Ring Of Fire III should be available now so this is the last snippet.
Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 16
Tom shook his head. “No, unfortunately, it doesn’t. I’m not guessing, either. Rita went over to pay a visit yesterday after they landed and spent an hour or two with them. She told me Dina Merrifield and Amanda Boyd were complaining about the absence of a radio, which they thought was plain stupid. Apparently the expedition commander insisted on loading the airship with enough foodstuffs to fly to the South Pole and back, so there wasn’t…”
He didn’t finish the sentence, struck by a sudden thought. He’d forgotten about the Pelican — but what if Rita hadn’t?
It was a long shot, but you never knew. He looked around for the radioman and saw him standing ready just a few feet away. Tom had given him the walkie-talkie to put in his backpack.
He held out his hand. “The walkie-talkie, please, Corporal Baier.”
The corporal set down the pack and rummaged in it for a few seconds before coming up with the device and handing it to Tom.
“Rita, are you on the other end?” he asked. “Rita, Rita. Repeat: are you on the other end of this thing? Rita, come in. This is Tom. Over.”
A few seconds went by, that seemed much longer than they actually were. Then, when he’d just about given up hope, Rita’s voice came through.
“Tom? Tom! Is that really you? Never mind, stupid question. Where are you? Uh, over.”
“Looking right at you, babe,” he replied, almost laughing with relief. “Right up at you, I should say. Me and my soldiers — what’s left of us — are out of the city and on the road to Regensburg not more than a mile from Ingolstadt. We can see the Pelican clearly in the sky. Over.”
Belatedly, it occurred to Tom that he was simply assuming Rita was on the airship. She might be transmitting from the ground herself, after all.
But she didn’t correct him, so apparently she was. “Hold on, I’ll look.” She was off the air for a few seconds. “No, dammit, I can’t see you. The moonlight’s just not bright enough and I guess we’re up pretty high. Over.”
“You’re not really all that close, either.” He hesitated for an instant. “Uh… what are your plans? Over.”
“We don’t really have any. Get out of Ingolstadt was about as far as it went. We were thinking about flying to Amberg, but Stefano — he’s the pilot — thinks that’s going to be a problem. We don’t have much fuel because they weren’t able to refuel in Ingolstadt, and he says the wind is blowing the wrong way. He’s not sure we can make it before we run out of fuel. Then he says we’re at the mercy of the winds. Over.”
Von Eichelberg had that intent look on his face again. “Isn’t there gasoline in Regensburg?”
Tom held up a hand to interrupt him, nodding and talking into the walkie-talkie at the same time.
“There’s plenty of gas in Regensburg, Rita. They’re storing it up for the spring, when they hope to get that ironclad working again.”
Working for the first time, would probably be a better way to put it. The small ironclad in question had been designed entirely by down-timers, whose enthusiasm had outrun their experience. The thing was so top-heavy it almost capsized the one and only time it had been put in the river, and was so awkward that the oars which were suppose to drive it through the water couldn’t compete with the current. It was lying up in drydock to be fitted with an up-time engine as soon as a suitable one became available. But, hope springing eternal, the enthusiasts had somehow managed to sweet-talk the powers-that-be into providing them with several barrels of gasoline.
“And we could sure use your help while we’re trying to get there ourselves,” he added. “We’ve got no scouting capabilities worth talking about and within a day the Bavarian cavalry will be all over the place. Over.”
“Hold on a minute, hon. I’ve got to talk it over. Uh. Over.”
She was off the air for about a minute before she came back on. Tom was surprised, actually. He’d figured Hank Siers would make a fuss and it would take Rita at least five minutes to bully him into it.
That she’d succeed, he didn’t doubt at all. When his wife wanted to be, she was pretty ferocious.
“Okay, Tom. We’re on. Stefano thinks it’s a good idea and so does everybody else. What do you want us to do? Exactly, I mean. Over.”
She made no mention at all of Siers. Tom wondered what had happened to him. Had the surveyor been killed?
But that wasn’t something he needed to worry about tonight. Tom studied the distant airship for a few seconds, wishing he knew more about the devices than he did. How easy were they to land and take off? And what did they need in the way of space and facilities?
For sure, they’d need plenty of space. The Pelican was as long as half a football field, and at least fifteen yards wide. There was no way it could land in a small meadow.
Von Eichelberg and his men had been stationed in Ingolstadt longer than Tom himself. So Tom turned back to him.
“Is there any large open area in the next few miles?” He pointed up at the Pelican. “It needs to be big enough for the airship to land. Say, a minimum of a hundred yards.”
The young mercenary captain pursed his lips thoughtfully. After a moment, he said: “Two, that I can think of. Luckily, the nearest one is the largest.”
He turned and pointed toward the Danube. “It’s a big clearing alongside the river, perhaps two miles downstream from here. We could be there in an hour.”
That was pushing it, Tom thought. In an hour, a man could walk two miles quite easily. Five hundred men, with six-pounders and supply wagons? In the middle of the night, to boot, with just moonlight to guide them? He thought they’d be doing well if they made it within two hours.
Still, that would get them to the clearing before dawn, which was what mattered. The Bavarians wouldn’t be sending out any large cavalry force until morning.
He got back on the walkie-talkie. “How much room do you have in that thing? Can you carry another man, with –”
He looked at Corporal Baier, quickly gauging the weight of the radioman himself as well as that of the equipment he carried.
“Say, two hundred and twenty-five pounds, all told. Over.”
Rita’s answer came immediately. “You’re not talking about yourself, obviously. Yeah, I’m pretty sure, especially because we can subtract my weight from the equation. Your guy gets on, I get off. That brings it down to a net gain of less than a hundred pounds. Hold on, I’ll check with Stefano.”
Tom winced. He’d been afraid she’d come up with that alternative. With thousands of Bavarians running wild, he wanted his wife to stay right where she was — way, way, way too high for the bastards to get to her.
Rita came back on the air. “No problem, as long as we make the switch. Stefano says the Pelican could handle at least two more people — if we weren’t low on fuel. But he says we’ve got enough to land and take off with an additional hundred pounds or so. Where do you want us to set down? Over. No, wait — don’t tell me, tell Dina. She’s the co-pilot and she’ll double as the navigator. I’ll put her on.” A couple a seconds later: “Oops. Forgot. Over.”
Tom would have handed his walkie-talkie to von Eichelberg, since he was the one who’d actually be providing the directions. But he didn’t think the Brunswick captain was familiar with the device. He’d show him how to use it after they were done here, but for now he’d keep serving as the intermediary.
While he waited for Dina Merrifield to come on the air, he contemplated some of his wife’s personal characteristics. There’d been a good reason he’d thought she could bully Hank Siers within five minutes.
He foresaw some difficult times ahead. In about… two hours.