[identity profile] copperbadge.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] originalsam_backup
Chapter Nine

The London Grand Temple of the Church of Creation was a crowning glory of the great city's architecture, standing on the south bank of the Thames between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge. The white stone of the temple hall gleamed and the glass spires rose high in the air, catching the sunlight and funneling its heat down into the building. Although its construction had relied heavily on Created tools to raise it, it was a permanent structure, unlike the early Temples in Europe. Those had been Created the night before a meeting and stood only as long as the Creationist's skill could sustain it; sometimes through until Monday, sometimes only as long as it took to hold a service and scatter.

Jack, his hair brushed and his clothing at least marginally pressed, walked next to Clare, Graveworthy on her other side, clothing neater but creased with the outline of a notebook in his waistcoat pocket. The streets were crowded with Christians making their way to St. Martin's across the river or Westminster down the road, Creationists traveling to the London Grand Temple, and gawkers who merely wanted to see the wealthy and devout on their way to prayer. It all seemed very far from the hushed meetings of the night before, and Clare's heart lifted when she saw the Temple come into view.

She was proud to be walking with the pair of them to Temple; she couldn't recall the last time Jack had been to a service, probably not since they'd left lower school. And she couldn't help be a little pleased that all around them, when Graveworthy passed, people stopped to look and whisper about the famous novelist.

Inside, Graveworthy guided them through the press of people standing and talking or greeting each other. There was just enough room for them if they squeezed, but before they could be seated a man in red vestments hailed them from the very front, near the giant drums that stood next to the candles.

"Ellis! Graveworthy, old man!"

Clare glanced at Graveworthy and saw that his face had lit up; he beckoned them to follow him as he hurried up the wide center aisle.

"Divine Father," he said, taking the man's hand and bending to accept a kiss on the forehead.

"Ellis, how very good to see you. How long has it been? What brings you to the Temple today?" he asked with a smile.

"Squiring some visitors. This is Miss Clare Fields, she's the reason we've come today..."

"Divine Father," Clare said, overawed. She shook without her usual forthrightness, and bowed her head to accept a kiss.

"Miss Fields is a Creationist student at Cambridge, formerly of the Trade Schools in Boston."

"Delighted, Miss Fields. Always pleased to welcome a member of our American family. It's all right, I don't bite," he added, lifting her chin. "So many Creationists are secular these days. How long have you been in the Church?"

"I was raised in it, Divine Father," she said.

"Better still. And this young man?"

"Jack Baker, an Engineer, also lately of America," Graveworthy supplied.

"American Protestant Nonpracticing, sir," Jack said. He had to stoop, as Graveworthy had, to accept the kiss.

"Well, well. Mr. Ellis Graveworthy, heretic, brings me two beloved children of the Creator, a Creationist and an Engineer. Will wonders never cease?" the Divine Father said, winking at Graveworthy as he spoke. "I knew Ellis when he was a rather obstreperous young man at Cambridge. He takes Heretic as a term of endearment."

"I try to live up to it," Graveworthy replied.

"You seem to do well. Please, do sit down. Splendid to see you again, Ellis."

"And you, Divine Father."

Clare, still feeling stunned, followed them back to the seats, which had been held for them by a middle-aged woman who had seen them called up to speak with the Head of the Great Temple.

"Do you know everyone in London?" Jack asked, squishing up next to the woman and leaning across Clare, in the middle, to talk to Graveworthy.

"Only the interesting people," Graveworthy answered with a laugh.

"He seems...nice," Clare said, and felt stupid for saying it. Graveworthy nudged her with his shoulder, affectionately.

"He is nice. He's popular here."

Jack took a copy of the Consolations out of the back of the pew and began thumbing through it; he'd always been fidgety in Temple. It wasn't exactly that Jack disliked Creationism, but he felt that people should know how the things they made worked, and Creationists, well, didn't. Clare knew it tended to annoy him if he listened too closely to the Lecture.

The woman at the drums gave them a warning rattle and the rest of the congregation began to find their seats. They fell silent as the Divine Father took his place at the lectern and greeted them, opening the service officially.

It was different from what she'd come to expect, attending in America; the subtle variations in the wording and the transposing of the reading and the second chant threw her off, but that hardly mattered. The wide glass rose-window behind the candles and the crowds of Creationists, the Lecturer at the lectern, all served to put her at ease. Besides, it would have been the height of rudeness to make a stranger in the Temple feel unwelcome.

When the Divine Father cleared his throat and began to speak on The Final Rest, she smiled even more. Next to her, Graveworthy was paying strict attention; even Jack, when the words finally began to sink into his restless mind, settled down and listened.

