Monday, April 15, 2013
The other day I was reminded of a story I wrote but now can't find. I'm sure I have it around here somewhere on some 3.5" disk, or maybe even a 5.25" disk (boy am I old or what?). It's a story of a type which I understand is popular these days, and would probably find a ready market which it couldn't back when I wrote it: a Steampunk adventure inspired by the Airship Panic of 1897 (basically, a rash of UFO sightings, complete with close encounters of Yankee inventors/inscrutable Chinese/silent extraterrestrials). In my story, a reporter investigating airship sightings winds up joining an airship's crew and becoming an airshipwoman's lover. I was specifically reminded of a scene in which our hero (I can't recall his name -- let's call him Nelson David) witnesses a meeting between his airship and the vessel of Robur the Conqueror (a Jules Verne villain who in my story is a celebrity within the airship underground): As the Columbia passed over the ridge and Crater Lake came into view, Nelson saw that another airship was already resting on the water. Scorning the Columbia's cautious sky blue, the Albatross was midnight black, with a broad band of red along its midline. Its tail assembly was also painted red, with a yellow lightning bolt on its vertical fin. The gong sounded the fire-precautions chime, and then Nelson heard the distant hiss as hydrogen was vented from the top of the Columbia's envelope. They dropped rapidly toward the surface of the lake and set down with a jar and a splash. Nelson heard the pumps sucking lake water into the ballast tanks, felt the vibration as water flowed through a pipe beneath his feet. The lake's surface stopped slapping against the bottom of the gondola as it settled into the water. The gong sounded all-clear: enough time had passed (it was hoped) that the vented hydrogen had dispersed. The Columbia's motors started up and the props pushed them across the surface of the lake toward the Albatross. Nelson watched as they approached the Albatross. He could see, as they pulled alongside, that Robur's ship was at least half again the size of the Columbia. It was the largest airship Nelson had seen yet. He went down to the side hatch, where several other Columbians had gathered. There was a noise from the Albatross and a ramp began unfolding from its own side hatch. As Nelson watched, gutta percha bladders began to inflate, keeping the ramp on the surface. Nelson heard a murmur of approval for this device. "What does it weigh, though?" Olga asked from his elbow. He turned and smiled at his lover. "The weight of things is always on your mind, isn't it?" "I wouldn't be much of an aviatrix if it weren't. Weight, lift, drag, thrust. Always." Again he noticed that her accent seemed to lessen when she spoke with any intensity of emotion. He wondered again if she were really Russian, much less a renegade member of the Royal family. Captain Mors spoke to a crewman who opened the hatch and reached out with a billhook to seize the end of the Albatross' ramp. He quickly made it fast, and moments later a man and woman in blue silk uniforms stepped out of the Albatross and onto the ramp, followed by a large man resplendent in a red uniform with generous amounts of gold braid on the sleeves and a waist-length white cape. Robur had a bristling black beard shot with gray and eyes which seemed to take in everything around him. He looked as solid and respectable as a Navy captain or a university professor, yet he also had the daring air of an outlaw about him. The broad gold lightning bolt on the bib of his tunic pushed him over the line toward the piratical. Nelson tapped Olga on the arm and looked at her with some severity. "You never mentioned that Robur was a Negro." With an air of great dignity Olga replied, "I presumed you would be able to tell when you saw him."