Hi team, Kris here
My amazing wife hung out with the silly six year old so I could hurry and finish this story she definitely stole and I hadn’t lost earlier this week. I’ve been working on an RPG system that I can use to play some steampunk games with and I had to get the flying airship out of my system somehow before that’s done! Not as much of a kids read as there are some “bad” words, but it’s not too bad.
Mando’s vision blurred as his eyes sank backward. Hand slipping from its perch, his knees finally gave way and he collapsed.
Face-first into his undisturbed cup of coffee. Steaming black liquid catapulted into his face right as his jaw made contact with the wooden floorboards.
Mando rolled around the floor clutching his burning face while his partner doubled over laughing, nearly losing his grip on the ladder. The old man gave the wooden floor a hearty punch to distract his mind from his face. “Leeroy you bastard, don’t just stand there and watch!” He removed his greasy shirt and was fanning his face to cool it. Thankfully he’d finally gotten around to shaving.
“Ha! Watch? You’re lucky the coffee did it this time. After the captain’s reaming I took by myself this morning I was about this close to nailing your ass to the nest so you didn’t sleep all night again.” Leeroy’s rippling muscles sprang him lightly onto the platform from the ladder as he glared daggers through the smaller man.
Mando didn’t believe the uptight youth would actually nail him to the tall lookout platform, but sometimes there were risks in life it was best not to argue with. “What’s the big deal? It’s the first time this week don’t be such a-”
“It’s the FIRST day of the week!”
The two watchmen growled at each other a few minutes longer, exchanging accusations and lame excuses.
“Why are you even up this late? I thought you went to bed before the children to get your beauty sleep.” The older man glowered at his peer while sucking on what was left of the bitter brew from his cup.
“You’d go to bed at a reasonable time too old man, if you weren’t sleeping through every shift.” The young man hopped to his feet and went through a brief but vigorous workout to help him wake up. “The geezer said we almost hit a mountain last night, woke up to a goat staring at him through the window. Took me off days and told me to babysit your ass all night.”
Mando chuckled at the mental picture but then frowned. He’d expected to have been taken off the night watch eventually for his neglegent behavior, not to be put in the command of a young punk with a try-hard attitude.
“What about Cow? How many people really need to watch a boat drift along at night?”
Leeroy hopped up to the spotlight above them and shone it into the blackness. Twinkling waves reflected up from the choppy waters far below, but all else was still. “CAL,” he began, emphasizing the pilot’s name, “was relocated to the AM so they could yell at him all day. Honestly you two picked a helluva time to drink yourselves under. Cap abandoned the job since we were too far off to make any money, we’re going to see if we can get some value at the flats instead.”
Mando’s grizzled face broke into grin as he was filled in. “Serves you all right. I’m a poor old man, I need comfort food and soft women to live out my twilight.”
Leeroy thumped onto the deck next to the hatch. “You’re a lazy middle-aged has-been with no useful skills, you can at least watch for danger while the rest of us sleep. If I get back from checking the rounds and you’re asleep I’m throwing you overboard old man. Maybe over the water.” He tossed the hatch up a bit and slid through it, forgoing the slowness of the ladder to drop the 15 feet soundlessly. He made a quick survey of the gauges on the bridge and compared the course log against their current speed and direction. They all looked fine, but he needed physical activity if he was going to survive working these hours.
Running slowly along the deck, each of the float fans was checked for noise and friction meticulously. Leeroy rigged himself to the balloon cage – a series of interwoven thick ropes securing the thick, gas filled balloon that provided most of their buoyancy – and climbed around it looking for holes and checking the patches already in place.
He paused for a few minutes to stand atop the massive inflated balloon to relax. Standing alone in the blackness, twinkling stars overhead. Nothing but the sounds of the wind almost therapeutic swish of the rotors. This was the most peaceful place he could think of during the day, but he never imagined it could be so tranquil overnight. He breathed the night air and let his body relax, just for a minute.
Sighing, he shimmied his way to the fore of the elongated balloon to spy on his counterpart. The old man sullenly stared into the darkness and sipped from a flask, laying over the rail to stay awake. Alright, time to get back to work before I have to make good on that promise. Leeroy quickly made his way to the deck below and finished the above-deck checks. Snapping a glowstick, he descended into the inky blackness of the ballast hold at the very bottom of the ship. Giant, steam pressured tanks all registered an even weight except the few at the fore of the ship. They were a bit heavy so the ship was probably moving faster than they should overnight; he went ahead and leaked the tanks back into the main so the ship would lose a bit of forward momentum over time.
His footsteps rang hollowly as he climbed the wooden ladder to the crow’s nest again. Might as well make peace with the old guy if they were going to be stuck together. Might be able to talk him into doing something useful if he were promised an early release, who knew? Leeroy’s head peeked through the hatch slowly, expecting the slumped figure of a sleeping old bastard. No?
Twisting his head this way and that, Leeroy expected for a moment for Mando to leap out and try surprising him, but the leap never came. “Mando? Where you at buddy?” He hopped up into the spotlight seat to check it out, but the night was silent. “Good one man, where’d you get to hiding?” This old son of a… Probably fell asleep and fell out of the nest. Ha, good. Except there’d been no impact, no screaming.
Leeroy finished sweeping the parts of the deck he could reach with the bright light and gave up. The glowstick had a good few minutes left of usable light left so he whipped it out and started looking in the usual napping spots. Not in his bed, not in someone else’s bed, not under the wheel. Hmmm. The old man was getting creative.
