Andrew led Talia out of the Plunder and Lightning after the rest of the crew had moved ahead of them. They went back down the passageway that had brought them to the P&L until they reached a ladder, then up one level and back down the passageway in the opposite direction, going past several doors until Andrew stopped at one where he turned the handle and opened it wide. He stepped out of the way so Talia could go in first.
“Well color me impressed” she said after stepping inside the and looking around. “I’m guessing this is yours?” As a ship’s officer, Andrew rated his own cabin. In this case it was large enough to host small meetings if needed. To Talia’s question, he immediately pointed to the pictures that were fastened to the bulkhead above his desk. Talia saw several of her and the girls, as well as a family photo that was taken at Christmas. Seeing the girls, she smiled, but the tears started again. Oh, how she wanted to hold them!
Andrew walked up from behind and wrapped his arms around her, knowing what she was thinking and feeling the same way. Talia rested her head against his right arm, drawing comfort and strength from his presence. After a minute she tilted her head up and asked, “I’m guessing we’re here to change?” she said.
“Yep, since this suit is definitely not fit to wear anymore, nor is it or your dress appropriate for shipboard operations,” replied Andrew. “Good to know, because now is not the time for one of your lame pick-up lines” she answered dryly.
Andrew laughed. It was nice to hear his wife making a joke, even during this time. She always knew what to say, and her sense of humor tended to bubble up at more appropriate times than his did.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, for the least because I know who has rooms to each side.” Then he inhaled and raised his voice to a volume like he used to use during Artillery live fires, “GET MOVING BADGER! YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE AT YOUR STATION!”
A muffled “Nuts!” came through the walls, along with the laughter of several other voices who were with Badger waiting to see if his prediction would manifest. Then the sound of shuffling feet and the closing of doors.
Talia turned around to look at Andrew. “Do I want to know how you knew they were there?”
“Probably not.” He replied with a somewhat embarrassed tone.
Talia smile broadly, a more playful tone now in her voice, “Do we need to have another talk about what you do for a living?”
Andrew’s hands went up defensively even as he saw the sparkle in her eyes. “Oh, I tell you all I do. I just don’t tell you everything my shipmates do.”
She pondered that statement and decided it was probably good that he didn’t tell her everything, especially since they had teenage girls at home, or would have them at home once they got them back. “Got it. Ok, with that in mind what am I supposed to change into?”
“Good question.” Andrew gave another glance around his cabin. “I don’t see my ‘Go-Bag’ or the extra that Captain XO said he would have for you. I keep a few things here but not enough for us to be comfortable.”
Then there was a knock at the hatch. “Enter!” yelled Andrew, and the door opened, and a very young-looking crewman stepped in with two bags and a very nervous look on his face.
Andrew gave him a quick once-over to make sure he recognized him. “You’re one of the Professor’s Interns, right? I thought the Captain XO had a batman that was going to bring those bags? Or is that you?”
The intern replied “I am Sir, an intern I mean. The Captain XO’s batman asked me to help, he was pretty overloaded with getting everything on board for the emergency deployment. I agreed and he told me what room to bring these to. No one told me that shortcuts through the forward hold were...”
“Ah, you met Vlad I take it.” Said Andrew, trying very hard not to smile at the intern’s predicament and apparent discomfort at having met Ensign Vlad.
“Yes Sir, I did. I’m amazed he let me leave. I thought for certain I was going to be his lunch. That’s what the Professor and Badger both told a group of us last night in the Zeppel Inn. They just never told us where he lurked.”
Andrew gave a sympathetic smile; he had heard this one before. It didn’t mean it wasn’t humorous, just that some people liked to see how far they could push it. “Vlad has a policy, he doesn’t attack members of the crew, even interns. That doesn’t mean he won’t mess with you, but he won’t eat you or attack you.”
