The airship flew for a few hours, gaining altitude. Mr. Preeble had been thus far piloting the vessel, assisted by Mr. Alders. A vista of deep blue ocean filled the view through the front gondola’s bullet ridden windows. I was not sure where we were, but I was certain that I was the farthest from home I had ever been.
I occupied a seat near one of the windows and braced my diary against the sill to write. It did me good to have some quiet to think. I blocked out the occasional chatter of my companions. Etiquette required me to write a letter of refusal to Mr. Dosett on the topic of his wedding proposal. That was the first thing I wrote that morning.
I also thought about my traveling companions and wrote brief thoughts about each of them in my diary for posterity. It was at this time that I considered the fact that the other two women were apparently wearing old evening dresses that once belonged to my long-departed mother. I wondered if they were aware of that. Their dresses and mine were all designed for late night parties. They were quite revealing and not meant to be seen during the day. It was quite embarrassing.
I kept Gavin in the corner of my eye; I still did not trust him. It seemed that Mr. Preeble was about to make an announcement. Everyone was turned to face Mr. Preeble and their sudden changes in body posture alerted me to the fact that something was going on. I cleaned my pen and put away my writing supplies.
Miss. Alders was standing near Mr. Preeble, engaged in conversation. “You are obviously worried and whatever it is, you can tell us. Whatever is on your mind, you can tell us or there will be nothing we can do about it. We want to help you in whatever way we can. You’ve been so amazing,” she said in a seductive tone.
Mr. Preeble said, “Well, I’ve got something on my chest that I need to talk to you all about. It seems like I haven’t been completely on the level. My apologies to all of you.” He then asked Mr. Alders to bring Captain Kirkpatrick back to the front gondola to hear his announcement. It was then that I realized Captain Kirkpatrick was nowhere to be seen, he must have gone to the rear gondola while I was writing.
“Is it safe to let Mr. Alders go get Captain Kirkpatrick?” I wondered aloud.
“What?” Miss Bly asked me.
“I’ve heard them arguing,” I clarified.
“Uhm… they weren’t exactly uhm friends,” Miss Alders said. I could tell she was trying to downplay the situation and was trying not to give me too many details.
“I mean… never mind,” I said as the hatch opened and the two men came into view, climbing down the ladder. My fears were apparently unfounded.
Mr. Preeble and Gavin were pressing a few buttons and using the ship’s controls. “I think everything is set,” Mr. Preeble said to Gavin. “We’re on our course and I don’t have to pay mind much to this.”
Mr. Preeble turned to face his passengers and address us as a whole. “I need to give you all my sincerest apologies.”
“Whatever for?” Miss Alders asked.
“It seems like I haven’t been on the level with everybody,” Mr. Preeble said. The entire gondola went quiet. An oppressive tension swept over room. Mr. Preeble nodded his head in Mr. Binford’s direction. “Especially you, Tom. My sincerest apologies to you. What I am about to tell you may end up changing your perceptions of myself and why you are on this ship.”
Captain Kirkpatrick lit his pipe and the smell of tobacco smoke with a hint of apple wafted through the air. He had a serious look about him.
Mr. Preeble turned to face Captain Kirkpatrick. “And I apologize to you, Captain Kirkpatrick. “ He began to explain himself, “Gavin and I were on a mission. I was supposed to drop Gavin off. I think I have told you this before, Captain Kirkpatrick. And Gavin was supposed to make his way up to Washington, D.C.”
The Captain nodded at Mr. Preeble, not taking his pipe from his mouth to answer aloud.
“What we didn’t tell you,” Mr. Preeble continued, “was that the months before with the Concordance and the Independence and what happened with that.” Mr. Preeble was again facing Mr. Binford. A serious look was on Mr. Binford’s face. I realized that these names meant something to him, the Concordance and the Independence. “This is where I am very sorry about you,” Mr. Preeble said directly to Mr. Binford, “Mr. Tom Binford, or whoever you are.”
“Do you know of Tom?” Nellie Bly asked.
“I know of Tom,” Mr. Preeble answered, “and I’ve met him before – before he even got back on the Concordance. The story goes like this. It happened a few months ago. As you know now, New Britannia has kept herself very well veiled from the eyes of older nations, our motherland, England, France, Germany and even the Colonies – the loyal and disloyal colonies. And we grew up developed our own culture. As you see now, while you are still in horses and buggies, we enjoy the merits of flight, steam technology and a lot of other things that you all are now beginning to come into. The ship you’re flying in right now was built twenty years ago.”
“Oh my,” Miss Alders whispered.
“It was about to be phased out. The ships we have now are much bigger and more powerful,” Mr. Preeble continued.
“More heavily armed?” Captain Kirkpatrick asked.
“Yes, Captain Kirkpatrick,” Mr. Preeble replied. “More heavily armed.”
The Captain nodded in agreement, apparently believing this story to be true thus far. He smoked a pipe as he listened to Mr. Preeble. The Captain appeared to be weighing Mr. Preeble’s words carefully.
“But at the beginning of this story, because we kept to ourselves for the longest time, a couple of centuries as a matter of fact. Then, one day, we were much like any other country. We had a fleet, we had a navy and we had an army. Our navy was out to sea. Where we are at right now, is desolate from everybody else. The navies of Europe and the Americas don’t ever come around were we are at,” Mr. Preeble explained.
“We were out doing our fleet maneuvers and suddenly over the horizon we had seen two ships, painted white. They weren’t our ships and we knew they were warships. At the time, we typically have our scout ships out and the Newe Londone is one of them. Our fleet is aging and we weren’t caught up to the fleet and we were not going to be caught up for some time. What happened was, the two ships were seen. The one in the front ship was signaling to us. It was called the Independence, from what we had seen through our binoculars and sighting equipment. The rear ship was the Concordance.”
“We had seen some flashing lights coming from the ships. We were armed with a new weapon, one that would render sailors unconscious. We could easily board the ships and determine what to do with the ships and its sailors afterwards. Unfortunately, when the ships came into range, we tried out our device. The device surged and the Independence blew up completely out of the water.”
“As you said before,” Mr. Binford agreed.
“So you field tested on American ships and Americans?” Captain Kirkpatrick asked, his ire quite apparent.
“We had our reasons, Captain Kirkpatrick,” Mr. Preeble began to argue.
“Were you fired upon?” the Captain asked.
