Jericho Retzel

I paced the deck of my ship, looking at the huge balloons pressing against the envelope of the ship's larger balloon, that arced over the deck like a second sky. The air smelled faintly of mangos as the last of them was filled with hydrium and roped securely into place.

The crew and I had worked all night, landing in the vast hangar just after midnight, and loading up the needed cargo and supplies through the wee hours of the morning, under cover of darkness. The four docking towers rose above the dome, at each of the four point, but their security was tighter than that of the hangar For reasons I didn't care to dwell on, I wanted to avoid the protocols of the customs officers that patrolled the hangar and rest of the port by day. Now, as the first grey light of dawn was filtering through the glass roof of the hangar, most of my crew was asleep, and the rest were looking forward to their hammocks on the crew decks, but the ship's supply of hydrium had to be replenished before they could, so that the ship could make a quick getaway before any officials could approach and ask for my registration papers.

After the rest of the crew stumbled into their beds, I made my way down to the gangplank and outside the ship, navigating the narrow halls easily, since I knew them like the back of my hand. The heliopause was a good size airship, with 5 decks and several catwalks up inside the balloon allowing for easy navigation for the crew. There were 2 crew decks and 3 passenger decks, and then the hold at the bottom, which was little more than a crawlspace where the landing gear and most of the cargo had been stored during the heliopause's time as a small cruise liner, under a different name, before it had come into my possession. I'd kept most of the passenger amenities though, despite the fact that most of the cabins were used for storage. I just liked the privileges, such as a fully equipped gourmet kitchen, rec room, and passenger lounge, which even had a harpsichord secured to the floor, as well as a bar, which I kept stocked, and which my crew appreciated.

Around the top passenger deck, there was a balcony, so that my passengers could take walks and view the scenery, since the upper surface was completely enclosed by the envelope and so offered no such views.

When on the ground, the heliopause looked like a huge coppery beetle, it's bronze plated cabins and the large shell of the envelope, also painted in bronze, to give it a little extra weather protection, and that extra shine. The six spindly legs which secured it to the packed floor of the hangar, so there was a space of about 3 feet between the hull and the ground, added to the illusion.

As I admired the outside of my ship, I heard the sound of footsteps running through the sleeping ships, squinting through the predawn gloom, I could make out three figures running toward me, two short ones and a taller figure slightly behind them. As they got closer, I could see it was a girl and a boy, and a man, who's blank face confused me as they got closer.

"Let us board your ship, sir." Said the boy, gasping to a halt in front of me. His voice was high pitched, and his features were oddly feminine, despite the peach fuzz on his face, and his hair was falling out in wisps of a hat. This was no boy, I realized, relying on old expertise, this was a young woman, same age as the maid who stood near her. "We can pay, just get us out of here." The boy who was a girl shoved a handful of paper bills into my hand, and I barely glanced at the money before looking back in the direction in which they came, from which were emanating the shouts and footsteps of the authorities.

"Get in the ship." I said, pushing them up the gangplank and closing the hatch once all were inside. Grabbing a speaking tube on the wall I shouted into it; "Johnson, we got trouble, get this ship under way!" Which was promptly followed by the sounds of my crew being roused forcefully out of their beds, and running to their positions.

As I led my new passengers up the narrow stairs to the top crew deck where the helm was located, I was greeted by my first mate, Jason Johnson, who was standing at the wheel, calmly manipulating the landing gear. The ship gave a jolt and we moved forward, but not up, as the legs began working like a giant bug's and we scuttled along the hangar floor. Upon reaching the large hangar doors, which were slowly closing for security reasons, Johnson and I grinned at each other before pulling more levers and retracting the landing gear, so we floated up and through the doors just before they slammed shut on our tailfins. Once we were out of immediate danger, I turned toward my passengers, a very unlikely trio of companions, standing in the helmroom looking lost.

"Follow me to the lounge, I'll get the crew to prepare some cabins for you, but I think you'd better tell me where you're headed."

The End

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