"What sort of motor, monsieur?" Delon asked, hands open as if to suggest the wide world of possibilities that the word 'motor' conjured.
"A small one," Fabien and Eduardo said in unison. The baker slapped the lion on his back in a matey sort of way, which surprised the alchemist's familiar enough that he jumped a little. The child on his back shrieked with delight.
"More, more!" Brigitte cried.
Eduardo ignored this plea. "A motor resistant to explosion would be a plus."
Delon raised an eyebrow and looked from the alchemist to his lion. "May one ask what the motor will be used for?"
"Experimentation," Maggiormente said with evident enthusiasm.
Delon looked at Fabien. "Experimentation? He's not an anarchist, is he?"
The alchemist looked confused. "Anarchist? No, no, monsieur. I am an alchemist."
Delon frowned. "Is that some kind of a political struggle?"
"Magical," Fabien said.
"No, no, no," Maggiormente corrected. "Experimentation, science—I am working on a new fuel compound from alchemical reactions that will provide motors with greater propulsion than coal."
Delon looked impressed. "Such a thing would be welcomed by many."
"You would think," Maggiormente said. "Nevertheless, people seem reluctant to experiment with alchemical combinations."
"It must be the explosions," Fabien said, elbowing the alchemist, who did not appear to be amused.
"Explosions are rare," he said, frowning with disapproval.
"Only one this week," Eduardo agreed.
"Only one," Delon said. He exchanged a glance with Fabien.
"It was a very small explosion," Eduardo admitted.
"With a motor, we will be able to refine the process to avoid any further explosions," Maggiormente said. "The process has been theoretical up to this point. I desire to have this fuel perfected in time for the Exposition."
"It comes upon us," Delon said, looking thoughtful.
"Indeed. Thus my haste."
"What do you hope to power? Trains?"
Maggioremente smiled seraphically. "Ah, no—even better: airships! That is the secret you see."
"Secret?" Delon and Fabien exchanged another look. "Is it secret?"
"Oh, pardon my French," Maggiormente said, slapping his forehead. "I am not expressing myself quite right. The genius—is that what I mean?—the genius is to distill a fuel powerful enough and yet also very light, so it can fuel airships for long journeys."
Delon nodded his head, considering the idea. "That would change the machines for sure. Genius, yes, perhaps that is the word."
"Flying, bah!" Fabien laughed. "You couldn't get me up in one of those things. We were not mean to be like birds—your Leonardo not withstanding." The bake clapped the alchemist's back companionably. "What is it you always say, Eduardo? Flying, it's for the birds!"
Eduardo growled. "I have never said that."
"But it is true, ne c'est pas?"
"I have only said that it is undignified." Eduardo lifted his chin high, the picture of dignity—apart from the braids in his mane and the small child bouncing up and down on his back.
"So do you have a motor that might suit this?" Maggiormente asked.
Delon nodded. "I have a small motor that once ran a water pump at the linen factory near here. It wore out from constant use, but I have been restoring it."
Maggiormente rubbed his hands together. "That sounds ideal. How much?"
Delon sighed. "That is a very good question. There is the work I have put into it and the new parts it required, but there is also a very important question to ask you."