Tag Archives: airships

Her Majesty’s Western Service by Leo Champion

Here’s a sample section from Leo Champion’s Her Majesty’s Western Service, available at Amazon here.
Unlikely partners…

In a steam-driven alternate 1963, the British Empire faces off against neo-Tsarist Russia in cold war over a divided former USA.
Pirate captain Karen Ahle is an upper-class Southern exile with a vendetta against the mercenaries who’d butchered her family nineteen years earlier.
Imperial Vice-Commodore Marcus Perry is a duty-focused, by-the-book career officer sworn to uphold the law.
They’d been on a collision course until Theron Marko, Luddite anarchist and Russian agent, showed up with his own agenda.
Now they have to work together. If they succeed, Perry’s name will be cleared and Ahle’s crew will live. If they fail, North America’s map will be redrawn… by the Tsar.




Chapter Three


Like James Curley, Joseph Kennedy and his sons came out of Boston, and in a more peaceful world they might have been only bootleggers – maybe to legitimize in high finance, perhaps even to follow Curley, with his acknowledged early-career mob ties, into politics. Instead of becoming the most notorious raiders to originate in Boston since the time of John-Paul Jones.”


From The Last Hurrah: President Curley’s Third Term. Edwin O’Connor; Little, Brown, 1956.


The pirates came at a quarter past five, out of nowhere and from an abandoned township on the Nebraska side of the old Kansas state line.

Sir! We have four – no, five, six, eight, nine, shit, a whole lot of blacks rising in front of us!” Swarovski cried out from the bridge of Imperial Air Service airship DN 4-106.

Late afternoon, dark lines of clouds in the west. Clouds above them, too, at about three through five thousand feet relative.

Turn to engage,” Perry said calmly from his command chair of black leather. He’d have been more shocked if this weren’t the optimal time for pirates to attack: it’d be dark in half an hour. For the last half-hour he’d been expecting something. And he’d known, from the more-alert bearings of Swarovski and Martindale – and Halversen, when he’d visited aft again a few minutes ago – that the others did, too.

If it was going to come, it was most likely going to come during the last hour of daylight; time to engage, and much more time in which to run.

Signals, hit squadron general quarters. Now, please.”

Aye, sir.”

Sir. We have more coming from the north. Little hills, they’re rising out,” Specialist Second Vidkowski reported. “Sir! We have ten, fifteen, twenty, and sir, I strongly suspect there’s some up above.”

Ahead of them, the convoy was reacting. Increasing steam, turning to bolt.

In these situations, the captains tended to react like sheep: every man for himself, and the hell with formation or safety. Irrational – he’d audited a hundred lectures where civilian captains had been told not to outrun their escorts, to stay where they could be protected or, if need be, recovered – but a universally-human panic reaction anyhow.

I have to remember that my weapons are stripped for airworthiness, Perry told himself, looking at the ship plot. There was a fully-functional pressure-gun right below him, a fully-functional one aft. There were a nominal twelve missile batteries, of which only two were actually manned.

The missile batteries are not to be considered applicable in this engagement.

They’re ignoring flashes, sir. Definitely hostile,” Kent reported.

For the first time, Perry actually looked up to see the enemy – or rather, looked away from his consoles and through the window. Little birds, tiny ones, that had been hidden in the township. From the north, to the left, they were powering in on an intercept course to the convoy.

Signals. Rockets and guns may feel free to engage. Repeat: Free fire is authorized.”

Fire at will is authorized, confirm, sir?”

Fire at will is authorized, confirmed,” Perry said.

The instinctive response, as it always did, calmed him. This was combat; people were going to die. But it was also known and familiar; the protocol, the confirms, the etiquette. Every man on 4-106 had a job to do; every man was doing it. It reduced the visceral, random chaos of combat down to something known and manageable.

Pfung! Pfung! came from down below, the fore pressure-gun battery. Then, irregularly: Pfung! Pfung!… Pfung!

