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Octavia watched strawberry tart dribble down her brother’s chin like venom. Herbert made a mess of everything he could get his hands on since Father had died. One of these days, she was going to clean it all up and send him back to the sooty, ink-stained desk where he belonged.

“Octavia, I’m going to help you.” Claudia came up beside her.

“You are?” Octavia looked up in surprise, had her face betrayed her thoughts?

“With your hair, everyone can see the top of your head.” Claudia hooked her arm through Octavia’s elbow and they skirted around the crowd to an alcove.

“Come to the race with me.” Claudia whispered as she fussed with the dark curls.

“Skip the race and come flying with me instead.” Octavia faced the crowd, searching for someone to stand in her best friend’s place and usurp Hubert.

“I’m being serious, why don’t you come?” Claudia insisted. From behind she had missed the earnestness in Octavia’s eyes. “You deserve to be there after all the work we’ve put into this ship.”

“It is your airship, Claude. I was only too glad to help. I wouldn’t be able to stand it, staring up at the sky as you fly away. Its better I don’t go at all. I’ve been looking at the schedule. The race starts at eight. You’re allowed on the field to light the fire at six, what time will you be getting up?”

“At five,” she answered. When Octavia’s laughter died down Claudia added “I’ve been practicing a month.”

“I know, but you won’t be able to sleep for nerves. If the telegraph office was open, I’d wish you good luck at four thirty.”

“You won’t be up at four thirty.” Claudia poked her with a hairpin to tease.

“How do you think I can possibly sleep?” Octavia exclaimed “You’re going to master the whole race. You’ll win a swarm of wooing sponsors. Next year, your ship will be even better.” Octavia exclaimed in excitement and Claudia practically squealed.

“Can’t you come to the finish line at least?” Claudia begged leaning her head over the short woman’s shoulder.

“I doubt it. Herbert is going to be a bear this week, I can already tell.”

“How? Can’t he decide which hand to hold his drink in?” Claudia asked shifting beside her to look through the crowd but catching Octavia’s wrist and pulling it away from her hair. “Herbert is not the one picking at his scalp. Is something bothering you?”

“I still have a bit of a headache from polishing all your brasswork. I’m going to talk to a few more people before I disappear for the night. But good luck, I know you’re going to fly beautifully!” Octavia hugged Claudia and squeezed her extra tight for a few moments. Would she ever be allowed to help with Claud’s airship again after this week?

“I promise not to crash,” Claudia whispered lifting her nose out of the way of Octavia’s head. When she pulled away and looked down at her friend “I’ll think of you at four thirty in the morning.” They parted laughing.
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For the third time that night, Maximillian wondered how much this insane party had cost. The band, the hors d'oeuvres, hell, even the punch must have cost the family a small fortune. Thankfully everything was free, so Max didn't feel too bad about helping himself to the spiked punch.

Max never felt comfortable around parties, or any social situation for that matter. The only reasoned he had been invited in the first place was because of his connections to the firm and his relation to Mr. Dorrsett. It felt strange not being here with his old friend, but it seemed rude to refuse the invitation. So, Maximilian Fischer, Airship Engineer and Pilot, dusted off his party suit and made himself presentable. As awkward as he was, he tried his best to enjoy himself. Who knows when he would get another chance.

After finishing his second glass of punch, Max noticed the heavy steps of Hubert Dorrsett coming up from behind him. He rolled his eyes and steeled himself for what was to come next.

"Fischer! I hope you are enjoying yourself." he said. His tone was polite, but Max and Hubert knew each other well enough to know what was really going on. Hubert had come to gloat.

"Yes, thank you. I was surprised to receive the invite, considering my position." Max said, putting his now empty glass on a nearby table.

"Come now, it's the least I can do. I couldn't think of a much better way to celebrating you leaving us." Hubert said.

Celebrating my termination, you mean. Thought Max. Hubert turned the company upside-down even before Gregory's funeral, and one of his first orders of business was to sack many of the engineers who had disagreed, crossed or otherwise annoyed Hubert. It was a long list, and it included Max. After that, Hubert decided to downsize the workforce. Hundreds of manufacturers and airship crew-members were now out of jobs. All for the sake of the bottom line.

