Edward Damini blinked repeatedly in an attempt to clear the sleep from his eyes and make out the face of whomever had shaken him awake..
“Wha-huh?” The recently awoken man managed his first question with a predictable level of eloquence.
“Sorry again to awaken you, Captain, but it is most urgent!” Edward finally recognized the voice of his ship’s engineer.
“Is my ship on fire, Frederich?” The tired man practically growled the question as he finally came fully upright on his bed.
“No, captain. Well, not yet at least.”
Edward was suddenly wide awake and staring intently at his engineer. The older man’s face wore its usual polite, if somewhat detached, expression that seemed to be Frederich’s default for anything but the most intense of technical discussions.
“Is my ship GOING to be on fire soon for some reason, Frederich?” The captain hoisted himself off the mattress and snatched up his robe as he spoke. “Something that you anticipate will happen before a more reasonable hour to speak with your captain?”
“Ah…” The engineer seemed about to answer before pausing and adopting a more contemplative expression. “An excellent point. I’m sorry to wake you captain, good night!”
Edward stared blankly as the older man turned and began making his way out of the cabin.
“What the hell is wrong with my ship, Frederich!?”
Frederich turned again at the shout, seeming confused before shrugging it away. “The main furnace is leaking again, so we’re having to use the secondaries, captain. And, as you undoubtedly recall, we purchased several replacement valves and other needed components for the secondaries since our problems with the primary have required us to use the secondaries FAR more than this design was meant to, and our stay in Cheles was much shorter than was originally planned, and they have the lovelie-…”
“Short version please, Frederich.” Edward rubbed at his temples as he tried to keep up with the slightly too-fast speech.
“We weren’t docked as long as we originally planned, and we never got the new components installed.”
Edward cursed, softly but with a great deal of passion. “We’re barely a day out of the capital. How much farther can we push it before we seriously risk the ship going down in flames?”
“Hmmm… I would say that we can keep the furnaces running for another twelve to fourteen hours before a major incident becomes more likely than not.”
“Well, let’s set the limit at eight hours just to be on the safe side.” The captain began hunting about for his trousers, realizing that this probably wasn’t the sort of problem that should be addressed without pants.
“Excellent idea, sir. With only eight hours of additional use I would say we have less than a ten percent chance of dying in a flying inferno.” The captain looked up from his search, hoping to see some sign that his engineer was joking. There was none.
“Do what you can to keep us all alive, Frederich.” The older man nodded in response before quickly scurrying out of the cabin.
Edward finally located his errant legwear as the door closed behind the departing engineer, and glanced over at the wall clock. The softly ticking device showed a mere two hours past midnight.
Well, Olna always complains that I never visit her when she has the night watch. I’ll have to remind her to be careful what she wishes for in the future.
“Captain on the deck!”
The unexpected words from directly behind the blonde first mate, quiet though they were, set the woman sprawling out of her chair with a muffled shriek. Spinning to her feet with a pistol halfway drawn, Olna barely halted herself when she recognized the smiling face in the moonlight.
“What the hell, Edward?” Olna jammed her weapon back into its holster and glared at the still grinning man. “I’ve never seen you on deck before dawn unless the damned ship was on fire.” A long pause. “The ship’s NOT on fire, is it?”
“Frederich informs me, ‘not yet.'” Edward raised his hands defensively and finally dropped his smile when he saw his first mate’s glare return to full force. “We need to find a place to set down and get those replacement parts installed though. I set everything up in the navigation room for you on my way up, find us somewhere secluded.”
Olna continued glaring at her captain until the man began to visibly wilt under her gaze. “You want me to find somewhere ‘secluded’ to set down the Pelican. IN CHELES?” The volume of the last two words caused Edward to wince.
“As secluded as you can, Olna. We need to have those furnaces cooling down in less than eight hours, and I would really prefer NOT to have anymore unpowered landings if we can avoid it.”
The blonde woman’s expression finally shifted again, a bit of worry creeping in at the reminder of ‘unpowered landings.’ “You’re serious.”
“You can ask Frederich if you don’t believe me. I’ve got the helm, you’re relieved.” The captain edged around his first mate as he spoke and righted the chair she’d knocked over when he first snuck up on her. “Suggestions for a new heading most likely to be at least in the general direction of what we’re looking for?”
Olna considered the question for several seconds before shaking her head. “Might as well keep on this course, we planned this route to try and avoid anyone who might be hunting for our passenger already.” The blonde locked eyes with her captain. “But landing… This country just isn’t big enough for that to go completely unnoticed.”
“I’ll settle for anywhere that would take pursuit a while to catch up to us, and where we’ll be able to see them coming.” Edward smiled again, this time reassuringly. “I’m sure you’ll find us a place, Olna. You’re the best navigator I’ve ever known.”
“I’m the only navigator crazy enough to stay on your ship longer than a week.” The blonde sighed. “There’d better be some very strong coffee waiting for me with my maps, Edward.”
The captain adopted a wounded look. “Brewing as we speak, should be nearly finished.” Olna smiled at the assurance and turned to head below deck. “Oh, and once you’ve got us a landing spot picked out, do drop by the Princess’s room and let her know about the unavoidable delay.”
