Bad Altitude by Jessica Brawner
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Falling. Sperm Whales...wait, that's not right...Petunias...nope...I shook my head. "Owww," bad idea.

Oh no, not again...closer, still not right. It's not the fall that will kill you; it's the sudden stop at the end. YES!

I opened my eyes and saw my airship, The Indiana, receding rather faster than I would have liked. I turned over, taking the full force of the wind on my face, spreading my arms and legs out, spread eagle.

It looked like I still had a moment or two but the ground was coming at me at an alarming rate. Parachute? I checked. Of course not. Clothing...ah, not so much. Damn. Of course now I have the perkiest nipples on the planet, I thought. Brrr. Ok, Don’t Panic.

Did they find the experimental sub dermal transmitter? I looked and my inner elbow was intact. I sent a brief prayer to whatever deity might be listening and pressed the coded sequence. It flashed red. “Aw crap. Come on you stupid piece of junk!"

I hit the sequence again. Green! “Come on, come on..." I could see the Eiffel Tower getting closer. I really did NOT want to be splattered across downtown Paris.

I saw it! The crazy scientist had been right! The Inara detached itself from the underside of the ship. Its jets fired as she followed the homing beacon, zooming towards me. Dr. Scheherazade, I sure hope the upgrades you asked me to test work. Our conversation flashed through my mind.

“So, Jacqueline, as you know, most air hoppers stay aloft with a balloon,” he lectured, strolling around his lab. His American accent was odd to my ears. “They take a while to launch, making them cumbersome. I have modified yours. Now you have a motorbike with wings and I’ve attached two stiff nets to carry sundries. They, um, should hold up to three hundred pounds each. There is still a balloon, usable for long distances, but you shouldn’t need it. I want you to test launching it on short notice from your ship, see how maneuverable it is.”

“Wait, there’s no balloon for regular flight? How does it stay up?” I poked at one of the nets.

“It uses something called aerodynamics.” A boyish grin spread across his youthful features.

I looked at him doubtfully. “Well Doc, I hope you’re right. I’ll test it and let you know. You’ve never let me down before,” I shrugged on my jacket. “You’d better be right though, I don’t want to find out the hard way that this thing doesn’t fly.”

Not quite how I expected to be running this test. Just as I fell past the tower’s spire, The Inara caught me in her webbing.

Lets see if all of the upgrades worked. Voice control and everything. "Inara, volez à Angoulême tout de suite."

The air hopper turned south and headed towards the countryside. Hmm. Three hours to Angoulême. Not as quick as the TGV, but given my lack of clothing, probably a better idea. I reached up and pulled a lever to deploy the balloon, not quite trusting the upgrades to fly me all the way there.

At least I’m in French airspace. THEY won’t mind a naked sunbather on an air hopper. Try that over British airspace and I'd be arrested inside an hour. The French would just shrug and say 'C’est la vie'.

Now - What the hell happened! Last I remembered, I was on my airship, piloting from Slovakia to England, then... I was falling.

The pounding in my head hadn't stopped. I rubbed my temples, exploring the rest of my skull carefully. It seemed intact, just a couple of bumps and bruises. Drugged maybe?

I watched the French countryside go by beneath, a mosaic of green and brown patchwork, row upon row of vineyards, as I pondered. Why did I fall off my ship? Was I thrown? I can't imagine the crew would mutiny... They're like family, and there haven't been any issues lately. And what happened to my clothes?

Angoulême would be coming up soon enough...what to do about the problem clothing? The French may not mind naked sunbathers, airborne or otherwise, but naked women wandering around town is a different matter.

I pulled myself along the webbing then checked the saddlebags. The great philosopher of the last century, Dr. Adams, had admonished us ‘never travel without a towel’, and our ship's quartermaster was a dedicated Adamite. Sure enough, there was a strip of cloth at the bottom of the bag, ceremonially folded and just large enough to wrap around my person. I still don’t know why we’re supposed to carry a towel, but this seems as good a reason as any. Thank you Dr. Adams and Quartermaster Zaqut.

