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Authors: Martha Wells

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BOOK: Emilie and the Sky World
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They had to strap in again to exit the aether current. Miss Marlende said it wasn’t usually as rough as entering it, but they had never come this far up before, so they had better be cautious. Emilie completely agreed with that sentiment. With the others, she took her seat and got her straps tightened. Lord Engal was the last to get situated, muttering to himself as he buckled in.

“Are you ready?” Dr Marlende asked irritably. “The aether current won’t wait for us.”

“Yes, yes, go ahead, I’m ready.” Lord Engal yanked on the last strap.

Emilie thought it was nervousness on both their parts. Everyone was on edge, watching the controls with worried concentration. Miss Marlende made some careful adjustments to the dials, then nodded to Dr Marlende. He flicked a switch, then turned the wheel slightly.

For a moment there was nothing, except the sky outside the port began to darken. The sensation of rushing movement and constant pressure began to ease and then stopped altogether; Emilie had gotten used enough to it that it felt odd to be without. The cessation of it was so gentle, it came as a complete shock when the airship shuddered violently and jerked sideways.

Emilie clutched the arms of her chair, glad she hadn’t been expecting that one, either. The airship shook once, hard, and then went still.

“There we are,” Dr Marlende said, sounding satisfied. “A successful journey.” Emilie was glad he was so much better at traveling through aether currents than Dr Barshion and Lord Engal.

The others began to unbuckle their straps and stand. Daniel poked his head in through the doorway, and Emilie heard movement and Cobbier’s voice from the main cabin. She looked out the side port and saw the colors had changed to a very deep blue that shaded to black as she craned her neck to look up. She couldn’t see clouds, or stars, or anything below them. That was disconcerting. The spell bubble was just a faint shimmer now, nearly transparent, and it felt like little protection between the airship and all that immensity of sky and empty space.

Lord Engal stared through the front port and said, “And there it is.”

Emilie hastily unstrapped and climbed out of her seat. She stepped up beside Miss Marlende and the professor to see the shape of the strange craft was just becoming visible in the upper portion of the forward port. At first it looked small, then she realized those little round dots along the hull must be windows. She blinked and suddenly saw it in the right perspective: the strange craft was huge.

It had three long cylindrical hulls, all of dull but silvery metal, like pewter. One hull was in the center, with the two others attached on either side. Above them were three enormous sails, square but curved on top, like shovels slanted backward, which gave the whole craft a sense of forward motion, even though Emilie thought it must be standing still. It was like a very odd sailing ship. There were no open decks or promenades, and the little windows seemed to be the only way to see in or out.

Beside her, Daniel gasped in amazement. Professor Abindon lifted a small telescope to study it more closely.

Lord Engal whistled in appreciation. “That is a fine sight.”

“The sails are fascinating,” the Professor said softly. “Can it possibly use them to sail the aether current?”

“It must,” Dr Marlende murmured, his expression rapt. “Surely they aren’t decorative.”

“How does it land?” Emilie asked. She didn’t see any sort of landing apparatus, though she supposed the rounded hulls could float in water. “Or is it meant to stay in the air?”

“Or something far stranger.” Miss Marlende’s expression was simultaneously intrigued and fascinated and worried. “We don’t know anything about the place where it comes from. It could be… completely different.”

“How different?” Emilie asked, then realized it was a question without any sensible answer. If the ship had never been meant to land, and the sails looked so delicate… “Like a world that might be made all out of aether? But what would the people be like?”

“A good question,” Dr Marlende said, his voice turning grim.

Emilie felt a chill settle in her stomach. Looking at the beautifully strange vessel, she had forgotten for a moment that it would be piloted by somebody. Hopefully, they would be like the Cirathi, friendly explorers not so different from themselves. Hopefully.

“I don’t see any lights,” Miss Marlende said, “Can any of you?”

“Lights in the portholes, you mean? No.” Professor Abindon adjusted her telescope. “Its position hasn’t changed since we launched, either.”

