The Phantom Airship

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Neo-Tanuki
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The Phantom Airship

Postby Neo-Tanuki » Wed Dec 17, 2014 6:13 am

Hello all,

I thought I'd stop by after a long hiatus. I was reading one of my CS books at lunch when the following scenes popped into my head. It's not quite a fanfic, not quite a squadron dossier and not quite an urban legend of the Crimson Skies universe, but I hope you like it! (Rated PG for mild language and violence.) - Neo-Tanuki

BLAKE AVIATION SECURITY THREAT DOSSIER 041737U: THE PHANTOM AIRSHIP

EDITOR'S NOTE:

Paladin,

When you asked me and my team to look into the rumors of a 'Ghost Zeppelin' attacking planes off the Hollywood coast earlier this year, I thought you'd lost your marbles. It looks like maybe there's some substance to this affair after all, but I've heard few stories as bizarre as this one-it's sure as hell weirder than anything I'd ever try to write! I've attached the relevant news clippings, and my contacts are bringing more alleged sightings of this so-called ghost ship, the
Cerberus, in other North American nations even as I write this. I'll forward you more information in the weeks to come as I receive it, along with the analysis team's theories on the possible identity of this 'Captain Charon.'

But I have to tell you, I need a drink just reading the stuff I'm sending you. I mean, we don't live in some bizarre fantasy world--this is Hollywood, for pity's sake!

Okay, that wasn't the best example. But you know what I mean.


-Dashiell Hammett, San Francisco, Hollywood, November 13, 1937.

From The Hollywood Tattler (We shout what others only whisper!), April 17, 1937:

CHAOS OVER THE CHANNEL ISLANDS!

Did A 'Ghost Ship' Ambush Local Bandits In Coastal Carnage?


By Ben Loughlin
Special to the Tattler

VENTURA COUNTY, NATION OF HOLLYWOOD — A daring late-night pirate raid Thursday night off the coast of Point Mugu escalated into a bloody aerial battle--and according to some sources, the kidnapping of an unidentified foreign diplomat--when local bandits were ambushed during an attempted zeppelin hijacking and brutally shot down by unidentified forces.

The pirate band consisted of four heavy fighters identified by Hollywood Air Militia officials as members of the Ancestor’s Blood gang. The marauders had intercepted the Cunard Lines airship Lucky Seven, a popular luxury passenger liner returning from a three-day gambling and sightseeing tour of Santa Barbara and the central Hollywood coast.

Dorothea Johnston, an entertainer and hostess working for Cunard Lines, was taken hostage aboard the Lucky Seven during the attack, and provided the Tattler with a vivid account of the bizarre attack. According to Johnston, the trip was a private charter for a number of high-level Los Angeles studio executives and some visiting European venture capitalists interested in financing major upcoming film productions and aviation projects.

"Now I don't wanna name names, because these guys pay for privacy, right?" Johnston said. "But we were told a lot of the passengers were foreign bigwigs here on vacation and to make sure they had a nice time while seeing Hollywood."

Cunard Lines would neither confirm nor deny rumors that a number of movie industry leading lights — including RKO studio head William Le Baron and actress Delores Del Rio — were among the passengers aboard the Lucky Seven during the attack. “We are fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities and due to the ongoing investigation cannot offer any comment at this time,” a Cunard spokesman said.

Heavy cloud cover Thursday night enabled the pirates to take the airship and its two-plane escort by surprise. While two of the pirate aircraft engaged the Lucky Seven’s Kingfisher escorts, two other pirate planes docked with the zeppelin and attempted to seize control of the ship, according to Ventura County Sheriff’s Department spokesmen Hugh Donnelly.

According to eyewitness accounts, while the Ancestor’s Blood flyers were subduing the airship crew, a second, unidentified zeppelin appeared out of a cloud bank and engaged both sides. The Tattler was able to obtain the following radio intercepts transcribed at Ventura Airport's control tower during the incident:

LUCKY SEVEN: Mayday, mayday! This is passenger airship Lucky Seven, serial number LZ-271. Under attack by four, I say four pirate aircraft. We are at position (names coordinates) and have been boarded. Requesting assistance from any friendly aircraft…

ANCESTOR'S BLOOD PILOT: Lucky Seven, cut your engines and stand down! Play nice, cough up the cash, and we won’t throw your crew to the fishes. You get funny with my boys and….

(A high pitched, squealing sound, like a finger dragged across a water glass, followed by static playing across the radio.)

ANCESTOR'S BLOOD PILOT: What the hell? What’s this interference … (rest of sentence drowned out by static)

(All other voices in the broadcast suddenly cease. A single voice, hollow, heavily distorted and echoing with odd feedback, replaces all radio traffic.)

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: I am Charon, captain of the Cerberus. The lives aboard the vessel you have targeted belong to me. Retrieve your boarders and remove your fighters from this airspace.

(Unknown sound and static. Regular radio traffic resumes as if switched on again)

ANCESTOR'S BLOOD PILOT: (unintelligible)…Halloween Martian stunt is this? Withdraw? Or what, tough guy?

(The sound of machine gun fire is heard. Several loud bangs and screaming come from the pirate's cockpit followed by the strange screeching tone and silence.)

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: You misunderstand. There is no ‘Or what.’

Taken by surprise, both the Ancestor’s Blood aircraft and the zeppelin escorts in battle around the Lucky Seven were suddenly throw into a three-way dogfight.

“Steven” a crewmember on the Lucky Seven who spoke to the Tattler on condition that his real name be withheld, had the dubious luck to be held prisoner in the observation lounge of the Lucky Seven, where he had a good view of the battle. He said the unknown attackers didn’t appear to be either rival pirates or a local militia flyers.

