In the March of 1935

This is a parallel world story set in a fiction universe where Atlantis exists and prospers. This setting is jointly developed in Russian "atlantic_rep" Livejournal community. This story is first published in Russian, then I translated it into English and posted to Dieselpunks.org

So it is a dieselpunk alternative story, not serial one. No love or romance except the love for flight. Although I'm thinking on another plot in the same setting, which might turn into novel.

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1. In the March of 1935

THIS IS A FICTIONAL STORY set in "Atlantic Republic" setting, which is jointly developed in Russian-speaking Livejournal community "Atlantic Republic - A Dieselpunk Legend". All circumstances and events here are fictional, although many of them are based on real events which happened in our world. Also many people and organizations mentioned here were (or still are, in one case) real, although their personalities differ from real-world figures. Further explanations follow below.

 

Dirk Parmentier wound up his wrist chronograph and set his Longines travel alarm clock for 5:40 am. The morning of March 22, 1935 promised to be the most hectic, as “Deutschland” steamship set off for New York to Nickel route. Along with Dirk himself, who in the age of thirty was the best pilot of Royal Dutch Airlines and role model for all the boys from Mjöll to Batavia and from Arkhangelsk to Kapstadt, two brand-new Douglas DC-2 airplanes traveled aboard the vessel. These DC-2's were the first American aircraft purchased by KLM to reinforce their fleet. Batavia-bound flights from Amsterdam were a true hit among airline customers, not to mention that passengers desired faster travel across the Atlantic than flying boats and airships could allow, even at the cost of Zeppelin's amenities. Before heading off for a New World, Dirk had a short consultation with KLM president Albert Plesman. They decided that 800hp “Doppel-Smaragd” engines had a reputation good enough to try them on a civil aircraft, so durable and reliable DC-2 was considered the best option for such test. Delivery was the only problem, though it was solved with speed and elegance. According to usual timetable, SS Deutschland shuttled between New York and Amsterdam, even passing by Portugese Enrique el Navigado islands. This time one phone call to Hamburg Lloyd followed by cablegram to New York and one more phone call, to Swiss UBS bank, solved the problem of one-time route change, given that even the original route was quite a profit for the ship's owner.

All and all, one month later one Douglas was fitted with American engines, while the other's engine compartments were left empty. That was reached at the cost of a week-long battle with Douglas Aircraft sales department, but fortune favors the bold... Engines output was to be limited with a good spare of power (just in case), not to mention substantial economy on both motors price and fuel expenses. Anyway, Americans were always known for their good sense of profit, and it was quite clear to them that it's better to sell ten aicraft bodies in a year than nothing at all. Moreover, during that pow-wow Herr Plessman produced two tightly rolled sheets of the thinnest rice paper from a secret drawer of his desk.

One contained barely visible text in German and said that Atlantic Republic develops a new universal airplane, primarily passenger, which was capable of landing on any kind of runway, be it ground, concrete, water or even snow. The second sheet was filled with stunningly familiar handwriting in French. That much longer report informed that situation at Douglas plant was nearly not as nice as its owners stated in a huge interview published by San Francisco Herald in January. Even worse: two weeks ago one of the foremen was found at his own house with a broken hand and a word “tormentor” cut by a thin blade on the very same hand. “Woe to those who play with trade unions”, Plesman stated dryly. Parmentier scratched his head for the third time during that half-an-hour conversation. He haven't heard that his old buddy Antoine was brought to California by French Air Mail routes, and sheer DEPTH of his boss’ contacts at Deuxième Bureau seemed really amazing. Nevertheless, it became slightly more clear when he remembered that not so long ago Antoine organized really Russian-scaled pilots carouse at the famous Red Mill cabaret in Paris. Instead of his usual stories about Bedouins and Cordilleran thunderstorms, he rather loudly described the manners of airfield staff in Sao Paulo, Guadalajara, Miami and, all of sudden, Windhoek. Californians' resistance was broken by indistinct hint about that thin paper scrolls. Not even they sold “deficient package”, but even drafted the agreement which allowed fitting their planes with AHGG engines if the tests are successful. Thankfully, Carneole and Doppel-Smaragd engines were well known to Americans. There were rumors that their next model would be designed with Atlantic engines in mind and  they even negotiated a purchase of a license to produce them.

* * *

Three days of travel from NYC to Nickel were uneventful. Dirk amused himself by pleasant salon chit-chat and read mimeographed copy of recent Antoine's manuscript about the last one's Sahara vigils. Surely, he never forget of lengthy deep sleep.

