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I’s can shoots

Below, in the vast desert, sand, black boulders, and metal wreckage laid everywhere. Derek couldn’t imagine what most of the things were for, except what must have been a wheel here and there, half buried in sand. It must have been a hell of a fight.

Moving the view through his spyglass from ground, he looked around the horizon. After a few moments, he saw something like a bird or a bat. “What in tarnation?” he exclaimed.

“What you seeing, Derek?” Captain Tane yelled from the ship’s wheel.

“I’s don’t know, Captain, it looks kind of like a big bat, but flies like a bird.” Lowering his glass for a moment, he looked over towards the big Kumite Captain. Tane grabbed something from below the ship’s wheel, then ran towards him and raised a double spyglass to where Derek pointed.

“I don’t see anything,” Tane said. Then he adjusted a piece on the unit and looked again. “How’d you see that?” the big man asked. “Never mind, do you shoot?”

Derek lowered his telescope, “A mites.”

“Good, come along, quickly, I need your help.”

Running down the deck, Tane shouted orders to two crew members to get the long rifles.

“Aye, aye, Captain!” one yelled back as the two men disappeared below.

Shouting down the stairs after them, Tane said, “And find Meandre!”

Grouchers!

“What are those things?” Derek asked, catching up to the captain.

“Grouchers,” Tane replied, a worried look on his face.

“What?”

Tane turned to Derek, “Big, nasty, territorial flying reptiles that think our sails are other birds. They’ll rip them to shreds if we don’t shoot ’em down first.”

Derek nodded, getting the picture.

The crew brought up five long rifles, all about as tall as Derek. Handing one to the big man, Tane said, “Can you shoot this?”

“Yes, Sir,” the big scout said, hefting it up to his shoulder.

“Just watch us, you’ll get the hang of it. Come on, don’t let them make it to the sails!”

Tane, Meandre, and the other Kumite crewman moved to the starboard bow, loaded cartridges into the chambers, and took aim at the group of bat-winged creatures heading straight for the boat.

The first volley from Tane and crew missed, the flying fiends taking no notice of peril, but making screeching sounds so loud it brought everyone else up on deck.

Derek took aim, squeezing the trigger slowly. Ka boom! As the rifle’s report rang out, a bat bird tumbled out of the heavens.

“Fire!” Tane commanded. Everyone kept shooting, hitting some of the larger grouchers as they came closer. The creatures, like shrieking banshees, flew straight for the main sail, one of them grabbing the yard arm of the main mast with its talons, then proceeding to rip part of the canvas with the long rows of teeth lining its beak. Tane dropped the big bird and it flopped in death throes on the deck.

“Everyone who’s not shooting, get below!” Tane roared.

The angry flock of avian predators began circling the airship. Derek guessed there must be twenty, maybe more, individuals of them banking out and diving at the ship at random. Taking careful aim, Derek methodically dropped one after another out of the sky.

Another dove for the outer jib, Derek annihilating its head as the bullet exploded it’s skull, leaving only a wiggling neck and flapping wings as it plummeted.

I’s out!

“I’s out!” Derek shouted, looking at the other crewmen. One reached over, giving him a handful of cartridges from his vest pocket.

Loading again, he took aim at a big ugly one with a long beak, lined with teeth. He set his sight on its semi bald head with what looked like tufts of white hair sticking out, just like an old man. It flew directly toward him as Derek shot off one of it’s wings. Screeching in agony, it flopped over and over, falling to its death.

“By Hades!” Tane yelled, as two bat-birds attached to the main sail, ripping and tearing a gaping hole in the canvas. Meandre and another crew member shot them both dead. They peeled off, hitting the rails before sliding over the sides.

“Come over here’s and concentrates fire with me!” Derek called out.

The men looked at Tane, who nodded at them and his mate. All joined Tane as he lined up next to Derek, and together shot down more grouchers as they circled. The birds broke off the attack when they saw the other grouchers falling dead in front of them and flew away, calling furiously to each other as they left.

“Just like buffalo,” Derek said to himself as he watched them fly away.

Tane began cursing up a storm as he looked up at the main sail, shredded and in tatters. The first jib had sustained damage, too. He spoke to one man who gathered a few other crewmembers and began lowering the main sail yard arm.

“You’re a good shot!” Tane said as he turned toward Derek.

Derek just nodded.

