The Rogue Airship, or The Investigations of the Hephaestus

Chapter 1, Wherein We Receive An Exciting Assignment

                “This entire story must be rewritten, Miss Wesley! Why I agreed to hire a woman as a reporter for the Argus is beyond me.” Anthony Gesman threw the pages to the desktop with what I’m certain he hoped was an impressive snap, but they slithered across the layer of other papers with all the force of so much falling snow.

                “I really must protest, Mister Gesman,” I said primly. “My father does own the Shades Valley Argus, you know, and will not approve of your—“

                “I thought ‘modern women’ were above hiding behind their fathers’ influence,” the man interrupted. He leaned across the desk with a sneer, bushy red eyebrows crowding the bridge of his razor sharp nose. “How’m I doing?” he added in an undertone without moving his lips.

                I rose stiffly and said with affronted dignity, “I am not hiding behind anyone, sir,” then responded quietly, certain the brim of my hat would shield me from any attempted lip-reading in the vicinity, “You haven’t lost your acting skills, Tony. But I think your dramatic gesture covered up the cards my assistant spent so much time and effort assembling.”

                “Don’t argue with me!” he said loudly. “Now sit down and let’s see if we can’t salvage this—this so-called story.”

                We both sat, and while he scrabbled for the pages of my scattered story about yet another dedication of yet another new building on 2nd Avenue, I said softly, “The reports vary widely, but Mister Urantu plotted them and concluded the most convincing of them occur along major ley lines, on or close to dominant nodes.”

                Gesman stared at me for a moment, eyebrows halfway up his florid forehead. Remembering his role, he grunted and reached for a pen charged with red ink, scribbling mercilessly on my story before glancing down at the newly revealed cards on which Luli had pasted various headlines, notating dates and newspapers below in her precise hand. “Sounds worth our time to investigate,” he said lightly, although I sensed a strong interest behind his words. “What’s the colonel’s take on this?”

                I objected to his correction of a particular sentence and he glared menacingly for public consumption. “Colonel Mallet believes the reports are indicative of a scouting party,” I said, “but The Engineer disagrees based on the eyewitness accounts. One of the less credible accounts mentioned a golden-haired woman with a seductive voice, although the majority of them indicate one or two men.”

                Gesman looked startled, although I could not tell by which part of my statement.

                “Now get this story to press,” the editor said in his most growling voice and shoved the story back into my hands. “And assemble the team,” he added quietly. “You’ll need the Hephaestus.” Anthony Gesman straightened the row of headlines, and I quickly reviewed them upside down: “Claim They Saw a Flying Airship; Strange Tale of Sacramento Men Not Addicted to Prevarication Viewed an Aerial Courser as It Passes Over the City at Night,” from the San Francisco Call, November 18, 1896; “Special Dispatch,” from the Omaha Bee, February 2, 1897; “Phenomenon of the Heavens; Strange Appearance and Disappearance of Three Lights,” from the Galveston News, March 28, 1897; “Airship Over Kansas; Topeka People Scared by a Nocturnal Visitor,” from the Rocky Mountain News, also March 28, 1897; and the last, “Sighting the Airship,” from the Dallas Morning News, April 16, 1897.

“Yes, sir,” I answered. “I’m certain all of Birmingham is awaiting news of the dedication of its skyline’s latest eyesore.” I swept toward the door, wondering what personal interest Anthony Gesman had in this case.

“He’s quite impossible,” I said in answer to a fellow reporter’s question. “I wouldn’t disturb him just now.”

I handed in my story and gathered up a few essentials from my desk, smiling to myself. The Shades Valley Argus was indeed the premiere newspaper in the state, but it also served as an excellent cover for the activities of the Order of the Argus, named for the hundred-eyed giant of Greek mythology. I suspected we would spy out even more wonders on this adventure.

I made my excuses to colleagues, and hurried to arrange with The Engineer for the voyage of the heretofore only known airship in the world, the Hephaestus. He would be most interested to find out who else besides himself had the ingenuity to craft such a machine—and the daring to fly it.

               

Next installment: Chapter 2, Wherein We Set Off on Our Voyage of Discovery