Monday, June 29, 2015
< Chapter 39 Chapter 41 >
Forced to seek shelter from the windstorm, Callan and the Tercel wait for the storm to blow over.
The Tercel, Mordan’s tammar of the skies, huddled like a frightened rabbit in the lee of the rocky projection. The windstorm raged about us, sweeping rocks and sand and dust ahead of it. The storm’s detritus fell upon us, scouring the exposed deck and hull of the Tercel and what wind found its way around the alcove rocked the mighty airship as easily as a mother rocks her newborn babe.
I sat below deck, with most of the crew packed around me. Hand-picked crewman remained on deck, tied to their stations with safety lines and ready to cut the envelope free if the wind changed direction and brought its full strength to bear on us again. If I understood the concept of the storm machine properly, the wind could only change directions if the machine moved. Captain Jorson was unwilling to gamble my life and the lives of his crew on my meager understanding of galactic technology and I couldn’t fault the man for that.
The youngest members of the crew—from ship’s boys of nine or ten years to the junior ensigns, who were all of twelve or thirteen—were gathered around me. Captain Jorson placed the lot of us in the most protected position below deck. Sweat ran freely down our faces as heat gathered in the enclosed space. Wide, young eyes darted all around the inside of the airship, drawn to every creak and crack of the hull. The ensigns strove to emulate the outward calm of their superior officers, but they were simply too young to pull it off.
“I suppose all of you fine young men have heard all about David’s—Captain Rice’s—arrival on Aashla?” I asked.
The ship’s boys nodded shyly while a chorus of “Yes, Your Highness” rose from the ensigns. One added, “When I was little, I heard Megan the Bard—um, Mrs. Bane—sing The Scout and the Princess once.”
The other boys cast envious looks at the ensign, prompting me to say, “Megan will be back on Aashla in a few months. I’ll see if I can arrange a concert for the Tercel’s crew. But have you ever heard the story from someone who was actually there?”
Nine boys shook their heads in unison, eyes widening in interest rather than fear.
“Rob, the captain of my guard, and I stood by ourselves against at least two dozen trogs. I was certain the end was upon us. That’s when he arrived…”
Small mouths hung open in wonder as I wove the tale I knew so well. It was my son’s favorite bedtime story, after all. Beyond the ensigns and ship’s boys, the older crew slowly fell silent, drawn into the story as well. I raised my voice as more and more men cupped hands around ears in an effort to hear me over the wind. I lost myself in the telling and it was only when Captain Jorson bellowed for all hands on deck that I realized the storm was over.
As the crew scrambled to their feet, one of the ship’s boys looked up at me and solemnly said, “Don’t you worry none, Your Highness! We ain’t gonna let nothing happen to Captain Rice!”
With equal solemnity, I nodded to the boy. “I have complete faith in the Tercel and her crew.”
Those around me passed my words to those farther away, who passed them on until the whole crew knew. As I emerged from the hold onto the blessedly cool deck, Captain Jorson met me with a formal salute. All around us, the crew worked with steady speed to ready the airship for flight.
“The crew is truly inspired, both by your story and your faith in them.”
“They are Mordanian airmen, Captain Jorson,” I said as if that explained everything. To members of the Mordanian Navy, it did explain everything.
“Exactly so, Your Highness!”
Less than five minutes after I emerged onto the deck, the Tercel rose into the predawn sky. The mighty steam engines came to life and the airship’s propellers churned the air. Tercel gathered speed, reaching its normal cruising speed within twenty minutes—and still she kept accelerating.
“Keep the pressure up, lads!” exhorted the airship’s engineer from the stern. “It’s better for us to show up early and Captain Rice not need our help than to show up late and find him desperate for it!”
“Mister Montgomery,” Jorson called to the engineer, “can the engines take much more of this?”
“Aye, sir! They’re my engines!” Indignation evident in both his tone and posture, Mister Montgomery added, “May I also remind the Captain the engines are highly sensitive and likely to take affront if they hear you questioning them?”
“You may assure them it was only concern for their wellbeing which prompted my question, Mister Montgomery.” Captain Jorson turned away from the engineer and caught sight of my raised eyebrows. “Mister Montgomery is eccentric, but he is also the best engineer in the fleet.”
As the airship approached speeds even my good friend and pilot Nist would consider acceptable, I found myself forced to concur with Captain Jorson’s assessment. The sun peeked over the distant horizon and quickly spread the bright light of dawn over the desert before us.
I was concentrating on the mountains ahead of us, sure the galactics’ mountain base must be near, when the lookout shouted, “Sir, there’s fighting around the wreck of the Vanguard!”
Will Tercel arrive in time to help David and the crew of the Vanguard? Find out in Chapter 41, coming Wednesday!
Friday, June 26, 2015
< Chapter 38 Chapter 40 >
Five hundred heavily armed men and trogs charge David’s much smaller force of Mordanian airmen!
As more and more of Thor’s men and trogs joined the charge, the sound of feet pounding on the desert quickly grew from a series of staccato thumps into a constant roll of thunder. Voices rose in defiance, calling for revenge and destruction. Random blaster shots flashed through the air. Some of them blasted chunks from the remains of the Vanguard, others missed entirely, blazing into the dawn.
“When you’re ready, Captain Wright,” I said, gauging the distance between the charging horde and our crossbowmen.
“Bucket brigades,” the captain barked, “begin!”
Three men threw buckets full of sand and dust into the air before the hidden crossbowmen. On the backswing, they tossed the buckets to the ground and then caught the next bucket from the man behind them. All along the line, men, pushed buckets forward then reached back to take another bucket. Much of the sand and dirt settled quickly to the ground, but the air before us also filled with whirling particles of dust.
“Crossbowman, take position!” At Captain Wright’s command, the dozen men bearing crossbows scrambled to the top of the Vanguard’s hull. Six took a knee while the other six stood right behind them. “Pick your targets and fire when ready!”
The first crossbow snapped, then another and another after that. Two hundred yards away, a man stumbled and fell. A second and third man fell as well. Within seconds, the crossbows clicked and thrummed almost without pause as each man fired, reloaded, aimed, and fired again. With such a massive target before them, every shot hit someone—perhaps it was just an arm or leg hit though many times the bolts buried themselves into chests or heads.
