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“It’s too bloody big! There’s no way we can fight off that kinda firepower!”

“What exactly are the Captain’s plans for this anyway? We run a frigate ship, how the hell does he expect us to go toe-to-toe with a Destroyer-class ship from the German Navy!?”

“We’re not fighters; we’re privateers! That’s what those military bastards wanna call us anyway…How could the Captain do this to us!?”

The mess hall was a relatively small room on the lower deck of the gondola section of the airship, small enough that not all of the crew could gather there at the same time, but it made for some cosy conversations at least. The crew were clearly not happy, their anger fuelled by alcohol which they had managed to lift on the last mission and had forgotten to mention when logging the loot which they would be keeping in the report to the Royal Navy. The Count had given them free reign over it for tonight so long as the next day they were fit to resume their duties.

Which, of course, meant that several of them would be performing their duties in an entirely non-fit state. Some drunk, some with hangovers, but one stood in the corner of the room, listening, observing, and slowly feeling her anger rising at all of these comments.

“It’s a sacrifice, that’s what it is, it’s those military ones testing our mettle. We can’t be expected to ACTUALLY fight a destroyer! If the Captain expects that, then he’s a few gears short of a full clock!”

Raucous laughter filled the cabin and the girl lost control of her temper, something which most of the crew were now used to. Her cup, having only just been emptied, bounced off the table from where she had thrown it.

“How the fuck can you say such things about the Count!? He has NEVER led this crew wrong and despite the fact that he is the Captain, he goes aboard EVERY mission risking himself which, as commanding officer, he doesn’t have to do!” She kicked a nearby chair hard, wiping some oil from her cheek where she had been working on the engines earlier. She tried hard to get her emotions under check as she felt something tugging at her tear ducts, but then she continued.

“How many other Captains share their plunder equally with all of the crew?” She asked calmly, looking around as if to dare anyone to answer that obviously rhetorical question.  She slammed her palms down on the desk and sighed, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Count de Theudubert has been nothing but kind to us all. If he believes we can take on a Destroyer-class ship, then we can. It’s that fucking simple!”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence my dear.”

The Count’s voice from behind her caused her to turn a dark shade of red. She quickly wiped her face on the leather apron hung at her waist before she straightened her back and turned around, her voice suddenly soft and clear, the dulcet tones betraying her upper-class upbringing.

“Count de Theudubert, why is it that you seem to move with the grace of a cat when it suits you?”

Louis smirked and placed a hand on her head, smiling down at her affectionately now. They had known each other now for more than two years, she had only been fifteen when he first discovered her and he had treated her like a little sister ever since. He removed his hand and walked over to the table, leaving talking to her for a moment.

“If there is a disagreement about my orders, why is it that I was not informed of it? Why, instead, are you complaining amongst yourselves?” Louis’ expression had soured as he had turned from the young engineer to look instead at the long table which most of the crew were gathered around.

“Cap’n, it’s just that…we can’t take a Destroyer!”

Murmurs of agreement flew through the mess hall and the Captain smiled, actually making more than one of his crew uncomfortable. He pulled over a chair, took off his hat and slid the Telescopic Diagnostician from his eye, dropping that into the hat before he placed both on the table. This was quickly followed by both boots, one resting on top of another as he lifted his feet onto the table.

“We can, and I shall tell you why and how. First, we are the fastest ship in the British Navy, and with Gen tinkering with the engines, we seem to go faster every time we leave Port.” The Count motioned over his shoulder to the young woman that now blushed once more, her hands coming together at her stomach.

“The way that helps us, is that we can circle a Destroyer-class ship just the once and in that time fire more shots with our cannons than she could hope to manage in thirty minutes of direct fire. What’s more, in desperate times, we have the Teleforce Cannon to fall back on.”

“But, Captain-“ Genevieve til Baudfert began to interject before Louis cut her off.

“I wish not to corrupt my own moral code, but if that is the price I pay to protect my crew, then I pay it gladly.” The Count stared back at the others. “If we need to, I will order you to loose the cables from the glider and to flee. You shall all be safe. It will only be the boarding crew that shall be in harm’s way. If it calls for it, we will fire the Teleforce Cannon while still attached to the enemy’s decks.”

The silence inside the mess hall was deafening. Glances passed around the crew as they suddenly felt four inches tall, having been badmouthing the man who had just suggested he would gladly die, or worse, to allow them a chance to escape. Suddenly a crew member, one of the gunners, stood and saluted the Count, followed quickly by all of the others.

The Captain of the HMS Valkyrie nodded and slid his boots from the table, grabbing his hat and nodding to Genevieve to follow him as he left the room. She did so silently, having been thoroughly embarrassed, not only by the Count’s kind words, but that, once again, he had caught her acting in an unladylike manner when she always tried so hard around him.

“There is no need for you to say such things all of the time Genevieve, you will alienate yourself from the rest of the crew.” He told her, turning to glance at her with a slightly reproving look.

“I just…they should not speak of you like that, sir. Not with all you have done for us!” She was fiercely loyal and always had been, defending not only the Count, but all of his decisions. In her mind, he was her hero, having rescued her from a life that did nothing but suffocate her.

The Count had recognised this longing in her, the desperation to be free which all members of his crew had shown at one point or another. Perhaps that was the founding reason that so many chose to take to the skies rather than stay on terra firma? In times past, they would have escaped to the seas, but they were all but fully mapped now and it was only possible to travel so far before, eventually, you hit land once more. Were it not for gathering fuels and resources, they would have no need to land, for the skies were endless. This was true freedom.

