Yes, it’s been a while. Here’s the next chapter in the steampunk-inspired epic started by your friend and mine, Addy.
It began here:
The links to all earlier chapters can be found from the link above.
Chapters 7 and 8 can be found here:
And it’s been bouncing between his blog and mine ever since. Enjoy.
Pry hated lying to his crew but there are times when there aren’t any good options. He’d pushed Schnee overboard not to save her life but because he didn’t care about or trust her. Musket was lovely, in a completely bloodthirsty, maniacal way, and yet she’d always had a soft spot for Schnee. In the port town where they’d all met and congregated over the years, relationships were formed and destroyed in labyrinthine ways that even those involved couldn’t really plumb the depths of.
Musket was alive because Schnee had saved her somehow, sometime. Schnee had a thick, ropey scar on her neck from a time she’d been ambushed and hung by the neck, only for Musket to save her at the last moment. If Pry had told Musket the truth, that he deliberately pushed Schnee overboard because he couldn’t trust her not to kill him or lead a mutiny, he just didn’t know which way Musket would lean. He hated thinking like that, but he hated the not knowing even more. Best not to push a bad position.
That the cogged giant, Kinētikos, was after him he had no doubt of. He hoped the old legends were true; he was banking on them. If they weren’t, well, he had a lot of coin from the bank heist and that would give him the freedom to find other ways to achieve his goal. If the legends were true, and he played the game correctly, he would bring about his ultimate goal: the end of the Ruled and Unruled worlds.
Pry removed himself, as much as he could on the ship, from all others. These brave men and women of the Nautilus had been with him through thick and thin, through times covered in blood and glory. In his own strange way he loved each one of them, and it made the pain of using them that much more difficult to live with.
When the Argos, the ship he had sailed into the Fire Islands emerged, it was with a hull full of the hardest metals known in either world, all shaped with a precision that was mind boggling. From there the Argos, so weighed down it barely kept afloat, lumbered its way out to Worlds Edge, a largely mechanised world where the occupants spoke a strange sort of Middle English and whose fetish for enhancements often led them to be more machine than human. Fire Island produced the metals Pry would need, but only the miracle work at Worlds Edge could shape them into the technology he wanted.
For nearly six moon cycles the Argos disappeared into dry dock, and those back in the home port thought it had been lost at sea. The last trace of it was known to be west of Fire Island where, it was said, strange mechanical sea dragons and pterodactyl propelled by rockets scoured water and air. When Argos crossed the Brackish Line, that place in the ocean where salt water gave way to fresh, it disappeared from radar and sonar, just as the grim warnings had proclaimed: “None shall enter; none shall leave.”
The crew of the Argos were viewed at first with some suspicion by the Edgers, and given the natures of both sides it was inevitable that trouble would erupt. Gigoid the Lookout, who had the sharpest eyes of man or beast, got into a tumble with Spec, an Edger legendary for lasers and controlling them. Spec went down with a seal harpoon having almost torn his arm off, but not before he let a few shots off that very precisely burned Gigoid’s eyes out.
Strange little bots came scurrying out from nooks and crannies, clicking and beeping as they dragged both nearly lifeless men away. Times were tense in the following hours. The remaining crew of the Argos fled back to the ship and prepared their artillery. The Edgers kept out of sight, but in their place they sent a legion of tiger-like machines with shoulder mounted rockets and laser sighted eyes, the machines hissing steam and vapour from their joints and directional boosters.
Two things conspired to save everyone from massive retaliation. Neither side knew what the other was capable of and, in the confined space of the dry dock no one was keen to find out. Secondly, just as the tension of tiredness and uncertainty was reaching breaking point, Gigoid and Spec appeared, arm in arm. Gigoid looked as if he was wearing round sunglasses, and Spec had had his destroyed arm removed and replaced by a shiny bronze one with a multitude of enhancements he’d wanted for a long time but couldn’t afford until Gigoid put it right.
Both men paced slowly through the tiger-fighters, ‘skirmishers’ as Spec called them. The skirmishers, for their part, never took their glowing eyes off their independently sighted targets. “Throw me a chunk of metal!” Gigoid called out to Vain, a swabbie who was adequate in her job and expert in admiring herself in the reflection of shiny objects.
