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Count Louis de Theudubert, Captain of the HMS Valkyrie, well documented pacifist, had taken a life.

The Count was stood at the helm of the Valkyrie, his eyes locked on the windows but his mind taking his vision elsewhere. Too many thoughts were going through his head at the same time. Within his mind he was simultaneously drinking the highest quality English tea with his family around a table and also opening the envelope which contained their ransom note he had received almost one year ago. But what was worse was that on top of these memories, he also was continually reliving his recent actions; plunging his blade into the German Commodore’s neck, cutting through the trachea and, almost mercifully, severing his spinal column as well.

Upon returning to their vessel, the crew of the Valkyrie had left the heavily damaged German Destroyer adrift. The surviving crew were locked inside the pens which had formerly held their prisoners, eventually to be found by a search party or perhaps a random encounter with a merchant vessel.

“Captain?” A voice came from nearby and Louis turned to look at Skye, Tabitha Skylar as she had been known on the streets of London where the Count had first encountered her.

“Yes Tabby?”

“How many times do I have to say it!? It’s Skye! Sir…” She narrowed her eyes and he nodded, noticing that the ‘sir’ seemed more than a little forced.

“Indeed. What is the matter?”

Skye walked over to the wheel, her black, brown and auburn dreadlocks bouncing somewhat as she did.

“Maybe you should go down below sir? You seem shaky and I’m more ‘an capable of taking the helm!” Skye smiled, obviously a little concerned, or at least feigning concern so that she could take the wheel again. It seemed that giving her charge over the navigation and piloting of the ship during their boarding mission had gone to her head a little.

“By all means, take over. You have the best sense of direction on the ship at any rate.”

As the Captain stepped away from the wooden wheel, Skye looked at him as if he were ill, stepping in to take over piloting duties. Something was clearly affecting Louis de Theudubert. It had been less than an hour since he had returned and he seemed as though someone had died on that ship.

If only she knew how accurate that thought was.

The Count opened the trap door and even before he had stepped down onto the rungs of the ladder, his name was called from below quite frantically.

“Lieutenant Davenport, I swear you are becoming quite the efficient messenger.” Louis smirked in a mischievous way, but the lack of witty remarks or threat of pranks to come told him that this was not the time for jokes.

“What is happening?”

“Sir, we are being pursued by an enemy vessel, range 5000 yards and closing fast off the starboard. It’s a German frigate sir. A Falcion Class escort, heavily armed and with speed almost to match us.” Davenport told him, climbing the ladder to meet him at the top.

“How could German re-enforcements have arrived so quickly?” Louis cursed with frustration. “We took down the Destroyer with such speed that they had no chance to have sent out a distress call!”

“According to information gleaned from our interrogation of the few German Sailors we brought aboard, the Destroyer we attacked was actually waiting for an escort to arrive before proceeding further with its mission, apparently this area is ‘infested’ with pirates.“

“I had heard something of the sort…” Louis remarked drily.

Davenport stifled a smile, but quickly composed himself. “It appears the escort rendezvoused with the stricken Destroyer after we had departed, and has been tracking us ever since. No doubt it is under orders to search and destroy.”
.
“This class of frigate is a pirate hunter and a danger to everyone onboard, especially if it is a German ship… That kind of firepower matched with that speed. We are damaged and not in a fit state to engage with another warship at this time. We are heavily outgunned and the vessel will have superior armour, we must NOT be outrun as well!” Before he even had to issue any orders, the ship lurched to the side, causing even the almost veteran Count Louis to stumble to the right.

Skye had swung the wheel to take the ship so the enemy vessel was now directly astern.

“It’s south-west we’ll be needing ta go Captain!” Her London accent came through only rarely these days.

Charles raised an eyebrow, having caught hold of the still open trap door for support.

“She pretty much knows which direction we need to go at any time. It truly is too long a story for this moment in time. I will automatically assume that she is correct. Davenport, man the radio and make sure that all of our best gunners are on the rear cannons. We need to at least keep them at a-“

An explosion rocked the ship, causing the Count to fall hard onto his knees with a wince of pain. Although very few could ever tell, he had injured his right knee a long time ago and while it was usually undetectable, it was the main reason he carried his cane on most occasions. He forced himself to his feet gingerly before limping towards the front controls.

The Lieutenant had caught onto one of the control panels and located was making his way to the nearest speaker horn station, once there he began issuing orders on behalf of the Captain, having been given jurisdiction to do so. Davenports soldiers were currently awaiting deployment in there billet area, but as it was the Count’s intention to flee rather than fight, the young Lieutenant ordered them to stay put to prevent getting under the feet of the airships crew. There was nothing they could do now except play cards (with some difficulty on an airship taking evasive manoeuvres) and hope for the best.

Another large explosion shook the vessel; there was no way that the crew would assume, as they would usually, that Davenport was merely playing a practical joke upon them.

“Sound the Alarm, all crew to battle stations!” The Count shouted into the nearest speaker horn. There was a muffled acknowledgement and seconds later the alarm bells were ringing and the crew were scurrying to their battle station, some hastily fastening helmet straps or armour buckles.

The Count sat down and pulled his seat in, focussing intently on the controls before him. His right hand moved to the throttle and opened it up to full power, causing every line of propellers to spin as fast as physically possible. This was not a battle that could be won by firepower, this was a test of speed.

