By Nojh Livic
“They’re gaining, Captain!” shouted Rata, the lookout. Captain Brail of the Marukaze cursed quietly to herself as she held the wheel and glanced over her shoulder. The other ship coasted out of the cloud-bank on the same trajectory as the Marukaze. She had hoped to lose their pursuers in the fluffy moist clouds. The Marukaze was one of the fastest ships in the air yet this unknown ship, flying interceptor colors, was at least as fast and had the devil’s own luck.
“Turbines to full and steam to the ready. We’ll rise up!” she ordered, pulling on several levers net to the giant steering wheel.
“That’ll slow us down captain,” her first mate, Wock, advised calmly. Unlike her, he was keeping his eyes forward, both on the air and crew. It often took several eyes to keep a ship on course. While his calm logic was often infuriating during most circumstances, he proved his worth every time they got into scraps like this, which was becoming far to frequent for Brail’s tastes.
“Aye. Direct to sun!” she shouted to the crew. This earned a few glances from the crew, but to their credit they all ran to stations. She was ordering a particularly hazardous maneuver but it was the perfect time for it. Late afternoon and the sun’s angle just fallen far enough off the zenith that the ship could rise high and fly straight into it. If they were quick enough, they could put the Marukaze between the sun and the intercepting ship. With the other ship temporarily blinded, they’d drop into yet another cloud-bank, a fast unpowered drop usually reserved for steam skiffs, not full-sized chopper craft like the Marukaze.
Word of the order spread quickly. The crew, and everything else, needed to be strapped down. Even as they began to rise, preparations were sill underway. They would cut it close. “You’re tied down Captain,” Wock said. She didn’t bother to thank him. If they lived, she would thank him then.
“Navigation!” Brail called out.
“Ten ticks, Captain… Mark!” shouted her second officer, Rata, who was tied to the rigging, his optical equipment strapped to face, back, and arms. The deck had a significant slope now as the Marukaze rose towards the sun. Brail silently counted down the ticks, trusting her crew to be ready and trusting her ship to get them through this. It was an all or nothing maneuver. If the choppers didn’t re-engage after the hard drop, they’d be pancakes.
“GO!” Brail shouted, and pulled back on the steering wheel hard. The deck tipped further, bringing the ship directly in line with the sun. It was blinding to her and the crew, despite the specialized goggles they all wore against the biting wind and glare. A small box, not tied down, crashed into the railing beside officer Wock. Brail ignored it.
“Five, four, three-” Wock had begun the count as soon as she began the maneuver. They would hard drop when he counted to one.
“Captain! They aren’t following!” Rata yelled. His equipment mostly shielded him from the sun’s effect. “They’ve kept course. They’re… they’ll intercept!” Wock finished his count and for a split-second Capitan Brail, premier interceptor of the Red Region skies, was unsure of what to do. If her navigator was right, a hard drop would cause them to collide directly into the other ship. If she pulled out, they’d capture them in under twenty ticks, regardless.
“Captain.” Wock said murmured.
Brail pulled the lever.
From a distance, the Marukaze appeared to deflate. Its primary buoyancy tubes retracted. Primary chopper blades slowed to a still. Navigation sails were pulled flush against the hull of the ship. The ship’s bow, weighted by strapped down equipment, tipped forward. The Marukaze began diving towards the ground.
Almost directly below it, the mystery craft performed the exact same maneuver, its own flight systems retracting or shutting down, save for its rear buoyancy tubes and navigation sails. This tipped it’s own bow down mimicking the Marukaze but made it dived with a slower accelerations. The Marukaze’s captain had failed to predict this outcome. Rather than collide the second ship matched the Marukaze’s uncontrolled dive falling together like two nose diving birds, performing some ancient aeronautical, and idiotic, game of chicken against the ground.
The ground, however, was never known to chicken out.
“Reengage damn you!” Brail growled, pulling the lever for the third ineffectual time. The Marukaze had failed them. The flight systems were not reengaging. The aft flotation tubes had re-inflated but the pressure on the forward tubes was too powerful. It would be a mere tock before they crashed into the ground. The fear on the ship was palpable. Even Wock looked ashen.
Brail had gambled and lost.
“Ahoy! Need a rope!?” a strangely familiar voice called out. Looking up, or sideways if one was oriented ground-ward, Brail saw the occupants of the other ship. Her eyes locked upon a familiar pair of emerald-green she saw regularly, but only when she looked in the mirror.
“Abandon ship!” captain Brail called to her crew without thinking. The other captain called out an order that was mostly lost in the sudden scramble but it conjured weighted cast-lines throw from the other ship. With the ground rushing at both ships, the crew of the Marukaze, captain and all, cut their security lines and scurried over to their former pursers’ ship. The escape was not without peril. Brail heard more than one scream as a crew-member was lost to the merciless sky. Each scream stabbed her heart.
“GO!” Brail heard herself shout, although she knew she hadn’t spoken the words. Around her familiar faces went to work as the unidentified ship’s flight system engaged. Slowly they began to fall under their own power rather than that of gravity.
“Err… damn it,” the other captain was pulling hard on the steering wheeling. The ship was beginning to pull out of its dive but she didn’t have the leverage to sustain the battle against the winds. Brail leapt to the wheel and began to pull with the captain, grunting in effort. Together they got the ship level, missing the ground by a scant tree length. Below them the Marukaze drove itself into the ground, shattering into a pile of wood, metal, and plastics.
There were cheers among both crews as death was once again defied. For a moment they were unified in their relief over not dying. Then, as if someone gave some silent command, the former crew of the Marukaze drew their swords. Yet they were the only ones to do so. What was worse, they found no real targets for the point ends of their weapons, for everyone that surrounded them were friends and allies.
“You can tell your crew to stand down, captain. We mean you no harm,” the other captain suggested. Brail looked up at the captain and saw herself staring back. A little older, perhaps, but definitely captain Brail of the Marukaze. “Welcome to the Sarukame. I’m captain Brail. I’m sure you have a lot of questions. I did too when I was you. So let’s get this bird on a course, brew some tea, and I’ll explain everything. Wock! Take the wheel. I have to go talk to myself for a bit!”
This one is a little clunky I admit it but practice makes perfect and I have a few airship chase scenes in Everlasting I need to gear up for.