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The Bavarian Airship Regatta - Page 5: July 5, 2011 - August 19, 2011

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The Marienplatz Confrontation
Air Winch Cannons
Pomp and Preparations
The Flat Run
The Valley Run
The Mountain Run


The Marienplatz Confrontation

Entry for July 5, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus pulled a chair up next to the lushly made bed that cocooned Sparky. Sparky needed to hear the rest of the story. Erasmus cleared his throat to begin the remainder of the tale, but word that Sparky had come to was making its way around the airship, and Erasmus would just have to wait. First was Luis-Miguel Sevilla, carrying a platter of breakfast pastries and a small glass of fresh apple juice. The platter was presented as if it was an offering for this wondrous turn of events. He looked incredibly relieved at Sparky’s ability to sit up and talk.

Reginald Wallace made his entrance as Luis-Miguel left. He started his monologue as he stepped through the door. “Doctor McTrowell! You’ve awakened! What a relief. Now I don’t have to have another racing pilot flown in! Ha, ha!” His fake laughter at his own self-centered humor put a strange hush over the room. “Well, now I’ll need to run out to let the press know about the good health of my pilot. Can’t wait to see you back at the helm.” He left as abruptly as he came.

J. B. Fox had been standing guard at the door to make sure that Sparky was protected. He slipped into the room and simply asked one question, although his tone hinted at it being heartfelt.

“Are you back with us, Doctor?” His eyes softened, to hear Sparky reply. “I’m back. But still groggy. Thank you for asking.”

He nodded and smiled, but stayed in the room with Sparky, Lord Ashleigh, and Erasmus.

This ended the small parade of well-wishers. J. B. turned and locked the door for privacy. Erasmus again quietly cleared his voice to finally tell the remainder of the tale of what happened.

“Willy Dampf stayed back to guard you, Sparky. J. B. and I followed the gypsies that attacked you to the Marienplatz, which is an open area in the center of town. There, we were able to corner one of them who was wearing a bright blue tunic. We lost the other two in the crowd, unfortunately. He was a scrappy sort. He pulled a pair of knives out to do us harm, spitting and cursing as he jabbed at us. We kept our distance, of course, while trying to keep him cornered. You probably don’t remember that I had my cane with me. Well, to be honest, Doctor, it’s a sword stick.”

“Did you really think I didn’t notice that when I first inspected it in Lord Ashleigh’s sitting room? Really, Chief Inspector. I’m an inventor. The locking mechanism near the handle is beautifully made and subtle, but I am observant. Please, continue.”

Erasmus’ eyebrows raised, but then came back down to hide his surprise. He always thought he had kept this secret well, but between Sparky’s and Alistair Bennington Rutherford’s ability to spot the sword stick, he now wondered how many people had known and not told him. Well, back to his story.

“The sergeant spotted it first: the man we cornered was cursing in German. So he asked ‘Ne rakesa tu Romanes?’ Do you speak Romani? To this he gave a very confused look. That meant he wasn’t a true gypsy, and was using it as a guise. Perhaps in reaction to this, he made a break for it and I was forced to unsheathe the live blade of my sword stick. I used the scabbard to hit the outside of his knee and the back of the blade to ‘tap’ his collarbone. This wasn’t meant as a killing cut, but instead to arrest the his motion, which it did admirably. It also cleanly removed the top two ties on the impostor’s shirt, unveiling the scoundrel’s chest. There both J. B. and I saw the tattoo of an anchor piercing a skull. Not one suited for land dwellers, but rather for rough men that sail either the ocean or sky.”

“What would sailors be doing here? And why would they want to attack me and Willy?”

Erasmus looked at J. B., who responded with a “continue your story” nod.

“It has become clear that pirates were using gypsy disguises to get near the two of you, and the other airship pilots. But to finish, three or four additional counterfeit gypsies threatened the two of us from behind, just long enough to allow our cornered pirate to escape. Then the rest of them disappeared into the crowd. We then got you back to the Burke & Hare safely, got a local German doctor to examine you and put some salve on your head, and he instructed us to apply ice chips on and off to reduce the swelling. It looks like it was a successful process, but you had us mightily worried, if I do say so myself.”

The men in the room gave Sparky a plaintive facial expression that showed agreement to Erasmus’ last point.

Erasmus continued. “After confirming our concerns, J. B. and I went to check on the whereabouts of the other regatta pilots. All the others had not left their craft or crew, except Pierre, who was not to be found. Later that night, the story got back to us that Pierre was, if I may be so blunt, looking for evening companionship, as he often does. He ran into two sham gypsies, but fended for himself with his well-known knife skills. Apparently, his attackers didn’t expect such a fight. Still, it was a close call. He ended up with some minor cuts near his left wrist and a sizable bruise on his right shoulder. Sergeant, should I continue?”

“Please do, Chief Inspector.”

“Sparky, J. B. warned me that we may have to deal with pirates at some point in the regatta. But the Sergeant was not expecting such an early confrontation, particularly in the city. The Aerial Marines had not briefed him that the problem was worsening, so we were taken by surprise. J. B. has agreed to let you and Lord Ashleigh be briefed on the situation, since our lives may be at stake.”

J. B. then proceeded to explain that multiple countries, including Great Britain, were concerned over the loss of safe air space for commercialization due to airship pirates that had started to drive craft away. Part of the reason that Bavaria was holding the regatta was to map the location of the pirates, allow a team to go in and remove them, and for international travelers (and investors) to feel safe about traveling the Bavarian skies. J. B. added, “Any part of this trip may be thwarted by pirates. But we are prepared.”

Sparky rubbed her head. “May I be led to my cabin? I could use a change of clothes and a restorative drink of birch bark tea.” The men agreed, and moved to help her to her feet. During this activity, J. B requested that all of this be kept secret, since non-crew passengers might panic, or leak the situation to the reporters. They all agreed to do so. Erasmus promised himself, “No additional harm will come to this woman while I’m on this assignment.”



Air Winch Cannons

Entry for July 10, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Since she was still a bit wobbly, Sparky spent the rest of Saturday on the Burke & Hare, checking and rechecking its state of preparedness. She was grateful for the lack of public duties and not just because she was a tad unsteady. Unfortunately, Sunday was quite different. McTrowell and Luis-Miguel Sevilla scoured the airship for any additional extraneous ballast that could be offloaded in Munich and collected at the end of the regatta. She knew they would need to lighten the load as much as possible if they were to have a fighting chance against the sleeker Iron Eagle. She mentally cursed Wallace for taking on paying passengers. That man’s greed vastly exceeded his sense. And then she had a truly uncharitable thought about Wallace’s personal girth and momentarily entertained a wish that surely violated her Hippocratic oath.

Distracted as she was by her daydreaming, she was nearly knocked off her feet by Herr Fenstermacher, the referee, who was climbing up out of the mechanical compartment under the bridge.

“Guten tag, Herr Fenstermacher.”

“Guten tag, Dr. McTrowell. You feelink better, ja? You are not zo goot vis ze deutsches bier, no?” His obsequious smile dared her to cross him.

“No, I suppose French wine is more agreeable to me.” She smiled back smugly. Two could play at that game.

“I haf finished my inspegshun. You vill meet at za judges station in von hour.” He marched off of the bridge without another word, nearly colliding with Ivan Krasnayarubashka who was entering.

“Is very unpleasant man!”

“Indeed, Mr. Krasnayarubashka. I want to thank you for managing preparations so expertly while I was…indisposed. I’m going to head down for a spot of breakfast before the meeting with the judge and referees. Let us hope the ballast allocation for the Iron Eagle is fair.”

She looked across to the tower where El Toro Rojo had anchored while she was unconscious. Its yellow envelope with a rampaging red bull was certainly eye-catching, even headache inducing one might say. But that wasn’t the most unusual thing about it. There was a metal scaffolding ring that ran from the top of the gondola around the entire circumference of the center of the envelope. There was a large bronze cylinder mounted on the top of the scaffolding pointing fore and aft, and a matching one about two thirds of the way down to the gondola. Presumably there was a third one mounted on the port side that was out of view. She wondered what it could possibly be. It must have some very valuable function to warrant the considerable extra weight.