Watching as closely as the gray light allowed, I marveled how many of those hit carried blaster rifles. I saw men trampled as they went down ahead of their charging fellows and took grim satisfaction when I saw blaster rifles mangled and broken underfoot.
Meanwhile, a few of the riflemen took time to stop and aim more carefully. Most of those shots were also off-target. The few which were on-target dissipated and lost power in the swirling cloud of dust. A very few shots still managed to get through and hit two men. One took a nasty burn to the shoulder and the other a scorch on the forearm. Both men insisted they were fine and continued firing.
After what seemed like hours of charging, the men and trogs drew too close to maintain our position atop the hull. Everyone retreated to the ground and then moved into our positions within the hull itself. The holes in the sides served as perfect choke points, so we concentrated our men defending those positions. Seconds after everyone was in place, the mass of men and trogs swarmed around the remains of the Vanguard and the real battle began in earnest.
Captain Wright and I ran back and forth through the wrecked airship’s passageways, directing reinforcements to areas most hard-pressed, helping pull wounded men away from the front line, and throwing ourselves into weakening lines and plugging breaches until help could arrive. Yells and cries and the clash of weapons drowned all but the loudest shout, forcing us to rely on hand signals to convey orders. In the close quarters, the stench of sweat and blood and fear permeated everything.
Jade surprised me by popping up all around the ship, taking a couple of shots with the blaster rifle to drive the attackers back for a few seconds, then dashing off to some other part of the ship to do the same. Then someone grabbed a second blaster rifle from a downed attacker and passed it into Chris’s hands. He followed Jade’s lead, with both teenagers concentrating on opposing riflemen. Within a few minutes, we had gathered a dozen more blaster rifles and put them in the hands of those too wounded for hand-to-hand fighting but fully capable of pulling a trigger.
Our men poured shot after shot past our front lines and into the packed men and trogs pushing and shoving to break through. Those at the front recoiled, only to be pushed back into the fight by those behind them. Then some of the shots scored hits deeper into the mass of bodies and those at the back realized their danger. The men and trogs on the outside of the horde backed away and then turned and ran. As each layer of attackers realized that retreat lay open to them, they broke off pushing and took to their heels.
Thirty-six minutes after we retreated inside the Vanguard, the last of our attackers fled!
A ragged cheer rose from our men when the last of the enemy vanished from our sight.
“Well done, Mr. Rice,” Thor’s amplified voice called from well away from the Vanguard. “Once again, you found a clever use for the dirt and dust of this backward planet and somehow managed to find a way to rout my much larger and much better-equipped army. But I am tired of dealing with you and your little band. You have one minute in which to throw down your arms and surrender to my army.”
“And if I refuse?” I yelled, confident Thor could hear me.
“Then I’ll set fire to that hulk you’re hiding in and burn you all alive.”
Is this the end of David’s resistance against Thor and his so-called army? Find out in Chapter 40, coming Monday!
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
< Chapter 37 Chapter 39 >
A line of five hundred men and trogs advance across the desert toward the wreck of the Vanguard, where David and his men wait.
I looked from the wide line of approaching men and trogs to my own men gathered around the wreck of the Vanguard. A dozen crossbows and perhaps a hundred swords against four hundred swords and another hundred blaster rifles? It was quite literally bows and arrows against the lightning—only those wielding the lightning also had numbers on their side.
Speaking quietly, so only I could hear him, Captain Wright said, “We’re outmanned and they have superior weapons. These are brave men, sir, who will fight for you to the last man. But unless something unexpected happens, I do not see a happy outcome for us.”
“I won’t ask that of them, Captain, but I also won’t just give up without some attempt at a fight.”
“I expected no less, sir.” Wright inclined his head toward the men. “Perhaps you’d care to say a few words to the men before all hell breaks loose?”
“Give me your attention, men!” Silence fell as I called out. “By now you’ve heard the opposing force outnumbers us five to one. If the enemy was armed as we are, I’d take those odds all day, any day. But the enemy is not armed as we are. They have as many blaster rifles as we have men. I don’t know how we can defend against those. If—”
“Captain Rice, sir?” a young voice called from the crowd.
“Do not interrupt your commanding officer, Ensign Marlow!” Wright snapped.
“No, Captain, it’s okay,” I said. “I was about to ask for suggestions. Chris, do you have an idea?”
“I think so, sir. Jade told me about the dust cloud you created with her family’s airship.” The girl stood to Chris’s left, her arm hooked through his. “If what her father told her is right, the dust sort of absorbed the blaster shots.”
“That’s right, Ensign, and if we had a working engine I’d be all for trying it again.” I pointed to the scattered remains of the Vanguard’s engines. “Unfortunately, we don’t.”
“I realize that, sir, but we do have buckets, a lot of men, and plenty of dust and sand. Couldn’t two or three bucket brigades throw up enough dust to do the job?”
I glanced over my shoulder. The advancing horde was still half a mile away and appeared content with their steady march forward. Looking back at Chris, I said, “It’s an interesting idea, Chris, but there’s no way we could throw up enough dust to protect an entire line of battle.”
“But we don’t need to protect the entire line, sir,” Chris said. “We just need to protect a dozen crossbowmen. If our best marksmen can shoot unhindered, maybe they can thin out the men with blaster rifles and make those men waste shots firing back.”
I stared at Chris for a moment, noting the big grin worn by Jade. Turning to Captain Wright, I said, “Select your dozen best marksmen. Have the rest of your men form into four bucket brigades and start filling buckets with dust.”
Wright immediately pointed out a dozen men, most of whom already had crossbows. Those men fell into technical discussions about range and wind and volley firing. I left them to it and made my way over to Chris and Jade.
I handed our lone blaster rifle to the girl. “You’re familiar enough with these that I want you handling it. Don’t try shooting through the dust, obviously.”
“Of course not.” Jade rolled her eyes but surprised me by adding, “Sir.”
“That was a good idea, Chris,” I said to the ensign. “Let’s pray it works.”
“It was your idea, sir, not mine. Not originally.” Chris smiled at the girl next to him. “Besides, Jade is the one who deserves the real credit.”
“Don’t listen to him, David, um sir,” Jade said. “I just said it was too bad we didn’t have a way to do that here. Chris did the rest.”