Sir! Fore One reports confirmed hit, one of the fucking bastards is going down in flames!” Swarovski exalted.

Very good,” said Perry. “But Weapons, I did remind you about your language earlier. Please do remember that we are officers on one of Her Majesty’s ships, not pirate trash.”


And my compliments to Fore One. Specialist Bronson was ready for his own gun, I’d say?”

Very much, sir.”

Sir, more coming from the northeast,” Martindale snapped.

Looking around. Yes – more shapes. A lot of them.

This just turned serious, Perry thought. The number of confirmed bandits was pushing forty. We have a real fight on our hands.



General Quarters,” Airshipman Second Gilford said. “We got action! Pirates!”

Yeah,” Rafferty said. “Time to kick ass and chew bubblegum.” He pulled a stick from his hip pocket. “Want a piece? Strawberry, it’s good.”

The comm buzzed. Rafferty picked up his handset. “Rocket Three. Yessir. Yessir, understood.”

What’s he say, boss?”

Just got fire at will clearance. See hostiles, take `em down. So put a shrapnel rocket in there.”

Got it,” said Gilford, reaching for the ammo feed.

Pirates didn’t figure on us having a ship like this,” Rafferty said. “Lot of `em aren’t gonna make another mistake like that; not for a while. Maybe not ever.”

Gilford hefted the missile into its breech. Rafferty sighted down the bore – there was one, a tiny little scout-class, probably spring-powered and held together with glue and frayed rope. Barely a hundred feet long, only semi-rigid; typical expendable piece-of-trash pirate riser.

Range three hundred fifty,” he said, mostly for Gilford’s education. “Cut like this” – with a blade, he released the cord that held the stabilizing fins; now, when the missile came out of its tube, the fins would pop up on their springs – “set to three fifty, that’s twelve and two, so the fourteenth notch here, hit the timer there – and yank the cap; missile is now live.”

Missile is now live,” Gilford repeated.

Crosswind, relative speed, relative height, possible intervening objects during flight time? Rafferty did the math quickly. He’d been a missileer for twelve years, and this had become second nature to him. He understood the variables at an instinctive level, made careful adjustments to the tube in a way that looked like no more than casual fidgeting.

And, we point it, we sight, we see that he’s moving vaguely towards us at a rate that don’t count for shit, but where’s the little punk gonna be in twenty seconds? Looks about the same, maybe a little ahead. Cone clear!”

Cone clear!” Gilford echoed, shouting, as Rafferty fired. The nine-inch-wide, two-and-a-half-foot-long missile exploded out of its tube, its backblast flaming in a cone through the bay behind the launcher. Gilford and Rafferty were out of its way, but the shout – and a warning light outside – was for the benefit of anyone walking through the corridor.

Trailing fire, the missile streaked toward Rafferty’s target. He watched it with a monocular scope as it struck the pirate high-amidships and blew.

Shrapnel ripped through the pirate’s gondola, shredding sacs and releasing hydrogen that the explosion’s fire set alight.

Within seconds, the pirate ship was a floating, directionless inferno. Men were bailing from the cabin, throwing themselves loose before they or their parachutes could burn. Flaming debris fell like rain as bits of the gondola detached.

High explosive, the next,” Rafferty said. “Sure you don’t want a bit of gum?”



Three thousand feet above, on the lower edge of the mile-up clouds, a pirate named Karen Ahle looked down at the melee.

That’s it,” she said, pointing at 4-106. The line-class airship was heading through the center of the brawl, jinking every so-often, guns and rockets firing intermittently.

Go, cap’n?” asked her henchman, a big man in his forties named Ronalds. He chewed on a straw as he looked down.

Go,” Ahle said. “Stagger across – left to aft. You know the plan. Go!”

One after the other, Ahle, Ronalds and six of their crew launched from the airship, paraglider chutes opening as they steered for the long bulk of 4-106.



Missileers to starboard,” Perry directed. “Helm, increase speed and take us into that cluster.”

Sir!” Swarovski replied, keying a control and reaching for his mike.

