NaNoWriMo… Day the Third

NaNoWriMo Participant Logo 2012Ok, so it’s not the third day any more… by the time you read this, in fact, by the time I post it, it will be day 4.

But that’s not the point, the point is it’s the end of day 3 and I’ve reached the 5000 word target for the end of today! In recognition of this oh-so-awesome feat of willpower and “I will not give them another reason to mock me”, I’m posting the first draft of chapter three of my NaNoWriMo Project here!

Why chapter three? Well I’ve already posted chapter one as my novel excerpt on the NaNo website (see if you haven’t read it). Also, if I posted chapter two it could give the game away; so you get chapter three.

To anyone who follows this blog for the sciencey-wiency stuff, please bear with me for the rest of the month, for you I have uploaded this youtube video on ammonite preparation:

For everyone else… here’s chapter three!

I hope you like it, and I’d love any constructive comments you might have.

Ben D Brooks


It was a wet day in London that Saturday morning, and a mist hung in the air like thick treacle, it felt to Alexi as though it clung to every surface and willed everyone into a state of apprehension. Even given the abject depression expressed by the other people on board the Picadilly line train to London Air and Rail Terminus, nothing could dampen his spirits today. When it came to travelling, Alexi was like an oversized ten year old, there was nothing he liked more than watching the world flow by at exhilarating speed. It didn’t really matter if it was rail, air or even his old Raleigh all-steel bicycle, travel excited him, and he didn’t care if it meant he looked completely gormless surrounded by the early morning’s miserable commuters.

The train regurgitated most of its passengers at Earls Court station, allowing Alexi to gain a seat and while away the rest of his journey in relative peace. By the time the train arrived at the Rail Terminus, there were only a few people still aboard, and as this was the end of the line for this train, everybody disembarked. There were only two Airships due to leave the terminus before noon, and so it came as no surprise to Alexi that most of the other passengers stayed on the platforms waiting for another train.
The London Air and Rail Terminus was a marvel of the age, a rare occasion where engineering, civic planning and practicality were melded into a structure that was as close to perfection as could be achieved with Iron, Glass and Masonry Brick. The whole terminus centred about a central, circular, four story office building in the modern, art deco style which was surmounted by a tower which would not have looked wholly out of place as a lighthouse. The tower was in fact designed to be similar to the iconic lighthouse on Plymouth Hoe and was topped with a bright, revolving lime-light to guide in the airships in poor weather. The only major interference with the lighthouse image was the glass windowed control room set below the revolving lamp. From this room, every action of the airship ground crews could be controlled by telephone, and the operation of the rail networks could be controlled with precision, ensuring seamless transfers in all but the most dire of service delays. The offices below were occupied by representatives from all of the rail companies on the ground floor. The Airship companies filled the second and third, and the fourth housed offices for the newly formed British Transport Police, Royal Mail, the managerial staff of the terminus, and extra space for expansion of the control room when new rail lines linked up to the building. From this central hub, the building radiated out in an arc towards the west, with platform space for twelve rail lines which was covered by a glass and iron canopy similar to that at Paddington station, arching out from the centre to columns on platform six, and then again to platform twelve where it abutted the airship landing terminal. This part of the building was the pièce de résistance, thanks to the innovative engineering of a small but underappreciated band of engineers. Ticket and customs offices fitted neatly alongside the passenger lounges, and the whole is sited on ground level, while the actual landing gantries sat above the terminal, could rotate to suit the approach of airships from any direction, and were approached by stairways and ramps within the large, central supporting pillars.  The curving terminal played host to 15 separate gantries, and during the busy seasons of the summer months and Christmas could theoretically accommodate some 300 trains and 200 airship arrivals and departures each day. All told, the scheme to build this modern wonder had cost a consortium of companies four hundred thousand pounds of capital investment and the government one hundred thousand pounds in subsidies.

