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Authors: Martha Wells

Tags: #YA fiction, #YA science fiction, #action, #adventure, #sky world, #airships

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BOOK: Emilie and the Sky World
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Hyacinth surged forward but Daniel spun around. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, and the shoulder of his shirt was stained with blood from where he must have torn the healing wound open when he climbed the ladder. He flung himself sideways toward a panel and a door suddenly slammed down into place, blocking off the room. Emilie belatedly lunged to the door and felt around the edge, looking for some sort of catch or switch. “How do you open it?” she demanded. Hyacinth frantically ran its blossoms over the metal paper, clearly trying to make the door open again. But nothing happened.

“That was him?” Miss Deverrin asked, startled.

“We can get in through the other way!” Efrain yelled and bolted toward the corridor before Emilie could stop him.

“Efrain!” Emilie caught him by the collar and yanked him to a halt. Of course, if there was a way to seal this door, there must be a way to seal all of them.

While Efrain pulled at his collar and glared, and tried to act as if she had strangled him, Emilie asked Hyacinth. “What do we do?”

Hyacinth shoved away from the unresponsive panel and flowed toward the door.
This way
, it said, managing to convey a world of anger in the words.

It charged down the corridor and she raced after it. She had never seen it go this fast before; it flowed halfway up the wall as it rounded the corner and went through a doorway. It led them onto the gallery of the big open space next to the series of control rooms.

The door there was sealed as well, and the door in the room on the far side of the globe room. Hyacinth hurried to a panel and started to manipulate the metal paper on it. Emilie began to follow, then swayed as the deck rolled underfoot. She staggered back and stepped on Efrain’s foot. He caught her but fell against the wall. Miss Deverrin gripped the edge of the doorway and managed to stay on her feet. She called out, “We’re moving!”

Emilie struggled upright, bracing her back against the wall. She could feel the aether-sailer turning, the motion more like a steamship and not an airship. “What happened?” she asked Hyacinth. “I thought we couldn’t move, because of the sabotage.”

She realized what the answer must be even before Hyacinth replied.
The creature must have repaired it! That was what it was doing while we were distracted, thinking it had taken your elder.

Reading over her shoulder, Efrain said, “Uh-oh.”

“But where is it taking us?” Emilie shoved away from the wall and fought her way up the slope of the deck to the nearest window.

Her breath caught in her throat. She had forgotten about the airship.

As the aether-sailer had pulled away, the ladder had ripped from both ships’ platforms and come loose, floating some distance below the airship. The airship itself had been yanked around sideways by the force of it. Horrified, Emilie pressed her face to the cold glass. She could see the propeller and it wasn’t moving, wasn’t making any attempt to adjust its course.
What did that creature do to Seth?
Emilie thought. It would have had to do something to him for Daniel to be able to leave the airship.

But Professor Abindon, Lord Engal, and Cobbier had been on their way there. Maybe they had already reached the airship to find Daniel gone and Seth unconscious, maybe they hadn’t reached the outer door of the aether-sailer before… Emilie’s eyes widened.

As the airship lifted up she had a better view of the ladder. Both ends had come loose, and it was floating away from the airship’s platform, caught in the aether current. And three figures clung to it. “Hyacinth!” she cried out into the translator. “Hyacinth, help!”

Almost before the words were out, Hyacinth reached the window. It brushed against her side, smelling strongly of lilac. It struck all its front blossoms against the glass.

Efrain ran to the next window to look out, Miss Deverrin with him. He said, “The airship… Oh, no!”

Hyacinth pulled back from the window and said,
They live?

Emilie’s throat felt thick. She said, “They have protective spells. But the air is limited. Dr Marlende said not to be trapped in the current, not to fall off the ladder, it wouldn’t last… We have to do something.”

Hyacinth turned away and surged for the door.
We will go to the lifeboat. It has a mechanism we can use to retrieve them
.

Emilie ran after it, Efrain and Miss Deverrin following her. “What about Daniel?” Efrain said.

As they reached the wall shaft down to the first floor of the gallery, Emilie managed to look at the translator. It said,
He has taken control of this ship. We must reach the lifeboat before he thinks to jettison it
.