“Captain, our fuel…” Skye reminded him carefully, knowing his mood now and the snap return he had cast her way earlier.

“We do not have much choice in the matter Tabby.” The Count told her, unable to stop himself from using that name. It had been a force of habit since they had met and it was not helped by the fact that more than one of her dreadlocks had stripes of colour running along them, causing her to look similar to a tabby-cat.

“Aye sir.” She responded, knowing now was not the time. The young woman lifted the pair of goggles from her forehead and slid them down over her eyes, focussing her on the direction ahead.

“Captain, she’s preparing to fire another volley.” Davenport informed him, he was crouched listening to the cluster of speaker tubes, receiving messages from all over the ship.

“Evasive manoeuvres!” The Captain called and Skye turned the wheel, but not sharply enough to reduce speed. As they evened out once more, Louis flicked four switches, turning on all of their rocket boosters. He knew that they were dangerously low on fuel and they would need to be careful. Even with the replenishments they had taken from the German Destroyer, they risked running out of power in the middle of a chase, leaving them all dead.

A chorus of gunfire echoed from their side and the Count allowed himself a smile as they had dodged that last volley. The German ship was fast, but nowhere near as fast and agile as the Valkyrie! What was more, with their old-fashioned but extremely powerful cannons, they were forced to carry out extensive reloading procedures after each volley due to there large calibre. He clicked off the rockets once more, saving fuel as much as he possibly could in this situation.

“Damage?”

After some quick back and forth conversing via the tubes and Davenport turned to him with a grim expression.

“The first cannonade very almost ruptured the dirigible’s rear armour sir. Another direct hit and they will likely have an open gate straight into the zeppelin itself.” Charles shook his head, reminding himself why in the name of God he, a ground soldier, had decided to take a mission on this airship. What was more, he had actually voluntarily extended the period of his posting to the Valkyrie!

“Get Genevieve on the radio and tell her that whatever she did before to reroute power from the Teleforce Cannon’s Tesla generators to the engines, do it again for the rockets.” The Count narrowed his eyes as he realised they were flying directly into some extremely dark clouds. Airships were not exactly known for their staying power during extremely harsh winds, let alone full lightning storms! The Count knew full well that any misjudgement could cause the Valkyrie to be torn apart and doom them as surely as engaging the frigate head on. As they closed in, it was obvious from the large shelf cloud they were about to fly into that this would be severe.

“Captain?”

“Straight ahead.”

“Captain!?”

The Count threw his hat to one side and slid the Telescopic Diagnostician from his eye, dropping it on the control panel. Without saying another word, he quickly burned the rockets so that they were almost inside the clouds now.

“We have no choice! Their ship has far more metal within its structure; they will be more loathe than we are to enter!” Louis took a deep breath, hoping he was making the right decision in this matter.

Davenport suddenly sat down in the navigator’s chair to the Count’s right, looking quite despairingly at the masses of buttons, switches and levers before him.

“What do I do?” He asked, turning to face his Captain.

“Has Gen carried out her orders?”

“She is on her way sir. She said she can reroute half of the power to the engines and half to the rockets. So, give me MY orders.” Davenport smirked and turned back to the controls.

“When you feel the ship shudder, pull that lever towards you and then push the blue button.” The Count told him with a smile. A roar erupted over the radio and Louis winced from where he sat, smirking as he knew that Bjorn Hauptmann had just landed a hit with his cannons.

“The blue button? I thought these things always had red buttons?” Davenport asked, bringing a laugh from the Captain before a fork of lightning arced through the air directly in front of the zeppelin.

Skye immediately swerved through instinct and her own directional skill. She knew the way to the nearest British port better than any map on the ship would!

“Um, sir?” Davenport asked, indicating the bearing compass before them on the dashboard, its needles spinning wildly rather than pointing the way north. The Count tapped the glass and sighed, shaking his head.

“This is rare but it has been known to happen. Tabitha, you are our compass now!” He called over his shoulder.

“Aye aye sir! I’ll steer ‘er right!” Skye smirked and turned again. Perhaps it was evasive action or perhaps she knew that they needed to turn towards port, but the Count trusted her.

“Sir?” Davenport asked, looking at him in the same way he had done when Louis had asked for Swiss to come on the boarding mission.

“This one is better than a homing pigeon. Once we took a lot of iron on board as part of a haul and we did not know at the time, but that threw our compasses off.”

“NEXT VOLLEY INCOMING!” came over the radio and almost simultaneously the ship swerved and the Count fired the rockets, increasing their speed. A crash from behind and splintered wood flew throughout the cabin, indicating that they had taken a strong hit against the reinforced hull directly behind them. Luckily, they were not exposed to the air just yet, but that had been very close!

“Tethers, now.” The Count told them, attaching a long, leather tie around his waist which connected to the railings on the dashboard. The other two did the same, Skye lashing her waist to the stand of the helm instead.

As they flew, the ship suddenly shook and began to speed up, causing Davenport to spring into action where he pulled the lever and then pushed the blue button. All at once the ship seemed to double in speed, all of the rockets firing and the propellers spinning at even more speed than before. The Captain laughed aloud and leant forward in his seat as they swerved once more, the wood of the ship creaking against the pressure.

“That shudder was the power shift. We are now running on a combination of steam, pure coal and…electricity!” The Count laughed again and stood, leaning over the control panel with a strange look in his eye, almost devilish as they sped out of the other side of the storm and into clearer skies once again.

