November 7th 1883.
Lord Harrington looked at his watched, 8 o'cock in the morning. He wrapped his scarf more tightly around his neck and wished he was back in his office at the Foreign office in Whitehall, having his first cup of tea for the day and maybe a couple of those terrific ecceles cakes Mrs Sunderland made. The morning mist lay in thick streaks across Salisbury plain and the wind had an icy bite heralding a cold winter ahead. He looked skyward and surveyed the dark clouds above and thought whether they held yet more rain or maybe sleet. Either prospect seemed to darken his already bad mood.
Since the news of the disaster on the Zambesi last month his office had been a frenzy of activity gathering more information on the fate of Major Robertson and Professor Pratt. People had been detained at the Cape Colony suspected of being Prussian Spies and the many traders that had come into the town from the North had been questioned for more information.
Initial reports from the Dauntless had indicated that the expedition had been completely wiped out, however a trader had reported a small group of whitemen being held captive by natives in a nearby village which gave him a glimmer of hope that they may yet salvage something from the disaster. Some good headlines to grace the cover of the London Times and better still take some pressure off himself.
He had discussed the possibility of a rescue mission with the war office and he had been introduced to Stanley Heathcote who was head of the conveyances division at the research headquarters in Hackney.
Heathcote was an short, rotund ,excitable fellow who seemed to perspire all the time and had an annoying habit of rubbing his hands together. Harrington looked over at Heathcote and he was doing it right now as he gazed skyward.
" Honestly Heathcote, this will not do! This damn cold will be the death of me! What are we doing here?"
Heathcote looked at Harrington and he seemed to relish the discomfit he was causing his companion.
" Ah yes, the purpose of our adventure into the "wild" , he said with his hands outstretched palms open.
" If you can for the moment, transport yourself from the cold of England to Africa you will recall the terrain in which our forces operate yes?"
Harrington shrugged, " Damn dense jungle, stifling heat, and rather aggressive inhabitants by all reports."
" Yes! " said Heathcote and raised his finger to empthasise the point. " What's more any attempt to retrieve our countrymen will not have the advantage of surprise as the natives know their country and will spot our forces long before we are aware of them."
" Damn it Heathcote, I know all this! What of it?" Harrington's patience was wearing thin.
Heathcote smiled gleefully, "Well, we at the Hackney division have developed something that will give our troops the vital advantage of surprise."
Harrington was about to respond when a noise distracted him. It sounded a bit like a flock of birds, however there was a mechanical aspect to the sound he couldn't quite place. " What the devil is that?" he said.
"There!" Heathcote shouted and pointed skyward over Harrington's shoulder. Harrington whirled around and looked upwards. At first he couldn't comprehend what he was seeing. it seemed a dark flock of large birds were approaching their position fast.
As the flock drew closer the mass of birds resolved into individual birds. No not birds, they were men!
" Its not possible!" said Harrington.
Heathcote laughed in jubilation, " Hah! Its more than possible Lord Harrington. I give you the Queen's own Skywalkers!"
The mechanical birdmen landed in front of Harrington in perfect formation. British redcoats with wings!