Torque’s Jump

airshipby Kate Runnels

Torque gazed down at the clouds scudding past below in a breeze she couldn’t feel, as she idly swung her feet. Sitting at the very edge of the rusting metal support beam she could imagine she was somewhere else. The beam was one of many that needed repair all over the city, but weren’t absolutely necessary. But it was one that helped hold up the roof of her father’s Mechanic shop.

The constant thrum of the engines that held the air city of New Perth in the sky droned on in the background as she fiddled with her mechanical right arm. The tiny gears and joints sometimes clogged with dust and she liked to keep it clean and running smoothly. The small screwdriver tightened one last screw and she slipped it into a side pocket as she flexed her right arm, watching the interplay of gears, pulleys and fluid.

Her chores finished and no airship in for repairs, she stayed out of sight of the bastard of a new man her mother called husband, Malvin. A drunk who relied on Torques skill so he could stay drunk, with the pretense of running the shop. Her father’s shop. Her shop.

The same accident that had taken her arm had taken her father. Everyone in New Perth had lost someone they cared about that day.

The steel vibrated under her and she turned to see Sark, Malvin’s oldest son. Two years older than she and already apprenticed to their neighbor, a smith who made most of the parts they used to keep the airships running. Except those tiny gears she made herself.

Sark didn’t need to flex to show his muscles. They were there from years of working in the smithy. He grinned at her. “Hey, if it isn’t Torque the dork. What are you doing out here? I’m sure father will love to know you’re shirking your work.”

“If Malvin’s not too sloshed he might remember, pea brain.”

“What was that?” he demanded, stepping one foot out onto the beam. He kept hold of the hull wall, as there wasn’t much below but other jutting beams, the starboard engine housing, and the clouds.

She had been sitting, but a change of pitch in the background rumble caused her to stand, easily balanced on the 10 inch wide beam.

“What—”

She held up a hand and Sark fell silent. She cocked her head slightly to one side to bring one ear upward. He opened his mouth again and then stopped, he’d heard it too. Another airship! No! There was more than one.

Torque glanced up in time to see a sleek fast moving airship streak from above the bulk of the city and then it was past and diving down into the clouds not far below.

Seconds later, it was followed by a ship that made the first look like a rusted old tug boat. The sleekness and pristine condition hid its size, until it kept coming and coming on. Only then as it fully emerged did the colors and the sigil penetrate into her astonished mind.

“A Royalty Air Cruiser,” she breathed. She’d only seen one once before in that blue and red, and that was a medical boat after the Blast. It continued its flight, following the airship down into the clouds, but before it disappeared she saw the bow fire a barrage, the report cruising over her moments later.

Then it too vanished into the clouds. What was it doing here?

Lost in wonder, she’d forgotten about Sark. He’d gained his nerve at her inattention. The beam shook slightly and she glanced back to see him in time as he pulled back a meaty fist for a punch, and the wicked gleam in his eyes.

She stepped back off the end of the beam to avoid the strike, which would more than likely have sent her over anyway. Torque dropped, her right arm catching the lip of the beam and she smiled as Sark, off balance, windmilled to keep himself from falling. Torque only used the beam to slow herself and change trajectory. Swinging in toward the hull, she released her grip.

Torque landed lightly on another beam that was part of the floor below their own. She gripped a rusting hole in the hull, as the floor she stood on was barely wide enough for her feet. She didn’t stay there long though, but ran the length of it and when it abruptly ended, Torque trusted her knowledge and leaped off into the gaping hole that was a legacy of the Blast. She knew she disappeared from Sark’s astonished sight, as barely any light penetrated the shattered part of engineering. In another moment she landed, rolled to shed momentum and stopped with a bang as her right arm hit the inner wall. This was a section of engineering that remained after the Blast.

Hearing the noise, a door opened off to her left, spilling out warm welcoming light into the dark, and a grizzled head peaked out the door. Old Grif. He smiled when his eyes lit on her and she scrambled to her feet. It was a gap-toothed smile but genuine for all that, and not evil like Sark, or his dad, Malvin’s.