When she reached the gangplank, Drake was standing at the railing scanning the skies apprehensively. “Good morning, Dr. McTrowell.”

“Good morning to you, Chief Inspector.” Without even asking or indicating what he was doing, he preceded her across the gangplank and down the tower. As she made the turn at the first landing, a shadow flickered overhead. She looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of a black shape moving quickly off the gangplank. She could hear footsteps above her all the way down the tower, but couldn’t see their source. She had her second near miss of the morning at the bottom of the tower when Drake stopped crisply and surveyed the surrounding area before stepping aside to allow her to exit the tower. He was nattering inanely about the weather. How very unlike him! She stole a look over her shoulder and the mysterious shadowy specter was revealed to be Sergeant Fox in his black combat fatigues. She and Drake were strolling at a relatively leisurely pace, but Fox wasn’t closing the distance. She glanced back twice more between the base of the tower and the teahouse next to the parade ground; Fox was always five seconds behind them. Drake repeated his maneuver from the bottom of the stairs when they entered the teahouse, but this time Sparky was prepared. She started counting to herself 1-2-3-4-5, but no Fox. She turned back to Drake. “You and Sergeant Fox are not very stealthy.”

“One is not subtle when one wishes to deliver a message of deliberation.”

She took a slow breath. “I see.” She spotted Willy Dampf across the room and waved at him. He looked quite pleased to see her and immediately headed toward her and Drake. He was obviously unaccompanied. “The other pilots don’t appear to be under surveillance.”

“Protection. Surveillance is for suspects. Their protection is not my concern.” It was at that moment that McTrowell realized that he was a different person when he was “on duty” and she was very glad to be under his protection and not his surveillance.

“Guten tag, Dr. McTrowell. How vunderful zat you are recovered!” He looked as though he wanted to embrace her, but thought better of it at the last minute and shook her hand vigorously. “Guten tag, Herr Inspector Drake.” Sparky wouldn’t have thought it physically possible, but he shook Drake’s hand even more vigorously.

“Thank you. I’m relieved to be recovered and ready for the race.” Dampf didn’t strike her as the kind of man to be intimidated by a little posturing by a competitor, but it didn’t hurt to let him know that she wasn’t going to be deterred by little misfortune and a bump on the head. Drake entertained her throughout their brief breakfast with the history of sword sticks which was pleasantly diverting. She didn’t need to look back to detect the shield of Sergeant Fox reattaching himself as she and Drake exited the teahouse.

Drake dropped back when she got up to the judge’s table. He took up a position equidistant from the table, but opposite Fox. They walked in a circle around the table and the pilots. If they were attempting to appear nonchalant, they were failing miserably, but perhaps this was more deliberation. While all the pilots were present, neither the judge nor the referees were anywhere in sight. She flipped open her pocket watch. It had been an hour and five minutes since she and Herr Fenstermacher had parted company. All the officials were late. How very un-German! She and the other pilots discussed the weather conditions and the topography of the course. She checked her watch again. The officials were half an hour late. What was keeping them? Drake and Fox had come together on their perimeter and were talking quietly but purposefully. When they resumed their patrol, the perimeter was smaller. Drake had his sword stick out and his thumb on the release; Fox’s hand was on his pistol. The conversation between the pilots dwindled down to nothing and they all began looking around nervously.

It was very nearly an hour past the designated meeting time when Herr Zimmermann hastened up to the table trailed by a phalanx of referees. He was quite red in the face and obviously perturbed. He launched immediately into a diatribe in rapid fire German. McTrowell, Pierre du Guarde, and Björn Swenson exchanged bewildered looks. Although Philip Garza didn’t seem to understand what was being said, he looked quite anxious. Of course Dampf understood every word, each of which contributed incrementally to the expression of astonishment and indignation on his face.

Before Zimmermann could launch into his customary translation into multiple languages, Dampf turned to McTrowell and exclaimed, “Ze judges haf approved ze Ret Bull’s use of air winch cannons!”

Philip Garza lost his composure and triumphantly shouted, “
Olé!



Pomp and Preparations

Entry for July 20, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

The first reaction to the announcement regarding the air winch cannons was stunned silence by the pilots at the table. If they didn’t understand Herr Zimmermann’s German, they apparently caught the gist of Willy Dampf’s English explanation. Suddenly, the table was all abuzz with pilots speaking in their native language to no one in general, and voicing how incredulous they were. The exception of course was Philip Garza, who couldnt help himself but sat there and smugly grinned at the news. Willy stood and showed a side of himself that he hadn’t revealed to Sparky yet, which was indignance. He bellowed out in German some unkind words, turned as if he was going to storm off, and then thought better of it, and sat down.

Sparky realized that she may have been the only person at the table who was not familiar with this technology. Rather than reveal her ignorance, she asked Herr Zimmermann, “Could you please explain how you came to the approval of the air winch cannons?”

Herr Zimmermann made an interesting request, “If I may, my technical English iz not so good. Iz there zumone who can translate into English for me?”

Sergeant Fox approached the table. In German, he stated that he
d be willing to translate. His accent was very good, and to Sparkys ear, he sounded like he had grown up in Munich.

Herr Zimmermann rattled out five or six German sentences, then nodded to Fox that he could translate those. Sergeant Fox began his translation.

“The judges have discretion as to what constitutes a legal means for propelling the airship through the air, be it forward, up, or down. Obvious illegal means include pushing off the ground, pushing off or bumping other airships, and drafting competitors. Obviously, any help from support vehicles to propel an airship is also illegal. Using rising warm air bubbles, including tacking through them, is legal. Throwing off ballast is illegal, and thereby the firing of cannonballs rearward to gain speed would also be illegal. Similarly, using ‘extraordinary means,
such as firing compressed steam or air off the back of the airship is just as illegal. Setting specialty sails is perfectly legal, since it is taking advantage of the atmospheric conditions.”

Herr Zimmermann again rattled out a long string of German, and nodded to Sergeant Fox to restart his translation.

“What the Toro Rojo is being allowed to do is fire specialty sails out of ‘cannons
to take advantage of atmospheric conditions near their airship, but not normally reachable by fixed sails. If extraordinary means were used to fire off the sails, such as gunpowder or compressed air from their steam engines, then the judges would have ruled them an illegal aid to flying. But their cannons are set through man-power, like a crossbow. After the specialty sails are fired out of the air winch canons, they deploy in a similar manner to an umbrella. They are immediately hauled back in, pulling the airship forward. Because of the manner they are deployed and utilized, they have been deemed legal for this regatta.”

Sparky was aghast. “How is the Burke & Hare supposed to compete with that?” She looked around for support, but it was clear that the judges were holding fast to their decision. Her concern was that the regatta was going to be a test of technology rather than skill. She always knew that the shape and the design of each racing craft played a key role, but that was a known part of the competition. This ruling could change everything, and make it more of a sprint to deploy specialty sails.

One by one, the pilots stood and begrudgingly headed to their airships, undoubtedly not looking forward to telling their crew about the final judges decision. This was true for all of the pilots, save Philip Garza, who still had his unstoppable grin and a twinkle in his eye. Even Willy Dampf left without so much as a “goodbye.” Sparky also stood, made a sour face, and left the table with her two protectors trailing behind her.

The remainder of Sunday night was spent checking and rechecking the various systems of the Burke & Hare. This was an arduous task, since it was critical for both success in the regatta, and for the safety of the craft and its crew. To add to this, the airship had to be prepared for two hours of regatta enthusiasts walking through the Burke & Hare. Any piece of equipment there wasn
t permanently fixed onto the vessel had to be stowed or risk being taken as a keepsake.

The crew had a difficult schedule in the morning. From the completion of the parade of airship crews at 10:30 AM, if all went according to plan, until noon, they had to have the airship ready for a fast-paced sprint from Munich to Salzburg, a little over 70 miles. The Burke & Hare could travel that distance in about an hour and fifteen minutes, given fair weather and favorable winds, but any misstep in preparation could easily add ten minutes to the time, which would mean a sure loss on that leg. For that reason, everyone was triple checking the boiler, steam engine, power train, propeller, cabling systems, fuel load, water level, accuracy of gauges, envelope pressure, safety equipment, emergency lines, auxiliary sails, and pre-race food quality and quantity.

