Author’s Note: Here’s the third and final part of the story I wrote for a short story anthology published by my local public library. Part one can be found here; part two can be found here. You can purchase the anthology here. All proceeds go to the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. This story has been reformatted for easier reading on this blog.
“Wait, you set fire to a water tank?” asked Betsy.
“Yes, water can burn if it presented with a sufficiently hot fire,” Isak explained.
“What are they going to use to put it out?” asked Gravat.
“I wouldn’t suggest using water,” said Isak. “Anyways, it’s a ‘them’ problem, not an ‘us’ problem.”
Over at the dirigible, Flannigan erupted from underneath the canvas balloon and said, “I’m not going anywhere in that death trap!”
Felicity poked her head out and said, “It’ll be fine! Lightning capacitor engines haven’t killed anyone in the last twenty years!”
“That’s because they haven’t been used in the last twenty years,” Flannigan retorted.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked Gravat.
Felicity lifted her goggles. “The engine on this is an old one, and it uses two free arcs of electricity to generate power. To start it, someone needs to crank it while the other holds a metal driveshaft between the arcs.”
“That sounds unnecessarily dangerous and quite insane,” said Gravat, who received an affirming nod from Betsy.
“Engineers are all about the machine first,” Felicity explained, as if the mystery was solved.
Gravat looked at the heap of rusty iron and felt like being shot at in battle was safer. “Do we have no other choice?”
Felicity pointed to the Kesperrians. “We can sneak this craft out the doors at the back. All the others are too large.”
“Fine,” said Gravat. “But why does Flannigan have to hold the drive shaft?”
Flannigan held up his hands. “These are the steadiest hands in the whole kingdom,” he said. “Precision is my passion. But I think Felicity abuses it sometimes.”
“I can do it if someone explains it to me,” said Gravat.
“You’ll just get yourself killed,” said Flannigan. He scowled at Felicity. “Fine, I’ll do it. But I want you to get me some of those mercury pressure gauges I’ve been asking for.”
Felicity gave him a peck on the cheek. “Consider them yours!”
Jim and Ginny helped wheel the craft out the back while Felicity and Flannigan worked on it. Gravat tried eyeing what was going on, but the canvas balloon was in the way. Eventually Felicity poked her head back out and said, “Everything’s ready. We just need to inflate the envelope with a lifting gas. Do we have anything useful nearby?”
“All the helium is guarded,” said Betsy, her attention still on the Kesperrians. The fire seemed like it was finally dying out, and some of them turned their attention back to the hangar. “Can’t the engine just make hot air or something?”
“That would take too long,” said Felicity.
“I would just like to point out that this is why a coal-burning engine is better,” said Isak.
“We can use my teleportation apparatus,” said Ginny, holding up a bracer with wires and blinking lights. “It will work this time.”
“To be fair, you say that every time,” said Flannigan.
Jim staggered towards them and said, “I have gas.”
“This is not the time,” said Flannigan.
“No,” said Jim, pointing to a pile of manure and plant matter next to an outhouse. “There’s the gas. Just – hic – get the balloon on top of the outhouse.”
Gravat helped Isak and Felicity push the craft next to the small wooden structure. The smell of the manure and decay made Flannigan pale, and Betsy held her nose. Jim opened the door to the outhouse and started shoveling in stuff from the pile. Ginny and Gravat began to help at Jim’s direction: “This is some good sh – hic – stuff. Shovel as much as you can.”
They reduced the pile by half, and Jim told them to stop. He produced from his coveralls a series of three glass bottles with cork stoppers; the liquids were green, pale yellow, and orange. Stepping inside the outhouse, Jim closed the door. “For science,” he muttered, and then he came back out again.
Nothing happened for five minutes.
“What is supposed to happen?” asked Gravat, who noticed that the fire was mostly under control, and the Kesperrians had almost fully returned to their duties.
“It’s bas-basic chemistry,” said Jim. “You can’t rush it.” He nodded at the top of the outhouse, and Gravat saw the balloon flutter a bit. Then, it fluttered some more, and it started to inflate. “Can I have my happy flask back now?”
Nearby, Gravat heard some shouting. Betsy said, “It would appear the Kesperrians have found us.” She pointed at a dozen angry guards running towards them.
“We should get going then. All aboard,” said Gravat, jumping onto the flying rust bucket.
“Starting the engine. Ready Flannigan?” said Felicity, her hand on a crank.
“No, but if I don’t survive this, I don’t want Jim to have my thermometers,” he replied. Jim wiped a tear from his eye. One of the Kesperrians took a shot at them, and the bullet whizzed over their heads. Flannigan shouted, “This isn’t going to work if they shoot me, either!”
Isak leaned out of the craft and yelled, “Hey! You’re shooting at a balloon filled with the most flammable gas known to humanity! Do you want the whole hangar to be set on fire?” One of the Kesperrians heard him, and she waved for the other guards to stop firing.
“Is that true?” asked Betsy, her face losing all its color.
Jim opened his mouth, but Isak interrupted and said, “Not really.”
With the danger averted, the group floated into the air slowly, picking up speed as the engine kicked to life. The propellers on the side of the bucket started turning, and the craft ascended up towards their destination. So close to the ship, Gravat sat back and marveled at its size. Having survived a war with the Kesperrians, he trembled to think what they could have done with such a massive weapon.
They got close to the ship, and Gravat jumped out onto a landing. Up so high, the wind howled and it was difficult for him to keep his balance. He managed to tie a rope from the dirigible to the ship, and he waited for the others to disembark. Betsy got out, but no one else followed.
She pointed a gun at him and shouted, “Untie the balloon now!”
“What is the meaning of this?” asked Gravat.
“I’m taking the ship from you,” said Betsy. “Your services are no longer required!”
“You fiend,” growled Gravat. “Do you always double-cross people who work for you?”
“It’s cheaper that way,” said Betsy. “Stop stalling and untie the ship, or I will shoot you!”
“You’ll have to shoot,” Gravat yelled. He lunged forward, and he saw Betsy’s gun fire. His chest burst with pain, and the bullet knocked him back to the deck. Gravat hit his head, and his vision blurred. He saw Betsy lift her gun again, and then he saw a bright flash of light. Then, he saw nothing. Hands lifted him up from the deck, and they took him below.
“What happened?” he asked after the pain dimmed a bit.
“Ginny saved your life,” said Felicity.
“So did – hic – my happy flask,” said Jim, holding up the dented steel container. “You’re welcome,” he said, taking a long pull.
“It worked, it really worked,” said Flannigan, staring at Ginny. Isak was also scratching his head.
“Where’s Betsy?” asked Gravat.
Over on his right, he heard a loud knocking on the wall. “Get me out of here,” Betsy yelled, her voice muffled.
“By my calculations, she’s in a janitor’s closet,” said Ginny, doing the math in the air.
“What do we do now?” asked Felicity, helping Gravat sit up. “We’ve cleared the moorings, and the ship has power.”
“Since we just stole an airship, I don’t think we can go back to the aerodrome,” said Gravat. “On the bright side, we can fly anywhere we want.”
“Sounds good,” said Felicity. “Where to first, captain?”
“Captain? I’m sure you’re more qualified,” said Gravat.
“You look – hic – look like a cap’n,” said Jim.
Gravat shrugged, then winced. “Okay, well, fine. Let’s head due west, and chase the setting sun.” With a salute, everyone hopped to it, and the Sky Princess sailed on her maiden voyage.