***

Excerpt of "The Final Rest" taken from
THE CONSOLATIONS OF FATHER LAROCHE
By Vilhelm (called William) LaRoche
First Professor, Founding Overseer
"The Eternal Fire" 1672 - 1790

This passage is among the most popular in Creationist youth movements since the founding of the Church. Those visiting the Great Temple at Cape Finisterre, The Point of Leave, may find this passage, torn at some unknown time from a first edition of the Consolations, preserved under glass in the lower schoolroom.

When I was a young man it was called hubris for me to declare that the Creator had chosen my voice, among all others, to speak the truth of my brothers and sisters to the monarchies, to the bishops of the Christians and the scholars of the Jews, and to send my friends and colleagues among the poor and stir unrest. Who was this German, people asked, to contradict the known wisdom of the age, that Creationism was witchcraft and that it was wicked to strive for communion with the Creator of us all through emulation?

I believe it was hubris, in fact, but perhaps the Creator has given us proud men and women who over-reach their bounds that we may be shown the limitations age places on our souls. Because we cannot do a thing, we believe they cannot either; I have seen this many times as I have grown old.

I have been given the gift of life for far longer than I foresaw or perhaps deserve, and in my age I have tried to remember the arrogance of youth and accept that I have become like a king bound to a throne. I have tried to use wisdom, always, as my guide, and to allow that perhaps there is wisdom given to those born when I was already an old man.

When I returned to England after forty years over the sea, not as some ragged mad prophet but as a respected theologian and scholar, I was greeted by the children of my companions who had remained behind to fight for us in Europe. Some of my brothers and sisters had been murdered, some dead from long life, some great philosophers and professors in their own right. I saw their children and their little grandchildren too, infants waving their arms in their baskets, toddlers chasing after each other in the alleys and roads of London, youth on the verge of their first hesitant forays into the world. I saw these children Creating in the open air, on the very steps of institutions which would have condemned and killed them at the time I left for America. I saw the revolution already come to pass, as I traveled throughout Europe.

In France, a young Jew told me of a candle-holder, a menorah, that he had Created and which had lasted eight days, proving his devout faith; in Germany, in the very village where I was born, the grand-daughter of the judge who imprisoned me as a witch begged me to come and see the wind-chimes she Created each morning to delight her infant sister. Her house lay next to a Temple, where she studied in the evenings, and two doors from the church where she worshiped on Sunday.

It is easy to dwell on how many brilliant minds may have been sacrificed before now to fear and jealousy, but as I traveled all I could feel was the righteous pride of a man who has raised his children to glory. Why should we think of those who died before, when there are so many living now to bring us joy?

I have five children, twelve grand-children, and sixteen great-grandchildren. If I see the next spring I will be Creating rattles with which to amuse my first great-great-grandchild*. Perhaps they are not all so happy as I could wish, but they are alive in the world and in the spirit of the Creator because a low-born German itinerant refused to be silenced or be hanged. We cannot control the lives of our children; we can only make sure that the world in which they live is a good world. And if it is not, we must instill in them the responsibility to make it so.

* Reference to Bella Engel, noted scholar of law. Father LaRoche did indeed live to see his great-great granddaughter born, though he died soon after.

Men and women have called me father, and some would call me Divine Father, but I leave that to those who come after. Among my friends, among those who love justice, in the land of my youth from heads of state to the granddaughter of the judge, I am Vilhelm -- only a boy who could not be made to keep silent when others cried out for mercy.

If that is hubris, I am a proud man. Our Creator does not judge, but our children do. I do not think my children will find me wanting when I pass from this life.

***

As the service ended, Clare leaned to the side and turned her head just slightly, speaking in the barest of whispers.

"Do you believe in signs, Mr. Graveworthy?" she asked. Graveworthy didn't move, but he did smile.

When they returned home there was a letter from Miranda the silk-merchant waiting for them, assuring Jack that her cousin's father-in-law could indeed supply as many stitchers as he needed to complete his circus tent, if only he would send them a pattern. Jack, eager for something to do, sat down at once in the hotel room to lay out a plan for stitching.

"I'm going to split the balloon in half," he said, as he sketched. "If I turn each half on end it'll look like two small tents. Hopefully they won't ask too many questions."

"At this price, they had better not," Graveworthy said, studying the letter. "Are you hungry?"

"No," Jack said, fumbling in his pocket for the locking wrench, unfolding it to use as a ruler. "Go out if you want, though, this'll take a while. I want it to be done by the time we leave London. You should check in on Mr. Anderson, too."

"We'll see him before we depart. For now, I'd like a hot meal. Miss Fields?"

"Starving," Clare said, still amused by the morning's Lecture. Yes, indeed, the importance of youth in world affairs was quite a meaningful and relevant message in these uncertain times.

"There's a cafe nearby, they ought to have soup and cocoa. Jack, are you certain I can't bring you some soup?"

Jack waved a hand dismissively, scribbling with his other hand. Clare watched as Graveworthy leaned over him, fingers touching his shoulder lightly.