“We don’t know and they were flashing their lights at us. We did not understand what they were doing,” Mr. Preeble said.
“You have committed an aggressive act against America,” Captain Kirkpatrick insisted.
“Captain Kirkpatrick,” Mr. Preeble continued, “Whenever flashing lights occur in our world, that means you are trying to find range. So our Captain and Rear Admiral didn’t want to take a chance.”
“Justify it however you want, Mr. Preeble. But without provocation you fired upon ships of another nation. You call us war-like,” Captain Kirkpatrick stated.
“Captain Kirkpatrick, you didn’t listen to what I said,” Mr. Preeble argued.
“I did listen to what you said. You made an assumption and it was incorrect. We have no technology that uses light for range finding.”
“How were we supposed to know that? Captain Kirkpatrick?”
“You didn’t have to fire at your first fear. My god, even Americans will find out who they are shooting at before they start shooting at them,” Captain Kirkpatrick continued.
“May we please allow him to finish the story before we start incriminating?” Miss Alders interrupted.
“They said the weapon was going to be non-lethal,” Miss Bly argued in Mr. Preeble’s defense.
“How would you feel if two British ships had been blown out of the water,” Captain Kirkpatrick asked Miss Alders.
“Horrible. However, I would want to know all of the facts so that I could find out exactly what was going on.”
“Hrmph” Captain Kirkpatrick replied, obviously disbelieving Miss Alders response.
“Anyway, it worked as planned on the second ship, the Concordance,” Mr. Preeble continued. “Maybe a little bit better than we had assumed. We started boarding the Concordance and found out that all of the sailors were indeed unconscious. Since the Concordance’s technology was a little more primitive than we expected, we were able to take control of the ship. Then we started finding out that the poor men on the ship were not only unconscious. They were in deep comas, essentially.”
“So we didn’t know what to do with these poor men. Typically when we find a stranded sailor or any kind of person from the outside, we usually absorb them into our society and they become citizens. Unfortunately, we had many men, hundreds of men, at our care. So we took them back to Britannia and took care of them as best we could. Then they started waking up.”
“It was a foregone conclusion that none of these men would be able to absorb into our society. Their minds were a little too messed up. Many of them had dreams. Many of them couldn’t be re-taught anything because most of their memories had been wiped out. So we loaded the Concordance, put the men back on it, sailed it back up north. The Newe Londone was to escort it. We guided the Concordance up to your coastline, near Savannah and Charleston and left her adrift.”
It was criminal to injure so many men and then give up on them. The New Britannian Navy abandoned the sailors of the Concordance rather than expend the effort necessary for their care.
“Unfortunately, at that time, a storm had hit too. The Newe Londone was caught in it and damaged severely. So I was adrift also. There were 10 other men with me, including Gavin Alders. Gavin’s job was to go to Washington, D.C. and meet up with the British Embassy there and deliver a message to a couple of individuals I know not the names of. The other people are still in what you call the United States,” Mr. Preeble explained.
“So you have citizens of New Britannia abandoned in the United States?” Miss Alders asked.
“Are they abandoned or are they left there as spies?” Miss Bly asked. When the room got quiet, she added, “I have to ask.”
“That is a good question,” Captain Kirkpatrick nodded towards Miss Bly.
“It’s a reasonable question,” Miss Alders agreed.
Mr. Preeble hesitated to answer and after a moment of silence, Miss Bly asked again, “Are they planned spies or accidental?”
“Since you are the appreciator of the truth there, Captain Kirkpatrick, they were left there as spies,” Mr. Preeble admitted.
Captain Kirkpatrick replied coolly, “I appreciate your candor, Mr. Preeble.”
“They were there to keep an eye on anything that happened with the Concordance and guarder at news whatsoever of the sailors – to see what became of the sailors.”
“And how were they supposed to send their information back?” Mr. Binford replied. He had been quiet for some time and I was concerned as he appeared quite stressed over the situation.
“Well, they were supposed to set up through the Newe Londone but the Newe Londone was damaged,” Mr. Preeble answered.
“Were they the ones that loosened the moorings on the Newe Londone?” Miss Alders asked. I had no understanding of what she asked. This topic was beginning to become quite confusing for me as I had very limited knowledge on the goings on of these people before my arrival.
“When it broke free some months ago,” Mr. Kirkpatrick clarified.
“Uhm, I… think so, Miss Alders,” Mr. Preeble answered.
“It did seem rather happenstance, didn’t it?” She asked herself. “Pray, continue.”
“So now you are all my…” Mr. Preeble began.
“Prisoners,” Captain Kirkpatrick finished. The word gave me a sense of immediate dread.
“Guests,” Mr. Preeble corrected. I felt certain that the Captain’s terminology was more fitting of the situation. “Until we get to Cuba,” Mr. Preeble added.
“Cuba?” I asked. I knew almost nothing of the place.
“We’ll be on the other side of the island. Unfortunately you are not going to enjoy the sights and sounds of Havana.”
“What are we doing in Cuba?” I asked myself quietly, not wanting to interrupt.
“I apologize sincerely to you Tom. That is what happened to you, Tom. You were un-trainable and you about sunk a ship or two,” Mr. Preeble said, looking at Tom with a guilty look on his face. “As were the rest of your men, so we ended up returning you as best we could.” He paused for a moment and turned to face Captain Kirkpatrick. “You, Captain Kirkpatrick, I don’t know what to do with you yet.”
“I assume I will be executed as soon as my use is done,” the Captain replied dryly.
“We don’t execute people,” Mr. Preeble argued, as if his culture was vastly superior to ours.
“Well my mind will be changed to be integrated,” Captain Kirkpatrick pressed for more details.
“As much as right now I would enjoy that after your accusations…” Mr. Preeble began, attempting to raise the ire of the Captain.
“My accusations?” Captain Kirkpatrick asked. He had a point. Mr. Preeble had been admitting everything; there was no need for accusations from a man who was presenting himself as guilty.
“And your hasty words,” Mr. Preeble continued.
“Despite what Miss Bly thinks of the US Military, we do not field test weaponry on targets who are not our enemies. I find your methods reprehensible,” Captain Kirkpatrick countered.
“As much as you can squawk about that, that is your opinion, Captain Kirkpatrick. And it is what it is.”
“It is hypocrisy, is what it is,” Captain Kirkpatrick stated.
“It is a terrible weapon,” Miss Alders pointed out.
