Posts Tagged ‘malthauser’

A troop of boyz had come back to the hulk’s crash site with good news; there was a humie settlement nearby!  There had been resistance, and the orks had returned to Uzdreg to report and bring back more dakka.  A fight was just what was needed, so Uzdreg grabbed his retinue of nobs, along with a few of the ladz, and moved out.  He didn’t trust those superstitious Death Skullz, so they were the ones that got to come along.  If a few of them got killed, so much the better.  They were all weedy gits anyway…

The space hulk had left a wide swath of trees tumbled, broken, on fire, and devastated, so that was the way they went to start off.  Orgrash said that the town was a ways off, and had a wall around it.  That was fine; they had stuff to take care of the wall.  Uzdreg grinned and swung his big choppa at a tree.  The whirring teeth in the blade bit and chewed through the trunk with ease.  Maybe the humies had never encountered the orks before.  His ladz were monsters, killers every one, and were always spoiling for a fight.  This had better be a good one.  A scuffle broke out in the ranks, and one of the nobs smashed heads to keep order.

Uzdreg thought it was important to keep the boyz in the fight whenever he could; bad things happened when there wasn’t enough fighting to be done.  His Bad Moons had been doing just fine, and then they’d discovered Death Skulls freeloaders on the hulk while they were in transit.  Some of the nobs were all for throwing the lot of them out of the airlocks, but bigger fists prevailed in the end, and the gits got to stay.  The way Uzdreg saw it, they were cannon fodder for the front lines when the fightin’ got serious.  Of course, this backwater planet was pretty empty so far, but that could change.  All he needed to do was get a big enough Waaagh going, and the humies would come to him by the thousands.  After he took care of those, all that was left was regaining space and finding even more places and planets to bash heads.  Think ahead to the next fight, that was the warboss’s job.  Uzdreg was good at that.  His ladz often said that he had the cunnin’ as well as the fightin’.

Orgrash was good at navigatin’, and the squad soon made it to the walled town.  Uzdreg eyed the place under cover of the trees.  Lots of activity.  It looked like the humies were preparing after last night’s raid from his boyz.  A few pieces of dakka were set up along the walls, and the gates were barred shut.  They were made of thick iron, good for holding off shoota fire but not much else.  The walls were only about 10 feet high – not enough to stop a determined ork, not with the power klaws that several of his nobs carried.   Uzdreg signalled to the ladz, indicating that the Death Skulls go in from the front, and his nobs near the back.  He waited several minutes for everyork to get into position, and then joined his Bad Moons.  Snagrot flexed his klaw, and blue flickers of power licked along the vicious blades.  He was ready.  Uzdreg took careful aim with his big shoota, and pulled the trigger.  A burst of shells annihilated the gun emplacement on the rear town wall, and with a throaty “WAAAAGHH” everyone charged.

Snagrot was first at the wall, with Krashnak right beside him.  They were experienced veterans, and their klaws quickly tore a gaping hole in the wooden palisade.  The duo pushed through, opening fire immediately on anything that moved.  From the town’s front gate, loud gunfire erupted as the Death Skulls made their own charge.  A lot of humies were screaming, the sound almost covered by the deeper ork battle cries and the enormous volume of shoota fire.

Uzdreg entered the nameless town with his nobs, and the brutes spread apart to sow chaos and terror.  Uzdreg stalked between two pre-fab houses, rounding the corner just in time to meet a squad of soldiers coming the other way.  Shocked, they took seconds too long to react as his orky instincts took over, and the big choppa scythed through cloth, flesh, and bone.  The gun in his other hand fired at point blank range, and two more soldiers disintigrated under a hail of bullets.  One of the humies dropped his weapon and ran, and Uzdreg let him go.  He’d learned decades ago that if you let some of them live, more would back for the fight later.  That was all part of his cunnin’ plan – his Death Skulls had orders to let some of the humies escape and make their way out.  They would spread word to other settlements that the ork tide was coming, and return with more men, weapons, and vehicles for the looting.

A few blocks down, a garage door clattered open, and a large flat-bed truck gunned to life, gaining speed as it roared toward the town gates.  The ork warboss grinned.  Everything was going according to Da Plan.  He called out a “Waaaagh” to let the boyz know, and flicked his choppa to whirring life to get the blood and bone off the grinding teeth.  He couldn’t wait to see what came back.

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The hulk had crashed into the foothills bordering the northern mountain range, carving a huge swath of pine forest into kindling on the way to its final resting place amidst the shale and granite outcroppings that eventually rose to form an ancient barrier on the continent’s northwestern edge.  Sporadic fires lit the night as spilled fuel continued to burn.  The flames gave enough light to show dozens of hulking figures scrambling over the wrecked ship, accompanied by the sounds of groaning metal as sheets of plating were ripped off the structure.  Smaller shapes hurried through the crash site, picking over debris and gathering scraps and pieces into haphazard piles.  Snow fell in lazy spirals.

 

Uzdreg watched, arms crossed.  The nobz behind him were silent, for once.  The crash hadn’t been in the plan.  Not this time.  The mekboyz weren’t sure yet what had gone wrong, and the replacement mekboy was still figuring things out after his superior had Uzdreg’s choppa buried in his skull.  At least a lot of the boyz had made it out, and Uzdreg reckoned that he had enough krump with him to start a decent brawl if he wanted to.  He’d already told some of the ladz to go lookin’.  Gretchin workers were busy chopping trees and starting a watch tower, but Uzdreg was ready to bash more heads, and a fight was all he wanted.

 

The (old) plan had been to find a good humie world, start bashin’, and see how much fightin’ and killin’ the ladz could get done before the uniforms and the tanks showed up.  After that, the real brawl would get started, and then Uzdreg would have his day.  The (new) plan was a lot like the old one.  Except they had to find some humies, first.  And get more ladz.  That might take a while; the hulk had scattered ork corpses across the expanse of forest that lined this part of whatever world this was.  Enough had made it out alive to start some good fightin’, but it wasn’t enough numbers yet.  Uzdreg couldn’t count very high, but he knew that instinctively.

 

Everyone could tell that Uzdreg was in a bad mood.  He didn’t like when the plan went wrong, and this one couldn’t have gone wronger.  After he finished his rage and bashed some heads in, he’d gone all quiet, and that was when the nobz got worried.  Uzdreg was never quiet, and when he was, bad things happened.  The night passed slowly, and the work progressed.  The boss didn’t move, so neither did his retinue.  They watched in silence as the tower went up, and anything and everything useful was stripped from the wreckage of the space hulk.

 

An engine backfired, and the one working trukk the boyz had tore forward through the trampled snow and mud.  The chains attached to its bumper went taut, and ever so slowly the shape of a deff dread emerged from the side of the hulk.  One of the walker’s legs was missing, and the mekboy that followed it outside had the appendage clamped in the robotic arm that emerged from the contraption strapped to his back.

