Sir Gilchrist Temple pulled the telescope from his impeccably tailored frockcoat’s pocket and put it to his eye. It whirred to half-length then stopped. Sighing loudly, Temple lowered the optical device and wound the small key in its side. ‘Why the buggery hell do they have to mechanise every bloody object whether it’s needed or not,’ he thought with some annoyance. With the mainspring primed once more the telescope opened fully upon being raised, the view it afforded was unwelcome. “They’re gaining on us, Webb.”
“Bound to be, sir, we’re running out of floatcoke,” said Webb, wiping the back of a soot blackened hand across his sweaty and equally soot blackened forehead. “Won’t be long before the balloon sack starts to deflate.”
“That is a cold hand in the showers after rugger,” said Temple, still sweeping the sky from the rear hatch of the gondola. A streak of steam was closing in fast. “Egad, looks like one of the infernal aero-wasps has released a stinger. The floatcoke may outlast the sack yet.”
Webb lowered his head to take in the view from the glass bottom of ‘HMS Knackerknacker’, so named because of the noise the Mark II steam-converter made, a swarm of three dozen copper insectoids carpeted the canyon below. “The mechano-mites are still keeping pace with us. If we land amongst that lot we’re goners, sir.”
“Determined little blighters, I can’t believe they’ve followed us so relentlessly.”
“I know,” said Webb. “From the deserts of Sudan, through the gardens of Japan; from Milan to Yucatan, you’d think they couldn’t but they can.”
Temple lowered the telescope, which compressed itself noisily. “Brace yourself, Webb, we’re about to experience a sudden loss of altitude.”
“Through the docks of Tiger Bay, down the road to Mandalay; from Bombay to Santa Fe, little bastards find a way,” said Webb, still mesmerised by the shifting platoon below him.
“Webb, stop reminiscing and bloody well hold on!”
The stoker looked up, his slack face soon animating as he saw the approaching stinger, piston rod and beam mechanism going like the clappers, come into view and slice a huge rent in the canvas of the balloon sack with a jabbing blade on a flywheel that spat boiling water droplets as it rotated. He clamped his hand upon a rail fractionally before ‘HMS Knackerknacker’ began a rapid diagonal descent. “We’re going to die!” said the sooty stoker.
Temple’s forehead wrinkled deeply. “Pull yourself together, Webb, such cheerlessness is unbecoming of an Englishman.”
“I’m Welsh,” said Webb, his face grimmer than a slate mine on a wet Bank Holiday.
“Oh,” said Temple, “carry on then.”
“We’re going to die…and it looks like rain.”Read More