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The Finder’s Keeper
The solitary cry of the red-tailed hawk cut through the dark sky as it sought a perch in the coming storm. Looking around, the predator spotted a ship moving along quickly. Past experience taught it that such ships would provide a comfortable and relatively safe haven for a short time. It swooped and dove, wings spread wide as it slowed its descent. It settled upon the prow of the ship, seemingly content on finding a place to rest for what was to come. If the movement of the ship or heavy winds which buffeted it around bothered the raptor, it did not appear to mind. The raptor instead ruffled its feathers, cast a baleful look upon the lone woman who had almost wandered too closely to its newfound perch and began to groom itself. After a few moments of preening the hawk looked around and flew off, having decided that the close proximity of humans would disturb its rest. It would brave the storm instead.
The woman watched the hawk disappear into the rainy, tumultuous night sky. A good omen, or a bad one? She would not hazard a guess. Omens were for those who left everything to the Fates. She would never leave anything to chance, never pray for luck. It was not her way. She pulled her coat tighter across her chest and her wide-brimmed hat lower as the lights of the rail yard below grew brighter. Her airship began to descend, silent and slow. On the Failsafe, her way was the only way. She would broker no argument that dictated otherwise, Fates be damned.
Thunder crashed above the rail yard as the storm system moved rapidly through, the late summer rain a welcome relief from the heat. The strong wind howled, buffeting the cargo resting on the railroad tracks. Fat raindrops, bigger than the average, splattered upon the ground, quickly muddying the dry dirt. The guards who watched the goods within the rail yard relaxed and went back inside their shacks, protected from the elements. Nobody would be insane enough to try and rob a rail yard during a thunderstorm. Especially, one could add, when the grounds were protected by the latest golems, each armed with Mark IV repeater guns and an uncanny ability to shoot first and never ask questions. Only someone devoid of self-preservation would try anything in the midst of the storm that encircled the region, only the insane would think about robbing one of the most well-protected places in the United States.
But then, nobody had ever claimed that airship captains were sane. And nobody dared think that an airship pirate captain dwelt in the same neighborhood as sanity did.
She looked back at the men and women under her command. They had all signed on willingly, eager to share the bounties that she had promised them. They now all looked on anxiously. Not a murmur ran through the crew of the Failsafe as they approached the loading dock. There were no last-minute instructions, nor any whispers of comfort or fear. None were needed. Each man and woman aboard the airship knew their task, from standing watch to securing the magnetic clamps. The raid had been meticulously planned for weeks in advance. Nobody, excepting the captain, could change the course of events the entire crew was now upon. The risk was great, but the reward was far greater.
The rain began to let up. All eyes scanned the horizon as lightning struck far off in the east. The lookout held up a single hand, then lowered it slowly and opened his palm. Everyone aboard the ship could see the small red light before he extinguished it. The crew let out a collective but silent sigh of relief.
Nimbly, the rig monkeys grabbed their clamps and crawled over the side railing. Their slow, torturous climb down the hull of the airship, followed by a forty meter descent into potential death, dismemberment and only God knew what else, made their jobs the most dangerous of the crew – and the most exhilarating. Thusly, the captain usually used only teenaged boys convinced of their own immortality for such excursions. The four of them were, by far, the bravest of the crew – as well as the best paid.
The rest of the crew waited as the rig monkeys disappeared. Each ear listened for any sound of discovery, a cry of alarm, some sign that the jig was up and they would be forced to cut and run, leaving the magnificent bounty behind. No cry came. No alarm sounded. None of the mechanical guards stirred in their slumber.
Tink. Tink. Tink. Tink.
The sound of all four magnetic clamps fastening onto the railroad tracks was loud, too loud. The lookout held up two hands as a lone sentry popped his head out of the guard shack. The crew held their collective breath and waited as the guard, in no apparent hurry, looked in every single direction to discern the source of the sound.
Every direction but up, that is.
Satisfied that nothing was disturbing his precious loading dock, the sentry withdrew back into the guard shack. Moments later, the lookout signaled the all clear and the raid continued.
The six toolers, each carrying a varying assortment of tools in pouches around their waists from which they received their nicknames, grabbed the lines the rig monkeys had taken with them. The lines were very still, secured tightly as the winchmen began to pull the airship lower to the target, by hand. Silence was necessary, so none of the mechanical devices could be used. The winchers were strong, though, and lowering the ship was merely an exercise instead of an overt chore. The lone woman of the toolers sent a brief look to the captain, followed by a jaunty salute. The captain half-smiled and saluted back. One by one they secured themselves to the lines and began to quickly follow the rig monkeys down into the darkness.
The captain and five armed men came next, the captain’s red corset partially covered by a black longcoat. An oversized gun was strapped to her hip, a rapier which had never been drawn on the other side. Her hat was gone, replaced by a red bandana to hold her hair in place. Leggings of gold, red and black protected her from the extreme elements. She had built her name and reputation on her flamboyant apparel and over-the-top behavior, a lot of work to disguise herself. She had tried – and succeeded – to appear to be nothing more than a very rich socialite whose parents had indulged their little girl’s wish for a fancy airship, to convince the world that she was too foppish and flamboyant to pull off a raid like a brilliant, mastermind thief straight out of a trashy dime-store novel. She looked around at the rest of her crew, who were ready to haul up the goods at a moment’s notice. Everything was set. Everyone was prepared.
She was about to make every single one of them disgustingly rich.