Sunday, September 23, 2012

Orphans of the Celestial Sea, E-2, C-1

The story so far…

Tom Cain rescued sisters Nikki and Willow Keats from psychotic Draggers and a Mist infestation with the help of sharpshooter Agatha West. They fled Milton on the apparently deserted airship Hecate. As they were pulling out of Milton, a young woman appeared at the door to the bridge, but she ran away before any of the crew could ask her what had happened.
Now they limp toward the nearest repair station on one engine, with heavily damaged controls.

Episode 2 
Chapter 1

“Town ahoy Captain!” Willow withdrew the spyglass from her eye with a grin and leaned back from the railing of the Hecate’s outer deck. She’d raided the spare clothes from the old crew and now wore a pair of flight-goggles, a bomber hat, and an oversized navy pea-coat that she’d belted at the waist with a yellow silk scarf.
“Is it the right one?” Tom furrowed his brow, squinting at the horizon.
Willow rolled her eyes. “Yeah Tom. We took the course heading I gave, arrived within minutes of the timetable I plotted, but it’s the wrong town. Try to have a little faith.”
Tom smiled at her. “Sorry, I’m new to this.”
“Don’t apologise! You’re the Captain, try to act like it, ‘kay?”
“Hey, you two mind moving aside? I’d like to see where I’m steering.” Nikki’s muted voice came through the glass of the bridge. She was doing the best she could on Hecate’s smashed control console, but it made her irritable. She’d returned Tom’s flight jacket and raided the mystery-passenger’s wardrobe for a black-trimmed red wool overcoat to keep her warm. She didn’t quite have the curves to fill it out yet, but if she’d been a few years older it would fit her like it was made for her.
Of the mystery passenger herself, they’d seen no further sign. Tom had locked all the food and drink away at night in an attempt to draw her out, but she either had her own supplies wherever she was hiding, or was too scared to take the bait.
Tom and Willow walked around the side of Hecate’s bridge and in through the forward hatch.
“I should fix us some lunch.” Tom turned toward the galley.
Willow groaned. “Lemme guess, beans and bacon?”
Tom shrugged. “I like beans and bacon, ‘sides it’s the only thing I know how to cook.”
Willow shuddered. “We have got to get someone aboard who can do better in the galley.”
“You wanna cook, go ahead, but I’m not taking any more crew on ‘till we’ve done some cargo runs and can pay ‘em proper.”
“Don’t want to give up more of your share?”
“Exactly, Hecate could be great for all of us. It’s a new start, an’ if we take the right steps we can all live on her as long as we want. Aint you ever wanted to see the world?”
Willow’s eyes crinkled at the corners like she was holding back a smile. “Of course.”
Agatha was bustling around the galley when they arrived. “There’s no food!”
Willow laughed. “There’s hard-tack.” She opened a cupboard and tapped one of the biscuits inside against the table. It sounded like a block of wood.
Agatha made a face.
“I’m cooking up some beans and bacon.” Tom grabbed a pan and slapped it down on the stove.
Agatha’s face grew even more twisted. “Bleh, hard-tack it is.”
“I thought you liked my beans!”
“The first time. Second time they were okay too, but after the fifth meal, I have to say they started to become just a mite repetitive.”
“That’s it, I’ve had enough abuse for one day.” Tom turned the heat off the pan. “I’m gonna hit the town and get myself a nice steak and potatoes in a few hours anyhow.”
Willow sighed. “I wonder if they’ll have pork pie.”
Agatha paused with the biscuit half-in her mouth. “Oh don’t! You’ve got me drooling now. How are we gonna pay for all this?”
“I was gonna talk to you about that. Armoury has way more than we could ever need, why not sell a rifle or two?”
“Yeah, I’ll go have a look.” Agatha set the hard-tack down on the table and turned to go.
“Lock our sidearms away while you’re at it.” Tom tossed her his revolver.
“You sure?” Agatha felt the revolver at her side. “I-I don’t feel right without it on.”
“It’s a big town, we’ll be safe enough.”
“Yeah… okay.” She ducked out of the doorway.
Tom rubbed his jaw, it was starting to develop some stubble, but he was loath to use another man’s razor. “You reckon she’ll stay on?”
Willow nodded. “Yep, she’s got nowhere else to be. She’ll grouse about it, but she’ll come ‘round.”
“And the two of you?”
“That’s a little trickier. Nikki wants to stay, but says we got obligations.”
“What do you say?”
Willow sighed. “I say our family’s prolly all dead. That means we’re free.”
“Free? Why wouldn’t you be free?”
Willow looked away. “Oh, just family debts… you know.”
Tom was about to respond when the zeppelin gondola started to shudder rhythmically. A deep rumble came from the starboard engine. He dashed for the bridge with Willow close behind.
The door to the bridge was locked so Tom hammered with his fist. As he was pounding the shaking and noise ceased. Hecate went eerily silent without any engines running, just the hiss of wind past the canopy to let them know they were still moving.
