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.
They came to the town of Havenvale looking for repairs, but ran afoul of the local syndicate, had their drinks dosed and wound up unconscious, lying on the floor of a saloon.
When Tom awoke he had a splitting headache and the inside of his mouth tasted like he’d been licking garbage cans. He hawked and spat in the corner. He was in a dimly-lit room with a dirt floor, roughly heaped in a corner with Agatha, Nikki and Willow atop a straw-filled mattress. Four stone walls, a stout wooden door in the middle of one, and high in the opposite wall was a grate of bars, perhaps two feet tall by four across that let in a crack of light from the gas-lamps outside.
Tom grabbed the bars, jumped and held his face level with the opening. The window was set at street level, but there was nobody outside. He dropped back down.
“Uhh, bastard drugged us.” Agatha sat up, rubbing her face.
“What was your first clue?”
“Shut up.” She got to her feet and surveyed the room. “Got a plan to get us out of this mess?”
“If you’re looking to me for a plan, does that mean I’m the Captain?”
“Captain of what? Charkart’s probably flyin’ off in Hecate right now, laughing at our stupidity.”
“Repairs’ll take at least a day.”
“Oh good, so between now and then, all we have to do is escape, make our way there without getting caught, and get past whatever guards he puts on ‘er when he realises we’re gone. Easy, right?”
Tom pinched the bridge of his nose. Agatha was making his headache worse. “I’ll get Hecate back.”
“Yeah, so what’s the plan genius?”
“I don’t know! I’m still thinking, but it’ll come.”
Agatha snorted. “Well good luck with that. Tell you what, if you actually get us Hecate back, I won’t hassle you about bein’ Captain no more.”
“You mean it?”
“Yeah sure, since it’ll never happen.”
“I’ll get her back. Just give me some time to think.” Tom retreated to a corner of the cell and sat, contemplating a way out, while Agatha toured the room, probing, punching, and kicking anything that looked like a weak spot.
Tom stared at the pool of light on the floor. Even that had shadow-bars across it. There had to be something, there was always a way out, he just had to find it before Charkart shipped Hecate off. Tom pounded his fist into the dirt floor, being Captain of an airship had been his dream for as long as he could remember, and for two short days it had come true. He wasn’t going to let it end so soon. Besides, he owed the others, they all had a share in Hecate, and none of them had a place to go if she was lost.
“Uhh, what hit me?” Willow rose unsteadily to her feet.
“They spiked your sarsaparilla.” Agatha frowned. “I shoulda seen it comin’, he was too pushy.”
“Ain’t your fault Agatha.” Tom stood and gazed out the barred window again. “My fault. I shoulda been more prepared.”
Willow shrugged. “None of us saw it comin’ Tom.”
“I’m the Captain! Things go wrong it’s always my fault.”
“Exactly, you’re the Captain. You’ll figure us a way out of this.”
For a miracle, Agatha let it lie at that and returned to probing their cell.
“What happened? I feel like I’ve been run over.” Nikki sat up.
“You drank too much beer.” Tom shrugged.
“This the drunk tank?” Nikki shook her head and winced. “What’s Willow doin’ here then? She was drinkin’ sarsaparilla.”
Agatha stomped over. “Stop messing with her head Tom. Charkart drugged us so he can steal Hecate.”
A metal slot grated open at the bottom of the door. A pitcher of water, a bucket, and a tray of bread and cheese was shoved through from the far side.
Tom ran to the door but the slot closed before he got there. He pounded on the door. “Hey! This ain’t legal! We salvaged Hecate fair ‘n square. You can’t just lock us up and take ‘er away!”
The voice that answered was deep and rough, not Charkart’s. “There ain’t no law in this town but Charkart’s law. He wants somethin’, he takes it.”
“What’re you gonna do with us?”
“Well, yer lucky there son. He figures ain’t nobody gonna believe a bunch of kids word over his, specially if the airship they claim to own is nowhere around. He’ll ship Hecate out when the repairs are done tomorrow night, an’ hold you ‘till the next slaver comes through.”
Tom kicked the door. “Slavery’s not legal in America!”
“Oh quit your moanin’. Cushy life that, slave in Atlantis. No Mist to worry ‘bout.”
“Yeah then why don’t you sign up?”
“I already have a cushy life, running Charkart’s cells.”
Nikki put on a breathy voice. “Well, since you’re the man in charge here, perhaps you could think about letting us go.”
The man on the other side coughed. “Why would I do that miss?”
“Oh, I think I could make it worth your while.”
After a pause they heard the voice again. “I’m a married man… happily married I mean.”
“Surely there must be some things your wife doesn’t do for you?”
“Never you mind that missy, we get along fine.”
“Well, there are other things. Things of value on Hecate. You get us to her and we can pay you real handsomely.”
“Charkart would have my hide. That’s all I’m a gonna say on the matter. G’night folks, might as well get comfy.”
“We could take you with us!” Nikki’s voice lost the husky undertone.
Footsteps receded from their door, and a moment later the streetlamp outside went dark, leaving the crew with only a faint trickle of moonlight.
“Nice try Nikki.” Willow patted her on the shoulder.
“You wouldn’t have… given yourself to him, would you?” Agatha gaped at Nikki.