“Well, now it is a great and terrible weapon, but it sounded like it was going to be a humane weapon,” Miss Bly again took Mr. Preeble’s side. I could not but doubt her loyalties to the United States of America.
“So how long exactly have you had the Concordance under your power? And the people on it, such as myself?” Mr. Binford asked.
“About a month,” Mr. Preeble said.
“About a month?” Mr. Binford asked and waited for a confirmation nod from Mr. Preeble. “And you can determine if people are trainable within one month?”
“Yes. Some of your men couldn’t even put a round pegs into square holes,” Mr. Preeble said. I found it horrible to judge a man’s intellect so quickly.
“Did you have some people watching you?” Miss Bly asked Mr. Binford and then began to immediately question Mr. Preeble, “The Red Strings? Are they people that were spying on him and were communicating with him? He had some people that came up to him,” she said, gesturing towards Tom. I could not but marvel at her lack of coherent questioning, considering her profession.
“I know of some people that we left behind in ages ago that were agents of us. That was the Ellysium Brotherhood, which sounds a lot like the Red Strings that you have talked about,” Mr. Preeble said.
“So you have… your people have been in our country… for a while?” Miss Bly asked, stunned.
“For a while, yes,” Mr. Preeble answered very quietly. He sounded quite guilty.
“What exactly do you plan to do with us?” I asked. I hated to interrupt such a serious conversation and felt quite selfish for only being concerned with my own well being. I hoped that no one would judge me harshly for speaking so out of turn.
“That is an excellent question,” Miss Alders said. I immediately felt better about asking it.
Mr. Preeble turned to face me and said, “I don’t know. Other than Captain Kirkpatrick, we might absorb you into our society.”
“So kidnapping is acceptable to your people?” Captain Kirkpatrick asked in an accusing tone.
“Well I did not kidnap you,” Mr. Preeble countered. “You all came willingly.”
“But taking any of these people – three United States citizens and two British citizens back to your home country, refusing to allow them to leave is kidnapping,” Captain Kirkpatrick explained.
“Maybe that is how you find it, Captain Kirkpatrick,” Mr. Alders said calmly with an air of superiority in his voice again. He had the upper hand in this situation. “But you came willingly. In any dictionary that I have ever seen, that does not constitute kidnapping.”
“Mr. Preeble,” Miss Alders began, “Should any of us truly choose to not continue on our journey, would you allow us to live in Cuba? With our solemn oath that we do not reveal anything that you have said to us?”
Mr. Alders had not spoken a word during this long discussion thus far. He had a sad look on his face; he appeared to be filled with regret but did not seem surprised at anything he heard. I knew that he was not trust worthy. He continually made covert glances towards Miss Alders. This made me suspicious of her as well. I was becoming quite confused about the loyalties of everyone aboard. A feeling of helplessness and despair swept over me.
“So, we will get to our base in Cuba and we’ll decide from there what needs to be done with you,” Mr. Preeble continued his answer to my earlier question.
“I do have a question,” Miss Alders said. “Why have you decided to reabsorb Tom if he was so un-trainable?” I could not help but notice Miss Alders familiarity in referring to Mr. Binford. I would have to consider that later.
This caused me some alarm as Mr. Preeble had been so dishonest before. His promises of safety and a new life in New Britannia could also be a lie. “Has your perception of him changed?” I asked, probing for a reaction from Mr. Preeble.
Mr. Preeble hesitated for a moment then replied, “I would say so. He deserves a little bit of something and I don’t think he was going to have a good rest of his life in that land you call the United States – which is also full of its own hypocrisies, Captain Kirkpatrick” he added, looking at the Captain. Mr. Preeble was obviously trying to change the subject by starting another argument with Captain Kirkpatrick. I believed at that moment that Mr. Preeble thought his people might have other, more sinister plans for Mr. Binford.
My head was swimming with all of these wild explanations. I could not take much more. “Could we not fight right now?” I asked quietly. I did not want to hear more arguing.
“Ask the Native Americans about their treaties with your country…” Mr. Preeble continued.
“I don’t remember you picking us up. I remember breaking you out,” Mr. Binford accused Mr. Preeble.
“Private,” Mr. Preeble said condescendingly.
“Mr. Binford raises a very good point,” Captain Kirkpatrick agreed.
“I think your facts are little bit mixed up,” Mr. Binford continued to press Mr. Preeble. “You didn’t think I was going to have a good enough life back in Charleston or Savannah?”
“I think not. It seems like you have already been persecuted many times there before. Quite recently, right? And from what you have told me so far, how many gun barrels have you been looking down at?”
“In the last two days?” Mr. Binford countered.
“By the former friends of Mr. Alders,” Captain Kirkpatrick said, in reference to the people that had been presumably aiming their guns at Mr. Binford as of late. This was all news to me but it certainly confirmed the brief introduction to Mr. Binford that I received from Miss Bly when I first boarded the air ship.
“So how does Brommwell fit into all of this?” Miss Bly asked.
“Brommwell is Alder’s backer,” Captain Kirkpatrick explained. He apparently had a better grasp on the big picture than the reporter who was attempting to get her facts straight. I was sure that this whole affair would end up in a book some day. “He paid for the original expedition to New Britannia. He was Mr. Alder’s ally for a time.”
“And why has he turned?” She asked of Mr. Gavin, throwing his loyalties into question, right in front of him as he stood on the bridge nearby.
“That is a good question, Miss Bly,” the Captain stated.
“To answer the question, Lord William was never what you painted him out to be. He was no murderer,” Mr. Alders finally spoke. “All he was doing was financing an expedition, Captain Kirkpatrick.”
“He ordered the execution of Mr. Binford and myself,” Captain Kirkpatrick countered. “Both of us can attest to that fact. His cronies tied up Miss Alders and Miss Bly and had sacks over their heads. I dare not even think of what they were going to do to these two women.”
“Lord William would not have done that,” Mr. Alders argued.
“Mr. Alders, I dealt with Lord William in a darkened park in Charleston,” Captain Kirkpatrick began. This immediately raised my curiosity as to what gentlemen would be doing in a park at night, certainly nothing legal. “He seemed very snide and very content about the fact that he was going to take myself, as he did not know Mr. Binford was nearby, to the back of the park and shoot me.”
“Is that true, Tom?” Mr. Preeble asked Mr. Binford with an uncalled for familiarity.