In the morning of March 25th Dirk was met in Nickel harbor by Stradmann and Stieber, the engineers. Ahage Society's transportation department got an order to unload and deliver the DC-2s to Society's airfield, while gentlemen slowly walked to a nearby cafe to discuss various technical issues and refresh themselves with a cup of specially roasted Small Island coffee.

Suddenly their quiet talk was interrupted by the sound of hurried footfall. In a few seconds the party was surrounded by five shortish youngsters. Dr. Stieber was ready to get a better grip on his weighty walking stick, but falcon-eyed Dirk made him stop and take a closer look. The boys’ clothes were far better than usual port riffraff would wear. The youngest one, aged about twelve, held wooden tripod, and the tallest held Zeiss Ikon branded case in one hand and pricey Ikonta Tropik camera in the other.

Hmm.. was verschafft uns die Ehre, junge Leute? — asked Stieber in German. (What's up, young men?). His tone promised quite unpleasant conversation at the police station if the answer would not be up to his liking. — Sehen Sie aber nicht, daß unser Gespräch äußerst ernst ist? (Can't you see that our conversation is rather serious?)

The boy with Ikonta, shifting from one foot to the the other, stood silent for a few seconds and watched doctor's shoes. Then he looked at Dutch flug-skipper and blurted out in bad German with very strong East American accent:

Entschuldigen bitte, Herr Captain. Sie sind Coin’e Dirk Parment’yeh, wirklich? Bitte... erlauben Sie eine Photo von Ihnen machen! Mein Friend träumt .. er will Sie kennenlernen, oder wenigstens Ihren Autograph  bekommen, aber Sie fliegen nicht nach Amerika… (Pardon please, Mister Captain. You is Koene Dirk Parmenteer, don't you? Can you allow make a portrait photograph of you? My friend dreams to get acquainted with you, or at least get your autograff, but you usually don't fly to America...).

— Yes, though my last name is Parmentier, pronounced Par-men-teer. Speak English, I think that everyone here will understand you. Probably I'll fly to America very often and very soon.

— Er... Sorry, sir. Thank you, sir.

— Oh, leave that... By the way, why does my humble person interest you so much? I am just a simple pilot, there are hundreds of my kind. Wouldn't it be more convenient for your friend to ask signature from Charlie Lindbergh or Tony Saint-Ex?

— Charlie?! Tony?! — Young man seemed awestruck hearing such familiarities.

— Well... I'm honored to know these guys pretty well... And rest assured, they fly much higher than me, in any meaning. By the way, let's finish our introductions. Dr. Florian Stieber on my left, Dr. Johann Stradmann on my right.

Suddenly one of the young photographer's mates ribbed him lightly and whispered something to his ear.

— Oh, gentelmen, I beg my pardon! It's really the greatest honor to meet you all at once... It seems I didn't introduce myself... My name is Robbie Hanson, I'm fourteen, my father has a contract with a shipyard here, he is an engineer... he invited me here for a school break... And that's the reason Johnnie wants your signature. — Robbie opened the camera case, produced neatly fold piece of paper and handed it over to Dirk. The handwriting of a skilled secretary read as following:

From the North American Aviation Authority Journal, issue 203, August, 29th, 1933.
According to recent NAAA examinations in night flight skills and abilities, Koene Dirk Parmentier of Dutch KLM had been acknowledged as the best of the best performers in this type of flight, of those who ever took the aforementioned examinations. Captain K.D. Parmentier confessed that he already had night flight experience in severe weather conditions on KLM route from Amsterdam to Batavia. He is also known as the best European pilot of those who fly scheduled services, and received numerous highest remarks from his customers, including Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable, who flew with KLM to on-location cinema production in Dutch East India.

Below, much less accurate and in print, was an addition: "ROBBIE YESTERDEY SOMEONE IN AIR SCHOOL SAID THAT PARMENTIER GOWS TO NICKEL SEE HIM FOR ME PLEES DO ANY THING. COMMANDER SPIKER TOLD HE FLYS LIKE GOD OR LINDBERG. YOU WAS BORN IN THAT LUCKNOW PLACE SO YOU MUST BE LUCKY. JOHNNY". It seemed that the last part of the letter was written in a hurry and arrived to Nickel on the same steamer that brought Dirk and Douglases.

— Well... Doctor Stradmann, don't you have a pen? These fine lads seem fascinated with aviation no less than we are, that's praiseworthy. It will be the first autograph I'd leave instead of asking one by myself, but I think there is nothing bad in it.

—Dirk, that boy asked you to pose for a portrait shot. I see that today you're shining like a freshly graduated air cadet. And the weather seems quite right. Yes, I think we have a few minutes. Robbie, set up you camera.