“They weren't any kind of plane I recognized,” he told the Tattler in an exclusive interview, clearly shaken and disturbed after the ordeal he faced. “The hijackers had herded us all into the passenger lounge, and we were watching the fight through the observation windows. It was cloudy and hard to make out what was happening, but…the fighters that attacked the pirates and our escorts were some kind of custom jobs, jet black with twin engines and guns all over the wings. They didn’t have running lights…but there was this weird green glow running along the wings and tailfins.” ‘Steven’ gulped, perspiring heavily and growing pale. “They looked like...ghosts.”

Jake "Haymaker" Lucas, the surviving escort pilot, was able to make it to land and safely bring his plane down after engaging the unknown planes. He said that he was unable to confirm or deny Steven's description of the spectral fighters.

"I barely saw them. All I know is they blew those Blood pirates out of the sky and then they holed my engine," Lucas said. "I thought I was a dead man, but when my Kingfisher started flaming and smoking, they just stopped firing and shadowed me in until I was over land." He shakes his head. "Damndest fight I've ever been in. Saved by a bunch of spooks who had been shooting the hell out of me seconds earlier! It's like it wasn't, I don't know, fun for them anymore when they saw I wasn't a threat."

The unknown assailants then parachuted boarders onto the Lucky Seven. Johnston described them as wearing "White flight jackets, with black hoods, black berets and goggles covering their faces completely. There was a patch on each of their shoulders--it looked maybe like a white skull on a red disc."

According to Johnston, the surviving three Blood pirates holding the zeppelin--already badly demoralized and outnumbered--attempted to negotiate with the attackers, offering to relinquish the zeppelin to them. The masked boarders made no response, she said.

"The masked guys just stood there while the Bloods were beggin' an pleading. If I didn't know better, I'd swear they were puzzled, like they didn't quite understand English," Johnston said, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Then they just raised their pistols and shot the pirates. Two bullets each in the head."

"Everyone started screaming until another masked guy stepped into the room and all the white jackets with guns made way for him. He had to be the leader. He looked like the other weirdos, but he was wearing this fancy grey overcoat and a matching officer's cap. But his face--it was covered in this black metal plate carved like one of those fancy Italian statues. You'd think it was funny...but there was something awful about him. Like the air got colder when he passed me."

Johnston says the masked attackers ignored offers of money or jewelry, instead seizing one of the 'foreign' passengers.
"The leader just walked up to this skinny blonde guy cowering in the back. 'Good evening, Herr Reichminister' he said in this creepy voice, like he was talking through a microphone with too much echo. 'As you said when we last met...the dead travel fast, and it seems your sins have caught up with you at last.'"

"The skinny guy squinted, like he was trying to see behind the metal mask, and suddenly he went over on his rear and started scrabbling backwards and screaming," Johnston said, clearly making an effort to maintain her composure. "One of the white jackets grabbed him, slung him over one shoulder and carried him out of the room. He was blubbering and begging for someone to help him. No one moved."

Officials have refused to confirm or deny if any of the passengers remain missing. While Johnston's story has been dismissed in some circles as a fabulation, her description of the blonde man addressed as 'Herr Reichminister' strongly resembles Heinrich Storch, Germany's Deputy Minister of Finance. Queries to the German Embassy in Los Angeles regarding Herr Storch's location and status have not been answered.

When asked what the last thing she remembers about the attack was, Johnston was quiet for a few minutes. "The black-masked man walked past me," she said, "and--Lord, I still don't know why--I heard myself say, 'Are we gonna die?"

"He turned toward me and I stopped breathing. And then I heard this weird, gargling sound. It took me a couple of seconds to realize he was laughing. And then he bent down so that black metal mask almost was touching my face."

"Inevitably, Miss Johnston,'" he said. "But today, I have far blacker sinners to attend to.' And they marched out, with the skinny guy still crying and begging. And just like that, they were gone."
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Thom
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Re: The Phantom Airship (Blake Aviation Security Threat Dossier 041737U)

Postby Thom » Wed Dec 17, 2014 3:02 pm

Great fun! Post more please!
Flying the Crimson Skies

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Re: The Phantom Airship (Blake Aviation Security Threat Dossier 041737U)

Postby Neo-Tanuki » Thu Dec 18, 2014 12:34 am

Thanks Thom! Here you go. Part two of The Phantom Airship Dossier: A report from Libra, an agent working undercover for Blake Aviation Security in Boulder.

Paladin,

Here’s the story I got from the guys I talked to in Boulder. Seriously, you wanted me to risk breaking cover for this? You’re the boss, but you’re paying for a new dress for me — Stenger got bathtub gin all over mine.

Libra


Transcript: recorded conversation between BAS Agent codename "Libra" and Kelton “Shiv” Stenger of the Denver Demons pirate gang, Boulder, Colorado Free State 5-05-1937:

The Cerberus? Sure, everyone around here’s heard that old story. Been going around for years back East. Never met anyone who’s seen the thing in person, but my cousin Mitch was flying with a gang out of Knoxville and his squadron leader’s girlfriend had a brother-in-law who claimed the haunted airship chased him fifty miles during a whiskey run over the Ozarks. ‘Course, the brother-in-law had been sampling the delivery items at the time, so who knows what he really saw. Am I right?

