Desert Fire

a story
2018-06-16 11:26:51,
2018-06-27 21:15:21
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Guide for Hitchhikers

"So I don't see why I only get a third when there's two of us."

"Because there's three of us."

"There's myself, and your fat ass. That's still two."

"Ship makes three, brittle bones!"

"The ship?"

"Yeah, a third goes into upkeep and restock. I'm not putting my entire half into maintenance and restock. It only makes sense."

"You can't fuel this thing on a third."

"No, the rest comes outta my third. Be happy yours is intact!" 

Arnett kept his eyes straight ahead as he steered the Scorpios II through the desert. They were farther north then they were used to, heading through the desert from the Antiford border towards Gearford. The payout they had gotten had been the biggest in weeks, and they were eager to spend it. Joseph Abbot, Arnett's most competent gunner and second mate in years, had really proven himself more than just a hired gun. He had a good head on his shoulders and he had a heart for the work they were doing. 

Arnett hoped that he would prove himself on the border work as well when they headed south once more. Rumor had it on the wires that an offer awaited him in Gearford concerning a southward course. Arnett was eager to restock and head out, maybe making this his most profitable month. 

Abbot wrote in his journal, his feet propped up and his quill scratching quickly.

"I'm just saying, it makes sense that it is your ship and your half goes to it," continued Abbot.

Arnett shook his head, "Do you realize a normal cut is closer to a tenth than a third? You think you'd have better luck on any other ship? Any other ship?"

"Just saying," said Abbot, "Maybe if some of my cut went to the ship I'd have comfier seats or cushions up here."

"Done," smiled Arnett, "I'll take some money out for cushions in Gearford. Maybe get an ice box while we're at it. Some cold water for once?"

"Why not a proper hold," laughed Abbot, "We could use some passenger seating."

"No, no," said Arnett, "No people. Livestock, maybe. No people."

"Maybe I can change your mind," said Abbot, sitting up and staring out the window, "Maybe sometime soon."

"Not going to happen," said Arnett, "People are trouble. They lie, they cheat, they whine... they smell."

"So don't you."

"Yeah, but I'm lovely," said Arnett, "My presence is a gift to man!"

"Many men receive your 'gift'?"

"Silence, or I'll send you to clean the chamber!"

"Wait, now," said Abbot, "See that? Out there?"

"Where?" said Arnett, "It's the desert."

Abbot made a show of pointing out to the right, Arnett following his finger. Out into the desert he saw the dunes and a few rock formations. The wind swirled the sand like a child experimenting with their hands, casually picking up and dropping it without precision. At first, Arnett just shrugged, then he saw it with the rise of the Scorpios II's walk: a figure ran through the desert over a dune and disappeared once more. Before the next step, the figure had cleared the dune and was attempting not to tumble down the other side as it ran.

"A person?" said Arnett, "Out here?"

"They're lost," said Abbot, "I'll go get them."

"What? No," said Arnett, "What were we JUST discussing about smelly people."

"They could be lost and thirsty," said Abbot, "We have to help them."

"Or they could be a Hobgoblin," said Arnett, "They could be dangerous! No!"

Abbot was already on his way out, "Don't worry, they don't look dangerous."

"And if they are?"

"I can handle one person," said Abbot, grabbing his revolver from under his seat cushion and brandishing it at Arnett, "Don't worry, I won't let the 'A-Duo' became 'A Single'."

"Abbot," said Arnett, seriously, "I am not stopping this ship, you understand?"

"Then I'll pull them aboard," said Abbot.

"If they are dangerous," said Arnett, "Crazy. Hobby. Even slightly out of the norm... you put a shell in their skull."

"Aye, aye, Lieutenant," said Abbot, dropping from the cockpit and running through the ship to the bulkhead.

"Good Gods," sighed Arnett, eyeing the figure in the sand, "Why can't the desert be deserted?"

Abbot wasted no time getting onto the deck, and Arnett could barely make him out as he rushed to the side and headed back to the front of the ship. Abbot began to hail the figure, who stopped as if seeing the landship for the first time. The figure waved, causing Arnett's eyebrows to raise.

"Well, they are sentient," said Arnett, "Plus one for good... or is that bad? Huh..."

The figure began to sprint towards the ship. Arnett heard Abbot's calls again. Arnett hoped that he was attempting to discern friend or foe from the figure. However, a passing shadow caught Arnett's eye. Looking past the figure, Arnett could spy a Sand Skimmer at full sail in the distance, hopping over dunes and rising and falling in and out of sight. 

Arnett's heart jumped when he noticed a few more of them, then suddenly a small two-seater dirigible came over one of the dunes and began to bear down on them. Arnett knocked on the windshield and tried to get Abbot's attention. He realized quickly that he didn't need to. Abbot had already pulled out the pistol, and he he waking for the rail gun controls.

Arnett reached back and flicked open the broadside cannon controls, and made sure they were loaded and ready to fire. Yanking a large switch, he built the pressure in the Cannon pistons, pushing the cannons forward and ready to fire. He returned his attention to the Scorpios II, pushing the throttles forward to slow down the ship. By this time the Sand Skimmers went over the final dune the figure had almost reached the landship.

A group of three Sand Skimmers landed, softly, on the other side of the dune and they veered off, Two circling the landship one way while the other began a circle the other way. They waved guns and shouted, hooting and hollering. The tiny two seater dirigibles whirled, and then they, too, began to circle overhead. Arnett's head swiveled, attempting to keep tabs on all the circlers. A second two seater dirigible rose above one of the far dunes, and Arnett rolled his eyes.

"Great, looks like we have a party," Arnett said. 

Just behind the second dirigible, a massive Catamaran Airship was seen. Draped over their Balloon were tattered black flags and the hull of the airship was poorly painted black. A decent number of cannons could be spotted, even at this distance. Large fans were attached to the back, propelling the Airship forward with great speed.

"Pirates," Arnett closed his eyes and sighed, before strapping himself down and preparing for the worse, "PIRATES!"