Saturday, 20 August 2016

Sons of Icarus Chapter 2

The clouds gave birth to a large hulking ship. It looked like a ship that should be on water, but instead of sails, it had a large grey balloon and bristled with weapons from bow to stern. The buzz from it's engines was a deep rumble, and as it descended through the cloud cover it was followed by two more ships, all similarly built but with different colours, some greys, browns, reds and purples. All three ships pointed their bow down and their engines flared to life with tar like smoke billowing from the propellers in the rear. As they descended they broke from one group into three ships, and one headed for Jim's ship while the other two craft circled around to the rear.
Jim noted the crew freezing, and Ash was completely in awe of what was happening. As the ships drew close he could hear the whirr of the propellers and the hiss of the air in the balloon. Jim gripped his sword and ordered Ash to his side.
"Get the engineers to push the engines as hard as they'll go. More fuel, we need to be moving as fast as we can. Use the moonshine if you have too!" Jim barked at the large man, who scurried uncharacteristically to the engine decks below, to bawl and yell at the engineers.
Jim knew however, that they were not going to escape, they just needed to be moving as fast as possible, and generate some kind of smokestack from the funnel to attract enough attention. It was a shoddy plan, but it had to do.
Milano ran to the weapons locker, and collected the remaining rifles, and handed Jim his officers pistol, a long, well crafted, pistol, ornamented beautifully and adorned with golden markings and engravings. Jim checked the barrel, and loaded the cartridge into the breech, before snapping the breech shut with a flick of his wrist. He grabbed a rifle from Milano and did the same, snapping open the breech, and placing a small cartridge into the slot, and pocketing a few more of the charges into his pockets and bandoliers around his waist. He played with a charge before inspecting it. Universal ammunition for ballistic weapons was very common nowadays. They contained all the components for a bullet; wadding, powder and the projectile itself. All contained within a cartridge for easy transport and fast loading. Jim snapped the breach closed on the rifle, threw it to a crewman, and commanded the nearest crewman to take the helm and to keep the heading straight.
Taking a deep breath he approached the steps and looked at the two seas in front of him. One a calm ocean of water, slightly brushed by the wind., the other a sea of frightened young faces, clutching a mixture of rifles, hand axes and personal weapons. Jim decided now was a good time to try and draw some courage.
"We are not safe. I'll not lie. Some of you are possibly going to die. Let's not pretend that we are children. I'm not your mother, and I'm certainly not going to tell you it's all going to be alright. What I will do is protect you all as much as I possibly can. We are not soldiers. We are not hardened men, ready to jump into the gates of hell to fight the devil himself. We are sailors. All we can do is our best. So all of you get ready to either die fighting for your miserable life, or find new purpose in how you live. Are you with me?!"
"Aye, Captain!" came a rousing chorus of hardy voices. They looked less afraid, but no more intimidating. Faces were hardened, aim was steady and voices were loud and deep. Some of the boys had just become men. Ash still looked afraid, but he had a new love for living in his eyes, and clutched his rifle and began to take aim.
"Ash, get the Captain," said Jim, not wanting any shots fired yet until they knew what the raiders were up to.
"Aye," and off he went down the steps.
Jim took position with some of the men at the starboard side where the primary ship was heading. Jim stood leaning on the railings, trying to see what the ships were about. They looked like they were forming a perimeter, ready to surround and sink the ship if not compliant. They had every advantage; height, speed, maneuvering, weaponry, crew, training and worst of all; nothing to lose. Jim's men had families, lives, loved ones and dreams. Jim was hoping they'd fight hard to save what they had. Jim's sweat ran cold down his face and back, soaking into his long johns, leaving his still neat dress uniform only specked with some of the wash from the sea. He removed his hat and threw it to Milano who scuttled off to put it away in his quarters. The boy was only in his mid teens, still wet behind the ears. Time seemed to slow down as Jim watched him make his way down the steps, bumping into Ash who was returning from rousing the captain, however empty handed. Ash opened his mouth to say something but was drowned out by the sound of a dull explosion which rocked the Aurora. The ship swayed to the side and the deck buckled, smoke and flame rising from the staircase leading to the decks below. The young hopeful was blasted out of the hatch, smoldering and lifeless. The crew were all shook off their feet.
"Report!" Cried Jim as he came to his feet.
"A shot into the side, sir! Topside aport, not taking water yet." yelled a crewman from the side of the ship.
"Should we return fire, Sir?" Ash asked from the ground.
"No, twas a warning shot, we won't stand a chance at range." Jim replied without looking
"A warning shot? They hit us directly! A well aimed and lethal hit, Sir!"
"That's their way, For them the fact that they didn't kill us all is enough to warn us."
"Sir, we need to -"
"Enough!" Jim needed to take control, Ash, as large as he is, was starting to panic. As loyal as a guard dog is, you need to show it the chain to allow it to bare it's teeth.  
 "Boson! Get to the Flak gun, get them sighted and ready to fire, but only on my mark. If I see you cowering and silent, you'll wish they captured you. Now get a move on, man!!"
Ash nodded, a shameful but angry nod, and turned to walk to the bow. As he walked on he gathered momentum, rolling his shoulder and unsheathing his baton, a long knobbed club, and began rapping it against the deck railings. Jim couldn't hear the words, but the crew's faces were as good a transcript as any. No other man could speak an incantation to rally men like Ash Thomas.
Leaving them to it, Jim returned to the helm, and took control of the radio. Setting it to local broadcast he took a look at the ships still bearing down, now beginning to surround the Aurora.
"This is the," Jim paused and thought about the explosion below decks.
