The Adventures of Penney Dreadful: The Wrath of Reaves

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Penney calls on an old friend for aid, unaware that Reaves is right on her heels.

Submitted: August 27, 2017

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Submitted: August 27, 2017

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Tales of Penney Snatcher:

The Wrath of Reaves

 

As dawn broke over the clouds, Captain William Reaves eyed his subordinates. A row of sailors stood at attention. Reaves slowly walked past each one, scanning them as he went. Calm eyes stared ahead as he passed. He noticed a quiver from one young man. The youth glanced at his captain, then corrected himself. Sweat poured down his freshly shaven face. Reaves stood before the boy, staring at him with one sky blue eye.

"What is your name, lad?"

"Everett Smith, sir." the boy hastily spat out.

"What is your station?"

"Gunner, sir, first rank."

"New to this life, are we?"

"Yes, sir. But eager."

"I can see that," Reaves put his arm on Smith's shoulder. "But do not let your eagerness absorb you. Take ease, for now. A panicked sailor is a useless one. Understand?"

"Yes...yes, sir."

A feminine chuckle sounded from down the line. Reaves shifted his gaze and marched toward the source. A man with a wild mess of curly brown hair leaned on the railing, laughing softly. He wore a bright, garishly colored suit stuffed with frills.

"And who might you be, again?" Reaves said, his voice low and razor sharp.

The man righted himself with a flourish and bowed. "Nathaniel S. Barron," he said.

"Ah, yes. The...what do you do again?"

"I write, mostly," Barron said with a smile.

"Hm. Tell me, why in the hell below do I need a writer aboard my ship?"

"You probably don't, in all actuality. But Mister Sim insisted that I come along in order to archive the exploits of your hunt."

"I rather dislike reporters," Reaves hissed.

"Oh, I am no reporter," said Barron, now looking insulted instead of bemused. "I am a chronicler. A story teller. A weaver of history. Reporters write of trends and new fashions. I write of the world."

Reaves grunted dismissively.

Barron shrugged. "I'm working on my pitch."

"It would be wise to work on your manners as well. Respect my crew, and you will be respected in kind. I don't give a damn if Sim wants you here. I can throw you to the winds if I see fit. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly, dear sir," Barron said with a wave of his hand.

"Dismissed," Reaves nodded curtly. "All of you. Dismissed."

The group dispersed, leaving Reaves alone to stare across the glowing sky. Mr. Blake soon joined him, carrying a cup of tea.

"What do you think of the new recruits?" Blake asked, taking a sip.

"They seem fair enough for a simple voyage. But I cannot help but wonder how they will fare with the task at hand."

"That is worrying," Blake nodded.

Reaves made a small grunt, but otherwise remained silent. The two men looked out into the swirling skies as night silently slaughtered day. A shout from the crow's nest shot out through the air. Reaves and Blake hurried to their posts.

"What is it, Hennessy?" Reaves yelled to the man up above.

"A ship, captain! Dead ahead!" Hennessy pointed forward.

Reaves withdrew a spyglass from his belt. Looking straight on through the smooth, clear surface, he saw the outline of a standard class Regency navy ship floating in the morning mist. No movement stirred onboard.

"Take us in," Reaves commanded.

 

Reaves' boots creaked on the dew laden wood. His men followed closely, piercing the foggy veil with hand lanterns. Weapons were drawn. Reaves ordered three men to search below while the rest continued on.

"Sir," one man whispered. "Look."

The man pointed his lantern to the floor. Blood stained the woodwork. Reaves exchanged a look with his men, then ushered them on. More blood was found, and soon, so was a hand. Then a foot. Then a leg. Then a head, frozen in an eternal scream.

"Pirates?" another man asked, covering his mouth in disgust.

"Worse," said Reaves. He waved his lantern across the bow. A dozen corpses littered the deck. They looked like women, if one ignored the wings and feathers. Harpies lay still and broken among the ship. Some still held pieces of their prey in their mouths.

"Bastard things," someone swore.

"Captain!" another yelled, running up from below. "Captain, we've found someone."

"Show me," said Reaves.

Reaves was led below, where he soon found his men huddled around a shivering sailor. The man's clothes were torn and bloody. He was propped up against a post, staring ahead into the dark. Scratch marks were drawn across his face and arms.

"How is his condition?" Reaves asked calmly.

"Steady," one man answered. "But uncertain."

"Understood. Get him to the Rose. Carefully, now."

The bloody sailor looked up. When he saw Reaves, he attempted to speak in a whispery croak. Reaves knelt down beside him.

"What is it, sailor? What happened here?"

"You're...Reaves. You're him"

"I am."

The sailor smiled. "We found her," he said.

Reaves grimaced.

"We found her," the sailor repeated. He leaned over and quietly laughed in Reaves' ear.

"We found a ghost."

