I am sitting down to write after having reapplied the plasters on the scrapes I received last night. It was a lovely evening and I had just moored my sailing air-yacht, the Gretchen, to a suitable spot near my clocktower lab. Seeing relatively clear skies (by New Babbage standards anyway), I donned my Smog-Oxygen exchange mask and cast off.
At first, all was going well. The initial launch path was a clear one. The winds were at a favorable angle… just enough to give steerage and momentum, but not so much as to require rapid changes of course to avoid knocking bricks from my neighbor’s chimney.
I sailed over to Port Babbage and lowered her sails. After leaning over the port railing to waive at Mrs. Tripsa and Mr. Melnick below, I once again hoisted Gretchen’s sails (my, that could be a rather colorful expression!)Due to the navigational challenges in that part of the city, I began to adjust elevation to avoid scraping Gretchen’s hull against weather-vanes, lightning rods, and steeple finials. Before I had a chance to fasten the elevation-sheet, the wind hit Gretchen’s sails like a stampede of Valkyrie’s en-route to a massacre of aristocracy. The good ship stayed right, but as for steerage, I was at the mercy of the winds.
Then with a crack, a charge ripped through the aether. There was a dark purple-teal flash and a then all was calm. Yet where was the Gretchen, and why was there a wall of coral inches before my face? Poseidon’s kelp encrusted beard, I was at the bottom of the sea! Try as I might, I could not free myself … the turbulent sea pressing me ever closer to the murderously beautiful coral forest. The cartridge I had loaded my atmospheric exchanger with was tuned to filter the fine particles of soot, metal and other industrial effusions from otherwise normal air. I could feel my lungs starting to ache and it was harder to focus my thoughts. With a last effort, I wrested free my aether-compass and attempted a haphazard trans-aether shift.
Coughing something other than smog atop a New Babbage roof was a new experience for me. I had not breathed in enough of the sea to do irreparable harm, but it was most unpleasant. I found myself in the very ungentlemanly position of being on all fours in a puddle of sea water and sea-weed, gasping like the trout I had caught for Saturday lunch. As my lungs slowly ceased burning I stood and surveyed my location. I had managed to shift myself to one of the rooftops inland of Port Babbage! As the bright colors and shapes above the streets started to come to focus, I reeled and quite nearly tipped off the roof when I saw the Gretchen, stuck at an angle in the New Babbage sky. It was as if she had been dropped in a large vat and flash frozen in a block of air using an experimental heat exchange or some chemical reaction. She was absolutely immobile, yet looked to be under way – sails at the full.
Fortunately, I had equipped her with a control linkage that I might be able to manipulate her more crucial instruments should I be cast overboard. I adjusted the transmission coil. Perhaps it was simply a dense patch of metal particles emanating from one of the local labs or factories, but for a moment, I thought I saw the Gretchen appear to flicker like the flame of a kerosene lamp before the chimney is replaced. I carefully eased on her auto-mooring and she was free! She gracefully travelled back to the Clocktower.
Walking back to the Clocktower, I went over and over the events. By the time I had climbed the stairs to the lab, I was still as confused as ever. Undaunted, and supposing it might have been an odd atmospheric hiccup, I repositioned her mooring and prepared to set off again. This time, I made sure all the sheets were ready in case of another sudden kick-up and the cartridge in my air exchange was a mechano-gill for underwater use – just in case. With her controls fast in hand and my eye on her gauges, I eased the Gretchen back into the airs above Clockhaven. This new launch point was a bit trickier, requiring an immediate altitude adjustment, but I was at the ready… I made altitude and began to tack. No sooner had the sails billowed and the mast swung to starboard when I once again lost control of her steerage. Watching the gauges I could see that we were being carried in a spiral up and out to sea. Gretchen and I were caught in the arms of a cyclone! Being prepared for such a thing, I had connected an older aether-compass to Gretchen’s auto-mooring mechanism. It would serve to preserve her well enough… it just needed to get her back close enough to the clocktower. As I saw us drift above water, activated the mechanism and abandoned ship!
Gretchen immediately disappeared with a loud Fffzzzscccchhhht-CRACK and an impossible yellow-purple flash. I was left plummeting toward the water below… exchange on, check. goggles, check. I tucked, did a triple roll and extended once again into a classic swan dive. One ought to be graceful in the face of death. I find it puts him off his game. I was preparing bring my arms together so that I could slice into the waves below with nary a splash, when I felt my toes tingling… then my legs… they felt quite warm and almost as if something were pulling back on them gently… then I heard the loud buzzing of charges building in the air around me… and with a crack! I was once again locked, upright at the bottom of the sea! I had not even had the opportunity to finish my dive.
I once again withdrew my compass. Without the pressing need for air, I calmly made the calculations for the shift to the tower. One arm here, the other’s pulsing point reaching out through the aether to a pinpoint in the air above Clockhaven. I traced my finger along the curved edge of the small cylinder joining the arms. The ring began to glow and I was back in the clocktower lab with Gretchen moored outside.
Thankful for my presence of mind I mused about what had just happened. Clearly an atmospheric disturbance had generated enough of a charge to create a slippage shift through the aether. Only two questions remained, but they were enough to send the chill of the icy depths into my marrow: had we fallen into it or had we been pulled? If we had been pulled, by what … or by whom?