One by one, the lights went out on the five moored airships as the crews attempted to get some sleep. The loud party on the Toro Rojo finally stopped around midnight. The glittering of the few scattered lanterns on the airfield was all that could seen as the night came to a close.

Monday sunrise came all too soon for the airship crews. But by eight o
clock, they were in their finest regatta uniforms, ready to receive the expectant crowds gathered outside the airships. The Burke & Hare, just like the other airships, had set up a series of rope passageways to lead the spectators in one side of the airship, down this stairwell to the engine control room, back up another set of stairs, through the cabin hallway, out onto the catwalk, and return the viewers to the tower where the airship was tethered. At each major turn within this labyrinth stood one of the crew members to help guide the gawking populace. The two hours of showing the Burke & Hare went by at a glacial pace. Many inane questions were asked in broken English, or were not in English at all, about every shiny doodad on the airship. The one positive side to this parade of humanity was the wide-eyed children who fancied themselves as future airship pilots. The youngsters viewed the airship as the worlds largest walk-in wooden toy, and every brass fixture and rope knot was a wonder to enjoy.

When ten o
clock arrived, there was a silent sigh of relief by the Burke & Hare crew as they persuaded the last of the looky-loos to exit the airship.

Erasmus and J. B. muttered as they squeezed into borrowed crew outfits, J. B.
s chest being of greater size than anyone else on the airship, and Erasmus thighs having a similar problem as he tried to put on a pair of the official trousers. This was a mandatory concession if they were to participate in the parade with Sparky. Well, technically they were guarding her as she played her part as a carefree racing pilot, but the two of them had to look like they were members of the airship crew to provide her protection during the procession.

It was possible that the grinding of Sparky
s teeth was actually audible as she waited in marching line for the parade to start. “Not exactly your cup of tea, is it?” asked J. B., in one of the few times to date that he broke out of his military veneer. An answer from Sparky was not necessary, given that her body language indicated that shed rather be taking a barefoot stroll on hot coals.

The parade itself was uneventful. Everyone, in both the parade and in the crowds, impulsively waved at each other. Brass bands played oompa polkas and swaggering military-themed marching tunes. When it was over, it all seemed mercifully short in duration. At the conclusion of the parade, Erasmus and J. B. stayed close to Sparky as they endured the pomposity of the address by Maximilian II, King of Bavaria.

The applause rose for the finale of the speech right on time, eleven o
clock. Erasmus, J. B., and Sparky all made a beeline for the Burke & Hare to rejoin the crew and get their craft aloft. When they reached the top of their docking tower, they noticed an odd formation of non-racing airships gathered around the starting point in the sky. There mustve been 30 or 40 small airships, probably privately owned, all wanting a better view of the regatta’s start. Sparky had never seen such a show of wealth and interest at an airship race, and was stunned into silence for more than a few seconds.

When Sparky had finished her gaping, the three of them hustled inside the Burke & Hare, disappearing into their respective cabins to change into more appropriate clothing. Sparky emerged first, now in full pilot’s uniform, and took her rightful place at the helm of the airship. As Erasmus and J. B. reentered the hallway, Sparky
s voice could be heard over the voicepipe, "Casting off! Take your stations! Lets get this race underway!" Erasmus thought to himself, "What a grand adventure I happened upon in the service of Queen and country!"


The Flat Run

Entry for July 26, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

McTrowell’s heels snapped out the staccato rhythm of her excitement as she shifted from foot to foot on the bridge. Although she heard the echo of her footsteps, she felt like she was actually floating over the deck. She shook Mr. Krasnayarubashka’s hand crisply and snapped her goggles down over her eyes as the Burke & Hare floated free of its moorings. She wanted a good starting position, preferably where she could grab an early lead over El Toro Rojo. She scanned the pennants flying over the parade grounds and navigated toward the windward side of the rampant bull. She had just positioned the Burke & Hare slightly below the Spanish ship when she noticed The Iron Eagle performing a similar maneuver, but slightly above.

“Great minds think alike,” she thought to herself. Du Guarde and Swenson weren’t as nimble lining up, so Le Lapin and The North Wind were at a slight disadvantage on the leeward side of Garza. McTrowell placed her pocket watch open on the console in front of her so she could keep an eye on it as she feathered the engines and reversed the propeller to keep the Burke & Hare from crossing the start line before noon, even sliding back from the line several meters. She held her left hand lightly on the controls while watching the line judge on the ground through the telescope in her right hand. He faced the cannonier and raised his hand. McTrowell reversed the propeller again. He dropped his hand and the cannonier lit the cannon. McTrowell opened the throttle all the way. The Burke & Hare crossed the start line just as the sound of the cannon reached the ship and exactly at the same instant as The Iron Eagle.

As she had expected, Dampf used his greater speed and the wind to come up under Garza, arriving ahead and to the Spanish ship’s leeward side. With the advantages of surprise and a bit of the same wind on her side, McTrowell brought the Burke & Hare to a position forward and windward of El Toro Rojo. She glanced over toward The Iron Eagle and could have sworn she saw Dampf wink at her. They both backed off their engines once they secured their flying blockade.

“Mr. Krasnayarubashka, I can manage the bridge for this flat run. Please get to the voicepipe on the aft catwalk and keep me apprised of any and all maneuvers by El Toro Rojo. If Dampf and I don’t keep that ship contained and their air winch cannons out of play, this race will be over before it’s started.”

“Da, gospozha doktor lyotchika.” She saw the first mate of The Iron Eagle depart its bridge just moments after Ivan. Most of an hour passed fairly uneventfully except for the occasional blocking maneuver in response to Mr. Krasnayarubashka’s reports from aft about the actions of El Toro Rojo. Although about half of his reports became unnecessary after only a short while because Dampf’s first mate was doing an equally competent job of informing his captain, so McTrowell could follow the lead of The Iron Eagle when Dampf got his report before she got hers. She relished the vision of Garza’s frustrated face she was conjuring in her head. She hadn’t had so much as a glimpse of Le Lapin or The North Wind since the opening cannon, but she imagined the blocking was having an equally aggravating effect on the other two ships as well.

In addition to its superior speed, The Iron Eagle had the advantage that its captain knew the countryside passing below better than any other competitor. Sparky couldn’t recognize any of the villages passing beneath the Burke & Hare, so she was restricted to estimating the race’s progress by her stopwatch. Then she spotted a large body of water, the Chiemsee. That meant they were approximately two thirds of the way to Salzburg. That meant she had less than twenty five minutes to figure out how she was going to beat The Iron Eagle at the finish line without giving El Toro Rojo an opening to fire the air winch cannons. She tried several scenarios in her head, playing them out and weighing their advantages, disadvantages, and particularly their risks. When she could see Hohensalzburg Castle in the distance, she called Krasnayarubashka back to the bridge.

“Ivan, we only have one chance to win this leg. The Iron Eagle is faster, so we have to take away its wind while continuing to block El Toro Rojo from using its air winches. The warm air will cause an updraft as we approach the bluff on which Hohensalzburg Castle stands. We need to drop down, catch that wind, and rise in front of the Iron Eagle without dropping so far that we give Garza an opening to fire. Is that clear?”

“Da, gospozha doktor lyotchika.”

She grabbed the voicepipe. “Stoke the engines, gentlemen. We’re making a run for it.”

McTrowell wouldn’t have been entirely surprised to see the frantic activity in the engine room of the Spanish ship at that moment, but it was still a sight to behold. It was equally obvious to Garza that he could only hope to get one chance to engage the technical superiority of the air winch cannons and he wanted to be prepared to use them to maximum effect. Crammed into the same space as the steam engine powering El Toro Rojo were three leather sling seats with iron hand rails in front of three identical sets of pedals. A lean, sinewy and very sweaty Spaniard sat in each seat, stripped to the waist in a vain attempt to mitigate the stifling heat and barely managing to hang onto the hand rails from the sweat running down their arms. They were cranking the air winch cannons like they were crossbows, and all three of them were now straining with their last bit of strength to tighten the cables and locking gears one or two more notches.