When The Inara set down in a manicured park outside of downtown Angoulême, I wrapped the towel around me and stood up. And immediately fell over. I lay there for a minute, waiting for the pounding in my head to subside. Definitely drugged. I rolled over onto the grass and promptly lost the little that was in my stomach.

I stood up, slowly this time, wiping my mouth and wrapping my towel more securely around me. I need to get to Le Chat Noir. Pierre will help me out – if he doesn’t shoot me. It’s been five years, surely he’s over it by now… probably.

My feet found every hidden pebble as I started walking and I groaned. It was over a mile to the café. Half an hour later I arrived in the oldest part of downtown, limping my way down a chilly, narrow, cobbled street. Pierre’s shop was a picturesque coffee bar in the best French tradition. Le Chat Noir had a minor noble’s luxury apartment on top, and the café below. The sun only reached here in the noon hour, the rest of the day it was hidden by shadows—perfect for poets, writers, and the occasional spy.

I strolled into the heady interior, as nonchalantly as possible. Thomas, a friend from the old days, was behind the bar.

"Thomas, mon cher, is Pierre here?" I ignored the fact that I was clad in nothing but a towel, hoping he would too.

"Jacqueline!" he spread his hands wide, "Oh chérie, it's been too long. Pierre is upstairs, he arrived from court yesterday, but...with the way you left..." He blinked. "Chérie, why are you wearing a towel?"

"It's a bit of a story... really Thomas, I need to speak with Pierre. Can you find out if he'll see me? S'il vous plait?" My hands started to shake.

"Oui, un moment," he cranked a small handle below the speaking tube on the wall and held the receiver to his ear. "Pierre, you have a visitor... non... non... it's... Jacqueline." He looked over at me and continued speaking, "C'est urgent? Oui, yes, I'm sure it's urgent, she's naked." I heard the line click.

"He'll be right down."

"Thank you Thomas," I replied, taking a seat at the bar, holding my head in my hands. "How mad was he?"

"Oh, chérie," he shook his head. "You shouldn't have come here."

I trembled inside, schooling my face to stillness as Pierre appeared at the bottom of the stairs, immaculate as always in tailored slacks and silk shirt. "Jacqueline! What brings you back to me, and in such a state? Come upstairs and tell me."

"Pierre, mon cher, I seem to have misplaced my clothing... and my ship... and perhaps my wits..." I moved towards the stairs. I could see he was pale, a thin film of perspiration on his upper lip. Interesting. I know why I’m upset, what troubles you my dear?

We reached his sitting room and I positioned myself on his chaise longue, stretched out, and told my tale, happy for the moment to be off my feet.

He nodded sympathetically. "Well chérie, I can certainly provide clothing...in fact, you left some things here when you departed so... suddenly... last time."

"Ah Pierre, I am sorry about that. I didn't know how... Well, I couldn't bring myself to say goodbye.”

"I know... This time, you are forgiven. Next time, I will shoot you, yes?"

"Oui, of course."

"Your clothes are in your old room at the back, please, dress and then join me for lunch?" he smiled the smile that had gotten me into so much trouble when I was younger.

I headed towards the back of the apartment. Everything I left here was more suited for the salon than the airship. Merde.

Choosing from the gowns that remained in the closet, they were at least five years out of fashion and smelled of cedar, I ran my fingers over the back wall, searching for the slight depression that would open the safe. Once located, I pressed it and a small section of wall popped open revealing my old jewel case. I wonder if he knew I had this installed.

The top tray held a variety of small jewels and baubles, and under that, my two-shot ladies derringer was nestled in the black velvet. I smiled, loaded it, and slipped it into the thigh holster on my garter.

"You look ravishing chérie," Pierre stood as I joined him in the salon. "Thomas sent up lunch. Please, sit. So, we have taken care of your clothes, have your wits returned?"

"Well, I am fairly certain I was drugged and thrown overboard, but it's the why—and who—which eludes me. I wasn't carrying anything too valuable."

"Except yourself," he poured coffee, his hands rattling the cup and saucer. "But really, chérie, must you go back? I'm sure the prince would allow you back at court. And... I want you to come back. You could reclaim your title, join your place in society."

