“They say that two are better than one.
“Two heads are better than one.
“Two drinks are better than one.
“Two ships are better than one.
“With our dirigible, we’ve got two ships in one.”
~Admiral Jeremiah L. Farfleet
I FAF Gemini, in which one hero nearly misses his chance, and the other nearly misses her landing.
Huxley woke rather later in the morning than he intended. He was used to getting up early to study, so he wouldn’t have thought it was possible for him to sleep so late, yet sleep he did. When he finally rubbed his eyes and sat up in bed, he saw a cup of chocolate on the candlestand, just within reach of his hand. Perhaps his mother was getting used to having him home again, if she had sent up chocolate. Pity she hadn’t had the servant wake him, too.
He sat up and reached for the cup. It was quite cold, but he drank it anyway, relishing the bitter bite and grateful that considerable milk had been added to the cup. It was only as he was setting down the empty china that he noticed the folded slip of paper that had been acting as a coaster, protecting the table from the heat the cup had had when it had first been set down. There was a small seal on the paper that had been partly melted by the chocolate’s former warmth.
Taking a moment to stretch and yawn before looking at the message, Huck contemplated the day ahead. He had planned to visit the Darwin Constabulary, to introduce the police force to the utility of scientific detection, and then he would call in on the offices of the Darwin Times-Industrialist, to place an ad offering his services (though no doubt the thought would give his lady mother apoplexy) or, if they were game, be interviewed for an article on the new science of detection.
Finally, Huxley picked up the paper, broke the now indecipherable seal (it had something resembling a limp sausage on it, though the resemblance was no doubt exaggerated by the melted state of the wax), and scanned the text.
In the next instant, Huxley was on his feet and heading for the door. In his haste, he left it standing open, which turned out to be a good thing, because almost as soon as went out the door, he went back in. He could hardly run out of the house clad only in his nightshirt. For several minutes he dug frantically through his bureau, then through his wardrobe, tossing various items and articles of clothing onto the bed. He paused every so often to put one of the articles on, until he was dressed—though his valet would have had something to say about how well he was dressed—and had a small mound of other items. One of those items, when extracted and shaken out, proved to be a largish satchel, into which he began to stuff as many of the other items as he could. Lastly, he attached a square leather pouch to his belt and fled the room again, only to re-enter almost immediately. Again.
This time he headed for the heavy, and rather over-full, bookcase against one wall, from which he selected a small number of books to be he stuffed into the satchel (that he had very nearly forgotten on the bed). The last book was far too large to fit, and this he tucked under one arm. It was the Emergency Library Escape Device about which we read last chapter. This time, when he left the room, not quite at a run, he didn’t come back. Instead, he headed down the stairs and paused in the door of his mother’s sitting room long enough to say, “I’m off to see the world, Mother, I’ll be back in a few months,” to which Lady Grave replied, “I shan’t hold tea for you, then.”
Then Huxley Grave was off and running through the streets like a madman.
The letter, which he had dropped in his haste, had landed on the floor under the candle stand. It said:
We would be pleased to have you join our Scientific Expedition in the capacity of Ship’s Naturalist and Specimen Collector. You may perform your Scientific Detecting in your off hours as you choose. Ms Aeryn Daring speaks highly of you and her opinion is in our opinion of high value. The airship FAF Gemini departs at 10 am sharp this morning. If you are not on board, we will not wait. Yours in Adventuring, Admiral J.L. Farfleet.
As Huxley fled the Grave house in utmost haste mounted on a horse he had bridled, but not bothered to saddle, without the aid of a groom, the clock in the town square chimed ten. Fortunately for Huck, who had not spent very much time on horseback (horses not being needed much on Laputa, where space was at a premium), the horse he had chosen was a well-behaved a placid old gelding. His mother’s favourite riding horse, in fact, though Huck had taken it only because it was in the stall closest to the stable door. Even with the gelding’s good manners, Huck found it difficult to stay on. A horse was never really meant for riding bareback—else the saddle would never have been invented—and Huck kept sliding to one side or the other. It didn’t help that the bulging satchel pulled at one side of him, and the Device weighed at the other. And besides, Huck was in a hurry, and flapped his legs against the horse’s sides in an attempt to make it go faster. It was what the heroes always did in the boys’ weeklies. Or at least in the illustrations it was what they seemed to do. Of course, pulp heroes usually had heroic-looking saddles to steady them, or else their heroic nature somehow enabled them to adhere to their horses’ backs.
Huxley, alas, was not a pulp hero. He made a decidedly unheroic picture as he urged the horse through the streets of Darwin city towards the air fields. His legs flapped, his satchel flapped, his clothing flapped, the reins flapped (for Huck had not quite got the hang of holding them properly), and once, as it slipped dangerously from his grasp, the pages of the Device flapped. In a manouevre worthy of an acrobat (and one which it was a wonder he was able to perform without slipping off the horse and breaking his neck), Huck twisted, slid down one side of the horse, regained his grasp on the Device by snatching at one of the leather straps, righted himself, and began to slide off the other side of the horse.
Somehow, the gelding was able to interpret Huck’s confused rein-tugging and leg-flapping and delivered him to the edge of the air field at top speed, swerving suddenly at intervals in order to miss pedestrians and keep Huck on his back. At the edge of the field, the horse slid to a stop and Huck managed not to fall off. The field was empty.
Want to read more? Pick up a copy of the Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders Winter 2011 issue!