“Really?” Dr Marlende turned to her. “But your record of its earlier progress showed that it was moving at a steady rate.”

“It was, but it’s stopped. It hasn’t moved at all since our last observation, late last night.” She lowered her telescope. “Perhaps it somehow detected when we entered the current and paused to wait?”

Dr Marlende’s brow furrowed. “Hmm.”

Lord Engal absently scratched his beard. “How odd. If they had stopped to wait for our arrival, you would think they would have spotted us by now and tried to signal.”

Emilie glanced at Daniel. Keeping her voice low, because she wasn’t certain if it was a silly observation or not, she said, “Maybe they’re so different, they don’t have signals.”

“If they’re that different, I don’t know how we’re going to talk to them,” he murmured back.

“Yes, communicating may be a significant problem,” Lord Engal agreed, though Emilie had thought he was too distracted to listen to them. “It’s too bad the sea-kingdom people were too involved in their own hostile interactions for any meaningful exchanges of ideas. The translation spells they used might have come in quite handy now.”

Miss Marlende eyed Lord Engal. “I thought our goal as decided by the Society was only to observe the object up close and ascertain whether it was really a foreign craft.”

“We’ve done that,” Lord Engal pointed out. “Our next goal as decided by the Society would obviously be to attempt to contact it and ask it what it wants. There’s no point in returning to report when we’ll only have to turn around and come back.”

“Yes.” Miss Marlende looked toward the silent craft again. “I’d rather hoped to see some sort of friendly crew waving at us, which would have rendered the whole point moot.”

“As did I.” Dr Marlende turned to Daniel. “We’ll try signaling them. Daniel, tell Cobbier to ready the signal lamp.”

Professor Abindon snorted. “I don’t suppose they’ll know International Lamp Code.”

Dr Marlende said, rather tightly, “No, Professor, but I hope they’ll see it blinking at them and interpret it as an attempt to greet them.”

Professor Abindon sighed. “I wasn’t criticizing you. It’s the only course open to us at the moment.”

Emilie followed Daniel back through the main cabin. She wondered if signaling was a good idea. What if the strange vessel thought they were attacking it? She pushed the thought away, recognizing it as another symptom of panic. The others were right; all they could do was try to contact the strangers the way they would anyone else, and hope for the best.

They were in a situation where anything they might do, any choice they made, could turn out to be horribly wrong. She should be used to that from the trip to the Hollow World, but apparently it was a sensation that one couldn’t get accustomed to.

They found Cobbier with Seth and Mikel and Efrain in the room adjacent to the engine and air-processing room. It was lined with cabinets and had two more padded chairs with safety straps. They were all glued to the large port, Efrain as well. As they stepped in, Efrain turned to stare at her, his eyes huge. “It’s really a ship from another world!”

“We know,” Emilie snapped, conveniently forgetting her own awe of a few moments ago. “We’re going to try to signal it.”

“With the lamp?” Cobbier asked. Then added, “That’s our only choice, I guess. It’s not as if we can use the flags up here.” He crossed the room to one of the storage cabinets and started to rummage in it.

“But…” Efrain stared at the ship again. “What if it does something?”

“It has to know we’re here,” Daniel said, before Emilie could snap again. “The way these aether currents work, it would have seen us coming from a long distance. Just like we could see it. If it was going to… do something, it would have done it by now.”

Efrain didn’t look much reassured. Cobbier lifted out the lamp, a big metal cylinder with glass slats on both ends and a hand crank. As he carried it to the port, Seth unrolled a cable from the engine room doorway. Emilie knew the lamp ran on electricity, and that to make it blink you used the crank to open and close the slats. They attached the lamp to a half-circle metal brace that was set up in front of the port, fastened it down, and connected it to the generator with the cable. The cylinder hummed and crackled as the bulbs inside it warmed. Daniel used the speaking tube in the wall to call the control room. “We’re ready, Dr Marlende.”

