The way the Indian kid warned the off-worlders about him nettled Will, but there was no sense dwelling on it. He had four tied up grays, all of which refused to help him get to the helm. He undid the spring mechanism on his arm and tucked his six-shooter in his belt, then picked around the chamber, finding himself some piping and a cutting tool.
“All right, Dusty.” He wiped his hands on his trousers. “If’n were going to bring this flying ship down, I need you to get me around. I reckon there’s something like a steam engine pushing this thing, you know it?”
“I thought you were going to kill them,” said Dustu. “Retribution, you said.”
Will chuckled. “I get a little dramatic when I get frustrated. My buddy Ty is rubbing off on me.” He looked around the chamber. “I’m feeling a might destructive, however. What about that engine?”
“We can’t get near it.”
“It would kill us.”
Will pondered that. “Is there a driving rod or the like?”
Dustu shook his head.
“If you crash the ship you’ll kill us all.”
The knob-necked gray started to chatter.
“What’s he saying?” asked Will.
“I only understand the head tapping.”
Will put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “All right, Dusty. If we have any chance of getting away from them, we’ve got to bring the craft down. I reckon if we injure it just enough, we have a better than even chance they can get her down safely.”
Dustu shook his head.
“It has a better chance if you help.”
Dustu worked the confounding levers and knobs on the wall that made another panel disappear to reveal a passage.
“Y’all be good in here,” Will said.
They went through the craft, passing through a room with six big vats, probably the ones Jed told them about.
“Did you check the knots before we left them?” asked Dustu. “While you look around, I’ll make sure they’re secure.”
“They’re fine. And there’s nothing here I want to look at right now.”
Dustu took him to an entrance he thought might be the helm and tried it, but it wouldn’t open. Will pried at the panel and beat on it with the pipe to little effect.
“There’s a place they go when the machine doesn’t fly well,” said Dustu.
Will stopped pounding. “Why’re you holding out on me, boy? Let’s see her.”
Dustu took him to a chamber where several boxy machines blinked and whistled, tiny parts flicking with subtle movements, ducts connecting them together and leading out through the walls.
“Stand back,” said Will. Will jammed the pipe into the biggest one and sent pieces scattering. He hit it again and again like a shovel into dirt. The machine rattled and popped.
“Dusty, why don’t….”
The boy was gone.
“Tarnation.” He’d mangled the first machine pretty good, a wisp of smoke seeped out, so he went to the next.
“Sir.” Dustu stood in the passageway.
“There you are. I….”
Knob-neck and another gray appeared behind him. Will pulled his six-shooter and ducked behind the biggest machine, still smoking.
“What did you do, Dusty?”
“I couldn’t let you crash the ship.”
“Close the entry, kid. I’m going to finish this job, and we’re going down.”
“I’m sorry.” The boy looked like he stole his mother’s only blanket.
“Sorry about what?”
“These machines process refuse.”
“They’ve agreed to let you go.”
Will realized they hadn’t raised a hand, no weapons, but demons who loathed them this much wouldn’t just let him go. “Why?”
“Because they don’t want you to shoot them.” Dustu almost smiled for the first time. “And, although these machines aren’t critical, they’d like to have their refuse machines in working order.”
“All right.” Will lowered his gun and stood up. “But I have conditions.”
A few minutes later they were on the ground and the knob-necked off-worlder escorted them to the ship’s portal to the outside.
“I will stay,” said Dustu.
“It’s not fer you to say,” said Will. “They agreed.”
“It’s my free choice.”
“Free choice never had anything to do with it.”
The door vanished to reveal open plains.
“Look here, chief.” Will snarled and once more looked into the hateful chasm of the gray’s eyes. “We’re not going to lie down for you ever. The more you prey upon our people, the more we’re going to come after you.”
Knobneck tapped a few times, and for an incomprehensible reason, Will’s blood went cold. They stepped outside and the door reappeared, closing off the craft.
Will and Dustu dog-trotted away, heading east to look for some clue of there whereabouts.
“What did he say there at the end?” asked Will.
“Many of your Indians said the same.”
Will cursed and loped quietly for a while.
“They didn’t have the decency to save my hat.”