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Authors: Martha Wells

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

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Emilie looked out the doorway again. It struck her suddenly how embarrassing it was for Uncle Yeric to show up like this, throwing accusations around and disrupting everything. Efrain was still standing there, looking around a little nervously. Uncle Yeric hadn’t returned yet. Emilie had the sudden urge to tell Efrain off. She said, “I’m going to tell him there’s no point in standing around out there.”

“Careful,” Miss Marlende said, watching her worriedly.

Emilie stepped out and strode across the yard toward Efrain. He was younger than her by only a year and a month, and they had the same brown skin and brown eyes, though she didn’t think they had ever looked much alike in the face. She had always looked more like their younger brother, Emery. Efrain was a few fingerwidths taller than her, and his dark hair was cropped close to the scalp. He was dressed very correctly in his best town suit. He saw her and came forward to meet her. “Emilie–”

She said abruptly, “I’ll be on the airship when it leaves, so when Uncle Yeric returns tell him he can’t kidnap me.”

Efrain stared at her. “Going on the airship… What do you mean?”

“What does it sound like I mean? This is part of my job as Miss Marlende’s personal assistant. Don’t play ignorant; I know you saw the newspaper story.”

“I didn’t believe it was true!” Efrain was still staring at her as if she was mad. “Why would they want you?”

Emilie felt her lips form a sneer. She said, sweetly, “Perhaps they’ve taken leave of their senses. After all, I’m obviously completely worthless to anyone.”

Efrain winced and shook his head slightly. “That isn’t what I… How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know. As long as it takes. Probably a week or more.” Dr Marlende had said he had thought it would only take a few days at most, but Emilie hoped Uncle Yeric would be too cheap to pay for a hotel if he thought it would be several days, and would give up and leave the city.

“But what for?” Efrain glared suspiciously toward the crew who were still loading supplies. “What will they make you do?”

“Make me do?” Emilie had been angry before, stomach-churningly and hand-tremblingly angry. Now she felt as if the top of her head had opened up to let the steam out. “You mean sexually?”

“Emilie!” Efrain actually took a step back in horror.

Emilie took a step forward, pushing him to retreat farther, a tactic she had picked up from watching Miss Marlende and Rani and now Professor Abindon, a tactic that she hadn’t realized she knew until now. “That is what you mean, isn’t it? That there’s no possible reason in the world that anyone would want my assistance. That as a useless, pathetic little girl I couldn’t take notes or carry things or learn to sail a boat or use a wireless or pilot an airship or be anything except a whore, that’s it, correct?”

Efrain’s mouth hung open but he couldn’t appear to talk right now.

Emilie laughed at him. The phrase about some people being able to ladle it out but not take it came to mind. “You’re just like Uncle Yeric. Go home and tell each other how right you were about me.”

She turned away and started toward the airship’s stairs. Daniel stood on the gallery and had obviously heard the argument. He was facing the other way, shoulders stiff with embarrassment. She heard footsteps crunch on the gravel right before Efrain grabbed her arm. Prepared, she spun and twisted out of his grip so fast he almost fell. Breathing hard, she didn’t run. If he wanted a fight, he was going to get one. He was stronger now than he had been when they were children, but Emilie didn’t intend to restrain herself in the matter of eye-gouging, nose-breaking, and throat-punching.

Efrain’s expression was too complicated to read. He said, “What do you mean, ‘You’re just like Uncle Yeric’?”

“Go ask him.” Emilie turned away again and reached the stairs, and started up.

She paused on the gallery, taking a deep breath, trying to regain her composure before she went inside. This journey was important and she couldn’t let her idiotic family disrupt the preparations any more than they already had. Uncle Yeric had already made her look like a helpless fool in front of everyone. She would have to make that up by being as competent as possible on the trip.

Daniel glanced warily at her, then frowned toward Efrain. “Are you all right?”

“Yes.” She saw he was cradling his bad arm, and asked, “Are
you
all right?”

“Huh?” Still staring toward Efrain, he blinked in confusion, then realized she was asking about his injury. He slipped his arm out of the sling and stretched it cautiously. “Oh, yes, I’m fine. Just a little sore from sitting up on the boat all night.”

They stood there a moment. Emilie gritted her teeth. “Is he still there?”

Watching Efrain, Daniel narrowed his eyes. “Yes, he’s just standing there.”