The tinny reply came over the tube. “Very good. Signal at will.”

Cobbier looked at Daniel. “What should we say?”

“Uh…” Daniel bit his lip. Emilie thought it was rather a big responsibility to have, to be the one to decide what their first message would be to this potential new friend that they all hoped very much did not become a new enemy. She was rather glad she wasn’t the one deciding it. Finally, he said, “Just the standard greeting to an unknown ship.” He glanced worriedly at Seth and Mikel. “Does that sound right to you?”

Mikel shrugged. Seth admitted, “I don’t know what else we’d say.”

Cobbier moved the crank and the cylinder clacked as he sent the coded signal. With the others, Emilie watched the strange ship, her heart thumping in anticipation.

But the ship just floated there silently.

“Keep trying,” Daniel said softly.

There was a quiet step behind them. Emilie looked back as Miss Marlende stepped into the compartment. Emilie said, “It doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Maybe they aren’t looking at us,” Efrain said.

Emilie gave him a withering look. “There’s a strange airship in the same aether current. What else would they be looking at?”

Efrain glared back at her, but didn’t argue. As the light clacked and hissed with heat, Miss Marlende folded her arms, regarding the ship. She said, “I’m beginning to wonder if something’s happened to them.”

Emilie had to admit that the ship’s lack of activity did make you consider that possibility. Several different scenarios came to mind, mostly from the Lord Rohiro novels and from histories of exploration she had read. “There could have been illness aboard, or food that went bad, or pirates… No, I suppose not pirates.”

“We hope not pirates,” Daniel said. “I don’t want to see what sort of pirates would be traveling aether currents from another world.” Cobbier nodded fervently.

Emilie found the idea intriguing, but she would much rather read it in a book or watch it in a play, and not experience it in real life.

“But some sort of disaster befalling the crew doesn’t explain why the ship is still here.” Miss Marlende shook her head. “Without anyone to guide it, it should have started to drift by now. It would eventually fall out of the current and be destroyed. Something must be holding it in place.”

Mikel seemed intrigued by the thought. “Maybe it has mechanisms aboard that we just haven’t thought of yet, that keep it on course even though the crew isn’t there to tend them.”

Emilie was watching Miss Marlende’s expression now. “We’re going aboard it, aren’t we? If they won’t answer us… there’s no choice, really, is there?”

The others all looked grim, except Efrain, whose expression was incredulous. He said, “‘We?’” When the others just looked at him, he cleared his throat and said, “Shouldn’t we let someone official do that?”

Miss Marlende lifted a brow at him. “Just who do you think we are, young man? Tourists?”

Efrain fumbled for an answer, and Emilie set her jaw. She said, “Anyway. Dr Marlende will want to board it, won’t he? And Lord Engal.” She would be rather surprised if Lord Engal didn’t demand to be part of the boarding party.

“Yes.” Miss Marlende let out her breath. She looked weary and worried. “I don’t like the idea, but… We have to find out who sent this ship, and it would be helpful to know why it seems to be uninhabited.”

“If it is uninhabited,” Daniel said quietly.

Miss Marlende acknowledged that with a nod. “Well, I’m fairly certain it wasn’t uninhabited when it started out.”

 

 

Chapter Five

Just to be certain they had tried every option, Dr Marlende also had Daniel use the wireless to try to signal the strange ship they had dubbed the aether-sailer. As Daniel tapped the code onto the machine’s plate, it sounded hollow and echoing, as if the signals were going out into the vast empty air with no one to receive them. At least, that was how Emilie’s imagination saw it. After many repetitions of the message, there was still no answer. After that, Dr Marlende decided to keep signaling the ship with the lamp, at least for the next hour, to give the aether-sailer plenty of time to respond. But in the meantime, he began to work on the spell that would be needed to board the aether-sailer from the airship.

