Authors: Joyce Chng
Tags: #speculative fiction, #young adult, #steampunk
Autumn soon gave way to Winter and the
entire school grounds, including the Great Manor and the
Administrativa, were covered with a thick coating of white snow.
Katherine Riley wore her fur-lined brown coat and walked to the
library, intending to do some reading,
It had been a busy month after they had
returned from the Great Gathering. More studies and training
flights were intensified. Tito was a fully-grown adult and had
flown off. His wings did work, after all. He left behind a yellow
feather, which Katherine kept as a keepsake. She hoped he found
enough food for Winter though.
Alethia had invited her to stay with her
during the Yule holiday season. It was a joyous prospect that
Katherine cherished immensely. Spending time with the Forresters
made her heart sing. The garden of crystals. Mr Forrester’s
inventions. Mrs Potts’ cooking. By now, they were already finishing
their studies at the Academy. Katherine was close to graduation,
closer to becoming a fully qualified pilot.
The night before she left for London with
Alethia Forrester, she had a final dream with Miss Sharpton. The
old witch was sitting in the schoolroom, alone in the darkness.
Katherine could see the dream figure of her old nemesis had
shriveled to almost a skeletal state, making her look more like a
cadaver. Less real. Instead of feeling fear, she felt pity
“What are you going to do to me?” The voice
was quavering, ancient. Whining like a frightened child. “Hit me?”
Challenging, but the voice was weak.
Katherine said simply: “I am going to let
And the dream figure of Miss Sharpton
quickly dissolved into sand blown away by an invisible breeze. The
schoolroom turned bright as a summer’s day and merged into an open
When Spring arrived, Katherine was ready to
take her final test flight. She wore her diamond butterfly on her
left breast, beneath her half-wing badge.
It was not a blimp-fin but a proper leo-fin,
its fins and flanges shimmering in the sun. It was unbelievably
large and so beautiful. As beautiful as the time she first saw one
in the sky. It was an uplifting and exuberant feeling, to be
standing so close to a real leo-fin. After the Great Gathering, she
knew that the leo-fin was just a flying machine. A tool designed to
fly. Not the fairy-tale flying creature she had seen in Dorset a
long time. Yet, knowing this fact had only strengthened her
resolve. Placing her gloved hand on the panels and feeling it thrum
beneath her, Katherine readied herself.
Captain Sagan lifted her right hand and gave
her sign of approval. Katherine saluted sharply and stepped into
She touched her butterfly brooch and her
badge once, for luck and for courage. She was taking flight, eager
for the glorious spring sky.
Dear Father and Mother,
I hope you are well.
I am now a Pilot, manning one of the large
leo-fins. My tasks are quite simple, carrying cargos for two London
spice merchants and occasionally passengers. I graduated from the
Academy one year ago and I have enjoyed flying immensely. It must
be the wind brushing against my skin, the feel of freedom. I used
to long for it when I was in Dorset.
My friend Alethia Forrester is my handler
and controller. She manages the schedules exceedingly well, even
though she has been born blind. She has not let her infirmity
We have traveled to so many places in
England. We flew once to Scotland and it was a cold place, but
beautiful. I have enclosed some lace clothing in this letter for my
little sister. I hope she likes it. She loves lace.
I have also met a fellow Pilot by the name
of Richard Eddington. Yes, he was the one who brought me to London.
If you have any ill will against him, I apologize on his behalf. I
really wanted to go to the Academy and study to become a Pilot. Now
Eddington is my close companion. He has not asked my hand in
marriage yet. I do not think I am ready for it. The sky is so wide
and free. I feel as if I can fly forever. It is just my leo-fin and
I know that Dorset is exceedingly different
from London. London is a big city, filled with thousands of people.
Do you know we had a Golden Jubilee and there was a Great
Gathering? I hope you had heard about it. It was a grand event with
so many nations taking part. There is the Queen’s Aerial Fleet now.
I think I will be piloting one of the Sharks. It is a new design
and it is intended to protect Britannia from external harm. I have
to wait for Pilotmaster Lee and Commander Karlida Sagan to approve
What is the same, I feel, is the sky.
Dorset’s sky is the same as London’s. You can simply soar in the
clouds. Everything is so small when you fly.
I know that Richard shares my sentiments. He
is a Pilot like me. We live for the sky. We love flying. You need a
large heart for this sort of endeavor. A lioness’s heart. Once you
have tasted freedom, you will never be the same again. Something
changed me for the better. I am a different person. I used to be so
gripped by fear, even my extremities hurt and I could not move. A
wise woman once told me to remove that obstacle in my mind and I
did. I cannot let fear and terror rule my life forever. Being
afraid is not a good thing, not for the future.
You must be overwhelmed by my overt
declarations about flying. I love flying and it is part of my
being. Please understand this, Father and Mother.
Forgive me for dwelling too much on my own
life! How is Dorset? How is my little sister? Most of all, how are
you? Please visit London. It is a beautiful place with many things
to see. Just say the word and I will personally fetch you.
Oh. Another thing. How is Miss Sharpton? I
have not seen her for many years now. I hope she is doing well.
Your loving daughter
List of Dramatis Personae
Alethia Forrester is a blind girl. A child
prodigy and synaesthete. She is mature beyond her years. Born in
London. She is in the academy, not as a cadet pilot but as one of
the controllers/handlers – her extra-sensory gifts help her
perceive the positions of the leo-fins)
Katherine Riley is the main
protagonist/character. Wants freedom. Loves flying and flight.
