Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Hot, Steaming Cup of It

Gregor rotated the brass cup in his hand as he stared out of the window. He watched the busy coffee shop move about, ignorant of what was going on around them. The landing of the Splendid Victoria had made the news and every kid on a street corner had a stack of papers with a picture of the mostly-intact ship.

The crew hadn’t made the news though. Captains get their pictures taken and war heroes get films made about them, but engineers made things happen and if they were really good they might get some notoriety in their obituary.

“Sir?” Lively was the first to speak up.

Gregor shook his head like he was coming out of a dream and looked at her.

“What’s the word from command? How bad is it?” She knew it was bad, but Gregor clutched his brass cup and took another drink of the sweetened black coffee before he spoke.

“Discharged. All of us. For ‘endangering fifty-five enlisted soldiers and service men and women, defacing one of the queen’s flagships,’ and apparently the frame of the gasbag landed on some cows so we’re being held for that too. Been nice working with all of you, but our military days are done.”

Silence reigned at the table for a few seconds before Pepper snorted, “Cows. We saved half a hundred lives and get the shaft for killing moo-cows. How divine. How bovine.”

Digger finished his tea in a long pull and slammed the tin cup on the table, making Pepper jump. “So then sir, what’s the next move?”

Gregor raised an eyebrow, “Next move? There is no next move Digger. We’re done and we’ll be lucky to find work with a dishonorable discharge from the Queen’s Air-Navy.”

“There’s always a next move sir. If you can’t move forward you turn, if you can’t turn you jump, and when you’re good enough at jumping you fly. So what’s the next move?”

Everyone at the table stared at Digger for a few moments. Then they turned to each other, uncertain what could or should be said to that.

Bigger placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder, “You’re right. We keep moving. We find another ship. If we can’t work military we can work civilian. No matter what command has said, we took a failed engine and landed a massive ship ourselves with a crew of six. Way I see it we’re the second-best damn engineers in the British Empire.”

Jonas chuckled, “And who’s the first?”

“I have no clue Jonas, but I don’t want you to get a big head thinking noone’s better than you.” The whole table had a laugh at that, even Jonas.

Gregor cleared his throat, “Alright then team. We find a ship that needs a crew, and we keep on flying. We may be stuck in a giant, hot, steaming cup of it, but let’s see if we can’t turn this into a little brown joy.”

“And that analogy sir,” Chimed in Lively, “Is exactly why we don’t let you brew tea.”

Jonas's Cup of Joe

The cups around the table spoke volumes of those who held them, and it was my prerogative to notice these little details. I’m the new-kid of the crew and I haven’t quite earned my wings in their books, but I’ll be scrapped and solder before I let them get the once-over on me.

Gregor was an easy read. He drank his coffee black in a brass cylinder. When he was angry about something he would add sugar. One sugar meant that something had gone wrong in a machine, two meant he was angry with someone on the crew or a commanding officer, any more than that meant that he wanted to cause irreparable reconstructive changes to people, property, or environments. Today he’d put in five. Only Bigger was willing to sit next to him.

Bigger was more complex. He steamed his own milk in the heat-sink of his brother’s arm and added it to his coffee along with nutmeg and cinnamon. The mixture was drank from a ceramic mug with scroll-work that I hadn’t completely made out since he always had one hand on the cup. The cup was just like Bigger, a part of the whole was always hidden from even my eye. If anyone on the crew knew his real name they weren’t telling, but the gears in his mind were always turning, cranking and clanking out new ideas and solutions. He feared little and shied away from less, but he always examined any problem from as many angles as time would allow him. He could crush my skull without thinking, but something tells me that he’d just as easily think of a way for me to do it to myself. Thankfully I’ve never known a malicious man to take nutmeg in his coffee.

Digger was a polar opposite to his brother. A clockwork arm, an iron jaw, and two piston powered legs made him as much machine as he was man, but he drank tea from a tin cup with a drop of steamed milk and one sugar. He was simple, unrefined, and yet altogether unstoppable. I’d learned that Bigger had been the man to make the parts for his brother, but that it was Digger’s will to live which made him such a presence. He didn’t talk much, and almost all of what he said was a tie-on to something someone else had said. For all this his humor was low-brow, but fantastically timed. We may have been a crew of air-ship engineers, but Digger reminded me of a steam-powered locomotive.

Three sugars and equal parts tea and milk went into a squat mug made of Brass with a narrow iron neck lightly steamed in front of Lively. I had no idea what her first name was, but she was probably the smartest engineer I’d ever met. She’d designed the cup herself, each time it was lifted and set back down it rotated a set of gears which in turn churned and heated the tea in the cup to keep it warm indefinitely. I took a liking to her from day one on the ship, her wit had a finer edge than any gentleman’s sword. I’d almost as quickly learned that she was off the market. I’d have argued that no man could tame her, and that was why no one questioned a female engineer. That may have been true, but it was clear that she had someone special out there. I don’t know what Gregor’s deal in all of it was, but when I’d asked him he’d told me that that was a course which chartered disaster.

Pepper drank brandy in her coffee and spoke German in her sleep. She was all curves and no height, the kind of woman who turned heads on the docks and in the streets, but got overlooked in a crowd over five-foot-three. She was the most troubled mind on the crew, and while clever with a wrench she’d often attempt the first answer presented to her. Her cup was whatever one she found first after brewing the coffee. I asked her why she was always the one to brew the coffee and she told me that if I thought I could do better she’d let me try, but that it’s hard to do with rivets in your knuckles. I don’t have rivets in my knuckles and I decided to stay that way by letting her make the coffee.