“Who is it?” Nikki’s voice from the other side.
“Open the damned door Nikki! What’s going on!”
The door clicked and swung open.
“Engine troubles.” Nikki slid back into the pilot’s chair.
“Obviously! Why was the door locked?”
Nikki raised an eyebrow. “You told me to lock up when you or Agatha wasn’t around.”
“Right… right. What’s the situation?”
“Looks like the engine ran out of oil. I couln’t see it ‘cause that gauge is smashed.” She waved at the array of mostly-broken dials above her station. “I think I got ‘er shut down before the engine was completely destroyed. We’ll have to glide the rest of the way and hope the boys manning the mooring tower are lookin’ sharp today.”
“You’re kidding me. Glide a fifty ton airship in, close enough to a dead-stop that a half-dozen boys crewing the tower can reign it in?”
“Do we have a choice?”
Tom glanced out the bridge windows. The town was rapidly approaching. “How long ‘till we hit… err land.”
Nikki gave an aggravated sigh. “About five minutes. Look, this isn’t as easy as it looks. I’m trying to gauge the wind, bleed off some speed by fishtailing back and forth, while keeping enough momentum to make it there. Is there something else you could be doing?”
Tom nodded. “I’ll double up the rigging.” He turned and raced from the bridge. Finally something he knew better than the girls aboard. He’d been a rig-monkey for two years, but even with that practice it would be tight getting four extra guylines in place in under five minutes.
The last line clipped in place just as the airship was caught by the mooring towers. The boys down below were sharp, they had six of the lines tied off in a matter of seconds. The stays groaned, cables stretched to their fullest and one of the towers leaned alarmingly far. Tom was thrown forward from his perch, but clung tightly to the rigging with calloused hands. When they’d settled in place he hung for a moment, suspended over the town of Havenvale. Best view in the house.
Tom swung his legs up to the rigging and scrambled down to Hecate’s outer deck.
“Are you crazy!” The Portmaster came storming onto the top of the nearest mooring tower. “Damn near wrecked us you maniacs!”
Tom smiled back. “My apologies. We didn’t have much choice, lost our last engine about five minutes ago.”
“Oh….” The look of anger on the Portmaster’s face faded. “Well, you come to the right place then. We can fix durn near anything, if you’ve got the price.”
Tom grabbed a spare bit of rigging that hung down from the envelope and swung across to the tower. “How’s the market for lead these days?”
The Portmaster frowned. “Look, can I talk to your Captain? I’d rather not have to repeat myself.”
“He is the Captain.” Willow copied Tom’s move and swung across to the tower.
“Is not!” called Agatha from the deck.
The Portmaster looked from one to another of the teens. “Well, is he or ain’t he?”
Tom glared at Agatha and mouthed, “Not now.” She folded her arms and frowned.
“I am the Captain. Hecate is our salvage after the previous crew was wiped out in a Dragger attack at Milton.”
The Portmaster whistled. “That so? We was wonderin’ why the regular flight never came in from Milton. How bad was it?”
“Bad…. Far as I know the four of us are the only ones to make it out sane and alive.”
The boys manning the tower had swung a gangplank across to the Hecate’s deck. Nikki and Agatha walked across to join them.
The Portmaster sized up the crew and smiled. “You’re the whole crew? Just you four?”
Tom beamed. “Yep, Hecate was banged up pretty bad, but we got ‘er here.”
The Portmaster’s grin grew two sizes larger. “Is that a fact?” He hastily wiped the smile from his face and checked his pocketwatch. “Aright, I’ll contact the Guild. A rep’ll meet you here in, say two hours?”
“Sounds good.” Tom slung the long canvas bag with the rifles over his shoulder and climbed down to the ground.
When the rest of the crew arrived he gave them a big grin. “We made it! Time to celebrate.”
Havenvale was as dirty a town as Tom had seen in his travels. There were berths for a dozen airships, but only three in port aside from Hecate. Beyond the port were rows of machine shops and hangars. Sparks flew from welding torches, hammers beat metal into shape, and apprentices ran in every direction carrying a variety of parts. Beyond that was a row of saloons and a few shops for the visiting aircrew. The buildings in town were mostly five or six stories high, made from brick and mortar, every surface varnished a dark hue from years of greasy smoke. There were a few refuge towers on the outskirts, but with the large buildings in town, people would simply climb to the roofs during a Mist attack.
The packed-earth streets and boardwalks bustled with activity, most of it on foot, though horse-drawn wagons were common. There were even a few horseless trucks and autos.
A little guy, about Willow’s height, wearing a flat-cap and suspenders waited outside Havenvale’s telegraph office with a toolbox and large duffle. “Hey, you from the Airship that just docked?”
