off course

 

What do you mean, missing? Isn’t each airship tracked?

Miss… we lost their signal.

Of course. Off course. Her mind rends itself and twists out of shape, her breath rattling in, then back out when she remembers to exhale.

This is a young planet, still organizing itself. They never deployed the promised deep space satellites. Budgetary. Historic technology was implemented instead, ostensibly as a temporary measure. This lack of tech makes no sense, just like the shortage of mint. An involuntary panicked laugh escapes her at the memory of his face, peering distorted through a glass of mint tea she was drinking one day. Laughter dies, quickly quelled.

He did not come to the winter airship launch because his own much more fragile airship was blown off course. A very calm and collected distress call. So very Lee, stating the facts without agitation. It was picked up by the emergency beacons, the signal fainter and fainter, fading away, finally gone. She was informed after the Amoral was already leaving her system. Too late.

What happens when an airship crashes?

He is an outstanding pilot. His course took him out over the plateau, not the water. He must have crash landed somehow, relatively safely. He had a co-pilot with him. They helped each other out of the crashed ship and set up shelter. They are smart. They will wait.

She goes through the list she read once with him in his safety manual. In each airship there is a store of food and water meant to last for weeks. There are emergency shelters rolled up in storage. The airship’s gondola can act as a shelter as well, if it is intact. There are contact beacons, but how effective those will be with the deficient satellite system remains to be seen.

Officials will surely order scans with the satellites they do have. These will make sweeps in vast tracts. If they had the latest, every centimetre of the planet could be displayed in an instant. But she fears the locals secretly prefer it this way. Frontier planet. A hardy reputation.

She is every bit as hardy as they are.

What kind of rescue effort is being mounted?

The official takes too long to answer.

Well? she prods. The official turns her head away, her eyes slightly down. Uncomfortable.

Miss, we have only one winter airship. Surely you saw it launch.

I helped it launch! she shouts, struggles, brings back self control. It is not the official’s fault. Not even strictly true. She helped design the building that afforded the best view. Not the airship itself. Not even the launch platform. Just an aesthetic enhancement, ticking down time.

It is the fault of the winds.

The icy possessive winds that scream by louder and louder each day. They are plural, having lately multiplied prodigiously. They are monsters.

We are doing the best sweeps we can, but the satellites have turned up nothing so far. The winter airship is currently requisitioned for the emergency evactuation of South Research Station. The call came in a few hours ago. As you may have heard, they suffered severe storm damage. That must for now remain our priority.

Yes, yes. She had heard, just before her event. She hadn’t paid it much attention.

But volunteers will head out in the standard airships to help with the search. We’re putting out a call-

I volunteer.

Miss…

Don’t Miss me. I completed a space training course.

The official looks at her in dismay. Miss! she practically squeaks. Piloting an airship in normal conditions may not be challenging, but in these conditions, it is near impossible! We cannot allow for amateur pilots to-

 

 

 

I’m not a pilot, she cuts her off. I’m not asking to be a pilot, or a co-pilot. I’m asking to go up in an airship and help with the search. Your teams are what, two? You can use a team of three. You said you were looking for volunteers. The more the better, I can help scan while they fly and it will save time.

But…

I scored green for medical, technical, and emergency. Amber for emergency piloting procedures. I’m allowed to work on operating craft, and I know how to do the scans.

But-

Do you have space training? Ariadne asks the official.

The official looks incredulous. Of course she does not. She was probably born here. Or else she would have come over on the passenger transports. Unlike Ariadne, who had to take the least costly option, the one that involved a science vessel and endless requirements. Secret reserves of skill not even Lee knows about. He would have laughed at the irony: she shaking at turbulence, yet having done a space training course. The amber score was due to a panic attack in the simulator, but she still managed to pass the test. Great fear does not stop one from doing great things. One can still be afraid while doing them. And before, and after.

She realizes suddenly that it’s the clothing. She was wearing her finest for the event, newly bought. Lilac blazing from her shoulders and wilting the perception of her skills, alas. She looks like a helpless and affluent flower. But she produces her certification on her contact card and the official relents.

This young official, now briskly efficient, escorts her to another floor in the vast building, where she signs some papers and registers for intensive training. Five full days before she will be allowed to go up. She hopes fervently that they will have found him by then. She could scream but that will not help anything move along. She hasn’t told her superiors anything yet. Later, once her arrangements are finalized and she cannot be made to give the project up. She hopes to ride the wake of her recent successes and stay in their good graces.

The winds outside roar. Hello, she whispers back. Ready to meet Ariadne? Down here she is the Lilac Lady, but up there she will build labyrinths not even the winds can escape.

 

Story + photos © 2016 Clio Em (sketch 2015).

Part of the Airships series.

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