She read the words aloud and added, “It’s right. We have to get to the professor and the others now; they don’t have time.” She stepped into the shaft, slipped, and had to steady herself against the wall. “But, Miss Deverrin, will you go to Miss Marlende and Mikel and tell them what’s happened? Maybe they can sabotage the ship again and keep Daniel and the creature from taking it away.”

Hyacinth had already started down the shaft, but the translator replied,
Yes, a good idea
.

Miss Deverrin hesitated an instant, then nodded sharply. “Yes, I’ll go.”

She stepped off the shaft at the next level, and Emilie and Efrain followed Hyacinth down. They took the route Emilie had followed with Miss Marlende and the professor what seemed like days ago now, down the corridor to the compartment with the engine shafts. Then Hyacinth took a doorway which led into the corridor with the individual lifeboat docks.

They ran down to the single sealed door and Hyacinth stopped, turning toward them. The translator said,
We must be quick. If the being is watching the controls, it may see that this door has opened and realize we are in the dock. It may choose to open the outer door
.

Emilie glanced at Efrain to make certain he had seen the warning. He nodded, his expression serious. She told Hyacinth, “We’ll be right behind you.”

Hyacinth turned back to the door and touched the panel. The door slid open and they all ran for the lifeboat. Hyacinth moved swiftly, circled around to the rear hatch, and ran its blossoms over the control there. Emilie heard the outer doors make a clicking noise. She stifled her first impulse to yell at Hyacinth to hurry; she didn’t want to distract it.

The hatch swung open and Hyacinth flung itself inside. Emilie and Efrain piled in after it, and Hyacinth shoved the door shut. Efrain pushed forward to the nearest window and looked out. “The door’s opening!”

Emilie clutched the translator to her chest and steadied herself on the wall. Hyacinth was already at the controls in the front of the lifeboat, and she felt the deck shift under her feet as the little boat lifted off. The translator said,
That is for the best
.

The boat surged backward suddenly and they were outside in the current, the wall of the aether-sailer towering over them. Emilie staggered and said, “Good, in another minute it would have thought of stopping us.”

Efrain picked himself up off the deck and stumbled back to the window. “Won’t it let all the air out from inside? Or is there a spell?”

There are automated protections that will force the inner door to shut
. The lifeboat wheeled away from the aether-sailer.

Emilie pulled her way along the wall so she could look out a front window. The airship grew larger as they approached, then the lifeboat dipped down toward the floating ladder.

Emilie saw with relief that the three figures still clung to it. They had managed to climb closer to the end, but the gap between the end of the ladder and the drifting airship was just getting wider. “What are we going to do?” Emilie asked.

The lifeboat has a towing mechanism for recovering damaged craft from the aether current,
Hyacinth explained.
I have no means to bring them aboard, but I will try to get them back to your craft
.

Emilie nodded, watching anxiously. “That would do nicely.”

The lifeboat slowed as it approached the airship. The deck moved underfoot again as the lifeboat angled downward, drawing near the ladder. Emilie gripped the rim of the window. She could see the professor clinging to the ladder, Lord Engal a few feet lower, and Cobbier below him. They were all staring toward the lifeboat; they must see that it was trying to get closer. They’re probably wondering if we know what we’re doing, Emilie thought. She hoped they did.

Hyacinth lifted up, stretched its hand-blossom out and splayed it over a patch of metal-paper to one side of the window. The paper began to move, shifting and changing, and Emilie felt something thunk against the deck underfoot. Hyacinth said,
I am releasing the tow device.

Efrain ran to the stern to look out the stern windows. “I see it! It’s like a long chain with hooks on the end.”

Emilie stepped back so she could see out the nearest window. The tow chain curved out from beneath the lifeboat, stretching toward the drifting ladder. “Do you want me to direct you?” she asked.

That would be helpful
, Hyacinth said. It hunched over the panel, and she saw with alarm that a few of its petals had wilted and fallen down onto the deck.

