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Winged a novella (of two.., p.8
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       Winged: A Novella (Of Two Girls), p.8

           Joyce Chng
 
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  Richard Eddington is Katherine’s friend and then lover. One of the pilots. A dashing fellow with liberal ideas.

  Paul Forrester is a minor inventor/tinker. An eccentric but kind-hearted man. He has more unorthodox ideas than his peers. One of his many projects is to construct a larger sun-flier. Another project is to input human consciousness into a flying contraption (ie, telepathy/thought-driven flight). How it is done is up to everyone else’s imagination. Advocates growing of own food. Compared to the Rileys, the Forresters are wealthier, though they are not as rich as the landed aristocrats.

  Mrs Potts is the Forresters’ nanny and governess. She also cooks for them. Brought Alethia up and is close to the girl. Is good-humoredly amused and bemused by her employer’s eccentricities.

  Lady Judith Westmoreland is Captain Sagan’s teaching assistant and she works the vox-reader during the lectures. Typical Victorian lady but with a wicked sense of humor and an intense love for astronomy and history (which she teaches the first-years).

  Engineer Morley maintains the manor’s core and also teaches one of the Engineering modules. A gruff man with a heart of gold, he has a soft spot for Lady Westmoreland.

  Doctor James Ash is the academy’s resident doctor and a lecturer for Science (Biology). Acerbic, dour at first glance but actually compassionate. Tries to heal Katherine’s ankle.

  Trainer Stenton is one of the academy’s fitness trainers. Gruff, tough and wants his trainees to turn out well.

  Thomas Von Dyke is a boy by German extraction and has lived in England for a long time. Part of College Sable – Katherine’s friend and occasional rival. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed. A little cocky.

  Joshua Baker is a boy from College Azure.

  Wes is one of the pilots. He is Richard’s friend.

  Edward Hannigan is a boy from College Sable.

  Misato Kanaka is an exchange student from Meiji Japan, assigned to College Sable.

  Cook is simply Cook. She is the main cook for the Great Manor and has her own vegetable garden.

  Artifices

  The leo-fin is a machine, plain and simple. The pilot of course has to understand the intricacies of the leo-fin, as a flying machine. Flies on either helium or hydrogen. A beautiful machine, constructed to look like the lion fish. It precedes modern concepts of the zeppelin and the airplane (Wright Brothers).

  The sun-flier is one of Paul Forrester’s myriad inventions. It is basically a small bird-like robot (cogs and gears), powered by solar energy. The sun-flier is sometimes used for short distance messages (inspired, no doubt, by the carrier pigeons).

  The steel puppies are mechanical/robotic dogs. They look like mastiffs or bulldogs, constructed out of gears and cogs.

  The gyro-scopes are leg-powered. But only occasionally seen. Precedes the helicopter.

  The tin-men are Paul Forrester’s creations. Toy soldier sized. No actual function, except for entertainment.

  The blimp-fins are ordinary fliers. Used for training purposes at the academy. Purely functional.

  There is a nine-year gap between Alethia’s story in A Garden of Crystals and the present story. The leo-fins have become common and more advanced than the ones encountered in AGOC. Their features have become more streamlined, as the collectors and inventors keep on making changes to their design.

  The Queen formed Her Majesty’s Aerial Fleet, including the leo-fins under this particular designation. So, the leo-fins serve both commercial and military purposes. Later, as England grows in power (during the time period where Katherine Riley obtains her wings), the Aerial Fleet expands to include the goblin sharks, a more streamlined and deadlier version of the leo-fin, purely built for war. As one of the ladies who saw the prototype for the first time has gasped in shock, the goblin shark is truly “ghastly”.

  Colleges of the Flight Academy ( Académie De Vol)

  Sable (Right) – Bird Wings

  Azure (Left) - Cogs

  Orr (Right) - Propellers

  Vert (Left) - Comet.

  Courses offered at the Flight Academy:

  Basics of flight.

  Mechanics of flight.

  Athletics.

  Engineering.

  Mathematics.

  Science.

  Humanities (History/Geography/Classics).

  Languages (French, Italian, Russian and Han Mandarin Chinese).

  The Flight Academy has a cathedral-inspired main building where the auditorium (where the main lectures are conducted) and the Administrativa (main office) is situated. This main building is the nerve center of the Academy.

  Directly facing this building is the great manor (“Great Manor”) housing the classrooms, minor lecture halls and dormitories as well as the main dining hall where the seasonal celebrations are held and normal meals are conducted. The manor has an internal heating system, operated by an intricate underground hydraulics core. It has hot and cold water – and the bathrooms have their own taps and tubs. It has electricity (powered by the core).

  The Flying Field is where all the exercises – flying and athletics – are carried out. The Field has a small building where training leo-fins, gyro-scopes and other flight-related apparatus are kept.

