Airships & Alchemy 14.7: The Conflagration

26 July, 2015 by katelaity

airshipHelen looked with alarm for Tuppence. The bird had flown close to the fire. Surely every fibre of its being would shrink from going so close to the conflagration. Her raven must know how serious an issue it was to try to save the two men. She wondered anew at the bird’s intelligence—so remarkable.

Below them people were gathering, doubtless drawn by the fire. They did not seem to want to come too close for fear of the flames, but nearness assure that the even when the ship fell to earth—as surely it must do eventually—the could control the burn and keep it from consuming any buildings. Helen breathed some quick words of gratitude that there were no homes or barns too nearby.

How much more horrible that would be.

She could see the flames were spreading across the gondola toward the men though they seemed to be throwing buckets of sand and water at the source. It wasn’t enough to stop the hungry fire, but it seemed to have been enough to slow it while their ship approached.

Helen grabbed the rope ladder, ready to throw it across once she got their attention. The problem was, as she saw it, there was nowhere safe to attach it to so they could climb between the ships. That had seemed like the safest way to transfer them, but now it was looking ever more dangerous. Soon the envelope would begin to burn and then it would be too late.

“Can you hear me?” Helen called over to the men while they frantically ran back and forth across the blazing gondola. If they heard, they made no acknowledgement. “Bring us closer,” she shouted to Signor Romano.

The pilot shook his head in disbelief. “My lady, we will catch fire too.”

Helen held up the rope ladder. “We have to try to save them, signore. It’s our duty.”

Romano muttered a handful of words that were probably oaths of some kind or other, but he very carefully brought the ship closer to the flaming one, gingerly creeping closer. Helen was about to try shouting again when she saw Tuppence dart between the ropes of the gondola and pull at Israel’s hair.

The two Linton brothers had been running, flailing their arms and shouting at each other for so long, that it was not until then that either of them noticed the other airship. When Israel looked up, Helen waved and held up the rope ladder. He nodded at her and then ran to his brother, slapping him on the shoulder and pointing to the rescuers.

Tuppence flew up, croaking away loudly as if to urge them on. For a moment Helen feared that Edgar would refuse to comply, stubborn as he was. He threw a last bit of water onto the conflagration to no apparent change, then they both raced between the flames to the side of the gondola nearest Jane’s Inspiration.

Helen tossed the rope ladder over to the brothers, leaning away from the intense heat of the fire. They missed the first throw but the second worked. Tuppence flew back to Helen’s side as she hurried to fix the ladder tightly to her ship. Helen was fairly certain it would bear the weight of both of them at once, though she could not stop imagining the ladder falling away as the tow men perished.

Best not to think too much at times like these.

“Ready?” The two of them nodded. Helen gave them a wave to show that it was all right and they stepped out into the edge of the gondola. Just then a horrible sound exploded as the fire shot up the sides of the envelope. Their efforts to contain the flames had not lasted long.

The two men swung low on the ladder as their momentum took them under the ship. Tuppence made another alarmed croak and flew down to see where they went. Helen bit her lip to keep from giving voice to all the fear she felt, though she was grateful to see the Romano had already begun to move the ship away from the fire.

The brothers swung back into sight and closer to their own ship before the pendulum-like swing took them out of sight under the ship again.

“Shall I go down to the ground, signorina?” The pilot looked worried but his hands on the controls were steady.

“Yes, that makes the most sense. Carefully so!”

The ship lowered gently as the blasts of hot air came toward them in waves. The Forward Momentum had been slowly descending, too, but now its blackened carcass fell to the green grass below, smoking and burning in equal measures. The crowds that had gathered kept well back, but as Helen watched a few hearty souls helped catch the two men as they approached the ground. Israel fell down into the grass, but Edgar sprang up and ran toward the wreckage.

A few people tried to hold him back for he seemed wild with anger. Helen could see him gesticulating as he shouted something incoherent. When the blackened frame of the ship collapsed and then settled into smoking wreckage, his shoulders drooped as if at last admitting defeat. Israel came up behind him and put an arm over his shoulder. The last few flames gave way to greasy black smoke.

The Forward Momentum was no more.

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