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.
Hecate has a mysterious stowaway, a young woman named Ishara, who rarely comes out of hiding. Last episode she helped a vertically challenged mechanic called Shorty to rescue the crew from a crime syndicate in the town of Havenvale, then disappeared, back into the bowels of Hecate.
Unable to find more honest work, the crew took on a group of five rough-looking men headed for Atlantis with a mysterious cargo. Thanks to Ishara and Shorty, they know it’s a crystal skull, which would be worth an inconceivable amount of money if it weren’t broken.
“We’ve got company!” Agatha burst in to the bridge.
Tom was lounging in the Captain’s chair, wondering what to do with the news Shorty had delivered. Nikki was tending the controls and Willow was off in the galley.
“What do you mean?” Tom sat up.
“Big airship, right on our six. Gaining fast.”
“Give ‘em a half hour and they’ll be in shootin’ range.”
Nikki swivelled in her seat. “They have guns?”
Agatha shrugged. “Dunno, but movin’ like that, an’ lookin’ the way it does it’s probably a warship.”
Tom picked up the handset to the intercom and buzzed the machine room. A moment later Shorty picked up. “Hello?”
“Shorty, remember that conversation we had about the engines?”
“I’m going to need you to look into that. See what you can come up with.” Tom placed the receiver back on the hook.
Agatha frowned. “What’s that about?”
“He said something the other day, about how the engines could be tuned to double their power.” Tom turned. “Nikki!”
“If we doubled output from one engine, how much speed would we gain?”
Nikki closed her eyes for a moment. “Seven, maybe eight knots.”
“And all four?”
“Maybe twenty knots or so.”
“Good,” Tom turned and checked his revolver. “Agatha, come with me.”
Agatha checked her own sidearm. “What’s this about?”
Tom led her to the companionway toward the cargo hold. “Time to renegotiate.” He jumped so his feet were on the railings, and leaning on his elbows, slid to the bottom, with Agatha right behind.
>bang< >bang< >bang< Tom rapped with the butt of his revolver against the cargo hold door, and slipped it back into its holster.
A moment later a muffled voice answered. “Whadda ya want?”
“We got company. Big airship, closing fast.”
“Hold on.” A screech of metal on the other side as the men in the hold moved the barricades, then the door opened a crack. Jim Smith peeked out. “You get a name?”
Tom frowned. “Name?”
“Of the airship, what’s she called?”
Agatha stepped forward. “Actaeon.”
Jim winced. “Ah hell.” The door slammed in Tom’s face and he could hear voices raised in heated conversation on the other side. Jim opened it again, looking defeated. “Well, we’re pooched then. The boys an’ I are gonna make a stand. Give us a warning when they board.”
“I don’t want any shootouts on my ship.” Tom smiled. “But there may be another way.”
Jim’s face brightened.
Tom knew he had Jim right where he wanted him. “Our engineer says he can get some more power out of the engines.”
“Well, by all means! Hell yeah!”
“Problem is, it’s going to burn them out. I’ll need to replace four engines. I can’t afford that on a thousand guilder.”
Jim shook his head. “Well ain’t you the clever one. I figgered we’d be takin’ advantage of a young ‘un like yerself. Now I see it’s t’other way round. How much you want?”
“Ten thousand! Why you lyin’ sack a….” Jim breathed deeply. “A’right, we don’t have that kinda cash, but,” he angled his head toward the cargo bay, “when we sells off our prize, it’ll fetch enough.”
“You get us away from that bastard Etana, and it’s yours.”
Tom shook hands with the man. “Pleasure doin’ business with ya.” Then he turned and leapt up the companionway, three stairs at a time. Back in the bridge he slapped the button to buzz Shorty.
“Shorty, try and increase the power, just one engine to start with.”
“Aye Captain, I’ll tune number one right away.”
“Nikki, prepare for a bit of extra thrust from the port side.”
“What can I do?” Willow stood in the doorway with egg yolk on her nose.
“You been in a crow’s nest before?”
Willow shook her head. “Nope.”
“Well c’mon then.” Tom grabbed the big spyglass from it’s shelf, slipped it into its leather pouch and slung that from his shoulder. Then he donned a flight helmet, a pair of goggles and a safety-belt and showed Willow how to put hers on properly.
“Agatha, you hold things down here while I go topside.” Tom grinned. “Is anyone else having a great day?” He ducked out the door before Agatha could throw something at him.