“Anyway, that iron made sure that our compasses not only told us the wrong way to north, but different compasses told us different things. Madame Skye over there,” this actually brought a smile from the skypirate who lifted her goggles back onto her forehead, “managed to direct us back to England from Norwegian airspace all of her own instinct.”

Lieutenant Davenport turned to stare at the woman, her dreadlocks held back from her face now by the goggles as she tightened the straps that held her boiler pack and also her small mechanical wings.

“Nothin’ to it!” She winked and then span the wheel again, hard to port this time.

Louis unfastened his tether and walked over to the back of the room, sliding metal coverings away from the portholes which looked out through the back of the gondola. The German vessel could not be seen and the Count smiled as he pictured the frigate being bucked and swayed by the tempestuous winds. By the time it emerged they would well out of range and the frigate would hopefully be forced to disengage. The Count found himself hoping that the frigates captain would not be persistent; he had already used up more fuel on this endeavour than he would have liked.

“Take us above the clouds Tabby.”

“Dammit Captain! My name is NOT Tabby!” She exploded, turning to glare at him even as she adjusted the lever at her side so that the zeppelin would gain extra helium, taking them higher as they flew.

They would need to resupply soon. That much was clear and they could not very well make port with a German frigate still on their tails! Not only would that put innocent people in danger, but then the Royal Navy would at some point hear of the attack on the Destroyer…

That was, if the crew survived an attack by the frigate.

“Captain, we shouldn’t be too far from Ipswich now. Shall we make port there?” Skye asked, not even needing to look at the land mass which was now surely appearing beneath the clouds below them.

“No, make for London. It is not too much further to travel, but it is far enough inland that the pirate-hunters will not conceive that we have made the extra trip. Besides, it has been a while since we put down there and it is the nation’s capital…” The Count smiled, feeling as though they were in the clear now.

“Aye sir, to London it is.” Skye smiled mischievously as she turned and made their way slightly further to the south-west towards London. She knew that pockets were very easy to pick there, where the wealthy, try as they might, could not avoid mixing with the poor. She had been a thief before she had been a pirate, but were the two jobs very different?

“Vastly different I assure you!” The Count had once told her, his eyes narrowing as she questioned him. He disliked thieves and like most aristocracy he had despised beggars even more. But for far different reasons than most.

“Thieves give the opponent no chance at rebuttal, no chance to defend themselves and therefore have no honour. Beggars, well, they just do not try hard enough!”

Skye smiled to herself as she finally allowed the ship to sink below the clouds once more, descending down into the busy sky routes around London.

Ah the sky lanes! Louis thought to himself with more than a little exasperation. A little too much like roads for his liking, but due to the massive amounts of aerial traffic found around major cities in these times it was probably the safest way to manage such a massive volume of man and machines. As the popularity and viability of air travel had increased in recent years, collisions and near misses became endemic,   the sky over many a nations cities had become a crowded place. A few well documented accidents such as the now infamous Hermes Messenger Sky Liner incident in Lisbon several years ago, had forced the various national governments to act and hence the sky lanes were born. There was hardly a national capital in Europe that had yet to implement the idea, and now thanks to their decision the HMS Valkyrie was following what looked like a rather battered sky crane construction vessel.

The Count consulted his map to make sure they were in the correct sky lane, as they got closer to London they would need to change to a military lane for there approach into the Royal Navy air station Ramilies located near on the Thames in Greenwich, these theoretically would be marked by flare paths but he decided to play it safe. He could not afford to misjudge his timings as the last thing he needed was a boarding from one of the many Metropolitan Police dirigibles that patrolled the sky routes to ensure that they were correctly adhered to.

After an hour or so Louis was starting to get bored, he was still at the bridge, and was trying to distract himself by eyeing over various damage and work reports, and the mundane general administration duties that he had been putting off for some time. He wanted someone to talk to he decided, unfortunately young Charles was with his platoon stowing their weapons and making preparations for disembarkation in the barracks area of the vessel, Swiss had gone to inspect the damage with Gen to the rear of the vessel, and Skye was busy with the map, the rest of the crew seemed so busy he had no wish to bother them. He had read the advertisement on the back of the vessel in front now using his diagnostician more times than he cared to remember, and as such was actually considering whether or not he wanted a ‘Very reasonable price’ on a hunting chalet in Scotland or not…

He looked out the window, again noticing they were now nearing the centre of London, it seemed the sky was full of steel and canvas. From large merchant ships to single-person contraptions no bigger than a train carriage. After what seemed like an age Louis was roused from his musings by Skye.

“We are approaching the way point for RNAS Ramilies Sir,” Tabby said consulting the map.”

“Excellent, I hope we have not lost much time idling in these damn lanes, adjust course and take us into the military lane, prepare for descent and landing.”

RNAS Ramilies was the principal military sky port in London and the largest in the South of England with the exception of RNAS Drake near Dover. It was their intended destination as the Valkyrie needed both urgent repairs and refuelling. Skye conveyed the Counts orders to the Helmsman and he felt the Valkyrie shift under his feet as the vessel changed course. They were quickly taken out of the crowded lane and had now begun their descent into London. The military lane was virtually empty and Louis noticed it was clearly marked with a flare patch maintained by Royal Navy manned anti aircraft batteries that dotted central London, protecting the nation’s capital with a ring of steel.