Emilie swore, too in need of venting to worry about shocking Daniel. She stepped over the seal and through the doorway, and hurried down the narrow passage past the engine compartments toward the hold. As she passed the small chamber where the air-producing apparatus had been installed, the heavy odor of wet plants and earth filled her lungs.

In the hold, one of the women students was there, checking off the supplies on a sheaf of notepaper. Emilie took it away from her and sent her out rather precipitously, starting on it herself. She finished the list, found three items that were missing, and sent another student to collect them and to get her bag of belongings from the workroom. Then Cobbier came in to ask her how much she weighed so they could adjust the airship’s ballast. This necessitated some changes in the list, and she rechecked the final version again just to be sure. As she was marking off the last item, Seth poked his head in and said, “Are we all finished back here?”

Then he looked at her more closely. “Are you all right?” He was the youngest of the Marlendes’ three crew members, tall and slim, with very dark skin and short curly hair. He was a year behind Daniel at the university, though he was studying engineering and not aetheric sorcery.

“Yes, I’m fine; I’m just making certain we’ve got everything.” Emilie didn’t know what disaster might fall if they had missed some key item, but she really didn’t think they had. She followed Seth forward toward the main cabin. The air compartment smelled even more fragrant, and the big turbines that powered the airship’s engine hummed quietly.

Miss Marlende was in the main cabin and the door was open into the control cabin. It was almost as big as the main cabin, with the triangular glass port in front, and an array of controls with leather seats placed in front of them. Dr Marlende was at the controls, with Lord Engal and Professor Abindon standing beside him. Daniel was seated at the wireless station. Or at least, it looked much like the wireless station from the other, smaller airship.

Excitement washed away the lingering sour anger the confrontations had left behind, and Emilie tried not to bounce. They were really going! At some more quiet moment, Emilie was going to have to ask Miss Marlende what all the control stations did. If someone shouted at her to do something in an emergency, she wanted to have some idea of what to do and where to do it.

Emilie remembered Professor Abindon and Miss Marlende’s relationship, and wondered how awkward things might be between them on the trip. She had been so occupied with her own problems, she hadn’t even thought about their situation. She couldn’t tell if the atmosphere was tense and strained, but it seemed like it should be.

Seth told Miss Marlende, “We’re ready to lift off.”

“Very good.” She checked the watch pinned to her vest. “Right on time. Everyone get to their station and we’ll go.” She stepped through the doorway into the control cabin.

Emilie went to the nearest port. The students and some of the ground-crew men had formed a human barrier in front of the ship, holding back several people who might be journalists and a number of others who seemed as if they had just come to watch the airship take off. Then she spotted Uncle Yeric, standing with a uniformed constable. Uncle Yeric was gesturing angrily, and the constable just looked confused. She didn’t see Efrain, but there were enough people milling around that he might just be hidden in the crowd.

She felt the deck underfoot shudder and saw one of the anchor ropes swing loose. The other ground crew must be releasing the anchors. Mikel and Cobbier appeared on the gallery, hastily reeling in the loose lines, and the airship shivered again. The deck pushed on Emilie’s feet and she felt that wavery sensation in the pit of her stomach that meant they were moving upward. She took hold of the railing, but the airship’s movement was so smooth, she didn’t really need to steady herself.

The airship lifted high enough that she could see over the city to the port, the ships at dock, the ones steaming out to sea, sunlight sparkling on the water. The view had been her favorite part of riding on the other airship, and this was the first time she had been in one flying over a city. Looking down on the streets and the slate and wood rooftops from above was fascinating. She could see people looking up as the airship rose, pointing it out to others. I wonder if they know why we’re going yet, she thought. Probably not. It wouldn’t be in the papers until tomorrow. She hoped there wouldn’t be a panic before they got back with more information about exactly what the strange craft was. She also hoped there wouldn’t be a panic after they got back.

The buildings grew smaller and the airship began to move out over the sea. Watching the ships cut through the water, spotting tiny islands and rocks, kept her so occupied, Emilie almost didn’t hear the sudden commotion from the control cabin.

Cobbier and Mikel came inside, letting in a rush of cool air tainted with woodsmoke. As they shot the bolts in the cabin door, Seth hurried past and scrambled up the spiral stair to the second level. Miss Marlende stepped into the main cabin and her expression was highly irritated. “What’s wrong?” Emilie asked.

“We heard footsteps up on the second level,” Miss Marlende said, her voice grim. “It must be one of those damned journalists.”