Huh? Oh, right, you wanted to hear the story, doll. Well, pull up close and tell me if you get scared and need me to put my arm around you…ow, jeez, Ok, ok, ok, leggo my ear! Jeez. So the way I heard it, it goes like this:

Back around, oh, 1930, 1931, when the Collapse was still going on and everything was pretty crazy, there was this squadron captain, flying with one of the big militias — maybe Hollywood, maybe Empire State, I forget which. He’s on the fast track to promotion — he's got moxie, brains, married to a high-society gal, lives clean and brushes his teeth every day, you know the type. But the way the story goes, he’s maybe a little too good at his job. He find out the CO at his airbase is on the take. What? I dunno — way I heard it, the CO owed a debt with some local tough guys he was paying off with stolen supplies, or maybe he was passing a few secret dispatches to some unfriendly parties across the border. Point is, our captain finds out somebody’s doing the dirty, and the CO realizes our golden boy is going to blow the whistle.

Now this CO, he knows if the captain makes a stink, he’s looking at ten years in the joint at best, and maybe even a firing squad at worst. So he moves fast. He makes up orders for the captain to take an airship, the Cerberus, out on a long-range night patrol on Christmas Eve. Then the CO makes some calls to his “friends” to arrange an unfortunate accident for our boy. Sure enough, the captain takes off, and a couple of hours later, the base tower gets a distress signal — the airship’s been ambushed, escorts shot down, and the Cerberus losing helium and about to crash. CO makes a big show of scrambling a rescue flight, but by the time they get there, there’s a few bits of wreckage scattered across the water and no sign of any survivors. Big funeral, nice tearful write-up in the paper, and the CO is sitting very pretty. He’s moved up the promotion ladder, got the money rolling in. Story goes he even courted the dead captain’s pretty widow and married her himself. So things are looking good for him…

Until a month later, at the exact hour and minute of the crash, the radio officer at the base logs a distress call. When he asks for their ID and serial number, they give the codes for the Cerberus. So they assume somebody’s jerking their chain. A week later, the same thing happens. And the next. The CO is spitting nails, he turns the base upside down looking for the joker making phony broadcasts. Nothing. Cops get called in, they ask around, turn up nothing. People start to get creeped out, and suddenly things start to go bad for the CO. The locals start to report seeing an unidentified airship up in the clouds near the base, but every time they send aircraft to look, nothing’s there. The brass are starting to lose confidence in the CO…they think either he’s doing a piss-poor job managing his base or maybe he’s having a nervous breakdown. The CO’s “friends” start to get edgy about the weirdness going on, and as a result the CO’s money stops coming in under the table. The CO starts hitting the bottle, and as the months wear on he starts drinking earlier and earlier.

It all comes to a head on Christmas Eve of the following year. The base throws a big party, and the CO’s there, acting all hearty and slapping people on the back, but he’s aged ten years in the past twelve months. He gets twitchier and twitchier as the clock ticks closer to midnight…and then some junior lieutenant walks up and tells him the mysterious airship’s been sighted. The CO orders a pair of fighters scrambled, and says he’s going with them. His XO tries to get him to lay off, given all the booze he’s been pushing, but the CO isn’t having any. He jumps into his Avenger and roars off.

By this time, the moon was gone and a wall of pea soup had rolled in around the airfield. The CO’s wingmen are blundering around, trying not to make a mistake and fly into a mountain or each other, when suddenly they see the CO’s plane fly into the fogbank. They try the radio, they try to regain visual contact…no good.

Suddenly there’s a burst of tracer fire from inside the fogbank, the radio crackles, and the CO is heard shouting. “You bastard. I got you! I got you twice!” Then there’s a weird hissing noise…and suddenly the CO screams and the radio goes dead.

The other two pilots radio in a mayday and comb the area trying to find him, until they’re bingo fuel and they have to land. As they turn back toward the airfield, the pilot bringing up the rear thinks he sees some kind of light behind him. He looks back, and swears he sees this black zeppelin, canvas torn and shot to hell, the bridge glowing with this unnatural green light, banking back into the fog. And just then the radio comes on one last time and he hears the CO’s voice.

“Oh God! It’s the Cerberus! The Cerberus! Help me! Please help me! He’s taking me with him back to Hell!”

Yeah.

They found the wreckage of the CO’s plane near the mountains during the search the next day. The weird radio messages and airship sightings stopped. The brass officially wrote it off as a fatal accident brought on by drinking and a nervous breakdown. But here’s the funny thing. The plane was smashed up but the cockpit was mostly intact…but there was no sign the CO had ever been in the plane. Except one thing, his wedding ring was on the seat…and when the widow saw it, she had a breakdown and I heard they had to haul her off to spend the rest of her life at the funny farm.

See, the wedding ring wasn’t the CO’s. It belonged to the captain. The captain of the Cerberus.

They say that even though he got the CO, he still knows that the other guys responsible for shooting him down and murdering him and his crew are still out there…and they say he’s still out there waiting in the fog to find them and take revenge.

POST-SCRIPT:

So that’s the story. But before you and Dash go haring off looking for some ghost zeppelin crewed by some vengeful fiend from beyond the grave, there’s a few things I think you should know:

1. There is no record of an airship named
Cerberus serving with any North American power or major private military concern between 1930 and 1933. I found two reports of airship losses over water dated December 24: The loss of the ISA zeppelin Akron off the coast of New Jersey in 1933, and the crash of the Hollywood airship Sacramento off Morro Bay in 1935. But neither crash fits the Cerberus legend: The Akron was lost due to a navigation error during a very violent thunderstorm and the Sacramento crashed in the ocean after being shelled by Pacifica wet-navy vessels.

