Author Topic: Short Story: Priority Mail  (Read 20867 times)

Offline Bookkeepper

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Short Story: Priority Mail
« on: March 23, 2018, 05:19:35 pm »
I had this story idea in my head for a while where a messenger hires a squid to smuggle him across enemy lines, and I finally wrote it up during a long road trip. The title I came up with for the thread title. I still don't think it's very good.

See if you can find:
  • the 5 sorta-known players referenced (disclaimer: resemblance to actual persons not fully intended)
  • the damage types! all except impact get mentioned.
  • voice command lines, because of course we need those.
  • and one direct quotation from star wars just because

Full text here in case I screw up this thread:

Offline Bookkeepper

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Re: Short Story: Priority Mail
« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2018, 05:23:09 pm »
Priority Mail: Part 1

Bartholomew Hart tried his best to appear nonchalant. He leaned against the dirty bar counter and glanced down at the small leather case tucked into his belt, just to check. Earlier he had made the mistake of sipping his drink to hide his nerves, but quickly decided against that strategy when he tasted the bitter, low-quality brew. Several faces around the room looked up as he surveyed the crowd, and he decided it was futile to act like he belonged here. He had come to the lower levels of Aspara out of desperation, and though Bartholomew was by no means a Merchant, his position as a scholar paid well enough that his coat was noticeably higher quality compared to the rest of the bar patrons.
    He turned to catch the bartender’s eye and paid for his drink, if it could be called that. He checked the leather case again to be safe; he knew common thieves and pickpockets were rampant in the lower levels, and the papers within were potentially more valuable than…well, than a lot of things. The scholar stood up to make his way back out into the dusty streets, prepared to try his luck nearer the docks, when an old man appeared by his side.
“Barkeep! I’ll have the usual. And one proper drink for this lad here,” he said, gesturing to Bartholomew. The rest of the bar quieted, their attention turning towards the gruff old pilot and the out-of-place scholar with keen interest.
“And the rest of ye, mind your own business,” he snapped to no one in particular. To Bartholomew’s surprise, the rest of the bar obeyed, and the low murmur of conversation resumed. He took in the stranger with a wary eye. White hair and beard, a well-worn face, a long leather coat with a worn bronze medal pinned to one lapel. A pair of aviator goggles, a bit scratched, rested above eyes that glinted with mischief.
“The name’s Nick. Nick Wynters, though the old salts around here like to call me Spud, for some reason,” he said by way of introduction, taking a sip from the glass the bartender had delivered to him. He gestured towards Bartholomew’s drink, and the scholar took a cautious sip. It was actually recognizable as beer, to his mild surprise.
“Bartholomew Hart, scholar of – wait. Ah, why did you…what do you need from me?”
“You stick out here like a flare in the skies above Alleron, lad. And there’s only one reason a person like you comes to a place like this: you need passage out of the city. And you need it fast, and – shall we say, in a way that avoids the usual channels?”
Bartholomew gave the man a slow nod. His dark skin and style of dress marked him as a native of the Midland Plains, but he hoped it wasn’t too obvious that he had never left the region before.
“I’ve recently come into possession of…some documents of interest. I shan’t tell you more than that, I think. All that matters is that they reach Averna as quickly as possible. I presume you have some experience in, ah, avoiding the usual channels?”
“Hah!” laughed the pilot, short and sharp. “Some experience, indeed. It’s no secret that the Guild has a strong presence in these skies as of recent, and the Overseers would be keenly interested in anyone departing for Chaladon. Here’s the thing: me and my crew are looking for work, and we aren’t particular about where it comes from. If you’ve got coin…”
“Well, I do,” blurted Bartholomew, “enough to pay for passage, if you’ll have me. I’ve already tried at the high docks, and none of the ships there would take the risk, and time is of the utmost importance-“
“Three thousand, and I can get you there within a handful of days. I’ll be glad to finally get some excitement, in any case. And I have a few friends in Chaladon; perhaps they’ll owe me a favor, hm?” said Wynters, voice steady.
“Wonderful! Wonderful, thank you very much Captain Wynters, you have no idea-“
“Calm down there, lad. Must be careful; the Guild has ears everywhere. Bring yourself and your bag to the mid docks, ring 3, berth 7 by sundown. Payment is half in advance. Pleasure doing business with you, Hart,” said Wynters. He finished his drink, tossed a coin to the bartender, nodded to Bartholomew, and left.

