email: flamebyrd [at] gmail.com
artist: llyse (llyse)
email: xanedrian [at] gmail.com
"So you say you worked with Samuel Clayton Mills?"
The tone of his voice seemed like he might actually have heard of Clay, which suited Katherine just fine because she wouldn't ever sign on an airship with a captain that had never heard of one of the greatest steam engineers in history. Katherine nodded in response. "Yes, sir. For years."
"Your name is Peter, you say?"
Katherine nodded, keeping her face expressionless. "Yes, sir."
"And you're sixteen?"
Fifteen, technically. "Yes, sir."
He looked her over carefully. "You're kind of small."
She crossed her arms over her chest defensively. "I'm an engineer," she said. "I don't need to be large to be an engineer, I just need to be smart."
He laughed. "That's true." He tapped a finger on the wooden table that lay between them. "Well, you're certainly a promising candidate. But I'm not the kind of captain who'd make a decision about an assistant engineer without my engineer, so let's see if we can find Griffith, shall we?"
Katherine got to her feet. "Yes, sir."
"Call me captain," he recommended. "Captain Blaine, if you feel the need for a name."
"Yes, captain," she said.
The captain led her out of the small cabin that seemed to be his office and onto the deck of the airship. He trod with confidence and poise and drifted down the steps without seeming to even register their presence, while Katherine stumbled and clutched desperately at a non-existent handrail. The airship wasn't in motion, but it rocked in the winds.
"No ship legs, boy?" asked the captain, hiding a smile.
She scowled. "I'll be fine."
"You're lucky, The Windskipper has the best stabilising system in the world. She's the fastest airship of her class, too," he added, with obvious pride.
"I knew that," said Katherine. "Everybody's heard of The Windskipper."
"Then you understand why we're only looking for the best," he said, ducking to avoid a low-hanging rope. He led Katherine down a set of sunken steps to a solid door and knocked on the round pane of glass in the centre of it. "William? I have another boy for you to interview."
There were a few ominous clunks from the behind the door before it opened and a man looked out, peering at them over a pair of thick-lensed glasses. His clothes were sooty and stained with grease. It gave Katherine a brief pang of nostalgia to look at him.
"Peter, this is William Griffith, my chief - and currently only - engineer. He's a genius. Treat him with respect."
Katherine started to curtsey, and turned it into a bow at the last minute. "Pleased to meet you, sir."
"Peter worked with Clayton Mills," said the captain.
Griffith's eyes brightened with interest. "Really?" he said, brushing a lock of hair behind his ear. "He was a good friend of my mentor." His finger drifted to his mouth, where he nibbled slightly at a nail.
The nervous gesture, in combination with the name, brought with it recognition. She'd met this man before, with Clay. Clay's opinion had been full of praise, which was unusual enough to stick in her mind. She nodded. "I was sort of his apprentice," she said.
He cocked his head to the side. "Well, come in, and you can tell me what you know."
"I'll leave you to it," said the captain. "Will, don't get so into it you give away secrets again."
"It was only the once," said Griffiths. "And that was years ago."
"I haven't forgotten."
Griffith closed the door in the captain's face, to Katherine's surprise.
There were no chairs in the room, only cushions scattered on the floor. Griffith pulled one up to a low table and indicated Katherine should do the same.
Griffith's questions wandered all over the place, leaving her feeling off-base. She bristled every time he asked something simple, and did her best to impress him whenever he asked something more complicated. "So, do you think The Windskipper could benefit from your mentor's steam motion accelerator X7-98?" he asked casually.
She stared at him. "Are you insane?" she said. "That's for land travel. It's a train engine."
He laughed, and she realised it had been a test. "Well, you certainly know your Mills engines."
"All the X7 series are train engines," said Katherine.
"Oh," said Griffith. "Is that how it works?"
Katherine nodded. "The F9 series are airship engines. The H2 series are for food preparation and cooking."
Griffith brushed a stray lock of hair out his face and pushed a leaf of paper and some charcoal towards her. "If I asked you draw me a diagram of something, could you do it?"
Captain Gilbert Blaine looked up as William opened the door and stumbled into his office without knocking. He should be pleased William had even remembered to open the door, so he made no comment. "Well?"
