Authors: Riley Owens
Captain Clementine Fowler surveyed the boarding party with a critical eye. Every man and woman in this group had been selected carefully for their bravery and skill—still it was a roll of the dice if they would succeed. She lived for such moments normally, but now there was too much at stake.
She glanced over her shoulder, adding in the other equation—their prey. The
was only a few hundred feet from their portside, and they were closing on her with every moment. It wouldn’t be long until they found out exactly the makeup of her crew. For days they had been chasing their prize, striking and harrying it, letting it feel the teeth of their cannons.
She eased her grip on her cutlass and narrowed her eyes. The sway of the
under her feet was slight, but she knew every creak of rigging and groan of wood better than she did any noise coming from her own body. Its guns were still smoking, but the warning incendiary shots over the
bow had only been that; she did not want to risk damaging what she hoped very shortly would be her new command vessel.
Securing a second airship would be the making of her, both in reputation and in combative abilities.
The wind made a brave attempt to pull her hair loose, but the braid was tight, and secured with a rakish scarlet bandana. Still she tugged on it reflexively. It wouldn’t do to be blinded at this point.
Instead, she turned to face her crew. They were a small group, but thankfully rather fearsome looking. Still, they needed a little fire in their bellies.
“If we can take that,” Clementine yelled as she pointed over the gunwales at the looming bulk of the
, “we’ll have made our name, fortune, and got ourselves our next ship.”
The clouds below could have been waves, but there was no salt spray to splash in their faces, only a bone-chilling wind. Clementine grinned into it like a maniac. This was living.
They had not let the other ship rest, and it badly needed fuel. The efficiency of the
and her engines were their real advantage, because they had not let their prize rest. Without being able to refuel its engine with coal, it would become merely another balloon very shortly.
As Clementine watched, a mad grin on her face, the larger airship was slowed, came about, but did not fire on them. Something had been damaged perhaps.
began to close the distance, Clementine felt her heart racing in her chest. The battle would have to be quick and deadly. If they didn’t take the ship fast then her crew would be overwhelmed by the larger force, and—
“Captain!” Bonnie, her First mate, was shouting and pointing; not in the direction of the spot where the two airships would meet, but rather towards the stern. For a moment Clementine didn’t quite comprehend what she was seeing.
The crew of the
were leaping from the deck, embracing the sky and clouds. It was as if it was their natural habitat, and they had wings. She observed calmly, that they in fact did not. No parachutes or ornithopters magically appeared to slow their descent.
The final person, the captain by the look at cut of his uniform, turned and looked in her direction. His face was burned into her memory in that instant; sallow skin pulled tight over bones as if he’d been starving for weeks, and eyes that were as dead as stones.
Then he turned and leapt after the rest of his crew.
Clementine shook her head, baffled by what they had just seen. She had no terrible reputation to inspire such fear in her opponent’s heart—at least not yet. Unlike Captain Raincloud Menzies, she let the prisoners she took, off the airships. Nor did she, like Captain Zephyr Bertrand, hang her victims over the bow in a display of gruesome decoration. She’s never done any of these terrible things—so what could inspire such drastic actions from the former crew of the
Confused, she nonetheless gave the order for the grappling ropes to be deployed, and they lashed the
and the larger airship together.
So it was in a very subdued manner they took over the
She was a beautiful ship, made of polished exotic woods, carved with angels on every surface, and with an envelope above made of scarlet silk. No expense had been spared in her making, and yet her former owners had abandoned her so easily.
On the whole Clementine would have much rather preferred a stand-up fight.
As she let her hand trace over the wheel, she scrambled to gather her scattered thoughts. It did not go unnoticed by Clementine that the crew were looking as confused as she felt. They put away their weapons with the air of disappointed children.
Their captain felt just as deeply, but wasn’t about to let them know that. It could easily go badly for her if she did.
Clementine jerked her head at her engineer, Strom, and he immediately understood. Together they quickly made their way to the belly of the
, the engine room. It was as hot as a sauna—as all engine rooms were—but it was beautifully maintained. Even the furnace looked clean, and Clementine could imagine the engineer taking great pride in it. Such thoughts made her shiver.
“Looks all here,” Strom growled, straightening up from his examination of the boiler. “Nothing rigged to blow.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. She’d heard of a couple of merchants who had booby-trapped their ships when it was apparent that they were going to be boarded.
“So everything is as if should be?” She pressed just to be certain.
“It looks fine captain,” he said, looking down at her with a confused smile on his face. “More than fine in fact, this one’s a real beauty.”
“And not out of coal as we thought.” Clementine observed with a jerk of her head towards the coal bay full with black energy.
Strom shrugged. “No, captain, looks like they had plenty in store. Maybe there was some other reason they was limping along like that.”