I sipped the coffee, "Pierre, I set aside my title as Comtesse years ago. I am not suited to marry and pop out heirs like a German, nor am I suited to administer an estate. You know that better than most. I would rather fly with my crew. I think the prince would not like the reminder of my presence at court, given how things turned out between him and my sister. I must get back to my ship. But first I have to figure out where she is! You know what I need Pierre."

"I do,” he sighed heavily, “We will make an appointment with the Rememberers and see what they tell us. I will have Thomas set it up right away."

"Thank you Pierre, I will also need to retrieve The Inara from the park before someone impounds her."

"Non. I will send Thomas for, I assume, your air hopper. She is small, yes.”

I nodded, and nibbled a piece of melon from the lunch tray. My appetite was returning.

“He can park her on the roof. You will stay here for now, until we know who wants you dead," Pierre ripped a small piece of bread to shreds on his plate.

"Oui, of course.” How could I have forgotten Pierre’s stifling proclivities?

As I finished lunch, I was told the Rememberers would see me in the morning.

***

The next morning, after breakfast a beautiful set of matched bays and a clockwork coach with Pierre’s crest waited for me. Coaches like this cost more than a small duchy, and only the richest nobles could afford them. A clockwork carriage? Who is giving you such gifts Pierre? Still pulled by horses, their suspension was reputed to be so smooth and intricate it felt like riding on air.

The bays pranced in their harness ready to go as I stepped into the cushioned interior. I smiled, remembering our frequent rides in the country, the wind in my hair as we raced through the meadows followed by long discussions on Dr. Adams and his philosophies.

The carriage driver made his way to the Rue de Remembrance on the outskirts of town, the horses’ hooves clattering on the cobblestones. As the carriage pulled up to one of the larger establishments on the Rue, black, wrought iron gates, with a gold crest in their center opened, their gears well oiled and silent. Absolute discretion, that’s what they promise.

Opening the carriage door, I stepped down onto the drive, bending to retrieve my fan from the floor. A bullet tore through the door of the carriage where my head had been, sending splinters flying. Crap!

Glancing behind me I lifted my skirts and ran up the stairs as another bullet hit the stone steps inches from my heels. The attendant gestured frantically through the open door, grabbing my arm, pulling me in and slamming it behind me. The antechamber was richly appointed, with black velvet curtains stitched in gold, a crystal chandelier, and tile inlay matching the crest on the gate.

“It seems you were expected, Madam,” the attendant’s voice quavered. “It happens sometimes, when there are those that don’t want you to remember. I will have one of our men see what they can discover.” The hallway was quiet, the sounds from outside muffled and distant.

Stomach in knots I nodded, following her to a lower level of the house. It was chillier down here, and silent. She stopped in front of a wooden door, opened it and bowed me in.

A cold pit formed at the base of my spine when I saw what waited. The surroundings were as comfortable as possible, but there was nothing they could do about the chair bolted to the middle of the floor. It looked like some ancient torture device with leather straps and buckles to hold ankles, wrists and torso. The riveted brass helmet, sitting on the table next to the chair would project my memories onto a screen for the Rememberer to tell me about if needed. The process for this was a closely guarded secret. I don’t want to know. People came here to remember that which they had forgotten, and as they remembered, they re-experienced the events.

I sat down in the chair shivering. "Your Rememberer will be with you momentarily. Madam, would you like an aperitif to calm your nerves?"

"Non merci."

She bowed herself out of the room.

The Rememberer came in through a doorway hidden behind one of the tapestries, robed and masked for his...or her...anonymity. They approached without speaking and began fastening the various buckles and straps.

"Madam," the Rememberer intoned, "Drink this, and we will begin. You are safe here."

The figure held a cut crystal cordial glass filled with blue liquid to my lips, and tipped it for me to drink. As the cold burning began in my throat, my eyesight dimmed and I felt the helmet placed on my head.

***

I was onboard The Indiana, named after one of my favorite mythical heroes of the past age. We had a small contingent of passengers and they had paid well to make the trip from Slovakia to England. We might actually turn a profit. The crew will be happy about that; honest AND it pays well.