As they descended over London some of the crew gazed in awe out of their windows, Louis had to admit no matter how many times he saw this great city from the air; it still took his breath away. Still, this was no time for sightseeing as the Navy base was now visible through the front view ports.

As they approached, one of two British picket vessels circling the mighty base changed course to come along side, it was a fairly large and heavily armed slow moving vessel that he now recognised as the HMS Fortitude. These kinds of ships were designed for picket duty rather than plying the sky routes, so the British used vessels such as her to guard the various bases throughout the Empire. Louis fought back a sense of unease as the multiple gun batteries on the vessel now brought to bear on his much smaller ship. He reassured himself that this was simple procedure and he had done it many times before.

Despite the HMS Valkyrie being adorned with the large Royal Navy insignias, security was tight. A series of flashes from the Semaphore lamp on the vessels foredeck drew Louis’ attention.

“It seems they want the passcode for today Skye, can you remember what it was?” The Count asked with a smile.

“I expect so Cap’n, I’ll take care of it.” She replied, with that she scribbled the code onto a small piece of paper and handed it to a nearby crew member who jogged over the ornate semaphore lantern on the side nearest of the bridge nearest to the Navy vessel, and proceeded to flash the code in quick succession. A reply and a change of course told Louis that the Fortitude was satisfied and was returning to the picket. The crew member walked over to Skye and said something which the Count could not make out.

“We’ve got landing clearance Cap’n, hanger 7.”

“Excellent, take us down and make sure that it is done in such a fashion as to show these Navy types how a real crew can land an airship, I want it fast and smart!” Louis remarked with his trademark smile.

“Right y’are Cap’n,” Skye replied with a mock salute, before turning to the nearest speaker horn and shouting into it, “all crew prepare for landing!”

As they swooped low over RNAS Ramilies the Count cast his eye out over the rows upon rows of the vast array of manufactories and workshops, the huge ammunition stockpiles and the giant compound where the thousands of men and women who worked at or were stationed to HMS Ramilies ate, slept and played. Idly walking to the other side of the bridge, he gazed out upon the vast rows of hangers that occupied the majority of the base. Here the might of the British Empire’s airpower stood for all to see. Louis could see mighty ships of the line, huge vessels that dwarfed the Valkyrie and even the picket vessel that had greeted them on his arrival. They slumbered in there mammoth berths, guns muzzled, engines dormant, waiting for the call of the Empire once again. There were not just mighty battleships here; Louis noticed numerous medium sized cruiser class vessels and smaller frigates and destroyers nearly as far as his eyes could see. A shadow passed the window and he looked up, silhouetted against the sun was what he was sure to be a Sword Class cruiser pass by, gaining altitude as it made its way away from its dock, no doubt off on its next assignment. Their chosen landing bay was coming into view, it was a large concrete rectangle designed for a much larger vessel surrounded by permanent scaffolding and various gantries for repairs, refuelling and maintenance for the vessels of the Royal Navy. A stylised ‘7’ adorned the centre of concrete denoting the hanging designation. On one of his various previous visits the Count had ascertained there were as many as 65 similar hangers on this base alone.

As the Valkyrie came into land, six large mechanical legs unfolded from the bottom of the main bulk of the ship, touching down gently and sinking slowly until the glider suspended from the bottom was only a few feet above the ground. The main door was flung open and a rope ladder dropped as the Count climbed down and his boots touched the ground.

It was strange just how much he hated being back on the ground and he looked around, taking in the large airship port which was virtually empty of ships of their kind. This was most certainly not a place for pirates he noted.

Lieutenant Davenport had appeared and he was forming his platoon up in formation on the concrete to one side, ready for inspection and debriefing from his superiors, as this was a military base after all. They stood at ease while the young officer read out a role call of names. The final member of the crew who wished to come ashore stepped down from the ladder; the young engineer Genevieve whom the Count was relieved to see was entirely unharmed. She smiled as she walked elegantly towards Louis, bowing her head slightly in greeting.

“Count de Theudubert.”

“Genevieve.”

They smiled warmly at each other and he placed a hand on her shoulder before a much larger hand came down on his own shoulder.

“What is the damage like Swiss?” Louis asked, although looking upon his ship from the outside it was clear how lucky they had been. A hole the size of a rugby ball adorned the hull next to the tail, if the rudder had been hit, they would have been at the frigate’s mercy!

“We could have taken those swine Captain.” The faint German twang in the voice and the smell of gunpowder let Louis know who it was before he turned to face Bjorn Hauptmann.

“You know better than I do how much firepower those ships possess, as well as the fact that it was a frigate specifically designed for taking down pirate ships and the fact that we were running low on fuel…” The Count raised an eyebrow as the German smiled back at him.

“I would have parachuted on board and given them a hell of a time Captain…”

“That I do not doubt Bjorn.”

“Not to break up this lovefest Captain, but we’ve got company.” Lieutenant Davenport had joined them inclined his head and the Count turned to take in the sight of three Naval Officers walking towards them. The one in front was at least a Captain in his own right if not a commodore as Louis could not see his sleeve rank properly. The others were Warrant Officers at best. Louis had been given a rank himself, mostly ceremonial in nature, but he never wore any kind of military uniform and never called himself anything other than Captain, whether in the air or on the ground.