“We’ll have to get as near as possible,” he said, leaning on the railing in the main cabin to look thoughtfully toward their goal. Seth was at the wheel in the control cabin, listening to the wireless just in case, with Cobbier still manning the signal light. “I’ll construct a variation on the protective spell that encloses the airship. It will have much the same function but on a smaller scale. Once it’s active, we’ll be able to pass through the protective barrier and, hopefully, into the other ship.”

“If we can find an entrance somewhere,” the Professor said.

Dr Marlende said, “Yes, we’ll have to locate one first before we attempt the crossing, since we have no portable version of the air-producing apparatus, and our time will be limited.”

Miss Marlende lifted her brows. “You mean it will be like walking inside a giant soap bubble. When the air runs out, you could asphyxiate.”

“Well, in a word, yes,” Dr Marlende admitted.

“What if the aether-sailer has no air aboard it?”

Dr Marlende shrugged. “Then we’ll have to turn around and come back, and think of something else?”

Miss Marlende did not appear to think this a very good plan. Emilie was doubtful of it as well, but had no idea what to suggest in its place.

“Not an ideal solution,” Lord Engal agreed. He rubbed his hands together briskly, obviously more than ready to begin. “But I don’t see that we have a choice.”

Daniel and Professor Abindon and Mikel all nodded, though the professor looked grim. Efrain just watched incredulously, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Emilie just hoped he didn’t say anything stupid and embarrass her again.

The hour went by slowly while Dr Marlende made his preparations. Emilie spent the time ignoring Efrain and getting a quick tutorial in how to signal for help in lamp and wireless code from Daniel. Or at least, she tried to ignore Efrain. He came into the compartment where the signal lamp was mounted, where Emilie and Daniel sat at a little table that folded down from the wall. Daniel had marked the codes on paper and Emilie was tapping them out by knocking on the table. Cobbier was still working the signal lamp, though Daniel was due to take over for him in a few minutes.

Efrain stood there a moment at Emilie’s elbow, looming in annoying younger-brother fashion, then said, “Can I talk to you?”

Emilie didn’t look up. “No, I’m busy. I need to learn this.”

Efrain hovered for a time, then finally left.

Emilie saw Daniel’s expression and heard him draw breath to speak. She said, “No, I have no intention of making up with him, so I’m a terrible, mean person.”

“I think you’re a very upset person,” Daniel said. He glanced up at her. “Has he really been awful to you?”

Emilie started to say yes, then thought it over. Daniel deserved a better answer. A more honest answer. “He probably doesn’t think he has.”

“I’m not giving you advice.” Daniel held up his hands, as if to ward off any accusation of giving advice. “But what we’re doing is not safe, and… It’s just a good idea not to leave things in a way you might regret later.”

“I know,” Emilie grumbled. She really did know. But it felt like the hardest thing in the world.

 

The first thing they had to figure out was how they were going to get aboard. From this angle, the only openings in the aether-sailer were the window portals, and those appeared to be covered with glass or some other transparent material. They needed to find some sort of hatch.

By stopping and starting the engine, and turning the aether rudder at the stern of the airship, Dr Marlende maneuvered around and brought the airship closer to the aether-sailer. Watching from the port in the control cabin, Emilie held her breath, but the other ship still didn’t seem to notice they were there. The airship dropped slowly, the curved wall of the far larger aether-sailer looming over it. This close Emilie could see scratches and pits in the dull silver metal, as if the ship had been struck by wind-blown debris, or had spent years traveling in heavy weather. “It’s old, isn’t it?” Emilie said aloud. For some reason, that seemed strange, as if part of her had assumed the aether-sailer had sprung into being just before the professor had detected it. “Do you think it’s been traveling for a very long time?”

It was the professor who answered, watching the view out the port with her arms folded. “It’s a possibility. We’ve assumed that the concentric world theory is correct, and this ship is a visitor from the world just above ours. But if it’s designed for long aether-current voyages, it could have traveled through many such levels to get here.”