McTrowell kept an eye on the cockpit of The Iron Eagle, waiting to see the increase in activity that would presage its run for the finish line. She saw the first mate return from his aft position.

“Flaps up, Mr. Krasnayarubashka.”

“Flaps up.”

She gave it as much left rudder as she could, blocking as much of the Iron Eagle’s wind as possible. She counted to herself, estimating how low they could drop without unblocking El Toro Rojo…six, seven, eight. “Flaps down!”

“Flaps down,” Krasnayarubashka responded. McTrowell opened the throttle all the way and the Burke & Hare lurched upward. Sparky’s stomach was left behind. Not because she was unused to the sudden, steep climb, but because The Iron Eagle had surged ahead despite being deprived of its wind. Not only would it win the leg, but it had opened a hole for Garza!

“Disparen!” Garza screamed. Fortunately, his first mate was a cooler head and he only fired the top and starboard air winch cannons. The port cannon would have gutted the Burke & Hare. Unfortunately, the cannons were designed to be fired in unison, so when the pedalers reversed the gearing and pedaled frantically to haul the canopies back in, it dragged the ship wildly off course. The Burke & Hare sailed easily past in the draft of The Iron Eagle. And then Le Lapin snuck by as well. The Burke & Hare was so close behind The Iron Eagle at the finish, Sparky thought she felt the wake of its propeller buffeting her face, but it was only her bitter imagination.

Krasnayarubashka slammed his fist down onto the console. “
Chyort voz’mi!



The Valley Run

Entry for August 7, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Like many of the non-crew, Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake had been watching the race from the common room that was the dining area just the evening before. At Krasnayarubashka’s outcry, he realized the race was over, and sprinted to the outside door leading to the catwalk. Overlooking the railing, he peered down at the excited crowd just a few hundred feet below. The racing official with a large flag indicating completion of the leg started waving it wildly. The crowd, pressed in tight, shoulder-to-shoulder, all raised their arms and shouted in victory. Erasmus thought, “Even with their political differences, the people of Salzburg must see themselves as Bavarians, so the Iron Eagle winning this leg is a huge win for them.”

Soon by his side were Lord Ashleigh and J. B. Fox, also leaning over the rail to see the reaction of the townsfolk. Before either of them had an opportunity to comment, Sparky’s voice could be heard over the voice pipe. All three men retreated back into the airship common room to hear her announcement.

“… and given the challenges of the course and the competitors, placing a close second is an excellent start to the regatta. I understand, as well as all of you, that this race is far from over. Please be aware that we have followers in the crowd down there in Salzburg, as well as the press, and they will see each and every one of us as members of our crew. When you are on the ground, please take care to always show your great enthusiasm for our finishing in second place. The Western & Transatlantic Airship Lines appreciate your cooperation. Personally, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to take the lead tomorrow! I hope you all are with me in this endeavor. Thank you.”

Erasmus looked around the room expecting to see surprised expressions from those that knew Sparky, but they weren’t there. He realized that a side of her that he had not previously seen had just been exposed, which is that she had a great amount of discipline when under pressure and realized that childish emotions do not a great leader make.

Lord Ashleigh turned to Erasmus and flatly stated, “That was far too exciting. I’m stepping into my cabin for a spot of chai. Care to join me?” Erasmus wasn’t really in the mood for the hot beverage, and instead thought he might see if he could spend a moment with Sparky. “I much appreciate the offer, my good friend, but I’m going to tend to my duties to make sure that the crew stays safe during our docking.” Lord Ashleigh smiled politely, executed a small bow, and retreated to his cabin. Erasmus was sure that his excuse did not fool his friend, and he knew the true reason.

As it turned out, the finish line was on the front edge of the airfield of Salzburg. To the port side of the Burke & Hare was the Salzach River, and in front of them on the starboard side was the Mönchsberg Mountain topped by Festung Hohensalzburg, the grand Hohensalzburg Castle, a very impressive sight, particularly when viewed from the sky at eye level. Beyond the airfield were the town cathedrals.

The airfield in front of them had only been made to accommodate one airship at a time on a permanent basis, however four additional towers had been temporarily erected to accommodate the regatta competitors. The Iron Eagle was being flagged towards the permanent tower; perhaps due to their placement in the first leg of the regatta, or perhaps because they were the Bavarian entry. Either way, they had earned their place of honor. The rest of the ships followed the waving of their associated country’s flag at the top of their temporary wooden towers. As the airships carefully descended to moor, the crowd rushed over to meet them.

By the time the crew of the Burke & Hare descended their tower, the crowd of well-wishers was so thick that they couldn’t descend the final steps, and were halted on the stairwell, waving to the throng. It had become clear that every resident of Salzburg had come out to see the conclusion of the first regatta leg, and they had been joined by others who had gotten there by other means. The majority of the shouts from the audience were a mishmash of incomprehensible German to the ears of Erasmus.

A brass band struck up in the distance and the crowd seemed to ease back a bit. This allowed the English-speaking newspaper reporters to come to the fore, pencils in hand and shouting questions to Sparky. It suddenly occurred to Erasmus that the fact that Sparky was the only female pilot in the regatta made her an instant celebrity. Sparky handled each of their questions as she slowly descended the staircase, allowing her crew to get by.

Erasmus and J. B. were surreptitiously armed to the teeth. It was somewhat amazing they didn’t clank as they walked, given the revolvers, swords, and knives that they each had hidden in various locations on their person.

Erasmus and J. B. scanned the crowd, but didn’t see any immediate danger. One unexpected incident happened, though. When Jake entered the throng, he was approached by an enthusiastic young lady who asked him in broken English if he had just disembarked from the Burke & Hare. He innocently replied “yes” to which she threw her arms around him and gave him an incredibly forceful kiss, followed by, “Mine parents are from England land, they live here, yes, we cheer for you! So proud!” She followed this proclamation with an excited little hop followed by another big hug, which actually picked Jake off the ground by a few inches. Jake was, as expected, speechless. After a few seconds of silence, she said, “Please me by staying here. I get parents of mine. Please stay!” She then turned and burrowed her way through the crowd. Jake turned to his father. He just smiled at him, and slowly shook his head.

Sparky was just finishing up with one of the reporters. “I thought it was a fair race. The Iron Eagle did well on defense throughout the leg, and made a clean break for the finish line. My only regret is that in our final maneuver we should have zigged when we zagged, leaving us at a close second. We’re looking forward to the remainder of the regatta.” “Thank you, Dr. McTrowell.” The reporter seemed pleased with this, scribbling quickly, dynamically finishing with a period, and disappearing into the crowd to probably send in his article by telegraph.

The band suddenly changed tunes and at a central podium, Herr Zimmermann called for the pilots to approach. Erasmus and J. B. followed Sparky. The podium was set up in a classic tiered pyramid for awards with five locations for the five pilots. The front of the podium had the Salzburg crest on the front.

The Crest of Salzburg
The Crest of Salzburg


Herr Zimmermann announced the names of the airships and pilots, starting with the fifth-place finisher, The North Wind piloted by Björn Swenson. The tall, blond Swede proudly took the podium, waving wildly at the crowd. Despite coming in last in the first leg, the crowd roared with enthusiasm. Herr Zimmermann then called for Pierre du Guarde of Le Lapin to take his rightful place on the podium. Again the crowd cheered. Philip Garza of the Toro Rojo was then called up to take the third position, and he humbly ascended the podium and bowed to the crowd. Again, a cheer went up. Sparky did her best to hide the rolling of her eyes.

“Finishing a close second, the Burke & Hare, piloted by none other than the illustrious Dr. Sparky McTrowell!” Again the crowd roared, but with the interesting distinction that the ladies’ voices could clearly be heard. As Sparky turned to face the crowd, she removed her signature airship pilot’s headgear and waved it in the air, smiling broadly to the crowd.

“And in first place, our very own Captain Willy Dampf piloting the Iron Eagle!” Willy took half a step toward the podium, but then two large members of his own crew hoisted him up onto their shoulders and carried him to the high central position of the pyramid-shaped podium. He turned and smiled brightly, waved his arms, and the crowd was ecstatic.

