"But I'm not old enough to-"
"Listen, will you!?" the woman snapped, pointing a bony finger at Lily. "We're behind times as it is, and if you keep larking about like this, Lord knows what'll happen, so how about if yer don't do as I say, I'll come over there and..." but she ran out of breath before she could finish, and leant back against the banister, the wood creaking under her weight.
"Just do it, my girl."
"Yes miss." said Lily, turning around, the dark shape of the revolver bruising through the white fabric of her gown. The woman grimaced at the sight of the gun, her black teeth glinting out from between her dry lips as she watched Lily pad over to the control panel, the girl's bare feet falling almost soundlessly on the tilting floorboards. She climbed up onto the backless chair that stood before the panel, and studied the sweeping bank of switches and buttons and begrimed dials and warning lights, purposely deciding on pulling the big, rusty lever to her right.
Deep below their feet, down in the cellars, Skittles swore as he leapt away from the engines, the mechanisms beginning to move, the cogs rattling and grinding, the axles squeaking as they started to turn. The whole building shuddered, the windows rattling in their chipped wooden frames, the thudding beat of propellers growing faster and faster as the sky-orphanage began to drift forwards, two columns of black smoke trailing from the chimneys that poked out of its shabby roof.
Despite herself, Lily smiled, and for a moment she forgot about the grave-cold gun in her pocket, and knelt on top of the chair to see through the large round window that was built into the slanted ceiling.
"We're moving!" she said.
"Really? I wouldn've guessed. Now get down, you're meant fly by the instruments, not by gawking out the window."
Lily looked for a second longer. London was there, dead ahead, spiked and round like an anti-ship mine, the cathedrals and pale spires that prickled the top half all shining in the ashen sun, but dwarfed by Big Ben, the clock-tower that rose up above the rest, its clock-faces as white as blind eyes in the white streams of light.
And then below there was the London underworld, dark and wrapped in eternal smog, the stained archways and towers caught by the molten glow of the ore rivers that veined this dark, industrial underbelly.
"Get down! Lily, get down, your gonna hit that sky-hotel!" Lady Thricetin shouted, running over and punching a button on the control panel. There was a gushing sound of escaping gas as the balloons were emptied, the floor giving a downwards lurch, the sounds of smashing crockery and the surprised shouts of the children below causing Lily to cringe as the orphanage descended, the round window completely filled by the sky-hotel they were about to hit, its whitebrick walls and decorative balconies, its polished front doors and the huge balloons that kept it afloat...