Sunday, December 2, 2012

Orphans of the Celestial Sea, E-5, C-6

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.
In the town of Havenvale they nearly lost Hecate to a crime-boss, Ponderoy Charkart, but a vertically-challenged mechanic named Shorty came to their rescue and joined the crew. They did lose what they thought was a near-worthless cargo of lead bars. It turned out the ‘lead’ was actually gold, with a thin coating of lead to disguise it. Now the crew is trying to recover their lost treasure. Nikki, Shorty and Willow are due any minute rendezvous at Charkart’s warehouse with Hecate. Tom, Dog and Agatha are running out of time, they’ve moved the cargo to the third floor, but Charkart set fire to a cargo of diesel fuel on the ground.

Episode 5
Chapter 6

The temperature on the third floor shot up in seconds.
“The wagon is still on the lift! It stopped just short of this floor.” Dog pointed.
Tom ran over to see that the lift had come up several inches short of the third floor. The three of them threw their weight into it, but it was too much to pull the five ton cargo over.
Agatha scrambled up onto the wagon and started throwing bricks off.
“No!” screamed Tom. “We’ll build a ramp!” He ran to grab some boards while Agatha ignored him and carried on dumping their cargo. She’d dumped a few dozen by the time he got the makeshift ramp in place.
“Try again!” called Tom.
Agatha jumped down and hauled at the wagon, while Dog moved to the rear of the lift and pressed his back against the wagon, using his feet straight against the wall of the elevator to push.
Smoke billowed up the staircases, and the floors under their feet were getting warm as the wagon lurched from the lift.
“Run run run! We need some speed built to get the back wheels over!” called Tom.
The three of them strained to build momentum. The wagon’s rear wheels hit with a crunch and almost rolled back, but for a final push from Dog.
Agatha coughed and blinked back tears from the smoke. “Pull, come on!”
The wagon creaked around the corner, and jammed against a row of shelves. The passage was too narrow for them to make the turn.
“Come on we’ve got to get these shelves out of the way!” Tom started to unload the end of the shelves.
Dog put an arm out, blocking Tom. “Let me.” He drew his gladius and hacked at the wooden legs of the shelf on the far side.
Agatha drew her revolver and set to work shooting out the next leg. Soon the entire shelf groaned and collapsed against the wall.
They hauled the wagon to the window, but there was no sign of Hecate yet. Smoke was boiling up the staircases, and sweat poured off the three crewmates.
Tom checked his watch. “They’re not due for another two minutes.”
Dog pointed to the far side of the warehouse, where flames were starting to climb the staircase. “I don’t think we have two minutes.”
The smoke was too thick, Tom coughed repeatedly, and stuck his head out the window for a breath of fresh air. A crackle of gunfire below sent exploding brick shards into his face. Tom hurriedly withdrew.
Agatha and Dog were lying on the floor, wheezing for air. Tom lay next to them. “We’re going to have to jump if they don’t show soon.”
Agatha coughed. “Charkart’s gonna eat us alive.”
Tom shrugged. “You wanna burn?”
A large section of floor collapsed, sending a gout of flame up to the third floor. The heat washed over the three crewmates. It cleared the smoke away, but the air was so hot and dry it burned their lungs.
Tom closed his eyes. “I’ll go with whatever you guys decide. Do we jump or stay?”
Agatha took Tom’s hand in her right, and Dog’s hand in her left. “I say we stay. Stick together to the end.”
Dog nodded. “It would be good to die among friends.”
At that moment another crackle of gunfire came from below. Above they heard a faint, “Yaaahoo!” and the sound of a shotgun returning fire.
Tom stuck his head out to see Hecate’s lift. Shorty dangled over the edge, blasting merrily away at the crowd below with his sawed-off shotgun. “You folks need a lift?”
Tom and Dog scrambled behind the wagon and pushed it over. Gunfire from below continued. Agatha jumped on to the elevator and began to snap off shots at the men below.
Slowly the wagon rolled across, bumping down as it moved from the building to the lift. As the front wheels of the wagon hit, the lift began to sink, tipping the whole cart forward dramatically. Several dozen gold bricks teetered forward, and spilled off the edge of the lift onto the ground below.
Behind them, there was a mighty roar and woosh, as the far wall of the warehouse collapsed. The rear wheels of the wagon cleared, and it shot forward, out of Tom and Dog’s control, smashing against the far side of the elevator cage. They heard a scream from the front of the wagon.
Shorty launched a flare, and Hecate powered up, full throttle, pulling them away from the side of the warehouse. Tom slammed the elevator gate shut, just as the wagon came rolling back up against it, and they were off.
More gunfire crackled below, but it faded in the distance. Tom scrambled around the wagon to see Agatha lying on the floor of the lift, clutching at her leg. “God damn wagon ran me over!” Her lower leg was bent at a funny angle.
Tom turned to Shorty. “We’ve got to get her up!”
Shorty took the winch controls, the lift jolted upwards, then stopped. He tried again, with the same result. “Too heavy!” He looked up to the belly of Hecate, where Willow was leaning out, watching the action below. “Willow! We need a ropeladder!”
She cupped her hand to an ear, and Dog bellowed, “Rope-ladder!”
Willow nodded and withdrew her head. A moment later a ropeladder snaked down.