Still, at first, even that obvious need for freedom had not convinced him to accept a fifteen-year-old aristocratic girl onto his ship. Not one member of his crew was ordinary in the eyes of others. While they may look like misfits, each and every one of them had skills that far outranked the positions he could offer them. Swiss, or Bjorn Hauptmann as he was known on the ground, was one such person. He was a gunner, the chief gunner on the HMS Valkyrie, with more skills and passion than any Louis had ever seen, but an accident had caused him to be cast aside by the German Navy who saw him now as nothing other than scrap, useless to their cause due to loss of limb and eye… but Swiss was now the most efficient gunner on board the Valkyrie and due to their newfound status as a Royal Navy ship, he was the most efficient gunner in the British Navy.

A very strange turn of events to be sure. But the same could be said for all of the Count’s hand-chosen members of his crew. He was no fool and had been in the skies since he was old enough to see over the helm of a ship and he could see talent from miles away, or, he usually could. Louis de Theudubert was merely human after all, even though his reputation and perhaps sometimes his own arrogance made him seem like this was not the case.

Genevieve til Baudfert had almost evaded his gaze, a glance which even the Telescopic Diagnostician could not enhance…

“I know nothing which is not to be expected of a good Captain, and a good friend.” The Count retorted with a smile. “I actually wanted to ask you about Bjorn’s arm, he has not left his cabin in over a week and it was still wrapped in bandages when I last saw him. How did the operation go?”

Bjorn’s left arm had been torn away as part of that accident and since then, he had been forced to create a mechanical arm for himself, one which could be attached to his very central nervous system and allowed him the use of two limbs once more. Not long before the last mission, his arm had been damaged by a loose cable which had whipped across the deck, almost sending the gunner over the railings, but had severely damaged the piping on his arm. The Count had no idea how the limb worked, but between the ship’s Medic, Apothecary and Genevieve herself designing the new limb, it had been replaced and upgraded.

“It went extremely well Count de Theudubert. The reason Swiss refuses to leave his cabin is that he is practicing use of the limb. It has been improved substantially since the last model and he is very much pleased with it. Do not concern yourself, he shall return to throwing grenades and testing your moral code soon enough.” Genevieve smiled warmly and linked her arm with Louis’, much to his surprise.

“I heard there were complications with extra two limbs?”

“And the steam-powered launcher as well sir. He is coming to adjust to that change as well. The arm is very advanced, but the boiler pack that it requires needs more of the steam focussed into the arm itself, as such, we had been forced to remove the crane arms and also the cannon. Again, I do not see this as being much of a concern. Men are all hands as it is, giving a man two extra is never a good idea.”

The Count laughed and ruffled her hair which was caked in soot; clearly she had been tinkering around the coal again.

“Besides, I worked with him to create a new weapon which he seems most satisfied with and which can also be modified for non-lethal means depending on just what kind of airship we are boarding!” Gen smiled again and when the smile was returned, she blushed and looked away.

The Count raised an eyebrow. He had known that Genevieve had some sort of affection for him, but he had made it clear that she was like a sister to him and he hoped she had locked it into her mind that this was the case. She had once saved his life and that was what had earned her the right to join his crew. Plus, she had demonstrated just how skilled she was with all things mechanical even at the tender age of fifteen and under the scrutiny of her parents, themselves a Lord and Lady who would not allow her any time to tinker with the contraptions she so loved to conceptualise, construct and complete. It was a shame for such talent to go to waste, and now it was no longer doing so.

How different she was around him… a life of aristocracy was not easy on the women. They were expected to learn etiquette and household management before being married off and forced into continuing these practices. Genevieve had refused cups of tea, instead preferring spanners and screwdrivers, copper, brass and wood. Genevieve had refused the pretty dresses, instead preferring the leather of workman’s gloves. Genevieve had even refused her name, shortening it to Gen and telling no-one of her last name. Quite often she was mistaken for a boy due not only to the engineer’s clothes she wore, but also due to the shortness of her hair, the long braid at the back often hidden under an aviator’s cap which she had once stolen from the Count’s own quarters.

Her tomboyish demeanour was obvious to the rest of the crew, with her able to out drink most of them even at her young age, swearing more than most sailors even bothered and almost always covered in grease and grime from the engines and the propellers. Still, around Louis she seemed to regain all of the etiquette she had learned, her attitude softened, her wit quickened and her tongue lost its barbs. The Count had shown her that not all aristocracy was to be associated with the cage she had once been confined within.

“Captain?”

Louis turned to face Lieutenant Charles Davenport and smiled, touching the brim of his hat in greeting.

“I ask for permission to speak freely sir.” The lieutenant was clearly not in the mood for small talk right now. It was strange, as the practical jokes he played even now were legendary and he was a very fun person when not in “military mode” as the Count liked to put it.

“Stop doing such things Davenport. You have been informed before that you always have free reign to speak your mind with me. What ails you?” Louis could tell that something was wrong.

“Sir, the Destroyer has spotted us and is beginning to turn. Her size makes the manoeuvre slow, but she has already run out her cannons. I estimate we will be in range of their primary armament momentarily.” As if to punctuate his statement the cannons of the German vessel spoke and some of the crew flinched as a shell airburst some distance off to the Valkyrie port bow.

“Shit, the element of surprise is lost to us!” Louis exclaimed, surprising both Gen and Charles as he swore only rarely and only in cases of severe mental or physical strain.

“Charles, assemble your men. I want them kitted up and ready to go on the foredeck before battle commences. We are to take prisoners and quarter is to be given if it is asked, but at the same time, this is a military ship and they will all be armed to the nines. Due to the nature of the vessel we are about to engage, tell them to prepare for a rapid boarding action!”

Davenport saluted and then turned to leave, immediately pulling the radio transmitter from the pack on his back to radio his men. A half mask hung from his webbing, although quite bulky it was an unfortunate necessity. Under the Counts orders Davenport’s primary weapon was mechanical launcher that deployed small canisters of chloroform, which would incapacitate rather than kill enemy crew members.

“Gen, I want you to inform Bjorn of this. If he is healed enough to come with us, I will want him there.”

