Table of Contents: Book Four

7. Dex's plan is revealed - and perhaps improved upon - as time ticks towards zero hour - Book Four - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall

The backbreaking work of loading the bags of gas was over. The airship wobbled on its mooring ropes in the light breeze, fully inflated and faintly obscene against the backdrop of the Palladian mansion behind. From a remote church, somewhere over in the hidden village behind the house, the clock striking the quarter before ten sounded.

Dex moistened his lips.

“Right,” he said. “You all understand what we have to do?”

The four men before him nodded; Viscount St George, who seemed in some way to have appointed himself leader of the desperate little band, waved an airy hand in an expansive gesture.

“Of course. Once the defending fighters have been eliminated, Shutters’ airship matches velocities with the attacking ship, the assault party as lowered down onto the top of the airship using Shutters’ patented harness attachment - as modified -” he flicked a graceful nod towards Paul Shuttleworth, who was standing a little apart from the group, looking pale.

“We cut our way through the outer skin of the airframe - climb down between the struts and the airbags - fortunately for us, not being at so much risk of explosions at close quarters in this particular case as we might otherwise be - break into the nacelle through the maintenance hatch - overpower any guards there may be - and allow you, Dearborn, to disarm your weapon. Simple.”

One of the young men visibly gulped, and Viscount St George allowed his gaze to linger on him for a second.

“You had a question, Andrews?” he enquired gently. The man - he had a prominent Adam’s apple and the acne-marked skin of late adolescence, Dex noted - shook his head. The four had been recruited at the shortest of short notice. Viscount St George had answered for his two friends from the Oxford University Alpine Climbing Association and Chris Sugden had produced the others, who - apart from their impeccable Communist credentials - were a pair of rock-climbers of some repute who financed their hobby by working as much overtime in the shipyards of Barrow-in-Furness as they could manage during the off-season. Joe and LeFauve had ferried them in overnight, after much frantic telephoning and telegramming, and unexpectedly all four of the climbers had turned out to know each other by repute, to be delighted to have this opportunity to foregather and almost had to be forced apart with crowbars to prevent their talking technical climbing shop.

“Reckon that anyone who tries to stop us will know they’re badly mistaken,” Greenwood, one of the Barrow two, said with a certain amount of satisfaction.

Viscount St George nodded.

“I reckon you reckon right, comrade. Or should I say ‘left’? Anyway. Consider the assault team assembled, Dearborn. All present and correct.”

There was a faint cough.

“Not quite,” Paul Shuttleworth said, and stepped forwards.

Five pairs of eyes turned to gaze on him, and he flushed. Nevertheless, his voice was perfectly steady.

“I’m coming with you,” he said. “The blimp’s crew know perfectly well what they have to do without my directing them, and -” his look focussed directly on Dex - “We don’t know what opposition we’re going to meet. And that machine has to be disarmed. Come what may. And none of the others have a prayer of knowing how.”

Viscount St George looked at his friend. “Shutters, are you quite insane? Your father will kill me if you -“

Shuttleworth shrugged, a gesture which gave him unconsious authority.

“And the Duke of Denver won’t kill me if you don’t come back? We’re both of us sole heirs, Jerry. Besides, don’t forget, I’ve already been disowned. Unlike you.” He turned towards Dex, who had been expecting the appeal and been fighting uselessly against its inherent logic for some seconds now. “Surely you have to see this, sir? We can’t afford to run a mission like this without redundancy built in. After all, the first law of engineering design is -“

“Fail to safe,” Dex said, completing the sentence. There was a chorus of remonstrance from around him, which he ignored. The severe logic of the boy’s position was, when push came to shove, unarguable. Instead, he nodded, gravely, and held out his hand. “You’re quite right, Shuttleworth. Get yourself a parachute pack, and find yourself fatigues and boots. We plan to be airborne in ten minutes.”

Shuttleworth’s hand gripped his; hard, but perhaps a little too firmly, to suppress a tremor. He looked straight into the kid’s eyes, trying to infuse him with that spirit of adventure that Joe managed to distil so effortlessly in such circumstances.

“Welcome aboard, Mr Shuttleworth. It will be a privilege serving with you.”