Going in, sir,” Martindale said.

A burning hydrogen sac floated past, just below them, attached to a large, thin section of gondola-plate. The air was full of debris, especially the hydrogen sacs. Almost all civilian dirigibles had crude fire-detachment systems; if a sac caught on fire, it could be released – with part of the nets or plating – before the fire could spread. You lost that sac, but you saved the ship.

Of course, you then had to re-inflate a new sac, and you often had to ditch cargo to make up the weight in the meantime. The usual pirate tactic was to force a cargo ship down, land themselves, get the crew off at gunpoint – an unwritten understanding was that the downed crew wouldn’t resist, and the pirates in turn wouldn’t use any more force than they had to – then re-inflate the dirigible with their own compressed-hydrogen cylinders and fly it off.

That was what most of these trash were attempting to do. Barely-airworthy ships, makeshift contraptions with just enough hydrogen – or, in a couple of cases that Perry had seen, simple hot air – to get aloft and take a stab at something with missiles or crude cannon. This was just a matter of killing them before they could; the pirate ships were easy targets, except that there were so damned many of them, and all mixed amidst the bolting, un-coordinated ships of the convoy.

Loose fire – and it was all too easy to hit something you didn’t want to, from a swaying airship in an irregular wind – was a bad risk. Airships had a lot of hit points, but nine-inch missiles were designed to inflict real damage. Stray shots into civilian freighters would be doing the pirates’ own work for them.

4-106 sped up. The fore guns chuddered, blazing shot and tracers into a larger pirate dirigible, something actually airworthy. The pirate tried to evade, and Perry saw a pair of riggers on the tail, physically forcing it. Another rigger worked with a wrench on a stuck panel, which as Perry watched was released, a burning-from-tracers hydrogen sac lifting out. Two more had caught while that panel was stuck, and those two sacs released a moment later, navigational hazards for the next few minutes.

Martindale turned slightly, so that the starboard missileers and the aft guns could have a chance at that dirigible. Two missiles fired, one of them missing but the second, a high explosive round, blasting the rudder – and the two men working it, unless they’d jumped clear at the last moment – into fragments, along with the aft fifth of the ship. Both of 4-106’s batteries opened up on the burning wreckage, pounding three-inch rounds along the length of the gondola, down into the cabin. Men jumped, parachutes opening behind them as they fell.

Good kill. Excellent job, Swarovski.”

If we only had more men, sir.”

Ifs and buts, Weapons. We’re doing entirely adequately for what we do have. How about that hot-air job over–”

The aft battery opened up at the hot-air balloon Perry was pointing at, shredding its loose air sac in seconds. Three men jumped from the basket as the thing began to fall from the sky.

Ensign Hastings is doing quite well, don’t you think?” Perry asked. “Pass that on to him, please.”

Will do, sir.”

And Helm, keep going in. Weapons, put one missileer back to a port battery, if you will.”




Four of the Imperial line-class ship’s riggers were on the outside, maintaining the steering vanes and keeping them clear of debris. One of them was spraying foam onto a place near the nose where a burning sac had been blown into the gondola.

Ahle steered her paraglider onto that man – no, a woman, her hair in a tight bun. She looked up in shock and found herself facing a long pistol.

Detach and depart. If you’d be so kind.”

What – who are you?”

Captain Karen Ahle, at your service. Now, if you’d please detach and depart? Your crew will be following you shortly, Senior Airshipwoman.”

A quick glance back showed that Ronalds, Herrick and the others were kicking off the other riggers the same way. One of them had already jumped, his parachute opening.

You’re pirates? Boarding us?”

We’re not the Air Marines your ship, quite conveniently, is presently without. Now, if you would please?”

The woman detached – her rig from the safety cable – and looked, again, uncomprehendingly at Ahle. Then she checked the bracings on her parachute, ran to the side and took a flying leap from the airship.

