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Every airship captain worth her salt has certain things. A ship; a backstory; a superlative pair of boots; a crew.

In every crew, there is one quiet person without whom the ship would fall to pieces. I don’t mean the mechanic or the chief engineer. I mean the person who makes certain the engine doesn’t run out of coal, the cannons don’t run out of ammunition, and the captain doesn’t smash the instrument panel trying to operate the aetheromagnetic graphic transmitter at high altitudes. On HMS Skyra Brae, this person is the purser. He fills those shoes like a baker fills an eclair.

Shortly after we liberated the Skyra Brae, we tethered outside a small trading outpost in the Argentine Foothills. I thought it an ideal time for my pilot, formerly our guide to the Patagonian Wastes, to gain a closer acquaintance with the intricacies of the hot-air dinghy.

“Pull the lever on your left!”
A loud gnashing of gears.
“Your other left!”

After our landing (like swansdown, if swansdown were compressed into a lot of moving parts with sharp edges), we set off for the village.

What shall I say about the village? The baths were relaxing, the water hot, and the headwoman not too picky about accepting the coin of a dictator who was missing an airship.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, on returning to my ship with a load of fresh fuel and goat’s milk (it’s nutritious, all right?), at finding the dinghy surrounded by hooligans. I focused. Only four hooligans, and one other, though they moved frenetically enough to suggest a horde of brass monkeys. Their pointed teeth led me to believe they originated some 90 aeronautical miles to the South. Their brass-trimmed retractable spears, of a type perfected in India some ten years previous, led me to believe that they were conversant with modern technology. Their ferocious demeanour led me to believe that they boded no good to me, the dinghy, the ship, or the fighter that stood between them and their goal.

I could see him clearly, as he stood head and shoulders above the diminutive locals. A leather hat protected his head. A double-bladed spear protected his body. Nothing at all protected his knees.

*   *   *

Quote of a day.*

I started to write about Sean, and the writing, like a searchlight sweeping wildly, almost caught my fugitive feelings.

                                                  – Edmund White, The Beautiful Room Is Empty

* In no way is this related to the above. Really. Happy Birthday, my dearest NTS.

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