When Alexi’s train had arrived at 9:18 am there had only been four trains in the station, and only the one airship graced the gantries overhead. This was the R.M.A. Alexandria, she was nothing grand, a fairly new British Aerospace airship of the Albert class. With four Vickers electric motors powered from a steam turbine engine housed near the rear of the vessel, she could comfortably reach speeds of seventy knots in still air, which could be increased to nearly 120 knots with a strong tailwind. She is a semi-rigid airship, constructed from the new light alloys and the lower half is skinned with aluminium like the hull of a colossal flying boat. The airship’s gas-bags are filled with helium, nestled into the very top of the hull, and are covered in an expandable rubber and cotton blended fabric. Altitude control is achieved through careful adjustments to the pressure of the helium in the gas bags of the ship, and directional control was provided by a rudder and aileron assembly at the rear of the craft. In total, she measures nine hundred feet in length and has a diameter of two hundred and fifty feet. Housing some fifty passenger cabins and bunks for forty individual crewmembers, she is one of the largest British Airships, with two passenger lounges, a bar and even a carefully railed promenade deck at the very top of the craft. When docked or in sufficiently calm weather, this deck is opened to the more adventurous passengers, who could then look out over the countryside sweeping away below them.

As Alexi approached the ticket offices located near to gantry number four, he gazed up at the imposing monolith floating above in wonderment; in only two and a half decades aviation had gone from completely uncontrollable balloons to fully functioning liners of the air flown by both private and national airlines in a safe, controlled and scheduled way. He purchased his ticket for the short six hour journey to Edinburgh and went through to the airship terminal. There were a number of people in the waiting lounge already; most were occupying themselves with the newspapers, from the doorway Alexi could see several passengers reading a variety of newspapers including The Times, the Evening Standard and even one individual perusing the previous day’s Manchester Guardian. One or two people were taking the opportunity to have a cup of tea and look out of the glass walls at the far end of the room, to where the hangars for storing and repairing Airships were packed tightly around the one gantry not located upon the terminal building. Beyond the hangars, the yet unspoiled English countryside rapidly overtook the newly built suburbs and the Thames could be seen meandering into the distance towards Oxford. Alexi moved from the doorway towards the counter of the lounge cafe and proceeded to order a strong cup of Earl Grey tea.

Across the room, a man in a tweed suit sat quietly observing the other passengers while working his way through today’s copy of The Times, he had seen Alexi enter the room, but in the same way that the professor had not noticed him, he took little notice of the appearance of the professor. Both men had little presence in a crowd; many of the watcher’s friends envied his ability to become a “hole in the room”, but then when you work for the Secret Service Bureau of the British Government that ability is bound to be envied. According to the newspaper the coal miners were ramping themselves up into a frenzy over working conditions, prices for the valuable black, fossil laden sedimentary rock would skyrocket as a result. Given that Major George Harcourt’s current role at the SSB was in energy security, this new development in the ongoing saga of the coal miners versus the National Coal Board was more interesting than another person who had his chameleon-like ability to disappear. And anyway, by the look of him, he was probably just some middle manager or banker heading home for the weekend.

Major Harcourt’s mind drifted away from the newspaper and he began to muse on the airship anchored two stories above him. The Albert class airships; as with so many of the most recent designs and unbeknownst to the public, had been rushed through the design and construction process in a race to increase efficiency and tackle the rising costs of fuel. This was because of the slow realisation among government officials and industry leaders that Britain’s natural, native coal reserves were becoming more scarce and expensive to extract, resulting in a slow but inexorable series of price hikes over the last two years. There were of course, huge reserves of coal that could be mined in the colonies and dominions, but the Major was well aware of the dangers of over-extending one’s supply lines. Adding to this pressure, similar problems were affecting many other European powers, most of who were not in the fortunate position of having near surface coal reserves, relationships between nations were beginning to show strain. He was abruptly dragged from his reverie by more passengers entering the lounge; he recommenced his observations and put thoughts of high politicking aside.

Alexi knew none of his fellow passengers, indeed he didn’t expect to know any of them, so he chose a seat as close to the embarkation point as possible while still avoiding as many people as possible. The airship would not likely be boarding for at least an hour so he sat and regarded the other passengers with a detached fascination; all but the lowest tiers of society were represented. A group of ladies were seated near the window in muted discussion, while the men Alexi assumed to be their husbands were sat in another, far less talkative group at the next table. Two businessmen were sifting through their paperwork and discussing where their investments would be best placed in the future. A few couples were strewn around the lounge like so much confetti, ranging from long-attached couples travelling to young newlyweds about to experience air-travel for the first time. It was only then that he noticed in the far corner of the room; a man in tweed who seemed more interested in the exit of the customs offices than his paper, not giving it much thought at all he concluded that the man was probably waiting for a friend. Catching his eye he made a courteous wave which was met with a curt, but not evidentially impolite nod and a tight smile.

Alexi went back to drinking his tea and waited for the boarding call.


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