The top of the gondola was corrugated aluminum, broken up by the big steering vanes. Ahle ran hunched along them, her rubber-soled boots gripping the surface well, despite the thirty-mile-an-hour backwind and a crosswind. You learned, after a while.

Ronalds and Klefton had already found a hatch; Klefton, a lean man with an assault rifle and a number of ropes, watched as Ronalds jimmied it open.

Drink, boss?” he asked, pulling a silver hip flask.

Don’t mind if I do,” Ahle said, and took a swig of the rum. She passed it to Ronalds, who took a swig and returned the flask to Klefton.

Time, boss?” Ronalds asked.

Ahle checked the chronometer on her left arm. The clock was ticking up to the minute. “At the sixty.”

Hooked in,” Ronalds said. “I’ll go first?”

I’ll go first, Ronalds,” said Ahle, and connected the rope.

Below, a pair of missiles streaked out at a ship a couple of hundred yards away, less than 4-106’s own length. One missed, and the other exploded near its aft.

Sixty. Go!” Ahle said, and leapt down into the gondola.

Inside were structural braces and vast helium sacs. The thing was seventy-five yards in diameter; seventy-five yards down, the height of a twenty-storey building to the cabin area. She rappelled in short bursts, dropping three or four yards at a time. Fore of her was a huge structural brace, a double-triangle shaped like a Jewish star, with big brown helium sacs on either side. A ladder ran through the center of it. Behind, secured in place with narrow girders, were more helium sacs.

Drop, pull, drop. The rope swayed hard, kicking her around as the dirigible accelerated, slowed, turned. Every so-often she caught hold of the ladder to steady herself; every so-often her swinging rope slammed her into the ladder, or into one of the sacs.

After one of the ladder’s rungs collided hard with the small of her back, she decided that she preferred the sacs.

A curse came from Klefton, as something like that happened to him. Well within the minute, their footing was stable. A passageway; a door marked ‘Medic Bay.’

Ahle un-hooked herself and drew her pistols. One long revolver, in her – dominant – left hand; in her right hand was a pressure-pistol with special ammunition.

We go in. Klefton, you come with me to the bridge. Ronalds, go through the gondola and link up with Mackinaw at the stern. Boyle’s team will be in the engine room. Kick out anyone you see along here. Understood?”

Got it, boss,” said Klefton. Ronalds touched two fingers to his temple.

This is a beautiful ship,” said Ahle, as she kicked open the door to the medical bay. Her guns covered the place, but – as she’d expected – there was nobody inside. She turned back to Ronalds. “Let’s make her ours, shall we?”



See that one over there? The one firing pressure-guns into that Allied Freighting bird? Helm, take us closer. Weapons, missileers to port and we’ll show the gentleman what real gunnery looks like. That should put fear of the law into the last of his friends, too.”

Sir,” said Martindale and Swarovski.

Belay that order, please, Vice-Commodore,” came a female voice. The accent reminded Perry of upper-class Southern, although terser and less-twangy than the usual drawl.

He turned. As did Swarovski and Martindale, and the others on the bridge.

A woman in brown, with a complex rig, was standing at the entrance, a pistol in each hand. Brown hair tied in a ponytail, a face that was a little too square to be beautiful, green eyes with a pair of lifted goggles above them. Behind her stood a yellow-haired man with an eyepatch and a submachinegun.

What the hell?”

Vice-Commodore, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you and your bridge officers to abandon ship. Klefton, clear out that fore gun.”

You’re pirates?” Perry asked. Complete, absurd, disbelief. A pirate was pointing a gun at him here, on the bridge of 4-106? Was this a–

Tell Ricks that this is not an appropriate joke to pull in the middle of a battle. Ma’am, please find an unoccupied cabin; I don’t think you realize how serious this is.”

No, Vice-Commodore. I’m afraid you don’t realize how serious this is,” the woman said. “This is not one of your friends’ pranks, and these guns are both loaded. I want all of you to put your hands in the air and go to the starboard side. Including you, Vice-Commodore.”

You’re hijacking my ship.” My ship!

