Helium and Hope: The Rise of the Airship in post-Moon North America

The maiden flight of Seraph-5 outside of St. Louis in 1874. Part of Church & State engineer Henry duValle's famous Seraph line, the S-5 flew eight miles around the City-State and landed safely. Archangel Project would launch in 1877, based on duValle's designs, and provide the logistical infrastructure that enabled C&S North American operations in the 1880s.
The maiden flight of Seraph-5 outside of St. Louis in 1874. The most famous of Henry Valiant’s Seraph line, the S-5 flew eight miles around the City-State and landed safely. The Archangel Initiative would launch in 1877, based on Valiant’s designs, and provide the logistical infrastructure that enabled Church & State operations in the 1880s.
This photograph, credit unknown, was taken during the ill-fated Tabernacle Expedition. Interestingly, there is anecdotal evidence that it was taken after the ambush on May 8th. That implies that the replaced travelers continued to pose for photographs.
This photograph, credit unknown, was taken during the ill-fated Tabernacle Expedition. Interestingly, there is anecdotal evidence that it was taken after the ambush on May 8th. That implies that the worm-worshipers continued to pose for photographs and go about their day-to-day business, despite widespread infestation.

For all intents and purposes, rural America died three months after the Black Moon rose in 1867.  The last refugee column–Father Walter’s miraculous arrival, later immortalized by Haddon Sundblom’s A Christmas Promise–reached Chicago in 1868. Other camps are recorded after 1868 but were turned away at the city gates, revealed to be madmen or witch-packs in disguise, or made to settle among wilderness peoples and/or local Didikko tribes.

In the two years that followed, the City-States maintained tenuous connections via relatively stable, albeit dangerous, caravan routes. Traveling under heavy guard and moving swiftly by horse and mule along old rail beds and roadways, these convoys provided limited ability to move critical personnel (mostly military or scientific) or supplies (some luxury goods, but mostly the products of companies like Colt and Winchester).

However, on May 8th, 1870, a 200-man convoy was ambushed approximately 10 miles outside of Philadelphia. The convoy escaped and arrived at the city with minimum casualties on May 9th. A series of cannibalistic murders occurred throughout the city in the next three weeks, with local officials tracking and eventually trapping a number of convoy members in a warehouse. It was revealed that they were in fact worm-worshipers in league with the Tabernacle, a local nuisance which first appeared in 1870 near the town that lends the elder thing its name. The infested ambushers had replaced the convoy’s members; the subsequently-executed deviants continued to scream hours after their bodies were set to torch on June 1st. The district in which they were found is still known as “the Worms” by Philadelphia residents.

While the Tabernacle Ambush remains the most famous example, convoys were suffering consistent setbacks by early 1870. Witch-packs and other deviants were more aggressive and better armed and the Moon itself showed significantly more impact upon the human spirit as travelers left the sheltering walls of the City-States. More than anything, however, it was the propagation of wilderness forests and bogs that doomed the convoys. Overgrown roadways and collapsed bridges meant more time in the wilderness, which increased the risk.

The last convoy ran from Philadelphia to Manhattan in January 1871. It suffered a number of casualties–three men were killed by a colony of mutated nettles–and arrived with less of a third of its cargo intact. Its backing company, Maurice & Bortles Locomotion, declared bankruptcy later that month. Save for a handful of exceptional examples over the next two decades, the convoy system was dead.

The Leopard-2, a Manhattan scout, crashes in 1892 just beyond the Knickerbocker Line. The cause of the crash might have been Moon madness--crew members suffered high rates of depression, suicide and institutionalization due to their proximity to the Black Moon.
The Leopard-2, a Manhattan scout, crashes in 1892 just beyond the Knickerbocker Line. The cause of the crash may have been Moon madness; crew members suffered high rates of depression, suicide and institutionalization due to their proximity to the Black Moon.

Shipping lines, of course, suffered their own hideous losses, but the demand of North American coastal cities for British machine parts, Kingstown sugar and Constantinople exotics necessitated their continued existence. Ships became faster and better armed–the British, in particular, leveraged the security of the Avalon to develop the famed “Man ‘o Dread” warships of the 1880s. Shipping line survival rates continued to improve.

This left the landlocked City-States in a lurch, of course. If was from these holdouts that North American transportation achieved its salvation.

