The Rogue Airship, or The Investigations of the Hephaestus

Chapter 5, In Which I Learn the Truth About Father Bartolomeu


                At Mister Pavaka’s accusation, I burst out laughing. I could not resist. His shocked expression did not persuade me to stop. “I’m afraid you’re laboring under a misapprehension,” I said when I recovered my senses. “We are not responsible for the deterioration of the aether. And indeed deduced that you gentlemen were to blame.”

                Father Bartolomeu returned with a tea tray and set it on the table beside me. “I believe we owe you an apology,” he said, gesturing toward the delicate cups and saucers and matching teapot. I took the cue and poured. “Naturally since airships are not in abundance in the aether these days, we assumed—“

                Mister Pavaka refused to sit, but paced the carpet, eyes flashing. “I cannot understand why you accept her word for this,” he said, flinging his arms about. “She would not admit to you—“

                “Vatya.” Father Bartolomeu’s voice was stern. “Remain calm or you will cause damage yourself.” He accepted a cup and sipped from the steaming liquid before repeating the man’s name as if he were a child.

                “I will not be ordered about,” Mister Pavaka responded, fists clenching. “I’ll be on deck.” He turned and raced up the spiral stair.

                Luli emerged from one of the doors on the far side of the room, shutting it behind her. I had not even realized she was gone. “I’ve sent a message to The Engineer,” she explained.

                A headache was forming in my right temple. I handed her a cup of tea and said, mustering as much calm in my voice as I could, “Please explain to me what is happening here, Father. You helm a craft bearing the name of the legendary first airship of over two hundred years past, and have taken the name of its inventor. While the very existence of your ship will devastate our dear Engineer, who thought he alone had perfected such travel, the fact that you have disabled our Hephaestus by violent means is distressing, to put it mildly.”

I turned my gaze on Luli, who returned it impassively over the rim of her teacup. “And I will entirely leave out my exasperation at not knowing what is happening with my assistant, whom I thought I knew quite well and completely trusted.

“The man with lightning flashing from his eyes?” I added. “At this point I’m assuming a petulant young storm god.” I poured myself a cup of tea and hardened my voice as the headache pounded at full force now. “Answers please. I am not without my own personal resources, Father Bartolomeu.”

The older man cleared his throat, put down his teacup and sat in an armchair across from me. In the dim lighting of the room, his skin was translucent and fragile. He rested his elbows on the chair arms and linked his long fingers together, rearranging them and studying the motion as if it were an important task. I listened to the tick of a clock somewhere in the room and the tread of Mister Pavaka’s frenzied pacing overhead.

“My name is Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, born in Portugal in 1685,” he said at last, his accent quite pronounced. “I was a member of the Company of Jesus—the Jesuits. I invented and flew a smaller version of the Passarola before the king of Portugal in 1709. But I continued to experiment, with lighter than air flight in public and with aether flight in private. At last someone learned of my private experimentation and informed on me.” He looked up at me. His eyes were in shadow, but I felt deep sorrow from him.

“I was warned by friends in 1724 that the Inquisition sought me,” Father Bartolomeu continued, studying his twisting fingers once again. “I fled to Holland and then to England for a time, but I am not comfortable with deception and subterfuge. I cannot work if I am running and hiding. Keeping a portion of my work, erm, private, is one thing, but keeping my entire existence a secret is difficult for me. My aether flyer, the Passarola in which you sit now, was perfected, and so I decided to leave the earth for the aether. Two of my devoted assistants accompanied me. Alas, over the years—can it really be centuries?—they were killed, one in a battle with a creature of the uppermost regions, the other in a tornadic storm from which Vatya saved me. His brother had caused the storm. You see, he is an exile, even as I am.

“You were correct in your surmise. Vatya is a marut, a storm elemental, I believe is the correct term.” Father Bartolomeu shifted his hands to the chair arms, a hint of a smile crossing his face, warming to his subject. “This would account for this petulant nature. His family banished him for reasons he refuses to discuss, but he takes quite an interest in human matters and—“

“Sir,” Luli interrupted, standing and frowning. “I do not hear Mister Vatya’s pacing. Something is wrong.”

She did not wait for us, but gathered her skirts and dashed up the stair. I followed, with the Jesuit behind me.

Luli stopped abruptly at the top, but stepped aside and motioned for our silence, still hidden within the shadows of the cabin. I stifled a gasp at the sight before me.

Mister Pavaka lay motionless on the deck, as if asleep. Standing over him was a tall, shapely woman, as perfectly formed as a marble statue, with golden hair curling down to her waist. She wore only a diaphanous shift that concealed nothing and merely enhanced her aethereal beauty. She stared at us with eyes like opals, shifting with flecks of blue and rose and gold, and said through pale lips in a voice that compelled complete attention, “Your journeys are at an end. The aether belongs to me now.”

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