“That is true,” Mr. Binford said.
“He was being snide?” Mr. Alders asked, as if that was the most unbelievable part of the story.
“Yes, he was snide,” Mr. Binford replied.
“Or is this another elaboration by Captain Oliver Maxwell Kirkpatrick,” Mr. Alders said with a sneer.
“No, this is one-hundred percent the truth,” Mr. Binford stated. “He had Mr. Kirkpatrick surrounded by gunmen and was ready to execute him in the park. Little did he know that I was actually hiding not too far away from the situation and was able to save Mr. Kirkpatrick’s life.”
“And did you know of Lady Brommwell?” Miss Bly asked.
“This is a lot to take in,” I said. I immediately regretted interrupting.
“It’s quite an adventure dear and you’ve landed right in the middle of it,” Miss Alders told me.
Mr. Alders appeared to be considering the situation as well.
Mr. Preeble said, “Never the mind, you are my passengers. We are going to Cuba and I will be contacting my agents there and see what I need to do with you.” It bothered me greatly that he still did not know what our fates were to be. “The shame of it all is that this could have been quiet. We could have left it alone but now that New Brittania knows that you know about this ship. This ship is being copied by some person that we left behind. This person has armed it, just like our founder Jonathan French would have feared.”
“Your own ships are armed,” Captain Kirkpatrick reminded Mr. Preeble.
“This ship is not armed,” Mr. Preeble said, referring to the Newe Londone.
“No, this scout ship is not armed but you already said your battleships are armed with a weapon of horrific proportions that can either blow up ships entirely or wipe memories that are storied in men’s minds.”
“Well, Captain Kirkpatrick, what would be a battleship without armaments?” Mr. Preeble said in a condescending tone.
“Don’t sidestep the question, Mr. Preeble,” Captain Kirkpatrick said, sticking to his ground. “We have done nothing worse than your people have done.”
Mr. Binford interrupted quite loudly, “I have heard about enough.” He left through the hatch to head, presumably to the back gondola.
“That’s all I have to say,” Mr. Preeble announced and turned back to the airship’s controls.
“Well I think we’ll be safe from Lady Brommwell. She won’t have all of our necks,” Miss Bly said happily. I could not help but think that this Lady Broomwell must be a tyrant if she compares to technologically advanced people with mind destroying guns that plan to reeducate us. Either that, or Miss Bly did not fully grasp the hazards of our situation.
“Does New Britannia have an extradition treaty?” Miss Alders asked.
“Britannia has no contact with any country,” Mr. Preeble and Captain Kirkpatrick said in unison. They had made that point clear earlier.
“Well then, I don’t think that Lady Brommwell will be a problem,” Miss Alders told Miss Bly. What sort of legal trouble had the two women gotten themselves into that Lady Brommwell would have cause to use an extradition treaty to incarcerate them was a mystery to me.
“That sounds like a good thing,” Miss Bly said. She was apparently only concerned for her own fate. Living in New Britannia might be a good option for herself and Miss Alders but I feared that Mr. Binford and Captain Kirkpatrick might not be so lucky under those circumstances.
“My concern is for young Miss Whitlock over here,” Miss Alders said, gesturing towards me. “She stumbled onto this adventure unwittingly and therefore I feel that if she insists, we should allow her to leave when we reach Cuba. That is only fair.”
“I don’t know anything about Cuba,” I said uncertain if that fate would be any better than living in New Britannia.
“Miss Lilian can probably speak for herself,” Mr. Preeble said, calling me by my first name. The breach in etiquette irked me, “and she might make an upstanding citizen of New Britannia.”
“What kind of life is in New Britannia for people like us?” I asked. Again, I felt guilty for asking about my own considerations when the lives of others actually hung in the balance.
“We’ll give you the best education,” Mr. Preeble said, reassuringly.
“Do you have any eligible bachelors for Lilian?” Miss Bly asked sarcastically. I could not believe that she was picking this moment to belittle me. She had again referred to me with too much familiarity.
“Are you trying to marry her off?” Miss Alders asked, stunned.
“It’s Miss Whitlock. It’s not Lilian,” I told Miss Bly.
“Miss Whitlock,” Miss Bly said in a snide tone, “Maybe they have eligible bachelors that are not drunkards.” If she knew what I was running from, she would perhaps have an ounce of sympathy. I struggled very hard to maintain my decency and not retaliate verbally against the woman.
“Well, let’s not force her down the aisle prematurely, shall we?” Miss Alders asked. “I believe she can make her own decisions.” While I did respect Miss Alders and hoped that she would watch out for my honor as a Lady, I did expect to hold her to her word about my independence.
Mr. Preeble had been whispering with Mr. Alders for a few minutes. Mr. Alders appeared uncomfortable with the situation.
I asked Miss Alders to speak in Private. She agreed and we moved towards the corner of the front gondola.
“Yes, dear? What can I do for you?” Miss Alders asked when we were out of earshot. I wondered why she felt the need to address me so familiarly. Perhaps this was a British custom?
“Several things, actually,” I replied. “I have had some time to cool down. I do need to apologize first for my un-lady like attitude towards you yesterday. I was under much duress but that is no excuse to forget my etiquette and to speak to you of volatile topics.”
“I understand,” she said. “It was probably quite an extreme circumstance for you and sometimes we do say things when we are under certain stresses that are beyond the normal.”
“I assure you that it will not happen again,” I promised.
“My dear, I know this has got to be quite troubling for you.”
“And for you as well,” I added. It occurred to me that she did not seem concerned for her own future, as if she had been long aware of our impending imprisonment.
“I have never been an unauthorized guest of a different nation,” she stated. It was a peculiar way of saying that she had never been kidnapped and held prisoner by a foreign country. I believed she was trying to downplay the situation, either for my own emotional benefit or for deceptive purposes. It was difficult to tell.
“I need to ask you a favor,” I continued. I was quite nervous about bringing up this next topic. Etiquette requires that a Lady that is not escorted by a male relative or husband needs a chaperone. A governess, of genteel birth who is known to be respectable but represents no matrimonial competition is required.
“What?” she asked.
“I can tell from your bearing are a lady of high birth?” I asked, uncertain. “And being as we are traveling without proper escort…”
Miss Alders chuckled. “Well technically I am traveling with my older brother.”
“Oh. You are,” I said. How this had not occurred to me before baffled me. This meant that she was quite alright in respect to the chaperone situation. This did give her an upper hand in my negotiations.
