(Book I of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 1999 BY
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"He's starting. Look," Merle said, pointing off the edge of the parapet to the ground below.
Sure enough, Tinker had finally come out of the large shed he'd had built, carrying something in his paws. Before he shut the door, Merle had a tantalizing glimpse of the wooden prow of his final project - the airship.
"I see it. It seems today is the day he will finally test the model."
The object tinker was holding in the warm spring sunshine was rather large. It was a limp bag of silk attached to a thin skeletal frame of wood, the whole frame larger than Tinker's body. It had four long posts, and attached to the bag by some strings was a small, curved, wooden boat with a flat spot on the bottom. Merle, standing up on the parapet with Xaa and W'mefa, couldn't really make out what it was, but they weren't about to make Tinker nervous by standing next to him to watch.
The wait that followed was agonizing. Slowly, Tinker fiddled with the little boat, then fiddled with the strings, then fiddled with the boat again. He went back inside for several minutes, then came out with a lit taper. He applied the flame carefully to the boat, then sat back and waited, watching. After a few minutes, he blew out the taper and set it aside.
"He's got that look. Something's going to happen," Merle said.
"I agree," Xaa replied, after translating for W'mefa, "but what?"
After a few minutes, the strings went taut. Tinker grinned.
Merle gazed on excitedly, and both Xaa and W'mefa were leaning on the edge of the parapet expectantly. Part of Merle still despised Tinker deeply, but when she looked at him like this, she could see her little friend that she had grown up with, his eyes sparkling with excitement, his whiskers a-quiver, grinning broadly at some new accomplishment. As they watched, the bag slowly, magically began to inflate. Tinker tugged a string, and the framework fell away, leaving the bag waving in the breeze, held to the earth by the little boat below it.
Suddenly, the model wiggled, then lifted into the air. Tinker clapped and hopped to his feet, trotting after it in the gentle spring breeze as it slowly rose higher and higher.
"He did it!" W'mefa exclaimed.
Part of Merle wanted to clap and yell "Yay!" down to her little friend below. But another part remembered what he had done, and what he was really like. "That's just the model, Lord W'mefa."
"She's right," Xaa replied, nodding. "We've yet to see if the full-scale airship will fly, but this seems to indicate it might, old friend," Xaa rumbled.
Tinker tripped, and fell sprawling in the grass, laughing. Merle missed that laugh. The little airship floated higher and higher, and finally Tinker pushed himself to his feet, and walked back inside his shed.
"I've got it," Xaa said, and turned to run down the steps behind them that led up to the parapet. A minute later, he came riding out the gate. He stopped to scan the sky for the little airship, then rode after it, urging his jet-black bird to a full run.
"Well, Lord W'mefa, now all we can do is wait and hope," Merle said.
"Indeed, Lady Merle," W'mefa said, then turned to her and grinned. "Var says he has his first full-scale steam-engine following your design ready. I saw it when he was filling it with water this morning - the boiler is as big as you, my lady. He says he has invented an input valve that allows the steam to be controlled, making it go faster or slower, or even stop altogether. He also says that the dual-stroke piston design you invented is probably a more efficient use of the steam than the single-stroke piston the Little Ones used, particularly when combined with a second armature controlling a pair of the input valves he invented. Shall we go see it? I'm sure he'd love your advice on how the Little Ones made the pulleys and belts transfer the mechanical energy from the main flywheel to the rest of the axles they used for power distribution."
"Yes, I'd love to!" Merle
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