“You alright, Derek?” He turned to see the worried expression on Fallon’s precious face as she came up on deck, rushing over to him.

“Yeah, I’s okays,” He put his arm around her, reassuring her.

Fallon turned to look at the dead animal on the deck and gasped, grabbing Derek’s arm and pulling herself closer to his side.

“That’s the ugliest damn buzzard is’s ever sees,” Derek said.

Fallon nodded and stared at the bird, as he felt her grip his arm tighter.

***

After spending the afternoon cleaning up the mess as best they could, Derek and Fallon stood with rest of the crew and passengers on the deck, as Tane had called them all. Everyone, even Micron, was assembled. The captain waited until all quieted down and gave him their full attention.

Derek studied their leader, he looked shaken. Tain’ts good.

“You all saw the grouchers attack.” Tane began, “Unfortunately, they got to our main sail and cut it pretty bad. That means that it will slow us down quite a bit.” He paused and looked around at the people. “But that’s not the main problem.” He waved in front of them with a sweeping motion of his arm pointing in the direction the ship was heading. “Out there, directly ahead, is what we call The Null. For you who don’t know, it’s a place where some very nasty tech was blown up a long time ago. Somewhere down there, is a sort of. . .small hole in space, drifting around. . .somewhere.”

“Long story short, the plan was to fly over that area as quickly as possible so we don’t get stuck in the zone that surrounds it, but now that the sails are ruined, it’s iffy. Unless we have a really good breeze, we might not get out.”

“What does ‘get out’ mean, exactly?” Komae asked, her eyes wide.

“Well,” Tane rubbed his top lip, then his bottom lip, brow furrowed. “It means that as long as the engines have power we’ll stay airborne and we’ll be fine.”

Derek looked down at Fallon, who was again holding tightly to his arm.

This whole thing is suicide!

For the first time in days, Micron spoke. “This whole thing is a damn suicide mission. Why don’t you tell them exactly what the The Null does to people, or would you like me to explain it in technical terms?”

Tane glowered at his turban-headed antagonist, finally saying, “If we are forced to land anywhere near it, The Null will slowly drive us mad. Technically, The Null has the effect of draining life from people.” He shrugged, “Most likely we’ll kill each other.” Then he added, “I’m not sure about angels though, 3 may survive.”

“Yes,” Micron drawled as he stood, looking around at everyone with reproach. He spoke in a loud voice that grated on Derek’s nerves. “Every evil thought, vile compulsion, and unnatural desire will surface and take over your minds as your synapses shrivel. The Null amplifies your worst traits until, if you don’t die of thirst first, you will most certainly watch those you care about die at your own hands. Whoever is left will lose the will to live.”

Seeing the tall angel stand, Derek looked on as Tane stepped aside.

3 came forward and addressed the group. “This mission is very important to the survival of Hala. As long as the Tech Wizard can produce dragons, no place is safe. I believe we should risk the crossing. I can fly in front of the ship and help by pulling it through The Null if you all will agree with me to risk it.

A little blast of short breath escaped from between Derek’s teeth as he shook his head.

I think we can make it

Brenzel spoke up, “I think with 3 here we can make it.”***add something else?

After 3 stepped back into the crowd, Tane walked back to the front. “That sounds like a good plan to me, what say ye?”

Derek nodded along with the unanimous yes or ‘aye, aye’ from the crew and other passengers. Micron, as usual, just looked dejected, refusing to agree.

“You think this is okay?” Fallon asked as she looked up at him with those wide, pretty eyes.

Derek looked at her for a moment. “Ain’t nothin’ promised, you dos the best with what cards you’re dealt. But I think we makes it.”

“I don’t like it,” Fallon rejoined in a soft voice, “but I trust you. You know I’d go anywhere, do anything with you Derek.”

Derek looked at the woman next to him, gently brushing her hair off her face, noting how she just got prettier and prettier each day. How’d I’s gets so lucky?

Since boarding the airship, Derek had been having stronger feelings her body, but more than anything else he wanted to do things right, the way it should be for a woman, for once in his life. He’d almost got the nerve up to ask her the question, but just before he did, he remembered he didn’t have a ring. He’d thought about asking Tane where to buy one.

Having her near him every night was like sleeping next to an angel, her hair fallen around her face, long eyelashes closed, resting easy. She was the most precious thing in his life…he just had to do it proper, like momma would have wanted.

SEOIB.