“So noted, Jade,” I replied. “Chris, you’re not in any condition to take part in the bucket brigade, so I want you to stay with Jade. If the situation gets too dangerous, get her out of here. Is that clear?”
“And if Chris says it’s time to go, you go with him, Jade.” I gave her a mock glare. “No sneaking off to look for lost sort-of boyfriends and no arguing. Right?”
“Right,” Jade answered.
“And if either of you comes up with any other ideas for defending ourselves, inform me immediately!”
As I turned away, Chris asked Jade, “Wait, that Forbose guy was your boyfriend?”
“Sort of. Maybe,” Jade responded. “But not anymore after what he did to you!”
The rest of the teenagers’ conversation faded into the background as Captain Wright and I inspected the bucket brigades and the firing positions chosen by the crossbowmen. Satisfied with the preparations, we watched the approaching line and waited.
“You know, if they had anyone with even rudimentary military instincts, they’d surround us before attacking,” Captain Wright noted.
“Thank God for small favors, Captain.”
He nodded and it was as if that was the signal our enemies had been waiting for. They broke into a trot and a few of the ones armed with blaster rifles took shots. None of those shots came close and the riflemen held their fire as the line closed in on us.
Then a roar rose from five hundred throats and Thor’s men charged!
Will Chris’s idea work? Find out in Chapter 39, coming Friday!
Monday, June 22, 2015
< Chapter 36 Chapter 38 >
Princess Callan flies off in the Tercel, hoping to find David and Jade.
I stood in the bow of the Tercel accompanied by Captain Jorson and an ensign with a spyglass. Captain Jorson kept the airship no more than seventy feet off the ground, choosing to forego the advantages of altitude for the advantages of a quick landing. During the first part of the journey, I gave the captain my third-hand explanation of what was going on. Jorson listened attentively to everything Captain Cochran told me about everything Raoul told David. The captain’s face grew graver with each passing moment.
“If I understand this, Your Highness, these galactics have figured out how to install one of those implant machines and give a man Boost, just like Captain Rice has?”
“It appears so,” I replied. “I know that is supposed to be classified information in the Terran Federation, but you know as well as I do that secrets of that nature eventually get out.”
Jorson nodded, conceding the point. “They’ve also figured out how to smuggle their blaster weapons onto Aashla in pieces and have armed men and trogs with the weapons. And if all of that weren’t enough, they’ve got some kind of machine that creates windstorms so violent they knock large warships out of the sky. Is that about it?”
“Begging the Captain’s pardon, sir, you left out the airship which flies without an envelope,” the ensign added.
“Yes, thank you, Ensign Bodver,” Jorson growled. “Since you’ve obviously been listening to our discussion, perhaps you would be so good as to tell me what you should be on the lookout for?”
“The strange airship, obviously, sir.” Bodver appeared unfazed by his captain’s demand and answered without taking his eye from his spyglass. “But I think the strange glowing ball which shoots off little lightning bolts is the main concern. Does Her Highness know where on the mountain this ball will be found?”
“I only got a quick look at it,” I said, “but it was near the top of the mountain, Ensign Bodver.”
“Very good, Ensign,” Jorson said. “Sing out if you see the wreck of the Vanguard or that glowing ball.”
“Aye aye, sir!”
“Captain, might I offer a suggestion?” I asked quietly.
“You are my princess, Your Highness. You command, should you so desire.”
“I would only consider commanding in the direst of emergencies, Captain Jorson. The Tercel is your ship and you know her and her crew far better than I.” Jorson smiled, inclining his head slightly at my comment. I continued, “If Ensign Bodver spots that glowing ball, it’s imperative the Tercel land as quickly as possible. May I suggest you pass word that the crew treat the ensign’s warning as an order to land?”
Jorson gave a sharp nod. “I should have thought of that, Highness. I’ll pass the word.”
Fortunately, the night sky provided more light than it had years ago when I sailed into Beloren under the cover of darkness to rescue David. Unfortunately, my night sight was no better than it was all those years ago. The ensign had much better eyes.
“Captain Jorson, I see the glowing ball!”
The crew, already poised for landing procedure, leapt into action. Men pulled out anchor lines and heavy mallets. Others vented gas from the envelope and the big ship settled toward the ground. The engine crew dowsed the fire in the boilers, leaving the airship running on the remaining pent-up steam.
Even with the crew’s rapid response, the wind whipped up quickly. The taut rigging thrummed as the storm blew around them and the airship bucked in the driving wind. We were ten feet from the ground when the wind caught the envelope and pulled the ship back up into the air.
“It’s going to be dangerous landing in these conditions, sir!” an officer shouted over the wind. “If we’re not careful, the wind will catch the envelope and wreck us. It might also pull us higher before doing so!”
Jorson gave his officer a sharp nod. “Have crew stand by to cut the envelope loose—but not until I give the order!”
The officers relayed the command around the airship. Dozens of knife-wielding crewmen ran to stays, ready to saw away at the lines should the order come. Meanwhile, the helmsman worked the ailerons, trying to drive the airship as close to the ground as possible.
“Ensign Bodver,” Jorson yelled over the wind, “Do you see any possible cover from this wind?”
The young man lowered his spyglass and looked about the ship. A few seconds later, his arm shot out, pointing to starboard. “There, sir! A small alcove in the foot of the mountain!”
Captain Jorson didn’t even look where Bodver was pointing. “Helmsman—hard to starboard and follow the Ensign’s directions!”
Jorson took my arm and pulled me into the meager protection of an inner railing. “Stay here, away from the railing, Highness. It’s safer.” He turned to a nearby crew member. “Airman, protect the princess until we’re safely down!”
“Aye, sir!” Covering my body with his own, the airman shouted, “Pardon my familiarity, Your Highness!”
“There’s no pardon necessary,” I replied as I wrapped my arms around the airman and buried my head against his chest.
All around me the lines sang with the wind, snapping and popping as the envelope bucked in the wind. And then comparative silence descended as the Tercel sailed into the small alcove and out of the worst of the wind.
Officers shouted orders and the mighty airship dropped to the ground with a bone-jarring thump.
“Winch the envelope down, men! Quickly!”
A minute later, the envelope was nestled down on top of the Tercel, seriously cutting into our headroom. But the ship was down, safe, and intact.