"The boy certainly knows his way around an engine," said William, pulling out the other chair and sitting primly on the edge of it.
Gilbert silently wished William would use a chair properly for once. His compulsive perching had led to a number of embarrassing encounters with the deck. He was certain he could get his old friend a royal commission if only William could actually give the impression of competence. "If he worked with Clayton Mills, I should hope so," he said, dragging his thoughts back on topic.
"Yes," said William, hesitantly.
"You don't believe him?"
"No, I do, somehow," said William. "Even though I know for a fact that Clay didn't have any apprentices, just a girl who helped out in the..." He trailed off.
Gilbert blinked. "We're idiots." A thousand clues, and he'd missed all of them.
"We certainly are," said William, putting a hand over his eyes. "I knew that face looked familiar somehow."
"For heaven's sake," said Gilbert. "Did she think we wouldn't notice?" He thumped the desk with the flat of his hand for emphasis. He felt like he'd been played for a fool, and the feeling was quickly transposing into anger.
"I'd like to hire her anyway," said William.
Gilbert raised his eyebrows, surprised out of his rage. "That good, is she?"
"Clay practically raised her. For the past few years she's been doing all the technical work in the shop. She's used to working with inventors, she's used to taking orders but is intelligent enough to understand what's going wrong and ask questions when she thinks something's been overlooked." William's hands flickered through the air, a sign of his enthusiasm.
"You know all that from one little interview?" said Gilbert, amused.
"No, idiot. I saw her working with Clay, some years back."
Gilbert nodded in understanding. "I'll send a messenger for her." He drummed on the desk for a moment. "You may have to give up your pallet in the workroom."
William gasped. "I've changed my mind. I don't need an assistant."
"Sleep is good for you," said Gilbert, absently, scribbling a note. "Most of the crew would kill for a private room, the least you could do is use it. Here, give this to the messenger boy on your way out."
Some time later, the girl sat on the opposite side of his desk again, nervously playing with the hem of her overshirt. He wondered how he had ever mistaken her for a boy.
"Well, the good news is that Master-Engineer Griffith is very impressed by you," said Gilbert.
The girl's expression brightened.
"Unfortunately he seems to think that the last time he saw you, you were a girl."
The girl swore in a very unladylike manner.
He chose to ignore it. "Now, fortunately for you I am not adverse to taking girls on my crew," continued Gilbert, keeping his tone light. "But I have to ask what the hell you thought you were doing?" He thumped the desk. "Did you think we wouldn't find out? What were you going to do about sleeping in the mess? What about - woman things?" He had sisters. He knew what it was like to live with teenaged girls.
The girl looked at the floor for a moment, then back to meet his eyes. "I thought by then I would have proved my worth."
"You didn't stop to think maybe it would be a bad idea to be the only girl on a ship full of air-faring men?"
She blinked slowly at him.
Raised by a master engineer, he reminded himself. Very little life-experience outside of the workroom. He let his head drop into his hands. "Very well. Let's look at it another way: do you really want to throw your life away for this? Nobody is going to want to marry a girl engineer on an airship."
She glared at him. "I don't want to get married," she said.
"Most don't, at your age," he said. "But you may change your mind in the future."
"I wouldn't want to marry any man who wouldn't accept my serving on an airship," she said, firmly.
Gilbert had to admit that he sort of understood that point of view. "Now, er... I'm very sorry, William didn't tell me your name."
"Katherine," she said, shortly.
"Katherine," he said. He lifted up a sheaf of papers and dropped them on the desk to ensure their edges lined up. "Do they call you Kate?"
"Clay called me Katty," she said. "But I would like to be called Katherine."
"Katherine, then," he said. "Why do you want to work on an airship, Katherine?"
She stared at him in a very unnerving fashion. "What engineer doesn't want to work on an airship?" she said, eyes shining. "It's either that or work on the railways, and I'd rather fly."
He looked her over. "Very well," he said. "We leave in three days. You'll have a pallet in the workroom. We winter in Zurich, which is where you'll receive the bulk of your pay. If you want an advance, talk to me and I'll see to it." He stood and pointed at the map on the wall. "This is our route. We mostly trade in fabric, tobacco and spices."
