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!"
"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!"
Dance in the DesertA gunshot rang out. Arnett couldn't tell where it had come from, but he didn't hear it hit the Scorpios II. However, the silence that followed only lasted a few seconds as the pirates surrounding began firing off their weapons. A few had pistols and the ones with rifles fired off into the sky. Arnett took that as a good sign. Then a few of the Dirigibles began to fire off some sort of large-scaled weapons, their round digging into the sand and exploding. Arnett tensed.
These Pirates were making their firepower known, and the ship wasn't even in range yet. If they had the balls to start showing off their might, then this could escalate quickly. The Scorpios II could hit that big airship, but he doubted it would help them in the short term. The hum from the Rail Gun was now building. They had to think. Some of the pirates were shouting and pointing. Obviously they wanted the lone person. But they were pirates. What was to stop them from attempting to board and take everything the Scorpios II had on it? He had to make a decision.
As he reached back to fondle the cannon ignition button he heard the sound of the railgun. A shard of glass was thrown through the current at one of the two seaters and it sliced right through the balloon. The dirigible sputtered, and the pilot looked as if he was unsure of the problem. However, the ripped balloon ripped more and more, and the craft fell right out of the sky. Slamming into the sand, the fuel ignited, tossing black smoke into the air.
Arnett immediately looked to the left. The pack of two Sand Skimmers were just making their round. The crew on board were taking aim at the Scorpios II. Arnett jammed the cannon ignition switch and fired the broadside cannons on that side. The four cannons erupted, firing out the side. The rounds slammed into the sand surrounding the Sand Skimmers as they sailed through the landing area. The last round slammed into one of the Sand Skimmers, shattering its little hull and tossing it's three man crew from the explosion. The Scorpios II shuttered. One of the Dirigibles had opened fire.
It was time, smiled Arnett. They now had the upper hand. Two shots. Two Kills.
The pirates opened fire. Small arms fire pinged off the Scorpios II, and a few of the heavier guns slammed big rounds into the landship's hull. Arnett yanked on the leg controls, causing the clockwork legs to reel, spinning the landship in place. They were sitting ducks if that larger Airship joined the fray. They needed to find a quick way to turn the tide.
Arnett brought the right side cannons up to fire. The Sand Skimmers began to weave, and their fire continued to ping off the Scorpios II. In all the craziness, Arnett couldn't find the figure.
Slamming the controls back, Arnett threw the ship forward. As it scuttled through the sand, the landship headed right into the path of one of the Sand Skimmers. Arnett could see the crew arguing and shooting as the distance closed. Arnett grabbed the drill controls and fired up the right drill. Lifting the control, the drill arm lifted into the air. It menacingly spun and whirred, turning the Skimmer crew's faces white. Arnett thrusted forward with his arm. The drill was brought down, hard, slamming into the Sand Skimmer. The small craft was ripped into pieces, and one of the crew was turned into red mist.
Arnett pulled the drill from the sand in time to spot another dirigible fall. He was unsure of what felled it. However, the third dirigible was just barely getting into range, and the large Airship had held back, instead starting to circle and keep its distance. Arnett thought that was a good sign. One more Sand Skimmer and one Dirigible still challenged them. They had to act, fast.
Arnett yanked the controls, trying to keep the Dirigible in sight. That tiny two-seater had the true firepower, and they could really put some hurt with a well placed shot. The Sand Skimmer still fired shots wildly at the landship.
Arnett unbuckled from the seat and leapt from the cockpit. They were going to need some precise rail-gun shots. Arnett wasted no time as he leapt through the ship. He burst from the bulkhead and onto the deck of the ship. He saw Abbot on the deck. He was using the rail gun controls as cover as he clasped his shoulder, blood spewing from it.
"You dead, Abbot?" said Arnett.
"I'm fine! We need to get these bastards!" yelled Abbot.
Arnett ran up to the controls and grabbed the levers. He yanked two of them, and then spun a wheel next to it. The Rail Gun swiveled around, it's breeze faltering slightly. He got it aimed at the dirigible just as another shot came from the small craft. The round went wild, however. It's path was altered by the rail gun's stream and it shot slightly above the landship. Arnett eyed the iron sights. He positioned the cross hairs slightly above and to the left of the dirigible. This would compensate for the inaccuracy of the cross hair. Pulling back the load lever, a glass shard from the pre-stache was cranked into position. Stomping on the foot trigger, the glass shard was ejected into the air current, and it flew, quickly, down the two rails of the gun and slashed through the sky.
The shard seemed to whistle as it flew through the air. The shard missed the dirigible and ballooned, but cut right through the second seated gunner. The body slumped over, and the pilot struggled to keep control of the dirigible with the off-kilter weight. Arnett smiled.
The landship slammed into the tiny Dirigible. The drills tore through the pilot and shattered the balloon as the body of the landship collided with the bulk of the dirigible. The engine ignited. The landship continued, relatively unharmed, until it slammed into the sand.
Arnett pulled up on the controls, returning pressure into the landship’s legs and righting it. He spotted the last Sand Skimmer and attempted to position the landship for another broadside. The Skimmer yanked on its controls and swerved away, though, trying to stay in front of the landship.
“He’s too quick,” said Abbot, leaping out of his seat, “Keep her steady, I’ll get to the cannon and take them out.”
“Let’s get out of here before that Airship decides it wants to play too!” said Arnett.
“I’m getting that person first,” yelled Abbot, “Keep her steady!”
“Don’t you dare, Abbot!” yelled Arnett after him.
Abbot was already on the Scorpios II’s deck before Arnett could protest. Swearing under his breath, Arnett pulled the controls to keep the landship moving. He looked around trying to spot the Airship he knew was circling overhead.