2. I talked to a few other pirates, and their stories of the
Cerberus broadly matched Stenger's: Heroic captain is betrayed and murdered in an ambush set up by his CO, comes back from the grave for revenge. But the details vary widely. One pilot told me the whole thing took place in Europe, and the captain was a Swiss pilot working for Count Zeppelin who mouthed off to the Nazis once too often. A mechanic with Raeder's Raiders swore up and down the captain was a privateer out of Pacifica, and the first mate and the wife murdered the captain because they were afraid he'd found out they were having an affair. My point is, none of these stories are consistent and they don't provide any solid clues to the origin of the airship and fighters in the Lucky Seven incident.

My personal opinion is that may be the point: Whoever these guys are, they're hiding their identities behind a ghost story to get whatever it is they're after. But you’re not paying me for my personal opinions, so I’ll leave the heavy thinking to your brain boffins.

Next time you need me undercover, make it some place where I don’t need to deal with snow, ice and vomiting drunks with grabby hands? I hear Dixie is lovely in the spring. (Hint, hint.)


-Libra

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Re: The Phantom Airship (Blake Aviation Security Threat Dossier 041737U)

Postby Grant » Thu Dec 18, 2014 4:22 am

DAMN......I like it.

Seriously this is freaking great.

When..... :oops: I get to updating my site, any qualms if I get ahold of you and add this "officially" to my website?

I plan on doing that with a few things here if I can contact the writers.

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Re: The Phantom Airship (Blake Aviation Security Threat Dossier 041737U)

Postby Neo-Tanuki » Thu Dec 18, 2014 4:58 am

Thaks for the kind words, Grant. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Certainly you are welcome to add this to your site; I'd be quite honored. ;) Feel free to PM me if you'd like to discuss details.
I have a few more clippings I'd like to add to the dossier, so I'll try to post those soon!

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Re: The Phantom Airship (Blake Aviation Security Threat Dossier 041737U)

Postby Neo-Tanuki » Thu Dec 18, 2014 6:13 pm

And here's Part Three!

Paladin,

Now this is interesting. It seems like Hollywood isn't the only place the phantom airship has turned up--and it looks like other nations are trying to keep it quiet. See the latest items provided by Libra below with her commentary. --D.H.


From the Chicago Industrial Weekly, June 3, 1937:

MISSING MILITARY AIRSHIP RESCUED!

EXTRA--The Weekly is pleased to report that the missing ISA military cargo airship Steeldriver--the subject of a massive aerial search during the past twelve hours--has been located and all crew members are safe with only minor injuries.

According to a statement from the Department of Aviation Security, the Steeldriver encountered severe wind conditions that caused an uncontrolled altitude gain, causing the crew to lose consciousness from lack of oxygen.

Fortunately, once the airship's position had stabilized, automatic safety systems were able to return the vessel to safe altitude. The crew regained consciousness and found the Steeldriver was still airworthy, though the loading bay hatches had suffered damage from the violent winds and broke open during the incident, resulting in a partial loss of the ship's cargo.

According to DAS sources, Akron Air Station was first notified something was wrong when bridge officers radioed a garbled, slurred distress call, stating that they were seeing flashes of "green lightning" the cloud layer, followed by radio messages about a "black, luminescent airship" shadowing the vessel. Moments later, radio contact was lost.

"Oxygen deprivation is a serious hazard for aviators," a DAS spokesperson said. "It can knock you out before you even glance at your emergency breathing gear. One minute you're drinking coffee and chatting with your crewmates, the next, bam! You're out like a light!"

When asked about the description of a "black, luminescent airship" following the Steeldriver just prior to loss of contact, the spokesperson stated confidently it was an optical illusion brought on by air sickness. "Most likely, the crew, who were already dizzy and disoriented, saw their own ship's shadow reflected in the clouds above them," he said. "That, combined with their own confusion and the other atmospheric phenomena brought on by rough weather, would easily induce hallucinations.

"Fortunately, the ISA air defense forces have the best airship safety systems in North America. I've been personally authorized to assure the families of the Steeldriver's crew that aside from some minor frostbite and a few bumps and bruises, your loved ones are well. They'll be held for observation for a few days at Akron Air Station Military Hospital, after which they'll be released for some well-deserved leave."

The Weekly offers heartfelt thanks for the safe return of our brave airmen, and extends its wishes for their speedy recovery.

Paladin,

My OWN source in DAS told a far different story than that third-tier flack the
Weekly spoke to. It's amazing the kind of things a good-looking guy will say to impress you when you're out all night at a dance club. But I digress.

So first off, what DAS isn't telling the public is that the
Steeldriver was carrying a cargo of six Messerschmitt/GM Intrepid fighters, delivery address unavailable. Rumor has it that those fighters were originally intended to be "lost" in the supply chain in exchange for a hefty bribe and end up in the hands of the ISA's favorite tame pirate, Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn of the Red Skull Legion. A nifty little scam-Kahn gets some cutting-edge hardware, and the ISA pockets a nice chunk of change and gains plausible deniability when Kahn goes raiding with his new toys.

I had a "friend" at Bank of Chicago pull some Messerschmitt/GM financial records for me. Guess who the evidence points to arranging this little financial shell game? One of M/GM's major German shareholders--Deputy Reichminister of Finance Heinrich Storch. Coincidence? Ha. I doubt it.

But it looks like things didn't go as planned. Apparently, someone managed to sneak aboard the
Steeldriver before takeoff with cannisters of knockout gas. Once the crew were rendered unconscious, the insider opened the cargo bay and docked the Steeldriver with an unidentifed craft--the "glowing black airship"--and offloaded the six Intrepids.

Here's the part you're going to love. When the crew regained consciousness...none of them were missing. That "hospital stay for observation" actually translates to "lock the entire crew in a basement with government bruisers until someone talks."