But what of David and Jade? Was the pinnace caught by the storm? Watching the wind roar around us, I could only wonder and worry.
What is going on with David and Jade? Find out in Chapter 38, coming Wednesday!
Friday, June 19, 2015
Captain Jorson slid down a quickly lowered rope and bowed before me. “I cannot put into words my relief at finding you alive and well, Your Highness! When we saw that freak storm knock the Vanguard from the sky, we feared the worst for your much smaller airship.”
Remembering the airship crash and David’s frantic, Boost-enhanced efforts to keep the two of us alive, I shuddered. “By a miracle and David’s quick reactions, he and I survived the crash. Our crewmen did not. Many of the Vanguard’s crew died in their crash, as well, and many more were killed when trogs attacked them.”
Jorson rose quickly and fixed his intense stare on me. “Is the Great One on the march again? I thought he liked Captain Rice and Your Highness.”
“No, I’m positive this has nothing to do with the Great One, Captain. I’m rather unclear about who is behind all of this.” As quickly as possible, I outlined the events of the previous twenty-four hours. I told what little I knew of David’s actions after we split up and then got Captain Cochran to add what little he knew.
Wrapping up the tale, I asked, “And what of the Tercel, Captain? How did you keep the wind from dashing your airship to the ground like it did to the Vanguard and my ship?”
“Credit for that goes to my second-in-command, Your Highness. He was the officer of the watch when we spotted the Vanguard in distress. He immediately ordered the ship to land, deflate the envelope, and anchor the airship.” Jorson gave a self-deprecating smile. “I relieved the man from duty when I learned what he ordered. The storm struck before the guards even got Lieutenant Konbra below deck. I rode out that horrible windstorm wondering just how many members of my crew Konbra saved with his quick thinking.”
I nodded, looking at the huge envelope strung above the Tercel’s hull. “And you spent most of the time since then re-inflating the envelope?”
“Just so, Your Highness. Of course, we only had heated air available to refill Tercel’s envelope rather than proper gas, so she flies low in the sky. But she flies!”
“The important thing is that you’re here, Captain. How many men do you have in total?”
“Two hundred and forty-six, including fifty marines.” A humorless smile played across the captain’s face. “I can assure you each and every one of them wants a go at those who downed their sister ships!”
“Excellent! Lift me onboard and we can set off after David.”
My request took Captain Jorson by surprise. “I do not believe that is wise, Your Highness! You should stay here, where you will be safe. Once we’ve found Captain Rice or subdued the trogs, we’ll return for you.”
“Do you know where you’re going, Captain?”
Jorson pointed south along the edge of the mountain range. “It doesn’t seem like a particularly complicated route, Your Highness.”
“Perhaps I should rephrase the question. Do you know where you’re stopping, Captain?”
That gave Jorson pause for a few seconds before he shrugged. “No, Your Highness, I do not know where we’re stopping. I don’t suppose you’d care to describe the mountain to me?”
“I’m not sure I can give you a description adequate to to your needs, Captain, but I’m absolutely positive I will recognize it when I see it.”
“Somehow, I just knew you were going to say that, Your Highness! Will you at least promise to remain on board the airship when the fighting starts?” At my nod, Jorson turned back to his airship and called, “Lower a sling for Her Highness!”
I gave quick hugs to the Cochrans and promised to find Jade and keep her safe, as well. Then I was hoisted onto the Tercel and we sailed off to find my husband.
Will Callan reach David in time to help his fight the trogs and their human allies? Find out in Chapter 37, coming Monday!
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
< Chapter 34 Chapter 36 >
As Captain Cochran begins the final prayer for his three dead crewmen, the wind brings the sound of airship engines!
Cochran fell silent for a few seconds, balancing on his makeshift crutches, listening to the sound of the airship’s engines. He gave a nod and resumed his prayer for the dead. It ended with the entire crew voicing “Amen,” after which everyone remained quiet, heads bowed, perhaps privately adding their own words to the Captain’s or simply remembering friends now gone.
Respecting the solemnity of the moment, I added my own prayer for the Wind Dancer’s three lost crewmen. When the crew stirred and the gathering broke apart, I waited while Cochran exchanged words with any member of the crew who wished to speak with him. After the last crewman wandered back to the fire, I approached the captain.
“God knows I realize just how inadequate words are at this time, Captain Cochran, but I am deeply sorry for your losses.” Unbidden, my mind brought forth images of all the men who gave their lives to save mine. I blinked rapidly to clear away the tears which always accompanied those memories.
“Thank you, Your Highness. And I’ve no doubt you know equally well that it’s the thoughts behind the inadequate words which truly matter. Your thoughts are written plainly on your face.” Captain Cochran smiled sadly, his gentle eyes meeting my own. “But much as you wish to offer comfort, I’m sure you have other matters on your mind.”
“I’m afraid you’re right, Captain. What did your nod mean after you stopped the prayer and listened to the airship?”
“I don’t know whose airship approaches, Your Highness, but it’s not the one which flies without an envelope.”
“You can tell that just by the sound of the engines?” I didn’t even try to keep the awe out of my voice.
“I’ve been sailing the skies of Aashla since I was a lad, Your Highness. I’ve picked up a trick or two during those years.” Cochran turned to the east and looked off into the night sky. “The engines on the airship that wrecked the Dancer sounded quieter than they should have. That’s because the noise didn’t echo off the envelope, as it would on any other airship. Taking distance into account, the engines driving the airship coming this way sound normal to my ears. That means it has an envelope.”
“Do you think they’ll offer their help?”
“Likely they will. This route is too lightly traveled for raiders to waste time on it and no reputable captain would refuse help to a crew in need.” Cochran looked at his family and then me, before adding, “That said, I’d prefer you and my family get under cover until we’re sure of their intentions.”
I nodded in agreement and allowed a crewman to guide Nell, William, Sasha, and me into the shelter of a mostly-intact piece of the Wind Dancer. To my relief, Captain Cochran did not put us in the same place he’d stored the Sunes. We sat quietly, listening as the engine noise grew louder. We even looked up, as if trying to see through the timbers blocking our view of the sky.
Nell remained outwardly calm for the benefit of her children. Imagining how I’d react if my own Rob and Anne were with me, I strove to match her equanimity. So intent were we upon the sounds of the airship, we both jumped visibly when a crewman poked his head into our shelter and spoke.
