[Sorry about the extremely long gap between posts. Old job ended, new job started. Creativity dried up. I've outlined the bulk of this story. The beginning sounded like a good place to start.]
“Alarm, alarm! The is Captain Andreas of the airship Filigree requesting all assistance! We are under attack by pirates and are severely outgunned!”
"Sounds like you’re fucked, friend,” Wishbone said to the radio. The San Diego police had a strict policy against flying more than a half-mile from the coast, and most of their pilots were unskilled in air combat. The Filigree should just let the pirates take their cargo and file the loss with their insurance company.
Besides, Wishbone had six hundred cases of Vancouver’s finest whiskey to deliver to the Blue Duck. Six hundred cases purchased with borrowed money.
“Please, there are women and children onboard!” Wishbone heard the hollow pop-pop-pop of machine guns in the background. Cursing under his breath, he reached for the communicator.
“Filigree, what is your position?”
“We are six miles offshore of San Juan Capistrano. We are under attack by at least a dozen gyros. Can you assist?”
Wishbone climbed topside and looked north. A good two miles away, he could see the attacking ship and its nose cone of highly polished brass, just like the previous three. Before he’d even put down the specs he’d turned around Sally.
“Repeat, can you assist!?”
He felt sorry for the captain as he heard the desperation seep into his voice. It was likely the pirates were monitoring the frequency, so any reply would get their guard up. Not that they’d be looking in the water.
He got a good look at the Filigree. A travel ship, the passenger pod was almost all dark wood with metal joints. It had a deck on top of the balloon portion, where a half-dozen crewmen fired rifles while attempting to extinguish the fires from the attacking gyro-pods. Like most civilian pilots, the Filigree’s captain had focused on the immediate threat and not its source. Trying to hit the fast-moving gyros with a standard issue firearm was near impossible. At least two dozen of the ash-spewing bastards spun around the ship like flies around a bloated whale corpse. They were making no attempt to board her; this was a crash-and-salvage piracy.
San Sebastian III hovered a few hundred yards away from the battle. Wishbone never understood why King Ralph insisted that all his flagships bear the brass nose, but it certainly made them easy to identify. The carrier blimp was much like its owner; slow and ridiculously gaudy.
“This is Black Sally hailing San Sebastian, requesting a line of communication with your captain.” A few seconds passed, making Wishbone wonder if Ralph was actually on-board this time.
“This doesn’t fucking concern you ‘Bone.” Ralph’s voice cracked in panic and a minor grin creeped into Wishbone’s mouth.
“I know Ralph, but these nice people don’t want to play with you. What have I told you about attacking tourists?”
A few of the gyros spun off from the attacking group and came right at Wishbone. Multi-frequency radio? Ralphie had upgraded since their last encounter.
“So that’s the way you want to play, eh Ralphie?” Wishbone clicked off the microphone as he opened the rocket box. Each gyro had a fixed-mount machinegun above the lower blades. One of the more eager pilots fired a few pot shots from long distance. None came close to hitting Wishbone or his boat.
Good to see you still hire amateurs, Wishbone thought to himself. Instead of coming at him from multiple angles, the gyros flew at him in a v-attack formation. Wishbone fired the rocket into the middle of the gyro group. While not pinpoint accurate, it did fly straight enough to be effective. A couple of the more alert gyros attempted to spin off from the group too late, as the rocket’s magnesium fireworks detonated in a wide blue-white burst. The detonation was a mild concussion, just enough to throw the now-blinded pilots wildly off-course and slamming them into each other or the frigid ocean.
Black Sally plowed through the wreckage, already moving at full speed towards the San Sebastian. Wishbone hoped Ralph’s main gunner had watched the initial attack and also been blinded by the fireworks display. While an empty Sally could easily evade even an experienced marksman, the full load of bootleg whiskey made her a bit heavy in the water. The twin cannons fired, missing wide. Blind or amateur, Wishbone muttered. Good to know my luck’s holding up.
