The Wind Runner, Part 4

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November 29, 2012 by Steampunkish Graphic Novels

“The Diane is the crown jewel of skyships and she runs as smoothly as they come.” said Jacob proudly, “As I’m sure most of you have already noticed.”

He shifted out of his wool and leather windcoat, handing it to the children who were shushed as they began to fight over it. He turned to the double-paned glass windows looking out over the Cape Cod Bay.

“We are currently running at about 40 miles to the hour down the coast south of Boston, and by the way, and that’s a little slow. The Diane often races at speeds in excess of 50 miles to the hour, but most of you probably didn’t notice it,” explained Jacob.

“That’s because this passenger cabin is well-insulated, even against the sounds of the wind. It’s nice and quiet in here, and comfortable. You even have a fairly nice view of the Diane’s balloon as it spins overhead. However for me,” Jacob said thoughtfully, “nothing compares to viewing the full length of the Diane’s balloon while underway.”

“It breathes, you know.” He walked over to where Catherine was seated and spoke as if she were the only person in the room listening. “A sturdy frame keeps the balloon’s form, but it flexes and changes shape. When winds are calm, she inhales…” Jacob turned to everyone else and took a deep breath for dramatic effect, “…and when a gust comes along, she exhales just the same.”

He whistled out comically and they all laughed. Jacob gave Catherine a secret smile.

“Facinating,” said one of the men, “could you tell us – why does it spin in the first place? Why don’t we see any other ‘breathing’ balloons, as you put it?”

“Ah, good question.” He said, pouring himself some of the coffee he knew was reserved for the men. He saw disapproval on the waiter-attendant’s face, but his benefactor waved the man off. He took a sip of the forbidden coffee and smiled. “It provides two things at once.”

“The first is stability. Sails of a skyship bear strong resemblance to kites, which is a serious problem. If the Diane were to respond to wind like a kite, it would be exceedingly dangerous. The spin buffers and protects against the unpredictable nature of a strong gust of wind. The second benefit is something most people know nothing about.” Jacob leaned in towards the crowd, as if telling a special secret.

Then a voice from behind him said, “It makes the ship rise higher into the air.”

Catherine enjoyed Jacob’s look of bewilderment and some of the men chuckled at how easily she had stolen his thunder. But Jacob recovered quickly, thanks to some grace he had inherited from his mother.

“Yes, that’s correct, ma’am. When traveling at high speeds, there are many things that can force a skyship back to earth. Professor Lowe, the inventor of these skyships, figured out that this spinning effect could push the vessel up back up into the air.”

“And how,” she continued, “would one stop the Diane from spinning?”

“Stop it?” responded Jacob, once again taken off guard by her commentary. “Uh, well, we have brakes designed for that, should the need arise. One is in the captain’s chair, which can be done gradually. There are 2 others, for emergencies. One above us, on the centerpole of the masts, and the other found in the cargo bay.”

The strange question had quieted others in the cabin as well, and it broke the rhythm of Jacob’s story-telling. In Jacob’s struggle to recover, he walked to the wood-paneled walls of the cabin.

“You see these panels here are made of the finest mahogany, luxury furnishing for the pleasure and comfort of passengers. However, most of the ship is made of an Asian material called bamboo, having the strength of steel at a fraction of the cost…”

As Jacob’s attention became dominated by the gentlemen of the cabin, Catherine looked out the window again, lost in thought. While Mister Coggins had enjoyed Jacob’s presentation, he had been noticing the two men who were reading. They completely ignored Jacob’s explanations right from the beginning and the gentlemanly discussion held afterwards. It was their complete lack of engagement, the lack of interest in traveling by skyship that caught Phineas Coggins’ attention. The Diane was a luxury vessel and expressly meant for enjoyment, which is what people paid extra for. A great deal of care was taken to insure everyone was enjoying themselves. And yet, these two men seemed very stoic, and their lack of social interaction had his attention.

The old man stroked his beard thoughtfully.

[ Coming Next : The Wind Runner, Part 5. ]

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