“Captain,” Davenport interjected, “Are you sure bringing Gunner Bjorn along is a prudent course of action?”

“Why? Do you foresee a problem Charles?” The Count commented dryly.

“As a matter of fact yes I do sir,” Retorted Davenport, emphasis on the sir a little strained, “Is taking a German hating mechanical sociopath along on this operation really advisable when the stakes are this high?”

“I have the utmost faith in Bjorn, Charles. He has his motives, but while he is under my command he will follow my orders.” The Count indicated to the now numerous airbursts visible from the foredeck of the HMS Valkyrie. They were now well within range of the still turning Destroyer’s armament, although it had still to bring most of its cannons to bear. “As you can see the time for debate has passed, now if you would be so good as to get your men ready. We can finally get this little expedition underway” With that Lieutenant Davenport saluted, about turned and double timed it towards the boarders assembly point.

The Count sighed loudly and noticed the young mechanic still stood next to him with a face that told him she was clearly not convinced.

“But Captain, this is a German Destroyer, Swiss’ disposition with his hatred of his ex-comrades means-“

“Gen, go now!” The Count shouted at her, clearly hurting her feelings before she turned and ran as fast as she could along the corridor. The Count grabbed onto a cable that ran along the wall and pulled it downwards several times, ringing loud bells all over the ship. This was rarely used, but they needed to get everyone to their battle stations in as fast a way as possible.

Genevieve was right about Bjorn, ever since his “honourable discharge” from the German Navy, Hauptmann had resented them with a passion. The last time they had run into any members was in a bar in Finland, and Bjorn had killed two and injured a third before six members of the crew, the Count included, had finally prised him away from his targets. There was a risk that he would kill portions of the enemy’s crew, but it was his right to be informed that they were about to board a German Destroyer…

The first member of crew that ran past him, the Count grabbed forcefully.

“I want you to go first to the control room. I want the flags flown; we are not to start an international incident over this!”

The man nodded and left with great haste to fulfil his orders. On both sides of the HMS Valkyrie’s gondola hull was the large insignia of the British Navy. At his command, a flag would be unfurled from above this and fastened below it to not only conceal their Navy status, but also to make it aware just who was in command of this ship, for it was the flag of Count Louis de Theudubert and his crew. Even if the Germans had seen the insignia and the HMS scrawled across the rear of the ship, they would now believe that it had been commandeered by a group of pirates.

The Captain pulled his newest pistol from the holster at his hip, flicking the bottle of neon liquid that began to glow upon contact and he smirked. This pistol could either fire bullets coated in this powerful paralysing agent, or it could fire a short concentrated stream of the liquid. For now, he was sure that there were bullets within and that he would not be taking any risks. He had not informed his crew, but this mission had not been set by the Royal Navy, but by his own selfish means. It began as a rumour, but he had heard it far too often… Intelligence reports gleaned from his last communications and briefing from London indicated there was a Commodore aboard this vessel. This man was no regular Commodore, the Count had kept this part to his himself, but this was a man who had connections within Darmania that had seen an aristocratic British family herded on board an airship that was bound east. Apparently this Commodore was informed which country the airship was bound for, and this meant that Louis needed to find out. There was a possibility that the family was not his own, but as Darmania and Britain were most certainly NOT on friendly terms as the Principality of Darmania had long threatened the British Empire’s interest in the Far East and more than once this had boiled over into all out conflict. It was unlikely that a family containing a man, a woman and a young girl from an aristocratic British family were the victims of a random attack from opportunists. He knew the Darmanian government was involved in this somehow, and he planned to find out more!

The Count slid the gun back into the holster and slid his scabbard further forward on his left hip so that he could have better access to his rapier. As he climbed up the stairs into the bridge, he closed the trap door behind him and walked over to the man on the helm.

“Get down to the cannons Gibson, we’ll need as many firing as possible. I’ll take the helm.”

“Aye sir!” The man left the wheel and instead went back through the trap door that the Captain had just come through. A woman sat at the stabilising controls turned to glance at him as he suddenly swerved the airship the starboard, almost looking like he was preparing to ram the Destroyer.

“Captain!?” Tabitha turned to look at him with fear, her brown, black and auburn dreadlocks rattling against the brass wings which extended from the boiler pack on her back.

“Relax Tabby, this will be tight but will work!” The Count smirked, already knowing her predictable reaction as he pulled down a transmitter from the ceiling above him.

“Don’t call me Tabby! It’s Skye!” The young crew member shot the Count an angry, clearly reproachful look.

“Right, I forgot…” He turned to the transmitter and activated it. “Run out all of our cannons and prepare them for firing. Now, hold on!”

Louis waited until they were close to the Destroyer, taking advantage of the fact that the German fleet, while powerful and vast, had old models of the battleships. While there cannons were of a numerous and of a large calibre they were old and inaccurate, designed for engaging much larger vessels than the Valkyrie. This model had no prow cannons, which meant from the front, they were safe! Under the Count’s instructions the Valkyrie had altered course to head off the German vessels lumbering turn and now approached directly from the front. As they were looking close to colliding, he turned again, smirking as they not only turned, but straight into a hot air current, causing them to rise a little as well. The German Destroyer had cannons towards the lowest part of their sides, whereas the Valkyrie’s triple-barrelled cannons were higher. Hopefully this would give them the advantage. Even though their cannons were more powerful, the Valkyrie had much higher speed and the steam cannons could fire three cylinders at once!

“FIRE AT WILL!” The Count shouted into the transmitter as he looked to Tabitha. “Activate the booster rockets!” The Count idly gripped the nearest railing as both the vibrations of the cannons and rockets suddenly made the whole ship lurch heavily.