 

Pepper's Pub, Blackpeak

Women in ragged, billowy dresses danced to upbeat, yet off-tune music. Pirates sat at stools and tables, drinking foul drinks. Dice rolled. Cards flipped. Curses flew like gunfire. Laughter shook the paper-thin walls. A gray-haired woman served drinks at the bar, assisted by a small army of servers and tenders. Jewelry clinked and knuckles cracked. Men barked and hollered. Ladies sang and cooed.

"Pepper," A thin stick of a man yelled to the gray haired bartender. "Another round!"

"Think you can handle it, Lean? You've just had your fourth."

"Ah, I can take it. Just give it over, will ya?"

"Make that two!" said another man.

"Make it three, then three more!" The whole bar erupted into a ecstatic chorus. They hardly heard the front door swing open. Pepper excitedly poured out streams of grog and rum. She looked to the open door with a smile to greet her new customers. When she saw who it was, her smile withered. Her hand drooped, pouring rum all over the counter.

"What the bloody hell, Pepper?" Sam Lean shouted. He glanced behind him, then froze. As one unit, the bar turned to look at the newcomers.

Before them stood two women. One was tall and pale. She wore black clothes of Eastern design. Raven hair was tied back into a long strand. The other woman was short, yet commandeered a gigantic presence. Her skin was as tan as her leather boots and vest. Gloved hands rested on a loose belt on her hips. Below that was a short leather skirt with plain white frills at the hem. Crimson goggles sat atop short  red hair. Her eyes shone with a striking amber light.

"Hello all," said Penney Snatcher. "Who would like to join my crew?"

The bar was silent. Not a single curse was spoken, nor a single card flipped. Someone dropped their mug. Penney rolled her eyes, but smiled.

"Yes, I know I'm stunning. But really, is this any way to treat a customer?"

She walked into the bar with confidant, unbroken strides. As she walked, people gave her a berth as wide as a ship. Caixia followed, her footsteps as quiet as whispers. Penney took a hastily unoccupied seat. She placed her hands on her cheeks, put her elbows on the counter and leaned closely into Pepper's face.

"Long time, no beer." Penney said. Then she laughed and slapped her hand on the counter. Caixia took a seat beside her captain.

"Penney fucking Dreadful," Pepper said, wiping spittle from her face with a bar napkin. "What wind drew you to these parts?"

"Well, you see, my crew is awful small these days. And I only have but one ship. And, as always, I have some trouble coming my ways. So, thought I'd go looking around the ports for strong, able-bodied men and women to join me and my mates. Pepper's Pub seemed like a good place to start."

"Oh, is that all?"

"Yes. Although, I am quite thirsty, so a drink would be appreciated."

Pepper sighed, but got to work preparing a mug of rum.

"How 'bout tall dark and silent over here?" she asked, motioning to Caixia.

"Unless you have sake, I will refrain from consuming alcohol this morning." Caixia said.

"No, then." Pepper slid Penney her drink.

Penney wrapped her fingers around the bent metal mug. She lowered her face toward the liquid and inhaled deeply. Then she slammed it to her mouth and leaned back, downing half the contents. She leaped onto the bar, causing nearby patrons to jump back. Caixia looked boorishly at her captain. Penney swung around, still holding the nearly empty mug.

"So, how about it, folks? Who wants to fly with me?"

The assembled pirates glanced nervously at each other. Apart from a few mumbles, the tavern was silent. Someone in the back coughed.

"Oh come on now," Penney urged, walking along the counter. "There will be fortunes and dangers abound! Think of the glory you'll gain when you fly with me. You will be among the crew of the infamous Penney Dreadful, the Red Death herself! The Queen of the Skies! The Butcher of Barons! Why, you'll be famous! Not as much as me, of course, but that goes without saying."

A wispy haired fellow hesitantly raised his hand. Penney snapped and pointed at him.

"Yes, good sir?" she asked.

"W-What of pay?" he stuttered.

Penney gestured to Caixia, who produced a small canvas bag from her robes. She threw it to her captain. Penney tossed the bag on the counter. The contents sparkled in the sparse light of the tavern. The onlookers gasped. Within the bag lay a pile of pure, golden doubloons, each piece marked by a Regency seal.

"The pay," Penney said. "Will be double that."

Still, the crowd was silent, although they could not take their eyes off the treasure. Penney sighed. "This usually works," she whispered to Pepper.

"You are a legend now," Pepper said. "This lot, they're afraid. Of you, your crew and your reputation."

"My reputation should inspire, not terrify." Penney scowled.

Pepper cocked an eyebrow.

"Okay," Penney relented. "It should terrify. But I need a bigger crew, and this isn't helping."

"Start inspiring, then. Motivate these whelps. Give them a reason to fly."

