I posted Chapter 1 of The Day the Sky Fell, now enjoy chapter 2!
Chapter – Air Apparent
“Slowly,” yelled Abeland to his crew through a bullhorn as the Hotaru lowered. “Keep those turbines synchronized. We don’t want to lurch to the left like we did the last time we landed. After a perfect combat test like that, I’d like a perfect landing. Everyone ready?”
“Aye!” yelled back his crew.
“Cheeky monkeys,” replied Abeland with a laugh. “Are you all pirates now? Stay focused.” He put the bullhorn aside and placed his leather-gloved hands on two longer, bronze levers among the dozen before him. Then he looked over his shoulder at his crew of eight, everyone at their positions, each by a turbine or large, magnetic-coil gun. The engineer sat at the back, an array of silver bells and levers in front of him, just like Abeland’s, and a cabin door behind him.
The Hotaru eased below the tree-line and wobbled delicately over the railroad platform, its turbines still belting out a deep, rhythmic thumping sound.
He pulled one of the levers and grabbed his bullhorn, which was roped to the console of meters and gauges above the bells. “Are we ready to drop the ropes?”
A member of his crew peeked over the bow of the Hotaru and gave him a hand sign of two fingers straight up.
“Good. Then ropes away!” Abeland pulled the lever.
The crew below grabbed the ropes.
Abeland looked at the silver bells and their cryptic labels. He plucked out one and gave it a ring.
The engineer rang his confirming bell, and the turbines slowed even more.
“While the Skyfallers are clumsy and sluggish, the one thing I’ll give the Lady in Red,” said Abeland to himself, “is that it was genius to move airships by rail. I don’t mind stealing that, given that we built the yigging rail system.”
The Hotaru banged back and forth as it fit into place.
He smiled at the sound of the engines shutting down, and the wub-wub sound of the turbines slowly giving way to the sounds of people working furiously. With a satisfied sigh, he bent down and picked up his metal and glass breathing helmet, and detached its hose from the deck floor.
“All clear?” called someone from the ground.
“All clear,” yelled back Abeland.
A second later, ladders were leaned against the Hotaru and a team of engineers and support staff climbed aboard.
“And?” asked the chief engineer, suddenly appearing in front of Abeland.
“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to give me a heart attack.”
The short, grey-haired man smiled. “You Piemans are hard to kill.”
“That we are,” replied Abeland with a smile. He handed over the helmet. “On the positive side, the breathing apparatus worked beautifully this time. I had no problem getting air from the tanks below deck. Check with everyone else that they found it better, but I believe we’ve solved the problems of altitude. Now, if you could do something about the glass before my eyes fogging up when we go into the clouds, that would be wonderful.”
“You what? You’re… I’m sorry, but these aren’t designed for that purpose.”
“How will we know our limits if we don’t test them?”
“Is plummeting out of the sky to your death a reasonable outcome then?”
Abeland raised an eyebrow and slapped a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Isn’t science about learning from what we do and engineering about ensuring we don’t die while we do it? And are you not my chief engineer?”
The man glared at Abeland.
“I’m glad we understand each other.” Abeland offered a half-grin.
“Any other impossible tasks you’d like me to contend with?”
“We need to boost the speed of the Hotarus. Maybe by… twenty percent?”
“Why not just say a thousand?”
Abeland gave the man a sharp look. “Because I know you can do twenty percent. The steam engine’s not at maximum efficiency. I can feel the vibrations and loss of energy when we try to give her all she’s got. Also, I think that finding a way to rotate the turbines, so they can push us along, not just give us some lift, could go a long way. It doesn’t need to be much, just a bit more. It would do wonders.”
“Hmm…” The chief engineer scratched his head. “I’m not promising anything, but I’ll give that some thought.”
“That’s all I’m asking for.”
The chief engineer grumbled and marched off.
Abeland took off his gloves and stuffed them into the pockets of his long, brown coat. After a satisfied glance at all the activity, he disembarked and started walking southwards along the rail lines.
As he left the bustle behind him, he thought about Caterina, also known as the Lady in Red. Recent reports about her steam engine trains and new Skyfallers were disturbing and indicated potential to reduce the Piemans’ advantage significantly. Worse was the news that the Lady in Red had not only had the Council of the Fare murdered, but Caterina had managed to get most of the Fare’s factions to pledge themselves to her. Her forces and spy network were quickly matching that of the Piemans, and her financial resources were significantly stronger.
He stared up at the sky, thinking.
“You have that sour face, Uncle,” said Richelle, stepping off a rail-raft and waving off her four soldiers. She was wearing a dark brown jacket and pants, with black boots and her trademark red hood.
“Did I really not hear that approach?” he asked, surprised, as the soldiers pumped the rail-raft off to join the Hotarus’ train.
“It’s not the first time I’ve caught you lost in thought lately.”
He grimaced. “It doesn’t matter that the Hotarus are still a hundred times better than the Skyfallers, the only captains we have are you and me. Everyone I’ve tried to train has nearly cost us a Hotaru. They just cannot think in three dimensions.”
“Hmm,” said Richelle.
Abeland kicked at the ground. “Even if each Hotaru can take out a dozen of Caterina’s airships, she’ll overwhelm us given the latest numbers I received.”
“Well, I have a lead on someone I think might be able to be a third captain,” said Richelle. “They’ve proven themselves to be… very adaptable.”
Abeland raised an eyebrow.
“I won’t be saying a word more about it until I know that they are on board.” She started walking back to the Hotaru; Abeland followed. “How did the ship handle this time?”
“Honestly?” he said looking back, “I’m rather pleased. The latest set of changes had exactly the effect we wanted. The MCM engines now provide the extra boost we need to get in the air more quickly, and once the steam engine takes over, the MCMs allow our weapons to fire and reload quickly.”
“I still think the single best improvement was painting the bottom to look like a cloud in the sky,” said Richelle. “You are aware I originally meant it as a joke, are you not?”
“Some of the best truths lie in jest. On another note, we downed an actual Skyfaller,” said Abeland.
“Pardon?” said Richelle, stopping in her tracks.
“We found it and followed it from a distance until it bombed some small mountain village a few dozen miles from here. We blew it right out of the sky before it even knew what was happening.”
A huge smile crossed Richelle’s face. “So, the magnetic coil weapons work?”
“Magnificently.” He motioned for her to continue walking. “Now, you find us some captains, and I will get more Hotarus ready. Then when we hear back from Father, we’ll be ready.”
Richelle took a deep breath. “Are you worried about this Trial by Royals? It’s been more than a hundred years since leaders from throughout the continent have come together to judge another leader’s crimes. There are no real rules, from what I hear. Never mind that Opa has a lot of enemies these days, the Lady in Red’s got some serious influence over many royal families, never mind having the entire original Fare under her command.”
“Concerned, yes. Worried, no. I’ve learned never to underestimate my father. He’s already caused Caterina no end of frustration. First, she tried to execute him, but he forced a trial. I suspect next he’ll find a way to avoid the trial altogether.”
“She won’t lose well,” said Richelle, evaporating Abeland’s good mood.
He glanced about. “No, and we’ll need to be ready. Any word about the remains of the Tub?”
Richelle shook her head. “There are rumors that the Butcher and Baker have been active near Relna, but nothing significant. Maybe it’s the last, desperate flail of a dead secret society. Like Caterina’s will be soon enough.”