By Phaedra Mintun
Scottie pressed his knee into the invader's chest, pinning him to the deck, "What's goin' on matey?" The blank bleeding face of the skyman didn't change, but his body and limbs flailed to escape, landing blows on Scotties ribs. Scottie adjusted so that he could trap the man's arms. Something about this was wrong, Scottie held his arms and the man struggled but his face showed no sign of distress, he hadn't spoken or shown signs of awareness.
Scottie looked around at the invaders swarming them. Stickywicket was slaying as many boarders as he could get his ancient sword through. Scottie was hoping to soon scrub from his mind the vision of Sticky's obvious excitement. Rick and Finn were beating back raiders with a swift precision that did their years of military service proud. Scottie saw one of the intruders drop suddenly to the ground and assumed that the twins were practicing a little sharpshooting from the crows nest. The invaders that were not caught up in fights with the crew were mobbing the hatch leading below deck. From what Scottie could see it looked like they had only been boarded by members of the smaller ships that had reached them first. He didn't see anyone that likely belonged to one of the large and powerful drug transport vessels.
The sound of wood splintering ricocheted around them, more ships had collided. Scottie had a feeling something was going on here and it wasn't just as simple as pirates. The ship rocked dangerously. Unlike boats that were tossed around in water, skymen were unaccustomed to their ships making more than the occasional sudden change of direction that would cause rocking, they must be in serious peril. Scottie had been working hard to restrain the fighting man he was pinning down while he took this all in. He looked down into the blank eyes of his assailant, "What is it you are after?" The man didn't utter a sound, his blank eyes stared forward, his face remained a mask of unconscious stillness. Scottie released him and jumped away, ready to tackle him if he made any aggressive move.
The released skyman scurried away toward the hatch. This was too weird. When a ship was invaded, the attackers usually had a lot to say and an intense desire to maim, kill, or capture everyone on board, but these invaders didn't seem interested or even aware of them. Scottie looked around, more people were boarding the ship and they rushed blindly past him. They were getting too many people on board. The delicate weight balance of the ship would be throwing off. That gave Scottie an idea, he barreled his way as close to the hatch as he could and bellowed down to Cook, "HOLD ON TO YOUR CRUMPETS!" A faint call was returned from below and from across deck he could see that the other crew members had gotten the message.
He swung up into the rigging. Once he was high enough to have a clear view of their surroundings he choked with shock. They were in the center of an island of ships. Locked in close all around them were six or more small two-ballooners. Pressed against those were maybe ten larger ships, heavy with artillery. Their crews were clamoring over the smaller ships. Soon they would be casting lines and swinging on board. They needed to make an escape and they needed to make it fast.
Scottie reached the crows nest, "Boys, do you remember that time over Singapore?" Two identical freckled faces turned toward him with identical impish grins. Scottie had heard Stickywicket say that the twins had become members of his crew after he lost a hand of cards to the devil and they were wild enough that Scottie believed it was possible. But they were damned good balloon men. Both of them were fast at work adjusting valves, signaling back and forth, and shooting down any non-crew member they could get a clear shot at. Scottie worked his way out the rigging and started pulling in the sails. This would need to be timed just right, but he could count on the boys to do their work. He hit the deck and ran across the boards and jumped back up into the opposite ropes, working knots free before he had sure footing. He towed line with all his strength and watched the canvas crumple tight and flat to their beams. He held on tight as they lost altitude so fast his insides compressed up under his ribs. He watched the hulls of the surrounding ships slip by them.
They were in free fall. It was a feeling no skyman ever wanted to know. The air streamed upwards blowing Scottie's sandy locks straight up and away from his face. A pair of voluminous knickers blew past him like a parachute so fast he hardly had time to wonder how they had managed to be there at all. The chucsh-chucsh of the balloons flame was silent. Scottie closed his eyes and waited. Then he felt it, the tiny breath of wind he had been waiting for. He pulled tie and let the rope fly through his thick gloves. at the last second a quick loop and a sharp tug left the rope taunt and the sails bellowing out into full belly, but Scottie never saw them full of wind, he was already starboard leaping into the rigging to let out the next sail. Above him the heaters let out a roar and breathed fire like a dyspeptic dragon. The ship leapt forward. Scottie rushed toward the bow and grabbed Rick by the elbow just as he pulled it back to pummel the vacant face of an interloper. "Steer!" Rick was pulled nearly off his feet but he followed Scottie into the helm room. "Get us to port." Rick gave a quick nod and Scottie was back on deck. The deck was littered with bodies and a few of them that hadn't been finished off were still trying to make it to the hatch.
