Chapter 28Mature

  The Model 1630 Pistol-Blade was standard issue for Imperial officers for thirty years. A naval smallsword generally complemented by a cutlass. The weapon utilized a three shot revolver built into the outside of the weapon's hilt, the chambers of which slid out on rails for reloading. The long straight blade was an advanced iron alloy manufactured only in the capital of Avalon, light enough to raise and fire without the usual bulky penalty.

Cleaning the weapon was an intricate and unpleasant task for the few officers and distinguished air-farers who were permitted to use them. Arcebus had begun undertaking the disassembling process an hour ago, and was almost finished when the sound of footstep drove him from the final readjustments. He walked over to the edge of the vessel and checked around in the murky black for a silhouette. The approaching individual was certainly not Rayna, unless she had acquired stilts on her outing.

It was an unlikely event that the enemy had been able to find this place. But one can never be too careful, especially one who had been in the service. Arcebus spun the last screw into place, and snapped the chamber back into the hilt. He was out of bullets yes, but the interloper need not know that.

He took a stance on the edge of the ship, pointing down at this intruder.

“Hello?” The deep voice rung.

Arcebus sighed in relief upon realizing the individual was merely Simon the mechanic. He often forgot that there were others in this cave, seeing as his activities and their anti-social demeanor left little opportunity for interaction. He gave a small wave, withdrawing the 1630 to his waste.

“Forgive the hostile greeting, just ensuring that we are on the same side.”

“Not a problem, just getting back to work.” Simon motioned to the open steam-engine cowlings that leaked with lubricant and water.

“What's your take on the sky-worthiness of this ship?”

Simon replied with a shrug, “flight isn't an issue. However, there is a matter of these engines. Replacing them is too difficult without a larger budget, and repair is timely as these are custom built. Upon testing them, I found the output to be about average, if slightly sluggish. I believe however, that if several of the components could be replicated then these engines could compete with the most modern designs.”

“Should you have the necessary schematics, could they be rebuilt?”

“Within a half day I should think, assuming I had access to a forge.”

Arcebus fiddled with a loose string on his sleaves while thinking, “might such things be within-”

Simon dismissed the half finished idea with a wave of his hand, “the Captain prefers that I don't investigate the hold in great detail, especially the stuff within her own quarters.”

“I see. Not unreasonable I suppose.”

“I imagine that I'll find something that works eventually. Speaking of which, I must now return to some of my duties. Can you throw me the repair gear by your feet?”

Arcebus looked down. A few feet beside him was a crumpled iron apron with a few long nasty burns. He grabbed it by the straps, staggered by it's surprising heaviness. He flung it over the edge into Simon's waiting arms. The navigator was impressed by how little the limbs buckled when the heavy apparel struck.

Simon was a decent enough chap. He was busy most of the day, acquiring obscure parts and fixing each new problem that sparked up when he solved another. There work sometimes overlapped, usually Arcebus testing controls that were under constructing. They would discuss the technical aspects of the craft, and ponder the strange rune-encased devices that littered the interior.

Sparrow was another crew member with a good attitude, but bad habits. A pickpocket it seemed from the way she handled herself. The first time she and Arcebus had said hello, he had found that the small bundle of coins he had amassed had somehow changed owners over the quick handshake. Since then he'd made sure to count his money every so often to make sure it hadn't managed to disappear.

Rayna was even busier than the others. She left the ship on various errands with Sparrow as a sort of urban guide. The two were never back long, even to sleep. At night she carried a new persona: the masked creature that forgave no trespass against her or the crew. Her promise of an explanation had been postponed while she went about her recruitment. An activity that seemed to be going behind schedule. Her criteria had tightened as she looked now towards the combat side of bounty hunting. Instead of a group of fighters, she wanted only a couple warriors who she felt were trustworthy. That basically meant someone she could blackmail.

Then there was Davrou. Unusual to say the least, and carrying with him an air of witchcraft and occult arts that left the air itself chilled in his wake. He was anti-social, and appeared in the oddest of places around the ship. Simon would frequently reprimand his wanderlust, boundaries which he would acknowledge, then totally disregard. Still, there was no denying how capable he could be in the field of medicine. He knew many remedies and tricks one would think lost to time.

This was what currently comprised the crew of the Astarius. Unruly, undisciplined, in their own ways talented, but certainly lacking in the ability to function as a single unit. The navigator had been considering the best ways to get this to work, but ultimately it would take a mixture of time and danger to actually force these unusual people to work with one another.

That evening, Arcebus finally got a chance to speak to Rayna. She retired to her cabin a little before dusk. She had taken Davrou with her, and he had yet to return. He took this lull in activity to barge in, not bothering to get a response from his knocks. She looked at him tiredly and waved for him to take a seat.

“I guess you're wanting that talk about now.”

“If you'd be willing captain.”

She nodded, then removed a bottle of hard cider from a compartment next to her legs.

“Those monsters, or rather automations, are the product of my 'fiance's' work. They've been hunting me since I called off our wedding.”

Arcebus raised an eyebrow, but decided not to pry into the matter of that relationship.

“What they wanted with you, I can't say for certain,” she continued, “but I can guess that your navy probably pissed him off.”

“Unless he happened to be a pirate or of a rival nation, they're the only ones who might hold some kind of animosity towards me.”

She shook her head, “no. Though he is one for grudges. Perhaps you happened to hurt something in his network?”

“We've shot down many smugglers and those of illegal intent. I suppose it could be any number of things.” Arcebus sighed. The answer wasn't what he'd been hoping for.

The captain laid back into the leather seat and cracked her neck. Arcebus waited for a moment, then stood to leave. But he stopped midway as she suddenly sat back up.

“Now, I have a question for you.” She set down the bottle on the arm of her chair. “Can we man this vessel?”

“It will be difficult captain, but I believe it possible. You said this ship is a sort of family heirloom, what do you know of it's specifications?”

“Nothing extraordinary.” She said bluntly.

“Well, it's very odd. It's almost as if it was meant for a small crew. A number of the necessary things on a regular ship are delegated to clockwork, and the inner system of the ship. I'm not sure how it does it, but it manages to maintain ballast and a single individual is all that's needed to control the engines. Some newer imperial vessels have-” he paused chocking on the present tense he had accidentally used. Quickly he composed himself and tried again. “that is, they had variations on this. But this is custom, and very strange.”

“I'm glad to hear it. How long until flight becomes possible?”

“If you'd allow, I would like to try teaching Simon, Sparrow and Davrou some things outside of their skill set. We will all have to know how to fly and maintain that which still is manually operated.  After that, we should be good to go. ”

“Very well.”

Arcebus did a quick salute, then turned back out the door.
 Soon he would be back in his element.  Back in the vast emptiness of the sky, where his memories would whittle away on a gentle breeze. 

The End

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