Token Anarchist: A Charlie Bellman Story
Captain the Lady Helen Todd flies the Cloverleaf Derby.
Charlie Bellman's team prepares for other action.
by Antonia T. Tiger
Part Two: Wednesday morning
"Yes, we hear you." It didn't sound a good signal, but half a world away, Britain fell silent and listened.
"Today I am broadcasting from the seaplane dock of Shoshone Skypaths, about to speak to the Captain of their entry in the Spontoon Islands Racing Association's Cloverleaf Derby. a long-distance air race which is part of the Speed Week, that climaxes with the Schneider Trophy Race."
He turned to the first on his list, a trim middle-aged vixen in a flight suit. "Lady Helen Todd, how do you feel about the race?"
Lady Helen had taken lessons. She spoke carefully. "Shoshone Skypaths have arranged a good 'plane and crew, and Mr. Crane, of the Spontoon Mirror, has provided support which will make a huge difference. The race is a handicap, so we have as good a chance as anyone. And I believe I'm the best pilot." She paused a precise beat. "Every pilot will say, I'm the best pilot, but I wouldn't be flying today if I wasn't pretty good."
"Yes, I had noticed that about pilots. What does the race involve?"
"We fly with passengers and cargo, over about eighteen-hundred miles, but the course is a series of loops, out to a marked turning point, and back to the lagoon here. So if something goes wrong, we're not lost in the middle of the Pacific. A lot of the time we can land at some outlying island. I know we're carrying food and tents as cargo, so we shall be quite comfortable. But winning the race would be more fun."
"And will you refuel?"
"This isn't Mister Mulligan, and even that plane had to refuel in the Bendix. If we're lucky with the winds, we might not need to, but I expect to have to refuel at the end of the third leg. It will lose us a lot of time, but you have to finish the race to have any chance of winning."
"Don't the handicappers allow for that?"
"Yes, they do. And one of the hard choices is whether to fly for distance or for speed. The rules require we fill our tanks if we refuel, and the extra weight slows a plane a little. The rules also specify an average weight for crew and passengers." She grinned. "It's a race for airliners, so I won't be doing any pylon turns."
"I'm sure the passengers will be relieved, Captain Todd. I hope you have a good flight."
"Thank you, Mr Buck. And thank you London."
Buck glanced at his engineer. Thumbs up, everything was working. "That was Captain The Lady Helen Todd, who will be flying the Shoshone Skypaths entry in the Cloverleaf Derby, today's big race in the Spontoon Islands Speed Week. And now I'm about to talk with Mr Charles Foster Crane, co-sponsor of the aircraft, who will be one of the passengers today. Mr. Crane?"
"Good morning. Alistair, and Hello London!!" The engineer winced. Crane was loud. "Sorry folks. As a newsman myself, I am really excited by what the British Broadcasting Corporation is doing this week. Everyone here, and everyone listening in London, and the rest of the British Isles, is a part of history. Some of you will have heard of television. I have no idea how it will happen, but one day you'll be watching Speed Week from the comfort of your own home. There's so much they can't see, Alistair, isn't there."
Alistair Buck was a fast learner. "This is a beautiful place," he agreed. "The blue sky, and the sun burning the mist off of the jungle-shrouded hills on Main Island, you really do need a picture, and
colour pictures at that."
"Well, I plan on fixing that. My newspaper is going to publish a colour photograph special, reporting the whole of Speed Week. It's going to be expensive." He paused. "Yes, I know your rules." He glanced to his left. "No advertising, I know. But there'll be a photograph or two of Mr. Buck and his BBC people. They're doing something really special, and deserve it."
"I think I'm blushing. But, about the race?"
"I'm one of the passengers. And I expect to be bored out of my skull. Lady Helen says that good flights are boring. I hope to save the excitement for the victory celebration this evening, whoever wins. Like I said, I'm a newsman, and If I can't make the news, I'll report it."
The engineer was making urgent gestures.