That was rather encouraging, Emilie thought, as the airship followed the curve of the lowest hull. Pirates or other people who wanted to cause trouble would surely stick to targets close to home. The only people who would have reason to travel through many different worlds were explorers and philosophers. You hope, she told herself. It didn’t explain why the aether-sailer seemed to be ignoring them.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything at all down here,” Lord Engal said from the other port. He sounded disappointed. “Perhaps… Wait. There, toward the middle. There’s a round shadow.”

Miss Marlende, manning her side of the control board, stood up from her seat to look. “Move forward, Father. About ten degrees.”

Emilie leaned against the port and craned her neck. All she could see was more curving pitted metal; the strange light filtering through the aether current reflected off it in shafts of blue. The airship nudged forward and she saw what Lord Engal meant. Toward the center of the hull was a round depression, gently curving up.

As they drew closer, she saw it must be some sort of docking platform. It was a bell shape hollowed out of the bottom of the hull, with a platform half-circling it. Emilie couldn’t imagine what sort of craft it was meant for, except that whatever it was must be round. The airship angled around and she spotted the circular shape of a door, just above the platform. It was closed, but it was there, and it was the only door-like thing they had seen so far.

Miss Marlende said, “Hmm. I don’t suppose we’re far enough up in the current to roll the airship sideways.”

“No, unfortunately, we must stay on this level.” Dr Marlende picked up the speaking tube. “Seth, find the grappling gear and bring it up to the main cabin, if you would be so kind.”

 

The protective spell around the airship extended out over the gallery that ran along the main cabin, so though it was more exposed, it was just as safe as the cabin interior. It was purely Emilie’s nerves that made it seem like a bad idea to open the door and step out on it.

But that was what Dr Marlende did when Seth brought in a rolled-up bundle of ropes. Seth deposited the bundle on the deck and went back for more, and Dr Marlende moved to the railing and peered upward. Lord Engal and the professor joined him. Miss Marlende was still in the control cabin, keeping the airship in place. Taking a deep breath, Emilie stepped out after them.

It shouldn’t be that different from looking out the ports, but it was. The view of the space around them was vast and forever, the shadings of blue more vivid and alive. It was as if there was no world below them, nothing existing in all this emptiness but the fragile construction of metal and cloth that their lives depended on. Emilie was suddenly aware that she couldn’t let go of the door frame.

Dr Marlende, Lord Engal, and Professor Abindon were all looking up as if they were on a balcony in Meneport, contemplating the stars. Lord Engal said, “It’s rather a bad angle, with the balloon in the way. But it can’t be helped. You don’t think the aether current’s natural buoyance will interfere with the grappling launcher?”

“Natural buoyance?” Emilie wondered.

“The current makes things float,” Professor Abindon explained.

Dr Marlende said, “There will be some interference. But the grappling launcher should be powerful enough to get the hook to the platform.”

“You’re both mad,” Professor Abindon said, but added thoughtfully, “It should work, however.”

Emilie made herself look up, and almost ducked in involuntary reaction. The aether-sailer filled the sky above them, the great long curved shapes of the triple hull as big as mountains from this angle. The bell-shaped depression with its half-circle of platform and tantalizing door looked terribly far away.

Daniel stuck his head out the cabin door and she jumped a little. He said, “All the way up there? Huh,” and stepped back in.

Emilie ducked in after him and saw him crouching on the floor with a spring-loaded device used to shoot a grappling hook attached to a line. It was useful for attaching ropes to objects at a distance, so an airship could be tied off to them if they were solid enough, or to attach lines and draw up a rope ladder.

Daniel, Cobbier, Mikel, Seth, Dr Marlende, and Lord Engal all began to lay out the various ropes and hooks they would need, something that took up most of the main cabin and the balcony. Emilie retreated up the stairs to the upper cabin to watch from there, where she was out of the way.

She had only been there a few moments when Efrain came up the stairs. Emilie grimaced, aware she had allowed herself to be trapped into a private conversation. She said, hoping against hope, “The water closet is back there.”