“Torque, you little rascal, are you running from Malvin again? Or is it your step-brother this time?”

She nodded indicating his guess was correct. “Yeah, It was Sark.” She waved that away, eyes alight from the memory. “More than that, Grif, did you see it? It flew by moments ago.”

“See what, young lady?” he motioned her into the Engineering Control Room and dogged the hatch shut behind her. “I’ve been working on the number two turbine again.”

“A pirate ship, with a Royalty Cruiser on its back end. They flew right over the top of the city, close too, and then they both dove into the cloud cover.”

“A pirate ship? There may be pirates, Torque, but far from here.”

“But, it was being chased by a Royalty Cruiser!” she insisted.

Grif scratched at his scraggly spiky grey hair. “Haven’t seen one of them since right after the accident.” He eyed her, asking, “Are you sure?”

“Of course I am, Grif. It was all fresh bright colors of blue and red, with the Royalty symbol painted on the hull. And the metal shone, so bright, so silver and new—not like this.” She knocked her right cybernetic hand against the inside wall, and got a dull thud in response. “God, I’d love to work on one of those.”

Sighing, she sat down in the chair across the table from Grif.

“Now, Torque, you know how difficult it is to get to the academy. No one from New Perth City has ever gone. It mainly goes to the Islanders, tramping about on dirt—”

“Buddists—” she almost cursed it.

“Now don’t, girl. They were there before, their ancestors travelled and eked out a living in the Himalayas, in the time before the great flood. It’s only happenstance, and I’d rather be living here, in this part of the world than in the Rocks.”

“I know all that, Grif.” She sighed again. “I just feel as if I’m going to be stuck here forever.”

“Stick it out. Your garage is needed for our mail carriers and the other airships in this area. And two more years, you can become my apprentice, move down here and away from some of your troubles.”

“If I do that Grif, what will then happen to my father’s garage? It’s all I have left of him. Mom’s not the same since his death. She only married Malvin out of convenience, not love. We needed the money to buy food and parts for the shop.”

Torque found herself pacing and made herself stop. Her right arm wasn’t the only thing that had been replaced. Everyone, and the city, owed so much debt to the Royalty. It would be at least five more years of work in the shop before her mom, Torque, and her hated step-father were out of debt. Five years. She’d be nineteen then and it seemed so far away, intangible as the clouds New Perth drifted through at times.

“I can’t leave mom in debt.”

“She’s not your responsibility, Torque.” His voice softened. “Think on it. You have two years to decide, my young lady. I’ll always be here for you, slaving away in the bowels of the ship.”

She punched him lightly on the arm. “I do half your work already, you old scoundrel. You’d sleep the days away if I came to work for you.”

He laughed with her. “Let’s head up to the Commons for a bite to eat,” and added when he saw her face close up, “my treat.”

“You’re on, Grif, but not the Commons, the open air market. They have better food.”

“And a view of the docks, if that Royalty Cruiser is indeed around. You can’t fool me,” he said, guiding her toward the lift. “You want to see that ship.”

They exited the lift to the open air market, with the docks to the right, a wall to the front and the city offices behind them. Located at the top of the city, it boasted some of the few trees, and they were used to screen the market from winds. The market was packed with stalls and shops, travelling merchants and local food vendors. The fishermen were in, having descended earlier in the day to haul in their nets. A crowd had gathered near their docks to gawk and stare at a giant fifteen foot shark which they’d hauled in. Shark meat was good, but expensive. Not as rare or precious as beef, but still good.

“The gypsy section has some goat meat I can smell. Maybe some chicken, but eggs are too precious to waste a chicken for a meal,” Torque said.

“Fish and chips?” Grif asked.

“Fish and chips, it is then.”