“Cap’n says it’s okay to come on out, ladies.”
I followed the Cochrans out into the open. Looking up into a night sky lit by the bright band of the planetary ring arching over us, I laid eyes on a most welcome sight.
Not a hundred yards away and no more than fifty feet above the ground, flew a mighty airship. Green flags bearing a golden falcon snapped and fluttered in the wind. Several officers clustered at the bow, one of them pointing my way.
Captain Jorson, naval commander of my expedition, and his miraculously-undamaged airship, the Tercel, had found us. More importantly, the intact warship indicated an intact crew—including a full contingent of marines!
What could Callan possibly want with a contingent of marines? And how did Jorson keep his airship from crashing? Find out in Chapter 36 of Scout’s Law, coming Friday!
Monday, June 15, 2015
< Chapter 33 Chapter 35 >
Jade has sailed off in the pinnace, looking for David and her boyfriend, Forbose.
Mrs. Cochran watched the pinnace speed off into the gathering darkness. “Lon, what are we going to do? I can’t lose my little girl!”
Captain Cochran put an arm around his wife and gave her a squeeze. “Pray and hope, Nell.”
Without bothering to lower her voice, Mrs. Sune said, “Well, I’m hardly surprised. Her parents let her run wild around the ship, doing men’s work and wearing men’s clothing. I mean, pants? I ask you!”
Mrs. Cochran stiffened and her husband whispered to her, “Ignore the woman, Nell. It won’t help Jade. On top of that, we may not have a ship right now, but when our new one is built we’ll sail under the Oshwindon flag.”
“No, Captain Cochran,” I said, “you’ll sail under the Mordanian flag unless you choose otherwise.” The captain looked at me in surprise, I added, “All fees waived and without waiting in the lists.”
Cochran kissed his wife’s hand lovingly. “In that case, if it will make you feel better, Nell, please give the Sunes a taste of the temper you’ve held in check these last two weeks.”
The Sunes were already backing away from the couple as a ghost of a smile crossed Mrs. Cochran’s face. “I’ve already said enough. Besides, it won’t help Jade.” She looked at one of the crewmen arrayed rather menacingly behind the nervous couple. “Mister Yarrow, please take the Sunes somewhere where decent folk can neither see nor hear them. I don’t want to see them again before my daughter is safely returned.”
“Aye aye, ma’am.” The second-in-command took the Sunes in hand, leading them away from us. Over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t you worry about Miss Jade, ma’am. She’s a smart and capable young lady.”
“Thank you, Mister Yarrow,” she replied.
“And don’t forget that David is out there,” I said. “If she does find him, rest assured he’ll take care of her.”
Mrs. Cochran’s tentative smile returned, “Well, that would certainly please Jade no end! But my daughter can be quite headstrong and impulsive—she might be more than your husband can handle.”
“She sounds remarkably like someone David knows extremely well.” I smiled at the Cochran’s puzzled expressions. “Jade sounds like me. David has managed to keep me alive through many trials and tribulations. He’ll do the same for your daughter.”
The Cochrans looked off into the darkness as if hoping for one last glimpse of the pinnace and its blonde pilot. When they turned back to face me, it was as the captain and lady of the Wind Dancer. They issued orders and, within minutes, had a cooking fire and a larger signal fire burning.
Young William eyed the fires with concern. “Should we have fires, Callan? In all the adventure stories Jade read to me and the ones I read for myself, the hero never builds a fire at night because it will give away his position to the bad guys.”
I laid a hand on William’s shoulder. “The bad guys already know where we are, William. They’re the ones who crashed your family’s airship.”
“Right… So Daddy—“ The boy gave me a sidelong glance at the use of the word for his father. “So, um, Dad hopes some good guys spot the fire?”
“Exactly. And you know you don’t have to be ashamed of calling your father ‘Daddy.’ I still use that name for my father.”
“Yeah, but you’re a girl,” William scoffed.
I suppressed a laugh. “Well, I can’t argue with that logic! Don’t worry, William, your little slip of the tongue is safe with me.”
Then Mrs. Cochran called for William to help her prepare dinner. When I volunteered to help, the woman shook her head in horror at my suggestion. “Goodness, Your Highness, what kind of hosts do you take us for?”
“Practical ones, I hope,” I said. “Look, Nell—may I call you Nell?”
“Thank you. And you must remember to call me Callan.” I looked at all the activity going on around me. “Nell, you’ve got more to do than you have hands to do it. There’s no sense in having one pair of hands sitting idle just because they’re at the end of a princess’s arms.” Nell hesitated for a second, so I added, “Don’t make me use my princess glare on you!”
“Very well, Callan,” Nell raised her hands in mock surrender. She gave me an appraising look, obviously trying to figure out what task she could safely assign to me. “Um, what would you like to do?”
“What you really mean is what can I do without ruining it.”
“I’d never have put it so indelicately, Callan,” Nell grinned, “but yes, that is what I meant.”
“I’ve been known to stir pots without ruining their contents and can ladle food onto plates with the best of them,” I replied.
The simple tasks kept me busy and the next hour passed quickly. By the time everyone was fed and everything cleaned up, the crew seemed willing to accept me as one of the family. After that, Captain Cochran led a brief memorial service for the three crewmen who died in the crash. I mentally added the names of the airmen from my little airship, those lost from the Vanguard, and most especially young Chris during the prayers.
Captain Cochran was five words into the final prayer for the dead when the wind carried a distant sound to our ears. An airship was approaching from the east!
Whose airship approaches? Find out in Chapter 35, coming Wednesday!
Friday, June 12, 2015
< 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!
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
< Chapter 31 Chapter 33 >
“Well, I think it’s f—,” Jade gave her mother a sidelong glance. “It’s, uh, brilliant.”
A cloud of dust rises from the desert floor, hiding both the Wind Dancer and Raoul’s anti-grav airship.
“What does the cloud of dust mean?” Jade asked.
“It means we can change course and hide from Raoul and his crew.” I scanned the horizon, looking for some feature besides the flat expanse of the desert and the sharp mountains where the galactics had their base of operations. “Do you see anything which can conceal this pinnace?”