He heard the popping of the Sand Skimmer small arms firing it at the landship. Arnett continued to turn to try and get them with the cannons. He couldn’t.
A shard seemed to woosh from overhead. Like a bullet it dug into the sand behind the skimmer. Arnett cursed, they were going to be a difficult shot.
Standing up and leaning back into the gunner seat, Arnett adjusted some of the rail gun controls. He diverted the loading mechanism from the shard crystallizer, where they made sand shards, to the intake. Flopping back down into his seat, he grabbed hold of the drill controls and opened them. He applied power to the vacuum fans and began to suck up sand.
In no time a hearty stream of sand was be tossed through the landship and out through the railgun like a stream. Abbot had gotten the message and began to lead the stream with the sand skimmer. The skimmer never stood a chance. The sand stream slammed into it like a runaway stage coach and tore through its sails. The riders and operator were probably hurled from the vehicle, but it was impossible to see through the debris and sand. When the moment was over, the last skimmer couldn’t even be seen in the mound of sand left behind.
Arnett let out a sigh. Leaning back in his pilot’s chair he closed his eyes and listened. Silence.
Arnett rose from his chair and hurried to the bulkhead hatch. He took a step out onto the deck, looking back to the rail gun. Abbot had the figure in tow. Pushing her towards Arnett, Abbot waved, with a large smile on his face.
“Good thinking with the sand blast,” said Abbot, “I would’ve shot shards at the bastard all day.”
“Good. Inside, now,” said Arnett, “Where in the world is that Air-“
SPLAT! Blood sprinkled over Arnett’s face and sprayed the figure. The figure let out a scream and dove aside. A large metal spike was protruding from Abbot’s stomach. Abbot looked at disbelief at the metal, then at Arnett.
Arnett’s eyes widened and he recoiled backwards. He looked from the metal spike to Abbot.
Barbs at the end of the spike extended, looking more like a ship’s anchor then a harpoon, sending blood over the deck and Abbot’s reddening clothes. Suddenly it was pulled back, the extended barbs stopping on his body. Abbot managed to keep his footing but jerked back.
Arnett reached out for him. In another moment Abbot was ripped off his feet and soared into the air. Now Arnett could see the metal pole was attached to a large chain. The chain was being reeled in by the Airship. Abbot disappeared before Arnett could react.
“Abbot,” said Arnett, as the reality sank in, “Joseph! Jo! No! No! NOO!”
The catamaran was reeling him in like a fish. However, the imposing Airship was turning, its cannons coming to bear. Arnett raised his revolved and began firing off shots. He pulled the trigger harder and harder with each round he fired towards the ship.
Before the cannons came to bear a Gatling gun opened fire on the landship. All at once Arnett found himself in a hail of gunfire. Turning around he jumped into his landship and slammed the bulkhead shut. Rushing to the cockpit he listened as the bullets pinged and panged off the bulk of the landship’s hull. Without waiting, he slammed the landship into motion.
The roar of a broadside was heard in the distance, and all at once he saw the sand around him get thrown up with the force. Two large thuds shook the Lanship. He was HIT! He watched as the gauge for the port rearmost leg began to spin as it lost pressure.
Arnett cursed to himself as he struggled to keep the landship upright. The Gatling gun continued to fire away. He heard something break behind him and a whistle sounded. Something must’ve burst back there, the ship wasn’t meant to maintain such acrobatics for long.
He had to think fast. He had to act now or the would fire another shot on him.
He twisted some knobs in front of him and released pressure in the front most legs while he increased pressure in the center and rear legs. Grabbing the drill controls, he revved up the drills and prepared to plummet them into the sand. The Istoki Desert filled his window view and he thrust forward with the drills. They were cast into darkness once more as the drills hit sand and he was thrust beneath the dunes. Kicking up the throttle with his knee, the landship began to dig into the sand once more.
It was all over in a matter of minutes. The landship continued to dig and dig as sand turned into dirt and rocks and he went deeper. Pulling up on the controls, he leveled out the landship as best he could. Then he stopped it. The movement stopped, the drills slowed down, and he waited.
The world seemed to go silent besides the hum of the engines and boilers. Arnett reached over and pulled back an emergency kill switch, extinguishing the pilot lights of his engines and slowly killing the life of the landship. He listened to the vibrations of the Orr around him as explosions and pats from the surface were muffled and carried down to him. He closed his eyes in the darkness, leaning back.
“By the Gods, Abbot,” said Arnett, listening to the darkness, “You idiot.”
Drums, Drums in the Deep
Arnett sat in the darkness. He listened to the ship as it settled and cooled. The drips as something leaked. The muffled silence of the outside world.
Arnett reached into his pocket and pulled out his cigarette case and a match. He didn’t even need to open his eyes to place the cigarette in his mouth and strike the match. He cracked one eye to light his cigarette. The cockpit was lit eerily. The match’s light tossed erratic shadows on the window from the gauges’ knobs and levers. Arnett puffed on the cigarette a few times, then leaned over to a candle tilted in a candle holder soldered to the dashboard. Lighting the candle, Arnett tossed the match into an ashtray and straightened the candle. Light filled the cockpit.
He puffed on his cigarette, staring into the dirt. He shook his head.
“You dumb bastard,” said Arnett, out loud, “You never get involved. Don’t do people. People are never a good idea.”
“I do appreciate it.”
Arnett leapt from his cockpit chair, slamming his head on the ceiling, hard. Cursing, he reached for his revolver once more and cocked the hammer back. Looking down into the hull of his ship, the light of the candle stopped after only a few paces. A dark wall of black made his ship look ominous and evil.