“Last chance Ralph. Pull off your mosquitoes and head back to Ensenada.” Wishbone pulled out the big rocket and mounted it on Sally’s aft deck. This one was larger than the one fired at the gyros. Soon-Yi’s brother had built it with razor-sharp fins and a nose cone designed to penetrate wooden and thin metal frames. It had a range of only a hundred yards, so Wishbone had to almost be right under his target. One just like it had taken down San Sebastian II. Wishbone didn’t understand all of the math and science behind it, but had enjoyed watching Hong-Yi perfect them over Mission Bay under the guise of a fake Korean New Year celebration.
Just as he was ready to light the fuse, Wishbone heard the pop-fizz of his radio. Good, he thought, maybe Ralph learned from the last time.
“Fuck you, you half-breed piece of shit!” Ralph screamed over the radio, followed by a loud clang from the Sebastian. Wishbone then saw it lay what appeared to be a large black egg.
With a fuse.
Wishbone barely had enough time to get below deck and hit the ballast release for a quick dive before the bomb exploded on the water. The force ripped away Black Sally’s upper deck and banged Wishbone against the passage walls. When his ears stopped ringing he could still hear Ralph’s laughing taunts coming in through the radio.
“Got you, you bastard! I got you!”
Wishbone muttered to himself as he stood up and grabbed the second rocket from its box. He had won Black Sally in a game of poker from a Russian aristocrat fleeing the Bolsheviks. The poor schlub had purchased her sight unseen from a corrupt general in the Russian Imperial Navy as he fled east towards Japan, only to find he suffered from severe claustrophobia after less than a week below decks. Even after an Australian shipyard added a false boat atop the sub, the Russian found sea life ran counter to his opulent lifestyle and settled in Seattle, where he developed a reputation as a great drinker and a horrible gambler, and almost seemed relieved when Wishbone to possession of her. The first false boat flew off by accident during Wishbone’s first smuggling expedition. Since then, many a Treasury department or police airship had chased down Sally’s false upper boat as it aimlessly fled out to sea, allowing Wishbone to slink into San Diego undetected in his cargo sub.
Wishbone peaked out of his now-surfaced submarine to get his bearings. The false boat floated in a scattered, flaming debris field twenty yards away. No time to set up the floor mount, Wishbone braced himself against the exit ladder, lit the fuse, and closed his eyes. The recoil force banged his shoulder into the hatch door, but from this distance aiming was almost not necessary.
“Allow me to light that victory cigar, Ralph”
The rocket pierced the balloon’s silk noiselessly, but the detonation lit it up like one of Soon-Yi’s paper lanterns, burning new and larger holes and allowing the helium to escape almost at once. Wishbone flew to the lower deck controls, slamming the prop-control to full forward. The remaining silk and elevation controls slowed the descent of the latest Sebastian, causing it to land in the water with a still loud but not lethal crash. Wishbone he had no time to enjoy the spectacle.
“Paging Filigree. What is your status?”
“This is Filigree. We’re fine captain. The gyro-pods all left after you crashed the Sebastian.”
“They don’t have much of a range. Without their courier-blimp, they will have a hard time reaching shore before their fuel runs out.”
“Well, no lost sympathy there. They took out two of my crew. What is your name, sailor? I have a few dozen passengers who owe you their lives. And a few of them are wealthy enough to pay for it, too.”
Wishbone paused. He wasn‘t familiar with the Filigree but from looking at her he could tell she catered to an exclusive clientele. The type of people who could pay off his debt to Libby Kohl, make it where he only had to smuggle when and what he wanted.
But announcing that would definitely draw attention to him and the Stingaree. The last thing he and Soon-Yi wanted was a bunch of yellow journalists stinking up their part of town looking for the “hero smuggler“.
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s just say I’m a fireworks salesman cruising down from the Barbary who got off a good shot.”
The radio was quiet. Wishbone hoped the captain was going to take him on his word.
“Okay then. Thanks for the help. You change your mind, look me up. Captain Scott Andreas out of Long Beach. I may not have everything my passengers do, but I’d sure like to buy you a drink.”
Wishbone smiled as he heard the Filigree’s engines fire up to continue on their journey.
“Sure,” he thought, looking at his cargo, several boxes of which had the tell-tale stains of broken bottles, “I could use a drink.”