Subsubsection: Monday 29 September 1930 Up Section: Cardington

8 November 2018 (Working on the R101)

There’s a post office in the village, and a pub, the King’s Arms. Bessie and Millie go to the post office, which is also a general shop, buy a few things, and indulge in gossip (not many of the workers are living here, but a few are; there have been various minor scandals, but nothing unexpected; one might want one’s daughter to work there, but mostly because of all the young RAF officers and engineers); Gertrude visits the pub for the same purposes, and to check the hours (they nod towards the licencing laws but it’s clear that nobody worries too much about them).
It’s a little under a mile to the works, and the group sets out on foot past fields (it’s late harvest season and there are quite a few people working there); the giant sheds are visible already, and the northern one has a glistening texture to magical senses. They ask at the gate about possible work, and the watchman cranks his field phone and has a brief conversation – then waves them in and directs them to the sheds. With only some very brief questions, they’re immediately employed, as it turns out there’s desperate sewing going on; the hand-written signs saying Test Flight on Wednesday may have something to do with it. Lin Tan similarly has no problem being taken on as a message runner, and meets Squadron Leader Rope, the assistant designer, a surprisingly young man who seems to be doing most of the work. (There’s mention of a Colonel Richmond who’s in overall charge, but he’s not present.)
The ship itself is something outside everyone’s experience, a massive curve hanging overhead. And there’s a shine of a different colour on it, a sort of glowing-black mass that’s oscillating in and out.
During their short breaks, the party tries asking about accidents and problems; there have been all the design changes when things failed to work, of course, but very few accidents or injuries. Audrey even suspects that it might be a significantly lower number than would be usual for a project this size. Although they’re hard to spot, there seem to be occasional tendrils reaching out from the ship down to the floor, sometimes catching on one of the sewing machines or one of the workers; there doesn’t seem to be any effect. Millie tries to attract one with force of will, but doesn’t manage it; it seems to be moving quite randomly, like the tentacles of a sea anemone or a hydra.
Bessie, Millie and Gertrude all become involved in fastening fabric panels into place. Gertrude can’t detect any sort of mind in the mass of shine inside the ship. There is something a bit odd, though, some repeated elements in the design of the cross-frames that seem to be laid out almost as symbols.
At the end of the day, there’s an informal rest period before the workers walk back to the nearby villages (Cardington and Shortstown) or take the bus to Bedford. Millie posts a letter to St John with Bessie’s sketches of the odd frame pattern, hoping he can recognise them.
When the group get back to the house, Molly and Audrey consider the frame patterns: they’re inefficient, and (since Molly has been fulminating about “stainless steel!”) they’re a few per cent. heavier than a better design would be. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to do it this way.
Bessie tries an undirected pendulum divination over one of the sketches; the pendulum circles towards the centre, gaining speed and eventually vibrating in place. Gertrude and Audrey consider it in the light of their occult knowledge; there’s certainly a tendency to draw something inwards, though it’s not clear just what. Bessie sketches the arrangement in three dimensions, as the frames are linked together in a slightly odd way, and passes this to Millie; she also tries putting a silver mirror on the middle of the diagram, to try to discharge whatever’s being drawn in, and the paper spontaneously tears when the pendulum reaches the centre.