This is a little longer than the previous chapters. Sorry if that bothers you- I know it annoys me when chapter sizes differ to greatly.
The small crew of five stood gathered around the faulty Stormwalker engine, occasionally tinkering with the detailed inner workings of the adapted machine. They had quickly identified the issue and were now discussing how best to go about their task. Clearly the leader of the operation was (or should have been) Otto Klopp, whose experience had served him well many times in the past in similar situations.
During the time that Alek had spent in hiding in Switzerland, Klopp had been his piloting and 'mechaniks' tutor. The old man was one of the few aboard the ship who treated Alek like proper royalty, and, despite the fact that he clearly already knew exactly what to do, he waited for Alek to instruct the proceedings. Kind though Klopp was, subtlety was not one of his strengths by any means, and Alek soon realized what he was doing, though he was touched by the gesture.
Once reparations were underway, Alek was in second-heaven. It was as though beforehand he had not truly been alive. As his fingers worked their way through the engines, adjusting this, removing and replacing that, the ecstatic feeling he experienced was similar to that of a man who had turned blind several years ago waking up to find his sight suddenly restored.
Truth be told, Alek was a little lost, for all three of his men (Bauer, Hoffman and Klopp) had served his family in ways that had led to them spending a great deal of time around machinery such as this, and they worked like frenzied bees. He was however, much more at home that Mr. Hirst, the Leviathan's chief mechanic, who looked extremely out of place, and utterly bewildered.
Occasionally one of the others would look up at the native mechanic with a suspicious glare, and when he realized this it caused Alek to subconsciously trace a finger down the line that ran along his arm, a faint pink scar. He remembered how the poor man had accidentally shot him when he'd thought that they were committing mutiny. Klopp especially, had never forgiven him for that.
Finally everything was finished. Just one more fresh part remained. Painstakingly slowly, Klopp lowered the gear into place. Just before he slotted it into a gap which was the perfect shape and size for the component, he gave a warning.
"Look out, my friends," he said in German, not bothering to translate for the sake of Mr Hirst. "This is going to kick a bit."
Then he gently pressed it into place, pulling his fingers away very quickly as, with a horrible screeching of metal and a shower of sparks, the cogs began to turn. The noise startled Bovril, who was sitting on a nearby crate, watching and listening to the men working. He took off like a shot, scampering to the other side of the ship.
"Bovril, come back!" he called after it, but to no avail. "Daft creature," he commented to the others in good-humour.
Hoffman, watching the animal's swift departure, smiled. "You wouldn't have this problem with a machine, sir. Honestly, sometimes I swear you're turning Darwinist."
He wore a small smirk upon seeing Alek's frown, until Klopp gave him a sharp nudge, reminding him of his place.
Deryn knocked sharply on the door of Captain Volger's cabin, a glum look plastered across her face.
Delivering the newspaper to Volger had never exactly been her favourite chore, for she disliked the man for the way he behaved towards Alek, but under the current circumstances, she had come to despise it. The knowing look that he gave her when she came in serving as a constant reminder that all it would take to undermine her concealment was a few words.
The man finally opened the door, a stern look on his face. His expression softened a fraction when he saw her.
"Ah, Deryn. Do come in."
Deryn gave him a hard look, which he pointedly ignored. "If you don't mind, Volger, I'll just pass this on and leave. After all, it wouldn't do for me to get used to the warmth when I'm expected to spend most of the day out here."
He raised an eyebrow, taking the newspaper with one hand. He held the door firmly with the other, preventing her from closing it and departing. "Oh but I do mind!" he insisted. "What harm can it do? Look, I just made coffee, it'll do you good."
Deryn glared, and was about to say something that she would probably regret later, when a sniff behind her sounded, interrupting her. Turning around, she at first saw nobody. Upon lowering her gaze however, she spotted Bovril standing on his hind legs. The creature looked pitiful as it scrabbled at her ankles, and though she knew better than to trust Bovril's expression, she gave in, crouching down to give him the opportunity to leap up onto her shoulder.
The creature landed, and then lost its footing, almost plummeting back to the ground. Ever so quickly, her hand reached out to steady it. "Woah there beastie!" she said soothingly. The loris chattered nervously, his mouth very close to her ear, amplifying his voice.
Turning back to the count, she noticed with amusement a hint of alarm in his expression. Volger kept his eyes fixed on the beast, looking at it with distrust. She smiled smugly, realizing what her next course of action would be. He wanted to be all polite and play games like this? Well then, that was fine with her.
"Actually, I think I will take up your offer after all, Count,"
She felt immensely satisfied to see the range of emotions flicker across his face. His initial expression was one of surprise, but with his sudden realization this changed, becoming aghast at the thought of sharing his cabin with a fabricated creature. Finally his features shifted back to their normal arrangement, and he once again became completely unreadable. Even so, she thought she recognised an expectant look in his eyes for a moment, as well as something else. He wasn't pleased that she'd gotten the better of him, was he?