  The House Colleges/designations are named after the terms used in heraldry. There are also symbols attached – College blazons/badges (please see ‘Colleges of the Flight Academy’).

  The Academy prides itself as the epitome of enlightened education. Most of the students are middle-class and above. It takes in both sexes. Attracts the attention of suffragists and their detractors (the conservatives).

  The collectors and inventors

  The collectors are the inventors and the researchers – the elite and intelligentsia. They collect antiques and things metal, transforming them into useful artifacts/artifices. The upper echelon of the collectors includes gentlemen like Thomas Edison and Nikolai Tesla. The lower echelon includes people like Alethia’s father, Paul Forrester.

  Science dominates this steampunk Victorian world. It is the new mantra and religion for a world suddenly gripped by the Industrial Revolution and the imperial conquests in Asia. There are flying craft, electricity and new inventions, replacing the old world. Economic motives and impulses have been tightly interwoven into the fabric of this world. Trade has opened new avenues and possibilities, allowing people from various cultures to migrate to England and vice versa. The British East India Company still holds power – a group of collectors dominates the decision-making body of the Company and creates inventions from a base in Southeast Asia (Singapore). Less virulently racist than our-world’s Victorian England – it would seem that Science is a direct descendant of the Italian Renaissance, championing the ideas of Logic, Reason and Creativity, as well as tolerance.

  For the collectors, they believe they embody this new spirit and are ardent advocates of the new creed. For them, this is the dawn of The New Age, where man’s spirit will soar with his (or her) intellect and better the world with progress.

  Of course, politics is at odds with the New Age and the governments (of the countries in power) are constantly looking out for ways to be better than their neighbors, co-operation be damned and paying only lip-service to conventions. The inventions end up being used as tools or weapons, much to the horror of the collectors.

 

  The Garden of Crystals

  In my father’s house, there is a garden. And in this garden are crystals of all shapes and sizes, hanging from the ceiling.

  They are actually glass baubles, expertly blown into whimsical shapes of swans, robins, ducks and sunbirds by my father’s good friend.

  They are cool to the touch, a sensation of coldbeautyflowerlight when my fingers caress the surface. I listen to them sing in the breeze, sweet skyblue voices. I revel. I laugh.

  I am blind.

  ~*~

  My mother died after she gave life to me. It was a chilly winter’s night, near the Solstice, as told by Mrs Pott, my nanny. I was born in
the middle of the Industrial Revolution, to a “collector” (as my father would like to call himself). I was almost called Nike but soon, my name became Alethia.

  Collectors gather antiques, large or small, esoteric or mundane. I could tell my father have brought in new items by their sounds. They either rumble, groan or chitter – in my mind, they become color bursts, like flowers.

  My father is one of the more lesser-known collectors. He is - by their standards - only a tinkler, not an inventor. He collects things, dismantles them and rebuilds them into artifices, as he calls them good-humoredly. I have heard the sharp yellow yelps of tiny tin-men bouncing across his worktable, the comical pink splotches of the larger and more cumbersome steel puppies and occasionally the clear lightgreen of a sun-flier.

  I know that there are larger things in the sky, other than our little sun-fliers whizzing like green stars in the house. My father’s friends have built other marvels like leo-fins, large flying ships shaped like lion fishes. Mrs Potts says that they look magnificent in the London skies, the sun on their iridescent wings and tail fin. I know they are beautiful because I can hear them sing like whales with long rainbow songs that swirl endlessly. There are also the gyro-scopes, powered by leg energy. But they are only occasionally seen as flying them takes a lot of energy on the part of the flier.

  The leo-fins stay afloat like puffer fish, explained my father once when I asked him over a fine dinner of clam chowder and freshly baked rye bread. My father believes in growing and making our own food. They have helium inside their bellies.

  At the moment, the leo-fins transport light cargo and their pilots, under the employ of my father’s friends, are paid well for their service. They are good for short distance flights and are known to even ferry people once a while.

  The ones who transport heavy cargo are the trains. Huge, metallic smelling and murkily-colored like dark clouds, they rumble across England. I hear them rattle down the tracks and sometimes, they make the garden of crystals shake frantically. I do not like them. They are a necessary evil.

  ~*~

  Instead of hurtling down the tracks, we can fly, my father says excitedly. I listen with amusement. My fingers touch the glass baubles. I do not know what colors they come in – only that they are cool beneath my fingertips and their voices are calming skyblue.

  Why, father? I ask quietly. I am only nine. Mrs Pott complains in her amber-brown voice that I am too serious for a girl of my age.

  Why? Why, we can fly over seas, oceans, lands. Imagine going to the Oriental in a large sun-flier! My father is clearly excited. He loves inventing. I can hear his blue prints move hurriedly on the table; they crackle like popping seeds.

