**Captain Ambrose Bethal Trant II**
Captain Ambrose Bethal Trant II made his way to the instruments in the wheelhouse which was quite a feat as he was falling with increasing velocity towards a small town somewhere below in the Confederation . He tapped the glass face of the Entropy monitor which, despite the sordid predicament, remained obstinately stationary within the safe levels.
???Completely banjaxed,??? he muttered into the whipping wind, ???have to invest in a newer model when you???re rebuilt.??? He patted the side of his airship fondly, pulling a cord which inflated his emergency envelope causing a basket to separate from the wheelhouse and leaving the disintegrating airship safely below.
???Happy landings, m???lady.??? He called as the wreckage dropped out of sight. He fetched a smaller entropy monitor from one of the several chains in his pockets. Finding it on the third try he looked at it dubiously as the needle jerked quickly to the left signifying that the ambient entropy was about to take a sharp turn for the worse, ???What now, you???re not going daft on me too are you???? He shook the delicate instrument trying to produce a change but it remained true, but before he could toss it overboard for useless scrap the sound of tearing fabric alerted him to the formation of a large and growing rend in his escape balloon, ???Oh bollocks.??? He muttered under his breath.
** Joseph Mathias O???Connell**
Joseph Mathias O???Connell was a man who was deep in his resentments; a Confederate soldier he resented the continued interference of the Union even after they???d rightly won the war, he resented that the pisswater that passed for lager in this shabby bar sold for $4 Confederate and that the war had left their economy in shambles and their currency reduced to not much more than pieces of paper not worth the pictures printed on it, but mostly he resented having a Britannic Aeronaut smash through the roof of the bar, bust his table to kindling and spill his pisswater beer all over the front of his clean wool vest.
The man was tangled in the deflated envelope of a small balloon and suspended about three feet from the floor, but he struggled to free his arm which he extended and Joseph hesitantly took. ???Ambrose Trant II, aeronaut extraordinaire. You wouldn???t happen to know of a physician about town????
The local physician had seen the horrors of the war so some burns and broken bones were hardly a great concern and the aeronaut was set right in a day when he came calling at the bar again. Joseph was sitting at the bar, his usual table having been smashed in the aeronaut???s fall. He entered greeting people like they were old friends and came hobbling over to Joseph and took the seat beside him, ???I???ll have a scotch, and get this man another lager.??? He announced to the bartender having to reach across to clap Joseph on the shoulder with his good hand.
???No scotch, beer.??? The bartender grunted.
???Ale then.??? The bartender poured both and set them on the counter.
???I buy my own beer.??? Joseph grumbled, then he remembered how overpriced the beer was and took a sip.
???I always buy someone a drink before discussing business propositions.??? He said after downing the ale in one slug.
???What kind of business???? Joseph asked dubiously.
???I need a tracker and a sure gun; your fellows in the town laud you as the best on both counts and what I???m looking for should be pretty easy to find.???
???So why do I have to be able to shoot????
The Aeronaut accepted another ale from the bartender and quaffed it as quickly as the first, ???I???ve been hounded for days by Wilhelm???s dogs; nowhere in Britannia is safe and the Union was no help??????
Joseph snorted into his lager, ??????never are.???
???At any rate, I found a seller in Louisiana but Wilhelm???s dogs have caught up to me precipitating the incident from yesterday, I need you to get me to my airship and then to New Orleans by the safest route, ensure we get there, with our package and in one piece; I can pay you a hundred now and four when we arrive.???
Joseph finished his lager and stood, ???Well, much obliged for the drink but you won???t find anyone in this town or any other that???ll take you to Louisiana on those conditions for five hundred Confederate.???
He tipped his hat and turned to leave but the Brit stopped him, ???I think we have a misunderstanding.??? He tossed him a silk purse jangling with newly minted German marks. The scrape of chairs as everyone in the bar turned towards them was followed by a rapacious silence.
