Friday, May 1, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 15

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Safely aboard a passing airship, David falls unconscious after Boosting.

Years ago, before the children were born, I frequently found myself forced to fight for Callan and for country. I Boosted far too often and for far too long and rarely gave my body time to recover between Boosts. In retaliation, my body sometimes knocked me out to force inactivity on me. What can I say, sometimes my body knows what I need more than I do. I hadn’t Boosted since I’d led the fight against pirate Captain Quint and his band of cutthroats, so the immunity I’d built up to the aftereffects of Boost was long gone.

In other words, my body planned on keeping me out for hours. For some perverse reason, life rarely cooperates in these situations. I found myself rising through gradually lightening shades of black until my eyes fluttered open, squinting into the bright desert sky. Cold water dribbled down my cheeks. Callan’s face, wiped clean of dust and dirt and wearing a troubled look, hovered over me, a wooden cup in her hand. Looming above both of us stood two men, both gazing down at me with concern written on their faces.

“He’s coming around.” Callan put the cup down on the deck.

I raised a hand to wipe water from my eyes, got a look at my filthy fingers, and decided better of it. “We must be in serious trouble for you to wake me up after I pushed my Boosting limits.”

“Aye, that we are,” one of the looming men said. “There’s…something…in our wake and it’s moving right quick, too. Her Highness agreed we need your opinion.”

“You know who we are?”

“Only a blind man could fail to recognize Princess Callan,” the man replied. “And who but her husband could run faster up a mountain while carrying his wife than a normal, unburdened man could run down the same mountain?”

Suppressing a groan, I sat up. “I’m sorry I missed the introductions. And you’d be?”

The man raised a hand in half-salute. “Lon Cochran, owner and captain of the Wind Dancer.” Smiling briefly at my raised eyebrow, Cochran offered a hand to help me stand. “My daughter chose the name and proud I was to register it.”

“As I would have been in your place. I have a daughter, too.” I arched my back and stretched. “Now where is this strange pursuer?”

Cochran led me to the stern, handed me a pair of Federation-made binoculars, and pointed at a dot off in the distance. I raised the binoculars and swept the area until I found the object. With the touch of a button, I zoomed in for a closer view and gasped.

“It sort of looks like a normal airship ‘cept I’ve got no idea how it flies without an envelope,” Cochran said.

“Proscribed galactic tech is how, Captain.” I increased the magnification slowly, careful to keep the distant airship centered in my view. “Can this ship go any faster?”

“Mister Yarrow,” Cochran’s voice took on the edge of command, “raider drill.”

“Aye, Captain!” The other man who had loomed above me turned away from us, snapping off orders to the crew.

“What’s raider drill, Captain?” Callan asked.

“We dump the cargo and bring up the pressure on the ship’s pinnace. If raiders get too close, my family and any passengers can escape in the pinnace while the crew and I stay and fight.”

“I’d advise putting your family aboard the pinnace as soon as possible. Without the drag of an envelope slowing it down, I don’t see how we can outrun that airship,” I said, still examining the approaching airship. To my considerable relief, I saw no signs of any advanced weaponry beyond the blaster rifles carried by the entirely human crew. “Have you got a good pilot to fly the pinnace?”

“Aye, Captain Rice. Jade, the same daughter who named the Dancer.”

“Good.” I lowered the binoculars. “Callan, you—”

“Will go on the pinnace. Yes, darling.”

My eyebrows rose almost to my hairline. “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

“Perhaps motherhood has changed my perspective. Besides, someone has to remain free to organize the rescue.”

“And who better to do that than Lady Death herself?”

Callan rolled her eyes and turned toward Cochran. “You wouldn’t be in this danger had you not come looking for survivors from our wrecks, Captain. The Mordanian treasury will reimburse you for your losses.”

“What say we worry about that after we’re all safe, Your Highness?”

Before Callan could reply, a tall blonde girl of fifteen or sixteen years crowded in between Callan and Cochran. “Yarrow says you’re sending me off in the pinnace, Dad.”

Mister Yarrow. And yes, I need you to pilot it away from that thing.” Cochran waved a hand toward the distant airship.

The girl turned bright green eyes on our pursuer and stared for a few seconds. “How the hell does it fly?”

“Watch your tongue, Jade!” Cochran shook his head in dismay. “We have visitors.”

Apparently noticing us for the first time, Cochran’s daughter gave us a dismissive glance. Then her eyes widened and swung back to us—alighting on me for some reason. Her mouth formed an ‘O’ of surprise.

“Oh my God! You’re him!”

I smiled and sketched a brief bow. “David Rice at your service, Miss Cochran. And may I present my wife, Princess Callan?”

Jade’s eyes cut to Callan for a split second. “Hi.” Then the girl’s eyes snapped back to me and she just stared.

“Jade, get busy preparing the pinnace,” her father ordered. His daughter didn’t move or speak or show she’d heard a thing her father said. Cochran caught Jade’s jaw and gently turned her to face him. “I said go prepare the pinnace for launch. You’re taking Princess Callan along with your mother and the other passengers.”

“Oh, right! Um, aye aye, Dad.” Jade turned away but managed to keep her eyes on me until the last second.

Cochran sighed as she scampered aft. “My apologies to you both. The girl has much better manners than that but, well…”

“She has the good taste to be smitten with David,” Callan finished for Cochran.

Cochran nodded. “He’s her first big crush. She’s even got one of those photo graph things pinned to the bulkhead in her cabin.”

Before I could come up with a response to that news, the first boxes of cargo crashed into the ground hundreds of feet beneath the Wind Dancer. Knowing time was short, I pulled Callan close for a quick kiss.

“Take care of yourself, darling,” she whispered into my ear.

“I will. You do the same.”

Two minutes later, the pinnace launched from the Dancer’s bow and slowly pulled away from the larger, heavier ship. Then I returned to the bow and once again focused on the approaching airship. It was still well astern of us but was close enough for me to make out individual faces—and one of them was all too familiar.

Raoul, exiled prince of Tarteg, captained the pursuing airship!

What is Raoul doing on the proscribed airship? Find out in Chapter 16, coming Monday!