Katherine was staring at him again. "You're going to hire me?" she said, incredulously.
"I told you I had no objection to hiring a woman," he said, feigning lack of interest. "I just wanted to be sure that you know what you were letting yourself in for."
"I talked to three other airships and they wouldn't even interview me just because I'm a girl!" she said, indignantly. "I decided to become a boy so that people would listen me."
Suddenly things made a lot more sense.
"You only talked to me because I was dressed as a boy," she continued, resentfully.
"It's hard to say now whether or not I would have granted you an interview had you come to me without pretenses," said Gilbert, honestly. "But I am offering you a job now. Yes or no?"
After a week in the air, Katherine could finally walk in a straight line without having to clutch at the railings to avoid falling over. After a month, the crew were finally starting to relax around her. Upon introducing her to the main crew, Captain Blaine had given an impassioned speech about treating her as a sister and made threats that anybody who treated her with any disrespect owing to her gender would find himself rapidly out of a job and potentially with a sudden lack of airship beneath his feet - depending on the nature of the offence.
Fortunately, she didn't need to interact with the crew very often. She spent most of the day in Griffith's workroom or in the engine room, making plans and taking notes as Griffith thought through changes he thought the ship's engines needed. Her other duties included maintenance of the ship's engines, making certain Griffith didn't work after sunset (captain's orders, he apparently didn't want to spend any more money on lenses than necessary), making certain Griffith ate, and making certain that nobody disturbed Griffith when he was in the middle of a fit of inspiration.
It made her a little homesick. Griffith wasn't really like Clay, but sometimes when she was taking down notes or attempting to turn a hurried explanation into an accurate diagram while Griffith babbled, she was struck by a bolt of familiarity, and she had to blink rapidly to stop herself from tearing up. Katherine missed Clay.
At the rear of the airship was a deck that lay open to the air. Whenever she felt herself suffocating, in emotion or smoke or boredom, she walked out and hung over the guardrails, watching the clouds roll below her like a milky white ocean. Even though she knew they were nothing more than thick mist or fog, having flown through them on several occasions, from above they looked just as soft and fluffy as from the ground.
On clear nights, she liked to look at the stars.
From the mess she could hear the sounds of raucous laughter, and wrinkled her nose. The crew were good to her, but if she encountered them while drunk they sometimes tried to engage her in conversation. She walked back to the workroom and drew the curtain around her cot to try and sleep.
Griffith didn't come to the workroom in the morning and she wondered if he had been drinking too. She took the opportunity to organise the workroom and file the plans she had transcribed for him.
When she walked onto the deck, she discovered that Griffith was, in fact, awake. He, Captain Blaine and a few members of the crew were standing at the rear of the airship.
Katherine walked over to them, trying to make out what they were looking at. From here it just looked like a black speck in the distance, but they were passing a telescope between them.
"What is it?" asked Katherine, before remembering that she probably shouldn't go barging into the captain's private conversations. "Um. Sorry, captain."
He just gave her an indulgent smile, which made her bristle in affront.
"Is that a ship out there?" she asked, shading her eyes from the sun to get a better look.
Griffith nodded. "It's gaining on us. Slowly, but it's definitely getting closer."
"But aren't we...?"
"... the fastest airship of our class currently flying?" said Griffith. "I always thought so."
Clay had explained the principles of airship speed to Katherine in great detail. It was a complicated formula that incorporated the weight of the ship, the engines, the fuel it had to carry, the quality of the fuel and the greatest efficiency you could get from the fuel, the number of crew members, the amount of freight the airship was carrying...
"So... they're travelling light?" she ventured, slowly. "No freight? Skeleton crew?"
"Fuel is expensive," said Griffith. "We're a long way out here. They'd have to have a very rich sponsor or have high expectations of profit at the end of the trip for it to be worth it."
"Pirates?" asked Katherine, taking a gulp of air.
The captain laughed, but it didn't sound like he found the suggestion funny. "We hope not," he said. "But everyone should be on their guard nonetheless." He patted her on the shoulder and walked away.
Katherine glowered over the railing at the clouds.