Joseph stood holding the pouch like it was a severed head with mouth agape, even the aeronaut looked like he knew he???d overplayed his hand and wasn???t entirely sure where to make his next move. Joseph sighed, ???You???ve caused more trouble in this town in two days than Sherman did in the whole war.??? The bartender made the first move leaping to restrain the aeronaut but Joseph pulled his cap and ball revolver which let out a dry pop and the bartender slouched back against the barrel of ale with his brains running out of what remained of his eye socket. Joseph leapt and grabbed the Aeronaut by his broken arm eliciting a morbidly satisfying yelp and hurled him towards the saloon doors. ???Simmer down now, brothers.??? He said backing towards the door with both his revolvers drawn.
???You can???t shoot us all, Joe.??? A man he had known in the war spoke up.
???Reckon I can???t, Jim, but I can sure as hell shoot the first man fool enough to draw a pistol. Now who???s it going to be???? The men in the bar hesitated for a moment which was all Joseph needed to make it out of the saloon doors. As soon as he was out a hail of gunfire shredded the doors and the air where he???d been standing a moment before someone grabbed his collar and threw him to the ground.
The aeronaut hit the deck pulling from his coat pocket a glass orb bound in brass with knobs and switches around its circumference he rolled it into the bar. There was a sound like an over tightened violin string twanging and the bar patrons all let out a collective howl that made Joseph???s hairs stand on end. Without waiting to see what stumbled out of the now smoking bar he wrapped his arm around the aeronaut???s shoulders and they made for the tree line at the edge of town.
???What the hell was that???? Joseph panted once they were a safe distance from the town.
???A solar emulator matrix, clever bit of Chaomancy?????? The aeronaut leaned against a tree forcing himself to breathe normally for the sake of his broken ribs, ???distilled sunlight released when you set the timer.???
???So the men in the bar????
???Blind, most likely.???
???Not dead though????
???No, not dead.???
???I see, that was pretty quick thinking.??? Joseph complimented, rising and snapping off a branch with a ???Y??? shaped bend on the end and handed it to the aeronaut to use as a crutch. ???Name???s Joseph, Joseph O???Connell.???
The aeronaut took the crutch and grasped his hand, ???Ambrose Trant, Captain Ambrose Trant.???
???Well captain lets go find your airship; what???s left of it anyway.???
**Captain Ambrose Bethal Trant II**
Ambrose was leaning up against the tree, his leg and ribs made it slow going so by the time they had arrived Union officials were sniffing around the wreckage of the Serenity. Ambrose observed their movements through a brass spyglass with extendable lenses and crystal diapters and a salamander bound to the clockwork that was cleverly concealed along the sides of the glass so as not to interfere with the vision that allowed it to zoom and steady the image automatically. The men stood out from the brush with their deep navy suits like blue ants come to investigate the bones of a squirrel or some other rodent. The Serenity???s envelope lay like a gold and azure blanket on laid top of the trees, scorched in most places. Ambrose scanned the wreckage looking for the discernible outline of the wheelhouse. Underneath a pile of charred wood he saw the glint of the brass shell of the Nocturnium Aeropile engine which was just beneath the wheelhouse, he scanned further along and found the prize, nearly shattered against a rock outcropping.
???Doubt you???ll find anything in that mess.??? Joseph said resting against a tree with his kepi cap pulled down over his eyes.
???Just have to know what you???re looking for.??? Ambrose returned calmly surveying the area around the wheelhouse planning his approach. He motioned Joseph up to the ridge where they were hidden and handed him the spyglass and laid out his plan. He would approach the wreckage where there were the least guards when he reached a rotted log Joseph would throw one of his solar emulator matrices into the wreckage of the engine which was just below and to the left of the ridge and within easy sight and earshot of the guards they would have to distract. The soldiers, having been lured away from the wheelhouse, would most likely decide it was something mechanical in the ship burning out and go back to their posts giving Joseph time, having snuck down and grabbed their horses to make his way to the woods behind the wheelhouse where they would make their escape.
???I don???t like it,??? Joseph said after he???d finished, ???It???s too complex, complex plans always go wrong.???
???You forget, sir, that I am an aeronaut, we make complex things work every day, trust me.???
???And how were your complex things working when you crashed your airship.??? Joseph retorted.
