The Unconquered Sun soared into the Sky. Inside, on the bridge three people screamed all for their personal reasons. Captain Idris screamed in exaltation. Lane screamed in fear of crashing and burning to death, now slowly changing in to the scream of elation given off by creatures noticing that they had just given death the finger and gotten away with it. While Monica was screaming in defiance, right into the face of inevitable ruin screaming to make its move and take its best shot.
As the Unconquered Sun stopped climbing, so did the screams.
"Actually having guests on take off has its charm." captain Idris said. "Cheers!" she sipped her cava.
"And..." croaked Lane, she cleared her throat and tried again. "And now, what do we do now?"
"Now we are going to fly into the Atlas mountains for some privacy and from there work our way up to Fez." Idris said.
"Fez? You said you would take us to Europe." said Lane.
"Yes and Fez is to the north. It's on the way. Also before you even think about protesting," she put a finger up in warning as Lane was opening her mouth, "you were the ones who burst into my life demanding that I take them away immediately. While you are paying me I am doing you a favour here. I still have regular cargo that needs transporting. I will not break a contract made. Not with the people who entrusted their things to me nor am I going to break my contract with you. The cargo, though, it came first so it will be delivered first. Any problems with that?"
"No." said Lane. She wanted to protest but she had to admit that the Captain had a point. Also this way they still had a nice holiday before returning to England and punching Martin until all his small minded viciousness was pounded out of him or his life. Both were equally valid outcomes.
Captain Idris went through a few more checks seeing that everything was OK she activated the auto-pilot and got up from the pilot seat.
"Can you just get up in mid flight?" Lane asked.
"She just did." said Monica.
"Obviously." said captain Idris. "There is no deed to worry the autopilot is able to fly this thing in a straight line and follow some simple instructions. She walked over to the communications station, turning it on, listening in to various conversations with one ear over a set of massive headphones. She nodded to herself putting the headphones away again.
"All clear." Idris said. "We now have a bit of time on our hands before we reach the mountains so I can show you your quarters."
"You have cabins for us?" asked Lane.
"You said you never took any passengers." said Lane.
"Sometimes I have guests. Besides back in the day I thought that it would actually be a good business idea to also take the occasional passenger for some extra money."
"What changed your mind?" asked Lane.
"My first passenger. He was an insufferable piece of shit."
"Some sort of criminal I guess." said Lane.
"Worse. Come with me we don't have all day to get you in your rooms." Idris lead them out back to the gallery walking towards the door opposite to the one leading to the bridge. "The guy was some kind of musician. No that would be to kind. He was a conductor, so someone who tell real musicians how to do their job. An insufferable piece of shit, named Kane. I was transporting some rather sensitive material from Ethiopia to Egypt, normally a rather easy thing to do with the Unconquered Sun. Turned out that this Kane person was running away, not from just anybody bot from some of the political leaders of the country whose wives and usually also daughters he had shagged, a fact which he used to insult said leaders during a party... Well long story short, he was not just running away from some angry men but from an angry country."
"I assume," Monica said, "that led to some complications."
"Nice way of putting it." said Idris. "The fallout of that was massive." past the other door was another short narrow corridor held in the same style as the rest of the ship so far but without most of the baroque decoration every where else. "Apart from the guy being insufferable in person the Ethiopians quickly caught wind of how he escaped making me and the Unconquered Sun, very conspicuous which in turn made my job almost impossible. I should have thrown that fucker out of the ship..." she stopped in front of a narrow door unlocking it then walking to the door next to it looking for a different key. "It took me quite some time to make up for it to the Ethiopians and longer still to convince my business partners that I was still able to make discrete deliveries." she unlocked the second door. She started removing the key she had just used and handed them over to Monica and Lane. "These are the keys to your rooms. For the rest of the voyage those are your private spaces unless there is an emergency or you behave like dogs in which case I will kick in your door and take care of the situation."