“Platoon Attention!” The Count heard Charles call out to his men before he was answered by the crisp smack of 20 boots hitting the ground in perfect unison.

“I’ve seen that ship before. I saw it being built. The HMS Valkyrie, which would make you the pirate.” The Commodore observed, sneering at the Count.

Gen’s eyes narrowed and she stepped forward with her mouth already opened to defend Louis de Theudubert but he held out his cane to hold her back and smiled.

“That would indeed make me the pirate. Count Louis de Theudubert is my name. May I ask your name and rank sir?” The Count smiled curtly and tipped his top hat to the officer.

“Commodore James Pentwood. We’re here to take control of your ship, Count.” The man sneered further and there was nothing that Louis could do to hold back the crew members around him from erupting in anger, shouting and swearing. Swiss went so far as to pull a grenade from his belt before looking to the Count with a look that virtually asked permission to set the explosive before he received a shake of the head. Lieutenant Davenport was stood at attention in front of his men a little off the right of the main body of the crew in a smart drill square. Louis noticed he was turning a peculiar shade of white, and then green. The Count knew Charles could do nothing while at attention in the presence of a superior officer. His frantic eyes had indicated he had seen the grenade and that expression had said it all. The skypirate realised that the Lieutenant was torn between the urge of tackling the angry German with the grenade or to question his superior on the wisdom of his decision. Bound by protocol he was unable to do either and remained motionless.

“You will need to explain yourself further before I simply hand over my ship Mr. Pentwood.” The Count responded, carefully choosing not to mention his rank so as to belittle him.

This did not go unnoticed.

“Your ship is to be impounded for repairs and for further investigation. Get your remaining crew off the ship now!” The Commodore had turned a deep puce colour due to his shouting.

Louis bowed and nodded to Lieutenant Davenport who pulled the transmitter from his back before radioing the ship, instructing them all to leave immediately and to join them on the ground.

“I really do not see the need for this. Why are they taking the ship?” Gen asked, lifting herself onto her tiptoes to whisper to the Count.

“I have no idea my dear, but for now, we will let them. The Valkyrie is in dire need of repair after those last clashes, besides you noticed what would be waiting for us if we made a run for it on our way in. I will not jeopardise the welfare of my crew.” The Count then turned to the Commodore and smirked as the crew began to grow in number, the ship emptying. “Just make sure she is fully refuelled before handing her back.

“IF you get her back…” The Commodore added with a smirk, walking past him towards the rope ladder that led into the Valkyrie, with a curt nod a team of navy maintenance workers who had been waiting patiently nearby headed toward the Valkyrie or climbed the large gantries around it to be begin the repairs.

This was nowhere near as easy for Louis as he made it appear. Since joining the Navy, he had spent pretty much all of his time on the Valkyrie and it was not only a ship, but a home and a companion. Still, what choice did they have?

“We need you to come with us sir.” One of the Warrant Officers told him, each of them holding Snider-Enfield rifles which looked rather menacing to the Captain, but not to many of the other crew members as each of them had weaponry that could be fired faster and do more damage at this range.

“WHAT FOR!?” Gen shouted, unable to contain herself.

“We dunno!” The same officer replied, a little taken aback at Genevieve’s loud voice.

“All we know is that those are our orders and the orders delivered to the Captain of the HMS Valkyrie. He has to see the admiral now, the rest of you are free to do as you please.”

If the officer had been hoping for the rest of the crew to dissipate, they were wrong. Not a single man or woman moved and all of them narrowed their eyes as if to dare the men to try force to take their Captain.

“I will go, you all go and resupply.” The Count had turned to face them and gave a wink with the word resupply, meaning they were free not only to enjoy themselves, but also to commit acts of piracy they deemed necessary.

“Captain…” Gen began, looking down at the ground in front of his feet.

“It is quite alright Genevieve. You can gather new tools and more supplies. And what better place to gather information on Nikolas Tesla’s works than London?” The Count asked with a smile.

She nodded, refusing to look up as she walked towards the gateway out of the shipyard. The other crew followed, each of them looking back at Louis to check if he was certain.

Skye did the same, but she also sped up when past him, eager to get out onto the streets, HER streets. Of course, the Count had lived here as well, but he had lived in a plush manor and she had lived either on the streets or in the workhouses…The workhouses she had escaped from!

She slid silently into a dark alley, smirking as she moved effortlessly despite the brass wings and boiler-pack on her back. The Navy shipyard was not very far from the north side of Westminster Bridge, which meant that they were not far from Oxford Street…which to Tabitha Skylar meant they were near to a bunch of snooty aristocrats looking through shops and drinking tea while waiting for their steam-automotives to be returned to them by valet. It was ridiculous, but it was also an easy place to find those “supplies” the Count had mentioned.

In her case, gold would do! She knew that Louis would never approve of such things, in fact, he had tried his best to teach her that her other talents were far more useful…

* * * * *

“That is a very skilfully drawn map.”

Tabitha snatched the roll of paper from the ground and clutched it, and her pencils, to her chest.

“I didn’t take it!”

“I know you did not steal it, I saw you drawing it.” The man smiled, strangely genuine, more than most of the ‘gentlemen’ who spoke to Skye on the streets of London…

“Then…leave me alone…” She told him, stepping back and looking over her shoulder into the dark alley that she would have used as an escape route, except, there was a large carriage halfway down it, probably with a street-walker and her client inside. Instead, she crouched a little, her right hand sliding down to the top of her high boots.