So unless, as they say in Chicago, one of the crew REALLY got "an offer he couldn't refuse," it looks like our "Captain Charon" has one hell of a disguise artist in his crew...but what's his long-term game?

-Libra

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Re: The Phantom Airship (Blake Aviation Security Threat Dossier 041737U)

Postby Neo-Tanuki » Fri Dec 19, 2014 8:52 pm

Part Four of The Phantom Airship Dossier: The Texas Incident! I think this was my favorite part to write so far. Comments and criticism welcome! - Neo-Tanuki

Transcript of Military Court of Inquiry dated 1430 hours, July 12, 1937, Tulsa, Oklahoma Protectorate, Republic of Texas.

Presiding officers are Major Joshua Campbell, Commanding Officer, ARB Tulsa; Captain Ellen Creed, Squadron Commander, Sixth Texas Fighter Squadron; Lieutenant Daniel Gage Ramirez, Executive Officer, Sixth TFS.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: This court of inquiry is now in session. State your name, rank and current military assignment for the record, please.

WITNESS: Billy Childress, sir. Flight Sergeant, assigned to First Flight, Second Oklahoma Defense Force air auxiliaries. We perform border patrols and provide security for the local aircraft manufacturers supplying ARB Tulsa.

CAPT. CREED: On July 11, you and two wingmen were assigned to a patrol flight near Ponca City. At 1340, radio logs showed you ordered your flight to divert east toward Bartlesville. Is that correct?

CHILDRESS: Yes, ma’am. Lowie — that is, Corporal Lowell Baines, my senior wingman — had spotted a convoy of five, six trucks on the road at 1325 in the afternoon. The beds were stacked with boxes covered with canvas. We diverted to do a fly-by. As we flew over, we, ah, we spotted individuals concealing themselves under the canvas in the back of the trucks, who displayed suspicious behavior upon our approach. We figured the drivers might be engaged in some kind of illegal activity across the border — maybe smuggling contraband into the People’s Collective — and they should be detained in order to inspect their cargo and question them.

CAPT. CREED: And it was at this point you took it upon yourself to halt the convoy?

CHILDRESS: Ah, yes, that’s correct ma’am. All the signs pointed to cornrunners.

CAPT. CREED: “Cornrunners?”

CHILDRESS: That’s what we call them, ma’am. Because, um, they grow lots of corn in the Collective. Cornrunners are no-good lazy skunks who don’t respect the rightful government of Texas and trade with the Commies for food and medicine, or even try to illegally sneak across the border to live in the Collective…

CAPT. CREED: Thank you, Sergeant, I believe your explanation is sufficient. Continue.

CHILDRESS: Corporal Baines, Airman Packard and myself made a second low-altitude pass over the convoy and fired, um, fired warning shots in order to signal the trucks to stop. The vehicles failed to comply, instead attempting to leave the road at high speed and escape into the tree cover.

LT. RAMIREZ: (angry tone) So you’re saying, Sergeant, that you fired on unar—

MAJ. CAMPBELL: (interrupts) At ease, Lieutenant. Sergeant, at any time during this encounter did you consider yourself or your men to be in potential danger?

CHILDRESS: Ah, yessir. I mean, we had no idea what they had in those trucks. Could have been guns, rockets, live ammunition, anything. I don’t want to take no chances with my men’s lives, sir.

LT. RAMIREZ: Major, you can’t seriously believe —

MAJ. CAMPBELL: Order, Lieutenant! Let the record show Sergeant Childress has stated that the convoy’s actions appeared suspicious and his unit believed they were in potential danger. Lieutenant, further interruptions will be considered contempt of court per Air Ranger Military Code of Justice Article 27-A, Section 121 and you will be removed as a sitting officer of this tribunal. Is that understood?

LT. RAMIREZ: Sir. Yes, sir.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: Continue, Sergeant.

CHILDRESS: Yessir. Well, since we saw they were trying to get away, it seemed clear they weren’t up to any good and we had to respond fast. I ordered Lowell and Peachy — that’s Airman Packard — to put some shots into the rearmost truck. The rear axle blew apart after the first couple of shots, the truck flipped on its side and the canvas came off.

CAPT. CREED: What was in the truck?

CHILDRESS: Um. We…couldn’t see clearly, but some bodies fell out of the truck bed. We think they were smugglers, ma’am. A bunch of boxes had also spilled out of the truck and broken open. It looked like furniture, clothes, stuff like that.

CAPT. CREED: If you couldn’t see them clearly, how did you know they were smugglers?

CHILDRESS: They…they were hiding, ma’am. What else could they be?

CAPT. CREED: You couldn’t see anything else? Were any of these bodies women? Children?

MAJ. CAMPBELL: (Interrupting) Order. Captain, Lieutenant, may I speak to you privately? Court reporter, this conversation is not for the record.

(DELETED SECTION)

MAJ. CAMPBELL: Thank you. The court reporter may resume. Sergeant, I think we’ve safely established that you had located illegal activity that posed a potential threat to border security. Please describe the encounter with the hostile aircraft you reported in your previous debriefing.

CHILDRESS: Sir. At that point, the convoy was stopped and we were getting ready to land and take them into custody when two aircraft appeared off our port side, fired on us, and flew past at high speed. They looked like pirate craft, maybe Valiants or Nightingales, painted black with no visible squadron markings. We presumed they were working with the smugglers, so Lowell, Peachy and I pursued them. They went for the hard deck, flying close to the ground and using the terrain as cover. As we dove on them, they suddenly swung around and both opened up on Peachy. He tried to roll out of the way and his starboard wing hit a tree and he crashed.

