Imagine if you will, a chase involving three airships travelling through storm clouds, something that no sane airshipman would try. One ship is captained by Mister Wyatt, a disgrunted businessman who managed to waylay a shipment of opium through a shady deal, but the opium was stolen by pirates, and he pursues them with a mechanoid crew whose programming he is sure will equalise his inexperience as an airship captain. Another ship is captained by Tom Bradley, former night guard for Wyatt’s factory, who is also chasing after the opium with a crew more accustomed to burglarising houses than airship travel. His motivations are pure profit. A third ship, flown by a crew of experienced airship pirates who have actual possession of the opium, disappears into a cloud and in the low visibility, the other two airships mistake each other for Captain Bonny and his pirates. But first, we have a close encounter:
‘Captain Tommy! Look!’ a man shouted.
Bradley was already transfixed by the proximity of the other craft. The decks passed close enough that he could see Mister Bale standing on deck, smoking a pipe with the cat on his shoulder. Then they were gone, soaring off into the cloud ahead.
By then the sun had risen to reveal a dim morning. Anne Bardwell, sitting in the pilot’s booth, was no fool. The fog on the ground was clearing enough to see buildings. She took the ship down a little to see more clearly before the order reached her that they were to give chase to the ship that had passed. She had already nearly wet herself when the hull had passed within inches of her view window. She had no intention of returning to the thicker clouds where visibility was completely obscured. However, as they cleared the cloud, she saw an airship ahead of her and assumed that it must be the same craft, having come about from the hazardous cloud cover. Thus it was that Captain Zachary Wyatt with his crew of mechanoids and Captain Tommy Bradley and his gang of miscreants sped forth towards each other in stormy skies, while Captain Horatio Bonny floated above the worst of the storm, seeking his goddess.
The near miss was reported by crew who had seen it happen immediately, but Captain Bonny waved off the crewman who came to him with no more than a nod of acknowledgement. The incident was past before he could have reacted, and the wake of the dragon called him. Another few grains of opium were added to the pipe. He looked wistfully at the little cat still perched on his first mate’s shoulders further down the deck, then back off into the coming mist, seeking some sign of his goddess.
Oh dear. between the rum, the opium and a certain superstitious bent, the pirates do tend to come out of every situation unscathed. But will our other two airships fare as well?
Just as Captain Wyatt despaired of losing his quarry, he saw the airship headed directly for him from out of a cloud. The mechanoid pilot had levelled above the London fog, which was as hazardous as the storm clouds. The two would meet soon. Wyatt worked out that the mechanoid might well shut down completely if it was faced with conditions that gave it no logical course of action. There was no choice but to take control himself. He had, after all, studied the flight manuals.
He ordered the pilot mechanoid to remove itself for maintenance and took the controls. In clear skies as he had hoped for on that morning, he would have felt exhilarated to be flying his own machine above the city, but under the circumstances he was tense. He could just see the outlines of building tops and hoped that his knowledge of London would be sufficient to avoid getting too close to any that were tall enough to cause him trouble. The storm clouds were closing in on the city fast now. He knew very well that the sensible thing to do would be to go back and moor the ship until it passed, but the quarry rode towards him on the crest of the wave of black cloud. In truth, he wasn’t sure of his way back.
He needed a strategy. For all his preparations and good sense, Wyatt was inexperienced in the game of war. He had foresight enough to provide himself with weapons, mostly among the mechanoids, but how to go about getting them onto the other ship was something he hadn’t had enough time to consider. His first thought was that he would have to manoeuvre his ship to a position above the other and drop them down on the open deck. The mechanoids would know what to do from there.
Can you program a mechanoid to fight a battle? Mister Wyatt seems to think so. Meanwhile, the other crew of ‘night watchmen’ have troubles of their own.
Meanwhile Captain Tommy alternated between shouting orders to his disgruntled crew and uttering promises that they would be warm and comfortable soon, as well as rich. They plunged through the turbulent clouds in pursuit, causing several men to be sick over the side. A cross wind turned the ship nearly sideways just as one of Bradley’s watchman friends was leaning over the rail and sent him tumbling over the side. Bradley jumped towards him, trying to prevent his fall, but there was no time. He looked over the side in despair for his lost mate.
That was when he realised that the storm had blown their course back to the city. The ship was passing dangerously close over Big Ben. By some fluke, they had been directly over the clock tower as the man had fallen and he had landed on the slanted roof of the upper tower over the clock. Bradley watched as his lost crewman scrambled down to a platform with pillars where a talented second story sneak thief could climb to relative safety. He waved a salute as the airship climbed a little higher to avoid collision with the clock tower.
Hazardous conditions indeed, but Wyatt lures the other ship away from the centre of London and out over open country.
Bradley saw the other airship speeding away from him. He smiled, forgetting the man on the tower, and gave the order to give chase. He needn’t have bothered as the storm was blowing both airships before its force. As long as their courses continued north, nature was happy to give them an assisting push.
Wyatt gloried in thoughts of favourable tailwinds and sailed on northwards, watching carefully to make sure that the other airship followed. With an inexperienced crew against one that had been well programmed, Bradley’s ship faltered and was tossed about in the high winds as his men tried to work out the finer points of flap positions to make best use of the air currents. Wyatt noticed the difficulty and slowed his speed a little, allowing time for the other ship to catch up. As the situation worsened, Wyatt decided it was time to make his move. They were just outside of the busiest part of the city, over sufficiently open country to make a stand.
Wyatt’s ship floated upwards into a dark cloud that was just overtaking the race between airships. With their own stability to attend to, Bradley’s crew didn’t notice the manoeuvre.
‘Captain Tommy! We have to go to ground and wait it out. It’s tearing up the ship!’ Bradley heard the crewman shout the warning and swore under his breath. He kept sending orders to Anne to stay in pursuit, but the girl kept losing altitude. No doubt the woman was afraid of the storm as his men appeared to be, but Bradley had heard tales recollected on Bonny’s ship that convinced him that a stout heart could ride out any storm. As long as they stayed near the edge, that was the trick.
He looked through his scope and swore again. There was no sign of the other ship. They had been evaded. He nodded to the crewman and ordered him to pass the order to the pilot. The other ship must have docked already. When the storm passed, they could search again. It was just at that moment that something heavy plummeted past the open deck. Bradley was perplexed as he caught a split second of metallic reflection from a distant flash of lightning. He looked over the side, but the object had fallen too fast and was instantly lost in the mists surrounding them.
An almighty thump on the deck behind him made him spin, pistol at the ready. Not all of his crew were so armed, but Tom Bradley had always felt more comfortable with a pistol secured about his person. This was the first time he had ever pulled it out. His hand shook as he took in the sight before him. The pistol dropped impotently from his fingers, unnoticed either by Bradley or the mechanoid that struggled to stand up among broken deck boards that had splintered from its fall.
Another mechanoid fell just beyond the deck, plummeting past the ship. The silence of the morning cast an eerie flavour to the bizarre state of affairs as the cloud mists closed around the airship, cutting it off from all contact with the normality of the world that Bradley and his crew knew. There were other men on deck, but not one of them made a sound as a second successful mechanoid fell onto the deck, crashing through the boards completely into the compartment below. Meanwhile, the first mechanoid had moved towards the stairs, descending towards the pilot’s booth. Bradley blinked, and then shouted Anne’s name as he ran after the mechanoid to protect the woman he loved, although he didn’t know how he was going to do it.
Boarded by mechanoids! How would you defend yourself, and what happened to the ones who fell to the ground? The Wake of the Dragon by Jaq D Hawkins is available at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and soon to be released in paperback from Lulu.com