“Starboard engine lost!” came the Prussian’s slightly metallic voice over the tube. The airship was forced several hundred meters backward, flexing dangerously as it went. Every loose item in the cabin flew through the air, and impacted bulkheads and decks, fortunately not wounding any of the crew. “Port envelope is losing pressure.”
“Hydrogen to central bladder, port engine two degree up.”
“Port engine one degree up.”
“Port engine zero degrees. All stop. Hovering.”
After a moment of inaction, the crew began to stir. Jennings was busy throwing levers and flipping switches. The ship shuddered and groaned. Underwood had been strapped in, and Doc and McCullough had managed to stay on their feet by grabbing everything or anything handy during the volcanic sleigh ride. Oldrich reported over the speaking tube.
“Starboard engine is knocked out of skew, starboard lift bladder is deflating. Right dive plane is lost.”
“Major,” called the pilot, “you need to go into the envelope and make damage assessment.” The living parts of Oldrich were so small he did not need a full complement of air, he could store enough for a half hour of strenuous activity, or an hour of sitting. He climbed up into the balloon of the airship, where leaking hydrogen lowered the oxygen level and made it an unhealthy habitat, and surveyed damage without risk to himself. After twenty minutes he descended back into the engine compartment.
“Starboard bladder is compromised. I recommend dumping the ballast bladder.”
“Dumping ballast,” announced the ship’s Captain as he pulled another lever. The water in the pitch tube was emptied, allowing the ship to have less weight and more lift to compensate for the broken engine and missing right side dive plane. The engineer went topside again to survey the structural damage, and returned with options: put in for repairs at Hispaniola, or proceed all slow to the docks at Galveston. Jennings, with a wounded passenger, decided to make for Galveston and the superior medical facilities there.
And so they limped slowly back to civilization, stopping occasionally to plumb the sea’s bounty. Agent McCullough and his sharps rifle proved invaluable, able to spot large fish or sharks from on high and shoot them, at which point it was only a matter of getting low enough to hook the fresh food up. For the rest of their lives the crew would tell stories of the wonderful feast of seafood they enjoyed on the journey, fresh slabs of meat seasoned with a little salt and pepper and limes from the stores.
After a couple of weeks the Texas coast came to view, and the island of Galveston shortly thereafter. When they finally docked they were met by a very large welcoming committee consisting primarily of newspaper reporters, in addition to a tossed and tussled Glaubrius Valeska, Bishop Bausothrose and an official from the Capitol at Austin. Underwood was carried away on a gurney, McCullough left with the government man, Jennings, the Bishop, Oldrich and Valeska had to fight their way through sleeting questions and flash powder detonations, fighting their way into a carriage an on to secured rooms at the Hotel Galvez.