Penney scanned the crowd, silent in thought. She took a swig of her drink and nodded. "Listen up, scallywags!" she yelled. The crowd jumped back, but held their attention. "I do not exaggerate the pay. You will be rewarded handsomely. But there's another, greater reason for you to join me."

Penney set her mug aside and paced along the counter, looking deep into every pair of eyes. "They do not call me the Butcher of Barons for nothing! It is well known that I hunt Regency vessels. Scores of those flying tubs have fallen by my cannons, and many a soldier has died by my blade. Surely, I am not the only one who seeks to kill nobles."

The crowd was silent still, but a few moved about in their seats. Every eye followed Penney as she walked along the counter. Every heart beat slow.

"The Regency is the reason why many of you are here now," Penney continued. "They are why you fly. You were wronged. Perhaps they shamed you. Perhaps they took away your wealth, or your home or your family. Perhaps they threw you to the lower districts, or accused you of some imagined misdeed. Whatever the reason, they are the enemy. And now they hunt me. I need a fleet to fight back. I need a crew of able bodied men and women to butcher those who would clip our wings."

Penney now stood tall and still, her hands placed firmly on her hips. The crowd leaned forward in their seats. No one breathed. Penney Dreadful was the center of their universe.

"I am a pirate," she said. "Like you. A legendary pirate, yes. But a pirate nonetheless. I had a fleet once. It was lost. Thought I could get by without another for a time. Recent events, however, have forced me into action. So now I ask for help. Now I ask you to take back the skies!"

The tavern was silent. Penney looked at each scoundrel in the eye, grinning expectantly. Pepper tapped her fingers on the counter. Caixia examined an interesting stain on the grimy tabletop. The assorted outlaws looked to one another. Someone coughed.

"Well?" said Penney, spreading her arms. "Who's with me?"

A handful of scoundrels raised their hands. Penney frowned.

"That's it? Really?"

"Turns out, people value their lives." Pepper said under her breath.

"Oh, come on!" Penney yelled at the crowd. "Where's your sense of adventure?"

Most of the customers had turned their attentions elsewhere. No one dared to meet Penney's gaze. Even the ones who had risen their hands looked unsure of their decision. Penney sighed.

"Oh, fine. Follow me, ya tower lubbers."

Penney jumped to the ground. Caixia rose to follow her, grabbing the sack of gold.

"Penney?" Pepper called after their retreating forms.

"Yeah?" Penney called back, glancing at the bar.

"Thank you for coming. Never do it again."

 

 

Reaves stood at the bow of the Rose, staring out at the unending sky. A cool breeze rustled his thin graying hair and his dark blue uniform. Clouds sluggishly drifted across the heavens, painted gold by the sun. Blake strode up behind, greeting his captain with a salute.

"How's our survivor?" Reaves asked, after issuing a return salute.

"He's on his way to recovery, sir. He will still require hospital care, of course."

"Has he divulged any clue of Dreadful's location?"

"No, sir."

"Stay on course, then. Keep an eye out for any more ships."

"Yes, sir."

As Blake walked off, Barron came to replace him on the bow. The two men exchanged a bitter glance. Stepping up beside Reaves, Barron produced a notebook from  the folds of his garish suit.

"Mr. Reaves," Barron began.

"Captain," Reaves corrected him.

"Ah, yes. Mr. Captain Reaves, may I speak to you?"

"That entirely depends on what you wish to speak about."

"Well, as chronicler of this historic journey, I must ask you questions."

"What sort of questions?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe what your pirate hunting tactics are? Or how long it will take us to find this Dreadful lass? Or, perhaps, your personal history with said pirate?"

Reaves glared at Barron. "I will not be divulging my history with you, Mr. Barron." he growled.

Barron raised his eyebrows. An excited grin flashed across his face. Curiosity and mischief glowed in his eyes. "Hit a nerve, did I?" he said, stifling a laugh.

"Enough!" Reaves shouted.

Nearby sailors looked over, startled at their captain's outburst. Reaves straightened his jacket. He leaned in toward Barron and lowered his voice to a whisper.  "I only tolerate your presence aboard my ship because of our shared employer. Were it not for Lord Sim, I would have tossed you overboard already."

Barron responded with a smile.  "Truth be told," the chronicler said, "I do not exactly wish to be here either. But I am being paid very handsomely to do so. Therefore, I shall do my duty with honor. I recommend you to do the same."

"You do not give the orders," Reaves hissed.

"Well, obviously. It is a recommendation, not an order."

Barron tucked his notebook back into his coat. He gave a short bow and walked off. From over his shoulder, he called back to Reaves. "Consider this question for our interview, Captain; would you rather go down in history as a hero...or as you are now?"

Reaves glared at Barron's retreating form. With crossed arms, he leaned back on the railing, putting his back to the blue, cloudy sky.

 

Smither glowered at the small band of pirates gallivanting aboard the ship. He eyed them up, then spat on the floorboards.

