Sunday, May 08, 2011


"Heavens!" Helen said. Black clouds billowed up from the gondola of the other airship and the flames had become sufficiently large that even her father could see them clearly across the murky distance.

"What the devil are they going to do now?" Her father's look grew dark. "Have they perished in that conflagration?"

Helen craned her neck. "No, I see them waving the smoke away. I can't tell if they're all right, but they're still standing at least."

"What's that now?" Her father pointed toward the Linton's ship.

"Ah, a rope. They're going to try to land or else slide down away from the flames. Wisest thing to do."

Her father snorted. "I suppose I should be grateful that you've at least thought about the likelihood of having a fiery end. Not that it hasn't been tried before," he added, a grim smile on his face.

"Oh, papa!" Helen felt a stab of pain. "I'm sorry, it never even crossed my mind—"

"No matter," he said gruffly, keeping his gaze focused on the black clouds of smoke.

"It's extremely unlikely," Helen added with obvious haste. "They're using a highly volatile assembly: a combustion engine and whale oil."

Her father gestured toward the motor at the back of the airship. "What sort of contraption runs this one then?"

Helen grinned. "I thought you'd never ask about it, papa! It's a modified version of Jedlik's dynamo, with electromagnetic self-rotators. Quite ingenious really, if I do say so myself."

He raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "And what does that all mean in the Queen's English?"

"It means we use magnetism rather than a burning fuel. We're far less likely to have any kind of fire, although with heat, friction and a wooden frame one must be prepared."

Rochester folded his arms. "Were you always this clever?"

"Yes, papa." Helen laughed. "Have you never noticed?"

"I suppose I may have suspected it now and then. After all your parents are both very clever people. But I'm not ruling out the possibility of witchcraft being involved."

"Papa," Helen said, shaking her head. The Lintons were descending now by means of the rope, two blackened figures swinging in the air.

"Well, isn't that why you want to go see that charlatan?"

Helen looked at her father, genuinely puzzled. "Charlatan?"

"Oh, magician, charlatan, mountebank, whatever the devil he is."

"I have no idea what you're referring to, papa."

Tuppence landed on the rail of the gondola and croaked, flapping her wings. Helen walked over to her. "The engine overheated, didn't it?" The bird nodded and flapped its wings again.

"Will it explode again?" The bird turned her head at an angle and emitted a number of clicking sounds.

"For god's sake, what does all that mean?" Her father made an indistinct clicking sound of his own.

"She's not sure." Helen found the sight of her perturbed father scowling at the raven highly amusing. He would likely not appreciate her telling him that they looked like a drawing from an alchemical text. The thought triggered a smile but also brought her a realisation. "Papa, did you mean Signor Maggiormente?"

"That's the one. Some French magician isn't he?"

"Papa, you know he's Italian."

"A friend of this one?" He jerked a thumb toward Romano at the controls.

"No, but he is a very respected alchemist."

"But why do you need an alchemist?" Her father waved toward the motor. "Magnets you said. No chemicals, eh?"

"The motor is very heavy. Think how much faster we could go if we had a chemical powered motor. And little risk of explosion, too."

"I suppose that might help. What about goblins? Don't you get goblins with alchemy?"

"Oh, papa!"

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