Efrain ignored that. He said, “Seth told me what you did.”

Emilie was instantly suspicious. “What did I do?”

“How you rescued them from the cell when they were held prisoner by the sea people.” He paused for a moment and seemed somewhat bemused, as if he couldn’t believe he was saying those words to his despised and useless older sister. Emilie had to admit it did sound rather unlikely, though it was true. He continued. “It was… I just… Weren’t you afraid?”

That wasn’t what Emilie had expected him to ask. She hesitated, tempted to say she had never been afraid, that she had sailed through the whole experience without a qualm, even when people were trying to kill her. Efrain would never have believed her if she had told him about it, but he had believed Seth, even though he was a total stranger.
A strange man who is a crew member on an airship Efrain stowed away on has more credibility than me
. But she thought of poor Beinar and suddenly couldn’t lie about it. “I was very afraid. But there was no one else. Rani had just been captured, Miss Marlende was being held prisoner by Lord Ivers, I wasn’t sure where Lord Engal and the others were, even if I could have gotten to them.” Even remembering it was making her insides curl up. She had been afraid, but it was the feeling of being completely alone that she remembered the most. “But I was more afraid to just stay where I was, so I had to keep going forward.”

Efrain bit his lip, obviously conflicted. “It’s like I don’t know you,” he said finally.

“You don’t,” Emilie said, and it startled her to realize just how much she resented it. It almost put what Uncle Yeric had said to her in the shade. “You stopped knowing me when Erin left. I went away and you pretended there was a useless, stupid girl in my place, who said stupid things and was easy to ignore. Don’t think I didn’t notice.”

Efrain shook his head, confused and mulish. “That’s not what… You were… You changed!”

If that was all he had to answer her with, Emilie didn’t care to continue the conversation. She retorted, “I didn’t change. I was always the same. But it’s not nice, having someone who knows you suddenly un-know you.”

Emilie turned away, took three long strides toward the stairs, and almost ran into Professor Abindon. The professor’s expression might have been mistaken for her not uncommon angry frown, but this close up, Emilie could see it was really consternation, as if she had just heard something that had startled or upset her. Before Emilie could speak, the Professor said, “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to overhear.”

“It’s all right,” Emilie said hastily, and waved her hands, trying to indicate that the interconnected compartments of the airship made privacy almost impossible. “Can’t be helped, here, I mean.” Then she fled before it got any worse.

 

It was Cobbier who fired the hook-launcher up toward the platform. The hook skittered across the metal and caught on the far edge. Everyone ducked a little, waiting tensely. Emilie saw she wasn’t the only one who had thought that appearing to shoot something at a strange ship could possibly be problematic. But there was no reaction, and after a few moments, everyone breathed again.

Cobbier detached the line from the launcher and leaned on it, testing the hold. The hook didn’t move. “It’s holding.”

“Good.” Dr Marlende shed his coat and absently held it out. Emilie hastily stepped forward and took it, glad to feel a little useful. He continued, “I’ll go up first and secure the ladder, then come back and extend the spell to cover the rest of you.”

Miss Marlende said, “Have you tested the smaller protective spell?”

Dr Marlende smiled at her, pulling on a pair of leather gloves. “This will be the test.”

Miss Marlende drew a sharp breath, and didn’t look especially happy with that answer. Professor Abindon sighed wearily and rubbed her forehead. Emilie could see that being married to Dr Marlende might prove to be a little too much on a daily basis. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the professor had decided to give it up.

Dr Marlende started to climb, wrapping the line around his legs and shinnying up it like a long pole. Cobbier reached for the end, but Lord Engal got it first, leaning on it and holding it taut so the doctor could climb more easily.

It was a long way, and he had to climb past the bulk of the balloon, near enough that he could have stretched out and touched it. As he reached the top of the shimmering curtain of the protective spell, Emilie held her breath. But as he climbed past the faint wavering light, a globe of it detached like a droplet from a dipper of water and clung to him as he continued up.