 

Shouts and hollers erupted from the forest as dawn broke over the crash site, and a crew of shoota boys trampled their way through to Uzdreg.  “Boss, we got some good news.  You’re gonna like this,” the biggest of them growled, and raised a muscled arm.  Clenched in his bloody fist, held by the hair, was a human head.  “We had some bashin’ to do, and there’s gonna be lots more of it!”

 

Uzdreg just grinned.

Author’s note:  Life got busy!  Finally an update.  My apologies for the long delay… I’m finding that this is one of the difficulties of writing and posting as I put words down on paper.  It’s difficult to stick to a regular update schedule when life suddenly gets too busy to write every day.  As always, this is a very rough unedited first draft, so please forgive any errors on my part.

 

Later, as Mellira enjoyed the freshly brewed coffee, she thought back on their trips and journeys over the past several years.  The job of an airman, Ibben was fond of saying, was a lot like sex – there was a lot of up and down, except that the exciting bits were over far too quickly.  Ruther had joined their crew in London, at least eight years ago.  She remembered that particularly because of the fire that had spread through the theater district.  The Sky Drake had left a day ahead of schedule with a new man aboard.

Time passed, and the crew relied on Slyne more and more. He was organized, efficient, and knew how to command men.  The hurricane alone proved that…

“Captain! The wind’s too strong, we’re losing control of the ship!” Len sounded panicked, and when he panicked, he tended toward an even stronger accent, making him that much harder to understand.  The Sky Drake had set out from Savannah on a trans-Atlantic flight only to get caught in a monster storm in the middle of the night.

The winds howled around the airship, and rain lashed sideways across the deck.  Everywhere Mellira looked the rain blinded her, and she reached down to slip on her goggles.  Visibility went from terrible to merely bad.  The Sky Drake shuddered and dropped ten feet of altitude in a particularly strong gust.  The crew around her were similarly goggled, and all wore the safety harnesses that kept them roped to the ship.

“We need to turn and fly with the wind,” Captain Janus said.  “Give the starboard engines more power, Striker.  Help me turn this beast the right way!”

The storm consumed most of the spoken words, and Mellira remembered that Slyne had set up a relay of harnessed crew to convey orders.  Soaked and shivering, they sent Janus’ orders to the placed they needed to go, and eventually the right engines roared and began, slowly, to turn the ship in the right direction.

Mellira made her way to the bow, going carefully and getting even more soaked along the way.  Then, as she took a step, the desk shifted underneath her and she slipped.  A moment of freefall terrified her, and the breath was knocked out of her lungs as her harness stopped her fall.  She found herself thirty feet beneath the ship, the engines whining above her as they struggled to turn the bulk of the Sky Drake against gale force winds.  Mellira felt the harness she wore tighten as the rope it attached to slid across the railing.

She panicked and scrabbled at the rope, her hands sliding off the wet fibers with no effect.  She looked up at the Drake and screamed, then coughed in a fit as her face got drenched in rain.  When she could see again, she took another look and made out indistinct figures at the rail, pointing down to her.  Muffled shouts reached her ears, and the Sky Drake shifted again, continuing his slow port turn.  She swung underneath the ship like a pendulum, and grabbed her harness in clenched fists to keep her arms at her sides and stabilize herself.  Her coat, already wet even before her slip, was now fully waterlogged, and felt like it weighed several hundred pounds.

Thirty feet beneath the Drake’s hull, Mellira was oblivious to the panic on the deck.  Multiple shouts of “man overboard!” echoed from various parts of the ship, and the few crew who could leave their stations did so, gathering at the railing to pull at the rope that was Mellira’s lifeline.  Their efforts accomplished nothing as their hands slid on the wet rope just as Mellira’s had.

“Away, fools,” roared Slyne as he pushed through the crew.  “You lads know how it’s done, this isn’t the first storm we’ve flown.”  He jammed a belling club into the specially drilled slot in the railing, and grabbed at the rope in leather-clad hands.  The gloves helped him grip, and with a bellow he pulled up enough rope to throw several loops around the club.  Another bellow, and Mellira was hoisted several more feet up to the deck.

“Next lad up,” said Slyne, and traded places with Will.  Will had put on gloves, and slowly the dangling Mellira rose higher and higher toward safety.  The lifting effort was working, and with the combined work of the crew she made it back to safety.  Ruther was the last person to work the rope, and he reached out a hand to pull her back onto the deck.

“Welcome back to solid ground, Mell.  How was the rain down there?” he asked as she stepped to the deck.

“Wet and miserable, thanks for asking.  And thanks for the lift up, I would have come up myself, but rope is slippery when wet,” she said with a grin.

“So are women,” yelled one of the crew.

“Screw you, Mika.  When’s the last time you were with a woman, anyway?”  Mellira retorted as she wiped rain from her face.  She was soaked to the bone, all her layers of clothing saturated, and she was starting to shiver from the cold.  The storm howled around the ship, and the Drake’s deck offered almost no shelter from rain or wind.  The airship had made the turn to the wind, and so the tumult was a touch less than it could have been.

“Get below decks and get yourself warmed up, Mell.  I won’t have you catch a chest cold and die on me, not after all that lifting I did,” said Slyne.

“Gladly, sir,” she said.  Down below, she changed into dry clothes and sat alone for a few minutes.  She knew that flying could be dangerous, but facing a freefall from a mile in the air had terrified her.  Any number of other things could have gone wrong.  The rope could have frayed and snapped; the harness might have broken.  The hardware holding the harness to the airship could have stressed and fractured.  She could have been hit by lightning.  The Sky Drake rumbled around her.  Here, deep below decks in her cabin, the airship felt safe and comforting.  The storm barely made itself known.  Mellira was surprised to realize how willfully she had been ignoring the dangers of her job and life.  She loved what she did, and she knew that she was competent and good at her job.  But not taking the risks into account was sheer folly.  She promised herself that it would not happen again.

 

Mellira shook her head, and a gust of wind brought her back to the present.  No one would have suspected Ruther Slyne of doing what he did.  He had saved her life, and been there for the Drake more times than she could count.  She wondered who he really was, if she’d ever known the real Ruther.  To hide his real identity for close to a decade, if that was really what he had done, seemed mind-boggling.

Mellira knew that he was British, or had very convincingly been pretending to be British.  So why flee to Berlin in your stolen Dutch airship?  What did the Austria-Prussian Empire have to do with anything?  She tried to think through the bits and pieces of history that she had heard over the years.

After Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1814, an uneasy peace had settled on the European continent.  Countries rebuilt, still struggling with disease and famine after the war was done.  In what was left of the Holy Roman Empire, banditry was rife and chaos ruled.  Armed bands roamed the countryside, raping and pillaging.  Berlin was a stronghold where the royal family hid like rats.  In desperation, the Emperor reached out to Prussia for aid.  The Prussian King, seeing a chance, bargained and won the ultimate price.  Massive amounts of the Empire were signed into Prussion control, in exchange for an army to fight for peace.

