The sky was empty.
Ezra Kneebone sighed to himself and tapped his goggles. The sound of gears clicking into place as the goggles refocused bounced off the walls of the canyon, even though you could imagine they would sound insignificant in such a vast landscape.
There wasn’t even a cloud to observe. All you could see was the brown of the mountains and the dirt of the desert floor, and the blue of the sky. In this climate, snow didn’t even fall on the peaks to break up the monotony of color. Still, Ezra loved it. It was all he had ever known, and all he really wished to know.
But today brought a momentary pique. Frustrated, he pulled his goggles up and against his hair. The sun was bright, and he squinted against its onslaught. Jumping from the rock on which he was perched, he lifted his sleeve and spoke into the leather wrist cuff beneath it. “Jazille, can you hear me?”
“I’m not hard of hearing, Kneebone,” came the crisp reply. “And my, you’re being formal. Are you ready?”
“Can’t see a thing. Have you picked up anything on the sensors?”
“A flock of pigeons, and nothing more. I think we’re chasing ghosts.”
Ezra chuckled. “Wouldn’t be any stranger than chasing a man that can fly.”
“I can fly,” Jazz replied, her voice crackling with static. “It’s just that I need a craft under me.”
“True enough. But our man has wings.”
“Just another bit of machinery, if you ask me. He’s not that special.”
Ezra looked around, but couldn’t see any sign of her or their ship. “Are you going to talk my ear off all day, or are you going to come and get me?”
“You always have your knickers in a twist. I’m right here.”
He felt and heard the rush of wind and the roar of the engines before he actually sighted her. Cutting through the air, billowing steam behind it, the dirigible buffeted the airstream as if it were being tossed upon waves. The mechanics that kept it afloat screamed at the strain upon them, but Ezra knew that Jazz had everything in control. He felt safer in her hands in the air than he did on his own two feet on land.
Their dirigible was a lot smaller than the other ones around. Ezra had designed it himself, with Jazz’s mechanical expertise aiding him in being able to downsize the engine and therefore the size of the ship. It allowed them to move faster, and had also paved the way for the idea of airships being adapted for personal rather than commercial use. As Ezra had said, “I have never really wanted to get into the business of shipping and delivering, but get me in the air so I can get where I’m going faster than anybody else. Who won’t want that?”
They had christened her the Lilliput. Being a prototype, they still had ongoing problems with her performance, but this proved to be anything but a deterrent for their plans of eventually building a fleet. Jazz, as well as being an exceptional pilot, was one of the best mechanics around.
He could see her now through the cockpit window, the sun bouncing off the material of the balloon and reflecting from her goggles. She was choosing to fly with the windows down today, so her bright red hair was tied back into a utilitarian ponytail, and her face wore its customary frown as she controlled the flight of the dirigible from her console.
“I’m not landing,” she instructed him, still over the comm system. “You’re coming in the hard way.”
“Just the way I like it.”
“Grow up, Kneebone.”
He watched her pop the hatch of the cockpit and activate a pulley that released a rope hanging from the top of the balloon. With one hand on the console, she swung the rope over to him and he caught it on their first attempt as the Lilliput drew level with the top of the cliff to allow him easier access.
Without even pausing, he launched himself off the cliff top and swung across the impossibly deep chasm below. He misjudged the height and did a full body slam against the window of the cockpit. Jazz shook her head at him as he scrambled to find the footholds punched into the metal frame. He released the rope as he crossed over the curved dome of the roof and jumped into the pit.
“That was all class,” Jazz said dryly.
Ezra slammed the hatch shut and pulled the lever to close the windows; now it was a lot more quiet inside the dirigible than out. “Next time, you land.”
“It wasn’t your best entrance.”
He gave her a cheeky grin. “Now, how would you know what my best entrance is?”
Jazz fixed him with a long-suffering expression. She had heard it all before. “Your crass bravado isn’t necessary with me anymore, Kneebone. Save it for the men you’re trying to bed when you next go to Whiskeytown.”
“It’s not fair that you judge me for my shenanigans in Whiskeytown,” he said, falling into the seat beside her. “We all can’t be as lucky as you in finding true love.”
“You’re not going to find true love in Whiskeytown,” she said coolly. “But you will find something much more permanent and even more painful.”
“They have powders for that now,” Ezra said with a laugh.
Jazz watched the ground drop even further beneath them as they headed for deeper skies. “You should buy a crate then, the amount you’ll need. Plus, it may be cheaper in bulk.”
Ezra tapped his foot against the console. “How do you know so much about Whiskeytown, anyway, Jazz?”
She slapped his knee. “Stop that. And I’ve heard the stories you’ve told me when you’ve had a bit too much to drink.”
“Aah.” He nodded. “A loose tongue that should have been put to much better purpose, I guess.”
She dropped the height of the Lilliput suddenly, and Ezra was jerked out of his seat. He was hit by the floor, rather than him hitting the floor, when she made them regain it just as quickly.
“Sorry,” she said with no compassion behind her tone. “Were you not wearing your restraint?”
From his position on the floor, Ezra scowled at her. “Just get us back home.”
“Aye, Captain.” She chuckled to herself, and to be kind, made sure the return trip was the smoothest she could offer.