After getting their food, they wandered near the docks and found a spot near the edge to sit down. No Royalty Cruiser in sight. But there was a large merchant vessel preparing for departure. Torque never tired of the sight of the airships coming and going. Even the little dories the fishermen used to fish with. They had their own elegance in their simplicity.

The sun slowly sank, below the clouds, leaving them bathed in a brilliant red-gold, and the city darkened in the twilight. It took a long time for the sun to completely disappear with the city high up in the sky. It would lower come the morning allowing easier access to the sea for the fishermen in their little dories, but for now it soared high up with the clouds.

“All right, young lady, you should head home now. I’m up early to check the Port side engine coupling with a comptech and a Tesla man. It’s dropped efficiency and only they can go into places I can’t. Trade secrets and all.” Grif shrugged. “I just keep the old city running.”

Torque gave him a hug. “Thank you Grif.”

They parted and she threaded her way through the thinning crowd back to her father’s mechanic shop near the docks but below the open air market. Her home, the only home she’d ever known was behind the shop itself. It just didn’t feel like home anymore.

As the door closed behind her, she saw her step-father glaring at her. “Where have you been?” he demanded. “I hear from Sark you were off sightseeing instead of working.”

She glared right back at the burly drunk of her step-father. “All the work was done, Malvin. You would know that if you ever stepped one foot into the garage.”

“Now listen, girly,” he stepped forward. She clenched her teeth and readied herself.

“Stop Malvin.” Her mother clutched at his raised arm.

“No.” He spun on her. “Your girl needs to learn manners and show some respect.”

Torque raised her right arm, the metal shining in the lamp light. Malvin was one of the few who hadn’t needed any repairing or fixing. He’d come to the city after the accident. His black eyes narrowed at the sight of her right fist.

“Now how would Sark even know if I wasn’t working, Malvin, unless he was shirking his work at the smithy? And I know they had jobs ‘cause we still haven’t got those gears to fit into the number two tug boat for the city!”

He paused and his anger stilled; he wouldn’t attack now.

“Get to your room, girly. I expect to see you in the shop in the morning.”

Not pushing the issue, Torque hugged her mom goodnight and went to her room. She wouldn’t see Malvin in the morning, he would already have started on the alcohol. She closed her bedroom door and flopped onto her bed, but sleep was a long time coming for her that night. She kept thinking about pirate ships, far off lands and the bright shiny Royalty Air Cruiser.

* * *

Up early, Torque snuck out of the house listening to Malvin’s drunken snores. Quickly grabbing bread and goat cheese, she opened the door into the garage and breathed in the familiar comforting smells. This was her home, not where she’d just left.

Around midmorning a pounding sounded from the main shop hatch. She was under a partial support frame that needed rewiring, new gears and all. From the house Malvin yelled, “Curse you girly, get that!” as the pounding started anew.

Rolling out from under the frame, she got to the door as Malvin roared again, “Girly!”

Throwing the hatch lock, she pulled it open and her eyes widened in shock at the sight presented to her. A royalty officer in his uniform of bright blue greeted with red trim, flanked by two guards, one in black and the other wore a lighter blue of a different cut.

“Yes sir?” she asked.

“Is your master about?” the officer asked coolly but politely.

“I’m not an apprentice yet sir, but this was my father’s shop before his death. What can I help you with?”

The officer glanced behind him to the other in the lighter blue uniform. And he asked, “Do you know what a Maple leaf gear is?’

“Of course, but do you want a size 17 engine leaf gear or the 28 for small parts? There’s also the oak leaf off shoot style, that’s transferable but might not be compatible or as strong.” Torque shrugged, “It just depends on what you are using it for.”

The door from the house into the garage slammed behind her. She watched the officer converse quietly with the man who’d asked her the question.

“Well, girly, who was banging at the hatch?” he pulled the hatch from her and swung it all the way open so he could see. And stopped. “I–“ he stopped again.

The officer glanced at Malvin. “We require parts and labor to fix our cruiser as quickly as possible.”

Malvin finally shut his mouth and moved back, gesturing them in. “Of course, my lord. Whatever the Royalty needs.”

