The British mail ship King George III left Galveston with a full load and a special passenger; normally just a cargo ship, it had one low berth for special circumstances. The British ally, the Restored Republic of Texas, needed expedient accommodations for one of their diplomats, Pilipo Underwood, a 3rd Sergeant of Company G, Second Regiment of the First Brigade of Infantry of the Texas Republic, late of the recent Frontier Wars. He was carrying important documents destined for Britain and Prussia, they were time sensitive; he was to meet with an acquaintance of his and hand the information over. Underwood had found his berth plain and desolate, with no port holes to see the seascape. He had asked and received permission to move into the nose of the airship’s gondola where he set up a cot and was using his travel trunk, lashed to one of the struts to keep it and it’s photographic equipment contents from sliding around the deck, as a table. The glass and metal nose was a perfect place to observe the ocean from cruising height, and he had set up his photographic equipment to capture some of the breathtaking images of clouds and sea.
Within hours the King George encountered foul weather, a hurricane to be precise, and cut a course to the southeast to try to run around the back side of the storm. Unfortunately, while they were directly south of the maelstrom, the storm tracked straight south and overran the hapless vessel. The crew struggled to keep the aerostat pointed into the gale, and so, concerned much more about survival than course, the ship was displaced over a hundred miles in an irreproducible direction.
The view from the nose was not conducive to photography. Underwood watched the silvery grey rain make rumbling chaotic patterns on the glass, actually enjoyed the effect of lightning behind the animation, but when fist sized hail began shattering against the panes he decided to relocate to his boring assigned quarters, where he finally encountered fear. The only information he got was sound and touch, the sound like the aeroship was being torn to pieces, and the sensations were lurching and gut churning. He was terrified.
When they finally emerged in calm and reasonably clear sky they descended and dropped the drag anchor and buoyed neutral. The Captain came down the hatch and called for the Sergeant. Underwood surprised him coming out of the berth.
“Get a little rough up there, soldier?”
“Made me a bit skittish.”
“Well, foul is past us now. I need you to go up front and report back to us through the Shout Tube. We see something dead ahead, and we’re gonna creep up on it slow-like. On the horizon now. You have a glass, doncha?”
“Well soldier, yore a sailor now!”
Armed with his telescoping brass spyglass, the Sergeant of Engineers peers through the fortuitously washed viewing bay, searching the horizon for anything unusual. He hooked he right arm through the strut closest to the speaking tube so he might be more stable or at least move at the same time as the vessel. The Engineer, while checking damage, had gone up into the crow’s nest and spotted something in the high powered telescope up there, gimbole mounted. But it wasn’t a full crew, and he had had to come down for repairs. Underwood considered asking if he should go aloft, but realized that un-offered meant unlikely.
With his wobbling perch and small magnification, he had trouble spotting it, but when he did the impression entered his mind that it looked like a pustule on the very edge of the horizon. It was a very unlucky first impression. He determined angle to bow and told the Captain.
“Sorry, lubber, this was supposed to be a milkrun. That was a little late for a storm like that, we think the devil sent it. Haw! What see you, boy?”
“It’s too big to be a ship. Think it is an iceberg?”
“Nay. Doubt it. We’re ‘way south for that.”
“Just now, I see squares … cubes, I mean … prisms! Structures! There are buildings there!”
“Foggin’ hell! Stand by!” There is the noise of a strong disagreement and doubt. Unresolved, it seemed, when the Captain called up again. “If’n you got yore photographic fol-de-rol ready, now is the time to get some plates. I propose to move up close enough for yore say-so, then wait a few minutes for you to expose some images. Then we are gonna vamoose.”
“I understand, Sir. The equipment will be up by the time we need it.” And so at 200 meters altitude the King George drifted slowly closer, the engines throttled back to just above stall. The Texian set up his camera and braced the tripod by tying two of the feet to the superstructure, then started watching the approach through the lens. He watched the pale island grow ever larger, until he could just make out piers, bays, doors, windows, the suggestions of facades, the sketch of small shops.
“Captain, you may stop here!”
“Aye. And you have fifteen minutes, boy. Have at it!”
As Pilipo was settling the last of the fine focus, and sliding a plate in and pulling out the cartridge, a large and long metal tube ascended on the upper levels of the island completely unseen by the crew or their artistic lookout. It was behind a large square of canvas the color and painted texture of the marble mountain behind it. While he was securing the first plate and pulling out the second, the Captain was preparing to drop ballast and fire engines, dive planes up; on the island the artillery tube was making final adjustments to its aim. And while the second plate was being exposed the projectile was fired.