“Ah, it worked just as expected,” Lord Engal said, sounding pleased. Cobbier wiped sweat off his brow and exchanged a relieved look with Mikel.

The Professor muttered, “I wonder at the man’s sanity, but he is competent.”

Emilie realized she was holding her breath only when it abruptly ran out, and she choked a bit and coughed. Miss Marlende put an arm around her and squeezed her shoulder.

Everyone sighed with relief when Dr Marlende reached the platform and scrambled up onto it. Lord Engal and Cobbier hurried to attach the rope ladder to the line, and Dr Marlende drew it up until he could hook the end to the platform. Then he turned toward the door.

“What the–” Lord Engal was outraged. “He’s supposed to wait for us!”

“Quiet,” Miss Marlende and the Professor both snapped. Miss Marlende added, “He has to check the air supply. Otherwise, there’s no use in the rest of you going up there.”

It was too far away to see what Dr Marlende was doing in any kind of detail, but Emilie could make out that he was searching all around the doorframe. Finally, he turned and crouched down, swinging onto the ladder with practiced ease and starting down. Emilie found herself wiping sweat off her forehead. And we haven’t even gotten to the really scary part yet, she told herself.

Miss Marlende turned to her and said, “Start bringing out the packs, please, Emilie. I want to have this over with as soon as possible.”

Emilie nodded, and hurried back into the main cabin.

From the control cabin, Daniel called, “Is everything all right? We can’t see a thing from here!”

She looked to see both Daniel and Seth staring worriedly from their seats at the control console. Efrain peered around the door at her. She called back, “It’s fine! So far. I’m getting the packs.”

She slung two over her shoulders and picked up the other two, then stepped out onto the gallery just as Dr Marlende climbed down the last rung of the ladder onto the deck.

“What did you discover?” Lord Engal demanded.

Dr Marlende rubbed his hands together briskly. “I found the catch to the door and was able to open it slightly. No one seemed to be immediately visible. I was also able to determine that the air inside is breathable.”

“Good,” Lord Engal said, somewhat mollified. He slung the pack Emilie handed him across his back. “That will make this much easier. If the crew is merely incapacitated inside somewhere, we can more easily come to their aid. If the crew has had some misadventure and is dead, it will probably take some time to try to determine how to land the ship.”

“Land it?” The Professor raised her brows. “You’re planning to keep it?”

“If we can find no sign of the crew, what else are we to do?” Lord Engal waved upward at the bulk of the aether-sailer. “We can’t leave it up here! Some brute like Ivers could come and steal it.”

“We could leave it up here,” Miss Marlende countered. She looked up again at the bulk of the craft looming over them. Her brows drew together in concern. “But perhaps it wouldn’t be ideal. If it really has stopped moving, it could disrupt the aether current even further.”

“When I finish my calculations, we’ll know,” the Professor said, somewhat darkly.

They watched while Dr Marlende, Lord Engal, Cobbier, and Mikel got their packs on and readied themselves for the climb. Miss Marlende said, “Just be careful.”

Dr Marlende kissed her cheek. “If all goes well, we’ll report within the hour.”

“If all goes well?” Miss Marlende repeated.

“Well, the crew may in fact be alive and aboard and studiously ignoring our attempts to contact them, and may order us – or chase us – off the vessel as soon as they lay eyes on us,” Dr Marlende said. “But somehow, I doubt it.”

Emilie did, too. There was something ominous about the giant aether-sailer’s silence.

Dr Marlende started up the ladder first, followed by Lord Engal, Mikel, and then Cobbier. Emilie and the others watched until they reached the platform and one by one disappeared through the door.

“Are any of them armed?” Professor Abindon asked.

“My father and Lord Engal are, as am I,” Miss Marlende said. “Though it’s more because of the trouble with Lord Ivers than anything we expected to encounter out here.”

“Hmm,” Professor Abindon said, and stepped back into the airship. It was not a very reassuring “hmm”, Emilie thought.

 

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