Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or setting, merely the plot, which I co-own with my brother who happens to be named Scott. Not Scott Westerfeld, though, who owns everything.
Her hands stung slightly in the early spring cold, so she wrapped them tightly around the small mug, already half drained of the strong French coffee. As Alek pointed to an ornate chapel across from the cafe and told Newkirk about it, Deryn brought the rim to her lips and sniffed in the steam.
Dr. Barlow, who up until that point had been silently reading the newspaper, made a small gasp of surprise. “Oh dear.”
Alek paused his lecture to look at her, “What is it, Dr. Barlow?”
“It would appear that yet another airship has perished in flames. The Rusalka.” She shook her head sadly, and began reading aloud: “‘The Rusalka, a British airbeast full of many brave men was attacked and brought down on this Friday, February twelfth in a string of recent attacks. One man, though, rose through the smoke and claimed a small victory for his home country of Great Britain.
“Lance Fitzroy, a midshipman crewmember, valiantly leaped aboard a Roth Aerial Battle Turtle, a new addition to the swarm of hydrogen breathers, and aimed himself directly at the nearby German zeppelin, the Claw. Using only an air pistol, Lance took down the five men guarding the weapon responsible and retrieved the machine, gliding with it to safety. It has been taken for examination by leading scientists, and in the meantime Lance is being presented with the Air Gallantry Cross. He is a true hero, and may now even have surpassed the daring midshipman Dylan Sharp by bringing this Clanker assault to its knees.”
Deryn’s mouth snapped shut with a clop. Alek’s hand, which had paused mid-gesture, dropped onto his lap, and Newkirk’s face twisted in disdain. “Fitzroy.” was all he said, but it summed up exactly what Deryn was thinking. Well, he could have added “bum rag” and gotten away with it.
“What is a Roth Aerial Battle Turtle?” Alek asked.
“One of my more recent fabrications. Maximum Roth and I worked on it together for some time, and it is quite a success. Like an airbeast, it has a membrane holding in the hydrogen, but that membrane is very weak. So we gave it a shell.”
“But isn’t a shell barking heavy, ma’am?”
“Not if it is made of keratin. It’s both light and durable.”
Newkirk pulled a face. “You mean it’s made of fingernails?”
The boffin raised an eyebrow. “Yes.” As Newkirk muttered something about godless fabs, Deryn finished her coffee in a great gulp and grimaced at the bitterness of it.
“How many airships have gone down now?” Alek asked carefully.
“Three.” Deryn said simply. “Danava, Taniwha, and now Rusalka.”
“And this Fitzroy could have just stopped another, if the boffins can counter it in time?”
“Yes.” Deryn growled. She’d never liked Fitzroy, and it hurt her pride for the newspaper to say he’d one-upped her. Then get over it and do something better, she told herself. Da always said that the only way to fix a problem was to fix it yourself.
“It also says that he’s back on the Leviathan now.” Dr Barlow added. Newkirk groaned just as Deryn did, and they exchanged a smile. Then he looked away awkwardly, having forgotten that she was a girl and then feeling strange about it. Deryn sighed. She wished he’d just get over it and treat her like he always had.
“Speaking of which,” Alek said, looking up at the sky, “we need to get to the airfield.”