Eight Minutes

"You hired me and fail to mention that you stole a very important something from a very important someone?" Cornelia shouted at the hapless Ikonov.

"I didn't steal it. There was an auction on Ancient Greek wares that I went to. The map was up for auction so I purchased it, knowing what it was. Lord Alastair also knew what it was, I outbid him."

"Does he know we have the Book?"

"Possibly, but it's useless without the Map and vice versa."

"Then give it to him. He will probably still follow us, but he will be appeased for the time being with the Map. After all, if something were to happen to us, he would want the Map so that he could continue on his own. We are betting on the fact that he doesn't know the Book is necessary to use the Map."

"We can't both be in possession of the Map."

Cornelia's mind was quickly sorting out the problem. Lord Alastair wanted the Map, but he wouldn't know if they made an exact reproduction.

"You have a camera, yes?"

"Of course, I use it for documenting scientific discoveries and keeping important details in-"

"Take up close photographs of the Map in sections. When we land in Paris, you can develop them and we can piece them together to have the whole Map. It's not as good as the original, but right now it's better than dying. When you're done, bring the Map here."

"It will take about twenty minutes, but I will try to be brief."

The Professor hurried off, under too much pressure to realize that he just been ordered around by an inferior, while Cornelia wondered how she was going to stall for twenty minutes to allow for the Map to be documented.

"Raise Alastair on the radio again."

Much to her chagrin, Alastair responded almost immediately.

"Have you reconsidered your actions Captain Harper."

He said the title with such derogatory arrogance that Cornelia was tempted to throw a string of intensely violent obscenities at the radio with little regard for the matters of life and death. She appeased her wounded pride by repeating them in her head.

"I have. The Professor has gone to get it from his things and will be with us shortly. You can send one of your crew members over to get it, or you can come yourself if you would prefer."

"I will come over myself with a guard, just in case a member of your crew was to try anything...rash."

Nineteen minutes.

"When can I expect you?"

"Very soon. A ladder is already being lowered onto the top of your ship. See you then."

The radio connection was ended and Cornelia knew that she didn't have much time before Alastair boarded the ship. She could only hope that the Professor was, as he put it, "being brief."

"Johnson, make an announcement on the intercom that we are about to be boarded by a guest and that he should be left alone."

"Yes, Captain."

Cornelia swept from the control room and headed for the glass encased watch-post at the top of the ship. A member of her crew was always there, for it was the only place where on could view the top of the ship with an unobstructed view. The control room was only good for viewing what was below the ship, even though the glass floor was prone to making inexperienced fliers extremely nauseous.

When she arrived at the watch-post, Lord Alastair was already coming down the ladder that was now attached to the top of the Belle Marie

Seventeen minutes.

While waiting at the bottom of the ladder to the watch-post, Cornelia overheard the crew member on watch duty open the hatch and welcome Alastair to the ship. She heard feet tapping as they descended the ladder. Cornelia looked about saw the sacks of gas that filled the upper part of the ship. They were beautiful, dangerous, and fragile. Bullets could easily pierce through them and fatally wound the ship.

Lord Alastair reached the bottom of the ladder, turned, and tossed her a smirk.

Fifteen minutes.

"The Map."

"The Professor is currently retrieving it from the cargo bay. It could take several minutes."

"That's fine, but if I do not return to my ship in ten minutes, my crew is to assume I am dead and have been ordered to fire upon your ship. You have eight minutes, Captain."

The End

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