The officer stepped past looking away as if he’d caught a bad smell, but was too polite to comment. “As I said, we require parts and labor.”

“Do you have a list of what you need?” asked Torque. Malvin glared at her for speaking out of turn, and to the Royalty on top of it. The officer ignored Malvin and waved at the other in light blue who stepped forward. The black uniform stayed outside, and he was the only one armed, with sword and projectile guns, a pistol and a rifle. The light blue uniformed man produced a list. He had blue eyes and darker skin and a nice smile as he handed it over. He was not as scary as the guard in black. His eyebrows raised as she took the list with her cybernetic right arm. Torque noticed the officer noticed her arm too, by then though, she was engrossed in the list.

“We have a lot of this in the shop, but not the piston and cylinder 330 or the housing assembly for the gear thrusts, we’d have to order those made from the smithy.”

She glanced up. The officer thawed slightly then, “What is it?”

“Did you capture the other ship, sir, or sink it?”

“Torque!” her step-father spat her name thinking she had gone too far. The officer waved him off.

“How do you know there was another ship?”

“Both of you flew right over the top of the city, sir.”

He nodded. “We captured her. Why?”

“I only caught a glimpse as it passed, but hearing the engine go by it matched yours in pitch and tone. If it’s not too battle damaged, most of the parts you need can be transferred over. That would be quicker.”

“Good.” He nodded decisively again and turned to Malvin. “We will be hiring your apprentice away from you for the duration and we will buy any parts needed as can’t be found in the other ship.”

The blue eyed man motioned her over. “The XO, Major Ward, will settle on a price for your services. We need to get to work.”

“We?”

“Engineer Second Class Kidd. Call me Kaz.” When she looked at him weird he elaborated. “It’s short for Kazuto. Kaz is easier.”

“Second Class? Did you lose your Chief?”

His lips pursed together into a thin line. “Never mind. I’m sorry. It must have been a fierce battle with all the parts you need. If you need more help, the City Engineer, Grif, is quite capable.”

Kaz nodded. “He’s the one who sent us here.”

Torque smiled. “I’ll just get what we’ll need ready here. If you have an airlift it will go a lot faster.”

Now it was Kaz who smiled.

Torque arrived at the docks with her parts and stopped to stare at the cruiser. “Torque, stop gawking and let’s get started!” yelled Grif. She ran over to where he stood next to the port side hatch and gangplank attached to the docks.

“All right.” She returned his smile. “This is going to be fun!”

“We need the coupler that attaches here!” she yelled up from below the decking in the motor that helped power the lighting systems.

Her head poked out of the hole and soon she snaked the rest of her body all the way out. “We can’t continue without it.” She shook her head at Kaz.

Grif nodded when the royalty engineering crew looked over at the older engineer, shrugged and said, “She’s right.”

“All right, I’ll send Won over to get it.”

“No, I’ll go.” Torque jumped to her feet. “I know exactly where it is and I have the tools to get it out. And there are some things I want to check out that could be converted over, like their boost systems. It ties in with the Tesla components, I’m sure of it. I want to see how it’s installed.”

She was off before they could say anything otherwise. Her laugh filled the stoic corridors of the cruiser and she ran with abandon down the docking ramp as crew members and officers dodged out of her way. Some shaking their heads, others smiling at her youth and enthusiasm.

Torque crossed the docks and waved at several people who she knew, but hustled on. She paused briefly to look back at the Royalty Cruiser Osprey before she entered the pirate ship. They were so different once she entered the hatch. The cruiser was spick and span and bright and fresh steel and new parts, where the pirate ship was rusting in places and grimy with age. For all that, it had the same ordered quality, tools put away, everything in the correct place, and the engine room–it matched the larger cruiser in power and had the boost converter, weapons implements and was not lacking where power and force were concerned. The engine was almost as new as the cruisers and nearly as bright and clean with new steel. It was amazing.

