Monday, May 4, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 16

< Chapter 15                                                                                                 Chapter 17 >
David spots the captain of the pursuing airship and it’s none other than Raoul, exiled prince of Tarteg!

I just stared through the binoculars for a few seconds wondering exactly what sins I committed in a previous life. Why else would God see fit to counter the boundless joy my family gives me with a pathetic, revenge-minded festering wound of a human like Raoul? And what kind of idiot would turn such a man loose on Aashla with galactic tech?

I lowered the binoculars. “Well, hell.”

“You look like you swallowed a live hornet, Captain Rice,” Cochran said. “What did you see?”

“The captain of our pursuing airship. He’s none other than my arch pain in the ass, Raoul.” I sighed, handing the binoculars back to Cochran. “He and I have crossed paths several times though not in several years.”

“And Raoul always comes out the worse for being foolish enough to go up against you.” Cochran grinned at the surprised look I gave him. “Even if Jade hadn’t told us all about your adventures dozens of times, we’d know about you and Raoul. I expect most everyone on Aashla does by now. That’s likely to make Raoul hate you even more, of course.”

“Count on it.” I glanced over my shoulder at the pinnace which was now well ahead of us. “On the plus side, once Raoul spots me he will completely ignore the pinnace.”

“Let’s not waste any time telling him that.” Cochran called his signal man over. “Mister Gant, could you please send a message to the airship behind us? Tell them Captain David Rice is aboard and warn them to turn aside before he gets angry.”

As Gant climbed to his signal perch, I couldn’t help but grin. “That message will have Raoul seeing red!”

Gant was only halfway through the message when the first crewman fired at us. A few more shots flashed our way, none of them coming remotely close to hitting the Wind Dancer, before someone—probably Raoul, who no doubt wants to watch me die up close and personal—got the crew under control again.

“Veer away from the pinnace’s course, Captain Cochran,” I said. “We need to make sure Raoul follows us rather than our families.”

Cochran ordered a sweeping course change to due north. To our considerable relief, the anti-grav airship followed us. Indeed, Raoul performed a more abrupt course change, cutting inside the arc of our turn and slicing off a big chunk of our lead in the process.

Shortly after that, another blaster bolt flew our way, missing the Dancer by a good ten yards. My hopes for a fusillade of poorly aimed shots which did nothing but drain power packs failed to materialize. Instead, one crewman fired every thirty seconds.

“Ranging shot,” Cochran said. “Smart move on their part and a much more disciplined approach from Raoul than I expected based on the stories. Once they get in range, those rifles could wipe us all out before the airship comes within crossbow range.”

“I know. I had three of the rifles in my hands before I made my mad dash to catch a ride with you. I had to drop them to carry Callan.”

“I don’t think three rifles would make much difference, David.”

“Especially those three rifles. The trogs never cleaned them. They had so much dirt and grit in them—”

Cochran raised an eyebrow when I stopped speaking. “Problem?”

“No, solution. Maybe.” I leaned over the railing and looked at the ground five hundred feet below us. It was just what I hoped for. “Do you trust your pilot to fly this fast but at an altitude of twenty feet?”

“Why?”

“The inner workings of those blaster rifles are open to the air, so it’s easy for dirt to get into it. If enough gunk gets into those rifles, they should stop working.”

“So you want to use the Dancer’s engines to kick dirt in Raoul’s face and into his rifles as well.” Cochran nodded as if the idea appealed to him. “Let’s give it a try!”

Over the next minute and a half, the Wind Dancer descended steadily. Once Raoul figured out what we were doing, he dropped steadily, too. By the time we leveled off, our engines kicked up a brown cloud of dirt and dust and sand in our wake. The fine particles served a second purpose, absorbing and dispersing the blaster bolts’ energy, essentially forming an energy shield between us and Raoul’s airship.

Raoul stuck to our stern, though he never descended far enough to match our altitude. The fringes of the dust cloud still enveloped his ship, giving us hope the blaster rifles were fouling. Raoul also kept shooting at us every thirty seconds, gauging a blaster bolt’s range through the dust cloud. Captain Cochran returned the favor with crossbows when the other airship pulled within fifty yards of us. To my delight, crossbow bolts flew far better through the dust than blaster bolts did. When our crossbowman winged Raoul’s rifleman, Raoul ascended out of crossbow range and, unfortunately, out of the dust cloud.

“Is Raoul giving up?” Cochran asked me when the Dancer’s envelope blocked our view of the other airship.

“Not likely. I’ll climb up on top of the envelope and see what he’s up to.”

“The hell you will!” Cochran’s expression brooked no argument. “I will not be the man who loses Aashla’s greatest hero to a random gust of wind.”

With a few shouted commands, two of Cochran’s crew ran up into the airship’s rigging and up the side of the envelope. Seconds later, the two men descended even faster than they went up.

“The other ship’s coming down on top of us!” shouted one.

“Brace for impact!” cried the second.

Then the airship shuddered as a great weight dropped onto the envelope and drove the ship toward the ground. Timber snapped and splintered as the Wind Dancer crashed bow-first into the ground!


Will our hero survive the crash? Find out in Chapter 16, coming Wednesday!