Disclaimer, Daria and all characters created by Glenn Eichler for the MTV series are the property of MTV. This original story belongs to me and is written for entertainment purposes only, it is not for profit.
On April 1st on PPMB BrownEyedBagel teased us all with his 'The Tragedy of Andrea and Mack (SteamPunk AU)' and like a lot of people I clicked on the link thinking that was a great idea for a story. Of course it was an April Fool's joke but I was disappointed as I still wanted to read that story. I realized the only way I was going to do that was to write it myself. My only intention here is to spin a yarn for entertainment but the subject does touch on certain issues of racism and inequality and if I give offense to any person please be assured it was never my intention to do so.
Without further ado please let me present for your delight and delectation Ms. Andrea Hecuba and Mr. Michael (Mack) Mackenzie in
The Aeronauts – A Steampunk Romance
Ship's Log, ASV Andrea. Friday July 29th 1870. 22:15 Hours Greenwich Mean Time.
Personal record by Andrea Hecuba, acting Captain.
I have just taken our position and as accurately as I can measure we are at
Latitude: N 55° 19'
Longitude: W 17° 8'
to the West and somewhat North of Ireland. We are heading South-East by East at approximately 44 knots under power and sail but we will shortly be powering down the turbines and banking the boiler for the night. It is a clear, calm night with no moon but plenty of stars visible, sea appears calm and there are no weather threats in any direction that I can see. We have been so fortunate with the weather on our journey that I kneel every night and give thanks to God for our deliverance, surely at least He must approve our enterprise. I have only been out of bed for an hour but I am already tired before I have even begun my shift as boilerman. Michael's strength and endurance are surely miraculous, he has shoveled no less than 15 tons of coal per day for twenty five straight days. He still has a smile for me but if he does not have a proper rest soon it will surely kill him. I could not bear that
She dipped the pen in the inkwell again and angrily crossed out the last two sentences.
'This is not a little girl's love diary' she scolded herself. Out of habit she checked around the lamplit wheelhouse, glanced at the gauges and compass and ensured the sprung peg still held the wheel at the correct heading. She listened for a moment to the hum of the turbines with eyes closed and, hearing no anomalies, she returned her attention to her book. Rolling her shoulders to relax she began again. Lines of strain and deep seated fatigue etched her face as she pondered, still unsure as to what details if any she should include in a record of this sort.
By my best estimate we have at most seventy tons of coal remaining and Michael has been very diligent in taking so much from each bunker every day so as to maintain the delicate balance required to keep this vessel in trim even though he has to cart it from further away each time.
The greater worry is the water supply. With the best will in the world it will not last more than another two days, probably much less. It is a pity our boiler will not run on sea water but then again this vessel was never designed for crossing oceans.
However if my navigation has not failed us we should reach Ireland before then, if my charts are accurate we can sail into the Shannon estuary and resupply ourselves. I hope we only need to take on water as I do NOT wish to try explaining the configuration of this vessel to any officials or worse, British Naval personnel. It is going to be difficult enough to find a secluded cove on the South coast of England where we can remove the turbines and propellers from the superstructure and paint over the 'ASV' and 'Baltimore' on the hull before we sail for Le Havre and the mouth of the Seine. Without them I can pass us off as a wealthy American Heiress touring the British Isles in Father's yacht with an unseen crew hiding below decks all suffering with chicken pox. If we're spotted by the Royal Navy though we'll have no choice but to scuttle her on the spot, it would be treason to let this fine ship and it's wonderful flying gear and engines fall to a foreign power. Our Government may have failed us but we are not traitors.
I must go now and relieve Michael in the boiler room, another eight hours of back-breaking shoveling and raking and that just to keep the boilers lit and the radiators warm enough to keep us aloft but he must rest, poor man, my angel.
She smiled as she blotted the page and put the book in it's cabinet. She stood and stretched and then took a last look around the horizon and checked the compass, barometer and all three chronometers before taking the gangway to the lower deck.