“But that is alright, I will take you under my wing, dear,” she said. “If that is alright.” She implied that I was a charity case with her tone of voice.
“I was going to say that I need chaperoning.”
“I could keep a fair weathered eye on you,” she offered.
“We could assist each other with feminine issues such as grooming and dressing,” I said to remind her that she may need my help as well.
“Well yes. Sometimes it takes some assistance to tighten the corset,” she agreed.
“I am also concerned about the nature of our traveling in such a confined space with so many men,” I confessed.
“Well, it is rather unorthodox,” Miss Alders agreed. “Yes dear, of course. I completely understand. You are forgiven of course.”
“Thank you,” I told her.
“Of course, if you need to speak with me at any time, let me know.”
“I will. Thank you, Miss Alders,” I told her.
“And should any man act untoward to you, let me know. It will be dealt,” she added.
“Uhm… thank you,” I said, concerned that she was implying the need for physical punishments aboard the vessel.
“Dealt with in a most un-lady like fashion,” she clarified.
“Oh my,” was all I could say. “I’ll… I’ll keep that in mind.”
I excused myself from Miss Alders and returned to my seat.
Nellie was cleaning the bridge for some reason. I attempted to interrupt her. “Miss Bly?” She did not respond. “Miss Bly?” I asked again with increased volume. “May I have a quick word?”
“Yes,” she said, finally acknowledging my presence.
“Etiquette requires that I apologize for my poor attitude yesterday and my improper use of volatile topics of discussion with you.”
“Alright,” she said. “You were being chased by the hounds.”
“Exactly, it was a completely untenable situation,” Miss Alders agreed.
“Nellie, I do have a question for you and I know that it is slightly impertinent but I have to know. Are we more than a story to you?”
“You are my friends,” Miss Bly replied, sounding hurt. “I have grown close and attached to you. If we’re going to die together…”
I suddenly felt faint. “Don’t say that!”
“I just wanted to make sure that we are more than just a fantastic byline, because after everything we’ve been through, quite honestly I need people that I can rely on.” Miss Alders looked at me, trying to confirm whether or not I was now in her hip pocket, so to speak. I feared that my simple request for chaperoning had somehow given her the impression that I was utterly dependant on her now.
“I think you can rely on me. We are either going to have to spend the rest of our lives together and you might be my closest and dearest friends or we are going to die together,” Miss Bly responded.
“You don’t have to say that,” I reminded Miss Bly.
“As long as I have companions that I can rely on, I suppose that we can suffer through almost anything,” Miss Alders agreed.
“Suffer?” I asked. Why were these two ladies trying to convince me that our situation was without any hope?
“Do you think we will suffer in our new country?” Miss Bly asked, apparently already filling out her citizenship documentation.
“Well no, I meant that if…” Miss Alders struggled for words.
“We could carry on and make the best of the situation,” Miss Bly finished for her. “If we do have to start a new life, I think that there are no better people to be with.”
“Well, they are scientifically advanced. They might have all sorts of things that we can discover,” Miss Alders added. It was as if they were speaking to an upset child about how little pain there is to be had at the dentist and that there would be a piece of candy given afterwards. I felt insulted. The two women did not feel that they could be honest with me about the precarious nature of our situation.
“That sounds terribly boring,” I retorted.
“Well, they might have very advanced clothing,” she said.
“They have technology, so you might have to do less work. So maybe you won’t have to do manual labor.”
I had had enough of this discussion. It was all a distraction and was getting me nowhere. I looked over to Mr. Preeble, hopeful that I might get a word with him. I stared out the window to let the other women know I was disinterested for now.
Miss Bly headed towards the back gondola to prepare some food. Miss Alders told her brother that I was waiting to speak to Mr. Preeble. She had picked up on my intentions. Mr. Alders went to speak briefly to Mr. Preeble. Mr. Preeble nodded in my direction and I approached the controls as Mr. Gavin stepped away.
I had come to realize that I had offended my captor and needed to make myself seem useful to him to prevent my early disposal.
“What do you need to know, Miss Whitlock?” he asked, still staring forward to the view before the airship.
“Several things. First off, I have to apologize for being rude to you yesterday. I was under duress. It will not happen again. I understand that I need to pull my weight and I volunteer as such for whatever duties you see fit for me.” I hoped to be kept aboard and not abandoned alone once we arrived in Cuba.”
It now felt like a hostage negotiation and I wanted to make our situation better. “Also, I am concerned about the arrangements with so the women in such close quarters with so many men. So I would like to know how you plan to handle that. As the captain of this vessel, I am required by etiquette to ask you these questions.”
Mr. Preeble laughed at me condescendingly. “Miss Whitlock, what we can do is while the gentleman, as per your culture…” he rolled his eyes as he spoke.
“Are you saying that your culture is not civilized?” I asked.
“No, our culture is not similar to yours,” he clarified. “While the women are back there sleeping, the menfolk with be up here.”
“That will be acceptable,” I said.
“Also I need you to do me a favor. I would like to talk to Captain Kirkpatrick. Can you go fetch him for me please?” He asked politely.
“I can do that. Thank you,” I said and turned to leave the man to his airship’s controls. I was quite proud of my negotiation skills and hoped to build a rapport with Mr. Preeble. Perhaps I could somehow assist in making sure that the other prisoners received fair treatment.
When crossing a muddy street, a lady holds her dress skirt up and forward with her right hand. I used this familiar tactic while climbing the ladder on my way to the other gondola. The experience was terrifying and nauseating. I felt unsteady on my feet as I crossed the hallway towards the rear hatch.
As I climbed down the ladder I overheard a discussion occurring in the rear gondola.
“What is your opinion of this, Miss Bly, if I may be so bold as to ask” Captain Kirkpatrick asked.
“Captain?” I asked timidly as I tried to find my footing on the way down. It was the first time I had ever climbed down a ladder.
“I’m just really not sure but I’d just rather not upset my kidnappers or the only person who knows how to fly this ship. I’d rather not upset him and get thrown out,” Miss Bly replied to his question.
“May I interrupt?” I said again, pausing in my descent as my foot failed to find the next rung down.
“Captain Kirkpatrick, you are wanted at the front of the vessel by Mr. Preeble.” I tried to be as straight to the point as possible for the Captain’s sake.
“Hmm. I’m sure I am,” the Captain replied.