Each competitor was then handed a rolled up colored flag to add to the back of their airship to indicate their position in the regatta. The pilots tucked their flags underneath their arms, and waved to the crowd for the last time while on the podium. The band struck up a lively tune that seem to clearly indicate to everyone that the festivities had concluded and it was time for all good citizens to seek their dinner and discuss the intricacies of the regatta.

A dinner for the airship crews had been prepared in the oldest part of town at the Stiftskeller St. Peter. Each airship crew was provided a large table and a suitable Bavarian feast was brought out, starting with garlic and goulash soup, the main course being pig shank with sauerkraut, and finishing with Wiener apfelstrudel.

Erasmus noticed that Reginald Wallace had not joined the crew at the table. Erasmus was less concerned about the political shenanigans that Wallace was probably involved in while he was out and about, and more concerned about his safety. He would be an excellent high-profile target to someone who wanted to interfere with the regatta or who was planning to kidnapp him for ransom. But Drake’s priority was to stay here and protect those from the Burke & Hare who had joined in for dinner. Aldrich and Jake Fremont were there. Lord Ashleigh was also there. Much to the surprise of Erasmus, Virat was seated as a guest. It was interesting to see someone else serving Virat. He was exceedingly polite and was able to get through the meal without uttering a sound save a few hummings of approval.

The talk during the meal at the Burke & Hare table was jovial, but not high-spirited. Jake was able to add to the tales told by saying that when the father of the lass met him, she was more subdued in her excitement, but still gave the impression that Jake was the prize at the end of the race. In comparison, the conversation at the Toro Rojo table was bordering on secretive, with all of their conspiratorial whispering. At the Iron Eagle table, it was clear to Erasmus’ untrained ear that the telling and retelling of the final seconds of the first leg had happened many times, with crew members trading off tales of their expertise, issuing pats on backs, and crew members pouring goblets of wine for each other.

To close the evening out, a quartet played Mozart pieces during dessert, starting with the quiet and sweet Aria from Don Giovanni, followed by a livelier tune from The Magic Flute, and finishing with the rousing Piano Concerto 5 Movement 1.

Sparky walked around the table while the men had seconds of apfelstrudel, thanking the crew and making small talk. She bent down to ear level with Erasmus and J. B. and whispered, “I see that neither of you touched your drinks tonight. Taking your jobs seriously, I see.” She followed it with a polite smile, which the two men mirrored back. “Kid all she wants,” Erasmus thought, “but we will not have another incident here in Salzburg.”

As the music ended, the crews started shuffling out to get a good night’s sleep. Willy Dampf approached Sparky, and offered getting a nightcap at the Stieglkeller. He said it was a bit of a walk up the hill to the fortress, but worth the effort.

“When you say nightcap, don’t you really mean beer?” she retorted. He smiled and said, “Uf course! Chust a small one,” and held his thumb and index finger to indicate a tiny thimble of brew. They both chuckled. Willy added, “I vould like to haf vun uf my crew come vith us. Her von Zeppelin.” A very young, serious-looking and well-dressed man stood up from the Iron Eagle’s table and bowed to Sparky. Willy patted him on the back, saying, “He is a very promising young engineer. Well virth the extra veight on der airship! Ha!” Sparky replied, “Well, of course,” while wondering if a “man” of the age of thirteen should be going to the Stieglkeller after dinner.

J. B. turned to Erasmus. “I’ll shadow the crew back to the airship.”

“I’ll watch Sparky,” and then Erasmus added, “Stay safe.”

The parties went their separate ways. After a climb up the twisting footpath to the fortress, Erasmus found himself seated in a large beer hall with long running communal tables, and a sizable stein of beer in front of him. Sparky, Willy, and von Zeppelin went deep into conversation about airship piloting, defensive strategies, design tradeoffs, and the topography of tomorrow’s run. While Willy enjoyed a couple of steins, Sparky nursed a glass, and von Zeppelin had a low-alcohol variant of the local beer. Erasmus had plenty of time to look around the brew house.

Two tables over, he spotted Krasnayarubashka talking to someone, perhaps a local of Salzburg. They must have been friends from before, given the animated conversation and how exhilarated they were to see each other. Their Russian was spoken quickly and enthusiastically, and they were toasting frequently. Erasmus continued scanning the room, keeping an eye on Sparky and Krasnayarubashka, but the evening continued to be uneventful.

When Sparky finally drained her glass, she and Willy stood. She extended her hand for shaking, but Willy took it for kissing. Sparky quickly looked toward Erasmus, concerned about his reaction. She saw a raised eyebrow for a split second, then the solemn face of the man protecting her.

All four of them proceeded back down the path away from the Hohensalzburg Castle, and to the airship grounds. They parted company quickly, given the hour, and von Zeppelin’s best attempts to appear a mature adult and not an utterly exhausted boy. Neither Sparky nor Erasmus mentioned the hand-kissing incident during the ascent of the Burke & Hare’s tower, although they were both thinking about it.

The singing of the early-rising birds made sure that no one in any of the airship slept past daybreak. Despite the best efforts of Luis-Miguel, few of the Burke & Hare crew were interested in breakfast given the size of the meal the previous night. By nine o’clock, most of the carefully-made mushroom and cheese omelets had been tossed to the same birds that woke the crew.

The crew readied the airship for the second leg. J. B. and Erasmus traded tasks, and J. B. followed Sparky and Krasnayarubashka to the pre-race rituals, and Erasmus stayed to guard the crew. Was he avoiding Sparky due to a polite hand kiss? He didn’t want to ponder that too long. He had a crew to watch over.

Erasmus first verified that everyone was on board, even Reginald Wallace. Reginald had retired directly back to his cabin after his light breakfast of tea and toast, and seemed to be nursing a hangover. Perhaps he was more worried about the outcome of this regatta than Erasmus would have expected. But it was not for Erasmus to worry about, or care about, for that matter. Owners of businesses seem to worry about everything all the time, so Erasmus figured that Reginald was just sleeping in the bed that he had made for himself.

Erasmus had taken must of the morning watching six crew members hard at work on the preparation of the boilers and steam engine. There were the usual activities of lubricating everything, and verifying that the water taken on board was as pure as possible so as not to clog the tubes between the boilers and engine while under seam.

Erasmus learned about the Burke & Hare’s unique two-boiler system. To maximize the power output, spherical boilers were used, with high-temperature coal that was packed over three-quarters of the boilers surface area. This provided a very fast-heating boiler, allowing the Burke & Hare to provide sudden bursts of speed, sprinting, if you will. But due to the size of the boiler, it would require more than one boiler’s worth of steam to make it through a leg of the regatta. For this reason, a two-boiler system was used; as soon as the second boiler was up to pressure, a steam transference switch could be thrown, allowing the steam engine a new power source in the blink of an eye. It also meant that new water could be introduced into the system without loss of pressure by pouring it into the standby boiler. Spherical boilers also reduced the chance of a boiler explosion.

Erasmus marveled at the complexity of the system. Heat vents from the boilers directed wasted heat to the air in the envelopes, maintaining the heated, and therefore expanded, air in the gargantuan balloon that gave lift to the airship. The steam engine was a two-stage, piston-style mechanism that allowed the steam that exited the first set of pistons to be used to power a second set, taking full advantage of the power left in the steam. The ability to collect the steam and send it back to the boilers was a possibility, but the additional tubes and coolers were too much additional weight for a racing vessel. To add to that reasoning, a closed-pressure system required too much care and raised the risk of something going wrong. Given that the waste steam from the engine was released into a special rubber lined envelope that was allowed to fill, be removed by hand, and cooled, and the condensed water was poured into the standby boiler. The activity to keep all of the power system working was a full time job for three or four of the crew, and all six when they planned a boiler switch-over.

Just over the roar of the boiler fires, Erasmus could hear the bass drum and brass horns of the band outside kick into a rousing march, and heard the scuffling of feet as Sparky, Krasnayarubashka, and J.B. return to the ship to prepare for launch. Erasmus left the engine compartment and went upstairs to check in with J.B and snoop on Sparky.

She had the look of a woman who desperately wanted to transition to a useful task. She had attended the pre-launch activities in her pilot’s uniform so that she wouldn’t have to change clothes, and immediately took the helm and rattled off a list of pre-launch instructions to Krasnayarubashka, who did his best to keep up with her. J.B. gave a full and overly formal report to Erasmus in about twenty-five seconds that boiled down to the fact that nothing of interest happened.

