((In progress story))
The airship’s tether tugged at the mast, the light craft trying to pull itself free from the ground. Water ran in finger thick rivulets down the sides of the ship’s envelope and joined the light downpour that coated the city below in a shine of false cleanliness. The airship’s gondola hung from a complex net of rigging beneath the ship’s rigid envelop. From pointed prow to curving aft it looked more like a sea vessel then something made to travel the skies. Two large turrets bulged from her the ship’s flanks, and a pair of smaller ball turrets were mounted along what would be her keel line. Twin propellers, massive in size, rested at the end of long drive shafts. A large metal differential housing was located centrally on the ship’s orderly deck. At the rear of the deck the raised housing of the armored command deck hunkered. A sweep of protected windows crowned the stern of her otherwise undecorated hull. Her size and shape denoted that the vessel was a fast cruiser, armed heavily enough to engage larger battleships, at range, and quick enough to evade their fire she would be vulnerable to close range attacks. The ship’s lack of national colors or flags marked her as one of the less reputable vessels in the sky.
A man in his early thirties leaned with his back against the differential casing running a short knife over the brown dirt on his nails. The man wore a thick tan leather boots and workman’s overalls with a suit jacket that was at one point in its life brown. A rubber re-breather mask hung from his belt on his left and a small dangerous looking silver pistol was strapped to his right hip below a collection of small tools.
He looked up suddenly and the short knife flicked out of sight into one of the sleeves of his jacket, and he sat back looking almost relaxed. The snap-click of the captain’s steel tipped boots quickly resolved out of the background creaking and groans of the ship’s rigging. Knee high boots ended in tightly fitted black pants, a white gunpowder burned blouse showed from under a brown leather bodice that hugged her curves flatteringly. A maroon waist length ‘Captain’s Cape’ issued from under a simple brown leather pauldron strapped to her left shoulder. A number of items important to her trade were affixed to, or hung from a number of belts, including a small arsenal of handguns, and knives that had, in the past served to give more then one person pause. Strands of short flaxen hair stuck out from under her low brimmed black cap.
Below decks electronic elevator’s drive began to humm, adding to the quiet din on the deck as it brought someone back to the ship. “That is the second one this month. You can’t keep doing that.” She said in quiet, confident voice, to the back of the man’s head. He stood slowly and turned, reaching up and placing his hands on the cool metal of the differential and leaning forward.
“You and I both told the kid not to bother my tools or interfere in my projects.” The man said in a quiet respectful tone, “She did both.”
“It doesn’t matter, she was an experienced rigger, now I need to find a new one.” The captain’s anger flashed behind her sea blue eyes but her voice did not betray her.
“Look boss, remember why you hired me.” He waited a beat, his mind wandering seven years back to the mixed look of fear and revulsion on the Warden’s face reflected in hers as hope and caution. His promise to help her, her promise to allow him his little pleasures. He continued. “I’m the only one who can bring him back as he was.” Her eyes narrowed and hardened, he was clearly not talking about the young rigger. “Do you want the kid back? I’ve got enough gas to do it right now.” He didn’t admit it at the moment, but that was his reason for the kill, it had been a clean kill, the long thin blade sliding up between her fourth and fifth rib up and into the kid’s heart. He remembered feeling the quiver of the muscle pulsating around the blade and shredding itself in the process.
“Fine,” she said quietly, “but, try and preserve some of her intelligence this time. We’ll have to get the corpse back.” She turned away, missing the tight smile that played across his features as the wine of the electric motor stopped.
Just as she turned away a string of red lights flickered to life throwing pools of crimson into the flood of dim yellow light of the overhead arc lamps. A moment later a loud klaxon started from below decks. The two looked at each other with a tired ‘What now’ look and both began moving together, the man checked his pistol then slid it back into its holster as he followed the woman in the captain’s cape towards the deck ladder. The duo took the sharp stairs two at a time, their hands gripping the patinaed metal of the railing with practiced ease. The captain turned a corner and yanked the sound powered phone from its cradle and placed it to her ear. “Talk.” She barked simply. Several nods later as the kalxon’s scream spooled towards silence, she said in a perfectly calm voice, “Ok, Send Cole and Stevenson to bring the rest of the crew back.” She paused thinking, “Send Pip with them, and send them armed. Departure in thirty minutes.” She turned to the man and as she hung the handset back in its cradle she said, “Get a report from Johnson, and meet me on the bridge.” He nodded and they both moved off quickly. The captain heading upward towards the bridge, and the man heading down towards the lift room in the belly of the ship.
