The hot air bag came into view first, dark against the twilight horizon.  Everything in the city was closed or in ruins; Edmond and Sean had not seen another person since the train station.  Edmond wore his sword, and Sean had loaded his revolver.  Both strained their eyes into the lengthening shadows with twitching fingers.

The airship was listing haphazardly.  The bow was caught on a sand bar, the stern downstream.  The ship must have drifted to this spot from an anchorage upstream.  It was a stone’s throw from the waiting teeth of a bombed out bridge.

The hot air bag was light blue silk, opaque in the dim light.  Edmond and Sean immediately recognized that while the wider beam and shallower draft made her slower in the water, it gave the ship a distinctive advantage in the air.  Her aerodynamic lines and brass fittings marked her as British.  Everything about the ship, from her redwood construction to her complex engines spoke of expense.  This ship must have made massive profits to be worth building.

“I would say she must be ruined, because there is no one on board, but there isn’t any damage I can see.”  Sean spoke quietly despite the racket they had made clamoring down to the river’s edge.

Victoria’s Crusade.”  Edmond’s brow furrowed as he read the name.  “She’s a blockade runner. A smuggler’s ship.”  Her three engines and sleek lines said as much as the name.

“It can’t hurt to look around.”  Sean sounded almost plaintive as he glanced between the fine craft and Edmond.  Their troubles were forgotten for Sean; he wanted to see the ship.

“Oh I’m sure it could.”

The two men picked their way slowly down the sandbar and up the side of the ship.  Sean grabbed a loose rope and scrambled onto the deck.  Edmond, whose stump was bleeding from the walk from the train station, struggled up with the rope and Sean’s help.  There were two splotches of blood that had soaked into the deck and a number of pistol rounds buried in the deck and handrail.  Edmond unscrewed a lantern from the rail and raised his eyebrows at Sean as he lit it.

They found that the burners that heated the air in the bag were all nearly empty.  There was barely enough catalyst to keep the bag from collapsing, let alone take off.

“Damnit!” Sean swore as he closed the cover on the third unit.  Without functioning burners, the ship was simply an ungainly river barge.

“Lets check the hold, there is always a chance that there is more fuel there.”  Edmond did not sound as if he believed there was any fuel there.  He also did not sound as though he were spending too much effort covering his excitement at the beauty of the airship.  Edmond found himself figuring out the bearings and distances for travel to the Chesapeake Bay, despite the fact that he had never even heard of a two man crew running such a large ship.

The hold, lit by their small lamp, revealed only scraps of silk and lace: all that remained of the smuggler’s load.  Night had fallen completely by the time they entered the engine room.  Neither man had a large amount of experience with the propellers that drove these vessels through air and water.  That is why they did not see it for more than a minute.

“It looks like it was set to explode on a timer.  Something must have malfunctioned.”  This was more than Edmond had bargained for.  No ship was worth fooling with explosives he knew nothing about.  “Lets get ou-”

“No sir, we can use this!” Sean had an excited look on his face.  Edmond would have rather no one even talked loudly around the explosive.

“A massive incendiary won’t help us against three angry bigots.  Lets go Sean.”

“This is just like the incendiaries we used at New Orleans.  We can use the catalyst inside to power the burners on deck!”

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Edmond had not prayed since Vicksburg.  Sean knew more about ammunition than he, and though he was of unsteady temper he was steady of hand.  Surely he was not spared one explosion to perish in another?  Edmond nodded and Sean quickly cut the match-cord that led to the detonator and carefully unscrewed or broke all the pieces holding the container of catalyst in place.   A few seconds of work and the tension evaporated like fog in the sun.

It was only a few minutes of work dividing the catalyst crystals into the burners on deck.  The sandbar held onto the hull of the ship, but a few minutes of burn lifted them gently into the night sky.

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