Why had he chosen to do this? Surely it was a mistake to have made such a life-changing decision based solely on the answers which he sought... After all, what kind of Skypirate found himself working under the yoke of the military!?
The sole reason that he had become a Skypirate in the first place had been to escape from the shackles in which his aristocracy bound him. He had yearned for freedom, he had needed the ability to escape, to release his airship from the docks and with the hum of propellers, disappear beyond the horizon. It had always been the need for freedom, to not be bound to the land like most people, which had made the Skypirates brothers in arms.
However, this was no longer the case for Count Louis de Theudubert or his crew. He would no longer be seen as a brother by the other Skypirates, not that he had been exceptionally popular before! The Count was generally a very forgiving, very merciful man who did everything possible to avoid bloodshed in his line of work while still relieving his victims of their possessions. The darkest, most blood-thirsty pirates collected in a group known as the Black Den and these pirates had been after Louis' hide before, desperate to use him as an example to any of the other pirates they considered "soft". It was not as if these were pirates whose approval Louis sought! These were the lowest excuses for human beings he could have thought of at the time, making it their goal in life to humiliate, manipulate and torture their victims in any way possible before taking everything in sight, often including their victim's airships. Being three miles in the air and suddenly without an airship was a swift path to an extended case of death! Louis made it his mission to leave his own victims with enough fuel to get to the nearest port at least...usually more just in case something went wrong.
Perhaps not the best path when pursuing a career in piracy but still, it fit with Louis' morality well and meant he still could relieve rich merchants of their goods!
The ship rocked and Louis caught hold of the railing which ran around the edge of the decking, his leather glove holding hard against the lacquered wood. They were getting closer to the skystream, the thin stream of highly condensed, fast moving air that ran in currents over the skies of the entire world. There were many airships which were able to make the trip into the skystreams and it could be dangerous getting into them safely, but Louis was confident in Tabitha and the pilots who were at the helm. The ship had been reinforced greatly with a combination of Louis' personal funds and his chief engineer's skills.
A chill went down Louis' spine and he sighed as he looked out into the sky, his eyes drawn to a small speck on the horizon.
The voice startled Louis somewhat and he turned to face Lieutenant Charles Christophe Davenport, the head of the Army presence on board the Royal Navy-owned ship which Louis captained, the HMS Valkyrie.
"Yes Davenport, what seems to be the matter?" Louis asked, turning and leaning against the railings which were the only thing between him and a three mile drop into what he assumed was the North Sea.
Davenport saluted and looked at Louis with somewhat of a disapproving gaze. He had trained long and hard at the Academy, becoming a member of the Manchester Regiment before he had requested the tour on the HMS Valkyrie. It was very strange for any member of the British Army to be on board a Royal Navy ship...let alone a small platoon and for a long duration of time!
"Sir, we are closing in on the merchant ship you ordered us to follow. However, it seems they have spotted us. They have turned a hard port and are heading directly into the skystream." Davenport explained, looking now towards the ship which they had been closing in on.
Louis' eyes widened and he turned again, flicking a switch on the bracer attached to his right arm. The Captain of the Valkyrie was famed for wearing what most thought was merely a styling monogoggle, a form of one-sided goggle. However Louis had a secret within that piece of eyewear! Wires connected from it to the vambrace on his right forearm, upon which several wires and switches lay, as well as a test-tube of green liquid and a stopper valve. Altogether this was a very important piece of kit for the Captain, but right now he was activating the true power of his monogoggle, his Telescopic Diagnostician which Genevieve had helped him create.
Instantly the crystals which comprised the lens of the Telescopic Diagnostician began to focus and zoom in on the distant airship and indeed it had veered left and was heading towards the skystream.
"Very good Lieutenant. We move now! Gather your men and prepare them for a boarding operation. The ship we trail is cannon equipped and there are possibilities of a fair amount of weaponry on board a merchant ship of this size. They may even have mercenaries on board. Assemble in the foyer of the glider and avoid the deck until I give further instructions." Louis gave orders swiftly and to the point.
"Sir!" Davenport saluted, his feet coming together before he turned and moved with speed and precision back through the doors that led into the foyer, already pulling the telephone-like radio transmitter from the pack on his back and calling into it for his men to gather, orders being relayed to those beneath him.
Louis watched him go, casting his eyes over the disciplined and authoritative way the Lieutenant moved. The man was taller than Louis, even with the Captain wearing a top hat. His stature could be rather intimidating, and the fact that he often wore a gas-mask and pair of blacked-out sunglasses with cross-hairs on them did not take away from his intimidation factor, which was perfect for his purposes.
