Chapter 7 Part I
Brogan pulled a lever on the buggy and cracked her neck. She was about halfway to Atlasur by now. There should be a fork coming up soon that'd take her to Valleyshire. It was a small town, but a good place to crash until tomorrow. She had to get as far away from Sylvora as possible.
Masked. God she'd come face to face with Enlightened. And she knew the one in the blue mask had recognized her.
"I don't like this." DeeDee pouted for the umpteenth time since they'd left that morning.
"I know, but there's no other way," Brogan said.
"Why?" DeeDee flew toward her. "Why, why, why? I like Miss Quesy. And Mr. Smoke!"
"And you like the captain," BOB drawled.
"Will you two shut up?" Brogan snapped. "I know. I know. But the Enlightened are going to be after me, and I need to protect them. Hell, you saw Liam. He didn't want to go to Brattford because the Enlightened would come there. I'm just doing the same thing he wanted to do. Staying away from the people that could get hurt because I'm with them."
Brogan wiped the sweat off her brow leaving a smear of oil.
"It's better for them and for me to stay away. It's a lot easier to stay under the radar if you're not with an ex-military pilot, a militia man and a girl who has a bad habit of asking too many questions and sending us straight into the lion's den!"
"But... but... You like Miss Quesy too," DeeDee said.
Brogan sighed and pulled another lever.
"Yes, yes, I do. But because I like her, I have to protect her. I've put them all in enough danger. I knew going to Sylvora was a bad idea."
"No, you didn't. If not you never would've gone," BOB said.
"Well, it was and now we're here. And you're both are just going to have to get used to it."
DeeDee buzzed away.
"I don't like it. We should've stayed."
A blast hit the side of the buggy, sending the back platform almost careening to its side. Smoke filled the air and flames licked up.
"What the hell?" Brogan shouted, trying to get control. She looked in the mirrors and saw two steam carriages armed with something akin to her big gun gaining on her.
"Oh, fuck," she breathed. She pulled on the throttle and increased the speed. She hit the gas hard, her arms flying over the levers.
BOB became her eyes since she couldn't waste the time look at the mirrors anymore.
"They're gaining! The one on the left looks like he's going to try to board!"
"Tell me when he's about to jump!" Brogan said.
Brogan pulled a lever and detached the back platform from the buggy. There went her copter. The man who had been jumping onto the platform fell and hit the ground, his body partially crushed by the wild trajectory of the platform. Part of it swung around to hit one of the carriages, and nicked it. The carriage spun away falling behind, but the one on the right was gaining. The gun was aimed toward them.
"Brace yourselves!" Brogan shouted and twisted the buggy to the side as the gun went off, pummeling bullets into the back of the buggy. "It's a Gatling gun! Watch out for ricocheting bullets!"
"We KNOW that!" BOB shouted back.
The loss of weight allowed them to go faster, but the carriage with the Gatling gun was getting closer. Brogan pulled another lever and got the steam and smoke to increase and cloud their sights even though it blocked her vision of them too.
A moment later she felt a crash against the bulk of the buggy on the back right side. She turned and saw the carriage through the smoke ramming into her. She steered to the right, trying to throw them off, but a man leapt off and held onto the side of the buggy. BOB rolled toward him to shove him off.
Brogan pulled the emergency lever, one that would make the buggy run out of control until it crashed or blew up. She ran toward the man who had a gun pointed at BOB. She slammed his arm against the side and knocked off his gun which fell out of the buggy. He almost fell off, and Brogan tried to finish pushing him off with BOB's help.
Another man jumped onto the buggy from the opposite side. A blast from a gun exploded. Brogan fell, sprawled to the side, her head spinning. She looked up and saw BOB in pieces.
She got up and tackled the man who had shot BOB, knocking the gun out of his hand and sending it sliding toward the levers. The buggy rocked wildly out of control as it jumped over dunes and rocks. Brogan punched the man and struggled with him black masked idiot trying to knock him out, kill him, shove him off the buggy, anything to get away. He managed to get a punch in, splitting Brogan's lip open.
The other man, who Brogan and BOB had been trying to get off the buggy was trying to grab the flying DeeDee.