"This is Captain Jim Campbell of the Middle Ancient, vessel from the Merchant Navy of the Order of Chaladon. We are a peaceful ship, however we are armed. We can and will defend ourselves if fired upon again. You have been warned. However we will peacefully surrender any supplies we have that are valuable to you. We are carrying trade goods from the Mercantile Guild that will fetch fair pri-"
A suddenly deep, low voice interrupted the broadcast.
"Your lives are ours. You are the cargo. We will take what you have. You will be sold, or you will die protecting that useless piece of machinery that you-"
Jim slammed the handpiece into the speaker, shattering the coils within and breaking the whole thing.
"Nichols, retake the helm and keep swerving port to starboard. Be unpredictable. I'll get you the greatcoat."
Taking the greatcoat from the weapons cabinet, he fixed it around the waist of the helmsman. "The clips fit into the trousers, and then the upper section is worn like a regular jacket, now arms in. Good lad. It's heavy, but it'll feel natural, and it'll protect you from any shrapnel. Now haul arse and get busy moving", and with that Jim slammed the Middle Ancient to full ahead and returned to the centre of the ship.
"Right. We're fighting. Noone fire until I give the order. Anyone without a weapon, either be ready to pick up a rifle from someone who falls, or keep a supply of ammunition. Ready your rifles."
He could see the men loading their rifles clumsily, looking at each other and starting to rally themselves. The raider ships were getting closer and closer. The main ship bearing down on them was now less than five hundred meters away, with the other two moving around to the sides and rear.
Jim decided it was time to act.
"Ready." The men tok positions at the edge of the ship, clutching their rifles.
"Aim." The crew took aim, a dozen rifles, plus the flak cannon.
There was no sound apart form the spray of the sea and the steady hum of the airships. Jim grabbed his telescope from his belt and peered through the lenses. The ship came into focus, and his heart sank. The vessel was a massive junker with open decks and a steel bottom. Ropes hung off of the sides like tentacles. Crewmen were hanging off of the side and from the ropes, waving around weapons. The other two ships seemed like smaller versions of the same class.
The crew rippled with a short burst of fire. The air stung with the smell of gunpowder and smoke.
A dozen tiny smoke trails flew towards the ship and all of them fell short, dipping below the hull.
"Charge arms!! Aim higher! Flak, open fire! Now!"
A mix of confused gestures and scrambling was the response before the position started firing. A single shot was met with a massive jump from each crewman, before they regained their composure and started firing for full effect. A sharp, steady booming rumble shook the ship as the flak sent timed explosive shells into the sky. The shots sailed for several hundred metres before bursting into a black cloud. They were failing short, exploding too soon, but the raiders started weaving already. Buying more time is all.
Jim ordered another volley and the shots still fell too low. The ship was growing ever closer, now around three hundred metres. Jim snatched a rifle from a crewman, loaded and took aim. The sights were rusted and fill of grime. Jim wipe it on his sleeve and tried again. He could make out a crewman hanging off of the bow cables. The wind was behind him, but the ship was moving, as well as the momentum of the enemy ship. He aimed about ten feet above and five to the left. the trigger was stiff as he squeezed, and fired a shot. The shot curved right against the momentum of the ship and began to dip, but found its mark. The target was surrounded by a red spray and was blasted off of the cable, falling hundreds of metres into the sea. He threw the rifle back to the deck hand and ordered another volley. This time the shots found their mark. More crewmen either disappeared from view or fell from the ship itself. Splinters and sparks exploded from the bottom of the hull. Two more volleys and the ship was starting to smoke. Heavy black smog began pouring out of the bottom of the ship. The crewmen started to cheer as they were reloading faster and even trading places to shoot. a small grin teased Jim's lips as he saw them enjoying it, but he knew it can only get worse. He was right. Muzzle flashes began coming from the top and middle decks. Steady regimented fire began peppering the ocean and walking it's way towards the deck. The smiling crewmen stopped laughing and began panicking. The deck began exploding in splinters. Several crewmen were bleeding from splinters and bullet wounds alike. To their credit they kept firing. The flak gun was finally hitting the ship with bursting shots, shots smashing into the deck and sending more raiders tumbling into the sea. The junker slammed into full speed and within mere moments was directly over the Middle Ancient. the flak gun continued firing into the belly of the ship but the shells were bursting on the edge, showering the deck in shrapnel.
"Cease Fire!!" Jim yelled over the cacophany but they couldn't hear. Ash was already heading over, ddging the red hot shrapnel comin from above.
"Make ready! They're about to board. Anone with a rifle stay as you are and fire as they come in, everyone else use your hatchets and anyting you can find!"
Jim's commands were falling on ready ears as they realised the gravity of what was happening. The riflemen stood in a line and aimed at the hatches above, with the rest clutching hand axes, crowbars, grapples, fishing spears and anything they could find. Some had old momentos from home in the form of knives, daggers, old cutlesses and the occasional shortsword, but most had what they could find. Fear, anger and a range of other emotions were plastered across the faces of them all, all of them baptised in a hail of fire thy hadn't signed up for. Jim felt anger, with hints of sadness and fear. He was not afraid to die, only afraid to let the men under his command die. He undid the clasp on his scabbard and gripped his sword handle, fixing his right fist under the hand gaurd and gripping it tight.  The black smoke that was billowing from the rear of the engine was now funnelling through large pipes at the bottom and began to flow onto the deck, swamping the entire ship in black smog.
As the bottom hatches of the intruders burst open above him and the sounds of shouting took up and became louder his knuckles grew white, and he suddenly realised, with all his training, all of his command and combat experience, he had never fought, let alone killed another man with his sword. Loud thumps annouced the arrival of his foe, and they emerged through the darkness.

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