Following the automaton assault our intrepid heroes take charge of the scene. Barnabus quickly goes to speak with the Princess Al’ida (gaining permission from Ruk with a deep bow and much diplomacy). The Princess claims to have no knowledge of why these creatures would be targeting her; insisting that she is merely travelling to see an old friend of her father and bring something to him, though she will not say what. When questioned further, she becomes defensive and motions for Ruk to escort the investigator out.
The automatons appeared to have sprung from some crates in the hold, though as they are part of the general cargo they do not identify the owner of the crates. The Captain will have to inform Cairo and they can look into the ownership. With the commotion over the Empress continues through the rough skies towards Benghazi Field, arriving around nine o’clock in the morning. The Captain uses the Field’s telegraph station to contact Cairo, while Malcolm asks permission to also disembark to clear his air sickness. Ellerson also recovers from his bout of fever and rejoins his comrades.
The Captain announces that he has been ordered to fly on to Cairo so a full investigation can take place there, and with that the Empress sails out across the desert towards Cairo. The passengers amuse themselves during the day but seem quiet and pensive, no doubt considering last night’s attack, though some of them do make small talk in the lounge during the evening. Later in the evening though as the passengers begin to drift to their rooms, the airship is rocked by an explosion on its port side.
Our heroes dash from their rooms into the corridor, though having spotted the other passengers bracing themselves – with the exception of Ellerson and Usher Hall – they return to wrap themselves in mattresses and rugs (strangely choosing to return to their own rooms in order to avoid any complications over ownership of said mattresses). Throwing caution to the wind, Ellerson reaches the source of the explosion and finds Mrs Summers’ cabin, and evidently much of the port side of the airship a wreck of steel and fire. Usher Hall meanwhile, showing great gallantry bursts into the Princess’s chambers to ensure her safety, using his Martian device to punch through the door.
Ellerson races for the bridge, but encounters a member of the crew who screams ‘brace yourself you fool’ and reconsidering his plan sprints into the crew quarters to find protection against the imminent crash. Usher Hall also dives for a settee in the hope of bracing against impact. Despite some light wounds, the team survive the impact as do the other passengers – though later investigation reveals no trace of Mrs Summers or clue as to her fate. The crew are less fortunate as their deck took the brunt of the crash; only Captain Middleton, his two stewards and five sailors survived.
While the stewards organise the recovery of supplies and treating wounded, the Captain approaches with proof of sabotage and the discovery that the airship was 100 miles off course when they crashed. Agreeing that an attempt must be made to find rescue, the Captain agrees to stay with the other passengers and crew, while our heroes – accompanied by the Princess, Ruk and O’Keefe attempt to find civilisation and save them all. Despite the peril of their predicament, Usher Hall continues to rouse morale with his positive attitude.
Heading out with much of the water supplies, the party strike out into the desert, traveling by night and sheltering from the sun by day under makeshift tents and shades. On the second night though, they encounter a tribe of marauding raiders who catch them out in the open near an old ruined Foreign Legion fort. The party begin trudging through the shifting sands towards the fort with the raiders bearing down on them and taking aim with their muskets from atop their camels.
Always light-footed, Ellerson sprints up the dune towards the fort ahead of the rest who make slower progress. Though Hall and Mo begin to pick the riders off, they are unprepared for the salvo of musket shots the raiders respond with. Usher Hall takes a bullet to the guts and collapses to the ground, while Frank is cut down by his side. The raiders discard their muskets and draw their scimitars, but more can be seen approaching from the east.
Mo continues to drag himself up the dune, firing constantly and ending the lives of several raiders and Barnabas confuses and demoralises the closing swordsmen with his wit and threats. Despite that, Mo is forced back as he continues to dodge and block both swords and musket shots.
Ellerson by this time has discovered a machinegun, once used in defence of the fort though now jammed and pulls it into position to fire, just as the Chief arrives to man the weapon. With the raiders closing on all sides and more approaching from the south, the Chief is forced to open fire on those approaching Mo. Despite the hail of bullets, none of the raiders…or Mo are harmed. As he finally gets clear, the raiders are repulsed, and they retreat. Mo stands in the ruins of the fort and quickly inspects the new holes and slash marks in his clothes.
Both Usher Hall and Frank are incapacitated and unconscious from their wounds, and despite the Chief’s miraculous demonstration of gunpowder cauterisation on Barnabas their wounds cannot be healed and they remain out of action. 54 additional days of water are recovered from the attackers, along with four camels.