The intern sighed in obvious relief, when from behind came a raspy voice that sounded just a few degrees above freezing and with a decidedly Romanian accent. “Redleg iz correct.” And with that the intern dropped the bags as he jumped and shouted in surprise. Landing, he whirled around to see Ensign Vlad, the very pale skinned Assistant Engineer from the forward hold, standing in a position just behind him. Andrew was impressed, he never saw Vlad move up behind the intern. Vlad continued, still staring at the intern, “But you vill be zee first to know vhen I change my mind.” He finished with a very toothy grin that showed off four very sharp and pronounced incisors. That was all the poor hapless intern could take as he took off down the corridor yelling “PROFESSOR!”
Vlad and Andrew watched him run, as Talia burst into laughter from inside the room. They both faced each other and chuckled. “Can I help you with the bags Sir?” said Vlad, sounding more like he was raised in the state of Maryland, with no trace of the Romanian accent anymore.
“Certainly Vlad, come on in” replied Redleg and he grabbed his bag, moving back into the room, while Vlad picked up the one for Talia and joined them inside.
“Hi Vlad” said Talia, “was that as funny to you as it was to me?” The family had known Vlad for a while, ever since he ‘joined’ the crew during the Renegade’s Halloween trip to Transylvania last fall.
“Hello Talia, it is good to see you again.” said Vlad as he placed her bag onto the bunk. “I do enjoy my part in perpetuating the myth about interns being a food source. Those with a sense of humor tend to enjoy it. Those that don’t are the variety of recruit that only sees the profit in what we do, and none of the adventure or humor that is required to get the profit in the first place.”
Andrew nodded, “Very true, though I’m pretty sure Captain XO would prefer that particular rumor died quickly.”
Suddenly the ships intercom system sounded with a two-toned whistle indicating that the Captain XO was about to broadcast a message to the crew. “All hands listen up. We are at cruising altitude, secure anything loose as we are about to go to maximum speed. If it falls off, we aren’t coming back for it. As we discussed during the briefing in the P&L, our intelligence is that the kidnappers are heading to Wales, so we have about a 3-hour trip. The drinking lamp goes out in two hours. Also, STOP THREATENING TO EAT INTERNS! That is all.”
“I guess that particular intern already made it up to the bridge deck” said Andrew with a chuckle.
“He was moving pretty fast” replied Vlad, “I guess I will let you two get ready and move to my own duty station. But before I go, let me say that I will do anything to help you recover your daughters. They are the only two young ladies in Scotland that haven’t read ‘Twilight’, so therefore they actually hold real conversations with me instead of being in a constant swoon.”
“Just so long as it stays at the ‘conversations’ level” said Andrew with a stern look on his face but a twinkle in his eye.
Vlad grinned, then a left, closing the hatch on his way.
Andrew turned towards the bunk and his bag, quickly pulling out his boots, dark khaki weatherproof cargo pants, a dark green long-sleeve t-shirt, and a black light jacket that was both wind and waterproof. He started to peel off his Sunday Suit when he saw Talia holding up a leather corset that would not have left much to the imagination if she were wearing it. “Ok, before you gut me like a fish, can I go and air-keelhaul a couple of crewmates for thinking it would be funny to include a corset in the bag for you?”
“So not your idea?” said Talia in a tone that would freeze oxygen.
“Oh I’d love to see you in it, but not when I’m having to share the look with the rest of the crew.” Talia smiled at that comment, then Andrew continued “Please tell me there’s other stuff in there that you can actually wear.”
“Pants, boots, socks, a jacket, but no shirt. Got an extra t-shirt I can borrow?” Andrew reached back into his Go-Bag and pulled out another t-shirt, this one red with a Disney logo on it. “How about this one?”
“Perfect.” And with that they both began to change. It didn’t take long, and as Andrew was strapping on a drop holster for his .45, Talia looked at him and asked, “Do you have a holster for me?” Andrew went to his cabinet, dialed in a combination, “Wedding date in case you’re wondering” he said over his shoulder which brought another smile from Talia, then he opened up the door and pulled out a universal belt holster that would fit her PX4 Sub. Handing it over, Talia hooked it to her belt, holstered her weapon, and then went back to lacing up her boots. They actually fit pretty well, along with the rest of the clothing, which now had her curious about the…other item that was in the bag. Time for that later.
