As the Cannon went off, Henry Ford opened the throttle half way on the Model C flyer he was using in this long race. As he rapidly accelerated through the air, he kept a close eye on the Britainian. He had raced that devious man before and had a grudge that was worlds of revenge after their last encounter. Riggers had not been able to build enough speed to get around Ford and had resorted to a very un-gentleman like tactic in order to win. He had used a simple sling shot to hit Fords Gas bag with a simple spiked ball, causing him to go down before the last leg of the race that day. He had never been able to prove it was Riggers, but he was the only flyer in range at the time.
As he gained speed, Riggers stayed right beside him to his Starboard. To the Port and back a bit was the Ferrari Team, they were still forming up into their racing cone formation so would not put on a lot of speed right away. He knew once they got set, he was in for a race from them. The only Flyer he feared in his heart was the Wright Brothers. Those two boys from the IO River Province had a flyer that was an unknown. The duct-ed fans gave them speed and maneuverability that he knew he would not be able to match in a straight run. Another factor was the solid frame design rather than the bag.
He listened as the Navigator repeated what was on the Wireless, "One of the Scotts went up in flames before lifting, The Prussians went down when they tangled up with the Russian. The Russian is clear but damaged. The Wrights are hanging back still."
"What of the floating Palace?"
"The Lincoln is slowly gaining speed, it will be a slow but persistent challenger all the way boss."
"Very good, We will stay at half throttle until things settle out and we see what the winds are like a bit higher up. Take us up to ten thousand and hold."
"Ten Thousand and hold, half throttle aye," called back the navigator.
"Engines are running cool sir, that heat sink below the burner is working wonders boss. Combined with the reflective metals in the bottom, we are getting more steam per pound of coal than the Brit."
"Let's just hope it continues or we go down in flames." Ford watched his nemesis and frowned, wondering what the Brit was up to.
Sir Riggers looked to his port and wonder what changes Ford had made to his flyer this time. He knew he had a tried and true flyer, but it was getting harder an harder to stay ahead of the newer racers every year. Looking at the smoke coming from the Ford's stack, he could tell it was running much cooler than his. That was not a good thing over the long haul. He knew he would use more coal and water than they would and that meant loss of speed and lift to weight. He looked back at the French and cursed as he saw them form up into the pointed cone. They used the cone like geese used the wedge and it worked well, as he knew from experience. The last few time they had met in the air, he had only won because he could out maneuver them in tight turns. On the straights, they could pull away from him easily.
He knew Ford held a grudge over the nasty trick he had used the previous year, but that race would have kept him out of the Monte if he had lost. He just hoped Ford was more of a Gentleman than he. Riggers looked back, trying to spot that unknown, the Wright Flyer. That thing scared him, he saw it would be fast, could turn, climb and dive faster than any on the field. What he didn't know was what the power train looked like. All the current models used light weight steam driven, coal fired pistons. They didn't use coal, so what was their power? He saw Ford climbing for altitude and followed suit, hoping he could survive this race and bring victory to the Empire once again.
Orville Wright watched the pressure gauge on the inboard number two engine as the turbine whined in protest again. "It keeps over revving Wilbur, I can't keep it down, that steam valve is bad, just as I said yesterday. I need to change it out."
"Alright brother, change it out, but hurry about it. The other fans are more than enough to keep us even with the crowd for now."
Orville made his way back through the tangle of cables and over the balsa frame to the offending valve. He closed off the steam to it and with a simple wrench, disconnected the steam pipes from it. He saw the control run had become twisted a bit, that would cause to much tension on the wire, opening the valve to far, damaging it over time. He removed the kinks and twists, installed the replacement valve, then hooked the steam pipes back up. Slowly, he returned pressure to the line to test the new valve for leaks. It held and no leaks appeared, so he made his way back to the control cabin. He gently opened the valve to inboard two and the turbine came up slowly and steady, as it was supposed to. " That fixed it, there was a kink in the control run that caused it to pull open all the way as soon as any power was called for. I fixed it and that was that as they say."
The leader of the French team looked out at the flyers around him, his and the competition alike. He smiled as he watched the rest of the team fall into their assigned positions in the formation. He watched as the Russians tried to free a length of cable that was tangled in their rudder and preventing them from maneuvering safely. One flyer swung in close and reached out with a hooked pole and snagged the dangling cable an pulled it up and away, freeing the rudder to move freely once more. He saw it was the Swiss team and flashed his signal lantern at them to thank them. The Russians waved and shouted their thanks.
The one flyer he knew the least about was suddenly rapidly gaining on the pack and pushing for the lead. The Alliance flyer was a different design, but legal still. The strangest thing was the lack of black coal smoke. He didn't know of any engine that didn't use wood or coal to produce steam. He flashed his team mates to go to three quarters power and go for altitude. He watched as Ford and Riggers raced for cruising altitude and were steadily pulling away from him. He knew he would catch them, or his name wasn't Enzo Ferrari.
In South Londinium, at the Moors Betting parlor just off the Thames River, cheers and curses arose when the announcement came about the fire and crash right at the start of the race. Many bets changed and money flowed freely. In one office, several men in suits quietly spoke about the fate of the racers. The leader of the group, an man in his late fifties, balding and heavy set with a cigar in his mouth spoke, "The Alliance flyers have to be delayed on lifting for the second leg to the Normandy. No killing, that would ruin it for everybody and call the Gendarmes down on us for certain. The floating palace that Lincoln has can be ignored, word is he is already an hour behind the pack and not gaining. It is Ford and the Wrights that are the big threat to the purse this year."
He took a long pull on his stogie before going on, "I had word back from the Alliance spies I sent that the Wrights have found a way to make their fuel on the fly. Something about breaking water down for the hydrogen."
"Boss, if they can do that, then all they need is water along the route."
"Yeah," chimed in another figure, this one thin an pale. "They will stay along the coast and rivers as much as they can then. Africa will be rough for them. Either a coastal run or staying along the Nile."
"I would bet on the Nile route, " said the Boss. "Safer and less prone to the seasonal storms they would face on the Med coast. But for now, we just need to sabotage their flyers to delay them." After another long pull he went on, "Sticks, I'll leave it to you to handle this part of the operation. The rest of you know what you have to do further along. Now go." The three men left the dark office and quickly went their personal ways to be ready for their time to act.
Back at the race things were getting hot an busy in a hurry. Ford and Riggers Had both reached ten thousand feet and had gone full throttle. This was personal between them, and the rest of the teams knew it. They had all been suckered by Sir Riggers at one time or another and hoped to be there the day he got his karma payment for fowl play. On the Ford flyer the crew made ready to change over to speed run. One man lowered a cover of the bowler to keep the heat away from the gas bag. Another cranked down the smoke stack so it was a full twenty feet below the keel. Ford began cranking hard on a handle, drawing the cabin right up to the gas bag, removing the air gap and improving the streamlining of the vessel. Once the crewman had the cover secured, he pulled two move levers. These changed the pitch and angle of the blades, allowing them to move the air more efficiently. The all felt the sudden surge of speed as their ship was suddenly much better in the air than it had been before.
Riggers watched this change and cursed long and loudly. He watched as the Ford Model C, now something else entirely pulled away from him in the sky. He screamed in rage when the Wright Flyer zoomed by him and was gaining on Ford. His flyer was wide open and not even close to what those two had. Enzo just looked and chuckled, "I knew they were good, but this is totally different." He turned and singled for the fleet to go wide open now that they were at cruising altitude. They blew by Sir Riggers and suddenly the world would never be the same as far they all could tell.
Tower of Londinium.
.... There is more of this story ...