If any of you remember the short stories I was posting on here about Manfred Pennygigg and his faithful manservant, you will remember that we left them in dire straights, trying to come up with a defense against airborne attack from elven dragonriders. I finally managed to write the next scene. It is short. I think the term for it is ‘Flash-Fiction.’ Maybe, eventually I will gather them all up and include them in their own anthology. After all, what is steampunk without dirigibles? Now, witness the birth of a new age in the Dwarven Kingdom. Witness the birth of the age of flight!
Airborne At Last
“But it’s a success, Sir!” Malcom Kennison exclaimed. “You have actually built an airship! His majesty will give you a medal!”
“No, he won’t, Malcom.” Manfred Pennigig glared at his servant. How could the man be so daft! Oh, yes. He was a man, that’s how. “What good is an airship without anyone to fly it? I’ve been trying to find someone willing to fly the thing ever since we started building it, and I haven’t found a single gnome willing to even try. Apparently all but a handful of gnomes suffer from a severe fear of heights, and dwarves are just too heavy. As a result I need to find a crew that’s not scared, that weigh less than dwarves, and are smart enough to be trained in the operation of this thing. On top of all of that, the elves have managed to produce a squad of dragonriders. According to reports they will be using them in combat in less than a month. It’s impossible, I tell you! Impossible.”
“Oh, come now, sir. Not too long ago you were saying an airship was impossible!”
“Well…I sometimes amaze even myself, Malcom. It was nothing really. Any gnome with half a brain could have done it. Maybe I am a little quicker about such things, and maybe I have fewer failures than most…”
“Your humbleness never ceases to astound me, sir.”
“Perhaps I am a little too modest.” Manfred gazed at the boat that hung suspended from the canvas balloon, completely oblivious to the sarcasm that was practically dripping off of Malcom’s statement. The airship wasn’t exactly beautiful. In fact it looked like an oversized dinghy strapped to an extremely large, inflated bed sheet, but it was an actual flying ship. “It is quite the achievement, isn’t it?”
“Quite. You could always pilot it yourself.”
“That would be totally ridiculous. The King would never allow me to risk putting myself within reach of the enemy. My mind is much to valuable here. Besides, I’m afraid I suffer from the same illness as my brethren. Why do you think I hired you? It wasn’t your charm. It was so I would never have to use a stepstool again. Not only is it embarrassing, it’s…high.”
“That kind of leaves you with a problem. Doesn’t it, sir? Perhaps you can automate it somehow. Maybe build some kind of ‘Nixon-control’ unit for it.”
“Of all the ridiculous ideas I have ever heard…” Manfred began, and then stopped. Malcom may not have had many good ideas, but he wasn’t stupid. Manfred eyed Malcom through his bushy white eyebrows. A strange idea was settling in the back of his mind. He shook his head. No, that was just crazy. On the other hand, he had found and trained Malcom to be the perfect man-servant.
“I really don’t like the way you are ogling me, sir.”
Well, almost perfect, he thought. The fact of the matter was, he could be taught. And just looking at him, he probably only weighed a quarter of what a dwarf did. Human bones weren’t as dense, the muscle not as compacted, and Manfred suspected that their skulls was mostly filled with air, but they could be taught. Perhaps that idea wasn’t quite as crazy as he had first thought.
“Malcom, is it true that the best and truest shot come from your race?”
“I think so, sir. My brethren grew up on the sea. It takes a keen focus to be able to fire a weapon accurately while the ocean is swaying underneath you. Why?”
“I think I’ve found my crew.” Manfred circled his manservant, looking him up and down, as if searching for flaws.
“Oh, no you don’t! I am afraid I lack the marksmanship of my brethren. I do have some small skill in that area, but not enough to be one to crew this against dragonriders!”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Malcom. Only under the worst shortage of personnel would I ever dream of lending my own personal manservant to the military. Those buffoons couldn’t possibly utilize your abilities to their fullest. But we could find MEN to fly this ship. And from of the stories I’ve heard they are all probably crazy enough to fly it right down a dragon’s throat.”
Malcom started to protest, but realized that he knew more than a few humans that might actually do just that.
“You would have to offer them something worth the risk,” he said, instead.
“That is the King’s department. I just come up with the brilliant ideas. It’s up to him to bankroll it.”