Sunday, May 27, 2012

7.8 Mysteries from the Past

Helen looked up into the clouds where the Italian pilot pointed. Her eyes grew large. "I've not seen one of those before."

Romano shook his head. "I have not seen one so large."

"What the blasted flatch are you two on about!" Helen's father demanded. He seemed determined to look everywhere but in the direction they stared.

"Papa, look there. It's descending from the cloud." Helen nodded toward the heaven's, captivated by the sight.

"We call it 'getto d'acqua'," Romano said. "You see them from time to time on the Mediterranean. Quite extraordinary."

"Are they dangerous?" Helen asked, sneaking a look at her father who had yet to turn and take in the strange formation snaking down from the clouds.

Romano shrugged. "Not usually. They form, they dissipate, poof."

"I suppose they're usually far from land," Helen suggested, thinking about the possibilities of evasive movements. One disadvantage with an airship is that it took a while to change directions. You couldn't wheel and turn as on a horse.

Something to think about later; Helen made a mental note to consider speeding the process of turning.

"They are more plentiful at the warmest times of the year," Romano noted. "I have only seen them from a distance. Or so small they appeared to be dissolving almost as quickly as they formed."

"What's the longest you've seen one last?"

The pilot considered this for a moment. "Minutes, surely no more."

Helen's father appeared vastly comforted by this news. "What's all this nonsense?" he blustered like his usual self. He even turned his head ever so slowly to take a look at the phenomenon.

"Bloody hell!" He goggled at the long cylindrical sweep from the clouds. The funnel had lengthened, nearly touching the dark waters below where the disk-like shape whirled darkly.

"Have you ever seen a water spout, Papa?" Helen asked, though she suspected his surprise was indication he had not.

"Not for many a long year," he said with a weariness that seemed to have nothing to do with the sight before them.

His words surprised Helen. "Where did you see a water spout?"

He remained silent for a time and Helen had begun to think he would not answer, but he sighed as he watched the snaking shape in the distance. It swayed like a dancer held between sea and sky.

"When I was in the West Indies," her father said at last, "I saw a few of them. They were generally larger and formed much more quickly."

"I have heard they are plentiful there," Romano said. "And hurricanes, too."

"You were in the West Indies, Papa?"

"Hurricanes were much worse," Helen's father said, his eyes upon the water spout, but his thoughts seemed very far away. "They cause real devastation across the land, ripping trees out at their roots and knocking down houses. Tropical regions are full of all kinds of horrible pestilences."

"When were you in the West Indies?"

Her father laughed but the sound lacked mirth. "Long before you were born, child. Long before I met your mother even." His face took on a darkness much more menacing than the dark clouds overhead.

"How exciting!" Helen said. "I would love to visit the West Indies."

"No, you wouldn't," her father said a little too sharply. "Horrid place. Hot, humid—it does terrible things to your brain. Saps your will. Makes you stupid. Drives you mad." He rubbed his eyes as if the view fatigued him. "Excessive heat was not mean to be borne."

Helen wondered, not for the first time, what tragedies lay in the distant days of her father's life. They all knew the story of the fire that scarred him so and how it had called their mother back to his side by some almost mystic power, but mysteries abounded. There was such a Byronic air about his distant past that she often took to be more jaunty than terrible, but the haggard look on his face now spoke of horror and tumult.

"See how the water dances," the pilot remarked, his voice full of wonder.

"I'm just glad it's dancing a good distance away," Helen's father murmured. Sure enough, it seemed to be moving away from the airship.

"I must write of this in my journal," Helen said firmly.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

7.7 A Swirling Disk

Helen and Signor Romano both leaned over the side of the gondola to concentrate on the water below them. Helen's father, however, reluctant to move so close to the edge—and even more reluctant to lean over it and look down—made noises of annoyance.

"Well, what is it? What are you looking at?"

Helen looked up. "We're not at all sure, Papa."

"Is it more whales?"

"They weren't whales, Papa." Helen frowned down at the waters, which made her father bristle with curiosity though he stubbornly stayed put.

"I know, I know," he blustered ineffectively. "Dolphins or porpoises or some such. Well, what are they now? Lobsters doing a quadrille?"