“Now see here, Your Highness,” Vass Sune protested, “Cochran sent us off in this airship so we could get away from those pursuers! Surely it is unwise to go against the good Captain’s wishes.”
“Well, I think it’s f—,” Jade gave her mother a sidelong glance. “It’s, uh, brilliant.”
“Mrs. Cochran, you have children aboard so the final decision rests in your hands,” I said. “We may escape that airship if we continue our flight, but we might also simply prolong the inevitable.”
The woman looked at her three children, then back at the cloud of dust, before turning to me. “What would you advise?”
“Fly away, obviously!” Mrs. Sune responded superciliously. “How can you even consider another action, you foolish woman?”
“Out of the mouths of harpies…” Jade muttered.
“That is truly invaluable advice, Mrs. Sune,” Mrs. Cochran said, smiling sweetly at the merchant’s wife. Turning back to me, Jade’s mother added, “We shall find a place to hide.”
The older woman spluttered, “What nonsense is this?”
Her husband added acerbically, “Is that meant as some type of jest? Why would you ignore advice you said was invaluable?”
“In the two weeks your wife has traveled with us, she has never failed to share her opinion on matters ranging from child rearing to crew discipline to airship navigation. She has never let her complete lack of experience in any of these matters deter her.” Mrs. Cochran’s face grew stern. “Never have her opinions been even remotely useful. I would go so far as to say a woman could lead quite a successful life by asking Mrs. Sune’s advice on all matters and doing the exact opposite. I’m testing that theory now.”
The Sune’s compressed their lips in displeasure and, mercifully, fell silent. William whooped and little Sasha clapped her hands.
Jade grinned. “Damn, Mom, that was patchless!”
Mrs. Cochran returned her daughter’s grin. “Is that good?”
Jade rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mom. If clothes or a gas envelope don’t have patches, that means they’re perfect.”
“Ah,” her mother nodded. “I’d have said it they were tightly stitched when I was your age.”
Jade’s eyebrows rose. “You had slang back in the olden days?”
“Of course we did, Jade. Your generation may have changed the words, but they didn’t invent the concepts any more than my generation did.” Mrs. Cochran flashed a downright wicked smile at her daughter. “Come to me after you’re married, Jade, and I’ll tell you about a lot of other things your generation didn’t invent!”
I laughed, reminded of my own mother’s advice on matters of love. Jade, on the other hand, blushed furiously and turned her attention to the horizon. A moment later, the girl’s stare intensified and she pointed into the distance.
“Your Highness, there’s a large wreck a couple of miles away.” Jade shielded her eyes from the sun. “Mom, I think it might be the Norrin!”
I looked at Mrs. Cochran and raised an eyebrow.
“We flew this route partially to search for the Norrin. It is—or at least it was—one of the largest merchant airships flying under the Oshwindon flag. One of the younger crewmen has taken a fancy to Jade.” The look on Mrs. Cochran’s face spoke volumes concerning her low opinion of this young man. To her credit, when Jade’s mother spoke next, her voice held obvious concern. “I do hope the boy is all right.”
“Don’t worry about Forbose, Mom.” Jade was almost hopping with excitement. “He knows how to take care of himself!”
“Of that I have no doubt, dear.” Mrs. Cochran’s tone could have taught the desert a thing or two about dryness.
Jade’s eyebrows drew down and I felt certain we were about to witness the resumption of an ongoing family disagreement. I jumped in with a question, hoping to divert attention back to our current problems. “Jade, how long will it take to deflate the envelope enough to hide in that wreck?”
Startled by the change of subject, Jade’s simmering anger faded into calculation. “If we can anchor the pinnace, we won’t have to deflate at all. We can just winch the envelope down until it’s flush with the deck. We’ll blend into the desert well enough that someone will have to be right on top of us to see us.”
“Ah, is that why the envelope is the same color as the desert?” I asked, keeping Jade thinking about anything except arguing over her boyfriend.
“Yeah. I mean, yes Your Highness. It helps hide the pinnace if we have to abandon ship and run from raiders.”
“We’re nowhere near a formal court, Jade. You and your family may call me Callan. It’s a lot easier on everyone and much faster in an emergency.”
Jade looked at her mother who nodded. “If you say so, Callan.”
“I say,” Mr. Sune said, “if someone as important as you is missing, Callan, can we expect the Mordanian Navy to come to our rescue?”
“First, I gave Jade and her family leave to call me Callan. You have not been given such leave.”
The Sune’s jaws dropped open. Of course, Mrs. Sune found her voice first. “You would put these…these…people above us?”
I flashed a vicious smile at the couple. “Why, yes, I would. As for a naval rescue, I wouldn’t count on anything for at least another day, probably more. Even then, it will probably be a Federation ship.”
By then, Jade was piloting the pinnace in among the wreckage of the Norrin. I pitched in with the Cochran family to fend the little airship off of jagged timbers jutting out of the broken hull. We anchored the pinnace to the largest piece of hull and carefully winched the envelope down to the deck. The sour expressions on the Sunes’ faces when they discovered they had to debark lightened everyone else’s mood considerably. William and Jade tossed loose timbers on top of the envelope, further camouflaging our airship.
Ten minutes after we finished, the sound of an airship’s engine came to us. I carefully looked over the top of the wreck and my heart sank. The strange airship without an envelope was steaming our way!
What has happened to the Wind Dancer? (Okay, we know, but just pretend for me, okay?) Find out in Chapter 33, coming Friday!
Monday, June 8, 2015
< Chapter 30 Chapter 32 >
Author's note: In the rewrite, the following chapters featuring Callan will be interwoven with the chapters featuring David, giving the reader an alternating point of view as the story develops.
Author's note: In the rewrite, the following chapters featuring Callan will be interwoven with the chapters featuring David, giving the reader an alternating point of view as the story develops.
As David faces an attack from five hundred men and trogs, it’s time to look in on Callan and see what she has been doing since the pair split up.
Captain Cochran’s young son offered me a hand up into the little pinnace. I didn’t need the assistance, but smiled gratefully and accepted the boy’s hand.
“Thank you, Master Cochran.”
The lad’s eyes gleamed as he responded in a formal tone, “You’re most welcome, Your Highness. I’d be most pleased if you would call me William.”
