Airships and Escapes
by J. Aurel Guay
Her tall heels clicked on the hardwood as Andy passed from the carpeted aisle of passengers and into the narrow passageway. Just in time, she saw him duck into a storage room on the left side of the hall. She’d had her eye on him since the they left the ground. Perhaps not so much on him, as on his exquisite pocket watch. Andy fancied herself a collector of fine things, and coveted the delicate gold engraving and sturdy chain of the watch the moment she laid eyes on it.
As she approached the door the slender woman pulled a compact mirror from the small velvet purse on her wrist. Getting the watch should be simple; few men stood up to her wiles. She grinned as she thought of how much easier it would be since her target had but one arm. Cripples were the loneliest, she knew from experience. But, she’d never been with a one armed man.
Continuing on her way she brushed against a passing airship steward and watched his young eyes dart from the dimple in her cheek to her bodice in response to her signature smile. Reaching the storage room she found the door locked. Her pulse quickened as she pulled the steward’s key from her sleeve and slid it into the lock. Andy paused a moment to wonder how long it would take the boy to notice it missing.
With a soft click the door unlocked. A sudden lurch in the airship caused Andy lose her footing. Falling into the door, it burst open, dropping her straight into the arms, or arm, of her quarry. Her face flushed at the graceless entrance, but she quickly regained her composure and swooned into the man’s embrace.
Dark eyes looked down at her for a moment. His shaggy dark hair hung low, concealing most of his brow. Without a word the finely dressed man turned quickly, nearly dropping her on the floor, and began rummaging in the large bag she had seen him carrying earlier.
Andy grimaced. Intent on continuing her game she started to speak only to be interrupted by the stranger.
“You’re early Miss Cunningham,” the man gave half a glance at her as he continued working at something in his bag. Andy gave a start.
“You must have me confused with someone else,” she choked out as calmly as she could.
“Andrea Cunningham, originally from Caledonia, wanted in several countries, as a burglar, thief, and escape artist,” pausing from his work he looked to the ceiling in search of some thought. “The only place I can think of where you are not wanted is New Portland. Really, I expected more intuition from you than to walk in at this moment.”
“This Andrea must be a daring woman. Who might you be who would know so much about her?”
“No one of consequence my lady, but you may call me Hawkins.”
“And Mr. Hawkins, what would you be doing undressing in this quiet room all on your own,” the playful tone in her voice had returned as she stepped closer. Indeed, Hawkins’ was swiftly unbuttoning his fine blazer.
“Are you still at that game? Did you not see the six thugs make their way down to the captain’s deck, or feel the ships abrupt change in course just a moment ago?” Hawkins’ one hand worked quickly while he spoke, removing his jacket and lifting his leather bag to his injured shoulder and attaching it there by means of a heavy strap that crossed his fitted vest.
“I–erm,” Andrea found herself uncommonly speechless. There was something about this man that quite put her off her game.
“Well, while I would love to collect the handsome bounty for your capture Miss Cunningham, I’m afraid I must bid you farewell and save the continent,” with a sharp tug Hawkins removed the outer cover of the bag to reveal a most strange device, now strapped to his shoulder.
With the flip of a few levers and the press of a button, the device whirred to life and extended to form a formidable looking robotic arm of steel and brass. Flexing the fingers of the contraption into a mechanical fist Hawkins set to work pulling at the large sealed port-hole window opposite the door and Andy.
He didn’t hear the electric whine from within her purse until it was almost too late. With a deafening blast the porthole was blown open, filling the room with the whipping breeze of the moving airship. Hawkins had barely got out of the way in time.
Returning her palm sized ion pistol to her purse she grinned with satisfaction. “You may call me Andy, and next time, you may want pack something lighter with a bit more punch. Size only matters in some areas you know.”
“I was going for a bit more subtlety,” Hawkins muttered as he inspected the gaping hole. Andy’s smug expression faded when voices and a loud thudding resounded at the door behind her.
“You best come with me Miss Cunnigham,” Hawkins fiddled with his prosthetic for a moment before reaching out to her with his good arm. With a whir and a clunk a barbed spear replaced the robotic hand. Pushing against the wind Hawkins leaned out of the open hole and fired the spear into the ship’s hull just above them. The one armed man leaned against the rope that connected the spear to his gauntlet as he took Andy’s hand and pulled her close to him.
“With any luck we’ll land in the coat room just aft of the captains deck,” wrapping a strong arm around her, he pushed off, sending them both swinging out into the open air. Her frock fluttering wildly in the wind, Andy found herself holding tightly to Hawkins and felt surprisingly secure in his strong embrace. The moment was interrupted as the pair crashed violently through a window on the deck below.