CAPT. CREED: We’ve located the wreckage and Airman Packard’s remains. I’m sorry, there was no way he could have bailed out and survived at that altitude.

CHILDRESS: Yes, ma’am. Lowie and I knew at that point those bastards were playing for keeps. We pulled up to gain some altitude, and then Lowell got a lucky shot that cracked the propeller on the lead Nightingale. The wingman took off and the damaged plane made a belly landing in a field a couple of miles away.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: What happened then?

CHILDRESS: Ah…Lowie and I landed and approached the wrecked aircraft. The pilot was wearing this freaky getup—a white flight jacket and a black Halloween mask, but we heard breathing. We had to get kind of rough…the witch broke Lowie’s hand when we opened the cockpit—

CAPT. CREED: Excuse me?

MAJ. CAMPBELL: Order! Sergeant, you will confine yourself to appropriate language when answering questions from an officer of this court. There will not be a second warning. Is that understood?

CHILDRESS: (pause, then mumbles) Yessir.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: Very well. Describe the pilot you captured.

CHILDRESS: We didn’t know it was a girl until we pulled the mask off! Just a kid, blonde, maybe 19-20, a real looker, but crazy mean--.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: Order, Sergeant.

CHILDRESS: We tied her up and tried to question her, find out if she’s with a local pirate gang or OKFF. We couldn’t get much out of her, even when we got a little rough — I think the crash scrambled her brains — but we think she was French, maybe Foreign Legion out of Louisiana.

LT. RAMIREZ: Why French?

CHILDRESS: Her name. She’d only say four things over and over again when we questioned her: “Marie Celeste. Squadron Leader, airship Cerberus. Born: February 1, 1916. Died, October 31, 1934.”

CAPT. CREED: I beg your pardon...she told you she was dead?

CHILDRESS: I’m telling you, she didn’t make no sense, Captain! Lowie and I finally gave up and radioed Tulsa ARB for a pickup. We got a reply saying they'd send out some MPs. About 30 minutes later, a Ranger military police officer lands in a courier plane. Says he's Captain Charleston out of Muskogee Air Station. He puts cuffs on her, loads her on the plane, and takes off. We got back in our planes and reported in.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: We’ve located the convoy you encountered, Sergeant. While no contraband was found, and the loss of life is regrettable, it does appear that the passengers were attempting to illegally cross the border in an effort to reach our enemies in the People’s Collective.

CHILDRESS: Just like you — that is, just as I said, sir.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: The prisoner could have valuable information for us, especially if we can confirm she's in league with the Reds…excuse me a moment. What’s that, Corporal, a message? Very well, give it here. (Sound of paper unfolding). Captain Creed, Lieutenant Ramirez, could you look at this?

(whispered discussion for several minutes)

MAJ. CAMPBELL: Sergeant Childress. You testified that you radioed Tulsa AFB after capturing the pirate and requested Ranger MP assistance?

CHILDRESS: Sir? Yessir.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: And Captain Charleston arrived shortly thereafter and took your prisoner into custody with the intent of bringing her here?

CHILDRESS: What? Yes! Yessir. Ask him yourself! He should have been here hours ago.

MAJ. CAMPBELL: Sergeant, according to the evidence in front of us, your story appears to be a complete fabrication. “Marie Celeste” is not a person; it is the name of a sailing ship found abandoned at sea in 1872. There is no record of any radio message received by Tulsa ARB Tower from you or any member of your flight on the date in question. Your prisoner never arrived. Assuming she ever existed in the first place! What's more, there is no “Captain Charleston” serving with the Ranger Military Police squads stationed here or at Muskogee.

CHILDRESS: Sir? No, wait, it’s not what it looks like…

CAPT. CREED: Are you also aware that while you were supposedly dealing with this “Marie Celeste,” a group of pirates raided the Whittly and Douglas supply depot in Broken Arrow — one of the facilities your squadron is assigned to protect — making off with thousands of gallons of aircraft fuel?

CHILDRESS: What!?! Sir, that can’t be right! That’s, that’s crazy…

(whispered conversation among officers)

MAJ. CAMPBELL: It is the decision of this Court of Inquiry that Sergeant Billy Childress be stripped of his rank and remanded to a military court martial on the charges of dereliction of duty, accessory to air piracy and conduct unbecoming enlisted Republic military personnel. Master of Arms, place the accused under arrest. This court is adjourned.

POST-SCRIPT:

Paladin, I know you don’t like meddling in politics, but it’s common knowledge that the so-called “civilian auxiliaries” serving in occupied Oklahoma are a disgrace to the Air Rangers. Most of the “Oklahoma Defense Forces” are local pro-Republic bullies and thugs who are given guns and planes and set on their neighbors to make sure they toe the line Austin sets for the Oklahomans. Despite what the Air Rangers think, I suspect Childress was telling the truth about tangling with flyers from the Cerberus rather than simply lying to save his ass after he shot up those refugees. I hate to admit it, but if the story’s true, I do have to admire your “Captain Charon’s” moxie.

–Libra

Libra, don’t let sentiment cloud your judgment. Pirates are thieves and murderers. Attacking Childress and his flight distracted them long enough for Charon to get a clear run at that fuel depot. The fact that this “Marie Celeste” happened to engage the ODF at the same time the refugees were being attacked may simply be a coincidence.

–Blake

Noted, sir. But assuming that Childress’ account is accurate, the pirates took a huge gamble in bluffing the ODF and snatching their pilot from under the noses of Childress and the Air Rangers. That shows a highly atypical degree of loyalty for a pirate gang.

—Libra

“Assuming” is the key word there, Libra. Never trust a pirate.