"Look at these blowhards," he said. "I bet not a one of them has even held a cutlass before."

"That fellow is waving around a cutlass right now," said Caixia, pointing to a portly, bearded man.

"So he is...bet he doesn't know how to use it, though."

"I could agree with that," Caixia nodded.

"By the way...could you, by any chance, let me down?"

Caixia held Smither above the floor with one arm. He futilely kicked his feet in the air. The tall, pale woman made no move to lower him.

"Not until you are well," she said.

"I'm fine, Caixia. Really. It's been weeks since the incident."

"You are not fine until the Captain says you are fine."

"But-"

"No."

"Balls."

Parker crossed the deck. His overalls and boots were slick with engine grease. He smelled of fresh oil and fried birds. "Look alive, all!" he shouted. "We must look good for the new recruits."

"We're pirates, Park." Smither said. "And pirates aren't known for their good looks."

Caixia squeezed the air out of Smither's lungs. He gasped and feebly struggled against her grip. She eased up, enough for him to speak.

"Right...except...for you, Caixia." he sputtered.

Parker rolled his eyes. He ran to the center mast, where Kristen and Qri stared at the approaching newcomers. Qri was twisting Kristen's hair into a braid. He tossed away the occasional bird bone and copper wire from the tangled blonde mass.

"Is the feast prepared?" Parker asked them both.

"Sure is," Kristen mumbled.

"Kristen," Parker folded his arms. "What is that in your mouth?"

Kristen looked nervously back and forth. Then she stuck her finger in her mouth and produced a half-eaten slice of bird meat. Parker swiftly grabbed it.

"Great. Now I've gotta put this back. You two just make sure we have enough rum for all these blokes."

Parker stormed off, muttering obesities under his breath.

"I never have enough food," Kristen sighed. "We got this whole fancy feast, and I can hardly eat any of it! Ain't fair, not one bit."

"Very good, ma'am." said Qri.

"Sometimes, I wish I lived inside of a giant bird, so I could keep on eating forever."

"That sounds as delicious as it is disturbing, miss. Why, my circuits are just whizzing over the very thought."

"I wonder if these sods have got any morsels on 'em."

"One can only hope. Speaking of which, where are all these fine people coming from? And why are they aboard the ship?"

"They're the new recruits, Qri. Remember? We had a whole vote on this."

"Ah yes, good times. Well, time to extend a hand!"

Qri quickly finished off his braiding job and walked over to the gathering crowd. Kristen screamed. Her hair was caught in between Qri's joints. As he continued his stride with a carefree whistle, Kristen was dragged along the floor.

"Attention!" Penney called out. Every one stopped what they were doing.

Penney theatrically gestured to her crew. "These are me mates," she said. "Treat 'em well, and you won't meet with any problems."

The gathered pirates coughed and mumbled at the site of a tall, eastern woman holding a struggling man, a greasy mechanic carrying a half eaten morsel, and an automaton with a hollering girl attached to his hand. Penney laughed.

"Now," she said. "Arrange yourselves in a relatively ordered fashion. Time for names and assignments. Step right up, cutthroats and scoundrels!"

And so they did. Parker approached Penney she walked down the row of pirates, each one calling out a name.

"How long is this going to take, captain?" he whispered in her ear.

"A rather long time, I imagine. But fear not, Parker. I made sure to cover our tracks. If anyone is following us, they will have difficult time of it."

"I was more concerned about my sanity. God knows Smither and Kristen can't take a moment of ease."

"Neither can I, Parker. I need to fly. But this is important. We do not wish to repeat our previous encounter with the Regency."

"True enough," Parker nodded.

"Indeed."

Penney took the saliva covered morsel from Parker and popped it into her mouth. With a laugh and a smile, she continued on her way, leaving Parker to shudder with disgust.

 

More corpse ships floated among the Aether. This time, however, not a soul was found. Most of the vessels were in one piece, but a few were broken and splintered to bits.

"Pirates and harpies," Blake whistled. "A most dangerous combination."

Reaves nodded gravely. He pointed to a particularly devastated ship. "Stay clear of that one," he yelled out. "She's going to blow."

"How can you tell?" asked Everett Smith.

Reaves flicked his finger towards his ear. Listening closely, Smith could discern a faint humming noise. A moment later, the portside of the ship exploded. A stunning array of colors burst across the sky. A sound like thunder rippled the air currents. The Rose shifted slightly from the blast, but she held firm. Lightning danced through the few remains of the damaged vessel, igniting everything in its path. Smoldering metal and burning planks fell into the Abyss. Thick, black rain followed. An acrid smell drifted to the Rose, forcing her crew to don their goggles and masks.

Reaves stood as still as a stone. He gripped the railing tightly enough to crack the wood. His eyes never strayed from the exploding ship, until there was nothing left of it. Blake glanced at his captain, wearing a worried, yet cautious expression. Observing this from afar, Barron took down a few notes.