“I was actually going to ask you how much-“

“I’M NOT THAT KINDA PERSON DAMMIT!”

The man laughed and shook his head, locks of hair falling over his right eye in the same way that her own dark hair fell over her left. He pulled the top hat from his head and slid the hair back from his eye, revealing also the Telescopic Diagnostician which had only recently been created.

“I was going to ask you how much you would charge me for that map of the South-East of London once it is complete.” He crouched down also, his balance being held upon the cane in his right hand.

Skye had not lived this long on the streets to drop her guard at the sight of an aristocrat, even one that had such strange accessories as this. But who was she to keep track of fashion? These days newer and crazier inventions were appearing all of the time…

The girl suddenly pulled the long knife from her boot, holding it so that the blade ran away from her.

“Come any closer and I’ll kill ya! I swear I will!” She narrowed her eyes as her back straightened, bringing her into a deadly stance.

“You just drew a map of over ten miles radius from complete memory, and you do not look like you own an airship or have even been aboard one recently. As such, that means you have incredible natural skill and I think you would be very useful to me. I am a pirate, my name is Louis de Theudubert.” He straightened also, his eyes strangely locked on her own despite the fact that a blade had been drawn. Usually people looked straight at the knife and could no longer look her in the eye, but not him.

“You’re…a pirate?” She asked, cocking her head a little but not relaxing her stance.

“There seems to be an echo. Yes. I have only recently come to London again for the first time in many years and believe me, it was not by choice. I am giving you the opportunity to at least follow me to see the ship. I will not stand behind you and if you are subtle about it, I will not even ask you to put the knife away.”

The Count then turned his back on her, causing her eyes to widen as she began to follow him, rolling the map up and tucking it into her belt before she followed, keeping the knife behind her back as she followed. She caught up to him, walking slightly behind and to his right. Then she smiled, seeing that his pocket watch was only very loosely hanging from his waist coat and was barely even tucked into the pocket. Well, if nothing else, she could get some money from him…

“You sure you’re serious ‘bout this?” She asked, moving in tightly against him so that she could whisper directly into his ear.

“Yes I am quite serious. You have a great deal of skill and with some training, I think you could become an excellent navigator.”

She stopped in her tracks, now feeling incredibly guilty as she tucked the pocket watch into a pouch on the back of her belt.

“You’d train me ta become navigator?” Once again her eyes widened in disbelief, making the scar which led from her lower lid part of the way down her cheek all the more noticeable. “’cuz I have this thing where I can tell which direction I’m goin’ in no matter where I’m goin’!”

“That would also come in quite handy. And would explain partly how you can draw such beautiful and accurate maps without any outside help. Of course, you would need to prove this at a later date. Asking you to do so here would prove nothing as you clearly know these streets rather well.” The Count smiled warmly and turned again, walking towards the shipyard where his new vessel was parked. It had only been a few hours ago that he and his crew had been led to the HMS Valkyrie and told that they could take it as their ship. The Marvelle they had been flying on had been destroyed when the Navy captured them and had, to Louis’ surprise, enlisted them.

“I’ll come…if you’re sure you’ll ‘ave me!” She told him, sliding the knife into her boot once more. “I’m Skye!”

“Your map was signed Tabitha Skylar…” He replied with a smirk, enjoying the look on her face that showed he had paid more attention than she first thought.

“That ain’t my name no more sir. I go by Skye.” She told him with a curt nod.

“Well then, we shall have to test you out on a trial basis, I hope you understand.” He told her with a smile, walking away from her now. “And I think the first part of this trial is to see how long it takes you to return my pocket watch Tabby…”

She had turned a deep red and ran after him, ignoring the fact that he had called her Tabby for now.

* * * * *

Now Tabitha Skylar had shown her merit and was granted permanent placement on the crew as both a Navigator and a Pilot. She knew that she was gifted, despite how so many of these aristocratic bastards looked at her…

The tall kerosene lanterns which lit the streets at night time were off now, and would remain so for almost the entire day as it was summer now and they were not needed as much.

Skye was looking to the right when she bumped hard into a man in a frock coat and a top hat, a monocle falling from his eye, causing it to swing freely.

“Filthy scum!”

“I’m sorry!” She told him, looking innocent as she took a step back before walking around him, looking as scared as possible. When she was a safe enough distance, she let the coin purse fall from her sleeve into her hand, laughing a little as she threw it and caught it again, admiring the fact that the man had not missed the rather weighty purse’s weight.

“Oh good, then the drinks are on you…” came a distinct accent from just behind her on the right side. Lieutenant Charles Christophe Davenport was stood behind her with a smirk on his face, indicating a bar to their right down a small alley.

Gen laughed and let out a low whistle.

“Looks like you did pretty well there. Good for the rest of us at least…”

“And I drink quite a lot.” Swiss added, flicking one of Skye’s dreadlocks.

“Well, it’s a good thing I nabbed so much then ain’t it?” The newest of the main crew asked, laughing nervously.

“Quite.” Davenport smirked, all of them leading Skye towards the bar.

* * * * *

“Do you have any idea why you are here Count de Theudubert?” The Admiral asked, the same one that had once looked at a slightly younger skypirate and offered him a position within the Navy. He was stood in front of his desk with a smile upon his face and it was almost a little disconcerting.