At one of the tables nearby, Kara Sarin smirked as she glanced at the bounty sheet in her hand. ‘Hart’, it read, ‘Dark skin, average height, wearing a charcoal coat. Wanted by the Guild, dead or alive. Reward: 8000 coin.’ Other mercenaries would be drawn to the generous reward, but Sarin was an Overseer – one of the privileged few privateers who had proven their loyalty to the Mercantile Guild, and was allowed to fly under their banner. She was in this for the good of the Guild. And if she could pull off this bounty, perhaps it would be enough to get her an audience in Vyshtorg, the Merchants’ floating capital city.
She slipped the sheet into her pocket as the nervous man in question exited the seedy bar. There was no point following him now; Aspara was not truly a Mercantile territory, only occupied, and the local authorities would not take kindly to an altercation within the city walls. But the open skies were fair game, and all she had to do was find Wynter’s ship over the Black Channel tomorrow.

Offline Bookkeepper

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Re: Short Story: Priority Mail
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2018, 05:24:03 pm »
Priority Mail: Part 2

As the sun set, Bartholomew was pacing along mid docks ring 3. Many of the ships moored here were Goldfish – the airframe design was old, but extremely popular among the Midlands, and with its ovoid balloon, long tail boom, and sweeping fins, it cut a distinguished and instantly recognizable profile.
“Eleven, ten, nine…” the scholar muttered to himself, counting off the ship berths as he passed them. Finally, he came to seven, and looked at the ship in front of him.
The upper balloon and fins were similar to a Goldfish, but the similarities ended there. There were two additional balloons, catamaran-style on either side of the hull. The balloons themselves had light armor plates affixed. The hull was narrow, with a set of stairs leading up to a raised aft, and another set near the front leading down into the belowdecks. Ramps connected the central hull to walkways along the length of the catamaran balloons. A symbol was painted on the fabric of the upper balloon; a propeller blade, set against a square-toothed gear with feathered wings spread to either side.
“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts,” came the voice of Captain Wynters from behind Bartholomew, and he startled. The old pilot seemed not to notice, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “The Squid’s an old Chaladonian design. A bit cramped, but you won’t find a faster ship. I call her the Slippery Bastard, or sometimes The Calamari, or…well, I suppose I change her name depending on my mood. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the crew.”
Bartholomew checked the leather case at his belt before gingerly stepping aboard. It was certainly smaller than he’d been expecting. He followed Wynters to the fore deck, and noticed that instead of the helm he expected, there was a light gatling gun on a swivel mount. Most all ships that crossed between faction territories had to be armed, of course; for every trader or privateer looking to make an honest living there were two more looking for a dishonest one. Wynters coughed, gaining the attention of the woman in a dusty jumpsuit who was adjusting the gun’s mechanisms.
“So, this is our passenger, huh? Mister Hart, was it?” she said, eyeing the scholar with a wary look. Bartholomew offered a nervous smile, and at that the woman turned and stuck out a gloved hand. “Call me Bael,” she said, as he shook her hand.
“My first mate Gunnery Chief Ender here is in charge of our more… aggressive ship functions,” interjected Wynters. Bartholomew nodded, then noticed the grease stains on his hand left by her work gloves.
“Ah, a pleasure to meet you,” he said with a slight frown. Bael observed his expression with a knowing smile, then turned back to her work. Beside him, Wynters turned and craned his neck to peer down the short stairs into the below deck compartment.
“Oi! There you are! Get up here, man!” barked the pilot. At his order, a large man with a particularly well-groomed mustache emerged into the dusk light on deck, hefting a worryingly large wrench. He bent over slightly to get a good look at Bartholomew with an unreadable expression.
“Our Master Engineer, Mann.” Wynters gestured to him, as if it wasn’t obvious.
“Man? Just Man?” questioned Bartholomew.
“Two N’s” came a soft voice from the very intimidating engineer. His accent was thick, and it took a moment to decipher his meaning. Bartholomew blinked.
“So, Mann? But it’s pronounced the same, how did you know-“
“A man of few words, Mann is. Very few. For a while I thought he didn’t speak English. But he does good work. One of the best engineers out there,” explained Wynters. “How’s the hull inspection?” he asked, turning to address Mann. He responded with a silent thumbs up, and returned to his work.
“You can stow your bag down there. Also get some rest. We can only fit two cots down there though, so we tend to swap off. Of course, I’ll make an exception for a paying passenger. And – well, here’s the last of our crew.” Wynters waved to a man in overalls approaching from the dock, a heavy looking burlap sack over one shoulder. “Hurry up, Hector, or we might leave without you!”
The man, apparently named Hector, gave a loose salute with his free hand. “Sorry, Captain, but when I heard we’re heading to the Islands of Chaladon I figured I’d buy some of that old Anglean salvage for sale in the market. For a bunch of tree-huggers those guys are awfully interested in lift gas tech, it might fetch a good price.”
Captain Wynters rubbed his chin in thought. “Hmm. Good thinking. Stow it down below, then get to work! I want those engines idling and ready to go! Mann, prep the balloon pump! Ender, put out the deck lamps! We depart as soon as it’s too dark for the watchtowers to spot us.” He turned back to his passenger, satisfied that his crew were carrying out their tasks. “You just sit tight below deck. Might want to chat with Hector later; he’s a bit of a nerd like yourself, and a good engineer. Won’t shut up about skywhales, though, so don’t ask him about that if you can help it.”
Bartholomew nodded, and headed down to stow his bag. His hand went to his waist again, checking that the documents were still there. For the first time in a week, he felt a bit more at ease.