I felt a sharp sting in the back of my neck, and reached up to slap at it. We shouldn't have mosquitoes this high up. I pulled a tiny, feathered dart free, and turned to look behind me. There was a woman clad in a fitted leather jacket, pants, and wind goggles holding a blowgun. She had an evil smile on her face and looked vaguely familiar, one of the passengers in different garb. I could see two members of the crew out cold on the deck behind her with men bending over to check on them.

"What...Why...?" I stumbled as the drug started taking effect.

"Pierre was right, like taking candy from a baby. I'm taking your ship Captain. I need it to get to Westray. Your crew will be fine, you on the other hand Comtesse..." everything faded to a velvety black. Suddenly I was falling again.

I felt the Rememberer's hands on my wrists. "Madam, wake and remember.”

Opening my eyes, I stared deep into the eyeholes in the mask. "Did you get what you came for?" the figure inquired.

"Yes."

It nodded and rose, moving towards the hidden door. "Then may you find peace with it. The attendant will be with you shortly, please do not stand until she arrives."

The blue cordial made my head spin almost as badly as the memory of falling. When the attendant returned, she unbuckled the straps and handed me a cognac, saying, “I’ve arranged with the coachman to pick you up at one of the side doors, our men didn’t find the shooter.”

“Please send him away. The carriage is too visible, I will slip out the back instead,” I sipped the cognac slowly waiting for my senses to return to the here and now. My nerve endings were telling me that I was still falling. She knew I was a Comtesse, and that isn't really common knowledge anymore. The crew doesn't even know. Who is she?

Shaking off the after effects I stood and followed the attendant to the back door, thinking. Westray. That’s a small island in the Orkney's. It's a two-day trip in a craft as small as The Inara. This woman has a day's head start on me, and I need to find out what Pierre knows. Traveling that distance by air hopper won’t be pleasant. I’ll need a change of wardrobe and some supplies.

Borrowing a drab hat and shawl from one of the servants I made my way out the back and to the markets. On my way to Le Chat Noir I ducked into a resale shop and found a pair of trousers and a shirt that would fit, swapping them for my gown and a few extra coins.

I wish I had time to visit Dr. Scheherazade's lab. He always has fun new gadgets, and eventually I need to give him a report on the upgrades. Smiling, I remembered the last time I was in town, hearing him in my head, telling me how the beacon worked.

"It's a mite complicated,” his playful, accented voice resonating in memory, “but essentially as blood flows through the device it generates tiny amounts of power; like a water wheel. The power is stored for later, and when you press the call sequence, it sends out a radio signal to your hopper ... that's the idea at any rate. I wouldn't try and use it more than once every three days or so though, or it won't have enough power."

He intrigued me for a number of reasons, his smile, his roguish ways, but there wasn’t time this trip. Pity.

The sun was dipping behind the buildings when I arrived back at the café. "Pierre mon cher, I have come back but cannot stay long," dropping my pack by the door I moved into the salon as he rose to greet me with a kiss on each cheek.

"Chérie, I am so glad you returned," he glanced at my outfit without comment and shut the door behind me. "Come, have a drink. Thomas has out done himself for tonight's dinner." He held a glass of champagne out to me. Taking the proffered drink, I raised it in salute.

"Pierre, I’m not staying for dinner. I know who took my ship, and where they went."

"We will drink to celebrate then," he watched me, raising his own glass. “Saunté.”

We clinked glasses and drank.

"I'm afraid however, you will not be running off to find that piece of flotsam you call a ship."

"Oh? And exactly how do you plan on stopping me mon cher?" Amusement dripped from my voice, “Will your tame little pirate come throw me off your roof this time?”

He glanced at my drink and smiled. "Oh, I think you will find that you have had too much to drink, and that you will be staying here. After that, we shall see."

"Merde," I muttered, looking down at my drink. The room was starting to spin. Reaching in through the slit in my pocket I pulled out my derringer, pointing it at Pierre. "I think I will be going now."

"Chérie," he held his hands out to his sides. "Come, put the gun away and be a good girl."

"Non. Do not follow me Pierre. I will shoot you. That was you earlier on the Rue wasn’t it?" Grabbing my pack with one hand I fumbled for the door handle, my derringer wavering.