She looked up at Andrew, “What about clothes for the girls?”
Andrew looked up as he finished with his own boots. “Good question. We can cover that when we get them back. I’ll ask Kiwi who has stuff in their size. If anyone knows, she does.”
“That works.” Talia said as she stood up. “Ok, anything else?”
“Yep, hang on.” said Andrew. He reached back into his locker and pulled out two leather caps with goggles on them. He handed one to Talia and kept the other for himself. “You don’t need to wear the hat, but you will need the goggles if we get into any kind of situation where the Tesla’s are used.”
“Got it” said Talia as took the goggles off of the cap and then slid them around her neck while Andrew pulled his cap onto his head and adjusted his goggles so they sat on his forehead. When that was done, he took Talia’s hands in his own, and they both bowed their heads to pray for safety for their girls and the crew of the Renegade, wisdom to help them find the girls, peace for the entire situation.
When they were done, Andrew opened the hatch to let them both out. “Now we go up to the Combat Information Center and see what’s going on.”
“Is that where you are during your raids?”
Andrew answered, “No, typically I’m on the main Tesla Deck with Smoke Cooper keeping an eye on the Ventral and Main Deck gunners. I do hang out in the CIC prior to the actual raids, it’s the best place to be so I can know what’s going on.”
Andrew started to take her back towards the Plunder and Lightening when they both felt the Renegade bank hard and the speed increase. Glancing back at Talia, he took her hand and said, “Here’s hoping that’s a good sign”, then he led her back down a level and then forward of the P&L. They came to a hatch guarded by a member of the Bold Air Hussars, who upon recognizing Andrew opened the hatch to let them inside. Inside they found Jerri with some of her intel team, Platoon Sergeant Kim, Top from the Glider Zouaves, Turbo, and Smoke Cooper, along with XO. Everyone acknowledged their entry; XO spoke first. “Deuce, tell Redleg and Talia what your people found out.”
Jerri took a long drink form a wine goblet and then looked at Andrew and Talia. “We’ve been having a hard time getting any information about the van, it seemed to just disappear. Then we got a call from one of our contacts who’s stationed in the port of Greenock on the west coast of Scotland. He got us pictures of a Mercedes Van with a license plate that starts with CP18, and he reports that it’s parked next to a Dromedary-class airship that belongs to an outfit called ‘I.G. Deal Imports Inc’, based in Miami, and it’s currently taking on cargo for a midnight departure to the US. We’re still trying to hack into the vehicle’s onboard GPS, but unless someone else gets a better sighting, we’re assuming this is them.”
XO took a drink from a tumbler and then continued the update. “Based on this new info I ordered the course change. It makes sense that they would want to get out of the country as fast as possible. Renting their vehicles from Wales is a classic case of misdirection that I could almost admire if I wasn’t ready to kill them for taking your girls. We should be there in about an hour, maybe less. We’re going to come in from the west, sending in the Glider Zouaves first to do a covert infiltration and rapid seizure of the ship. The Bold Air Hussars will be in reserve.” He then picked up his tumbler again, waved towards Top, and then took another drink.
Top was holding a bottle of beer from a local brewery that some members of the Renegade had a stake in. “Squads 1 & 2 will come down on the loading area to secure the perimeter and make entry at the cargo hatch.” He paused to take a drink and then he continued. “Squad 3 will land on top of the cargo airship and make their way inside from there, except for their sniper team which is going to drop onto the building where the spotter is right now so they can do some overwatch.” Another drink. “Once we’ve secured your daughters, we’ll see if the cargo is worth looting and finish securing the airship for future ransoming.”
Andrew looked up “Tesla’s set to disrupt electronics and engines?”
XO took another drink and then he nodded. “Yep. Also, the Parasites will be ready to launch but we won’t deploy unless we need to. No reason to spook the locals any more than they already will be. As the Zouaves make entry, we’re going to broadcast a message on GUARD letting everyone know that we’re conducting an anti-slavery operation on behalf of the Dutchy of Luxemburg, in accordance with our Letter of Marque. We may need to spread around some coin after the fact, but it won’t be anything out of the ordinary for us. Other than that, this should be easy, but these characters have already surprised us a couple of times today, so everyone be on your toes.”