Stepping down carefully, he held the revolver up into the dark. His eyes scanned the black. He took another few steps, his eyes searching the gloom for any sign of anything.
Crack! Arnett lost the use of his legs and arms and crashed to the deck. His vision began to spot.
When Arnett awoke, a flickering light irritated his retinas. He was propped against some crates in the hull of his ship. A figure sat across the way, his revolver in its hands. It pointed it at him, saying nothing.
Arnett grumbled as he looked around his ship. Apparently, he was out long enough for the figure to light another few candles and found his lantern. The Landship was now cast in light. He attempted to rise, but the figure gave a gasping sound and tensed, the revolver pointed squarely at him.
“Easy, easy now,” the figure said.
“What did you hit me with?” said Arnett, feeling the dried blood at the back of his head.
“A wrench,” said the figure, a more feminine voice than Arnett expected.
“You were in my tool chest,” said Arnett.
“My wrench, I don’t steal,” said the figure.
“That my gun?” said Arnett, attempting to smile, “You just holding onto that for me?”
“You were going to shoot me.”
“You’re on my ship.”
“I was invited,” said the figure, “by the other one.”
“Not his ship,” said Arnett, attempting to stand, “Besides, he’s dead. Because of you, if it hasn’t been mentioned.”
“Not yet,” said Arnett standing up, “I’ll kill you.”
The revolver tumbler turned as the hammer snapped into place. Arnett jumped and so did the figure. She let out a surprised little chirp of sorts, and stared amazed at the gun. Arnett’s jaw dropped.
“Did you just try to shoot me?” asked Arnett.
“Is this gun unloaded?” said the figure.
“You bitch!” said Arnett, stepping forward.
Another few clicks as the figure tried to fire the revolver but Arnett covered the distance in no time and snatched the gun out of her hands easily. He glared at her as she jumped back, brandishing a crooked wrench in defense.
“On my ship,” said Arnett, looking over the revolver, “You tried to shoot me!”
“The gun is empty, not my fault!” said the woman, whose face shroud had now fallen down.
“I ought to beat you to death!”
“You were gonna shoot me!”
“The gun was empty,” said Arnett.
“How was I supposed to know! Who threatens someone with an empty gun!”
“Who sneaks aboard a landship that just saved their life, beats a guy, and attempts to shoot them with their own GUN!”
“Look, I’ve had sort of a long day!” cried the girl, tears starting to roll down her face, “Pirates trying to kill me! I had to run through a desert for hours! I don’t have any water. You threatened me!”
Arnett rolled his eyes as everything else she began to say was lost in a mess of tears. She kneeled down as if in a ball and sobbed. Arnett rolled his eyes, opening the revolver and allowing the empty shells to scatter across the floor. He walked away as he loaded it again. He breathed in as if sucking a cigarette, but he realized he had lost his smoke somewhere.
“Where’s my cig?” he said, looking around, “Damn. I only have three left!”
The figure began to cry and he rolled his eyes again. Just what he needed, a crying woman. On the other hand, no wonder Abbot was so interested in helping. When he finished loading his gun, she was still going strong sobbing in her makeshift corner. Arnett winced.
“Look, look, gun’s going away, ok?” said Arnett, “Just… don’t do the crying thing. It’s been a rough day.”
The girl continued to cry, although it was a little less than before. Arnett rolled his eyes, placing his revolver in the holster. Looking around, Arnett sighed, unsure how to calm the girl.
“Hey, look… what’s your name? I’m Lieutenant Joel Arnett,” said Arnett, kneeling down next to her, “What’s yours, huh?”
The girl looked up, her eyes red. She looked at Arnett, searching his eyes for some unknown quality. Finally, she sniffed and whipped her face.
“My name is Dayntie. Dayntie Feoil,” she said, “I run a shop in Gearford. Or just out of Gearford.”
“There we go,” said Arnett, “See? I’m not so bad. Now we’re doing alright.”
A clang was heard that made Arnett jump, then the sound of something liquid spilling and slapping the ground nearby. Arnett shot up and looked towards the engine room. Cursing, he leapt inside and began to curse.
In the darkness he could barely see one of the overhead pipes had burst. Oil was spraying everywhere. Grabbing a rag nearby, Arnett attempted to close it shut. He began to curse as he was drenched in oil.
“What’s wrong?” cried Feoil from the doorway.
“I need light,” said Arnett, “A pipe has burst!”
Next he knew he was drenched in light. Feoil had brought in the lantern and set it down. Running up to him she looked over the pipework.
“A burst connector, you got a spare?” said Feoil.
“Over there, hurry!”
“What is this stuff?”
“Lubricating oil. For the… legs? Maybe engine.”
Feoil returned with a pipe, “We need to shut off the pressure.”
“Can’t, just rip it off!” said Arnett, grabbing the wrench out of Feoil’s hand.
Luckily, it fit, and he pried the pipe loose. Quickly shoving the replacement in, he began tightening it with Feoil’s help. In a few seconds, it was over. He wiped the oil from his face and glared at the oil and blood stains on his clothes.
“Why the hell is a lubricant line here?” Feoil asked, looking around the engine room, “Why do you even have a lubricating line?”
“I don’t always have time to run around lubricating the works, I built system to pump it throughout the ship for me. Only have to worry about touching one place.”
Feoil’s eyes narrowed as she looked around the Landship, “Who the hell built this mess? Look at all this?”
“Well, I did,” said Arnett, puffing out his lip, “It’s not a mess.”
“This shouldn’t even work,” said Feoil, pointing at things without explaining her thought process, “By the sounds of the engines I assume it no longer does.”