Due to the secretive and experimental nature of the HMS Valkyrie, the platoon was deemed necessary by the British Government and in Louis' mind; there could have been far worse military personnel on board his ship. He could sense the need for freedom within the Lieutenant's heart and that meant he was more Skypirate than he would ever admit.
Davenport had graduated with honours from the finest military academies, staying an extra year to specialise in military tactics and battle strategies, studying both ground and air manoeuvres. It had made him a valuable asset, especially when taking on far larger ships with the Valkyrie's small bulk. Even with their advanced firepower it meant that they could often infiltrate large ships, remove the threats from within and disappear with impeccable speed. The 'hit and run' approach worked perfectly for the Valkyrie and Davenport certainly added to their efficiency!
Louis walked over to the side of the ship again and uncapped the top of one of the exterior speaking tubes. These tubes ran all over the ship and he could direct his voice to anywhere depending on which tube he spoke into and this particular one meant the entire ship could hear him at once.
"We need to increase speed by forty KTAS, hard to port and extend the Glider fins! If that zeppelin manages to make it to the skystream, we are going to lose it. And I should not have the need to tell you what kind of payoff a ship that large is likely to be carrying do I?" Louis smirked as a cry went up from around the ship, the men acknowledging how important this was. "Now, lads and ladies, give me all that you have!"
Another cry and the ship veered hard to the left, the large fins along the starboard and port sides of the glider attached to the base of the Valkyrie's gondola folding outwards like wings from the side of the decking. The experimental booster jets flared up, the one on the right firing at double the strength so that the ship turned towards the left. Both of them then flared at the same level, sending the ship speeding towards the opposing zeppelin. At once, four more jet engines, these attached to the Valkyrie's large vertical fins on the stern of the airship.
This was going to be tight because of the distance between them, but the HMS Valkyrie was the fastest ship in the Naval fleet and had some of the most advanced weaponry available. As well as the deck-mounted cannon batteries, both starboard and port side carried triple-barrelled cannons; there were four large rear cannons and, Louis' pride and joy, a large Teleforce Cannon that could be extended from the prow. He did all he could to avoid using such a disruptive weapon, but if needed it could be used to rip through ship hulls with an intensely focussed beam of energy which was created through an experimental Tesla reactor.
"Captain?" The tube's cap vibrated with another voice and Louis opened it once more.
"Sir, I am pretty sure that I can get at least another twenty KTAS out of the ship if we reroute energy from the Death Ray to the engines." The feminine voice replied.
Louis smirked as he heard Genevieve til Baudfert's voice. The runaway aristocrat who played herself off as a street urchin, a brilliant mind for engineering who became a boatswain in Louis' crew and worked her way up through the engineering ranks at top speed. The sixteen year old had begun tinkering with the gadgetry on Louis's various ships over the years and he had learned long ago to let her have her way.
The Captain subconsciously touched the back of his right hand and smirked, the wound there long since healed but the scars remaining from his first encounter with Genevieve.
"Do it if you think it is possible but Gen I swear that if anything explodes this time..."
"Nothing'll explode Captain! Trust me! Well, what I am going to use to focus the energy is experimental so there are no real guarantees but-"
The ship suddenly lurched forward, causing Louis to grip harder onto the edge of the ship's prow, his cane clattering to the deck as he smiled broadly, the wind whipping through his medium-length, black, wavy hair. The Count lifted one hand to the tip of his top hat, partly obscuring his view. He lowered his right hand to reveal the Telescopic Diagnostician over his right eye which served as an analysis screen. He quickly pushed a button on the inside of the control panel on his right forearm which caused the crystal to focus in on the zeppelin again, this time scanning the distance and how long it would take at this speed.
"Four minutes! It would have taken sixteen before that boost...that is damned impressive Genevieve!" The Count said to himself, reaching to his left hip with his right hand, pulling his rapier from its scabbard a small amount to check that it wasn't sticking before he resheathed it. His left hand then touched the gun holster on his right hip to feel the weight of his stun pistol. A small gun which could fire a stream of gel used to paralyse his opponent.
It had been a long time since Louis had first taken to the sky; his first ship was a small, pathetic little thing. But with his crew, he had managed to take down vessels three times its size and that had begun his career as a sky pirate. It had only been recently that the government had signed him on as a privateer, using his talents to track down other skypirates and capture them or to seek out cargo ships from opposing nations to take their cargo 'into custody', otherwise known as stealing it
Louis became quite famous, or infamous depending on whom you asked, for his particular brand of piracy. No hurting unless you had to, no outright destruction, just hoarding and selling loot and also information. If there was one thing that Count Louis de Theudubert prized more than valuables and weapons, it was knowledge! Knowledge, and of course, his freedom! Only once had he even deemed himself close to capture, but in actual fact, that had been a misunderstanding...
