Orphans of the Celestial Sea, Episode 2: Engine Trouble, p.1Mark Fenger / Fantasy / Science Fiction
What readers are saying about Orphans of the Celestial Sea:
" ARG! You swine! I must know what happens next! Great opening chapter. If you can sustain this pace, you have an absolute winner.
Merchant airships? Fog? Draggers? Bell codes? Kid's Tower? Wow, so many hints: you really have a whole world ready for us to explore - can't wait." – Adam X
“I am hooked. Too much violence in the first chapter would have turned me off, but you kept it real, which can sometimes be tricky in a Fiction book :)
I want to know what happens next, which I consider to be the basis of a good book, the characters and the epidemic itself intrigues me.”
Well done all round.” – James Murray
"This was fantastic. I absolutely love the ideas behind it, and the use of accented dialogue was superb. A lot of people can't pull that off but you did it well. Awesome how you combine aspects of steampunk, fantasy, and zombies." C.H.
“Nice cliffhanger. I started off thinking, "Okay, I'll just read the first chapter before bed,” and looks like I'm going to be up later reading the next one.” Katrina Forest
Orphans of the Celestial Sea
Episode 3: Mysterious Cargo
By Mark Fenger
The story so far…
Tom Cain rescued sisters Nikki and Willow Keats from psychotic Draggers and a Mist infestation with the help of sharpshooter Agatha West. They fled Milton on the apparently deserted airship Hecate. As they were pulling out of Milton, a young woman appeared at the door to the bridge, but she ran away before any of the crew could ask her what had happened.
Now they limp toward the nearest repair station on one engine, with heavily damaged controls.
“Town ahoy Captain!” Willow withdrew the spyglass from her eye with a grin and leaned back from the railing of the Hecate’s outer deck. She’d raided the spare clothes from the old crew and now wore a pair of flight-goggles, a bomber hat, and an oversized navy pea-coat that she’d belted at the waist with a yellow silk scarf.
“Is it the right one?” Tom furrowed his brow, squinting at the horizon.
Willow rolled her eyes. “Yeah Tom. We took the course heading I gave, arrived within minutes of the timetable I plotted, but it’s the wrong town. Try to have a little faith.”
Tom smiled at her. “Sorry, I’m new to this.”
“Don’t apologise! You’re the Captain, try to act like it, ‘kay?”
“Hey, you two mind moving aside? I’d like to see where I’m steering.” Nikki’s muted voice came through the glass of the bridge. She was doing the best she could on Hecate’s smashed control console, but it made her irritable. She’d returned Tom’s flight jacket and raided the mystery-passenger’s wardrobe for a black-trimmed red wool overcoat to keep her warm. She didn’t quite have the curves to fill it out yet, but if she’d been a few years older it would fit her like it was made for her.
Of the mystery passenger herself, they’d seen no further sign. Tom had locked all the food and drink away at night in an attempt to draw her out, but she either had her own supplies wherever she was hiding, or was too scared to take the bait.
Tom and Willow walked around the side of Hecate’s bridge and in through the forward hatch.
“I should fix us some lunch.” Tom turned toward the galley.
Willow groaned. “Lemme guess, beans and bacon?”
Tom shrugged. “I like beans and bacon, ‘sides it’s the only thing I know how to cook.”
Willow shuddered. “We have got to get someone aboard who can do better in the galley.”
“You wanna cook, go ahead, but I’m not taking any more crew on ‘till we’ve done some cargo runs and can pay ‘em proper.”
“Don’t want to give up more of your share?”
“Exactly, Hecate could be great for all of us. It’s a new start, an’ if we take the right steps we can all live on her as long as we want. Aint you ever wanted to see the world?”
Willow’s eyes crinkled at the corners like she was holding back a smile. “Of course.”
Agatha was bustling around the galley when they arrived. “There’s no food!”
Willow laughed. “There’s hard-tack.” She opened a cupboard and tapped one of the biscuits inside against the table. It sounded like a block of wood.
Agatha made a face.
“I’m cooking up some beans and bacon.” Tom grabbed a pan and slapped it down on the stove.
Agatha’s face grew even more twisted. “Bleh, hard-tack it is.”
“I thought you liked my beans!”
“The first time. Second time they were okay too, but after the fifth meal, I have to say they started to become just a mite repetitive.”
“That’s it, I’ve had enough abuse for one day.” Tom turned the heat off the pan. “I’m gonna hit the town and get myself a nice steak and potatoes in a few hours anyhow.”
Willow sighed. “I wonder if they’ll have pork pie.”
Agatha paused with the biscuit half-in her mouth. “Oh don’t! You’ve got me drooling now. How are we gonna pay for all this?”
“I was gonna talk to you about that. Armoury has way more than we could ever need, why not sell a rifle or two?”
“Yeah, I’ll go have a look.” Agatha set the hard-tack down on the table and turned to go.
“Lock our sidearms away while you’re at it.” Tom tossed her his revolver.
“You sure?” Agatha felt the revolver at her side. “I-I don’t feel right without it on.”
“It’s a big town, we’ll be safe enough.”
“Yeah… okay.” She ducked out of the doorway.
Tom rubbed his jaw, it was starting to develop some stubble, but he was loath to use another man’s razor. “You reckon she’ll stay on?”
Willow nodded. “Yep, she’s got nowhere else to be. She’ll grouse about it, but she’ll come ‘round.”
“And the two of you?”
“That’s a little trickier. Nikki wants to stay, but says we got obligations.”
“What do you say?”
Willow sighed. “I say our family’s prolly all dead. That means we’re free.”
“Free? Why wouldn’t you be free?”
Willow looked away. “Oh, just family debts… you know.”
Tom was about to respond when the zeppelin gondola started to shudder rhythmically. A deep rumble came from the starboard engine. He dashed for the bridge with Willow close behind.
The door to the bridge was locked so Tom hammered with his fist. As he was pounding the shaking and noise ceased. Hecate went eerily silent without any engines running, just the hiss of wind past the canopy to let them know they were still moving.
“Who is it?” Nikki’s voice from the other side.
“Open the damned door Nikki! What’s going on!”
The door clicked and swung open.
“Engine troubles.” Nikki slid back into the pilot’s chair.
“Obviously! Why was the door locked?”
Nikki raised an eyebrow. “You told me to lock up when you or Agatha wasn’t around.”
“Right… right. What’s the situation?”
“Looks like the engine ran out of oil. I couln’t see it ‘cause that gauge is smashed.” She waved at the array of mostly-broken dials above her station. “I think I got ‘er shut down before the engine was completely destroyed. We’ll have to glide the rest of the way and hope the boys manning the mooring tower are lookin’ sharp today.”
“You’re kidding me. Glide a fifty ton airship in, close enough to a dead-stop that a half-dozen boys crewing the tower can reign it in?”
“Do we have a choice?”
Tom glanced out the bridge windows. The town was rapidly approaching. “How long ‘till we hit… err land.”
Nikki gave an aggravated sigh. “About five minutes. Look, this isn’t as easy as it looks. I’m trying to gauge the wind, bleed off some speed by fishtailing back and forth, while keeping enough momentum to make it there. Is there something else you could be doing?”
Tom nodded. “I’ll double up the rigging.” He turned and raced from the bridge. Finally something he knew better than the girls aboard. He’d been a rig-monkey for two years, but even with that practice it would be tight getting four extra guylines in place in under five minutes.