Flame burst from the twin rockets on the boy’s backpack, and the boy flew upward toward the mooring mast. Then, lowering himself to the building and landing next to the mast, he stepped behind a metal cabinet.
The airship moved closer to the mast, and when it was close enough that Amy wondered if the nose would hit, the mooring mast bent and extended toward the nose of the airship.
Amy didn’t see it, but she heard a metallic clank, and felt the airship stop moving forward. It hadn’t been moving much. She barely felt it, but she felt something.
Then ropes fell from the airship, landing on the roof of the building. No one waited to grab them, but long metal beams rolled out from the middle of the roof and out toward the edges, catching the ropes in metal teeth and then depositing the ropes’ ends into holes on the roof of the building.
She felt the dirigble descend, pulled downward by the ropes and by a clanking track on the mooring mast.
Mr. Harcourt shook his head. “There’s an unusual landing procedure. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it automated, but even then there are more men needed.” He cleared his throat. “Well, then. It seems that it’s time to disembark.”
She gave him a smile, thanked him, and walked back to her seat to grab her old, leather bag. The airship’s crewmen would unload the rest.
Minutes later they’d walked down the steps to stand on the roof of the building, waiting for the boy. Besides the rocket backpack and a denim jacket, he wore grease stained jeans like a railwayman, but didn’t carry himself like a commoner. He walked up to where Amy and the Harcourts stood, smiled, and waved them toward a small building next to the mast.
“The elevator’s over here. My grandpa’s waiting for you downstairs.”
They followed him, walking into the small building to find that it was nothing but an elevator. Unstained wood covered the floor. Above five feet, the walls and ceiling were little more than metal beams, and Amy could see the cables that held the elevator in the air.
The boy followed her gaze. “We mostly use this elevator for cargo, not people. Sorry, if it’s a little dirty.”
Mr. Harcourt laughed. “Young man, my wife and I have seen far, far worse in the service of the Empire.”
The boy nodded, “I can only imagine.”
Then he pulled the doors shut, locked them, and pressed a button. The elevator car rumbled downward, coming to a stop on the second floor. Someone had written in the numbers with a pen next to the buttons.
The boy opened the elevator doors, and led them out, and into a work room. It could have passed for a junkyard or possibly a hardware store just as easily. Half assembled steam engines, difference engines, horseless carriages, machines whose functions she could only guess at, and all their parts lay scattered across the room, a room that appeared to take up the entire floor.
It smelled of oil and metal.
White haired, and slightly stooped over, an old man stood outside the elevator. Approximately the same height as the boy, he shared many of the same features, including a wide eyed interest in whatever he happened to be examining at the time.
He was examining them, smiling as he said, “Good afternoon. I’m sure you’ll want to rest after such a long journey, but Mr. Harcourt and I should sort out some details, and I should introduce myself. I’m Joseph Vander Sloot, and this is my grandson, Nicholas.”
Nicholas nodded to them.
Mr. Harcourt said, “We are William and Agnus Harcourt, servants of the Crown, and this is Her Royal Highness Amelia of the House of Sacrifice. I could go on for some time about her titles, but this isn’t the time.”
Joseph nodded. “It isn’t. Nicholas, why don’t you show Amelia around? They may be staying for a day or two, so give her the tour, but please don’t take her around the city. We don’t want a repeat of what happened when Daniel visited.”
Nicholas cocked his head, and said, “I’m sure she wouldn’t be interested in doing that anyway.”
The Harcourts looked at each other.
Guessing what they were worried about, she said, “I’ll be perfectly safe with him.”
Mr. Harcourt said, “Of course.”
Joseph looked from the Harcourts to Amy and back to the Harcourts, “If you are worried about her safety, I could call one of my associates–Captain Lee, formerly of the Summerlands marines.”
Mr. Harcourt blinked, and he swallowed. “That won’t be necessary. I have full confidence in your grandson.”
“Great,” Joseph said, “then let’s talk about where you want to go.”
As the adults began to talk, Nicholas walked up to her. Shrugging, he said, “I guess they want us out of here. I can show you the building, if you want.”
She watched the adults walked over to a desk, pulled out chairs, and began to talk. Keeping her voice low, she said, “Who’s Daniel, and what don’t you think I’d be interested in doing?”