* * * * *
"Please, relax Count. We have no qualms with you!" The man stated, his moustache curling upwards as he smirked, his hands coming together upon the folder in his lap before he stood, turning to face the window.
"The truth is, Count de Theudubert, we would like to enlist your services."
Louis laughed hard, the chains that bound his wrists creating quite a haunting jingling sound as he did so.
"Pardon my disbelief Admiral, but usually when a Skypirate has been clapped in irons and dragged into the royal offices, it is not for tea and crumpets." In reality, Louis was terrified. He knew that piracy was often considered treason if carried out in British airspace and treason was punishable by death or even worse, prison!
"Never have any ships been stolen by you or anyone under your command. In fact, aside from injuries sustained by cannon fire, no-one has ever been harmed on your watch." The Admiral turned to look at him, holding up the folder that had Louis' picture attached to it with a paperclip. He threw it onto the desk and it fell open to a picture of Louis' family, the sight of his father, mother and sister causing a spark of rage to fly through him.
"WHAT DO YOU KNOW OF MY FAMILY!?" The Count shouted, lurching forward suddenly before being caught roughly around the biceps by two large naval officers whom he struggled hard to be free of. As he struggled, his hat fell from his head, his aviation goggles resting on the brim.
"Relax, we know nothing more than you do. They were kidnapped in French airspace by a ship that appeared to be Darmanian, the note that was sent to you asked for no ransom, but did tell you that you had three years, with a family member being killed off every year unless you found them." The Admiral smirked again and stepped forward, lifting up the top hat which had fallen to the floor and dusting it off before he handed it to the visibly deflating Count. He unfastened the manacles from his wrists and nodded to the officers to release his arms.
Louis knew what was coming. He had been approached two years prior to join the Royal Navy officially, but had turned them down, refusing to be tied to the land in any way other than supply runs. But now
"We want to commission you as a Privateer. A pirate on our payroll. You will have access to our shipyards, our weapon stores and even our men. A crew can be provided-"
"I have no need for your crew. I have my own!" Louis bent down and placed his hat back on his head, his face becoming more stoic than ever before.
"Well, then what would you require?" The Admiral asked, a knowing smile spreading upon his face.
"I want a ship, fast, light, but armed to the teeth. I want at least twenty of some damn good men. And if it can be arranged, I would rather not your naval pansies either. I want some regimental types, ground soldiers, disciplined and able to take orders from a Skypirate without question. I keep my own crew and we get on the payroll as well as fifty percent of the plunder." Louis told him matter-of-factly, without pausing, as if he had planned this all along.
The Admiral laughed heartily. "Are all Skypirates extortionists then? Fine, take that. We more want you to be able to take down the other Skypirates at any rate. Anything else you'll be wanting?"
"I need an official rank as well as international transport papers. I need to be able to get into other countries' airspace without suspicion. I am sure I will have some time off from official duties after all?" It was Louis' turn to smile as he held out his right hand towards the Admiral. "If those terms are acceptable, then I guess I shall lower myself to your level."
The Admiral was clearly unsure of these last two terms and he hesitated before he extended his hand with a careful response of "I'll see what I can do
As for the ship; we have something in mind actually..."
Admiral Tooley put a hand on Louis' shoulder and began to lead him towards the interior docks of the RNAS Ramillies. Two large warehouses stood side-by-side and as they passed one, Louis caught a glimpse of a fantastic ship, its envelope clad in metal but with far fewer weapons than anything of that size he had ever seen. Hanging from each of the sides were two large pipes that tapered out at the bottom. Louis had no idea what they were for, but they looked extremely unfamiliar to him.
"No, not that one. That one has already been allocated to another. Besides, it is a tracking vessel, the HMS Hermes, and you do not wish to be a pure privateer, you wish also to be an instrument of vengeance also and for that you will need this..." Admiral Tooley indicated the warehouse where a ship was clearly still being worked upon.
The sun seemed to catch the metallic front coverings of the ship's envelope at that exact moment and Louis winced, pulling the goggles from his hat before sliding them onto his head in order to shield his eyes as he stared at the new airship. It was glorious!
The front of the envelope was what caught his attention first as both that and the prow of the ship were extended into sharp metal points, clearly for ramming. Taut cables connected the envelope to the large, galleon shaped gondola that hung beneath it and attached to the bottom of that was another, far smaller vehicle with large wings which were folded up against the ship. At the back of the ship were two large fins, between which lay the large propeller shafts.