"Very well, Deryn." He held the open the door for her, standing aside to let her pass, then indicated for her to sit. He poured out two mugs of black coffee and then placed them down on a small wooden table. He sank into his comfortable-looking armchair, the largest piece of furniture, aside from the bed, in the cabin.
For a long time, neither spoke. Deryn struggled to keep her silence, waiting for Volger to say something, but the man kept quiet, eying her coolly, and occasionally taking a small sip from his mug. Eventually she could no longer bear the tension; she had to break this mute atmosphere, if she stayed silent any longer she'd snap and scream.
"Well?" she asked.
"Well what, Deryn?"
"What did you want? And please don't call me Deryn, somebody could hear you."
"Don't be foolish, Deryn," Volger said and Deryn glowered angry that he was deliberately doing the opposite of what she'd just requested. "There is no-one here but us. How would anyone be able to overhear us? Not even those blasted lizards can get in here."
At this, Deryn raised an eyebrow, a gesture that didn't go unnoticed by Count Volger.
"You doubt me? Let me assure you that I'm correct. As it turns out, the accursed reptiles hate lemon juice, it keeps them well away. So you see, Deryn or Dylan, it makes no difference."
"Mr Sharp," Bovril piped up in Volger's sarcastic tone.
For a second the count had the decency to look slightly guilty, for it was from him that Bovril had picked up that phrase. However, he recovered quickly. "Ah yes, the... what was it now? A loris? A most disagreeable animal, I always thought."He noticed her glare and attempted to pacify her
"Look, Dylan." He sounded kinder now, gentler. She wasn't going to buy it. "All I need is for you to keep an eye on Alek; you must ensure that he remains safe."
"How am I supposed to do that?" she countered. "I can't watch him all the barking time!"
"You don't have to, just in particularly dangerous situations. You're a bright girl, I'm sure you'll think of something." He paused. "I do care about him you know? Alek, I mean."
She snorted in contempt. "Sure you do; you care about him becoming emperor so that you can manipulate even more people."
For the first time since she had met him, she witnessed Volger become truly angry. He looked as if her words had physically hurt him and he glared at her, his fury plain to see. For once, he wasn't trying to conceal his emotions. His face was like a book, with rage pouring off the pages.
Standing, the count pointed a finger at the door, he clenched his jaw, and as he did so his grey moustache bristled. He opened his mouth as though he were about to shout, then managed to get back some of his self-control. The soft way he spoke was somehow more terrible than an angry yell would have been, and far more threatening. "Out... Get. Out. Now" He spoke quietly and deliberately, and Deryn was only too happy to oblige, practically fleeing from the room.
Along with twinges of guilt, two thoughts came to the forefront of Deryn's mind. The first was a relief: Count Volger clearly did care about Alek after all. The second thought set off a mixture of emotions ranging from worry to anticipation: The count was clearly expecting a 'dangerous situation'.
She was so caught up in her thoughts that she almost trod on the small message lizard sitting patiently a good couple of feet away from Volger's door. Sure enough, it had refused to come any closer. Its tiny mouth opened.
"Dylan Sharp, this is the Captain here. If you could come down to the bridge, I'd like a word."
Technically Italy played a neutral role in the war, despite the country's Darwinism. The port that the Kriegspfad had landed in however, was clearly run by Clankers, being so close to Austria-Hungary. It was dark when they arrived, but blinding beams of white light shone down onto the Kriegspfad as it entered the bay. The battleship came to a halt, and all along its length hatches opened up.
Felix and several other new crew-members hastily ran out onto the concrete platforms on either side, ready to provide assistance. When Felix stepped ashore, he breathed in the cold sharpness of the night air. Then he looked up at the black cranes towering above them, slightly in awe of their great size. As he gazed upwards, one of the tall machines swung around, a great container hooked to it. As it turned, the crane's torch beam swept across him and he scrunched his eyes up as he was dazzled by the bright whiteness. He saw the container land with a loud 'bang' on the deck of the Kriegspfad and immediately several crewmembers ran over to unload it.
Very quickly, that quiet corner of the docks developed into a frantic hive of activity. Thinking back to his previous reflections, Felix realized that he'd been wrong, in the bustle of people loading and unloading supplies and goods, it would have been possible for anyone to jump ship with little fear of being spotted. Indeed, if there had been anyone hoping to slip aboard undetected, this would have presented them with the perfect opportunity.
The noise brought Felix back to his senses, and he was just about to rush off to help, when a man coughed behind him. He turned to see an elderly gentleman with a cane in one hand, and an ornate wooden case in the other, stood in front of an 8-foot, humanoid automaton, which dwarfed both Felix and the man.