I settled into a seat on the pinnace as the rest of the passengers came up on deck and were helped aboard. Besides Captain Cochran’s wife and youngest daughter—an energetic girl of about six named Sasha—there was a gaunt man in his middle years and his plump wife.
Our pilot, Jade, bounded onto the pinnace and went straight to the controls. After a quick scan of the dials, she turned to the crewmen holding the pinnace at bay. “Release the lines!”
The little airship rose from the deck as Jade fed power to the propellers. Taking off from a moving airship is trickier than most people know. Without careful control on the part of the pilot, the pinnace’s propeller could slice through crewmen, the lines connecting the parent ship’s hull and the envelope, or even the envelope itself. Jade’s eyes never stopped moving as she deftly maneuvered the pinnace away from the Wind Dancer.
“What is the meaning of this?” The plump wife turned a glare on her gaunt husband. “Vass, why don’t we have a real pilot for this airship?”
Prompted by his wife, the man turned his own glare on Mrs. Cochran. “I would like an answer to that question, myself. Rest assured, Mrs. Cochran, I will register a most stern protest with the merchant guild!”
I inherited my mother’s short temper, which I struggle to hold in check for the sake of court diplomacy. But this pinnace was far from the Mordanian Court, so I relished one of my rare chances to release my temper. “That girl is handling a very difficult bit of piloting and doing it exceedingly well. Now kindly be silent and stop distracting Jade from her job!”
The couple turned their glares on me but kept quiet. Mrs. Cochran smiled gratefully at me, as did young William. Jade never changed expression or even gave an indication she heard the exchange. Thirty seconds later, the pinnace pulled away from the Wind Dancer and Jade relaxed a bit.
The plump wife wasted no time venting her anger at me. “How dare you take such a tone with me, young woman! Do you have any idea who my husband is?”
Putting my elbows on the pinnace’s railing, I leaned back nonchalantly. “I neither know nor care who your husband is, madam. Do you know who I am?”
Vass, the gaunt husband, sniffed. “A well-mannered young woman, which you most assuredly are not, would show respect to her elders and introduce herself first.”
Captain Cochran told David a man would have to be blind not to recognize me. Since neither of these two was blind, I had to assume their heads were stuck too far up their backsides to see me clearly. I turned on what David calls my princess glare and was pleased to see the couple pull back slightly.
“I usually have someone with me to handle introductions, but he stayed behind on the Wind Dancer to ensure all of us get away safely.”
I felt a tug at my sleeve from William. “May I introduce you, please?”
I sat up and inclined my head. “It is most kind of you to offer, William. I would be honored if you would proffer introductions.”
William stood and bowed slightly to the irritating couple. “This is Mr. Vass Sune, merchant of the city-state of Oshwindon, and Mrs. Sune, his wife. Sir and madam, may I make known to you Her Royal Highness, Princess Callan, heir to the throne of Mordan?”
Rob, the much-missed late captain of my guard and namesake to my son, taught me many things during his years of service. Among those lessons was to never take pleasure in the discomfort of others. I guess that’s one lesson that just didn’t stick, because I took considerable pleasure watching the Sunes’ mouths open and close without any sound emerging. They looked exactly like a couple of fish out of water—or at least out of their depth.
Ignoring them, I smiled at William. “That was very well done. Where did you learn all of that?”
William flushed with pleasure but wasn’t inclined to answer. Mrs. Cochran came to his aid. “Jade has all of the adventures they’ve written about your husband and reads them aloud to William and Sasha. I don’t doubt William can recite most of the stories word-for-word, he’s heard them so often.”
Behind us, the Wind Dancer gracefully changed course, swinging out of our wake and onto a northerly heading. Without the massive envelope above it, Raoul’s distant airship was more difficult to see. Then the dot elongated, evidence it was also changing course to follow the Wind Dancer.
The Sunes finally found their voices and offered profuse apologies. I waved off the whole affair before heading aft to put some distance between the Sunes and me and to watch the Wind Dancer for as long as possible.
“Thank you for defending me, Your Highness,” Jade said quietly.
“Your piloting skill should be all the defense required,” I replied. “I did nothing but point it out.”
Behind us, Mrs. Sune spoke in a stage whisper, apparently thinking me too far away to hear her. “Mrs. Cochran, why did you not tell us you had royalty on board your airship? It is your fault we made such a poor initial impression on Her Highness!”
“They only came aboard twenty minutes before we left on the pinnace, Mrs. Sune. No slight was intended,” Mrs. Cochran replied quietly and far more politely than the Sune woman deserved.
I turned back toward the Sunes, preparing to unleash my temper yet again. Jade caught my eye and shook her head. “I know you wish to help, Your Highness, but please don’t.”
“Why is your mother so polite to those people? And what are you afraid will happen if I speak up?”
“The Wind Dancer is registered in Oshwindon and flies their flag.” Repressed anger smoldered behind Jade’s green eyes. “Mr. Sune is a powerful member of the city-state’s merchant guild. He can cause real trouble for us if he wants to.”
I considered the problem for all of one second. “Could they bother you if the Wind Dancer was a Mordanian flag trading vessel?”
Jade snorted. “No, Your Highness. The Oshwindon merchant guild needs Mordan more than Mordan needs the merchant guild. But you, of all people, must know the fees to register as a Mordanian vessel. And there’s a long waiting list, too.”
“You do realize your father saved my life when he pulled David and me off that mountain, don’t you? My family takes our debts seriously.” I switched to my princess-of-the-realm voice. “On behalf of your father, will you accept my royal decree naming the Wind Dancer and any other ships your family owns, now and in the future, Mordanian flag trading vessels?”
“You can do that?” Jade goggled at me. “I mean, you can do that, Your Highness?”
“Does that mean yes, Jade?”
The pretty young woman nodded emphatically. I turned my attention back to the ongoing recriminations Mrs. Sune threw at Mrs. Cochran, who remained polite and deferential throughout the harangue. “Mrs. Cochran, may I be the first to welcome you and your family to the Mordanian merchant fleet?”
All eyes turned my way as a startled Mrs. Cochran said, “Pardon me, Your Highness, I must have misheard you.”
“You heard just fine, Mrs. Cochran. By royal decree, your family now sails under the Mordanian flag. These people,” I pointed at the Sunes, “no longer hold any power over you. Please feel free to stop deferring to this woman’s craven attempts to lay her boorish behavior at your feet.”
