Some people don’t believe in heroes, but they haven’t met my Grandpa. –Anonymous
Keisha sat frozen in the pilot’s seat of the airship Graceful Delight as the image of her Grandpa, forty years younger than the day he died, stood like a living apparition just ten feet in front of her.
“Did you hear me? Let me take the controls, quickly!”
“Oh, yeah.” She stood up just as the Delight pitched to port and she sailed to the floor.
“Grab the netting and hang on.” Isaiah Covington immediately took the chair she had just vacated and began to work the controls. “I apologize for my lack of chivalry and social grace, but I’m afraid saving our lives must take precedence.”
On either wall or rather bulkhead, thick, coarse netting was suspended floor to ceiling. She had always wondered why it was there until this moment. Keisha reached out and pulled herself over and then began to use her hands to climb.
“Finally.” Covington’s voice sounded more relaxed and she heard him sigh. “I’ve slowed our ascent, and now I’ll bring her around to the southwest.
Staring out the windshield, she saw the vast panorama the area north of San Francisco. They’d come further north than she thought in the few minutes they had been climbing. San Pablo Bay swung into view, then what was probably San Rafael and Marin Country, but the cities were much smaller, and the haze over them seemed more like steam than fog.
The Golden Gate Bridge was still there, but instead of trains, horse-drawn carts, carriages, and wagons, but without the horses, occupied the North and South lanes. She saw ferries making for various destinations across the Bay, and then San Francisco itself, but instead of the City that never sleeps, it looked more like the steam, brass, and ivory capital of the Golden Gate, sort of like “The Wild, Wild West” meets “Around the World in 80 Days.” She and Grandpa watched the strangest shows together when she was little.
“Good. We’re headed home, now.” Covington turned toward her, this time smiling. “I think you can let go now, child. If you would, please pull the chair from under the Engineering Station out. You’ll be more comfortable sitting down.”
“Okay.” She tried to smile back, but it was like saying “cheese” for a photo when you didn’t feel happy. She walked to the starboard side of the cabin where the Engineering panels were located, opened the twin cabinet doors near the floor, and pulled out a folding chair mounted on rails.
It popped open once freed, while the doors locked in place. Then she sat down, silently cursing that Grandpa hadn’t put seat belts on any of the airship’s chairs.
“You’ll forgive me if I must continue to attend to the wheel. Your Grandfather told me about something called ‘Otto the Pilot’ who does the flying for you, but I’ve only got the old mechanism half-finished in my workshop. Perhaps we can complete it together and test it out in the Delight.”
“Me? Help?” The last time she helped Grandpa with an engineering project was when she was ten or eleven, right before he went into seclusion, and a month after Mama died.
“Why, yes. I realize that the elder Mr. Covington didn’t take you into his full confidence, but he assured me that you are a competent engineer.”
“You knew Grandpa? You talked to him?”
“Yes, quite frequently until he became too ill to work, poor fellow. I assume your presence here means the worst has occurred.”
Keisha grabbed the edge of the console in front of her to steady herself. This was all happening too fast. She had just met Grandpa’s insanely younger self in a world that came straight out of Jules Verne’s wet dreams, and now he’s saying that he talked with her Grandpa.
"Calling Graceful Delight, Calling Graceful Delight. This is the San Francisco Sheriff's Department. Please identify yourself."
Keisha could hear the small, tinny voice coming from the still ignored headset now to Covington’s left.
“I suppose I should get this.” He quickly grasped the earphones, and donning them, lowered the rather large and archaic microphone bulb over his face. Then he wound something on the wireless box and toggled a wooden switch.
“This is Mr. Isaiah Covington aboard the Graceful Delight responding to San Francisco Sheriff’s, over.” He kept his hands on the steering mechanism, but clucked his tongue, which seemed to change the wireless status from transmit to receive.
"We are receiving, Delight. This is Chief Constable Edmund Pennyweather. Please descend toward the Police Landing Tower Four at South San Francisco. You are charged with seventeen violations of the Airship Code of Conduct and Transport, over." Whatever Covington did, it increased the volume so she could hear the voice on the other end, even though he was wearing the headset.
Covington clicked his tongue again. “Receiving you, Chief Constable. Afraid we had a bit of a mishap with navigation and buoyancy, but got everything well sorted and are operating normally now. Just heading for home to conduct a full investigation, over.”
"Acknowledged, Delight, however we must conduct a formal inquiry post-haste. Follow previous instructions and navigate to Police Landing Tower Four immediately, over."
“Seems we’ve missed the turn off so to speak, Chief Constable. Suggest you escort our ship back to my home port. I can give you a full statement there, and you may examine the Delight at your leisure, over.”
After clicking this tongue to stop sending, he half turned to Keisha. “You’d better pray this works. I can’t have them finding you or your Grandfather’s incriminating book.”
Before Keisha could respond, the earphones crackled to life. "That would be an eighteenth violation of the Code, Mr. Covington. You are in more than a little hot water now, Sir. We have two of our ships flanking you, over."
“Quite so, Chief Constable. We are descending now. My home tower is just ahead marked with the family name. There are four other attachments which should accommodate you and your companion ship. Give us a moment to neutralize our systems. Then the Delight is all yours, over.”
Turning off the mike, Covington hissed at Keisha. “The second we’re moored, grab your things and exit the main hatch to the elevator. Get down to the house. My wife will hide you. You’ll only have a few seconds while they’re maneuvering to dock. If the Law catches you and finds that book, we’re both done for. Hurry!”
"We will comply, Mr. Covington, but if we do not find everything perfectly ship-shape, rest assured, we already have enough evidence against you to lock you in the Tombs for..."
Keisha couldn’t hear anything else as she ran into the Captain’s Cabin and retrieved her duffel. Skidding to a halt back in the Control Room. As Covington was slowly (probably stalling) guiding the Delight toward a docking tower above whatever he called home, she folded and shoved the Engineer’s seat back in its cubby, then slammed shut the doors.
The Delight lurched as it contacted the tower and the mooring locked, throwing the girl painfully to her knees. The expression on Covington’s face was one of desperation, and she launched herself back to her feet.
The hatch automatically opened as the elevator car arrived from the tower’s base. Keisha lunged inside, the duffel in tow, and before the doors closed on her, she heard, "Chief Constable Pennyweather to Mr. Covington. Police Patrol Ship One docking now, Ship Eleven to follow. Neutralize your controls and remain at the helm. We shall board..."
The elevator door shut, she heard gears rapidly spin up, and then she started choking on clouds of steam and the stench of machine oil. Suddenly, the car went into free fall, and she didn’t know if she was going to lose the contents of her stomach or her life.
The first two chapters in Keisha’s adventures are:
I couldn’t resist continuing her saga in today’s tale as the mystery deepens regarding the identity of the young Isaiah Covington, the purpose of the Graceful Delight, and how Keisha Davis fits into all of this.
The next chapter is Desperate Attack.