"Food?" he asked. Jack looked up, frowned, and leaned back, away from the pattern-sketch.

"Yes," he said. "Soup would be fine."

Clare glanced up at Graveworthy. "I'll stay here, if that's all right?"

Graveworthy nodded, cast Clare a look she couldn't interpret, and left the room, taking his key with him and locking them in. She drifted over to the desk, resting both hands on his shoulders and leaning on them like she used to do as a child.

"Still want to go?" she asked. He ducked his head.

"We went to school so soon after it all happened," he said, after a while. "I keep thinking I'll go home for summer and maybe they'll be there. The airship needs a pilot, but if I go -- that means he's right. If I go that means there's nobody for me. Nobody but you."

"Jack...you know that will be true whether you go or not."

"But that will make it feel true." He sighed. "Not that it matters, I guess. I suppose I should go, shouldn't I? Are you?"

"Yes, I am."

"Good. We three, then. And if that's the case I definitely have to finish this pattern..." he pulled the paper towards him. Clare laughed and let him go.

"And you will have me, always," she said, arranging the table so that two chairs could sit on either side and someone could sit on the bed.

"God help the man who wants to marry you," Jack said, as he drew.

"The man who wants to marry me! What about the woman who wants to marry you? Between me and your machines you'll never have time to kiss her good morning."

Jack raised his voice a few octaves and adopted a mincing feminine accent. "Well, then I shall die an old maid!"

Clare giggled. Jack chuckled, then burst into a full-fledged laugh as he leaned back, running a hand over his face.

"You always wanted to see the world," she said, as Jack slouched down in the chair. "Why wait?"

"A million reasons, most of them cowardly," he said. "Aren't you frightened?"

"Not especially. Probably later I will be." She smiled. "In the meantime you can worry for both of us."

"I suppose so." He pulled his chair over to the table, falling into more easy chatter. They were still there, talking quietly about nothing in particular, when Graveworthy returned with a bag of food. He cocked an eyebrow at them, but laid out lunch on the table without a word, and it wasn't until they were done eating and Jack was absorbed in his work again that he leaned over and said, "Well done," in her ear.

"Don't look at me," she replied. "Jack is his own best medicine sometimes."

***

The weeks that followed Anderson's shooting were busy ones at the house in Cambridge. Builders were re-constructing the burned rooms, deliveries of strange devices were made at strange hours, and as much as they angled neither Clare's new acquaintances at the school nor Jack's colleagues in the engineering shops could get an invite to dinner or tea. Long letters arrived every few days from Edinburgh for Clare, but her replies were usually hasty things written after dinner, or in a few stolen moments between classes. Jack was tempted to drop out of classes entirely, except that would have caused suspicion and he did need access to the workshop at times.

Slowly, the airship began to take shape. First the light ship sprouted hooks and fixtures for the net that would hold the balloon; next, a steam engine began to spring up in its center, constructed of the lightest material Jack could approve of while still keeping it durable enough to power the propellers. Then, of course, portions of the boat had to be cut away to accommodate the propellers and their housings, followed by a reconstruction and a full tarring of the rear half of the ship.

Nicholas and Graveworthy began to stockpile food beyond the limits of the kitchen's generous larder, and then to order coal in small amounts from various suppliers, never enough to arouse suspicion. One gala day, shortly after the tarring was completed, an entire cartload of helium canisters arrived with Sir William's compliments and an unexpected honor guard: Anderson, hobbling around with a crutch and complaining about his splinted leg.

"I'll be damned," he said, when Jack took him carefully down to the garden house to see the monstrosity he was building. "It seems like it's shaping well. It's smaller than I thought it'd be, somehow."

"Pretty big, once you get inside it," Jack said, vaulting easily from the step-ladder into the belly of the boat. "I'm counterweighting the coal and canisters in the back with the supplies in the front."

"Still planning on going into the lion's den?" Anderson inquired. Jack's head appeared above the rail.

"Hm?"

"You're going along?"

"Oh! Dunno yet. We want to, but Graveworthy hasn't said yes," Jack said, tossing a handful of tools over the edge. "Anyway, once I put the steering in for the rudders, it's all down to the balloon. Got to stitch the last seam myself, and put in some kind of tie-off that I can get into to add more helium if I need."

"Ingenious thing."

"Just engineering, really. More pressure inside than out, better have a way to stop it leaking through." Jack climbed back out and tumbled to the ground, catching himself on the stepladder. Anderson was inspecting the props holding it steady.

"How are you going to get it in the air?" he asked. "I mean, for takeoff?"

"It'll go straight up. Thought we'd launch from the garden," Jack said.

"In plain sight?"

"Well, unless I can invent a steam-driven engine for making things invisible, we're going to be seen sooner or later."

"Can't anything be done?"

