Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1) (7 page)

BOOK: Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1)
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“Was it Master Vogt?” I asked.

“Quelle surprise,” Etienne said. “How did you know?”

“I think my companion ran off with him,” I replied then turned to the bartender. “Where can we find the workshop of Master Vogt?” I asked.

“Turn left out of the tavern. The building with a clock.”

“Shall we?” I asked Etienne, motioning to the door.

Etienne exchanged a few words with his crew. I exchanged a few words with the old woman and nabbed a supply of opium for the road.

The air outside was cool for a summer night. Etienne and I walked through the fog toward the workshop. The opium made me feel equally foggy. While I relished the giddy and blissful relief of opium, the drug also made my mind dull and muddy. My eyelids felt heavy, and I strained to focus. When I did, I noticed that Etienne’s mood had shifted. He was sulking. It was not like him. Witty and sardonic, he was one of the few other racers I honestly liked. At every race we managed to find a way to exchange a few jabs. The fact that I was one of the few other racers fluent in French helped. We always made fun of the others, especially Cutter.

“It is not like you to eat opium,” I said. “What’s wrong? Love sick?”

“Eh, your jest, unfortunately, is correct. Do you remember Benoit? He broke off with me before I left Paris.”

“Oh Etienne, I’m so sorry.” It was just like me to say exactly the wrong thing.

“Perhaps I should try to win him back… I don’t know.”

“I’m not the best person to give advice on love.”

“You? The whole world knows you are the lover of Lord Byron.”

“It is one thing to be a lover and another thing to be loved.”

“That is my problem. I always want to be loved. It never works for me.”

“That’s why I gave it up.”

“I thought you were a romantic. No husband in your future? No children? No domestic life for Mademoiselle Stargazer?” he jested.

His comments silenced me. If I continued like I did, what
would
be my end destination? The answer to that question was not pretty. I’d stopped asking it long ago.

Etienne noticed my silence. “Now
I
have made
you
sad. Pardon, Lily. You must not worry. A woman like you will burn for a time and then cool. No doubt someone is already waiting for that to happen.”

Was he right? “Well, it’s not happening tonight,” I replied with a grin and elbowed him in the ribs.

Etienne chuckled. “Ah, here it is,” he said, looking up at a building with a clock tower.

The clock face was flanked by clockwork figures holding mallets, ready to chime the hour. I knocked on the door. After a few minutes, the old man appeared.

“Ah, Etienne… Fräulein Stargazer,” the old man said and motioned for us to come inside.

The front of the workshop was dark, but I could make out a myriad of shapes. There were huge piles of metal, gears, wheels, and various clockwork figures in heaps everywhere. Etienne and I followed the tinker through a path in the clockwork labyrinth. I tried not to knock over anything. Light poured in from an open doorway in the back. Once there, I found Sal gazing at the gears of a machine lying on a workbench.

“Lily, you should see this. It is amazing,” Sal told me, distracted. I wasn’t sure if he realized I hadn’t been with him the entire time.

I snickered. “Sal, you should meet Etienne Souvenir,” I told him, “the French racer.”

Sal looked up. He had a faraway look in his eyes, his brilliant mind distracted by the machine in front of him.

“Monsieur, my pleasure. Salvatore Colonna,” he said, shaking Etienne’s hand before turning back to the clockwork on the bench.

“Tinkers,” I whispered to Etienne who chuckled.

“Eh, what is this, Master Vogt?” Etienne asked.

“A metal man,” the tinker replied, “designed to replace your galleymen,” he added, looking from Etienne to me.

At that moment, I was very glad Angus was not there. Etienne and I came closer to the workbench as the tinker explained how the clockwork man would have the strength of three men. Such new and illegal modifications were rampant amongst pirates. The racing league kept tight restrictions on the design of airships and the composition of their crew, but there was a strong call for the allowance of double propulsion such as the
Burning Rook
used.

“And look at this,” Sal said, pointing to a model balloon hanging from the ceiling.

“The balloon has a semi-rigid structure,” Master Vogt told us. “It will keep buoyancy better and be easier to navigate. It is a prototype.”

I gazed upward but said nothing. I suspected I was seeing the future.

“But, I do have business with Monsieur Souvenir for which I am late. It has been a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Colonna,” Master Vogt said.

I could see the crushing disappointment on Sal’s face.

“My thanks, Master Vogt, for showing me your creations. They are genius.”

The old man smiled. “Please, stop again on your way back to England. There is more!” the old man said happily.

I looked up at Etienne. “See you in Valencia,” I told him and pulled him into a hug. “Don’t despair. As they say, the course of true love never did run smooth,” I whispered into his ear.

He kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you, mon amie.”

With that, Sal and I left the workshop and headed back to the
Stargazer
. Sal was lost in thoughts of the clockwork man, but he had wrapped his arm around my waist and kept me close. Coming down from my opium high, I was left with mixed emotions. I was confused, afraid, and angry. Was someone really following us or was the thief just looking for easy pickings in the opium den? It wouldn’t be the first time someone had lifted my belongings while I was out cold, but it angered me all the same. I’d accepted that the trip to Venice might entail unpleasant interruptions, but I wasn’t expecting someone to try to stab me. I needed to be more careful and to keep my sidearm a bit handier.

I also thought about Etienne’s words. They left me feeling confused. Would my life only consist of an endless string of lovers? Why was I so unable to allow myself to really connect with anyone? Even I knew I was a ridiculous mess. At least I was having fun, wasn’t I?