"If we follow this current, we should find her." Blake said, after the display of destruction was finally over. "After all, she left a most convenient trail for us."

"Maybe," Reaves mused. "However, if she was smart, she would use this to misdirect us."

"This is a fake trail, then?"

"Perhaps. It is too early to know for certain."

"Noted. Well, would you like to dispatch a few skiffs to scout ahead? Perhaps we could salvage these ships as well. Before they explode into smithereens, of course."

"No scouts. We cannot risk losing strike ships to a trap. As for salvage...well, I don't think there would be much for us. Harpies eat everything."

"Everything?" Smith shuddered.

"Indeed," the captain said. "We must be on guard."

Reaves pinched his nose. He thought, deep and quiet. With one last look at the trail of empty ships, he backed away from the bow. "Mr. Blake, take command. I must be off to plan ahead."

Before Blake could respond, Reaves grabbed his arm. The captain looked about, making sure to escape from earshot. "Keep an eye on that Barron fellow," he whispered to Blake. "I suspect his duties conflict with ours."

"You think he is a spy?" Blake whispered back.

Reaves shook his head. "I believe he was deployed by Sim to make sure I behave."

"Is that a problem?"

"No. I just...I have an odd feeling about him, is all."

"Should I inform the crew?"

"Only those with crucial positions. If everyone knows, he will suspect something afoul. Distract him. Keep him away from vital areas."

"As you command, sir."

Reaves released Blake, who got to work at once. Barron smiled at the two men as they went about their ways. He spied young Everett Smith still standing by the bow. With a quick look this way and that, Barron approached the boy.

"Ah, young master...Smith, was it?" he asked, sneaking up behind the gunner.

"Yes, Mr. Barron. Everett D. Smith, to be precise."

"Charmed to make your acquaintance, young man."

"Likewise, sir." Everett extended his hand. Barron recoiled slightly, and for a moment stared at the hand like it was a harpy claw. Everett tilted his head, looking concerned. Quickly composing himself, Barron gently pinched Everett's pointer finger and shook once. Afterwards, Everett quizzically stared at his own hand.

"Hmm," Barron cleared his throat. "Yes, well. With that out of the way, how would you like to tell me a bit about our gracious captain?"

"Begging your pardon sir, but I do not wish to speak on behalf of Captain Reaves."

"You are not talking for him," Barron said, producing his notebook and a lead pencil. "You are talking about him. There is a clear difference."

"Well...alright. No harm in that, I suppose."

"Excellent," Barron grinned. "Let's get started."

 

"Alright you whelps," Penney said to her small band of volunteers. "How about a little test?"

The recruits eyed her quizzically.

"Before I entrust you with the lives of myself, my friends and this ship, I must calculate your abilities in battle. Life on the wind is fraught with danger, after all, as I'm sure you all realize."

The recruits nodded their heads.

"Well then, let's see how you fare. Get to your stations while I find us a ship to plunder."

Penney assigned the small collection of misfits to their new jobs. The Ruckus roared to life as Parker ignited the engines below. The old crew watched the newcomers with suspicion. Heydrich, the heavy German fellow, discreetly hailed Penney.

"Is it time for my checkup already?" she asked.

"Captain, I must protest."

"You already have, Doctor. A dozen times."

"Well, pardon me, o' dearest Captain. But really, this is unnecessary."

He gestured to the new recruits, who were slowly but surely accommodating themselves to their positions. "We have survived on our own for five years," Heydrich continued. "We don't need these saplings."

"Heydrich, we just lost half of our forces last week. We need bodies."

Heydrich just glowered at her.

"Look," said Penney. "What we need is a fleet. I tried to snag one, but it seems I need to work on my communication skills."

"These idiots will be the end of us."  Heydrich, still glowering, walked below deck. His angry stomping could be heard the whole way down. Penney rolled her eyes.

On her way to the wheelhouse, Penney spied a recruit walking in a large, confused circle. He was a dark dressed fellow, with broad shoulders and sandy brown hair. He saluted as she approached.

"No need for that," she said. "This ain't no Regency boat."

"Right, sorry ma'am."

"Don't call me 'ma'am' either."

"Oh, okay. Sorry...Captain."

"What's your name again?"

"Rackham, ma-Captain."

"Well Rackham, you seem confused."

"A little, yeah."

"What's the problem?"

"I just...where's my station again?"

Penney jabbed a thumb in the direction of the rigging.

"Oh. Alright. Thank you, ma-uh, Captain."

The young man ran off. Penney hardly turned around before he returned.

"Yes?" she asked.

"Exactly how much combat do you suspect we'll see?"

"In general? Quite a lot, I imagine. This ain't an easy life."

Rackham nodded. His eyes quivered nervously.