"I'm told we're getting atmospherics, so we'll have to stop soon. Thank you, Mr Crane, That's a remarkable prediction about television, and it sounds just crazy enough that it might happen. And now I stop reporting from the Spontoon Islands for the BBC, because I am about to become an air racer. I shall be flying with Lady Helen Todd and Charles Foster Crane on the flying boat Spontoon Mirror, of Shoshone Skypaths. I shall tell you tomorrow morning whether I had a boring flight. Goodnight, London, from Alistair Buck at the Spontoon Islands Speed Week."
It was London who made the cut, and he held still until he got the all clear from the Engineer.
"When did you tell London, Boss?"
"Just now." Buck grinned. "And I know Charlie Crane was bending the rules. But if we win..."
"You'll still have a job. And people will hear about you. Hold on, London is shouting at me."
"I'm already gone, Fred. Bye!" And the tall, handsome, young lepine, walked across the dock to the waiting launch. He was making the biggest bet of his life, but if it came off, Alistair Buck of the BBC was going to be a name people would know. And besides, it was Speed Week.
If the Donzerly Light has any intended function, it is that of a watchtower. It has a flat roof, with a crenellated wall, which just rises above the tops of the neighbouring trees. There is room to lounge, and watch the lagoon. If you have a wireless, you can listen to the Seaplane control, or the harbourmaster, or even Radio LONO. Though some unkind soul say that you can hear Radio LONO just by chewing on a pencil.
"One Seven Spontoon Mirror, Clear for takeoff in ten seconds. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Go!"
There was a little delay, from the distance, before you heard the throttles opened. The sound was a little flat, and there was an added whine to the note, almost anguished.
"Go, baby, Go!" murmured Wolf Baginski, tracking the plane with his monocular.
"And on the step," said Saunders. "Do you think the handicappers have realised what she's planning?"
"They know it's a fast plane, but they haven't done the figuring Helen has." Bellman saw the spray under the fuselage cut off. "Airborne."
"Shoshone One Seven Spontoon Mirror Airborne. Thankyou Spontoon Control."
"Now that's going to scare the Casinos. Those planes usually need about another three hundred yards to do that. And the Scrutineers are going to be going crazy all day, looking for the cargo." Freya Bjorksdottir laughed.
Bellman was tracking the plane as it approached gate one, made big and easy even for a Pan Nimitz Clipper. "Care to explain to a duffer like me?"
"Oh wow!" gasped Saunders. The first leg, out to some stiny speck in the Thousand Keys, required a turn to port after the gate, something a half-dozen planes had already done, with a sense of sedate wallowing. But plane seventeen had been climbing hard, and looked way too high to make the gate. Some part of the plane had to be below the tops of the pylons. It wasn't a fast manoeuvre, it couldn't be, but Helen Todd, put the plane on its wingtip and pulled to the verge of a stall, streams of condensation in the wingtip vortices, riding the limits of lift and structure, letting the plane almost plummet as the wingtip just met the rules, before she hauled the plane lavel again, on course for the outward leg.
The crowds, this early in the morning, were small. This wasn't supposed to be thrilling. They made up for the numbers in the volume of their cheers.
There was a general picking up of jaws at the Donzerly light. Scattered around the lagoon, at docks and mooring bouys, fourteen pilots started drafting proposals of marriage. Bookies started chalking up new odds.
"So, what has she done?"
Freya picked up a glass of pineapple juice. "Apart from invoking the Thunderbird?" She ticked off the points on her fingers. "Exhaust-driven turbine superchargers, which get more efficient with altitude, so she has constant manifold pressure and engine power to around fifteen thousand feet. They have two flight engineers to work shifts on the engine panel, lean fuel mixture and riding the temperature limit. Crane paid Don Bennett some huge fee for exclusive consultation and tuition on navigation and flight performance. They have the latest constant-speed propellors. Crane has several ships and planes out there broadcasting coded meteor. And they have crew oxygen."