???Just be ready with the solar emulator.??? He said as he hobbled down the wooded side of the ridge, surprisingly silent despite his leg, now splinted. He made the difficult way all the way down the hill thinking in his head all the curses and obscenities he would place upon his thrice damned leg when he was clear of the union. He made it to the fallen log and stayed to catch his breath before he heard the familiar twang of over tightened viol strings and he vaulted from his cover coming face to face with a union soldier holding a fiddle with a broken string, ???Bollocks.??? Ambrose muttered, easing his hands into the air.
When they brought Joseph into the camp he was still shaking the solar emulator matrix trying to make it go off. The lieutenant, a thuggish bulging man with an unkempt beard and a haircut that looked to be self done, snatched it from him and shoved him roughly into the vacant chair beside Ambrose and clapped his wrists in irons behind his back.
???Complex plans.??? Joseph muttered under his breath.
???Sod off.??? Ambrose bit back.
???You forgot to tell me how to activate your stupid thing!??? Joseph hissed
???You forgot to ask.???
???You son of a??????
???Both of you shut yer craws!??? the lieutenant shouted, ???The general???ll be in to see you shortly, be good men and answer all his questions and maybe we???ll release you with a few bruises to remember us by.??? He stormed out the flap of the tent and immediately arched his back and snapped into a salute. The tent flap swung back but they could hear muffled voices, but Ambrose was no longer interested in them he was eyeballing the desk where the lieutenant had left the solar emulator matrix. Joseph curiously watched him palm two goldmarks from his purse and slip them up his sleeve.
???I have a plan.??? He whispered.
???Because your last plan went so well.??? Joseph hissed.
???Just follow my lead.???
Joseph was about to make a scathing remark but the tent flap swung open and he stowed it for later. The general entered and removed his riding gloves dramatically and lay them on the desk, ???Well, well, Captain Ambrose Trant, I didn???t think I???d have the pleasure of seeing you again after you deserted in Washington.???
Joseph looked at them disbelievingly, ???Hello Jeremiah,??? Ambrose returned coolly, ???You???ve come a very short ways since Washington, did they not let you back in the Union after you lost the White House????
The General took the insult in stride, bemusedly accounting for the look of betrayal on Joseph???s face, ???I suppose he didn???t let on that he flew for us in the war, but then again deceit was always your greatest attribute Ambrose.??? He motioned to his large Lieutenant standing by the tent opening who approached grinning broadly and popping his knuckles menacingly and stood in front of Ambrose, nearly dwarfing the thin, wiry Brit with his bulk.
???Why don???t you tell me what package you were smuggling to the Confederacy???? the General asked with perfect decorum.
Ambrose laughed, ???It???s only a coincidence I wound up here; I was being chased by Wilhelm???s dogs, I was forced to land here.???
???And the fact that it happens to be less than a hundred miles from Washington is also just a happy coincidence????
???Exactly, I???m glad we understand each oth?????? the lieutenant stopped him talking with a vicious right hook.
Ambrose took a couple of seconds to recover and looked the lieutenant in the eye, ???I find that Americans tend to feel awkward in formal social situations; I think the words you were searching for were, ???would you like a cup of tea, sir???? The lieutenant politely asked him if he would like another cup of tea on his left cheek.
???Perhaps I should rephrase the question.??? the general stated blandly, ???What were you carrying on that airship that was so valuable that you risked capture by a battalion of Union soldiers to recover it.???
???A picture of your wife with the blue dress, you know the one with the lace collar; she???s not in the dress though.??? The Lieutenant delivered two more hooks and wiped his knuckles on Ambrose???s pants grinding his knuckles savagely into his broken leg eliciting a yelp of pain from the Aeronaut.
**Joseph Mathias O???Connell**
The beating went on for several minutes until even Joseph pitied the Brit who he???d planned on killing himself for a union spy if they ever got out of this, but as the punches kept coming that was looking less and less likely. The General had prepared a phial of absinth which he sipped patiently as he listened to Ambrose???s smart mouth run without cease even after the words had long since ceased to become intelligible. He reclined back in his chair as the lieutenant stepped back from the pulverized aeronaut panting; the General took the solar emulator from the desk, turning it over with his thumb and forefinger.