Daniel stepped in from the control cabin. He was pointing up and started to speak, then stopped as he saw everyone already staring at the ceiling.

Emilie realized she could hear creaking metal as feet crossed the level above. She just hadn’t noticed it, assuming any noise was natural to the airship. With all the confusion, and the students and ground crew going back and forth, it must have been just possible to slip aboard the airship. She asked, “Will he write about us? I know the newspapers were probably going to anyway, but–” Her voice strangled in her throat when a young man clattered down the steps, prodded by Seth.

It was Efrain.

 

 

Chapter Four

Emilie stared. “You…” she began, and couldn’t seem to get any further.

Miss Marlende clapped a hand over her eyes. “Oh, for the…”

Seth stepped off the stairs, watching Efrain warily. “Emilie, you know this kid?”

Apparently seeing that Emilie’s jaw was locked with rage, Daniel answered, “He’s her brother.” He added grimly, “He came to the airyard with another relative who was trying to force her to leave.”

Cobbier eyed Efrain without favor. He was an older man, short and stocky, with sparse hair and dark brown skin and a normally good-humored expression. He had been with Dr Marlende the longest. “This isn’t a joke, son. This is an important job we’re doing, and we don’t have time for shenanigans.”

Efrain lifted his chin stubbornly. “You have my sister onboard. I’m couldn’t leave her here unchaperoned.”

The rage obstruction in Emilie’s throat finally gave way at that. She said, in a particularly acid tone she hadn’t known she possessed, “
Unchaperoned
? Miss Marlende is right here, with her mother, Professor Abindon. I am better chaperoned than I ever was at home.”

From Efrain’s expression, she might have punched him in the stomach. He said, “Oh. Uncle Yeric didn’t mention that.”

“Of course he didn’t, because he’s a horse’s ass. And these are all respectable men, not the sort of people you and Uncle Yeric evidently keep company with.”

Efrain glared. “That’s ridiculous! And it’s not what I–”

Miss Marlende began, “Emilie! And young man, you–”

“How is the fuel mix working?” Lord Engal strode in. “Are you taking notes? Who is checking the gauges?” He looked around at them all. “Well? What’s the…” He noticed Efrain and frowned. “He’s new. Are you new? Who are you? Is Dr Marlende raiding the primary schools for students now?”

Efrain opened his mouth but couldn’t seem to answer. Seth said, “He’s Emilie’s brother, my lord. He stowed away without her knowledge.”

Lord Engal stared for a moment, then shook his head in exasperation. He turned to Emilie. “So it runs in the family, does it?”

“Apparently,” she admitted grudgingly. “I won’t do it again now that I know what it’s like from the other end.”

Lord Engal didn’t appear to know how to respond to that. He finally said, “Well, see that you don’t.” He turned and walked back out of the cabin.

Efrain watched him go, bewildered. “So… he’s not going to do anything about me?”

“He’s not in charge of this expedition. My father, Dr Marlende is,” Miss Marlende explained. She sighed. “And it’s not as if there’s anything we can do with you.”

“We could toss him off the ship,” Emilie said darkly. “That’s what Lord Engal wanted to do to me aboard the
Sovereign
.”

Lord Engal strode back in. “I never said that, you ungrateful child. We are a civilized society; we do not throw people out of moving vehicles of any sort.” He eyed Efrain without favor. “You’ll just have to find something useful to do while you’re here.” He turned and went out again.

Efrain lifted his chin, apparently emboldened by the fact that no one was shouting at him. “You could take me and Emilie back to the ground.”

That was the last straw on an already badly strained donkey’s back, as far as Emilie was concerned. She took what she was fairly certain was a menacing step forward. “I wasn’t joking about throwing him off the ship. He’s endangering the whole expedition.”

Efrain glared at her. “You wouldn’t.”

Miss Marlende caught the collar of Emilie’s jacket and pulled her back. “She might if suitably provoked, but I’m afraid I’ll have to forbid it. And we can’t take you back. We have to enter the aether current at the correct time or we won’t end up anywhere near where we want to go. We have no leisure to wait another day for the right moment again.” She added, “I’d better go inform my father about our new passenger. Considering that he thought a journalist had managed to sneak aboard, he’ll probably be relieved, but the trim will still have to be adjusted. Please endeavor to be civil to each other,” she added, with a stern look at Emilie.

Miss Marlende went into the control cabin and closed the door. Emilie swore, not entirely under her breath. On her first real day on the job, she was not making a good impression, and it was all her stupid family’s fault.