Cook was above board quickly tossing bodies overboard, "Lighten the load man! We wanna be clear 'fore they take the bait!"
"Clear of wh-" Before Scottie could get the words out he saw the answer. Ships were falling from the sky just behind them, but they weren't just dropping altitude, they were headed for the forest below. Scottie leaned over the edge and watched them as they disappeared into the gray shawl of clouds draped over the shoulders of the forest. The noise of ships splintering through the treetops echoed faintly up to them. Scottie couldn't imagine what would cause the strange behavior they had seen today, but he knew that they needed to move out from under the mass of ships before any more of them decided to plummet.
The heaters were leveling off now as they found their altitude, the strong wind pushed the sails into huge round curves, like the beer bellies of giants. Below deck the engines huffed and chugged adding to their speed. A few more ships dropped from the sky, one narrowly missing their stern as they retreated. Their last view of the sight was a ring of the outer ships, abandoned and floating in the blue. Scottie and S'more joined Cook in ridding the deck of bodies.
Once they had lightened the ship of the extra weight they were moving quickly toward port. The sails were needing some major repairs after catching the ship from it's free fall but Cook was insisting that they could not dock. Scottie shoved open the doors of the galley, "The sails aren't going to hold! We have to make the repairs or we will be floatin' dead even in the best a wind!"
Cook grunted and wiped his battle filthy hands on a towel, "I told you there will be no dockin'. The cargo is not the kind port authority would be taken kindly to. An' aside from that we promised the client we wouldn't be makin' any stops and drawin' attention to the unique flora we be hauling."
Scottie ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. He knew that arguing with Cook was useless, but he lived for flying and he had no desire to be stuck hanging with holes in his wind catchers. "Look, all I be needin' is a bit o' canvas for patches and a spool or two. I can carry that in me squirrel suit, all you will be doin' is pausing for an hour outside o' port." Stickywicket came in and Scottie was relived to see that he had found a pair of pants, although slightly mystified that judging by the fit they were not actually his own.
Cook glowered, "Fine then, but more than an hour and we will fly without you."
Scottie nodded and dashed to the crew lodging to grab the things he would need. Stickywicket swaggered in behind him, "If you are going to make a wee trip to the port I have a list of things I would like you to procure for me."
Scottie stifled a snort. Stickywicket tried to hand him a slip of paper with a long list of illegible scribbles, "Sorry captain but I only have room in my pouch for the things I will be needing to repair the sails."
Stickywickey's sparkling green eyes gazed out of his stubbly face, "Hmmm, perhaps you will be needing a bit of help in case you get into any sort of trouble."
Scottie gave the captain a skeptical look, "I am not likely to run into trouble sir."
Stickywicket threw up his long-fingered hands, "Never second guess your captain!" He turned on his heel and marched out into the narrow hall.
Scottie shook his head, arguing with the captain was a lot like arguing with wind, Sticky was a force that did what he pleased. Scottie shrugged, having another member of the crew with him wouldn't hurt, and it did lessen the chance that Cook would stay true to his threat and leave without him.
They were just outside of port and Scottie and the twins were all set. They stood on the railing and looked out over the terrain miles below. Their was a good sized clearing off to the left and the wind was in their favor so they decided to aim for that. Scottie took a deep breath and threw himself out into the air. He opened his limbs out wide and braced as the extra fabric of his suit caught the air and slowed his decent, he gently pulled the strings looped through his fingers to make sure that his tail like rudder was working properly.
No matter how many times Scottie jumped the squirrel suits never ceased to amaze him. They had been designed by the ships mechanic, Oscar, after he had seen a demonstration of flying squirrels at a gypsy fair and the crew used them whenever they needed to reach the ground without docking the ship. The suits allowed them access to areas that no other airship crew would be able to easily reach, and jumping in them was a damned good time, too.
Scottie landed in the selected clearing and watched as Dylan and Edwin floated down next to him. They all stripped off their suits and packed them into the light bags that they folded into. It was only a short walk into town and they kept a quick pace.
The road seemed moderately used when they began, but the closer they got to town the more crowded it became. They could hardly move there were so many people. As Scottie looked around he saw familiar blank looks on the swarming mob.