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GET IN HERE AND HELP ME OPEN THIS CHEST!
The captain stood on the deck of the ship, his generous belly up against the railing, a spyglass to his eye. He let go a loud belch, then spoke. "So what do you make of it, then, Lieutenant?"
"I believe it is a bird of some kind, sir," the younger man beside him said. Both officers wore dirty, threadbare broadcoats with ornate gold braiding, although the captain's braiding was somewhat more elaborate than the lieutenant's. "Perhaps a bird of the ancient type supposed to exist about these waters by the writer Mr. Darwin."
The captain grunted, his eye still at the scope. "Mister who?"
"Darwin, sir. Mr. Charles Darwin. An Englishman who explored this area some years ago in a vessel called Beagle, I believe."
"Bah!" The captain closed the spyglass and handed it to the lieutenant. "It's no bird, you idiot. That's some sort of ship what navigates the air as we navigate the waters of the world." He pushed through the group of sailors who had gathered around to listen to the ship's officers and to squint at whatever it was the two of them were looking at. "I'm going below, and I am not to be disturbed, do you read me?"
"Aye, sir," the lieutenant said. Another moment and the captain disappeared down the ladder and the lieutenant was left to stare at the sailors, who were staring at him.
One of the sailors, an older fellow with a belly to rival that of the captain's himself, turned to face the water, both hands on the rail. He squinted at the horizon. "The captain's right, Mr. Corman. Nothing created by God looks like that."
Lieutenant Corman held the spyglass out to the sailor. "You want to have a look, mate?"
The sailor took the spyglass, opened it, and brought it to his eye, twisting it to find the focus. "Ah," he drawled. "It's turned now." He gave the spyglass back to Corman. "I believe it's coming round to pay us a visit." Like the captain before him, the sailor pushed through the crowd and headed to the down ladder. Some of the sailors followed him; most spread out along the railing to peer at the object, which was growing visibly larger, just above the horizon.
As the object silently approached, it began to rotate slowly, and its path changed as it began to circle the ship, spiraling in closer and closer, rotating slowly on its own axis, until the men could clearly see that it was some sort of ship that, as the old sailor had said, could navigate the air as their own navigated the sea. Some of the sailors darted below; most were transfixed by the object and stood gawking at it. The ship-of-the-air took a position directly above the ship-of-the-sea, continuing to slowly rotate.
"Mr. Lewis," Corman said quietly. "Turn the ship leeward and heave to. Mr. Baxter, make your course due east with haste."
Lewis and Baxter mumbled their answer and stepped off to execute the lieutenant's orders. The other sailors were transfixed by the object. "You sailors!" Corman shouted. "Fasten supplies and rig the ship for dashing! At once!"
The crew seemed to come to their senses all at once and scurried off to accomplish their assigned tasks. Only one crewman was still at the railing with Corman, a young sailor wearing the yellow ribbon of a yeoman who was no longer watching the ship-of-the-air, but instead had dropped his gaze back to the horizon. He pointed. "Mr. Corman! There's another one!"
Corman squinted in the indicated direction, then brought the spyglass to his eye once more. He saw at once that it was another ship-of-the-air, identical to the first—and it was approaching. "Seaman, go down and rap on the captain's door," he said evenly, his eye still at the glass.
"Aye, sir!" The sailor stepped off. As Corman watched, the second object took on a trajectory just as the first one had, rotating and then turning so as to spiral into a position above the first.
Down below, the yeoman arrived at the captain's door and rapped on it, as he had been instructed. He was about to rap again when the captain's voice roared. "I said I was not to be disturbed!"
"Ah, sir, the lieutenant instructed me to summon you. We've a ship floating in the air above us, sir."
There was the squeak of bedsprings behind the door, a clunking, and then the door opened. "What's that you say, boy? A ship? Floating in the air?"
"Aye, Captain. It's right above us," was the yeoman's nervous response. "There was a second one coming, and Mr. Corman said 'Boy, go rap on the captain's door.'"
Two sailors scurried past the captain's door, pushing the yeoman against the captain's broad belly as they did so.
"Say there, you sailors! You! What's that you're rushing about for?" the captain roared.
The first sailor continued rushing to his duty; the second one stopped, turned around, and saluted clumsily. "Mr. Corman's got us rigging the ship for dashing, sir. I believe he intends to tack eastward, tack into both the wind and the Sun."
"The hell we will!" the captain responded, hitching his suspenders over his shoulders. "You tell that idiot Corman to—oh, forget it. Belay that dashing order, sailor. You men assemble on the deck, I'll be up there in a minute."
The sailor's Aye, sir was lost as the captain turned to the yeoman, who stood wide-eyed in the passage. "Any you! Get in here and help me open this chest!"
The yeoman entered the captain's cabin as if he were entering a cathedral. He whipped the cap off his head and held it in his hand as he watched the captain stoop down in front of a large wooden chest with an elaborate lock on the front. He fished in the front of his shirt for a key and, finding it, brought it out, unlocked the lock on the chest, and lay the lock on the deck. "Boy, you're to keep what you see in this chest to yourself, you hear me?"
"Now, help me lift this lid up."
The yeoman moved into position and together, the two of them lifted the lid upwards. There was a click somewhere in the mechanism and then the lid held its position.
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