A Spitfire and a Storm

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She moved cautiously, peering out from behind each crate before scuttling across to the safety of the next one. But there was no sign of the greasy lad. By the time she got to the hatch leading into the airship interior, she was confident that she was alone in the hold.

The hatch itself was closed. She paused in front of it. She was relatively safe here in the hold, and if she waited until the airship docked somewhere, she would probably be able to slip away when the cargo was unloaded. So the best thing to do would be to make her way back to the loading hatch, and hide as close to it as possible.

On the other hand, it might be days before they reached their destination. When the airship had left Aeropolis the flying city had been over the Atlantic on its way to New York. They had left London a few days ago, so it would probably take a similar amount of time to get back again. She couldn't survive for so long without at least water, and preferably food as well.

And it was starting to get colder in the hold. She pulled her threadbare coat more tightly around her. There was no doubt about it. She would have to venture into the airship itself.

The hatch was a standard one. She turned the wheel gingerly. The dogs disengaged with a squeal that made her cringe, but a sudden blare of powerful aero engines covered up the sound.

A moment later the ship pitched violently nose-down, throwing her against the hatch. She had just recovered her balance when the ship pitched back upwards again, and she grabbed onto the hatch wheel to stop herself from falling backwards. But the hatch swung open and she fell backwards anyway, sitting down with a thump and narrowly missing being clobbered by the hatch as it swung fully open.

She scrambled to her feet in a panic, and moved quickly to the edge of the hatch. It opened into the main companionway that ran down the centre of the airship. At the opposite end was the open door of the flight deck. Through it she could see the back of the shabby man as he wrestled with the controls. Every violent movement was echoed by the ship, and she clung onto the edge of the hatch to maintain her balance.

Other doors led off the companionway on either side. Most were closed but the one closest to her on the right hand side was open and she could see into a shabby little cabin. On impulse she darted into the companionway and through into the cabin.

As she passed through the doorway she was seized with a sudden thought that the greasy lad would be in there, but it was completely empty apart from a bunk bed below the grimy window. She closed the door carefully. Unfortunately it didn't have a lock. She resolved to move on to try another cabin, as soon as she had investigated this one.

It didn't take long, despite the fact that the airship's pitching made it hard to move around. There was a tiny built-in cupboard with nothing in it, and a little desk containing old bills of lading and port chitties.

A particularly violent pitch sent her tumbling onto the stained mattress of the bunk, and she pulled herself to her knees and peered out of the window, wondering what the reason for the extreme manoeuvres was. A blare of aero engine noise preceded a flash of silver as a little aircraft shot past the window. It was flying virtually on its side, and she could see down into the cockpit. The pilot's right hand held the control stick well back, and she craned her head to follow his machine as it whipped past the front of the airship gondola.

A second later the airship pitched nose down again, making her feel light on the mattress. The shabby man must be trying to evade the aircraft, she decided. It was probably one of the Spitfires that Aeropolis Security used, and they were trying to get the shabby man to return.

Excitement rose in her. If the pilot of the little fighter plane succeeded in doing this she would be able to sneak off the airship, and her adventure would be over.

She searched the sky outside the window, looking for a sign of the Spitfire. She thought she could spot it glinting in the sun far off to the side. She tried to follow its movement but it kept getting lost in the glare on the dirty window.

An increase in the engine note of the airship she was on brought her awareness back to the cabin. The downward pitch increased, and she saw that the airship was turning starboard towards an ominous black thunderhead that seemingly rose out of the water far below.

An uneasy feeling grew inside her. Everyone on board Aeropolis knew that thunder storms were something to be avoided. But the shabby man seemed to be heading straight towards a particularly nasty-looking one. She shivered.

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