Part 18 – Cut and Dried
Guldwych Ryme’s foot slipped as he stepped gingerly off the ladder and onto the other ship’s deck. He slewed faintly to the side before his weight corrected the error and ground the dead man’s blood into the grain of the wood. He drew out the already damp handkerchief from his breast pocket and dabbed at his perspiring face. A light slap at his waist made him jump, but it was only Eslie Chem, following him across from The Viper’s Eye jerking his safety line off the ladder so it hung neatly over the rail rather than underfoot. Chem shortly joined him. The small man smirked maliciously at Ryme’s discomfort and nudged him onwards.
“Chem, what the devil is Flame playing at?” whispered the larger gentleman to the smaller, “This isn’t Traverstorm’s airship!”
“No? It’s awfully difficult to read a ship’s name when it’s spinning round and about in the air.” The much louder response came from the immaculately dressed woman casually skipping across the laddered bridge, her safety line held loosely in one hand, a large and well-oiled pistol held in the other. “And I’ll remind you once more, for the sake of amity, that it’s Captain Flame.” She hopped from the final rung onto the captive vessel’s deck and tapped Ryme lightly on the side of the head with the pistol’s barrel, “for aiding your fragile memory.”
Ryme recovered from the threat with impressive speed, his bureaucratic demeanour returning to the fore in a moment of stress. “Forgive the slight Captain Flame, I am ill accustomed to the sight of blood, or indeed the sight of piracy.”
His blustery nature foisted that special bluntness and lack of consideration which appear to be requisites for a certain type of office dweller. Another man in a similar position might give more thought to tactful enquiry rather than outright accusations. For a man such as Ryme, those realisations arrive mere instants after such an ejaculation in the form of a chilly sweat from shoulders to skull. Fortunately his remarks found the volatile airman in good humour.
“Piracy?” she exclaimed, turning incredulous upon him, “You think us pirates? The very notion. Lads, mates, our professor would label us, drop categories upon our ways, define our character by our actions. Have you no regard for intent? Seems to me my dear book-nuzzler that you leap to conclusions wild and divisive.” With a wink to the crew she completed a second turn and eyed the distressed professor.
“I’m sure what old Guldwych here means to say,” chipped in Chem, “is that he would express surprise at this act, knowing not its cause, intent or purpose.”
“Well indeed,” said Ryme, pedalling at any available speed in any direction available, “that is to say this has all the appearance of an unlawful attack upon and boarding of an innocent vessel.”
“Oh, well now we touch upon the finer details of such activity. I thought you scholars shrewd and scientifical in your observations. You call us out for the mere semblance of piracy?” The Captain’s retort held a playful tone to her airmates, though the waggling pistol offered more than mockery to Ryme.
“I intend no offence by my statement, I am somewhat ruffled by the gaping chasms between the rungs of the ladder.”
“So you say now, though I myself noted the rungs bowing with your great passage, and draw from that conclusions of your breakfasting grandeur,” a rumble of amusement came from those of Flame’s crew standing on the captive decks, guns and axe in hand. “Further, with regard to assumptions taken from the mere shape of a thing, the intent behind your labelling us poor airwaifs as pirates was entirely hidden to me. I’d no clue but your spitting of the phrase. Say you then that I should take your pejorative to be premature, based on naught but your discomfort?”
“I-” began Ryme.
“Shall we then conclude, in temporary measure – pending further evidence of course – that you are not rude merely thoughtless and I am but the captain of a trading vessel unusually well equipped for the more… turbulent currents of the skies?”
“Excellent. Then we’ll be about the day shall we?” Flame directed her crew by her head inclined to the forward hold of the airship. Malk opened the hatch, allowing Tosser to fold her hulking frame into the space, shortly followed by Knocker and his enormous cutter-cannon held across his shoulder. Flame raised a sardonic eyebrow at Ryme who looked impassively in response. A series a thuds, shots and brief yelps came from below decks.
“That’ll be the turbulence the Captain spoke of,” commented Chem, “you seemed curious enough to be blocking the gangway earlier.”
“I thought we’d happened across Traverstorm already.”
“Shouldn’t think so, he’ll be days ahead of us yet. Plenty of time to catch up with some old friends first.”
“Old friends? Who you cripple in the air?”
“Ah that, well yes – that one I’ll grant you. It’d take a Vein Spider to unravel those lines now. Oh yes, old friends – the Golden Zephyr’s an acquaintance of old.” Captain Flame leaned lightly on the twisted rope pulled taut across the side of the gondola’s cabin, “allow me to introduce you.”
Tosser and Knocker emerged from the forward hatch, bundling a long thin man ahead of them. Knocker turned to deliver a fearsome blow at some unseen presence behind him, then kicked their ward onto the deck.
“Gently now Knocker. Captain Irmleigh’s grown frail in years of such rarefied air. We’d not want him prematurely broken by your mighty boots. Captain Irmleigh, may I introduce you to a passenger of mine, one Professor Guldwych Ryme of Meriodonal University; a learned fellow of some biologinary repute. Professor: Captain Irmleigh, extraordinary thief and backstabber.”
Irmleigh sneered at both Ryme and Flame in answer. He dusted himself off as he rose, to show himself nearly as tall as Tosser.
“Now I believe, Ryme, that we were earlier discussing the drawing of conclusions while lacking evidence. Allow me to offer you some further.” So saying, Captain Flame extended the pistol in her hand, smiled at Irmleigh and shot him in the heart. “Now that, I’d agree, lends to a cry of piracy.”
Ryme staggered somewhat at the sight of the man so recently named, falling back with sneer intact, quite dead on the deck. “But why, what could you hope to gain through such torment?” Ryme meant of course, the captain’s earlier taunting but Flame simply winked and stalked off towards the forward hatch.
She turned back at the last. “Well, their things of course,” and vanished belowdecks.
Next Week: Part 19 – Newly Spectacled
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