Airships & Alchemy 14.4: Timing

14 June, 2015 by katelaity

Magic and sleight of hand: it was all right for the crowd, but winning the race would take more than that. Helen patted the rail of the gondola. The fuel had worked so well in the test. She had every faith that they would triumph. Her affectionate spirit felt a tug yet to think that not all triumphs might be hers that day. However Helen’s heart had learned long ago to occupy itself with meaningful activity to assuage any aches.

She turned back to the matters of the ship while the crowd oohed and ahhed over the display of colours and lights. Presumably the Lintons would be ready to race soon, so she wanted a chance to double check all the preparations. It was never a bad idea and today it was particularly important. The race to Orléans would demonstrate the superiority of her ship and her choice of fuel.

“Or I’ll eat my hat,” Helen muttered to Tuppence. She saw M. Piéton approaching and stood up to greet him. “Monsieur, are we ready to begin?”

“Oui, mademoiselle capitaine. I just wish to be certain you are ready. Les messieurs assure me they are ready.” The Lintons waved over from their ship, at least Israel did. Helen waved back tentatively. Now that the time was near, her heart began to beat a little faster.

“I am ready as well, monsieur.” She put her helmet on (her father had insisted) and nodded to Signor Romano as he did the same. They both brought down their goggles as well.

Her father suddenly appeared. “I shall not wish you luck. You don’t need it. Triumph because you are the better man. Er, ship. Captain.” He laughed and tried very hard to conceal his pride and embarrassment. Helen leaned over the gondola and gave him a kiss.

“Thank you, Papa. I shall make you proud.” Tuppence gave him a few croaks to let him know that she would keep an eye on the captain and crew.

“All the best, signorina Helen.” The alchemist appeared at her father’s elbow. The two tall men made a strange pair, one stiffly English even in a Paris meadow, the other all rumpled curlicues of disjointed directions. There were a couple of the paper disks in his hair and one stuck to his beard. Yet Helen felt again the tug of comforting affection even as she mourned there being any other possibility for more between them. She knew herself to be a plain Englishwoman and no match for the exquisitely beautiful magician whose every movement seemed art itself.

“I hope to prove the success of your fuel. The airship field is small yet, but as it grows your miraculous fuel will be much in demand.”

Maggiormente waved away the words, but it was not only for modesty. “Come back to us safely, that is all I ask. The rest is unimportant. Though I do hope you embarrass those men terribly with your success. They are not gentlemen, I think.” He frowned with displeasure. Eduardo behind him nodded agreement, whipping his tail around in a temper.

Helen laughed. “I shall endeavor to do so. Triumph shall be ours.”

The alchemist leaned forward and took her hands in his. “You are so wonderful to say so. Let it be so. If a success, perhaps—well, perhaps many things will be possible.” The warmth of his smile proved infectious and Helen wondered again if she were simply mistaken.

These Mediterranean types were so much more affectionate than she was accustomed to in Yorkshire. Perhaps it was only a friendly kindness, but her heart did not listen to sense and soared once more with hope. Only time would tell. For now, Helen let her imagination run away with her.

She would come down to earth soon enough.

Mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, meine Damen und Herren!” M. Piéton had a speaking trumpet to his lips as he tried to reach the crowd. “Welcome to the great airship race from the Exposition to Orléans et retour. The Exposition is proud to offer a glimpse of the future in our two ships as they race to bring new technologie to this eager audience. In Orléans official await to greet them with large yellow flags which will wave when the ship must turn and voyage back to Paris. If you are of a sporting nature, perhaps your should wager a bottle of wine on the winner. We will toast them with champagne, d’accord!

“Captaines, are you ready for the race?” Helen nodded as Romano readied the system. She saw the Lintons salute to the official to show their compliance. To her surprise, M. Piéton pulled out a traditional starter’s pistol and aimed it to the sky. After an agonizing moment, he fired and the race was begun!

Helen waved farewell as Romano started the engine. The sparks that issued forth from the motor caused some consternation in the crowd, except for Maggiormente who clapped his hands with delight while Helen’s father looked on him with some disbelief. Helen felt such excitement as the ship lifted into the air. Jane’s Inspiration was afloat!

The Linton’s ship with its larger frame offered more noise and smoke as it attempted to make its name manifest, Forward Momentum. The motor roared into life and people quickly backed away from the path of the ship which soon moved quickly forward but not with sufficient lift. Many of the crowd became alarmed as it bore down upon them, but eventually it began to rise, too, at first only as high as their heads, but eventually growing gradually higher, though still well below Helen’s ship which had risen effortlessly like a cloud. She smiled with satisfaction as the ship kept pace easily with the Lintons’ own. It was a tremendous start.

Helen checked the compass to be certain they were heading in the right direction, though as they soon discovered, volunteers lined the route with yellow flags that were easy to spot along the way. As they sailed out of Paris Helen could not stop grinning, particularly when she looked over at her competitors and saw their flurry of activity.

“Should be go faster, signorina?” Romano could not hide his eagerness.

“Not yet,” Helen said, a mischievous grin on her lips. “It’s all about the timing, signore.”

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