She was of average height but quite heavily built, muscular even, her black hair bound in a single long braid down her back. She was not classically beautiful but was a strong featured woman and striking in her own way, her formidable gaze conveying a strong intelligence.
She went to the boiler room first and saw that Michael was already leveling out the fire in the boiler with the long rake. A quick glance at the gauges showed the steam pressure dropping. She returned to the wheelhouse and, taking a rag to help her grip, went to the bank of levers along the aft wall and disengaged first the port, then the starboard turbine from the propellers. She heard them speed up at first then begin to spin down after the clank from below as Michael closed the regulator valves. She left the central, low pressure turbine running to make use of the minimal steam, it was the only effective rudder they had once in the air. She checked out the wheelhouse windows to make sure the outboard propellers were feathering properly and not causing drag to slew them off course. All was well. 'Thank you, Papa' she thought privately to herself. 'You certainly were a great engineer!'
She then went to the galley and put Michael's dinner out on the table but left the cover on it to keep it warm. She poured him a glass of Madeira to help him sleep and set it beside the plate. 'The family's best china and silverware. Grandmama would have apoplexy if she knew.' She took the large kettle from the stove and carried it to the stateroom where she used it to fill the washbasin and put out his shaving gear, soap and a fresh towel and then went to the wardrobe and took off most of her outer clothes.
Dressed in her corset and a calf length, sleeveless shift she returned to the boiler room and stood for a moment regarding the man before her. He was tall and muscled like a statue from antiquity. His bare torso rippling as he loaded a supply of coal into the hopper for her. The lamps were trimmed low and most of the illumination came from the open firebox door, the glowing coals giving a weird uplight that made it seem almost like something from Dante. It was no demon that she beheld now though, his dark skin glistening with sweat from his labors and the folds of his limbs creased with dirt. Some called him Mike and some Mack, some Mister Mackenzie and quite a few who had the effrontery to call him 'boy' or worse to his face but to her he was and always would be Michael, her guardian angel, her defender, her love and soon, she hoped...
'Oh God! I need to be married to this man! She thought. 'Soon, just a few more days, three, maybe four at most a week. Did you need to have banns read in France? God alone knows... maybe we could get a dispensation...'
Michael looked up from his work and grinned at her. She recalled the first night she had turned up dressed, or undressed, like this. He had acted confused and turned his back, trying to be all gentlemanly, not sure what she wanted from him after all their talk about marriage and waiting. She had gently explained to him how she was going to stoke the boiler to keep them going through the night and wasn't about to ruin a good dress while doing it. It had taken a while to get him to look at her without embarrassment but now she enjoyed the way his eyes took in her full figure. 'Soon.'
'Your dinner's gettin' cold, mister.' She said, playfully, smiling all the while. 'And the water's hot for your wash, don't be getting coal all over my sheets again!'
'Yes'm.' He drawled, reverting to plantation patois as he always did when she got 'bossy'. Then turning serious he asked 'Can we spare the water? I don't like the level we're at now, how're we doing position wise?'
'Right on course and maybe half a day ahead of schedule.' She replied, a touch of pride in her own skills evident in her statement. 'We should see the coast of Ireland sometime tomorrow and we can take on water there, we have enough coal to get the rest of the way, God willing.'
He nodded, and she noticed he was almost dead on his feet. 'Go, eat, sleep.' She ordered and as he trudged past her on the way out the door she added 'Aren't you forgetting something, Mister Mackenzie?'
He smiled at her as she stood on tiptoe and he leaned down and kissed her upturned lips, leaving behind a dark stain and the sugary taste of coal dust.