"Look at it this way, Fischer." Hubert began. In the years that Max had known him, he couldn't recall a single time where Hubert referred to him by Max or even Mr. Fischer. "Think of it as an opportunity to start fresh. You're not shackled to my father's company anymore, so know you can spread your own wings and seize your destiny."

"Far away from PAS, I assume." Max said dryly. No matter how Hubert tried to spin it, he only saw this as a chance to get rid of a troublesome rival.

"Of course. Perhaps you can find work as a clerk? Or perhaps as a designer of tractors?" Hubert said, keeping obnoxiously chipper. It took nearly all of Max's willpower not to make Hubert eat the empty glass now on the table, but he wouldn't dare do something so shameful in Gregory's house. The man was more of a father to Max than his own father had been, and his work at PAS made him truly happy.

Thanks to Hubert, it was all lost. All of his other projects would be passed on to engineers more to Hubert's liking. Perhaps he could sell one of the designs he had been working on in his spare time? Project Vulcan showed promise, for as radical as it was.

"We shall see." said Max. "If you will excuse me." he quickly bowed and walked away from Hubert, trying his best not to let his anger show.
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Attending to her Mother’s beckoning wave Octavia joined the small family group which currently included Claudia.

“I wanted to take a moment while we are all together to wish you good luck in your air race, Claudia. We are sure you will perform well. I am already planning a dinner so you can come and tell us all about it when you return.”

“Thank you so much Mrs. Dorrsett,” Claudia beamed at the praise and the shared excitement.

“You’ve been a dear friend to Octavia, especially lately.” Mrs. Dorrsett paused meaningfully. “We can’t think of a better way to show our appreciation of you, and encourage you in your own pursuits, so Hubert has agreed that next year the Prime Aeronatutical Society will sponsor your new airship.”

Both young ladies gasped. Claudia reached out to hug Mrs. Dorrsett. She gushed gratitude to Hubert.

Octavia could feel the color drained out of her face and threw her hands over her cheeks, hoping to appear delighted. “Are you serious?”

“I’m surprised you hadn’t suggested the PAS sponsoring her before.” Hubert leaned over his younger sister, an accusing tone lacing his words, “I could have done something for her this year.”

“She doesn’t need your help. Her airship is beautiful.” Octavia retorted.

“But the PAS,” Claudia exalted. “Next year we won’t be piecing things together, I’ll have the best technology available. No one will be able to compete! Next year I’m going to win. This year I just” she stopped herself from saying anything about ‘coming back in one piece’, “have to do the best I can with what I have.”

“You will, and your ship will prove to be grand.” Octavia proclaimed.

Try as she might, Octavia could not coax Claudia away from making future plans with Hubert. Octavia’s feigned headache was turning into a real one. She retreated outside.

Octavia knew Claudia was going to be safe and careful and do beautifully in the race. But without the need to compete for a sponsor she would lose rankings. Her performance would be lacking. If any other sponsors did happen to show interest Claudia would shun them in favor of the PAS. Claude would never have the chance of a first race again, and she was going to squander it.

This very week Octavia was taking down Hubert, and the PAS itself might not survive. But the destruction would not culminate before the race was over. The opportunity for other sponsors would be lost. Octavia was putting Claudia’s dreams on the guillotine.

“What should I do?” Octavia lamented and swiped tears away as quickly as she could. Grown as she was, she desperately needed her Papa with her. But he was long gone. When the tears were all replaced with a heavy dryness, she left the evening breeze behind and returned to the birthday party. All traces of the cry were gone, she forced a smile but her youthful exuberance had been sobered.

The first person she saw was Maximillian Fischer. Father had prized and honored the young engineer. Hubert loathed him.

A wave of relief rushed over her at the sight. Now she knew. Someone’s dream was going to live through the week. She would make sure it was her father’s. She set her gait and didn’t alter the pace even when doubts bombarded her. No hesitation. This was the beginning of her contest. Now she was the one vying for support. Start friendly, Octavia decided, then get into the bleak business.

