Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Colonel Freeman tried to maintain the serious expression expected of a soldier, but the twitchy tail of his eyebrow fully revealed his inner struggle. He saluted and stiffly turned around. “I’ve brought the two of you here. Farewell.”
Duan FeiZhou customarily locked eyes with Z, who quickly averted his gaze and opened the door to his own cabin. He kept a distance from Duan FeiZhou all the way, and wouldn’t even make eye contact, as if he would suffer some kind of contamination if they just looked at each other.
Duan FeiZhou sighed and opened the door to his room.
The layout of the warship’s cabin was simple and practical. There was nothing but white pillows and quilts on the bed, as empty and basic as a student dormitory on the first day of college. Perhaps because of the long stay in the dungeon, Duan FeiZhou actually found it quite comfortable.
The only highlight of the cabin was probably the porthole – the diameter of the round porthole was about as wide as Duan FeiZhou’s height, and gave an extremely expansive view. The airship hadn’t yet taken off, but he could imagine how beautiful it would be outside the window after it flew up into the sea of clouds.
He took out some daily necessities, removed his jacket, and rolled up his sleeves. Then he remembered his mission. Nominally, he had come to escort the animal tamer occult practitioner. He should at least go to meet them. He knocked on the door of the next compartment, 3021.
“Who is it?” A clear voice came from behind the door. It belonged to a teenager who had just entered his voice changing stage.
“My name is Leopold Chester. I’m an occult practitioner sent by the military to escort you,” Duan FeiZhou replied.
The door to the hatch opened. However, it was not a person who opened the door, but a…fox.
A fox opened the door for him.
What would happen next? Would the fox suddenly start walking upright and talking? After getting on this airship, things had started to develop in a strange direction…
Duan FeiZhou and the fox stared at each other. After a long time, the fox yawned and leapt back into the room, then jumped onto the bed with a stomp of its hind feet.
There was a 14 or 15 year old boy sitting on the bed. He had one knee bent and the other leg hanging over the edge of the bed, wiggling. He wasn’t handsome, but the freckles on his cheeks add a few points to the youthful cuteness that belonged exclusively to teenagers.
The fox jumped onto his lap and curled itself into a small ball. The squirrel that Duan FeiZhou had seen earlier crawled up the teenager’s spine and onto his shoulder. Its small round black eyes looked curiously at the visitor.
On the other shoulder of the young man squatted two xuanfeng parrots. Both of them synchronously spread their left wings, then spread their right wings, the way a roc would spread its wings. Was there a zoo on the airship?
“Sorry. I scared you, didn’t I?” the teenager said with a smile. “My name is Simon Marlowe.”
He extended his hand towards Duan FeiZhou.
Duan FeiZhou took a step forward, then shook his hand cautiously and quickly. The reason why he didn’t dare to approach the teenager any closer was because he saw two glimmers of light under the bed – there must have been some kind of animal hiding down there.
“Are these…Are these your pets?” Duan FeiZhou asked, slowly and carefully.
Simon tickled the cheeks of one of the parrots. The parrot’s eyes squinted in comfort. The other parrot saw that it had been neglected and bit the teenager’s finger in anger. The teenager had to scratch it too.
“They are my friends,” Simon said. “I learned the occult art of communicating with animals.”
“That’s…magical,” that’s all Duan FeiZhou could say. “Is that why you were drafted to tame the giant beast in the Arctic?”
Simon tilted his head. “I don’t want to ‘tame’ the beast. My goal is to become friends with it.”
“Wow…” Duan FeiZhou raised his eyebrows. It’s getting more and more Disney princess-like!
“I’ve known about that giant beast since I was a kid,” Simon said proudly. “It’s called Leviathan, and is said to be the pet of a Forerunner. No one can tame it, we can only communicate with it on an equal footing. However, there are very few people who can communicate with it.”
“You’re one of them?” Duan FeiZhou asked.
“That’s right. I’m the strongest beast tamer in five hundred years. Everyone else either can’t or doesn’t dare to go to the North Pole, I’m the exception.” Simon smiled with assurance.
“I am relieved to see that you are so confident.” Duan FeiZhou didn’t have any bottom for this trip to the North Pole. Their lives and deaths were all in the hands of this teenager. Duan FeiZhou would rather go back to London and jail than be buried in the Arctic Ocean.