"Use your taser!" the man struggling with Brogan shouted.
"No! I won't let you!"
Brogan kicked the man and pushed herself away.
"DeeDee! Potestas restinguere quadraginta octavus signare!"
DeeDee froze in mid-air. Her propellers stopped and slid fast into her hourglass shaped body. She dropped to the floor of the buggy with a loud clang. Her arms had also sucked themselves into her body and all the places where her limbs had been were now sealed. The lights in her eyes faded to black and her head sealed itself onto her body. Every open space was closed up until DeeDee was nothing but a copper-colored hunk of hourglass shaped metal with a box on top.
A chunk of metal slammed into Brogan's head. She hit the floor hard, facing DeeDee. She could see some red as her vision began to fade and saw DeeDee being picked up.
"I'm sorry, Dee..."
Smoke was on point looking through the scope for Brogan's buggy. She'd gotten pretty far since early morning, they were about halfway to Atlasur...
"Liam, Que! There are more tracks, from the right and and left coming up on Brogan's tracks."
Smoke focused the scope farther ahead.
"I think I see the buggy's back platform and the copter ahead."
"That doesn't sound good..." Liam grumbled uneasily as Que ran beside Smoke to get a look for herself.
"Let me see!" she pleaded. "Why do you think it broke off?"
"I won't know until we get closer." Smoke handed her the scope and headed to Liam. "Bring us down lower."
Liam nodded and brought the airship closer to the ground. Que handed the scope back to Smoke, frowning.
"I don't like how this looks... not in the least bit."
Smoke took the scope back and looked through.
"No, it doesn't. The two other tracks look like they were gaining on the buggy. The platform came off and stopped one for a little, but the tracks go off to the side and seem to be coming in again."
He brought down the scope.
"Brogan wasn't just worrying unnecessarily. They are after her."
Que chewed on her lip, worry washing over her face when Liam whistled to them.
"Any closer and I'll need to land," he called. "Other than tracks, have you actually spotted the buggy yet?"
Smoke put back up the scope.
"I think I see it. It's at least a mile off the main road. She booked it fast after losing the platform."
Several minutes later they were close enough for Smoke to spot it and guide Liam toward it. It had crashed about a mile off the main road. It had black streaks and a gaping hole in the front, as if the engine had blown.
"Take it down, Liam," Smoke said.
Liam landed the airship a few yards away from the wreck. Que could barely keep herself from jumping over the railing to investigate as soon as possible, eventually settling on calling, "Brogan!"
There was no answer. Smoke quickly lowered the ramp so they could get out and investigate. He headed toward the buggy, staring at the ground as if he was trying to learn something from it.
Que, on the other hand, was already going through what remained of the buggy, trying her best not to break down.
Liam was the last to leave the airship, making sure everything was shut down before he disembarked. His jaw dropped when he saw the wreckage.
Smoke got into the buggy quickly and grabbed hold of Que's arms.
"Que, Que don't move anything around. We don't want to miss... anything..."
Smoke released her and walked away. He crouched down and gently picked up a piece of what was once BOB. He looked at Que.
"Look around for every piece that could belong to BOB," he said. "Once we get Brogan back we're going to need all the pieces so Brogan can put him back together."
Que nodded, tears rolling down her cheeks as she started looking for the other pieces of the robot as carefully as she could. Liam joined in the search, gathering up a few items as he went through the broken buggy. As he lifted one piece of metal, his fingers touched the floor, but it was a different texture... lifting his hand to get a better look, he frowned, trying to remain as calm as possible with his discovery.
"Smoke," the pilot said, a shaky edge to his voice. "We need to find her fucking fast..."
Smoke stood and walked to Liam. The blood stain was fairly large, but he knew they wouldn't have killed her and taken the body. He crouched down beside Liam and traced the shape of the stain with finger in air.
"Looks like it was probably a head injury. Brogan's a strong woman. They would've had to knock her out."
Liam clenched his fist around the piece of metal he had.
"Then I repeat the necessity of finding her fast," he growled. "Whatever they want her for can't be good, and if they don't get what they want, then what?"