The bronze machine held several medium sized wooden crates in its claw-like hands. Now that Felix had had time to examine the automaton more closely, he saw that although its body resembled that of a human, its arms and legs were segmented like an insects, giving it a slightly crab-like appearance.
"Excuse me boy, would you mind awfully, helping me carry some of these on board? I would have put them on the cranes but-" and a loud crash interrupted him as another metal container was dropped onto the deck of the ship. "But, as you can see, they're not exactly careful. I'm sure you'd do a much better job."
"Right you are sir," he replied, with respect, gingerly prising a box from one of the automaton's large, sharp pincers after just a second's hesitation. As his skinny arms and frail figure struggled to support the weight, the man walked alongside him, still chatting amicably, apparently totally oblivious to Felix's exertion
"I'm Wernher Braun. I believe the captain is expecting me?" as he said this, he looked at Felix, slightly concerned.
Felix could only shrug. "The boatswain mentioned an important passenger; he wouldn't tell me who it was though." Felix couldn't help but allow a slight hint of accusation into his tone as he spoke. If the boatswain hadn't been so stubborn then he'd be able to reassure Mr Braun.
Fortunately, one of the higher ranking officials on board caught sight of them at that moment, and he started in surprise. "Ah, Dr Braun. Er...I see you found your way on board then. Terribly sorry that no-one came out to greet you; this whole thing's been a slightly messy operation if you ask me. I'm Mr Gerste, very pleased to meet you."
"Not to worry. This lad here took care of me," he said, and kindly patted Felix on the shoulder.
"Ah, quite," the man said awkwardly, looking at Felix as though he were an inconvenience, or somehow an annoyance. "Good man. Take that down to the cargo deck would you?" Then he turned back to Dr Braun. "If you'll come with me sir, I'll show you to your cabin.
Felix gave a quick salute and then set off to complete the task. He was barged to the side almost immediately by a larger boy, somehow managing to carry the other two crates, and Dr Braun's smaller case. Felix narrowed his eyes, seeing that the carrier was Andreas. He had taken an immediate dislike to the boy, who seemed to take great pride in besting him in any way he could think of, and gave off an air of permanent smugness.
They walked down to the dingy cargo bay in silence; Felix was determined to give him the cold shoulder. They set down their burdens next to each other amongst dozens of dusty wooden crates, containing anything from ammunition to food packets. They left, again without speaking; then went their separate ways.
A few hours later, Felix was lying in his bunk, unable to sleep. He wasn't sure if it was the snoring of those around him that kept him awake, or if his body literally wasn't tired enough to allow him to sink into comfortable oblivion.
Finally, he could no longer cope with just lying there. He figured that stretching his legs might help him to shake this restlessness, and so decided on taking a walk around the ship. If anyone saw him he could claim to be doing one final patrol of the ship, not an uncommon thing for a sailor to do before sleeping. That would also give him an opportunity to check everywhere, and therefore cover more ground.
He'd walked along the entirety of the deck; the cross-hatched metal had been freezing cold against his bare feet, and he'd somehow felt as though he were breaking some untold rule. He was about to head back, when a sudden sound made him stop and listen. Was someone else awake, stumbling around in the darkness?
Felix quickly found the direction that the noise had come from, and traced it to the door of the cargo hold. Nervously, he hesitated at the entrance. It was almost pitch-black inside, as many of the lights below deck were unneeded at this time of night.
He quickly scampered down the steps and crouched behind a large box. Someone was definitely in here with him; he could hear the sounds of their movements, the rustle of their clothes, their breathing. Could they hear the same noises from him?
With that thought in mind, Felix stayed as still as he could. He attempted to breathe quietly, but fear was causing his heart to beat so loudly that he was sure it was audible to everyone on board.
Peering over the edge of the box, Felix saw in horror the dark silhouette of a man. He froze, unable to look away, and watched as the man bent down, opening up one of the crates, and taking something out of it. As he grew more accustomed to the dark, Felix noticed that the man was holding something in his right hand. Was that a sword? This could only mean one thing: sabotage.
With a loud yell, Felix ran at the man, diving into him, and sending him sprawling. The man screamed and Felix thought he recognised the voice, though it was hard to tell from just a cry of fright. As realization dawned on him, Felix felt suddenly hollow. "Dr Braun?" he said with a groan.
These scenes were great fun to write, so I hope you enjoyed reading them
By the way. Something I'd like you to advise me on: Am I doing ok with POV (point of view) and what I write in terms of whose perspective I'm writing from at different times? Or do I need to work on that a bit to avoid slipping into the voice of omniscience? If I am jumping around with POV a lot, has it been jarring for you, and had you even noticed it until I pointed it out? If you could answer some of these questions for me, I'd be very grateful, and it'd be a huge help for me. Thank you :)
I'll probably try to make the next chapter a bit longer, or include a bit more detail, so we'll see how that goes.