Von Luckner and Harold emerged from the subway tunnel as the firefight was reaching its peak. The hall echoed to a cacophony of swearing (in German and Russian), cries of anguish and anger, the percussion of small arms fire; and it was filling with clouds of smoke and dust. Glass shattered and bullets zipped through the air like gnats. The duo instantly drew fire from both sides and dove behind the check-in counter, where they were joined, cowering, by the first mate and chief who were crawling on their hands and knees.
Moments later the Ancaster’s crew burst into the foyer, roaring out a battle cry:
“Tigers, Tigers, burning bright!” all bravado and slightly squeaky apprehension.
The Kapitänleutnant glanced disbelievingly towards his companions.
“It’s a Hull City supporter’s chant,” replied Easter Smurthwait, “…Football… I’ll explain later, when things quieten down a bit.”
Albert Fleck leaped to his feet, “Go the three-day millionaires!”* and then ducked down again as rounds from a Schmeiser plucked at his tea-cosy hat.
The trawlermen fell upon the Neuschwabenlander troops with fist flailing.
“This’ll ney tek long. ‘Sney rougher’n a Satdi-night scrap in Rayner’s on t’Hessle Road.”
Taking advantage of the added confusion, Dark Flo ducked out from the cover of the bullet riddled soft drinks dispenser and tucked in behind the wave of fishermen. She skipped lightly up the back of the nearest deckie, tripped across the heads of three successive Kriegsmariners, became airborne and tossed a Happo egg into a light machine-gun nest as she passed overhead. Her three Inch diameter, hollowed out black egg contained a disabling mixture of itching powder and concentrated Naga Ghost Chilli sauce. Flo adopted the ‘Flailing Squid’ pose as she hung briefly in the air then plummeted, feather duster in hand, into the midst of the battle.
“THIS WILL END… NOW!”
A voice like an intervention from the patriarch of all thunder gods reverberated above the crouching combatants. The hunched and wizened oriental master had materialized in the open no-man’s land that separated the warring factions. He drew himself up to his full height of four feet two and a half inches, shoulders back and ramrod straight. His eyes glistened and his tall orange hat quivered as he glared about the room. The shooting slowly petered out until only the intermittent crack of a sniper’s round broke the silence. Otto von Luckner broke cover and approached his men.
“Nicht mehr! Aufhören zu schießen!”
The Himalayan envoy waited patiently for a bleakly expectant peace to descend across the scene.
“This is intolerable… and futile. A machine that is secret, a truth that is hidden, are now known to all. The Andromeda Gerät will depart. WE will depart. And it would be wise for you to be not here when we leave. I recommend the high-speed pneumatic tubes to your whaling station you should utilize, and there take ship. Not long, you have.” He stalked over to his colleagues who turned and followed him back into the subway.
[*Here we shall pause momentarily for an explanation.
As soon as a trawler docked at the end of a three to four week fishing trip the crew would disperse ashore, each would be met by his personal cabby, who would stay with him until the ship sailed again. Next morning, the catch having been sold in the very early hours, they would reassemble at the company office for their share of the profits. As they would be sailing again after five tides each was, for the moment, very well off – they were ‘three day millionaires’. Despite their macho image, the trawlermen had a surprisingly dandyish streak. First stop was a visit to their tailor to pick up the suit they had ordered last time they were in port and to be measured for the next, something stylish – high waistbands, wide bottomed trousers, jackets with half-moon pockets and pleated backs, in a garish range of colours, from sky blue to shocking pink. Billy Tate had a white one once, with that many pockets he could never find his loose change. Then to Rayners’ public house for two days of drinking, fighting and, for the lucky few, fornicating. After this all too brief spell ashore, and often with the latest suit all but ruined, their cabbies would discharge them back onto the trawler and they would head for Bear Island.]