"It's the water, signor," Romano interjected. He appeared to be as puzzled as Helen. "There's a large dark spot that seems to be growing."

Rochester heaved himself to his feet. He leaned on his stick a little and tried to see over the edge without approaching it in any way. This maneuver proved to be less successful than required. Tuppence croaked at him as if in admonishment.

"I'll be damned if I'm hectored by a raven," he muttered to no one in particular and make his way stiffly to the edge of the gondola. While he may have gripped the rail with rather white knuckles, he did lean over and peer down into the darkening sea.

Below the airship, almost like a shadow, a dark pool formed within the turbulent waters of the channel. It seemed rather wide, but it was impossible to tell immediately if it were changing.

"I think it's getting larger," Helen suggested.

"I do not think so," Romano said, but he frowned as if unsure. "Perhaps."

"Can't you even agree on that?" Helen's father asked irritably. "Is it any larger than when you first noticed it?"

"It's hard to tell, Papa."

"Is it our shadow maybe?" He grimaced. "All right, that was a fairly stupid suggestion, wasn't it?"

"Not one of your better ideas, Papa." Helen smiled but her face showed strain.

"Look, it's changing," Romano said, drawing their attention back to the water.

Helen and her father leaned back over the side of the ship. The dark patch of water had definitely begun to move, keeping pace with their flight.

Another shape formed on top of it. This one was lighter, floating like a disc on top of the water.

And twirling.

"I should be taking notes," Helen said at last as they watched, mesmerized by the swirling shapes on the water.

"What can you possibly say?"

"Well," she said, gesturing out toward the water. "I can describe what I see. The circles in the water, moving."

"Moving faster."

They all stared.

"Look, it's rising up." Helen's father pointed. Sure enough the white-capped waves on the turning white disk began to lift up like peaks of whipped icing on a cream cake. The hypnotic swirl surely had sped up as they watched it as well as rising.

"Certainly a remarkable occurrence," Helen said, feeling an unaccustomed sense of awe. "Should we be thinking of evasive moves if necessary?"

Romano looked up. "Evasive? Do you think so?"

"I'm just saying perhaps we should be prepared. This is not a phenomenon we have experienced before. It may remain solely on the surface of the water. It may be an indication of something else."

"It could be a whale," her father suggested, then flushing at her quick exasperation, "A school of whales maybe." He coughed and steadied himself against the rail. All at once he looked very tired.

"I don't think it is, Papa, but I have no idea what it is. Surely we can come up with a likely candidate from our memory of novels or newspapers…"

"Look!" Romano pointed up to the clouds.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

7.6 Pressure Dropping

"Pressure dropping, signorina Captain!" Romano called out from the front of the ship.

"What the devil does that mean?" Helen's father asked, trying vainly to look nonchalant. "Is the airship deflating?"

"No, the weather, Papa." Helen stepped across the gondola to look over Romano's shoulders at the instruments.

"Not quickly," Romano added, "But steadily."

"Perhaps we are in for some rain."

"Nothing worse, though?" her father asked casually.

"We shall see," Helen said, looking about for Tuppence. She whistled and heard an answering croak from the raven. The bird flew down to the edge of the gondola and flapped her wings briskly as water flew off.

Her father wiped his sleeve with exaggerated motions. "I take it things are looking wet out there."

Helen smiled and reached out to pat the raven's head. "It could just be condensation, but I suspect we may be in for a bit of a wet time."

Her father squinted out across the horizon. The white cliffs were impossible to see in the greyness; indeed it was increasingly difficult to see the division between sea and sky as they merged in the darkening day.

"It looks more cloudy."

"Clouds don't always mean rain."

"But certainly it's more likely."

"I'm really more concerned about the wind, Papa. It could make for a more interesting journey. A little dampness won't have much effect."

"It will on my joints," he father muttered.

"Tuppence, how does it look up there?"

The raven croaked and then emitted a serious of clicks and other sounds that Helen alone could interpret. She looked concerned, her father noted, but did not speak until the bird had delivered her message.

