I’ve come to love the silence. But I remember the thrum of engines underfoot, the sobbing howl of the wind outside before we broke atmosphere, the everpresent hiss of recycled air.
The Epiphany lies still now, starved of fuel, one more carcass in the graveyard of starships outside Oas. I remember the ground rising up to meet us that last time, how I touched her hull after. It was so hot it stripped the skin from my palm. I would have shot her, as once upon a time they shot horses. Would have sunk her like a true ship or cast her to lie between the stars, anything but this slow death of sand against her skin.
The choice was not mine to make. Not any of ours.
I remember Piotr’s face when they dragged him out of the Eureka, screaming. The entire ship was on fire. She burned for three days and something in him burned as well. He kept trying to go back. He finally succeeded, by way of a scant cup of fuel siphoned from a near-dry tank, and a magnifying glass.
There were thirty of us that graduated the Academy. Only thirty, and we cycled turn and about in the starships, day and alterday. There are five of us left.
They said the Jade Dragon’s days were numbered when I bought her. Said wood and brass could only hold together so long in the atmosphere of Loess, racked as it is with sandstorms and blight. Since the burning times, there are more storms. One more sin to lay at Emmion Verril’s feet. As if the death of Verdure wasn’t enough. As if I didn’t already hope he was burning like the water in those hundred days when the lakes transformed from savior to enemy.
They said I couldn’t fly this old girl, that my Academy training didn’t fit me for short hops, didn’t teach me how to manage a dirigible. That I’d never be able to maintain control of men not trained to follow a woman or accept her lead. That I’d be back on the ground in a week. They stood behind me and in front of me, clutching at me with their knobby fingers and the twisted roots of their words like my old instructors used to.
But they were wrong. I found men who would listen when I spoke, an engineer to cut new gears and replace the greening copper that lined her lightning sails. Found wood for her hull even after Verdure burned. A decade later we’re still limping through the sky, the Dragon and me, and the silence of her decks soothes me the way the hum of the Epiphany’s engines used to.
It’s the quality of the silence, you see. It’s not the silence of dead air, it’s the silence of clockwork before a music box sounds its first note, of a turntable before the needle ticks over and begins to replay a symphony. In her silence I can hear the Dragon’s heart beating, the thump of gases and engines, vanes and rudders. In this silence we make the run from Oas to Cinder and back, via Strata, as the conductors shout when we drop anchor.
Except there is an entry on my passenger log for Cinder, Anna Verril, in my steward’s neat hand. I imagine his pen scratching over the paper, the crackle of the pages as he turns them, listening to the scratch and buzz of the radios relayed through a dozen stations, telling us our cargo. New sounds, brave sounds, but sounds that will ultimately vanish into the silence.
I run my fingers over the deck rail and watch the passengers board below me. I have come to love the silence, but today I hear the wind in the Dragon’s sails like it was the roar of jets and oh, I ache for what was.