Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 29

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Trying to escape concentrated blaster fire, Jade rolls off the cliff ledge she’s been using for her own shooting!

My heart leapt into my throat as I watched Jade’s hands flail desperately for a handhold. The fingers of the girl’s right hand caught the lip of the ledge she’d been laying on and stopped her fall. The rest of her body swung down and around her tenuous grip. Her feet smacked into the ladder, loosening her grip and sending her swinging back in the other direction just before her left hand could grab the ladder.

All of this took but a split second and my cry of horror was still forming when Chris took action. With a ship’s line clutched in his left hand, the ensign dove over the railing, swinging toward Jade like some kind of jungle lord. Chris came up beside the dangling girl, crashing into the cliff with his wounded left side. Even in the dim light, the pain was evident on Chris’s face. Ignoring it, the boy wrapped his free arm around Jade, pulling her close against him just as her fingertips lost their grip on the ledge!

Both teenagers gave muffled cries—Jade in fear mingled with relief, Chris in pain as his left side caught the full weight of another person. Then the pair swung away from the cliff, the long arc bringing them back to the airship and almost to the height of the railing.

Captain Wright, shouting orders to his crew from the second Jade rolled off the cliff’s edge, had his crew well positioned. Half a dozen men leaned far over the edge of the airship, their own weight anchored by crew mates holding onto their legs. The airmen caught the rope, the girl, and the ensign. Those holding onto the airmen pulled them all over the railing to safety.

All the while, blaster bolts lit the cliff face as they streaked at the underside of the airship. The smell of smoke rose from the hull as the dry wood smoldered and started burning.

I twisted the repulser power knob to one hundred percent lift. The rapid ascent caught the crew by surprise, knocking many of them off their feet and pressing down on all of us.

“Captain Wright, the bottom of the hull is on fire!” I shouted over the din of blaster shots and shouting men. “Prepare to abandon ship once we reach the top of the cliff!”

Wright skipped an acknowledgment of my order and went straight to issuing his own orders. He sent men below to scrounge anything useful they could find—from food and water to weapons. Crewmen scattered to do their captain’s bidding.

“Someone find the medical kit, too!” Jade’s voice cut through the hubbub on the deck, no doubt a skill she learned working on the Wind Dancer. “Chris is hurt!”

I spent almost an entire second wondering how the girl knew the ensign’s name before remembering I’d all but shouted it myself when I spotted Chris while on the ledge with Jade.

“You heard the young lady!” Wright added his authority to Jade’s demand. “And I want two crewmen to assist Ensign Marlow’s debarkation when we land!”

The airship climbed above the top edge of the cliff and I fed what power the steam engines had into the propellors. The density of blaster fire dropped to only a handful of shots and most of them were replaced with the sound of feet running across the desert floor. I assumed Thor ordered a team to ascend the ladders, hoping to have troops hot on our trail as we ran from his mountain. Meanwhile, he’d send other troops to block our escape. It’s a basic pincher maneuver and just the sort of thing a mind untrained in military tactics selects.

Alas for Thor, I had a big surprise in mind for him.

Once the airship had solid ground beneath it, I brought it down quickly and Mordanian airmen hopped off the airship. Under Jade’s watchful eye, two men carefully lowered Chris to other men waiting below to catch him. One of the airmen then offered a hand to Jade, who ignored it and jumped lithely down next to Chris.

Once all were clear of the ship, I vaulted over the railing to land next to Captain Wright. “Our adversary is sending men up the cliff after us, Captain. I suggest we discourage this pursuit.”

“I concur wholeheartedly, sir, but they have men providing covering fire. If we try to shoot over the edge of the cliff, our men will be in danger of being shot in return.”

“Oh, we’re not going to waste time and risk lives shooting at them, Captain.” I jerked a thumb over my shoulder at the anti-grav airship. “I think we should give them back their airship.”

A feral grin spread over the captain’s face. “Men, form up around this airship and let’s push it over the cliff!”

Airmen ran to positions all around the airship. I saw Chris struggling to join his crew and Jade struggling to keep him from doing just that.

“Ensign Marlow,” I said, stepping over to the reclining boy, “as you were.”

“But sir—” Chris protested.

“You are in no condition to push an airship, Ensign,” I said.

“That’s what I told him,” Jade huffed.

“She’s right, Chris,” I said. “In fact, I’m officially putting you under her orders until further notice.”

“But she’s a civilian, sir!”

“Good point, Ensign.” I smiled at Jade. “How would you like to be a medic in the Mordanian Navy? Temporarily, of course. Only until we can return you to your father.”

“If it’ll help keep Chris from killing himself, I’m all for it,” Jade replied.

“Welcome to the Navy, young lady.” I turned back to Chris. “Satisfied?”

“Um, I guess.” Chris allowed Jade to push him prone again.

During our short conversation, the girl had somehow managed to position herself so Chris’s head ended up in her lap. I tried to think what Callan—who is always ready and willing to encourage romance—would say at this moment.

“Jade, Chris is under your orders but not part of your chain of command.”

From the look on Chris’s face, he understood what I meant immediately. Jade’s face screwed up in puzzlement and she asked, “Huh?”

“Fraternization is allowed,” I said.

I thought Jade blushed, but it was dark and I couldn’t be certain. But when I looked at the two a few seconds later, Jade and Chris were thoroughly exploring the concept of fraternization. Then Captain Wright’s voice called out orders to push.

Along with the rest of the airmen, I put my shoulder against the hull and shoved. For once, the loose stones which covered most of the mountain worked in our favor. I’d left a small amount of power running to the repulser plates. It wasn’t nearly enough to keep the ship in the air, but it did reduce the weight somewhat.

It took three good shoves before the airship slid a few inches. Once it moved the first time, it was easier to move a second time. When it moved the third time, it didn’t stop. The crew kept pushing until the stern, with the heavy boiler and most of the anti-grav machinery, overbalanced and the entire airship tipped up and plunged over the edge of the cliff.

Cries of fear rose from the men ascending the ladders then cut off suddenly. A second later, the airship crashed to the ground far below. With a satisfying boom, the boiler blew.

Captain Wright appeared before me. “The ladders have been sheared off the cliff, sir, along with our pursuers.”

“Please give my compliments to the crew for a job well done, Captain,” I said. “Gather the men and supplies. We’ve got a long march ahead of us and I expect Thor will prove unwilling to simply let us walk away.”

“Aye sir,” Wright replied. His eyes cut to his ensign and Jade, their heads still close though not actively kissing at the moment. “And, um, what about Marlow and the young lady?”

“She’s officially our medic for right now and I’ve put the ensign under her orders.”

Wright smiled. “It appears he’s complying fully. I’ll tell the men that the first man to tease either of them will answer to you.”

“Go one better, Captain. Tell the crew they’ll answer to my wife.”

Wright laughed. “Yes, that threat will keep them in line!”

“Have the men form up behind me. We leave as soon as they’re ready.”

To no one’s surprise, Jade helped Chris to his feet and stayed at his side. Wright made sure an airman was nearby to offer help if Chris needed it, though Jade was supporting him well enough for the moment. The men were ready in less than a minute.

With only the light from the planetary ring to illuminate our path, we started the long march away from Thor’s base.

Can our heroes get clear of Thor and his troops without a fight? Find out in Chapter 30, coming Friday!