“They need to be off or this place will be full of exhaust fumes in seconds,” said Arnett, “Want to choke to death?”
“What military vehicle would be allowed to look like this,” she stated, shooting a questionable glance at Arnett, “I’ve worked on a Kovy now and then.”
“This ain’t no Kovy,” said Arnett, “And I’m not military, it’s sort of a title. This, this is the Landship Scorpios II. And it’s my ship.”
“It’s a death trap,” said Feoil, frowning.
“It was fine before you walked into our path,” said Arnett.
“Look, we've got to get this thing moving,” said Feoil, “Unless… I am not fully sure what’s the deal with this? Where are we exactly?”
“The ship digs,” said Arnett, “We’re currently underground. I needed to get away from that Airship. Who are those guys, Feoil? What do they want?”
“Dayntie,” said Feoil, “I go by Dayntie.”
Arnett smiled, fighting back annoyance, “Dayntie.”
“I’m a mechanic,” said Feoil, “I just fixed that stupid airship. Those brutes racked up quite the bill. In the end, the captain lost a good deal of money gambling. I tried to work with them… another deal. He agreed. However, when the deed was done, he was angry. He came back with his whole gang of rough necks. He wanted repayment. He wanted me.”
“Oh,” said Arnett, looking Feoil up and down and then at the ceiling, “So… like… he wanted to kill you? Or he wanted… you?”
“Either way, I didn’t want it!” said Feoil, “I beat him, and escaped. I ran through the desert and before I knew it they were chasing me. All the way to where the dunes began. That’s when I started to lose my lead, and before I knew it they had spotted me.”
“And that’s when we found you,” said Arnett, “About to be pounced on.”
“Yes,” said Feoil, turning away and pretending to examine one of the boilers.
“So, fun,” said Arnett, “Well, we’ll never make it back to Gearford. There’s still some dune-land left to go before we hit the badlands. And even then, I can’t exactly hide behind some rocks if they find us. They’ll be circling this area of the desert for hours and hours.”
“What are we going to do?” said Feoil.
“Well,” said Arnett, crossing his arms and sighing, “I guess we’ll need to get back to Gearford. However, that isn’t going to happen without one hell of a fight. If we want to make it to Gearford, and furthermore, if you ever want to be safe at your home again, then we’re going to need to take down that Airship.”
“How?” asked Feoil, “We’re underground. Stuck here.”
“Well, number one, I need to see if I can fix that back leg,” said Arnett, getting up and walking over to a metal cabinet, “And second, I’ll need you to explain a thing or two about that catamaran.”
“Why me?” asked Feoil.
“Because, you fixed it,” said Arnett, who had pulled a small tool chest out of the cabinet and a smaller lantern with one window and reflective mirrors, “That means you know the best way to break it again. I can probably land a shard or two and rip their balloons to hell but we’d be exposed for much too long.”
Arnett walked back to the main room. Continuing to make his way to the stern of the landship, he ended up in the cargo hold, pushing boxes aside. Feoil followed him with the lantern. Eventually he made his way to an area with a small hatch. Opening this hatch, Arnett dropped down into the belly of the ship. Feoil followed him.
The underbelly of the landship was a mess of pipes and interconnecting cogs. Feoil could see coal dust and she cough. Arnett had to practically crawl a few feet away until he opened another hatch. Sand spilled out over the pipes and onto the metal floor. Feoil could see it was a narrow tunnel and it seemed to be filled with pipework and springs and gears.
Arnett then took out his cigarette case and lit himself a cigarette. He then used the match to light the miniature lantern. When he close the back case, the light was magnified by the mirrors and a beam shot out of the single window. He pointed the beam of light down into the hatch and looked around before attaching the lantern to a tube. After the lantern was secured, the single window shined down a glass tube with multiple windows lined with mirrors, that seemed to light up the entirety of the crawlspace. Feoil was very impressed by the ingenuity of it all.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“This is the rear leg that was damaged,” said Arnett, opening the tool chest and grabbing some wrenches and other tools and shoving them in his belt as be puffed his cigarette, “It was hit. I’m going to attempt to reconnect some of the steam lines so I can at least force it to hold weight. It’ll help when we get to the surface again.”
“Are you smoking?” asked Feoil, “Covered in oil?”
Arnett looked at her and raised his eyebrows.
“What if you catch fire?” asked Feoil.
“Put me out,” said Arnett, who wasted no more time.
He crawled into the crawlspace and began making his way down into the legs. He only made it so far as to have his legs sticking out before he was forced to stop.
“Dayntie,” he yelled, “There’s a spade in the chest. Toss it to me. Too much sand!”
Feoil rummaged through the tool kit, which she realized wasn’t exactly full of tools, and found a spade that looked like it had crusted blood on it. She tossed it down to him, which he grabbed and began fidgeting as he dug.
“Don’t you worry about goblins down here?” she yelled down to him.
“Yes, of course,” said Arnett, “But they are rarely an issue. I’ve only ever once tunneled through a nest and even then, if you stay inside and keep going they can’t do too much. They’ll only chase you so long.”
“There’s an awful lot of sand,” said Feoil.
“That’s what happens when shit breaks,” said Arnett.
“You know, I can help,” said Feoil, “You did save me after all.”
“What? My piece of junk? Nooo,” said Arnett, his feet starting to push him further down, “I wouldn't want you to have to rummage through my mess.”
“Shut it, you need the help,” said Feoil, “Besides, you did save me.”
“Fine,” said Arnett, “We’ll think of something.”