Jack smiled. "Graveworthy says we should depend on the fact that people rarely believe their own eyes to protect us."

"Yes, that sounds like him."

"We'll be pretty far up, and over water for most of it," Jack said. "And even if they do see us, what're they going to do? Flap their arms and fly along?"

Anderson grinned. "Where did Ellis find you, again?"

"Harvard," Jack replied proudly.

***

It was two weeks after Anderson brought the tanks to Cambridge before Jack felt the ship was airworthy. Since the tanks had arrived, Anderson had gone back to London twice more -- once to pick up the prepared silks that Jack still had to stitch together, and once to get a part Jack had asked a metalsmith to cast for him. Inbetween times he'd stayed in Cambridge, resting, playing cards with Clare and teasing Graveworthy, occasionally keeping Jack company as he worked. Jack was glad of his presence; things with Graveworthy could get tense at times, and Anderson was always good at defusing situations Jack could only stare at in bafflement.

The night was fine, if not particularly warm, when they wandered down to the garden house after dinner to test the airship. The procession looked even to Jack's unromantic eyes like a gothic engraving -- two fair-haired children, pale in the moonlight, followed by a tall man in a long overcoat carrying a lantern and a rather shorter man, limping on crutches, all of them incredibly solemn. Jack wasn't sure if it was the night or the respect for his accomplishment or just exhaustion, but he enjoyed the quiet.

When they reached the garden house, Jack put his shoulder to the wooden door and pushed, Clare pushing the other. They slid open slowly and Graveworthy lifted the lantern, illuminating the prow of the airship. Neatly folded on top of the awning covering the boiler was a pile of grey silk, cris-crossed with white netting.

Jack pushed a modified wheelbarrow, really now more of a platform with wheels, out of the corner. Graveworthy put his shoulders to the prow and hoisted, straining to get it off the ground just far enough for Jack to slide the wheels under it and lock the boat to the platform with a series of hooks.

He picked up a hammer and began knocking away the wooden braces keeping the boat upright, then wheeled another platform to the stern. This time he joined Graveworthy in lifting, while Clare maneuvered the platform under and locked it in place. The rest of the braces fell away and the boat creaked slightly.

"Will it hold?" Anderson asked.

"Jack built it. It'll hold," Clare answered. Jack went around to the front and fixed two pull-ropes, wrapping them around his hands.

"Baker, you have two other people -- " Graveworthy began, but the wheels squeaked a little and the boat rolled forward with almost no effort. All three watched, eyes wide, as Jack threw his weight backwards and pulled the HMA Clare Fields out onto the flat, wide expanse of dying winter grass.

"I feel like there should be a fanfare," Anderson whispered.

Jack grinned and began throwing ropes over the boat, staking them into the ground on either side with large iron screws. When it was securely in place, he undid the hooks on the wheel-trolleys and had Clare hoist him inside.

"Think I should put a ladder on it somewhere?" he asked.

"Added weight," Clare reminded him.

"All right." Jack affixed the thick rubber helium hose to the spigot sewn into the balloon and the other end to the spout on the canister. When he turned the little screw on the canister with his wrench, there was a soft hiss, and then slowly the balloon began to inflate.

"Bigod," Anderson said, as the folds opened and the balloon started to rise. The net slipped down and Jack tugged on a pulley to correct it, re-knotting the rope. The canister squealed. Jack unplugged it, stopping the hose with his thumb while he pulled the next canister upright.

"Won't take this much when it's finally up -- a can every few days ought to do it," he called.

"It's like some kind of...creature," Graveworthy said, staring as the last of the balloon left the awning and it floated free under the net.

"Coal's stoked," Jack called. He'd lit the fire earlier in the day, and now he added a new shovelful and checked the pressure gauge. "Ready?"

"Jack?" Clare called.

"What?" he called back.

"The boat's off the ground!"

Jack raised both hands in the air in the universal gesture of triumph. He took one of Graveworthy's notebooks out of his pocket and carefully, in his best script, wrote, "HMA Clare Fields, Test Voyage. Time of Liftoff: 11:30 pm. Cambridge, England."

He tucked the notebook away and climbed on top of the small cabin at the back of the boat, seating himself in the control chair. It wasn't much, actually, just a chair he'd stolen from the house and bolted down, but when he sat and reached out for the rudder yoke, it was like...

It was like coming home. All this restrained power, all this pressure -- steam pressure, helium pressure...all waiting for his touch to set it free.

He checked the gauges on his left and took a deep breath.

"PULL THE STAKES!" he shouted, and watched as the ropes holding the airship down were flung across, one after the other. The wood creaked and strained and then, when the last one was pulled, the ship jumped into the air.

