Dreadnought Page 66

Briar Wilkes cocked her head toward the station’s exit and led the way out. “For starters, you were the most lost-​looking person on the landing. You must’ve had a real long trip, coming all the way from Virginia. You ever been out this far west?”

“No ma’am,” she said. “First time.”

“That’s what I figured. And anyway, you’re about the right age, and traveling alone. I didn’t know you were a nurse, though. That’s what the cross on your bag means, right?”

“Right. I worked in a hospital in Richmond.”

The sheriff’s interest was piqued. “Smack in the middle of the war, huh?”

“Yes ma’am. Smack in the middle.”

“That must have been . . . hard.” Sheriff Wilkes led the way back outside, which put them in front of the enormous building. “We’re going over there, just so you know.” She pointed down the street, where a set of docks were playing host to a small multitude of airships. “I hope you don’t have any trouble flying. I know some folks are afraid of it.”

“That’ll be fine. How far away is Seattle from here?”

“Oh, not far. It’s maybe thirty miles to where we’re going. And I can’t believe I didn’t think to tell you right away, but your pa’s doing all right. For a while there, we really thought he wasn’t going to make it, but he pulled through.”

“Really?” said Mercy, who likewise couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought to ask. It was the whole point of her trip, wasn’t it, finding her father, and seeing him?

Sheriff Wilkes nodded. “Really. He’s just about the toughest son of a gun I ever did know. Or he’s in the running for that title, that’s for damn sure. I say that, because you’re about to meet one of the other toughest sons of a gun I know. You see that dirigible right there?”

She indicated a patchwork metal monster that bobbed lazily above a pipe dock.

Mercy could see the top of it, but not much of the bottom. That bit was blocked out by the dockyard gate, and another, smaller ship. “I see it.”

“That’s the Naamah Darling. Her captain, Andan Cly, is a friend of mine and your daddy’s.”

“I didn’t know my daddy had any friends,” she said, then caught herself. “I mean . . . Oh hell, I don’t know what I mean. I haven’t seen him, you know? Not in years. Not since I was a little girl.”

Briar Wilkes said, “That’s what he told me, and he feels real bad about it. Worse probably than he’s willing to say. But when he thought he was dying, and we didn’t know how much longer we could keep him alive, the one thing he kept asking for, over and over, was to see his little girl.” She gave an ironic laugh. “Course, he was delirious as could be, and I finally figured out that his little girl had to be a grown woman now. And it took us a while to get enough details out of him to track you down. I won’t lie to you, it was a pain in the ass.”

“I bet.”

“We sent out word with air captains in every direction, especially those who went pirating along the cracker lines, or who had connections back East. He said last he knew of you, you’d been in some town called Waterford.”

“That’s right,” she said.

“But we couldn’t find it, and could hardly find anyone who’d heard of it. But one of Crog’s old buddies—Crog, he’s . . . he’s another one of the air captains out here, one of Captain Cly’s good friends—anyway, Crog’s buddy said it wasn’t too awful far from Richmond.” She caught herself, or caught Mercy looking overwhelmed and uncertain. So she changed direction and said, “But I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, it took some doing, tracking you down.”

“Well, it took some doing, getting myself out here,” she said softly.

It was Sheriff Wilkes’s turn to say, “I bet.”

They walked in silence for the rest of the block, until they reached the gates. Then the sheriff paused and turned to her charge. “Listen, there are some things I ought to tell you, before we get to Seattle.”

Mercy got the distinct impression that Briar Wilkes was going to continue right then and there, on the very spot, telling her whatever things she had to say, but someone hailed her from over by the pipe docks.


“I’m coming, I’m coming. Keep your shirt on, Captain.”

Rather than declare further impatience, the speaker emerged from underneath the Naamah Darling, stepping slowly into the wide gravel aisle next to his ship. The captain—for this surely must be him—looked up and down at Mercy and said, “So this is Jeremiah’s girl?”

“Sure is,” said the sheriff.

“Damn sight prettier than her old man, I’ll give her that,” he said with a crooked grin that was surely meant to be disarming.

Mercy didn’t realize for a moment that she’d stopped in her tracks upon catching sight of Captain Cly. And then she understood his attempt to disarm, and why he seemed to move carefully, as if he thought he might frighten her.