More silence as he dug. However, it wasn’t long before he stopped. Arnett had dug through the sand and found the break where everything was getting in. It looked like the shell had actually bashed in the armor plating of the clockwork legs and pinched the steam pipe and damaged a cog. Arnett searched his pockets and belt of tools for an extra cog but he had only grabbed a few bits of piping and hosing. He popped out the damaged cog and tossed it down to Feoil, demanding a replacement from the storage locker. He stayed and undid the pipework. He banged out the dent and surveyed for further damage, but after fixing the broken piping he felt confident it would work.
In no time Feoil had returned with another gear and he replaced it.
“So you built all of this? This… mess, huh? How?” said Feoil.
“Well, a lot of it was lying around, honestly,” said Arnett, “I did some jobs with a mechanic back in the day and even worked with a tinker on mining equipment. My best job ever was restoring a damaged war-era Kovy, though. The old man needed some help and I got picked as one of the hands. I ended up liking it. Then my luck changed when I met a man with an interest in landships. I was aimless at the time, and ended up building this baby. Well, technically I built this one after I wrecked the first, but a lot of the pieces are the same. Buford Automaton clockwork legs, Kovy armor plating off scrapers, industrial mining drills. But she’s a lot prettier now than when she was first made.”
“What do you do?”
“What do you do?” asked Feoil, examining the inner workings of the landship.
“Well, we escort, I guess,” said Arnett, who was trying to fit a section of pipe, “You see, people pay us to transport things or escort some folks across this wonderful little Istoki desert we call home. There’s a whole mess of people out there who want to hurt and steal from folks.”
“That’s a strange profession,” said Feoil.
“It’s a dangerous one,” said Arnett, tightening the last washer in to place.
Arnett grabbed the new gear and jammed it into place. He tried to blow out the sand from as many of the gears as he could but he soon gave up on it. He began to shimmy back. Closing up the hatch, he extinguished the lantern and packed up.
“What was his name?” asked Feoil.
“Joseph Abbot,” said Arnett, “And he gambled everything on you.”
They said not a word as they returned to the main hull room. Arnett sat down and looked about his ship. Feoil sat down on a crate and sighed.
“Alright,” said Arnett, “So, what can a male and a female do all alone to pass the time?”
Feoil began to think until she realized what Arnett meant. Her eyes narrowed and she glared at him. Arnett shrugged.
“Worth a shot. I did save your life.”
“It looks like you just saved them the trouble of burying me,” said Feoil, “Look, we got to figure out a way to get out of here. What’s your thoughts?”
Arnett thought a moment before replying, “What did you fix on that Catamaran?”
“Huh?” asked Feoil.
“You fixed it, we can break it,” said Arnett, “What do they have? What am I up against?”
“Well,” said Feoil, thinking back, “Initially they came to me for some damaged balloons and a rusted ballast mechanism that needed replacing, however they have a massive hole in their hull. I quoted them a cost and they said go for it. However, their steam piping system was a bit rusted and the bow of their starboard hull is beginning to show massive erosion damage. That cheap bastard didn’t want to pay, so he had me patch up the pipes but he refused to fix that bow.”
Feoil stopped and started counting on her hands, mumbling as she went, “Alrighty, what they have is a four light cannon artillery set on either side in those hulls as well as two heavy cannons on either side on the deck. On the port bow they have a grappling hook, pneumatic, that is really nasty. Designed to maim and pull at rival airships and reel in prey. The other bow is a pneumatic Gatling Gun. I believe they also have a steam pipe up to a crows nest between the balloons. The only thought I have for that is someone with a very large pneumatic hunting rifle could be poised up top to damage rival airship balloons.”
“How about crew. Did you just deal with the Captain, or?”
“Well, I only saw so many. I never saw the full crew and when they came for me he had many men with him. However, The ship can be easily piloted and used with ten people, undermanned. I would think he could comfortably combat us with twelve to thirteen.”
“Small crew for a ship that size,” said Arnett, leaning back and staring at the ceiling, “That Starboard bow… A direct hit or two could sever it with enough erosion damage. How much sand erosion would you say?”
“An unsafe amount.”
“Alrighty,” said Arnett, “I could easily do away with that Gatling, then. I shouldn’t have to worry about a steam rifle that I know of, but that grappling hook was a damn good shot from the distance we were from it. I would think we should stay off the deck if we can.”
“Can you combat them from in here?” asked Feoil.
“We can try,” said Arnett, “Now, We cannot, under any circumstances, survive a hit from their broadside. I think those cannons are deadly and a direct hit with a large cannon could tear my baby apart. If I lose the legs, we’re dead out here. So I need to crash them and limp off before they can put us out of commission and raid us. Two against thirteen isn’t going to be a fun fight.”
“What can this metal crab do?” said Feoil.
“Well we need to patch it up, but I think if my steam supply is solid I can get us to broadside them from an elevated position,” said Arnett, “And I think I might be able to accomplish that by putting a glass shard through a few of those balloons we can cause them to nose dive or something.”
“That doesn’t sound possible…”
“Trust me,” said Arnett, winking, “I’ve done this before. Airships don’t scare me… when I have a team.”
“How will you know,” said Feoil.
“Well, I just do,” said Arnett, standing up and pointing at Feoil, "So, you a mechanic? It’s time to act like it. Grab some tools and get to work. We got to fix some of this mess.”
When the landship broke the surface, a flash of brilliant desert sun instantly illuminated the cabin. Even in a cloud of sand and dirt, the sun slashed at their eyes. Arnett was used to the shock, but Feoil let out a scream of startled surprise, falling out of the gunner's chair.
"Hey, keep it together," said Arnett, his eyes squinting, "I need your eyes."