Stradmann grinned:

— Why don't you ask also a group portrait of us and some prints? That will be quite a nice memorabilia of our meeting... By the way, I heard about that night escapade of yours too. You escaped the monsoon?

— Yes... I've been told that Plessman was infuriated and threatened to ground me forever as a technician, but somehow he forgot that idea. Probably he remembered his own youth...

The men laughed. In the meantime, Robbie set his Ikonta to a tripod and concentrated on a paper exposure meter.

— All done. Mister Parmentier, sir, please let me take a picture of you separately? I'll print it out today... But how may I give them to you?

— Come to the airfield tomorrow by 3 PM.

Dr. Stradmann buttoned his cloak and suddenly his face took very interesting expression.

— Aah! It seems that I know this young man... Weren't you that suspicious lad who was shooed off by police three days ago in attempt to photograph Gwooks in the flying boats harbour? Be careful, or you might be taken for Brasilian spy... and your tender age won't save you from wrath!

— Yes, mister Stradmann, sir... I know... — Robbie answered with vexation. — But that planes looked so beautiful in the morning light. Last week my father bought me a box of Autochrome color plates, and I managed to make one picture, it even went out good. Here, look. — He produced a glass plate wrapped in a sheet of tracing paper.

— Florian! — Stradmann exclaimed, addressing Stieber. — What a pity that we did not meet young mister Hanson when all military authorities were head over heels about that picture album! There would be a good use of his talent. Take a look! This image is even better than that harbour shot which now hangs in the Rathaus! It's really nice that modern youth thinks not only about dancing.

Several minutes later Robbie, who sweated in spite of pleasant chilly sea breeze, folded his camera away. Dirk squeezed his hand:

— I'm waiting for you tomorrow at fifteen hundred hours at Ahage Airfield gates.

— Thank you, sir! Johnny will be more than delighted. We both have solos scheduled in three weeks, we fly Pipers at the air school... For the whole year this dreamer tells over and over that he wants to fly to the Moon. That started when he read a book by some Russian with a weird last name... Tsalkoffski, or something like this. Commander Spiker told Johnnie that it's impossible to reach the moon on an airplane, but that crazy boy ignored that. On English lessons he draws some strange flying machines without propellers and wings, which look like paper planes... He says ships like that should allow flying to the Moon and very soon they will be invented for real...

Stradmann gave Robbie a business card and crispy 50 Atlantis bill:

— Have that plate with Gwooks with you tomorrow. There is a photo laboratory on our grounds, they can make big color print there, I'll frame it and put it to my office. Here is your payment. Photography supplies are not cheap, and any talent should be supported and respected not only with words. Also, have some warm clothes tomorrow, there will be a surprise for you. And... tell your friend that even the best pilot won't suffer from good school marks... and about his fantasies... who knows? In our times amazing discoveries are made almost every day.

Finally, leaving stunned Robbie on a quay, Parmentier, Stradmann and Stieber walked into a coffee shop. There were a lot of things to discuss and unexpected meeting seriously dented their schedule. All three of them spent the evening at AHGG works, supervising fitting of the second DC-2 with Atlantic engines. The first one, with American engines, was prepared for the next day's evening flight to Amsterdam via Dakar, Casablanca, Andorra and Paris. That flight, more than 4000 miles long, should be performed according to already developed schedule by Lithuanian crew hired by Plesman. The only difference between scheduled flight and that mission would be bags of mail and coffee instead of people in passenger seats. By 10 PM all engines were installed and test runs performed, but it was decided to perform test flights on the next day, despite Dirk's night flight permit. There was no reason in additional risk, not to mention disturbing the townspeople.

* * *

Stradmann shivered from a gust of wind, unexpectedly cold for tropics. Three hours ago Parmentier, Girenas and Stieber, accompanied by Atlantic Marine Airforce radio operator Catts, performed spectacular turn above the airstrip and headed for Big Island. Seven hundred kilometer route above the sea was the last test scheduled for that day. Everything went smooth, though Doctor sometimes knuckled the slide rule which he absent-mindedly put into his pocket in the morning. When he saw the bright point at the horizon, he silently thanked Heavens: “everything's fine”. Somehow he wasn't worried about landing.

— Herr Stradmann! — said ground technician, who came running from the airfield gates. — There is a lad with a photo camera standing at the entrance. I tried to shoo him away, but he said in horrible German that he was told to be here by fifteen hundred sharp by Dutch flugskipper... He said he brought you some photographs... it's ten minutes to three now.

— Follow that boy here please... But tell him to drop the color plate to the photo lab first and tell them that I asked to magnify it tenfold.

- Good afternoon, mister Stradmann! I brought some photographs... and took my flight jacket too, as you told to wear something warm. — Perfect, you're just on time, young man... Your friend's idol is about to land... doing third turn right now.