“I will definitely bring Leviathan back to London.” Simon’s smile deepened. “Sir Carter said that if I could do it, it would be a great feat, and Her Majesty would surely knight me.” He must have thought for a moment that it would look like he was greedy for fame and fortune, as he hastened to add, “I’m not doing this for status. I am doing it for…World peace!”
When he heard Carter’s name, Duan FeiZhou’s eyelid began to jump again. “You know Secretary Officer Carter?”
“Yeah, he’s my introduction. I’m actually a descendant of a family line of occult practitioners, and I’ve been studying the secret arts since I was a child. Unfortunately, my parents passed away, and I was sent to a poorhouse. Mr. Carter happened to be the sponsor of that home.” Simon mentioned Carter with admiration and gratitude. “All the talented children in the home had the opportunity to be selected by Mr. Carter. I was chosen by Mr. Carter to find Leviathan because I can communicate with animals.”
Duan FeiZhou thought to himself, That Carter guy is really more than just a high-flying aristocrat. He’s familiar with occult philosophy, he’s familiar with occult practitioners, he even picks orphans with occult talents from the poorhouse…What is he planning?
The orphans he chose were so grateful to him that they were willing to risk their lives on a mission to the end of the world. Was the teenager too innocent, or was that Carter guy too good at acting?
“If you expose your identity as an occult practitioner with such fanfare, aren’t you afraid of the Nightmen coming to your door?” Duan FeiZhou was curious.
“Sir Carter said he would protect me.” Simon pouted. “Besides, there are many occult practitioners among the Nightmen, and His Excellency Carter said that as long as the occult practitioners are willing to serve their country and Her Majesty, the Nightmen won’t interfere.”
He said “His Excellency Carter” on the left and “His Excellency Carter” on the right. Duan FeiZhou’s brain hurt when he heard it.
The ship shook and the rumble of the engines rang through the cabin. Simon gave a cheer, jumped to the porthole, and pressed his whole body against the glass. He shouted excitedly, “This is the first time I’ve been on an airship!”
Duan FeiZhou watched the teenager with tolerance. He himself was very excited when he took his first ride on an airship, so there was really no way to criticize others.
The Wellington climbed slowly. The crowd of people waving outside the portholes turned into ant-like dots all of a sudden. They saw the outline of the city of London in the distance, with houses lined up and streets that looked like miniatures. Then they left London far below. The airship rose into the clouds, passed through the clouds, and finally settled above the sea of clouds.
As he looked at the misty sea of clouds, Duan FeiZhou only felt empty inside. The last time he admired that sea of clouds, he was with Z. Z had said the view in the air was exactly as he described, and Duan FeiZhou knew he was lying. He had no idea what kind of eloquence he had.
Now Z didn’t need him to describe the scenery anymore. Z could see it himself.
Simon was lying on the glass. He said, feeling it from the bottom of his heart, “It’s so beautiful!”
Duan FeiZhou had to get out of there. It felt like they were going to start singing and dancing in a few minutes…Thank goodness Simon and his animal friends didn’t perform like traditional Disney princesses.
The view from the sea of clouds was breathtaking, but that’s all there was to see after a while, and Simon was too young not to get tired of it. His animal friends were more interesting than the scenery outside the window.
“Let’s go exploring on the ship!” Simon said enthusiastically. “This airship is so big, there must be a lot of interesting places!”
“This is a warship, we can’t just wander around,” Duan FeiZhou reminded him seriously.
“There must be somewhere we can go. Let’s go!” Simon said, and immediately pushed out the door with his animal friends. The squirrel and parrots crouched on his shoulders, while the fox followed his footsteps. Duan FeiZhou didn’t want to be in the same room with the unknown animal, so he followed the teenager.
He now understood why Carter had asked him to “escort” Simon. He was here to babysit!
Simon jumped all the way, was curious about everything, and couldn’t help but want to see everything that was going on. There were many soldiers on duty on board. When they saw Simon with a group of animals, they were so surprised that their eyes almost fell out of their heads, but they still tried to keep neutral expressions. As expected of the crew of the Wellington, they were really well-trained.