“Captain, the fuel…”

“Must EVERYONE question me today!?” The Count asked politely, causing her to turn and activate the rockets which flared into life just as the Destroyer fired a close range volley. The Valkyrie shuddered as they were clearly hit by at least a few of those shots. Concerned shouting could be heard at least one from the brass communication tubes and the Count could faintly smell smoke, but now was not the time to worry about that, he had far more pressing matters to address!

“Drop boosters, Fire a single grappling hook and cancel port-side propellers. And don’t question me again.” The Count told Tabitha without turning to look at her as he focussed on the skies ahead. She did as she was told and the grappling hook caught hold of one of the railings on the large war zeppelin, also tearing a small hole in the side of the Valkyrie as they were almost catapulted in a u-turn that would shear larger ships in two. The decking groaned in protest as the Valkyrie swung round in a wide arc, eliciting a raised eyebrow from the now returned Lieutenant Davenport.

“Men assembled on the foredeck awaiting orders Sir”.  

“Perfect, disconnect the grapple and activate all propellers and the boosters once more! They won’t have had time to reload their cannons on this side and we can use our fresh cannons now!” The genius in his eyes was fulfilled as Tabitha looked at him in awe and nodded, activating the full speed of the Valkyrie once more. Once more the cannon fire rained, punching not only large holes in the side of the Destroyer, but also accurate gunfire from the Valkyrie had caused some serious damage the German vessels gun decks, disabling most of their cannons within the last two runs. They could not have prepared for such a brutal double-attack on their port side and now they could circle around slowly to board safely from the port without fear of cannon fire or reprisal from a ship that was so vastly superior to their own. The Count smirked, elated that this had gone so well.

“Casualty and damage report?” He asked into the transmitter.

“The boatswain was knocked out cold sir, but he seems unhurt otherwise.”

“We’ve taken damage to two of the starboard guns sir, we have some minor damage to the boiler room too but it is nothing serious.” Genevieve’s voice came through clearly before the static took over.

The silence made Louis smile, then laugh out loud as he clicked it back into life, “That is it? That’s the damage we suffered from the German Destroyer you were all terrified of!?”

“Aye Captain!”

“Tabitha, take the wheel and stay on board this ship!” The Captain ordered her, stepping away.

“Sir, I’m ready to go on a mission with you! When will you trust me to do it!?” Sky fought back in protest.

“Believe me, it is not a matter of trust. This is the most dangerous mission we have been on yet, so this is not a great one to make your first boarding. Sit tight and you’re in command of the helm ok? If things begin to look worrying, loose the cables and get out of here!”

Tabitha knew not to argue against this and merely nodded, stepping up to the wheel as he left and descended down more than one flight of stairs until he entered the glider cabin. Already assembled was the full platoon serving under Lieutenant Davenport and also the members of his crew he had selected to come aboard with him. Genevieve was stood there, an immense hammer in her hand as she turned to glance up at him. She tucked that into the waistband of the leather apron she wore, not far from where her pistol was holstered. Within the pockets on the apron were several useful tools. Genevieve was especially skilled at stealing technology in a hurry as well as obtaining fuel. Always useful to have, especially on a ship such as this that was teaming with interesting items! Still, if he had his way, she would not be coming with them…

“Captain, thank you for requesting me to come with you.” The light German accent, all but gone with time, alerted Louis to Swiss’ presence and they grasped arms in a brotherly manner. The Count avoided looking in Davenport’s direction as he already knew what kind of exasperated face him liaison would be making.

“You just need to keep a lid on yourself Bjorn. They are German Navy, but if we can avoid kills, I will be happier for it.” His eyes narrowed somewhat and the eyes staring back softened.

“Yes Captain. I make no promises, but I will do my best.” The man’s white shirt was, for once, not yet stained with grease. He had been in his cabin still rather than tinkering with the cannons and developing new firing cylinders. But the waistcoat had spots of what looked like moisture on it, still trying to dry, perhaps from the new boiler pack he had installed without the arms and cannon attached. Still, the new arm was looking fantastic and across his back was what seemed to be a shotgun, but it had either three or four barrels rather than the regular two.

“That looks like a nice new toy.”

“Perhaps this is not the best time for chatting Captain?” Lieutenant Davenport asked with a raised eyebrow. “In fact, I think it’s time we get our asses out on deck, sir.”

“Someone took that free reign of speech line a little too literally…” The Captain quipped with a smirk as he grabbed his cane from the side of the cabin in a slot against the wall and slid it into his belt not far from his sword. The flintlock pistol that was originally his grandfather’s sat comfortably in the inside pocket of his jacket that was now unbuttoned. The Telescopic Diagnostician sprang to life as the glider began to disconnect from the gondola. The propellers span faster as the wings extended, catching the wind.

Because this mission was so risky, the Count took the wheel himself, telling all of the crew that wasn’t boarding to stay behind on the zeppelin. They steered towards the Destroyer, firing the grappling hooks which latched them to the enemy ship. Louis noted the deck was clear, this was standard practice during cannon exchanges as it would minimize crew casualties. He knew once the Valkyrie’s guns stop firing all hell would break loose.

“I want a guard left on the ship Charles, I would very much rather that when we make it back safely from our little jaunt, I do not find my pride and joy is ‘under new management’. If the zeppelin pulls away from us, then activate the Teleforce Cannon and parachute away as fast as possible.” With nods from the platoon and Davenport choosing which men to stay behind, they stepped onto the deck and attached clips to their belts that they then attached to the tethers before bravely leaping from the deck, sliding down to the side of the other ship. Their hands hit the side and they pulled themselves up before others came across. This was going to take a little more time than usual due to them losing one of the tethers in the turning manoeuvre earlier…

Only six were across when the first wave of German naval ratings started pouring out of the nearest hatch on the foredeck, they spread out before halting and kneeling to take aim.

“MOVE!” The Count called, himself, Gen, Swiss, Lieutenant Davenport and two others dove behind a metallic container as a wave of bullets struck it’s surface. There were more men about to climb over the side of the deck and they would be directly in the line of fire.

