Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 32

< Chapter 31                                                                                                 Chapter 33 >
A cloud of dust rises from the desert floor, hiding both the Wind Dancer and Raoul’s anti-grav airship.

“What does the cloud of dust mean?” Jade asked.

“It means we can change course and hide from Raoul and his crew.” I scanned the horizon, looking for some feature besides the flat expanse of the desert and the sharp mountains where the galactics had their base of operations. “Do you see anything which can conceal this pinnace?”

“Now see here, Your Highness,” Vass Sune protested, “Cochran sent us off in this airship so we could get away from those pursuers! Surely it is unwise to go against the good Captain’s wishes.”

“Well, I think it’s f—,” Jade gave her mother a sidelong glance. “It’s, uh, brilliant.”

“Mrs. Cochran, you have children aboard so the final decision rests in your hands,” I said. “We may escape that airship if we continue our flight, but we might also simply prolong the inevitable.”

The woman looked at her three children, then back at the cloud of dust, before turning to me. “What would you advise?”

“Fly away, obviously!” Mrs. Sune responded superciliously. “How can you even consider another action, you foolish woman?”

“Out of the mouths of harpies…” Jade muttered.

“That is truly invaluable advice, Mrs. Sune,” Mrs. Cochran said, smiling sweetly at the merchant’s wife. Turning back to me, Jade’s mother added, “We shall find a place to hide.”

The older woman spluttered, “What nonsense is this?”

Her husband added acerbically, “Is that meant as some type of jest? Why would you ignore advice you said was invaluable?”

“In the two weeks your wife has traveled with us, she has never failed to share her opinion on matters ranging from child rearing to crew discipline to airship navigation. She has never let her complete lack of experience in any of these matters deter her.” Mrs. Cochran’s face grew stern. “Never have her opinions been even remotely useful. I would go so far as to say a woman could lead quite a successful life by asking Mrs. Sune’s advice on all matters and doing the exact opposite. I’m testing that theory now.”

The Sune’s compressed their lips in displeasure and, mercifully, fell silent. William whooped and little Sasha clapped her hands.

Jade grinned. “Damn, Mom, that was patchless!”

Mrs. Cochran returned her daughter’s grin. “Is that good?”

Jade rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mom. If clothes or a gas envelope don’t have patches, that means they’re perfect.”

“Ah,” her mother nodded. “I’d have said it they were tightly stitched when I was your age.”

Jade’s eyebrows rose. “You had slang back in the olden days?”

“Of course we did, Jade. Your generation may have changed the words, but they didn’t invent the concepts any more than my generation did.” Mrs. Cochran flashed a downright wicked smile at her daughter. “Come to me after you’re married, Jade, and I’ll tell you about a lot of other things your generation didn’t invent!”

I laughed, reminded of my own mother’s advice on matters of love. Jade, on the other hand, blushed furiously and turned her attention to the horizon. A moment later, the girl’s stare intensified and she pointed into the distance.

“Your Highness, there’s a large wreck a couple of miles away.” Jade shielded her eyes from the sun. “Mom, I think it might be the Norrin!”

I looked at Mrs. Cochran and raised an eyebrow.

“We flew this route partially to search for the Norrin. It is—or at least it was—one of the largest merchant airships flying under the Oshwindon flag. One of the younger crewmen has taken a fancy to Jade.” The look on Mrs. Cochran’s face spoke volumes concerning her low opinion of this young man. To her credit, when Jade’s mother spoke next, her voice held obvious concern. “I do hope the boy is all right.”

“Don’t worry about Forbose, Mom.” Jade was almost hopping with excitement. “He knows how to take care of himself!”

“Of that I have no doubt, dear.” Mrs. Cochran’s tone could have taught the desert a thing or two about dryness.

Jade’s eyebrows drew down and I felt certain we were about to witness the resumption of an ongoing family disagreement. I jumped in with a question, hoping to divert attention back to our current problems. “Jade, how long will it take to deflate the envelope enough to hide in that wreck?”

Startled by the change of subject, Jade’s simmering anger faded into calculation. “If we can anchor the pinnace, we won’t have to deflate at all. We can just winch the envelope down until it’s flush with the deck. We’ll blend into the desert well enough that someone will have to be right on top of us to see us.”

“Ah, is that why the envelope is the same color as the desert?” I asked, keeping Jade thinking about anything except arguing over her boyfriend.

“Yeah. I mean, yes Your Highness. It helps hide the pinnace if we have to abandon ship and run from raiders.”

“We’re nowhere near a formal court, Jade. You and your family may call me Callan. It’s a lot easier on everyone and much faster in an emergency.”

Jade looked at her mother who nodded. “If you say so, Callan.”

“I say,” Mr. Sune said, “if someone as important as you is missing, Callan, can we expect the Mordanian Navy to come to our rescue?”

“First, I gave Jade and her family leave to call me Callan. You have not been given such leave.”

The Sune’s jaws dropped open. Of course, Mrs. Sune found her voice first. “You would put these…these…people above us?”

I flashed a vicious smile at the couple. “Why, yes, I would. As for a naval rescue, I wouldn’t count on anything for at least another day, probably more. Even then, it will probably be a Federation ship.”

By then, Jade was piloting the pinnace in among the wreckage of the Norrin. I pitched in with the Cochran family to fend the little airship off of jagged timbers jutting out of the broken hull. We anchored the pinnace to the largest piece of hull and carefully winched the envelope down to the deck. The sour expressions on the Sunes’ faces when they discovered they had to debark lightened everyone else’s mood considerably. William and Jade tossed loose timbers on top of the envelope, further camouflaging our airship.

Ten minutes after we finished, the sound of an airship’s engine came to us. I carefully looked over the top of the wreck and my heart sank. The strange airship without an envelope was steaming our way!

What has happened to the Wind Dancer? (Okay, we know, but just pretend for me, okay?) Find out in Chapter 33, coming Friday!