Steampunk Family
This entry is part of a series, Voyage to Antafrica»

The launch had been Herr vonHedwig’s wedding gift to his bride, and they had had many adventures, and created many fine memories in it. When they could afford a larger ship, and had commissioned the Schöneluft, he insisted she keep it as hers alone, so if she ever decided to fly away from him, she would have the means. She laughed, and threatened to burn it on the spot. It was called the Schmetterling.

The Schmetterling was tethered to the larger ship by a thick hemp rope. Madame stood on the metal access platform, clipboard in hand.

“There you are, darling!” she said. “Here, allow me.”

Handing him the clipboard, she grasped the end of a retractable wooden gangway under the platform, ran across the rope to the launch, and fastened the gangway in place.

He crossed, chuckling. “I’ll wager you don’t let the children see you take such risks.”

“Oh, no, our children are dangerous enough without that sort of encouragement. We always wear safety harness when I’m teaching them to walk a rope.”

They climbed into the gondola, releasing the tether and gangway and securing the hatch. The interior was snug, and built for two. A curtained bed nook was built into the aft wall. Along the port side was a galley, along the starboard, lab equipment. The control panels and wheel up front were dark wood, smooth with wear. A small vase of flowers was built in to the console, between the inclinometer and the gyroscopic compass.

“Do you mind flying her, love?” Madame asked. “I’d like to keep my eye on the landscape.”

“Not at all.” He engaged the engines, which coughed a few times, then purred, and then he pulled a cord hanging from the ceiling. Three short blasts sounded, signaling their departure from the Schöneluft.

Anchoring near the folded rock formation Gerhardt had discovered, they descended by rope ladder, and explored the area on foot, taking ice samples with an auger of Herr vonHedwig’s design. As the afternoon waned they followed a crevice into the fold of the mountain. The terrain was difficult, and they were glad of their climbing poles and crampons.

Madame stopped frequently, captivated by a feature of geology or an unexpected lichen, but her husband kept one eye on the topography, and the other on the sky, tracking the position of the pale sun.

“Good Lord!” He heard her exclaim. “There’s a cave here.”

“Is it deep?”

“I can’t tell without going in. Shall we?”

“I would rather not negotiate this landscape after dark, but we have time for a look, I think.”

“That’s the spirit! I believe I put a lantern into your pack.”  The lantern she retrieved offered a pale golden light, derived from phosphorous algae – not as bright as kerosene, but long-lived, safe, and odorless. Madame grew the algae in tanks in her greenhouse.

The cave was dry, and narrow at first; they had to creep through sideways for the first forty yards. The passage widened enough for them to walk normally just in time for them to descend a rubble-strewn cascade, a most irregular stair and slope combined. As ever, when in the throws of discovery, these intrepid explorers forgot the late hour, and pressed on, wherever adventure would lead them.

This story began with On Grandmothers. The previous episode is A Research Date and the next is The Cave.
Entries in this series:
  1. On Grandmothers
  2. With A Bang!
  3. In Search of Ancient Angiosperms
  4. Assault on the Galley
  5. The Sorrows of Chef
  6. Faeries, Helpful Siblings, and other Mythological Creatures
  7. Meanwhile, Back in the Lab
  8. A Day of Discovery
  9. The Children’s Hypothesis
  10. A Research Date
  11. Aboard the Schmetterling
  12. The Cave
  13. The Cage
  14. Knee of the Yeti
  15. Kidnapped!
  16. A Clue
  17. The Yeti and the Comb
  18. Fighting the Count
  19. Fighting the Yeti
  20. Falling
  21. Breadcrumbs
  22. The Search is On
  23. Flight to Saigon
  24. On the Streets of Saigon
  25. The Sad Man
  26. At the Grandiere Club Aeronautique
  27. If you Give a Count a Cookie
  28. Out of Cookies
  29. Stuck!
  30. Airships Float?
  31. Where is Claire?
  32. Drowning
  33. Into the Drink!
  34. Boat!
  35. Mushroom Trip
  36. Ambush
  37. The Variegated Strangler
  38. In a Strange Land
  39. Hand over Hand
  40. The Last of the Gouda
  41. An Unusual Breakfast
  42. Downstream
  43. What's for Dinner?
  44. Axe and Fire
  45. Meanwhile, Back at the Airship
  46. Over the Gobi
  47. Return of the Grandmothers
  48. Warning from Huang
  49. Anxious Hours
  50. Ulrik Prepares
  51. Destruction by Dawn
  52. Finding Philomena
  53. No Luck in Pekin
  54. The Children Rescue...Something
  55. Corndog Liberation
  56. The Fate of Corndogs
  57. Have you Tea?
  58. Antafrican Hosptitality
  59. Onion Porridge
  60. Homesick
  61. On the Hunt
  62. Farm Living
  63. Singing for Supper
  64. You Say Potato...
  65. Curiosity is the Foundation of Discovery
  66. An Awkward Position
  67. Trouble Comes Riding
  68. Capsicum Capture
  69. To the Palace
  70. The Death of the Lincoln
  71. War Wings
  72. A Long Way Down
  73. Enter the Lightning
  74. Before the Queen
  75. You are a Tomato!
  76. A Sunken Ship
  77. Eglantine Aubergine
  78. Children of the Soil
  79. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  80. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  81. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  82. The Price of Popcorn
  83. Ulrik and Chef
  84. Fire!
  85. Claire's Bluff
  86. Tomato Queen and Aubergine
  87. It's Going to Blow!
  88. Rhodri in the Gardens
  89. The Servant's Fountain
  90. History Revealed
  91. Fight at the Fountain
  92. Repercussions
  93. Father Discovers the Yeti
  94. Aboard the Lucy Stone
  95. Summoned
  96. The Queen's Accusation
  97. The Queen's Rage
  98. The Khan
  99. The Last War Wing
  100. Eglantine Departs
  101. Thumping Rhodri
  102. Bad News from the Boys
  103. Where's the Count?
  104. In Search of the Count
  105. Spying on the Queen
  106. Confronting the Count
  107. Orphaned?
  108. Orphaned?
  109. Montesanto's Experiments
  110. Montesanto's Experiments
  111. The Queen's Tantrum
  112. Bettina's Tantrum
  113. The Flaming Queen
  114. Uprising!
  115. Uprising!
  116. Escape
  117. On the Run
  118. The Mysterious Coach
  119. Red Racer!
  120. Revolution Reset
  121. By the Acid Sea
  122. Farewell Antafrica
  123. Home Again!
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