???No don???t touch that!??? Ambrose shouted, his previously glazed eyes snapping back to alertness. From his vantage point Joseph could see him produce the goldmarks from his sleeve and began to click them together rhythmically with his bad arm. The General dropped it on the ground and backed away losing his composure for the first time.
???What is it???? he demanded, lifting the battered captain by his blood-dyed collar.
???An explosive device,??? Ambrose sputtered spitting half clotted blood with each syllable and ominously increasing the rhythm of the clicking coins, ???if you unlock my hands I???ll disable it, whatever you do to me I???d prefer to remain in pieces large enough to bury.???
The General motioned for the lieutenant who hurried over and undid the irons that bound him. Ambrose leaped at the device and began frantically fiddling with it in his good hand but only so he could keep clicking the coins together with his injured hand, though it seemed that he wasn???t actually manipulating any of its dials. ???I can???t shut it off, it???s jammed!??? he swore. The General snatched the cuffs from the lieutenant and refastened them around Ambrose???s wrists, ???The Union appreciates your service, Mister Trant. We???ll be back to scrape up what???s left of you.??? He gave a mocking salute and ran out of the tent closely followed by the lieutenant.
???Jeremiah! You dirty, craven, base-born, so on, so on, so forth?????? his frantic screams diminished to an amused murmur and he let out a wry chuckle.
???That was your plan???? Joseph accused.
???Worked like a charm, if I do say so myself.???
???You???re a lunatic, he???ll be back in minutes!???
???By which time we will be free and clear.???
???And how do you plan on accomplishing that???? Joseph demanded violently.
Ambrose winked, although since his other eye was swollen shut it looked more like blinking, and produced the lieutenant???s key, ???dull-witted oaf didn???t even notice when I pinched as he practically mowed me over getting out.???
???Well hurry up, before he does realize and comes back.???
???Avec plaisir.??? He rapidly undid his chains and then loosed Joseph???s and they snuck out of the rear flap and made for the woods.
They ran until they came to the wreck of the Serenity where a few lanterns were being lit for the night guard, but no lights flared near the wheelhouse. The pair skirted around the pools of light making their way to the outcropping where the portion of the broken hull lay shattered against the rocks. Ambrose quietly began sifting through the rubble pulling free a single-edged sword, a leather knapsack, and a small wooden chest and setting them aside he then rummaged further down under the rubble and produced a leather belt with two finely crafted flintlock revolvers with ivory and brass grips, he hefted the belt and tossed it to Joseph who caught it, ???You???ll be wanting to replace your service pistols, these might not carry as many rounds but they are infinitely more reliable; a first rate chaomancer bound a simbian in the barrels just point it and it practically shoots itself.??? Joseph checked each barrel, there was still a ball in each pistol; he cocked back the flintlock and took aim at the Aeronaut???s head. ???Manners are not your forte in this area of the world, are they????
???You???re the Blue Butcher of Britannia; you killed fifty men in my regiment and countless others in the confederacy. I should have realized when I saw your balloon.???
Ambrose gave a fake gasp, ???J???acuse! I am he, the very same.???
???That???s all the reason I need.??? Joseph pulled the trigger and the pistol clicked ineptly. Before he could even look to see what was wrong the Aeronaut did a quick two step like a fencer and delivered a surprisingly solid punch full in his mouth, knocking him, more by surprise than by virtue of the actual punch, to the ground.
???It helps if you have these.??? He bounced two tiny flint stones in his palm; he pocketed them, then stood and offered his hand. Joseph took it begrudgingly, ???They???ll definitely be searching for us by now; we???ll continue this conversation in tempi opportuno.???
**General Brenner von Draak**
Von Draak observed the two run off into the gathering twilight together through a brass spyglass, ???Lauft, meine Brittanische Schweine,??? he murmured to himself with barely contained enthusiasm, ???I will have what you stole from me soon enough.??? He snapped the spyglass shut and disappeared into the foliage.