With that, Captain XO finished his drink and then looked around the room. “Anything else or any questions?” Another drink appeared next to his hand, and Loggie asked “Yes Sir, when do you want the mortars to light stuff up?”
“Probably never, and definitely not without direct orders” said XO as he picked up the new drink. “And I mean that, I don’t care how many drinks you bring me.” XO then took a drink, after which he held up the glass and toasted Loggie. “But if I was susceptible to bribes this might do it.”
“I’m shocked that you would accuse me of trying to bribe you” replied Loggie as indignantly as he could. “I would never resort to such a tactic, in fact it’s a baseless lie. Why am I getting all of this abuse and hostility?”
Andrew replied matter of factly, “Because your WP rounds burned down the London docks, which included the Muskovy Yacht that we were about to hijack, meaning we were unable to ransom it back to the owner, and a number of crew received burns in the process.” He turned to look at Talia “All covered by the Letter or Marque of course.” She nodded and gave a smirk, “Of course.”
Loggie threw up his hands in frustration. “That was months ago. This is unfair. I’m going to file a grievance with the pirates union representative.”
“Good luck with that, I know the Union President” said XO. “Ok, anyone else?” He looked around and saw Talia with a hand raised. “Yes Ma’am, you have a question?”
“More of a comment, but did you all notice that ‘I.G. Deal’ is an anagram for ‘Gilead’?” Talia looked around at all the faces that were now trading looks with each other and contemplating her statement. Several “ums” and “ahs” could be heard when XO finally blurted out “AARGH…Deuce! How did you miss that?” Andrew then turned to his wife, a wide smile on his face, “Good one babe.” He leaned over and kissed her and then looked back at Jerri and her team as they were now furiously pounding away at their keyboards.
One of the analysts turned their laptop towards Jerri, who then said “Give the lady a prize. I.G. Deal is a shell corporation for Gilead. Not the most complicated set up we’ve ever seen, but enough that it didn’t trip our normal filters.”
“Fair enough. Get all you can on them and see if you can dig up any others” said XO. “Top, assume the whole ship is now hostile and not just cooperating.”
“Always, but I’ll give everyone a final brief before we go, which I need to go and do now so I can get my pre-combat inspection in.”
“Go, we should be about 15 minutes out.” said XO, and Top was out the door, followed by PSG Kim. Andrew and Smoke Cooper headed out as well, with Talia right behind them.
“How much bacon is on?” asked Andrew.
“One pound per Tesla, changeover is in,” Smoke checked his watch, “3 minutes, then another pound goes on.”
Andrew nodded. “That should work considering the current timetable we’re on.” He then looked over at Talia who was shaking her head in disbelief. “Hey, the crew likes it and the grease makes a great lubricant for the Tesla mounts. Win-win.”
Talia looked at the two of them. “Did you two come up with this idea when we were at Carson?”
“Oh yeah, we even experimented some” replied Cooper. “We just couldn’t do any full-scale production due to ‘health code’ factors and some other silly stuff like that.”
Talia rolled her eyes. “Well that’s comforting. Do I get any of this bacon?”
“Absolutely” said Andrew. “You can stick with us as we check out the turrets on this deck before we go to General Quarters.” With that, Andrew took her and started walking forward. “Smoke, check the upper deck mounts. Make sure Badger isn’t torturing anyone up there, then meet me on the main deck.”
Smoke Cooper through Andrew a salute that would give a Sergeant Major an aneurysm, snarled “AARRGGHH!”, and then went looking for a ladder to head up to the Crow’s Nest while Andrew and Talia headed towards the ventral tesla turrets.