"So don't I!" said Feoil, fumbling for her tinted goggles she had tucked away.
"We made good time, the sun hasn't even set yet," said Arnett, who pulled on the Landship's thrust.
He looked to the compass, spinning wildly with all the movement. When it finally settled, he smiled. With a minor adjustment, they were now heading East, and he pulled back hard, bringing the landship up to speed. His eyes scanned the sky around them.
"I don't see them," said Arnett as Feoil struggled back into the gunner's seat.
"I don't see anything," she said, but her head began to turn, "No. There's no sign of them. Do you think we lost them?"
"Doubt it," said Arnett, "surfacing is loud and kicks up a lot of sand, dust, and now exhaust. If they are around that bird will spot us easily enough."
The engines whirred and the steam hissed around them. Feoil began the sequence of valves and levers they had practiced below to start up the massive gun. She had been familiarized with the idea of operating the gunner seat, but she did not feel comfortable with it.
"How long to Gearford in this thing?" asked Feoil.
"Long enough," said Arnett, "Let me worry about that. Keep your eyes skyward. We only have one shot at this."
Around a dune, the large shadow emerged. The catamaran gained height, its engines whirring to life as well. Their fans picked up a massive buzz as it came to life.
Feoil was first to spot it. It was off their port side. She wrestled with the controls, the massive cannon raising and then jerking from side to side as she tried to get a feel for it.
"Now, let's aim for that weak spot," said Arnett, "You are going to want to aim down and to the left."
"Why, the sights off on this thing?" said Feoil.
"No, everyone always shoots up and to the right," said Arnett.
She struggle with the controls. As the gun came into position, she could see a broken contraption which was probably meant as a sight was fidgeting, but not moving.
"Are those the sights?" asked Feoil, "Are they broke?"
Arnett paused a moment in thought before wincing, "Joseph might have mentioned something similar. Just going to have to eyeball it. Aim and let loose, we're running out of time!"
The airship had already gained height and speed and was now bearing down at Arnett. Feoil furrowed her brow as she took the best aim she could. On the starboard bow a figure rushed to the gun emplacement there, turning it to the Scorpios.
"He's on that gun," said Arnett, "They went the gun route. Dayntie, aim just behind him in that weak spot. He could lose a gun and a gunner in one go!"
Feoil squinted, trying to maneuver the cannon just right. Sweat was forming on her brow. The airship was getting closer. They could now tell the steam gatling gun was spinning, and the gunner had them in their sights.
A steady flame shot out of the gatling gun. A barrage of bullets rained down from the sky. The first salvo went over the landship. The second spray was a long spray, hitting just before Arnett, tossing up sand and dirt. The gunner lead the stream right into the ship.
Feoil pressed down on the foot trigger. A small sound could be heard from behind, the the sight of a large shard could not be missed, tearing through the sky. The shard missed the bow, but slammed into the balloon. The shard sparked. A large piece of armored plating came loose, falling down onto the two front bows.
Arnett let out a laugh, "Hey, Dayntie? Down, and to the left, please."
Feoil blushed, "Down and to the left."
The airship turned hard to port. It presented it's broadside to the landship.
"I need that shot," yelled Arnett, "Take another shot."
Dayntie pumped the foot trigger. Shot after shot was fired. The first slammed into the hull, shattering. The next few punched straight through it, though. The metal frame strained with the lack of support. Slowly the bow began to sink. The gunner stopped firing and looked around, trying to understand what had happened. Soon, though, it was all too clear as the bow gave way. That entire chunk of the catamaran began to slunk and tear. The gunner desperately struggle for footing and to release himself from the gun he had strapped himself to.
In complete contrast to how slow it had started, the section of the bow, the gun, and the gunner dropped clean off the airship. They left behind jagged edged of steel and burst steam pipes. The ship section dropped from the sky, disappearing behind a dune in a puff of sand and debris.
The weight was off in the Airship, now. It struggled to correct itself. The cannons fired, plumes of smoke shooting out. Arnett tensed. His eyes stared down the salvo as it went high, completely missing the Scorpios II. However, the could still feel the rumble of it hitting the desert not far behind them. Arnett shuddered. A salvo like that as a direct hit could be the end of him.
"Look," said Feoil, pointing.
The airship was still having trouble stabilizing. The broadside had not helped the distribution of weight, and even now it turned to the port side. A single figure fell from the deck, tumbling the distance to the ground below.
"Hey, nice work," said Arnett, "They are helpless. Put another round right into that main balloon. With all the trouble they are having we could get them to careen into the sand!"
Feoil adjusted the aim slightly and pressed the foot trigger once more. Nothing. She kept trying the foot trigger.
"It's not working!" she exclaimed, her eyes looked to the Airship, "We're out of ammunition! We're doomed."
"Easy there," said Arnett, slowing down the Landship and standing up in his seat, leaning back into Feoil's space, "Try this on for size. Don't miss!"
With a yank of a lever and a press of a button, Arnett returned to his seat and secured his hat.
Feoil pressed the foot trigger again. This time another projectile shot out, but this was an artillery shell. It soared into the air. The shot was good. The shell slammed into the armor of the main balloon, selling off the round. The shell dug into the armor, but the heat from the balloon ignited the gunpowder in the shell itself. This caused an explosion, ripping at the main balloon. The airship began to sink from the sky, now desperately losing control.
Dayntie let out a squeal of happiness, "Take that! That'll be expensive to fix!"
"Oh, they won't have a chance to repair," said Arnett, "We're finishing this. This is one of my favorite routes and I won't be looking over my shoulder every trip!"