Sarin stood at the helm of her Magnate, watching the setting sun reflect off the waves of the Black Channel far ahead and below. She had departed Aspara in the early afternoon, knowing that her ship was not designed for speed. But anyone who wished to reach the island of Chaladon would have to cross this stretch of sea, and she would be ready to intercept her target’s ship. Of course, the much faster Squid could still escape her – but she had a plan for this. On the rear deck, she had mounted two Manticores. The gunner was already preparing some special rockets to be used for the engagement, with an extra explosive surprise. After all, she Muse™-d, can’t run with disabled engines.

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Re: Short Story: Priority Mail
« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2018, 05:25:33 pm »
Priority Mail: Part 3

The Slippery Bastard lived up to her name. They had departed from the docks under cover of darkness, and Captain Wynters spun the nimble ship past the watchtower spotlights with ease. There was a tense moment where a Mercantile warship, patrolling their occupied territory, seemed to spot them in the moonlight, but Wynters simply opened the throttle and left them far behind. Now having traveled all night, they were out over the sea. Though there was no sign of the islands on the east side of the channel, Hector declared that they were making good time, and he expected to reach their destination in two days’ time.
Around midday, however, a problem developed. Bael, holding up a spyglass, called it out.
“Ship spotted, due east. Looks like a Magnate, flying Mercantile colors,” she announced with a grim expression. Bartholomew asked to look and she obliged, handing over the spyglass. Through it, he saw a large ship, shining under the sunlight, suspended from a cluster of spherical balloons and draped in magnificent golden sails. The symbol of the Mercantile Guild was proudly displayed.
He lowered the spyglass. “They’ve found me,” he muttered, aghast.
From the helm, Wynters spoke up. “Don’t be so sure. Could just be on patrol.”
“Nearest Merc territory is Aspara, though, Captain,” Hector pointed out.
“Well, maybe they’re lost. Lost, and suspiciously well-positioned to intercept us…” said Wynters. “Hm. Prepare the guns,” and with that the crew burst into activity.
At the bow, the gunner deftly fed a belt of bullets into the gatling gun. Another box of ammo rested at her feet, marked with an ominous red symbol of a bomb with a lit fuse. On the starboard side balloon, Hector diligently loaded what looked like small firework rockets into a banshee rocket carousel. He fumbled one, and just managed to stop it from rolling off the deck with his foot, while Bael chastised him for handling the greased rounds without gloves.
Meanwhile, the other engineer pulled a barrel from beneath the stairs leading up to the rear deck. With a length of rope, he secured it to the railing next to one of the four engines. Also from under the stairs, Mann removed a large jug marked as alcohol, and placed it next to the other engine accessible from the rear deck.
“What’s that for?” questioned Bartholomew.
“Not drinking,” muttered Mann.
“It’s – excuse me – nearly pure ethanol. Nasty stuff,” commented Hector as he pushed Bartholomew to the side so he could examine the balloon lift gas pump on deck. There was a strange cylinder affixed to it, clearly not part of the original design, and from the printed warning it was highly flammable.
“I though the plan was to avoid combat!” protested Bartholomew. He glanced at the distant speck on the horizon in trepidation.
“Well, yes, that is the plan, but on the chance that they’ve seen us –“ Wynters broke off as he squinted at the enemy ship. Suddenly there was a whooshing noise, as some kind of projectile moving at tremendous speed whizzed past the port side. The captain cursed, loudly.
“I think they’ve seen us,” said Bael sardonically, “and they’ve got a field gun.” Another shot, except this one reflected off the armor plating on the top balloon. Bartholomew jumped at the sound.
“Captain, they’ve got range on us,” warned Hector.
“Jusst means we need to close distance, and fast. Mann? Ready the moonshine.”
The large man grinned for the first time Bartholomew had seen him. “Hold on,” he advised before throwing open a valve on the fuel line.

