Another gust of wind rocked the chilly and dimly lit cabin and the lights flickered again. The air system delivered a waft of cold ammonia-tainted air, an echo of the raging storm outside. Over the drone of the engines Brother Caedmon could hear a ragged flapping noise: one more piece of the outer fabric tearing loose in the storm. He tapped the flickering screens, trying to make out the shape of the next oncoming vortex from the displays that still worked, but with passive senses they could show little more than the yellowish sleet and fog he might have seen with his own eyes from one of the ports. Soon it would be nightfall and they would have nothing more than ringlight and a moon or two by which to navigate. This deep in the cloud decks that might not give them anything to work with at all, even at maximum gain. Radar would surely bring swift death to both the craft and its passengers if any pursuit survived in this storm. The wounded little airship wallowed, trying to face into the headwind, and dropped in another unexpected downdraft.
“Columba and Thomas protect us,” Brother Caedmon whispered, his broad dark face creased with worry.
As if in answer, the storm dealt the little zep another buffet, and the deck canted to starboard. Caedmon reached reflexively for his staff, but his improvised lashings held this time, and it did not come loose from the infoport. He spoke aloud to the air.
“Yes, Kunjachan.” Ariel’s voice was tinny and flat, a sign of trouble, but Caedmon smiled at the old nickname all the same.
“How are you?” Caedmon’s own deep and resonant voice was full of concern.
“Blind, mostly. And in a good deal of pain where I am not numb. Have you taken the time to tend your own injuries? I can’t see you. The cabin cameras are offline.”
Caedmon glanced at the raw wound along his right arm, still red and inflamed under the hastily applied and still-transparent skin. “It will keep. I found a medkit, but the crew must have been all serfs, not Eaters, poor fellows. Basics only. Some old bionano, but it seems to work. I’m comfortable enough, but if we somehow live I may have a scar or two to show off and tempt me to boastfulness.” The zep shuddered and groaned again, and he raised his voice over the noise. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“You could pull out.”
“The autopilot, what remains of it, might fail us or betray us without my supervision. And I want to face the end with my faculties intact, not half-asleep. There are worse things than numbness and pain.”
“How long do we have?”
“I can’t say. Too much of this is foreign to me, and the storm is too unpredictable. A few hours, I think. A day at the most. I dumped the last of the cargo a few minutes ago, but we continue to sink, and we will drift into the deeps if we are not first torn apart. Adaptive stealth is mostly gone, and the last of the anti-piracy measures the zep had are spent. We won’t survive another encounter, even with a drone, if there are still any out there. Going deeper into the clouds was a good strategy for escape, and so was seeking this storm, but now it will hasten our end. Soon, perhaps, you will visit the God of which you so often speak.”
More about the author, Stephen Inniss, here.