Willow followed him out to the balcony that surrounded the gondola. Tom secured their harnesses to the jackline and swung onto the rigging. “This is the best part of flying!” He leaned way back and looked down. They were over open ocean now, but it was only visible in small patches, the rest was covered in a thick blanket of Mist.
He could feel the Hecate surge forward as Shorty tuned the engine. Wind rushed over his body, setting loose straps slapping against his leather jacket in hollow applause. He grinned at Willow. “C’mon up!” Then he darted up the rigging. Willow swung out with only a slight hesitation. Her weeks aboard Hecate had taught her a little confidence on rigging.
They reached the top and climbed into the small crow’s nest, little more than a few square metres of decking, some railings, and an intercom that linked to the bridge. Tom braced the heavy spyglass against the rail and observed their pursuers. Their dark zeppelin stood out starkly against the cloudy sky. After a few minutes he breathed a sigh. Hecate was clearly pulling away.
“We did it, see?” Tom handed the spyglass to Willow.
She spent a few minutes looking. “Captain? They’re still gaining on us.”
“Let me see that.” Tom took the spyglass and peered through it. Sure enough the Actaeon was gaining on them. He buzzed the bridge.
“Captain?” Agatha sounded anxious.
“Tell Shorty to lay on more power.”
“Do that an’ we risk giving it up that we’re more than a simple trader.”
Tom paused, he hadn’t thought of that. “Won’t matter if we outrun them. Our designation’s on the bow. From behind we look just like any other trader.”
It took a moment for Agatha to respond. “Full power on all four?”
“Full speed ahead. Let’s see what she can do.”
“Aye Captain, I’ll pass it on to Shorty.”
A few minutes later the wind howled around the crow’s nest from the extra speed. Willow’s face was red and chapped where it wasn’t covered.
Tom called down to the bridge. “What’s our speed?”
“Sixty-one knots Captain. They still there?”
“Hold on, Willow’s checking.” Tom leaned toward the girl. “How we doin’?”
“Don’t know, Captain. At first it looked like we were pulling away… Now I’m not sure.”
Tom spoke to the handset. “Wait one.” He took over the telescope from Willow. Actaeon certainly hadn’t grown any smaller. Tom watched for a few minutes to be sure. Actaeon was slowly gaining on them. She’d be in shooting range around nightfall.
He handed the spyglass back to Willow. “Who are those guys?”
On the bridge of the Actaeon, Captain Etana lowered his own telescope. “Helm, increase the power.”
“It’s full-on Captain.”
“Just over sixty-one knots.”
Captain Etana shouldered the lieutenant at the helm aside and tapped at the speedometer. The dial remained steady. He looked up at their quarry again and frowned. “Who are those guys?”
Back on the bridge of the Hecate, Tom was getting nervous. “What if we do a dogleg, swing ‘round a few points now and angle back for Aetheopica in the dead of night?”
Nikki glanced back at him. “Wouldn’t work. They know our heading, even if we lost ‘em it would be easy to guess where we were headed.”
“What if we climbed above the cloud layer during the night? If they didn’t see us they might go off lookin’, thinkin’ we’ve veered off.”
Agatha snorted. “Clouds are mighty thin Tom. Probably be burned off by mid-mornin’.”
“He might be on to somethin’.” Nikki pulled down the ship’s aeronautic manual down from the small bookshelf on the bridge. “Every airship has an optimum altitude for speed, normally pretty high.” She ran her index finger across a page. “Ahh, here. Twenty-six thousand feet.”
Tom whistled. “Can we climb that high?”
Nikki leaned back in her chair, brow furrowed in concentration. “Umm not sure. Willow, pass me the slide rule.” Slide rule in hand, Nikki jotted down a few numbers and mumbled to herself. “Pretty close… Depends on how much all the passengers and crew weigh, few other factors….”
Tom stared at her. “Where‘d you learn all that?”
Nikki blushed. “Oh, umm.”
“Our Dad taught us.” Willow cut in.
“He was a pilot?”
“Umm, yeah.” Nikki cast her eyes down at her controls. “So you want us to climb?”
“No, not yet. We climb now and it slows us down. They’ll catch up before night.”
Agatha nodded. “So, we wait, and climb through the clouds in the dark.”
“That’s the plan.”
Agatha shuddered. “Why do I always get the willies whenever you say that word.”
Tom grinned and winked at her. “We’re smuggling an ancient artefact into Atlantis for a bunch of shifty thieves, being followed by a warship we know nothin’ about, and our best plan is to climb high as we can and hope for the best…. What could possibly go wrong?”