Home > Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(13)

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(13)
Author: Gail Carriger

She grinned at them all, dressing herself with a bit of her Paw’s leadership style mixed with a touch of Dama’s technique for making announcements to the drones. “Ladies and gentlemen, it will be, I am sure, an honour to serve as your leader, and to become better acquainted with you all. We are going to have some grand adventures, you and I. Probably not dignified, knowing me, but grand.”

The assembled company perked up. Their fears over the evident youth and inexperience of their captain, Rue hoped, were now mollified by the indication of her egalitarian nature and good-humoured approach to life. A few of the sooties smiled back, their smudged faces brightening in anticipation.

After a moment’s thought, Rue added, “Very good. Carry on.”

As one, the little crew dispersed and went back about their business, steps lighter for having met the Young Lady Captain.

Rue turned to the senior greaser, knowing the importance of getting this woman to trust her. The greaser was a strapping female in her early thirties, her frame long and lean and well-muscled. She had reddish-brown hair cut short and a voice almost low enough for a man. Rue trusted Dama to have found her the very best, but this woman also looked unkempt, gruff, and gloomy. Not to her vampire father’s ordinary taste at all.

“How do you do?” Rue said, sticking out her hand in the American fashion.

“Miss,” answered the woman, not shaking it.

Rue was tolerably certain the greaser should have said captain. Still, it was better to be nice, even in the face of insubordination. She retracted her hand. “Might I know your name, senior greaser?”

“Phinkerlington, miss. Aggie Phinkerlington.” She spat it out as if it should mean something significant.

“Very pleased to meet you, Greaser Phinkerlington.” Rue moved her assessment from gloomy to outright sullen and bad-tempered.

“Miss?”

“I trust you will keep her up until I can fix the officers in place?”

“Am I not doin’ so already, miss?”

“Of course you are. Thank you for you proficiency.” Rue was a little taken aback by the bluntness; it bordered on incivility.

The woman jerked her head. Was that a nod?

With an internal sigh, Rue said, “Dismissed.”

Aggie Phinkerlington sauntered off, leaving Rue perturbed. Not that she hadn’t met a number of people who hated her on sight. Her metanatural state had made her the target of prejudiced antipathy on more than one occasion. Still, it was outside of enough to be disliked for no apparent reason whatsoever. She’d simply have to win Miss Phinkerlington over. She wondered if pretending to be more like Primrose would help.

Winkle, all forgotten standing next to her, said, “She might be a bit of a problem, that one.”

“We shall see,” replied Rue. “I’m beginning to suspect problems are about to become my business. Now, where shall we––?”

She was cut off as one of the teakettle boilers nearby shrieked loudly and then exploded in a great flash of heat and steam.

Rue reacted on instinct, flattening herself to the floor of the soot-covered chamber. Winkle was right there with her. He had excellent reflexes for a fop.

“What the devil?” Rue turned her head, trying to see through the smoke. All she could make out was Winkle’s dark eyes, wide in shock. His top hat tumbled off and rolled towards a pile of kindling.

There were shouts and Greaser Phinkerlington began yelling. The smoke and steam cleared slowly to reveal sooties running everywhere.

The floor of the chamber began to lean as the ship lurched to one side.

“Keep her steady, keep her up!” hollered Phinkerlington. “Puff, Spoo, Kip – man the redundancy boiler, get her stabilised fast. Wute, Ribbin, Jikes – find out what’s wrong with boiler primary. Firemen? Where are my firemen?”

The chaos resolved itself into a controlled scurry under Phinkerlington’s orders.

Rue stood, dusting herself off – glad she’d chosen to wear grey. She offered a hand to Winkle who looked a bit shaken by the experience. He stood and retrieved his hat, examining both it and the state of his knees with a distressed expression.

To take his mind of the problem of attire, Rue commented, “She’s very good at her job.”

“Unfortunately, she isn’t as good at personality,” replied the drone.

“Dama has his priorities. Personality can be improved upon – efficiency is a natural talent.”

Winkle chuckled. “Very wise indeed.”

As they watched, the activity became a well-coordinated hum, the floor levelled out and soon everything was more or less back to normal.

Aggie Phinkerlington gave Rue a look that suggested she would never forgive the young captain for having witnessed this shameful debacle.

Rue grinned hopefully at her.

The senior greaser spat out of the corner of her mouth and went back to work.

“Charming,” said Rue.

“Don’t you worry about Aggie, captain,” said a small voice. One of the young sooties, barely twelve if she was a day, stood next to her, cap in hand. “She’s a crotchety old thing, but she’s fair.”

Rue smiled softly down. “Thank you…?”

“Spoo, captain. She shortens all our names, better to shout quickly-like.”

“Thank you, Miss Spoo.”

“Just Spoo’ll do.”

“Spoo,” came the yell from Greaser Phinkerlington. “Stop your dawdling!”

   
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