Airships & Alchemy 14.5: Orléans

28 June, 2015 by katelaity

They had an easy time following the yellow flags along the route. Here and there people had gathered to watch the famous race. Helen could not quite believe that her little obsession had become the talk of Paris—and beyond! She waved to the latest knot of well-wishers before returning to check the motor.

Not that it was necessary! The motor purred along with an almost musical precision. She held her hands over the engine, fingers spread. Such a difference in the heat produced by the alchemist’s fuel! Helen could not stop marveling. Truth to tell, she would have been delighted in Signor Maggiormente even if his fuel had not been quite so remarkable. At least she thought so.

Although it didn’t really matter, she scolded herself. This fuel worked wonderfully, the engine stayed relatively cool and yes, it smelled rather wonderful, too. What more could one ask? They would make a true revolution in air travel between her design and the alchemist’s propulsive chemistry.

Why did she feel so wistful then?

Helen sighed. Of course it was because of that beautiful Japanese woman and her little bird of many colours. He didn’t say there was anything between them, she reasoned, but surely any man would be drawn to a woman of such exquisite beauty and grace. Such elegance and skill! Those beautiful explosions of colour that she created. They were quite amazing.

“Face it, Tuppence,” Helen muttered to her bird, who hopped along beside her on the gondola’s frame. “We’re just rough Yorkshire women. Too tough for mere mortal men.”

Tuppence clicked at her as if in admonishment, but it did not have much of an effect on Helen. She squared her shoulders anyway. It wouldn’t do to mope. After all, she had the finest airship anyway (at least as far as she knew) and it was going to be gratifying to trump the Lintons in this race. She waved to another knot of people along the road with their yellow flags. It was cheering to see them.

Helen glanced over at the Lintons’ ship. There was so much going on. They seemed to have a lot of folderol in motion. She frowned. What on earth could they be doing that needed so much work? Were they trying to do something more than simply reach a higher speed? Helen was glad they couldn’t see her smile. Wait until they saw what this fuel could really do.

The Linton brothers seemed to be running back and forth around their ship, moving things around. Oh wait, it seemed to be scuttles. Could it be they were actually using coal in their engine now? How ridiculous. How much extra weight it added, too. Helen shook her head. The men just had no original thinking at all. Coal was so old-fashioned. New transportation required new thinking about fuel. No wonder they had such a plume of black smoke behind them.

The two ships must be approaching Orléans soon. They crazy activity of the two over there must surely suggest that as much as the increase in houses near the post road. The Lintons began slowly to gain speed as they shoveled coal into their motor at an ever more frantic pace. Helen saw Edgar glancing over his shoulder at an oblique angle, attempting to gauge their relative speeds as they approached the town.

“Now, signorina?” Romano could barely contain his eagerness. His glee shone through his expression and the excitement radiated out his eyes.

Helen shook her head, however. “No, signore. Not until we make the turn.” She felt as eager as he, but it wouldn’t do to tip their hand too early. It was plain that the Lintons had a great deal of confidence in their new engine despite the old fuel (had they not said it was a new fuel too? Perhaps a new and better type of coal). But when they turned back it would be easier to have their success without any risks.

The Lintons were poor losers, as she knew all too well.

Already they were moving closer to the path of her own ship though slowly moving out ahead of it. They wanted to be able to shout their triumph, she was quite certain. Just then Helen saw the raised dais where the officials of the town signaled to the ships. There could be no mistake: such formal wear contrasted oddly with the bright yellow flag that rose above them.

It was hard to imagine the French cheering so enthusiastically for two ships piloted by people with whom they had gone to war not a generation before (and many generations in the more distant past) but there was no mistaking the delight people showed as the two ships approached the waiting audience.

The Lintons had already begun to turn their ship, so Helen nodded to Romano to do the same. As the big craft began to arc in the sky, the intrepid captain leaned over the edge of the gondola to wave to the people below. They cheered and returned the greeting, eager to outdo one another in the sport. Many were drinking champagne and looked quite excited that their town had been chosen for this exciting sport.

Helen grinned with pleasure. Whatever the outcome of the race, surely the future lay in the exciting world of air travel and Jane’s Inspiration and yes, the Forward Momentum would be talked of for some time to come and, she hoped, inspire others to dare air travel as well.

“Now, signorina?” Romano burst into her thoughts with a wheedling call.

Helen laughed. “Si, signore. Now!”

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