On either side of the main envelope were two smaller ones, containing their own small baskets which Louis assumed were to be used for reconnaissance. At the prow was a large criss-crossed grating covering what appeared to be a large cannon.
"This...this is going to be mine?" Louis stared up at the ship in complete awe.
"That is the HMS Valkyrie and it can indeed be your ship. It is not very large, but it is incredibly fast and also armed to the nines. A lot of the technology and even the design of the ship is experimental, so you would also be testing it out for us." The Admiral replied with a smirk.
Louis knew that this would never be fully his ship though, he would need to add his own touches...
* * * * *
One of the first things Louis had done had been to add the figurehead, a large copper statue of a Valkyrie, a warrior woman clutching an enormous spear, to the top of the envelope which not only announced them well, but also could add to their ramming capabilities for other zeppelins.
"Captain?" A voice came from the speaking tube again and snapped him back to reality.
"Yes? Are the preparations complete?"
"Yes sir, we're coming within gliding range now."
"Is Bjorn present?" Louis asked, smirking a little at the thought of his German Gunnery Chief.
"No sir, Swiss is not here...more's the pity." The sarcasm was evident in the tone of the voice and only then did Louis realise it was Davenport responding to him. "He is currently having that arm of his replaced."
Louis stood back and nodded to himself, realising that he had forgotten about the Chief Gunner's arm being replaced. No doubt Genevieve had created the new limb and Doctor Knight, the ship's physician, was attaching it. That meant that their 'tank' was out of commission for a few days at least.
"More's the pity indeed..." Louis replied earnestly. He would usually have Davenport on one side and Bjorn "Swiss" Hauptmann on the other. The German was bloodthirsty and vengeful but tempered himself substantially when under Louis' command. Louis knew that his Cannons expert was more thankful to be in his crew than he let on. He had been a member of the German navy until an unfortunate accident occurred when he was loading an unstable blasting cartridge back when such things were merely experiments for firing the larger projectiles had caused Bjorn' injuries. An explosion had torn through the cannon chamber of the German Destroyer class ship, meant that his left arm had been ripped away from the elbow down and shrapnel had caused irreparable damage to his right eye. Such injuries made him unable to carry out his duties and he had been released from duty without so much as a severance package.
Louis smirked, proud of his own eye for talent. He had found "Swiss" with a piece of brown leather covering his damaged eye and his left arm bandaged while he sat on the street, half-mad ranting spewing from his mouth in quickfire German. Louis had taken him in, had experimental limb replacement surgeries paid for and even paid to have him fitted with a new eye. The technology had come on a long way since then, especially since Genevieve had joined the crew and this had led to Bjorn being referred to as "Swiss", as he had constantly changing appendages much like the knives. He constantly had to carry a boiler pack on his back to power both the replacement limb and the four-barrelled shotgun which he carried (loaded with non-lethal ammunition of course).
The two had been through a lot over the years and Bjorn was actually one of the longest-standing members of Louis' crew. Louis could almost actually picture him standing to his right, his mechanical hand glittering copper in the light as the claws tensed, sensing battle on the horizon. His boiler suit hanging from the waist as the top half was never worn, instead a greasy white shirt and black waistcoat adorned his body. The mechanical eye, similar to Louis' Telescopic Diagnostician but far more powerful and connected directly to Bjorn's optic nerves. Controlled by a series of blinks and eye movements, Bjorn and Genevieve had worked hard to perfect it and it seemed to be continually getting better, a design they would both do well from when they chose to retire.
Louis had begun walking without even thinking, climbing down through a hatch into the lower decks and further down another ladder into the glider itself, inside which stood Davenport and his full contingent, ready for battle. The large gun which Davenport carried pre-loaded with chloroform canisters, the exact reason his troops all wore gas masks and that Louis allowed the green liquid to be mounted onto the control panel on his wrist. With a turn of the valve, it would not only be released, but would be fully injected into his bloodstream, meaning the chloroform would be ineffective on him. The boarding party would be safe while the opponents suffered from the effects.
The Captain looked up at the hatch he had not long climbed through and he nodded to the engineer looking down at him.
"Ok, begin lockdown and then activate detachment!" Louis ordered, getting a nod from an engineer as the hatch above closed and was sealed. This was where one of the HMS Valkyrie's true secrets would be revealed! As they got close enough to the target, the glider would be detached and the Valkyrie could remain at a safe distance from the opposing ship while the smaller, much harder to hit, glider would be allowed to take them closer to their prey.
