Within the Bridge (The designer had called it The Main Control Room but, being mearly an engineer and not gifted with the sense of language of a Naval Officer he had been overruled by an Admiral) Baron Von Richthoffer, dressed to perfection in his Admiral's Uniform (complete with feathered hat and sword), looked towards the Captain of the airship, who turned from his charts and smiled; "We are in position now Baron. No British vessels have been spotted."
"Very good, Herr Capitan. Take her down and prepare for deployment. Ah, if..." The Baron's words were cut short by a dull clunk from out side. This was quickly followed by a sideways lurch from the gondola. "What in God's name was that?" shouted the Baron, hastily grabbing hold of the map table for support.
"Someone's released the U-boats sir." reported a startled crew member, looking out of the window at the three small, cigar shaped, experimental, submarines as they plunged towards the sea, a thousand feet below. To continue the earlier analogy, they looked like nothing so much as three small whales plunging down into the depths. Of course, this image was somewhat ruined by the almighty splash each one gave as they hit the surface of the sea. Each dived below the surface, before resurfacing, to float unceremoniously in a tangle of broken propeller shafts and slowly leaking oil.
Von Richthoffer hurried over to the window and looked down; "What fool did that? Quickly, perhaps we can retrieve them?"
"I do so hope not. I went to a lot of trouble to get rid of them."
"Simpson!" Baron Von Richthoffer looked at the British Agent, resplendent (as always) in his "borrowed" German Naval Uniform, nonchalantly leaning against the door from the mess. "Seize him. I don't know how you got here, how you got that uniform, or indeed what possible use you thought you could be to your countrymen, causing trouble this far out from the Sandwich Islands. I will say this, we can still collect those Unterseaboots, sneak them into Pearl Harbour and sink your beloved North Pacific Squadron without anyone noticing."
During this speech two of the crew had approached "Hooky" Simpson and were looking nervously at the sword on his belt. Even though he was wearing a uniform of the Kaiser's Navy "Hooky" Simpson, Agent to the Queen, opening batsman at Lords on three occasions, Tamer of The Ashanti and High Protector of the King of Fiji, looked every inch the English Gentleman. Perhaps it was the style of his moustache, the Union Jack cufflinks or his slightly confused and dreamy expression, as if he was trying to remember something. The shorter one had just edged his way up towards the British spy when a large explosion rocked the bridge. The control room shook from side to side as the port U-boat rack erupted in flame.
"Hooky" dragged himself to his feet and nervously peered out of the remains of the port window. "Oops. Knew I had forgotten something." He turned slowly round to face the remains of the Main Control Room. All the windows had blown out, along with a large section of the back wall. This then exposed a gaping hole in the superstructure of the gondola, with the Pacific sparkling way below. "Hmm lovely view" thought Simpson, "What now I wonder?"
"Simpson! Stand and fight like a real man." Simpson whirled round to find Von Richthoffer leaning somewhat unsteadily on a freshly exposed girder, brandishing his rapier. The Baron appeared to have caught some shrapnel on the forehead (which, incidentally, if left to heal in the appropriate manner would nicely offset the schlagel scar on his right temple) and to have lost his hat, but Simpson didn't think this would slow him down very much.
"Can't we schedule this for somewhere more convivial? I don't even have a second." said "Hooky" looking nervously behind him at the lack of floor.
The Baron began to smile; "Yes "Hooky" he sneered, "You never were a match for me with the sword." Von Richthoffer aimed a boot at a slowly emerging crewman, "You, bring this ship back under control, I shall deal with this vermin." The crewman, clad in half a uniform and the majority of the remains of the Captain looked at his Admiral with incredulity. Luckily for him, Von Richthoffer always assumed his orders were carried out and so did not notice. The Baron looked at Simpson, or at least at where he had been. A clatter outside the remains of the port window brought Von Richthoffer's attention to the British Agent, clambering onto the remains of the airship's superstructure. This further allowed our rebellious crewman to sneak off in the opposite direction, looking desperately for a lifejacket while concocting a particularly self-aggrandising tale of derring-do on a stricken airship.
Simpson, the gentleman as always, waited patiently, leaning against a girder, as the German pulled himself onto the open metalwork. "Well Von Richthoffer, I think this evens things up a touch, don't you?" he said, sweeping his free hand over the blue sea, somewhat less than a thousand feet below. "Well, if you are ready, shall we begin." Simpson drew his sword and assumed the best approximation of a fencers position one could expect while balancing perilously on a girder above the Pacific Ocean. The Baron Von Richthoffer wiped some blood from his brow, snarled and slashed dramatically in "Hooky" Simpson's direction.
The two combatants attacked, parried, riposted, parried some more and generally had at it. Had there been any impartial viewers present, perhaps a member of the British Fencing Association or two, they might have remarked that, while the German certainly had the upper hand as regards style and knowledge of fencing, the plucky English underdog was certainly holding his end up well. It would probably have been mentioned that the Baron's head wound was a major hindrance, as was the concussion he appeared to be suffering.
The Baron paused momentarily in his onslaught at the Englishman, now resplendent in somewhat less of a German Naval Officers Uniform; "You have chosen well for your battleground English Dog. But you are weakening, I can tell."
"I must admit that you are not looking your best either Baron. But you have certainly given my tailor something to think about. I do not suppose you remember where the boiler room is on this crate do you? Only I think you might want to alert one of your chappies."
"Enough of your inane prattling. I do begin to despair of you as a worthy adversary when you resort to looking over my shoulder in an attempt to distract me. Now, defend yourself."
"Very well, old chap, but I think I shall just hang on to this girder if it is all the same to you."
Whooof, as they say in American Boys Illustrated Periodicals. As "Hooky" Simpson had surmised, the fire which had started after the initial explosion, had now made it's way to the remains of the engine complex. The boiler and all it's attendant trappings instantly turned into a hail of deadly shrapnel, most of which tore through the rear of the balloon and the remains of the mid-section of the gondola. Simpson and Von Richthoffer were not spared the violence, however. The force of the blast ran through the superstructure, violently jolting the Englishman and knocking the Baron from his precarious position. Simpson had little time to appreciate his enemy's fall, his attention being taken up by the blossom of fire engulfing the far end of the dirigible's balloon. The airship began to tip violently forward, the remaining weight of the ruined gondola doing gravity's bidding.
"Why do I always have to stop for a quick chat, I could have been off this thing hours ago." thought the British Agent as his sweat slicked hands began to slip from the ever inclining girder. He was not able to think of anything more profound as, with a further display of pyrotechnics, the airship plunged the last five hundred feet into the ocean.
A certain crewman, thanking his lucky stars he had found the rope ladder and thus had only fallen a few feet to the sea, looked at the remains of Admiral Baron Von Richthoffer's Dirigible and decided that claiming he had been off-duty at the time was probably the best course of action.
* * *
Captain Abraham Wilberforce of H.M.S. Indomitable, the North Pacific Squadron (Pearl Harbour), quietly approached the sick bay bunk. "Oh good, your awake. Have you heard the news? I should think you will get a chance to explain the benefits of wooden furniture to her majesty now."
"Hooky" Simpson looked quizzically at Captain Wilberforce; "What are you on about man?"
"Well, it turns out, the German agitators in California did not hear of your little victory. So they stirred things up and the Republic's Government, knowing which side their bread is buttered on, asked for British aid. The boys marched in from Oregon this morning and the fleet is due to sail by dusk. And all due to you. I should expect the Governor would like a word when we reach port."
Copyright Brian "Munchkin" Milton 2000