“Who is in charge here?” Frederich Weilander looked up from the gauges in front of him with a slightly confused expression, recognizing neither the voice asking the question, nor the tall woman standing in the doorway to the engineering room.
“Ah, Miss, it’s not safe for passengers down here.” The grey haired engineer turned his attention back to the instruments in front of him, confident that his young assistant would deal with the interruption.
“You there!” Frederich did not look up again until a hand on his shoulder jerked his attention up to the strange woman, no longer standing at the doorway. “Are you this ship’s engineer?”
“Yes, that is me. Please excuse me, Miss, but I’m quite busy right now. I’ll be happy to speak to you after we’ve landed.”
“Mr Engineer, we CANNOT land this ship. It would be entirely unsafe, we need to come up with an alternative plan.”
Frederich blinked a few times as he processed the information. “I’m sorry, Miss, but the captain ordered us to set down before the ship catches fire and everyone dies.” The dark-haired woman paled slightly at the indifferent tone the engineer described the situation with. “So, that being the situation, if you cou-…”
“Your ship is in danger of catching FIRE? Why would you ever let the furnaces get into such condition? All of this… Wait, isn’t this ship a Laridae? Why are the furnaces so large? None of this is right!”
“Ah, you’re familiar with the workings of skyships?” Frederich’s tone and expression were suddenly far more animated than a moment ago. “You see, we ha-…” The older man’s explanation was cut short by a loud *CLANG* and the shriek of rapidly escaping steam competing with a deep, feminine voice screaming in frustration.
“Del, go and see what Chea needs help with.” The engineer looked completely calm regarding the noisy interruption. “It doesn’t appear to be the main line.”
The shorter, brown haired assistant hesitated for a moment as he eyed the passenger still standing in the midst of engineering, then bolted in the direction of the continued shouts.
“Apologies, Miss, but it seems we are going to be too busy to discuss the engines. Suffice to say that the stock engine configuration on Laridae skyships is DECIDEDLY lacking, and we’ve made some changes.”
“Secondary bow line!” The cry from the engineer’s assistant, barely audible over the continued shriek of escaping steam, resulted in an immediate flurry of motion from the engineer, moving quickly to seal off a series of valves. The shrieking sound disappeared almost immediately.
“It looks like your changes are far more dangerous than any lack in the original design. But we still need to keep this ship in the air, engineer. She has a full rig of sails, and the gas bag SEEMS fully intact. There’s no reason she can’t stay in the air while you make repairs, assuming THIS is repairable.”
“Of course it’s repairable!” The engineer snapped his response with a defensive tone. “We were a bit behind on maintenance due to having several time sensitive jobs in a row. We picked up all the parts we needed during our brief stay in Cheles. We simply didn’t have time to install them.”
“Then keep this ship in the air while you make repairs!”
“Being ABLE to stay airborne doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, especially when conducting repairs that will leave the ship wholly unpowered. Besides, the captain ordered us down, Miss, so down we go. I can assure you, while a field landing isn’t the most pleasant of experiences, it’s hardly life threatening.”
“Then keep this ship in the air until I can convince your captain to change his orders. It shouldn’t take long!” The dark-haired woman stormed out of the engineering compartment as soon as she finished speaking, not waiting to hear if Frederich had any further objections.
The old engineer pondered the request for a long moment before shrugging. Keeping the ship in the air for an extra ten minutes while the strange young woman spoke with the captain shouldn’t cause any problems, after all.
Olna Dahl cringed as she spotted the tall, raven-haired figure striding purposefully across the deck towards her position at the helm. “Your highness, what can I do for you this morning?”
“Ms Dahl, where is the captain?”
“The captain, and myself, have both had VERY long nights, your highness. I imagine the captain is sleeping.”
“He’s not in his quarters, and I need to speak to him immediately. We can NOT land this ship!”
The blond first mate forced herself to suppress a yawn as she met a surprisingly intense stare from the ship’s royal passenger. Apparently Edward was smart enough to find a hiding place. On TOP of leaving me to inform the princess of the unexpected change in plans. I will have to do something truly unpleasant to that man later. “Your highness, it would be remarkably unsafe to try and keep this ship in the air without power, and judging by the slightly smoky aroma you’ve brought to the deck with you, you’ve already seen WHY we’ll soon be without power.”
“A Kestrel type skyship can travel over 300 leagues in a single day.” Olna’s expression shifted to one of confusion at the suddenly spouted fact, but the princess pushed on before the first mate could interject. “Prince Gregor maintains between five and seven Kestrels in Freeport at all times, with a total of twenty in his private fleet. Two of the men who were hunting me in Cheles yesterday were wearing Gregor’s crest, and at least one of them survived our escape. Assuming we maintained a steady speed near a Laridae’s cruise rating, we’re barely more than 300 leagues from Freeport.”
Understanding had dawned on the blonde woman’s face about halfway through the recitation. That understanding turned to a pale-skinned shock at the implication presented by the final number.
“They couldn’t have known our exact heading. It was foggy outside of town and we didn’t hit our proper course until we were well out of sight of the walls.”
