Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Spaceman: The Cosmic Nightingale (part 3)

Robert Easton’s ship was big and powerful, with enough sensory overloads to make a sensitive child implode. Inka stumbled after the Captain as he ran up a series of steps towards the large wheel. To his either side, men which could only be described by the word ‘scallywag’ leapt out of the way and bowed. An acrid smell hung about them, like vinegar and lemon mixed together and ran through a catalyst of Tawny Hog’s Blood, a substance which was reputed to water a man’s eye at fifty miles. Bits of rotten food hung between their teeth if they did, indeed, have teeth. Those who didn’t were either left with bloody stumps that had never quite healed or glittering golden teeth fashioned out of stolen jewellery. Many of them hobbled out of the way, their legs replaced with mechanical stumps that pumped out poisoned gas whenever they moved. Inka felt her stomach flip a couple of times, felt her throat burn more often than not and her eyes winced so much that she was surprised they still functioned. She cursed under her breath and continued to follow the Captain up the steps. The only thing that surprised her was that the Captain was the only man who had a beard; most of the crew were just armed with blonde stubble or metal plates that covered injuries or spots. Their eyes, at least those who had eyes, were wrought with jagged veins and a certain type of hunger that she knew wasn’t holy. They followed her as she followed the Captain, muttering under their breaths and japing with their friends. She realised that she would feel less watched on a stage than on the boat.
“Air force on the rear, Captain!” Cried the skipper, as Easton approached him.
“Damn them to Niflheim!” Easton cried. He cast a look over the rear of the ship and saw the approaching Pods, small ships with wings only as long as the pilot’s arms. What the Pods lacked in wingspan, they made up in fire power. Having glanced Easton, one of the Pods let fire a steady stream of bright yellow flashes which carved through the air and tore holes in the rear of the ship. “Skipper, why aren’t the shields up?”
“We had to turn the generators off when you went ashore, Cap’in.” The skipper said. He was a big bloke with a tattoo that obscured most of his face. He smoothed a hand across his t-shirt, leaving a trail of black grime. “They’re taking a bit longer than usual to get back online.”
“Same story with the atmospheric envelope?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Keep a steady course to the ionosphere, Skipper. And someone get the guns ready.” The Captain said. He spun on his heel and began to march towards the rear of the ship, staring once more towards the Pods. Another had begun firing, each explosion against the hull shaking through the legs.
“Captain Easton!” Inka cried. “Don’t you realise that if we break the ionosphere without the envelope, we’ll all die?”
“Yes, Miss László,” the Captain said, “I do realise that. I guess I shall see you in Niflheim.”
Inka stared at him, her mouth gaping wide open. She couldn’t quite believe what he was saying. He wanted to leave the breathable atmosphere without any breathing apparatus, just to escape the planetary air force? No wonder pirates had to pay so much for insurance! 
A young lad who looked almost innocent compared to the scallywags around him, despite the three guns on his belt, chased up to the Captain with a large box. Easton thanked him and then opened the box, pulling from it an oversized shotgun. He loaded a power pack into the handle, pulling back the loader creating a magnetic ‘zoom’ and then trained it on one of the pods. Inka rushed to his side. “The pilot has a family!”
“Then I’m sure he’ll be thinking of them as he enters the next life.” Easton puled the rifle and a bolt of blue light cut through the air, slicing straight through a cloud and smashing the propellor. The ship began to spin madly through the air, until it hit another of the Pods. The two tore into each other and exploded with a deafening thud of sound. A gigantic fireball sprayed debris in every direction, tearing apart another Pod and fracturing the wing of another. Only one Pod remained, but it quickly turned on it’s tail and flew back to base. The Captain grinned a valiant grin whilst the crew cheered. The atmospheric envelope and the shields activated suddenly; a green orb flickered into life around the ship and then began to excrete fresh smelling oxygen towards them. The freshness was a welcome relief to Inka’s nose.