The Prussian army had been one of the best in the world, and they supplemented their regiments with professional Swiss mercenaries – a people who had perfected the art of war since the middle ages.  It took two short years, and when the Empire was reclaimed, the Prussians simply kept going.  Weary and worn from years of famine and unrest, most of Europe simply broke.  France declared defeat, as did Greece and Austria.  Spain fought to a standstill, and Prussian forces were content with the parts of the country that they had gained.  By 1830, the newly formed Austria-Prussian Empire held and controlled half of the continent, making its capitol at Berlin.

The War for Peace, as it became known, made the Empire the ruling power in Europe, surpassing even the might of Britain.  Over the next two decades, technological innovation changed the lives of millions of citizens.  Prussian engineering helped perfect the modern airship, opening up avenues of trade that had only been dreamt of a short time before.

Now, almost sixty years later, the new century was looming, and the world waited to see what it would bring.  At least, those who saw the greater picture waited to see what it would bring.  The common man labored on much as before, with thought only for tomorrow and the week after.   Mellira thanked the stars that she had picked the sky over a husband and a farm.  There was too much to see to risk missing it all because of a baby or two.  Another gust of wind blew rain in her face, and she shook her head to clear her mind.  She went aft to check on the captain.

Author’s note:  Updating less frequently with a higher word count obviously didn’t work, so I’m going to try going back to the previous schedule.  Updates every two or three days, with about a thousand or so words each time.  I’m writing largely in my Moleskine, by hand, so it takes a certain amount of time to get all the words down on paper.  My current notebook is dedicated just to this effort, so I don’t want to put down too many words in Pages alone.  

On an editorial note, as I was typing this section I already had ideas for what I want to do in revision, and how I want to eliminate/change a lot of the explanatory text that right now might seem a little long-winded.  As always, this is the rough first unedited draft.  Thanks for reading.

 

Mellira explored the Twilight while Janus slept.  Most airships shared the same design elements, although the layout varied from ship to ship.  The body of the airship was attached to a light steel framework that held the nacelles via several superstructures along the length of the deck.  The engines were at the aft port and starboard sides, with the engine room running down the last central quarter of the body to aid in stability.  Crew quarters took up hull space by the engine room, with the kitchen generally being forward of the engine room.  The middle and bow sections contained cargo or passenger space, and occasionally extra engines as in the Drake.

The modern airship stayed in the air through a miracle of science.  At the beginning of the 19th century, the whaling industry was in full swing, and business was booming.  One of the dangers in whaling came from the squid species Architeuthis Rex, colloquially known as krakens.  Monster cephalopods, they often grew to the size of their main prey, sperm and right whales, with tentacles strong enough to rip the masts from whaling vessels.  In 1823 the Lucky Patriot was attacked and severely damaged in a kraken attack, but killed the kraken in the process.  The beast was brought back to Boston, where it was dissected and studied.  One of the scientists, William Rensher, discovered purely through accident that the fluid used by the beasts to control their depth, when mixed with common preservative chemicals, created a gas with tremendous lift capability.  The gas was also highly toxic, however.

The mixture soon replaced heated air in pleasure balloons, and the first airships evolved not long afterwards.  Kraken hunting was extremely dangerous, and the first ships to succeed became wealthy.  Even a small amount of the “lift juice” produced a huge volume of gas; a benefit when three out of four kraken hunters came back empty handed, or simply never returned at all.

Mellira was curious and inquisitive, and took her time going into every nook and cranny on the ship.  Unlike sailing vessels, airships had no need for bilges, so the cargo holds generally used as much space as possible.  The engines put off a huge amount of heat, and to counteract the colder temperatures at high altitude each airship used a system of pipes to shunt the heat through the ship.

Mell pushed through a door in the hold, and was surprised to see the sikh’s guards playing chess.  They were in the middle of a conversation, and silence fell immediately.  Their captain – lieutenant, she reminded herself – stood up and approached her.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude,” she said.  She moved to back out of the room, and the lieutenant stopped her with a light touch on the arm.

“Please wait.  Allow me to walk with you.”  His English was flawless, only slightly accented.  She nodded, and led the way back to the deck.

“My men are not used to the flying.  I find that being away from the open sky helps to keep them calm.  So we play chess to pass the time.  You are Mellira, yes?  I am called Fasim.”

“It’s nice to make your acquaintance, Fasim.  Your English is very good.”

“I studied at Oxford for several years.  I had to become fluent very quickly, and lose as much of my accent as I could, to avoid the joking and laughter.” He carried himself as she expected a soldier would, noting his surroundings with a watchful eye even as he told her of Oxford.  His father was wealthy, and sent his son to study literature and military history at one of the finest institutions in the world.  Fasim had joined the sikh’s guard  upon his return, and although he was offered an officer’s position he chose instead to start at a trooper’s rank.  Mellira watched him as he talked; if he was nervous at all he hid it well.

“I was promoted several times, pleasing my father each time he heard of my advancement.  This mission is my hope for a captain’s rank, and I assure you, my men and I will do everything in our power to capture Mr. Slyne and retrieve the gold he has stolen.  If it became common knowledge that Marrakesh lost her treasury, we would be under constant attack by those who perceive us as weak.”

“Of course, that sounds reasonable.  As the sikh’s men, I wouldn’t expect anything else of you.  As part of Captain Janus’ crew, I wouldn’t expect anything else of us, either.  Ruther did after all steal our livelihood.  I imagine that there’s already been talk of the many gruesome things we’ll be doing to Mr. Slyne to make him regret his decision to commit grand piracy.”

Piracy, Ms. Mellira? I am not sure I understand,” said Fasim.

“He stole vast sums of gold, as well as an airship.  It’s the airship that makes it piracy, you see.  There have been many glorious songs written about pirates, and most of them involve gold and ships.  Airships are ships; therefore piracy,” Mellira explained.

“I …see.  Were most of these pirates not hanged, or am I mistaken?”

“No, you are entirely correct, Mr. Fasim.  The ultimate fate of any pirate is to hang from the gibbet until dead.  All the best piracy songs leave that part out.  The last infamous airship pirate, Captain Red Rob Bart, died in excruciating pain after the American Air Fleet blew holes in his nacelles and the toxic fumes consumed his lungs.  He was too arrogant to wear a gas mask in combat, and paid the ultimate price.  His ship went down near Baltimore, with all hands aboard.”  Fasim looked ill, and Mellira grinned.

“Don’t worry.  We have enough gas masks for everyone.  You and your men will be safe,” she said.  “Just remember to breathe.  A mask is helpful, but too many people panic and forget to breathe naturally while wearing one.”

“I will try to keep that in mind, thank you.” The lieutenant took several deep breaths and appeared a little less green.  Mellira decided that she liked the man.  He appeared competent, highly intelligent, and very obviously cared a great deal about doing his job correctly.  Qualities to be admired in any man, much less a professional with a gun who might well safe your life.  They stood quietly for several minutes, watching the clouds pass, before Fasim broke the silence.

“You will forgive me, I hope, but I must check on the men.  They can be as children at times, requiring constant supervision.  Perhaps I will see about coffee at the galley, as well.”