Que stood a little bit behind them, various fragments of BOB in her arms.
"Then we need to leave now, before we lose the trail completely!"
Smoke shook his head.
"I already checked around the buggy. They covered their tracks. They could've gone in any direction. We have no way of tracking them. It's been a few hours. This happened early this morning."
Smoke stood up.
"There's a fork up ahead that goes to Atlasur or Valleyshire. Atlasur is Enlightened territory. There's a good chance she's there. But there's no guarantee. But before Atlasur is Croydon. I know somebody there that might be able to tell us more."
"Croydon is where Brogan's workshop is," Que told them. "Now that I think about it, she picked me up in her copter not too far away from the fork. I was walking after..."
"So you'll be at least a little familiar with the area," Liam interrupted, not particularly interested. "That's great. Have we got all the pieces of BOB?"
"Where Brogan's workshop used to be," Smoke said. He looked back in the direction of the platform.
"Her workshop came with her wherever she went because she was on the run. She probably took everything important with her so the Enlightened couldn't track her. There would be nothing that would link Brogan to that workshop in Croydon. But Eric is there, and he'll be able to tell us for certain where they've taken Brogan. He tracks Enlightened movements like no one else."
He shook his head and jumped out of the buggy.
"I think we have all of BOB. Want to do another check, Que, just in case?"
She nodded slowly, handing her armful of parts to Liam so she'd have her hands free in case she did find something. The pilot snorted, starting back towards his ship.
"I guess I'm no longer neutral," he sighed. "Knew I was gonna need to choose a side sooner or later. I just wish it hadn't been in this sort of way..."
Smoke looked at Liam.
"Would you have ever chosen a side if this had not happened?" he asked quietly.
Liam considered his answer very carefully before taking a deep breath and shaking his head.
"To tell the truth, I don't know. I've remained neutral for the entire duration of the war thus far; I've avoided going back into the service for the same reason. I just... don't know."
"It's all right. Thank you, Liam. For helping with everything."
He put his hand on Liam's shoulder.
"Come on. Let's go get Brogan."
Que came up beside Smoke, arms empty.
"I couldn't find any more pieces. Come to think of it, DeeDee isn't here either. Do you think they took her too?"
She looked up at him, face paling at the thought.
"If she's not here... then they probably did," Smoke said.
Que whimpered, but nodded.
"I hope we can get them both back safely..."
"Then we'd better head out and meet up with this friend of Smoke's the next town over," Liam said. "There's nothing left here, so let's move it!"
Smoke nodded. He took Que's hand and headed back to the ship.
Once they arrived in Croydon, Smoke immediately got off the airship and headed toward the outskirts of town where the militia was. He was fairly certain Eric would be there and if he wasn't, the men there would know where he was.
Que was traveling the closest to Smoke, even though she was relatively familiar with the town (some people even waved at her, recognizing her as Brogan's guest from a while ago). Liam kept himself a few paces back, looking around at the various inhabitants.
They got to the rattiest part of town that seemed more like a maze than actual streets. Smoke wove through them with familiarity. By the time he stopped in front a decrepit building they were so deep into the maze that it would've been impossible to find their way out without following Smoke again.
He knocked on the door three times with a distinct pause between them. A panel on the door slid open.
The panel closed. A minute later the door opened.
"This place is creepy," Que whispered to Smoke, shivering a little. "Are all militias like this?"
"They have to hide," he said flatly and entered.
"Que Arres. Liam Trumble," he said to the guy at the door eyeing Que and Liam. "Where's Eric?"
"In his usual corner," the guy said with a shrug. "Gave him a puzzle box to crack. Didn't like how one of the guys broke into the last one we found; ended up destroying the contents. We've been finding some seriously strange shit lately. Eric seems to think whatever's in the box he's got is important."
Smoke headed toward Eric.
"Let's hope he's not too busy with the box."
He stopped when he reached the man.
Sitting on a stool in the corner was an older man, fiddling with a small cube, turning it every which way, trying to get it open. Currently, all they could see was the top of his blond head.
"Just a minute..." he grumbled. "Never met a box I couldn't open..."
"You've been at it for an hour, Eric," one of the men called to him. "Give it a rest and come back to it later."