Then she noticed the dories heading out in the morning light to do the fishing for the city for that day. The city had lowered during the night to make it easier for the fishers, and around midday when they came back, the city would rise again to stay out of the storms and the winds lower down.

Torque hadn’t realized the night had passed, so deep into her work she and Grif had been. Watching the last of the skiff’s gently float down to the ocean, she then turned into the pirate ship’s hatch to search for the parts she needed.

Her right arm, deep into the bowels of the engine, gripped what she needed; a small pipe with the correct valve fitting, size and angle. She just couldn’t get it free and out. Torque’s nose was pressed up against a gear and all she smelled was oil, metal as she breathed, and struggled to get the part out.

Then everything shifted.

The part came loose, but so did the one above and it clanked down on her arm. “Uh oh.” Carefully twisting first one way, she kept hold of her pipe, and then twisted the other as she struggled to free herself now. Forehead now pressed to the gear, she tried not to panic, the upper part shifted and then she was free and she flopped onto her back.

Torque lay on the deck a minute, staring up at the ceiling, at the different kind of lights the pirates had adapted onto their ship and the loose wiring connecting them. Most people didn’t look up, so it made sense not to have those covered, she thought, and probably made for easier access to certain parts of the ship. It was easier to think about that than how close to a huge mistake she’d almost made, and the small one that had occurred. After the minute to calm herself, she finally sat up and glanced along her right arm, with the needed pipe still clutched in her arm.

“Oh, crap.” Opening her hand carefully, slowly, the fingers released their hold of the pipe. She let it fall to the deck not caring if it rolled out of sight. She quickly grabbed with her left hand for her ever present tool. One of the tiny gears, about the size of her pinky nail, that helped work the intricate movements of her fingers, was cracked.

Unscrewing, and then lifting off the outer layer of metal, she could now see the entire gear, and how the teeth no longer lined up with the next and the crack ran down two thirds of it. It wouldn’t stood up to heavy or prolonged use. It might not even continue to work for the next several minutes.

Torque stood and glanced around the engine room. “Where am I going to find a gear piece that tiny and delicate here?”

There were the huge gears and hammers, wrenches and pipes. The one she scooped up now, was among the smallest aboard an airship. The pistons blocked her view forward, and the exhaust toward the aft. Then it came to her.

She left the engine room looking for the crew quarters.

Torque only glanced into some. They were not where she’d expect to find an extra piece to go to a cybernetic arm. And some reminded her too much of her step father. Drunk, with pictures of naked women about; other rooms were clean, but didn’t hold much of value.

Then she stepped into the Captain’s cabin. Larger than all the others and just off the bridge. She’d try the bridge next. The walked up to the desk, her eyes scanning for even something the right size. Pulling out drawers, she almost missed it, as it was lodged up against the side wall of one.

It was the correct size, but there were small holes throughout the gear even onto some of the teeth. Staring at it, she wondered if it would hold up, but she didn’t see any rust or corrosion. Deftly, she worked the broken piece out and the new one in place. Picking up the pipe that had caused all this trouble, Torque headed out of the pirate ship and back to the shiny Royalty Cruiser. The battle had caused a lot of damage, and even if Grif and the others worked around the clock, it would still take another two days.

She smiled. This had been the most fun for her, plus it kept her away from Sark and Malvin, her step father. She’d be sad when she finally fixed the ship up and it left.

“There you are Torque,” said Grif as she walked back into the engine room. “What took you so long?”

“Had a problem with my arm that I had to fix. But I got the coupler and the small pipe for the–“

“Right.” He nodded, and back to work they went.

A day later saw her heading from the secondary power room toward the mess. She was in unfamiliar areas. She’d already worked through the midday meal and Torque needed something before heading back to the engine room.

A door opened, she guessed, hearing her approach. “Here now, what are you doing here?”

Torque paused. “Heading to the mess.” The man wasn’t in uniform, in fact he had a slash in his pants leg near the knee, and his hair was longer, not the neatly trimmed look that she seen on all the others. He looked…rugged, she thought.