Alice “Pip” Dodgson stood on the lift as the cables slowly wound out overhead lowering her and the two large men towards the invisible city below. She could feel it pulsing in the rain, energy and life running through the streets like current through a wire. She could feel something else too, the quiet silence of those who’s bodies continued working after their minds had died, those faceless hundreds who hadn’t survived. The chaos of the living and unliving walking and working together in a rain slick night created a simple steady melody in the back of her mind. But in that melody she could hear the discordant and rising tone of fear. She could hear the ringing symbol of pain and suffering, and she could hear it getting closer. She took a steadying breath and felt the calloused hand of Cole land lightly on her shoulder. “Don worry missy, we’ll take care a ya.” he said, his voice gruff but sure.
His calm demeanor played the stated baseline in the symphony. While the ever so slight fear and worry from James Stevenson added its frantic piccolo to the symphony. Some people would call what she did witchcraft, reading emotions, technically it was, but she had never asked for it, all she had ever wanted was to be first chair violin. She would have been too if her sister hadn’t gone and died. The doctor had given her parents a choice, and as it turned out they hadn’t been able to pay the toll when it came due. Alice was the only one who had stayed with her sister, and now due to a twist of genetics she was working with that same doctor, now disgraced and broken. “The crew are mostly together,” she said simply. “At a drinking establishment.” She pointed into the fog, her hand rising as they descended. She ran a quick estimate in her mind, two minutes on the lift, five minutes to get there, five minutes back, and four for the lift to return…left fourteen minutes maximum, to get the crew gathered, pay the tab and get clear. It would be tight.
The ship’s bridge was a cramped room, narrow windows looked out over the currently clear, wind swept deck. The Captain stood in the rear doorway of the room, her head in the even more cramped radio room. A single man operating a desk of dials and gauges one handed while the other hand held a headset to his ears. “I can’t get an explanation out of ATC, but they’ve cleared all ships for emergency departure with a high traffic warning. I know the Rising Star and the Betty Jones are prepping now. IA flight 644 was orbiting till this weather cleared, but she’s been quiet.”
She nodded and said, “Ok Wattsman, let anyone who’ll listen know that we’ll lifting directly.” She then turned around to a longer room across from the radio room. A long well lit steel table had a large paper map stuck to it with fairly powerful magnets. A large silver figure of the ship stood in the center of the map denoting their near the town. Several other less ornate magnets denoted the supposed locations of other air craft. The captain turned to the back of the room where one man sat in front of a radar terminal, three empty chairs sat beside him near three dark terminals. “As soon as we clear the mast,” she said, “go active on all radar and sing out on unknown targets.” She glanced at the radar operator and flashed a tight smile. “Whats your name?”
“Grant, Lee Grant,Captain.” His young features betrayed a level of nerves bordering on fear. His short hair was still damp from the rain, and half the buttons on his shirt were undone.
The Captain smiled, calmly, her icy blue gaze sending a slight chill down his spine. “Ok, you’ve got fifteen minutes, fix your shirt, and take a breath. It’ll get hectic when we lift, you’ll be doing the work of five until Blane and the rest of your crew get here. I’ll be counting on you to be our eyes.” She glanced at the other dark displays and said, “Better get the other domes up on standby. We might…” She paused and listened to a low rumble narrowing her eyes “…need them.” she finished as she turned, walking past the Wattsmen the radioman and into a small dark room behind his. “What?” she asked simply.
The figure in the room lay recumbent on a chair, her face, skyward as lights flickered and illuminated the nearby equipment. “…hydrogen plant, time to go…” the young girl laying in the chair said. “…Stevenson…JAMES! Stop looking at the fire and pay the bill.” her voice shook. “If that doesn’t get the others back to the ship nothing will.”
Alice watched the ball of fire billowing up in the distance, casting harsh shadows into the street and matching it with the rippling echoes of fear and worry. “Someone torched the hydrogen plant.” she said. “Time to go.” She looked around and saw one of her companions staring at the massive fire issuing into the rain. “Stevenson” she said as he stared vacantly. The innkeeper was also staring but she didn’t care much about him. He had named his figure and since Cole was busy herding the crewmen back towards the ship Stevenson had been left as her escort with the small sum they had taken to pay off the tab. “JAMES! Stop looking at the fire and pay the man.” She was firm as she felt the emotions roiling around her and James’s own roller coaster of fear and anger. “If that doesn’t get the others back to the ship nothing will.” She paused and nodded then glancing back over her shoulder unconsciously. “Yes Captain. James, We’re going now.” she said firmly. In a swirl of movement she picked the money from James’ hand, deposited it in the innkeeper’s, wrapped her arm around James’ and began pulling him towards the ship. It was then that the instruments started dropping out of the symphony in her mind. “Shit” she breathed.