Chapter Eight - Feathers and Soot

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The sound of an explosion jolted Adalé from her dreams.

She woke with a start, flinging herself up out of the unfamiliar but comfortable bed. Sunlight streamed in through the windows, illuminating the large, sparse room that Avani had said she should take. The source of the noise, however, remained a mystery.

She hurried to the window, opened it, and looked out. She was hit with a blast of chilly morning air that carried a hint of salt, likely from the deep blue-gray expanse of the Pacific Ocean below them. She looked down at the decks below her, then up at the great envelope above her. There was no sign of fire as she had feared, and for the moment, at least, there were no screams from her new crewmates. But what had been the explosion?

Shutting the window, Adalé turned and dashed towards the door. She stopped with her hand on the brass knob, realizing she was still dressed in her threadbare nightgown, her feet bare and her hair almost certainly a tangled mess of more knots than curls.

Another explosion echoed through the ship from somewhere above her, and Adalé decided her nightgown would have to do. She threw the door open and ran into the hall, her bare feet skidding against the worn wood, and made for the spiral staircase, then turned sharply left and headed for the double doors of the bridge. She flung them open. Instead of the panic that she would have expected after not one but two explosions, she found Avani leaning against the rail, one hand hung on the wheel, the other propping her chin.

"Good morning, Adalé," Avani yawned. Her heavy-lidded eyes were even heavier than normal, and dark circles ringed the bottom. "How did you sleep?"

"I heard something explode," Adalé blurted, wasting no time in case the room was about to burst into flames.

Avani did not look very concerned. "Jameson must be in the laboratory," she said, as if that explained it.

"And that means explosions?"

"Almost always. My goodness, I don't know how he hasn't burnt himself to a crisp already."
"But I thought fire was... bad," she said. After the fire on her farm and what she had seen at the airdocks in San Francisco, she knew that fire was worse than bad. "On an airship, I mean."

Avani yawned again. "Oh, it is, but the laboratory is metal-plated. It's the only place other than the engine room that fire is allowed. Annemarie had it installed the first time Jameson tried to demonstrate one of his inventions and it blew up in her face. The next day she got the metal."

"I thought the doctor was supposed to be a genius?"

"He is! He makes some really marvellous things, but I think it must be part of his inventing process to always blow them up first," said Avani with a shrug. "You should go down to the lab and look."

Now it was Adalé's turn to shrug. "I don't know. Annemarie said he doesn't like people much," she said, remembering the awkward way Jameson had behaved around her when they first met.

"Jameson doesn't like anything much," she said, rolling her eyes. "Because he's afraid of everything."

"Heights," Adalé recalled.

"And the dark. And insects. And open spaces, the ocean, birds, crowds of people, and some strange aversion to oranges," said Avani with a small snort.

"Oranges?"

"Oranges," Avani confirmed. "He refuses to touch my candies, no matter how much I offer. Something about membranes."

"Huh," Adalé said. Annemarie was certainly odd, as was Laurent, and Avani, with her pockets full of sweets, and Adalé wasn't so commonplace herself, but the reclusive inventor seemed to be the strangest of the lot. It reassured her just a bit; if the crew could tolerate someone as queer as he seemed to be, they certainly would not mind her bare feet, messy hair, or old dress. Indeed, Avani had said nothing, though that may have been because she was too busy trying not to fall asleep to notice.

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