Best/good friend of Alethia. Born in Dorset – parents are
middle-class workers (mother a washerwoman and father a
Captain Karlida Sagan is partly inspired by
Carl Sagan. She is one of the original five female pilots and
teaches the Basics of Flight module at the academy. She is the
House Tutor for College Sable. A role model for Katherine. She is
Pilotmaster Lee is an Asian/Chinese man. He
is middle-aged but still very fit. He oversees the academy and
teaches one of the Engineering modules. [Note: This Victorian
England is less racist than our world’s Victorian England but
racism still exists in some pockets of society. He and Sagan are
Richard Eddington is Katherine’s friend and
then lover. One of the pilots. A dashing fellow with liberal
Paul Forrester is a minor inventor/tinker.
An eccentric but kind-hearted man. He has more unorthodox ideas
than his peers. One of his many projects is to construct a larger
sun-flier. Another project is to input human consciousness into a
flying contraption (ie, telepathy/thought-driven flight).
it is done is up to everyone else’s imagination.
Advocates growing of own food. Compared to the Rileys, the
Forresters are wealthier, though they are not as rich as the landed
Mrs Potts is the Forresters’ nanny and
governess. She also cooks for them. Brought Alethia up and is close
to the girl. Is good-humoredly amused and bemused by her employer’s
Lady Judith Westmoreland is Captain Sagan’s
teaching assistant and she works the vox-reader during the
lectures. Typical Victorian lady but with a wicked sense of humor
and an intense love for astronomy and history (which she teaches
Engineer Morley maintains the manor’s core
and also teaches one of the Engineering modules. A gruff man with a
heart of gold, he has a soft spot for Lady Westmoreland.
Doctor James Ash is the academy’s resident
doctor and a lecturer for Science (Biology). Acerbic, dour at first
glance but actually compassionate. Tries to heal Katherine’s
Trainer Stenton is one of the academy’s
fitness trainers. Gruff, tough and wants his trainees to turn out
Thomas Von Dyke is a boy by German
extraction and has lived in England for a long time. Part of
College Sable – Katherine’s friend and occasional rival.
Blonde-haired, blue-eyed. A little cocky.
Joshua Baker is a boy from College
Wes is one of the pilots. He is Richard’s
Edward Hannigan is a boy from College
Misato Kanaka is an exchange student from
Meiji Japan, assigned to College Sable.
Cook is simply Cook. She is the main cook
for the Great Manor and has her own vegetable garden.
The leo-fin is a machine, plain and simple.
The pilot of course has to understand the intricacies of the
leo-fin, as a flying machine. Flies on either helium or hydrogen. A
beautiful machine, constructed to look like the lion fish. It
precedes modern concepts of the zeppelin and the airplane (Wright
The sun-flier is one of Paul Forrester’s
myriad inventions. It is basically a small bird-like robot (cogs
and gears), powered by solar energy. The sun-flier is sometimes
used for short distance messages (inspired, no doubt, by the
The steel puppies are mechanical/robotic
dogs. They look like mastiffs or bulldogs, constructed out of gears
The gyro-scopes are leg-powered. But only
occasionally seen. Precedes the helicopter.
The tin-men are Paul Forrester’s creations.
Toy soldier sized. No actual function, except for
The blimp-fins are ordinary fliers. Used for
training purposes at the academy. Purely functional.
There is a nine-year gap between Alethia’s
A Garden of Crystals
and the present story. The
leo-fins have become common and more advanced than the ones
encountered in AGOC. Their features have become more streamlined,
as the collectors and inventors keep on making changes to their
The Queen formed
Her Majesty’s Aerial
, including the leo-fins under this particular
designation. So, the leo-fins serve both commercial and military
purposes. Later, as England grows in power (during the time period
where Katherine Riley obtains her wings), the Aerial Fleet expands
to include the
, a more streamlined and
deadlier version of the leo-fin, purely built for war. As one of
the ladies who saw the prototype for the first time has gasped in
shock, the goblin shark is truly “ghastly”.
Colleges of the Flight
Academy ( A
cadémie De Vol)
Sable (Right) – Bird Wings
Azure (Left) - Cogs
Orr (Right) - Propellers
Vert (Left) - Comet.
Courses offered at the Flight Academy:
Basics of flight.
Mechanics of flight.
Languages (French, Italian, Russian and Han
The Flight Academy has a cathedral-inspired
main building where the auditorium (where the main lectures are
conducted) and the Administrativa (main office) is situated. This
main building is the nerve center of the Academy.
Directly facing this building is the great
manor (“Great Manor”) housing the classrooms, minor lecture halls
and dormitories as well as the main dining hall where the seasonal
celebrations are held and normal meals are conducted. The manor has
an internal heating system, operated by an intricate underground
hydraulics core. It has hot and cold water – and the bathrooms have
their own taps and tubs. It has electricity (powered by the
The Flying Field is where all the exercises
– flying and athletics – are carried out. The Field has a small
building where training leo-fins, gyro-scopes and other
flight-related apparatus are kept.
The House Colleges/designations are named
after the terms used in heraldry. There are also symbols attached –
College blazons/badges (please see ‘Colleges of the Flight