When Smoke got up to the Crow’s Nest, he found just what he expected to find, or mostly. Two Tesla crews, and Badger with his group of ner-do-wells, which is saying something for an air pirate crew. Badger had responsibility for a rail gun, a mini-gun, and the ‘t-shirt cannon’, which could fire t-shirts but typically was used to lob oversized grenades or lewisite bombs at worthy targets. The t-shirt cannon and mini gun were pretty straightforward weapons as far as operation and maintenance were concerned, but the rail gun was experimental. Captain XO said it was acquired during an early raid shortly after he started his second career with the Renegade, but he never gave any more details than that. Since no one ever saw an instruction manual for it, operation of the rail gun was voluntary. Badger was crazy enough to run the rail gun without a second thought, and that normally attracted a few other likeminded individuals among the crew and interns. What Smoke was not expecting was to find the Armorer up in the Crow’s Nest as well.
“Ok Badger” Cooper said with a scowl, “what did you break this time?”
Badger smiled and held up his hands. “Hey, It’s not my fault that the flux capacitor won’t draw the 1.2 gigawatts needed to fire the rail gun, it completely broke on its own.” Cooper just kept scowling since he had no desire to let Badger know that he found that particular line pretty funny. From just under the rail gun mount, Bajan Yoda, the Armorer, remarked “Stop trying to say this thing runs on Lightening, it’s not a Tesla.”
“Tesla’s don’t run on Lightening either Bajan, I should know” growled Cooper. He and Bajan could go around and round about how the Tesla’s worked. Cooper had the know-how from being the Master Gunner for the test unit that Redleg used to command, while Bajan was one of the smartest armorers that Cooper had ever met, not that Cooper was ever going to admit that in front of witnesses, especially Badger. “So, what are you doing if it’s not fixing the non-existent flux capacity inside the rail gun?”
“I’m troubleshooting a power problem with the automatic feed mechanism for the rail gun. They can still load it manually, but I’m starting to think our latest jury-rig isn’t working out quite right.” Bajan looked up from his work. “It should be good to go when we hit our target, but just in case I’m going to hang around up here to keep an eye on things.”
Cooper thought about that, probably wouldn’t hurt. “Ok, keep working and let me know when you’re done. If we need you, I’ll know where to find you.” He got a wave from Bajan, then he turned to Badger. “What about the mini?” Badger looked at the mini gun and ran a hand along it. “No issues. Ammo and power feeds are both synched up. If anything unfriendly flies near us, it won’t fly away. I’ve got a couple of the Professor’s interns to keep the rest of us company and to teach them the proper way to hose done an engagement area.” He turned back to Cooper and started rubbing his hands together. “I can’t wait, hehehehehe.”
Cooper shook his head, typical Badger. Then he looked at the interns and asked, “You both aware that Badger has a bad reputation, even for this crew?” The two interns looked at each other, then back at Cooper. “Of course we do, we volunteered to be up here” said the female of the pair. Her male counterpart just nodded his head and grinned. “Alright.” On that note he went over to check on the Tesla crews.
After checking all of the gunnery crews, primarily to make sure they had stopped drinking, but also to verify Grapple Guns were loaded and safe and the Tesla’s were set to disrupt ground electronics, Andrew, Talia, and Smoke Cooper met back up on the main gun deck near the forward turret. About that time the order came over the intercom; “Glider Zouaves, Launch”. Andrew and Smoke Cooper looked off to the starboard side; Andrew remarked “There they go.”
Talia looked in the same direction but didn’t see anything except the lights of the port in the distance. “Where?” she said. Then she looked at the two of them and jumped in fright. Both of them had their goggles down, and the addition of the steam punkish look to their faces was just one more stressor for the day that Talia wasn’t prepared for.
“Oh, sorry Talia,” said Andrew. “Put on your goggles and I’ll point them out.”
Talia reached to the goggles hanging from her neck and started to pull them into place, but then stopped. A hand went into a pocket to pull out a hair tie, which she used to put her hair up into a quick ponytail. Then she pulled up the goggles and adjusted them onto her face, discovering in the process that these had some light amplification ability as everything turned green. Then she turned in the direction Andrew was pointing and saw a lot of winged shapes moving away from the Renegade, towards a distant group of lights where she also saw some grounded airships.