Daniel cleared his throat, sounding uncomfortable. “Well, we’d better get back to work.”

The others seemed to remember at the same moment that this wasn’t a spectator event. They all headed toward different parts of the ship, Cobbier and Mikel going up to the second level, while Seth and Daniel went through the passage to the engine compartments.

Since they were giving her the opportunity for a private conversation, Emilie took advantage of it. “You’re getting me into trouble with my employers,” she hissed. “Why couldn’t you stay at home and feel self-satisfied there? Why did you have to come here and try to ruin my new life?”

“We didn’t know you had a new life!” Efrain glared back at her. “We thought you were in trouble…” He waved his hands hastily. “And I don’t mean that kind of trouble! We thought you’d be lost in the city, with no money.”

“You thought I was a fool.” Emilie had no intention of mentioning it was her money problem that had led to her meeting Miss Marlende and Lord Engal. “I was going to cousin Karthea’s; I was going to help her with her school. Then I decided to do this, instead.” She folded her arms. “And don’t pretend Uncle Yeric was concerned for me. He thinks I ran off to the big city to become a prostitute.”

“He does not! Stop saying that!” Efrain looked around to make sure no one had heard, but the rest of the crew was staying as far away as possible from them without actually leaving the airship. “You’re crazy. Why would he think that–”

“Because our mother is an actress, and he thinks all actresses are secretly prostitutes, no matter how many plays they’re in.” It struck her as horribly unfair, that while her uncle had never gotten along perfectly with their older brother Erin, he had clearly not had the same problems with her younger brothers and had certainly never seemed to see them as just marking time until they could embark on careers in some criminal enterprise. Deliberately provoking, she added, “They do have boy prostitutes, you know, so I’m surprised he didn’t accuse you of wanting to be one, too.”

Efrain hesitated, mutinous and obviously confused as to what he wanted to argue about first. She expected him to attempt to deny the existence of boy prostitutes but instead he said flatly, “That’s crazy. Uncle Yeric didn’t accuse you of that.”

Being called a liar didn’t improve Emilie’s temper any. “He did. At tea, in front of Aunt Helena, Porcia, Mr Herinbogel, Mrs Rymple, and Mrs Fennan. It was humiliating.” It had been more than humiliating; it had been a terrible shock. Emilie had thought she had lived with people who knew her, even if they didn’t always seem to like her much. To be so completely misunderstood had been like suddenly discovering that she had been living with strangers.

And the more time she had to think about her feelings, the more Uncle Yeric’s opinion of her seemed to put her off men entirely. Human men, at least. She wouldn’t mind meeting a nice Cirathi man, like a younger version of Kenar, but that wasn’t likely to happen.

Maybe the detail, or her tone, was convincing. Efrain’s expression was less disbelieving. “But…”

“All I wanted was to go off to Karthea’s school, to help her with it and maybe take lessons. She had written to me about it before. It wouldn’t even have cost him anything, just the passage on a steamer, and it’s not very expensive.” She folded her arms. “If you don’t believe me, you can write to Karthea and ask her yourself. I had my things sent to her from home, and I stayed in Silk Harbor at her house the night before last. Daniel was with me. He stayed in the housekeepers’ cottage. I was going to visit her there for a few days, then we found out about this” – she waved an arm around, taking in the airship and the aetheric disturbance they were heading toward – “and we had to come back to Meneport with Professor Abindon.”

“Oh.” Efrain seemed taken aback, possibly at all the witnesses to her actions and behavior that Emilie could bring to bear if necessary. “I thought… I thought you were trying to find Erin, that you might think he was in Meneport.”

Emilie felt her lip curl. Anyone with any sense knew that naval ships spent months at sea, traveling around protecting merchant and passenger ships and ports from pirates and raiders. The only address Emilie had for Erin was the general one for the naval shipyard, but it took ages for letters to the ships to be forwarded from there. “You thought I’d just come to the docks and perhaps run up and down them crying, shocked that his ship wasn’t here? Besides, he doesn’t care about us. He left us all behind, and if we all died tomorrow he wouldn’t shed a tear.” She stopped, a little shocked. She hadn’t meant to say the last part; it had come out all on its own, a fear that had been buried in the back of her mind since Erin had left.

Efrain stepped back and pressed his lips together. He said, “You left just like he did. You don’t care about us, either.” He turned away, going back toward the rear compartments.

