Phy ran a finger under his nose to stop the sneeze. “If you hadn’t brought that cat–”
“Sir, I take full responsibility, but Roswell is my friend,” Grex pleaded.
The swarthy gnome captain sighed. “Turn, bearing west-south-west.”
The crew latched the ropes to the stern, pulling hard, leather boots creaking against old wood as the airship turned.
“I’ve picked up the cat’s energy pattern, but it’s leading us into the dead zone.” Vander looked up at Phy with concern.
Another sigh. “Head her in, and let’s hope the humans don’t see us. What do they call this place?”
Vander glanced sidelong at the Captain. “Roswell … sir.”
Phy turned sharply. “Grex, you picked an ill-fated name for your friend.”
As they passed over the border, their masking charms failed, and the ship’s true beige-brown beauty revealed itself, brass cogs shining in the desert sun. The gnomes gathered, pressing their bulbous noses to the portholes to see the land below. Nothing but sand and scrub brush for miles. Good sign.
The ship landed on point, skittering slightly without its usual cantrips. “Should be just beyond that ridge, Captain.”
The landing team assembled. “Smooth your hair over your ears, and if you see a human, try to fit in. With luck, they’ll think we’re a traveling circus.” He focused his attention on the youth. “Grex, find your cat. If you get caught–”
Before they emerged fully from the zeppelin, a boxy vehicle came charging over the ridge, kicking up a plume of dust. Two men in suits stepped out; the driver remained behind. The gnomes froze, waiting.
“I believe this belongs to you?” The man held a black and white cat watching the proceedings with mild disinterest. Grex ran up, coming to a surprised halt before the stranger. The cat exchange occurred in wary silence.
“Nice balloon. Care to chat?”
Phy replied, “Maybe another time. Thanks.”
The airship resumed its flight unimpeded. Grex closed the door to his cabin. “You didn’t tell them anything, did you Roz?”
The cat eyed his gnome, lifted a paw, and began to wash.