“Of course.”

Rue stood and addressed the cat. “Let’s find out what time that optimal morning current was. Coming, Footnote? I need to talk to your master. Prim, you’d better come too, help mollify the beast.”

Footnote burped at her and led the way to the library. The two ladies followed.

Percy was not pleased to have the plans changed again so soon. “But I did all the calculations for the more complicated night departure. Now you want to go back to the first float scheme?”

“Yes. We decided you were right all along,” said Rue, swiftly forestalling further objections.

Percy sputtered to a halt. “Oh. Well, yes, naturally. Of course I was right.”

“So what time is that superior current you found for us?” Rue pressed.

Primrose wore a look of distaste at Rue buttering her brother up but held her tongue since it was her fault.

Percy scattered his notes every which way, looking for the earlier schedule. “Eight minutes past nine in the morning.”

Prim couldn’t help it: she groaned. “Such an inhuman hour.”

“Such an unfashionable hour,” corrected Rue. “All too human – that’s the point. It’s after sunrise. No supernatural parents to see us off. No drones.”


Rue couldn’t help a little thrill at the idea of sneaking away. She adored all three of her parents but they were awfully prone to drama. Paw would cry – she knew he would. Lord Maccon might be the biggest, baddest Alpha werewolf in all England but he was a big old softy where his daughter was concerned. Mother would order her around. Dama would fuss over her clothing selection. Better to escape in secrecy. Thank goodness for Prim’s unexpected fashion faux pas – it was going to make Rue’s life so much easier.

They left Percy to formulate the new float plan.



The Spotted Custard left London on her maiden voyage with much less fanfare than one might expect from the departure of two of London society’s darlings.

Thinking they were to leave that evening, Rue’s parents, the Wimbledon Hive, and the Woolsey Hive had agreed for once to coordinate the outdoor event of the supernatural season. They planned a moonlit masquerade in Regent’s Park with invitations accepted by many of the best kinds of people. Provisions included unlimited champagne and sanguine fluid, treacle tart and blood sausage. The event would have played host to the season’s most extravagant dresses and fantastic hats. The next day’s papers referred to its cancellation as a scandalous upset, several young debutantes went into serious emotional declines. The precipitous departure of the guests of honour did not, many felt, warrant the event’s demise. Lady Prudence and the Honourable Primrose Tunstell were, in hushed whispers, thought to as have behaved in a very shabby manner indeed. Why should they spoil everyone else’s fun?

Rue and Prim knew none of this.

Rue’s thoughts were of her hapless Dama, who would be frightfully disappointed. He did so enjoy a fuss, and if it couldn’t be over him, his Puggle was the next best thing. He’d have had his outfit planned and all the drones furnished to match. Then again, he might have predicted Rue’s sneaking away early.

Only Quesnel’s mother came to witness their departure, arriving in the steam roly-poly. How she’d found out was anyone’s guess. Drone Lefoux merely hugged her son goodbye and stood quietly to the side while he made ready for float-off. She was statue-like – a bony older woman with short cropped hair and a preference for gentlemen’s garb that the age of American novelists had ensured was no longer as shocking as it once had been. Quesnel checked the rigging, conferred with the ground crew, and re-boarded with a final wave. As the mooring ropes were pulled up, his mother removed her hat and held it to her breast in the attitude of a mourner.

Rue, Prim, and Percy assembled on deck. Percy took the helm behind and above the others, his face drawn in concentration. Primrose had supervised the installation of a large parasol over his poop deck navigation area, a pretty red one to match the balloon, which rather clashed with Percy’s hair but would keep him from acquiring additional freckles during the journey. Prim was overly worried about her brother’s freckles. Quesnel, of course, disappeared below to supervise engineering.

They floated up smoothly, if rather more round and cheerful than elegant. Once clear of the trees, the propeller whirled to life, driving them forwards, preparing to push them into the correct current once they broke into the aetherosphere. Then, quite unexpectedly, the chimney off the stern belched out two great burps of smoke along with a tremendous flatulent noise.

Rue could feel herself blushing, for this was not the dignified float-off she had imagined. Some pigeons, all unnoticed until that moment, squawked and left their roosting spots on The Spotted Custard. Rue gave them a dirty look.

Percy let out a bark of laughter.

“Is that normal?” Prim wondered.

“It’s fine, only somewhat lacking in gravitas,” Rue assured her hopefully. She looked up. “And you’re never going to let Quesnel forget it, are you, Percy?”

“Certainly not.” The redhead grinned at her.

“It is going to do that every time we lift off?” wondered Prim.

“Very probably. Design flaw, I’m afraid,” said Percy, grinning even more broadly.

“Ah well, these things will happen.” Rue looked over the railing. The trees of Regent’s Park began to blur together, then the buildings around it became visible, then they too lost detail, and finally London herself was spread out below in one big dirty blob. The pigeons accompanied them up a short way. Rue shouted at them about the brief nature of their future existence and they lost interest, gliding lazily back down in search of statuary.

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