“Gregor hires the best. And even if the best he could find in this case was only ‘marginally competent’ then at BEST we have a two hour lead on our pursuers, plus however much time it took his people in the capital to send a telegraph. Now WHERE is the captain?”
“Nevermind the captain.” Olna’s dismissive declaration caught the princess wholly off guard, and the shorter woman took a deep breath before the dark-haired girl could voice another objection.
“ALL HANDS ON DECK! NOW!” The first mate’s bellow nearly rocked the royal woman from her feet with its unexpected ferocity. There was a nearly immediate response of rapidly approaching footsteps.
“JEAN! SANTOS! Get the fore sails rigged for lift. ANTONY! GIL! Get on the ropes and over the sides, we’re rigging for unpowered navigation NOW! SAM! Get down to Frederich and tell him to get us as much lift as he can before we have to kill the furnaces.” The two men ordered over the side went pale, but no one hesitated or questioned the orders given by the first mate.
“KRISTINA! Get below deck and dig out everyone’s cold weather gear. We’re taking this tub above the clouds, things are going to get chilly.” The last crewman snapped a salute before departing, drawing a sigh from Olna.
“Well, I’m glad to see you were willing to listen to reason, Ms Dahl.” The first mate turned to the nearly forgotten princess, who’d sat watching the proceedings with a wide-eyed expression of curiosity. “Is there anything I can do?”
The seemingly earnest question surprised the blonde woman, but she recovered quickly to offer a truly genuine, and somewhat evil, smile to the princess. “Yes, your highness, there is! The captain is most likely holed up in the forward corner of the lower cargo hold, you should wake him immediately and inform him of the change of plans. Also, be sure to give him a COMPLETE summary of everything you can think of regarding any other potential pursuers you can think of.”
The smile remained on Olna’s face for a long time after the princess scurried off in search of the Pelican’s captain.
“So, what you’re telling me is that you’ve accomplished NONE of the goals you were given, you’ve wasted a MASSIVE amount of resources, and several IRREPLACEABLE assets are either deceased or fleeing and unusable after blowing their covers on a completely FAILED mission. Does that adequately sum up your report, Mathias?” The speaker was a decidedly average man, the sort that would get lost in a crowd with the greatest of ease, who spoke with a voice that would be described as a polite monotone were it not for the occasional emphasis placed on certain words. All in all, Gregor Malaire did not cut a particularly intimidating figure.
“Y-yes, your highness.” Mathias Tiever stood head and shoulders taller than the man in front of him, with a heavily muscled frame that would put most professional soldiers to shame. Every inch of the massive man trembled as he forced out the three word response.
“And my sister now believes that my agents, IN ADDITION to those of my idiot brothers, were in place in the city only to insure her death… Remind me why that turned out that way again, please?”
“After Prince Olver’s men attacked the princess in the castle, she became very defensive, your highness. In addition; she was accompanied by an unknown, and armed, man when they first caught up with her. When the princess immediately fired upon my agents, they reacted… poorly. I’m sorry, your high-…”
The large man stumbled as he was interrupted by a vicious backhand slap across the jaw, the unremarkable looking royal moving so quickly that Mathias didn’t even have time to flinch before he was struck. “I’m not asking for APOLOGIES, Mathias, just the DETAILS. And quit stuttering, it makes you sound like even MORE of an imbecile. If I were going to have you executed the first time you failed me, no matter HOW spectacularly, I would be my idiot brother Olver.”
“Yes, your highness. The surviving agent reported that once he and his partner were fired upon, and with the presence of the unknown man acting in aid to the princess, that they believed the plan to smuggle her out of the city was no longer viable and they should fall back on the contingency plan; neutralizing her and obtaining her crest.”
“And what have you LEARNED from this debacle, Mathias?”
“That I’m more effective in the field AS an agent than I am directing them, your highness.”
Surprised laughter came from the prince at the earnest response from the large man, showing genuine emotion for the first time in the conversation. “Quite right, Mathias, quite right. I must shoulder SOME of the responsibility for this mess since it was my decision to promote you to your current position after all. So tell me what you plan to do NEXT.”
“By your leave, your highness, I will take my own ship out to locate the princess and return with her.” For the first time since entering the room with his royal master, Mathias showed some signs of both hope and determination.
“Six of the Talons have already been sent out to locate the old tramp my sister escaped Cheles aboard. What makes you believe that YOU would succeed before those men?” A note of true curiosity was barely detectable in the prince’s tone.
“If they succeed, then little is lost, your highness. I will take my own vessel and shoulder the costs for the voyage myself if it turns out a waste.”
“You have a PLAN, that you don’t wish to share with me for fear of being forced to share CREDIT with the other captains.” Mathias flinched at the casual manner with which the prince read him, and braced himself for what he expected next. “Very well, Mathias. Just remember, I only believe in SECOND chances. You’ll receive no more after this one.”
The large man let out the breath he’d been holding and smiled as he bowed his head to his prince. “Of course, your highness.”