Chapter 56:

Chapter 56 - Alone in the Sky


Beretta had never felt so alive.

Ignoring her father’s warnings, she leaned out over the airship’s railing and took in the sights. A sea of emerald green stretched out before her as far as the eye could see–the Great Jungle of Truvelo. The girl gawked down at the treetops and wondered what kind of animals made their home there. She had asked, of course, but her father didn’t seem to know much about this part of the continent; he said he’d never been this far south.

“Is it very dangerous in the jungle?” she asked, rocking herself forward until the railing dug into her belly.

Father pulled her back with a cluck of his tongue. “Feet on the deck, Beretta. One rogue gust is all it would take to tip you over the edge,” he warned, “but yes, it is dangerous. Only the Iklwa are brave enough to live there.”

“But they have no guns! They must get eaten all the time.”

“Not at all. The Iklwa have knowledge we can only dream of,” he explained. “Knowledge we have forgotten. They keep to the old ways as they always have; that is why they can survive where we cannot.”

Beretta looked up at him skeptically. “‘The old ways?’”

“Yes. Before guns and cities and airships, all Truvelans lived off the land. Some prefer it still,” he said. “It is something to respect. The Iklwa remember that, without our land, we would be nothing.”

She went back to watching the jungle. It seemed like an interesting place, but she certainly wouldn’t want to live there without good weapons. “I think you could live down there better than they could, Father.”

He chuckled at that. “Oh? Why do you think so?”

“You have guns. And you are the biggest person I have ever seen!”

His chuckle developed into a full-blown belly laugh. “Size and technology are not everything,” he replied. “I do not know the animals there–where to look for them, or how to hunt them. I do not know which plants are safe to eat. I do not know where it is safe to take shelter. The Iklwa know all these things.”

“I still think you would win,” she scoffed. “New ways are better than old ways.”

The big man clucked his tongue again. “Stubborn. But I can count on life to teach you otherwise. You will grow to see the value of tradition in time.” He paused, then, casting an anxious glance toward the back of the airship. “I must leave you now, Berry. Stoking the furnace is my duty, and I have left it too long. You can keep looking over the edge, but no leaning, yes?”

Yes,” she huffed, kicking at the deck in frustration. Beretta was prepared to leave it at that… But then she remembered the struggle on the beach how close she came to losing him. So, just as he was about to leave, she threw herself against his midsection and wrapped her arms around him tightly.

“I love you, Father,” she said, voice muffled by the fabric of his shirt.

He smiled and stroked her hair. “I love you too. Be good, okay?”

She nodded and pulled away, leaving him free to cross the deck and make his way down below. She watched him go with a frown, teetering on the balls of her feet.

Now what was she going to do?

Beretta peered around at the deck in search of something to capture her attention. Except for the great big balloon blotting out the skies above, the Skywind struck her as being very similar to a sailing ship; the hull was made of wood, and had an elegant curving design that made her feel like she was living in a fairy tale. The chipped paint that lined the railings and navigation bridge detracted from that feeling a little, but Roulette seemed to like it, so Beretta had decided that she liked it too.

The navigation bridge was housed in a funny little structure toward the back of the airship. It had three big windows that overlooked the deck, and thick wooden walls that kept the controls safe from the elements. It didn’t have a proper door, though–Morgan had told her that the walls and windows were mostly just there to keep him from blowing away if they sped up too much. If they went too fast, he’d said, everyone but him would have to clear the deck.

Beretta didn’t like the sound of that–if she had to leave the deck, she wouldn’t be able to watch the jungle go by–but Morgan had promised not to go too fast unless something unexpected happened. She thought about going to ask him more questions about that but quickly decided against it; he’d seemed pretty upset the last time she interrupted his piloting.

That reminded her: he’d asked her to go get Mimi over an hour ago so he could teach her how to fly the Skywind. Sure enough, upon looking in the direction of the bridge, he caught her eye through the windows and gave her a stern look. She smiled uneasily and scuttled off across the deck in search of Mimi. Luckily, she didn’t have to look very hard; Mimi stood toward the front of the deck, looking out at the horizon. Beretta hadn't seen her move from that spot once in all the time they’d been flying.

She stepped up behind Mimi and cleared her throat. “Um, hi Mimi,” she began. “Morgan asked for you a while ago. He wants to show you how to fly the airship.”

Mimi sighed and remained facing the sky. “I’ll be there in a minute,” she said at length. “I guess it’ll be me taking the night shift, then.”

Beretta joined her at the railing, speaking quietly to avoid agitating her further. “We will be flying all night?”

“Probably,” Mimi replied with a shrug. “Southern Truvelo is huge. It may be a day or two before we reach the cape.”

Beretta nodded and fell silent, watching the clouds as they passed. She liked being up in the air like this, but a couple days did seem a little long. She found herself starting to feel homesick.

“Do you miss Anua?” she asked.

Mimi looked away. “Look, Berry. I can’t do this with you right now, okay? Go find Roulette or something.”

Beretta froze, her gaze falling to her feet. After a brief moment of hesitation, she nodded to herself and drifted away from the railing in search of Roulette. It was odd; she’d thought of everyone aboard as a big group of friends, but they all seemed so distant from each other now. Nobody was talking. Those who weren’t busy seemed lost in their thoughts.

Was this how the rest of the adventure was going to go?

She stalked below decks, having seen no sign of the brightly dressed girl anywhere on deck. The stairs led to a narrow hallway with faded photographs hanging on the walls between its many open doorways. Each one led to a small cabin–one for each of them, and then some. The girl couldn’t say she liked her room, exactly, but her cot was comfortable enough and its lone, circular window let in enough light to keep her spirits up. She was certain she could handle it for a couple days, at least.

It was the boredom she was worried about.

At the far end of the hall lay the stairs down to the engine room–a scary place full of smoke, fire and soot. If anyone could deal with a place like that, though, it was her father; that was probably why he’d volunteered to help keep the engine running in the first place. To either side of the stairs was a darkened nook intended for storage. At the moment, both nooks were depressingly empty, reminding her of just how quickly they’d had to flee the city. If things had gone differently, maybe Mimi could have brought her costume trunk along?

Beretta heaved a sigh at the thought. She knew she was being childish, but how was she supposed to cope without something to keep her mind busy? She’d been ripped from her home, all of her things were miles away, and the only close family member she had besides her father had betrayed them both. It had been easy to ignore it all in Sebastopol–she loved Sebastopol–but here, alone in the sky, she couldn’t stop all the disappointments of the last few days from bubbling up to the surface.

No. I am not alone, she reminded herself, proceeding down the hallway with newfound determination. I have Father. And someone else who will listen to me, too…

She made her way over to the last doorway on the right and peeked around the corner to find Roulette just where she’d expected her to be: sitting on her cot with her hands clasped behind her head. At the sound of her approach, the older girl looked up at her and smiled.

And, just like that, Beretta felt her fears and doubts melt away.

Patreon iconPatreon icon