Piled on top of one another and covered by broken glass, Hawkins and Andy found themselves on the captain’s deck surrounded by the glaring gas-masks of heavily armed men. Hawkins rose to his knees and retracted the rope and spear into his forearm while retorting, “It would seem that I missed. Perhaps your beauty impaired me more than I realized Miss Cunningham.”
A slender man stood from where he had been working at a device below the ships helm, securely anchoring it to the base of the large steering wheel. Removing his mask he glared at Hawkins through his monocle and cried out, “Kill them!”
With a whir and clatter, Hawkins’ arm revealed a dozen Gatling barrels. A barrage of lead laid out half of their adversaries. One of the masked assailants moved in on Hawkins from behind but was blasted against the far wall by a well placed shot from Andy’s pistol.
Hawkin’s turned to look at her with an expression of appreciation, but froze suddenly as strong arms gripped Andy from behind. She soon found herself held tightly and her screams stifled by a gloved hand.
“Not another move Hawkins!” Came the peaked voice from beside her ear. Andy could feel the tether of the monocle brush against her cheek as her heart pounded in her ears. She struggled helplessly as her pistol was wrenched from her hands. Using it, the villainous leader blasted the shattered window further, allowing a greater rush of wind and noise to enter the captains deck.
“You’re too lake Hawkins. The only way to deactivate the device now is with this key,” a long metallic object was briefly dangled in front of Miss Cunningham. “Secure your masks gentlemen, and prepare to depart, soon the entire south coast will be a lifeless wasteland!”
The remaining henchmen donned parachutes and leapt from the giant airship as Hawkins helplessly watched. The monocled leader himself was last to depart, dragging Andy to the edge with him. He pulled his mask from his belt and shouted, “So long Mr. Hawkins!”
With a powerful shove he pushed Andy from the airship. The emptiness beneath her feet drove her heart into her throat until her hand caught the edge of the gaping hole in the ship’s hull. From the corner of her eye she saw the monocled man jump from the ship. She turned to see him secure his mask and release his parachute as he fell. But the distraction cost her her grip. Down she fell again screaming vainly into the rush of the buffeting wind.
A firm hand grasped her flailing arm. With a jolt that wrenched her shoulder her descent stopped. Looking up Andy saw the dark locks and amber eyes of Mr. Hawkins, as his entire body dangled from the ship, secured only by his robotic arm. With surprising strength he pulled her up and allowed her to climb back into the aircraft, where she in turn helped him aboard.
He quickly rushed to the device secured below the console. Its dials spun rapidly counting down the moments till detonation. Shaking his head, he looked up at her. “I’m afraid it’s no use Miss Cunningham, without that key, yours will be the last face I look upon. Though I couldn’t wish for a finer sight to be my last.”
Andy’s heart fluttered childishly. She gave a sly smile back at Hawkins and reached into her pocket. “You mean this key?”
Hawkins eyes widened.
“What can I say I’m a girl that likes shiny things,” she reached down and gently touched his mechanical arm.
Moments later the blinking lights and meters on the device dimmed and both Hawkins and Andrea breathed a sigh of relief. Turning to face her Hawkins drew Andy close. She could feel his warm breath against her cheek.
“You really are an amazing woman Miss Cunningham,” his tender voice was nearly a whisper and she felt her cheeks flush. “Would a woman like you ever be able to. . .”
“Yes?” she cooed.
“. . . land this boat on her own?”
“What!” Andrea stepped away from him, pushing him with her palms.
“Well I can’t simply let them escape like that,” Hawkins appeared baffled, nearly offended at her protest. He walked quickly to the open hole in the wall and looked after the escaping terrorists.
“I’m sure you can manage, and the port will radio in to help you I have no doubt.”
Speechless Andy could do little more than watch.
“It was a pleasure Miss Cunningham,” Hawkins’ adjusted his spectacles as he stood with heels on the edge. “I hope to see you again someday.”
He smiled wryly at her then jumped back into a free fall after the criminals below. Andy rushed to the edge and watched him fall, watched him wait till the very last moment before opening his chute.
Her grimace of fury slowly softened into a sly grin as she pulled a gold object from her frock. The pocket watch was indeed a fine prize and would fetch an even more fine price. Inspecting it closely she found the case finely engraved and adorned with the image of a dagger and the words, “Her Majesties, Distinguished Armed Gentlemen Reserves – D.A.G.R. -”
The watch chain slid the rest of the way out of her pocket and she saw something curious attached to it. That ribbon certainly had not been there when she lifted the watch from her dear Mr. Hawkins. Attached to the ribbon was a small card on which was scrawled,
New Portland Square, September 15th 7 pm.
The dimples in her cheeks emerged as she grinned and bit her lip. The card tapped against her palm as she thought.
It was a trap of course. But, the only thing more exciting that escaping such a trap would be the chance of finding that it wasn’t one.
Besides, New Portland was lovely in the fall.