The yellow-haired man – Klefton – had opened the bridge access hatch to the fore pressure-guns, was shouting something down. He twitched his gun to the side and fired a shot.

That broke the unreality. A gunshot. Here. On my bridge.

One of the female pirate’s guns was pointed squarely at Perry’s chest. The other, a revolver in her left hand, was sweeping across the bridge crew, covering them.

Slowly, Martindale, Kent and the others were moving to the starboard side.

I trust that you are all wearing standard Imperial parachutes,” said the woman. “You may take backups from their locker, if you see fit.” The tone of her voice lowered. “But please don’t attempt to reach for weapons. I would be very upset if I had to shoot somebody.”

You’re taking my ship?

All three of those gunners jumped, Cap,” said the man called Klefton.

You’re taking my ship?” Perry repeated.

That’s rather the point of this operation, Vice-Commodore. Now, if you’d please put your hands up and move to starboard?”

They’re taking my ship and nobody has even fired a shot and I cannot believe this is happening–

Suddenly Perry’s right hand went for his sidearm, an automatic pistol in its holster at his hip. It was covered by a flap, and the double-barrelled pressure gun in the female pirate’s right hand went blurp, once, twice, and Perry’s hand was stuck.

White goo, sticky white goo, all over the top of the holster and Perry’s right hand. Sticky and hardening, and Perry found himself looking down the muzzle of the pirate’s other gun, the long revolver.

Klefton muttered something, covering the rest of the crew with his submachinegun.

Vice-Commodore, I do not appreciate that,” the woman said. “Those are gel rounds. That gun is now empty. I will have to use more harmful ammunition if that should happen again. Now, please, put on a parachute and jump.”

You can’t do this.” Perry glared at the woman. Confident, almost smirky, not even bothering to shoot him with real bullets. Not even bothering to disarm him, or the others! Just walking onto the bridge and telling them to jump.

He looked again at his pistol. The whole top flap was covered with the gel; for that matter, it was hardening on his own right hand, becoming a solid crust. The gun wasn’t accessible, but she can’t just take my ship!

It’s getting dark,” the pirate said. “I imagine it will be easier for your crew to rendezvous on the ground while there’s still light. In any case, I’m going to request that you and your people kindly vacate what is now my bridge.”

Some of them – Kent, Vidkowski, Singh – had strapped on parachutes. Others were doing so. Service uniforms did have small backup parachutes sewn into the backs of them, and riggers of course wore proper ones, but nobody really wanted to trust the in-shirt ones if there was an alternative.

Very well,” Perry said. He glared at the woman. “You’ll hang for this, you know. You might take my ship, but you won’t live to keep it.”

I don’t expect to live forever, Vice-Commodore.”

What the hell do you want with a line-class warship? Nobody’s going to buy it!” Except the Russians. Or the Franco-Spaniards. Or the Sonorans. Or… but I won’t suggest that.

The pirate’s gun tracked him as he put on a parachute.

That’s my own business,” she replied. “If it helps, I can give you my word that I will not be selling it to the Russians or the Romantics.”

The word of a thieving pirate. I can take that to the bank. You’ll hang, bitch. We will pursue you, and we will find you, and we will try you. And we will hang you.”

She smiled – she’s laughing at me, the bitch!

You’ll have to succeed in the first of those two before I swing, Vice-Commodore. Now, my apologies, but you really must be going. Specialist Second, open the starboard-side door and depart. Now, please.”



You two,” came a hard voice.

Rafferty turned to see a large, begoggled man with an automatic rifle, standing in the entrance of his missile bay.

Who the hell are you?” he demanded, although it was obvious: pirates have boarded us.

The rifle was pointed at himself and Gilford.

None of your business who we fuckin’ are. Get away from that tube, open a hatch and jump out. Now.”

You’re pirates?” Gilford asked. “You’re pirates attacking 4-106?”