Tom nodded. “Yeah.”
“Can you ask your Captain if  he could use a hand in the machine room? I’m a journeyman mech, looking for a berth. I work real hard and don’t eat much.”
Tom frowned. “I’m the damn Captain, is that so hard to believe?”
Agatha shook her head. “No you’re not.”
Tom rounded on her. “Look Agatha, I’m getting sick of your attitude! I’m the only one with years of flight experience. Who else is suited to the job?”
“Two years of fixing rigging does not prepare you to command an airship.”
“Who led you three safely out of Milton? Who got us aboard and free from the Draggers?”
“I freed Hecate from the Draggers, remember?”
“Yeah, good shooting, but who told you to shoot?”
Agatha rolled her eyes. “You told me to make my shots count. What kind of lame-brained advice is that anyhow? Like I was just going to waste them doing some target practice? I was the one who figured out to shoot for the bow line!”
“If I’d known you could shoot like that, maybe I’d have thought of it first!”
“Well you didn’t.” Agatha paused, breathing heavily. “Way I figure it, four of us each have an equal share in Hecate. We should vote on who’s Captain.”
“I’m the Captain. Mine’s the only vote that counts!”
The small guy coughed into his hand. “If I can interject here a second….”
Tom barely glanced at him. “No!” He began to move up the street, and the others followed. “We shouldn’t carry on like this in public.”
Agatha nodded. “We do need a mechanic though.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Fine, we need a mechanic, but not him.”
“Why not him?” Agatha crossed her arms.
“Because he’s a kid! And a liar to boot. Since when does a kid that age get a journeyman’s ticket.”
Nikki slipped in between Agatha and Tom. “He looked about your age if you ask me, just short.”
Tom gritted his teeth. “Even if he’s my age, it’s too young to be a journeyman.”
Nikki clicked her tongue. “Still, it’s worth talking to him. Maybe he’s tellin’ the truth… and we need a mechanic.”
Tom growled in exasperation. “This is a full scale mutiny! Are you all against me?”
Willow winked at him and saluted. “You have my support Captain Tom.”
Nikki frowned. “Are you going to give him a chance?”
Agatha gave an exasperated growl. “Can’t be a mutiny. You’re not the Captain.”
“In order. Thank you. No. And I’ve heard enough of that horse-crap for one day.” Tom stopped in front of a pawn shop and unslung the bag of weapons from his shoulder. “This looks like a good place.”
Half an hour later, the four of them sat around a table in a quiet saloon, patting comfortably full bellies.
Tom banged his mug down on the table. “Now that was a fine meal.”
Agatha leaned forward. “We can’t keep this up though. If we pawn off everything on Hecate how are we going to fuel her, or get her fixed up?”
“Obviously. Ain’t nothin’ a little work won’t pay off.” Tom sighed and leaned back. “We’ll be fine, once we pay off the repairs there’s gonna be enough lead left over to get us some operating cash.”
A portly gentleman in a bowler and waistcoat loomed over the table. “Pardon me ladies and gentleman, but I’ve been informed that you are the crew of the Hecate?”
Tom nodded. “Yup, that’s us.”
The man sat at the table without invitation. “Extraordinary, so it’s just the four of you?”
The whole crew nodded and grinned proudly.
“I heard a rumour that you’ve some lead bars you wish to sell, is that correct?”
Tom sat straighter. “You heard right mister. You buyin’?”
The man nodded and proffered a hand. “Ponderoy Charkart, I happen to deal in all manner of goods.”
Tom shook with the man, which he found highly distasteful. Charkart’s hands were cold and damp. He wiped his palm on his pants under the table. “Logbook says we have five long tons of lead aboard. If you’re offerin’ a better price than the mechanics, it’s all yours.”
Charkart whistled. “That is quite the load. I’ll tell you what, I can’t do business of this magnitude on a dry throat.” He waved the bartender over. “A round of beer for our table, your best brew for my new friends.”
Willow wrinkled her nose. “I don’t like beer.”
“Sarsaparilla for the young lady.”
The drinks came fast, and the bartender handed them out along with a big bowl of salty pretzels.
“Now, let’s drink to profitable partnerships, and get down to brass bolts shall we?” Charkart raised his mug. “Cheers.”
The others around the table echoed Charkart’s toast, and copied him as he downed half his drink.
“Right, that hit the spot didn’t it? Are you feeling ready to do business now?”
Truth told, Tom wasn’t feeling good at all. He blinked and shook his head to cure his double-vision, but that only made things worse. “Shii you fizzed our drins you baser.” His tongue was two sizes too large in his mouth.
Charkart leaned forward as Tom heard the gentle thumps of his crewmates sliding to the floor. “I’ve been called worse. Sweet dreams lad.”

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