—Blake
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Re: The Phantom Airship

Postby Grant » Mon Jan 05, 2015 1:43 pm

I'll definitely be adding to the site...I'mm...ah....deliberating (in other words slacking) at the moment but we'll talk it over when I do.

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Re: The Phantom Airship

Postby wikifido » Wed Jan 14, 2015 7:46 pm

Wow. This is really good, I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment. Makes me consider putting something together like this.

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Re: The Phantom Airship

Postby Neo-Tanuki » Fri Jul 10, 2015 4:10 am

The final section of "The Phantom Airship" file. Paladin turns to Eliot Ness, head of the Chicago branch of BAS, to try and puzzle out the origin of the mysterious raiders. But what's truth, what's fiction--and what is the real story of this ghostly apparition?

The Phantom Airship-Concluding Report

From: Eliot Ness, Blake Aviation Security Chicago Bureau Chief, ISA
To: Paladin Blake, President, Blake Aviation Security, Los Angeles, Hollywood
Subject: The Phantom Airship-Analysis Team Report and Conclusions

Paladin,

I agree with Dash-this is one of the most bizarre assignments you've ever given my team. But per your request, we've studied Libra's previous reports and done some digging of our own among some of my former law enforcement contacts in Columbia and here in the ISA. Here's what we have-sorry there isn't more. -EN

What we know so far:

The so-called "Phantom Airship" has been encountered three times. In two of the sightings, witness accounts described communication with alleged crew of the airship who identified an individual known as "Captain Charon" as the Phantom Airship's commanding officer. Encounters are as follows:

-April 1937, Hollywood: The airship intervenes in an attempted attack on the resort zeppelin Lucky Seven by the privateer group Ancestor's Blood. Identifying itself as the Cerberus, the unknown zeppelin deployed fighter aircraft and engaged the Blood pilots in combat, destroying two pirate aircraft and later killing two privateer boarders aboard the Lucky Seven. The unknown attackers identified and seized one passenger (later identified as the German Deputy Minister of Finance) and departed without explanation or any further attempts to extort money or ransom from the remaining crew. The airship's commander, the so-called "Captain Charon," is described as wearing an elaborate metal death mask that conceals his voice and features.

-June 1937, ISA: Though not confirmed by name, an airship matching the description of the Cerberus from the Hollywood attack is sighted by an ISA military cargo carrier. The ISA zeppelin's entire crew loses consciousness a short time later. When they recover, their craft is unharmed but the six advanced Messerschmitt/GM aircraft they are carrying as cargo are found missing. According to agent Libra, these aircraft were being delivered to the pirate leader Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn of the Red Skull Legion as part of a deal arranged by Germany's Deputy Minister of Finance.

-July 1937, Oklahoma Protectorate, Texas: Pro-Texan air militia attack a convoy of unarmed refugees attempting to cross the Kansas border and seek asylum in the People's Collective. Two unidentified aircraft intervene in defense of the refugees; one militia fighter is destroyed and one of the attacking aircraft is forced down. The unknown pilot, according to the surviving militiamen, is a young woman in her late teens or early 20s who identifies herself as a member of the Cerberus crew. After the militia radio for assistance, a man claiming to be an Air Ranger military police officer arrives and takes the unknown female pilot into custody. Upon returning to base, the militiamen learn that both the "Air Ranger" and prisoner have disappeared and a local fuel supply depot has been raided by unknown pirates. The militiamen are court martialed as accessories to air piracy by the Air Rangers, who cover up the incident.

The Phantom Airship-Modus Operandi:

Most of the team's observations are drawn from secondhand sources and eyewitness reports; we have no firsthand information from Blake Aviation Security personnel about this group. But we have identified five consistent points regarding their modus operandi in each incident:

1. The unit's pilots exclusively fly pirate-manufactured aircraft, with a maximum of four and a minimum of two aircraft reported deployed in each engagement. Based on the descriptions of eyewitnesses and the information in the Texas Air Ranger court martial transcripts, the aircraft deployed from the Phantom Airship were identified with 87 percent certainty as Firestorm heavy fighter/bombers and Nightingale parasite fighters--both manufactured exclusively by the criminal Blackflag aviation cartel. During air operations, the fighters maintained radio silence at all times. This makes tracing the group's nation of origin and the source of their equipment extremely difficult. While the nationality and model of their airship has not been identified, based on the size of the vessel the team believes the Cerberus may include a fighter contingent of anywhere between 6 and 24 fighter aircraft.

2. The unit possesses advanced communications equipment. In their first encounter, they were able to override enemy radio communication with their own messages, and disrupt radio traffic between the control tower and pursuit aircraft sent to locate them after the attack. In the Oklahoma incident, the surviving militiamen swore that they had spoken at length by radio with Air Ranger personnel at Tulsa base, but base radio logs showed no record of this conversation. Disruption of enemy communications capability is a key part of the unit's tactics. What's more, during air combat, the unit's fighters displayed a high degree of aerial coordination while maintaining absolute radio silence, indicating a high degree of piloting skill and extreme measures taken to obscure the unit's identity.

3. The unit's commander and crew do not operate in the fashion of typical pirate groups. Their targets have been military aircraft, supplies, and in one case, a single civilian target for whom no ransom demand was made. (The minister remains missing as of the date of this report.) While they have shown extreme ruthlessness toward pirate targets, they appear to deliberately refrain from civilian casualties and have shown restraint in combat with non-pirate aircraft, allowing damaged opponents to eject or land safely. The known single exception to this pattern was the Oklahoma incident, where the unit's opponents were attacking unarmed civilian land vehicles.

