Part 1 - In Which Our Hero Prepares for the Big Day
Sometimes waking up from a dream is torture. A moment ago Miguel was staring into her blue eyes, and now he was staring at the ceiling fan. He was taking her to the theatre to enjoy Wagner, and now he was in his small flat on the outskirts of London.
Life was hard for someone from one of the Colonies. Many citizens expected to see a ghastly pale person in every position of responsibility, which made Miguel one of the outcasts. But he was proud of his heritage and glad that he didn't get sunburns as often as the natives did.
Today was going to be a big day. The H.M.S. Highlander would become the first airship to leave the atmosphere, and Miguel was fortunate enough to be the chief engineer. This was his chance to show the Empire that he was just as talented as one of their pasty "white" engineers.
He dressed quickly and ate a small meal. Checklists and concerns flooded his mind. Would the new aluminium alloy perform well? Was the rivet alloy substitution the right decision? Would the Captain replace him with an Englishman just in case the Queen wanted a tour?
Miguel felt uneasy and looked at the counter. One solution to his problems sat in an amber bottle. It was tempting, but no, now was not the time to reach for the bottle. Those days were behind him…or so he told himself. If those days were gone, why did he keep a half-full bottle?
He stepped outside and started his cycle. Owning a steam-powered cycle was a huge status symbol, and it caused quite a stir when he brought it home three days ago. In fact, it caused so much of a stir that the police came to his door and tried to arrest him for theft. Most people in his neighborhood took the Underground, so he must have stolen it, or so they said. Thankfully he had the proper paperwork and a cool head. Of course, they didn't even apologize before leaving.
The engine roared to life, scaring the birds on the sidewalk and forcing the bad memories away. He was off to the shipyard in style.
The fleet yards were three miles from the edge of the city. The Highlander sat in a large clearing like a diamond in the rough. She had flown a few times, most notably the test flight to Jerusalem last week. Today would be something entirely different – leaving the atmosphere with the goal of reaching the moon.
He saw a disturbance at the security gate. Upon further inspection he noticed his tailor, Buckingham, arguing with a guard. Kernie was a full head taller and a foot wider than the stubborn tailor, who apparently didn't realize that the guard could squash him with minimal effort.
Miguel grabbed Buckingham by the elbow and walked him away from the gate. "Thank you for coming. Do you have it?"
"It's in the left breast pocket," the tailor replied.
Miguel took the uniform and paid the tailor. "My apologies for not being able to come yesterday before you closed. Here's a little extra for your troubles." He nodded and started to turn away.
The tailor kept talking. "Where is that man from?" Some people just don't understand social cues, Miguel thought.
"Kernie is from one of our distant possessions, Manynesia I believe," the engineer said. "Rumour has it that the bones sticking out of his face are the bones of his slain enemies. The repeated infections caused by jamming bones into his skin gave him a slight purplish skin tone. Anyway, thank you Buckingham."
Miguel walked away, greeted Kernie, and entered the Highlander. He stopped outside the engineering section to change into his recently delivered dress uniform - a white shirt, sleeveless leather vest, goggles, and leather gloves. He checked the breast pocket and then got to work. Everything would be ok today.
Simeon greeted him at the main engineering console. "Good morning mate! Ready to meet the Vulcans?"
"You kill me," Miguel replied. "The Vulcans are on Mercury. Our brightest astronomers have confirmed that the temperature there is absolutely miserable. Regardless, I'm pretty sure there is no one on the Moon."
"Space is space to me," Simeon replied. "I'm going to be the first one out of the airlocks to greet them, no matter what you call them."
Miguel repressed a smile. "Very well then. How's the engine looking?"
Simeon sat up straighter. "You were right about adding Lemming's Dilithium Powder into the mix. We're running more efficiently now."
"Outstanding. Is there anything unusual I should be concerned about?"
"I'm afraid so," Simeon replied. "Someone from the Queen's Protectorate will be here to make sure that we are ready for Her Majesty's arrival."
"What?" Miguel's heart skipped a beat. Everyone knew that the Queen was interested in this mission, but no one told him that she was actually coming onboard. Maybe she would show up after they returned from the Moon? There was no way to be certain.
"I found out this morning. She will be coming with us to the Moon."
How will our fair hero respond to this sudden revelation? Will he be able to stand in Her Majesty's presence, or will be thrown aside as a commoner?
Last edited by superhombre777; 03-06-2014 at 06:15 PM.
Part 2 - Our Hero is Interrogated by the Queen's Protectorate
Miguel's heart raced. The Queen's arrival flooded his thoughts with a mixture of fear and joy. He doubted that he would have the privilege of seeing her, even if she boarded the ship. Would they let a man from the Colonies stand in front of the Queen? Probably not.
Miguel and Simeon went through the start-up diagnostics. About an hour later a tall woman walked into the room. She scowled and pointed at Miguel. "I assume that you are Chief Miguel Jarvis?"