The first mate froze in place, one foot on the top step as she slowly turned to face her captain again. Edward was pointedly examining the wheel in front of him, and quite carefully not taking notice of the renewed glare directed his way. Finally Olna sighed in exasperation..
‘Good morning, Princess Lena!” The dark-haired woman roused sleepily from the rough mattress as a distinctly female, but surprisingly deep, voice made its way through her door.
“Morning?” The Princess forced the barely intelligible word out from behind sleep-numbed lips.
“Yes, Princess!” The baritone female voice responded cheerfully again, still from the other side of the door. “I have your breakfast and some tea, may I enter?”
Lena pushed her tangled hair out of her face and groped for her glasses as she sat up, feeling her stomach rumble at her as she did so. “Ah, yes, breakfast sounds excellent.”
The door opened and a large, dark-colored blur moved into the room. Lena found her glasses and settled them over her eyes as the shape reached the room’s small table, resolving it into a truly massive, muscular woman with skin the color of dark chocolate.
“How do you take your tea, Princess?” The huge woman didn’t seem to take any notice of the dark-haired royal’s open mouthed shock, and continued readying items on the small breakfast tray.
“Um… ah… cream, and honey if it’s available.”
“You’re surprised at my appearance, yes?” The large woman turned long enough to offer a wide grin at the still staring Princess. “Everyone stares. I don’t mind it, the first time.”
“What happens if they keep staring after the first time?” The completely innocent curiosity in the Princess’s tone drew a brief incredulous glance, and a surprised giggle.
“I give them a lesson about manners.” Lena nodded in simple agreement. It sounded like a perfectly logical approach, even if there was a strange emphasis being placed on the word ‘lesson.’
“Well, nevertheless, I apologize for my rudeness.” The raven-haired girl stood and smoothed her sleeping gown. “Princess Lena Malaire, pleased to make your acquaintance.”
The dark-skinned woman turned as the Princess stood, and her smile widened further at the formal tone of the introduction. “Chea K’rs, your highness. At your service.” Chea accompanied her own introduction with a deep bow.
“Your service is deeply appreciated, Ms… Curse?”
“K’rs.” Lena smiled apologetically and somewhat anxiously at the correction. “Don’t worry, I haven’t met anyone since I was little that could say it right. Everyone just calls me Chea, Princess.” The huge woman carefully plucked a cup and saucer from the tray next to her and offered it to the smaller woman.
“Well Ms… Chea. Thank you.” The Princess accepted the tea gratefully and took a small sip.
Lena’s eyes went wide and as the hot liquid slid down her throat, and coughed in surprise. “No, it’s fine!” The princess smiled reassuringly at the worried look the large woman suddenly wore at her first reaction. “It’s just stronger than I’m used to. It’s… good I think.” Lena took another sip. “Is this how it’s normally prepared in L’pael?”
“Where?” Chea wore a deeply confused expression as she responded.
“Oh, I apologize again. I assumed… is that not where you’re from?”
“It’s… you know where I’m from?” Lena took a startled step back and nearly tripped onto her bed as the larger woman stepped forward with a sudden emotional glint in her eyes.
“Um, ah, perhaps?” The Princess held the small cup and saucer in front of herself almost like a shield, and cast her gaze frantically about the room for something more substantial.
“Oh, so sorry your highness!” Chea quickly stepped back and raised her hands apologetically. “It’s just… I’ve never met anyone who knows where I came from. I barely remember the name of my village, and I have no idea where it is.”
“How is that possible?” Lena stepped slowly away from the bed and carefully set her tea down on the nightstand. “I mean, ho-…”
“Ah good, you’re awake!” The new voice from the still open doorway startled both women into small jumps.
Olna Dahl leaned through the doorway with a patently false smile plastered onto her face. “Chea, Frederich and Del need help down in the furnace room, hop to it.”
“Aye, ma’am!” Chea cast a brief, longing glance towards the princess before hurrying out of the room, muttering something softly under her breath.
“Ms Dahl, Ms Chea and I were in the middle of a convers-…”
“Your highness,” the blonde woman interrupted with a barely raised voice, but a hardness to her tone that silenced the princess briefly. “When the engineer needs assistance, it tends to be more important than whatever anyone was talking about at the time. You’re more than welcome to resume conversing with Chea when we aren’t all in danger of falling out of the sky.”
“That… that is a very good point. Are we in danger right now?” Lena’s pale complexion managed to grow a few shades lighter as she considered the scenario implied by the first mate.
“Skyships are always a little dangerous, but don’t worry Princess! We’re professionals.” Olna’s smile never wavered, nor did it take on a more sincere cast, as she offered her reassurance.
“Oh, well that’s good. I suppose I will seek out Ms Chea again after I’ve finished the morning meal, and she’s had time to assist your engineer with… whatever it is he needs assistance with.”
“I’ll make sure to let Chea know you’ll be looking to speak with her again, your highness.” The first mate turned to leave as the princess collected her teacup and moved towards the table holding her breakfast.
“Oh, and before I forget, the captain wanted me to inform you that the Pelican will be making an emergency landing in the next couple hours while we repair our furnace. Enjoy your breakfast!”
Lena’s cup and saucer dropped to the floor as she spun back to face the blonde woman, but the door had swung smoothly shut before the single shouted word left her lips.