Four large cables were locked into place connecting the glider to the airship above them before small gas canisters fired, separating this large room from the rest of the ship. Allowing for enough time for the wing fins to glide them far enough away from the main gondola, the single helmsman who had joined them on the glider pushed an ignition switch and two smaller jet engines flared into life, sending them thrusting towards their target at a speed which could not be matched and a size that made it much more difficult a target for the enemy. Cover fire was sent out from the HMS Valkyrie and the Glider's cables were extending perfectly, meaning they were never disconnected from the rest of the Valkyrie for long!
One engineer waited at the back of the glider's cabin, these two the only non-boarding party portions of the crew to attend on these sorts of missions to enable the glider to move at maximum proficiency.
As the glider pulled alongside the merchant zeppelin, four grappling hooks fired from various points along the port side, latching onto the wooden hull of the long deck of the ship. This was definitely a cargo ship, if they had not noticed it before they would have done now! The design meant that it had several large cabins held within the deck, and there was always the possibility of even more in the balloon of the zeppelin! Louis licked his lips in anticipation as he walked towards the door to their cabin which led out onto the deck of the glider. The tension in the grappling lines had mounted and it was now time to move! He grabbed a clip to attach himself to the ropes so that they could slide across to the merchant ship's deck and watched the others do the same.
The Count smiled, drawing his pistol and his sword at the same time before pressing a button on his wrist, bringing crosshairs up on his monogoggle. This hopefully would not be too much of an operation, as this was a cargo ship, but mercenaries were being hired more and more recently and Louis would avoid killing as far as was humanly possible. It was for this reason that he had spent money from his own pockets to upgrade all of his crew's weaponry to include not only lethal weapons, but also non-lethal alternatives.
It was true that the Captain carried a sword, but the first thing that would be done when a larger group of enemies showed would be up to Charles Davenport's modified grenade launcher which fired chloroform canisters to quickly incapacitate those that could do them harm. Charles was therefore forced to go in first and carried breathing apparatus on his back to protect him from his own weapon. Part of the platoon carried masks as well, which would mean that Davenport had backup if it was needed. Of course, the Count himself also had immunity, thanks in a large part to a combination of his own ingenuity, Doctor Knight's medical knowledge and Genevieve's skills. With a push of a button, the Count's wrist-mounted control panel slid a needle into his skin and the tube of green liquid mounted upon the vambrace emptied into him.
Shooting to wound would also be acceptable, but almost all of their weaponry was non-lethal. Louis double-checked his stun pistol and nodded, noting that the liquid was completely full and the pressure had mounted to a substantial amount. The chloroform should do most of the work, but once they got into the interior of the ship the cover alone would make it too dangerous to use such gas and they would resort to their side arms.
"Here we go Davenport
" Louis winked with his left eye and the glider pulled up somewhat, allowing them easier access to the ropes which they would use to mount their attack on the ship.
"Sir, you really are far too easy-going." Davenport replied, locking his launcher closed before he strapped it over his shoulder and locked his own clip into place. He smirked back at Louis, adjusting the goggles on the white pith helmet he wore. The silver cuirass over his chest glinted in the light, extra protection for the man on the front lines at all times.
The Captain shook his head with a coy smile. Charles Davenport was only ever this formal when in front of his crew. The two had been out drinking several times and he had proven himself as an avid prankster and jokester even though these events often proved difficult to tie to him directly.
Louis surmised that this placement must have been difficult for the Lieutenant. He had been a prominent graduate in the academies and his father, General Joseph Davenport, was technically the highest ranking official in the British Army!
Lieutenant Davenport's father was the vastly respected and decorated General Joseph Davenport, a man whose only achievement in the Count's eyes was that he had managed to blow people up without getting himself blown up in the process
nothing to be proud of. It was widely believed that Charles Davenport would be following in his father's footsteps, showing incredible promise and vast knowledge of military strategies, but somehow he had ended up on board the HMS Valkyrie. Having spoken with him at great length, the Count knew why this was, even if Davenport had never actually spoken it aloud: It was a direct result of being his father's son...
Unlike most of the military; Charles had sought freedom, abandoning what would have been a long and-in Louis' mind pointless-career in the military for a life in the sky. Oh yes, this man the Count understood!
"Righto, more serious then Lieutenant Davenport. I think this is advice I can follow." Louis chuckled to himself. "Once more into the breach then chaps!"
With that, they were away, four at a time sliding down onto the opposing deck, landing before unclipping themselves and raising their weapons, ready for anything which may come through the double-doors leading down into the belly of the ship.