She began her nightly routine by donning her father's utility belt which held three types of oil and two grease guns, one small and the other like a small cannon and proceeded to check and maintain the great assemblage of brass, copper and steel that Papa had built. She walked up and down the two hundred foot length of the ship several times, checking every radiator coil for consistent temperature and flow. The little two cylinder engine that ran the pumps was the heartbeat of the ship, keeping the radiators hot so that the eery, greenish white levitacite slabs attached to the underside of the main deck would keep them in the air. 'Pity it's only useful for lift' Andrea thought to herself. She shuddered then as she thought of the 'USASV Vicksburgh', the largest and greatest of the USNAAF's new fleet of flying dreadnoughts. As far as anyone could tell she had probably lost a pump and one section cooled down out of sync with the rest of the ship. Andrea remembered watching in horror with the cadets from Annapolis as the great ship broke her back 10,000 feet in the air during her maiden trials and plunged like a meteor into the sea, no one had survived.
At last she came to the part of her rounds she dreaded most. Taking a deep breath she opened the wheelhouse door and stepped out onto the main deck. No matter how many times she did this she could not get the image of her tumbling off the deck and falling to her death out of her mind. Staying as close as she could to the center she walked to the prow looking over every inch of canvas and, just like she'd been taught, listening to the flap of the sails, the groaning of the timber and the hum of the stays for any tell-tale signs of stress. She was grateful again to her father for the ingenious system of pulleys and winches that allowed the sloop rigged vessel to be manned by a minimal crew, of course in the beginning that had been to minimize the potential loss of life had this highly dangerous experiment in aeronautics turned to tragedy.
Returning to the boiler room Andrea started on the heavy lifting part of her duties, the monotonous toil allowing her time to think, at least. She thought back to her childhood, lonely with her mother dead and no brothers or sisters, but rich in learning as her Papa never sent her away or tired of explaining his inventions or discoveries to her. She recalled how privileged she felt as she sat in her white dress among the gentlemen smoking their cigars after dinner and discussing the wonders of the age of reason. She thought of the kindly Mister Hubbard and his thoughts of starting a society to promote exploration and scientific study, he would be interested in this voyage unquestionably.
It was her father's genius though which had seen the potential for the lump of rock from Lewis and Clark's expedition to the Pacific North West that rose into the air when heated. 'Heavier than air flight!' He'd exclaimed to Andrea. 'Think of the applications! Exploration, migration, trade!'
Of course the dear man had forgotten human nature and the one application for his invention that had the Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles knocking on his door. A conflict with the Southern States was inevitable, everyone knew it, and the concept of a flying warship was too awe inspiring to leave unexplored.
Andrea paused in her shoveling to check the steam gauge. '50 psi, just enough.' She thought to herself before returning to her reverie.
She was grateful for Welles intervention because, in a way, it had brought Michael to her.
She had met him before, of course, or at least seen him at Daria's home where he worked as the Morgendorffer's stable manager and blacksmith. He and his sister Jodie had been with the Morgendorffers when they came North in 1861 and became her neighbors and Daria and Quinn her schoolmates.
She thought of Helen, the matriarch, how she had refused her father's arranged marriage to a tobacco planter and slave owner and made good on her threat to walk away from a life of privilege with the clothes on her back. How she had gone to work for the quiet spoken German immigrant with his little printing press who published an advertising gazette. How she had married him and bore him two daughters and a son who'd died in infancy.
She remembered Daria telling her of the wizened old man, his skull barely covered by parchment thin, blue hued skin, his death clearly imminent, who'd made the effort in his last days to make peace with his eldest daughter. He had remembered her generously in his will, financing the move to Maryland and the purchase of the then struggling local paper which became the Lawndale Herald and Advertising Gazette. It was a timely move too as the Morgendorffers' activities and support for the 'underground railway' for runaway slaves was becoming known.
It was Quinn, surprisingly, who had told her the story of Jodie and Michael. Quinn who could chatter endlessly about the most trivial of things yet who spoke earnestly and with pride of her parent's contribution to the abolition of slavery and sheltering runaways, sometimes in their own home! She had told how late one night a friend had come knocking to tell her mother that two runaway slaves, a man and a woman, had been found by a gang of 'Purifiers' hiding in a warehouse and hanged on the spot. Her parents had dressed in dark clothes and gone into town, finding the children they alone knew were there locked into a steamer trunk with holes drilled into the bottom for air. At that time and place there was no way Helen and Jacob could adopt them but having 'colored' children as servants was quite common so Jodie had gone to work in the kitchen scrubbing pots and little Michael had become the stable boy.
