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Authors: S.G. Schvercraft

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BOOK: The Zeppelin Jihad
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The dust kicked up by the I-beams hadn

t settled, but I could just make out Baylor looking up at us. He and most of the men had gotten away, thank God.

Suddenly, we banked sharply. I screamed, and double-checked my seat harness. I felt silly asking, but I couldn

t help myself.

You know how to fly this thing, right?


All cadets are checked out on pocket-zeps upon joining. Although it
has
been a while.

He engaged another lever. The aft propeller whined, and we began tailing the industrial airship.

Between the wind at altitude and our own speed, we had to shout to hear each other.

Do you think it

s Talib?

I asked.


I

d put money on it,

Speer shouted back.


Can we shoot it down?

Speer looked down.

It

s too late. We

re over a residential area.

Even though the height made me dizzy and I wanted to vomit, I forced myself to look.

The gaslit streets beneath us were orange valleys, and I could see the roofs of large houses. Men no doubt worked hard to afford these nice homes, their neo-Victorian wives keeping house, their half-dozen children playing in the rolling yards.

But there was a good amount of space between the houses, certainly less than in the denseness of downtown.

Speer, we

ve got to bring that airship down now!


There are Pointer children down there!


And every second we wait, there are more beneath us as we get deeper into the city!


As if you care

they

re not your people!

No, but they were close enough. Images of the World Trade Center danced through my head. I cared about them whether he thought so or not.

Believe what you want about me, but remember: the choice is between a dozen now or thousands in a few minutes!

Even through his goggles, I could see the anger in his eye, the rage in him. I almost thought he

d toss me off.

Instead, he turned back to the controls, and we began gaining altitude so that we were above the airship.

I

m going to angle down on it and fire a rocket,

he said. He pointed our nose towards the target. We were lined up right behind the
Highwhale
, three hundred yards away. Speer turned a valve and pulled a lever.

A single rocket fired. I didn

t breathe as I watched it reach out into the night. I could even see its light reflecting off the big airship

s rigid hide.

The rocket struck it towards the side and grazed off the
Highwhale

s skin before traveling a little ways further and detonating harmlessly.


What happened?

I shouted.


The rocket needs to impact if it

s going to explode. We hit it at too gentle an angle. We

ve got one more. I

m going to set it to detonate in three hundred yards. If it

s close enough, the explosion should puncture the skin without the risk of deflection.

I nodded like I was entirely clear what that meant. Speer played with the controls, setting one of the dials to 300. Then he again angled us towards the airship, and fired. Unlike the first, this shot was centered.

It struck the top rudder, the explosion as blinding as a .44

s muzzle flash. Speer veered off instinctively, trying to avoid having us burn in the fireball.

He needn

t have worried. As I squinted through my goggles, I saw Talib

s airship still flying.


Are you kidding me?

I whispered.

The rocket had blown apart the top rudder and left a large, smoking gash in the airship

s rigid airframe. Metal supports twisted out from the hole like a blooming flower. In the small, rapidly dying fires the rocket had caused, I could see what happened. The airframe had a secondary hull inside it, protecting the hydrogen gasbags.

I was stunned. I

d honestly thought a match could bring down one of these things.

I could barely hear Speer.

I

d hoped that would be enough to puncture its secondary hull,

he said.

We make them too good now. Even if we rammed it, we probably couldn

t blow up the damn thing.

He was quiet for a moment as smoke from the explosion washed over us.

All right, it

s time for my backup plan,

he said.


What

s that involve?


You finding out why I wanted you along on this trip.

He angled us after Talib

s airship, and we picked up speed.

In the distance, I could see Boothcross

s bright heart. Above the smokestacks and surrounding skyscrapers were the four Faced Towers, awash in emerald lights with their massive, stylized faces looking out over the city. Like an idol, the southern tower

s face stared directly at its approaching attacker.


They

re heading towards the Towers,

I yelled.

Will anyone be there this late at night?


