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

Bettina fretted. All her older siblings were actively engaged in fighting the mustache man, while she watched. Adolphus struggled to control the ship, Claire had built a trebuchet, and the twins and Gerhardt were trying to remove the mysterious moss from the neck of the yeti. The youngest vonHedwig cast about her for something, anything she could do to help. What could be of use that the other children had discarded?

Bettina was drawn, as she so often was, to the flammable. There was a small oilcan tossed into the corner behind Claire, and some pieces of the twins’ string. She grabbed them, and crawled around the floor, collecting dust bunnies and clumps of shed hair. When she had a big enough bundle, she started to bind it together, leaving the longest bit of string as a wick. Regretfully, she bound in the moss she had pulled from the yeti’s head. This was no time to be sentimental. Indeed, this was a crisis. Bettina felt in her pinafore pocket. Four firecrackers. She judged their need to be great, and sacrificed one of her meager horde to the cause.

Meanwhile, Mirabelle tried to ease the moss from the yeti’s hair, but it wouldn’t come. She gave a gentle tug. It wouldn’t come, and the creature grunted. Mirabelle glanced down at its paws. They looked like long human hands, made longer by 2-inch claws. Gerhardt was holding her steady, but starting to breathe hard.

She left the comb tangled in the moss, and twined her fingers into the yeti’s neck ruff, trying to feel where the moss ended and yeti began. The beast growled, and she froze, but did not withdraw her hand. The growl subsided. She waited a few breaths (after she remembered to breathe) and began again, more slowly. She could hear a hissing beneath her, she could hear shouting ahead, but it was all too far away to understand. She tried to meet the yeti’s eyes, and spoke as softly and soothingly as she could.

“I’m afraid this is going to hurt, Mr. Yeti, but it will help, too. Like taking a thorn from your paw. And then you won’t kill me, because I’m the one who took the thorn from your paw. Isn’t that right? It’s going to be all right, Bear-Man. Now, here we go.”

At the helm, Adolphus was sweating. The Count demanded he fly just above the ground, up and over the mountain. He was only a beginning flyer, just learning to steer the Schöneluft in the high skies, watching the clouds and feeling the winds. He had never landed a vessel, never flown so near the ground (and certainly not ground ascending as sharply as this!), and never flown the boiler crew’s launch.

He had never even seen anything quite like the boiler crew’s launch. It was cobbled together from a hundred other machines, some of which he recognized. It had considerable lift ratio for its size, only exceeded by its thrust capacity, making it a very unstable ship to handle. He had already scraped the gondola once, which gave him the idea of crashing the ship. His first attempt failed, and now Montesanto was watching his every move.

“I can’t keep to close to the ground!” he protested. “We’ve got to ascend!”

“You do as I say! You will not shoot up into the air and signal your parents; you will creep over the mountain to my base camp.”

“Get Claire to do it! She’s a much better pilot than I.”

“You should be ashamed to say so,” the Count declared. “No woman can equal a man in anything worth doing. Watch out!”

Adolphus heaved on the engine pod controls, and the launch lurched straight up, narrowly avoiding a rock outcropping. He pulled back on the controls, but kept the engines on, and the ship moving upward.

“You see! Claire would have seen that. My sisters are very observant. Claire notices every little thing I do wrong. And the twins! You can never pull one over on them. It’s like they’ve got extra eyes or something.”

“Stop your whining and get closer to the ground, you fool! We are close to your ship now.”

Adolphus did not do as he was told, but craned his head around, searching the sky. The Schöneluft floated serenely above the steep valley, behind and below them. Only Chef and the Grandmothers were on board, but perhaps they might notice a signal, if one of them could send one.

“Oh look,” Adolphus shouted, “there’s the Schöneluft!”

Bettina saw the great airship. She scaled the aft wall of the boiler launch and wrenched open the porthole, to see her home floating below. She pulled a sulfur match from the pocket of her pinafore, lit her oily bundle of lint and hair, and flung it out. It drifted a few yards away, caught on a mountain breeze. Bettina frowned. If an updraft caught it, it could ignite the bundle of gas balloons that held the little ship aloft, and they would crash into the mountain. She held her breath, watching helplessly, but her luck held. The bundle fell away from the ship, and exploded twenty yards astern.

The Count leapt up in surprise and grabbed Adolphus, the only child he could reach. He wrenched the boy’s ear, nearly pulling him off the floor with it.

“Ow!”

“What was that, what was that?” Montesanto shouted. “You have signaled your parents!”

“I haven’t!” Adolphus protested. “I don’t know what that was! We might have lost a balloon! We’d better land and find out.”

The Count stared out the window, scanning the mountain. “Go to the left, to the left! There is a cave where we will hide and check for damages. I saw the opening when I flew over on arrival. That way, that way!”

“Port,” the boy muttered. “That way is port.”

Montesanto let go of his ear with a shove. “You are impertinent like your mother, and arrogant like your father.”

Adolphus stood straighter at this, even though his ear was aching awfully.

“If you flew over here before,” he asked, “where’s your ship now?”

“Stolen!”

“Stolen! Who’s out here to steal it? We haven’t even seen one of those monks for over a week. They don’t want airships, do they?”

“It was stolen by the perfidious crew. They are cowards and backstabbing mutineers!”

“The crew? Where was the captain?”

The Count shrugged. “Yeti.”

“Did you tell the yeti to eat him?”

Montesanto slapped the back of Adolphus’ head. “I will tell him to eat you, that is certain! I could not completely control the creatures at first, but now I am their master. There, there! Go around the outcropping there, and you will see the cave.”

This story began with On Grandmothers. The previous episode is The Yeti and the Comb and the next is Fighting the Yeti.

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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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