She stood on the bridge of the Grabthar’s Hammer, next to her Mother’s heavily decorated command chair. The battle had been raging for nearly an hour now and the sky was dark with Spiders.
‘Alexander! Report!’ Baroness Bhin-dhee of Minidandia yelled at the battleship’s ancient AI.
‘We are currently outnumbered five to one, we have Spider interceptors inbound on bearings zero-four-two, one-two-four, three-five-eight and…’ Replied the ornately lit brass and copper head in the corner of the bridge.
‘Enough!’ She turned to Dorleith, ’Let’s see if we can find your Father shall we? He’ll probably be needing a hand about now?’
The eleven year old girl looked up at her Mother and smiled, she knew exactly where her Father would be, right in the middle of the biggest, thickest ball of Spiders that he could find, tearing them out of the air with his bare hands if he had to. It was hard for her to understand why he hated the Spiders so much, even back at the Roost, before she was old enough to come along with her parents on the raids, every story he told ended up with his knife being plunged into a tabletop, or a crystal goblet of brandy being thrown into the fire, and him stomping off hurling obscenities at whoever got in his way.
‘DiGriz, this is The Hammer, Where are you, you old goat?’ The static from the speakers indicated that they were out of range, ‘Alexander, what was the last known position of the DiGriz?’
‘Our Cruiser, the James DiGriz, last known position bearing two-six-four, distance four miles,’
The main screen changed from the tactical display to a map showing Northern Macedonia, the flashing red dot indicating the last known position of the James DiGriz was hovering over the mountains to the west.’
She opened the shipboard Intercomm, ‘All hands, this is the Captain, we’re rendezvousing with the DiGriz, any gunner that has a Spider in their sights, take it out now and make ready defensive positions, keep those mechanical scum off my hull,’ She turned to the helmsman, ‘Lay in an intercept with the DiGriz, let me know when we’re in communications range.’
‘Aye Ma’am, course laid in… Captain!’
‘We’re going to have to fight for every yard, that course’ll take us through a cloud of Spiders a mile thick,’
‘Gods damn it Mr Hadleigh, bring Mary online, divert power from the engines to her and fire as you get a target.’
The deck thrummed as power poured from the great fusion engines at the rear of the airship, to the Ion cannon that occupied almost the entire front half. The Grabthar’s Hammer had been built around this big gun, it was designed to kill the Spiders’ electrical systems and render them inoperative en-masse but unfortunately, because it was so powerful, they could only fire a few shots before they needed to cool and recharge.
The first blast took nearly one hundred spiders out of the fight, their systems fried as their lifeless husks fell onto the ruins of what used to be Kumanovo.
‘Well Ma’am, that certainly seemed to have got their attention, we have fifty… No, sixty targets inbound, five seconds before we can fire Mary again!’
‘Fire as she becomes ready, Helm, then as soon as she fires, hard a-port, bring us broadside to the cloud. All starboard guns, be ready to fire as you acquire a target!’
Mary barked again and the sun-bright blue flare carved another chunk out of the cloud of chittering limbs and spines. The Helmsman dragged the ship hard to the left, airbrakes and scoops deploying all down the port side, the connecting chains to the gasbags groaned with the sudden tension as the deck slewed drunkenly below them.
The Captain grabbed hold of her chair and held onto her Daughter with her other hand.
‘You alright?’ She shouted, over the blare of the bridge alarms.
‘Aye Ma’am,’ replied the little girl, attempting a salute,
‘Good Girl, strap yourself in, it’s going to get bumpier before it gets calmer. Mr Hadleigh!’
‘Keep us headed in the direction of the DiGriz, but initiate a Crazy Ivan, let’s clear ourselves a gap.’
‘Aye, All hands! Prepare for violent manoeuvres, we will be initiating a Crazy Ivan in five seconds, tie yourself to something solid and find yourself something to be sick into.’
The ship slewed hard right, as Mary pointed towards the enemy she fired, scooping great swathes of Spiders out of the cloud, then the Hammer came full broadside to them and the deck guns fired another cannonade. The left-right movement continued for two miles until the Helmsman cried,
‘Captain, I’m getting a signal from the DiGriz!’
Through the interference on the viewscreen, the unmistakable silhouette of her Father appeared, he had his favourite monomer edged cutlass in one hand and a repeating ion pistol in the other, he was in mid-flow.
