Although this military zeppelin was much larger than the luxury airship she once took from Hollywood to New York, Celeste was beginning to discover that it lacked all of the amenities of its civilian counterpart. The interior hallways were lit by naked bulbs instead of elegant electrical lamps. The deck was bare metal instead of plush carpet. The chairs were hard and rigid instead of soft and cushioned. The worst thing, aside from the pervading smell of oil and iron, was the color scheme, which couldn’t even be called a color scheme because everything was gray. The walls were battleship gray, the floors were gunmetal gray, and the uniforms were storm-cloud gray. The only thing that wasn’t gray was the commandant, who wore all black from his leather hat down to his polished boots.
“Why are you here?” von Wartenburg demanded. He spoke in English, his words showing almost no accent and even less emotion.
“I’m here because your goons grabbed me in the jungle and, listen, none of this is our fault. It was those monsters out in the jungle that killed your men when all we wanted was—”
“Silence,” von Wartenburg barked.
“But it wasn’t our fault! That bigger monster that came after me didn’t like my screaming. Also, there was a bear. Did I mention the bear?”
“SILENCE.” This time von Wartenburg spoke in that strange language of his, the one that he had used on Celeste in the cargo bay to force her to drop her knife. Just like before, she understood it perfectly even though she had never heard the word until that moment. Also like before, she was powerless to resist the command. She tried to protest, but when she opened her mouth she could not make even a squeak.
“I had hoped that your physical beauty indicated superior breeding,” von Wartenburg said with all the emotion of a doctor discussing birth defect statistics. “But now I see that you lack the intelligence of a common sow.”
While she worked her jaw in mute frustration, he pushed back from the desk and strode to the window, a small porthole that overlooked the ancient city below. Grabbing a desktop microphone, he spoke commands that were echoed across the jungle through the zeppelin’s PA system. When he was satisfied that his soldiers below were carrying out his orders, he set down the microphone and strode to a decorative glass case containing a selection of German-made pistols.
Celeste strained against the invisible strings that seemed to bind her larynx. “Aa…,” she managed. “Aaaa…”
It was hardly louder than the squeak of a mouse, but it made von Wartenburg’s eyes widen a fraction of an inch. With such an impassive face, he might have made a great poker player, but Celeste had studied human expression for too many years to miss the clue. It told her that von Wartenburg was surprised she was able to get out any sound at all. Although she had uttered nothing more than a syllable, it proved that she could resist his sorcery and defy his will.