"This does not look like a freighter." Monica said walking into what could have been mistaken for the lobby of the world's most space conscious five star hotel. The room had a stone floor polished to a bright sheen, it looked like it was covered in clear water, reflection sparkling in it. The walls were all wood panelled decorated with modern paintings showing strange geometric landscapes or covered with ivy that grew its way towards the ceiling. Three doors made out of a wood a shade darker than the panelling of the walls led to the fore, aft and the port side of the ship. Who ever had made this room his biggest accomplishment were the stairs that were only slightly broader than two people walking abreast but made its way to the upper deck with with enough panache to shame all but the most magnificent stairs of ancient palaces.
"This is the first time I enter a plane feeling completely underdressed." said Lane.
"Is this fuel efficient?" asked Monica who was still trying to find the proper category in her mind under which to file this.
"Depends." said Idris. "For the Zeppelin this hardly makes a difference, when in flying mode this reduces carrying capacity by a certain amount but I can live with that. I almost never carry that much freight anyway. Besides this is only how the living quarters look like. I spend so much time aboard the Unconquered Sun that this is pretty much my house so I might as well make it as nice as possible."
"Do you have a pool table?" Lane said, wondering how far captain Idris had gone with her insanity.
"Of course, it's in the music room." Idris said her grin not leaving her face. Despite her reservations she started to enjoy having passengers.
"Music room..." Monica had not intended to say anything, it had just slipped out of her mouth while she was cautiously touching a wooden wall certain that even the slightest touch would dispel the illusions.
"Well I say music room," said Idris, "but it also holds the bar." this was her being modest. "In the end I can't sacrifice to much room to my whims."
"Do you have a... piano?" Lane was actually afraid to ask.
"Come with me we need to go to the bridge and get going." captain Idris motioned them to follow her up the stairs. "Of course I do not have a piano." Lane did not know exactly why but she felt relieved when she heard that. "I have a pipe organ, of course." said Idris. With that Lane was relived of her relive.
"Why?" said Monica following carefully up stairs. Tugging at the Ivy only to discover that it was an actual living plant.
"I was actually not to keen on the organ, these things are incredibly hard to play, what with the feet and hands doing all manner of different shit. I'm not an octopus after all. But what can you do. If you have a proper ship like this you need to have a pipe organ it's just the proper thing to do." The reached a narrow gallery upstairs with more impressive looking doors. The Walked towards the one that looked like a small portal. It was not square but rounded off at the top, instead of a simple door frame it had two statues framing it. They were were carved out of wood to resemble classical Greek statues, a naked woman and a naked man facing away from each other holding the pack of their hand to the sides of their heads, there arms forming the arch of the door frame.
"This door leads to the bridge."
The bridge was a large room built into the the nose of the aircraft that had almost no resemblance to a cockpit but instead looked like what would happen if the Orient Express decided to start a new career as a bridge. At the very tip was what looked most like the cockpit of an aeroplane with the pilot seat upholstered with leather, the instruments enclosed in brass and all bits of plastic replaced with wood. There was also a much larger helm behind that with a large steering wheel of a ship. The front was covered completely in thick glass giving a more then 120° view of the now very dimly illuminated cave outside. Other stations, like the communications console and the engineers potion where evenly spread around the room in their own heavily modified spaces, there was even a large table near the door that was covered by a large map of the region around Marrakesh that was fastened with small metal clasps to keep it in place during turbulent flight.
"Make yourselves comfortable. I still have to run all the on-board preflight checks. Over there is a small fridge hidden in the wood panelling. Behind the painting of the of the castle ruins overseeing a valley of overgrown vineyards? You'll fight bottles of Codorniú cava,better then Moét if you ask me, and some glasses."
Captain Idris left Lane and Monica standing. The time those two would be standing there staring should could relax and do her job. She quickly walked towards the engineers place got her clip board for the checks out and started work.
"You are insane..." Monica said.
"Could be, but if I am a really don't care. No shut up and get us some some bubbly to celebrate take off." Idris did not even look up from her clip board. She tried to keep her focus on her work. The worst thing that could happen right now was to put a check mark for a test that she had not yet finished.
While Captain Idris was flipping switches turning on the amber illumination of the instruments and various blinky lights, Lane went to the alleged fridge. "I think," she said more to herself than to Monica, "that the captain has put enough expensive shit into her ship that we can safely assume that she is eccentric."