“Davenport, if you would be so kind?” Louis asked with a smirk as he pressed a button on his control panel which made the liquid attached to it sink into his skin. With a few deep breaths the serum began to take effect as Charles loaded his launcher with a chloroform canister.

“Masks on chaps!” Davenport shouted as he raised he weapon to his shoulder.

He fired over the large crate they were behind and then he slid the mask over his mouth, nose and chin, strapping it around the back of his head. The was a distinct clang and a rush of what sounded like air as the shell struck the deck near the assembled ratings and started spilling out its noxious cargo into a large yellow cloud.

The Count could see several coughing furiously with a few already dropping to the deck unconscious. As Davenport signalled his platoon to advance and started to move out, Louis caught his arm before he rushed out.

“I am authorising deadly force, but only if necessary. Understood?”

Davenport looked shocked, but nodded and then he rounded the corner.

“You are serious?” Bjorn asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes. But try to avoid it!”

Bjorn smirked and pulled a grenade from his belt, his face a mixture of ecstasy and insanity as he lit it and grabbed Davenport’s arm, holding him back as he threw the grenade towards the group of opposing military.

“NO!” The Count leapt up and caught onto Bjorn’s arm, but too late.

“We need to get into that door behind them somehow…” Bjorn told him with a grin, crossing his arms and watching as the grenade suddenly exploded, throwing most of the only semi-conscious troops from the deck into the wide sky. A quick glance at Davenport showed the young officer to be viewing the scene of destruction through the fingers of his hand he had put up to his face.

The Count cursed under his breath and turned back to look at the door, lest he accidentally catch sight of the inevitable “I told you so” look which he very well knew was coming. He did however note that the doorway that had been locked behind them, the thick metal doors which would have barred their way, had also been blown off its hinges.

Genevieve stepped forward and lifted a syringe to her neck, injecting herself with the same serum that the Count used.

“You ignored an order Swiss.” She told him with a look of disappointment on her face.

“Can you argue with results? Let’s go, there’s more Germans to be had!” Swiss did not even seem to believe he could be hurt as his mechanical eye rotated, focussing on the door as he bounded towards it.

“Captain?” Davenport asked, his voice obstructed through the mask he was wearing. The last of the platoon who were attending had now joined them on deck and slipped on their half-masks so they were ready to go.

“Follow him Davenport, keep your guns up but shoot to wound where possible. Use your judgement on when you have to kill, I trust you.” The platoon ran towards the door. The Count watched as the military contingent secured the hatch area and cautiously made there way inside covering each opening and hatch as they progressed. Davenport’s men were armed with the same kind of non lethal launcher he was, and we proceeding to fire canisters through the distorted hatchway into the corridor and stairs leading down into the belly of the vessel.

“Something is different here Count de Theudubert, is it not?” Genevieve asked, looking up at him. At 5’1” she was probably one of the shortest members of the crew, and that had perhaps fuelled the mouth that she so often ran to the rest of the crew; for her, to increase her voice was to make up for her height.

“You have clearly been around me for too long Miss. til Baudfert…” The Count did not smile as he usually would have, but stared straight into the doorway around which the crew had assembled. They burst inside and found the advance elements of the Army boarding party had located and started engaging the pockets of organised resistance from the German crew. A few more seconds and an explosion wracked the ship, causing Louis to close his eyes.

“SWISS! THIS IS AN ORDER! I WANT AS MANY OF THEM KEPT ALIVE FOR INTERROGATION AS POSSIBLE!” He shouted, walking towards the door through which all of the crew disappeared. He and Gen were alone on deck, or so they had thought.

A fizzle came from behind Louis and he turned to see a German crumple to the deck, Gen’s eyes focussed on him and wide with fear as her pistol slowly lowered. The Count glanced up and noticed the ceiling hatches that his assailant had used to get around Davenport and his men.

“They are coming out of the woodwork ladies and gents, be on your guard!” shouted the Count.

No sooner than he had uttered the words, two more moved up fast from the side decking and Louis pulled his sword from its sheath and sliced through a man’s arm, causing him to drop his own rapier before he span, pulling his cane from his belt to crack across the other man’s right temple. Genevieve had three men surrounding her with cackles before she swung her hammer, crushing through a man’s knee which sent him screaming to the floor in pain.

Gen turned too late as a rapier arced through the air towards her face and she saw her own eyes, frozen wide in fear, reflected in the blade.

* * * * *

“You will NEVER be an engineer! You already have suitors who wish to investigate you further, how could you still be carrying out such…unsightly actions as working with engines.” The man slid the top hat onto his head and looked down at Gen as if she were a piece of dirt.

“No, dad, I will NEVER be married. Instead, I’m gonna work with engines and play in dirt all day long. Now, I’m going out.” She smirked, standing from where she had just finished construction on her newest invention. This should, in theory, be able to generate power through the air and was based on one of Nikola Tesla’s works which she had been researching. With another coy smile, she grabbed onto one of her father’s top hats as she ran through the door and out onto the streets, heading straight towards the market where she hoped to demonstrate her invention.

“It will be quite alright I assure you! I really do not wish to take too much, but I am rather short of cash.”

“You’re a Count! We know who you are! You’re Louis de Theudubert, you’re that pirate what don’t kill anyone!”

Gen pushed through the crowd of people that had gathered, struggling to see what was happening but still clutching her invention to her chest. As she got near the front, she saw a flash of black as the man in the top hat stepped to one side and out of the way of the rapier that had flashed in his direction. He had in his hand only a cane and as he slipped aside from the next thrust, he slammed the point of the cane into the back of the other man’s knee, causing him to lose his footing and tumble to the ground.

“Look, I merely need enough food to keep my crew from starving until the next port!” The Count told them, a young man not much older than twenty. “Is that too much to ask?”