That wasn’t good when it happened to a normal plant, and it had to be that much worse when it happened to a plant person who used its petals for hands and eyes. I hope it’s not sick, Emilie thought, but didn’t allow any of her concern to enter her voice. “Just keep going like you are; it’s curving toward the end of the ladder… No, stop, back toward the lifeboat. Yes, that’s right.”

The hooks had almost reached the end of the ladder, but the ladder was caught in the buoyance of the current, slowly twisting away, starting to double back on itself. The professor climbed toward the end and stretched to reach the hooks. “Can you reel it out a little more? It’s almost there.”

It is fully extended
. Hyacinth moved its blossoms over the metal paper.
I will try to move closer.

The lifeboat dipped down, but the movement was jerky.

The current is moving again,
Hyacinth said.
I fear–

It cut off there, concentrating on finely adjusting the controls.

Emilie gripped the windowsill, willing Professor Abindon to reach the hooks. The professor reached the end of the ladder and stretched, but it was just a little too far. She pulled back and looped a rung of the ladder over one foot, then the other. Emilie grimaced, anticipating what came next. It was what she would have done if she had been in the professor’s position, but watching someone else do it was nerve-racking.

Her feet secured to the ladder, the professor lunged out and grabbed the hook. She contracted her body and pulled the slack of the ladder toward the hooks.

The professor looped the end of the ladder over the hooks, and Emilie let her breath out. “She’s got it!”

Efrain cheered. Emilie added, “Wait…” as the professor freed her feet and climbed down a little away from the attached hooks. “There, you can pull on it now.”

Hyacinth’s blossoms shivered, and the lifeboat moved slowly back toward the drifting airship. Emilie saw the metal paper on the panel seemed to be moving independently of what Hyacinth was doing. It had to be the growing disruption in the aether current. She clenched her teeth and didn’t say “Hurry!” Hyacinth had enough to deal with at the moment; it didn’t need its elbows jogged.

The ladder gradually straightened as the lifeboat drew it back toward the airship. The lifeboat couldn’t get too close, but as it approached, it started to turn, angling so the ladder began to swing toward the airship. Realizing what the lifeboat meant to do, Cobbier climbed down toward the end. As the ladder neared the airship, he stretched out his hand.

Blue sparks showed when the individual protective spell around Cobbier passed through the greater barrier around the airship. That end of the ladder went limp and bumped the top of the cabin, the rest still drifting out into the aether current. Cobbier climbed down and scrabbled for a handhold, finally catching the bracket above the door. Emilie sagged in relief as he wrapped a rung of the ladder around it. Lord Engal climbed rapidly down toward him, then passed into the protective spell and jumped down onto the gallery. Cobbier swung down beside him and both of them began to reel the professor in.

As the professor reached the gallery, falling into Lord Engal’s arms in a way that was probably highly embarrassing to both of them, Emilie said, “That’s it! You’ve done it! Now…”

Emilie wasn’t sure what they were going to do now, so it was just as well she didn’t have to finish that sentence. The lifeboat shuddered and Hyacinth said,
The aether current! It is shifting! Hurry, we must–

It didn’t get a chance to finish that sentence, either. On the airship’s gallery, the others must have felt the same shudder, because they abandoned the ladder and Cobbier wrenched open the door. Lord Engal shoved him and the professor inside and stepped in after them.

The lifeboat wheeled away from the airship, and Emilie turned back to the front window. Ahead of them was the stern of the aether-sailer. Emilie wondered for an instant if the lifeboat should try to get back aboard, if they could help Miss Marlende take control of the ship from the creature/Daniel. Then everything in front of her seemed to ripple.

Emilie grabbed a handhold and shouted, “Hold on!” just as the aether current seized them and took them away.

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

Terrified that they would be plucked off the lifeboat the way they had been off the aether-sailer, Emilie gripped the handhold for all she was worth.

But the whole ship jerked and rolled. She slammed against the wall and heard Efrain yell in pain and alarm. Light and dark flashed across the windows, then light again, then the lifeboat tipped forward and they were falling like a rock.

