Skyjackers - Episode 3: The Winds of Justice (Skyjackers: Season One)

Skyjackers

Episode 3

The Winds of Justice

J.C. Staudt

Skyjackers
is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents either
are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely
coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 J.C. Staudt

All rights reserved.

Edition 1.0

Foreword

Thanks for checking out
Skyjackers
, a steampunk
adventure-romance serial. What you are about to read is a single installment in
an ongoing narrative, akin to watching an episode of your favorite TV show. Each
episode contains its own storylines, but also builds on a larger scale throughout
the entire season. My goal in writing this serial was to deliver a light, fun
adventure with a touch of drama, some colorful characters, and a storyline that
moves at breakneck speed. I hope that’s what you find. Enjoy the story!

Chapter 16

“I just don’t understand it,
Manchester,” Jonathan told his first mate as they finished their morning
calisthenics on the
Maelstrom
’s main deck. “November Hutchins was afraid
to say what she knew about the Caine family, yet she was adamant she must do so.
When she returned from her stint in captivity, she’d done an about-face. Her
fears had been somehow assuaged and her mouth was firmly shut on all matters
regarding the Caines.”

Manchester mopped his brow with a towel. “Perhaps she had a
change of heart.”

“Clearly. But why? What did they do to her? How did they buy
her silence?”

“I hear gold often works,” said Manchester.

“Benedict Caine’s got plenty of it, if the rumors are true.
Do you think Ms. Hutchins is in league with them?”

“I think you’d be wise to keep the possibility in mind, Mr.
Jonathan.”

“Right. At least she and the other survivors are safe now. I
consider that a success.”

“No thanks to me,” said Manchester.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s easy to crack under the
pressure. Especially when your life is on the line.”

“Would you have told them where the passengers were hiding,
sir?”

Jonathan pondered this. He wanted to believe he would’ve kept
silent under any threat. It disappointed him that the Caines had put him in a
position to betray those he’d promised to protect. “Let’s not talk about it
anymore. We ought to be stocking up for the Admiral’s convoy tomorrow.”

“Yes, Mr. Jonathan.”

Vin Harlow emerged from belowdecks and approached the two men
in a huff. “Cap’n Thorpe. There’s been a distress call from a vessel passing
over Azkatla. They say there’s part of a rather large house rising up out of
the jungle.”

“A house in Azkatla? I thought those jungles were
uninhabited. Is there anyone inside?”

“They didn’t say, sir. There’s no telling. We aren’t too far
off, though. Might be worth a look.”

“Indeed. We must investigate at once. Someone may be in need
of our help.”

***

In a rare display of equitable leadership, Benedict
Caine had called a meeting with the captains, first mates, and quartermasters
of all six airships in his fleet. Everyone was there; even Mr. Mittens. The
only one absent was Misty, though Benedict didn’t notice this at first.

“Before we start the proceedings,” he said when all were
gathered, “I would like to thank Poleax Longworth for graciously offering to
host us aboard his vessel today.”

Everyone clapped and cheered.

“I didn’t offer,” said Poleax, but no one heard him.

“I must say, the
Hummingbird
looks better today than
it did when she first set sail. I’m impressed with the way you’ve kept up the
old girl, Poleax. She’s tight, tidy, and in perfect working order. Now all you
need is a woman with the same qualities.”

Laughter, and more applause.

“I’ve called you all together here for a brief discussion.
First of all, it has come to my attention that I have been deceived.” Benedict
leaned over the table where Poleax was sitting.

Poleax’s face went red as a ripe cherry. He cleared his
throat. “I’m not ashamed of it. Nor will I apologize for it. There are certain
things a man must do to keep his conscience in good order. For me, saving those
horses was one of them.”

“I see,” said Benedict. “So you admit you returned to Azkatla
not for supplies, but to retrieve the animals you deliberately hid from us on
the hunt.”

“Yes.” Poleax shifted in his chair.

“And how do you suppose you ought to be punished for this
treachery?”

“There is nothing treacherous about showing kindness to the
lesser beings of this world.”

“There is something quite treacherous about a ship’s captain
keeping secrets from his commodore, however,” said Benedict. “How am I to know
I can rely on you when the going gets rough?”

“If the going had been rough, I would’ve adjusted my conduct
accordingly.”

Benedict stood up. “I can’t understand it, Poleax. I invite
you into my home. I make you a part of my family and share the spoils of my
endeavors with you. You have shown me the price of my generosity. First Lily,
now this.”