Taking it over, kid,” said the man. “Bridge, engine room, you lot. Now, out with you. Cap Ahle said not to kill anyone, but you sons of bitches just give me an excuse and I will. You bastard Imperials been busy right now killing my friends.”

Rafferty looked at the assault rifle, which was primarily pointed at him and not Gilford. He was standing in the door, fifteen feet away; too far to rush easily. And the only things in immediate reach of Rafferty were missile-setting tools, which wouldn’t throw well.

OK. Gilford, go to the locker and take out two parachutes. He’s got a gun pointed at us; do not make sudden moves and do not give him an excuse to shoot us.”

The Airshipman Second nodded hard, reached down into the locker.

Rafferty hit the missile trigger and threw himself to the left.

The missile exploded out, in a direction Rafferty really didn’t know or care about. The flaming backblast went over Gilford’s head, past Rafferty and into the pirate, who turned just fast enough to avoid taking the brunt of it in the face.

Then Rafferty was on him, shouldering aside the gun, wrestling the pirate into the ground.

The man had been in his own share of brawls, moved quickly himself. Rafferty reached for a knife in his boot, but the man saw the movement and an iron-strong wrist closed around Rafferty’s forearm.

As good as me, and half again my weight, Rafferty thought, and blew a chewing-gum bubble into the man’s face, onto his goggles. It popped and the pirate cursed, orange residue blocking his sight. Rafferty head-butted him in the mouth, hard, then kneed him in the crotch. Pounded his head into the deck several times, punched him in the stomach, and banged his head into the deck a couple more times for good measure.

Gilford, go over the son of a bitch and find the pistol he’ll have somewhere,” Rafferty ordered, reaching for the man’s assault rifle.


A one-eyed, yellow-haired man with a submachinegun was pointing that gun at Rafferty, a booted foot on the rifle.

You’re lucky I don’t like Cooper very much,” he said to Rafferty.

A thug, a boor and he stank,” Rafferty agreed.

Dumb, too. I’m not. Get the hell hands in the air and jump. Junior man, throw senior man one of the parachutes and then the two of you get out now.”

Bastards hit me,” groaned the other pirate.

You deserved it. Now, two of you, get the hell out. Chutes on and jump, now. From the catwalk.”

Rafferty caught the parachute that Gilford threw to him. Shook his head slightly in response to Gilford’s ‘do we do anything now?’ look.

OK, OK. We’re leaving,” Rafferty said.



Their personal property,” Ahle said to Klefton. “In the cabins; gather it up and throw it out with a parachute.”

Their personal shit?” Klefton asked. “Why the hell do we care about that? Some of those guys are gonna have good stuff there. Always a few bucks you can get for spare uniforms and shit.”

We’re pirates, not thieves. And that was an order.”

Harvey says we’ve got the engine room,” said a woman named Guildford, coming in. “Thing’s firmly under our control. No trouble except the missileers who beat up Cooper.”

Like I said, ass had it coming,” said Klefton. He took another swig of the rum and tossed the bottle to Ahle, who took a long drag. “Teach him some humility.”

Guildford, Klefton, gather up the crew’s property and throw it out. We’re going to need every hand to get this thing to the rendezvous.” And – she took another swig of the rum; traditional and I could use a stiff one – “good job, everyone. We’ve taken us a hell of a warship here!”



Perry seethed, hard, as he swung from the parachute in the growing darkness. Furious.

That smirking bitch. That fucking goddamned smirking bitch. Taking his ship.

Oh, I’m going to kill you. You’ll hang, or I’ll shoot you personally,” he muttered. “Give me an excuse. I. Will. Shoot. You. Personally. You bitch.”

The ground loomed; it was almost completely dark. Around him, the other bridge crew were landing. They, and the civilian crews, would have to find their own way back; the rest of the squadron, and the rest of the convoy, would go on to Chicago. He’d meet them there, or at Hugoton or Denver.

Practical considerations had to take priority.