Robbie unpacked his Ikonta, which was this time equipped with Rollex-Patent film back instead of plate cassettes, screwed it onto tripod and glanced at Stradmann with hope. Doctor nodded and turned to the airstrip, where DC-2 did its landing run. In two minutes Parmentier extended his hand for a handshake with Stradmann.

— Johann, it seems that Ahage Works got a solid order... Moreover, I'll recommend the Americans to prefer your engines for this bird... Their Pratts are very nice, but compared to your Smaragds they look like office fans... Ah! Here's our photographer! I'm anxious to see my portrait taken by a real artist.

— Here, please... Mister Parmentier, Sir... Couldn't you sign one card for Johnnie? I'll mail it tonight with evening post.

— All right, you've got me. What's his last name, though? There are a lot of Johns in America...

— Glenn. John Glenn.

— Ooookay... — Dirk wrote something on the back of the photograph and returned the picture to Robbie. — Here it is. Now take your camera, wear the coat and we'll drive to harbour, you'll get a ride on "Gwook". Take some bird's eye pictures of Nickel Island... And maybe even get a grip on a steer, is there is a free school plane down there.

 

* * *

Seven days later air cadet John Glenn picked up a letter from his home mailbox in Ohio. The letter bore Atlantic Republic stamps and marked “Atlantic Republic Special Airmail”. Johnnie pinched his nose very painfully, just in case, and thoroughly scrutinized the envelope, as he was already tired of April Fool jokes. Inside were an aerial photograph of Nickel and Parmentier's portrait on Nickel Harbour Quay. On the picture's back was a broad writing: “To pilot John Glenn from pilot Dirk Parmentier. Clear skies for you and good luck on the Moon! March 26th, 1935”

* * *

AUTHOR’S NOTES


I took quite a freewill approach to certain historical figures here, and not sure if their characters correspond with real persons in any way. Anyway I think it's necessary to give some references here.

Mjöll is a fictional city on a fictional island of Mjöll, which belongs to Atlantic Republic. City coordinates would be approx. 61N, 30W.

Nickel is a fictional city at the fictional island of Nickel, which belongs to AR. City coordinates would be approx. 7.1N, 32W.

Small Island is a fictional island belonging to AR and situated about 500 kilometers to the West from Nickel.

Johann Stradmann and Florian Stieber are fictional characters, engineers at AHGG (Ahage), a fictional Atlantic company which produces engines, airplanes and motor vehicles.

Douglas DC-2. This plane didn't gain the popularity of its enlarged heir DC-3 (also known as C-47 Skytrain and Lisunov Li-2/PS-84), maybe because of its size. Nevertheless, it served a huge duty in mid-1930s. A “universal airplane” developed in Atlantic Republic, closely resembled Antonov An-2, but was slightly faster and had wider range.

Koene Dirk Parmentier was the legendary KLM pilot from the era of flying boats. For further reading I highly recommend Alexander Frater’s book “Beyond the Blue Horizon”, available from Amazon and eBay, but, pityfully, not as an eBook. Parmentier died in 1948 in a crash of  Lockheed L-1049 Amsterdam-Glasgow flight above Scotland in poor weather conditions.

Albert Plesman was Dutch aviation pioneer, KLM founder.

“Old buddy Antoine” is, of course, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Robert Murray Hanson was American ace fighter pilot, died in 1944 with a count of 25 shot enemy planes.

Steponas Darius and Stasys Girenas were Lithuanian aviation pioneers and ace pilots, who crossed Atlantic in 1933. In our world they died at the end of that flight in a crash in Germany. In Lithuania they are National Heroes (post-mortem) and portrayed on 10 Lit banknote.

If you’re interested in space flights in any way, you should know who is John Glenn. Just in case I remind you that he didn't fly to the Moon in our world, but was the first American to perform real orbital flight, making three spins around Earth. After that he was a Senator from the state of Ohio for 24 years consecutevly. Moreover, he is the oldest spaceman for a date, as he spent some time onboard the International Space Station in 1998, age 77, performing an experiment on influence of space conditions on elder people.

KLM’s first DC-2 was ordered in 1934, but the company also really ordered one DC-2 in 1935, which was delivered to Amsterdam by SS Deutschland. It survived till present days in Australia, it's manufacturer's production number is 1376 and current registration is VH-CDZ. In my story it's the one fitted with American engines (on the picture in this story it's in front, while imaginary AHGG-engined is PH-AKU). Later KLM/KNILM fleet counted 18 DC-2s. That DC-2 which bears historical KLM registration PH-AJU today (c/n 1404), was not related to KLM in reality.

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