“But what brings you here?” he asked looking around the ship.

“My friend and I are affecting repairs caused by the battle with the pirate ship.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You?”

She didn’t like his questioning tone, nor how he slouched against the hatchway frame, arms crossed over his chest. “Yes.”

He smiled, amused it seemed by her curt answer and his next words lost some of their arrogance. “What’s your name?”

“Torque.”

“What kind of name is Torque?” asked another, younger man she could barely glimpse inside the room. The man in the hatchway ignored him.

“I’m Makoto, Torque, it’s nice to meet you.” He was about to continue when a voice down the corridor interrupted.

“You there! Back inside!”

Makoto held up his hands in surrender, then backed slowly inside, all the while grinning as the hatch shut, giving her a wink before it closed completely. Kaz came quickly up to her. “What are you doing here Torque? You shouldn’t be here, and you shouldn’t be talking to them.”

“I got lost heading to the mess from the secondary power room. Who was that?” she asked.

“No one. I’ll guide you, but hold on one sec,” he went up to the ship’s intercom system. “Bridge, engineer Second Class Kidd. I’m in Corridor Bravo 8. There is no sign of Apprentice Trooper Xiu. Can you send security down? I”ll stay until they arrive.”

“Security Chief Masterson will be there shortly with a squad, Bridge out.”

He turned and faced Torque. “Go to the first intersection, turn right, go up the stairs, past two intersections and it’s the door on the left. I have to stay here, but I’ll see you back in engineering shortly.”

Torque nodded and left without asking any of the questions she wanted. There was something going on. Something about those people in the room and the missing Apprentice that had Second Engineer Kidd worried.

Grif was still in the mess finishing up his own midday meal. When she finished telling him what happened he glared at her and then leaned over the table to give her a gentle whack upside the head. “You dolt!”

“What?”

“Those were the prisoners from the private ship. I doubt they have a brig large enough to hold them all, so they converted quarters or storage rooms.”

“Oh.”

“You can be daft sometimes.” He grinned at her to take the sting out of his words. He really did care for her. “Well, eat up, Torque. Then we are back to work.” He ran a hand through his salt and pepper spiky hair.

Not long after, with grease up to their elbows, and fixing up one of the last steam pipes before reconnecting the valves to the power core, Sark came into engineering carrying a load of new gears and bolts from the smithy.

He dropped them on the deck at her feet. The clang reverberated down the corridors and along the connecting decking. “Nice, Klutz,” Torque said. “If anything has broken, any teeth on the gears, the Royalty Fleet won’t pay for a new one, you will. What were you thinking?”

“I’m thinking, that I’m working double duty at the smithy and for father, while you’re living it up on a Royalty Cruiser.”

She was shocked for only a moment and then thrust her hands in front of his face. “You think this is living it up? I’m doing my job, Sark, I haven’t slept but six hours in three days. So sorry, you and Malvin actually have to work for once. It’s not like I’m eating steak and sleeping on goose down bedding.” She bent over to pick up the bag with her right hand, lifting it as easily as he had. “Anyway, we’re almost done. Just need to install what you’ve brought, unless you broke them.”

She set the bag on the counter and looked at what Sark had brought. “You forgot the connecting pin.”

“I’m not going to get it.”

“Whatever Sark. You can’t stay aboard in any event.”

She walked out with him and passed empty corridors and then a bunch of sailors running inboard. Sark and Torque flattened themselves against the bulkhead as they passed. “What was that about?” Her step-brother asked.

Torque shook her head, wondering also.

She continued a little behind Sark at a slower pace. She saw the sailors grab him a second before they grabbed her, hands over her mouth and one of her arms twisted behind her back, just enough to hurt. Eyes wide, she watched at Sark struggled and they knocked him over the head, knocking him out. One of the sailors threw him over his shoulder and they were then hurried along the corridor.

