Into the open sky
Chapter 7: Going West
Timeline: Day 1, Morning
Steam billowed around the Steamhawke as its rear propellers began to turn. Preparations were ready, the crew were aboard, and the skyship was getting ready for flight. Brem de Berg, chief engineer of the Steamhawke, had insisted that the engines be fired up slowly, as the engines had recently undergone major repairs. So the Steamhawke wasn't about to leave in a hurry.
Which meant that El Moreno still had plenty of time to infiltrate the crew.
Now that Chago had all the information and he had done his preparations, he was ready to board the “Steamhawke”. He knew where the airship was located; he had learnt the captain’s name… A lady captain, this would be interesting, he thought.
He had no idea what expected him there. What he knew for sure, was that he wouldn’t be a damn passenger, even if he had enough money for passage from his mysterious employer – that Chago believed firmly he must be the kidnapped young lady’s adoptive father, despite his avoidance of letting any detail slip about his identity. Nobody else would have been so worried for her well-being and whereabouts, he mused.
Aboard a ship, Chago would never again go as a simple passenger. He always offered his service aboard, as a sailor with three years of experience, in exchange for going from a place to another. It helped not dying of boredom during the travel time and keeping himself fit for the requirements of swordplay. But now he had a reason more to be hired as a sailor – to blend among them and learn about his mark.
Now, that he arrived to the docks and found the ship, he couldn’t abstain admiring it knowingly. “Steamhawke” was a beauty. And, as far as he could say, surely it looked differently than with its initial owners. Pirates often made changes to increase speed, to allow more weapons and more cargo room.
It was also obvious that the Steamhawke was getting ready to leave, and so it was time for Chago to expedite his plans. He stepped aboard, telling to the first being he saw in front of his eyes:
“Good morning! May I talk to the captain, please?”
As far as he knew, on a pirate ship the captain and the quartermaster were both involved in hiring new deckhands, but some of them had original rules as well. And, anyway, he was curious to meet the notorious pirate captain.
A handful of suspicious deckhands glared at Chago. He didn't look like yet another rich passenger, so most of them lost interest again. A green-skinned Elphin stepped out of the crowd, a bandana tight around his head and a mean squint in his eyes. "The captain's a little busy, or didn't you notice that we're about to set sail?" He was waving his arm around, which was made of brass. The other arm was just a stump.
Mei-Xiu had been sitting down playing her turquoise colored ocarina and had actually been playing at least adequately...at least until she hit the high note wrong. Next to the young woman was her formerly calm monkey who was now acting like he had been hit with a burning hot metal pipe. 'It wasn't that bad, Kichi,you drama queen.' Even she thought this to herself, her maternal instincts kicked in and she patted him on the head. "It's okay." Kichi still screamed as if he was being murdered which made her sigh, before noticing Chago.
She wondered why the deckhands seemed especially nasty today, maybe they had to do some extra work for the launch or something. "I'm afraid she is busy, you'll be able to talk to her once we're in the air-" She noticed that the bottom of her pants had rose just enough to show one of the gears in her ankle, it was one thing to be an automaton on a flying airship, it was a completely different one to be one in public.
Chago frowned, not liking the answer. But he wanted to get hired, so he tried a serene little smile:
“I noticed you are about to set sail, and I want to join your crew. This is exactly why I was asking for her. Or the quartermaster, whoever does the hiring on Steamhawke.”
The screaming monkey attracted his attention, then the monkey’s owner approached him, with kind words. She was a lady as beautiful as a China doll… and Chago recognized his mark from the portrait offered by the mysterious employer. He didn’t need to have the ankle detail as confirmation to know that she was the one he was talking to.
“I am Chago Moreno, glad to make your acquaintance, miss,” he bowed in front of her as respectfully as if she was in a ballroom in Seaport.
Had she got accustomed with being a slave? She did not seem to be suffering for being a prisoner. Anyway, he was happy that his mark was here. During the long voyage he would have enough time to learn how she got kidnapped and to find a solution to take her back to the distressed father missing her.
Mei smiled and blushed when Chago bowed. He seemed very unlike the other pirates, much more polite and well-mannered. Then again she didn't exactly fit in either, "I'm Mei-Xiu".
Did he need the name to make sure she is the one? Not exactly. But she smiled and blushed like a debutante at her first ball... so he smiled back. It was too early and too much of a crowd around to tell her that her father was sending him. Besides, he wasn't sure how a young woman - with mechanical parts or not - would react to the news, so he would rather keep the secret until he understood what had happened and how could they escape and make it back.
His inquisitive eyes fell on the man by their side. It seemed that pirate crew was full of strange people... well, not that a mercenary among them would be any less!
Jack had been plenty busy between his experiments to prove to the crew and getting the engines ready for the long journey to the Old West. He was so busy that he didn't even have time to meet up with any new crew. Pleasantly surprised to see a new face...
"Good day to ye sir, I'm Jack O'Leary the handy man here! I haven't seen a new face here in awhile. Might I ask ye business?...He looked at the messy table. "Huh don't worry about the mess, just some chemistry experiments...."
"Experiments? How interesting!" Chago answered jovially. "I have experience of three years as a sailor, so... I am looking for a place aboard. Is it safe?" he winked, meaning if it was safe from the chemist's experiments gone awry which might set the ship on fire.
But he had said it in joke, and it was obvious both from his tone and his facial expression. He was still intrigued that no captain and no quartermaster were in sight. Was this one of the ships like he had heard some still existed - one run by a democratic council in front of which not even the captain had more to say than a mere deckhand, except battle orders?
The Captain had been watching the interaction between the guest and the crew. She'd smiled at Mei's attempt to socialise and Jack's good-natured introduction. But Mei-Xiu was right; there wasn't a lot of time before they had to set sail. "I am Captain Bradley," she announced dramatically as she slowly stepped down the narrow steps down to the main deck. "You're looking for a job, then?" She squinted at the man as she walked up to him slowly. An experienced sailor was always welcome of course. But hiring a man so short before rising up in the clouds meant she had to judge his character quick. And she was such a bad judge of character to start with, though she didn't see it that way.
Chago smiled, bowing in front of her with the respect deserved to a lady:
“Good morning, captain! Glad to meet you! I am Chago Moreno, at your service. Yes, I would like a job. I have been a sailor for three years. I can fight too, given that I had served for three years in the army, during the latest war.”
His personality being a mix of contraries, of what he had been born with or learnt in his childhood versus what the harsh life had taught him later, nobody could guess that Chago Moreno was El Moreno the mercenary – even more that this surname was rather common in certain areas.
“You seem to have an interesting crew, with a mix of qualities and valuable skills. If I don’t succeed to prove mine, you may throw me overboard in the middle of the sky!” he added.
It was a challenge for him too, one he had to overcome – especially in hiding well his hate of pirates. Hopefully the bad memories of the months he had been forced to serve in a pirate crew wouldn’t surface now, as he was here with a purpose, to save Mei-Xiu! If the captain didn't fall for his charms, Chago would have to act here and now to rescue the girl, but he didn't fancy his chances.
"Engines are all fired up, captain!" announced a young apprentice from behind Daenelia. She nodded to the boy, and then to Chago. "You're in luck, mister Moreno. We're leaving, and you're coming along."
As the crew ran this way and that, Jack busied himself with oiling up some nearby pistons. He couldn't shake a feeling he had about the new crew member.
"True he's new, but he still has to earn my trust..." Looking over at his lab set up. "I should keep quiet to him of my formulas..."
Within minutes the Steamhawke had left Seaport behind, the sky ship plunging headfirst into the open Atlantic sky.