“Are you going back or are you going to stay and learn how to cook?” Miss Bly asked me from by stove.
Captain Kirkpatrick checked his sidearm briefly. I hoped he was not going to do anything to endanger himself or anyone else. He offered me his hand and assisted me with the last few rungs of the ladder. I thanked him for being a gentleman. In difficult times like this, small gestures can greatly improve one’s mood and I appreciated his civility.
“Are you sure you want to shoot somebody on this airship who knows how to fly it?” Miss Bly asked the Captain as he grabbed the ladder, prepared to ascend it.
“Why are we shooting someone? Can’t we just …” I asked
“I have no intention of shooting anyone at this point, Miss Bly,” he said. “But I like to know that am armed when I need to be.”
“Do you think it is wise to go that noticeably armed and they’ll take it away from you possibly?” Miss Bly asked.
“They are not taking these weapons away from me. Both of them are injured,” the captain told her in a factual tone.
“All of us are badly injured,” she replied sarcastically.
“Thank you for your concern,” Captain Kirkpatrick told her before ascending up the ladder.
“You are all very violent people,” I said offhandedly to Miss Bly.
“No we are not violent. It is violence that is done upon us,” she said.
“That I can understand,” I said as my left hand unconsciously rubbed my right arm before I could catch myself.
“We were being chased by men with guns too. You’re familiar with that,” Miss Bly told me, trying to convince me that we had much in common. I recalled that she was a wanted woman for crimes against a Lady Brommwell apparently. I was fleeing for my safety; she was fleeing the consequences of her own actions. We were nothing alike. “Some people are unlucky; they get shot by the guns,” she explained. “You were lucky that you came across us and we got you airlifted away.”
“Yes, very lucky,” I whispered.
As Miss Bly began to prepare a hearty meal at the stove, I watched with a strange, morbid curiosity at the process. “So what are you doing with the dinner, stove, thing?” I asked. She didn’t answer me, as she was quite preoccupied with the task at hand. I had a feeling that she was not the most familiar woman with the cooking chores either. “Uhm, can you hurry? Can you make it faster? I’m very hungry. I haven’t eaten in a long time,” I told her. The last meal I had enjoyed was in the late afternoon before my cotillion ball. That was on Friday; this was now mid-day on Saturday.
“Here’s a piece of bread,” Miss Bly offered. I took the chunk of crusty bread eagerly. Etiquette required that I tear small pieces from the bread and nibble at it. Etiquette be damned, I was feeling faint.
“Nelly, is there any food here that would make anyone more tired?” Mr. Binford asked. I believe he was considering using a sleeping powder on Mr. Preeble and Mr. Gavin. Mr. Binford had spoken in a very familiar tone with Miss Bly.
“I mean, possibly. If you eat enough. I don’t know nothing about knocking out people,” Miss Bly answered with her usual aptness in the English language. “That’s not my skill.”
“Isn’t there certain herbs and spices that would sometimes make some people more tired?” Mr. Binford asked, rewording his question. “Isn’t there a flower or something?”
“No. I don’t even know if they gave us any tea or anything,” I replied.
There was a discussion about the provisions and how best to make use of the perishables first to lessen any potential food waste during the journey. It was terribly boring. Mr. Binford climbed the ladder and left through the hatch afterwards.
“What are you doing on the stove?” I asked, after the inventory discussion was over. Perhaps it was time for me to learn about cooking.
“I’m making supper,” Miss Bly said, without further explanation.
Miss Alders arrived, climbing down the ladder.
“I am quite concerned about the men on this vessel and their states of mental well-being,” I informed Miss Alders.
“I am very concerned myself,” she agreed.
“They seem to be rather violent.”
“If they make any missteps, there will be, uhm, what is that vernacular? Uh, taking a short walk, no a long walk off a short pier,” Miss Alders said, smiling.
“I believe they will be scuttled,” she explained. “Tossed aloft,” she continued. Miss Alders apparently believed me to be rather slowwitted as she continued to find more ways to repeat her idea.
“I don’t think we should do that though either,” I argued.
“Uhm, Preeble wanted to see Captain,” Miss Bly absentmindedly interrupted.
“Oh,” I said, being reminded of something that I had wanted to say. “I spoke to Mr. Preeble about the arrangements on the ship. You will be happy to know that when we women are sleeping here in the back, the men will be confined to the front gondola.”
“That is very thoughtful,” Miss Alders said quietly. I would have expected more of a positive reaction from a proper lady, especially one now charged as my chaperone.
“That’s what I said,” I agreed.
“The back gondola. Then we need to start putting away all of this supplies so we have more room so we can sleep back here. We’ve started it,” Miss Bly blurted out as she shifted the contents of a large frying pan with a spoon. The aroma of the cooking food was quite agreeable. My stomach growled at the prospect.
“Let’s organize this gondola,” I said.
“I’m sure that is something we can accomplish if we put our minds to it,” Miss Alders said positively.
“You two start working on it, I’m making supper,” Miss Bly stated.
“Thank you for the bread,” I told Miss Bly as I finished the last bite. Now it was time for the heavy lifting that I had heard so much about. Miss Alders and I spent many minutes taking supplies out of crates and putting them in their proper places.
“I think you are a little worried, dear,” Miss Alders said to me as I found a place for a package of jerky in the cupboards.
“I am quite concerned for our future prospects,” I admitted.
“At the risk of…” she paused to think. She was carefully weighing her words. “Yes, I as well.”
“Ok, well what was the mood of Mr. Preeble?” Miss Bly asked.
“He was very cordial to me after I apologized,” I assured them both. “I explained to him that I understand that I need to pull my share of the weight around here.”
“What? And why did he, did he mention why he the Captain? Or?” Miss Bly questioned me.
“No, he did not,” I told her. “It was right after I had asked him about the sleeping arrangements.”
“Oh. Okay,” Miss Bly told me.
“He made a strange comment that he understood our cultural concerns. He made it seem like their culture is so different from ours that such an issue would not be a problem for them.”
“Well, they are theoretically and technologically advanced,” Miss Alders said, once again trying to make our forced emigration seem like a positive change.
“But what does that have to do with men and women sleeping in the same room if they are not married?” I asked, truly confused. “That has nothing to do with technology. That is not proper.”
“It is improper,” Miss Alders agreed.
“I wonder what sort of life we will have with these people,” I wondered aloud, “if they don’t value proper behavior.”