Arnett pulled back the throttle again, the Landship speeding up towards the sporadic airship. Clearing a dine, Arnett saw the Airship was gaining control, and the dunes of the desert were giving away to badlands. Rocky outcroppings were popping up, and dunes were becoming hills. One of these hills the Airship was slowing down, and beginning to disappear behind.
"HOLD ON!" shouted Arnett.
Yanking the throttle and quickly shoving forward the drill controls, he achieved a small jump and the drills dug into the dirt. Once again they were cast into darkness as sand and dirt filled the windshield. Arnett began counting immediately, shoving the throttle back fully and gaining speed underground.
Feoil sat unsteady, cast into complete darkness.
Arnett's counting increased in volume until he yanked upward with the drill controls, bringing them into an incline. All at once again they burst back into brilliant light, sending sand and dirt and rock everywhere. This time, however, they were in the air.
Keeping the legs up, they had achieved a sort of small jump, coming out at the top of the hill. They caught the Airship off guard. The catamaran had sunk, and was roughly slightly below eye level with the soaring landship now. A tremendous roar filled their ears as the port broadside opened up, but Arnett was laughing with delight as the Scorpios II went over the broadside this time, and angled down, right into the deck of the Catamaran.
The drills still spinning, Arnett adjusted the legs for a rough landing and thrust out with the Starboard drill. Like a punch, the drill cut into the airship's port hull as the full weight of the landship slammed into the side. The windshield filled with debris. The most awful sound could be heard as metal scraped metal.
Arnett pulled up the legs and thrust the drills forward. In no time they had crashed through and were hurtling to the desert floor once more. Hoping to angle the fall, Arnett leaned forward. Their stomachs leapt into their mouths with the short decent.
The Landship crashed into the desert floor, not exactly disappearing below as he had hoped. However, they were back under the ground, burrowing away in moments. Just above them, the catamaran has suffered too much, and the force of the impact had dislodged their engines and tore at their hull. Almost like metal rain, the debris and what was left of the ship fell out of the sky, slamming into the ground where the Landship had been moments before.
The dust barely had time to settle when the Scorpios II emerged moments later a little bit away. The back leg had busted again, and it lost steam quickly. The windshield had cracked, and somewhere the effort of the boiler was causing a moaning sound. However, Arnett stopped running, stopping the Landship and locking the controls. He jumped from his seat and descended back into the hull.
"Where are you going?" asked Feoil.
"Stay here," said Arnett, grabbing a sawed off shotgun and a handful of shells, "Don't touch anything."
Arnett was quick to leave the Landship. Climbing down one of the wounded legs, he turned and surveyed the wreckage of the Airship.
Fire had broken out as, by no surprise, the fuel reserves probably caught fire and the damage spread. A single flame shot up to the sky, a burning balloon trying to stay inflated for a while longer. A chunk of the airship still flew, blowing off to the North on a dislodged balloon. Two crew members could be seen. One moaned from underneath a piece of hull, blood on his face. A second, larger crewman was crawling out from beneath a bit of burning balloon, and he was taking in his surroundings.
Arnett began walking into the wreckage. He looked at the wounded man moaning, and the man trying to understand where he was. He took aim at the bigger crewman as he snarled and began to rush at Arnett. He fired off one shell, stopping the man dead in his tracks as he fell over.
He turned his shotgun on the other crewman, putting him out of his misery quickly. As he reloaded Arnett heard another explosion that sounded like a series of gunfire. The Airship's magazine must be going up.
Almost on cue another pirate emerged from the wreckage, tossing aside a flaming coat. He glared at Arnett and drew a pistol. Arnett fired his shot first, hitting the pirate dead in the chest. He was tossed back with the force, and began cursing to the sky. Arnett ran up to the man.
"Where is he," he demanded, "Where is the man you harpooned? Where is he?"
The pirate spat up some blood before glaring at Arnett, "He was dead before we got 'em. He was tossed to the sand, boy."
"Fine, I'll settle for your Captain," said Arnett.
"She's a demon," said the man, "That witch you harbor. She'll be the death of yeh."
"She's not even red," said Arnett, "Not very Vibranni like at all."
"Not a sand rat, you twat," spat the pirate, "I mean a real demon. She's evil, the witch. Do you have any idea?"
"No," said Arnett, "But with those munitions burning, I don't have time."
He fired another shot into the pirate, nearly blowing a hole into him. Arnett sighed as he looked around the wreckage. He had to move quickly.
Feoil looked back suddenly at the sound of an explosion. The wreckage was burning brightly now, and explosion of another bomb going off only threw more debris into the air and spread the blaze. The catamaran would truly never sail again, and she doubted this landship would go much longer too.
The sound of the bulkhead door shutting ripped her back into the ship as she turned to see Arnett stomping through. He tossed down a load of junk he had in his arms and then headed to the Engine room. Feoil got up to follow, eyeing the jacket, two pistols, and a handful of other junk he had apparently salvaged from the wreckage.
"You ok?" she asked.
"We're alive," said Arnett, who sounded cold, "You'll be safe now. How much farther is Gearford?"
"Can't believe it's much farther," said Feoil, pointing to nowhere in particular, "Someone is bound to have seen or heard that blast."
"Perhaps, but I doubt it," said Arnett, "Either way, we better make tracks and make some distance from this mess before we make any repairs."
"Head straight," pointed Dayntie, "We can go to my workshop. Quickly!"
Now We Can Regrow
Arnett opened the door of the little shack, stepping through the small living area and into the large workshop. Feoil was sitting on a bench, eating a small roll of bread when he came in. She smiled and leapt from the stool.
"Is it done?" said Arnett.