“Mr. Fischer, how good of you to come.” Octavia stood before the man, anticipation brightening her face. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you again. Where are you working these days?”
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Max was surprised to see young Octavia trying to mingle with him. He certainly knew of her, but the actual amount of words they had spoken to each other before tonight could have been counted on two hands. He knew that Gregory dotted on her, and that she shared her father's love of airships. He wondered how she could have become so pleasant while Hubert grew up to become a conniving bastard of the highest order.

"Starting tomorrow, I won't be working anywhere." he began. "Your brother has deemed it fit to let me go. I can only assume that he's invited me to this party to embarrass me further." He couldn't be mad at Octavia for her brother's doings, as he knew the siblings didn't exactly get along very well. Very few people could get along with Hubert Augustus Dorrsett, for that matter.

"I have considered maybe starting my own company, as I have a few designs that have potential. Failing that, I could start racing like dear Claudia. But what of you? What are you up to these days now that your brother runs the company?"
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Octavia's smile grew as he spoke. She silently rejoiced at the timing, catching Mr. Fischer before he began to work on any of his potential plans. Farther would doubtless have considered them brilliant, sure to succeed in the proper environment.

Dear Claudia? Was he some relation or admirer of Claudia? Octavia's eyes glowed to learn Mr. Fischer was some sort of friend of a friend. But this was no time to think of Claudia, or let on about how negatively the dear might be affected.

"I have had a few personal projects. Helping Claudia with her airship being one. Now that it is ready I can focus on Hubert."

Octavia shifted closer and lowered her voice. She folded her hands casually but scrutinized his face for a reaction as she continued carefully.

"I believe my brother is not doing as well as he thinks he is. I cannot see his vision for PAS coming to fruition."
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"You can certainly say that again." quipped Max. "I'd say he's about three months away from completely running PAS into the ground. He's decimated the hired hands and axed many of the engineers. I think he's more interested in having everyone agree with him rather than doing a decent job."

Max could see Hubert out of the corner of his eye, hobnobbing with a few of his favorite cronies. The young engineer attempted to take Octavia's hand and lead her to the dancefloor. "If we wish for a bit more privacy, then maybe I could offer you a dance." Maximillian wasn't a great dancer, but he was sure that he could fake it for long enough to finish his conversation with Octavia.
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Octavia set her gloved hand into Mr. Fischer's and walked away with him.

"A dance sounds like a charming idea, thank you." The dance floor was well used, but there was always room for two more.

Octavia tried to recall if Mr. Fischer had been at their parties before. His name certainly came up enough around here. Mother would ask how Maximillian's projects were going, she loved long dignified names. Father would talk about Max, the mathematician and his engineering, his flying, and his heart for the work.

Right from the start Octavia had avoided taking sides between her father and brother. Max Fischer had not even been grown yet when Father brought him into the PAS, and he had nothing to do with her life. Octavia deliberately decided to hold no opinion on the young man, that way she couldn't possibly be jealous of him. She loved flying with her father, their rambling conversations, and little projects at home together. There was no need to bother about how much more time Max might or might not have gotten with her Father in the long hours at work. Now, Mr Fischer was certainly the closest connection she could get to Father at the PAS.

Octavia settled her hand on his shoulder and waited to continue the conversation until they were dancing at a discrete distance from others. Though she had already figured for the perfect scenario and for multiple disasters, Octavia put the calculation to him. What better way to find a mathematician's interest than an equation? Especially an equation in which Hubert losses.

"If Hubert's company wasn't the only one with access to the latest innovations, and competitors' new designs were publicised before the PAS unveils its new ships," a sly smile crept across her mouth, "how long do you project Hubert could then sustain his so called success?"
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"I think it would sink like lead, honestly." Max replied. "Anyone capable of making anything new or meaningful for the aerospace market has been let go. The layoffs will help his bottom line for a little while, but I give him six months to a year unless he can pull off a miracle. If he can't, then his only choice would be to sell the company." It was true, Hubert honestly didn't have long with the company. It was a damn shame to see it all fall apart like this, but it was completely out of his hands now.

