Calliope and the Khirshan Empire


Chapter 1  Maiden Flight

The sun shining through her flat’s window said the weather had cooperated for the first public flight of Her Majesty’s Air Ship Adamant. Cal heaved a sigh of relief. She hadn’t relished the thought of explaining to the Queen the need to postpone if the conditions weren’t perfect.

Too soon to relax. The flight had to go over without a hitch. The Royal Engineers had worked incredibly hard through the winter and early spring. Their numbers had increased over the time with several hundred employed at factories surrounding the airfield. That didn’t include the swarms of men constructing the berth for airships, each with a roof which opened.

Every time Cal thought about the creation of an air navy, the process became more complicated. She had a board in her office for the sole purpose of posting new things needing to be invented or improved. Commander Landers had taken over the day to day running of the engineers.

Today would not only be a public test of the Adamant, but of the roof system for the hanger, and the lift system. The lift had been built to get the Queen into the airship with dignity. While Cal suspected Her Majesty could easily negotiate a rope ladder, the idea had given her nightmares.

After a quick breakfast, Cal drove her steam carriage to the airfield and met with her crew in the Adamant’s hangar.

Airship Captain Vittor waited with her hands behind her back- the first recruit commissioned specifically for the air navy. First Mate Jones stood behind her with the flight crew on either side of him – two engineers, the bosun, and a cook and general handyman.  One engineer and the cook were also women. Cal had informed the Admiralty she planned on recruiting women as well as men. The Lord Admiral opened his mouth, then shut it and moved on to the next item.

“All right, crew.” Cal smiled at them and saluted. “This is the flight you’ve been training for the last few months. You are the people who have come the furthest and shown the most comfort in your roles.” She pointed to the Adamant. “Now get up there and do the final checks. Captain Vittor is in command, if any one of you looks to me to confirm an order, I will bounce you off the ship. If I’m feeling generous, I may wait until we land.”

“Aye, Admiral.” The crew said and ran to do their work. For all that half of them were older than Cal, she still thought of them as kids. Maybe it went with the rank.

The Queen’s guard arrived after all the lists had been run through twice. The ground crew polished the lift until it shone, then laid a carpet on the walkway to make the footing better.

“Everything ready?” The Sergeant of the Queen’s Guard stood beside her and craned his neck to look at the airship.

“It is.”

“Six crew and six passengers. That’s not as much as the Ferandican airship carries.”

“I decided to travel light. It gives us more options.”

“Options?” The Sergeant frowned. “Her Majesty needs to be kept safe.”

“She will be.” Cal waved around the building. “Everything in here has been inspected and re-inspected. The crew is the best of the lot, and not one person in here would hesitate to put their life on the line for the Queen.”

“Very good.” The Sergeant nodded at Cal and relaxed slightly. “The Queen is on her way.”

“Thank you.” Cal turned to a man carrying a board with pen and paper. “Whistle the crew into formation, Petty Officer.”

The ground crew formed up with the flight crew in front. They waited for her Majesty to arrive.

“Her Majesty, Admiral Royal.” The Sergeant announced her and everyone in the hanger stood to attention.

“Impressive.” The Queen walked along the lines of the crew. “You look sharp and ready. Your Admiral’s trust in you is well placed.”

“Your Majesty.” Captain Vittor bowed. “Would you prefer to fly first, or tour the hanger?”

“We would think as Airship Captain; you’d want to show off your ship.”

“I do, your Majesty, but respectfully, the ground crew are no less members of the Air Navy. Without them, we couldn’t fly. I wouldn’t be a good Captain if I short-changed them.”

“Very well, Captain Vittor. We shall tour the hangar, then fly in your ship.” The Queen walked through the hangar asking questions about the equipment for a full hour before the tour led her to the lift.

“The lift will carry four people at a time, your Majesty.” The Chief Petty Officer opened the gate. “Your guards have informed me you will board last. If you will stand behind the white line on the floor, we will know you are safely clear of the machinery while we work.” He bowed to her as she moved to her place.

The lift didn’t move very quickly, but with only three trips, all the people for today’s flight boarded the Adamant in less than fifteen minutes.

“Amazing. I expected the floor to move under my feet.” The Queen looked around.

“With the size of the Adamant small changes in weight don’t have much effect. Like boarding a ship of the line compare to a dinghy.” Cal led her Majesty to a chair set by a floor to ceiling window. The panes of glass curved around the front of the gondola. She nodded at Captain Vittor. “Captain, you have command.”

“Aye, Admiral.” She leaned to speak into a tube. “Ground crew, open the roof. Stand by to release anchor ropes.”

The Queen’s eye widened as the roof moved out of the way. It went quicker than Cal’s barn roof with cables winching it down as the pressure in the cylinders dropped.

“Release anchor ropes.”

The ship bobbed up slightly as the ropes’ tension vanished. The crew pulled the ropes up and coiled them out of the way before closing the hatches.

“Engine room one, turn prop. Engine room two, turn prop.” The sound of the engines came through the wall, but muffled, more a hum than a howl.

“Engines to quarter power.” The Captain pulled on the levers and the flukes at the stern angled to send the Adamant up. She worked the rudder with her feet to turn to fly over the city, and more specifically, the royal palace.

Two hours later the Adamant hovered over the hanger as the crew dropped the ropes. She was winched down into her berth and the roof closed.

“That was extraordinary.” The Queen turned to Captain Vittor. “My compliments to you and your crew for a smooth flight.”

“Your Majesty.” Captain Vittor bowed and picked up a small box from beside her chair. “In honour of your first flight, the crew of the Adamant, flight and ground both, would like to present you with these wings.” She opened the box to show the Queen before handing over the box.

Cal had negotiated for hours with the Queen’s Guard to allow the presentation to be made directly to the Queen. From the delight on her Majesty’s face, it had been worth the aggravation.

“Well, that went well.” Cal stood watching the crew put the ship to rest. Captain Vittor leaned against the wall beside her.

“Not bad for a short cruise, but we didn’t need to light the fires on the boilers, and we didn’t push any limits. Not that we could with her Majesty aboard. I’d like to have permission to put the Adamant through her paces. Too late to make many changes to her sister ships, but the next group to be built need to be an improvement.”

“Permission granted.” Cal glanced over at the Captain. “Hard to believe six months ago you were running a shop with your husband.”

“Still am, or at least he is. The shop is his thing more than mine. I liked the organizing, making sure everything worked together. I answered the ad on a bet. We’d had an argument over how much cheese to stock. He told me if I passed the entry, he’d do everything I told him.”

“Does he?”

“What would be the fun in that?” Captain Vittor laughed. “He’s my husband, not my crew. Besides he’s right at least as often as I am. The children help him out. My oldest son is already counting the years before he can enlist, but that only makes him more determined to work hard to prove he can.”

“Captain, the Adamant’s sister ships will be finished within the month. Their crews are already training hard. As soon as they are launched, we’ll set the keels for the next group. Have any recommendations you want to make ready as soon as possible.”

“Aye Admiral.”