The dining room was empty, save a couple stragglers, groups of men in whispered conversation. The quartet had started again, picking carefully through a piece from Teromi’s Sun Cycle. Stripped down to fit in the quartet’s range, and a lot was lost in the process. Marcus was nowhere to be seen.

I had it now. Between my departure from the Academy and my employment with Valentine, I had gone through a rough period. Violent. The kind of trouble I had never gotten into as a youth, the kind of things the son of a Councilor couldn’t get away with. Marcus had been part of that social circle, someone who existed at the periphery of bar fights and brothels, a face and a name and not much more. What was he doing on a fine zep like Glory?

Our storyteller, the OverMate, squeezed out of the press of bodies on the observation deck, shaking hands and clapping backs, laughing as he went. Once clear of the crowd he shot his cuffs and got a drink from one of the waiters. He saw me looking at him and nodded.

“Pretty good, huh?” he asked. I nodded. “We do that every time. Business guys love it, all the glory of Veridon stuff.” He drank some of his wine, still smiling. “Your first time downfalls?”

I shook my head. “I’ve been.”

“Oh.” He squinted, looking at my eyes. “Oh, sure. Maybe your next flight, give that a try. What’s your zep?”

“No zep.”

“Still in the Academy, eh? They let you boys out sometimes?”

I took a glass of wine, drank it all, put the empty glass back on the tray before the waiter had a chance to glide away.

“Good night,” I said, and turned to go. Beneath my feet the floor bucked, and the zepliner began to rise. We had started our ascent to Veridon.

I was at the door to the passenger corridors when the voxorator clacked open. The captain’s voice was a dead metallic croak, like the taste of blood in your mouth.

“All crew, report to lastrites stations. Alert to lastrites.” The voice cut out, and the hood to the vox fluttered, like a fish gasping for breath. There was a silence, except for the quiet tinkle of glass from the observation deck. Glory of Day lurched, moaning under sudden unseen stress, then jumped up. The quartet scattered, their instruments clattering to the floor in an atonal cacophony. There were a couple of screams on the observation deck, some of them startled, some of them desperate. Glass broke in a long succession of pops. The rate of our ascent doubled, then doubled again. I heard gunfire.

The OverMate was white-faced, on one knee. The thin glass of wine in his hand snapped in his fingers, blood leaking from his knuckle. I went over and shook him.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Higgins. OverMate Higgins, First Rank.” His voice was a ghost, just automatic reflex on a tide of panic.

“Get your legs, Mate. You’ve been called to lastrites.”

Higgins stood. The passengers were boiling back into the dining room, fleeing the danger of the open deck as we rose faster and faster. Some of them were cut up pretty bad. The ship was groaning under the strain of the sudden ascent.

“Why are we going up?” Higgins whispered, his voice not yet his own. “If we’re going to lastrites… crashing… should we be…”

“Lost control, maybe,” I snapped. I looked around at the crowd of passengers, at the couple of confused looking crewmen who had dropped their wine trays. The floor was rocking back and forth. I grabbed Higgins by both shoulders and looked into his eyes. “Listen. Gather what crew you can and get those doors secured. Then try to calm these folks down.”

“Yes, yes. I can do that. I can…” the man seemed to settle, his eyes focusing tightly. There were more screams from the passenger cabins aft and the service corridors above. “What the hell is going on?”

“Security to the Primary Chamber. Get to manual control all sections, all hands to lastrites.” The voxorator again, the captain’s voice a dull echo in the pipes. While the captain could talk anywhere on the ship through the vox, Corps practice was to only speak in the presence of crew, away from the passengers. Most people found the dull groan of the voxed voice disturbing, like something out of nightmares. That the captain was doing a general broadcast was worrying.

“We’re closest,” I said. Glory was a Hestesclass zepliner, similar enough to the trainers I had flown. The Primary Chamber was above us three levels, perched by itself on top of the zepliner’s main hull, deep in the anti- ballasts.

Access was from the service corridors, but there was also a direct ladderway from the passenger cabin that doubled as an emergency exit to the open decks. The dining room served as a muster point for the passengers, so the evacuation route started here. “If the captain’s guard can’t respond, then we’re the closest.” I grabbed Higgins’s arm and hauled him forward. “Come on.”

“But the passengers…”

“If the captain’s in danger, if he’s in mortal-about-to-die danger, it doesn’t matter one holy hell what happens to these passengers. He dies, we all die. Now come on.”

The evac ladderway was behind a concealed door, recessed into the woodwork of the dining room. There was a body at the ladder’s base, a security ensign, his face and hands bloody. It looked like he’d fallen down the ladder.

“Oh, my Gods,” Higgins said. He bent over the body, checking for a pulse, “It’s Tehr. He’s been… he’s dead!”

“Yeah,” I said. I leaned over and looked up the ladderway. There was blood spattered on the rungs and the sides of the ‘way, enough to see that the guy had been bleeding before he fell. I turned and closed the passageway to the dining hall.

“I’m going to move him,” I said, looking around the tiny space at the base of the ladder. There was a readybox just inside the evac door, still locked. I pointed at it. “Open that.”


“Because your crew wouldn’t let me bring a pistol on board.”

OverMate Higgins hesitated, his hand still on the dead ensign’s chest. “I should take the weapon, sir. It’s my responsibility to see to the captain.”

“Sure,” I said, motioning to the body at his feet. “And before that it was his responsibility. Think you’re up for the job?”

He looked down at the dead man, at the ruin of his face. He closed his eyes and went to open the readybox. I took the ensign by the arms and dragged him clear of the rungs. His chest groaned like a bag of marbles as he slid across the floor. Higgins gave a startled sob, not turning around, his hands shaking as he tumbled the lock on the readybox. Soon as it was open he handed me the service revolver and the cardboard box of extra rounds, then leaned against the metal wall.

“Follow me up.” I pocketed the ammo. “Gonna need someone to vouch for me, if I run into security.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.

“Yeah. Me neither.”

He nodded once, still not looking at the dead man at his feet. I checked to make sure the revolver had been maintained, spun the cycle and sighted the barrel. It was spotless, the grip and cylinder engraved with the city’s seal and the Glory of Day crest in shiny brass. Tucking the weapon into my belt, I hopped onto the ladder and began the long climb to the Primary Chamber. Behind me I heard Higgins slowly start the same climb.

The rungs were slick with blood, an awful lot of it. The walls were smeared, too. It was like crawling across the floor of a butcher’s shop. Halfway up I stopped at a door. It was unlocked. The ladderway kept going up, I assumed to the Primary.

“This leads to the open deck?” I yelled down to Higgins.

“Yes. This is the main access, though there are other ways, obviously.”

“It’s open.”

“Shouldn’t be. Should be secured at all times, until we go to lastrites.”

“We’re at lastrites,” I reminded him. “Maybe someone already opened it?”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

I looked up at the blood-stained walls of the ladderway. The platform for the Primary Chamber was close. Establish control of the ship, I thought, or find out why the door was open, what was beyond it. I couldn’t do both.

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