Mrs. Cochran stared at me for a few brief seconds. “Thank you, Your Highness! Oh my, you have no idea what this means to us!”
“I owe your family my life.” I turned back to the Sunes, igniting my princess glare again. “If I hear the barest whisper that you have used your position in Oshwindon to cause even the smallest trouble to the Cochrans, I will personally see to it that my father enacts a special tariff on all goods offloaded by Oshwindon airships. We’ll call it the Sune Surtax. I’m sure it will make you quite popular among the other Oshwindon merchants.”
“W-w-why we would never dream of causing problems for these fine folk, Your Highness!” Mr. Sune stammered.
“Your Highness!” The urgency in Jade’s voice drove the Sunes from my mind.
Spinning around, I saw Jade pointing toward the Wind Dancer. More accurately, I saw her pointing to where the Wind Dancer used to be. A billowing cloud of dust hid both the Dancer and Raoul’s airship from sight!
Will Callan and Jade continue fleeing from Raoul’s airship? Okay, that question has already been answered in a previous chapter, but you still don’t know exactly what the pair does next. Find out in Chapter 32, coming Wednesday!
Friday, June 5, 2015
< Chapter 29 Chapter 31 >
Fresh from their escape from the galactic’s base, David leads his men down the mountain.
As the line of airmen got underway, I fell in beside Chris and Jade. The girl had Chris’s right arm draped over her shoulder, providing support while staying away from his injured ribs. Life on an airship gave Jade strength beyond that of an average sixteen-year-old girl, but Chris was both taller and heavier than she was. Jade wore a determined expression and I thought she’d rather collapse with exhaustion than let down the boy who rescued her from the cliff. Chris’s face was equally set and I was sure he’d rather die than show weakness before the pretty blonde.
“Listen up you two.” Chris and Jade looked at me. “Speed is of the utmost importance right now. The longer it takes us to get off this mountain, the greater the chance we’ll have to fight our way off of it. In other words, this is not the time to try to be an ironman, Chris. You took a hell of a beating fighting Forbose.”
Chris interrupted, “How do you know that guy’s name? Is he from one of the other navy ships?”
“No,” Jade answered. “I…know him. Or at least thought I knew him.”
“Anyway,” I took back control of the conversation, “if you’re having trouble keeping up with the rest of us, you must tell Captain Wright or me. Your injuries were honorably earned in the service of your country. The men will want to help you. Is that clear?”
Jade added, “Don’t worry. If he gets stubborn I’ll call you.”
“That’s nothing less than I’d expect from our medic.” I smiled briefly at the girl before hardening my gaze. “But what I said to Chris applies equally to you, Jade.”
“Don’t let your desire to help Chris keep you from asking for help supporting Chris. You’re going to have to switch out with some of the men eventually. Do that as soon as you feel tired. Chris doesn’t want you wearing yourself out any more than you want him doing it.”
Jade nodded. “Okay.”
Chris grinned. “And if she gets stubborn, I’ll call you.”
I rejoined Captain Wright at the front of the column. I told him about my instructions to Chris and Jade, then asked, “How are the men set for weapons?”
Wright grimaced. “Rather poorly, sir. The young lady’s blaster rifle fell when she rolled over the cliff’s edge. There were no swords on board that airship, of course. We’ve mostly got makeshift clubs.”
“Did the trogs plunder the wreck of the Vanguard after they captured you?”
“Not that I saw. After all, why take swords when you’ve already got blaster rifles?”
“Okay, we’ll go back to the wreck and arm ourselves as best we can,” I said, “Our enemies have better weapons, but they can only fire so many times before running out of power.”
“I don’t suppose you can be more specific than that, sir?” Wright asked.
“A Federation manufactured blaster has approximately fifty shots per power pack.” Wright winced at the answer and I added, “But these blasters are hand-made from spare parts. The work is very clever, I’ll grant you, but I doubt his batteries are up to galactic standards. His rifles are probably less efficient with their energy usage, too.”
“I wish your reassurances used fewer words like ‘doubt’ and ‘probably,’ sir.”
“Me, too, Captain.” I was quiet for a few seconds as I considered the trail ahead of us. “Do you have a couple of particularly stealthy men in the crew? I’d like to send some scouts ahead of us.”
Wright selected Jon, a reformed thief, and Horst, a hunter, sending them on their way after I told them where to find the cave which led into the base. All the while, we kept the men moving as quickly as possible. In passing, I noted Jade summoning an airman to take her place supporting Chris. Free to roam, Jade took the chance to check up on other wounded men. She instructed two to come to her at the next rest stop for a change of bandages, receiving a respectful “Yes, ma’am” in reply both times.
During that next rest stop, one of our scouts returned bearing a wide grin and another blaster rifle. The two scouts found Cletus and Van napping by the trail, tied and gagged the pair of idiots with their own clothing, and split up. Jon returned with one of the rifles while the hunter covered the cave exit.
“The trail is clear right now, sir. With that rifle, Horst can probably hold that cave exit long enough for us to get past it,” the former thief reported. “I’d like permission to run ahead with one of the rifles and help him hold the trail.”
At my nod, Jon turned and ran down back the way he’d come. Once Jade finished changing bandages, we got everyone up and moving double time after Jon.
For once, fortune smiled on us. We passed the cave without incident, picking up Jon and Horst along the way. The scouts had exchanged a little fire with trogs and men exiting the cave. I don’t know what ran through Thor’s mind, but he didn’t waste lives trying to break past our men. No doubt there was another exit somewhere within a mile of the cave. I expected we still had a fight coming, I just hoped it would happen on terrain of our choosing.
Half an hour later, we reached the wreck of the Vanguard and the men immediately hunted up swords for everyone. By a stroke of luck, a dozen crossbows escaped the fires. Our good mood lasted all of ten minutes.
“Men and trogs are coming!” one of our lookouts called.
Finding myself relieved the waiting was over, I called, “How many of them did Thor send against us?”
“At a guess, sir, I’d say all of them!”
I bounded to the top of a piece of wrecked hull and looked at the mountain. At least five hundred men and trogs advanced on us!
Can the surviving airmen hope to stand against Thor’s men? Find out in Chapter 31, coming Monday!