Amy smiled as her father laughed at the man’s joke, and hoped he meant what he’d implied–that this was as much for them as for her, and that it was a stroke of luck that left her with protection, and them with a good hiding place.
Except her father ran the empire’s intelligence as well as the military, and he’d taught her and all of her siblings about politics. If she’d retained anything from that, she’d learned not to let the details distract her from the big picture. As much as the Harcourts might say that they were her bodyguards, the possibility that they were her assassins fit just as well.
“Well,” Mr. Harcourt said, “I’m sure you’ll want to say your goodbyes privately. We’ll see you inside.”
With that, the Harcourts stepped inside the white painted gondola, shutting the door behind them with a musical click.
Her father met her eyes. “The Council insisted they go along with you, and yes, their orders are to kill you if you appear to be preparing to overthrow the government.”
“Father,” she began, and she heard Amanda begin to talk too. She stopped when she saw her father’s face.
He looked pale in the sunlight, and tired. There were bags under his eyes, and she thought she saw something glisten in the corner of his right eye. “I’ve talked to them. I’ve told them that if they kill you and can’t prove that it’s anything less than high treason, I will use every resource I have to make sure their lives will be short and miserable.”
She blinked away tears, unsure of what to say, and not wanting to lose control here with the Harcourts in the gondola, and guardsmen waiting on the lawn.
Amanda hugged her, burying her face in Amy’s shoulder. From the wetness dripping on her neck, Amy knew that Amanda had already lost the battle against tears.
“Ten years,” her father said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll have this taken care of within ten years. If it takes more than ten years, come back yourself. Do reconnaissance, and don’t come alone, but come back. If we can’t finesse this within ten years, we’re either dead or need your help.”
Amanda stopped crying and pulled away from Amy to stare at their father. “Is something wrong?”
He shook his head. “Nothing unusual. There are always threats against the empire. In ten years one of them may grow to become too powerful for us to handle on our own.”
Amy might have found that comforting except that he’d hesitated.
She raised an eyebrow. Keeping her voice low, she said, “Are you telling me create an army and invade?”
In a quiet, but even voice he said, “I’m telling you to find out what’s going on, and then make the best choice you can.”
Three days later on the airship, she found herself thinking back to that conversation, and wondering if she’d made more out of it than her father had been trying to say. She knew better though. Everything she’d learned from him said that if he had the chance to hide her from harm, but also use her as the family’s insurance against an enemy, he would.
She wouldn’t disappoint him.
Around noon, they sighted land. She was ready for it after three days of almost constant water. Ahead lay the coastline of the Summerlands, specifically that of New Amsterdam.
She’d heard that it was large, but seeing the many towers rising above the water, she realized it must be as large as any city of the Northern Islands. Even from this distance, she could see that they were far from the only dirigible in the sky. The airships flying over the city weren’t much more than dots, but there were more, some of them larger than any airship she’d ever seen.
That wasn’t all. When they were only an hour out from the city, a ship rose into the sky. A long metal cylinder floated upward, fansails extended on each side, a multicolored glow spilling out around the edges of each sail. The aethership flew higher, the sails glowing brighter the higher it went. Amy had no idea whether the aethership was heading toward the Moon, Mars or Venus.
It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t be riding it.
They weren’t going to another planet, not even one of the outer ones. They were flying toward one of the towers in the city. She didn’t remember which.
She’d moved toward the front, and stood next to the windows when they’d reached the city, gazing at the apartments, factories belching out smoke, the shipyards, and airships that floated above the city.
Then she realized that the dirigible was aiming toward a tower with a mooring mast. The tower stood out from the others around it partly because it was taller, but mostly because it had been sheeted in a silvery metal.
As she watched it get larger, Mr. Harcourt’s voice interrupted her thoughts, surprising her enough that she had to fight back the urge to change.
“We’re going to dock at that building over there.” He pointed at the building she’d already seen, and she strangled the urge to tell him so. “It’s the property of a well known inventor in these lands, a man name Joseph Vander Sloot. I’ve visited before, but not officially–not that this visit is official.” He chuckled to himself.
“Note the…” He stopped. “Now that is unusual.” He pointed ahead.
A boy her own age floated in the air, held up by a device that had been strapped to his back. Judging from the twin streams of fire, it appeared to contain two rockets.