“It is time for my next promotion?” The Count smirked, happy at least that his wrists were not contained within iron this time. He had received a promotion within the Navy in his short time there, but it has not come in person, it had been delivered in Manchester upon landing for supplies. Still, he refused to tell his crew his official rank, nor would he wear any symbol of his position.

His eyes wandered around the room, noting the fact that since he had last been here, nothing had changed. The large pine desk which the man now sat behind had two photograph frames upon it, a writing board set in the middle with various scattered papers upon it and a pen at their side. A wooden hat-stand stood behind the man and to his left, upon which was rested a hat and also a navy-blue double-breasted jacket, complete with rather lavish epaulettes which contained various symbols of rank upon the left breast.

“Not quite, in fact, you are very close to being reprimanded. We have reason to believe that you have been lying about the amount of bounty you have taken on board.” The Admiral studied Louis’ face closely, expecting some fluctuation to reveal the truth to him, but nothing came. The pirate’s lips curled into quite an innocent smile and he shrugged his shoulders.

“In all honesty sir, I have no idea what you are talking about.” Louis told him, shaking his head slightly. “In case you are unaware, being a pirate does not make you a dishonest man. In fact, I am quite sure that you have more dishonest men in your line of work than I do…”

The Admiral laughed and silently admitted to himself that he liked this boy. He had the kind of spirit that he would have looked for in an officer but lacked the discipline that a man of his station should have possessed.

“That may be true. But we shall discover within the next few days whether or not-”

The Admiral was interrupted by a loud knock on the door, and he smiled again, pushing a foot-pedal to the left of the space beneath his desk which caused the doors to open. Stood in the doorway was one of the officers which had approached Louis outside of the ship, wearing a rather large smile which made the Count’s stomach turn over. The Admiral stood and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, dabbing gently at his brow before sweeping it back over his bald head. It was most certainly a warm day and the amount of steam required to run this building did nothing to help the situation, not even the fan to the side of his desk.

The officer stepped to the side and allowed a rather sophisticated woman to enter the room before he stepped through the doors as well, letting them close behind the two of them.

The Count’s eyes widened and as the woman stepped up beside him before the desk, he bowed his head and tipped his hat to her before straightening back up and facing the Admiral once more.

“Ah, Miss Hawkesworth, you made the journey in good time then?” The Admiral asked with a smile.

“It is not far from the Horse Guards to here Admiral Tooley.” The woman lifted her hand and threw some hair back over her shoulder.

She was attractive; the Count could not deny this. She was quite tall, not much shorter than he was, not counting her top hat which was decorated with a large black floral decoration and a peacock’s feather. Her shoulders were covered by a red shrug jacket, clasped at her neck. The red and black corset she wore highlighted her curves quite well and her bustle skirt showed that she was obviously from some kind of wealthy family.

Obviously a spoilt brat, the Count thought to himself, judging by her manner of dress and attitude.

“Of course Miss Hawkesworth. How foolish of me.” The Admiral was clearly amused and one of the officers already present slid a chair over for the woman which she accepted.

The Count looked around and laughed as no-one offered him a seat.

“So, shall I leave you to your business Admiral? It is getting rather crowded in here!” The Count bowed low and turned towards the door before the newly entered officer blocked his path with a smirk.

“You are going nowhere sunshine! Not after what we’ve found on that ship already!”

“You have discovered something already!?” The Admiral asked in surprise, his palms slamming onto his desk as he leant forwards to hear the news.

“Almost a hundred barrels of various forms of liquor sir. None of which were ever mentioned on his forms.” The man smiled cruelly in the Count’s direction as his face sank.

“Then it seems I am most certainly needed here.” The lady stood and turned towards the Count. “Who do you think funds your ship and all of your missions Count de Theudubert? Her Majesty’s Treasury,” she continued without awaiting his response, “and that means that, in turn, the people of Britain are paying for those missions. As such, you are stealing from your own country each time you fail to mention these items.”

“Surely Her Majesty has no need of alcohol though Miss…Hawkesworth was it? In all fairness, I do believe that the alcohol would have been mislaid at some point along the chain of command at any rate and enjoyed by folk far less deserving of it than my crew who risked their lives for it.” Louis shook his head. “At any rate, if I am to be reprimanded, then so be it. I made the decision, it should be my punishment.”

“There will be no need to fall upon your own sword Commodore.” The Admiral told him, causing the Count to cringe. “In order to ensure that this will not be happening in the future, the Treasury have been so kind as to allow us to borrow Miss Amelia Hawkesworth, who will be accompanying you for the next few months.”

Had Louis de Theudubert been drinking something at this point, he likely would have spit the full contents of his mouth in surprise.

“Well…I, very well. Of course, it will be excellent to entertain a lady such as yourself Miss Hawkesworth. We shall have to ensure to keep the male members of crew away from you; lest we have a full crew forgetting their duties to spend time following you around my ship.” The Count had recovered quickly and now took the lady’s hand kissing the top of the satin gloves gently.

Amelia pulled her hand out of Louis’ grasp and gave him a disapproving look,

“You can save that claptrap for your portside floozies sir. I am here to do my job which is to ensure that from now until the time I leave the HMS Valkyrie, which, I clearly need to remind you, is the STATE’S ship, not your own, you maintain your records correctly and steal nothing further than the correct fifty percent that you are owed as part of your contract.”

