Part 14 - In All but the One Way

The pterosaur-riders seemed taken aback by this turn of events. A few of them disappointedly holstered their rocks, looking to the one who had made the initial declaration of the airship’s lawlessness. Their apparent leader thought for a moment then pulled his pterosaur closer. When he spoke, Edna found his tone infuriatingly casual for a man who had just threatened to drop them out of the sky.

“I am Yamato,” he said, “In front of me is Nihon. Behind is Wakoko. On the other side of your--” he caught himself with a glance at Highmond, “--zeppelin, is Wa and Nippon.”

Despite her instinctual anger at Yamato’s careless shift of tone, Edna was delighted by the thought they might get away from this without a fight. She was worried, though, by the frown overtaking Highmond’s face. She had hoped the lead rider’s avoidance of the offensive ‘blimp’ would be enough to placate him, but it was clear something was screwing up inside the old aristocrat. She was relieved - however briefly - that he only said, “I wonder, chaps, would you mind telling us where we are?”

Her relief vanished as she saw how the question agitated the dinosaur cops - some ambiguous fear creeping onto their faces. Yamato spoke with caution, “I… don’t understand. You don’t know where you are?”

Highmond seemed either unperturbed or unaware of the change, “That’s right. Got a bit turned around in the storm is all. Please sir, what country is this?”

At once, the three of the riders on their side of the zeppelin answered by saying their own names. Whatever fear had crept in before now made itself well known - throwing around frightful glances, chucking out nonsense syllables, and generally making a mess of their faces. Edna was about to ask Highmond what on Earth the Second he was doing and if he would please stop it, but then something worse happened.

First, she heard what sounded like jets and screams erupt from the riders on the other side of the airship. On principle, Edna was not fond of anything erupting, especially screams. As far as she was concerned, the whole business of eruption could go the way of the dinos… Before she could scold herself for walking into that, something swept out like a wave across the three riders here on her own side of the ship.

Whatever it was moved over their bodies in a line only visible by the changes it left behind. Their old-fashioned police uniforms were replaced in a patchwork mess of skin-tight, light-up, silver spandex. Their pre-historic mounts shuddered and shook as portions of their bodies were replaced with robotic parts.

Edna assumed these changes were coming from a future so horrendous and dark you needed a cyborg companion and lights on your clothes just to leave the house, or else from a particularly exciting rave. Either way she wanted nothing to do with it. She’d been to a handful of futures and always found them opressively blue. She thought it sinister. What had happened to the other colors? And as for raves, Edna would prefer to organize another person’s shoes than go to even the tamest rave. Indeed, she’d used that as an excuse to get out of one once.

Her worry was misplaced though, for nothing changed on her. Nor, she saw, on Highmond, Pythagoras, or the airship. What she should have worried about was the erupting sounds from earlier. As soon as the change had passed over, rocket engines burned into action at the backs of the pterosaurs, sending them careening in every direction as their riders fought to regain control.

Wakoko’s mount tried to shoot forward, but her reflexes were fast. She yanked the reins back hard, but the pterosaur didn’t slow. Instead, she managed to pull them up and to the right, just grazing the airship with a wingtip.

Unfortunately, that wingtip was now made of metal - and razor-sharp. Edna felt the contact, heard the zeppelin’s balloon(?) - she didn’t know what to call it - tearing. (It’s called an envelope, Highmond would have told her.) Then she heard a soft, fast fwoop.

She swallowed and turned to Highmond. She didn’t have to try to keep her voice calm. Edna was, like it or not (and she did not), experienced in these situations. Almost casually, she asked, “Highmond? Did I hear you say this airship is fueled by hydrogen?”

Highmond, who had also heard the fwoop, looked sheepish. Together they turned their heads up to where the sound had been and saw a definite orange glow coming off the zeppelin. He said, in a tone clearly meant to apologize for their imminent immolation, “Yes, well, you know, in all but the one way it is the vastly superior fuel.”

“I’m sure it is,” she responded flatly, then, “Highmond? As quickly as you can, where are the parachutes?”

He was practically woolen with sheepishness now. “There, er, aren’t any.” The flames had grown enough that he could see their reflection dancing in Edna’s otherwise still, implaccable glare. He went on, “Well, no, but! there are escape vessels, of course. There’s a long-range one - a hot-air balloon - and several short-range jetpacks. You -- saw me in one earlier, you might--”

“Yes,” she said, with a cool air, despite the encroaching heat, “where are they?”

The fire was massive now, climbing down and around the top of the airship. “Right!” Highmond said, taking a step toward the stern. There was an immediate explosion at that end of the ship, followed by six small streaks of fire flying off into the night. He stopped and said, “There. There go the jetpacks.”

Highmond froze then - despite the heat, which was becoming oppressive as the flames devoured the hydrogen keeping them aloft. He could see Pythagorases all around, working to suppress the fire and seal the leak. Edna smacked him in the face and grabbed his collar.

Think, Highmond. Are there any other options?” She enunciated as clearly as she ever had in her life, but she could see the words meant nothing to him. He stammered out a few syllables, not managing any words.

Edna wondered then if she might finally die. She didn’t welcome the idea, despite what you may think. She’d take it over a rave, sure, but all options on the table she’d prefer to go on going on.

Then Pythagoras appeared in the doorway, a giant tortoise silhouette backed by the light of the fire that had gotten inside. “There is one option,” it said. Then, before they could speak or even move, the turtoid’s long neck was wrapped around them both, its shell opening.

Highmond snapped to, yelling, “Wait!” but Pythagoras shoved them in a small, protective cavity. Edna barely had time to see her new surroundings before the shell closed again, enveloping them in a cramped darkness.

She felt the turtoid lurch upward and forward…

...and fall.

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