The Free Henra and the Cunning Plan

The dirigible Free Henra hove from the cloudbank into the eternal blue of a daytime sky, to find two enemy warships waiting for her.

“Look panicked, everyone,” Captain Emini called. She stood firm as their sudden turn pulled a less-prepared shipman off his feet and left him red-faced on his security line.

“The enemy have us outgunned, and outmanned,” she continued, as a warning shot passed their prow. “They are better armoured and faster. They are stuffed full of highly trained marines. In short, they are overconfident. Let’s teach them a lesson they won’t forget.” Her crew gave a small cheer to her speech as they worked, concentration showing on every face.

Emini kept her ship above the clouds just long enough to make sure the ambushers were following, then plunged into the stifling grey sea. She flipped infrared goggles over her eyes to check the enemy position and smiled, satisfied. No doubt they were likewise following the glow of Free Henra’s engines.

The first projectile passed to their port, followed by its whipcrack report a moment later. The pilot, Little Ben, yanked them starboard then cut power to the lift crystal for one lurching second to drop their height and spoil the enemy chase gunners’ range.

“Steady Ben,” Emini said. “We’ve a ways to go yet.”

“Won’t get there at all if we ain’t in one piece,” he grunted.

“Let’s see if we can’t slow them down a little for you,” she smiled. “Ready mines! Timers spread ninety to one twenty. Release!”

Nearly a hundred small packages were released from the back of the dirigible, concealed by another evasive lurch. Their balloons were carefully calibrated so that some rose slowly through the murk, or sank, forming a lethal and invisible cloud of their own. The explosions would do negligible damage to the armoured ships, but the shrapnel could clear a deck in a moment.

Ninety seconds later she had the satisfaction of seeing the first pursuer pull sharply up, as explosions blossomed around it. The second was forced to divert course too, gaining the Free Henra vital time and distance. The enemy were keeping above her now, to keep their hulls between them and any mines.

“Ready lifters! Timers one ten to one fourty. Release!”

These mines all increased their altitude, staying high would not be enough.

“Nearly there Captain.” The first mate had been dead-reckoning their position, a nearly impossible task, but one he excelled in.

“Prepare to drop on my mark, Ben.” Emini watched as the first mate frowned between his pocket watch, air maps and instruments. He held up five fingers as explosions blossomed in the clouds above, and counted down.

“Gunners prepare to run out and support our ambush. Ben, I want us to gain distance and present the port broadside. Steady… Mark!”

The Free Henra lurched again, falling below the cloud cover now to meet three ships of her own navy. Except there were nine ships present. Three she recognised, scorched and damaged with colours struck, and six bearing enemy flags.

“Ben, up!” But one of their pursuers had stayed high, and now broke from the cloud cover above them. They were surrounded.

“Strike the colours. It seems they don’t need any lessons from us at all.”


Yowch. I was so confident I could keep writing through September. Instead the opposite happened… At least I did something before the end of February? So here is a story about overconfidence. Also dirigibles, sky navies and steampunk because I just read The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher and had a great time. It’s as though he looked at all the steampunk cliches and thought “How can I make all of these things make sense?” He did a good job.

543 words, mostly just to get the fingers moving.