“Now, if Professor Braithwope could handle whatever is going on in the pilot’s bubble? I’m remembering how well he dances the support beam.”
The vampire was hopping after Bumbersnoot, wiggling his nose and making bunny noises. Bumbersnoot was not amused.
The headmistress said, “He will require supervision.”
Sophronia nodded and pointed to the squeak decks. “I was thinking you could take out the two up top. They have guns, so they are a bigger risk. Are you prepared for that?”
The headmistress nodded. “I think so. Physical attacks were never my strong point, and I’m afraid of heights—that’s why I stay inside all the time. But I’m willing to try.”
Sophronia couldn’t help being a little admiring. It was as if Mademoiselle Geraldine were an entirely different person. “Headmistress, you really are a remarkable actress.”
Mademoiselle Geraldine blushed. “Thank you, my dear. I might have been great, you know, quite great. But there’s more money and less risk in espionage work.”
Sophronia was startled. “Than the theater?”
“Oh my, yes, dear. Horribly dangerous, the West End. Have you ever spent any length of time in the company of dramatic artistic types?”
“Not unless you count Lord Akeldama.”
“Well, then, there you go.” Much to Sophronia’s disappointment, she didn’t elaborate.
So Sophronia returned to the plan. “I thought I would go after the dining hall contingent. We need to cut off the head—then chaos should result. That should make freeing the sooties much easier.”
The headmistress looked at the map. “But the dining hall is where most of the enemy is! I can’t let you do that. You’re only a student.”
“Ah, but I have the chicken.” Sophronia gestured at the exploding poultry, which was currently reclining on her bed in the wicker chicken version of a seductive pose. Sophronia grinned at her own thoughts—she was beginning to give it a personality.
Mademoiselle Geraldine was uncomfortable with the risk. She might be treating Sophronia as an equal, but she still harbored remnants of teacherly concern. “You should take Professor Braithwope with you. How about you supervise the professor and the bubble while I handle the squeak deck?”
Sophronia considered. “Then we all hit the propeller room and free up some sooties? Recruit them to our cause.”
The headmistress contemplated the numbers. “No, that leaves the bulk of the enemy with time to regroup. I think you were right with the first plan—the dining room and squeak decks must be first.”
The discussion continued on toward dawn, at which juncture two of the three conspirators felt like they had a plan. What Professor Braithwope thought was anyone’s guess. He had given up on Bumbersnoot hours ago and was humming to himself while looking through Sophronia’s dresses.
Sophronia’s eyes were heavy lidded.
Mademoiselle Geraldine yawned behind her hand.
Nevertheless, they persisted until the headmistress pointed out that Professor Braithwope had curled up inside the bottom of Sophronia’s wardrobe, on top of her shoes, and fallen asleep. He looked, as was the custom, mostly dead. The sun must be properly up.
With a shrug, Sophronia shut the wardrobe door. Best to keep out as much light as possible.
“Whatever else, we must be coordinated.” The headmistress gave a small sigh. “And we need the vampire.”
Sophronia nodded. “Agreed.”
“So we must hide out here for the day.”
Sophronia didn’t like that, for it left the sooties enslaved for that much longer. Not to mention that Madame Spetuna was in danger.
“You think they’ll search the ship again, with three gone and us missing?” Mademoiselle Geraldine moved the wicker chicken off the bed. “Make room there, handsome.”
“It’s possible.” Sophronia tugged up the low neckline of her bodice in a now ubiquitous adjustment. “Then again, it’s likely making them nervous, which means they’ll make mistakes.”
“We can only hope so. And now, you look dead on your feet, dear. Get out of that dress and get some sleep. I’ll take first watch.”
Sophronia wasn’t certain if she was happier to be out of the blasted ball gown or to be in bed. Both were accomplished rather more rapidly than delicacy dictated, but if Mademoiselle Geraldine chastised her for it, she didn’t hear.
Sophronia slept until well past noon.
Then she sat watch while the headmistress slept, waking her before sunset.
Mademoiselle Geraldine got out of bed with her red hair wildly tousled and her face paint smeared. She made some desultory repairs, using Sophronia’s small vanity and meager stores of rouge, but emerged looking somewhat like Lady Macbeth after the speech with the spoon. Or was it a knife?
Luckily, Sophronia still had the food she’d filched from the kitchen. Also, Dimity had a mound of tea nibbles set aside to take to the sooties. It was mostly cake, but better than nothing. They ate all of it, hoping they’d have an opportunity to steal more when they were out that evening.
Sophronia would have given a great deal for a decent cup of tea. She even contemplated sneaking down to the kitchen to brew herself a pot. She thought she could teach herself how. But even tea wasn’t worth the risk—dire straits indeed.
She fed a lump of coal to Bumbersnoot while they waited for the vampire to rise.
This time Sophronia wore her boy’s garb. Mademoiselle Geraldine made no comment at seeing one of her students in rolled-up trousers and a man’s shirt and vest. Sophronia put the leather pinafore back on, liking the protection and all the pockets. She then checked over her devices and weapons. Everything was sharp and in good working order. She went about finding what kit she could for Mademoiselle Geraldine as well, filching stuff from Dimity, Agatha, and Preshea with a silent apology for entering their private chambers. She thought her two friends probably wouldn’t mind. Preshea’s room yielded up a wide variety of potions, poultices, and poisons, all neatly labeled, a selection of which Sophronia intended to put to good use.
She consulted with Mademoiselle Geraldine about the soldier mechanical codes, her best guess on how to activate the wicker chicken, and if there were any guns available. Then they fell silent. Plans already made and espionage in order, they had little in common and no other conversation. It seemed silly to fall back on the weather at a time like this. Sophronia might have asked the headmistress about her past or how she had managed to keep up the charade of ignorance so long, but she thought Mademoiselle Geraldine would resort to absurdities about the theater again. Sophronia couldn’t take theatrical talk on only five hours’ sleep.
The vampire emerged from the wardrobe looking mercurial and refreshed.
“Ladies.” His tone was one of surprise. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company first thing in the morning?”
“Evening, good sir,” corrected Mademoiselle Geraldine.
“Is it? How droll. I have slept the day away?” He looked thoughtful. “I’m starving. Any tea?”
“Don’t you mean blood, Professor?” Sophronia was gentle with him.
“Blood, whot? No. Or. Yes. Ah, vampire. Right. Why did I do that?”
“You wanted to live forever?” It was the only reason Sophronia could conceive.