Glancing at the chronometer on the wall Andrea saw that it was just past midnight so she closed the firebox door and went about her rounds.
She smiled again as she thought of Quinn as she was when last they'd met at Daria's house. Mrs. Jamie White of the Baltimore Whites. A stalwart of society who was always attendant at the best occasions, her three children were adorable though, redheads like herself, though that little boy Charley's going to be a handful when he grows up. 'A pity Daria never had any children of her own, she would make a wonderful mother, though nowadays she spends her time mothering everyone else, still in widow's black seven years later.' Andrea sighed. It seemed that poor Jane, Daria's friend, was unable to carry a child to term. 'What was it now, four miscarriages in as many years, poor thing.'
She shook her head as she opened the door to the convenience. Ironic to think that it was a Jennings plunger closet like this one that brought Michael to her attention. It might have been Jacob's name on the masthead but just about everyone knew it was Helen who wrote the editorials in the Lawndale Herald, making it a very popular and profitable enterprise, especially during the war when her righteous indignation and thundering denunciations of the 'corrupt' South and the abomination of the institution of slavery fed into Union sentiment. They were the first family in the Baltimore region to install an indoor, flushing, water closet. It was a Jennings design but it was their talented blacksmith who had fashioned all of the pipework to make it work. Thus when Andrea's father needed someone to build his design she had a name to put forward, the rest was a fairy tale romance come true for her, at least behind closed doors. It was illegal for a white woman to marry a colored man. She could go to jail but Michael... God knows what they'd do to Michael.
Returning to her shoveling she saw the way the light from the furnace danced on the glass fronts of the steam gauges and she remembered Daria at that public debate, the light from a hundred torches reflected in her round, owlish, spectacles. Daria was president of their local chapter of the American Woman Suffrage Association and had requested this debate with their congressman, a Democrat, who had surprisingly agreed to join them on the platform. He obviously hadn't intended for there to be any real interaction and was using this as an exercise to promote himself to the local populace, he had even reportedly paid a mob of tavern scum a nickel each and a pitcher of beer to stand at the back and cheer him and boo anyone else. He had countered all of Daria's reasoned arguments with jokes and insults, some directed personally at her. He had even corrupted NEWSA into nausea and Daria into diarrhea in the same sentence to much laughter from his claque. When Daria pointed out that NEWSA was no more and he was dealing with the new amalgamated association he all but called her a fool and a whore for correcting him.
She had then discussed the recent 15th amendment to the constitution granting colored men the vote and how the world had not ended and equality was inevitable and right to which he had responded with a sneer and a thinly veiled threat adding 'They haven't gotten the vote yet, whatever the constitution says.' Then he showed his complete lack of manners, breeding or good taste by asking her 'What would some dried up old spinster like you know of such things anyway? You should get yourself a husband and stay at home making babies where you belong.'
Daria had maintained her ironclad stoicism though those close to her noticed the slight reddening of her cheeks as she responded. 'Sir, you have called me many things, most of them undeservedly, however, now you have impugned the honor and besmirched the name of a man who's boots you are not fit to lick clean. I refer to my late husband, Lieutenant Trent Lane, who gave his life serving with Buford's Cavalry under General Meade at Gettysburg. Whatever I may be, you, sir, are no gentleman!' With that she had walked off the platform, head held high, to thunderous applause, even from the rabble at the back.
It was some time after two when Andrea poked her head into the stateroom to watch Michael sleeping for a moment. She had forgotten to top up the lamps with oil and some had burnt out so she attended to them and checked the rest, her muscles aching now from all the work. Although she was coping much better now than she had during the first few nights. She looked at the callouses on her palms and fingers. 'It's a far cry from embroidery.' She mused.
