Penelope had lost count of the amount of times that number six auxiliary engine had failed, but now she was fixing it on her own for the first time, it felt like a rite of passage.
With an almost automatic motion, she tapped her phone on the sensor for the external maintenance gantry, which made a pleasant little ping sound before it unlocked and she pushed it open, letting a rush of cold air into the Aurora's cabin as she did so.
By now the safety procedure was muscle memory; first the primary line went on the guide rail on the right hand side, anchoring her to it by a strong and unforgiving cord that linked to her harness at three different points, then the secondary line went on the same rail, this one was considerably longer and fed into a pack on the back of her harness, then finally the thick, heavy-duty tertiary cord attached to the secondary anchor point that was recessed a few centimetres in the floor of the gantry, so that even if the safety rail broke, she had a final redundant line she could rely on.
Even given all that, the safety harnesses also carried a parachute and had a magnetic grappling hook built into them that she could use to save herself, should the worst case scenario arise.
She could thank over a hundred years of technological advances and poor individuals whose misfortunes highlighted the weaknesses of said technology for all that equipment.
Her father even had a saying for it - “the more lines you've got, the more lives you've got.”
With a deep breath to calm herself, Penelope stepped out onto the gantry and began walking over to the back pair of engines, locking her eyes on the troublesome number six, whose propeller had now stopped.
Once she got over to it, she used a small remote control that sat at her waist to lower the maintenance platform that was anchored to the main body of the airship above her; slowly a wide metal platform came down and stopped around her feet, giving her a generous amount of room to move around the engine.
She moved onto the platform with some amount of trepidation, feeling the unsettling snags as her safety lines went from their tracks onto the platform's tracks.
In practice, it was just about as safe as it could be, but that didn't stop it from feeling awful when her lines failed to transition from one to another.
As she set herself down next to the engine and pulled out her tools, she suddenly felt very aware of just how much of a responsibility she carried at that moment; by now she was supposed to know how to fix it, having been trained for the job since she was four, but if she got it wrong, then there was nobody who she could blame it on and no flex in the reprimands she would receive if an incorrect diagnosis led to the engine being scrapped when the only thing wrong with it was a bad glow plug.
The large chrome engine housing lifted easily once she undid the fastening, revealing the full glory of the massive Parker-Watkins engine and the heady, cloying, slightly sweet smell that a hard-worked diesel engine gave off.
Thankfully though, the diagnosis in this case was simple.
The Parker-Watkins Mark 4 engines that made up the rest of the Aurora's set of auxiliaries were incredibly powerful and had - save for one or two little hiccups – never given them any problems, but about five years ago, one of the engines caught fire during maintenance when the Aurora was in its hangar and Skyway had replaced it with a mark 3 unit.
Unfortunately, while the mark 4 was one of the most popular engines ever made by Parker-Watkins, the Mark 3 – while it had identical performance – was dogged with reliability issues, from simply failing to start to dramatically ripping themselves apart under full throttle.
In this case, it was evident that this particular unit had befallen the same fate as so many of its kind had.
The amount of heat being given off by it was quite extraordinary; far greater than it should ever be under normal load.
She pushed the propeller hard, but the blades refused to turn, having seemingly stuck tight as she heaved at them.
Dreading what she would find, Penelope used the biggest adjustable spanner she had and released the cylinder head, to reveal all six cylinder heads and the shaft assembly.
It was exactly as she had imagined.
Of all the common faults that the mark 3 was afflicted with, the most common cause of death was due to a notoriously flaky oil delivery system, whereby oil pressure would either slowly drop or completely stop, causing the engine to seize with little or no warning.
She fished deeper in the engine, marvelling at just how completely and utterly totalled the engine was; the prop shaft had completely dried up and had welded itself to the bearings and casing with the friction.
The only reason the oil hadn't caught fire was that there was no oil left to catch fire.
She sucked in a breath through her teeth as she reached for the radio attached to the shoulder space on her harness and grimaced as she phoned the report in.
“Penelope to control” she began, still trying to formulate the words in her head, but the sound of her father's voice calmed her nerves just enough for her to continue.
“This is your captain speaking. I don't like the tone you're using there Pen, is it that bad?” he answered as Penelope adjusted her position a little, so that she was now sitting with her back to the huge engine.
“It's a code fourteen I'm afraid. Oil failed and it seized up hard, frankly with how dry it is and just how hot it is, I'm amazed it took this long. The damn pump must have failed yesterday or something.”
She ended her message and her father's calm voice came through again, “okay then, I'll talk to Skyway and arrange a drop-off, you take a hacksaw to that prop for me though, okay? If it ain't spinning, it's slowing us down.”
She raised an eyebrow at that, looking at the propeller and the small amount of exposed shaft that led into the housing.
“Okay, got it dad. Out”