"Yes, yes!" said Feoil, gesturing behind her to the Scorpios II, "It's finished, and better than before!"
"Before you? It better be," said Arnett, "That ship was fine before you."
"Shut up and come here," said Feoil, gesturing to the landship, "Let me introduce you to the new Scorpios II."
Arnett looked over the ship in front of him. It looked brand new and almost professionally commissioned. No patches or awkward steel plating, the hull was uniform and smooth. The riveting was beautiful and uniformly complete. It even looked as if the hull was polished.
"So, I started by fixing it, of course," said Feoil, "However, that mess couldn't be fixed without some major upgrades."
"Did you touch my ship?" said Arnett, sarcastically acting hurt, "I had it the way I wanted it."
"So now everything is where it should be," said Feoil, "And, on top of that, everything works wonderfully. No more random pipes, no more exposed lubricant tubes, no more trouble. Next I used all that extra space, and yes there was a ton of extra space this way, to bulk up your armor. No more of those scraps. No more patchwork. With a solid hull and good riveting work this will be able to take and deflect hits better, now."
"That's always a good thing," said Arnett, "Looks better, too. Not bad, Dayntie."
"Not done, Joel," said Feoil, taking a few steps further and pointing to the front of the ship, "Look at that, there."
Just underneath the front of the Landship, a new opening could be seen, and two cylindrical barrels showing some new Gatling guns. Arnett couldn't hide the smile on his face, even as he pretended to be unimpressed.
"What is this?"
"In our fight, you relied heavily on me and although you are the reason we survived, I thought some more weapons couldn't hurt," said Feoil, "So those are dual rotary guns controlled from the pilot's seat. They fire a combined volley aimed several yards away and can be disconnected so they sweep idly. May help if you are outnumbered."
"That's a sweet taste I never dreamed of," said Arnett, "Could add cost to the ammunition budget."
"And that weird setup you had for shells versus shards in your... uhm.... wind gun?" said Feoil.
"Dayntie, you didn't touch that gun did you?" asked Arnett, "I gave you one rule! Don't touch that system! It's beyond you!"
"Please," scoffed Feoil, almost laughing as she walked underneath the Landship, "Anyway, I designed a more practical delivery system. Now there's a lever next to the gunner's side that adjusts the auto-loader for glass shard loading or shell loading. I couldn't figure out how to fit a mechanism that strikes the shell before it is, er, launched but I did work it out where you can even launch cannonballs, which is cheaper and easier to obtain then those expensive all-in-one shells your broadside cannons favor."
"Great," sighed Arnett, "Next you'll tell me you rearranged the bunks."
Feoil shook her head, "I made your bed and washed those atrocious sheets if that's what you mean. The bunk area didn't need to be touched."
Arnett frowned, looking at a hatch below the Scorpios II. He pointed at it. Feoil smiled widely as Arnett frowned.
"Is that a hatch," said Arnett, scowling, "Did you put a hole in my hull?"
"It's just another entrance," said Feoil, playfully frowning, "It's a gangplank, like some Airships use!"
"It's not an Airship..."
"It's easier and safer than disembarking from the legs!" said Feoil, "I used some extra space and it leads right into the newly spacious engine room."
"You got to be kidding me."
"It's easier then these leg-rungs."
"Yes, easier to break in. Easier to make my life harder."
"Fine, fine," said Arnett, who sighed and gave Feoil a smile, "It's... nice."
"It's a thank you," said Feoil, "A serious and much needed upgrade. It's a true Landship now!"
"It was before," said Arnett, but he looked up at his ship, "But this is nice. I appreciate it. it goes a long way."
"I never got a real chance to thank you," said Feoil, "Not in any way that counts. I hope this will show how thankful I am that I live another day."
"Well, it could be better," said Arnett, adjusting his hat, "Dayntie, I could use a spare hand, you know. We're one down, and someone who knows the Scorpios II as well as you could come in handy."
Feoil's smile shrank away. She looked to the ground.
"Is it the shop?" said Arnett.
"Joel," she said, before turning her back to him, "I'm not sure your line of work is for me. And besides... I have someone here."
"Oh," said Arnett, before his eyes widened, "Oh! Oh, that's cool. Hey, I wasn't suggesting anything. Just to double as my mechanic... learn to shoot better."
"No, my place is here," smiled Feoil, "For now."
"Fine, then," said Arnett, who gave a small stretch, "At least I'll know where to find you next time I save a desert rat."
Feoil nodded at him, "I'm glad. Next time, though, you get a bill."
"We'll see about that," said Arnett, "I'm good at waiting to get things looked at until I find a fixer wandering the desert in trouble."
Feoil shook her head, "Get out of here, you bandit. And take this mess of a thing with you."
"Easy, she'll hear you," said Arnett, walking to one of the legs and grabbing a hold of a rung, "She's brand new, you know."
"Then don't get a scratch on her!" said Feoil, who watched Arnett scale the landship, "It's a her, is it?"
"It's whatever I need it to be," said Arnett, finishing the last little bit of the climb, "I don't know."
"Joel," said Feoil, her smile fading, "You'll tell his family, won't you. What he did for me."
Arnett said nothing, looking down from the deck of his ship. After a moment's pause, he turned and made his way to the open bulkhead, and he slipped inside. Arnett wasted no time admiring the work, but he made his way to the new engine room and ignited the boilers. Settling down into his new cockpit, he noticed she reupholstered the seats too.
He smiled to himself, leaning back in the seat. He twisted son valves and pressed a button, igniting the engines and allowing steam to run through the landship. Arnett grabbed the controls and stared ahead.
"Let's go try this out," he said to no one in particular.