieutenant Ennis and a crew of men had dragged up a spherical object, and now crouched around an open hatch. Commander Dane was calculating and estimating, based on Daniel’s continuous barrage of information. He ordered the drop.
Daniel saw a small black object fall into his field of vision, locked his monocular on it, and followed it down. It hit the water a dozen feet behind and to the left of the fin. He reported, then grabbed the linked lever. The sub has passed out of sight and the new bearings meant turning Old Ugly almost completely around. He and Jons fought the massive force of the rudder, and the dirigible slowed perceptibly as it swung onto its new course.
Through the strain on his body and the pounding of his heart, Daniel heard the Commander’s voice:
“A good try boys. When we bombed the Germans we usually hit our targets, but a stationary target is different from a moving one. It would have felt good to see a bladder of seawater burst on that American’s control deck. Still, we can console ourselves with the idea that they’ll wonder what we actually dropped.”
Jons snorted, and said, “Seawater, my ass, Sir. Brinley has been collecting urine all week. Now I know why.” more tomorrow Click here to jump directly to the final post.