“No….” Nikki blushed and looked down. “’Course not, I’m not that kinda gal.”
Willow grinned impishly. “Why don’t you tell ‘em what kind of gal you are?”
Nikki rounded on her sister. “Enough Willow!”
Tom raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean—”
“Pssst!” Someone was at the window.
Tom hauled himself up by the bars so he could see out. It was the short guy they’d seen earlier in the day, the one claiming to be a mechanic.
“What do you want?”
The small fellow doffed his flat cap, he looked older with it off. “Can we try with the introductions again?”
“Fine, Tom Cain here.”
Tom laughed. “Your name is… Short?”
Elias grinned. “Yeah, most people call me Shorty… on account of my name.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it’s on account of your name, not… anything else.”
Shorty tilted his head to the side with a half-smile. “Hey listen, do you want my help or not?”
“I overheard you say each of you has an even share in Hecate, that right?”
Tom nodded. “I’m Captain though.”
Shorty shrugged. “Sure thing, you’re Captain… I want in.”
“You give me an even share in Hecate, I’ll get you guys out.”
“No, you can come aboard for a wage, like regular crew.”
“All right. Good luck gettin’ out.” Shorty turned and took a step away.
“Wait!” Nikki said from below. “Tom, surely goin’ from a quarter to a fifth of somethin’ is better than goin’ from a quarter to nothin’ at all.”
Shorty stopped and looked back over his shoulder.
Tom dropped down and turned to the girls. “You all feel this way?” They nodded. “Okay.” He pulled himself back up to the window.
Shorty grinned at him. “We have a deal?”
“Yeah, get us out of here.”
Shorty produced a small saw. “Work on the bars so they’re almost cut through. Hide the cuts and metal shavings. Tomorrow night, when the streetlight goes out, climb out of there, and get to the port. I’ll have Hecate all warmed up and ready to fly.”
“Right, don’t leave without us.” Tom grabbed the saw and dropped to the floor. “Let’s get to work!”
The sound of Shorty’s footsteps receding was nearly drowned by the rasp of the small saw. They took shifts with it during the night and by the time the first fingers of dawn began to massage the horizon they had one very dull saw and four bars weakened enough so they could be removed by hand.
Tom grabbed some dirt from outside the window and covered up their night’s work. “Oughta do it.”
Willow grinned at him. “I knew you’d come up with something Captain.”
Agatha crossed her arms. “It was Shorty came up with the plan, not Tom!”
Nikki lay down on the mattress and glanced at Tom. “I… I, think it’s time we got some rest.”
“Yeah,” Tom stretched out his sore muscles. “I feel like my arm’s gonna fall off.”
“I’m cold.” Nikki shivered and smiled up at Tom. “D’you think you could lie next to me?”
“Sure.” Tom settled down on the mattress and threw an arm over her. Nikki took his hand, pulled it over her like a blanket, and hugged it tight.
“Oh for the love of—” Agatha growled in anger. “I don’t recall buying tickets to the burlesque.”
Willow lay down beside her sister and settled in for sleep. “Jealous?”
“No! Of course not…. Eww.” Agatha stood over the rest of the crew, hands on hips. “Shove over will ya?” Agatha pushed at Willow until there was a space for her too.
The day passed quietly. Around noon their guard came and gave them another meal, exchanged their bucket for a clean one and left again, refusing to let Nikki engage him in further conversation. A thick layer of clouds rolled in around sunset, and a chill breeze came in the open window. The gas lamp in the street came on and soon after the stars were out.
“I’d love to see the look on Charkart’s face when he finds we’ve flown the coop!” Tom did a little jig.
“Better yet, when he finds Hecate’s gone too.” Willow took his arm and spun with Tom across the floor.
“We’re not clear yet.” Agatha jumped and lifted herself on an uncut section of bars. “What time did the streetlight go out last night?”
Tom shrugged. “Dunno, it was full dark when I woke up. Don’t matter, we just have to wait.”
They were all full of nervous energy, pacing, jumping up to look out the window, trying to guess the time. Soon enough their evening meal, and bucket replacement arrived. Nikki didn’t even try to talk to the guard.
They were all quietly eating when the streetlight went out.
Tom jumped to his feet. “Hot damn, let’s get out of here.” He twisted the pre-cut bars free and tossed them down to Agatha, then dropped to the ground and offered his hands like a stirrup. “Ladies first.”
Agatha ignored his hands, took a run and planted a foot on the wall to propel herself upwards, then grabbed two of the remaining bars and slithered through the opening like it was nothing. Tom helped Nikki and Willow through, then jumped and hauled himself out the opening.
Tom’s eyes hadn’t fully adjusted yet, and it was near total darkness on the street. Only the faint light of from distant thoroughfare gave him some orientation. The others were just standing there, doing nothing. “Hey, let’s get a move on!” Tom hissed.
That moment the gas-lamp came back on. Ponderoy Charkart stood underneath it, eyes twinkling. “So, I heard you’d like to see the look on my face when I found out you’d escaped.” He grinned, showing all his pointy teeth and pointed a finger at himself. “Well… this is it.”
Each end of the street was blocked by a half-dozen thugs with cudgels.