He lunged towards me, clutching at the gun. I pulled the trigger, the report echoing off the marble walls; the shot was low, and hit him in the leg. As he fell into the bookcase a photograph came crashing down face up. In the group photo, standing next to Pierre was the face from my memory. "I thought as much. You do know that putain who stole my ship! Who is she?!” I grabbed for the photograph.

“She is Diane’s spy, and you will never find her,” he gasped as he passed out.

Shoving the photograph in my pack I stumbled up the back staircase. The floor, the stairs, the walls tipped at crazy angles as the drug took effect. This is becoming a bad habit. I made it to the roof and there was The Inara, parked on the platform. Thank you Thomas.

As the world started to go black I threw a leg over the seat and cried out "Volez au Paris!" The last thing I heard was the engine whirring to life.

***

A cold rain pelted down, rousing me and plastering clothing to my body. Paris sprawled out below in all its filthy glory. I had no idea how long we had been circling, but at least the air hopper had made it. I took the air hopper down near the edge of the airfield. The Inara should be able to make it from here to Westray without any trouble, but I would have to re-fuel in London, and I definitely wanted to start out fully fueled.

As I waited under the awning for the fuel jacks, I took out Pierre's photograph and examined it. There were about fifteen people in the photo, some of whom I recognized. When I turned the photo over, on the back was written Poitiers Fête. Hmm. Probably Diane de Poitiers, mistress of the king. Pierre said she was Diane’s spy … Merde.

I was soon strapped back into the little air hopper and on my way; they knew their business at the airfield. I did my best to get above the clouds. This isn’t going to be pleasant … crossing the Chanel on a hopper in good weather is hard enough with all of the air currents, in a storm … ugh.

Bouncing and bucking into England I fought the wind every inch of the way and set down exhausted at the airfield just outside of London.

“Garçon, can you take care of my refueling while I get some food?” I nodded in the direction of the pilot’s hostel.

“Yes mum,” the young man started checking over The Inara and fueling her up.

An hour later, rested and hoping for clearer skies, I returned. The boy was waiting for me. “Mum, there was a man that came by looking for you. He had flowers and a message he wanted to deliver. I went over to call you, but when I got back he was gone. He left the flowers but I don’t know who he was.”

“That’s … unusual. Stand back,” I eyed the flowers like a viper and approached The Inara from the offside. With a gloved hand I picked up the flowers from my seat, wary of poison. Nothing happened. Stepping back I glanced over the hopper and saw it; an explosive charge concealed in the jet exhaust port that would blow as soon as the engine engaged. I slid the tube out; it was an older style, inert until heat was applied, easy to come by if you knew the right people, and simple enough to signal and have someone waiting for me. Oh Pierre.

Slipping it into a saddlebag, well away from danger, I took to the sky.

***

The rain had moved off so I set course for Pierowall, the main town on Westray Island; they might have some information there. Maybe someone has seen something. There aren’t that many people living on the island, and people talk. Assuming the crew was still alive, I'd have to free them and then we could take the ship.

Late in the afternoon I arrived at the tiny island town. It was too small to have its own airfield, so I set down outside the town wall and made the short walk. A group of children spotted me coming in and gathered, watching curiously. I bet they don't see airships very often.

"Bonjour!" I called out to the group of youngsters. A few of the older ones boldly eyed me. "Do you know where I can get something to eat and drink?"

"Ay mum," one of the girls piped up. "My da owns the pub. I'll shew ye."

"Merci," I responded. "What's your name?"

"Hannah, mum. Hey, did you really fly that little ship all by yourself?"

"Yes I did!" I winked at her. "Have you ever ridden in one?"

"Oh no mum, we don't get ships out here very often ... not the air kind anyway."

"Tell me, have you seen any other ships come in recently? Bigger ones I mean."

"Oh aye, there was a big ‘un that came in two days ago. The peacekeepers got called out to deal with a row on the ship. The whole crew tried to mutiny!" the girl said excitedly.

"Really!" I exclaimed.

"Ya, they're all in lockup, ‘cept that girly captain. I saw it with me own eyes!" she lit up with excitement. "They barely fit them all in the pit! Well, I think, mum, that they put the girly captain in a room, on account of her being a girl and not a prisoner and all."

"Can I tell you a secret Hannah?"