“Men will always be like children, Mr. Fasim.  I’m afraid that for some men that will never change.  As for coffee, tell the cook not to be stingy with the beans.  I’ve grown to like your strong Marrakesh coffee, and this morning’s batch was weak.” She grinned, and he returned her smile.

Author’s note:  I’m going to try switching update schedules.  Currently I’m trying to update every two days, with roughly a thousand words each time.  I’m going to shoot for updates every four days, with about 5,000 words each time.  As always, this is a rough, unedited first draft.  Thanks for reading.

 

The Twilight flew through the night, chasing after the Sky Drake.  The crew that Janus brought on quickly learned the workings of the Twilight, and took pride in their work to shorten the distance between the two ships.  Janus himself stayed awake to give moral support, present in what seemed like multiple places at once to give encouraging words, hold a rope, or share a sip from the flask in his jacket.

The next day dawned cloudy and cold, with intermittent rain.  Ford’s crew was sluggish to start, and the men on galley duty brewed extra coffee to kickstart the day.  Flying through the night had gotten the Twilight a good way across the Mediterranean Sea, and by keeping on schedule they would reach the mainland by evening.

Ford found Janus at the starboard rail, checking the ropes.  He held out a cup of coffee, and both captains took a few minutes in quiet to enjoy the drink.  The rain had slowed to a drizzle, and the giant nacelles overhead kept most of the water off the ship.

“Fitting weather, after endless sun and heat,” said Ford.  Janus nodded in agreement.  “I hear from the lads that you were up all night.”

“I slept.  Not much.  Thought it would help if I were out here with the men, rather than cozy in a bunk.”

“We did great on time, Janus.  I looked at the maps, we should hit land by nightfall.  My boys tell me that your crew knows their airships.”

“That’s why I hired ‘em.  Tried and true airmen, every one.  The Twilight is a workhorse.  If I weren’t so invested in the Sky Drake, I’d be looking to steal your ship,” Janus grinned.

“Appreciate the warning,” said Ford.  “Just make sure you kill me when I’m not looking, otherwise I will shoot first.”

“No gunfights for you, Ford? I thought all Americans were ready to go in guns blazing at the slightest provocation.”

“West of the Mississippi, maybe.  In Pennsylvania we’re a bit more civilized, thank you.  We send out invitations first.”

“How are you and your crew armed? Have you ever had to fight before?” Janus glanced at Ford and sipped his coffee.  Pirates were a problem, more in the distant spaces than in Europe, but as lucrative as the sky trade was, there would always be men eager and willing to take the risk of hanging in exchange for easy profits.

“Just once, in the Caribbean.  We were in Port-au-Prince at the wrong time.  The city was revolting against the governor.  Dozens had already died in the street riots.  They were swarming the ports, both air and harbor, trying to get out any way they could.  I made the mistake of staying too long.  We took on as many as we could, but in the end the mob tried to board any way they were able to.  They climbed the mooring towers and the anchor ropes, and me and the boys had to fight them off.  The screams were terrible.  It was a city that had turned on itself in frustration and rage, and it burned behind us as we flew out.

So yes, we’ve had to fight.  I don’t like it, but I will defend this airship and its crew with my life if I have to.  I expect the same of any man on board.”

“Port-au_Prince was a mess.  I try to stay on top of the news just for events like this; I think it’s better to be prepared than caught unaware.  The Sky Drake was in London, and the whole city was talking about it for days.  I’ve never been happier for telegraphs.  Still amazes me that news can travel around the globe that quickly,” said Janus.

“The governors wanted too much for too little, simple as that.  In the end, when the Twilight was leaving, they released the soldiery on the people.  Cannons with grapeshot and ranked gunlines of professional soldiers were firing on farmers, merchants.  I heard later that the streets were covered in blood and body parts.  I’ve refused to go back, since then.”

Author’s note:  Part 11.  11,000 words.  Wow.  I’ve tried doing NaNoWriMo several times, and I always peter out somewhere in the first five to six thousand words.  In this installment I hit eleven thousand, which is impressive to me.  As always, it’s a rough unedited first draft, so errors may occur and research is minimal at this stage.  Thanks for reading.  

 

Several hours out of Marrakesh found the Twilight’s galley jammed with people for the meeting that Janus had called.  Both captains, their first mates(Janus had promoted Mellira), Ibben, Makhi, the lieutenant of the guards, and the supply master were crowded around the galley table.  Maps of the continent lay spread out, weighed down with wooden markers and measuring tools.  The whisky sat near Ford’s hand, not yet open.

“First of all, let me say that I think we hold too many meetings,” began Captain Janus.  “This one, though, is important.  It’s through Captain Ford’s kind generosity that our two crews will be working together for the time being, in our joint venture to get back my airship and kick Ruther Slyne’s ass.  I got stabbed yesterday, but it seems like it happened years ago.  Still hurts like a bitch.”

“So let’s open the whisky and have a drink,” said Ford.  He grabbed the bottle and opened it, then took a long slug straight from the bottle.  It passed to Janus, who did the same, and then around the table, managing to pass around Makhi.  The boy looked after the drink and sighed.

“What have we got, cap’n?” asked Grollo, Ford’s first mate.

“Something that might end up being trouble, not that it isn’t already.  My friend here tells me that the German ambassador knew something about the heist, and that Slyne is making his way to Berlin.  We don’t know much beyond that, but it’s my guess that the Anglo-prussian Empire has something planned.  I think we should get to Berlin before Slyne does and give him a warm welcome.  With our fists and cudgels,” said Janus.  He grinned.  “It’s going to be a hard trip, but we’ll make it because we’re airmen.  We’re loaded with supplies, and the Sky Drake is loaded with a belly full of gold – now tell me which ship’ll be flying faster, and if you say the Drake then I have a lake in the Sahara to sell you.”

“I like that plan,” Ibben said.  ‘What chances have we got to catch up?”

“Ford?” Janus gestured at the American captain, who stepped up and took a quick drink before speaking.

“The Twilight is a good ship, but she’s not as fast as the Drake.  But like Janus said, the Drake is full of gold right now, and gold is heavy.  They have a start on us, but we have two crews – I say we fly in shifts, and go through the night to make up the distance.  It’ll be rough, but I’ve got confidence we can do it.  We’re packed with food, water, and coal, and Slyne will need to stop and refuel at some point.  We don’t know when or where, but we can make some good guesses.  Marcus here is our supply master.  Mellira, if you can let him know what the Drake was carrying when she left, he should be able to plot out some towns where Slyne might be landing.  Grollo will organize the shifts, and we’ll fly until we reach the Iron City.”

The airship was soon filled with the sounds of activity, as Ford’s crew continued the small tasks that ensured the smooth running of an airship, and Janus’ crew made spaces to catch up on sleep before their night shift began.  The Twilight had reached maximum altitude, and the desert lay spread out far beneath like a tan blanket.  The ship took minimal effort once a proper course was set on a clear windless day, which allowed both crews to talk and share air stories.