Vain grabbed a cannonball from the brass chute and lofted it into the air. It had barely left her hand before two of the skirmishers had locked onto their targets and fired. Both were dotted with red light from the laser sighting for a split second before both were obliterated by large calibre explosive shells. The cannonball and Vain were reduced to hot metal and soon to be cooling flesh.
Argos’ onboard computer found a firing solution and in seconds the air was full of blistering laser fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Skirmishers tumbled as they were hit, fragments flying in all directions, and molten chunks flew off the Argos as it came under direct assault. The air thickened and in the seconds that followed all aboard the Argos were reduced to retching messes, while the skirmishers simply dropped to the ground. Somewhere in the Control Room of the dry dock someone had had the presence to unleash an electromagnetic pulse that shut down all machinery and nauseated all flesh.
In the minutes that followed it became apparent that the mini war had been started by a simple misunderstanding. Gigoid had wanted to show off his new eyes, which could telescope at will, engage laser sighting to ‘paint’ a target, and could fire short range bursts of plasma light that could blind a person or fry a small object. All he wanted to do was demonstrate that on a cannonball. The Edgers, so used to their technology and the care required when using it, had not foreseen such a display.
Vain would be rebuilt from DNA sampling and recovered viable tissue, but aesthetics would not play a dominant role in her facial reconstruction. The destroyed skirmishers would be melted down and rebuilt or their parts repurposed. Both sides learned the dangers and values of the others. In a later show of goodwill almost all of the Argos’ crew commissioned personal enhancements. Pry had a chest plate fashioned that was stunning in its detail, and he had his bones melded with high-tensile kevlar, and self-healing plastic wrapped into the fascia of his skin. The pain and trauma nearly killed him, but when he emerged and recovered it was as a man whose frame was stronger than steel and whose skin could withstand short bursts of high temperature flame. The breast plate, he said, was a gift to be given to someone else, somewhere else.
The Argos and its crew now transformed, they left their old selves behind and emerged from Worlds Edge as the stealth-capable Nautilus and those who sailed within her. Their first job had been a resounding success.
After the bank heist and the near run-in with Kinētikos, they fired up the engines and returned once more to Worlds Edge. The engines had shown their capabilities but there had been wild fluctuations in the power core. For the next job Pry had in mind there could be no margin for error. Time was also of the essence. With the controlled detonation engines they had made a five day journey in just under thirteen hours. They had to assume that Kinētikos was coming after them, and while it would take longer than their record-breaking time, it would take less than the accepted standard.
“Three days,” Pry told Tesla, the leader and chief engineer of Worlds Edge. “After that, a whole new kind of trouble will be arriving on your doorstep and I don’t know if all your technology will be enough.” Tesla smiled at that. “Oh, I think we can handle anything that comes calling,” he said. Pry took him aside and quietly told him about Kinētikos. The smile left Tesla’s face. “That might be tricky,” Tesla said, quickly thinking about how to prepare their arsenal. “Trickier than you think,” Pry said. “The legends were right about Kinētikos; it exists. I’m supposing, then, that the other eleven Silver Knights also exist, and I have no notion of whether they’re in communication or if Kinētikos can call on them. We need to be gone in less than three days.”
Kinētikos stood, uncaring, as VeeTwo and Schnee communicated. Kinētikos had a single purpose and a single-minded dedication to achieving it. VeeTwo was a useful interface, but it was only that, and the human was nothing at all. With a mutual nod, the deal was struck and the plan was set. VeeTwo was elevated back into the chest cavity of Kinētikos, and Schnee issued the orders that would see her high-speed trimaran attached to Kinētikos and dragged through the sea behind it. Her boat bristled with armour and weapons, including several 80mm electric cannons, depleted uranium torpedoes, and a Pulse Generator that could bend the metal in every ship known in the Ruled and Unruled worlds.
Kinētikos wanted the coins. It would kill or not kill as the need arose. Schnee wanted more certainty. She cared nothing for the coins, but the Nautilus and all who sailed aboard her were now on a countdown to a certain and, hopefully, a very uncomfortable death.