"He's not trying to make fun of you," said Griffith, hesitantly. "He's really very impressed with you."
Griffith snapped the telescope shut and slipped it into the pocket of his coat. "Well, we can't do anything about the ship by just sitting back and watching it approach. Let's see if we can beat out those improvements to the furnace, shall we?"
Katherine wasn't sure how many hours later it was that the captain walked into the workroom without even bothering to knock.
"William, have you ever heard of an airship called The Dreaming Wolf? Oh, good afternoon, Katherine," he added, as an afterthought.
William swore under his breath for a moment. "Gilbert, I keep telling you to knock."
Katherine scribbled a few notes. "It's all right, I have it."
"So, The Dreaming Wolf?" said the captain, impatiently.
"It doesn't sound familiar, no," said Griffith.
Katherine thought for a moment more, then shook her head. "Not to me, either."
"Well, if there was another ship the equal of The Windskipper I'd like to think we would have heard of it," said the captain. "They'll probably be on us by sunset. Be on your guard."
The first shots were fired before the crew of The Windskipper even realised they were in gunfire range.
The Windskipper's strengths were in speed and agility, not in offense. Their opponents, on the other hand, appeared to be well-armed.
Gilbert kicked the wall of his office and tried to come up with a plan. They'd always been able to outrun their opponents before.
The floor shuddered beneath him and he clutched at the wall for support. "What happened?" he yelled.
There was a commotion outside. "They've blown a hole in the side of the gondola," said one of the crew. "They'll be on us soon."
Gilbert swore and grabbed his sword and a pistol from the wall next to his desk. "Tell everybody to arm up," he said. "I don't know what they want but they clearly don't want to negotiate about it."
He wasn't a man who had ever found much enjoyment in fighting. His crew weren't used to fighting as a team - most had probably never been in anything more serious than a bar scuffle - but their opponents moved like a well-oiled machine. A big, burly man picked up one of the pilots, asked him a question that Gilbert couldn't quite make out, then tossed him aside.
Gilbert felt like they were a village chasing after a rampaging bull.
He heard gunshots elsewhere on the ship, and swore.
Gilbert felt a little coil of worry begin to uncurl. Were they all going to die? Would he even get the chance to surrender? He'd built his life around this ship. He didn't want to see her destroyed.
As he pulled out his gun and prepared to shoot at one of the invaders, a harsh, piercing whistle penetrated the air. Just like that, their opponents turned tail and ran.
Katherine woke with a splitting headache in an unfamiliar bed. The last thing she remembered... the last thing she remembered was the strange men forcing their way into the workroom and shoving a damp rag in her face.
She seemed to be in some kind of sanitarium. There was a rumble in the background that spoke of an airship, but it wasn't any airship she recognised.
The door swung open, and a very tall man walked in. He wore a long cloak and had a sword belted to his side. Katherine stared at him in bemusement.
He bowed dramatically. "I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Katherine."
Katherine blinked slowly.
The man coughed expectantly.
Katherine didn't know what she was supposed to be doing. "Where am I?" she asked, instead.
"I am captain Randolph Koenig, current captain of the airship The Dreaming Wolf." He raised an eyebrow at her, stroking at his moustache with a long finger.
"You kidnapped me!"
Koenig coughed again. "Perhaps you might see it that way," he agreed. "But I have a business offer for you, and I did not trust that rat Blaine to let me make it to you."
Katherine shook her head, confused.
"Don't look like that, my dear girl. It's really quite simple - you tell me where the plans for Samuel Clayton Mills' superweapon are, and I will give you enough money such that you will be able to find yourself a good marriage and not have to slave away on merchant ships. Yes?" He smiled at her.
There was so much to process she couldn't even decide where to start. "Clay didn't invent any superweapons," she said, eventually.
Koenig pursed his lips. "I suppose Blaine has already gotten to you. I assure you, I can beat any offer he has made you."
"He hasn't offered me anything!" said Katherine. "I work for him of my own volition! And there is no superweapon! And I don't want to get married!" she spat.
Koenig sat down on the bed next to her. "Can it possibly be that Captain Blaine had no appreciation for the beautiful rose he had aboard his ship?"