Emilie screamed but couldn’t hear herself. Possibly because of the roaring in her ears, possibly because of the screaming Efrain was doing. Hyacinth moved frantically over the controls, all its limbs flailing, rolling its whole body over the panels and metal-paper. There was definitely an advantage to having more than one hand, and it might just save their lives.

Emilie got a confused glimpse of blue rock flashing past outside, far too close to their windows, then the lifeboat’s nose lifted. Its headlong fall slowed, though the little ship wallowed like a toy boat caught in a storm. Then it dipped sideways and rammed into a stand of trees.

Emilie fell forward, slammed into the back of Hyacinth. It made a soft cushion to bounce off of, and she landed on her side on the floor. She lay there a moment, stunned, then realized they weren’t moving anymore.

She managed to push herself up on one elbow, her head pounding. Efrain was huddled in the back, braced against the wall. “Are you all right?” she croaked.

He nodded, staring at her wide-eyed. “Are you? You fell…”

“I’m fine.” Emilie struggled to disentangle herself. She knew she was lucky not to have bashed her head in. “Efrain…” It hit her suddenly, what Daniel had said about how dangerous this all was, and how her last words to Daniel were something inconsequential, and now she might never get a chance to say anything else to him in his right mind. “Efrain, I suppose we’ll always argue, but you’re my brother and I’m very fond of you.”

“Oh.” Efrain, trying to stand, hesitated. “Are we going to die?”

“I don’t really know. I just thought I’d take the chance to say it.” Emilie clambered to her feet, wincing at all the new bruises.

“I see.” He nodded in relief. “I’m fond of you, too. And I don’t think anybody else has a sister who can do things like you do.”

“They do,” Emilie assured him. “You just never hear about it.” She stumbled to her feet and looked for Hyacinth.

Hyacinth slumped over its panel, but its blossoms were trembling. Emilie wasn’t certain if she should touch it or not. She couldn’t have done it any good by slamming into it. She looked for the translator.

It lay in a scrambled pile under her left foot. She collected it in both hands, and it formed the words:
Hold on
. That must have been the last thing Hyacinth had managed to say.

Emilie struggled to her feet, her legs trembling. Out the window, all she could see were the shattered trunks of a stand of small saplings with blue-tinted trunks and leaves. Hyacinth must have used them to slow the lifeboat down enough to stop the impact from killing them. She brushed her hand lightly over its blossoms and said into the translator, “Are you all right?”

Its blossoms stirred. After a moment, the translator said,
I do not feel well. But I am functional
.

That didn’t sound very good.

Efrain said, “Where are we? Are we in that same place, with the gaps and the funny mountains? We’re not somewhere different?”

Emilie leaned forward to peer out the window. The trees looked a lot like smaller versions of the ones in the forest they had trekked through to get to the Deverrin camp. “I think it’s the same place.”

Hyacinth lifted up a little and pressed its blossoms against the window.
Yes, it is the same. The current has brought us back here.

“But then why did the aether-creature take the aether-ship this time?” Efrain said, levering himself up. “Before, it just took people.”

“It took the Deverrin airship,” Emilie said. She lifted the translator and said to Hyacinth, “The aether creatures are controlling the current, aren’t they? This is proof.”

Hyacinth shook itself and pushed upright.
Yes. Perhaps they did not bring the aether-sailer earlier because they had no use for it. Or perhaps something in the current has changed
.

That didn’t sound good, either.

“The airship’s here!” Efrain said, staring out the back window. “Look!”

Emilie hurried to his side and craned her neck to look up through the window. The Marlende airship hung overhead, just visible past the jumbled branches of the broken saplings. She twisted the handle of the hatch to unlock it. It swung open a little and jammed against a broken tree trunk.

Efrain planted his shoulder against it and pushed. Emilie wedged herself in beside him, and together they managed to force the hatch open. Emilie shoved her way out first and held onto the hatch to keep from falling into the saplings. Her ears were still ringing a little from the crash, but the strange birdless, insectless quiet of the construction was almost too familiar.