“You stopped caring about me first,” Emilie retorted to his retreating back. It was a cruel parting shot, and she knew she had gone too far.

 

Emilie went into the control cabin and shut the door behind her. She was still angry, and in that unsettled way when you knew the argument was more your fault than anyone else’s. Miss Marlende was at the controls, and Dr Marlende and Lord Engal were occupied with the aether navigation. It was mounted on a pedestal between the two control stations, and looked very like the one Emilie had seen used on the
Sovereign
. It had a flat silver plate etched around with the symbols and degrees of the compass directions. Two silver rings could be rotated around it, to help determine longitude and latitude. On a shallow dish on the plate itself, there was a liquid silvery substance that looked like mercury but was actually drops of clarified, stable aether. It rolled around when the plate was turned and rotated, and pointed the way toward aether currents in the air and water.

Lord Engal and Dr Marlende were making minute adjustments to it, probably trying to pinpoint the best location to enter this aether current. Dr Marlende was saying, “I wish Deverrin had spoken directly to me. I feel I owe him an apology. If I had known then what I know now, I would have gone up after them.”

Lord Engal said, “But any aetheric traces of the Deverrin airship’s passage would have been scattered by the lightning of the storm.” He adjusted the plate again. “Even if they did enter another aetheric plane, we wouldn’t have been able to track them. And if they haven’t managed to make their own way back by now, they must be dead.”

Dr Marlende adjusted the plate back where it had been before, and made a hmph noise.

The professor was seated at the other control station, taking notes or writing down her own observations. She said, dryly, “Even you can’t work miracles, Marlende.”

Emilie let her breath out, not sure whether she felt relieved or even more awkward that no one wanted to shout at her about Efrain. They’re busy with things that are far more important than your stupid family, she reminded herself. She just hoped Efrain didn’t cause any more trouble.

Finally, Dr Marlende checked another instrument on the control board and said, “Yes, that’s it! Just there.”

Lord Engal stepped back, rubbing his hands together briskly. “Good. Interesting that the current hasn’t been disturbed by the object… or craft, or whatever it is.”

“It hasn’t disrupted it yet.” Dr Marlende picked up a speaking tube. “Seth, please confirm that our recycling apparatus is producing air.”

Seth’s voice came over the tube, tinny and small. “Yes, Doctor, it’s working well.”

“Very good. Prepare for entry into the aetheric current.”

Emilie’s first inkling that taking an airship into an aetheric current might be somewhat different from taking a steamship into one was when Miss Marlende turned to her and said, “Strap into a seat, Emilie. It can get a little rough.”

Emilie took one of the padded chairs at the back of the compartment that weren’t near any of the equipment the others might need. The worn leather seat had been designed for a bigger person, and she fumbled to get the straps adjusted. As she did, Miss Marlende spoke over the speaking tube, asking the others in the back to confirm that they were all strapped in. Daniel answered for himself and Efrain. Emilie, who had just been recovering from the whole argument, felt her face heat with embarrassment again. It was good of Daniel to take charge of her brother, but she just hoped Efrain wasn’t saying anything horrible about her. All these people knew her – had known her – as Emilie the Adventurous Stowaway; she wasn’t happy that Efrain might paint a different, considerably more pathetic picture of her. You shouldn’t have told him what Uncle Yeric said to you, she thought. Idiot. She already knew she had talked far too much and said things she regretted. She was beginning to think opening her mouth at all had been a bad mistake.

Once everyone had strapped in, Dr Marlende put his hands flat on the control board and closed his eyes. Emilie knew he must be invoking the protective spell, and looked out the port in time to see it shimmer into existence, rising up like a crystalline curtain being gently draped over the airship. It was necessary to protect the craft from the pressures of the aether current, and to keep the air inside once they had gone up so far that there would be hardly any outside.

Dr Marlende took hold of the wheel. Miss Marlende, her eyes on one of the dials on the panel, said, “On my mark… Mark.”

Dr Marlende turned the wheel and the airship twisted. Or at least Emilie’s stomach twisted.

The deck underfoot trembled, then the ship started to move upward, faster than it had before.

Emilie sat back in her seat and felt her heart thump nervously. Miss Marlende and Lord Engal checked their straps, and Emilie tightened hers. Dr Marlende’s expression was rapt with concentration. Miss Marlende adjusted the controls carefully. The light outside dimmed and shimmered, and the push of the deck against Emilie’s feet grew harder until her whole body squished down with the force of it.