In twenty short minutes, the Burke & Hare was on the starting line, carefully controlling its position. The common room, which was directly behind the bridge, held most of the non-crewing passengers: Wallace, J. B., Aldrich and Jake Fremont, the referee Herr Fenstermacher, Lord Ashleigh and, taking a rare break from the galley, Luis-Miguel Sevilla. The only non-crew missing was Virat, who was no doubt in one of Lord Ashleigh’s cabin rooms performing the never-ending undertakings to keep his master’s world in exemplary condition.

The flurry of activity on the bridge was incredible. No less than six topographic charts were on sideboards, held in place by clamps. Between the rapid conversations on the voice pipes to the engine room and the fast exchanges between Sparky and Krasnayarubashka, it was clear to Erasmus that the intensity was far greater for this run. From the bits and pieces of concentrated technical dialogue and complex gestures toward the various charts, Erasmus was able to gather that the airships had a good deal of freedom as to how they could get from the Salzburg starting line to the Innsbruck finish line. However, it was foolish to fly high and suffer the fickle mountain gales. It was wiser to stay in the valleys where the winds were more predictable in both strength and direction. For this reason, all of the airships were initially headed north. Sparky’s strategy was to turn hard to port as soon as Mönchsberg Mountain was cleared, head west to cross over the town of Bad Reichenhall. From there, it would be rough going over hilly terrain until passing over Kiefersfeldon. That was the eastern end of the remaining valley run to Innsbruck. There were a number of route choices over the hilly area, but it came down to choosing between sprinting ahead or defensively blocking opponents from gaining a lead. The plan also rested on seeing what the other airships were going to do tactically, so planning only allowed the Burke & Here pilots an understanding of their options. Erasmus was startled out of his contemplation by the starting cannon. The steam engine roar, the thrust from the propeller, and the shouts from the crowd meant the race was on.

Erasmus went back down to the engine room to see the activity that kept full power to a sprinting airship. It was inspirational to see the back-breaking effort to keep the muscles of such an athletic vessel running smoothly. Coal was shoveled. Water levels and pressures were checked every few seconds. Joints were lubricated. Vibrations were controlled. Steam exhaust bags were changed. Flap cables were checked for tension. Air flow ribbons were examined and reported back to the helm. Envelope pressure and stress was verified and compensated for. The six crew members were drenched in sweat, laboring to make sure that the craft literally flew off the starting line. Erasmus imagined that the crowd was staring up, pop-eyed, as the flying behemoths achieved top speed in a matter of minutes, and their shouts turned to gasps of disbelief.

Erasmus knew from the regatta briefs that this run was about 85 miles long, a good 14 miles longer than the flat run from Munich to Salzburg. That meant more water, coal, time, and stress. This was going to be a true test of the crew and vessel.

It was only minutes later that the Burke & Hare banked around the Mönchsberg Mountain. Erasmus lost his balance and grabbed for the nearest rope hold. The crew all made a simple weight shift in their stance and continued their whirl of activity. Erasmus smiled at their talent, and headed back upstairs to the common room.

The airships had spread out as they headed across the flat plain to Bad Reichenhall. Despite the Burke & Hare’s best effort, it was still nose-to-nose with the other airships. They all had chosen the same altitude, approximately 200 feet up, where the winds were most favorable. Looking forward, El Toro Rojo had taken the rightmost position, neighbored by Le Lapin, the Burke & Hare in the middle, then the Iron Eagle, and on the far left was the North Wind. From a race perspective, the Burke & Hare was in a favorable position. To make headway on her required to not only to gain ground, but also to be clear enough to cut in front. And since she was in the middle, where she went the others had to follow or change altitude, or be disqualified by bumping airships. With all the airships under full-steam, they sky-wrote a musical staff across the sky with their trails of water vapor at just under 80 miles per hour.

Looming ahead past Bad Reichenhall were three side-by-side mountains, with each of their peaks standing about 3,000 feet above the plain floor. Sparky’s plan was to follow the Saalach River to the valley between the left of the middle mountain, limiting the amount of climbing required. The danger was that allowed the Toro Rojo to take the rightmost valley and use their air winch cannons without interference from the other airships. But at this clip and given the upcoming terrain, the Burke & Hare would be foolish to change to defense now. So on she pushed, toward the leftmost valley.

Just over Bad Reichenhall, Sparky saw the firing of the air winch cannons from El Toro Rojo. The three bundled sail spring out ahead, trailing their lines behind them. The initial effect was to cause the Toro Rojo to lose about 15 feet off the rest of the pack from the force of firing the sails forward. All three lines suddenly went taught, and the umbrella-shaped sails opened fully. They must have changed the size of their sails overnight, since they were visibly larger than the day before. They were hauled back in at an astounding speed, thrusting the Toro Rojo forward. When the maneuver was completed, the Toro Rojo had gained a half of a ship length on the rest of the airships.

Sparky’s initial impression was that it was a great deal of effort for such a small gain, but if properly timed, half an airship’s length is the difference between a win and an also-ran. It was clear that El Toro Rojo wanted to get into that valley first, so they must have been shooting for the same valley as the Burke & Hare. Sparky grabbed the voice pipe. “I need a high-head sprint! Double-up on the boilers if you must! On my count. Three ... two ... one ... now!”

Erasmus saw both Sparky and Krasnayarubashka grab for handholds, so he leapt to do the same. As fast as he thought the Burke & Hare was going, the airship lurched forward, and Sparky dropped the nose to gain some additional speed through gravity. Although Erasmus had been standing, everyone else in the common room was sitting except Wallace, who landed on his rump. He was up fast enough, but with his hangover eliminated and his dignity slightly bruised.

Although 30 feet lower than before, the Burke & Hare was ten feet in front of El Toro Rojo. Over the voice pipe, the echoey shouts from the engine room could be heard, “High-head sprint over in three ... two ... one ... done!” The airship slowed back to the previous race speed, but she was in an excellent position.

Transitioning into the valley was claustrophobic. Due to the close conditions, both Le Lapin and Iron Eagle dropped back so as not to cause contact between themselves. Due to Sparky’s maneuver, the Burke & Hare’s envelope was now at the same altitude as El Toro Rojo’s gondola, forcing it to have to gain altitude, and lose a bit of speed. The North Wind tried to stay abreast of the Burke & Hare as long as possible, but when their envelope was within three feet of the Burke & Hare’s, Herr Fenstermacher stood bravely on the port-side catwalk and blew his whistle and waved off the encroaching North Wind. Since the Burke & Hare had the lead, they had priority to proceed, and the other airships had to give way.

Sparky smiled at their well-timed maneuver, and let out a very American “Woo-hoo!” Even with their lead, Sparky turned to Krasnayarubashka and stated, “The fact that the Iron Eagle didn’t try to use their raw speed to take the lead, they must be purposely letting us do the rough front work while they wait to come from behind. We need to watch them when the valley opens up.”

The formation remained through the narrow valley with the Burke & Hare in the lead, El Toro Rojo and the North Wind side-by-side behind, trailed by the Iron Eagle alongside of Le Lapin. Sparky pushed the tempo of the race since the Burke & Hare was rather maneuverable. Krasnayarubashka found a very favorable wind at 180 feet, which was dangerously close to the minimum altitude for the leg of 150 feet above the ground. However, all of the ships were following her lead, as close as they could without being called for drafting. The sharp right turn at the town of Lofer that went through the narrow pass made the Burke & Hare’s gondola swing out to the port side, and gasps from the common room were audible. It was possible to see the individual goats grazing on the mountainsides, and that just seemed all too close for those who hadn’t raced before.

Sparky executed another hard right at Kirchdorf in Tirol, entering an even narrower valley to negotiate. The train of high-speed airships whipped thorough the passage, not a single one of them having the room to perform a pass. A hard left at Kössen and the valley began to open up, given breathing room to the brisk race.