Jack felt his breath leave his body and strained to inhale again as the world rushed away from him and his stomach seemed to drop into his boots. He gasped, heaved, and closed his eyes against the sharp wind. He groped for the propeller lever and found it on the second try, pushing the safety snug against the shaft and tugging. With an almighty roar, the propellers sprung to life. The screw, turning and turning behind him, blew his hair forward.

He forced himself to open his eyes and found that the world was suddenly empty. The roar of the propellers filled his ears and the wind froze his face, but when he flexed his fingers on the yoke and turned, the boat tipped slightly and the compass bolted to the lever showed that he was turning south.

He locked the levers in place and leaped out of the chair, and only then realized that he had jumped four feet from chair to deck with no safety and no guarantee that he wouldn't simply sail over the rail and into a long, hard fall. He gripped the wood for a second, adrenaline pumping through him, and then very carefully walked across the wooden planking to where the helium release lay. If he got much higher he wasn't sure he could land...

"Note to self," he muttered, rueful. "Helium controls in the chair."

He pulled the hose off the canister and held it away from him as gas rushed out; slowly, the airship began to level off and then to descend. As soon as it dropped he plugged the hose back into the canister and shut the valve on the helium output. He climbed carefully back into the control seat and adjusted the steam lever, cutting the power on the propellers to half.

The airship began to drift leisurely forward, and when he pulled the yoke again the compass swung east. Jack leaned back in the chair, drew a deep breath, and laughed.

It worked. It all worked, and so far nothing had exploded.

He took the notebook out and ran down a checklist on the next page, making a thin mark next to each item. The screw and propellers were fully functional, the engine was working well, and the balloon didn't appear to be leaking or faulty in any way.

Which meant that the trial was over, and it was time to have some fun.

He pulled the yoke tightly and the airship skewed around. Jack leaned over the edge and saw the gaslights of Cambridge below...

And then the dark, restless expanse of water.

That wasn't Cambridge.

He was gripped by a moment of panic; in the short time it had taken him to adjust the helium and run through his checklist he had gone far and away, out towards the Channel. He pulled hard on the yoke and turned the ship northwest, his best estimate of home. There were two burning clusters of light below, one Cambridge and the other probably --

No. Beyond the two small towns was a larger town, and he could almost see the shape of the university buildings. He aimed for that, guiding the airship slowly, learning how hard a grip the yoke would need for steering. He could almost recognize the layout of the streets...

He slithered down to the deck and removed the hose again, pulling his wrench out of his pocket. He fixed it tightly, allowing only a small gap for the helium to escape through, and began to plan for his descent.

There was the road from school to the house; there was the wide drive up to the house, and there --

The boat skimmed past the roof of Graveworthy's house with bare clearance, and Jack realized he'd better cut the engine as he descended. He shut the propellers down and the airship jerked slightly. A small yellow dot below was Graveworthy, holding the lantern high and shouting something that sounded like "Trees..."

Jack pulled hard on the yoke just in time and felt the whole ship turn sideways. The forward momentum was going to carry him into the trees unless...

He fired the propellers in a short burst and spurted past the grove, headed towards open land. Below, the lantern bobbed as the others gave chase. Jack turned the ship, fired once more to stop his momentum, and felt the airship begin to sink.

It took a good five minutes to touch down, during which time he wiped his sweating face and braced himself for landing. There was a bone-jarring thump that threw him out of the chair -- he was falling for a moment and then saw stars, but as he pushed himself to his elbows he heard joyful whooping and saw two shadowy figures bearing down on the ship.

"JACK!" Clare called.

"I'M OKAY!" he shouted, flopping back down.

"JACK, RUN AWAY!"

"Run awa -- " Jack discovered what she meant just in time. The balloon was still deflating and the airship was teetering dangerously; he scrambled up and threw himself over the rail, plugging the hose.

"NOT THAT DIRECTION!" Clare shouted again, but Jack slid down to where the canister sat and plugged it in, filling the balloon just enough to keep the airship upright.

"IT'S OKAY!" he shouted, as Graveworthy overtook Clare. "EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL!"

Graveworthy was over the railing before he could say anything else, and he found himself gripped tightly by the shoulders.

"Are you all right?" Graveworthy asked, shaking him.

"Yeah! Leggo!" Jack insisted. Instead Graveworthy hauled him into a hug, laughing, and then released him.

"You did it, Jack!" he cried, as Clare hauled herself over the rim. Far behind them, Anderson was crutching along as fast as he could. Clare flung herself at him next, and Jack was beginning to feel a little sore from his landing, but he let her hang on as long as she pleased.

"You went -- you went up and then -- whoosh, and you got really small and -- " she babbled, against his chest.

"No, YOU got really small!" he laughed. "I made it over open water! I went all the way to the coast!"

"SON OF A BITCH, WILL SOMEONE PLEASE COME HELP THE CRIPPLE?" Anderson shouted. Graveworthy slid over the side and ran back, still laughing.