Gen’s eyes widened as the man sighed and he pulled a pistol from within his coat and fired into the air before also pulling a flintlock pistol from his belt to aim in the other direction, now turning to seemingly point at everyone in the crowd.

“Fine, if you will not give me food, and I, by myself, cannot force you to do so, then you will part and let me leave! My airship awaits.” The Count began walking towards the opening in the crowd, his eyes darting back and forth across the crowd.

“It’s alright, here comes the coppers anyway!” Said a woman not far from Genevieve, motioning to four men dressed in blue uniforms that were making their way through the crowd towards Louis.

“RUN!” Gen shouted before she could help herself. The Count turned to face her, he flinched, hearing the shrill note of a police whistle as he saw the men moving towards him now, having just broken through the crowd. He had to move quickly, that whistle would call any other nearby constables onto his position.

He did as she had instructed, turning to run at full pelt out of the market and towards the skyport.

Genevieve turned as well, moving through the crowd and dashing along one street, then down a narrow alley between houses so that she came out onto a walkway above the street that the Count was now running along. At the end of the road, two large gates slammed shut, blocking the only way out to the skyport. Genevieve ran down some stairs and over to where he stood. She dropped the invention in her hand and pulled a screwdriver and a pair of pliers from her pocket before kicking open a panel on the wooden side of the gates.

“What are you doing?” The Count asked, staring down as the aristocratic girl began playing with gears and water pipes within the panel.

“Opening the gate, but only if you take me with you!” She told him, flicking the pliers to one side before she pulled a few gears out and rearranged them.

“What makes you think you can do that? And you are too young to be part of my crew!” He told her, the police suddenly ran around the corner. Now it was less than a mile of straight road between him and either the noose or the cell.

The gates opened behind him and the Count turned in surprise as they opened wide enough to fit only really himself through and it would be a tight squeeze. He hoped to high heaven that the distraction he had made had bought the rest of the crew enough time to steal all of the food and fuel they needed for their trip. Dramatics was always a great tool…

“Thanks kid!” He shouted before the gates slammed shut again. “What are-“

“You WILL take me with you!” She narrowed her eyes at him, the pair of pliers in her hands closed around a pipe valve which she had rigged to open the gates.

The Count pulled the pistol from his holster and pointed it at her forehead. “Open the gate.”

Gen’s gaze did not waver in the slightest, locked on his own brown eyes were her bright blue ones, boring into him as he touched the tip of the barrel to her skin.

Louis’ face wavered and he growled, “Dammit! Fine! Come with me then, but there is NO going back and you will pull your weight on my ship!”

“Done!” The gates opened and she smirked, standing up and winking as the tools disappeared into the folds of her rather boyish clothes. “My name is-“

“Introductions later!” The Count grabbed her hand and pulled her through the door after him, the top-hat on her head falling off to land outside of the gate. The Marvelle was waiting for them when they got to the edge of the pier, already cast off and slowly drifting away.

“THROW OUT A LINE!” Louis called onto the ship and a rope was thrust from the deck, landing on the pier only a few feet in front of them. Two of the policemen were closing in on them as Louis wrapped an arm under her waist, forcing her to put an arm around his neck.

“We’re not going to-“

“Yes we are!” Louis leapt from the pier, high above cliffs which ended in sharp rocks and frothy water. He reached for the rope with his right hand, catching onto it and quickly wrapping it around his wrist as he slid down it under their weight. His face contorted into explicit pain as they slid down several metres.

Gen stared down at the water below them and clutched hard to Louis, looking up now at the policemen who had reached the end of the pier and knew they would never reach the pirates now, they frantically blew their whistles anyway, perhaps out of pure anger.


“Where is the RPV Argyle?” One of the policemen was heard to shout to a colleague as Louis’ vessel pulled away
.
The Count knew the nearest police dirigible was miles away, responding to hoax call he himself had placed some hours before as an insurance policy. He smiled dryly knowing it would never arrive in time.

Genevieve smirked as she watched them slowly get further away, knowing that her aristocratic life was also fading into the horizon! A drop of crimson hit her nose and she looked up, another hitting her forehead as the Count grimaced in pain, his right wrist was torn and bloody, almost all of the sleeve having been torn away by the distance they had slid along the rope and how tight he had wound the three coils of rope.

Gen’s eyes widened, but what else could she do? The rope was being pulled in now and they were almost onto the deck. Life was about to change…and the first thing she would do was to dedicate herself to making her addition to the ship a worthwhile one!

* * * * *

The sword flashed through the air towards Genevieve til Baudfert, perhaps that was what they meant when they said that before you died, your life flashed before your eyes? She had only seen a snippet…but it had been a poignant memory. Her eyes closed and…nothing? A clash of metal caused her to open them once more and Louis’ rapier had blocked the one sword while a hard thrust of his cane made the man double up. The second soldier’s rapier was caught on the edge of the Count’s cane and he span, cutting through the man’s throat without qualm before he turned and plunged his sword into the gut of the other, hard enough that it ran in up to the hilt.

Louis paused, noticing the fine mist of blood that seemed to hang in the air, as if taking in what had just occurred, instinct having driven him to commit what he deemed wrong. He had hoped to avoid this, the killing and now his hard breathing surprised him as he pulled hard, trying to free his sword. After a few seconds of tugging, the Count finally placed his boot on the now dead man’s body, laying him backwards before he used the force to free his blade.

Genevieve had fallen to her knees and stared up at him, his shocked face which now had a spray of blood from one cheek up almost to his Diagnostician tool. He was breathing heavily, gasping as if to catch his breath even though he had not exerted much energy. It seemed more like he was trying to calm down, stop from hyperventilating perhaps? Gen stood and caught his cheeks in her hands.

“It will be ok! You had to, you saved my life!”

Louis’ eyes flicked back and forth, almost as if in horror before another hand caught his shoulder and had to block a slash from Louis’ rapier with his shotgun barrel. Swiss had come back and was now looking around at the carnage.

