Friday, June 12, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 33

< Chapter 32                                                                                                 Chapter 34 >
Hiding the pinnace among the wreckage of a merchant airship, Callan and the others wait to find out if the anti-grav airship spots them.

Ducking back down below the piece of wreckage we’d anchored the pinnace to, I said, “Everyone stay down and out of sight! That strange airship is coming this way and we don’t want any members of the crew spotting people moving around down here.”

“We’re in a desert, Your Highness and haven’t sufficient provisions to reach civilization,” Mrs. Sune complained. “Surely surrender is a reasonable alternative!”

“Mrs. Sune, do you truly believe these people will simply hold you in accustomed comfort until a proper ransom can be arranged?” I didn’t even try to keep the incredulity out of my voice. “Have you even bothered to take a look at the wreckage all around you?”

“Airships crash all the time,” the woman persisted. “For all you know, the people in that strange airship rescued the survivors!”

“Madam, those people intentionally wrecked four airships of the Mordanian Navy last night, including my own ship. Were it not for my husband’s ability to Boost, I would have died in that crash. Our three-man crew did die.” I hissed while stalking toward the merchant’s wife. From the way the woman retreated before me, I’ve no doubt I came with eyes blazing. “On top of that, those people sent trogs armed with blaster rifles to attack and capture the survivors of the airship which came closest to their base. I watched the trogs gun down disoriented and wounded men who never even knew they were under attack. Then they rounded up the healthiest survivors and took them prisoner.”

Mrs. Sune’s retreat stopped when I backed her against the pinnace. I kept coming until I stood nose-to-nose with her.

“P-perhaps they’ll treat civilians decently? After all, we won’t be trying to attack them!”

“If you wish to take your chances with those people, I can assure you neither the Cochrans nor I will stop you—but don’t count on your civilian status to protect you.” I drew a finger across my throat and added, “The two galactics in charge of those people slit the throats of all ten of their fellow researchers.”

The blood drained from Mrs. Sune’s face and she rather dramatically fainted. Mr. Sune, caught unprepared, utterly failed to catch his wife as she collapsed.

I spun away from the pair, only to find Mrs. Cochran’s abnormally pale face staring at me as she pulled Sasha close to her. “Did these people truly murder their own co-workers?”

I nodded, releasing a long sigh. “They will not do the same to us, Mrs. Cochran. Once that airship returns to its base, we’ll find your husband and David. Barring that, we’ll find one of the other Mordanian wrecks and rally the survivors. By the time the Terran Federation arrives on the scene, I fully expect we’ll have this situation well in hand.”

We all fell silent as the airship drew closer. Six pairs of eyes—Mrs. Sune resolutely maintained her faint—stared out of the shade cast by the wreck, watching for Raoul’s strange vessel. Seconds later, the airship flew into view and I released the breath I’d been holding. The ship was a good mile from our hiding place and driving hard on our old course. A couple of minutes later, it flew out of sight and we settled down to wait for darkness.

Hours later, with the sun descending, we heard the distant sound of the airship returning. We never even spotted it and soon the sound faded away entirely. As the light faded, we winched the envelope back to its normal flying position, released the anchors, and Jade took us up.

Our young pilot made a beeline for the last place we’d seen the Wind Dancer. Gasps rose from all four Cochrans when we caught sight of the wrecked merchant ship.

“Is Daddy all right?” Sasha asked her mother, her voice fearful.

“I’m sure he is, honey,” Mrs. Cochran replied as she blinked away tears.

A small crowd gathered as the pinnace reached the wreck. The Cochrans relaxed just a bit when they caught sight of Captain Cochran hobbling around with a makeshift crutch. My own heart slowly rose into my throat as I looked in vain for any sign of David.

As soon as Jade cut the power to the propeller, I leaned over the railing and called, “Where is David? Is he all right?”

“Don’t you worry, Your Highness!” Captain Cochran called. “Your husband is fine. He’s gone out to scout the enemy’s base, is all.”

“Oh, yes, that news is such a relief, Captain Cochran. Thank you ever so much.”

“You’re more than welcome, Your Highness!” Cochran’s hearty response contrasted sharply with my own dry tone.

Mrs. Cochran laid a hand on my shoulder. “Sarcasm is wasted on men at times like these, Callan.”

Jade tied quick-release knots through a ring using two lengths of rope. She dropped the two ropes off each side of the pinnace and the crew slowly pulled the pinnace toward the ground. To the Sunes' consternation, the crewmen anchored the little airship while the railing was still six feet off the ground. A dozen crewmen helped the couple climb down without falling. Mrs. Cochran handed Sasha down while William simply jumped. Then Jade and I helped Mrs. Cochran down into the waiting hands of the crew.

Throughout this process, Captain Cochran filled me in on what happened after the crash. I felt a pang of regret at the news of Raoul’s death though more for the sorrow it would cause Rupor than for the Spare Prince, himself.

“You next, Your Highness,” Captain Cochran said.

“I’m not getting off here,” I said. “Jade can give me a quick lesson in piloting this thing and then I’m going after my husband. Perhaps I can catch him before he reaches that mountain. Then the two of us will go in search of other Mordanian survivors.”

“David said you’d insist on doing just that,” Cochran said, “but he wants you to stay here. I promised him I’d keep you safe until he returns.”

“You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep, Captain,” I replied. I leaned over the railing and added, “You’re a married man. Does your wife always do what you say?”

The crew laughed and their captain joined in with them. Jade stepped up next to me, grinning and clapping me on the back.

“Hey, Dad,” she called over the laughter, “catch!”

Then Jade shoved me over the railing and into the waiting arms of the crew.

“Well done, daughter!” Cochran said. “Now— Jade! What do you think you’re doing?”

Staring straight up from the arms of the crew, I had a great view as Jade pulled her two quick-release knots. As the ropes slipped free, the pinnace shot up another ten feet.

“It’s simple, Dad. Callan is right that someone should go find David,” Jade said, smiling and waving at us, “but it has to be an experienced pilot.”

I couldn’t fault the girl’s logic, just her choice in pilots. “Jade, there’s bound to be someone else who can pilot that pinnace just as well as you can! Don’t do this to your parents!”

“No, it’s got to be me. I’m the only one who will also keep an eye out for Forbose!” Jade engaged the propellers and the pinnace swung around toward the mountain off in the distance. “Don’t worry! I promise I’ll be careful!”

The girl’s father, mother, and I all yelled, “Jade, no!”

Then the pinnace sped off in pursuit of my husband and Jade’s boyfriend.

Without a pinnace, what will Callan do now? Find out in Chapter 34, coming Monday!