Author’s note:  Part 11.  11,000 words.  Wow.  I’ve tried doing NaNoWriMo several times, and I always peter out somewhere in the first five to six thousand words.  In this installment I hit eleven thousand, which is impressive to me.  As always, it’s a rough unedited first draft, so errors may occur and research is minimal at this stage.  Thanks for reading.  

 

Several hours out of Marrakesh found the Twilight’s galley jammed with people for the meeting that Janus had called.  Both captains, their first mates(Janus had promoted Mellira), Ibben, Makhi, the lieutenant of the guards, and the supply master were crowded around the galley table.  Maps of the continent lay spread out, weighed down with wooden markers and measuring tools.  The whisky sat near Ford’s hand, not yet open.

“First of all, let me say that I think we hold too many meetings,” began Captain Janus.  “This one, though, is important.  It’s through Captain Ford’s kind generosity that our two crews will be working together for the time being, in our joint venture to get back my airship and kick Ruther Slyne’s ass.  I got stabbed yesterday, but it seems like it happened years ago.  Still hurts like a bitch.”

“So let’s open the whisky and have a drink,” said Ford.  He grabbed the bottle and opened it, then took a long slug straight from the bottle.  It passed to Janus, who did the same, and then around the table, managing to pass around Makhi.  The boy looked after the drink and sighed.

“What have we got, cap’n?” asked Grollo, Ford’s first mate.

“Something that might end up being trouble, not that it isn’t already.  My friend here tells me that the German ambassador knew something about the heist, and that Slyne is making his way to Berlin.  We don’t know much beyond that, but it’s my guess that the Anglo-prussian Empire has something planned.  I think we should get to Berlin before Slyne does and give him a warm welcome.  With our fists and cudgels,” said Janus.  He grinned.  “It’s going to be a hard trip, but we’ll make it because we’re airmen.  We’re loaded with supplies, and the Sky Drake is loaded with a belly full of gold – now tell me which ship’ll be flying faster, and if you say the Drake then I have a lake in the Sahara to sell you.”

“I like that plan,” Ibben said.  ‘What chances have we got to catch up?”

“Ford?” Janus gestured at the American captain, who stepped up and took a quick drink before speaking.

“The Twilight is a good ship, but she’s not as fast as the Drake.  But like Janus said, the Drake is full of gold right now, and gold is heavy.  They have a start on us, but we have two crews – I say we fly in shifts, and go through the night to make up the distance.  It’ll be rough, but I’ve got confidence we can do it.  We’re packed with food, water, and coal, and Slyne will need to stop and refuel at some point.  We don’t know when or where, but we can make some good guesses.  Marcus here is our supply master.  Mellira, if you can let him know what the Drake was carrying when she left, he should be able to plot out some towns where Slyne might be landing.  Grollo will organize the shifts, and we’ll fly until we reach the Iron City.”

The airship was soon filled with the sounds of activity, as Ford’s crew continued the small tasks that ensured the smooth running of an airship, and Janus’ crew made spaces to catch up on sleep before their night shift began.  The Twilight had reached maximum altitude, and the desert lay spread out far beneath like a tan blanket.  The ship took minimal effort once a proper course was set on a clear windless day, which allowed both crews to talk and share air stories.

Janus joined Mellira at the forward rail.  The sun was touching the horizon in the west, and everything was shaded in deep purples and the orange of a fading sunset.  Both wore the heavier jackets that airmen favored, lined with fur and thick enough to insulate against the cold temperatures that flying high always brought.

“It still seems mad to me sometimes,” said Janus.  “When I was tiny boy, the first airship took flight in Scotland.  I remember growing up and watching them come in to London – our small town was in the perfect place for the London approach, so I would sit on my few spare days and watch as they flew overhead, dropping giant shadows over the fields below.  Thirty years ago, and now we have ships like the Drake, that can make distances unheard of when the first airship flew.”

“What made you choose the sky?”

“Adventure.  I wanted to get away from home.  My da was a blacksmith, and I was supposed to apprentice to him.  I suppose I didn’t want to be tied to the same town for the rest of my life.  Being up here, and seeing everything so small down below… that’s what I ran to the sky for.”

Mellira smiled.  “One of my brothers was the same way.  He lost a leg in the war, so he couldn’t join a crew.  I did it for him, and every trip we make on the Sky Drake, each time I come home I bring him something from far away.  He’s getting a pretty large collection, and he always wants to hear my stories.  Doesn’t believe me that most of the time it’s uneventful.  Next time I see him he’ll get an earful, I think.”

“I hope we won’t regret this.  The more I brood on it, the more I feel that we never knew Slyne at all, that he had a mask he wore just for us.  It worries me, and I don’t know what we’ll find at the bottom of this.”

“I trust you, Captain,” said Mellira.  “The crew will follow you anywhere, and Ruther will remember the day before he took the Drake as the last good one in his miserable life.”

Janus nodded and gave her a smile, and together they watched as the sun set over the last stretch of the Sahara.

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