Octavia was a skilled dancer, much better than Max. Still, talking about airships helped put his mind off of the fact that she was dancing circles around him.

"What about you? If your father's company dissolves, then what comes next? Are you planning to start your own company?" Max was very interested in Octavia's stake in all of this. She didn't own the company, but it was still her father's legacy. Maybe she was planning to continue where her father left off and she was looking to hire. If she had asked him, he probably would have said yes on the spot, regardless of money.
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"I already have a company, several." Octavia replied simply as she moved to take the lead in the dance and rotate their placement until her back was to the room. Thus no one else one could read the truth on her lips.

"I am in the process of getting them everything they need to compete with Hubert. The excitement should generate a renewed interest in competing with the PAS for the best innovations. New development should open up employment opportunities for our stray engineers before they've floundered into other fields."

Octavia endeavored to turn them again so that Max' facial reaction would not be visible to the crowd. The music was at its loudest creschendo, but her heart was racing, she couldn't delay any longer. She rolled up on her toes to be closer to his ear.

"All that being said, I don't have months to wait for Hubert to ruin himself. I've decided to sink him this week. Would you be interested in helping me move an airship?"
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"Move an airship? As in illegally?" Max asked, trying not to show his surprise. As much as he hated Hubert for what he had done, but he wasn't sure if he could stoop to petty theft and espionage. That is, until he thought about what Hubert was really doing.

Max thought about all the engineers and builders who were now out of work. He thought about the company that the old man had worked so hard to build, all to be flushed right down the crapper. He thought about all the dreams that he still had and would now never get to see. All because of Hubert.

"Officially, I can't answer that question. Unofficially, I still have the keys to the hanger where they keep the Orion. With Hubert in charge, she's destined to be mothballed or worse. I think she could do with one last journey. Better yet, I can also give you the names of a few good crewmembers." Here we go. he thought to himself. In for a penny...
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Octavia watched the engineer think. She didn't realise her teeth were clenched until he agreed and she relaxed.

"You really are brilliant, Mr. Fischer. I said 'airship', and you knew 'Orion' all on your own."

The song finished and the dancers stopped to applaud the musicians' performance. Octavia stood just in front of Max and turned her head to continue their conversation over her shoulder as she clapped.

"If it really requires more than two of us to fly, I will use the telegraph here in Papa's study to contact your crew members and direct them to meet at the hangar. We don't really need many though, do we? I only need to get the ship- well, I'll tell you later, when we're in the air." She knew the fewer people involved the better. Hubert was very good at getting people to do what he wanted, even when they didn't like him.

"There's a little airship out in front of the garage, still heated, to take us to the hanger. Did you take a cab here tonight or will we need to send your vehicle home? You can leave tonight, can't you?" She asked eagerly before turning to face him and continuing on at once. "I've packed a long work coat to cover your good clothes. I've brought meals already made. Of course there are always extra goggles and warm coats on the Orion for flying." She prattled on hoping to show she had planned well enough and convince him that they could in fact leave without delays.
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"I took a cab, yes." Max said, suddenly excited. It seems as though his fortunes might turn around after all. "There really isn't anything I need from home, so I can definitely go tonight."

Max glanced over his shoulder at Hubert, who was busy schmoozing over a few of the other party guests. "One last thing. If Hubert sees us leaving together, he might think were up to something. He's nothing if not paranoid."

The engineer looked Octavia straight in the eye as he spoke. "We can't let him think we are friends, so... you need to slap me." he said. He felt ridiculous, but he knew this was a good idea. "Pretend I said something really boorish and insulting and hit me. It will give me an excuse to leave early. From there, I can start prepping the Orion."
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Octavia raised her eyebrows but took a half step sideways to give herself more room to swing.

Two recent suitors had not listened well when Octavia informed them that she, and her inheritance, were not interested in their personal company nor their businesses. Hubert had needed to step in to help convince them to take their interest elsewhere. In those two cases, brother and sister had unanimously agreed. Just thinking of them helped to darken Octavia's countenance with a fierce scowl to pull off the ruse. Mr Fischer's suggestion might work better than he expected.