The lifeboat sat in the clearing it had made, at the end of a trail of shattered trees, cutting straight through the forest. The airship hung in the air several hundred yards away, and she could tell the cabin had been battered around. The ladder still dangled from the bent railing of the gallery. She couldn’t see the aether-sailer, but with the path the lifeboat had cut through the forest, there was no way it could fail to see them.

The lifeboat hadn’t fared well. The outside looked worse than the inside, the silver metal gashed and scratched and the sail crumpled. As Efrain climbed out, Emilie leaned back in to ask, “Do you think you can take off again?”

Hyacinth climbed toward her, clutching its translator device.
I do not think so. Much of the power is gone. Is the aether-sailer here?

“I can’t see it, but I think it must be here.” Emilie stepped out to give Hyacinth room to get out the doorway. Efrain had already made his way down the pile of broken trunks to the floor of the forest. With Hyacinth, Emilie followed him, the wood cracking and shifting under her feet.

The patch of forest wasn’t large, and they came to open ground after only a short walk. As soon as they were clear of the trees, Efrain jumped up and down, waving at the Marlende airship. They were at the edge of a field set below the big circular ridge of the Deverrin camp. Emilie could just see the top of the Deverrin airship from here.

She could also see the aether-sailer. It appeared to be trying to land, slowly lowering itself down into the bowl of rock where the camp was. “Can it do that?” she said aloud.

With difficulty,
Hyacinth said, all its blossoms pointed toward the aether-sailer in what Emilie interpreted as consternation.

Emilie bit her lip, trying to form a plan. The creature/Daniel must not mean to stay locked up in the control room, not if he was trying to land the ship. If he came out, Miss Marlende could get him with the aether-device. But if he managed to land and the Deverrins’ party and Dr Deverrin got aboard… “We have to get aboard before he lands.”

Hyacinth said,
You are right. It will be our only chance.

“Daniel – that thing in Daniel – isn’t going to let us aboard again,” Efrain said. “We’ll have to fight, somehow.”

The Marlende airship was moving toward them, lowering itself down. Emilie waved at it and shouted, “Lower a ladder!”

Fortunately, there wasn’t much wind in the constructed place, and the airship was easily able to maneuver. It angled downward until it was about fifty feet off the ground, then the door opened onto the gallery and Lord Engal stepped out. He released the boarding ladder that was stowed in a roll along the edge of the gallery, and it dropped down toward them. Emilie yanked Efrain back so it didn’t hit him in the head, then said, “Climb, hurry!”

Efrain started up. Emilie fumbled for a place to put the translator while she climbed; it was too big for any of her pockets. But Hyacinth took it, tucking it away among its petals.

Emilie followed Efrain up the ladder, moving so fast she forgot to be nervous at the height and unsteadiness of it. Hyacinth swarmed easily up behind her. She reached the gallery, and Lord Engal leaned down to catch her arm and pull her the rest of the way up. As Hyacinth scrambled onto the gallery, Lord Engal said, “That was a timely rescue; thank you very much indeed. We were all quite relieved.”

“Daniel was taken over by the creature, and he seized control of the aether-sailer,” Emilie said breathlessly. “We need to board it before it lands.”

“Like pirates,” Efrain added helpfully.

“Yes, we thought as much, and the professor also felt we should board the aether-sailer.” Lord Engal started to crank the ladder up. Emilie grabbed the railing as the airship swayed toward the ridge. Lord Engal added, “Better get inside; the woman flies like a maniac.”

Emilie headed for the door, stepping into the main cabin with some relief. Efrain and Hyacinth followed her in. “Where’s Seth?” Efrain demanded.

Emilie was afraid of the answer to that question. Professor Abindon was the only one at the controls in the steering cabin. “Is Seth all right? Daniel didn’t… Did he?” If Daniel had killed or injured Seth, he would feel terrible. If they could get the aether-creature out of Daniel.

Most of her attention remaining on the steering yoke and the port, the professor said, “He was hit on the head, and Engal and Cobbier carried him back to one of the cabins. He was regaining consciousness, but very woozy.”

