Anchor Station Twelve

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I expected chaos to erupt on the bridge. A flurry of panic, at the very least. Instead, all attention snapped to Captain Morrow, who was gazing out the window at the approaching storm, and the room grew very still. Only Lieutenant Nioben kept his eyes on me, saber still partly unsheathed.

“Sound the alarm,” the Captain said calmly. For the second time that day klaxons began to blare. “Mr. Garma, inform Mr. Marouk that the weather has turned, and all passengers are instructed to remain in their cabins.” Her aide nodded and strode from the bridge.

A fine spray of sand whipped across the glass windows. It sounded like fire crackling, and I fought down a sense of foreboding. Surely the Dragon’s crew knew how to acquit themselves in a sandstorm? Not likely, with only half a tiller crew, I thought unwillingly.

“Lieutenant. Find me the nearest anchor station. Miss Verrill, if you would be so kind.” Captain Morrow indicated my clockwork treasures, which were rolling this way and that, bouncing against the lip at the table’s edge. “We need that map.” She turned her back on me and continued to issue orders to the bridge crew.

The Lieutenant shoved his sword back into its sheath. With a glare that assured me that this storm was all my fault, he handed the mechanisms to me one by one. Kneeling, I wrapped each one carefully in its silk and cotton cocoon and placed it back in the trunk.

When the last gleaming sphere had been stowed away, Niko waved me aside. “Stand back out of the way,” he said. His voice was unexpectedly mellow. I shut the lid gently and obeyed.

The ship lurched again, buffeted by the strengthening winds. I braced myself against the wall, but the Lieutenant, nose hovering just inches from the map, ignored both the disquieting motion and the clatter of sand and stones on the gondola’s hull and windows. He traced a finger along an invisible line on the paper. His lips moved silently as he glanced out at the blurred landscape below us and back down to the map.

“Lieutenant!” Impatience laced the Captain’s tone.

He shot another cold look in my direction before answering her. “Anchor Station Twelve should be four miles south-by-southwest, Captain. Shall I give the orders?”

“Do so. Take Garma and Fenduin with you. The helm crew could use another pair of strong arms.”

He nodded and left the room.

Captain Morrow took his place at the map table, her eyes locked on the storm unfolding on the horizon. No, not on the horizon. The swirling winds had already halved the distance between the distant hills and the Dragon. I watched with a kind of sick fascination as the clear blue of the sky was obscured by ruddy billows of dust. It felt like being swallowed by a desert rock dragon – the enormous lizard that was the airship’s namesake. In a matter of minutes, we were entirely enveloped in the whirling sands.

A fierce gust jostled the ship violently, and I cracked a knee on the edge of my trunk. Tears blurred my vision for a moment.

“There!” someone called out. “Anchor Station 12!” Blinking furiously, I tried to see through the sand-clouded window. I thought I could discern a dark spire reaching up out of the tempest. My fright eased somewhat. Anchor stations were scattered across the deserts of Loess for exactly this purpose: to allow airships to hunker down if caught by a sudden storm.

My relief was short-lived.

“Where is the beacon?” The Captain’s words echoed in the small room, despite the howling of the wind. “There ought to be a beacon lit.”

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This post is part of the Jade Dragon series. Though I try to make these installments enjoyable as individual pieces, I highly recommend that you read the series from the beginning to really get what’s going on.

This one was brought to you by several days of furlough, during which the children were in daycare and I had time to recover some brain cells.

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