‘… Damn your eyes, man if I thought for a second you were running from your post I’d show you your own liver before making you eat it…’ The picture faded and then snapped back into sudden clarity, ‘Get off my bloody ship!’
He had the head of a Spider impaled on the end of his sword and was rapidly beating it against the bulkhead.
‘I’ll kill ye, I’ll kill every one of ye, you’ll wish you’d never been riveted…’
‘I’ll hunt down where ye wuz made, an I’ll kill everyone there, then I’ll find where the constructs that made ye wuz made, and I’ll kill them, then I’ll…’
‘MASSIMO! – I think it’s dead!’
‘Aye, Whut?’ The bear of a man that was Baron Massimo Lohlephel blinked the red mist from his eyes and looked at his screen, ‘Ah, hullo my Sweet Flower, Mist of my Midsummer Morning! Ah.. I’m.. a bit busy at the moment, I’ll pull out your eyes you clanking contraption… No, not you Dear, I’ll get back to you in a wee while…’ He turned away from the camera and yelled, ‘Get that bloody million legged abomination off my bridge Mr Cotterill!’ And with that, the connection went dead.
‘Alexander, can you contact the Slut?’
Dorleith giggled, The Slut was her Mother’s pet name for Angelina, the AI on board her Fathers ship.
‘Aye Ma’am, connection established.’
‘Get a status report on the DiGriz’s systems.’
‘They have multiple hull breaches, Spider boarding craft cover the entire fore-section of the ship, there are more mechanical lifesigns on board than the internal sensors can reliably count.’
‘Damn! Are we close enough to fire on the Spiders without hitting the DiGriz?’
‘Not with any degree of certainty Ma’am, no.’ Replied Hadleigh.
‘Take us in, weapons free, fire at will!’
The Hammer lurched forward, Mary and the other cannons killing Spiders in all directions as they went.
‘We’re slowing down!’
We’re slowing, I’ve lost control of the throttles… We’re… We’re in full reverse?’
‘Alexander, what in the seven hells is going on?’
‘The James DiGriz has invoked remote access; they are controlling us for the moment.’
‘What? Can we over-ride the signal?’
‘No Ma’am, Angelina has locked me out of my own control systems; I will be having stern words with her when we get back to the Roost… Ah!’
‘I am detecting a tritium leak in the the DiGriz’s starboard engine, there are signs of an impending cascade event.’
‘Get them onscreen… Now!’
The main viewer sprung into life, Captain Lohlephel was sat, calmly in his command chair. The bridge was swathed in smoke and the sound of gunfire could be heard in the distance.
‘Hullo my Jewel, I’m sorry about pushing you away..’
‘What’re you doing Goat?’
‘I’m saving your life…’
‘Angelina informs me that my engines are just about to go critical, and the lifepods are covered in Spiders, so I’m going to take as many of these mechanical monsters with me as I can.’
‘No!.. I… I fought my way here, I’ve come to save you… We can…’
‘You know this is the only way, Is Dorleith there?’
She nodded and beckoned her daughter across, ‘Daddy wants to talk to you.’
‘Hullo Beautiful Girl, hope you’re OK. I’m sorry, I’ve got to go now, but I know you’ll keep on fighting… Don’t let the Spiders win, try to stop ‘em any way you can.’
‘I will Daddy, I promise!’
‘I know Baby. I love you both so much.’ He put his hand on the viewscreen, ‘I…..’
A freezing ball of tritium gas rapidly expanded from the rupturing engine, which then ignited in a ball of fire two miles across. The main windows of the bridge exploded into shards which spread across the room like knives, narrowly missing the dumbfounded crew.
‘I beg your pardon?’ Criven Preen’s calm voice brought the Captain back to the present, she slowly looked around and realised that she was once again in her cabin on the Edward Teach.
‘Nothing… I just remembered…’
‘Yes, indeed, nasty business, your Mother has the details, if you wish to help.’
‘Yes, your Father needs rescuing.’
‘Yes, rescuing, you have been following my conversation haven’t you?’
‘Well, no, I…’
‘I see, well, I suggest you talk to your Mother, she has the details. Now, I need to leave, I have other errands to attend to.’
‘Can we drop you anywhere?’
‘No, that won’t be necessary, thank you.’ He doffed his hat, stepped back into the shadows, and was gone.
‘I…’ She turned and entered the bridge, ‘Set a course for Minidandia, best speed, and get the ship tidied up, we’re going to visit The Baroness.’