Monica had followed her, after watching Lane trying to find the hidden mechanism to get behind the picture she reached out her hand past lane gripped the handle that was subtly integrated into the decoration of the panelling and pulled the door open. It was a small fridge, the door holding half a dozen champagne glasses in a special rack, the rest filled mostly with bottles of cava but also a two six packs of some kind of beer. "It's always the people," Monica said, "in the big shiny houses to get to be strange but harmless, isn't it?" She took out one bottle and started to open it. "Imagine we were standing now in some half rusted ruin of an explain with cheap wall paper with wood panelling look pasted to every surface. We would probably take the captain to the next institution and find her a nice padded party room, but here we are with some, I hope, decent champagne, in a room with real mahogany wood panels. Obviously the captain is just a bit... peculiar."
"I can actually fly this thing." Idris said. She had just pushed a important looking button. It started to glow red, she flipped some switches and it changed to a much friendlier ochre glow.
"Who says that your version in the ruined craft wasn't an ace pilot too?" Monica said grabbing hold of the cork trying to coax it carefully out of the bottle with out sending it flying out of the room.
"Good point." said Idris who was now at the pilots console. Having switched a few more switches turning on more lights she paused with her hand resting on a big lever. "Have you considered that people tend to be judgemental assholes when they meet people who are poor or generally in a bad situation?"
"She's right," said Lane, "when people are poor they are usually useless fuckers who deserve all the shit that comes to them. When it is someone who appears to be wealthy the same people fall head over arse over themselves trying to find excuses to explain why those people are victims of dire circumstances."
"Really?" asked Monica whose eyes were now narrowing in concentration the cork was moving and she was trying to keep it in control.
"Remember how you told me that Martin was actually a nice guy but had some impulsive streaks that made him sometimes do some stupid shit?"
"You shame me. But yes. I guess you are right." the cork popped loudly but did not leave Monica's hand who look pleased with herself.
The moment the bottle plopped open captain Idris pulled the lever she had been resting her hand on. The lights on the bridge flickered for a moment and a rumble went through the ship. It had been sleeping but now its captain called and with a shudder it came to life. The six turbines slowly roaring to life, first a low pitched rumble that way felt before it could be heard then moving into the high pitched tenor voice of a 20,000 horsepower engine asking to be released from its fetters.
Captain Idris grinned from ear to ear. "No matter how often I do this, I love it every time. Hurry up with the cava we are leaving in a minute. She sat down in her pilots seat. Monica served the cava and she and Lane brought the glasses and the bottle to with them to the captain.
"Ready?" Idris asked.
"Totally." said Lane
"Sure." said Monica.
Idris punched a row of buttons outside the the headlamps of the Unconquered Sun came to life illuminating the cave in front of them. Above them the dark grey envelope of Zeppelin blocked the view to the caves ceiling. From this perspective the cave looked incredibly cramped all of a sudden.
Captain Idris pulled another lever, sending another shudder through the ship. "Those were the umbilical connectors and the mooring disconnecting. Now we are floating free. Time to get us out of here." she said. Her right hand pushed the throttle controls for the engines slowly forward. The turbines screamed for the sky. The airship lurched forwards. The motion was very slow at first but the acceleration did not stop, after having overcome its initial inertia the Unconquered Sun was now starting to gain significant speed.
"How fast are we going?" asked Lane.
"Right now? Slow. About 50 knots."
"How much is that in normal?" said Lane.
"About 55ish miles an hour."
"Is that safe?"
"Depends. With you or your friend on the controls no. With me no problem." Idris pulled up the controls so that the airship started ascending through the tunnel that was getting suspiciously narrower. "This is my favourite part." said Idris flipping a switch next to two lights one red one green. The red light started blinking furiously. "Cover your eyes." said Idris putting on a pair of aviator shades.
"Why should we..." Lane stopped in mid sentence, in front of them still a way off was a massive wall that was now divided in the middle by a brilliant line of light.
"And hold on to my seat." Idris added as the line grew broader. Lane and Monica looked at it through eyes squeezed almost shut, although they were half blinded they could see now that what they saw was the light of day, behind that rift in the wall was the blue sky of Morocco. Idris now pushed the throttle further forward the turbines now screaming the ship jumping forward.
"What are you doing?! We are going to hit the wall!" Lane screamed.
Monica remained silent gritting her teeth and trying to move them past the wall in front of them by sheer willpower.
"We are going to make it. Don't worry." said captain Idris now also shouting. "Watch!" More throttle still. Now the wall in front of them was so near that Lane thought that she could touch it just by stretching out her hand. The opening in front of them looked still to small. The would fly into it, rip the Zeppelin above to shreds and crash into the cave floor.
"Watch" Idris screamed again, "the Unconquered Sun rising into the sky!"