“There has been no price, Ben. I ran an errand of personal
import, and now I have returned. You’ve lost nothing apart from the two animals
you thought had vanished into the jungle anyway.”

“You’re forgetting something, Poleax. The Marquis of Bixbury
has filed charges with the constabulary.”

“How do you know that?”

“I have eyes and ears in many places, cousin. Thanks to your
mucking up the operation that night, the Marquis’s people have identified the
Hummingbird
by name.”

“Perhaps your ships wouldn’t be so easy to identify if their
names weren’t painted across the back.”

Benedict gave him a brief smile. “A ship’s name is a thing of
pride. Not something to be hidden like a cold sore at a kissing booth. You’ve
embarrassed me in both word and deed. However, being the tolerant man I am, I
have decided to give you one last chance. This new hideaway we’re building has
turned out to be rather a strain on my coffers. A Regency airship called the
Justice
will be transporting gold between a heavily guarded storehouse in Roathea and
one of its subsidiaries in Cardemere. The
Justice
is a dreadnought-class
vessel, rivaling Junior’s
Stratustarian
in size, and is sure to be
escorted by a number of well-armed steamers. The convoy leaves tomorrow.
Together, we must seize that ship and plunder its booty.”

Junior snickered.

“You have an infantile sense of humor.”

“Sorry, Dad,” said Junior, straightening.

Benedict shook his head in annoyance. Looking around the
room, he became suddenly aware that someone wasn’t there who should’ve been.
“Gertrude… where’s Misty?”

“Perhaps her crew will enlighten us,” said Gertrude, looking
to Misty’s first mate and quartermaster for a response.

Xan Janakki gulped. “I thought she was with you, Commodore.”

Benedict stared at him, blinking. “Come again?”

“The day we left Azkatla, everything was in chaos. I came to
the conclusion that Misty must’ve boarded one of the other ships.”

“What in the name of all the gods would lead you toward that
conclusion? We’re half a world away, and you haven’t once checked in to confirm
whether your captain might’ve boarded another ship by mistake? Who ordered the
Moonmist
to leave Azkatla, if Misty wasn’t aboard?”

“I gave the order myself, sir.”

“Did she leave you in charge?”

“Yes, sir. While she was at the hideaway.”

“And do you specifically remember her returning to the ship?”

“Not specifically.”

“Then why would you make such a daft assumption?”

“I thought the Captain was in her cabin sleeping, sir. You
know how she hates to be disturbed when she’s sleeping. On top of that, the
holds were all full of treasures from the house and such. Plenty of servants,
plenty of weight. I got to thinking that if another of those earthquakes
happened, might be Mandrake Hollow was like to fall in on us. I thought it best
we got out of there while we could. Sir.”

“That was a terrible idea. Not to mention a blatant breach of
the chain of command.”

“I do apologize for that, sir.”

“Apology will get you nowhere, Janakki. Unless your
destination is the bottom of the ocean. Viv, since this buffoon is incapable of
following orders, go to the hideaway in Azkatla and look for your sister. I
want a full-scale search. Leave no leaf unturned until she’s found.”

Vivian stood. “Just me, Dad?”

“I can’t spare more than one ship at the moment. We’ll need
all our strength for tomorrow’s stickup. The
Dawnhammer
’s crew is large
enough to conduct a thorough search without being too big a loss. Bluewave me
the moment you find her. If she was, in fact, left behind at the mansion, she
won’t have gone far.”

“I only pray she’s alright,” Janakki said.

“Shut up, Janakki. Don’t make it worse for yourself. I’ll
find a proper sanction for you later.”

“Not to worry,” said Gertrude. “If there’s anyone in all the
world capable of bending every threat to her will, it’s our Misty.”

***

Misty awoke the following day with mixed feelings. On
the one hand, she had never had so much fun making frisbees of her mother’s
porcelain dishware or feeding river piranhas with firecrackers disguised as
dragonflies. On the other hand, the food was running out, and there were no
servants to clean up after her, change her bed linens, or wash her clothes. She
had also realized that while there was no one around to pester her, there was
also no one around to fall victim to her schemes.

Wholly discontented with this state of affairs, Misty rolled
out of bed with a yawn and opened her bedroom door. The hallway was drafty, as
though someone had left all the windows open. She rubbed her eyes and nearly
stepped off the jagged cliff of splintered wood where the back staircase
should’ve been. In place of the rear wall of the house, she could see the
jungles of Azkatla far below.