Freya grinned. "You don't normally fly an airliner high enough that the passenger black out from anoxia, and the manufacturer's range figures are honest, if you fly it like an airliner. Fly it like an endurance racer, fly it like a Mister Mulligan, with good info on the winds at altitude, and you'll win."
Wolf was still watching with his monocular. "Charlie, the next time you plan to drop me into Kuo-Han, that's the pilot I want."
Bellman looked at his arm. The dye job, not a trace of grey, made him look ten years younger.And he couldn't keep it. He glanced at Freya. She looked different too. Did Helen use fur dye? Not yet, he decided. "Don't worry, it washes out," said Freya. She was looking a little anxious. Well, time to move, thought Bellman. "And Kaimi, she knows," added Freya. "She'll be praying for us."
For a moment, he couldn't think of an answer. Kaimi and Helen were targets, safely out of the way today. But they didn't have to know. Then he nodded. Kaimi was a Priestess, and Freya believed. She did need to know that she was doing the right things. "All help gratefully accepted," he said.
He poured drinks, topped up Freya's pineapple juice. It felt like the shot of rum in the trenches. "We few, we happy, dangerous, bloody minded, savage, few. We have a job to do. Let's wipe out that particular shadow of evil before Helen wins her race."
Saunders raised his glass. "For Arabella."
Bellman said nothing. They all drank. There was a fuse burning.
The neatly lettered signs read, "Spontoon Islands Technical High School. Temporary Meteorological Station. Please Stand Clear For Your Own Safety." In only slightly smaller print, "Sponsored by Shoshone Skypaths and The Spontoon Mirror."
Several tourists were watching, some a little more puzzled than others. It didn't really matter what the object was, it was obvious that these young Spontoonies were well-practised, checking everything as they went with a quiet, methodical, precision. None of the audience understood Spontoonie, of course, and none of them realised that they were seeing the evolution of a new word.
The young fur apparently in charge, a mouse girl maybe sixteen years old. wearing slacks and a shirt held closed by the knotted-together tails, shouted "Laditod!" There was a chorus of replies. She glanced at the two boys ready by the Pibal theodolite. Both signaled with raised thumbs. Another couple. huddled over a stack of wireless gear on a trestle table, called out, "Signal good!" A last look around, especially downwind and overhead, and a look at her watch.
Amiria had expected she would most enjoy firing the Very Pistol, as the final warning. The bang, the kick in her paw, and the high arc of the flare. By now, it was routine, and not really the best thing anyway. She watched the sweep hand of her father's old railroad watch, now carried on a wrist band. Everyone tensed. "Five, four, three, two. one. RELEASE!"
The balloon shot up for the first twenty feet, until it took the weight of the radiosonde, lifting it out of her brother Hohepa's paws. They'd come a long way to the High School, they were a long way from home, and like his sister he would be sending a silent prayer back south with the wind. There was something almost magical in his pose as, arms raised, he lofted the radiosonde, facing the world-ocean.
The launch team moved clear to give the theodolite a clear view. By the end of today they would have launched more radiosondes than the Meteorology Club had ever launched before. She checked the Very pistol was safe, and set it back in its holster.
All very laditod.
One of the tourists—he had a camera—waved. "Well done," he called. Amiria had seen an exhibition at the Casino, and one of the photographs there had focused on the coordination and grace of the crew of a surfboat as they had launched. She hoped her team looked as good. She waved back. "Good picture?"
He grinned. "Hope so, miss. What's it all about?"
Amiria glanced at her watch. She didn't time the observations, but checking was laditod. "Weather observation. For the Cloverleaf Derby." She mentally checked what she was allowed to say. "Winds at altitude, for the Spontoon Mirror entry."
He nodded, taking the time to think. "I've known the clouds seem to be sailing across the wind I've had to walk against. It'll make a difference." Somebody was counting down from ten. Picked it up from the Rocket Club, and it worked better than some of their ideas. "Has Crane seen the bill yet?"
Amiria grinned. "If we win, he'll not care."
The tourist grinned too. "I don't suppose he will."
"What's the wind picture, Bear?"