"Clare, we've got to strap it," Jack said, casting about for some rope to tie the ship down with.

"Not here -- we'll never get it over the hill," she said, pointing in the direction of the garden house.

"Well, we can't haul it back!" Jack said.

"Jack...it flies," she said pointedly.

He looked at the ship, barely staying upright, and blinked.

"All right. Here," he said, leading her to the helium canister. "Release just enough into the balloon to get us off the ground. I'll tell you when to stop."

"What're you going to do?"

"Pilot," he said, and jumped back up into the control seat. "Open the wheel!"

Clare turned the wheel and the gas hissed out.

"Ready?" he asked, as the balloon left the ground. "Close the gas!"

"It's closed!" she said.

"Here we go..."

He closed the safety and pulled the lever slowly. The propellers began to turn, and as he moved the yoke the balloon began to move.

"GANGWAY!" Clare called, as the boat headed for the hill. Graveworthy looked at the airship and then at Anderson; on instinct he grabbed the other man and pulled him to the ground as the airship sailed over them. Jack cut the engine and let the ship coast; as they approached the garden house he turned the ship sideways and fired once, blowing a flurry of dead leaves off the nearby trees.

"Pull the hose off!" Jack said, jumping out of the seat and leaping to the ground. Clare obediently pulled off the hose, then winced and pointed it away from her as it began to vent gas. Jack ran for the props he'd knocked away in the garden house and shoved them up against each side of the stern. He ran back for more and propped the bow just as the balloon began to drop down over the airship. It collapsed over the left railing, piling up in slippery heaps on the ground.

He was pounding the last prop into place as Clare disembarked and fell to her knees, gasping with laughter. He toppled over, joining her.

"That was amazing," she said. "Are you all right?"

Jack wanted to answer her, but he couldn't quite find the strength; the world was closing in to a tight tunnel surrounded by black, and the darkness was oddly comforting against the pain in his ribs and knees.

***

When Ellis arrived back at the garden house, one shoulder under Anderson's arm for support, Clare was crouched over Jack, who didn't appear to be conscious. He helped Anderson to the ground and ran over, kneeling next to her.

"Did he fall?" he asked, pressing his head to Jack's chest. "Still breathing, good heartbeat."

"He got out of the ship and just collapsed," she said, a note of panic rising in her voice.

"Probably overwhelmed. I'm nearly there myself," he said. "Run to the house and tell Nicholas to fetch a doctor. I'll bring him up. Anderson!"

"I'm all right!" Anderson said.

"Stay there. I'm taking Jack up to the house. If anyone comes near, fire a warning."

"Oh, thank you very much!" Anderson grumbled, but Ellis saw him take his revolver out of his pocket.

Ellis got a hand under Jack's shoulders and tried to lift, but the boy was surprisingly heavy. He heaved again and Jack's head lolled against his shoulder.

"Got him?" Clare said.

"Yes, I think so. Go on, I'll follow."

The walk back to the house was slow and agonizing; by the time he set Jack down on a couch in the parlor his arms were on fire, and he collapsed in a chair nearby.

"I'm too old for this kind of thing, and you're too heavy," he said to the unconscious Jack. "CLARE!"

"COMING!" Clare called, appearing on the stairs. "Nicholas left to get the doctor. How is he?"

"His color's all right. We have to get that airship under cover and Anderson's going to shoot me if I don't go back for him. Can you stay here?"

Clare settled on the couch and rested a hand on Jack's shoulder. "Try and make me leave."

"Excellent woman." Before he'd thought about it, he'd bent to kiss her on the cheek. Her startled expression and his own surprise drove him hurrying from the room.

He took another lantern -- the first had been lost somewhere in the scuffle -- and held it up so that Anderson could see it was him as he approached the airship. The other man was leaning on one of the props holding the ship up, trying with shaking hands to light his cigarette. Ellis took his hands away and cupped his fingers. The cigarette burst into life. Anderson stared at him.

"I thought you swore off all that," he said.

"Desperate times, Gregory," he replied. "Stay here -- I have to get the balloon folded and put this thing back on wheels."

Folding the balloon and lifting the ship back onto the wheeled carts took nearly an hour and a half, a nervous ninety minutes where he expected at any moment that someone could come out to see what all the fuss was. When they'd finally managed to shove it back inside and shut the doors, Anderson mainly providing moral support, Ellis leaned against the door and heaved a sigh of relief.

"It was tremendous, wasn't it?" Anderson asked, smiling at him. "It really flew, El. It flew like any old thing."

"It landed like every old thing," Ellis replied, and they both grinned. "Come on, invalid, let me help you up to the house."

They reached the living room just as the doctor was packing her bag to leave; Jack was sitting on the sofa, shirtless, hands laced behind his neck, elbows resting on his knees. A snifter of brandy sat in front of him.