Janus joined Mellira at the forward rail.  The sun was touching the horizon in the west, and everything was shaded in deep purples and the orange of a fading sunset.  Both wore the heavier jackets that airmen favored, lined with fur and thick enough to insulate against the cold temperatures that flying high always brought.

“It still seems mad to me sometimes,” said Janus.  “When I was tiny boy, the first airship took flight in Scotland.  I remember growing up and watching them come in to London – our small town was in the perfect place for the London approach, so I would sit on my few spare days and watch as they flew overhead, dropping giant shadows over the fields below.  Thirty years ago, and now we have ships like the Drake, that can make distances unheard of when the first airship flew.”

“What made you choose the sky?”

“Adventure.  I wanted to get away from home.  My da was a blacksmith, and I was supposed to apprentice to him.  I suppose I didn’t want to be tied to the same town for the rest of my life.  Being up here, and seeing everything so small down below… that’s what I ran to the sky for.”

Mellira smiled.  “One of my brothers was the same way.  He lost a leg in the war, so he couldn’t join a crew.  I did it for him, and every trip we make on the Sky Drake, each time I come home I bring him something from far away.  He’s getting a pretty large collection, and he always wants to hear my stories.  Doesn’t believe me that most of the time it’s uneventful.  Next time I see him he’ll get an earful, I think.”

“I hope we won’t regret this.  The more I brood on it, the more I feel that we never knew Slyne at all, that he had a mask he wore just for us.  It worries me, and I don’t know what we’ll find at the bottom of this.”

“I trust you, Captain,” said Mellira.  “The crew will follow you anywhere, and Ruther will remember the day before he took the Drake as the last good one in his miserable life.”

Janus nodded and gave her a smile, and together they watched as the sun set over the last stretch of the Sahara.

Author’s note:  The past few days have been without an update, and I apologize.  Today was rough, because my wife was having car troubles.  As always, this is the first unedited rough draft.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

The walk back to the Twilight was spent discussing the best plan of action for the journey ahead.  They would need to take on extra food supplies to feed everyone, and spaces to sleep would have to be found for Janus’ crew and the sikh’s guards.

“I’m still not certain where Slyne could have flown,” said Janus.  “We don’t want to end up heading in the wrong direction on a wild goose chase.  Are you sure that Spain is his best bet, Mellira?”

“Mostly.  Slyne doesn’t speak Arabic, so he doesn’t have many options other than north.  Spain also puts the Mediterranean between us, and with a good headwind he can gain some ground on us.  If we can, we really need to look into why he went and stole all that gold.”

“Greed? Power? Lust? Seems pretty straightforward to me,” said Ibben.

“You don’t just empty a city’s bank vaults for greed, Ibben.  I feel like there’s a reason behind his plan, and if we know what that is then we’re a step ahead of Slyne.  Janus, maybe that kid can try to keep looking for information here in the city.”

“Makhi?” said Janus.  “Yeah, that might work.  I’ll try to talk to Fahn about it before we fly.  And you’re right.  Nobody makes himself a wanted man like that without good reason.   He’s shut him himself out of the Islamic world and put a price on his head.  Damn well better believe we’re not the only ones after his hide.  We just get first crack because he’s got my damn airship.”

The air-port was bustling when the group go back – several airships were taking off, and enormous freight hauler was gliding in from the west, engines pouring black smoke as the crew tried to manhandle the giant beast to a mooring tower.  The deck of the Twilight was packed with crew and crates, and Ford directed traffic with an air of long experience.  There was a sense of urgency, but not panic.

“Janus, good to see you back.  And you brought friends, excellent.  Now we have even less space on the decks.”  Ford frowned at the red-uniformed guards and raised an eyebrow.  Janus shook his head and mouthed “later”.  

“How are we on supplies, Ford?”

“Well, they wouldn’t let me take off without you, so I took a chance and had them load extra barrels of salted meat, lemons, and salt fish, as well as extra coal.  We’re loaded to the gills, and it’s going to slow us down, I won’t lie to you.  But I figured better prepared for anything is better than nothing.  What did you get arrested for, forget to pay a port fee or something?  Can’t have been big, you’re already out.”

“Stole the city treasury.  Like you said, nothing big.” Janus gave Ford a clap on the shoulder and a grin as he walked past.  “If you’re ready, let’s take off.  We’ve got a lot of flying to do, and not enough time to do it in.”

He headed back to the captain’s cabin to look over the maps, and was surprised to see the shopkeeper’s assistant, Makhi, already sitting at the desk.  The boy looked up and smiled.

“Captain! How are you doing? I have something you might wish to know,” he said.

“I’m good.  Surprised to see you, but that’s alright.  We meant to send a message to you before we left.  What have you got?” He pulled out the maps, plotting the shortest route to Spain as the boy began to talk.

That morning, after returning with no useful information, Makhi had gone back to Fahn’s shop to open for the day.  Fahn sold a variety of goods, and that morning had received a shipment of German chocolates.  Makhi was sweeping when two white men entered, asking about the shipment.  As Fahn filled their order and wrote the invoice, the men discussed the previous night’s burglary of the city vaults.

“Slyne should be well on his way by now.  The airship was seen leaving the city several hours ago, and he should be in Berlin in less than a week,” said the shorter, portly man.

“Good, good.  And the sikh, what are his plans?  He will find it difficult to fly Marrakeshi airships into the Anglo-Prussian Empire.”

“He has been secluded all morning, there is no word yet on his plans. The Sky Drake’s captain was arrested this morning, however.  Rumor has it that he will hang.  Ambassador, do you really believe this will work?”

“Dear Helmut, what we have here is a clockwork, engineered to work until no longer required to.  I have every confidence that things will go smoothly at every step.  Ah, our chocolates are ready.  Thank you, dear shopkeeper.”

Fahn had sent Makhi to the Twilight as soon as the men were outside.  The information was too valuable to risk any delay.

“I think Fahn was right.  If that really was the German ambassador, then this might be a lot more dangerous than just a stolen airship and some missing gold.  We might be in deep shit, boy.” said Janus.  The boy nodded in agreement.  The ship rumbled, and suddenly lifted several feet.  “Well, I think we just took off.  I hope you don’t get airsick, boy.”

On deck, orders flew fast as the airship Twilight was loosed from his mooring tower, and began to gain altitude.  Ford directed his crew with a skilled hand, and Janus’ crew stayed out of the way.  The engines roared as they received more power, and the Twilight moved gracefully through the desert air on a northern tangent.  The captain joined Ford on deck and watched as Marrakesh, domain of the desert kings, slowly faded into the haze on the horizon.

“We’ve got to have a meeting, Ford.  I just got some news that you want to hear.”

“How bad is it, Janus?  Do I want to be sitting down and drinking when you tell me?  I have some excellent whisky saved up that should do nicely.”

“Bring it.  Make sure everyone who needs to know is there.  We have plans to make.”

Alright.  Sounds good.  I like plans.  Plans are important.  That guard captain has been looking for you.  I think his name is Odhed,” said Ford.