4. The unit's appearance and rare radio messages are deliberately designed to unnerve and disorient opponents. The aircraft and zeppelin are rigged with electrical lighting or luminous paint that causes them to glow with greenish light at night. Eyewitnesses describe unit personnel wearing bone-white uniforms decorated with death motifs and masks covering their faces at all times. The unit cultivates an image of death and the supernatural, as seen from the commander's alias of "Charon" (the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology.) The name of their zeppelin, according to Libra's reports, is taken from air pirate legends of a ghost ship whose captain returned from the dead to wreak vengeance on a trusted friend who betrayed him.

5. "Captain Charon," displays considerable skill in espionage and disguise, and seems to prefer sabotage and undermining targets from within rather than frontal aerial attacks. However, despite the near-monomaniacal measures he has taken to obscure his unit's origins, he appears to also have a compulsive flair for the theatrical and delights in taking a personal hand in outwitting his enemies without their knowledge. One of the team pointed out that the alias given to the militiamen by the phony Air Ranger who rescued the captured Cerberus pilot in the Oklahoma incident was "Captain CHARlestON"-- an analogue for "CHARON." Almost certainly, it was the Phantom Airship's commander who personally snatched his pilot from the clutches of the Texans.

Possible origin and goals:

Based on the scanty available evidence, the team has drawn up three possible scenarios for the origins and goals of this units:

1. Unionists: The most popular theory supported by the team is that the Phantom Airship is a Unionist force. Their aversion to looting (atypical behavior for a pirate force) combined with their choice of both pirate and military targets in multiple nations, make it unlikely that they are a traditional criminal organization. Similarly, their restraint in attacking non-pirate military and civilian targets makes it unlikely they are a covert military force operating from a single nation, as such forces typically inflict maximum damage on their nation's enemies under cover of deniability. (See File BSA-TF-35A, PACIFICA PIS SQUADRONS/RUNSON RIVER RATS )

However while their tactics and targets are broadly similar to known Unionist terror groups, some points do not match up. Most known Unionist forces display some form of insignia or color scheme of the former United States--the Phantom Airship does not. Further, most Unionist attacks are accompanied by propaganda broadcasts condemning the so-called "separatist" nations as traitors or calling for the reformation of the former Union. The Cerberus, again, does not-nor has it ever been identified working in cooperation with known Unionist squadrons such as the Black Eagles or 1st American Legionnaires. (See File BSA-TF-0030-KNOWN UNIONISTS)

2. Operatives of a foreign power: Lupin and Wolfe both strongly believe that the Phantom Airship may be a covert unit operating on behalf of one of the European powers. We know that certain German extremist groups acting without the 'official' sanction of Berlin have been active in covert destabilization efforts in North America over the past two years (See file BSA-TF-3713-DIE SPINNE and file BSA-TF-3609 OPERATION CINEMA). Note that "Charon's" first known action was the kidnapping of a high-level German official connected with the ISA and Red Skull Legion. It's possible that England or France, alarmed by the growing "Shadow War" here in North America, has sent their own secret forces abroad to stymie the Germans--a possibility that fills me with the gravest dread, as it could provoke another war if made public.

3. Pirate Hunters: This is the final--and in my opinion, least credible--of the team's theories as to the origin of the Cerberus. Collins pointed out that all three incidents where the Cerberus was encountered involved known associates of pirates, equipment being ferried to pirates or (as the OK encounter was an exception) confronting pirate-like attacks against civilians. However, there are far too many holes in this theory--how would such a group train and equip themselves in secret? Why would pirate hunters purchase aircraft from Blackflag-a known criminal organization that supplies pirates themselves?

For completeness--and against my better judgment--I will add that Collins firmly believes that there is a connection between the Phantom Airship and the Red Skull Legion's 1931 attack on Utah, where the pirates captured the Utah zeppelin Moroni and used it in false-flag attacks against the People's Collective. The fate of the Moroni's original passengers and crew remains unknown; the Utah government officially declared them dead as of last year. Collins suggests that survivors were sold by the Red Skulls as slave labor to other pirate bands or human traffickers; perhaps some of them staged an escape and have returned for vengeance on their former captors? While it is an interesting theory, and admittedly is similar to Libra's accounts of the Cerberus legend told among the pirates of Free Colorado, we have found no hard evidence that lends corroboration to Collins' hypothesis. The closest we've found is are some unconfirmed reports from Appalachia of a mutiny aboard a Sky Slavers prison zeppelin in October 1934, but all witnesses report the vessel was lost in a violent storm with all hands aboard. While Collins has provided some unorthodox insights in the past, in this case I believe there is simply not enough hard evidence to support his wild speculations.

Conclusion:

Given that we know so little about this group, Blake, I don't have a lot of hard and fast advice for you. Our air commanders should be on the alert for any signs of this airship, but I would strongly advise observation and attempting to gain as much information as possible rather than direct confrontation, unless our pilots or clients are attacked directly by the Cerberus. I think the file and description of Charon's tactics and disguise skills should be forwarded to Investigations and Base Security; we need to be extremely vigilant against possible infiltration or subversion of our own organization. Just in case.

Lastly, we should reach out to our connections in the national governments and offer assistance if any of the Cerberus crew are taken prisoner a second time. Not only do I think we would have a better chance of getting information out of them (WITHOUT breaking out the rubber hoses, we're the white hats here!) but it might give us another shot at locating Charon if he makes another rescue attempt personally. No one's absolutely untouchable--not even a ghost. (Which I assure you emphatically, Charon is not!)

That concludes this report of the Chicago Office Analysis Team. My best to Dash and Sunny.

-Eliot
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