Whirring propeller blades pushed gently astern. The mooring line was dropped and Lady Æthelflæda edged slowly away from the pylon. Making a broad sweep of Farnborough Aerodrome as she rose she turned north and headed for the M3.
“Those were lovely scones Aunty Stella laid on for us.” Beryl didn’t turn round. She was at the helm and looking out for the ribbon of motorway that would guide them up towards the London docks. Phoebles was manning the elevator controls.
“Wortleberry jam is my favourite. I think Ginsbergbear organised a moggy-bag to tide us over for the journey.”
“You two on about food again?” Boz had his atlas open on the chart table and was concentrating hard, trying to decide whether to circumnavigate the coffee stain that obscured Twickenham or fly on through it.
“We’ve a brisk following wind and will be over the Thames before too long,” reported Beryl, “wave as we pass The Den.”
As the London River opened out into the Thames estuary the gang could see the commanding Isle of Grain power station chimney on their starboard side, 40,000 tons of towering concrete recently saved from demolition by a preservation order citing its historical and navigational significance; and to port they noted the Destroyer of Worlds refuelling at the end of a long pier off Canvey Island. Phoebles had his brass telescope out and could see her corsair crew scurrying about the pier.
“The Kittens won’t be pleased at having their ekranoplan commandeered.”
“By all accounts,” said Boz, “they’re creating mayhem in Jersey’s interior. They’ll be happy enough.”
As the Lady Æthelflæda passed beyond the Red Sands Sea Forts they met Slasher McGoogs’ armada racing for the English Channel. Scattered across the choppy open sea were a dozen or more Corsair whale-chasers, their hulls garishly tagged and graffitied. They could make out Kapten Nyai’s lug rigged bisquine Bonnie Lass flying a huge skull and cross bones, the mighty gun turret on de Kraken’s foredeck and Inchcolm Lassie audaciously converted into a rocket ship. Not a rocket ship like Flash Gordon’s, that would have been impractical in the time available, but a vessel bristling with banks of unguided rockets intended for the bombardment of Jersey’s coastline. Above the little ships floated the ugly black form of Rotskagg’s Queen Anne’s Bounty with its crimson death’s head insignia, and crowding around her like fawning chicklings, a clutch of smaller dirigibles. Higher still a big-wing of Kronstadt Naval Air Arm Polikarpov Ratas provided air cover. Two brightly coloured Chats Suterrains’ Gumman Ducks were maintaining a cautious distance, despite their dubious status as allies.
“Well this lot should make quite an impression when we turn up off Jersey,” said Beryl.
Away on the northern horizon a plume of oily smoke suggested that some unidentified vessel was rushing to catch up.