After Ashwin had gone to help Earls with the pipes, I looked around at the other boys - none of them were exactly volunteering to speak up next. So, I rolled my eyes and took one step forward.
"I know my way 'round most of the major mechanisms of an airship - I used to work repair down at my uncle's shop." I stood rigid, staring anxiously at Vantor as I awaited his response.
The man looked at me silently for a moment, then smiled. It was a very small thing, almost escaping my notice, but I caught it just as he took a step toward me and clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Oh, we'll have plenty o' jobs to keep you busy," he said. "Maintenance and repair it is... Footer!"
A tall, thin man dressed in a filthy white shirt and black trousers appeared, looking at me with interest. "Footer," Vantor said to the man, "this here is..." He waved at hand at me, as if asking my name.
"Uh - Dixon, sir," I said quietly. "Pat Dixon."
"Right," Vantor said, turning back to Footer. "This is Pat Dixon, he claims to know a thing or two 'bout repair and maintenance. Pat, this is William Footer, and you'll be working with him."
"Hello," I said politely to the man, who stood a just a little bit taller than me.
"Good to meet yeh," he replied, nodding and reaching out to shake my hand.
Vantor began to turn away, then glanced back venomously at Footer. "Well, don't jus' spend all day on pleasantries - go to work, Footer!"
"Righ' sir," Footer replied sharply, walking away from the boys and Vantor. "Don't mind him," he said to me quietly, "He can be a bit nasty at times, but he's decent. Jus' wants things done right and quick, tha's all."
I nodded, listening quietly as he spoke.
"So," he said, clapping his hands together and turning to look expectantly at me. "What d'you know 'bout the workings of an airship such as this fine vessel?" He grinned as he said the word fine, sarcastically rolling his eyes.
"Uh, well," I said, "I'm pretty good with engines and the flight rockets... and I can take care of most any small machine, long as I can get a good look at it."
"Ah!" Footer said excitedly. "A natural-born engineer! Oh, I tell yeh, me an' Earls has been waitin' for some'n like yourself. See, Earls can handle most things himself, but the things he can't take care of I've got to do, and I'm...well," he said with an ashamed glance at me, "I'm no engineerin' genius, tha's for sure. But this is great news!" He smiled jubilantly at me and clapped me heavily on the back. "Jus' excellent! Now, let's go track down Earls and his boy. We'll be workin' with them a lot, seein' as our jobs tend to go together like feets and boots."
I laughed inwardly at this expression - "feets and boots" - but remained completely composed on the outside. I didn't want to be rude. "Alright," I said.
When we found Earls and his boy, Earls turned around to look at the two of us, flashing a grin at Footer and then nodding to me. "Footer," he said by way of greeting, "Yeh little rat, you finally tracked us down! An' you got your new ship's boy, too!"
"Yeah," said Footer, laughing as he entered a rough embrace with clearly a close friend of his. "This is Pat - Pat Dixon - am' he says he can handle engines and rockets, plus any machinery he can get a good look over."
"That right?" Earls looked kindly at me as his boy - Ashwin, I think his name was - worked away at checking the pipes nearby. "Well, we can certainly use yeh," he said enthusiastically. "We'll jus' wait for good ol' Allerton here to finish checkin' the pipes, an' then we'll give you both a tour of the ship."
I nodded, then crossed my arms while we waited for Ashwin to finish. It wasn't long before we were on our way to the engine room.