"You have flown before, yes?" Penney asked.

"Yes, yes, of course! I just...I'll be fine. Promise."

Rackham lingered for a moment, then left for the rigging. Penney gently rubbed her neck. Perhaps Heydrich had a point after all.

 

Nathaniel Barron struggled against sleep. He had propped himself up on a mast post while Smith blabbered on and on about the great, venerable Captain Reaves. The boy knew about as much of the Captain as everyone else. He knew of Reaves' distinguished career, and he knew of  its end. However, Smith had shown himself to be a defender of the Captain. He argued against his accusations, blaming pirates and politicians for the debacle. Smith even claimed to model his life after the captain. How dreadfully quaint.

"Ah, there you are, Mr. Barron." Blake snapped Barron out of his stupor. Reaves' second in command took Barron by the shoulders.

"Greetings, Mr. Blake." Barron said groggily.

"Your notebook is getting wet," Blake said.

Barron duly noted that it was just beginning to rain. Lazy drops drizzled down from the heavens. Barron smiled a slow, lazy smile. "I have many others."

"I have no doubt about it. Still, I recommend a swift retreat indoors."

"Nonsense. A good rain replenishes the spirits!"

Blake considered this. He looked sternly into Barron's eyes. He glanced at Barron's breast pocket. Slowly, he squeezed Barron's shoulders until the other man winced.

"Mr. Blake!" Reaves called out.

Blake flashed a humorless smile at Barron and released his grip. Without another word, he walked away, leaving Barron and Everett exchanging puzzled looks at one another. Barron rolled his shoulders.

"Well," he said, looking at Everett. "It's comforting to know I am so welcomed aboard this ship."

Blake joined Reaves at the wheelhouse. The two men stared out into the gray horizon. "At our current speed, we should reach the closest tower in half a week." Reaves said.

"And the closest tower is-?"

"Rowena. Company owned. Key supplier of tobacco. According to my records, there's a mountain nearby. Or what remains of one. The locals call it Blackpeak. It's been a suspected pirate haven for some time."

"Why hasn't it been dealt with?"

"It's simply a suspected haven, Blake. The Royal Investigators have likely overlooked it. Or perhaps they forgot about it. You know how this bureaucracy works, Blake. Lower levels are hardly explored."

"Easy now, Reaves. You and I both work for that bureaucracy now."

Reaves made grunting noise that Blake wasn't quite sure how to interpret.

"So," Blake said, "Do you think we'll find our prey there?"

"Perhaps. At the very least, we may be able to ascertain information concerning Dreadful's whereabouts."

"She may be long gone after half a week, Captain."

"My thoughts exactly."

Reaves spoke into the voicepipe, giving orders to increase acceleration. The Rose rocketed away in a sudden burst of speed, without even a lurch or rumble. Reaves gripped the wheel and tapped the accelerator pads at his feet. The Rose was an elite vessel. The best of the best. Or at least, she had been, five years ago. Fortunately, the Regency navy had kept her up to date. While Reaves was initially critical of the changes, he realized their necessity. Now, as he flew onwards to his destiny, Reaves was grateful. He suppressed a smile.

Blake, meanwhile, grinned like a clown.

 

The Ruckus drifted through the cold, damp air. She waited on the edge of the Golden Currents like a patient spider, hungry for flies. Her crew was bored. They passed the time with tall tales and card games. The old crewmembers, although still critical, had taken the new arrivals under their wings. Penney and Kristen gave them the grand tour of the ship.

The recruits, while grateful, were not very impressed. Still, they obeyed every word of their Captain. She was legendary, after all. It was wise to treat legends with respect. The promise of gold and vengeance against the Regency also helped. Rackham in particular was very grateful, but also afraid. He had heard the stories of Penney Dreadful.  Then again, who hadn't?

Rackham wasn't sure if he had made the right choice. Working for a fearsome pirate was at least more interesting than wallowing in Port Rowena. He had tried to find a ship for months, to no avail. And now, here he was, flying again. One step closer to fortune. And, more importantly, closure. Rackham shook his head, dispelling his worries, and got back to work. Marina and Caixia scrutinized him and the other recruits as they went about their way.

"I'm bored." Smither announced, still in Caixia's grip. He had accepted his fate.

"A ship will come," said Marina. "These currents are popular this time of year.

"Not popular enough, apparently."

"You whine way too much, you know that?"

"I'm not whining, I'm complaining. There's a difference."

Caixia stopped without warning. She looked to the stern. Her eyes searched the endless horizon beyond.

"Cai?" said Marina. "You okay?"

Caixia shook her head.

"Something is on the wind," she said.

"You see a ship?"

"No," Cai whispered. "No."

"Cai, if you're going to be creepy, can you at least put me down?"

Caixia composed herself and took to her station. "Something is on the wind." she whispered once more.