Eric grumbled again and sat up, looking up at Smoke and the others with vibrant violet eyes.
"Didn't expect to see you any time soon. What's going on, Smoke?"
"I need information about Enlightened movements. A friend was kidnapped by them. We need to know where they took her," Smoke said, not mincing words and showing Eric just how serious the situation was.
"Where was she taken from?" Eric asked, standing as he headed towards a wine rack filled with rolls of paper: maps. "And how long ago, do you estimate?"
Liam and Que remained quiet while Smoke did his work, the pilot preferring not to complicate things and the young woman staring in rapt fascination with the box Eric set on the table.
"She was on the road to Valleyshire and Atlasur, but she didn't reach the fork. She was coming from Brattford. From what I could guess from the site, she was probably grabbed approximately ten hours ago," Smoke said, meeting Eric's gaze.
"Any thoughts on why?"
Eric's hand went immediately to a map in an upper left slot of the wine rack, pulling it out and opening it on the table.
"Atlasur is the nearest Enlightened stronghold, so she was likely taken there. Knowing a purpose will help though."
"We're not sure," Smoke said, his voice soft. "But I think it may have something to do with the fact that she's an engineer herself. One of her robots was also taken."
"She knew they were after her," Liam added, pulling the note Brogan had left from his coat. "She went off on her own to keep them from coming after us."
Eric turned to him with one eyebrow raised. He took the note to read it himself.
"Did you do anything in particular that would have attracted their attention?"
Smoke crossed his arms.
"We infiltrated Sylvora to get some information on Que's family. We were chased out. Two members of the Enlightened saw us. They saw her and saw the robot that was taken. One of them is an alchemist."
"He set city hall on fire," Que piped in, sitting cross-legged on the floor with the box in her hands. Eric gave Smoke a questioning look, but shook his head.
"I've been trying to crack that thing for hours. I don't think you'll pop it any time soon."
Que just shrugged and continued to mess with it. Eric shook his head again and turned back to Smoke.
"Great. I guess that means I have more competition now."
"You're not surprised they have an alchemist working for them? I was," Smoke said. "He's powerful, Eric. There's a reason he's Enlightened, but I don't know it."
"I knew it was only a matter of time before they broadened their little sect to include alchemists as well," Eric admitted, looking over the map he'd pulled out. "It's quickly becoming a powerful science, and the last thing they want is to be is second best."
He placed his finger on a section near the center of Atlasur.
"That's where we'll need to go to find her."
Everyone in the room turned to look at Que as she giggled and held up the puzzle box, its lid slid open.
Smoke looked over at her. For a moment worry crossed his expression, but it was gone in the next instant. He motioned to Eric.
"Go ahead and look. It's your box."
Eric stared at her, shocked she'd gotten the box open so quickly, before walking over and holding his hand out to take it.
She nodded eagerly, handing him the open cube. Eric took the box and looked inside, pulling out a small stack of folded papers.
"Is it as important as you thought it was, Gunner?" one of the men asked as he went through the documents.
"Shipping inventories," Eric said after a moment. "Listing everything they've bought over the past several months, including who their suppliers are. Very useful."
Smoke glanced at Liam and then to Que. He walked over to her and took her hand, lifting her off the floor.
"We know where Brogan is, Que. Now we have to find a way to get to her."
"Really?" she asked, a wide smile spreading across her face. Eric nodded absentmindedly, handing the documents to one of his men for further analysis.
"You know what to do with these," he said to him, and the man went straight to work with the papers. Eric turned to Smoke, looking Que up and down.
"Where in Hell did you find a kid like her? That took her only a few minutes to open."
"I'm good at puzzles," Que politely informed him, and Eric cracked a small, sideways grin.
"Me too, but apparently not that good."
"Eric, do you have any information that will help us get to the center of Atlasur?" Smoke asked, changing the subject away from Que. "We need to get in, and there is a good chance that they will recognize us if we try to get in the normal way."
"As it happens, my men and I have been working on a way to crack that particular fortress for about a month now, since it's a little too close to our base for comfort. We still need to run a reconnaissance mission. This would be the opportune time."