The thrusters on the side of the ship fought more valiantly, the engines began to pump harder, and then the entire ship burst through the cloud belt and towards the ionosphere. The Border Control Ships didn’t even get a chance to register there was ship leaving the atmosphere before it did, tearing through towards the darkness, and beauty, of space.
“Welcome, Inka, to the King of Rats!” The Captain cried. “And to the Rust Cascade through which it cycles.”

Gaius Irving didn’t so much run onto the Bridge of his ship as struggle. It wasn’t because the auto-gravity was playing up, although that was a pressing concern, but because he felt very tired after running up the stairs to László’s room, then back down then across town and then up the steps to his ship. His lungs hadn’t so much begun heaving than given up. Enough sweat was pouring down his forehead to fill all the oceans of Isherwood. And to make it all the worse, the Bridge of his ship was massive. He had to march a hundred metres from the doorway, between rows of holographic columns, to the control panels at the front, where a group of pilots and technicians were preparing the engines. One of them looked towards the angry looking Captain and nudged the others to stand and salute. 
“Stop being pretentious fools and get us in flight!” Irving cried. He ran a hand across his bright red forehead, an action which felt like he was running his arm through a bucket of water, and then dropped back into the chair that a droid was pushing behind him. He felt a deep thrumming reverberating through the floor, felt the engines coming online and notifying the other systems. He heard the docking clamps releasing, the hover pads activating to give additional thrust, the vents being opened and the fuel being digested. The ship gave a sudden lurch, then a technician entered a piece of code which removed the brakes and then they were all thrown back into their seats. Tark! They were right when they said this ship was fast.
The Wandering Petal was the newest ship in the Federation’s fleet. It was said that it could outrace an Alvis Sprinter, and that it moved so quick it changed colour as it raced towards you. There was also rumours that the engines were made of an incredibly efficient metal that could last up to five times longer than the average engine metal. For all Gaius knew, however, that might have been a publicity stunt from the Federation press force.
As well as incredible engines, it was also decked out with brand new technology. The holographic columns were rather impressive; waist high blocks with projectors in the top. The upper quarter of the ship contained hydro-technology which could rival a cyberpunk mermaid. The most impressive bit, however, were the weapons. One of the cannons could disintegrate polycarbine, the toughest material in the Cosmos. There were machine lasers which spun, slicing holes into the target. His personal favourite was the gravity anchor. It had begun as a system which was meant to land a ship, but many pilots had used it, accidentally, to destroy other ships. The boffins at the Federation labs then redeveloped it to be a weapon. He couldn’t wait to plant the anchor in the King of Rats.
There was a sudden loud bleeping as the radar detected something. “Falling debris to the starboard side.” One of the pilots announced. “Initial reports suggest it comes from Air Force Pods.”
One of the holographic columns blinked into life and a magnified image of a bit of the debris appeared, supporting the logo of the Oyweian Air Force. Somewhere, a computer was attempting to deduct more about the situation. Within three minutes, the name of the person who had engineered the gun which had shot the Pod was at Irving’s disposal. In the end, he decided the information he needed was who’d fired the shot. Apparently it was Captan Robert Easton. 
“Have that added to the Captain’s list of crimes.” Irving said. “And have the guns prepared. When we catch the Petal, we’re going to show them the meaning of Niflheim.”

The band laughed raucously. They were telling their funniest, and only, joke about how they were a one man band despite there being five of them. “But how can this be, you may ask?” One of them would say, with all the obviousness of a seven year old in a school play.
Another one would take a swig on his rum and then announce, “Because we’re all amputees, so there’s only enough parts left to make one man of the lot of us!”