“Isn’t this the way it goes,” she muttered. “When one door
closes, a hole opens up in your drawing room.”

The house had risen to a dizzying height. She was far too
high to jump, or even to make a rope from her bedsheets and climb down. All she
could do was trudge back to her room, shut the door, and crawl back into bed.
Someone would be around to get to her eventually, she hoped.

In fact, there was more than one person already on the way.
Jonathan was the first to arrive on the scene. He brought the
Maelstrom
as close to the floating mansion as he dared and ordered the crew to lower
ropes over the side. “Who’s coming with me? Any volunteers?”

The crew was silent.

“Alright, then,” he said with a sigh. “Look sharp, lads.
You’ll have to keep rising to stay alongside the building. I’ll be back in a
few minutes. And Manchester?”

“I know, Mr. Jonathan… don’t go anywhere without you.”

“Thank you, Manchester.” Jonathan swung off the deck and slid
down the rope, landing on the building’s roof with a soft thud. He dropped down
onto one of the eaves and climbed inside through an upstairs window.

Within, the house looked deserted. He found himself standing
in a bedroom—a girl’s, by the looks of it. The bed, dresser, nightstand, and
vanity were dusty. The air was thick and humid. Jonathan stepped into the hall.
A stretch of carpet bordered by hardwood ran the length of the hallway. At
either end, where the walls should’ve been, there was only empty air.

Jonathan made his way down the hallway, opening each door he
came to. Every closet and bedroom was empty, except for Misty’s. When he saw
the dark-haired girl lying there beneath the coverlet, his first thought was
that she might be dead. He entered the room and gave her a gentle shake.

Misty opened her eyes and rolled over with a groan. She took
on the confused expression one often does when waking to an unfamiliar sight.

Jonathan found the girl strangely familiar, but he couldn’t
put a finger on why. “It’s alright,” he told her. “I won’t hurt you. My name is
Jonathan Thorpe. I’m a sky marshal, and I’ve come to get you out of here.”

“Thorpe,” Misty repeated. She, too, found Jonathan familiar.
Then it came to her. This was the same sky marshal who had interrupted the
robbery at the Archduchess’s wedding. The same man her sister Vivian was so
taken with.

Misty prided herself on her ability to prey on the weaknesses
of others. She knew things about the members of her family that most of them
didn’t know themselves. For instance, she knew Vivian liked to test the men she
was fond of, or was considering being fond of. It was her dead giveaway. Vivian
was fond of this man, and that made him the perfect target.

It was then that Misty had a magnificent idea. She’d already
planned out the petty little revenges she was going to take on each member of
her family, but this fortuitous circumstance called for a strategic shift. This
was an opportunity to make Vivian jealous of
her
for a change. It was
time to see whether Captain Thorpe had any weaknesses of his own.

“Jonathan,” she whispered.

“Yes,” he said. “Please, madam. We ought to be—”

“Come here, you sexy man-cake.” Misty wrapped her arms around
Jonathan’s neck and pulled him down onto the bed with her, where she began
showering his face with kisses.

Jonathan was startled—and decidedly un-seduced—but too polite
to reject her outright. He pushed himself up, struggling to free himself from
her grasp. “Madam. Madam, please. I’m afraid we haven’t the time for this. You
see, your house is about three thousand feet up from the ground, and quite
unstable.”

Misty clung to him all the harder. Flustered, and fearing her
seduction ineffective, she kicked the bedclothes away and wrapped her legs
around Jonathan’s to keep him from bending his knees. Jonathan managed to
stand, but only with Misty clinging to him like a baby animal in its mother’s
pouch. He reeled backward, slamming into a wardrobe as he scrabbled against the
blinding flurry of Misty’s affections.

The wall behind him gave out, crumbling away into nothingness
and taking the wardrobe with it. Jonathan flailed his arms for balance and
caught hold of Misty’s bedside table, where he glimpsed a small family portrait
in a wooden frame. Suddenly, it all made sense. “Wait a tick… you’re a Caine,
aren’t you?”

Outside, Vivian’s
Dawnhammer
was approaching. She
extended her spyglass and found herself staring at her sister Misty, who was
hanging like a coconut from a tree made of… “Captain Thorpe?”

Vivian lowered the spyglass with a curse, lifted it again to
make sure she wasn’t seeing things. There they were, in the eviscerated remains
of Misty’s bedroom, floundering around only a few feet from the edge in what
appeared to be a rather amorous exchange.

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