Sunday, March 27, 2011


Romano turned back to the controls and slammed the ship into top gear. The gleaming instruments reflected his harried face but the ship responded with a smooth acceleration that belied his frantic motions. The pilot's glance tracked the dials but he could tell the ship was ascending as well as speeding up. He smiled.

Helen could feel the flush on her face as she listened to the motor's hum. While the speed increased she had held her breath, anticipating some kind of grinding noise or any sign at all that there could be a problem.

"How fast are we going?"

Helen looked over at her father who appeared alarmingly pale. "Papa, are you quite all right?"

He nodded tersely.

"Are you sure?" If she did not know better, Helen could have sworn her father was about to be violently ill. Even from her station by the rear of the gondola the sheen of sweat on his brow glistened like the surface of the sea at sunset.

That would be a good detail to tell mother, Helen thought at once.

"How fast are we going?" Her father repeated, his brows ruffling with the temper she knew so well. "Just as a matter of record, of course."

Helen smothered a smile. "Are you keeping a record, Papa?"

"Yes, I'm keeping a bloody record," he sputtered as he swayed with the movement of the ship. "I'm recoding my last will and testament, too."

"Papa, there's nothing to worry about."

"She's right," Romano chimed in, smiling encouragingly at Rochester in what he hoped would be perceived as a friendly way. He had not quite accustomed himself to the man's barking voice and abrupt manner, though the latter had become slightly more amiable as he got to know the Italian.

Romano kept far away from his dog, however, and released a big sigh of thanksgiving when the signorina managed to dissuade him from bringing Cerberus on board for the flight.

"I am enquiring for the scientific record," Rochester said very slowly and deliberately. "I am the observer here, so it is my duty to keep track of things."

Helen shrugged. "All right, Papa. We'll try to calculate it."

His eyebrows shot up again. "What about those dials?" He gestured toward Romano who raised his hands to indicate his blamelessness.

"Signore, we don't have one to measure the speed."

"Why not! Seems like the most natural thing in the world." Rochester glared at the pilot as if he were personally responsible for the lack.

"Papa," Helen soothed. "I hadn't thought it necessary." She looked over at the Linton's craft, which continued to lose ground to their steady progress. "I had no intention of racing the ship. We were more concerned with keeping it in the air and keeping an even keel."

"Foolishness! Very short sighted, I must say."

Helen smiled. "I'll be sure to add it in the next upgrade."

"I should think so." He swallowed and looked away.

"Papa, you look a trifle green."

"Nonsense," he said, but his tone seemed less gruff now and more strangled. "So how are you going to determine the speed?"

Helen blinked at him, then decided it would be best to act as if everything were fine. "Well, first we try to gauge the relative speed against a static visual."

"What the devil does that mean?"

Helen laughed. "We look down at the ground and try to get an estimate of our relative speed."

"Look down?" If he had appeared vaguely green before, he had become positively emerald now.

"It may help, Papa," Helen said, making her way over to his side. "Come now, take a look down." Helen gazed down and immediately drew a quick breath. We must be going 40 knots or more! That will show those Lintons!

She turned to share her triumph with her father, but saw that his eyes were closed. "Papa?"

Without warning, he spinned around, leaned over the side of the gondola and was violently ill. It did not help that Tuppence croaked loudly at him.

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