She opened the door to a small, slightly claustrophobic cabin. To the left was a small hardwood desk with a cushioned chair in front of it. The right wall was covered by closet doors,while the door opposite to the entrance held another smaller door. "Here you go. The desk can be converted into a small bed, there's the closet and back trough that door you'll find your bath which contains a proper shower, washbasin, the works. While we do have running hot water we also rely on water tanks, keep that in mind while taking a shower. The waste water of the basins and the showers go to a special tank which is connected to a filtration system if we should need it. You can drink the tap water. If the water gets recycled a yellow light will shine in the upper corner of your mirror to warn you. It will be clean enough to wash with but I would not necessary drink it any more. So who want this room?"
"Can we see the other one first?" Monica asked. Lane looked at her friend for a second wondering what that was all about.
"Sure" Idris said squeezing past them leading them to the other cabin which looked exactly the same the only difference being that the bed was on the right and the closets where on the left.
"I'd like this one." Monica said.
"I don't care either way." Lane shrugged. "Just out of curiosity why this one and not the other one?"
"I'm left handed." said Monica.
"That makes sense..." Lane said debating whether she should ask why it did or not doing so for the sake of her sanity.
"It's settled then." Idris said handing over the keys to the rooms.
"If something happens how do we know." Monica asked.
"Define 'something'." said Idris.
"Something like a fire or failing engines or being attacked by enemy forces." Monica said.
Idris smiled half a smile. "The you would hear an alarm and depending the circumstances you would also feel it."
"Can you demonstrate the alarms? I don't like to be unprepared." Monica said.
"Fair enough." Idris said. Followed by the howl of a soft deep siren a sound that was more apprehensive than alarmed.
"How did you do that?" Lane asked.
"That is the alarm that sounds when unknown crafts or objects close in." Idris said her half smile twitching slightly. "I also didn't do that. Since the mountains are still far away I would guess that we have visitors." She turned around walking hurriedly back towards the bridge. It was just then when the ship started to shake, the low siren being replaced with a much more urgent, faster high pitched one. "And that means that the vacuum envelopes of the Zeppelin are filling with air." Idris said now with a hint of panic in her voice. Now she started to run.
Moments later she sat in her pilot seat again, furiously pushing buttons.
"More old friend of yours?" asked Lane trying hard to keep calm.
"No. None that I know of." Idris said switching on a monitor next to the controls. It came to life showing six different pictures. "Those are attack helicopters. One aft and two port and starboard." They could see on three of the screens large helicopters firing at the airship with large heavy machine-guns mounted to the tips of their winglets. "Hold on tight." said Idris giving full throttle. "One good thing is that they are not trying to kill us."
"Really? They could have fooled me with those machine-guns." said Lane holding tightly to her calm.
"If they wanted us dead," Monica said with the perfect calm Lane was striving for, "they would have fired their rockets at the plane part of the ship. They are trying to force us to the ground."
"You need to man the guns." Idris said. She pushed button, the envelope of the Zeppelin above them for a moment was sheathed in green eldritch fire, once the flames started to fade the ship rushed forward.
"What was that?" Lane asked.
"Magic." said Idris. "It reduces the air resistance of the Zeppelin, we can outrun the helicopters. But you need to man the guns now. You have to distract them before the do to much damage."
"But didn't you say..." started Monica.
"This is really not that time!" Idris shouted. "Run back past your quarters to the end of the next corridor. Then one of you runs left the other right, climb the ladders continue down the corridors until the very end and you will enter the weapon pods. Go. Run. Now!" As lane and Monica ran, Idris pulled a lever, turning her head from the window closing her eyes tight, a moment later outside something burst outside in the desert air flooding the area in blinding light brighter than the sun. Even through her closed eyelids Idris could still see the bright flash. She opened her eyes again. She looked at the monitors, which were still white. She pulled the controls up sending the Unconquered Sun higher into the air and Monica and Lane sliding, half falling down the corridor. When she had gained 300 feet of altitude the monitors started to clear, now the three helicopters were visible in the sextant of the monitors that showed what happened below the ship. "Still to close." Idris said. 'Let's hope the Zeppelin has not lost too much buoyancy.' she thought. She activated the ships com system. "Hold on very, very tight, we are going to go through thrust reversal better yet find your self a wall facing in flight direction and press against it. You have five seconds." She checked her seatbelts. "Four." she placed her hands over the thrust reversal controls for all six engines. "Three." She tensed up her body reading for the impact. "Two." And exhaled "ONE!"