“He assures me that our time in New Britannia will be comfortable, that we will not be forced to do anything that we do not want to do,” Miss Alders explained. This meant that either she had been having extended discussions with Mr. Preeble on the subject or that she was making up her answers to calm down the prisoners for reasons I could not fathom.
“That is good to know,” I said quietly as I considered Miss Alders role in our kidnapping.
“They do have concern for our wellbeing,” she added.
“And how long has your brother been in cahoots with them?” Miss Bly asked. I believe she was also thinking along the same lines as I. If Mr. Alders had been working with the New Britannians for such a long time, perhaps Miss Alders was also a traitor.
“Uhm…” she said, pausing long to chose her words with care, “a while.”
“For quite some time?” I asked
“I think he was being sent back to England when the storm hit,” she said.
“No, he was going to Washington to talk to the Brittish Embassy,” Miss Bly answered, reminding Miss Alders that we already knew the truth of that matter.
“I believe that is where he was going to go,” Miss Alders said. “My family was concerned about his wellbeing.”
“Do you believe these New Britannians are rather vicious?” I asked directly. “They care only for their privacy. They are so xenophobic that they care not for how they disturb out lives.”
“They do have their reasons – some of which we may not understand at this point,” Miss Alders answered carefully. It seemed that she was knowledgeable of more facts than she was letting on.
There was a long pause while all three of us women considered the situation and each other.
Captain Kirkpatrick descended the ladder, ending the awkward standstill in conversation.
“What did he want, Captain?” Miss Bly asked as the man entered the rear gondola.
“To warn me that the ship has some kind of mechanical pilot and that it will be going to the base one way or another, whether or not I kill him.” I hoped it would not come to that.
“Did you tell him you were going to kill him or is he assuming you were going to try to kill him?” Miss Bly asked.
“He’s assuming that because I’m armed that I will try to kill him or take him prisoner. He knows that I am responsible for you, Miss Whitlock and Mr. Binford, as United States citizens,” Captain Kirkpatrick explained to Miss Bly. After a brief pause he added, “and by extension and by treaty, I am also responsible for Miss Alders and actually Mr. Alders as well.” I got the distinct impression that Captain Kirkpatrick did not like the British very much.
“That won’t be easy,” was Miss Alders’ quiet reply.
“Why not?” the Captain asked.
“Well, my brother and you seem to get along poorly,” she elaborated.
“We do, but as the highest ranking officer on this ship, I am responsible for everyone on board who is a citizen of the United States or a citizen of a country that is an ally of the United States.”
“Your semantics are very quaint,” Miss Alders said in a belittling manner.
Captain Kirkpatrick chose to ignore the snide comment and continue with his side of the discussion. “Your brother is a lieutenant in the Balloon Corps. As an ally, I am still responsible for trying to maintain his safety as well as the safety of all of you, especially the United States citizens. It is up to you if you want to accept that protection or not.”
“So, I guess it would be good if you try to shoot him…” Miss Bly began to ask.
“It’s a noble concept,” Miss Alders interrupted.
“And if he kills you and we’re all pretty much dead …” Miss Bly continued her line of questioning.
“What?” Captain Kirkpatrick asked, stunned by Miss Bly’s indignation.
“I believe he is offering his services to protect you,” I tried to explain to Miss Bly about the difficult responsibilities the Captain had undertaken on our behalf.
“Okay. I just want to be sure. Just don’t start firing at him because then he’ll just fire back at one of us and kill us,” Miss Bly retorted in a sarcastic tone.
“Oh please. Let’s not talk about such violence,” Miss Alders said.
“Do not shoot in close quarters. Please?” I asked the Captain
“I’m not shooting. I got no gun,” Miss Bly said, assuming that I had been speaking to her.
“You’re cooking,” Miss Alders said in Miss Bly’s defense.
“Yes, you do have a gun, Miss Bly – the one you secreted on your person earlier and refused to return to me,” the Captain said to her, clearly annoyed.
“I gave it to Tom, I think,” she said.
“You gave it to Tom?” the Captain asked.
Miss Alders ended the discussion by offering, “I’ll take some plates upfront.”
“At least find out what your brother thinks of this situation and whether or not he will back us if make a break to control this ship,” Captain Kirkpatrick asked Miss Alders as she collected some food from Miss Bly. “Quite honestly, if he can pilot the ship and get us back to solid ground, it would certainly be better than being prisoners for the rest of our lives in a country that is not our own, don’t you think?”
“I will certainly ask,” she replied before heading towards the ladder to leave.
I addressed the Captain and asked him with concern, “Mr. Kirkpatrick?” I waited for him to turn my way. He appeared interested in what I had to say. “May I ask you a favor? Would you please make sure that all of the women are back in the rear gondola when you mutiny?”
“We’re not members of the crew. So technically, it’s not a mutiny, but I will do my best to make sure that all of the women are in a place of safety,” he assured me. I immediately felt much better about the situation. I trusted that the Captain would not intentionally put any of us in harm’s way.
“Thank you,” was all that I could say. I knew that he was considering risking a potentially dangerous conflict to gain control of the ship. “I appreciate that.”
Miss Alders made her way up the ladder with the plates of food and was out of sight.
“Dinner is good but it’s not as good as lunch,” Miss Bly said as she ate a plate of her own cooking. “There’s only so much you can do,” she said as she stabbed at the food with her fork, an uncertain look crossing her face.
“What did you make for lunch?” Captain Kirkpatrick asked, apparently hungry.
“There’s stew. I made stew,” Miss Bly answered as she forked a chunk of sweet potato from her plate. I did not understand why she did not put her plate down and take the time to prepare a plate for the Captain.
Mr. Binford returned to the rear gondola.
“You’ve been kicked out?” I asked him.
“Binford, what happened?” the Captain asked him.
“Uh, nothing. Miranda just kind of signaled me to come back here,” Mr. Binford said. I realized how suspicious that was of her to do.
“Were you able to…?” the Captain asked him, hesitant to reveal their plans.
“Not yet,” was all that Mr. Binford said. He gave the Captain a significant look.
“She told you to come back here?” I asked, concerned. Miss Alders was highly suspect.
“What I understand of these insults is this. Preeble has his armada of mind-destroying, vessel-exploding weapons. These vessels, if they can get above the enemies, American warship guns do not fire straight up. They are not built for that and they cannot do that,” the Captain said to Mr. Binford.