"I never intended to let you out of my sight, but-"

Octavia's hand flew from her side and slapped across the engineer's face. If Hubert happened to be watching, she could not hold back. The sound drew attention like moths to a flame.

"My father trusted you," Octavia finished. Her eyes ablaze she stepped toward Max. Her hand curled into a fist, ready to swing into his jaw even harder a second time.

If she merely backed away now, in surprise and disgust, she'd have to continue relying on Hubert's intervention. With any luck, this would be a sufficiently public demonstration to keep thick headed admirers and fortune hunters from pushing her too far. Surely Mr. Fischer was coordinated enough to dodge a punch. She hoped. They'd find out. She swung at him again.
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The slap came fast and hard, but Max was ready for it. Still, when it connected, it hurt like hell. The engineer was starting to think she had some practice with this. Max was surprised, however, by the closed fist that came at his way next.

Max had never been the most athletic person, having spent more days reading that running outside. Still, instinct took over and he ducked. Taking the hint, he made a hasty retreat out of the ballroom. The room filled with laughter, and none laughed louder than Hubert.

Laugh it up, you bastard. We will see how you feel in the morning. he thought to himself. He quickly made his way to the front garage, hoping that the airship that Octavia promised would be waiting for him. The sooner he could get out of the monkey suit he was wearing and into some practical clothing, the better.
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Mrs. Dorrsett did not take time for a full explanation, but agreed Octavia was in no mood for further mingling. She permitted her daughter to take her headache off to bed and was surprised by the fervor with which Octavia thanked her and hugged her goodnight.

By the time Octavia approached the garage, her gown had been exchanged for flying clothes. Much like a bathing costume with it's skirt over more practical trousers.

Most importantly, a satchel hung from her shoulders. Inside were the blueprints and designs Octavia had spent the last several weeks aquiriing from the PAS to redistribute to other companies. It was the one thing not packed on the little airship in front of the garage. She would never have altered her own plans if it had meant losing control of these documents. But Mr. Fischer's suggestions seemed to be working out so far.

Octavia had made final preparations for the little airship earlier that evening when she was supposed to be doing her hair. She had manufactured sheaths for the lights around the garage to shadow the ship, making its disappearance less noticeable. But the lights would still be shining across the yard and visible from the house as usual. She didn't want anyone else sneaking around their home undetected.

Octavia crossed between the lights into shadow. Her fingers tingling with excitement that mimicked the sound of her feet dancing up the rungs to the platform. The scent of smoke welcomed her and promised a quick ascent into this adventure.

"I'm ready. I trust you've found everything in order?" Octavia asked, careful not to use Mr. Fischer's name lest it carry on some breeze to Huber's ear.
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"Yes, I do." Max said, now that he was fully equipped and committed to this dangerous new task. After what happened in the ballroom, it was far too late to have second thoughts.

"I've gone over some of my own technical notes regarding the Orion, and it looks like we might be able to pilot it ourselves. Depending on how far we are going, of course." he said as they walked. "Which reminds me. After we do this, what happens next? I'm all for screwing the corporation, but where do we go from here? Should we start our own company?"

After leaving the party in a rush, he quickly went home to grab a few necessities. Mostly just warm clothes and some tools. The last thing he picked up before he left his apartment was a gun. He desperately hoped that he wouldn't need it, but Mr. Dorrsett taught him to expect the unexpected.

When they approached the small airship on the platform, he let Octavia take the lead and pilot the ship to the hanger, where the Orion and adventure awaited.
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Octavia settled into the driver's seat for flight and their delayed conversation. She flew the little Dragonfly with practiced ease. The Dragonfly did not belong to her either, but she did not see any need to make that fact known. It was only going as far as the hangar after all, where she would be hiding it behind the draped tarps and hoping no one would notice it on first inspection. Let Hubert worry a little.