“Well that’s cool” she said. “Airships are pretty commonplace, but I’ve never seen a flock of gliders moving together. So now what do we do?”
“Hopefully we stand here and watch” replied Andrew. “Once their inside we’ll be ready to zap any electronics if needed. Captain XO’s announcement about our raid should be going through about the time they touch down.”
Talia nodded, still fascinated by the Gliders and how the goggles worked. Ok, maybe her husband’s job had some pretty cool perks after all.
Back in the CIC, Jerri kept a line open to her observer. This guy was definitely getting a bonus if she had to pay it out of her own funds. His voice coming over the speaker again saying “Ok, there’s movement at the van, people are getting out. Their walking around to the back and opening it up…doing something…not sure what. Ok, now they’re moving towards the open cargo hatch of the Dromedary. Bingo, now six people, and two of them are wearing dresses.” At that news, a collective ‘YES’ went through the CIC, and Jerri reached for an intercom as they continued to listen. “The other four are definitely escorting the two in dresses, stand by for pictures…Ok, got the pic, I’ll send it gkskgah…”
Everyone looked up at that sound and listened as the line went dead. “What was that?” said one of the analysts.
“Someone just got to our spotter, probably killed him” said Jerri. She grabbed the intercom and keyed in the bridge. “Captain XO, our spotter confirmed the presence of the girls being taken into the target airship, then he dropped off the air. It sounded like someone killed him.”
“Roger” XO replied, then he keyed a radio. “Glider Zouaves, spotter is down, LZ may be hot.”
Up in the lead glider, Top heard the news and quickly adjusted part of the plan. “Sniper 3, you are weapons free for any perceived threat at your overwatch location.”
“Sniper 3, acknowledged.” With that the two-member sniper team switched on the targeting sights that were integrated with their gliders. There, on the rooftop, two figures. One was dropping the other out of a grip, a heavy bladed knife evident in its hands. The lead sniper adjusted the sight to zoom in on the head of the one still standing, then she squeezed a lever on the crossbar of her glider, which triggered the 7mm sniper system that was also integrated into her glider. She watched as her target’s head snapped backwards, then it fell. “Sniper 3, target down, 10 seconds to landing.”
Top double-keyed his radio to acknowledge. 15 seconds later he heard “Sniper 3 in position, no visible threats. We have two bodies on the roof, one is the target we took down, the other is our target’s victim”. Top pulled back on the glider bar and dived down to the dock, knowing everyone else was headed in as well. Another 15 seconds and his platoon started to land, drop their gliders, and take up quick positions before they made entry. He heard 3rd Squad report landing on top of the airship, and then there was no more time to wait. He looked at the 1st Squad leader, made a fist, and then pointed at the open door. The squad leader took off with his squad, securing the door and moving inside. The sounds of gunfire started right way, as did an alarm. Top keyed his radio “Renegade, they know we’re here” then he moved inside with the rest of the Zouaves.
Hearing Top’s report, Andrew took his wife’s hand, and then keyed the gunnery intercom. “Tesla gunners, sound off if you have a positive ID on any antennas, engines, or other electronics.” Immediately he heard “This is Puff, I’ve got antennas at the nose of the airship. No friendlies in sight.” Andrew smiled then replied, “Slag them.”
The forward ventral tesla lit up the night as a charge arced away from the Renegade, impacting the nose of the Dromedary-class airship. It lasted long enough to ensure no radio message would get out without full replacement. Seconds later, the starboard ventral and both starboard main deck teslas fired, their targets were the engines that were just coming into view.
“They’re not going anywhere” opined Andrew. He squeezed his wife’s hand just as he heard the Captain XO initiate the warning to all in the port about the Renegade’s intentions.
“ATTENTION! ATTENTION! In accordance with the anti-slavery policies of the Duchy of Luxemburg, the Airship Renegade is conducting an anti-slavery operation. Our only interest is the Dromedary-class airship and the safe return of the captives aboard. If you do not interfere, then we will not consider your actions to be hostile.”