The ship now pushed hard against its forward momentum, slowing down by hundreds of miles an hour in seconds. Captain Idris was pressed into her safety harness, breath crushed out of lungs she did not know were still there, her entire torso being crushing against her restraints. While Monica and Lane Who had not come that far were pressed against the door to the corridor leading to their rooms, both of them where flattened painfully against the door behind them their bodies being softer pushed painfully into the decorations filling out the free spaces between them and the wall and door. When all of then thought that any moment now something inside them would break in the most horrible way possible, the force that held them faded, gravity taking over its usual duty, leaving Idris slumped and gasping in er chair, while Lane crumpled to the floor, Monica sinking to her knees at her side.
"No time to rest." Monica forced herself to say. "We need to get to the weapons. Come Lane." she grabbed her friend by the arm pulling both of them up channelling all of her highly trained willpower to do so. "Come. We have been just gifted with a few more minutes. Let's not waste this gift. Move." They did not manage to run but they achieved a hobbling version of a sprint towards the far door. As Monica opened it she discovered that it was far heavier than she had expected. IT look like the other doors but it was actually a heavy bulkhead decorated with a wooden finish. Cold air and the almost deafening roar of the engines flooded in from the metal corridor behind the bulkhead, it branched almost instantly to the left and right and further down to the aft end of the airship.
"You." she said to Lane, "go right." she gently shoved her friend in to the corridor, hard enough to keep her stumbling on but not hard enough to risk her falling over.
"I fell like all my insides have turned into gravy." Lane said.
"Sounds delicious Lane. But right now you have to move forward. The feeling will fade, the attack helicopter won't. Move, Lane, move!" she waited for a moment to see that Monica was stumbling forward before turning around telling her gravy filled legs that there where still bones in them and that they were also all pointing in the right direction. With grim determination she planted one foot in front of the other, ignoring her dizziness, she knew that the world was not spinning and kept pushing that signal into her body that was pretty confident that there was a lot of circular motion going on.
Lane had not that kind of experience with feeling dizzy, for her everything seemed to spin like crazy and her mind was not fighting her inner ear on that matter. She did hold on to the railing though, pressing her body against the cold metal wall. That was the spinning world pushed her into the wall and she could slide forwards. It took her many revolutions until she reached the ladder. She was not quite sure how many there had been. She had lost count also the stupid world was pinning slower with each step. At least that would make climbing the ladder easier.
Actually climbing the ladder was far less of an effort than she had thought. It helped to grab something tightly with her hands and press her feet against unyielding metal. While most of her torso hurt now it was floating freely in the air with no pressure from any direction, while she could push her self upwards with the help of the relaxing solidity of the ladder.
Matters went worse when she past a very thick solid layer that turned out to be the ground-effect crafts outer hull, finding herself inside the envelope of the Zeppelin part. It was a big open place with the outer skin of the not quite plane as a rounded metal floor extending beyond even that where the plane parts were replaced by metal gangways. The envelope was ripped to shreds in many points the fabric flapping furiously in the head wind of the airship. The sunlight, the moving shadows and the dim greyness of the rest of the hull were disorienting and for a moment. But there was her friend the railing again, showing her the way forward. She held it again in its her hand and moved forward again. Walking. That worked. So she walked faster, ignoring the light, and the noise just moving towards the end of her path which was still 20 feet away from the outer envelope. Lane wondered for a moment where she was going and if that was another strange magic trick that was built into the craft but she realized that in front of her on the floor was a squat, very robust looking hatch or airlock. 'I hope it hasn't got another one of those rhythm action locks like the entrance had...' lane thought. What ever locks it had they seemed to be disengaged. There was one of those large wheel things that you turned to open hatches and airlocks, with a little window under which there was a green panel. 'How do you call these things?' Lane wondered as she turned the wheel counter clockwise to open it.
