CH. 1

"Captain Hobbes, Sir?" Deryn tentatively sidestepped through the door, not daring to open the door more than she had too. "You wanted to see me?"

The captain stood, his hand clenched around a piece of paper. Deryn's attention immediately went to it. Uh-oh, she thought. This couldn't be good.

"I just received correspondence from the Minotaur. A message from your cousin, Jaspert." Alarm bells went off in Deryn's head. What had that pig-nosed bumrag done now?

"He's asked that you be reunited immediately. This is quiet convenient, as we are scheduled to touch down in London, about a week from now. Your cousin will be waiting there."

London again? Deryn wondered. "Excuse me, sir," she ventured, "but I've got a few questions."

Hobbes waved his hand impatiently. "Go on, then!"

"First off, why are we going back to London?" Deryn shrunk inwardly as Hobbes scrutinized her.

"To return Dr. Barlow, naturally," Hobbes was smug in his knowledge. "Now that her business is complete, she has been instructed to return home. Good luck, I'd say. That woman gave us a load of trouble."

Deryn opened her mouth to argue, but thought better of it. "Will I be returning to the Leviathan, sir?" she asked, frightened of what the answer was.

Hobbes cleared his throat, looking like a disobedient child. "Your cousin makes it quiet clear that you will not be returning to the Leviathan."

Deryn's throat tightened with anger. She swore to herself that she would slap the clart out of Jaspert when she was reunited with him.

"Yes sir," she saluted and turned for the door.

"Mr. Sharp?" Hobbes' voice made her stop. She turned back around to face him.

"Yes, sir?"

"It has been an honor working with you."

She nodded. "Thank you, sir. I hope I have been an asset."

"More than you know, Mr. Sharp. More than you know."

Their landing in Regent's Park was almost identical to the one those long months ago, where Deryn had first encountered Dr. Nora Barlow. The animals of the London Zoo scampered nervously about their cages, the normal chatter of the animals silenced in the shadow of the great warship.

Deryn stood clad in her airman's uniform, a thousand thoughts spinning around in her head. Many of them included calling Jaspert any number of swears, and despairing about how she would have to leave her home. But the one that kept resurfacing was her worry about Alek.

They had returned Alek to his grandfather's palace in Vienna, where his fate would be decided. Deryn knew she shouldn't think about Alek anymore- that part of her life was behind her- but she couldn't help it. She knew that she had been in love with him, and though she cursed herself for it, she still found him swirling around her dreams.

The Leviathan was still suspended over 30 feet above the ground, but that's as low as they were going to go. The gondola was being prepped for Dr. Barlow's descent.

Even thought Deryn would be leaving the ship today, she was stubborn to remain a part of the crew for as long as possible. When the other midshipmen grabbed their tether ropes, she was right there with them, descending and anchoring the ship to the ground. When the task was complete, she scanned the crowd, looking for Jaspert, that ninny she had to call a brother.

A strong arm wrapped around her neck, forcing her to her knees. "Dylan!"

The cry from the figure behind her explained it all. Jaspert, her older brother by two years, had her in a headlock. She freed herself from her grip and embraced him.

"Hey there, cuz," she said, the fake endearment weighing heavily on her tongue. Before Jaspert could say anything else, Deryn heard a shriek behind her. She turned to see Dr. Nora Barlow running into the arms of a man.

When Dr. Barlow had finished embracing the man, she turned to Deryn. "Mr. Sharp, this is my husband, Alan Barlow and my daughter, Joan, and my son Thomas." A young girl stepped out from behind her parents, clutching to her mother's skirts, while a rosy-cheeked baby slept peacefully in his father's arms. "Say hello, Joan," her mother prompted.

The chubby toddler waved shyly, and then buried her face in her mother's skirts. Dr. Barlow laughed, so light-heartedly, in fact, that Deryn was shocked. Was it really possible that this was the same formal woman she had been traveling for these past several months?

"Come on," Jaspert said as he tugged her away from the happy family. "We need to talk."

As they walked away, Deryn muttered. "I nearly forgot, you're a clart-headed ninny. What are you doing?"

They reached a park bench several hundred yards away from the Leviathan's touchdown site. Jaspert made her sit down, his eyes clear of the happiness they had been shining from just a few minutes before. "Deryn, Mum's sick. Real sick. I just got the correspondence from Auntie May just a few weeks ago."

All of Deryn's insults directed at her older brother vanished as the news sunk in. "What happened?" she demanded. "Tell me everything!" She was on the brink of hysteria now. She had already lost one parent, what would she do if she lost the other? All of her logical thought was slipping away, replaced with panic and fear.

Jaspert's answer to her demands was to pull out Auntie May's telegram and read it to her. Deryn nervously wrung her aviator's gloves in her hands, clinging to every detail. When he had finished, she stood up and started pacing.

"I've got to go back," she muttered. "It's all my fault. I left her alone at home, and I broke her heart. How could I have been so blind?" She was talking to herself more than anyone else.

"Well, then," Jaspert muttered. "Back to Glasgow it is, then."