So, that was the wrong zeppelin and the wrong approach. I shifted around a bit, until I looked a lot more Trestean — matching my coloration and fur to the soldier’s, and copying his uniform. I strode down the ziggurat’s sandstone staircase and marched crisply across to the next one.
The soldier there wasn’t quite as brusque to one of his own kind. He peered at my badge, copied from the soldier at the first zeppelin. “What can I do for you, Guardswoman Tweenpo?”
I peered at his badge too. “Does this go to Trest, Guardsman Gordome?”
“Churry City. May I see your paperwork?”
Well, of course he couldn’t see my paperwork, I hadn’t any paperwork. I came out with something like “My … I … I don’t … never …”
Guardsman Gordome appeared unpersuaded by my draconic eloquence. “Guardswoman? Perhaps you could go back to your commanding officer and correct what is obviously a simple misunderstanding in a situation that could not possibly cause any trouble and under no circumstances could possibly be confused with attempted desertion?” He was clearly lying.
Bursting out laughing wasn’t the right thing to do, really. Neither was saying, “You think I’m deserting?”
He looked a bit annoyed. “May I please see your identification papers, Guardswoman? Just a formality. You know the drill. I’d really rather not cause you any more trouble than the rules require.” He was telling the truth that time.
“Don’t be silly,” I said, forgetting, for a moment, that dragons had not been ruling Hove for grosses of years, and that I didn’t look like a dragon in any case.
Gordome looked a bit upset. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m going to have to take you into custody if you don’t show me your identification papers.” Also truthful.
I wanted to be taken to Churry City, wherever that was, not custody. But he had been polite and helpful. So I took his ray gun away from him and smashed it, and picked him up and wrapped him in some ropes and tossed him on a couch. Small people are all very slow and weak really. I’m rather slow and weak when I’m being a small person, but not as slow and weak as real small people.
And then I scampered through the canvas room to the door to the zeppelin’s gondola. I dived under the nearest sofa, hoped that nobody could see me very well, and turned into a mouse.
If considered as a way to get aboard a zeppelin and hide, this plan worked brilliantly. If considered as a way to get to Trest quickly, it didn’t. The Tresteans delayed the zeppelin for several hours as they looked everywhere on it (and the first one, I suppose), repeatedly, for their intruder. They saw me repeatedly, but they were looking for a hoven, not a mouse.
Eventually they gave up, and sent the zeppelin off. All the officers on board were nervous, wondering if the dangerous intruder had somehow managed to stay on board (yes, she had) and whether she would do something dastardly (yes, she took a dastardly nap). They were expecting something rather worse, like having her ignite herself and the zeppelin as well. (Which makes no sense — such a roundabout way of a suicide. There aren’t any dragons around to help her do it elegantly, but there must be, oh, poison. Or maybe she could shoot herself with a ray gun. Well, in this case she wasn’t suicidal or murderous, just a dastardly, dastardly stowaway.)
I peeked out from under the sofa, because the gondola was really quite pretty. It was a long narrow room of polished wood, polished brass, polished leather. Seats lined the walls, comfortable-looking leather chairs, bolted to the floor. Windows lined both sides of the gondola, and gleaming brass tubes were mounted on both sides. When we were finally flying, the officers — the passengers were mostly officers of Trest — would peer through them now and again and say things like “There’s Mount Malacha!” or “I believe we’re passing over Esbaril,” so I suppose they were some sort of technological vision enhancer, telescopes or something.
The trip took, roughly, forever. Nearly two days. We were, at least, the farthest off the ground that I have ever been: the zeppelin steered straight from Ghemel to Churry City. The officers slept in their leather chairs at night, and gambled and traded stories during the daytime, and complained that the buffet in the zeppelin galley was worse than usual. I stayed under my chair, and exchanged catty notes about the other fiancés with Ythac when I got bored (and probably gave him enough clues to find me, by the end of it, but I tried not to), and wondered if I could get away with eating the entire buffet or if the officers would notice that. It seemed best to wait.