Saturday, July 11, 2020
Welcome, my chuckaboos. I’m back with another all new episode of my steampunk serial, The Delta Pearl.
As most of you know, this is a re-write of a novel with which I wasn’t satisfied. I include random “things” from readers in most chapters. This time Diana Wallace Peach gave us Jackstaff. Read on to see how I used that kind of flagpole.
Last weekend I posted links to several chapters you might need in order to refresh your memory for events that are about to transpire. Click here for that.
We left Émeraude and her would-be rescuer, Randall Needleman hanging precariously from a net that had captured our heroine. Above them the poisonous brown cloud makes it impossible to breathe. They are near the river, but are they close enough? Even if they were to land in the river — filled with boats large and small, dropping from such a height does not promise a safe landing. Let’s see how they’re doing.
The Delta Pearl
Chapter 40 — Plummet
For a brief moment we floated, supported by the parasol on a sudden gust of wind. Randal Needleman and I were high above everything, the buildings, the press of coaches and wagons, and the people along the riverfront. Naturally, everything happened much faster than I can tell about it.
Onyx appeared. His brass talons latched onto my sleeve. His clockwork wings flapped furiously as he tried to pull us toward the scant safety of the river. I prayed for another burst of wind.
The noxious brown cloud descended toward us. Randall began to cough, but he kept his tight hold around my waist. I wished I could give him the breathing apparatus he had strapped around my head before he cut me loose from the net.
In the distance I saw the Delta Pearl. She was going faster than a riverboat could possibly move… but after all, she was the Delta Pearl.
Speeding ahead of the riverboat I saw her naptha launch. The forward part of the launch was covered by a roof-like shell. Obsidian Durango, the Cadet, clung to the top of it. I thought Sid was trying to attach something to the corners of the roof.
I couldn’t see who piloted the small craft, but the person standing at the back was not one of the crew. However, the warning klaxon had sounded. That meant no one would leave the riverboat unless the Captain ordered them. For the Delta Pearl to travel a such a speed, all hands would be needed.
The launch accelerated and bumped on the water. Sid lost his hold. The Cadet slid from the little roof but managed to grab the jackstaff. The flag, supported by the wind of speed, slapped his head repeatedly and sharply, threatening to break his hold.
The figure standing at the back of the launch hurried forward to help him. It was a woman in simple clothes. That would be the governess, Azalea Morton. The pilot leaned out from the enclosure ready to help. The clothes were those of a teenaged boy, the supposed charge of the governess.
His hat blew off into the wind. A long tail of hair tumbled free. Alex Rice had just exposed “his” fakery to anyone who might have been watching. Were all eyes on Randall Needleman and me as we plummeted toward the earth? Or was the runaway society wife, Exilda Ritchie now revealed to those who would force her to leave her lover, Azalea, and return to the scheming philandering husband who cheated her of her fortune?
Then it happened ― the end of that fleeting suspended moment. The ribs of the parasol snapped. Its canopy shot up straight, while we plummeted downward. I heard my sleeve rip where the mechanical owl still tried to hold us aloft. His wings worked wildly, but he was headed down with us.
A blast of hot foul-smelling air rushed down onto us. However, it pushed us in the right direction ― toward the river.
Randall’s grip on my waist went slack. He had been overcome by the malachite dust that made the cloud so deadly. I held onto him as tightly as I could. His boast of being a good swimmer would mean nothing if he was unconscious.
The Delta Pearl was so close that I glimpsed the Captain in the pilot house. Abruptly the riverboat turned sideways, effectively blocking the river for any large vessels. As the naptha launch continued ahead of her, a net began to stretch out in to a triangle, the base of which went the length of the huge riverboat. The small point of the triangle was attached to the top of the launch.
Captain Cecil Perlog had cast a wide net in hope of saving us. Would it be enough?
Meanwhile on the riverbank… Naturally I didn’t witness this. We have to take the word of Victor T. Elam and Jet Fischer, the librarian.
Victor, Eliza Needleman, and Jet, whom I already included as a friend, were safely on the ground. They ran as fast as their legs would carry them trying to keep up with the drift of the net that captured me. Eliza was a statuesque woman. Her long legs kept pace with the men despite the encumbrance of her skirts.
No one could see what carried the net. It was hidden behind that noxious brown cloud.
When they reached the river’s edge, Jet led them to a pier used by small boats and fishermen. They ran to the edge of the wooden structure.
Randall Needleman’s hold on the net, as he cut me free was clearly precarious. Considering the location of the net, none of them could be sure whether we would have a lethal drop to the hard ground, or a still dubious landing in the river.
Then Randall made a big enough hole in the net to pull me partly out of it. They could see that I wore the breathing apparatus. Eliza gave a relieved sigh. Her relief immediately became a gasp of a new worry ― for her husband.
“Oh, Randall! The poison air,” she murmured as she remembered the debilitating effect that brown cloud previously had on the Captain.
“Émeraude is hurt!” Victor cried when he saw how I held my arm.
“It’s too dangerous for them to jump!” Jet exclaimed. “Yet if they don’t jump, the malachite dust in that cloud may well kill them. I only had the one mask,” he added in dismay.
Jet’s knee-length coat was open and awry from running. Eliza looked at him sharply, seeing that he carried a weapon at his side.
“What’s that jeweled bauble you have there?” she asked the librarian.
“What?” Jet began, surprised to hear that sort of question at such a dire moment. “It’s my grandfather’s dagger. Some of the streets between the library and my home aren’t quite safe at night,” he added.
“He’s going to let go!” Victor yelled as Randall pulled me the rest of the way out of the net.
Eliza gave a muffled cry. Then she grabbed Jet’s coat. Pushing him away, she took his dagger. Eliza turned the knife toward her own chest and slashed.
End Chapter 40
Real Steampunkery Tech
Naptha Launch. Have you ever imagined a river with Victorians out having a good time? Would there be miniature paddlewheel boats? As whimsical as that image is, it is not entirely wrong. During the “steam era” small steamboats became popular for personal recreational use. However, the little steamers also got a reputation for dangerous explosions. So, the Coast Guard required operators to be licensed or have a certified engineer onboard. That made it impossible for most people to legally use them.
A couple of alternatives were developed. One such is the “naptha launch.” Compared to steam, the naphtha-powered engine provided a launch with lightweight, efficient power that required no license to operate.
Naphtha is a clear liquid hydrocarbon that is produced during the fractional distillation of crude petroleum oil or coal tar. Naphtha distills off between gasoline and kerosene. Today naphtha is reportedly sold in hardware stores as a wiping solvent and paint reducer.
You can learn more from this Wikipedia article.
Damfino how this happened, but we’re still falling. And now, what is Eliza doing, turning that dagger on herself? She and Randall seem quite devoted to one another. Is the prospect of life without him impossible for our suffragette to face?
I love hearing from you — and hope you will leave a comment. Everyone is welcome to leave a random “steam era” appropriate thing. Be well, be happy, my chuckaboos.
This serial is made possible in spite of (not because of) the deplorable lack of Internet service from TDS Telecom. They are even worse than the government about claiming no problem exists in the face of failure. TDS Telecom meets every complaint and service call by saying they find no problem. Their technicians come to my home and refuse to do any work or replace equipment, even when their offsite managers have instructed them to do so. They brought equipment that they openly state does not work properly. My letters, emails, and tweets go unanswered. Dear readers, please do not comment here in response to this paragraph. Just be aware of my awful experience with this so called provider.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 and 2020 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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