“Lieutenant.  Bring him, too.  How’s your crew doing?” Janus scanned the horizon.  They were the only airship in sight, quickly gaining altitude and speed.  Soon it would get colder, and most airships had storage chests of extra jackets and blankets for the higher altitudes.  Most airmen brought their own, but the sikh’s guards would need gear, as would Makhi.

In which we continue the adventures of a crew of wayward misfits.  As always, this is the rough, unedited, first draft.  It could all change when I start editing and revising, but for now, I’m glad that I’m getting an update done every two days.  Thanks for reading.

 

“Did Janus just… get arrested?” Mellira moved to the railing to watch as the guards led the captain away from the air-port and to the palace.

“I believe he did indeed.  Wonder what he did this time.  Any ideas?”  Ford spit in the direction of the departing guards.  “Those were the sikh’s personal guards, not city watch.  Something is up, and I don’t like it.  Janus may not be the most law-abiding man out there, but as I recall he doesn’t usually get arrested by the likes of them. Looks like we won’t be leaving as planned after all.”

“We’ve got to get him out! What we can do?”  Mellira moved to the tower, ready to head down to the palace herself.

“Pray to Allah that he makes it out alive,” said Ibben.  “The Sikh does not often send out his own palace guards to do the city watch’s work.  We should head to the palace, to try to find out more.”

“Gather the crew and make sure they’re all here, ready for take-off.  We’ll be ready at a moment’s notice.  In the meantime, go see what you can do at the palace!” said Ford.  He barked orders at his own crew, and the ship jumped to life.  Airmen checked rigging, secured cargo, and took care of the thousand other details that needed doing before an airship took off.

Ibben joined Mellira, and together they ran back to the inn.  Their own crew was already packing, ready to make flight on the Twilight.  Airmen’s packs were all over the place, bulging with personal items and clothing, and the innkeep looked like he was getting plenty of exercise running food and drink for everyone.

Mellira jumped onto the closest tabletop, and gave a couple of good stomps with her boots.  The noise level dropped, and dozens of eyes looked in her direction.

“Ok boys, listen up.  Here’s the deal on what’s been going on in our jolly old lives as of yesterday.  Slyne is no longer first mate – it turns out that Ruther had other ideas, and has made himself captain.  He’s also made off with our Sky Drake.  Are we going to take that?”

“NO,” came twenty voices in unison.

“That’s what I thought.  In addition to taking our dearly beloved airship, he’s also kidnapped our dearly beloved Ben.  What do we think of that?”

“String him up!”, “Shark-bait!”, “Air drop him!” came from the crowd, with numerous hisses and boos added in for good measure.

“Exactly my line of thinking.  Now, the last bit of news – Captain’s been arrested on unknown charges.”  Another chorus of boos.  “Ibben and me are going down to the palace to give the sikh a piece of our minds, and you lads will be on the Twilight, making ready to fly down Slyne’s filthy, lying throat when we give the word!”

Cheers erupted from the crowd, and someone with a sense of humor even threw a cactus rose.  Mell took a bow, and stuck the flower in her hair.  She leapt off the table, waved to the crew, and slipped out the door into the heat.

“That went better than I thought,” she said.  Ibben nodded and checked his knives.  “They love you, in their own ways.  Probably follow you to Hell if you asked ‘em to.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing,” she asked.  The dark man grinned at her, and gave no reply.  Together they made their way to the palace to plead for a life.

 

Captain Janus was waiting when the guards came for him the second time.  He’d decided that dignity was the best option, no matter what the sikh had decided.  The time had passed quickly – he judged only an hour or so had gone by.  The walk through the palace was much faster this time, with fewer corridors to pass through.  The audience in the ornate chamber had changed, but the sikh sat as before on his throne.  Janus approached, surrounded by guards and steel, and bowed from the waist when he was told to halt.

“While the evidence seems to be in your favor, Captain, I cannot rule out that you  are entirely innocent.  Marrakesh is my city, and while in it you come under my rule.  As such, I charge you with this task: find the man known as Ruther Slyne, wherever he may be, and bring him back for judgement.  With him you shall bring the gold he has stolen.  The criminals he associates with may be dealt with as you see fit.  You have an airship?”

“Yes, your lordship.  Jeremiah Ford of the Twilight has offered his services,” said Janus.  His mind spun at the turnaround of events.  He had just been set free to do what intended all along.  The sikh’s next words brought him back to the present.

“Good.  A contingent of my personal guard will accompany you, to ensure that my trust was not misplaced.”

“May I ask about travel expenses, your lordship?  Refueling is not cheap, and my crew is already going to be imposing on Captain Ford’s business,” Janus said.  The sikh stared at him, and was silent for several minutes.  The captain shifted uncomfortably.  Finally the sikh nodded and sighed.

“You are correct, of course.  Expenses may be deducted from the gold aboard the Sky Drake, provided that I receive an intimately detailed and itemized list upon your return.  Now, you may leave.  My lieutenant of the guards will meet you at the palace doors with your guard.  Your acquaintances are waiting there as well, I believe,” he said.

Janus wondered who the man was talking about.  He knew no one in the palace, and surely the man couldn’t be talking about the soldiers that would be coming along.  He shrugged and followed his guides, simply glad to be free and alive.  The guards with him were silent, only gesturing to indicate direction when needed.  He wondered if they were upset at his release.  More pressing was the question of what had changed the sikh’s mind.  He was sure that the man would have him executed, just for owning the airship that took off with his gold.  The small group turned the corner, and Janus saw two familiar forms waiting.

“Mell, Ibben!  Damn but it’s good to see you two,” he said.  “What are you doing here, I thought you were back at the Twilight?”

“We came as soon as we could, the crew is at the airship and ready to take off.  We had to wait a few hours, but finally we somehow got in to see the sikh.  He asked us a lot of questions about where we were last night, if anyone could testify to that, what we planned to do, that sort of thing.  I think we managed to convince him that you were with us a good part of the night and that you were innocent,” said Mellira, taking a deep breath.

“Let’s get out of here, we’ve been here long enough already,” chimed Ibben.

“Not yet – we’re taking on passengers.  The sikh is letting me go on the condition that we hunt down Slyne, but he wants some of his hunting dogs with us.  They should be here in a minute,” said Janus.  “I wasn’t expecting to walk out of here, and I’m grateful for whatever you said to change his mind.  Thank you both.”

“Aww, you can repay us later, captain,” said the redhead.  Their heads turned down the corridor at the sound of approaching boots.  The lieutenant of the guard, a grey haired man in his forties, was leading four others, all packed for travel.  He nodded at the captain, and gave a quick salute.

“Ok, are we all here?  Then let’s go, we’ve got a snake to hunt down.”  Captain Janus led the way out of the palace’s doors, already thinking of the next steps in their journey.