It had not been fear of the
, and it had most certainly not been a lack of coal that had bought them to a halt. More of a mystery then.
“Well,” she said, clearing her throat, “just check the rest of the system. Not just in here, but all the connections into the engine. I’ll get Bonnie to examine the rigging…in case there is something else at work here.”
Strom frowned and scuffed his feet, but turned back to his work without further comment.
As Clementine strode back along the corridors and up the ladders to the deck, she managed to find her best mask-like face to wear. She tugged down her corset and adjusted her bandana as she stepped before the crew once again.
She returned to her people, and managed to put together a more confident expression. “You bag of rugamuffins,” Clementine snarled, “turns out they’d rather kill themselves than face you.”
She slapped Eran on the back, and the big man grinned. “Reputation. Ha! Finally someone taking notice of us. Now we have this ship, so soon will the rest of the world.”
The rest of the crew liked the sound of that, and even raised a little cheer. Every sky pirate wanted a reputation; something to put the fear of God into their opponents. Often a fearsome reputation was enough for merchants to unlock their coffers without a single shot fired. With that thought, what they had seen was a little easier to put aside.
Clementine tugged Bonnie aside while the shouts of the crew were still ringing out. “Make a thorough check of the rigging,” she whispered in her ear.
Her First mate nodded, and turned to do it.
The captain tugged back after a moments consideration. “And the rest of the ship while you are at it—bow to stern mind.”
Bonnie held her gaze for a moment, but reliable as ever she did not question.
While the rest of the crew celebrated, Clementine turned towards where the captain’s cabin must be. It was a great success…now if only the nagging feeling in her gut would go away. Perhaps she was being a little paranoid, but this capture was not going at all as she had imagined.
The next few days were busy, and for a while Clementine was able to shove her fears to the back of her mind. Bonnie took command of the
; so they officially had a fleet—even if it were just two ships.
would be their command vessel, and after they examined and tested the cannons they were more confident that she would do the job. It still did not answer the question just why the previous crew had not fired them though…
On the second morning Clementine assembled her small crew on its deck and examined them closely. She was sure the ship was theirs, and now she had to make some decisions. Twenty-three men and women stood before her, some of whom had been with her from the very beginning, others were very new. However there was no getting away from it; all together they were barely enough to maintain two ships.
“No way we can avoid it,” her first mate whispered in Clementine’s ear. “We are going to have to take on more crew in Land’s Break and soon!”
“You’ll have to make do with four in the meantime, Bonnie,” Clementine replied, before turning to them all. “Now which four want to stay on the
She was more than a little surprised when twenty hands shot up instantly. Clementine took a step back in uttermost shock. They’d pursued a larger ship for months, dreaming of the chance to be bigger, badder pirates of the sky, and yet now most wanted to stay with the
“I guess you have your pick,” she said to Bonnie, stumbling over her words slightly, and completely at a loss of what to say. Her first mate gave a short nod picked the two Jacks, Misty and Dawn. It was hardly of any concern to the captain, she just couldn’t understand.
Those not chosen shuffled their feet and wouldn’t meet her eye. Clementine’s confusion slowly began to develop into a hard nugget of anger in her stomach. What were they thinking of?
She had not expected their triumph to go this badly wrong. With a curt nod to Bonnie, she spun on her heel and strode away. She shut herself away in the captain’s cabin that night, and poured herself a healthy shot of rum in defiance of her own mood. The small coal fire in the corner of the room had a large chair before it, and she threw herself into it, the glass clutched in her hand.
Once they’d taken on new crew things would be better. They were just shaken by what had happened when they took the
. Yes, that was it. Clementine took another long sip of her drink and sighed, then loosened her shirt, and unbuckled the thick leather belt she wore.
Clementine let her head fell back on the chair. A headache was just starting up behind her eyes. The end to a day she had hoped to be so much better than it actually was.
The whisper in the corner of the room must have come just as she was dozing off. Clementine jerked upright and rubbed her eyes. Then it came again; a shifting of the curtains at the window, a creak of the floorboards, all combined to make a sound that seemed very like her name.
Ridiculous. She slid back into the comfortable curve of the chair once more. The chill breeze slid over her skin like an icy lover’s hand. Her nipples grew stiff even as she shuddered from the cold.
Now it was not just the ship’s sounds playing tricks with her. It had to be her ears. She finished off the rum and sleep enveloped her. Thankfully.
It was a restless slumber, but it was better than nothing. The next morning she rolled out of the chair, splashed her face with water, and began again. A new day, a new chance, she thought to herself.
By the time Strom burst in on her, she was leaning over the large captain’s table, examining the maps. He stood there in the doorway, clutching his hat.
“Yes, Strom.” She said with a slight yawn.