Overseer Sarin was pulled from her thoughts by her first mate.
“One Squid spotted, west, exactly as advertised!” he declared, spyglass at the ready.
“Excellent spot, Technician Bros. Battle stations, everyone!” The crew rushed to their stations. The junior engineer got into position on the port mercury field gun as she angled the ship to bring the Squid into firing arcs. He peered through the scope, and fired a round. “Missed,” he announced, and Sarin sighed. Another shot. “Hit, armor deflected.”
Sarin considered her options. “Are we in range for the artemis?” she queried the gunner, who scrutinized the complicated lenses and dials of her rangefinder.
“Negative. Two kilometers out but closing fast – um, closing faster. Captain…” she reported, voice full of concern.
The Squid was rocketing towards them at a frightening speed.

The captain laughed maniacally as the ship, already moving at full throttle, rushed forwards at twice the speed. Bartholomew could only hang on for dear life. The Magnate grew larger as they quickly closed the gap, forcing the enemy to engage at close range.
“All right, that’s enough! Don’t want to knacker the engines just yet. Man the fore gun!”
The Magnate began to turn, slowly bringing its close-range weaponry to bear. In response, Wynters made a hard turn to stay on the enemy’s port side. The front gatling gun fired, churning bullets out into the space between the ships. Tracer rounds sparked off armor plating. The front gun could angle to port enough to hit, but he needed to face the enemy with his starboard side to get multiple guns firing.
The enemy was still turning, though, and their own gatling returned fire. Wynters slammed the wheel hard to port, trading forward momentum to spin in place and bringing the banshee on target. The greased rockets screamed through the air, detonating and lighting small fires wherever they hit. Those Merc engineers would have some fun dealing with that. There was a sudden shout from his gunner – “Manticore!”
The Manticore Heavy Hwacha was pointed right at them. Wynters swore, and tugged hard on a cord next to the helm. The cord was attached through a series of pulleys to a valve linking the hydrogen bottle grafted onto the balloon. The Squid gained altitude rapidly, shooting up like a rocket, just in time. A withering barrage of explosive rockets flew underneath the ship, filling the space it had just occupied.
Wynters assessed his ship. Bael was reloading her gatling with lochnagar rounds. One of the engines had blown a gasket from the stress, and Hector was halfway through replacing the part. Mann extinguished the fire that had broken out due to the hydrogen. The passenger…was still alive, and terrified out of his wits. Good enough for now.
“Change of plans. I don’t want those manticores wrecking my ship. Disable the one pointing at us, then we pressure their balloon and disengage,” he ordered as he dropped altitude back into engagement range.
There is a proud tradition amongst those who handle munitions aboard a ship, and it goes something like this: nobody asks you about lochnagar rounds, and you don’t tell anyone exactly what you did to the bullets to make them high explosive. The lochnagar rounds struck true, piercing deep into the hwacha’s rocket magazines and detonating them prematurely. There was a spectacular noise and perhaps some screaming from the enemy ship as the heavy weapon shattered.
Meanwhile, the Magnate’s flamethrower was causing some issues. Mann was working furiously with his fire extinguisher to suppress the fires on deck. Wynters used his ship’s speed advantage to pull forward, out of the flamethrower’s arcs. “Prepare aft gun!” he shouted.
The Squid turned, brining its side and rear guns to bear. With the hwacha disabled, it was safe to leave the engines exposed. Bael ran the length of the ship to take aim with the light carronade, firing clouds of flechettes into the Magnate’s balloon. At the same time, Hector emptied his banshee into the balloon, spreading fires. Under the combined assault, the reinforced fabric of two spherical balloons gave way, and the enemy ship began to drop rapidly.
“That should keep them busy for a while. Mann, prepare our parting gift.” The engineer shifted the barrel so it was connected to the fuel lines instead of the moonshine. Below them, the Magnate’s engineers had climbed up into the rigging and were patching the balloons with amazing speed; they were well-trained. But Wynters intended to be long gone by the time they could set their sights on his beloved Squid.