“There is something else that I am starting to… Why would Preeble want to… or why would their nation try to a) train us and b) even lead us back to America? Why not just sink the ship and kill us all?” Mr. Binford asked, struggling with the words. I worried for his emotional wellbeing after all that he had been through.
“It’s their view of humanitarianism,” the Captain replied.
“Well they said they didn’t mean to kill you,” Miss Bly argued.
“So it’s more humanitarian than just drowning us or just shooting us?” Mr. Binford asked, clearly very upset. “Like many of the wars that we have done.”
“If your minds are wiped and you can’t remember anything, there is no danger of putting you back,” the Captain told him. “If two American ships vanish, the United States would investigate where they vanished and it is possible we would locate where their…” the Captain said, intending to explain that the New Britannians feared being discovered.
“I think that they are already investigating the Independence, right?” Mr. Binford interrupted.
“Yes, it is, but the exact location of that ship, as far as I know, is not known.” Captain Kirkpatrick said. “Just south of Cuba.”
“And we’re flying to Cuba,” I said, astonished at the irony of it all.
“If two ships vanished without a trace, more ships would be sent out,” Captain Kirkpatrick continued.
“The big thing is that the Concordance, when it came in to dock, it made the Navy ask lots of questions,” Mr. Binford said.
“And did they get answers?” Miss Bly said, not keeping up with the conversation.
“Well, they have no answers but having no answers will leave men to ask more questions,” Mr. Binford told her. “Why would they want to do that?”
“Yes, but who is to say that the men aboard did not go mad, sink the Independence and sail back with a reason that only their befuddled minds could make sense of?” the Captain wondered aloud.
“Could they not have altered the logs and everything? Before they let them return?” I asked, considering that the New Britannian Navy seemed to have no scruples.
“They probably did,” the Captain agreed with my line of thinking.
“Thank you,” I told the Captain. I was grateful that he considered my opinion. I was not very knowledgeable about such things.
“So they could just alter the logs to say whatever they wanted. And they were just lost at sea during a storm,” Miss Bly continued considering the possibilities.
“In their own hypocrisy, they see this, what happened to Mr. Binford, as a better fate than death – which is arguable,” Captain Kirkpatrick explained further.
“They didn’t mean to. They didn’t mean to wipe his mind clean – we think. They say it was a non-lethal, but we don’t know that,” Miss Bly defended the New Britannian Navy.
“We don’t really know that,” I said to Miss Bly, meaning that we had no idea if the New Brittanian Navy really did not know the effects of their own weapon.
“Miss Bly, no matter how you feel about the United States Military and what is being done to the Indians and what has been done to other countries,” Captain Kirkpatrick began.
“Well, I don’t want it to be done to me by the New Britannicans!” Miss Bly interrupted.
“Can we talk about this in a quiet manner?” I asked. The voices in the gondola had been steadily rising as the arguments continued.
“I understand. We do not take a new weapon into the field and experiment on people when we don’t even know why we’re fighting,” the Captain countered Miss Bly.
“The question is, is if they have the technology to wipe my mind, they might have the technology to bring it back?” Mr. Binford asked. It was truly heartbreaking, but I did not see how that could be possible.
“They might not. It was a fluke on their part,” Miss Bly said of the weapon discharge.
“It might have been a fluke?” Mr. Binford asked, insulted.
“He said that…” I mentioned, thinking of how little I trusted anything that Mr. Preeble had said. “Do you believe anyone, once they’ve lied to you?” I asked the Captain, to prove my point.
“No, I do not,” he agreed.
“So, honestly, I don’t believe anything Mr. Preeble says,” I announced.
“And just as they reversed the technology of the airship, the New Britannians could probably reverse the technology of their weapon. I am sure it would be more complicated,” Captain Kirkpatrick said with a bit more optimism on the subject than I felt.
We stopped the discussion as the hatch opened and Miss Alders climbed down the ladder to join us. “Could you hand me the plates, please?” she said up to Mr. Alders who peered down through the hatch opening. Gavin Alders handed the plates down to Miss Alders. “Thank you!” she said quite loudly and very happily.
The hatch closed and I could hear an extended creaking that sounded like the lock of the hatch being turned. Captain Kirkpatrick immediately dashed to the ladder and up to check the hatch.
“Are we locked in?” I asked in a panic.
“I’m sorry?” Miss Alders asked me.
“Son of a bitch!” the Captain swore in true sailor-like fashion. “Well, your brother’s proved which side he’s on. He’s locked us in,” Captain Kirkpatrick said from atop the ladder.
There was a momentary silence while everyone considered the situation.
“Oh,” as all Miss Alders said.
“Well, we have all the food and water and the toilet,” I said, thinking of our advantages aloud.
“Yes, but it’s only two days to Cuba. They can last two days without food or water,” the Captain said.
“I suggest we guard the food,” I maintained.
The Captain approached the side hatch. He opened it and peered about outside for a moment. It was getting slightly dark outside as the sky turned dusky.
“That’s all your fault. You don’t get that,” I said to Miss Alders.
“Miss Alders, what happened?” the Captain asked Miss Alders.
“I…” she paused for a moment, again considering which words would best put herself in a good light, “…fed them food,” Miss Alders answered.
“Did you say anything to them? Did they say anything to you?” Miss Bly asked her, doubt rising in her voice.
“Did he say anything?” the Captain asked, implying that he wanted more information about Mr. Preeble.
“Thank you for the food. This is very tasty,” Miss Alders said seemingly quoting the men in front gondola.
“Why did he want you to leave the front room?” Mr. Binford asked Miss Alders accusingly. He also was beginning to doubt Miss Alders’ intentions in this matter.
“If you had stayed in the front gondola, none of this would have happened,” Mr. Binford told Miss Alders.
The voices in the gondola were rising again. I went to sit in the corner near the window to partially drown out the arguing with the sound of the passing winds. I stopped paying attention to what was being said. The stress was overwhelming. The ocean looked very far down and I had a terrible feeling of being trapped as I peered out the window at nothing. I lost all track of time.
After some time I went to eat a plate of supper. “Can we make an impromptu wall halfway down the room?” I asked the men for assistance in hanging privacy sheets to divide the room in two for the women’s sake. Once the room was acceptable, I turned in early. As I had seldom been allowed to stay up late in the past, I was exhausted. Sleep came easily.