The ship jerked, wrenched sideways as if a giant hand had snatched it out of the air. The straps bit into Emilie’s chest and waist as she jerked forward. Everything rumbled and shook. Emilie’s ears popped and she gasped in a breath, and wriggled back to ease the pressure of the straps against her waist. From across the cabin, Lord Engal grunted in pain and muttered, “I’ve always hated that part.”

Emilie was rather glad she hadn’t known about it; tensing up in anticipation would have made it far worse. The deck still pressed up against her feet and she knew the ship was being carried along in the powerful aetheric current. Cautiously, she stretched up and looked out the port.

Through the misty surface of the spell bubble, she could see blue sky stream past, streaked with white that might be clouds. She blinked and squinted. No, it wasn’t sky, or not exactly. Or not the right sky. In the distance, there was purple-tinted indigo darkness, like a thunderstorm rising on the horizon. Except it wasn’t the horizon, because she couldn’t see land below them anywhere. “Is it always like this?” She hadn’t realized she had spoken aloud until she heard the words.

“Like what?” Miss Marlende asked, starting to unbuckle her straps. “Oh, you mean the colors? Yes, this is perfectly normal. And you can get up now. We should be stable for the next three hours.”

Emilie unbuckled herself and carefully eased to her feet. The feel of the deck pushing upward was disconcerting, and not at all like the way it had felt aboard the
Sovereign
, when the steamship had been traveling through the sea-bottom aether current. “What should I do? Is there any work you need help with?”

“Not right now.” Miss Marlende stretched and yawned. She looked at the professor, who was still writing in her notebook as if nothing had happened, and shook her head wryly. “Just get some rest.”

Emilie’s first impulse was to go see if Efrain was all right, and she grimaced at herself. After a moment of struggling with her conscience, she went to look for him.

She found him in the back compartments with Seth and Cobbier, listening to a detailed explanation of how the engines worked, and apparently, infuriatingly, no worse the wear for the startling experience of entering an aether current for the first time. Emilie would have liked to listen to the explanation too but didn’t want to look as if she was waiting on Efrain’s convenience, so she left the compartment.

Emilie walked around a little and found Daniel and Mikel on the second level making sure their various telescopes and aetheric observers had made it through the bumpy transition all right. Mikel was another student, but an older one, and like Seth he was also an engineer. He was lean and rawboned, with brown skin and lighter Northern Menaen hair. His face was weathered from spending a great deal of time at sea when he was younger, and it made him look older than he was. He told her, “Take a look at the view; it’s best from up here.”

She paused to look out at the aether current through the big observation windows. There were mists and eddies of other colors in the darkness, violet with a hint of red, swirls of silver trickling over them like whitecaps on waves. It was like watching clouds; you could make fanciful shapes out of them if you… Emilie stared, blinked hard, and stared again. That wasn’t just a shape. She pointed. “Uh, Daniel, Mikel…”

Lifting over a bank of violet streaked darkness was a wing, a giant wing, curving and pointed at the end, made of the same darkness as everything else but Emilie could see the etched lines of scales. Daniel stepped up beside her, leaned forward so his nose almost touched the glass. From behind them, Mikel said, “It’s an aether ghost. You see them occasionally in the air currents. We saw some on Dr Marlende’s last trip up here.”

“How do you know…” Emilie began, meaning to ask how one knew this was a ghost and not an actual enormous flying creature. But the wing dissolved into mist, fading away into the darkness. “Oh.”

“I suppose they’re in the sea aether currents, too,” Daniel said, staring intently after the wing. “We just can’t see them.”

“But what are they? Where do they come from? Are they really ghosts?” Emilie scanned the moving colors, hoping for another glimpse.

“We don’t know, really,” Mikel said. “The theory is that the current passes things and carries their images along with it for a while.”

The world was a stranger place than Emilie had realized. After a time, Daniel and Mikel went back down to the main cabin to get some sleep, but she stared for a long time, looking for more ghosts. Then her eyes started to hurt and she realized she was drifting off. She managed to use the waterless WC without incident, and took the opportunity to find her bag and change out of her skirt and into the clean but somewhat battered pair of bloomers that had survived her trip to the Hollow World. Both Miss Marlende and Professor Abindon were also wearing bloomers, much more practical for climbing around the airship. Then she went back to the control cabin again so she could sit and look out the big port. She fell asleep still watching for more aether ghosts.

 

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