"Yes, my lady," he replied. "How can I serve you today?"
"I need you to prove to me that this ship is spaceworthy."
"Certainly," Miguel replied. "May I have the honor of your name, madam?"
"Annabel Gates. Skip the formalities and let's get to work. How does this ship fly?"
Miguel realized that he might have the upper hand in this conversation. "As with everything in the Empire, the H.M.S. Highlander is driven by steam. This is main engineering, where we monitor the pressure levels and make whatever minor adjustments are necessary to ensure safe flight."
Miss Gates seemed unimpressed. "So this is a basic steam engine, like the ones that power our carriages and homes? My home isn't ready to travel to the Moon, so how is this any better?"
He grimaced. "My lady, bear with me a moment while I explain things. Yes, this engine is steam driven, but we have made a number of modifications to ensure maximum efficiency." Including the use of magic, Miguel thought. Don't tell her that.
"The Prussian mines have given us an unexpected blessing - Dilithium Powder. It allows the simple boiling process to give us considerably more energy than anyone thought possible. I'm not a chemist, my lady, but it the simple process of boiling water gives us enough power to push us into orbit.
"Last week we flew the Highlands to Jerusalem. We didn't leave the atmosphere, but we did set a speed record. This ship is ready to support the Empire in whatever form may be needed."
Miss Gates scowled at Miguel. "Very well." She started to pace around the room and then abruptly stopped. "What is this abomination in the corner?"
"That, my lady, is our latest automaton," he replied. "He is capable of working in space independently. He will perform any repairs necessary on voyage to the Moon."
"Stop the 'my lady' talk," Gates said. "You can't flatter me with formality. Why did you paint it blue?"
Miguel gave her a fake smile. "I needed a way to make it obvious that this is an automaton, not part of the crew. The last thing I wanted was for a passenger to see him outside of the ship and assume that we started throwing passengers into deep space. So I painted him blue."
"I see your point," the woman said. "Why does he have these fingers on top of his head?"
"They aren't fingers, my…esteemed associate. They are antennas so that he can receive remote direction. I know that it's slightly unnerving to see a blue man with two antennas on top of his head, but that's the best that I can give you today."
"You keep saying ‘he.' Did you give this filth a name?"
"Please indulge me a moment. This automaton may not look like much, but he represents the pinnacle of research in our Empire. I know that it is unprecedented to give a name to a machine, but I believe that our work sets us apart from the rest of Society. I originally named this automaton after my uncle Raul. But after my coworker Charles died of consumption, I renamed the automaton ch'Raul."
Miss Gates frowned. "Bloody hell! You invented a name that no one in the Empire has ever heard of?"
Simeon interrupted to defuse the tension. "Would you like to hear about the hull? We have gone to great lengths to find the perfect balance between strength and weight."
"And we have also gone to great lengths to keep our secrets away from our enemies," Miguel added. "Certain members of the project have had loose tongues. We have captured and executed four Ottoman spies in the nearby neighborhoods." And Simeon would have been hung if his uncle wasn't in Parliament.
"Most airships are made from wood and steel," he continued. "Parts of the Highland are made from a secret aluminium alloy that is lighter and almost as strong as steel."
It looked like a vein popped on Miss Gates' forehead. "Almost as strong? The Queen of the British Empire is coming aboard, and all you can say is that this ship is almost as strong as what the Ottomans and Chinese are flying? If any harm comes to Her Majesty, I will see that you suffer a slow, painful death!"
Miguel scrambled for a reply. "Sometimes we don't need the full strength of steel. Would you build your house with twelve foot thick walls if one foot walls were sufficient?"
"I suppose not," Miss Gates replied.
"It is the same with our spaceship. The aluminium isn't as strong as steel, but it weighs less and is more than capable enough of meeting our needs. This material was developed by our brightest minds in Bristol. The late Dr. Wells was one of the inventors."
His reply placated Miss Gates. She continued to ask unnecessary questions for the next forty minutes. The inside of Miguel's cheek bled from all of the times where he held back. He thought better of telling her about the new South American material called ‘rubber' that he used to attach the windows. She also didn't need to know that one of the landing gears bent when they landed in Jerusalem.
At the end of the interrogation, Miss Gates announced her satisfaction in an unexpected way. "Well it looks like your ship won't kill the Queen. Carry on." She turned on her heel and walked away.
Simeon continued with his lack of tact. "I love strong-willed women!"
Miguel cringed at the thought. "Why don't you go tell her of you secret admiration? I'm sure she'd be happy to find a quiet corner...and kill you."
Simeon started to reply, but a disembodied female voice interrupted him. "Doctor Simeon, please report to sickbay."
"Bloody hell," Simeon said. "Computer, replace me with an artificial character and show me the arch."
Join us next time to see what happens when the automaton comes to life!