The Count smiled now, enjoying the fact that this woman would be coming onto his ship. He was entirely sure that the first British port they returned to would be the point where she left HIS ship and returned to the Treasury with her tail between her legs. Still, it would be fun while it lasted! She was an educated woman at the very least and one with a wit as sharp as her tongue.

“Very good! In that case, you are free to go Count de Theudubert. Your ship is still being inspected and will be for the next few days while repairs are made and fuel levels are resupplied.” The Admiral walked around his desk and put one hand on Louis’ shoulder while holding his other out to the door. “If you don’t mind Count, Miss Hawkesworth needs fully briefed before her mission.”

The Count bowed his head and walked towards the door, opening it by hand and stepping outside into the far warmer corridor.

This would be very interesting…

* * * * *

“Swiss no!” Gen dove out of the way as a chair flew across the bar and crashed into the wall.

A punch was aimed at Bjorn Hauptmann’s face and he laughed as he lifted his left hand, taking the punch in the centre of his metallic palm before the silver-hued fingers closed around the man and tossed him to one side, hydraulics adding to his strength.

Skye backed away from a group of three men that were approaching her, one of whom was wearing a knuckle duster and the other two were content with bare fists. The young pilot had lived most of her life facing these kinds of odds, however, and she ducked under a punch, lifting her knee into the man’s crotch hard as she rose and span on her heel so that her leg crashed into another man’s jaw.

Lieutenant Davenport despite being an officer was no stranger to barroom brawls. The fact that he often spoke his mind was only amplified when he ingested large quantities of alcohol, but this was started through pure brashness and rude behaviour by others. He had moved quickly over to where Skye was being surrounded but arrived in time to catch the third man’s arm, twisting it behind his back before he slammed him face-first into the wall.

“You ok?” He asked and she nodded in return. They had been enjoying a drink when there had been a passing comment made about the smell coming from Swiss, which, despite his many shortcomings, was no more true than of anyone else in this bar. Swiss had reacted…well, as was to be expected of him. A punch to the face followed by throwing him over a table which had then resulted in this!

Genevieve was used to these kinds of fights; close quarters, many opponents, the same as every boarding mission! She turned just in time to dodge a bottle and responded by pulling a spanner from her belt and slamming it into her assailant’s chin to send him crashing to the floor. The four crew members backed into the centre of the room as almost all of the regular customers were closing in on them now, surrounding them. The barman had ducked beneath the bar quite fast after the fight had begun and it seemed they were on their own now!

“Um, ideas?” Gen asked, looking around.

“Why do we not just pull our guns on them?” Bjorn asked, smirking as he prepared to unveil his four-barrelled shotgun.

“They are civilians Swiss, we can’t and you know it.” Charles responded, their backs almost touching now.

“I dunno, I reckon we could make an exception this time.” Skye added, smirking as she prepared to draw her knife.

“The Captain wouldn’t like it.” Gen told Skye, narrowing her eyes.

“Like I care!” Skye laughed.

The firing of a gun caused all of the regulars and the crew to turn towards the bar where the barman had pulled out a large pepperbox and had fired some warning shots into the ceiling.

“Let them go fellas. They don’t know no better! You lot get outa my pub!” The barman, who had seemed a coward only a few minutes ago now narrowed his eyes and took aim with the rapid-fire gun.

The crew began walking towards the door slowly, not turning their backs on their possible assailants even once. Gen, then Skye, then Swiss left through the doors. Lieutenant Davenport pulled something from a pocket in his pack.

“That’d better not be what I think it is!” Skye asked slowly with realisation. “Charles I ain’t even gonna ask why you would bring one of those sodding things out on a night on the town!”

“Louis always told me to be prepared; also it seemed like a good idea at the time.” He replied with a smirk as the thumbed the primer on a chloroform gas grenade.

“DO IT, DO IT NOW!” Swiss bellowed, with more than a little enthusiasm.

Skye raised an eyebrow and covered her mouth and nose as Davenport sprinted back through the door of the bar, throwing it into the centre of the room with a hearty laugh, before he dove through the doors. The canister of chloroform had begun spewing its noxious green gas from the time that it had sailed through the air and it began working extremely fast in the poorly ventilated bar.

The soldier smirked as he walked away, knowing that they would wake up with more than a hangover now!

“So,” Davenport asked as he caught up with the other three, “where are we hitting next…?”
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!
Add a Comment:
 
:iconscorpio112087:
Scorpio112087 Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010
I love the bar scene!! xD This was wonderful!
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
AWw thank you very much ^_^
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:iconmangagirl232:
MangaGirl232 Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2010
I'm really enjoying the story so far hun! The scene at the end made me lol ^_^
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
Hehe I'm glad to hear that!
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:iconjaygee67:
JayGee67 Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2010
This is really rich and descriptive. My only regret is that I'm having to scroll down a screen, instead of being able to snuggle in an overstuffed armchair, reading it from proper slightly yellowed pages. The I could get lost in it...
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
When it is finished I will look to getting it published ^_^ Needs much editing first though!
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:iconjaygee67:
JayGee67 Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2010
If you need any help with that, just holler x
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
I will do ^_^
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:iconfullmetalwing:
FullMetalWing Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
OMG this story just gets better I am really am into it now
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:iconsjbonnar:
sjbonnar Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
Yay!
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