Disclaimer: Scott Westerfeld owns ALL of this, and I have to tell you that in case SOPA/PIPA gets passed. Blech.
You remember all that happened in the last chapter, right? If you don't, you might want to give yourself a little bit of a refresher so you'll be back in the "Orion" mood. (That is the OFFICIAL name of my fanfic now, by the way.)
The Clanker engines had been nearly at full ahead for the last day, plugging along so fast that the wind topside was marvelously vicious. She felt the fingers of the wind tangling through her hair, and she leaned into the wind, begging for more.
“Should you be doing that, Mr. Sharp?” a heavily accent voice called from behind her, more Scottish than her own lilt. “You’re not even clipped into the ratlines.”
She looked down to see her safety harness dangling freely in the wind, and hastily attached it to a nearby line. “Thank you. It’s a fine day to be topside, isn’t it, Max?”
“Aye.” The rigger reclipped himself next to her and leaned forward. “I see the appeal,” he yelled over the wind, spreading his fingers and leaning to either side.
She’d made friends with him doing her skulking, and though he wasn’t the best source of information, he was a pleasure to talk to. He was the quiet type, really, and he thought about everything he said before saying it, like each word was a gift to be treasured.
His hydrogen sniffer snuffled along the membrane, pulling Max along a few feet before he got control of it, “Whoa, there, Zipper! Take it easy...”
“Zipper?” Deryn tilted her head. “What happened to not naming the beasties?”
He faltered, “I’d already gotten attached to the lass, so there’s no harm in giving her a name after that,” Max said carefully, reaching down to pat the sniffer on her snouts. “And haven’t you named that mole you carry around?”
Deryn’s eyebrows came together. “It’s a perspicacious loris, Max, and I wasn’t the one that named it. Some daft anarchist lassie did.”
“Oh, I see,” he chuckled lightly.
“What’s so funny?” Deryn asked.
“Me and my little sister have a joke we like to tell each other; ‘I see!’ said the blind man, and he picked up a hammer and saw.”
She took a moment to process the words, and when she did she let her lips curl into a smile. “Very clever.”
“Aye, Mr. Sharp. If you would still like to hear it, I’ve got some things to tell you.”
“That Mr. Fitzroy likes message lizards,” he said simply, pointing to the midshipman who was meandering around a few hundred yards away.
“Is that all?” she followed him away from the bow so the wind was at their backs. He gave her a rascally grin to show he’d been playing.
“Really, though, from what I’ve seen, he spends more time with them than people.”
Deryn snorted. “Either way, that doesn’t surprise me.”
Max nodded sadly, “He’s a piece of work, en’t he?”
“One more thing, Mr. Sharp,” he said slowly, eyes darted back and forth, making sure no one was around to hear. “All the ships that were attacked by the zeppelins have something in common.” His voice lowered so that it was barely audible over the wind. “All of them had midshipman that had been on duty less than a month.”
A cold finger traced its way down her spine. “Spies.”
“I en’t saying it’s true.” Max shrugged. “I’m just saying it could be.”
The rigger said goodbye to her, his words torn away by the wind as he was pulled along by Zipper. She waved half-heartedly at his back and turned to climb down the ratlines and find Alek to tell him the news. From the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of Fitzroy snatching a message lizard from the airship’s skin, looking it in the face. Just as she was lowering herself down the ratlines, she saw him hurl it off the side of the ship.
She blinked a few times, trying to process what she’d just seen.
Aye, Deryn thought sardonically, he likes message lizards indeed.