Adventurer Raymond Swift stars in......

Trail of the HMS Fortuna

A Far-Flung Epic in 8 Chapters!

by Andrea Tran
About the author

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Episode 1: Mutiny Among the Clouds


  "THE CARGO IN THIS AIRSHIP COULD change the world forever. This thought kept echoing in Professor Kramer's head. He was standing inside the envelope of the HMS Fortuna, contemplating his strange surroundings. His tiny figure was dwarfed by the latticework of aluminium girders creating a huge vault far above his head, an old man inside a whale. Hundreds of square feet of canvas constituted the skin on the metallic skeleton. The airship was flying at cruise speed, 1,500 feet above ground.

The bridge upon which he stood, of his own design, was built inside the giant cigar-shaped structure, so that the bulky cargo -- his precious Device -- could be transported without interfering with the airship's aerodynamics.

It had taken him twelve years to research and build the Device. Then the order to move it to a more secure location had arrived. It was decided to transport it fully assembled. Bad timing, he thought. Just when he was almost ready for the first tests. He barely had the time to arrange his things in London and say goodbye to his beloved daughter Annabelle. God knows when he would see her again.

Once more, war was knocking at Europe's door, and Professor Kramer's laboratory had been deemed unsafe to keep such a revolutionary apparatus, lest it fall into enemy hands. In two frantic months a secret transport had been organized. A suitable destination was chosen for the Device, and the airship Fortuna selected as a suitable carrier. Operation Meridian had been declared 'Level-X' by the Ministry of Defense, the highest level of secrecy.

He smiled at the thought of the countless, absurd labels that the Ministry bureaucrats came up with. Since the beginning of the Operation he had to memorize dozens of complex protocols, covering everything from on-board procedures to encoded communications. 'And they say Science is complicated.

~~~

Professor Kramer's train of thoughts was interrupted by the loud sound of an alarm siren. He started, then rushed down the ladder connecting the Device bridge to the gondola below. He closed the airtight trapdoor behind him. Two armed soldiers helped the elderly scientist descend the last few rungs of the ladder to the small landing below. He enquired about the cause of the alarm, but the soldiers were just as surprised as he was. Their instructions in an emergency were not to leave their position on the landing. A third soldier reached them and firmly grabbed the scientist's arm. 'Professor Kramer, I have orders to escort you to the secure quarters, Sir.

The Professor followed his escort through a corridor, struggling to keep pace with the younger man. He was about to tell him to slow down, when he heard gunfire shots coming from the lower bridges. Loud shouts soon followed, and he instinctively slowed down. The escort disappeared down a staircase, drawing his pistol. The scientist leaned against a wall, out of breath. His chest was beginning to ache. He tried to control the feeling of panic surging within him. The gunshots were coming closer! He could now hear the sound of steps, several men running upstairs in his direction. Suddenly the escort shouted: 'Run Professor! Run! It's a Mutiny! They're after the cargo!!', reappearing from the same stairway, his eyes wide open in fear. He was stumbling up the steps holding his bleeding arm. 'Quick! Get ...' Before he could finish, a burst of machine gun shook his body as if it were a rag doll, leaving crimson stains all across his back! The lifeless escort dropped down on the top steps. Professor Kramer froze in horror. He could hear the pursuers getting closer, their shouts now intelligible. 'Get the Professor alive! Nobody shoot in the cargo bridge!!

The realization of the imminent danger was like a slap in the face. The Professor ran for his life back the way he had come. The two soldiers on the landing ran to meet him, alerted by the gunshots. 'Stop them, for God's sake!', he yelled, reaching the ladder. They took position between the ladder and the pursuers, panic and confusion palpable in their gestures. The Professor struggled up the rungs, breathing heavily. He didn't look back as shots were exchanged behind him, he didn't slow down as he heard screams of pain, and the heavy thud of bodies falling.

His heart pounding in his chest, he pushed the trapdoor at the top of the ladder, hauled himself through it. Desperately, he closed the trapdoor behind him, his fingers fumbling on the security lock. He could not get a grip on the metal wheel controlling the lock, as he tried to spin it in position.

'He's here! He's locking the hatch! Quick!', muffled voices were yelling from the landing below. Somebody charged on the trapdoor. The Professor put all his weight on the wheel, managed to turn it. A satisfying metallic sound indicated that the lock was finally in place. He rolled on his back in exhaustion, gasping for air. Covered in sweat, his chest aching with every pounding heart beat, he lay there as ramming noises shook the hatch from below.

He tried to calm down, by repeating to himself that he was relatively safe and unharmed. But the banging from downstairs was getting louder, as the assailants used heavier objects to force the hatch open. The ramming noises were amplified by the vast cathedral-like structure of the airship envelope. The first few bumps started to appear on the shiny metal hatch. It was only a matter of time before they would force their way in.

The situation was desperate, the mutineers had probably massacred the rest of the crew and gained control of the Fortuna. This was the end of Operation Meridian and of his lifetime research. The Device was about to fall in the hands of these ruthless men, traitors of their own country!

'Oh God, what can I do? He held his head between his hands in despair. He was alone with his creation against several armed men, suddenly feeling very old and helpless.

It was then that it struck him. His eyes opened wide.

Maybe not everything was lost.


On to Episode 2 : The Vanished Secret


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On the Trail of the HMS Fortuna is copyright by Andrea Tran. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)