"Ellis Graveworthy," Ellis said, holding out his hand to the doctor. She shook it. "How is he?"

"Well, it was a bad fall, but he seems all right; his head's not bruised, but he's going to have some shiners in the morning. Nothing broken."

"I told Jack not to climb trees in the dark," Clare said, giving him a significant look. "He said he was sure he saw a whoop-owl."

"I've advised that in the future Mr. Baker should confine his birding to the daylight hours," the doctor continued. "I'm leaving some powders for the pain; he's going to be quite stiff. Miss Fields may require some attention as well. She seems very shaken," she added in a low voice. "I recommend a hot drink before bed, and a large breakfast in the morning."

"I'm sure that can be arranged. And that you'd like to get back to your home and your bed -- Nicholas will show you out and drive you home, you can give him the bill."

"My pleasure, Mr. Graveworthy. Look after yourself, Mr. Baker."

Jack acknowledged the advice with a wave of his fingers, not looking up as she left.

"Birding? At midnight?" Ellis asked, amused.

"What should I have said? Airship test pilot?" she retorted.

"May I have my shirt, please?" Jack asked, sounding wretched and embarrassed. Clare threw the shirt around his shoulders, rubbing his back gently.

"Job well done, Baker," Anderson said, seating himself across from him and stretching out his splinted leg. "I feel very privileged to have seen that."

"I'll have to go check in the morning and see if it took any damage," Jack said. "And I need to relocate the canister so that the pilot can adjust it -- "

"Why don't we put you to bed, and see how you feel in the morning," Ellis said. Jack nodded and pushed himself up stiffly. Clare ducked under his arm and supported him up the stairs. They heard his door close, then hers.

"I wish I was going with you," Anderson said. "I'd love to get in the air in that rig."

"I just hope we survive the next landing," Ellis replied.

***

Jack slept through breakfast the next morning and nearly slept through lunch, too; when he heard a rap on his door he did his best to get up, but his muscles ached and even when he lifted his arms to rub his eyes he had to let them fall again.

"Sore?" asked a sympathetic voice from the doorway, and he turned his head to see Graveworthy leaning against the doorjamb.

"I can't move," Jack moaned.

"Then don't."

"I should," Jack said, trying to get up again. "I have to inspect the -- "

"No you don't," Graveworthy said, cutting him off. "Stay there. I'll bring you some of the powder the doctor left for the pain."

He disappeared, but it was Clare who returned with a glass of cloudy liquid and a plate of food. She set them down on the nightstand in the small room and helped him sit up, holding the glass to his lips.

"Doctor said you'd be sore today," Clare observed, as Jack drank the peppermint-tasting medicine.

"I feel like I'll fall apart if I move," he said.

"You got thrown around a few times. Do you remember?"

Jack did remember. He remembered flying, and the sensation when he wheeled the airship and pointed it home again. Even with the bumpy landing that threw him from the pilot's seat (perhaps he could affix some kind of belt to it to hold him in?) and the shock to his soul at having accomplished what he'd worked so long for, what he remembered most was the power.

Clare offered him the plate, which had small chunks of buttered scone on it. He gingerly picked one up and chewed, ignoring the stiffness in his neck.

"Rest for a few days," she said. "Graveworthy says there's some work he needs to do before we can leave anyway. The airship isn't going anywhere. Yet."

"I should look at some structural...somethings," he said, his head feeling fuzzy.

"I went over it this morning after breakfast," she told him, offering him another piece of scone. "It looks okay. I checked the silk and the wood."

"Good. Thanks," he said, cautiously stretching his shoulders.

"Graveworthy's over the moon," she said, stroking Jack's hair out of his eyes. He smiled at her and kept chewing on his scone. "He's so proud of you, Jack. We all are."

"I just built it," Jack said with a gentle, still-painful shrug. "Sir William -- and the shipbuilders..."

"Yes, but you built it," she said. "Let yourself be proud for a little while, won't you?"

He nodded, swallowing. "All right."

They sat in silence, Jack eating slowly and Clare watching, until finally she spoke again.

"What was it like, Jack?" she asked. "Flying. Was it like when you dream about flying?"

"I don't dream about flying," Jack said.

"You don't? Not ever?"

"Not that I remember," he said. "But it's...when you're going up, you feel like you're leaving part of yourself behind, until it catches up. And then it's like wind and cold and speed. It's like being in a steam train but there aren't any tracks, it's -- freedom. It's freedom."

A thought struck him, attached to the memory of the wind in his face and the all-but-blindness it brought with it.

"Can you bring me something?" he asked. "I promise I won't get out of bed."

"You're not five, Jack, I'm not going to bribe you to stay in bed."

"But will you bring me something?"

"What do you want?" she asked.

"The notebook I was keeping notes in. I just want to make a list. It'll help me rest better, I swear."

