“My goodness,” muttered Percy. “How the mighty have fallen.”

“Do be quiet, Percy,” snapped his sister.

Rue continued, “I assure you Miss Tunstell will execute her duties efficiently and thoughtfully. She will settle all shipboard disputes that do not require official judgement. In these matters she speaks for me. Is that understood? My concern must be the floating of the ship and the safety of those on board, not to mention making our destination in good time. I do not wish to be bothered with trifles.” Rue hoped she didn’t sound too autocratic, but Paw always said that authority must be established from the beginning. Rue was afraid her concern over puff pastry and sunflowers might have initally come off as too domestic for a real captain. Nevertheless, she couldn’t help but add, “Except those trifles of the pudding variety.”

The three heads of staff nodded enthusiastically.

“Very well. Dismissed. Feel free to take your own tea in the mess. We shall remain here for the next half-hour.”

The staff hurried away, relieved.

Rue waited until they had gone and then dropped her act. “Was it wrong of me to invite them to sit?”

Prim said, “Give them time to get to know you, Rue. Staff is not accustomed, as you are, to thinking of everyone as pack.”

Rue nodded. “I take your point. If I am to be Alpha here, I must maintain some official distance?”

Prim sipped her tea. “Something like that.”

Rue turned to Quesnel. “Report on engineering, Chief Lefoux?”


“Looking good. Boilers are steaming, coal bunkers are full, water tanks are topped, sooties working hard. It’s a good crew and a well-stocked situation.”

“Your estimate of first-needed refuelling?”

“We should be fine for a week at least. More if we catch the right aether currents and can use the mainsail rather than the propeller.”

“Good. Cook’s stores estimate matches that – let’s try to keep it that way, shall we? Speaking of currents, Professor Tunstell, have you charted our course?”

Percy pulled out a rolled map and plopped it down on the table. He attempted to unroll it several times but it kept snapping shut. Rue signalled to the others and they all grabbed the edges on his fourth try, holding it open for him. Without a thank you, Percy bent over the image now displayed.

It was a peculiar-looking thing, a rough sketch of England, Europe, and the Mediterranean overlaid with arrowed swirls and lines. “We’re making for the Maltese Tower,” said Percy, pointing. “If we can catch the Gibraltar Loop south and then the Mediterranean Shifter west, we could make it there in two days. That’s our ideal course. If we miss the transfer puff, we can take the European Flow here and shoot for the Constantinople Tower instead. It’s further away but we should make it in three days, four at most. It’s the current-hops we have to worry about.”

Quesnel interrupted, giving the navigator a critical look. “How’s your hop technique?”

Percy arched an eyebrow. “Perfect, of course. In theory. The ship had better handle smoothly.”

Quesnel could play that game. “Smoother than butter, as long as your probe points are accurate.”

“Of course they’re accurate! Are you accusing me of not researching the aetherosphere properly?”

“I’m accusing you of inexperience.”

“Oh, and you’ve floated a ship of this size and design regularly over long distances, have you?”

Rue banged her free hand down on the map-covered table top. “Gentlemen. Enough. None of us has done this before and all of us are likely to make mistakes. Including me. Well, except Primrose, of course. She’s perfect.”

Prim blushed. “Aw, Rue – too kind.”

Rue soldiered on. “The important thing is to act within the best of our knowledge and with confidence in front of the crew. We must look like we have done this before. And do try to get along in public.” She stood to emphasise her point. She hadn’t her mother’s figure but she wasn’t a delicate creature either. Rue knew how to get a gentlemen’s attention, and she wasn’t averse to using that skill in her capacity as captain. She drew a deep breath. Both Percy and Quesnel sat up straighter in their chairs and stopped glaring at each other to glare at her instead.

Rue continued, “We need only get along for this one mission. If everything goes smoothly, we should be home in less than a month. Then we can all go our separate ways. Agreed?”

They all looked at one another.

Primrose said quickly, “Agreed.”

Quesnel crossed his arms over his grey waistcoat and leaned back. “Agreed.”

They all turned to look at Percy. “Very well,” the redhead said reluctantly. Then he added, “I suggest we catch the morning current. The Gibraltar Loop should be over London at about nine.”

Rue and Prim looked at him, askance. Neither of them had ever been up before eight in the morning, except on those few occasions when they were viewing that untenable hour from the other side. Being raised by vampires and werewolves made one quite nocturnal.

“Not possible. Dama has a bon voyage party planned for after sunset. I think perhaps two hours or so after that is a superior departure time.”

“And I must make the rounds this afternoon, leave my card,” added Primrose.

“Why?” Percy asked, genuinely confused.

“Oh really, Percy. One cannot simply leave town without telling people. It’s not done.”

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