Harry in the Wild, Part 10

The sun was high and it was hot in the cabin. It was probably just her imagination, but Harry felt as if there were no air, with seven people where usually there were only two. The warriors had become used to the strangeness of the vessel and called to one another, even cracking jokes she did not understand and laughing.

It was unnerving, as if her bedroom had been invaded. She was grumpy; she knew perfectly well it was because Khuwelsa could talk to them and she herself could not. Knowing did nothing to alleviate the effect.

She had chosen a spiral search pattern. Starting at the camp, she made larger and larger circles. The turn she was making now was about eight miles out, which meant the total distance covered on this circle would be about sixty miles. She had upped the speed to about one hundred miles per hour, which struck a reasonable balance between speed and noise.

About forty minutes to go round, then move out another mile and do it all again.

The savannah was a beautiful place, but this was tedious. They were not going anywhere. The warriors peered out, one on each side of her and the others at the portholes. They were fascinated. Every now and then one of them would spot something of interest — to them — and comment on it to the others.

Perhaps they were places they had remembered from their journey. She had no idea. She tried to distract herself from the tedium. What did the renegade Zeppelin want with hippo teeth? Yes, they were ivory and would fetch a price, but were they really worth anything uncarved?

How long did it take to carve a hippo tooth, and how much money would it bring? She was sure it would not be significant to a bunch of Germans in an airship. It seemed pointless.

And if you dumped two or three hundred ivory teeth into the market all at one time, wouldn’t that bring the price down? Economics was not a subject she studied, but it stood to reason. When things were scarce their price went up, that was easy to understand; so logically, if there was a lot of something, the price would come down.

And the Germans had a lot of hippo teeth.

A strong gust of wind buffeted the Pegasus she adjusted without even thinking about it. The sun had gone behind a bank of cumulonimbus clouds building in the south. Storm coming, but it might miss them.

“Khuwelsa?” she called above the noise of the engine.

Her sister turned up a few moments later, squeezing between the chair and Bakari. “Problem?”

“If you call intense boredom a problem,” Harry said. “No, not that. What else can you use hippo teeth for?”

“As opposed to … ?”

“Carving and selling. It doesn’t make sense they would want it for that.”

At that moment the little weight they had vanished completely as the Pegasus dropped for a few seconds. Reacting instinctively, Harry put the nose down and shoved the throttle to maximum. The propeller roared and shot them forwards into solid air.

Khuwelsa explained to Bakari in halting Bantu that sometimes there were pockets of bad air. They had been driving towards the ground at increasing speed until Harry felt lift under her wings again and she pulled up, letting the power off the propeller at the same time. The ship tilted nose up and she regained altitude.

There were a few anxious faces as Bakari communicated his limited understanding to the rest of his men. One of them forced a laugh and the others joined in. Harry was not impressed by their posturing.

“We’re going to have to put down,” Harry said to Khuwelsa. “That storm is going to be bad enough on the plain, but that’s the Usambaras ahead. The air’s just going to be too messy and we daren’t take a lightning strike so far from the ground.”

Bakari gave a cry and pointed down. Following his pointing finger, the sisters recognised the hippo killing ground they had landed at before.

“Tell them we’re going down,” said Harry.

Khuwelsa passed it on and asked them to get on the line again. Harry was grateful, as she felt crowded with the two so close beside her. She had enjoyed going to dances with Johannes, but not when they became too crowded. She preferred open sky where you could see the horizon fifty miles away at any given moment.

Unlike this moment, when the horizon was rapidly disappearing in the grey mist of the approaching storm. Flashes of lightning zipped across the surfaces and the inner parts of the cloud lit up again and again. This was a bad one.

There was no time to be delicate. She glanced back to make sure the passengers were holding on tight, then put the Pegasus into a powered dive at a high angle. The nature of the Faraday device was that it only reduced gravity directly above it, in relation to the source of gravity. The grid of the Pegasus ran along the bottom of its fuselage and into the individual feathers. So if it tilted off being completely flat, parts of the ship extended beyond the field and increased in weight.

It was a problem with all flyers; tilting too far meant you no longer had lift, and that could be fatal. On this occasion she was using it to increase her fall towards the ground. It was coming up fast. She flipped the wings out to act as brakes, killed the power to the propeller, then beat hard and fast to arrest their speed.

A moment before they touched down, lightning pierced the increasing gloom and touched her starboard wingtip. The Faraday cut out and they landed with a crash.

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