The hatch was incredibly heavy and it took Lane three attempts to find the right angle to open it, but then it gave way to a tiny opening with an almost equally tiny ladder leading into a dark space lit by a red light. She climbed down finding to her great relief a button which automatically closed and locked the hatch above her. One loud clank later it was almost completely silent and dark. Lane did not move for a few seconds wrestling with an animal fear of constricted dark places in which her own breathing was the loudest noise. She envisioned the attack helicopters and the large surfaces of shredded Zeppelin to give her fear a better target. The animal fear agreed that a dark quiet place that was mostly metal walls more than one foot thick and the promise of weapons was actually better than standing in a wide open place with no where to hide and just a bit of thick cloth standing between it and a machine-gun with a barrel so large that it could as well have fired squirrels.
She moved down for longer than she expected until she reached a cramped cabin. It had an enormous metal and leather control chair that was connected to a ceiling mounted swivelling point always facing a battery of monitors mounted into a special frame in front of it. There was a small door in the back of the room leading to a tiny bunk room that somehow managed to have a field bed a little stove a shower and toilet and what was probably a small cupboard crammed into it.
Lane sat down in the chair, found a large headset which she put on and then started to wonder how the heck she could activate it, or anything else in the room for that matter.
She put on the headphones and sat down. There was a metal flip switch on the right hand side of the chair sitting under a glowing red light. "What's the worst that could possibly happen?" Lane said as she flipped the switch and imagining a trap door opening under her. Instead the little light now glowed green and she heard Idris talking. "... and that activates the rocket bay. They are heat seeking, but pint only fore and aft and are fucking expensive. So try to just use the chain guns."
"Roger." said Monica over the radio.
"Um... Hello?" said Lane.
"Lane?" said captain Idris. "About fucking time you appeared. Idiots in the helos have noticed my little trick and it won't take them long to find us again. Are you fastened into your seat?"
"Almost!" Lane said stretching the truth only a little bit, while she was fondling for the belts and buckles that explained why the seat was not as comfortable as it first had looked.
"Good hurry up." as soon as you are ready we are going to drop like a stone out of the sky, while we fall I will explain to you how to use the weapons. It's easy. But once we are down there we won't be climbing again for a while you you will have to concentrate and make those shots count. Right?"
"Aye, aye sir." Lane said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Better. How are those seatbelts doing?" said Idris.
"Good. Now prepare for a free fall and then..." 'Free fall?' Lane asked herself, she was answered by her internal organs all trying to escape trough her throat into the open world and the blood shot into her head.
"Scream quietly!" shouted captain Idris. "You are bursting my eardrums." Lane had not even noticed that she was screaming. When she did so she stopped. She attempted to stop but the falling sensation was so strong that the scream did not want to stop. She had to force it back down her throat. For a moment she though that she had still not succeeded, it turned out that that was Monica's scream over the radio. "So what buttons do I need to push?" she asked, concentrating on the controls in front of her shoving fear and panic right out again. Out side her fear and panic had a short cigarette break complaining to each other how little respect they got from Lane despite their invaluable work towards her continued survival. Lane did not pay any attention as she was turning on screens, arming weapon systems and making joysticks appear from the ground covered in enough buttons, hats and switches to indicating that they had led a wild life with not enough antibiotics. She also discovered that once activated the footrest was actually a pair of paddles with which she could turn around her chair. In a way Idris was right. While there were tons of controls they were actually rather intuitive to use. The monitors in front of her flared to life showing her everything around, above and below the airship. She swivelled the chair towards the front where the three helicopters where hovering in the air. The one to the right was swivelling around to face them. Sparks flew over the body of the helicopter, followed by some missiles. The helicopter exploded.
