The sounds of hard labor echoed off far walls of the immense underground hangar. Work crews of The Arbiter had always preferred to work with the hangar doors open, eliminating the terrible resonance and allowing the cool wind to sweep across their sweaty backs, but today their orders were clear. The hangar was to remain closed.
Recent events had made things difficult for the baron’s people to work in private. The eyes of the technocracy were all around him now, closely observing the Delgado estate, and Nester wasn’t interested in giving them a thing.
“Gangrel’s balls is it loud in here!”
Bellefonte Grum, the captain of the massive airship, was cringing in pain as the reverberations of metal against metal pinged against his bald head. He and the girl next to him were making their way through the decks of the docked vessel as the numerous work crews performed regular maintenance and repairs.
“What!?” shouted Samantha Dovereski turning her head back to face the behemoth cringing behind her. “I told you to keep those earmuffs on your head!”
Grum appreciated that the working men couldn’t hear the way she talked to him. Her words were coming out as if she was scolding an older brother.
“I can’t! They don’t fit!” he grumbled back at her. He was doing his best to keep his massive hands over the sides of his head, but it didn’t help much.
“We’re almost there. Just…deal with it.”
The pair made their way down through the crew cabins and past the bulkheads towards the engine room. As they got closer, the sound dampened and Grum sighed in relief as he was finally able to take his palms away from his ears.
“About time,” he complained. “My ears are gonna be ringing fer a week!”
“This is what I was talking about,” Samantha slipped off her earmuffs and was already moving back past the recently rebuilt Dovereski Drive engine.
Grum stuffed his fingers in his ears and wiggled them about to get the ringing out enough to hear clearly.
“Right, okay. So what’s this important thing ya had to show me?”
“Well, remember when you guys took that hit that nearly took the ship down in one blow?”
“Yeah,” Grum replied coldly. “That shouldn’t have happened. Took the Captain Karsett’s life.”
“It didn’t happen.”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
“I was shocked to hear that the ship went down having taken so little damage from just two sprinter-class airships. It’s impossible.”
“But we did take hits and they blew a hole in this very room, I saw it!”
“Did you?” Samantha’s words came out cool and doubting.
Grum thought for a second. She clearly knew something he didn’t. His temper was rising a bit, but this was Samantha. He’d hear her out.
“Alright,” he huffed, “explain.”
“Well, you did take a lot of artillery fire. I personally inspected every dent and splintered chunk of wood myself the day you pulled her in. But this section of the ship, where you think you were hit, Grum, it was damaged more from the inside than the outside.”
“It was a bomb. Or something like one. There was too much damage from the explosion and the water that came in when you hit the wet to really tell for sure, but this was sabotage I’m sure of it. I just don’t know how they managed to time the explosion with the cannon fire.”
“But the engine did explode, that’s what took the captain. Couldn’t that have been what damaged the room from the inside?”
“Not like this, but it was made to look that way. You see a direct blow can barely dent the hold at this point in the bulkhead. The reinforcement is too strong and each part gains strength from the other sections. It’s designed to take dozens of blows, but the shot you supposedly took would have had to hit a very specific weak point in the structure, the weakest point between these crossbeams.” Samantha ran her hands along the newly reconstructed crossbeams. They seemed monstrous compared to her small body.
“That’s an incredible feat for someone who doesn’t know the inside of the ship or can even see the beams, don’t you think?” she continued. “This section was pressing in at the exact moment another explosion, coming from inside the ship, was pushing back in the other direction. That kind of pressure would cause the hold to pretty much collapse. When I came in to inspect the room, there were black powder scorch marks all over the walls.”
“A crackerjack,” Grum muttered to himself.
“A bomb with impact detonation. Set it on fire, send a bolt of lightin through it, nothing. But give it a hard enough punch and it’ll punch right back ten times harder. Sappers used em in the revolution to sabotage airships, but rarely. It was too difficult to place ‘em accurately enough. There wasn’t enough information on the interworking of the enemy hulls.”
“Not many men knew how to make em, and I’m guessin less do now, but why the engine room? If ye knew the ship, you’d know at least three other places for a thing like that to finish her. Wait, why only one and not a dozen?”
“I think I know,” Sam replied, “but the more important question is who put it in here.”
“Hold nothin back from me now girl,” Grum fumed. “They killed my captain.”
“I can’t say for sure, but I doubt this had anything to do with the Kuu or the key to finding The Manticore,” she surmised. “This was all about crippling the ship and taking it down in one piece. I know Captain Karsett gave his life to save the ship, likely foiling the plan, but I read that Dr. Thyous was able to get his hands on what remained of the body.”
“Whoever set up the crackerjack, stole the body, which means,” Grum stopped mid-sentence and began bolting back through the ship. “Cursed hangar doors!” he yelled, covering his ears again as he ran.