“I came to get you. There is something below deck you need to see Captain.” Bjorn knew how this must be affecting his old friend, but also knew that the only way to escape this was to move his thoughts onto other things.

“Yes…ok Bjorn.” The Captain shook his head, pulling his top hat further down onto his head and adjusted the aviation goggles that sat on the brim of the hat.

He took a deep breath and walked on, leaving Genevieve stood still, her hands falling to her side before she picked up her hammer and sadly walked after them. She knew that it had been her weakness that had forced him to kill, and had therefore caused him so much pain.

“We found them like this Captain. What do you think?” Lieutenant Davenport asked from the bottom of a stairwell that judging by the now several large but now unconscious German ratings had been rather well defended. Through the clearing mist of chloroform, he noticed the young Lieutenant tilting his head to indicate the rows of cages that contained human beings, looking at their clothes and catching snippets of the language with which they whispered to each other in fear, Louis quickly denoted they were from Eastern Europe. Probably from one the large freighters that frequented this air route.

“Piracy, state funded piracy.” Louis responded, looking at all of the people who were now reaching for them for their escape.

It was supposed to be a secret, the fact that governments have helped to fund piracy, to equip pirates with everything they need and they always got something in response. The HMS Valkyrie’s situation was not too far removed from this, but other governments were far less choosey about what kind of pirate they employed. It had seemed to Louis that he had been sought out primarily because of his kind heart and lack of murderous intent. But then, even the British government could have had other pirates on the payroll and he would never have known about it. It was why, despite his best efforts, Louis had been forced now to reveal that he had British Soldiers as members of his crew. He simply did not have enough crew to have boarded a vessel such as this… Even using his flags would not hide the fact from any crew that saw them… The British government operated a system of plausible deniability. Having a Company of Red Coats aboard a pirate vessel would be considered preposterous by most so any reports of such acts of piracy were not generally believed.

“We loot the ship and then we take these people with us. These poor wretches look like they have been kept in the hold a while, probably en route to a life of forced labour in the Krupp Steel Works. They will be released at the next port we dock at. For now, we must leave them or they will be caught in the crossfire. Spread out and take whatever you can. Swiss, Davenport, you’re with me.” The Count dolled out his orders with the superiority of one who was obviously in command.

“Davenport, I hope you do not begrudge me the need to borrow some of your men,” Louis said and then turned to the girl at his side.

“Genevieve, take ten of the platoon and gather fuel. Be damned careful.” He told her, his eyes narrowing on her as if to impart his message all the more clearly. He protected her with the ferocity of an older brother and that would not change.

She nodded and turned to run away from them with half the platoon following her.

“Ten men? That was a bit excessive for a fuel run wasn’t it?” Davenport asked, turning back to the Captain.

“We are in more need of fuel than usual. And…the Captain’s quarters are ahead if this is like any other military ships. Which means the Commodore is in there…”

“Commodore!?” Swiss asked in shock. “You knew about this ship! You targeted it specifically!”

“I did. Because the Commodore that is aboard this ship knows where my family is. I would understand if you wish to turn back. If you do so, loot and release the prisoners. I don’t want-“

“Captain…”

The Count turned to see what the young officer wanted and was cut off by a sharp blow to his left cheek, sending him crashing one of the few walls that was not made of cage. Clutching his jaw, Louis looked up to see Charles Davenport standing over him, anger visible in his eyes, while the rest of him was hidden under the mask. After a second he uncoupled the fastening and pulled it off to let it hang off his webbing.

“You should have told us! What did you think? We wouldn’t have come with you?” Charles never showed this kind of anger. This behaviour from him was unexpected and put the Count on edge. Young Davenport was renowned from taking his role onboard the HMS Valkyrie very seriously and carried out his role to the best of his ability. There was another side to him; it was his penchant for elaborate practical jokes, more often than not involving explosives. A few months prior, the Count had been woken from his slumber in courters by a loud explosion sound. It had turned out that someone had placed a small seismic charge in the latrine block in the crew quarters. Although he denied it, almost everyone onboard had immediately deduced it was Davenport’s handiwork. He smiled to himself as he remembered being stood outside his cabin, trying to calm down a very irate 2nd Class Engineer who was covered head-to-toe in excrement, the poor chap had obviously been the recipient of the Lieutenants unique brand of humour.

To see Davenport like this bothered Louis.

“We understand, is what he means.” Swiss added with a smirk.

“And there is no way in hell that we’re going back to the ship now!” Davenport composed himself and extended a hand to the Count to help him back up. He then indicated his men had had moved to and secured the door that Louis had been sure would have been the Captain’s quarters, standing to one side with his pepperbox prepared to fire. The launcher was a great weapon, but not for close-combat.

Louis straightened out his jaw and smiled, shaking his head.

“Fine, let’s do this! Bjorn, after you I think.”

Bjorn smirked and wrapped his new arm around the handle, hydraulics kicking into action which allowed him to pull the door from its hinges. Davenport stepped forward and went down on one knee, aiming into the room. There had been no need, for sitting at the desk, facing them, was the Commodore.

“Bjorn, ask him if he wants to surrender,” Louis said quietly while looking straight at the man he had come all this way to find.

Rapid-fire German was spat in their direction and Louis walked straight in, taking four steps before he dove forward, having noticed movement either side of him as he advanced, avoiding fire from two men with pistols that had been hidden on each side of the room. Bjorn fired his shotgun at one and it destroyed him as several shots from the pepperbox removed the threat of the other.

“Tell him we are not amateurs.” Louis told Bjorn with a smirk.

Bjorn and the Commodore spoke back and forth in German, short quick exchanges that ended with Bjorn landing a punch with his metallic arm into the man’s cheek, knocking him to the floor. Bjorn lifted him up and sat him on the desk, holding him by his neck.