Bear was an ocelot—Native American names were sometimes confusing—and she tucked her pencil securely into the pocket on her sleeve before she answered. "Low-level winds are slowly backing, but we're getting signs of something strange happening. There's a high-level wind showing up in a couple of the met reports, out of our reach at the moment, but just right for the final run home. More than a hundred knots, but they query that."
Captain the Lady Helen Todd, as she'd just had to remind Charles Foster Crane, nodded. "There are some bits and pieces in the literature," she said. "And a lot of slightly crazy speculation. Those winds are real, Bear, but I'm not sure we can get high enough."
"Three hundred knots ground speed."
Helen nodded. "And no margins over stall speed, even with the turbochargers."
Bear half-closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. "Do the rules say we have to bring our shit home?"
Helen grinned. "I'm not sure I want to argue that with the Rules Committee. And how much extra airspeed can we get with directed farts?"
Bear was obviously in good spirits as she turned back to her charts and figures. Helen moved on to the Flight Engineers. Two of them, working half-hour shifts, watching the engines for the slightest sign of trouble. Not nursing them, because they were running at what the military called "Full power". And there was a section of the throttle quadrants even the military were reluctant to use. Well, she wasn't that stupid. "Looking good, Ma'am."
No need for anyone to add, "so far."
"Mr. Buck. So I'm to be famous?"
"Hardly..." Alistair Buck fastened his seatstrap. "John Morcombe, right?"
"Yes, the mathematics teacher from the High School. I ran the team which calculated all the special tables they're using. Helen flew a lot of precise test flights, I worked out the processes, and teams of my students did the calculations. Well, they were good. I did some work as a computer when I was at university, and my boys and girls worked their little socks off. You can't do it without knowing the mathematics, and how to organise the teams, and then they have to do their work correctly."
Buck just nodded, as his pencil skittered across his shorthand notebook. He had a feeling that this one would keep talking.
"What Lady Helen wanted, and I was able to provide, was the mathematical tools to pick the best altitude to fly each leg of the route, taking into account the winds and the changes in aircraft weight as fuel is burnt off. And we're flying to get just enough range, so we can't afford mistakes. And there are some very fast winds, if only we can fly high enough. But every time we pass the lagoon we have to fly between those pylons.
"Lady Helen came to see us at a special meeting at the school, last week, to thank everyone for the work they'd done, and to explain things to us. This plane can fly as an airliner, even turn a profit, but she's built as a race plane. Luckily, when we tested the math, it turns out that we get some nice, smooth, curves, almost flat at the top, as long as the altitude is below about fifteen thousand. No, they don't call it simply altitude. There's something else. I understand the plan is to let the altitude slowly increase as we burn fuel. Tell me, what do you know about mathematics?"
Buck looked up. "Didn't somebody take 365 pages to prove that 1+1=2?"
"Oh, yes!" Morcombe laughed. "Well, a chap called Turing has proved that there are math problems which you cannot prove to be provable."
"And what does Lady Helen say to that?"
"I'm the pilot. And like any pilot, I'll take off and tell the Thunderbird I'm flying, no matter what the math says."
Buck underlined that. "I heard that it can be proved that the bumblebee can't fly."
"Young man, when somebody proves something like that, and you see a bumblebee flying, who do you believe? Look, you know Euclid?"
Alistair Buck hadn't realised quite what Lady Helen had meant by "boring."
"Port one degree" was an impossible command, or so pilots said. "Port five" followed by "Starboard four" was the conventional answer to that by the navigator.
Captain Todd could almost do it.
"On course, on heading, start descent now."
The conventional way is to hold the attitude and shut the throttles, slowly. Just pushing the nose down is the easiest way to rip the plane's wings off.
Helen pushed the nose down.
The advantage she had was a full RAF-spec blind-flying panel, and the calculations of 53 Spontoonie mathematics students. She knew the exact angle to fly, and how it changed with altitude.
It would, she thought, have been easier to fly this at night, without the distractions. But find an error in the arithmetic would have been rather too much of a surprise.