"A secret mum? I'm good at keeping secrets!"

I lowered my voice, inviting confidences from the young girl, "Well, that girly captain ... she's not a captain, she's a spy and she’s got two helpers. That's why the crew tried to get rid of her. She drugged the crew, threw the real captain overboard, and stole the ship."

Hannah’s eyes got wide, "Mum! But that means the crew didn't do nothing wrong! Mum you gotta tell the Provost. They's going to hang the crew in the morning!"

"Can you take me to him, Hannah?" I asked, alarmed. "And don't tell anyone what I told you."

"Yes mum, we'll want to hurry.”

The Provost's house was a fine affair on the edge of the town square, built of stone, with real glass in the windows, and a well-kept garden out front. Hannah knocked on the door and waited.

A portly, bearded man in a kilt answered the door. He stood, thumbs hooked in his belt smiling down at Hannah. "What can I do for you young miss?"

"Provost Cameron! This lady needs to talk to you right away! It's perishing important!" she looked worried, concern puckering her young brow.

"Well, does she now?" the Provost asked, peering at me. "Well, you'd both best come in. Hannah, go see Mrs. McGilly in the kitchen, and let her know I've a visitor."

"Come in to my study madam," he scowled at my attire, "and we shall decide if what you have to say is in fact 'perishing important' as young Hannah seems to think."

I nodded and followed him. The rooms in the house were decorated sparingly, little touches denoted wealth—silver candlesticks instead of brass, a small library with leather-bound books.

"So madam," he turned and gestured to a seat in his study "I suddenly find that my small town has become a popular destination for airships. I saw yours land, and I'm sure that Hannah filled you in. She's a good girl, but does talk quite a lot more than she should. The question is, why are you here?"

"Well Provost Cameron, I have an interesting tale to tell, but very little proof that I can offer at present," I said. "The woman that you are hosting is not the captain of The Indiana. She is a spy. She drugged the crew, threw the captain overboard, and stole the ship. She had help; there were two men with her. The mutiny that young Hannah was telling me about was the crew trying to re-take their ship."

"That's quite the story. How would you happen to know it?" he studied me closely looking intrigued.

"Well, I'm the captain she threw overboard. I'm quite sure she didn't expect me to survive."

The Provost raised his eyebrows, "And how do you explain your survival? Divine intervention? Dumb luck? I am certain that a fall off an airship would kill most people in a spectacular fashion."

Twenty minutes later, after telling my tale I said, "If you will step outside sir, I will show you my hopper."

He followed me outside as I pressed the sequence on my inner elbow. It flashed green, and from the other side of town my air hopper rose above the roofs and made its way towards us. "You see it can hone in on where I am."

He was almost convinced. "And will the crew corroborate your story?"

I shrugged. "They will say that I am the captain. I don't know what they saw after I was drugged. As far as I know, they think I am dead. I suggest that you send for my first mate, and judge his reaction for yourself."

“That seems a fair idea. What is your first mate's name? I will have him brought here and we will see," he stroked his great mop of a beard, thinking.

"The first mate is Tyler Daft. Tall fellow with red hair."

The Provost stepped back into the house and I heard him talking to Hannah. "Now young Hannah, I need you to run to the Peacekeepers and tell them to bring Tyler Daft up out of the hole and here to my house. Don't say a thing about our visitor, and when I say run, I mean run."

The front door opened and Hannah sprinted by me pigtails flying. "Now you, Madam, can you get rid of your air ship so it's not hovering over my house?"

I set it down just out of sight on the other side of the Provost's house, killing the engines. Coming in the back door, I slipped into the study just as the Peacekeepers were arriving via the front. Hidden by a plant, I stood in a corner as the Provost seated himself at his large walnut desk.

"Mr. Daft," the Provost said, as the Peacekeepers brought him in, standing one on either side, "Tell me again why the crew mutinied?"

"It wasn't a mutiny sir," frustration as evident in his voice as the dirt was on his face. "That woman isn't the captain."

"Then where is the captain?" the Provost asked.

"Dead sir, her body was thrown overboard, like I said before," he hung his head, fidgeting.

The Provost nodded at me, and I stepped out of the corner. "Do you know this woman Mr. Daft?"