Katherine wasn't stupid. She knew perfectly well that her hair was a mousy brown colour, frizzy and far too curly, she had spectacles and buck teeth.
She slapped Koenig across the face.
Koenig leapt to his feet, his mouth tight. "Lock her in the brig," he snapped at the one of the men in the room.
"Captain," said the man, grinning at him. "We don't have a brig."
Koenig glared at him. "Then where, pray tell, do you put prisoners?"
"I suppose we could lock her in the engine room," said the man, looking thoughtful. "We probably don't want to put her in with the cargo, and that's the only other room with a lock."
Koenig gave him a look of intense disgust and left the room. "Just get her out of my sight."
"You'll have to excuse him," said the man, chattily. "He's only been captain of The Dreaming Wolf for a week." He looked thoughtful. "Before that I believe he was on a sea ship. He keeps calling us sailors."
They tied her hands up with rope and marched her through the corridors until they reached the engine room, where they re-tied her to one of the rings attached to the wall.
"I'll take it from here," said the man. The second man nodded, and left the room.
"I'm Stanley, by the way," said the man cheerfully, taking a position against the opposite wall. "I'm the engineer on this ship."
"Why are you doing this?" asked Katherine.
Stanley shrugged. "He pays well. Look, all you have to do is tell him where the plans are and he'll let you go."
Clay had kept all his plans in a bank vault, back home. She wasn't sure what had happened to it after he died. Probably his nephew had inherited it. But... "I don't know what he's talking about. Clay didn't invent any weapons."
Stanley gave her an odd look. "What would you call the Mills Cannon, then?" he asked, tone all curiosity.
Katherine hesitated. She'd known that Clay had had a life before he came to Skipton. She'd known that he was already famous before he set up his shop, but she'd always thought it was for his engine designs. "He never made weapons while I was with him," she said, in a small voice.
"Well, Captain Koenig seems fairly convinced he did," said Stanley, grinning at her.
She was starting to find Stanley's constant cheerfulness unnerving. "Don't you feel bad?" she snapped. "I mean, you just blew up the fastest civilian airship in the world to kidnap a teenaged girl! For a weapon!"
"Those plans are worth a lot of money," said Stanley.
"What the hell just happened?" said Gilbert, staring at the back of The Dreaming Wolf.
William stumbled into the room behind him. "They took Katherine," he said, breathless.
Gilbert blinked. "They took Katherine?" He had been expecting the bursar with an account of all the cargo lost.
The Windskipper lurched in the breeze, and Gilbert clutched at the wall to keep from falling through the hole in the side. "Get somebody to rope that off or something, will you?" he said, absently.
"We need to go after them," said William. "If we let them get out of sight we'll never find them again."
Gilbert nodded. "All right. Get whoever's uninjured to help you get us moving again."
An hour later, they were lagging behind The Dreaming Wolf and not gaining any ground, but they hadn't lost sight of them yet.
"We're going the wrong way!" Paul-the-bursar was shrieking. "We're going to be late!"
The Windskipper was never late. Gilbert didn't care. "A fifteen year old girl just got kidnapped by pirates, we're the only people who can do anything about it, and you're concerned about being late to port?"
Paul wrung his hands uncertainly, but didn't say anything.
Gilbert went to find William in the workroom. "How is it going?" he asked, softly.
William was bent over some kind of strange device with a pair of pliers. "It's a modification of a slingshot," he said. "It'll fire weights with a net between them. Knock people over, tangle them up. Or something like that." He shook his head and put it aside. "I don't know."
"Why do you think they took Katherine?"
"She worked with Samuel Clayton Mills," said William, shrugging. "They must think she knows something about one of his inventions. It's obvious." He picked up the device again and prodded at it a little.
"Hey," said William, slowly. "We're carrying silk this time, right?"
Gilbert blinked. "Yes, I believe so."
William brightened. "Well, half the problem with leading an attack on an airship is getting past the bullets, correct?"
"They make vests out of silk that can spread the force of a gunshot over a large area so that it doesn't penetrate the skin," he said, words tumbling over each other as he thought out loud. "We can probably hack a few of those together, I know the basic principle behind it. We have weapons of our own, and I can do up some smoke bombs and things..."