The town of Kiefersfelden was ahead, nestled at the junction of three major valleys. It was a major decision point for Sparky, since she had to decide to stay low and follow the prevailing current, or hug the mountains on her left and head into the next valley while forcing the North Wind over and crowd out EL Toro Rojo. It was riskier, but she decided to hug the mountains.

Over the voice pipe she asked, “Can I get another sprint here and save one for the finish?” “Not possible given the coal and water. Only one push left,” was all the answer she got.

“Krasnayarubashka, do you think we can hug that hillside and catch a favorable updraft?” “Eta big reesk. But I vill try.”

At that, Krasnayarubashka tightened his chin strap, and rushed out onto the catwalk on the port side, holding on with one hand, and sticking his other out over the side into the wind, feeling for a minor change while the airship flew ahead. Sparky leaned the ship over toward the hillside. The rules were clear on this, she could only fly so low, but she could get as close to the mountainside as she wished, as long as they didn’t hit anything. Erasmus held his breath as they leaned closer and closer. Trees flew past. Sparky made the Burke & Hare climb a bit. The other airships weren’t willing to go that close, and were maneuvering around the mountain at a safer distance.

Suddenly, Krasnayarubashka gave a thumb’s up, and Sparky tipped the nose of the Burke & Hare up and pulled the release for the horizontal sail. The Burke & Hare sprouted wings on each side that caught the updraft that was riding over the sides of the mountain, and lifted the ship. It felt like the airship was in another sprint, but it was gaining altitude, and the pitch of the engine noise hadn’t changed. It had the feeling of falling up, and gaining forward speed.

The pack of airships responded as Sparky had hoped. The North Wind gave the mountain more room, forcing El Toro Rojo to swing wide around the turn. Le Lepin and the Iron Eagle did likewise. Krasnayarubashka fought his way back into the airship, and retook his place at the helm, looking amazingly wind-worn. With another release pull, the horizontal wing sails collapsed, retracted, and fastened to the sides of the airship’s envelope.

Coming into the final valley run, the Burke & Hare was an airship and half ahead of the North Wind, which was now leading El Toro Rojo. Le Lapin and the Iron Eagle were neck and neck, but bringing up the rear.

There were only two more locations where the valley widened for the remainder of the route: at the town of Kirchbichl and at Innsbruck itself. Erasmus thought that if Sparky could maintain her lead through Kirchbichl, she could sprint her way to the finish.

Within a minute of gaining the lead on the corner, the town of Kirchbichl was in sight. That’s when it happened. The Iron Eagle turned up their engines and came around El Toro Rojo, with the plan to not only gain the lead, but also to block another use of their air winch cannons. El Toro Rojo responded by dropping down quickly to keep a clear passage ahead. With the Iron Eagle out of the way, and El Toro Rojo dropped down, Le Lapin earned their name in a half-minute dash that gained a 50-foot climb and a sprint over the top of El Toro Rojo. They gained a full half airship length, and legally began their descent side-by-side with the Burke & Hare. But it was too late. The command to fire the air winch cannons had already been given.

The top middle cannon shot its umbrella sail into the back of Le Lapin, ripping a giant hole in the back of its envelope, deploying the canopy inside Le Lapin’s envelope, and tangling the attached rope into the French airship’s series of three propellers. At first the spinning propeller pulled El Toro Rojo toward the entangled airship. As soon as the rope went fully taut, Le Lapin’s main propeller suddenly stopped rotating, its steam engine seized, and a loud popping echoed throughout the valley. All of the racing crews knew that noise; it was the breaking of mechanical components under high pressure. A specialty release valve instantly fired within the heart of Le Lapin, and scalding steam billowed out of the sides of the damaged airship.

With the steam from Le Lapin pouring over the sides of the Burke & Hare, Sparky took the airship hard to port to escape damage. But for the rest of the regatta, with the disabled Le Lapin in front of them, this created an instant airship traffic jam. The Iron Eagle had to instantly climb over the Le Lapin, while the North Wind turned sideways to attempt to stop as quickly as possible, swinging their gondola back and forth in a manner that would have made a strong man’s stomach flip over. But El Toro Rojo got the worst of it. The ropes from the cannons were made to be reeled back in, but there was no easy way to cut them loose. With the top cannon line attached to an airship that had a punctured envelope, they both lost altitude quickly.

Erasmus knew that it would be foolish to have the envelopes be one giant bag of hot air. Ironically. this accident was an interesting way to learn how these structures were segmented. Apparently, Le Lapin used a three-segment approach that allowed for one of the segments to be completely pierced, and the other two to gently lower it to the ground. That is, unless it was tethered to another airship.

Le Lapin hung by its tail, tipped at a thirty-degree angle, nose down. El Toro Rojo was now supporting a heavier-than-air object by a line connected to the top of its envelope, twisting El Toro Rojo sideways, and forcing its gondola up to the starboard side.

But no whistles were blown, and the Burke & Hare rushed on. The Iron Eagle had slowed its progress, but then rushed forward at full speed. The North Wind was less fortunate. It had to come to a full stop, gain altitude, which was very time-consuming given that they were in a regatta, and then restart their race to the finish.

The regatta was now quite spread out through the final valley run. The Burke & Hare was two airship lengths ahead of the Iron Eagle, and the North Wind trailed by a half mile.

Sparky shouted back to Erasmus, “Is everyone on board safe and sound?” J. B. and Erasmus sprinted off to check on those who weren’t in plain sight. J. B. ran to Lord Ashleigh’s cabin to verify that Virat was not injured, and Erasmus sprinted downstairs. Both returned reporting no casualties, although the sudden turn to avoid disaster surprised even the veteran crew.

By the time Innsbruck was in sight, The Iron Eagle had gained on the Burke & Hare, and was one airship length behind. The anticipation was Sparky’s enemy. She didn’t want to lose another leg to bad timing after leading most of the race.

“Gospodin Krasnayarubashka, you choose the time for the sprint.”

“Me, Gospozha Doctor Lyotcheeka McTrowell? If you order it so, I vill do.”

The co-pilot took a mental triangulation on the nearby landmarks of mountains, steeples, and the finish line flags. He knew the Burke & Hare had about twenty seconds of sprint in her.

Over the voice pipe he shouted, “I please need high-head sprint! On my count. Tree ... two ... one ... now!”

Sparky hung on to the pilot’s handholds, but looked out the starboard side window to see the Iron Eagle’s sprint that brought the nose of their ship up even to the window of the Burke & Hare’s bridge, and she smiled.

The Burke & Hare lunged forward, and the nose of the Iron Eagle retreated as a band below struck up a lively tune, marking the finish of the second leg. The Burke & Hare had finished first.

Reginald Wallace let out a “Woo-hoo,” but everyone knew he was just not doing it right. But that was okay; it was for all the right reasons.

Erasmus looked at Sparky and she at him, and they smiled. He thought, “What a woman. What a woman.”




The Mountain Run

Entry for August 19, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Captain Dampf’s spirits were not quite as high as usual that night in Innsbruck as they sat drinking lagers at Bierwirt. Despite the Burke & Hare’s win that day, the Iron Eagle was still leading, but by a maddeningly thin margin of 47 seconds. Although Dampf had managed to hang on to the first place flag, it was McTrowell whose hand Emperor Franz Josef had shaken first. And it would be her picture on the front page of the broadsheets the next day. It was not a particularly proud day for the German Confederation.

The Crest of Innsbruck
The Crest of Innsbruck

However, by comparison to the Spanish and French situation, it was positively festive. Of course Le Lapin was out of the race, being damaged beyond repair. The only saving grace was the drag of El Toro Rojo had slowed its descent sufficiently that no one had been injured … unless one counted Pierre du Guarde’s pride. He had screamed to the judge and referees for a full twenty minutes about the “scandal” of the whole thing, but there was really no point. His ship was ruined. Señor Garza had screamed for another twenty minutes about the gross unfairness of being disqualified since du Guarde had “obviously” caused the incident. There was really no point to his display either because everyone else had clearly seen that it was his fault. Honor, sportsmanship, and international relations left no room for any action beside the Spanish entry’s complete disqualification.