Besides, it was good for discrediting her brother. "Two airships stollen!" Quickly amended with the correction "No, only one ship. It is not as bad as Hubert Dorrsett made it sound at first."

The Dragonfly would also point to her own initiative, there was no sense in making it seem like she had been kidnapped. If anyone had been kidnapped, it might be more accurate to say she had spirited away Mr. Fischer. Hubert would see her fingerprints all over the whole scheme and thanks to Me Fischer's departure from the party would be oblivious to his involvement.

He was asking about starting companies again and this time it was not him, or her, but we. For his help now, she would gladly help him in return with his endeavors.

Father had been a shrewd businesses man. Huber was a disaster. Mr Fischer's success could not be foretold. But Farther believed people had a right to fail, as well as the right to seek good advice and avoid it.

"You said you had a few promising designs. Are you interested in seeing them built as experimental or in starting a company to mass-produce them?" Octavia rattled on quickly, not allowing time for him to reply until she had asked all of her questions.

"Would you like your own company? I mean, would you like to oversee all of its operations and the business side of things? Or would you prefer to be working primarily on the ships themselves in some company that would support you?

"You see, Father left me departments in several organizations. I'm testing the amount of influence I have there. I may be able to get you into an established company, or I'd gladly help you start your own if that is what you prefer. I expect you'll be back in the hangars working to your heart's content long before I'm done cleaning up after Hubert."

Now that they were away from the house they had a few minutes to talk. She took a wide arc to the Orion's hangar to avoid being noticed flying above the security stop at the gate on the road. Even Hubert couldn't dismiss the security staff for every hour of the night. Yellow light shone through the little windows of the booth in the distance and a long rectangle fell on the street through the open door. The security guard sat outside in the pleasant darkness, leaning back in his chair with the worn soles of his boots propped up on the gatepost. His cap rested on his knees and the breeze ruffled his hair. Work was dull but at least the night was fine.
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Max grinned when Octavia mentioned his potential designs, as well as the possibility of a boost for his own work. He was sure that he could make it on his own, but there was nothing wrong with accepting help. Refusing help and trying to work it out on your own was the exact kind of stupid Hubert would engage in.

"I do have a few designs I'm working on, but it's all in the blueprint stages right now. If we can get some prototypes built, I would love to see them start a new line of airships for a new company. I loved working for your dad, but part of me wants to be in a position where I can call all the shots. See if I can do better than Hubert, you know?"

As the airship began to pull around to the Orion's hanger, Max saw a security guard sitting near one of the gateposts. It was hard to tell from a distance, but it looked like Smythe.

Smythe was a big guy with a big heart, as well as a wife and two kids. He wasn't particularly loyal to PAS, but money was money.

"I know him. I might be able to talk him out of reporting us if we can't sneak around. What do you think?"
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Octavia shook her head slowly, watching for any other sign of movement in the darkness below.

"Best case scenario, we get a full night's head start. Second best scenario, and probably best for your friend, he doesn't notice until it's too late and does his job reporting like he should, but you are not identified.

"You are my secret tonight Mr. Fischer, and revealing yourself is only to be a last resort. If we were caught right now, I will make a distraction and you are to escape so my brother can't have one more thing against you. I could face him without being destroyed, but it would end my best chance of destroying him, so I'm not getting caught either."

"Can you find a hat to hide your face a bit?" She added almost as an afterthought. She glanced his way to see if he was wearing a hat she hadn't taken time to notice earlier.

They floated the Dragonfly to a graceful landing in a shadow. Nothing else seemed to stir in the night as they stole to the hangar door.
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"Yeah, one moment." Max rummaged through his bag really quickly to find a suitable hat. It didn't match his outfit at all, but it would have to do. Once properly attired, he closed up his bag and watched as Octavia casually landed the Dragonfly. It was good to know that she was a skilled pilot as well. This crazy scheme might actually work.

Once the airship was parked, Max let Octavia lead the way to the hanger door. Smythe was standing nearby, looking bored. "If we're not gonna talk to him, we need to distract him. I suppose we could throw something." Max said keeping his voice hush and picking up a decent sized rock.

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