She had always admired Daria, ever since she had first come to Miss Barch's Academy for Young Gentlewomen. She was always quiet spoken but was possessed of a dry wit that couldn't fail to raise a smile on Andrea's face. She envied her almost instant friendship with Jane. 'Envy or jealousy?' She asked herself. 'Envy, definitely, I do not resent either of them or begrudge them their fellowship, I just wish...' Her thought remained unfinished as she remembered she had herself realized that intimacy in her conversations with Michael, he was dearer to her even than they were to each other.
Since her Mother's death Daria was the majority owner of the newspaper but the board wouldn't let her edit it, saying a woman editor would reduce their sales dramatically so she wrote a fashion column instead. Typically a Daria column consisted of about ten percent fashion and ninety percent discussion of women's issues, from the struggle for suffrage to marital advice to reports on inventions to help around the home and child rearing.
Andrea imagined her own baby then, a child of her and Michael. Would it be light or dark? What if she had several and they were all dark like him? Would she be the outsider? The stranger in her own home? Would they hear the abuse hurled at them by ignorant people as they grew up and learn to hate her for the color of her skin? She dwelt for a moment on an image of a teenage girl with dark skin and curly hair glaring at her with hatred then she shook herself and thought of Jodie, with her sweet smile and caring eyes. Andrea knew she was Daria's friend more so than a servant. She had chosen not to marry, at least not yet and remained at Daria's side throughout all of her trials and tribulations.
Andrea hadn't paid much attention to her until that meeting of the NEWSA at Daria's house where they were going to debate whether to settle their differences with Anthony and Stanton over the Amendment campaign and to whether to join the expanded AWSA. Jodie had been standing quietly by with a tray of tea cakes when she had asked in a pause in the discussion 'Can I vote too?'
This had led to some uproar among the society ladies present but Quinn had lent her not inconsiderable social weight to Daria by standing up beside her when she said that of course Jodie could vote. 'There is equality or there is no equality.' Daria had pronounced, firmly.
Inspired by that event Daria had had no compunction in printing the ex-slave Sojourner Truth's 'Ain't I a woman' speech verbatim in her column to much controversy and not a little praise.
After that Andrea had made it her business to get to know Jodie a little better. She was already a regular visitor at Daria's house where she and Jane and certain other ladies met occasionally for coffee, cake and conversation, sometimes reading poetry to each other or taking lessons in water colors from Jane. On one afternoon Andrea was returning from the water closet to the drawing room where she'd left Daria and Jane when she heard a new voice reading one of Shakespeare's sonnets. The oration was clear and the enunciation was perfect but she could tell from the timbre of the voice that the woman was colored. She approached silently and through the unclosed door she spotted the servant girl with a book in her hands sitting at the table. She remembered being surprised at the time but then, knowing Daria and Jane as she did, she should not have been. When Jodie finished speaking she walked quickly into the room and joined the others in their applause. Once she knew the situation she had no problem with Jodie putting away her serving tray and sitting with them and joining the conversation. Jodie told her the story of the little white girl who didn't have any friends. Other children liked to play 'house' but Daria's favorite game was 'school'. As Quinn was often out playing with her own friends no one thought it odd that Daria would play with the pot girl. Her Daddy had even made her a little blackboard and the pot girl had pretended to learn her letters just like a real person. Every evening Jodie had gone to the room she shared with her brother over the stable and repeated the lesson she'd learned that day to him. 'Bless her little heart'. Andrea thought. 'And bless Daria's great big heart.' She added, thinking of the matched pair of plain gold wedding bands Daria had pressed into her hand as a parting gift as the Independence day fireworks lit the night sky.
Dawn was breaking on the Eastern horizon as she returned to the upper deck. At their altitude it wasn't long before the first shy tendrils of sunlight crept across the roof of the wheelhouse. She took the telescope and scanned the horizon to the left of the sun. There! That flash of green. She adjusted the focus and there it was, clearly, green fields ending fairly abruptly in tall granite cliffs with waves breaking at their feet. That was Ireland, she knew. She also knew that they were going to make it.