Torque didn’t resist, but the pace was frantic and hurried. Then she caught sight of a face she’d seen earlier. The one she had spoken to in the corridor. These weren’t royalty sailors or soldiers, but the pirates. He’d said his name was Makoto.

The voices were hushed, but huddled in amongst them, she heard them clearly.

“There has to be a way off this ship.”

“The main hatch.”

“Too many witnesses and soldiers to go through,” said the one she’d spoken to. “We want minimal casualties.”

The other men grunted and then he turned to her. “Do you know a way off the ship that won’t be seen?”

Where was Grif? Where was anyone she knew? Her eyes slid around to the others. There was no blood on the cloths, but they all looked like hard men and women. Her eyes came back to the first man.

“Do you or don’t you know, Torque?”

He’d remembered her name. Torque nodded slowly.

“Then you and I will lead.” He showed her the knife in his hand before the hand released her mouth. She stayed quiet. “Good.” He took hold of her arm as the other released her. She took them through the first hatch, back toward engineering. They continued down, below the main engineering past the pistons and connectors, past the pipes and coolant valves, to where they had to duck and twist to get through. To a final hatch which she opened. It was the outside propulsion engines. The wind whipped her hair around as she stepped onto the gantry. She could see the lower levels of New Perth City past the back part of the ship. And connecting the two were the giant tethers holding the Royalty ship to the city.

The giant rope didn’t sway or swing in the wind, but they dipped low enough to be near the wrecked open part of the city where Torque knew. And knew no one else dared go.

“There!” She had to yell as the wind gathered her voice and tried to take it from listening ears.

“No way!” Yelled one of the pirates just inside the hatchway.

“We can’t lug this one over there!” Yelled another.

She faced the first man, who seemed to be their leader. “So leave him,” she said with a shrug. “Or drop him, maybe?”

He smiled, flashing white perfect teeth. “There’s plenty of rope. Tie him off, and yourselves as well. Don’t want a gust taking you to the great blue hundreds of feet below.”

Torque started to walk forward, but his iron grasp held her back. “You got guts, girl. But I don’t want to lose you.”

“Like you really care?”

He laughed and engaging laugh and she couldn’t help but smile.

She started forward again. “Wait for the rope!”

“I don’t need it!”

His grip loosened on her arm and she ran onto the five foot thick tether, easily adjusting to the constant wind. She raced along and as she neared the city the rope surged upward, but she knew parts of the broken city were near. She showed them where to go as she leaped off.

She didn’t have far to fall. Landing with a clang barely six feet down and four feet out, the decking was solid. The clang beside her startled her. She whirled and saw the pirate captain beside her.

“Damn, you got guts!”

She smiled. The rest of the crew, she noticed it wasn’t the entire crew, only about ten of them followed on the rope. “What about the rest of your crew?”

Makoto shrugged. “They are better off with the Royalty, even as prisoners.” One by one he helped them make it down off the tether and into the area where Torque had led them, until they faced the two of them.

“We need someplace to wait for awhile while they search the city.” He glanced around and the jagged holes, the broken deck, the empty levels. “This should do nicely. I doubt anyone comes down here.”

He grabbed her by the arm again. Not roughly and not showing the knife this time. “Lead on.”

There were cracked bulkheads, broken decking, but the hall she led them in was fairly solid. She took them lower, farther toward the blast sight, when he stopped them in a large open area, with light filtering down through cracks. Torque knew this place; the old community theater.

She sat in an old seat as they crew wandered around, some gathering items, some picking through junk, and one dropping the unconscious body of Sark at her feet. She didn’t care. She was warm, fairly safe. She doubted they were going to hurt her, and it had been a long time since she had slept. She closed her eyes.

She woke to crackling flames of a fire up on the old stage. Sark had awoke at some point as he was no longer near her feet, but bound and gagged near the fire as the pirates toyed with him. Pushing him down until he struggled back to his knees or feet as they laughed throughout.

Makoto, several inches taller than her with a slim but muscular build—she remembered his iron grip—sat down next to her. He nodded to Sark. “Will he continue to do that?”