"OK. I think I can work with this." said Monica over the intercom.
The other tow helicopters started manoeuvring the second the first one went up in flames.
"Careful now." Idris said. "Now they will probably be more aggressive.
Lane was about to ask how they could get more aggressive than before when both the helicopters started firing a barrage of missiles towards their ship. Monica stared firing the chain guns at the incoming rockets, shooting a few out of the air the explosions pushing others off course. But there were enough left for the Unconquered Sun to catch. The airship fell for another dozen feet in one swift motion now powering forward again.
This time Lane caught the scream in her throat. She tried to put the cross hairs over the helicopter to the left. "I'm concentrating on the one to my side." she said.
"OK." answered Monica who opened fire on the other helicopter.
Lane had expected for this to be over soon but it turned out that her target could move in the strangest ways never having the good grace of staying in one spot for even a single second. She kept firing her chain gun at it but most of the time she was just firing in front of it or after it. She even tried a few of the missiles but they too were dodged rather easily while her target came closer and closer shooting back mostly at the envelope at the Zeppelin. With some success as it seemed because the Unconquered Sun plummeted a few dozen feet without warning every now and then. The cursing of captain Idris indicating that this wasn't all part of her plan.
"Monica?" Lane asked.
"Yes." said Monica calmly.
"Can you get your target to get in line with mine?"
"Captain?" said Lain while trying to force her target further up.
"What?" shouted Idris.
"How much faster can we fly?"
"When we get near enough to those helicopters could you give us as much boost as possible leaving them behind us?"
"Sure thing." said Idris.
"Monica, I have a plan." said Lane.
"I know. Just tell me what to do."
"Keep your guy in one horizontal line with mine."
"OK" said Monica.
"And when I say fire fire those fast rocket thingamajigs, OK." said Lane.
"OK." said Monica.
"Captain how long..."
"Almost there..." said Idris. "Keep those fuckers busy for a while more and do not let them sit still long enough to fire those missiles or you are dead."
"Doing our best captain." Lane said noticing a number on her display going from amber to red. As she kept firing the number started blinking and moving very quickly towards zero. "Now would be a great time captain."
"Almost there... almost... THERE!" Lane heard the engines crying out over her headphones the airship jumping forward with a surprising speed. The helicopters on her screens flashed forward and vanished out of side. Lane turned her seat around as fast as she could, which now seemed slower than the continental drift. Until she over shot her target and hat to compensate.
"Target acquired." said Monica.
'Over achiever.' thought Lane as she worked the pedals furiously trying to put her cross hairs over her new target. The helicopters had been also been turning towards them and where now almost facing them again. Lane could almost see the gunner in the other ship getting ready to press the trigger.
"Fire! Fire! Fire!" Lane screamed while she also unleashed a stream of rockets to wards the helicopter in front of her targeting a bit further right than necessary. Monica's missiles were already under way flying with pinpoint accuracy towards the helicopter in front of her, it tried to evade her shot but it was to late for them they were hit by several of the missiles. While Lane's target was faster, seeing her attack approaching it strafed away. "Got you YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" Lane screamed as the chopper flew into the burning wreck of Monica's target that was spiralling towards it. The ammo in the right winglet of Lane's target exploded shoving the helicopter back into the stream of Lane's missile fire.
Lane started laughing in elation. For overcoming her enemy for out smarting him and first and foremost for surviving.
"Both targets destroyed." Monica said still perfectly calm. "Well done Lane."
"Very well done, both of you." said captain Idris "You have our lives and thanks to you the Unconquered Sun remains unbeaten. I hereby up-grade your status from passengers to guests."
"Does that mean we need not pay you any-more?" Monica asked.
"Fuck no. It means I will regard you as human beings and not as cockroaches on the rest of the flight."