Cries of, “Skipper!” and “Captain!” met him as the Long Nines assembled realized he was present.
He held up a hand for quiet. “Well, looks like we’re taking Swiftsure home with us. We may get that liberty in Darwin after all.” That met with raucous approval. “We aren’t home yet,” Cannon admonished. “Keep a lid on it until we are.”
Cannon and Joe descended the companionway down to the ventral catwalk, and then took the ladder down into the control gondola. Churchill, the airship’s flying master, called out orders to the planesmen and the helmsman.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Churchill,” Cannon said. “Is our prize crew back in control over there?”
Churchill nodded. “They radioed a few moments ago, captain. We’re ready to sail on your order.”
“Very good,” Cannon said. “Make for Darwin. Best speed.”
Darwin was less than a day’s flight away. Inconstant drove through the night over Dutch New Guinea, Majestic close behind. Sunrise found the two airships one thousand feet above the Dundas Strait, heading south, the Australias laid out dead ahead.
Once, they had been British colonies, but in the great churn after the War, they elected to find their own path. At first, they went at it together, a Federation of Australian States. In the manner common to groups of Australians, it fell apart amid disagreements, quarrels, and outright brawls. Now there were city-states: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, and Perth, together the Australias. Towns along the coast fell into their orbit; towns and cattle stations inland were nations unto themselves.
It was a good place to be a pirate. The nearness of British New Zealand notwithstanding, the Australian continent was on the far side of the world from the European authorities, and yet near enough to the shipping lanes of the East Indies to make a convenient base. It was no coincidence that Darwin had the most and largest airship breakers besides those in Wilhelmshaven, the birthplace of the zeppelin.
All but pristine landscape stretched away to Inconstant‘s port and starboard flanks, Melville Island to her right and the Coburg Peninsula to her left. Only a handful of small settlements broke the lush green of the coastline. Directly below, the ocean sparkled, a perfect Pacific turquoise.
Inconstant turned, now heading south by southwest, directly toward Darwin. The city center sat on a small peninsula, poking southwest at a right angle from the end of a larger peninsula, which itself extended northwest from the mainland. Less than two miles across, the city had once been a dusty frontier town, a main street of a few blocks surrounded by houses. A mile or two to the northeast, zeppelin berths dotted the landscape, scattered among the farmsteads.