 

Two-Teeth Tom came running through the door of Pepper's Pub. He nearly collapsed on the counter, shivering and sweating bullets.

"I suppose you'll be needing a strong one," said Pepper.

"Regency," whispered Tom. "The Regency! They're here!"

Pepper dropped the glass she was holding. "What?"

The doors crashed open. A group of tall, strong Regency officers strolled inside. They looked around, calmly appraising their surroundings. The leader wore a patch over his right eye.

No one dared to move. As bloodthirsty as pirates were, they did not lack a sense of self-preservation.

The one eyed man approached the counter. He looked down at Pepper as if she were a misbehaving child.

"What can I do for you, officer?" Pepper asked as calmly as she could.

The man produced a neatly folded piece of paper from his breast pocket. He set it on the counter. Even on paper, Penney Dreadful looked like a madwoman.

"Have you seen this woman?" he asked.

"Can't say I have, no."

"Really? Because this is the only pirate haven within a hundred leagues."

"Pirate haven?" Pepper laughed. "This is no pirate haven!"

The one eyed man cocked an eyebrow. All around him, stinking, wide eyed scoundrels cowered in fear. Pepper sighed.

"We've been following this woman for some time now," said the one eyed man. "And we believe she may have stopped here."

"I told ya, mate, I haven't seen her."

The man leaned forward until Pepper could smell his breath. She was expecting the usual odor of rotten gums and  leftover food. Instead, she got a minty, almost flowery stench. It was a nice change.

"Do you know where this woman went?" he whispered.

"I haven't seen-"

"I bet you have," he said, slowly drawing out each word. "Tell me what I want to know, or everyone in this...'establishment' will die."

Well, Pepper thought, That would be bad for business.

"I'm not telling you-" she began.

The one eyed officer produced his pistol and shot the man who had been sitting rigidly on the stool beside him. The sound made everyone jump. The dead man's brains were splattered across the counter. Pepper swore under her breath. She had just cleaned that spot.

"Where is Penney Dreadful?" the one eyed man screamed. His face was red.

Pepper considered her options. None of them looked good. The Regency would screw her, no matter what she did. Pepper inhaled deeply.

"She did not tell me where she was headed," she said to the one eyed man. "But I'll bet she's waiting out somewhere in the Golden Currents. It's a popular spot for...well-"

"Piracy."

"Yeah, exactly. Not that I would know anything about that."

The one eyed man took the paper from the counter and walked to the door. On the way out, he casually announced that everyone in the pub was under arrest.

"Does that include me?" Pepper shouted after him.

 

The crew was silent. The Ruckus was not. She moaned with each gust of wind. Her boards creaked. Her sails flapped like harpy wings. She sang an endless song of metal and rust. Kristen and Qri played dice on the bow. Parker smoked his pipe while the newcomers idled.

"I'm still bored," Smither announced.

"Good for you," said Penney, who stood ready at the wheel.

"We've been at this for hours, and there's been nothing."

"Must be a slow shipping day."

"Can we move on, then?"

"No."

Penney had her eyes on the horizon. She scanned for vessels in the endless gray sky. The spymaster called down from his perch: A ship was visible just off the bow. Penney grinned. She turned the Ruckus to get a better look, then produced her spyglass.

A long, silver ship sped towards the Ruckus. It took Penney a moment to recognize it. Slowly, fire began to rise within her. She knew she couldn't run. Even if she wanted to.

"To your stations!" she cried to her crew.

"Finally!" said Smither.

"It's Reaves." said Penney.

Smithers smile faded. "What?"

"Cai," said Penney. "Get to your station."

"Yes, Captain."

Penney took the wheel. Parker rushed  below deck, followed by Kristen. The newcomers leapt into action. The Rose caught up to them without a sound. From across the sky, Penney could see Reaves staring back at her. She saw him raise his fist. When it came down, the Rose fired. Explosions rocked the Ruckus. In retaliation, Penney gave the order to fire. A volley went out, striking the Rose. Before her foe could recover, the Ruckus rocketed upwards. The Rose followed. The two ships trailed each other, higher and higher into the air.

"This is bad," Parker called up from below. "We can't beat that."

"We can." said Penney.

"Captain, it's an elite. Remember what she did to our old ship?"

"We can do it this time!"

Penney felt her blood boil. She hadn't felt like this in years. She liked it.

"Penney, we need to go! Reaves is gonna tear us apart!"

"We can't outrun them, Park. So we might as well kill them!"

"Captain, please."

Penney cleared her head. Wrath still simmered within. She focused. The Ruckus couldn't outrun the Rose, and it couldn't take her head on. Only a few options remained. None of them were good.