She was staring at the single largest man she’d seen in all her life.

And Mercy Lynch had seen plenty of men in her time—soldiers, big fighting lads, strapping old boxers and wrestlers, blacksmiths and rail-​yard workers with shoulders like sides of beef. But she’d never seen anyone who was quite the sheer size of Andan Cly, captain of the Naamah Darling. Seven feet and change, surely, the captain hulked in the center of the lane, holding still and keeping that crooked smile firmly in place, though now he was aiming it at the sheriff. He was an awesomely constructed fellow, with rippling arms and a long torso that boasted muscles like railroad ties under snow, showing through his thin undershirt. The captain was not particularly good-​looking—he was bald as an apple with jutting ears—but his face wore lines of sharp intelligence and his eyes hinted at a warmth that might be friendly.

She thought he must be chilly, running around like that, but he didn’t look cold. Maybe he was so big that the cold couldn’t touch him.

Mercy Lynch gave his cautious smile a tentative return, and followed Briar Wilkes up to greet him. She shook his hand when he offered it to her, and she said, “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise, I’m sure. I hope you had a pleasant trip.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but didn’t know what to say. So she closed it again, then responded, “It was an adventure. I’ll tell you about it on the way, if you want.”

“Can’t wait to hear it,” he said, and he scratched at the back of his neck—a nervous gesture, one that was holding something back. “But while we’re flying, I think we probably ought to tell you a few things about Seattle—before you see it for yourself, I mean. I expect Briar here told you about your father—that he’s doing okay after all?”

“She told me,” Mercy said.

He nodded, and quit scratching at his neck. “Right, right. But I don’t guess she got around to telling you about . . . where he lives?”

“It hadn’t come up yet,” the nurse responded.

“I was working my way to it,” Briar Wilkes said.

Mercy was forced to wonder, “Is it . . . is he . . . is it bad? Is there something wrong, like he’s in a jail, or a poorhouse, or something?”

The sheriff shook her head. “Oh no. Nothing like that. For what it’s worth, we live in the same place. Me and my son, we live in the same building as your dad. It’s just . . . well, see . . . it’s just . . .”

The captain took over. “Why don’t you come on up inside, and we’ll give you the whole story, all right?” He put a hand on her shoulder and guided her toward the ship. “It’s a long story, but we’ll try to keep it short. And there’s no shame on your dad in any of it. We just have a peculiar situation, is all.”

Beneath the Naamah Darling was a set of retractable stairs not altogether different from the ones that led up into a train’s passenger car, but longer by two or three measures. She followed the sheriff up inside the belly of the airship. The captain brought up the rear, drawing the steps behind himself and shutting them all inside.

The ship’s cockpit was all rounded edges and levers, all buttons and steering columns and switches in a curved display with three seats bolted into place. The center seat was oversized and vacant, marking it as the captain’s chair. The other two were occupied, and both swiveled so their occupants could see the newcomer.

In the left seat was a slender Oriental man about twenty-​five or thirty years old. He wore a loose-​fitting shirt over ordinary pants and boots, and a pair of aviator’s goggles was pushed up onto his bare forehead.

The captain pointed one long finger at him and said, “That’s Fang. He understands you just fine, but he doesn’t talk. Right now he’s pulling double duty as first mate and engineer.”

To which the occupant of the other chair said, “Hey!” in a tone of half-​joking objection. The objector was a teenager still, and skinny as a rail with brown hair that hosted a nest of cowlicks.

Andan Cly pointed at him next, saying, “That’s Zeke, and . . . and where’s Houjin?”

An equally young head popped out of the storage bay at the rear of the craft. “Over here.” The head vanished.

“Over there, yeah. Of course he is. Anyway, that’s Zeke, like I said, and the other one’s Houjin—sometimes called Huey, sometimes not.”

Briar Wilkes pointed at the boy in the third seat and said, “Zeke’s my son. Huey”—she cocked her head toward the place where Huey had briefly appeared—“is his buddy. I guess they think they’re going to see the world together or something, if they can talk the captain into teaching them how to fly.”

The captain made a grumbling noise, but he didn’t put much weight behind it. “They’re both sharp enough, when they pay attention,” he said. It wasn’t high praise, but it made Zeke beam, and it brought Huey up out of the cargo bay.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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