He made a gesture for Smoke to follow him to another room.
"Let me show you the routes we've already secured, so we can figure the best one for this task. I'd like to go along with you on this, and send some of my men for back up. This is going to be difficult, no matter how we approach it."
Smoke followed, dragging Que along.
"We could use the help. There is no way of knowing where they're keeping Brogan or what they're doing to her."
He released Que, moved to stand next to Eric and motioned to Liam. He looked up at Eric.
"Liam is an airship pilot. Ex-military. Taking the ship would probably be the fastest and quietest way to get there no matter what the route. Is there one that has a place where we can hide the airship before we infiltrate?"
Eric whistled, rubbing his chin.
"Hmmm... I think there are a couple of good spots, but we should consult the maps first. Ex-military, huh? Retired or fired?"
"The former, thank you," Liam explained, a small growl pf disapproval escaping him. "Flying is my specialty."
"Good, this mission calls for the best we can get."
Eric's gaze shifted to Que.
"She should probably stay behind for her own safety."
"Good luck convincing her to stay behind," Smoke said flatly. There was just a hint of amusement in his tone.
"Don't talk about me like I'm not here," Que whined with a pout. "I'll be fine. Smoke taught me how to shoot."
"Oh really?" Eric asked skeptically. "Have you actually shot anything?"
He eyed Smoke, one eyebrow raised.
"You sure about this?"
Smoke stepped back and motioned toward Que.
"Give it a shot. I want to see you try."
"Really? Now?" Que asked, eyes widening with clear excitement. "I thought I was to avoid using it; I only have six extra bullets after the ones in the gun..."
"We'll restock you," Eric assured. "If you shoot well enough. Should we detour then to the firing range? If she's tagging along, I want to be sure she's fit to fight."
Smoke slapped his face with his palm. It stayed there for a moment before he dropped it, looked up at the ceiling and sighed. When he lowered his head his face was deadpan.
"Sure. We'll follow."
Eric chuckled as he turned off to lead them to the range where she could shoot. Moving beside Smoke, he leaned closer, another chuckle escaping him.
"I warned you about being cryptic, didn't I? I can see what you mean with her though; she's rather impulsive."
"You understood me perfectly. Que is... different. I keep trying to tell her she needs to know when to say things and when not to. But she's perverse. One moment she'll be listening attentively as long as she's barraging you with questions. The next it's as if she's not listening to a damn word you say."
Smoke stuffed his hands in his pockets and shrugged.
"I just hope she doesn't get me killed any time soon."
"You and the rest of us," Eric agreed. They reached the range where a few other members of the militia were practicing their aim. Que watched them until Eric nudged her.
"Go on," he said. "Just stand at that line and fire at one of the targets. Try to hit the center."
Que got out her revolver and stepped up to the line. The others practicing stopped to watch, some taking a few steps back. She looked back at Smoke and Liam; the pilot gave her a thumbs up for encouragement. Eric walked beside and crouched to be closer to her height.
"Now, since this is your first time firing at all, your first shot won't count," he told her, chuckling a bit. "Go ahead and empty the revolver into the target. Try to get them as close to the center as possible. You got that?"
Que nodded and stood ready, taking a deep breath as she prepared to fire.
Her first shot missed entirely, hitting a rafter in the ceiling when she was caught off-guard by the kickback. It wasn't as strong as Smoke had been preparing her for, but it still wasn't what she had anticipated.
Lowering her gun, she blushed with embarrassment as she looked back at the men.
Smoke gave her a nod.
"Now you know what the kickback feels like. Remember what I told you. Don't try to control it. Let the gun do what it has to do. Aim. Don't pull. Squeeze. And fire."
His head motioned to the target.
"Finish up the rest of the rounds."
With another deep breath, she nodded and turned around.
"I think I've got the feel for it now."
Aiming her gun at the target again, she fired her second shot, sending it right in the center of the target. After a brief giggle of excitement, she fired off the last four shots, all of them following right into the same hole in the center of the target. Eric's jaw practically dropped to the ground as he held up his hand to make sure no one else was firing as he went to inspect the target for himself. Que turned back to Smoke, tilting her head to the side as she giggled.