Clare looked suspicious, but she walked to where his coat lay on the chair and took the notebook out of the pocket, bringing it to him along with a well-chewed pencil.

"If you're sure you won't get up, I'm going to go tell the others that you're resting," she said.

"I won't," he promised, putting MOVE THE HELIUM CANISTER at the top of the list.

He wrote and annotated until he felt drowsy, which meant the powder the doctor had left was beginning to work. He laid the pencil and notebook on the pillow and hunkered down in the blankets, dozing off.

He heard Clare come in at some point, and knew it was Clare because she laughed when she saw the notebook. There was a rustle as she picked it up and a clatter as the pencil fell to the floor, but Jack didn't feel like opening his eyes -- and when he finally did, it was oddly sunny. He couldn't have dozed off for more than a few minutes...

He didn't seem to hurt as much; at any rate, opening his eyes wasn't the lengthy process it had been, and when he sat up he felt a twinge, as if he'd been working particularly hard the day before. Something lay next to him on his pillow; the notebook, with a line drawn through one item, and the item itself sitting on top.

He picked up the pair of leather-and-brass safety goggles, the sort Engineers wore when working in dangerous areas, and laughed a little.

He eased his way out of bed and hobbled to the washstand, scrubbing as well as he could before rummaging in the closet for clean clothing. As he eased himself down the stairs he heard the sound of talking and silverware on plates from the kitchen. When he ducked in the doorway he saw breakfast was being served -- Anderson with his leg propped on a stool next to the kitchen table, Clare and Graveworthy on a nearby bench. There were sausages, and some kind of pastry. Jack's stomach growled.

"Jack!" Clare said, nearly knocking the bench over in her haste to stand. She stopped herself close enough that the hem of the dress she wore brushed his feet; she didn't hug him, but her smile was bright enough to blind. "How do you feel? Are you sure you should be up?"

"I'm all right," he said. "Just stiff. I want food."

"Take a chair, there's more than we can eat," Anderson said, inching his leg over so that Jack could sit on the bench across from Clare. "Pair of walking wounded, we are. Well, sitting wounded anyway."

"Did I sleep all day yesterday?" Jack asked, helping himself carefully to two sausages. Nicholas appeared at his elbow and flipped a fried egg from a pan onto his plate.

"Pretty much," Clare said. "We thought we probably should just let you. Good to see you up though."

"Gommip," Jack said, then swallowed. "Good to be up, I mean."

"Another egg?" Nicholas asked, watching Jack demolish the one on his plate.

"Toast?" Jack asked in reply. Nicholas hastened away to oblige. "By the way, is this your doing?" he asked, taking the pair of goggles out of his pocket and setting them on the table.

"The Engineering boys all love me," Clare said with an impish look. "Three pairs of goggles? No problem."

"I look a complete fool in them," Graveworthy muttered.

"You'll thank her when we lift off," Jack replied. "Speaking of which -- "

"Not for two days at least, so there's plenty of time to take care of the rest of your repairs list. And eat several square meals. Do try to chew your food, Baker."

Jack slowed down slightly, but he didn't stop eating. Nicholas laid a rack of toast at his elbow.

"Why the delay?" he asked. Graveworthy and Anderson exchanged a look.

"There are one or two details to take care of. Besides, we need to stock the supplies onto the ship."

"And move the helium canister, and rig up a ladder for the rails and a belt for the pilot's seat, and a variable-pressure valve for the hose." Jack consulted his list. "And lots more rope. Can't have too much rope."

"Well, give me a list," Graveworthy said, taking a piece of toast out of the rack. "I'll get what you need. Miss Fields can do any lifting or crawling or whatnot. And Gregory is very good at supervision," he added, with a wink at Anderson.

"We're really going, Jack," Clare said.

"We really are," Graveworthy said solemnly.

***

LETTER FROM CLARE FIELDS TO ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
POSTED IN CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND FOR DELIVERY TO EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

Dear C.D.,

It was good to have your last letter, and to know that you're well and not slacking on your studies. All's well here, and I suspect we're having much nicer weather than you are. Mr. Graveworthy sends his regards, and I'm sure Jack would if he could be torn away from his work.

I'm afraid I have to tell you that you may not have another letter from me for a while. Mr. Graveworthy's invited Jack and me to join him on a research trip he's doing for his new book, and we're going to be in some pretty remote places. I probably won't be able to send a letter, and I definitely won't be able to receive any. I do promise when I come back I'll have some adventure stories to tell you. I hope you'll have some new ones for us?

I hope you don't worry too much about us, either. Mr. Graveworthy will be keeping a sharp eye out and Jack and I are both pretty good at looking after ourselves.

Anyway, if you don't hear from me, don't fret. I'll send a letter up as soon as we're home again.

Yrs. Sincerely

Clare A. Fields

Chapter Ten
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The Original Sam Backup

May 2012

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