Author’s note:  One of the problems I’ve always had when trying to do NaNoWriMo is that after some small number of words(usually around 5,000), I would fizzle out and have no idea where to go next.  So far with Airships I’m not having that problem, because situations keep leading to other situations.  And it’s totally ok if this thing takes me a couple hundred pages to write out, because that’s the nature of the novel and the first draft.  Jim Butcher always says that one of his favorite things to do is put Harry Dresden in impossible situations and trouble just to see what happens, and I feel like that’s a good way to get conflict going.  I think you see that a little already with Captain Janus; first he gets stabbed, and then he finds that his trusted second in command made off with his airship.

The guard was efficient, and quickly led Janus through the city to the jails in the palace.  Marrakesh at the time was ruled by a sikh, advised by the leaders of the nomadic desert tribes.  The prisoner was brought to the jail through a back entrance, avoiding needless attention.  The cell was surprisingly spacious.  Small barred windows near the top of the high ceiling showed that they were at ground level.

“Stay here.  You will be brought before the sikh to hear your sentence shortly,” said the guard.

“What are my charges?” Janus clutched the bard. “You haven’t even charged me with anything!”

“Listen to that, Jasim.  The city treasury is emptied and leaves on this man’s airship, and the stinking cur pretends not to know.  What a fool does he think we are?” The guards laughed and left, leaving Janus to his thoughts.

He sat back against the cool wall.  So that was what Slyne had planned, why he’d stolen the Sky Drake.  The captain wondered how the first mate had managed it.  The city treasury gone… Small wonder he’d been arrested.  It must have taken months of meticulous planning, an incredible risk with a huge payout.

He had been attacked at sunset, and the rest of the crew had been led out drinking around the same time.  The money must have been stolen just after full dark, maybe with the help of a bribed guard.  It would have taken hours to haul everything across the sleeping city; the air-port was on the opposite side of Marrakesh from the palace, because the sikh still mistrusted technology, nevermind the huge sums that his import taxes were raking in.  Loading the Sky Drake added several more hours, meaning that Slyne had probably flown at or just before dawn.

Had Janus gone to the airship, he would have ended up as dead as Len.  In hindsight, staying at the inn to make plans was the best decision they could have made.  Best of all, the Drake being full of gold meant that the airship was heavy in the air, burning more fuel and needing many more stops to take on supplies.  That meant the route Slyne chose was much more predictable, with more chances to get caught.

Janus looked around his cell.  The room measured perhaps twenty feet by fifty, with the long wall at the back of the cell across from the bars.  The ceiling was high, probably another twenty feet, with small windows near the top that led in morning light.  He was currently the only prisoner, and the room beyond the cell was equally empty.  The guards were likely certain of their security, and felt no need to keep watch on a single prisoner.

He sighed.  The problem came in getting out.  Trying to argue with a man already convinced of your guilt was often pointless, and Janus was certain that the sikh was of the mind that he was indeed guilty.  The captain doubted that anyone would be breaking him out of jail anytime soon.  Escape almost certainly carried a death sentence, as if the penalty for theft – loss of one or both hands – wasn’t bad enough.  Janus had no intention of hanging, nor did he want to spend the rest of his life as a handless invalid.  That left a strong convincing argument as his defense.  Maybe the fact that he was stabbed would actually work in his favor.  He closed his eyes, and fell into a doze.

‘Wake up, dog,” the voice said. It was accompanied by a rattling of metal on metal – a halberd being dragged across the bars.  Three guards waited outside the cell.  The light had changed, and Janus guessed that he’d been asleep for several hours.  He stretched and took a moment to wake up.  They had untied his hands when he arrived, and without being told he held them out to be bound again.  The guard had changed, and one who now tied him was younger, and nodded approval.  The cell door clanged shut behind Janus with an unpleasant finality.

The walk to see the sikh seemed to take an eternity, through endless palace corridors filled with sumptuous carpets and beautiful knick-knacks.  Staff rushed by, often carrying trays of delicacies.  His guards bantered back and forth, and Janus was beginning to suspect that they were deliberately leading him in a longer route than necessary.  They stopped in front of a pair of ornate doors just as he opened his mouth to ask.

The chamber inside was sumptuous, tiled in an intricate design of repeating shapes and abstract forms.  Janus vaguely remembered that Islam forbid direct representations of animals and man, so architects had turned to lines and repetitions of curves to decorate.  It was beautiful but sometimes overwhelming.  One wall of the chamber opened into a shaded garden, with multiple decorated archways leading out.

The room was so busy that it took Janus a moment to notice the people.  The sikh sat on a large thronelike chair and wore robes in a rich cream color with gold thread.

He was an older man with grey in his hair, and a finely trimmed mustache.  Courtiers surrounded him, wealthy men who supported the new trade agreements and dealt in goods from all over the world.  Janus recognized several whom he had traded with and delivered cargo for in the past.  A table to the side was laid out with food, and more people wandered through the garden, conversing quietly.  The guards with their halberds stood out sharply in their red uniforms.

“Captain Janus, welcome.  I am told that you were made aware of the charges against you.  How do you plead?”  The sikh had a quiet voice that commanded respect, silk with iron underneath.

“Innocent, your lordship.  Does my plea make a difference?  Haven’t you already condemned me in your mind?  I swear on my life that it wasn’t I who robbed your treasury, but I know who did,” said Janus.

“Your ship, the Sky Drake, left this morning with most of the gold in our treasury in his hold.  And yet you claim innocence?  Your only mistake was in not leaving the city with your airship!  I can only guess at the devious plots you have in motion which kept you here.”

“Like I said, I knew you wouldn’t hear my reason.  What was the point of bringing me out of my cell to have this farce of an audience?  Why even bring me to the jails at all, why not simply execute me on the spot?”  One of the guards raised his halberd to strike, but a gesture from the sikh stayed his hand.

“Let him speak.  He only digs his grave deeper.  I have witnesses who will tell of your guilt.  Bring them out!”  The sikh stared at Janus with cold eyes.

Two men entered the chamber, both wounded.   One had a leg in a cast, and the other was bruised and battered.  They bowed low to the sikh, before turning to face the captain and his guards.

Both men visibly started.  They looked at each other in confusion and hesitated, reluctant to speak.

“Well? Speak his guilt,” said the sikh.  Impatient for his trial to end, he tapped the fingers of one hand along the arm of his chair.

The man with the broken leg opened his mouth to speak, but the other talked first.  “Your eminence, this is not the man we saw last night.”

“Of course it is, who else could it be?  He is Janus van Koonns, captain of the Sky Drake.  He was arrested just this morning.  Look again, fool.”

“I am sorry, but this is not he.  The man we saw leading the attack was also blonde, but much taller and thinner, with a sharp face.  This man’s face is rounded and his hair is short and shaggy, while the other had long hair slicked back,” said the man with the cast.  He looked severely apologetic.  “This is truth,” agreed the other.  “Though each has blond hair, they look nothing alike.  This Captain Janus was wounded, it seems, while the man from last night escaped with no harm to his person.  I am sorry your eminence.  You have our deepest apologies.”

Janus’ mouth hung open in shock.  The two men had risked their lives to tell the truth, and had perhaps inadvertently saved his life.  He glanced at the sikh, who had a similar expression on his face.  Murmurs spread through the watching crowd.

