Dinner was a boring affair. We were put at the Captain’s Table this night, which was apparently deemed to be a great honor. The Captain was gracious and entertaining, but the folks at the table were stiff and all going out of their way to appear proper and worthy of the honor. Few cracked a smile. Even Richard couldn't liven up the table.
The food was passable.
The one good thing was that the Captain’s Table was, suitably enough, raised above all the others in the room which gave me an unrestricted view of the dining room. I was rather surprised to discover that neither the suspicious man nor his breakfast companion were in evidence. Agatha was there with her family and she giggled every time I looked over at her and rolled my eyes dramatically.
Richard had never admitted why he seemed so ill that morning, but he'd perked up considerably by afternoon, and now he seemed to be radiating good health. I had my suspicions with regard to his ‘morning sickness’ and they revolved primarily around Renee LaCroix. But even though she sat rather conspicuously nearby, and commanded quite a bit of the room’s attention, I never once spotted Richard giving her more than a mere passing glance. Perhaps he was sneakier than I gave him credit for. Or perhaps he’d been truthful when he said he disliked the type and was indeed unmoved by her considerable charms. Me, I thought she was pretty much every man’s type. But then what do I know. I’m normally suspicious and distrustful and gorgeous women, especially gorgeous women who pay attention to me, make me nervous.
We’d been plied with drink aplenty at the Captain’s Table so I had no desire to hit the main salon after dinner. There was a storm brewing and it seemed to be making my head pound. The air was heavy with ozone and clouds boiled around the airship. The captain had warned the ship’s passengers just before dinner that we'd be hitting bad weather. A ‘nor’easter’ he'd called it. He’d slowed our progress westward down in order to allow for the majority of the storm to pass well ahead of us. Sounded like a good plan to me. Although given the look of the sky and the clouds perhaps he’d not slowed us down quite enough.
Given the threatening weather, and my headache, I just wanted to get back to my rooms, get the formal suit off of me, and my neck free of its tight collar. When I excused myself from Richard he confessed to no real desire for an extended evening either. With that, I broke for the freedom of my room leaving Richard at table to manage his own escape.
There always was, I’d learned from my room’s valet, considerable activity in and around the passenger quarters during the dinner hours. Room stewards would turn down beds, tidy up, check on passenger requests and otherwise ensure that staterooms were in ship-shape order during that time, especially as they were fairly certain not to inconvenience many passengers since all were supposed to be in the main dining salon.
As a result I was not suspicious at all when I saw stewards scurrying along the narrow hallway. Granted, odd looks aimed at me, probably the earliest to return to his rooms following dinner, surprised me. But I was still unprepared for what I saw when I came round the corner and neared my stateroom door.
The hallway looked quite normal except that my stateroom door stood slightly ajar. I stiffened and felt my instincts and training kick in. I cursed myself for putting my only weapon in the safe rather than carrying it.
I approached the door cautiously, and keeping my back against the hallway wall, crept forward as silently as I could. Nearing the door I bent over a bit in order to reach out and push the door further open with the tip of a finger. It swung unrestrictedly inward.
The usual one light above the bed was lit, the remainder of the room thereby left full of shifting shadows as the light was gimbaled and the gondola was swaying, reacting to the strong storm approaching. I moved forward to get a better look around the door. I was rewarded with the sight of all the drawers in my one wardrobe lying upside down on the foot of my the bed. Their contents lay scattered on the floor. My closet had been emptied as well, its contents clearly searched as well. My two valises which had held everything I’d brought were by the bed turned upside down and the bottoms had been slit open as if someone had assumed I was hiding something in them.
I cursed and stepped into the room. About that time all the lights in the ship suddenly went out and I stood there in the blackest darkness. Thunder crashed loud enough to have nearly hit me and a blinding flash of lightning lit the room so brightly I feared it had hit the gondola or worse the rigid frame that protected the airbag that kept us afloat. The gondola shuddered and gravity seemed to fail as a sudden blast of wind hit the airship. I staggered as the gondola lurched and dove. I spread my legs to better steady myself but it was sheer luck that I managed to keep my feet under me. I heard passengers and possibly stewards scream in surprise and fear.
The gondola lurched again, even more violently. Claxons began sounding at a deafening volume. It was the warning we’d been instructed about, the one that would only signal a dire emergency. I reached out into the darkness hoping to grasp onto a wall to steady myself and find the way out of my room and down the hallway so I could reach my designated emergency station. My grasping fingers met something soft rather than something hard. I heard a grunt, then suddenly agony shot through my skull and blackness closed in. The sounds of fear, storms and claxons faded from my ears. I never felt myself hit the floor.
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