Tom Derringer & the Aluminum Airship

                     by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Chapter One
I Discover My Heritage

       I was eight years old when I found my father's journals. They were neatly arranged on a shelf above the harmonium, not concealed in any way, but I had not troubled myself to explore that particular collection until one rainy day in 1874, when I tired of my customary amusements and clambered atop the polished wooden top of the instrument to see just what lay within those brown leatherette bindings.
       I did not immediately recognize my father's handwriting; he had been dead for some four years at that time, so I had not had much occasion to encounter it. I did see immediately that these were hand-written works, rather than printed books, but it took me considerably longer to grasp that they were not fiction, or that my late parent was the author.
       Eventually, though, after glancing at first one volume and then another, and flipping through pages as my whimsy took me, I decided to start at the beginning, and there, upon the first page of the first volume, I found the inscription, My Journal, by John Thomas Derringer, Age Twelve, and the date, the third day of March, in the Year of Our Lord 1854.
       Needless to say, that captured my attention, and I began reading.
       I cannot overstate my astonishment at what I read therein, at this sudden discovery that my father had led a life of excitement and adventure in the years before my birth.
       My mother found me there, sprawled across the harmonium, some three hours later. I was well into the second volume, covering the autumn of 1854 and the winter of 1855, enraptured by my father's adventures.
       I received a stern admonishment for climbing on the furniture, but was permitted to continue my reading. Indeed, Mother was kind enough to lift down all fourteen volumes and carry them to my room, so that I might peruse them at my leisure.
       I shall not describe at length the contents of those journals to my readers; I trust everyone is familiar with the general outline of Jack Derringer's career as the young companion of the famed adventurer Darien Lord, and the more intimate details he saw fit to record are best kept private. Nor do I think it difficult to imagine the effect those books had upon me -- My father, an adventurer? What a revelation for a lad such as I was -- I could scarcely contain my excitement. I read through all fourteen volumes in a great rush, and when I had finished I returned to the beginning and read through them again.
       Once again, I was enthralled. The realization that the bold and beautiful Arabella Whitaker described in the later volumes was my own dear mother added to the delight I found in my father's narrative.
       I took some time to absorb what I had read, to ponder on its significance, and then, perhaps a fortnight after that original discovery, I went to my mother with a head full of questions, and began asking her for every detail she could recall that my father had not thought worth preserving.
       There were, it seemed, a good many, and my mother answered my questions directly and honestly. That may surprise some readers, as many parents go to great lengths to protect their progeny from the less pleasant facts of life, but my mother was a remarkable woman.
       She did ask, though, that I say nothing of any of this to my playmates, and I took that request to heart. Indeed, it pleased me to keep my father's life a secret; I feared that if I were to boast of his exploits, my friends would remind me that their own fathers were still present, while mine was not. While there is much to recommend knowing that one's father was a hero, there is even more to be said for having a father still among the living.
       I did speak of it to my sister, who was three years my junior, but I am not sure how much she grasped. She scarcely seemed to understand that we had ever had a father, for he had died two months before she was born.
       It is in the nature of boys to wish to emulate their elders, and so it was for me. The more I learned of the life my father had led, the more I hoped that I might someday follow in his footsteps. I kept this desire to myself for some time, but at last, one night, as Mother and I conversed at the supper table, it slipped out.
       When the words had escaped my lips, and I realized that I could by no means call them back, I stared at my mother in horror. I thought she would object. I thought she would dismiss it as nothing but a childhood fancy, or perhaps proclaim it far too dangerous a profession for her only son. I thought she might chastise me for my presumption in thinking I might be capable of such a life.
       I had misjudged her.
       Instead of any of those unfavorable responses, she gazed at me coolly for several seconds, considering the situation, and then said, "If you are to be an adventurer, Tommy, you must be trained for the role. An adventurer must not only be strong and brave, but must know how to fight, and when not to fight; he must be familiar not only with the arts of combat, but with the arts of persuasion. He must know not only all the common affairs of mankind, but as much as he can learn of the secret histories and hidden ways of the world. He must be adept with mathematics, knowledgeable in every science, and alert to the possibilities of the supernatural. To fall short in any of these fields is to tempt Fate.
       "You have read my dear Jackie's journals; you know what became of Ebenezer Dawes, and the Fancher brothers, and the crew of the Iapetus. Rest assured, my son, that there were many others in the adventurers trade besides these who died inglorious deaths through some tiny slip, some minuscule gap in their education, some tragic shortcoming in their skills. You are my beloved son, and it would please me to see you live a long and quiet life, untroubled by any extraordinary risk, but you are your father's son, and blood will tell -- if I were to attempt to keep you at home one moment longer than you choose, I am sure you would find some way to elude me. I knew, when I allowed you to read dear Jackie's journals, how you might react, and although I felt many a pang, I knew I could not keep the past hidden from you, and that you might respond to this knowledge in the very fashion you have. So be it. If you are determined upon a life of adventure, I know I cannot prevent it, and indeed, I would not ask you to forego it -- I remember well the delight your father took in his travels and accomplishments, and how can I refuse you a chance at similar satisfactions? Why, as you have read, I participated in some of those adventures myself, and I can scarcely deny that I enjoyed them. So I will not hold you back, but I will see to it, Tommy, that before you set forth upon the trail, you will be prepared in every fashion I can devise. Would that suit you?"
       I stared at her in astounded delight, and exclaimed, "Oh, most wonderfully, Mother!"
       "Then it is done," she said. "And may Heaven smile upon us in this!"