They aren

t just office buildings

hotels and shops and apartments are in there too.

Our rocket had slowed the airship. The airframe

s perfect smoothness ruined, it shook as it struggled to remain on course. But it still was moving relentlessly towards the Towers.


We

re not going to be able to stop it,

I said, softly enough that Speer didn

t hear.

The
Highwhale

s payload palette had been supported by a metal superstructure beneath the gondola. It held the palette at a dozen or more spots. Now that I was closer, I could even see the pistons that had flexed to drop those I-beams on Baylor and his men.

But the superstructure wasn

t meant solely for connecting the payload to the airship. There were catwalks built into it, where men could walk from the airship itself to the cargo below, even in midflight.


Grab up one of our anchoring lines,

Speer said as he drew us just above one of those catwalks.

I did as he said.

Got it.


Very good. Now, I want you to jump down onto that catwalk and tether our zep to it quick as you can.


Are you crazy? That

s a ten-foot jump!

Not to mention the hundreds of feet below that.


We

ve got to get aboard

would you rather fly and I

ll jump first?

Not especially, but before I could answer, the
Highwhale
quickly gained twenty feet and veered to port

right into
us
.

Speer barely dodged the collision.

Evidently, we

ve been seen,

he said.


Guess the rockets tipped them off, huh?

Speer brought us back into position, this time only about eight feet over the catwalk.

Can you do this?

No
, I thought, but I undid my seat harness anyway. Three quick breaths, and then I jumped

and landed hard on the catwalk, grabbing the rail so tightly my fingernails cut into my palms.

I could only see in tunnel vision, a blessing considering the vistas all around me. The only thing I was aware of was the rope in my hands. I quickly tied it with a Boy Scout knot my father taught me a million summer vacations ago.

I waved back to Speer. He readied to jump, flipping a lever as he did. The small zeppelin turned quickly away as he leapt.

The
Highwhale

s driver just then swung his airship back into us. Speer nearly overshot the catwalk, landed on the railing, and doubled over it into the empty space beyond.

He caught onto the handrails

spindles, saving himself. I grabbed hold of him as he climbed back onto the catwalk, and we collapsed onto the decking.

I was breathing hard. So was he.

The knot I

d made held. Speer had rigged the pilotless zeppelin to run at full power, pulling the
Highwhale
in the opposite direction.


Not much power compared to this industrial carrier,

Speer
said
,

but it will make the thing harder to steer, and slow them down some.


Every second counts.


Speaking of which,

he said, drawing his revolver.

Ready?

Not especially.
I pulled my Glock.

Of course.

A stairway led up to the gondola

s belly. At the top of the stairs was a door. Locked, naturally.

He leveled his gun at the lock.

If rockets won

t bring it down, I imagine we needn

t worry about stray bullets.


Let me. More rounds, remember?


Use them for suppressing fire. If they don

t yet realize we

ve boarded them, they

re about to.

As he shot out the lock, I kicked in the door and blindly fired two shots into the narrow hallway beyond.

Speer had been right

my rounds didn

t hit anyone, but I scared them enough that their return fire didn

t hit us.

Speer pushed me back and hurriedly closed the metal door, the rounds heavy enough to dent it.

The shots were overlapping, meaning there was more than one shooter. But one of the guns fell silent with a ping before beginning to fire again.


It

s one of our rifles. They ping when they eject their clip,

Speer
said
.

Next ping you hear, we charge.

I nodded. We weren

t in a position to see the Towers, but over the railing I could see the city unfolding beneath us, dense with buildings. We were getting close to downtown.

More shots. One of the enemy rifles pinged.

Speer shouldered open the door and fired his revolver like a madman. I followed, holding my fire for fear of hitting him. The wall of lead he threw up was enough to suppress the shooters, and we crossed the distance to where the narrow passageway came to a large mess room.

There was a shooter on either side of the hall, both female, wearing traditional Muslim garb.

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