Dirigible was not Samella Clyde’s preferred method of air travel; airships were generally safer, cleaner and faster. However airships did not travel from Partheneon to Parnassus, direct, while the only slightly dilapidated dirigible that was the Star of Lebanon did. Fortunately the Star took both passengers and cargo.
Their cargo was of the no-questions-wanted sort, naturally. She and Lord Dagorlad were travelling as Professor Thurstan Hound and his ward, Samantha Darrow. Ostensibly they were accompanied by dubious antiquities. In reality they were going to see a mad scientist, one who claimed to be able to change humans the way mechanics changed machines. Not that he was expecting them. They had packed for the occasion, hence the cargo.
The western Hellascene was the half that the satraps hadn’t bothered conquering and from the air Samella could see why. Narrow, rocky, mountainous islands were divided from each other by narrow straights laced with sand bars and reefs. Villages and towns clung to cliff-like slopes to preserve arable and grazing land. The Hellanes had a reputation for being doughty and the landscape below said they deserved it. Fortunately, despite the strips of sea and mountain below them, the weather was behaving itself.
The Professor and his ward were not the only passengers aboard the Star of Lebanon. Given the terrain below them it was not surprising that air transport was popular. Partheneon in the north gazed across the Terrencian border into Imperial territory while Parnassus was perfectly positioned for a southern port, but had no harbour. There was a Terrencian wine buyer and his associate cum rival from Samella’s own part of the world. The young Hellane couple were going to visit his grandmother from whom there were, apparently, Expectations.
Then there was the furtive little man. There was always a furtive little man.
This furtive little man claimed to travel in agricultural machinery. He was, supposedly, delivering his firm’s latest grain harvesters to some important clients near Parnassus. Privately Samella doubted that. Parnassus wasn’t far from the border of the southernmost satrapy, Kiparta, and Kiparta had an active Hellane nationalist movement. She thought she could almost smell the gun oil on him.
They were ready to disembark in Parnassus when uniformed officials came aboard. A few hurried words with them and the Chief Purser made an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, only Hellanes are allowed ashore today!”
Samella and the wine merchants were shepherded to the passenger sitting room where the curtains were drawn and the lights turned on. The alleged Professor Hound joined them shortly from the cargo hold, escorted by a new, discreetly armed steward. Finally before the Star of Lebanon lifted ten new passengers, all foreigners, joined them.
“I say, chaps,” the speaker was dressed like a sporting man of leisure, “Anyone would think there’s a war on, wouldn’t they?”