“Mr. Chester, since Sir Carter sent you to protect me, I suppose you must be an outstanding occult practitioner?” Simon blinked his big, innocent eyes.
“What occult arts do you specialize in? Tell me about it!”
“I think it’s better not to talk about it in front of outsiders…” There was nothing to talk about. It wasn’t like he could tell him that he was a prisoner of the Nightmen, could he?
Simon puffed up his cheeks, dissatisfied with Duan FeiZhou’s perfunctory manner. Luckily, he quickly put this displeasure behind him, because they had arrived at the uppermost level of the airship, and further forward was the bridge.
With their status, of course, it was impossible to enter the entire airship’s hub. However, Duan FeiZhou didn’t know if it was a coincidence, or Simon’s Disney princess status, they actually bumped into Colonel Freeman and Z halfway.
The Colonel was pointing out the window with a proud look on his face. “Did you see that? It’s the fourth generation of Ether crystal-powered engines; the world’s top technology. And those turrets with 9-inch howitzers…Look at those turrets, how beautiful. Serving as the captain of this airship is the honor of my life.”
He rambled on about the Wellington’s configuration, and Z nodded as he listened; he looked solemn and serious. The Colonel noticed Simon as he spoke, and for a moment his expression stiffened as if someone had poured a bowl of ice water on him.
“Hello Colonel, what are you talking about?” Simon was all innocence.
Z glanced at Duan FeiZhou behind Simon then turned his gaze out the window, as he made a show of being fully focused on admiring the turret.
Colonel Freeman stepped back to avoid Simon’s animal friends, and said with difficulty, “I am giving this gentleman a tour of the Wellington.”
Simon blinked. “And this gentleman is…?”
“Zeno Xenia,” Z said, “a scholar of the Royal Society. I’m going to the Arctic with the Wellington to study ecology.”
He shook Simon’s hand in a serious manner, a bit like an ivory tower pedant.
“Can I come with you on your visit?” Simon asked.
If Colonel Freeman had a choice, he would have refused on the spot. Unfortunately, Simon was the core of this mission, the top specifically explained that his needs must be met. The Colonel could only say with a brave expression, “Yes, we are planning to go to the bridge.”
“Wow! The bridge is the hub of the airship, right? I’ve been wanting to see it for a long time!”
“Animals are not allowed in.” That was the Colonel’s bottom line.
Colonel Freeman pursed his lips, and searched for a valid reason. “There are many valuable and precise instruments on the bridge, and your friend’s fur will affect the operation of the instruments.”
Simon flattened his mouth. “Well…” He made a gesture and the two parrots flew over the fox’s head, while the fox sat down on its butt, as good as a dog waiting for its master to return. The squirrel leaped lightly down Simon’s back to the ground and squeaked twice at Colonel in displeasure.
Simon made a “shhh” motion towards the squirrel. “You can’t talk about a colonel like that. It’s rude!”
Duan FeiZhou was curious to know what the squirrel had said. It probably wasn’t a nice thing. If Simon hadn’t said it was bad, everyone would only think that the squirrel had barked, but once he said it, everyone knew that the squirrel was insulting the colonel.
Colonel Freeman stared at the ceiling, and it was as if his face had a huge “patience” written on it. He gritted his teeth and turned towards the bridge. “Follow me this way, please.”
Duan FeiZhou and Z walked side by side behind the teenager.
Z looked at the teenager’s back skeptically the whole time, as if he didn’t believe that the kid could tame any polar beast at all. To be honest, Duan FeiZhou didn’t believe it either.
The bridge was located at the front of the ship, and could be considered the brain of the ship. The captain’s seat was located high, with a dozen senior crew members seated below in a semicircle, as they concentrated on the operation of various instruments.
The faint noise of the machines running and the sound of the crew talking mixed together to form a wonderful steampunk symphony.
“Current wind direction 20 degrees southwest, sailing altitude 4,350 miles 1, speed 270 knots…”
“Exhaust system normal. Cooling system normal…”
“Will the chief engineer please report on the boiler room…Please, chief engineer…”
When they saw Colonel Freeman, they simultaneously stopped what they were doing and saluted. The colonel waved his hand, and told them to get back to work.
“We have now left the national border and arrived over the North Sea,” the Colonel explained.