“He’s stubborn. Won’t back down.”

“How do you know him?”

He mouth twisted. “He’s my step-brother.”

“Who you don’t like.”

She shrugged, wondering why she talked to him. “No. I don’t like him, or his dad.”

“He can never replace your dad. I know. When did you lose him?”

“The accident.”

“When this occurred?” He asked, pointing around the area.

“Yes.” Maybe she talked to him because it had been so long since she had talked to anyone but Grif. “You can’t stay here long, you know?”

“I know.”

“What do you plan to do?”

“Get my ship back.”

His voice went cold, hard as the steel in her arm.

“Uhmm.”

The firelight glinted off his eyes as he looked at her. “What is it?”

“We had to take some of the parts from your ship to fix the cruiser.” The bluntness surprised her. Why had she told him? But he hadn’t harmed anyone, besides Sark, and knocking him on the head hadn’t hurt him.

“Will you help us, then?”

“Why should I help pirates?”

“Is that what they told you?”

Laughter from the circle around the fire drew his eyes away from hers. She looked then as Sark lay on his back. “No,” he continued softly, “we are not pirates. We are trouble makers though. And we are fighters. Consider us more like privateers, or mercenaries.”

“Then who hired you?”

“That, Torque, you don’t need to know. Only that we represent those fighting the Royalty.”

He stood then and left her to her own thoughts. Who was fighting the Royalty?

* * *

She did help them. And snuck back into the ship the way they had escaped. She knew the parts they needed, but it took two days. And always glares from Sark toward his captors, but none at her. Maybe he thought she helped them because they threatened to hurt him. She let him continue to believe that. Bringing food and water for them as well.

But two days was a long time, and they had to move to stay ahead of the search parties.

“We have everything we need,” said one of the female pirates. “I know it’s late, but let’s get going?”

“I’m with Mel, the sooner we are out of here the better.”

Makoto stood with the others, while Torque stayed on the outside, but within hearing distance.

“It’s not like getting to the ship that’s the problem. We tether in like we did getting out,”
Said Mel.

He glanced around the assembled group. “If everyone is agreed?” They all nodded. “Then we’ll leave tonight.”

“What about her?” Mel asked.

“I’ll handle that.”

Within moments the group dispersed. They picked up Sark and slung him over the big ones shoulders again. They put out the fire, gathered what gear they had and followed Torque and Makoto.

They were near the anchor point to their ship when they heard it; sounds of encroaching boots, lots of boots. They had stumbled into an oncoming patrol. Torque hurried them on. And they could feel the night wind and hear the creaking of the tether to the city.

The big guy set Sark down, and in the second as everyone glanced away and looked toward the tether, he was up and running with Torque and several others chasing after him. He was yelling, as were the others.

“Help me. Help. They are over here. Hey!” Sark yelling from ahead with a good head start and opening up his lead.

“Get on the ship, now!” Makoto bellowed to his crew.

“Stop right there!” Mel shouted at Sark as she lost distance on him.

Torque stopped then, seeing the approaching lights and Sark continued to yell. “No more hiding now,” she murmured.

“Mel, get on the ship!” Makoto yelled.

The pirate spun and raced back to the others and the tether and the safety of her ship. Torque watched her go. The voice of Sark yelling had faded some, but the lights grew brighter. They would be here soon.

She glanced back at Makoto. He stared at her as Mel reached the tether and started her way across. He was the last, still looking at her.

She glanced the other way to the oncoming soldiers of the royalty and the lights brightening the way. Then back at Makoto standing the darkness, a figure silhouetted by the coming dawn light.

“Your choice. Come with us or stay with them?”

Torque took off running.

◊ ◊ ◊

Kate Runnels

Kate lives in a small town in southern Oregon. She loves competing and coaching in hardball roller hockey and roller derby. While her derby name is unimaginative, Runnels, her number is original and unique in the derby world at -1.

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