“Damn useless garbage.” He tossed the dim glowstick overboard, doing his best not to stomp while crossing the ship to get another. Useless glowsticks. Useless crewmates. Next thing he knew one of the damn float fans woul-
The two fans at the fore of the ship suddenly spun-up madly, jerking the front of the ship upward.
“I take it back!” Leeroy scrambled for a handhold to keep his footing and raced back to the entrance of the ballast hold. He snapped three glowsticks and grabbed an oil lamp, wedging himself into a corner to maintain his balance and hit the wick with a striker. Bursting into a strong yellow glow, the lamp lit quickly. Luckily the ship seemed to have stabilized in angle, but it still made walking difficult. Leeroy ran to the stairs and damn near fell headfirst down them over the unexpected body he kicked in front of the first step.
“Mando? What the hell are you doing!” Setting the lamp carefully to the side, he shook the old man ferociously. The thought of tripping down the stairs and the lamp oil scattering everywhere. The entire ship burning up with the sleeping crew inside. He successfully did not hit his unconscious partner, but it certainly wasn’t off the table. “I’m putting you up for auction the second we hit the flats you forsaken mother of-”
The light of the glowstick twinkled off a stream running down the stairs and caught him short. In a panic he grabbed the lamp to keep the flames away from the stream of oil before he realized he was an idiot – the dark stream was on the far side of the old man from the lamp, there’s no way leaking oil could….Blood? He grabbed Mando and checked for breathing and a pulse. He was alive. His head was gashed in the back and blood was freely running running in a little river down the stairs. Leeroy’s mind raced a moment for the best course of action. The ship came first, he knew. Mando would have to wait. He rolled the older man into a corner where he wouldn’t slide off into danger and rushed below.
The almost dazzling light of the lamp led him to the ballast hold and he ran to the fore-tanks. Full? He’d just evened these out not thirty minutes ago, there’s no way.
A floorboard creak set his nerves on edge. The flame wavered violently as he about-faced to confront the noise. The eerie quiet of the hold had a different feel than during the day. Almost sinister. He took a few steadying breaths and wiped the sweat from his eyes. First things first he, thought. The hissing steam passed out of the tank with a ghastly screech as it emptied. He reached overhead and did the same to the fan valves, which were similarly set. He let himself fall against the tank as the ship righted, felt the pressure ease up as it slowed.
His narrowed eyes darted as he slowed his breathing and tried to hear something over his drumming heart. Someone on-board had followed him in earlier. Someone had altered these tanks.
There was no way they weren’t staring at him right now.
Leeroy tossed a glowstick to where he’d heard the sound a minute ago. Something flashed out of the way just as the small stick bounced off the wall. Coiled muscles reacted and flung him toward the middle of the ship instinctively, hurlng another glowstick ahead of him before he’d realized what was happening. He caught sight of someone jumping out of the way again, further back this time. Leeroy sprinted to the stairs and chucked his last glowstick at the heavy thudding above, bouncing it against the head of whoever was running away.
“Get back here!” Heaving himself up the stairs two at a time, he caught up to the figure as it busted onto the equipment platform, his massive leg smashing them in the back and sprawling them across the floor. “You better have a damn good reason to be down with the tanks, sailor.” Leeroy’s fingertips sizzled as he put out the lamp. He strode across the room.
Rolling to its feet, the shrouded figure threw a tiny ball at his face. Before he could move out of its way his vision flashed, a sound like a mast snapping but a thousand times louder assailed his ears. He cursed as he clutched at his eyes. He’d been flash-banged before, but not at night.
A heavy thud and loud shouting jerked him back to the situation at hand. He swung a tentative fist at the air, keeping the attacker at bay. The sounds were slowly becoming more clear and yet, further away. Looking around the white spot in his vision, he realized he was alone.
Arms flailing, eyes watering, Leeroy felt his way to the main deck. He caught sight of a greasy bundle of clothes rolling about on the floor. His adrenaline-fueled legs shook with every step. He could see Mando now, wrestling with the mystery person for control of long knife that clattered out of reach. The old man’s face was swollen and bleeding as he took punch after punch. Too late the figure heard his approach, its head dragging the body sailing through the air. Leeroy shook his hand in pain, stomping loudly forward in hopes of waking the rest of the crew.
A beautiful face with a huge bruise popped out of the heavy clothing, listing to the side for a second before shaking her head clear. She flung herself to the railing and heaved the rest of the disguise to the ground. Leeroy leaped headfirst and caught a handful of shirt.
“Ah hahaha! This won’t be the last time we meet you beefy mancake.” The silky voice flowed over Leeroy like water.
“Shut your mouth and grab my hand, we can spend some quality time together.” He ground his teeth as he tried getting a better grip, but with a fluid motion, the shirt was cut free and she waved up at him as she was swallowed by the night. The dull snap of cloth in the still air told him a parachute had opened below.
Leeroy grumbled and lumbered over to help Mando to his feet. “You alright old man? You look like hell.”
“Mind your manners whipper snapper, you’d be sprouting knives if not for me!” The old man…smiled? Through the swelling on his face, slobbering all over himself in the process.
“When you’re right you’re right.” Blinking furiously to fix his vision, Leeroy had to admit the lout had probably saved his life. “Don’t let it go to your head, you still got trounced by a girl, after all.”
The two sat in silence. Finally, Leeroy rose.
“Better go wake the geezer, get some rest old man. You definitely need the beauty sleep now.” Leeroy grinned at his partner as the old man guffawed and shambled off to bed.