No Ship for Tranquebar, Part Three

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September 1636

Marlon burst through the door of his townhouse. "Reva! You won't believe it!"

Reva seemed to be waiting in the salon, tapping her foot. "I've already heard. You're off on a wild goose chase halfway around the world."

Marlon was caught by surprise. He hadn't thought about how Reva would take the news. Yes, all the danger signs were there: the tapping foot, arms folded tightly across her chest, withering frown on her brow. It was definitely time to tread lightly.

"Reva, it's not a wild goose chase. They already have a colony in India, and the governor has the possibility of a whole shipment of nutmeg. But it won't last forever. We need to get it here quickly. How else are we going to do it?"

"I don't want to be sweet-talked, so I'm not sitting down. Now you listen here, Marlon Pridmore. I've said nothing about you spending almost a year here playing with your airships. In fact, I've made some really good friends. I've had plenty to keep me busy."

"We've talked about that before, and there's no reason to drag it out now. I just . . . "

Reva waved her hand at him, and started pacing. "I'm not dragging out old business, you fool. I'm expressing my concerns. Now let me talk, I'm not finished. I've said nothing about the time we've spent here. I've said nothing about you crawling all over the ribs of that monstrosity, showing the craftsmen what you think they need to do. I've said nothing about you flying up there with student pilots, any one of whom could dump you in the Baltic at any moment."

She again stopped for a breath, and Marlon opened his mouth, but shut it with a snap when she held up her hand. "But now you're sitting there thinking that you're the only one capable of getting this silly venture off the ground, and all the way to India, for God's sake."

Marlon could tell it was not the moment to speak. He sat on the couch and kept his peace.

Reva started pacing in time with her temper. "You've trained everyone. Eric Strand, your flight engineer. He's been here at the house so often, it's almost as if he was your actual son. He handles the ship better than you do. Jannik Lynngaard . . . you couldn't have a better chief engineer. And Gunnar Ibsen, that nice young man we had to dinner the other night."

She stopped pacing and glared. When he didn't speak, Reva said, "Just give me three good reasons why you, Marlon Pridmore, gentleman banker, need to fly off into the heathen wilderness!"

Marlon sat silent for a couple of moments. Finally he patted the divan next to him. "Okay, you've had your say. Now come sit down, and I'll tell you my reasons."

Reva stood tapping her foot for a little bit more, then sighed and sat.

"Now, Reva. I realize that I've never taken an airship anywhere as far as Grantville, let alone to India. And the crew is in many ways much more competent than I am. Hell, some of these kids seem to have a natural talent at flight and navigation.

"But my first reason is that I have more hours in lighter-than-air flight than anyone else in the world. You have to admit that, if nothing else."

Reva frowned as if not wanting to agree yet. But finally she nodded.

"Second, while this crew is wonderful, the only one over the age of twenty-five is Jannik. Someone has to be there to make the hard choices in an emergency. Ships don't arrive at their destination by committee vote."

Again Reva frowned, but nodded. Now her legs were no longer crossed, and she dropped her folded arms to her lap. She was opening up a little.

"If I have to have a third really good reason over and above all that, I'd have to say that I'm going with them because I'm the only one with an atlas that shows the route we're going to take. Their own maps only show the shores, not the inland. And the quickest way to India is going to be largely over land. I have to be there to find our way home."

Reva sniffed angrily, and wiped her eyes. Marlon could see that she didn't want him to see her cry right now, so he looked at the ceiling until the sniffing stopped.

Reva's voice cracked as she spoke. "Well, at least I'll have a little bit of time to get used to the idea. When are you leaving? A month or six weeks?"

Marlon cleared his throat, and considered not telling her. But right now, he knew that honesty would get him farther with her than anything else. "Actually, sweetheart, we were thinking of starting in five days."

He stopped, expecting another explosion. Instead, Reva stood up, straightened her spine, and headed toward the bedroom. "I guess I should start helping you pack."


September 1636

Marlon spent the afternoon in his study. When he heard a knock on the front door, he opened the study door and saw Gregers show Cornelius Holgarssen in. "Herr Chairman, come in and have a seat. What can I do for you?"

"I brought you the list of cargo we wish to ship to Venice."

Marlon, in the process of settling at his desk, was startled. "Venice? I thought we were going to India."

Cornelius shook his head. "Routing your airship by way of Venice will allow us to make a substantial amount of money before we take the risk of sending it to India. Some of our members feel that perhaps the only thing that the Indians want from Europe besides our gold and silver money are the glass wares of Venice."

Marlon sat down at his desk. "So you think we should try glass in India then?"

"Yes, I do. Nobody has tried it yet, so it will be a new commodity. Until now, it's been thought impossible to send glass and have it survive all the way to the Indies."

"I can see that. Glass may well be our best bet to make any kind of profit for the main leg of the journey. Of course, no matter what I take out there, we will make the cost of the airship, at least, when we return."

Cornelius nodded, but obviously still had something on his mind. "I have another matter I really want to discuss. I think we need more than the twenty tons of cargo that you've designated on the airship. I've gone over the numbers you've given us and the results of the tests we've conducted. I had it double-checked by Rikard Shipwright, just to make sure, and he confirms it. Our airship can lift fifty tons. I understand that twenty tons of the total is reserved for the airship and its fuel. That would seem to leave thirty tons for cargo."

Marlon grimaced. "I understand that it looks like we have an extra ten tons for cargo. But we need that extra weight for safety. Having a little extra lift will allow us to carry a few extra tools, and the hydrogen production system, so we can refill the gas cells on the other end of the trip. Besides, if we load it to capacity now, we won't have room to acquire anything extra on the way. Who knows what we may find?"

The chairman looked thoughtful for a moment. "You are certain about this? There is no room for negotiation?"

Marlon shook his head. "On this first flight, I want to be very conservative. Perhaps in later flights we'll be able to change that ratio. But for now, I'd rather stick with twenty tons of cargo."

Cornelius sighed. "All right, then. Twenty tons. On another matter, His Majesty was commenting today on the device that you used to produce hydrogen. Who would've thought that spraying water on red-hot iron would free such a light gas."

Marlon smiled. "It's not really my invention. I lifted the entire apparatus from a conflict in up-time America called the American Civil War. It was a device exactly like this one that was used to provide hydrogen for observation balloons. I still want the extra capacity so we can carry that and the extra fuel to make certain that we can make the trip. It's almost certain that there will be no refined oil in Tranquebar."

Cornelius seemed to hesitate. "The matter of navigation still has many of the shareholders seriously concerned." Cornelius pointed at the atlas that was always on Marlon's desk. "Indeed the maps depicted in your book have very small resemblance to the charts that our navigators have compiled over the years. Many are afraid that if we use these maps from your atlas, the airship could be lost, without possibility of any return on our investment. So we've decided to provide you with a true navigator. His name is Frode Nillsen. He has been with the fleet for some time, and he's, by all reports, very reliable."

Marlon shrugged. "As you wish, Cornelius. A navigator won't hurt anything, and may actually help me stay on track."


September 23, 1636

Marlon sat in the command chair at the rear of the control gondola. This command area's not bad, he thought. Although it still looks too much like the bridge of the Enterprise. I tried to avoid it, but the layout was just too efficient.

He watched as the helmsman and flight engineer in front of him prepared to take the airship away from the ground, and off to Venice.

"Let's get this thing going," Marlon said.

Gunnar nodded and stepped to the open window. "Okay men, give her a bounce," he called. The men holding onto the rail around the outside of the gondola pushed down, compressing the springs of the landing wheel. Then, on command, everybody let go of the rail, and the large spring pushed the airship into the air.

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