**Jean Claude Lafitte**
In his hot and sweaty shack in New Orleans Jean Claude Lafitte greedily counted out his money, arranging it in stacks according to its country of origin. Jean Claude Lafitte had never done an honest day???s work in his life and he despised stagnation, If you isn???t movin??? forwards, Jean Claude, you sho??? nuff is fallin??? behind. That was what his father had always said. So when the Civil War started Jean Claude felt no need to limit himself to one side, supplying arms and airships to both sides had made him richer than he???d ever dreamed; but that didn???t mean he was satisfied. He had kids to feed, damn it! More than he could remember their names, actually; so when the mouthy Britannian had come in to his shop, all charm and wit, promising him a small fortune in goldmarks if he could get him a top of the line private airship and fit it with enough firepower to discourage the Reich and anyone else they may run afoul of, it was all he could do to keep from drooling. Jean Claude may have been greedy but he wasn???t a cheat, if he promised something he delivered it or better, that was how you kept your customers happy.
The airship was a magnificent British vessel fitted with brass plated fixtures two sails and a keel, four props and twelve of the finest bronze cannons, ???an absolutely, positively first rate vessel, and the envelope simply must be blue?????? that was what he had said and they were definitely blue, both of them, for it had two, the richest azure he???d ever seen, the man he???d bought it from swore it was honest to god silk from China. It was so beautiful it made his eyes water just looking at it, but as beautiful as it was it was not nearly as beautiful as how rich he was going to be when the Brit came with his money. If he came.
As it was he was two days late and Jean Claude was half his fortune invested in an airship he couldn???t fly, and he didn???t know anyone else who could afford it. He began counting his cash again, He definitely gon??? be here fo??? certain. He reassured himself, Britannians were very trustworthy he imagined, with all their manners it would never occur to them to cheat anyone or steal anything. He laughed to himself thinking of how rich he was going to be when he was paid.
**Joseph Mathias O???Connell**
Joseph had been dubious about the Britannian???s actual abilities as a pilot, but if nothing else he certainly seemed at home on a ship even if it was only in the water. He???d been tottering around the deck all day steadier on his busted leg than most of the crew appeared to be on two good legs, and definitely better off than Joseph who had already lost his meager breakfast to the ocean???s sway. They had stowed away on a merchant ship because it was easier to hide, and even though the Reich had few seagoing vessels Ambrose had expressed desire to also remain hidden from the Britannian Empire as well, the more he was around him the more he wondered whether or not he had any choice but to become an airship pilot as he seemed to be universally hated on land.
Ambrose had nailed a looking glass to one of the masts and sat cross-legged in front of it with a water basin in his lap, using a knife to lance the swollen green and purple bruises that had been left from their encounter with the union. Come to think of it the aeronaut had thus far surprised him at every turn; he was tougher than Joseph had first credited him with, a lot more clever than even he claimed which was saying something, and he could throw a fairly impressive punch for his size which actually wasn???t saying much but it had been sufficient to catch him off guard so maybe he wasn???t crediting him enough.
According to him the Union had forced him to fly for them when he was forced to land in Pennsylvania; they had threatened to turn him over to the Britannians, who would have most certainly hanged him, if he refused, so he couldn???t really hold that against him, though it still gnawed at him to some degree. He had come to the conclusion that even if everything had worked out and he???d killed the aeronaut he???d have felt terrible afterwards, in spite of himself he couldn???t help but like the strange man.
By evening the lights of the city of New Orleans had peeked over the horizon. Ambrose was the first to see and politely pointed it out to the boatswain, who immediately called all hands on deck to make ready to dock.
Ambrose and Joseph lingered in the city only long enough to buy what Ambrose considered ???the essentials??? which consisted chiefly of liquor and ale and very few actual amenities or provisions. They then headed out into the bayou to the man???s hovel on the water where he did his business. The little Cajun man was so overjoyed to see them that he greeted them like brothers and actually cried physical tears when Ambrose handed him the sack he???d salvaged from the wreck of his previous ship which was full to the brim of goldmarks. Joseph wondered, not for the first time, whether or not Ambrose came by this gold honestly or if it was in fact the reason the Reich was so hard after him. The man who was called Jean Claude Lafitte, as anyone who had known him for a full minute would know, as he was fond of referring himself in the third person and always said all or most of his name the way Cajuns tended to do, wrapped his arm around the aeronauts waist which was nearly as high as he could reach and offered the both of them the full tour.