“That fast?” Simon’s eyes widened. “How long has it been since we took off? By train, it would have taken at least seven or eight hours, right?”
“This speed is nothing for the Wellington.” The Colonel was so pleased with himself that he forgot his discomfort around Simon. “If the engines are working at full speed, the speed can be increased to 430 knots, which is worthy of the world’s first.”
Duan FeiZhou was shocked.
The airship had an unparalleled advantage over civilian airliners – it only required poles at landing and takeoff locations. Unlike airplanes landing and takeoff which required building a runway, airships could take off and land vertically, and could even be moored on the sea.
If a black technology airship like the Wellington could be mass-produced, how terrifying would the strength of the British Air Force become? How would the world’s landscape change?
Also, more airships would mean more Ether crystals would be consumed, and more people would suffer from Etheric disease. Of course, there were organizations like Beautiful Gaia to save the Etheric disease patients, but it was really a drop in the bucket.
“Colonel!” a crew member exclaimed.
“What is it, navigator?”
“There’s an inbound airship approaching at five o’clock!”
The Colonel frowned and walked quickly to the ring of portholes, and looked towards the right rear flank of the ship.
“Sure enough…” he muttered. “Lookout, please report. Which country’s flag is that inbound ship flying?”
The navigator lifted the cover of the sound transmission pipe in front of him and repeated Colonel Freeman’s order. His voice was transmitted through a special pipe to the position where the lookout was. In these days, before telephones were commonplace, ships and airships often relied on such pipes for internal communications. It allowed the voice to travel tens or even hundreds of meters. As long as the pipe wasn’t blocked, the order could be successfully conveyed.
Soon, the lookout’s reply came in. His voice was a bit panicked, “Flying the black flag!”
Everyone on the bridge simultaneously had an awe-inspiring look in their eyes.
Black flag. That was a pirate’s flag. No, that ship was an airship, so they should be called air pirates, right?
“A mere air pirate, and you dare to provoke the RAF? Or the Wellington? They are simply out of their depth,” Colonel Freeman sneered.
“Colonel!” the lookout’s voice came again. “Two more airships approaching at 7 o’clock and 9 o’clock! Both flying black flags!”
“Order all to battlestations!” Colonel Freeman shouted, “Gunners in position! Let’s show those insolent air pirates what the Wellington can do!”
“Aye!” The crew answered in unison.
Duan FeiZhou swayed a little. A hand held his body from behind.
He looked behind at Z. The white-haired policeman Nightman quickly withdrew his hand, his expression cold.
“Should we go back?” Simon asked. He wasn’t timid, and had watched the whole thing with interest, observing the fun.
“Please don’t panic, you three,” Colonel Freeman said. His deep voice seemed to have a calming magic. “Since the battle is about to be fought, you’d better stay where you are. The bridge is safer. The Wellington has a lot of firepower, and those thieves are no match for her. This is our maiden voyage, and I will definitely give them a lesson. We’ll see if they dare to fight against the RAF in the future.”
“Is air piracy common in this area?” Z asked. “I’ve traveled in the Mediterranean Sea on an airship and never met an air pirate.”
“Air piracy in the Mediterranean is relatively rare because of the dense and complex routes and the frequent patrols by the air forces of various countries. In contrast, there will be more air pirates over the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The main targets of robbery are cargo ships, followed by passenger ships. Occasionally, they will also provoke warships, but they all pick on light-weight warships. It’s the first time I’ve seen any attack on an airship of the caliber of the Wellington.”
Z mused, “It’s not like those air pirates couldn’t see the difference in the Wellington. They must have come prepared.”
Colonel Freeman laughed coldly, “They are called air pirates, but everyone knows that they’re really armed privateers sponsored by certain countries. Some of them are even warships with a pirate flag and orders to rob. This is already an open secret among the countries.”
Duan FeiZhou thought that things like armed privateers had disappeared in the Victorian era, but he hadn’t expected that because of the development of the airships, privateers had moved from the sea to the air. He asked, “So which country did those three air pirate ships come from?”
“Not sure, unless a prisoner is captured.” Colonel Freeman shrugged his shoulders. “But you really can’t take prisoners in an air war. It’s either win or die.”