 

Within the bowels of the Rose, in a tiny cell, Pepper examined her nails. Judging from the dull cannon fire outside, Reaves had met up with his old friend. Pepper considered praying for Penney, but ultimately decided that it would have been useless. The Ruckus was a tough old girl, she knew. But she wasn't that tough. Without a fleet to back her up, the little ship was doomed.

"So...uh, this is comfy." said Two-Teeth Tom. He sat on the other side of the cell, along with rail-thin Sammy Lean and the overweight Jim Buckle.

"Don't get any ideas," Pepper said. "else I'll raise your tab when we get back."

 

Out in the open sky, the Ruckus suddenly decelerated. The Rose did the same, to avoid collision. The Ruckus lowered herself, then, using her frontward thrusters, crawled underneath the Rose. On deck, able bodied men carried mortars from below. They planted the miniature cannons with care, took aim and fired at the bottom hull of the Rose.

The Rose rumbled with each hit. Crewmembers stumbled and cried out in alarm. The bottom hull was blackened by the fiery projectiles from below. The white metal bubbled in places. Reaves hit the side thrusters. The Rose jerked to the right, away from the reach of the Ruckus. Reaves lowered his ship until she was even with her foe.

"Interesting," Barron murmured to himself. He casually leaned against a post, jotting down notes in his book.

"Mr. Barron," said Blake "I think it's best if you get indoors."

"I must record everything, Mr. Blake. That includes combat. Besides, this is so exciting!"

"You cannot write if you are dead."

Barron considered this. "A fair point. Can I watch from my quarters, at least?"

"Yes."

"Excellent!"

Barron bounced away. Blake glared after him, then returned to his duties.

The Rose shot forward. A rattler gunner fired upon the Ruckus as the two ships passed. The pirates hit the deck. Penney ducked. A mortar gunner raised his head as the spray of bullets passed him, only to be taken down by a sniper shot. Rackham, seizing a moment of bravery, crawled over to the mortar. He gingerly pushed the dead man away. Taking aim at the rattler, Rackham fired. Fire arched through the sky. The rattler gunner ran for cover. A second later, the infernal device exploded into thick globules of molten metal.

Rackham took aim at the sniper next. Before he could fire, the Rose passed the Ruckus in a sudden burst of speed. She positioned herself in front of the Ruckus. A compartment on her bow opened up.

"Dust machine!" Penney shouted. "They're trying to blind us!"

Penney and her crew hastily donned goggles and bandannas. Seconds later, a thick layer of black dust was released from the Rose. The dust stung Penney's exposed skin. She could hardly see anything through the whipping blackness.

Penney braked, then dropped the Ruckus. She aimed her ship down and slammed on the accelerators.

"What are you doing?" Parker's voice echoed from the voicepipe.

"I've got a plan, don't worry!"

"Does this plan involve getting us all killed? I know you don't hate me that much."

"You said it yourself, Parker; we can't fight them. We can't outrun them either. Where strength and speed fail, crazy succeeds."

"Emphasis on 'crazy'."

"Take it easy, Park. They won't follow us down here. We'll just skirt along the Lower Skies until we lose them. When the coast is clear, we'll come right back up."

From across the deck, Qri shouted, "Captain, they're following us!"

"What?" Penney screamed.

"Any other crazy plans you want to share?" Parker asked.

 

The Rose was coming down on them. She had lowered herself, turned, and now she was diving. When she was below and behind the Ruckus, Reaves braked. The Rose had its side to her prey. When the Ruckus came down, Reaves gave the order and the Rose opened fire.

The pitted bronze hull of the Ruckus was wracked with cannon fire. Each hit sent deep reverberations throughout her frame. Parker and his mechanics got the worst of it. Bodies were flung this way and that. One able man was crushed by a barrel of fuel. Another hit his head against a pipe.

Still, the Ruckus dived. Penney squinted. The darkening clouds obscured her vision. Cold air seeped through her clothes. Sweat rolled down her brow. Then, a well placed shot from the Rose struck an engine. Penney wasn't sure which, exactly. Clearly, though it had been an important one. For now the Ruckus was not diving; she was falling.

Black fumes trailed up, marking her descent. Leaking Aether left a prismatic trail behind her. Parker was screaming at Penney through the voicepipe. She didn't hear him. All she heard were the screams of her ship, and the sound of crashing dreams.

Reaves watched the Ruckus disappear. She fell into the dark, foreboding clouds of the Lower Skies. Smoke and Aether fumes rose up. All around, his crew cheered. Blake slapped him on the back.

"We did it, Reaves! You did it! Sim will be pleased, I'm sure."

Reaves ignored him. He ignored the cries of "Huzzah!" and "Long live the Regency!". Instead, he scanned the darkness for activity. He found none. Rain was falling heavily now, drenching all on deck. Still, Reaves looked below. Penney Dreadful had survived much more dramatic defeats.

Somehow, he was sure that she had survived this one.


© Copyright 2019 Daniel Borin. All rights reserved.

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