The ground hit him, hard, and he rolled instinctively, began to disengage from the `chute. Flat grass; a cattle herd had been through here not long ago, from how it was cropped. Nearby, Martindale was cutting his parachute loose. Someone – Kent, it turned out – helped Perry up.

4-106 to us!” somebody shouted. “4-106!”

Not far away – maybe half a mile – a group of pirates were shoving hydrogen into a downed ship, a makeshift airbag.

If we can go after them, get that ship back, re-board 4-106 and take it back…

No. The pirates there would have rifles, and they did have a completely clean field of fire. It would be suicide, even with darkness to cover most of their approach.

As he watched, the captured ship lifted anyhow, discarding boxes of cargo to get off the ground.

4-106? Captain, that you?” came a man. Four missileers; in the darkness, Perry recognized Rafferty as one of them. “4-106!”

That’s us, Specialist Third.”

4-106 to us!”

A freighter, a huge one, came over their heads, fifty or sixty feet up. The same that had lifted half a mile away. Someone threw a couple more boxes down; a hissing sound was coming from it, more hydrogen inflation.

Martindale went to one of the boxes, opened it up. Slabs of beef, packed in somewhat-melted ice.

Well, we’ve got food,” the first officer said.

4-106? You 4-106?” came a voice from a couple of hundred yards away. Someone with a speaking cone.

Bring them back, Kent,” Perry ordered.

That group – with two dozen civilians – was larger, the engine and rear-gunnery crews, under Vescard. Senior Warrant Halvorsen was the man with the speaking cone.

Where were our Marines?” the old warrant muttered. “Vice, why the hell did St. John’s give us a ship without basic force protection?”

Their responsibility,” Perry growled. “But our problem and the pirates’ fault. They stole my ship, and Every. Last. One. Of. Those. Bastards. Will. Hang.”

Hey, you 4-106?” asked a civilian coming up. “Some bags for you, strung to a parachute. Marked your number.”


Yeah, personal shit or something. `bout a mile that way.”

I’ll take care of it,” Martindale said. “Holt, Lieberman, Jeppesen, and you two, come along.”

The indicated crew followed Martindale in the direction the civilian had pointed.

Any other injuries? Vescard, do a count. We missing anyone?”

What’s the plan, captain?” someone asked.

We gather all our crew, and any civilians who want to come. Swarovski, do you have our location?”

The weapons officer shook his head. “No, sir. Somewhere in north Kansas?”

Try Nebraska,” said Perry. “About three and a half miles south of us is the Platte River. The nearest town is a place called Kearney, eighteen or twenty miles to the east.”

Everyone’s here, sir,” said Vescard. “Allowing for the XO and the party he took.”

We’ll rest if needed, then march to Kearney. With any luck we’ll be able to get transportation from there.”

Martindale and his group came back, four of them dragging a parachute that turned out to be full of duffel bags.

Our shit. They threw down our shit,” said Vescard. “What the fuck?”

That patronizing bitch,” said Perry. “She’s returning our personal effects. Because they’re not good enough, no doubt. To rub it in further.”

There was a pause, as people went for their bags. Swarovski grinned as he loaded a magazine into a semi-automatic carbine.

More civilians were trickling in, gathering around the Air Service crew.

The town of Kearney, Nebraska is about eighteen to twenty miles to the east,” said Perry. “We’re going to go there, and get transport from that point. Civilians are welcome to come, under the protection of myself and my crew.”

What good’s that?” somebody sneered. “Couldn’t even protect your own selves, let alone my ship!”

Speak to the Vice with respect, mate,” said one of Perry’s men.

I am not going to punch that man. I am not going to shoot that man. Because it would be inappropriate to, and illegal. He is upset that he lost his ship.

God damn it.

You may feel free to not come along, if so desired,” Perry said coldly. “My crew and I are going.”

And when we get back to Chicago, or Hugoton, I am going to find that pirate, and I am going to see her hang.

He’d never been so humiliated in his life. He’d never been this mad.

That bitch is going to pay.

I will track you down, recover 4-106 and put you on the gallows.