Drake sat at Sparky’s elbow performing his beer sipping charade and paying more attention to the crowd around them than the conversation. Sergeant Fox sat by himself near the door performing the same act, but somehow sitting at attention. Although they were now well out of Munich, they were taking no chances given the boldness of the “gypsies.” Between the sentry duty and Dampf’s doldrums, their evening out didn’t last long, nor did Dampf do his usual damage to the establishment’s stores of beer. Sparky suspected that, like herself, he was planning for the next day’s leg to Vaduz, Liechtenstein, for which he wanted to be fresh and rested. It was barely dark when they all headed back to their respective ships.

Drake and McTrowell strolled back to the airship field with Sergeant Fox trailing behind like a Chinese wife, but with his head held high, on the alert for any danger. As they approached the mooring tower, a figure separated from the shadow.

“Dr. McTrowell …” was all the figure managed to utter before Drake tackled it and Fox cinched it into a headlock. In the earnest wrestling that ensued, the would-be assailant’s face flashed under the light of the lantern mounted on the tower and McTrowell recognized him.

“Mr. Fremont!” Drake and Fox stopped in the middle of pinning Aldrich Fremont with his hands behind his back.

“Bloody hell! What’s the meaning of this insult?” Fremont struggled to his feet and straightened his clothes with umbrage. Drake dusted himself off and replaced his bowler firmly on his head.

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Fremont. We mistook you for a miscreant who intended to do violence to Dr. McTrowell. Please accept my apologies.”

“I only wished to congratulate the good doctor on her brilliant win today.” He huffed and glared at Drake and Fox.

“Thank you, Mr. Fremont, although it was a testament to the ability of the entire crew to work together. I’m hoping tomorrow will be just as successful. To that end, I think all of us could use a good night’s sleep.” She fixed Drake and Fox with a meaningfully stony stare before heading up the tower.

McTrowell was making her way to the bridge the next morning when Aldrich approached her again, looking around cautiously for her guard dogs before getting close.

“Hello again, Dr. McTrowell.”

“Good morning, Mr. Fremont.” She dearly hoped he would get to the point quickly because she hadn’t much time to finish preparations for the day’s leg. She gave him her best I’m-in-a-hurry-so-get-on-with-it look.

“That chief inspector.”

“Yes?” Clearly she needed to spend time brushing up on her repertoire of meaningful looks.

“He’s quite prickly.”

“Excuse me?”

“Quite stuffy and full of himself.”

“Um.”

“I can’t imagine why that good Mr. Wallace allows his presence on this airship. Don’t you agree?”

“Un-huh. I really must get to work.” She tried her aren’t-you-lucky-you-inherited-something-valuable-because-you-haven’t-the-wits-to-come-in-from-the-rain look. It had no more discernable effect than the get-on-with-it look. Yes, when this was over, she really needed to find a good mirror and put in some practice time.

“Dobry dien, Mr. Krasnayarubashka. Are you ready for another day of adventure?”

“Da, da, Gospozha Doctor Lyotcheeka McTrowell. Flying vit you is always beeg excitement.”

“This mountain run is going to be tricky because I don’t know where the updrafts will be and we’ll be going over too many peaks to risk making a critically wrong guess on them. It’s valley from here over Zirl to Telfs. My plan is to tail the Iron Eagle as closely as possible without getting penalized for drafting. Dampf knows these mountains, so he’ll make good decisions almost everywhere and we’ll follow his lead…closely. When he makes a mistake, we’ll correct course before we make the same one.”

“But, Gospozha Doctor Lyotcheeka McTrowell, how vill ve vin if ve follow all de vay?”

“We will conserve fuel by staying on the optimal course. When we get over Bludenz, we’ll make an all out run for it.”

“Are you sure you are not descended from Genghis Khan or Ivan Grozny?” She only smiled at him.

When the starting gun fired, Sparky counted slowly to five before opening the throttle gently while Krasnayarubashka lifted the flaps to fall in behind the Iron Eagle. She rested her hand lightly on the throttle, carefully keeping the Burke & Hare out of the turbulence of the Iron Eagle. As Zirl came into view below, she spotted the first mate of the Iron Eagle making his way around the outside of its gondola. He glanced up at the North Wind that was taking the “high road,” but obviously Dampf was no more worried about them than Sparky was. The first mate glared at the Burke & Hare in the Iron Eagle’s wake and scurried back toward the bridge. No sooner than he disappeared from view than Herr Fenstermacher appeared on the bridge of the Burke & Hare. He pulled out his telescope, studied each edge of the envelope of the Iron Eagle, made some numerical notes and calculations in his notebook, and checked the time on his pocket watch. But he said nothing.

After a period of time that Sparky estimated to be 10 minutes, Fenstermacher pulled out his pocket watch and stared at it for several seconds. He snapped it shut, pulled out his telescope, and repeated his scanning and note taking and calculation activity. But this time he said something.

“Fraulein McTrowell, you are dancherously close to being called drahfting.”

“How dangerously close?” She never took her eyes off the Iron Eagle.

“Sree point fife yards too close.”

Sparky closed the throttle very slowly to back off from the Iron Eagle before establishing a position she judged to be four yards farther behind it. Fenstermacher remained on the bridge for a few more minutes before departing without a word. The door clicked closed and Sparky opened up the throttle very slowly, making sure as to maintain this distance. When she returned to her previous established speed behind the Iron Eagle, she heard Krasnayarubashka chuckle softly.

“Play to win.”

No sooner had they passed over Telfs than the Iron Eagle began to take evasive maneuvers, trying to shake the Burke & Hare off its tail. McTrowell remained steadfast without wasting fuel to follow Dampf’s contortions. The dance became more frantic as they passed Lech. Both McTrowell and Dampf knew there was less than an hour left in the leg and letting the more maneuverable Burke & Hare pass would give away the lead. As a result, the stretch between Lech and Bludenz was uneventful while Dampf attempted to conserve fuel. McTrowell sent Krasnayarubashka aft to check the progress of the North Wind. By blazing his own path, Swenson had put himself at sufficient disadvantage to not be a contender in the mountain leg.

“Coming up on him from below didn’t work last time, Mr. Krasnayarubashka. We’re going to come down on him from above this time.” She grabbed the voice pipe. “Gentlemen, double-up the boilers. We’re about to burn up all the fuel we’ve saved.”

“Flaps up, Mr. Krasnayarubashka.”

“Flaps up.”

She opened up the throttle three-quarters of the way, angling the Burke & Hare upward at a precarious angle amusingly similar to the broadsheet Wallace had shown her the day he finagled her into this mess. She opened up the throttle the rest of the way, shooting over the top of the Iron Eagle. She knew she was counting on the element of surprise because her faster opponent would win if she didn’t get ahead of him before he saw it coming.

“Flaps down, Mr. Krasnayarubashka.”

“Flaps down.”

They cut in front of the Iron Eagle as closely as possible without bumping and Sparky held the throttle wide open. She wondered if the Iron Eagle’s referee was lecturing Captain Dampf about drafting. Vaduz Castle rose into view. It was a straight shot and the throttle was wide open, so there was nothing for Sparky to do but keep an eye out and take deep breaths to calm her jangling nerves. Suddenly out of the corner of her eye she spotted the tip of the Iron Eagle’s envelope coming up on the starboard side. “Damn!” she thought. The engines couldn’t put out any more and the finish line was from the ground to the stars, so climbing or descending would only contribute to a greater loss. It was all over except for the sulking and second-guessing. She glanced at Ivan who was also looking starboard and whose expression was as disappointed as hers. The two of them scanned back and forth sullenly between the advancing Iron Eagle and the finish line.

On her fourth or fifth check on the Iron Eagle she thought it looked like it had receded. Ivan had a look of surprise on his face that suggested he had seen the same thing. They both registered the shared hope on their faces. They stared to the starboard. They watched the tip of the Iron Eagle disappear out of view behind them. It was quite literally running out of steam!

“It vorked!” Krasnayarubashka yelped. He slapped Sparky hard on the shoulder.

“Throttle, Ivan. Throttle.”

“Oh, da,” he replied sheepishly as she steadied her shaking hand.

She was holding her breath as they crossed the finish line. A cheer went up in the common room and she let out her breath. She turned and shook Krasnayarubashka’s hand vigorously.
“Please take her down, Ivan.”


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