Ferdinand Lister sat across from Spires, who held his head in his hands, nursing what might well be the beginnings of a good long headache. Five nights now, and the signal had not returned. He needed sleep.
Lister, an amateur scientist of sorts dabbling in aetheric studies had offered to assist Spires and his assistants locate the source of the signal. The assistants had fallen asleep at the desks on by one. The difference engines kept on running, trying to pull code out of white noise.
For Lister, an airship dock foreman by day, it was a chance to work with equipment beyond his dreams. For Spires, it was a counterpoint opinion. Not that it had mattered. Far above the telegraphy office, balloons carried a series of wires forming various rhombi pointed in the cardinal directions. Spires was attempting something few, if any had ever tried before: radiolocation.
But one needed a signal for that, and it wasn’t forthcoming.
What happened that first night that had been different from tonight or any other? They’d rebuilt the 2,000 kilocycle detector. They’d tried the original aerials, and the later temporary antenna. It had done no good, whatsoever. Even the weather was largely the same. Maybe whatever they’d heard had ceased. Maybe whatever battle had been fought was lost. Maybe it had never happened, or happened long ago. The aether was a mystery.
“I give up.” Spires said, “There’s an old militia cot folded up in the closet, with my name on it, and I’m going to bed.”
“Seems a shame.” Lister said, ruefully. “But you’re quite right, you know. Now that that big Caledonian ship’s wreckage has been cleaned up, I’ve got to get up early and see to the repairs to the dock itself.”
Spires was deep in his own thoughts but he’d forgotten about the big airship freighter, “The Mimi? Builder, that was a big ship. Too big to maneuver, I always thought. What happened to her?”
“About five days ago, she pulled in too hard. The skipper tried to correct but she hit upper crane arm and just hung off it all night, while tried to repair the envelope. She tore the next morning. The gondola and all pods were smashed to pieces. Good Builder, don’t you read the newspaper, man?”
Spires shook his head, “Not lately, although I think my edification might have saved me some time in this case. Tell me, was she canvas skinned? India rubber? Silk?”
“Aluminized doped silk. They spared no expense on that big banana. Well it’s all gone now. Rest in peace, ole Mimi.”
Spires brows furrowed. “The skin, it’s disposed of?”
“Only thing worth saving, really. It came off mostly intact as the inner frame fell apart. Something in the queer way they build things, if you don’t mind my saying so. Bit of a row about that. Their skipper is in a tiff. He’s saying it’s still legally his, but our standpoint is that it’s salvage from a wreck. The longshoremen think it’s theirs, and frankly I’m included in it. So right now it’s stuck in palisades where we folded it all up. Worth a pretty penny to salvagers, don’t you know.”
“I’ll buy it from them” Spires said, suddenly. “You’re their foreman. What’s your price?”
“Sir, the legalities.. I must wait on..It just isn’t done this way..”
Spires wrote a figure on a piece of paper with his fountain pen and pushed it across the table to the amateur. Lister’s eyes widened.
Spires continued “I need you and your longshoremen to secure that fabric. I’m going to have some of my.. associates put that Caledonian skipper on a slow boat to Winterfell. Don’t ask. And I am going to go find some more balloons. Well come on then, it’s a long night, yet!”