Dog picked Agatha up, and slung her over his shoulder. “Tom, you go first and help me get over the lip when we reach the top.”
Tom shook his head. “Shorty, you do it. I’m stayin’ with the gold. Tune the engines for speed when you get a chance. I think we might have company soon.”
Shorty nodded and scrambled up the ladder. Dog followed a moment later, climbing carefully with one hand holding Agatha, and one for the ladder.
Tom shivered as the night wind whistled around the elevator cage and admired his haul. Enough gold for all of them to do as they pleased. He hoped the crew wouldn’t break up, given the choice he’d rather stay with them, and Hecate, no matter how rich he became. Maybe he’d retire to an estate on Atlantis when he was done adventuring around the world, away from the Mist. Until then the money was insurance. They’d never have to take a shady deal, or fight for work again.
Behind them a spotlight stabbed into the night, skewering Tom and the lift in its beam. Tom blinked and shaded his eyes. The pursuing zeppelin was far behind. Once Shorty tuned the engines, Hecate would be safely away before they figured out what had happened.
Tom thumbed his nose at their pursuers, though they were probably too far off to see it. “Never catch us now, suckers!”
There was a clang and the sound of breaking wood from the side of the lift cage. Tom peered over the edge to see they were skimming treetop height. The lift cage had just trimmed the top of a tree. What was Nikki thinking? They were way too low.
Hecate angled up, straining against gravity. Tom heard the engines change pitch, one by one as Shorty tuned them, but they weren’t gaining any altitude.
Hecate was forced ever lower, now they had to follow a deep valley to avoid crashing. Some of the gasbags must be leaking, shot out in the firefight back in Havenvale. At the end of the valley, coming up far too fast, a sight Tom recognized from the hike in. Black lake, seething with Mist.
Dog leaned out of the belly of Hecate’s cargo bay. “Tom, we must jettison the lift!”
Tom looked at the enormous pile of gold. “No!”
“There is no choice! Take the ropeladder!”
Tom ignored him. He scrambled to the pile of gold bars and began to stuff as many as he could in his pockets.
“Tom, do not be a fool! Grab the ladder!”
One last brick into his jacket pocket, and Tom waddled to the ladder, bulging at the seams. He looked ahead and saw they were nearly at the lake. The mass of Mist towered over him, and the lift was headed straight for it.
Tom hooked his arm onto the ladder and looked up. “Okay! Cut it!”
One of the four steel cables holding the lift to Hecate’s cargo bay severed with a sharp twang. The loose end sliced through the air, narrowly missing Tom. Another twang and the next cable snaked past.
The lift below tilted at a crazy angle, and spilled some of it’s cargo into the lake below, but the cage held fast, and most of the gold remained. Above there was a groan of protest, the sound of metal too strained to hold up. Then with a crash, one of the winding drums gave, then the other. They smashed their way out of the cargo bay, and ripped through the air past Tom. The whole mess disappeared into the Mist below, followed by a splash as it hit water.
Hecate, suddenly freed of five tons of dead weight, shot upward.
Not fast enough. The wall of Mist in front of Tom was building, even as Hecate rose upward.
He wasn’t going to make it.
Tom tried to climb, but he was too weighed down with gold. Hecate strained upward, the ladder swung toward a clear patch in the Mist, and somehow, miraculously, Tom threaded the needle of seething tendrils that reached out clumsily for him. He was in the clear!
One last weakened strand of Mist shot upwards. Tom twisted to the side as far as he could go to swing himself away.
The tendril connected with Tom’s leg, like a splash of cold water.
At first he couldn’t believe it. Nothing had changed. Maybe he was still too young to be infected by Mist. A deep sense of loss overwhelmed him, replaced by anger, frustration and sadness.
Tom looked up. Above, Shorty had rigged the ropeladder to the remains of Hecate’s lift mechanism to haul him in. Willow peered over the edge, smiling at him, and Tom wanted to rip her throat out. She had what he needed. She had joy. He would tear her apart, and devour her soul, then the others aboard.
A laugh bubbled from his lips, the thrill of knowing he’d soon possess their most treasured feelings. That was what he needed, killing them would make everything better, make the pain go away and warm his withered heart.
He could feel them, their pleasures, happiness, love, satisfaction. Everything he lacked. He would take it all from them, rip their chests open and take what he needed.
Ishara appeared beside him, and for the first time he knew exactly what she was. A complete soul. A ghost, but not one that had been stripped of all its warmth and humanity, like the one worming its way into his brain.
The thing inside him urged him to take her, but Ishara just sighed. “Told you not to be greedy Tom. Told you, told you, now I’ve got to scold you.”
Tom looked up again. He was nearing the lip of the cargo-bay. Hands reached out for him. The urge to kill them all was nearly overpowering, there was barely enough self-control left, but he held back.
As helping hands grabbed hold of his clothes to pull him aboard, Ishara cocked her head to the side. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow. For now, you need sleep if you’re to fight off the intruder.”
She reached inside Tom’s forehead and pulled a cord inside his brain, flipping a switch he never knew he had. Instantly the world receded and Tom fell into darkness.

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