Walter Wickford Middleton rocketed across the frozen tundra of Antarctica. The belching steam-engine strapped to his sledge ejected clouds of water vapor that flash-froze in the air. The icy prisms formed a rainbow in the low, leaning rays of the Sun. The wind shoved air down his throat, and it was only the exertion of forcing it back out that prevented his heart from freezing solid.
"Quite exhilarating!" Walter yelled to his foreman, who manned the engines and shoveled coal into the engine. Despite the chill, he wore neither a coat nor even a shirt beneath his suspenders. He kept his heat shield down over his head and nodded to Walter.
"Brakes! Hit the brakes!" Walter screamed. He wrenched the steering wheel to the side. The control pistons hissed. He threw the lever to engage the pneumatic spikes mounted on the bottom of the sledge. They bit into the permafrost.
Walter's sledge could not defeat inertia. Walter, his foreman, and the sledge went tumbling engine over propeller into the hard, cold permafrost.
"Why'd you overturn her?" the foreman said, walking over to Walter and leaving coal-black footprints in the otherwise pristine ice.
"I saw somebody, I saw a lady!" Walter said, leaping from the impact crater in the snow created by his body.
The foreman watched Walter struggle as he went from leaping out of the crater to squirming around in the soft snow.
"Would you like a hand?"
"Certainly!" Walter said. The foreman grabbed Walter beneath the armpits and hefted him out. Walter hit the ground running, back in the direction that they'd come. He passed the third, second, and first tumbles of the sledge, and then the long pockmarks were the brake spikes had hit. Despite his chivalry and humanity demanding all of his attention be paid to a possible damsel in distress, he made a mental note to investigate more subtle ways of slowing down the sledge in the future.
Then Walter saw her. She laid on the snow and the angle of the weak sun cast a halo around her brunette chignon, styled in the new mode of Paris. She wore only her dress, without furs or an overcoat of any kind. Her skin glowed pink like an internal furnace kept her warm, but when he put his cheek next to her cupid's bow lips, nary a breath came out.
"Damn it all," Walter said, prying off one of his own mittens so that he could stick his fingers to the artery in her neck. No pulse pushed against his fingers, and her skin was as frozen as the tundra.
The foreman arrived in time to watch Walter's shoulders slump in defeat.
"We're too late," Walter said.
"Well, let's go try to flag down another sledge. We're going to miss Amundsen give the opening speech," the foreman said. "And the World's Fair ain't happen but once a year."
Walter could not pull his eyes away from the woman. He let them linger on the puff of lace coming out of the throat of the shirtwaist whose fine fabric condemned her to death. They again traced up across her lips and to her small, shapely nose, and glanced over her delicate cheek bones. A few stray flakes of snow had settled against her closed eyelashes.
"No, we can't just leave her here in the snow like some ejected fuel tank or blown away scarf. She looks to be a proper French lady, and so we must treat her like one and give her a proper burial. The thought of one of these blasted skuas...well, it makes my blood boil so that I will overheat if I continue to think about it. Come, help me wrap her in a tarp from the sledge."
They wrapped the woman in a tarp and huddled in a small crevice to find refuge from the wind.
"There, I think I see a sledge!" Walter exclaimed, waving his entire arm at a plume of snow on the horizon that grew bigger. "Send up a flare!"
The foreman pointed to their wreck, which had begun to smolder and send a large column of black smoke into the crisp, otherwise clear air.
"If you don't mind my saying, Lucifer's campfire wouldn't make much more of a gout than that," the foreman said.
"Well, fine then," Walter said. As the sledge approached, Walter recognized the design at once. It belonged to his sometimes friend, occasional enemy and consistant rival Professor Cookshill. The long brass sledge appeared. Professor Cookshill had disregarded Walter's advice that it should be shaped like a plow to contend with snowy obstacles, and instead opted for a bullet shape.
The wind-frosted face of Professor Cookshill appeared from behind the small windscreen. Walter could sense a grin of derision behind the goggles and snot-encrusted beard as Professor Cookshill looked to the remains of Walter's machine.
"Forget to connect the gyroscopes again, eh, Wicky?"
Walter balled up his fists within his mittens at the diminuative.
"No, as a matter of fact my gyroscopes were functioning perfectly well when-" Walter said, trailing off. He struggled to keep his gaze off of the tarp.
"When what? Oh, a surprise! How wonderful! I will trade you a ride in exchange for a sneak peek within your parcel. I only hope that it is your much-rumored breathing tube attachment for your esteemed bathysphere!"
"As a matter of fact," Walter said, "my problem was with my brakes. My penumatic ice spikes were a bit vigorous."
Walter tried to read the tiny portion of Professor Cookshill's face that was visible. Take the bait, he thought. You know you'd rather mock me than ask after whatever's in that boring old tarp.
After a heartbeat, Professor Cookshill threw his head back so hard that his fur-lined hood fell off as his guffaw shook the snow loose of the mountain peaks in the distance.
"Pneumatic spikes! I'll consider it a work of charity to give your man here a ride, having been attached to so foolish a scientist! Ah, why don't you both hop on? It'd be the mark of a cruel man to deprive you of the majesty of the World's Fair! Throw your parcel there, next to my boxes. But don't peek, for I have quite the surprise in store!"
To Be Continued...
The Moral: going fast isn't nearly as important as the going slow.