"I definitely have the hang of it now. This is just basic physics!"
It took great effort for Smoke not to roll his eyes.
"Very good, Que. Just change it up once in a while. Feel free to hit other parts of the body and when people ask you if you meant to hit there, be humble and say it was a lucky shot."
He patted her shoulder and took the gun.
Liam was staring in complete shock when Eric returned and tapped Que on her shoulder.
"Hold out your hand," he told her. Que was confused, but did as asked. Eric dropped a small chunk of metal in her hand.
"They all took the exact same path and stuck together. They aren't fused, but that's some damn good aim you've got."
Que giggled, taking the remains of the bullets and putting them in her pocket.
"Thanks, but really, it's only physics. Once I knew how the bullet felt when fired, I was able to calculate its velocity and trajectory, and thereby calculate how to fire it to get it to travel to the target along a consistent path."
This explanation didn't seem to help, and Eric gave Smoke a look of complete bafflement. Smoke shrugged.
"She reads a lot."
As if that explained everything.
Eric rubbed the back of his neck.
"I guess she's fit to go then. Let's go over those maps and start forming a plan of attack."
Smoke and Que headed to the airship carrying another load of supplies. Smoke carried the last barrel of fuel. Que carried some of the food. Liam was already on the airship putting away the loads of fuel and ammo that they had already carried. Eric was on his way with most of his alchemical supplies.
On the way, they passed by Brogan's old workshop. The doors were wide open. Odd, considering Brogan had closed and locked them before she had left with Que. A figure stood inside barely visible. What made the figure catch the eye was the fact that it tossed out a chunk of warped metal probably used for engines out of the workshop and into the street. Two pipes followed. The figure disappeared. Metal crashed to the ground in loud clangs that sent the people around Que and Smoke scurrying away.
A strange ringing sound scraped through the air before a large, loud, dull clang of metal slammed to the ground.
Que turned to Smoke with that curious expression of hers, and before he could stop her, jogged over to the entrance of the workshop and peered inside.
It was weird enough seeing Brogan's workshop all dark inside. Hearing someone go through her friend's things made it worse.
"Is someone there?"
Smoke moved after her quickly and put down the barrel of fuel inside. "Que--you have to be careful. You don't know who is in here." He put his hand on her shoulder and looked inside.
Since Que's words there had been silence in the workshop. Now the sound of heels clicking on the stone floor came toward them. The figure stopped several feet away from them, still in the darkness. However the silhouette made it clear that it was female. She held something to her side.
"Where is the mechanic?"
The voice was silky soft. Smoke stiffened. The words had an edge of threat that made him grip tighter onto Que and move in front of her.
"Not here," he said.
"Clearly. Where is she?"
Que opened her mouth to add that Brogan had been kidnapped, but caught herself, especially since Smoke had stepped in front of her. That usually wasn't a good thing.
"Is... is this one of those times when I'm supposed to be quiet?" she asked, glancing towards the silhouette.
If a smirk could have a sound, the "hmph" that came from the woman was it.
"Yes, Que," Smoke said, his voice soft.
"Atlasur is Enlightened territory," the woman said. She took a step toward them.
"Brogan hates the Enlightened. Why would she be there?"
"Because they caught up with her," Smoke said.
"Oh? The woman is virtually impossible to track. I didn't think the Enlightened were capable of finding her if she didn't want to be found. How is it that they caught up with her?"
The woman finally stepped into the light. Her clothes were elegant. Rich greens, a low cut bodice, a cravat with a brooch, a bustle, high heeled boots, but instead of a skirt, she wore breeches tight against her legs. She held a cane in one hand. Lithe fingers that matched the rest of her athletic form. Her face was still half cast in shadow, but her lips were dark and her eyes a bright emerald green. Her black as pitch hair was up in an elegant braided coiffure and three braids hung down from it. One sat on her shoulder. The emerald eyes were cold, hard, unsympathetic and demanded answers.
"They caught up with her because she helped us. So we're going to help her," Smoke said.
The woman smirked.
"Oh? Is that so?"