Gilbert walked back to his office, feeling a little more confident.
He looked at the list on his desk and fell forward to let his head rest on his arms. Two dead. Two letters to write to the families of enthusiastic youngsters who wanted to fly but didn't want to join the army. One stoker, one cabin boy.
There was a reason Gilbert hadn't taken a commission. He'd never wanted to be in this position.
Stanley left the room after a few more attempts at getting information about Clay's non-existent superweapon. Katherine heard him lock the door behind himself.
It was dark, and she shivered a little. The room wasn't cold, but it was eerie. It reminded her of late nights with Clay, only the rumble of the engine was different. It felt wrong in her bones.
She slept fitfully, finally waking for good when light began filtering through a grimy window.
Katherine pulled at the ropes a little. The men hadn't tied her very tightly, and she was certain that if she just twisted she could...
She rubbed at the wrist of her now-free right hand, and carefully slipped the left free. She wouldn't be able to get off the airship, but she was locked alone in an engine room, of all places.
Katherine walked over to study the engine. The access hatch was locked, of course, but she had hairpins and the knowledge to use them. Clay had gone through a lock-designing phase once. He'd taught her to pick them so that she could test them for him.
There was a cabinet on the wall that probably contained tools. She picked that lock, too.
Katherine hissed at the head as she pulled the hatch off the engine. It was a fairly standard airship engine, not a Mills but the theory should be the same.
She tore off her petticoat and wrapped her hands in cloth to wind the valve closed. The engine shuddered to a halt.
She'd have to work quickly now. She removed one of the pipes, tore some more strips off her petticoats and pushed them into the pipe, far enough down that it was in shadow when she held it up to the light.
She repeated the act on a second pipe, then replaced the pipes, spun the valve back into place and replaced the access hatch. She locked the hatch and cabinet and scurried back to her corner.
Katherine had barely slipped her hands back into the ropes when she heard a commotion outside and the door opened.
Stanley barely looked at her, walking straight to the engine and unlocking the access hatch.
After some time where all Katherine could make out was swearing and various ominous clunks, he stuck his head around the side and seemed to remember her presence.
"Sorry for all the racket," he said cheerfully.
"What's wrong?" asked Katherine.
"The engine stopped," he said. "I'm trying to figure out why."
"Oh," she said, trying to keep her expression neutral.
"Philips, is there any progress on that engine yet?" came a voice from outside. "Captain says if we're not moving in three minutes he's throwing you overboard."
"Now that's just not fair," said Stanley.
"The Windskipper is gaining on us," said the voice. "You'd better be quick."
Stanley sighed theatrically, and went back to making ominous clunking noises with the engine.
"Captain," said Stefan, the navigator, knocking on the office door gingerly.
Gilbert took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Stefan's updates on their progress had been increasingly depressing. "Come in."
"The Dreaming Wolf appears to have stopped. We're catching up quickly."
Gilbert blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"Judging from the smoke they're having some kind of engine trouble," he said.
"How fortunate," said Gilbert. "Let Griffith know, will you?"
A few minutes later, the room around him shuddered and he clutched at his inkwell to prevent it tipping over. "Now what?" he muttered.
Running footsteps soon provided an answer. "Don't worry!" called William. "I just turned the engine into turbo mode."
"You realise I have no idea what you're talking about, don't you, William?" called Gilbert.
"We can't keep it up for very long," said William, closing the door behind himself and smiling maniacally. "And it's terribly fuel-inefficient. But once we catch up with them we can see about securing some replacement fuel. Or we could make an emergency landing or something."
William didn't seem to be terribly concerned, and Gilbert decided to let it pass. "How long do you think we have before we catch them?"
"Half an hour?" said William, hesitantly. "Assuming they don't get their engines started again."
Gilbert muttered a little prayer under his breath. "All right. How are we going with the silk vests?"
"We should have enough by the time we reach them," said William.
"Very well," said Gilbert. He looked at the letter in front of him and sighed. "Do you think I'm doing the right thing?"
"You mean, going after them?"
Gilbert nodded. "We're not a military vessel. None of the men are trained to fight. What if I'm just sending more young men in to die?"
William shrugged. "So don't, then."
