It was dusty inside when the iron trapdoor to the airship’s lowest level came open, first with a sharp clang, and then with a heavy groan as it struggled against its own weight. A soft blue light floated into the darkness of its interior, and then even that was blotted out in the shape of a silhouette as a petite figure leaned over the opening to look inside.
‘It’s dark down there, isn’t it?’ Rayna remarked, squinting to see if she could catch any shapes in the darkness. ‘D’you think we can trust what they say?’
‘I don’t see any reason not to,’ the Swordsman replied tiredly.
‘What if it’s a booby trap?’ she asked. ‘Maybe it’s what they do in case the ship is hijacked, y’know. Send them hijackers into the basement and get them killed. It’s what I’d do.’
The Swordsman sighed heavily, and without another word, he pulled Rayna back by her shoulder (“Hey, watch it!”) and lowered himself through the opening. His feet found thee rungs of a metal ladder, and when his hands found the sides of the ladder, the metal from which it was made did not seem to be rusted. The metal rungs groaned under the weight of his feet, but otherwise held their place.
‘Turn on the light switch when you find it, will ya,’ Rayna said, watching the Swordsman as he went deeper into the darkness. As soon as he stepped off the lowest rung (truth be told, he was a little startled to realize that the ladder ended before he expected it to), a blue glow began to fill the room seemingly from all directions.
When the glow became bright enough to see clearly, he could see that the light was coming from the ceiling of the level, but diffused through an impossibly thick cloud of dust. It was a secondary cargo hold of sorts – one built for the crew of the ship, rather than the people waiting at the airship’s eventual destination. Stacks of crates were lined up neatly along the walls, and a single column of crates was right in the middle of the place.
‘Sweet!’ Rayna called from above, and with a short leap, she threw herself onto the metal ladder and slid right down, hopping off it at the very end, kicking up little clouds of dust when her feet hit the ground. ‘Now that’s what I call provisions,’ she said. ‘Look at that – canned food! This place could last us for months! Hey, I bet that huge one over there’s for the bottled water! Now, if only they had a solar-powered microwave in here, or something…’
Since the wall behind the ladder was already blocked off by a wall of wooden crates, there was only another way to go. The Swordsman made off, looking for the source of fuel that the soldier had told them about. It wasn’t long until he found it, and it was in that moment that he realized it wasn’t what he had in mind when he heard about emergency fuel stored on board.
He cursed, and Rayna came running.
‘Well, shit,’ she muttered at the sight of the half-dozen dust scooters. ‘What is this, a joke? These things can’t hold five liters of fuel!’ she flailed her arms about animatedly as she began her rant. ‘So we have what, fifty liters? Sixty? Probably enough to get us up into the air and crash land immediately, that’s what this is good for!’
The Swordsman absently ran his hand over the fuel tank on one of the dust scooters, and dragged finger trails through the thin layer of dust that had settled over it.
‘How far will a full tank take us?’ he asked, turning to Rayna.
‘All the way to Hong Kong,’ she replied. ‘Ships this size swallows most of its fuel on liftoff and landing. The rest of the fuel is spent on keeping the electromagnet running, and helping you to change speed and direction when you need to.’
He nodded, then pointed at the dust scooters. ‘What of these? How far will these take us, if their tanks are full?’
Rayna shrugged. ‘Fifty kilometers, at least,’ she said. ‘Eighty’s possible on a new engine, but seventy’s more probable if the thing runs well. Either way, we aren’t getting very far.’
‘We don’t have to,’ the Swordsman said. ‘Gather the fuel from all of these vehicles except for two of them, and put them into an easy-to-carry container.’
‘Nuts,’ Rayna said. ‘You have any idea how heavy two hundred and fifty liters of fuel is? Easy to carry is one thing; whether your spine can take it or not is another. What exactly do you have in mind?’
‘Exploration,’ he said.