The Basics of Flight
by Joyce Chng
PART TWO: FLIGHT
Chapter Three: Dynamics
It was going to be Her Majesty’s Aerial Fleet, a proud assembly of her finest fins and other aerodynamic marvels. It was going to be a great display of Britannia’s ingenuity and talent – and Paul Forrester mused as he scrutinized the blue prints before him closely – and military prowess as well. As much as he hated war and politics, he knew that the Queen was keen to declare to the world that Britannia was a strong military nation, even in the New Age of Science and Logic.
He had read many historical texts and knew that wars, bloody and destructive as they were, were products of dynamics. Like the cog-wheels in his machines and inventions, these dynamics depended on each other in a deadly symbiosis of needs, desires and interests.
The blue prints were not lying. The clear lines were there, drawn, defined. He managed to get a copy from his colleague Smith who obtained it from the inventor designing the ship.
Are we going to be minnows in a vast ocean? Forrester stared at the shape of the vessel. Everyone would just end up eating one another.
Mrs Pott appeared with a tray of tea and some homemade oatmeal cookies. The fresh sweet smell filled his workshop. It was a comforting scent, reminding him of the warm kitchen.
“Just received Alethia’s letter from the Academy.” She flourished an envelope dramatically. It was the color of parchment, sealed with red wax.
Alethia. His precious daughter. He looked away from the damning blue prints and thanked the housekeeper warmly. She had looked after his little girl ever since she was a baby, pulled from her mother’s stomach to save her life. She was the only mother Alethia had known in her whole childhood. She would be turning twenty soon, no longer his little girl, but a young woman.
His heart sank when he read the letter. She was one of the chosen few to take part in the Great Gathering. He should be brimming with fatherly pride. Yet… yet, seeing the blue prints and knowing what kind of vessels would be launched made him more perturbed.
He kept seeing her in front of him. Pale, almost white hair, smooth-skinned, looking as if she was fragile. She was not. She was no porcelain doll. She was made of stronger stuff, all steel inside. When she was just a toddler, people would make comments about her blindness, that he should be pampering and coddling her. She was not an invalid, as he always told himself. Never. She had her mother’s fierce determination, a fiery spirit, though she did not display it often.
It would be a Great Gathering. Of what manner of greatness, Paul Forrester did not want to think about. With an heavy heart, he went back to the blue prints and started to make notes about it.
Far away from the machinations of London, Cornwall was a quiet county and Victor very much preferred it to remain that well. He was only a fisherman, from a long line of fishermen. The sea was in his blood and he was more than happy to spend his mornings in his boat and netting fish.
There was some talk in the marketplace, where the fishermen would gather and sort out their catch, about the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. God bless Her Majesty. And life would still go on. His wife, Martha, had just given birth to a boy, his fifth child. Food on the table and clean clothes to wear were more important than courtly pomp and pageantry.
Oh bloody hell, the net was exceedingly heavy today. Heavier than his usual catch which he would easily haul with his considerably strong right hand. Must be something big – a large salmon, perhaps – caught in the net. A fat salmon with roe would feed his family well or fetch a few shillings from the market. Either way, it was good.
He pulled the net, heaved it into the boat dripping with seawater and writhing with live fish. Looked like a sizeable catch. As expected, there was something large bulging the net. He leaned forward to look at it…
… only to stare into baleful eyes, the color of black polished stone. And a crescent-grin filled with toothy malice.
Victor jumped back. He should be accustomed to the sight of sharks. But this one was an odd blighter, with a long horn protruding from its head. And what a strange tail. It was more serpent than shark. He prodded it; it was already dead, probably of exertion, crimson blood trickling from its gills.
A serpent shark. Now that would scare his children, though his oldest – Henry – might just relish the tale as all pre-adolescent boys would when it comes to the macabre and the strange.
He yanked it to one side of the boat, noting how heavy it was, though streamlined. It must have been beautiful in water. This random thought startled Victor and he laughed at himself for being such a sentimental fool. Back to work.
The streets of London teemed with her citizens. There were boys holding the day’s broadsheets, shouting to attract business. Fashionable ladies and well-dressed gentlemen, dapper in well-tailored coats and pants, walked down Hyde Park. By now, the word that there would be a Golden Jubilee and a Great Gathering had spread throughout the city like wild fire. Extravagantly painted posters were pasted in prominent areas, so that people would take note of the date and the time.
Gossip was rampant in the salons, in the coffeehouses and in Kew Gardens where spectators had gathered to watch the blooming of yet another exquisite tropical orchid species. Who were the nations invited? Japan? Austria? France? The protectorates of the British East India Company? What kind of flying marvels would be showcased? What kind of Fleet was Her Majesty putting together? Was it solely Her Majesty’s idea or was it by her ambitious Chamberlain and his cronies?
One thing was for sure: they could hardly wait to see the new flying vessels. A new design, purportedly by a secret inventor. It would be grand. Magnificent.
TO BE CONTINUED!