“Repair faster!” snapped Sarin. The Squid was flying circles around her, and not even a single hwacha rocket had hit. And worse, that pilot – Wynters – was running, offering a clear shot at his engines. But her working heavy gun on the port side couldn’t angle high enough to hit him, even with her gunner pushing past the safety stops.
Just as the balloon was patched and the ship began to rise into firing arcs, a stream of oily black smoke appeared behind the departing Squid.
“Engine trouble?” asked the junior engineer, hopefully.
“Fucking tar cloud! And the wind’s blowing it towards us, of course,” Sarin responded. She pulled the collar of her coat up to cover her mouth and nose as the foul substance washed over her ship. The rest of the crew followed suit. Sarin slammed a fist into the throttle housing as she heard her main engine and turners choke and cut out, deprived of oxygen.
As the fumes cleared, she saw her target escaping. “Do you have a shot?” she yelled at the gunner on the working hwacha, but she already knew she did not. And without the turning engines, there was no way to line up a shot.
“Engines look pretty gunked up, ma’am,” reported the junior engineer. “We’ll have to clean them out before we can get them started up.”
Wordlessly, Sarin watched her quarry disappear into the horizon.

“You pushed the engines pretty hard. I’d recommend three-quarters speed until we have a chance to do a full inspection, summarized Hector. “Plus the front gatling’s busted, but I told you already I’m not fixing that thing every time she breaks it with loch ammo.”
Wynters nodded. “Fair enough. At least we’ll reach Averna soon enough. What did I tell ya, a handful of days, right?” he said, glancing at Bartholomew. He’d finally emerged from his hiding spot under the stairs, and though he looked shaken, he was unharmed.
“What’s so important, anyways?” asked Bael. The scholar shook his head.
“I can’t say.” he replied.
Mann shrugged. “Okay,” he said, and returned to scrubbing away soot from the various fires.
Bartholomew let a hand drop to the leather case. He hadn’t lost it in all the excitement. The treaty was safe. He reflected on what had brought him here; the Yeshan occupation of his home territory in the Midlands, the swirling rumors of war brewing. When the Yeshan leaders caught wind of the Baronies offer of cease-fire, they jumped at the opportunity. He was dispatched as a messenger – the closest one to Chaladon, if not the most qualified – but then the Guild had taken Aspara while he was in transit, and he was almost caught, but now he allowed himself to hope.
In his belt, he carried the seeds of an alliance. An offer of mutual aid, encompassing the Yesha Empire, the Fjord Baronies, and the Order of Chaladon. An Alliance his people were going to need, if the rumors out of the south were true. A war was coming – one that had been brewing for a long time.