"So," he asked with a note of impatience, doubtless to mask his concern about the perilousness of the weather. "Are we in for some dirty weather or will it be all right."

"Not to worry, signor," Romano reassured him. "Should the weather become more turgid we will still be all right."


Romano paused. "Ah, the word escapes me. Perhaps another."

"According to Tuppence, the rain will definitely pick up, but the wind ought not be too strong," Helen said, "which will be a mercy for our stomachs if nothing else."

The waters below them already exhibited signs of the impending swirl. Helen could see the white caps on the waves. Funny that the wind seems to be coming from the south as well as the west, she thought.

The day darkened as they spoke. The clouds appeared to be thickening, too.

"What's that line from Shakespeare," her father muttered.

"You're going to have to give me more than that," Helen laughed.

"Oh, it's one of the history plays, I think," he continued, staring out into the gloom. "All the clouds that lowered upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

Helen smiled. Her father surprised her in so many ways. "Richard III: Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York, and then all the clouds. Well spotted, Papa. Your tutor would be proud."

"Tutor," he grumbled, but she could tell he was pleased. "I might better have studied nautical lore so I would know as much as your bird."

"Tuppence has not only her own knowledge but the inherited wisdom of her entire species."

"Has she?" Her father looked at the bird with something like respect. "Can we tap into such a thing?"

"There are some who say so, in fact—"

"Signorina, I think we need to take a closer look at this."

"What is it, Romano?" Helen said following where he pointed. "Oh my! I've never seen that before!"


Sunday, May 06, 2012

7.5 Miracles of Science

"We can still see the cliffs," Helen's father remarked, looking back from whence they had come.

"We have a long way to go yet," Helen reassured him.

"How far it is?" her father asked, looking a little forlorn.

"Not so far really," Helen said, attempting to make her voice sound as calm as possible.

"How far is 'not so far' then, my dear?"

"About one hundred and fifty miles."


"So, much less than the distance from Yorkshire to London—about half, indeed."

"Is that so?" He looked very casual. "It's not as if I were nervous or anything."

Helen smiled. "Of course not, Papa. I simply figured you would be interested in calculating the distances."

"That's true—and the fuel usage. After all, isn't that what your alchemist fellow is all about after all?"

"Indeed, Papa. I hope to be able to use up less space with a new fuel that will likewise be safer to transport as well."

"So all those," her father pointed to the barrels at the back of the gondola, "could be lessened?"

"Indeed," Helen nodded. Tuppence added a croak or two to punctuate the point, walking back and forth along the rim of the gondola. "With luck, Signor Maggiormente will be able to provide a fuel that takes no more space than a small snuff box."

Her father cocked an eyebrow at her. "As small as that?"

"You doubt it?"

He laughed. "I do."

"Science, father. Science."

"I see, we are to believe miracles of science that have been denied to us in philosophy?"

"Nothing of the kind," Helen said, wrapping her cloak a little more warmly around her. "It is the business of science to improve upon our lives." She was particularly happy with the use of the word 'business' however, as she knew it pleased her father's northern heart.

He rubbed his chin with thoughtfulness. "So you expect to find a commercial use for this scientific discovery eventually?"

"Of course, Papa."

"Papa now?"

Helen snorted. "Yes, Papa. That's the whole point of these advances. To spread them far and wide and make life so much better for many people. This is the modern world! So many exciting things happening—new advances every day!"

Her father sniffed.

"You doubt me?"

He laughed. "The new world is a frightening place that offers a cold simulacrum of reality."

"Papa, I don't even know what you mean by that."

He walked back and forth across the gondola and then hazarded a look down. He looked up just as suddenly. "What I mean, my dear," he paused and ruminated a bit. "What I mean, ahem." He paused.

"What, Papa?"

"I'm not sure." He turned away quickly.

"Papa, the new world is full of challenges as well as opportunities."

"I know."

"So, you can take your time sorting out which you, er—"

Her father flushed angrily. "I am not some child that needs to be spared the scary boogeyman, my dear."

"Then I won't. But there is so much to be done, and I need to you to be my partner in this, Papa. There's a whole new world opening out before us and I hope to know that you are going to be an essential part of the enterprise!"