???When you comes into my shop I says to myself, ???Jean Claude,??? I says, ???now here is a man who know what fine airboat look like.??? I says to myself, ???Jean Claude Lafitte, you has got to try your most hardest to be pleasin??? this fine customer here. And there she be.??? They had walked through the trees by a narrow, barely visible path to a clearing where the vessel was anchored.
Ambrose gasped, even Joseph, who didn???t know all that much about airships in the first place was awestruck by the beauty and minute detail of the vessel from the cerulean envelope to the brass fittings on the prow. ???Jean Claude, you have truly surpassed my expectations.??? The little Cajun grinned proudly.
**Captain Ambrose Bethal Trant II**
After they had loaded all of Ambrose???s supplies he handed a blue silk purse full of more goldmarks to Joseph. ???Four hundred, as promised.??? He said curtly.
Joseph took it weighing it in his hands, ???Seems good.???
They stood in silence for awhile then Ambrose pulled his sleeve back and checked one of the various instruments he kept there. ???I should be leaving while the aether is favorable.??? He walked the gangplank up to the deck of the ship.
???Right, bon voyage or whatever it is they say.??? The Aeronaut waved over his shoulder just before disappearing from view.
Ambrose busied himself with checking the instruments and spun the wheel a few times to get the feel of it, pretending not to notice as Joseph climbed aboard, ???I???ve been thinking?????? he began.
???What a novel experience for you.??? Ambrose quipped.
???Well, I can???t rightly go home,??? He continued, ignoring the aeronaut, ???not after the fuss we made leaving.???
???No, I imagine not.???
???And you should hear the stories they tell about aeronauts back home, I???ve always wanted to be a part of an exciting story. Also I doubt you can fly this thing on your own in your condition.???
???I???ll manage somehow. You???d better be leaving if you???re going to go.???
???Damn it, you???re going to make me say it aren???t you????
???Why, whatever can you mean???? Ambrose grinned.
???I was thinking???maybe you could use an extra pair of hands, or something.???
Ambrose extended his good hand, ???Glad to have you aboard the Serenity.??? He said, ???Now, hop to it man, reel in those tethers! Weigh anchor! Into the wild blue! This vessel is away!???
Joseph saluted and made to go to work but Ambrose gripped his hand tightly, ???That???s ???yes, Captain??? First mate O???Connell, I???ll thank you to remember it.???
???Aye aye, Captain!??? Joseph amended, grinning broadly.
They set to work Joseph quickly loosing the tethers and working the winch that pulled in the anchor which Ambrose told him was called the windlass. Then the Captain showed him the more complex duties of trimming the sails and running in the guns and stoking the backup engine with coal because the Calgori engine which was supposed to power the ship wasn???t running at full power yet. When everything was set and the props were sending zephyrs of dust and leaves spiraling into the swamps Ambrose pulled the lever next to the wheel and the envelopes which had seemed slightly deflated before billowed until their skins were taught and the ship rose clear of the mangroves. ???First mate O???Connell, give that jib-line the two six heave.??? He indicated the proper ropes near the front of the ship Joseph pulled them as he???d indicated and looped them around the stays on the bow. The sails at the front of the envelope swung out and billowed as they caught the tailwind. Ambrose pulled yet another lever and the props rotated to the rear. The Airship lurched forward and clipped along the tops of the trees gaining altitude and speed each second and soon they were over New Orleans the whole city dropping steadily away beneath them.
**Joseph Mathias O???Connell**
Joseph had been on an airship before but only the closed gondola type, either troop carriers in the war or travel zeppelins later, but to be able to hang over the gunwales and see the land dropping away was exhilarating, he was giddy with excitement. ???What???s next, Captain???? he asked throwing up another salute for good measure.
???We???re headed to Port-au-Prince to see a witchdoctor about a krewe.???
Joseph didn???t even question the truth of the statement. He truly believed now that when you travelled with the Captain damn near anything was possible. As Ambrose spun the wheel and the ship swung out towards the glittering sea he couldn???t help but wonder just what he had gotten himself into and what adventures lay ahead on the wind whipped aether and the wide skies.