“Well, that sounded pleasant.” The Count added as he walked over. “Davenport, watch the door.”

With a nod, the Lieutenant turned his back to them and kept watch.

“Where are my family?” Louis asked, Bjorn translating. The Commodore spat at Louis and it landed in the centre of the Telescopic Diagnostician. Louis took a deep breath and his gloved hands wiped it away, flinging the phlegm to the floor. He took a deep breath then drew the rapier once more, slashing with incredible precision to slide open the man’s right arm. Bjorn’s good hand covered the man’s mouth as he grunted in extreme pain.

“Ask again.”

This time, the Commodore’s response was much longer and he glared at Louis the entire time.

“He says that he saw them boarding an airship. The Darmanians have them.” Bjorn shrugged.

“I knew that already. Where was the airship heading?”

“He says he doesn’t know.”

Louis took a deep breath and the tip of the blade pressed against the man’s exposed throat, causing Bjorn to withdraw his mechanical hand.

“Crush his right hand Bjorn.”

“Captain?”

“Do it!”

The German ex-navy took the Commodore’s right hand in his own left and squeezed, hydraulics activating so that he could crush the bones in the Commodore’s hand with ease.

The scream was audible this time and Davenport turned to look, surprised by what he was hearing, but he turned away again, shaking his head.

“Ask again and tell him I know that he knows.”

Bjorn did as instructed and this time and now sobbing Commodore, part of Germany’s powerful Navy, crying and weeping as he spoke soft German to Bjorn.

“He…he says they headed towards the Middle East, but he has no idea of any further specifics.”

“Danke Schon.” The Count said to the Commodore, the only piece of German he really knew. Swiss released the Commodore and walked towards Davenport. Louis turned to follow them and suddenly turned back to plunge his rapier through the man’s throat, twisting it before pulling it back out to watch the gurgling, bubbling blood burst forth as he struggled to breathe.

“Back to the ship…” The Captain told them, walking past them both without any further exchanged words.

Never before had either of them seen Count Louis de Theudubert act in such a barbaric manner… and then it hit Swiss.

“It has been almost a year since the Count received the note which informed him that a family member would be killed off every year until he found them. That was why he joined the Navy, because they gave him further power to search for them. That is why he has gone through such lengths. He has a further 2 months until one of his family members is killed…”

“Captain!” Gen ran up to him as he stepped out onto the deck. “We managed to gather enough fuel and food to last for…Count, what has happened?”

His face was stained with yet more blood and contorted into an expression of pure anger.

“Get everyone back to the glider now. Including the prisoners…”

Then he was gone, walking towards the gap between the two ships and not even stopping to clip his tether to the rope before he began pulling himself back across.
I seem to be settling into writing in this style more and more now. I am comfortable with it and I am comfortable within the skin of the Count.

This chapter is quite deep and more filled with emotions than action. There is a new character and also the Count has changed possibly forever... Enjoy the next chapter of what has now become a Steampunk NOVEL rather than a mere story, Flight of the Valkyrie!

The rest of the chapters can be found here;
[link]

Prose, characters, fictional locations etc. are copyright :iconsjbonnar:
Technical advisor :iconleadmill:
Count Louis de Theudubert is :iconsjbonnar:
Lieutenant Carles Christophe Davenport is :iconleadmill:
Bjorn "Swiss" Hauptmann is :iconjuggern0ught:
Genevieve til Baudfert is :iconwings-of-crimson:
Tabitha "Skye" Skylar is :iconefia:
Amelia Evelyn Hawkesworth is :iconefia:
Dr. Elizabeth Knight is :iconaliasdotcom: (maybe)
Aurora Ebeltoft is :iconmtani:
Mei Li is :iconfelche:

Also, the HMS Valkyrie is currently recruiting...so if you are interested in Steampunk and have some kind of idea of a character, let me know! We'd love to recruit more members of our crew and it means I get to do another chapter of this to introduce any new characters!

What we expect of new recruits;
- First and foremost, you need some idea of position on board the crew. This will help plan the name, rank, status, clothing etc.
- You need a name for your character, a name which sounds quite Victorian but is also accurate. If you have a title of nobility (de, von, etc) then please explain WHY you have this title. Remember, there is no point having a British name if your character is foreign!
- You need a brief background. How did they get where they are? Where did their skills come from? etc.
- You need some idea of how they met Count de Theudubert or got involved in the crew.
- You need an idea of how they dress or I can't write them into the novel.

Now, all of the above need only be basic as I will help you to flesh out the character more and more!

Please note that the crew of the HMS Valkyrie shall be touching down at the London MCM Expo in October on the Sunday! We shall be pleased to make your acquaintance!
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:iconscorpio112087:
Scorpio112087 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
Very cool! Loved this! :D

But...never put "at" at the end of a sentence. That's not the place for a preposition. :p
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Ack! Where have I done that? Sorry for the mistake!
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:iconscorpio112087:
Scorpio112087 Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2010
Lol, it's o.k. The editor side of me comes out whenever I read something. :p

I don't remember exactly where it is right now. I'll look for it in a bit. I'm not feeling very well at the moment and don't want to look at a computer screen for too long. I'll let you know, though!
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Aww, I hope you feel better soon :-( *hugs*
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:iconmangagirl232:
MangaGirl232 Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2010
I definitely wasn't expecting the twist at the end! O_O
Awesome hun!
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Rather dramatic!
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:iconmangagirl232:
MangaGirl232 Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2010
Definitely a jaw dropping moment!
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:iconfullmetalwing:
FullMetalWing Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I loved this chaap i enjoying reading this onto the next XD (and packing for fuyucon at the same time)
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
LOL That's quite amusing ^_^ Get to work :-p
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:iconfullmetalwing:
FullMetalWing Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
get your ass online to night i need to show you my skirt please need to show you how i done
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