“Captain Janus, do you know the man they describe?”

“He was my first mate, your lordship.  I was attacked last night at sunset, cut by my attacker, and spent the rest of the night at the inn called the Wandering Crocodile.  Two of my crew were with me, and the rest were out drinking.  They’re all in the city right now.  My first mate, Ruther Slyne, betrayed me as well.  I had no idea what his intentions were until one of your guards mentioned the stolen gold to me this morning.  My crew and I were actually supposed to take on a load of cloth and spices and leave for France this morning.”

“If what you say is truth… I must think on this matter.  Take him back his cell.  Do him harm, and give him food and water.”  Janus nodded in thanks, and gladly followed the guards.  It wasn’t the best outcome, but it was better than hanging.

 

Author’s note:  Rough unedited first draft.  I’m writing with no research done, just ideas, and what you’re reading could change drastically.  Thanks for reading.  

 

The sun rose slowly over Marrakesh, shadows drawing back into alleys, between houses, into the nooks and crannies that every city had in abundance.  The heat would come back as it always did, but here, now, in the early light of dawn, it was still bearable.  The inhabitants had dealt with the sun for millennia, but the hundreds of visitors, traders, tourists, investors and newcomers all faced the desert heat in different ways.

The small inn at the edge of the trade district was a hive of activity.  Crew from the Sky Drake had been arriving in small groups, staggering in to find food and relief from the previous night’s drinking.  Makhi, who had returned with much of the same information as Ibben, ran messages and went from tavern to tavern, rousing those crew members who needed more than a quick kick to get them moving.

Ibben and Mellira flanked the captain as he stepped out, cigar clenched in his teeth.  Passersby avoided the trio, who looked ready to take on Hell itself.  None of them had slept, and Ibben in particular was grimy and filthy from the previous night’s adventure.  Together they headed in the direction of the air-port, seeking the captain of the Twilight.

The air-port had grown on the outside of the city, getting larger every year as airship travel exploded and merchants the world over realized the profits to be made in trading goods that could be delivered anywhere, much faster than by any other method.  Already loud and bustling with traders, captains, crew, and porters, the air-port only grew busier as the day went on.  The very nature of the airship meant that there was plenty of shade to be found, even if it did move slightly with the wind.

The Twilight was moored at the edge of the port, tethered with thick ropes to a four story tower that contained stairs and a mechanical lift for easier loading of cargo.  The airship resembled the Sky Drake with only a few minor differences.  The Twilight was three meters longer, and had a deeper belly for larger cargo loads.  The aft engines were heavier, and the Drake was slightly more maneuverable.

The trio climbed the tower and paused on the landing platform to take in the view.  Marrakesh spread out before them, saturated in the warm tones of early morning.  The city was murmuring as it woke, residents getting up to start their daily tasks.  The great market square was busy, vendors setting up their stalls to catch the early customers, shouting their wares.

“Who goes there? Mellira, is that you?” The voice came from the deck of the Twilight, and belonged to a balding man with wire spectacles.  He held a staff casually at his side and peered at Janus and his crew from less than ten feet away across the gap between airship and tower.

“Tomas!” The redhead grinned and waved.  “How are you doing, you old dog?  Are the kids doing well?”

“It is you, by god.  I’d recognize that red hair and that pretty arse anywhere.  The kids are doing great, Betsy is a wonderful mother.  Can’t say as I’m the best dad in the world, but I try to bring ‘em something every visit,” Tomas said.  He set down the staff and laid out the gangplank.  “What brings you to the Twilight?  Captain Janus, good to see you too.  Ibben.  Come aboard, come aboard!  Ford is in his cabin, go right on in.”

Mellira ran the plank and jumped at Tomas, giving him a warm hug as she pecked his cheek.  The men were more reserved, and stuck to handshakes.  The deck was quiet, though a pile of crates had begun forming at the base of the tower, and a small number of porters were standing in a group, waiting to load the ship.

“Is he awake? It’s early yet, but we need to see him,” said Janus.  He looked back toward the cabins and frowned.

“If he’s not, you can wake him up,” said Tomas.  “He should be up, though.  Breakfast, I think.  I’ll have something brought for you as well.”

Janus nodded and led the way aft.  It was time to call in the favors.  The cut on his chest hurt, and he was more than exhausted.  The theft of the Sky Drake had caused him more grief than he wanted to show, and the anger at Slyne’s betrayal fueled him now.  He had left home twenty years ago, signed up with an airship crew, and never looked back.  Back then, airships were slow and bulky, but designs had improved drastically in the years he’d been in the air.  The Sky Drake was only a few years old, and she was his.  He had worked his way up from deck crew to captain, and no whoreson bastard would ever take that from him.  He clenched a fist and heard his knuckles pop.  The door to the captain’s cabin was ajar, and Janus took a deep breath and stepped inside.

“Jeremiah Ford! Your ship isn’t fit to carry pigshit!  What are you teaching that crew of yours?”  Ford looked up from his breakfast plate, eyes wide with a fork halfway to his lips.  The bacon slipped from the fork, and the small captain grinned as he saw who had called his name.

“Well if it isn’t my old friend Captain Janus van Koonns!  What brings you to this old flying crate?”  The two captains embraced, and room was made around the table for everyone.

“I’m calling the favor, Jere.  Slyne took off with the Drake and left us all hanging with our balls to the wind.  He flew just before dawn, from what we can tell.”

“That backstabbing sum’ bitch… What do you need from me?  I’m at your disposal, you know that.  I’m set to load up on cloth goods, but it’s a small cargo,the load-in shouldn’t take long at all.  We can set out in an hour.  Where’s Slyne headed?”

“We don’t actually know.  We think he’s going for Spain, and he’s got Ben on board as hostage.  He had Ben write a letter that was delivered to me, but he didn’t specify any reasons.  Nothing but long-winded gloating about why he was better than me.”

“Then forget about it for now, and relax and have some breakfast while you can.  I’ll have another pot of coffee sent in,” said Ford.  He was American, born in Pennsylvania, and in the way of most Americans was endlessly optimistic.  He leaned back now in his chair, in shirtsleeves and suspenders, and pulled out a pipe.

The rest of the hour passed quietly, and Janus and crew enjoyed the simple breakfast provided.  Finally they pushed back plates and mugs and stood, stretching.

“I’ll get the crew, and meet you back here,” said Mellira.  They walked out to the gangplank with Ford, discussing plans, and were surprised to see several of the city watch on the tower’s platform.

“Captain Janus?” said one of the guard.  They were in the traditional red ceremonial garb, and carried short halberds.

“Yes?”  Janus traded glances with Ibben, and shook his head ever so slightly.

“We regret to inform you that you are under arrest, under orders from the Duke of Marrakesh.  You will be accompanying us to the city’s jails, please.  Come peacefully, or you will come bruised and beaten.”  The men stepped forward, flanking Janus as their leader tied Janus’ hands.  Mell, Ibben, and Ford watched in silence as he was escorted down the tower stairs, shock on their faces.