I sighed heavily. It shook Sal from his thoughts.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

I smiled at him. “Thank you for coming.”

“Who can say no to an adventure with Lily Stargazer?”

We stopped. The moonlight shone down on us. Sal put his hand on the back of my neck, stroking the nape. I gazed up at him. His steel colored eyes glimmered. He pulled me into a kiss. It was a soft, warm, but passionate kiss, the kind of kiss that left you feeling dizzy and seeing stars. I didn’t remember him kissing me like that before.

“Italians… you are so passionate,” I said with a grin.

“Indeed, you give me much to be passionate about. Come,” he said, and we headed back to the
Stargazer
.

Chapter 9

J
essup and Angus were already sleeping in their hammocks. They had even been nice enough to string up mine. I led Sal to my hammock, and we lay down for the night. I snuggled into Sal’s arms and no sooner had we lain down then Sal was asleep. At first I was surprised, but then I remembered that Sal was much older than me, and it really had been a long day. Perhaps I had tired him out.

From below, the sounds of a fight drifted upward. I listened as the two men swore at one another in German. Their argument was heated; both men shouted loudly. Soon I heard the grunting sounds of physical fighting. The sound took me back to my days at St. Helena’s.

“You say that again, and I’ll do you like they did Mary Queen of Scots,” I threatened Maggie, another girl at St. Helena’s, sliding my finger across my throat as I stared the doe-eyed girl down. We were about six years old, and she had just told me for what seemed like the hundredth time that day that I was a piece of rubbish.

Maggie gritted her teeth and lunged at me.

I picked up a handful of dirt and threw it in her face. She screamed, the dust burning her eyes. I took the opportunity to punch her in the gut. Crying, she fell to the ground. After she was down, I gave her a solid kick in the side of the head, the other girls cheering me on. Suddenly Sister Margaret was standing over us. Her towering shadow cast a gloomy pall.

“What is going on here?” she asked aghast. Sister Margaret yanked me away from Maggie, her fingernails digging into my skin. She squeezed my wrist until it ached.

I pulled my arm free. Knowing I would be punished either way, I decided it was best not to lie. “Maggie was calling me names so I beat her a good one,” I told Sister Margaret.

She looked down at me, her face furrowing deeply. She had an odd look on her face like she was suffocating rage. “This is the last time-” she began to say but stopped short when she heard Sister Sarah approach.

“Are you sure, Mr. Fletcher? You did say you wanted a lad. The boys will be out any moment,” Sister Sarah said as she came up behind us. She sounded nervous.

I turned to look. Sister Sarah escorted two gentlemen onto the yard. The man she referred to as Mr. Fletcher had long, curly gray hair. He wore small, round glasses, a tight blue shirt buttoned to the neck, breeches, stripped stockings, and a top hat. The other man, also gray haired but balding, looked like he’d just rolled out from under a greasy transport. He wore a checked top with tan trousers, both of which were stained with grease. His two front teeth were missing.

“No need. This one fights like an alley cat. She’ll do,” the man she referred to as Mr. Fletcher said, looking down at me. “What do you say, Mr. Oleander?” he asked his companion.

“Let me see your hands, girl,” the other man, Mr. Oleander, said to me.

I stuck out my hands and let them inspect me.

“Dirty under the nails. Scratches on the knuckles,” Mr. Oleander observed. Both men seemed impressed.

“But gentlemen, a young lady will need some refining, a womanly influence,” Sister Sarah said.

“We’ve got a woman, don’t we, brother?” Mr. Oleander answered chuckling as he elbowed the other man in the ribs. They both laughed.

“What is your name, young lady?” Mr. Fletcher asked.

I looked up at Sister Margaret. Only once had I ever been asked my real name and that was on my first day there. A very old nun had written it and my parents’ names on a paper. She died a few days later. Otherwise, everyone called me Lily on account of my mother’s bouquet. Both Sister Margaret and Sister Sarah had come to St. Helena’s later, and that’s all they and all the others knew of my name. And in my mind, that other girl, the one my mother—who had never come back-had thrown into the Thames,
was
dead.

“Lily.”

“Lily what?” Mr. Fletcher asked.

“Just Lily,” I replied.

Both of the men laughed.

“Yes, she’ll do. Where do we sign?” Mr. Oleander asked Sister Margaret.

Sister Margaret and Sister Sarah looked at one another in shocked silence. After a moment, Sister Margaret looked down at me, her face still wearing the shadow of rage. I realized then I had chosen the wrong day to infuriate her. Indeed, it would be the last time. “This way to my office, gentlemen,” she said, directing them back to the orphanage. “Sister Sarah, please get Lily ready to go.”

Lost in my memories, I was about to doze off when I heard a gunshot. Sal snored in his sleep and turned but did not wake. I rose and looked over the side of the
Stargazer
. In the dim light of the gaslamps, I saw a man run off. The shot man lay still in the street. Clearly, he was dead. The tower guards were soon on the scene. I sighed and crawled back into the hammock. I pulled out the laudanum and took double my usual dose. I snuggled close to Sal, reminding myself that the days with Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Oleander were long behind me. They were now ghosts who could only harm me in my memories. And then, just as I had wanted, everything went black.

BOOK: Chasing the Star Garden: The Airship Racing Chronicles (Volume 1)
7.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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