She lifted her other hand. Smoke froze when he saw it in the light. It was made of metal. It was a robot hand and arm. The cold, metal fingers tapped Smoke's cheek.
"And how are a pair of children going to save my mechanic?"
"We're not children!" Que blurted out. Her cheeks turned bright red as she realized she'd broken the silence she was supposed to be keeping.
Smoke rolled his eyes. The woman laughed. It was a cold and dangerous laugh, meant to chill the spine.
"Your little girlfriend isn't very smart, is she?"
Smoke didn't say anything to that. Instead, he said, "We're going to save Brogan. We're going to bring her back here and then we're going on to Brattford. You can wait here or meet us there."
Smoke pulled his chin away and grabbed Que's arm firmly.
"Let's go, Que," he said and dragged her away, pausing only to pick up the barrel of fuel.
The woman followed them.
"Smoke?" Que asked, glancing back every few seconds to look at the woman. "I don't like her. She's not very nice..."
They reached Liam's airship about the same time as the last group came with the remainder of the supplies. The pilot was busy getting everything ready to launch, but Eric saw them approach, raising his eyebrow suspiciously when he caught glimpse of the woman following them.
"Who the hell is this?" he asked while he twirled what appeared to be a flat stone between his fingers.
Smoke didn't say anything. He got on the airship, put the barrel down with the others, and tugged Que toward him.
The woman, however, stopped on the ramp bright emerald eyes narrowed on Eric. Both hands were on her cane, the metal one atop her normal one. Despite the niceness of her clothing, the entire metal arm stood out garishly against it.
"Ophelia O'Connor a mercenary."
Her lips spread into a cold smile.
"I came looking for the mechanic who designed my arm only to find that you all got her kidnapped by the people she's been running from."
She rolled her head back and cracked her neck.
"So I've decided I'm going to tag along your little invasion of Enlightened territory to make sure my mechanic is rescued in one piece. Is that a satisfying answer, militia man?"
"Whoa, now hold up a bit," Eric corrected, not particularly fond of the mercenary's tone. "First of all, she got kidnapped when she decided it was safer to travel from an unoccupied city through Enlightened territory solo. You can't blame her poor judgment on us."
He flipped the stone in the air and caught it.
"Secondly, I'm not about to jeopardize a mission with a sword-for-hire who could turn on us at any minute if the price is right."
"If you want to pay me, I'll gladly accept," she said. Her eyes narrowed.
"But it would be better for you if I came along since I have every intention of getting my mechanic back. Brogan built my arm, and no matter who I've worked for over the years, I've never revealed who created this stunning piece of work. Considering I have every intention of going to Atlasur and taking Brogan away from the Enlightened, you're better off not having me in your way, but rather keeping me at your side and not against you."
"If you ruin this mission, everyone loses," Eric said flatly. "I'm not paying you. If you must join us, you'd better be prepared to follow orders. We don't have time for a wild card in this."
He started up the ramp of the airship.
"And improve your tone. It isn't becoming of a lady."
The mercenary Ophelia sashayed onto the deck of the airship.
"I don't remember calling myself a lady."
She tossed back one of her braids.
"And I only implied that I would get in your way if you didn't take me along. Right now, this is a win-win situation."
She leaned on her cane.
"Why such animosity, militia man? Or do I scare you?"
"No, you annoy me. I don't appreciate it when people invite themselves along on missions. It complicates things."
He surveyed everything on the ship, looking over to Liam who was waiting for the nod to launch.
"All yours," Eric told him, giving him the thumbs up to go.
The smile became a smirk. Ophelia found a chair and sat, relaxed and saying nothing more. Nothing more needed to be said.
Smoke shook his head and the entire debacle. Well, one more that wanted to save Brogan couldn't hurt. He helped move the barrels of fuel downstairs.
Liam waited for everyone to finish shuffling about before calling a warning to let them know they were about to lift off. This had to be the largest crew he'd ever had on the ship: ten people. He knew his craft could handle it, but it was a bit strange to have that many people there at once.
Que stood off to one side, watching as everyone settle in for launch. Even though this strange woman had decided to join them, she still felt like the only female there.
She hoped they'd be able to rescue Brogan in time.