Airships were not a new concept. Henri Giffard, a Frenchman, became the first human to undertake engine-powered flight in 1852; Solomon Andrews would be the first American to test an envelope in ’63, just outside of Manhattan. The rise of the Moon and ensuing destruction of Continental Europe would end this era of hobbycraft airship development.

Following the formation of the City-States and failure of the convoy system, academics began to once more experiment with envelope-based craft, as well as other, more fanciful concepts: cloud-sailors, flying machines with whirling fans, and (perhaps most delusional of all) fixed-wing aircraft that would presumably ignore gravity and slice through the sky like enormous knives.

But envelopes (‘airship’ rapidly became synonymous) appeared to show the most promise. Helium replaced volatile hydrogen, and was further augmented by the discovery of infernium in 1884. Professor Marie Curie successfully bombarded methane with polonium rays within a Maledicta Sphere (a spectrometer-like device designed to capture the Black Moon’s radiation), creating a toxic, but extremely buoyant gas. When infernium (better known by the more-colorful term of Brimstone) was combined with helium, creating a substance that airmen and women call ‘the Mix’, airships could carry more weight with less gas.

Galveston, 1887. The Blue-Eyed Girl prepares to leave on a cross-gulf voyage for Kingston. This marked one of the first uses of a Brimstone-derived gas in a North American merchantman.
Galveston, 1887. The Blue-Eyed Girl prepares to depart for a cross-gulf voyage for Kingston. This marked one of the first uses of a Brimstone-derived gas in a North American merchantman.

The Church & State empowered the first wave of airship engineering, both in St. Louis and Chicago, in a bid to extend their influence across the North American City-States. A former steam locomotive engineer, Henry Valiant launched his first round of designs in the early 1870s. The first of these craft, later designated Seraph-1, flew three hundred yards before crashing and breaking the leg of Claire Valiant, Henry’s daughter and test pilot. Future iterations showed successive range and stability, until the Seraph-5 (operated by pilot Beatrice Parker Townes and C&S observer Quentin Dorr) flew around the entire St. Louis defensive perimeter in 1874.

An early anti-envelope cannon, part of the Battery Park defenses in Manhattan. Such weapons had limited offensive ability, and were instead intended to force enemy airships into specific sectors of the battlefield.
An early anti-envelope cannon, part of the Battery Park defenses in Manhattan. Such weapons had limited offensive ability, and were instead intended to force enemy airships into specific sectors of the battlefield.

The Seraph-7 was the first airship used in the field. It was phased out in exchange for the Archangel design by 1877. Initial City-State encounters with C&S soldiers and spiritual advisers would typically involve Archangel airships, and many of Valiant’s basic construction principles would be copied in Manhattan, Galveston and Chicago.

The City-States soon discovered that female crews outperformed their male counterparts; they were typically lighter, better suited to operate in low-oxygen conditions, and functioned better in tight quarters over long periods of time. With the exception of commanding officers, airship crews were almost entirely female. Exceptions to this included Philadelphia, whose low-range “gunboat strategy” was less restrictive on the crew, as well as specialized detachments, such as C&S Confessors or Chicago marines.

Claire Valiant. The photograph was taken before Bleeker's War, in which she lost her left eye.
Claire Valiant. The photograph was taken before Bleeker’s War, in which she lost her left eye.

While the first example of air-to-ground combat technically took place in 1875 (a C&S spotter warned a prospecting camp of an approaching satyr pack by dropping a makeshift explosive) the first recorded aerial battle, Bleeker’s War, occurred in September 1880. Three C&S Archangels–The Dawnbringer, His Sacred Trust, and The Chalice-seeker–engaged the Bleeker Family, a large witch-pack outside of the ruins of Kansas City.

The Bleekers had access to their own aerial assets in the form of a captured Chicago dispatch-runner and a holt of winged Saphrohags. The C&S craft engaged with Gatling guns and black powder explosives, suffering the loss of the Trust and 48 airwomen before driving the Bleekers from the city center.

Vestal-Captain Claire Valiant, in command of the Chalice, would rise to the rank of Bishop following Bleeker’s War. She would later write 20-Degree Pitch: The Definitive Guide to Aerial Combat which remains required reading at aerial training academies across North America.

Her second work, an introspective study of Valiant’s own life, was not as well received. The Church & State executed her for heresy in 1897. Aerial officers in St. Louis, the aviatrix’s former colleagues, carry pinches of her ashes for distribution while visiting the City-States that Valiant and her ilk helped connect.

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