The Desert Crystals – Part 12: Hark, The Wings

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Part 12 – Hark, The Wings

Angel Flame, proud owner of the finest wingship this side of the Great Bane Desert hawked and spat at the feet of the man on the other end of her gangplank. She did it daintily though, conveying both distaste and a curious refinement with the projectile. She stood, hands resting lightly on the handles of her pistols which in turn rested lightly on her hips. Her gaze was fixed on the somewhat obese gentleman sweating at the other end of the plank. The gentleman looked politely mortified and mopped the concern from his brow.

“Miss Flame,” he began, lamenting the sound of her name emerging from his mouth, “our mutual friend Mr Chem has, I believe, chartered your vessel for our trip. I merely wish to embark.”

“I take issue with almost every word you uttered. For starters, it’s Captain. Anything less and I’ll put a bullet in you. Further, friend’s a stretch for both us I reckon – I consider this not to be a charter of my choosing, but that’s between me and Eslie. He said nothing about a passenger of your girth, and I’m sure I’d have noted it in his kind instructions.” Sarcasm was not unknown to Angel and she wielded it like her spittle.

The fat man spluttered and reddened further. He was unused to being addressed so discourteously. In addition he had packed his own bags, having dismissed his manservant for a month (his proposed journeying time) and made his own way to the airfield (excepting the taxi of course, but he had at least dragged his cases from the taxi, if not to it). And now he was being denied permission to even board.

“My apologies Captain,” pride could be choked back for a moment, and rank was something he understood, “allow me to introduce myself. I fear Mr Chem may have let us both down in this regard. I am Professor Guldwych Ryme, of Meriodonal University, and the commissioner of this charter.”

“Ah, well. An academic life would explain your waist, though it poses me a problem. I’ve eight rough lasses and lads who’ll double for crew and cook, plus myself and the inimitable Eslie Chem, wherever he might be at present. I’ve space for one more, but you’ve the diameter of two.” Ryme began to get the impression he would not be enjoying a luxury cabin for this adventure. “You may bring a bag and a case and what you can carry, but that chest remains. We’ve neither space nor the wings to put it all aloft.”

The object of Ryme’s subsequent muttered curses lurked in the stairwell that lead to cabins and engines and was most importantly out of sight. He had a certain fondness for both Ryme and Flame, associates of old from whom he was owed favours and held secrets in reserve. There was something satisfying about pairing the two; he knew they’d get on. Choosing not to supply either one with all the details was a game he barely knew he played, so naturally it came to him. He chose to end their suffering.

“Ryme, Flame. I see you’ve met. How wonderful.”

“Ah, there you are. This… Captain,” Ryme selected the appropriate term with barely a pause, “informs me that my luggage will not fit.”

“Were you able to empty your belly your chest would be welcome,” replied Flame.

“Indeed. The Captain does have the final say aboard ship I’m afraid Professor, but I daresay we could squeeze a few of your keepsakes under a bunk here or there.”

Flame snorted, “you’ll be leaving your bottles behind in balance then Eslie?”
“Let’s see what you can live without shall we,” Chem suggested, stepping past the Captain with iron in his eye.

Flame smirked and withdrew from the end of the gangplank, “the third cabin’s for you Ryme – you’ll be sharing with Knocker and Tosser. They’ll give you a hand stowing your things. You’ve five minutes to make your selections.” So saying she returned to the wingship’s cockpit with a whistle for her mates.

“Sharing?” Ryme began before Chem shushed him and popped open the chest.

“It’s the fastest most available ship there is Professor. There’s always a trade off. We might be a week behind The Dove’s Eye but The Sky Viper will make up that time and more.” He gestured to the ship behind him, “it’s fast, her crew’s dependable – you can rely on Captain Flame alright, and the crew will see our purpose when we do catch up. Now you can’t possibly need all ten volumes of this anatomical encyclopaedia!”

The debate over goods took up almost the first four minutes of their allowance until a terrifying bald man, scrawled over liberally with tattoos stomped down the gangplank and stared at Ryme. That sped the process remarkably. Within five minutes Ryme’s luggage was crammed into a storage locker or kicked under a bunk. He didn’t have the heart to urge caution.

“By the way – Professor, this is Knocker.” Chem encouraged the pair to shake hands. Ryme’s soft hand was enveloped by the coarse fist.

“Oh, that’s a plainsman’s tribal tattoo isn’t it?” Ryme asked, spotting a familiar symbol on the knuckles of Knocker’s right fist. Oddly this proved to be the right thing to say: Knocker’s formidable features softened into creases that would only seem threatening in a bar. In moments they were engrossed in conversation.

Somewhat disappointed, Chem left them to it. He joined Captain Flame in the cockpit as she snapped orders into the horns, directing her crew in the engine room and motor pits. A tremendous flapping commenced, shaking the ship with each beat. It was shortly followed by the propeller roar which tugged the The Sky Viper down the runway field. The beating increased in vigour until they suddenly separated from the ground and soared into the sky.

Next Week: Part 13 – A Chamber of Horrors

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