From the book
"Siberia," Alek said. The word slipped cold and hard from his tongue, as forbidding as the landscape passing below.
"We won't be over Siberia till tomorrow." Dylan sat at the table, still attacking his breakfast. "And it'll take almost a week to cross it. Russia is barking big."
"And cold," Newkirk added. He stood next to Alek at the window of the middies' mess, both hands wrapped around a cup of tea.
"Cold," repeated Bovril. The creature clutched Alek's shoulder a little tighter, and a shiver went through its body.
In early October no snow lay on the ground below. But the sky was an icy, cloudless blue. The window had a lace of frost around its edges, left over from a frigid night.
Another week of flying across this wasteland, Alek thought. Farther from Europe and the war, and from his destiny. The Leviathan was still headed east, probably toward the empire of Japan, though no one would confirm their destination. Even though he'd helped the British cause back in Istanbul, the airship's officers still saw Alek and his men as little better than prisoners. He was a Clanker prince and they were Darwinists, and the Great War between the two technologies was spreading faster every day.
"It'll get much colder as we angle north," Dylan said around a mouthful of his breakfast. "You should both finish your potatoes. They'll keep you warm."
Alek turned. "But we're already north of Tokyo. Why go out of our way?"
"We're dead on course," Dylan said. "Mr. Rigby made us plot a great circle route last week, and it took us all the way up to Omsk."
"A great circle route?"
"It's a navigator's trick," Newkirk explained. He breathed on the window glass before him, then drew an upside-down smile with one fingertip. "The earth is round, but paper is flat, right? So a straight course looks curved when you draw it on a map. You always wind up going farther north than you'd think."
"Except below the equator," Dylan added. "Then it's the other way round."
Bovril chuckled, as if great circle routes were quite amusing. But Alek hadn't followed a word of it--not that he'd expected to.
It was maddening. Two weeks ago he'd helped lead a revolution against the Ottoman sultan, ruler of an ancient empire. The rebels had welcomed Alek's counsel, his piloting skills, and his gold. And together they'd won.
But here aboard the Leviathan he was deadweight--a waste of hydrogen, as the crew called anything useless. He might spend his days beside Dylan and Newkirk, but he was no midshipman. He couldn't take a sextant reading, tie a decent knot, or estimate the ship's altitude.
Worst of all, Alek was no longer needed in the engine pods. In the month he'd been plotting revolution in Istanbul, the Darwinist engineers had learned a lot about Clanker mechaniks. Hoffman and Klopp were no longer called up to help with the engines, so there was hardly any need for a translator.
Since the first time he'd come aboard, Alek had dreamed of somehow serving on the Leviathan. But everything he could offer--walker piloting, fencing, speaking six languages, and being a grandnephew of an emperor--seemed to be worthless on an airship. He was no doubt more valuable as a young prince who had famously switched sides than as an airman.
It was as if everyone were trying to make him a waste of hydrogen.
Then Alek remembered a saying of his father's: The only way to remedy ignorance is to admit it.
He took a slow breath. "I'm aware that the earth is round, Mr. Newkirk. But I still don't understand this 'great circle route' business."
"It's dead easy to see if you've got a globe in front of you," Dylan said, pushing away his plate....