“Good. Good that he’s not dead, I mean.” Emilie leaned on the back of the co-pilot’s seat. The professor’s clothes were torn and in disarray, and there was a bad bruise developing on her cheek, but her expression held nothing but grim determination. It was very reassuring. Emilie told her, “I sent Miss Deverrin to warn Miss Marlende about Daniel. He had locked himself in the control room and we couldn’t get to him. We decided to rescue you all first.”

“A wise decision,” Professor Abindon said. The airship had lifted up until it was higher now than the aether-sailer, looking down on the ridge and the camp on the other side. She turned the control yoke to swing in toward it.

Hyacinth handed Emilie back the translator and began to move around the control room, closely examining everything. It said,
There is an emergency door in the top of the aether-sailer. We should make for it. It is not much used, and even if the ghost pirate knows of its existence, there is no way to lock it from the control room
.

Emilie read its answer to Professor Abindon, who said, “Excellent,” and guided the ship down lower. Cobbier came to the doorway. “Good to see you all. Seth’s awake, but he can’t get up without falling down and needs to rest. What are we doing?”

“We’re attacking the aether-sailer,” Efrain told him.

The professor said, “Yes, and if you would, Cobbier, tell Lord Engal to leave the ladder partway down. About twenty feet should do it.”

The professor moved the airship down toward the silver curved top of the aether-sailer. Emilie tried to hold the question back, but it came out in spite of her. “Do you think we’ll be able to save Daniel?” She was starting to realize just how Miss Deverrin must feel. It was awful. Was Daniel himself even still there? Was he trapped in his body and painfully aware of what the creature was doing with it? Hyacinth’s crewmember had come through the experience as well as could be expected, as far as they knew, but would it be horribly different for a human?

The professor shook her head slightly, but she said, “I don’t know, my dear. Theoretically, it should work the way we thought it would on Marlende. But we won’t know until we try.”

Emilie nodded, and took a deep breath. She couldn’t worry about Daniel right now. She had to focus on getting aboard the aether-sailer and preventing the Deverrins from making everything worse.

The aether-sailer was having difficulty landing, probably because neither Daniel nor the aether-creature had ever landed anything like it before. As the airship drew closer, Emilie saw the aether-sailer was still at least a hundred yards above the ridge. The airship came in low over the top of the aether-sailer. The dangling boarding ladder dragged over the side of the hull, between two of the sails. The professor flipped switches to adjust the propellers and said, “Cobbier, take over. If Marlende is still unconscious, we’re going to need a sorcerer in there.”

Emilie stepped back as Cobbier came forward and took the wheel so Professor Abindon could slip out of the seat. She followed the professor out to the cabin, Efrain and Hyacinth with her. Lord Engal stood there, loading a revolver. He explained, “If the Deverrins manage to get aboard and have more weapons–”

“I’m not objecting. But if we have to shoot Daniel, best to let Vale do it. She’s an excellent shot and will be able to stop him without killing him.”

Efrain made an involuntary noise of protest but Emilie nodded; it only made sense. Though she hoped they didn’t have to shoot Daniel again while he was still recovering from being shot while escaping the Hollow World.

“Practical as always.” Lord Engal held the door for them as they went out onto the gallery. Needing something to carry the translator, Emilie stopped to grab a shoulder bag lying on the bench and found it already contained a medical kit. She slung it over her head.

She stepped out onto the gallery into the odd, still air. The rocky ridge to one side seemed awfully close, but any sight of the camp was blocked by the aether-sailer. Cobbier was keeping the airship as still as possible, about fifty feet above the hull of the aether-sailer, the cabin hanging down between two sails whose tips rested just barely below the gallery. Hyacinth moved forward.
I will go first and open the door.

Emilie translated for the others, and Hyacinth flowed down the ladder. Lord Engal gave it time to get a little way down and then followed. Emilie turned to Efrain. “You should stay up here and help Cobbier.”

Efrain snorted. “Help him with what? I can’t fly an airship. I don’t know what all those buttons and switches do. I’d just crash into the mountain.”

He was right about that. “You don’t have to help him fly; you could… hand him things.”

“Like what?”

Emilie glared at him. “You should stay up here, out of danger.”

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