Today’s post is an excerpt from the novella “Where, No One Knows”, which I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. In it, Pixie Sinclaire is tasked with infiltrating Where, No One Knows, a floating prison made out of three enormous interconnected ironclad warships. Her task: find and extract her former lover, Rigel Rinkenbach, before he unlocks the secret to creating Blackwood and gives it to the NorEastern Empire’s enemies.
Things don’t go as planned, however. For no sooner than Pixie arrives on the ship does a woman named Dougherty lead a mutiny, throwing the ship into chaos. She also wants Rinkenbach, for very different reasons. Pixie and Dougherty forge a fragile alliance, and come up with a plan to get Pixie onto the command ship where Rinkenbach is being held.
* * *
One by one they climbed onto the skiff, being careful to avoid the boiler. The balloons were made of black canvas and a thin layer of soot covered everything. Mercy stepped onto the platform and dropped the bag she had grabbed from the cabinet. She knelt down over it and untied the drawstring holding it closed. Inside where several black ponchos that were long enough to cover each of them to their feet. Pixie didn’t need to be told what they were for, so when Mercy began handing them out, Pixie took one without objection and slipped it over her head. Each of the ponchos had a hood, which Pixie lifted over her hair.
Mercy told them to hold on, and opened up the boiler. The platform lifted slowly off the ground. Pixie noticed a major difference between this skiff and the one she’d been on earlier as it began to glide forward…it made no sound. Where as the last skiff sported propellers, this one was pushed forward by pressurized exhaust from the boiler. As a result the skiff was slower and one had to avoid the rear of the skiff, but it was silent as a whisper. No one would hear them over the carnage above.
Mercy guided the skiff out over the ocean, and Pixie relished the open air. In the west, the last dregs of the day were little more than a thin, orange line on the horizon. Above them, squadrons of planes cut through the darkness.
Dougherty’s men had liberated some of the planes as well, because several dogfights played out around and above them. Pixie had no way of telling who was who, but she was willing to bet that Dougherty’s fighters were outnumbered.
Mercy kept the skiff close to the outer hull of the ship and down below deck level. When they edged around the aft of the starboard-ship, Pixie saw the silhouette of the portside ship, gaining quickly. She also thought she saw two more formations of planes coming in, at the center of which were large, bulky vehicles that she’d never seen before. She surmised that these were not fighters, but some kind of troop transport.
Good job, Rigel, Pixie thought ruefully, knowing that he was probably responsible, if not for the idea, than at least for making the idea workable. Rigel, like many inventors, had the tendency to do things, create things, for the sheer sake of doing them, without any thought about the repercussions or consequences. This tendency had been the center of their separation, in fact. It was true that his invention of the air plane had helped the North Eastern Empire win their war, but since then the vehicles had been appropriated by pirates and other ne’er do wells, not to mention other countries that didn’t particularly care for theirs. Some people were even trying to find a way to use it for mass transit, and each attempt had resulted in catastrophic failure.
The worst instance had been just the year before, when a massive aircraft called the Heisenberg had gotten twenty feet off the ground before taking a nose dive and crashing into a village nearby, leaving behind it a five kilometer long black scar of smoking, charred earth and mangled bodies.
“Alright, everyone,” Mercy said in a harsh whisper. “We’re coming around to the aft of the mid ship. I’m going to take us right up to the outer gangway on the starboard side. Get ready to jump…”
Her last words were drowned out as a fighter roared past, trailing smoke from one of its wings. It dove under the deck, and a couple of seconds later two more fighters sped by in pursuit, firing their guns. Their air-stream whipped one of the skiff’s balloons around, jerking the skiff to the right. Mercy cursed and fought with the rudder controls. The skiff spun wildly, and the balloons’ retaining lines threatened to coil around each other.
Pixie heard the sound of one of the fighters crash into the tangle of walkways between ships, and as the ship spun she saw the fire ball and the silhouettes of the two pursuing fighters against it. One of the fighters kept going, but the other banked left, then hard right, circling around under the connecting deck and deftly avoiding the walkways. It straightened out, and headed straight for them.
“Aw, horse piss!” Mercy cried out, fighting with the rudder. The fighter was closing fast, and two orange flashes blossomed from the guns mounted on the wings. Hot lead tore through the air above them, puncturing one of the balloons. Air screamed out of the hole, and immediately the fore-end of the skiff began to dip.
“Hold onto something!” Mercy screamed, racking the boiler control into the red. The air under the balloon rippled violently and steam vomited out of the exhaust pipes. This pushed the skiff toward the water until Mercy pulled the rudder control up, directing the pipes straight down. The skiff momentarily jumped up, creating slack in the retaining line, and fell, jerking them all downward.
The fighter roared by, its wing nearly clipping the remaining balloon. If that happened, they were done for.
Pixie remembered the revolver Dougherty had given her.
“Mercy!” Pixie cried. “Hold it steady!”
Mercy feathered the exhaust control and brought the skiff out of its spin. Pixie drew the revolver and scanned the area for the fighter. It had flown past them, out over the sea. It was looping back toward them, but the skiff had broken her line of sight with it.
“Bring her around to port!” Pixie ordered. Mercy cursed and adjusted the rudder. The skiff began its agonizingly slow rotation to port. As it did, Pixie saw the plane coming straight at them, and fast. She raised the revolver, aiming carefully. She only had 24 rounds for it. She had to make them count.
Light flashed from the plane’s guns. Lead tore past them, splintering the wood of the skiff and sparking off the boiler. Just as Pixie squeezed the trigger, a nail from one of the struck boards drove itself into the top of her hand. She cried out in pain as her grip on the gun faltered, the kick nearly knocking it from her fingers.
Pixie grit her teeth against the pain and tightened her hand around the grip, aiming again. The plane was dangerously close now. She aimed for the whites of the pilot’s eyes. She fired. The plane was so close she couldn’t hear the report of the gun over its propellers. She had no way of knowing if she hit it or not, but the plane suddenly jerked right and then down, crashing into the waves.
Pixie couldn’t believe it. She stared in disbelief and then looked up at Boothe. He was shocked as well. Pixie shrugged.
“No big deal,” she said. “Done that a hundred times before.”