What did I drink? I drink tea in the morning and coffee in the evening, and I never add anything to either. Both are drank from the wooden cup I brought on board with me when I signed on with Gregor and I always drink last at the table. What does that say about me? Why don’t you tell me?

Gregor's Winged Gas-Bag

Silence was something Gregor had never been accustomed to. His life had been a blend of grinding gears, pistons and pumps, whirring fans, and shifting metals of all kinds accompanied by the release of steam and smoke from exhaust ports.

An engineer for the queens royal air fleet, Gregor lived a daring, dangerous, and wholly unsung life of diligent work and upkeep. He worked for the captian who worked for the queen, and he in turn had a crew of five men beneath him. Together the six of them worked day and night to keep the Splendid Victoria in the air and up to snuff. If you’d asked Gregor if he thought himself a hero he’d have laughed at you and walked away without another word.

Gregor took pride in three things in life: his work, his crew, and his mustache. Well waked, perfectly shaped, and beyond reproach were three qualities he expected of all three.

However today he stopped dead in his tracks for only half a second as he heard something he’d never known before: nothing. An utter silence which struck to the very soul of his being washed over him, but only for that half a second before he himself broke the overwhelming barrier.

“Jonas, Lively, Pepper, Bigger and Digger what in blasted nuts and bolts is going on? Get those gears turning or we’ll fall from the sky as sure as a stone!” His boots slammed the hard metal flooring as he ran through the machine pulling levers and toggles trying to find what had caused the beheamoth of an engine to quiet.

“Can’t say as what the problem is sir! All the gears just seem to have stopped rolling over.” Pepper was the first to call back. Her blonde hair dirtied and streaked in the grease between the gears as it hung down from the pipes her legs gripped so assuredly.

“Well keep looking, this machine is our lives right now and if we don’t restart it we’ll lose them for it.”

Bigger called back next, “It’s just too large Gregor. even if Digger and myself were to start turning the main gear we couldn’t turn it fast enough to do anything but slow our descent!” Bigger was the largest man Gregor had ever known, but his body would need to double to match his brain. Second in command on the crew, and brother to Digger, who was much smaller, Gregor took Bigger at his word on most any occasion.

“Then give me another solution, we can’t let the girl crash and burn!”

Lively came running around the corner, also tall for a woman and with her long red hair held back in a tight braid, “Sir, we could try for a winged gas-bag. It may be out only hope.

“Madness,” Gregor thought for a moment and realized that madness was the only thing offering survival right now. “Let’s do it. Gear jockies call out!”

“Pepper!” “Digger.” “Bigger!” “Lively!”

Gregor’s thick brows furrowed, “Jonas?! Where are you boy?”

The intercom buzzed and cracked before Jonas’s voice came over it, “Working instead of shouting sir, I’m moving to cut the gas-bag. Why don’t you focus on telling the other’s what to do?”

“Blasted kid is gonna get himself killed one of these days, but he’s right. Pepper and Lively use any piping you can find to build structure poles. We’ll need you to fasten the wings as fast as possible once they’re freed. Bigger, you said you and digger could slow the descent of our lady?”

“Aye sir, but not for long.”

“I don’t care if you only buy us half a minute, get on it!” The ship was already begining to lean as it was rapidly losing momentum. Lively and Pepper took off in opposite directions. Gregor took off at a run for the back of the ship to find Jonas.

“Jonas, report!”

Jonas was already halfway out of the window with a parachute strapped to his back and a heavy hooked-knife in his teeth. He took the sill in one hand and the knife in the other, “About to start the cut sir, care to join me on top of the bag?”

“No, I’ve got to release the frame, you be careful out there, I’d hate to lose you lad.”

“Stop worrying about me and start worrying about the girl, this could very well be a spectacular way to die.”

“You talk too much for someone of so few years. Just don’t screw this up.”

“Yeah, yeah, relax old man.”

Gregor took off running again, pulling out his omni-wrench and reaching the front of the ship in less than a minute on the narrow cat-walk beneath the gas-bag. He began loosening the nuts from the bolts attaching the gas-bag’s frame to the ship-proper.

Minutes later and fighting a distinct lightness which came from the falling air ship, not to mention shouts from the captain and non-engineering crew, Gregor released the final nut and the bolt screeched as it tore from it’s holding. The whole ship shuddered as the iron frame came off nose-first and went tossling back into air behind it. Meanwhile the crew, true to their skill as their word, snapped the heavy canvas of the gas bag into the new frame of stout wings, caught the air as the ship descended and leveled out the ship.

Gregor came to his feet and nose-to-nose with the captian. “Engineer, explain yourself!”

“Sir, the engine failed for unknown reasons and so we converted the ship into a glider.” Gregor turned away to shout, “Good work crew, Bigger and Digger we’ll need manual control of the rudder if the gears aren’t working. Lets make this as smooth a landing as possible!”

“Someone is going to hang for this Gregor, and I intend it to be you.”

“You may try sir, but I think it’s better that one man sway from a line than that six dozen men die in a crash.”

The captain’s mustache bristled with frustration, “Dismissed Engineer Gregor, best make sure we don’t all die in the landing.”

Gregor turned and walked away, Pepper and Jonas fell in line beside him. Jonas spoke up first, “Sir?”

“You heard the captain, let’s land his ship.”