Tyler turned to look at me, blinked, stammered, and turned pale, "Captain?! But … you're dead! Henri saw you go over the side! He said you were naked, not a stitch on!"

"I'll tell you later Ty, bit of an adventure." I turned to the Provost, "Are you satisfied sir, or do you need further proof?"

"I'm convinced. I’ll see your crew released.” Turning to the guard he said, “Peacekeeper, see to it.”

“Provost, do you know where my ship is?” I asked as the man left. “I’d like to get on board and make sure there aren’t any more surprises waiting for me.”

“Certainly madam, the ship is on the west side of town, about a kilometer outside the walls.”

“Thank you, we’ll take it from here if you’ll permit,” I replied. He looked relieved. Turning to Tyler I said, “Gather the crew, take the ship, I’ll find the woman.”

“Yes Captain,” he followed in the direction of the Peacekeeper.

“The woman is staying in a room above the pub,” the Provost gestured in the direction of the square.

“I expect I will have a new prisoner for your oubliette soon then Provost. Do you have a pen and paper that I might borrow?”

He raised an eyebrow and pulled a sheet out of his desk, handing me his quill. Copying Pierre’s elegant handwriting, I penned a quick note.

Chérie, I have just arrived in this dreadful little town for our rendezvous. How you must be starved for the luxuries of home. I will meet you in your room in one hour; leave the door unlocked mon amour. ~Pierre

It was a calculated risk. “Hannah,” she was watching everything from the corner of the room, “Can you run this over to the ‘girly captain’ in the pub? Not a word about any of this to anyone though.” she took the note and dashed out. I watched from the Provost’s house, waiting for her to emerge from the pub.

Waiting ten minutes, then hugging the edges of the buildings I made my way around the square. Moving through the kitchen and up the back stairs of the pub I noted that there was a row of closed doors on my left. I slid from door to door, listening at each. Silence, a man’s snores, and in the third, a woman humming to herself. I tried the handle. It turned easily and I let myself in. The woman had her back to the door and was in the process of pinning her hair up. “Pierre, mon cher, you’re early! I thought you would never get here. This place is so dull!”

“I’m afraid Pierre won’t be joining you,” I trained my derringer on the woman. She turned, throwing one of her hairpins. Jerking my head to the side, its steely point missed my face by centimeters. Oooh … Bet they’re poisoned.

“You’re supposed to be dead!” she hissed as I advanced on her sliding out of the way as another hairpin flew by.

“Why did you want my ship, spy?” I countered, grabbing her arm and whirling her around, slamming her against the wall.

“I needed a ship, Pierre knew where you would be,” she gasped as I wrenched both arms behind her. Grabbing a sash from the bed I tied her arms, removing the rest of her hairpins and searching her for other weapons. She was well armed. I found a bodice dagger; two boot knives, a blow-gun, and a derringer dropping each one onto the pile on the floor.

Hauling her out of the room, down the front stairs and through the square I brought her, struggling, to Provost Cameron. “Here is our thief and would-be assassin sir. She is dangerous; I suggest you keep her under guard until you deal with her,” I held her bound wrists as she struggled and cursed.

“Take her to the hole,” he said to the Peacekeeper waiting nearby.

“Never! I won’t go back!” she bit down hard. Foam erupted from her mouth as she toppled over twitching on the ground.

“Merde!” I let go of her arms in disgust. Should have checked her mouth.

The Provost paled, nudging the still twitching body with his toe. “You are free to go Captain, but don’t come back. We don’t like this kind of excitement out here.”

I took The Inara and flew back to my ship. The crew was just finishing their cleanup. The two conspirators, now prisoners, were hog-tied lying on the deck. “What should we do with ‘em Captain?” Tyler asked.

“Lets get over the water and give them the same treatment they gave me.”

“All hands! Prepare for sailing. Air up!” Tyler called to the crew.

I smiled as I felt The Indiana rise and turn south towards Angoulême, cruising as the sun set. “Tyler, don’t pick up any hitchhikers this trip.”

And now Pierre, you and I have unfinished business.



The End

This story first appeared in Steampunk Trails 2 - available for purchase at on Amazon