  You will need a lot of sun, I say laughing. My fingers glide over a smooth swan.

  Our sun is an inexhaustible source of energy, there is almost a pout in my father’s reply. Truly, he can be quite a charming child sometimes.

  We pause as one of the trains roar past, rattling our ceiling lamps. Something in our house fizzles like an angry slash of red.

  Wiring, my father mutters and I listen to his footsteps fading away as he trots away to deal with the wiring problem.

  I continue walking in my garden of crystals, thinking – suddenly – of flying birds.

  ~*~

  Imagine an artifice that can flap its wings, my father tells me in the morning when I wake up. Mornings bring in a mute whisper of colors as the sounds of morning ripple around me.

  Your sun-flier can do that, I say, a little peevishly. Mrs Pott brings me my breakfast. I smell eggs.

  No, no, no, my father’s voice is exasperated. Imagine your consciousness in that artifice.

  Mrs Pott mutters “crazy inventor” before stepping away.

  Imagine that you can soar with the artifice, leaving your body on earth, my father continues.

  Now, this sends a shiver down my spine. It is unheard-of. It is almost … sorcery. Then again, for the men, the inventors, Science and Reason are the new gods. My father would become an outcast for his ideas.

  Yet…

  I bite into my egg, feeling the yoke run down my throat. My utensils are a silver tink on the porcelain.

  My father goes back into his workshop to think about his new artifice. I walk slowly to my garden of crystals.

  I feel a rush of adrenaline. My hands brush against the glass crystals in a moment of fury. They crash in a multitude of bright colors.

  ~*~

  If I were a bird, I say to my father as we retire for the evening. He has his sniffer of port in his hand. He is tired. His breathing is slow. He has spent the day in conference with his collector friends. If I were a bird, I would be a sunbird.

  A sunbird? His words are a gentle smile. My father is slow to anger and quick with humor to smooth things over.

  So that I can see the sun, I find myself standing next to the window. Outside, London steams and breathes. I can hear voices, different voices interweaving with each other. Horse-drawn carriages clatter on cobblestones. Very soon, steam-cars would replace them and the horses would either put to pastures or killed for gruel. A long swirl of rainbow colors passes overhead as a leo-fin, doing night-duty, floats in the sky.

  Alethia, my father’s voice is husky brown, as if he is trying to contain his emotions.

  But I know my own limitations, father, I say and goes over to him. I rest my head against his chest and I feel his hand pat my head softly.

  If I could soar like a bird in my mind, I am content. I see the world in colors and if I could do that in my mind, I am pleased. I am a sunbird, in my own garden.

  Saying that, I walk away, back to my garden of crystals.

  There, I weep.

 

  Lee Hsu’s Ship

  The young boy watched the dragonflies dart about like ephemeral fairies in the summer haze, their transparent wings abuzz. At some angles, the transparent wings became multi-colored as they caught the sunlight and turned everything to a breathless moment of wonder. It was warm, this summer, and glorious, turning everything in the garden into dusty gold and shimmering heat. He was glad to be indoors, inside the cool study room. Yet a part of him longed to be out in the sunlight, catching the dragonflies in their flight.

  He turned a bit reluctantly to his books. After a while, he was once again engrossed, his imagination afire with all the histories of engineering designs and marvels. Zhang Heng’s earthquake detector. Gunpowder. Naval feats. Gears and pulley systems. How his young thirsty mind absorbed everything in, enriching his inner landscape. He grabbed a charcoal stick, pilfered from the kitchen when the cooks were not looking, and began to sketch furiously on a piece of parchment paper, taken from his father’s calligraphy room. A design took shape, a collection of lines and curves and scribbled notations. Because he was only nine, some came out as crude arrows and more shapes. They helped him visually though.

  His long queue of hair flopped over as he tried to make himself comfortable while hunched over his design and he flipped it back irritably. He wanted to remove it, cut it off – it was bothersome and extremely archaic. His father would whip him if he did. His mother would end up crying in one of her dramatic fits and he would feel bad about it.

  A few more scratches of his charcoal stick, a quick scribble of his personal name at the margin, and the design was finally done. It was time to start collecting the things needed to make the ship.

  ~*~

  It was the eve before Yuan Xiao, the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. The household was gripped in a fever of culinary preparation, the servants running in and out of the kitchen, the cooks procuring fresh ingredients for the big banquet feast on the day itself. It was going to be a big festive event, attended by many guests who were by now comfortably ensconced in their guest rooms. There were going to be fireworks as well.

  Old Liu, old faithful retainer, left early in the morning to purchase a roast pig, done by a famous chef who specialized in all manner of roast meat. His talent was in t
he production of finely glazed, roasted-to-perfection, whole pig with tender flesh. His talent had brought fame and many of the aristocratic families made their orders early.

 
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