"What do you mean?"
"Give them the option. Tell them that they don't have to fight and that nobody will think any less of them if they choose to stay behind. I think you'll be surprised."
Gilbert raised his eyebrows.
"You probably haven't noticed, but the crew are fairly protective of little Miss Katherine."
"Oh," said Gilbert, weakly.
"I wouldn't recommend telling her that, though," said William, thoughtfully.
Gilbert laughed. "All right. Let's get this rescue team moving."
Katherine heard the commotion a long time before it came anywhere near her. Stanley had left some time earlier, carefully locking the door behind him. She'd carefully pulled herself out of her bonds again and fetched a spanner from the tool chest to use as a weapon.
She hoped it was The Windskipper, but it couldn't hurt to be careful.
"Katherine?" came Griffith's familiar voice from the other side of the door.
"I'm in here!" she said.
"Oh, thank goodness," he said.
She heard the sound of Griffith fiddling with the lock on the door for far too long before it opened.
"What is that?" she asked, looking at the device in Griffith's hands.
He grinned at her. "It's a net gun." He stroked it. "It works quite well, actually, although we didn't have that many nets and I didn't have time to fix the weights to more than a couple." He shook his head quickly. "You're lucky I've seen the plans for this airship model before. Stefan managed to get your location out of the crew but I don't think any of them knew where the engine room was. We smoke bombed the gondola, it's kind of hard to get around in there."
Katherine tucked the spanner into her bodice and stretched her rope between her hands, taut, like a weapon. "So, um... how are we getting out?"
"Stefan is back up the passage," said Griffith.
Stefan was perhaps not in the advantageous position Griffith had been expecting, given that Stanley had a knife to his throat.
"Stanley Andrew Helmut Philips, what do you think you are doing?" said Griffith, putting his hands on his hips.
Stanley jumped backwards, the knife dropping to the floor. "I, um... I'm the chief engineer on this ship?"
"Why are you working for pirates?" said Griffith, sounding genuinely confused.
"Well, we didn't know they were pirates at the time," said Stanley, sulkily. "Koenig offered us a lot of money. He and some men came on board at the last port."
"Stanley, what would your mother say? Engineering isn't about money."
Griffith sighed. "I am very disappointed in you, Stanley Philips. But unfortunately I do not have the time to deal with you now. I have to get back to my own ship."
"I'll help!" said Stanley, looking a little pathetic.
Griffith waved impatiently. "Get behind me, then."
The smoke made Katherine's eyes sting and she started coughing uncontrollably.
As they lurched out onto the deck Katherine found herself pulled into an arm lock and held at gunpoint. "This is your last chance, girl," said Koenig.
Griffith stumbled out the door behind her and froze.
"I've told you a thousand times!" yelled Katherine. "Clay didn't make any superweapon!"
"I have a letter here that says differently," said Koenig, with a sniff. "He says, quite clearly, that he has developed a revolutionary new device. H2-674, it says. He says it will change the world."
Katherine froze, then started laughing. "H2-674 is a pasta maker," she said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"It's an automatic pasta maker. It mixes the dough, and rolls it through a series of rollers until flat, then another set of rollers cut it. It has different settings for different widths of pasta."
"Ingenious!" said Griffith.
Koenig's hold around her neck loosened, and Katherine turned, shoving her knee into his crotch area and running, stumbling, to stand by Captain Blaine.
"Two men died for this!" said Captain Blaine. "For a stupid invention that turns out to be a pasta maker?" He had a gun of his own, which he held with a surprisingly steady arm. "You're going to surrender, and we're going to tow you to Hong Kong," he said. "And then we're going to have a nice talk with the British authorities."
"I do have one concern, though," said Gilbert, when they were back on The Windskipper, The Dreaming Wolf turned over to the authorities and all crew members awaiting interviews. "Do you think this sort of thing is going to happen often? You being kidnapped, I mean."
William and Katherine exchanged a look. "We'll have to get back to those engine improvements."
"I have some ideas for some defensive shielding," said Katherine.
"I think I have a plan for a lightweight cannon we can use to penetrate the envelope..."
Gilbert sighed, fighting back a grin, and closed the door to the workroom.