Deep in the hull of the King of Rats, where the joke was being told, a raucous thundering of laughter awoke amongst the crowd. Just over two hundred pungent, sweaty pirates all laughed as one. From their beer soaked tongue, they sprayed globules of spittle and bits of food. There was a horrible smell in the air, like an intensification of the acrid smell Inka had smelt on the main deck. She huddled a little closer to the Captain, who smelt strangely more like roses than vinegar. His laughed boomed rather than cawed, and those eyes which she’d believed to be warm with the fires of hell had turned to be lit with compassion and love. He rubbed her shoulder as he laughed, flashing her a reassuring grin through his coarse beard every so often. 
When the laughter had died down to a mere murmur, the Captain stood. He raised his tankard to take a swig of the rum inside but the crowd mistook it as a toast and began cheering. Little clouds of sticky alcohol ran over the sides of the tankards and made the floor just a little more sticky than it already was. Inka felt sorry for the men who had to sleep on it.
The Captain grinned. “Gents, it’s been a hell of day for us, and I want to congratulate each and every one of you on your patience and proficiency on escaping Oywei.”
The crew exchanged glances through cybernetic eyes and holographic interfaces. One of them said, rather too loudly, “What the Thinker does that mean?”
“You can run an old ship like this,” the Captain sighed, stroking one of the wooden panels near him, “but you don’t know what proficiency means. You lot never fail to surprise me.”
One of the men, thinking this was a good thing, began to cheer. When everybody stared at him slightly bemused he soon shut up.
The Captain grinned. “Right, here’s your reward, lads. Miss Inka László!”
The pirates began to cheer, chanting and clapping. The band began to shake their heads, those with metallic facial features creating a weird jingling, and pointed at the microphone they were passing her. A few of the blokes gave out disappointed sighs.
Inka accepted the microphone and looked towards the Captain. He nodded at her, mouthing, “You’ll be amazing, my Cosmic Nightingale.”
She took a deep breath and then pronounced the first note of the song known as ‘To Become A Pirate.’ The note cut through the air with the crisp beautifulness with which it was written. That was when they heard the first explosion.
“All hands on deck!” Easton cried, his shout faster than a bullet chasing downwards. The men leapt from their seats with energy that Inka presumed was forfeited with their level of intoxication. They ran up steps and grabbed swords, preparing their FlintLockpistols as fast they could. The air was filled with murmured curses and the droning of electrical charging. Easton stood and tied his scruffy beard into a neat tuft with a bow. He straightened his red velvet jacket and his belt alike, rectifying the weight of the side holding the sword by tethering several power packs for his pistol to the other side. He looked at Inka and the compassion in his eyes was lost once more. Fury, rage and hellfire cried from his gleaming pupils, but worst of all was the devilish grin dancing across his lips. He looked almost glad for the chaos that was about to take place. 
“Stay here, Inka.” He said, drawing back his long jacket to remove one of his two pistols. “It is not safe for you upstairs.”
“It isn’t safe for me on this ship. What if there are rival pirates?” She demanded.
“Pirates would not be so obvious.” He said. He loaded his pistol and then held it before him, ready to use. “Stay. I shall be back soon enough.”
He leapt from where he was stood and raced up the steps towards the deck. Inka was left sat alone in the hull, the embers of an electrical heater to keep her company, and only the clash of swords and the fire of guns to inform her of what was going on upstairs. 
There was a terrible scream that was a mixture of too hoarse and too close. She shuddered, wondering whether it was a pirate or someone else. Another pirate, maybe, or a space bandit, or, or…
A Federation Privateer, she realised.
Her legs were cramped but she urged them to carry her over towards the weapons rack in the corner of the hull. It was just in front of the final hammock, a squashed looking affair that looked as uncomfortable as it smelt bad. There was only one weapon left and, much to her dismay, it was a sword. Anybody could fire a FlintlockTM but it took a certain level of training to wield a sword correctly. She drew it nonetheless and tried to adjust to it’s weight in her hands. The ones they used in the Orient were made of a really light metal which would snap in half before they stabbed someone. The entire cast had been sent on a two day stage fighting course, but somehow she doubted that would come in handy now. That was the thing about the Theatre of Life. When you died, you stayed dead.

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