"Pressure is up," Acting XO, Trism said. The Intel Officer had been assigned the position of Executive Officer of the Old Ugly listened to the comms as reports came in from all the departments. "Aetherium temperature is holding."

"Release the mooring locks," Blake ordered from the side as he stared out of the forward viewports.

"Aye! Releasing the locks!" Trism repeated and the order was passed down. Almost immediately, there were several clanks as the mooring clamps holding the hull of the Old Ugly was released.

"Altitude increasing," The helmsman intoned out. "Two meters... Three... Five meters..."

"Keep her steady," Blake ordered as there was a slight tilt on the decks. He kept his eye on the attitude indicator, watching the 'wing dials' level out as the helmsman corrected the aetherium volume in the tanks.

"Hold her at one fifty," Blake ordered next. "Then have all departments run a full status check."

"Aye, Captain," Trism replied.

Blake returned to the viewports and stared out at the base becoming smaller and smaller beneath him. He watched the small bridge crew skillfully handled the converted Loose Confederation airship as the ship rosed into the skies. He knew the crew chosen for the mission had spent the past few months familiarizing and being drilled on the operations of the airship until they know it like the back of their hands.

"Captain, we have reached one fifty," Trism reported from the side. "Orders?"

"Bring her over to form up with the escort fleet," Blake said. "XO, you have the conn."

"Aye, I have the conn!" Trism replied as Blake exited the bridge. The moment Blake stepped out of the bridge, strong winds baffled him and he grabbed onto the railings to keep his balance. He made his way across the quarterdeck towards the forecastle in the wind.

Crew members manning the wing sails were unfurling the sail cloth out to catch the wind and they paused to salute as Blake walked past. A trio of giggling goblins was fussing over one of the steam cannons on the main deck and they threw a salute at Blake. "Kap pe tan!"

There were two rows of steam cannons were laid out in the open on both sides of the main deck, four on each side. The huge wine bottle looking like contraptions had been tweaked by the goblins and they promised that the steam cannons would be usable in a fight. How much that was true, Blake did not know, but in his experience working with the goblins, they had so far not disappointed him with their promises.

He returned the salutes and climbed up the short flight of stairs onto the fore castle and took in the view. The wind blew strongly against him, with most of its force weakened by the numerous magical runes etched onto the hull itself. The view of the sun rising up from the horizon was spectacular and for a moment he lost himself to the scenery before he turned away and headed down below decks to continue his inspection.

The lower decks were brightly lit with glow lamps and the space was a premium. The passageways were wide enough for a large person to walk and most of the time, the crew had to squeeze past each other. The crew also have to share bunks, four to each cabin with barely enough space for them to even stand at the same time. The officers' bunks were only slightly better with two sharing a cabin while Blake had a cabin all to his own.

Much of the internal space was compartmentalized to the 3" cannons and 20 mm turrets hidden within the hull. The bulkheads had to be even covered up with the original bulkheads to match their surroundings to prevent them from being discovered.

Blake walked through the decks, pausing for a moment to speak with the crew here and there before he entered the cargo hold. Other than the usual wooden crates of supplies and samples of trade goods, there were two massive crates sitting side by side at one end. A group of mechanics and flight crew sat around a makeshift table chatting and they came to attention when Blake appeared. "Sir!"

"At ease, people," Blake returned their salutes before asking. "How long will you take to reassemble the helo if needed?"

"We can do that within an hour, Sir!" An Oerkin with the collar tabs of a senior mechanic replied. "Eh... not counting the unloading time, Sir!"

"Good," Blake nodded and waved them back to their activities. "Come on."

Next, Blake headed to the boiler room where the noise of machinery was deafening. He could see a couple of goblins shoving shovel loads of coal into the open maw of a furnace while doing some kind of dance and singing. When he walked past the goblins, he could actually hear some kind of heavy metal music playing over the roar of machines.

Shaking his head, he found the chief engineer, a goblin called Rotor, together with one of the dwarvans. Both of them were yelling over the noise enthusiastically over something as they gestured here and there to the boiler before them.

"Ahh! Boss Ka pe tan!" The goblin engineer cried out excitedly as he saw Blake. "Nice ta see ya, Boss Kap pe tan!"

The dwarvan, Blake recognized as the scholarly Copperstone, gave a bow of greeting. "Greetings, Lord Blake."

"How are you doing?" Blake asked Copperstone.

"I am well, my Lord," Lord Copperstone replied heartily. "My meals and needs are all generously fulfilled!"

"And I have such an honour to make acquaintance with Chief Rotor here," Copperstone smiled. "I have never imagined such ingenuity from being of his race before and I truly am regretful!"

Blake made some polite comments before he turned to the grinning goblin chief engineer. "How's the boiler and engines holding up?"

"All green, Boss Ka pe tan!" Rotor replied cheerfully. "Rock and roll ready!"

"Alright, keep up the good work," Blake said before he left the two back to their discussion. He returned to the bridge just in time to witness the Old Ugly taking formation between the two boxy Icarus airships.

"Order the fleet to proceed to Waypoint Alpha."


The Old World, Bronze Mountain 281st Cartel Air Fleet, The Bronze Picker

Cartel Lord Boldstar let out a yawn as he shifted to a more comfortable position on his seat. The morning was here and soon his shift on the bridge would be over and he could get some sleep in his cabin. He was mulling over breakfast or sleep when one of the bridge watchers called out suddenly. "Ships sighted! Four points to the side!"

Jolted wide awake by the cry, Lord Boldstar sat up from his seat and called out, "Where? What kind of ships?"

"Looks like one of those old colourful Loose Confed merchant ships!" The watcher called out. "But.. for the other two... I... wait... they are gone?"

The watcher rubbed his eyes as he peered into the pair of giant binoculars mounted on a stand. He was very certain he spotted three ships, but upon a closer look, two of the other airships had disappeared!

"One... One Loose Confed merchant ship!" The young dwarvan called out after a moment of hesitation. "Four points off the side! Distance... two turns of the glass!"

"A Loose Confed merchant here?" Lord Boldstar frowned as he rubbed his beard. "There is nothing here except for the Banished and Lowlanders... An illegal runner?"

"How far are we to the Hungry Hand's base?" He called out to the navigator.

"Roughly one and a half turn of the glass more..." The navigator replied after he did some calculations on the map. "That Loose Confed merchant runner is roughly two turns of the glass distance away from us."

"If we close up to that runner," The navigator said after he made more calculations. "Intercept distance would take about one and a half turn of the glass at our full speed if it continues at the same speed and heading and..."

"It would add another half a turn of the glass in distance to our original journey time, my Lord," The navigator reported.

Lord Boldstar glanced out of the viewports to see the sun having just rosed above the mountain peaks in the distance and nodded to himself, "Rock and stone! Chase that runner! We might as well make some extra money for ourselves by catching that runner! Full speed!"

"Yes my Lord!" The excited bridge crew cried out in unison. The helmsman turned the speed crank up that was accompanied by the ringing of a steam bell while another bridge crew started to roused the ship's crew to action.

Steam bells rang throughout the ship and woken up the remainder of the crew that was on sleep rotation. The awakened crew quickly dressed up and rushed to their stations while the Bronze Picker changed its course heading and the six airscrews propelling the Hammer class air cruiser powered up and the large airship's increased.

Lord Boldstar left the bridge and refreshed himself and even broke fast with a hearty meal before he returned to the bridge in a set of clean uniform. His First Lieutenant was already on the bridge and waiting for him with the current report of the Bronze Picker's status.

He sat down on his command chair and listened to the readiness report of his ship and watched the tiny speck in the distance slowly great larger and larger until clear details of the Loose Confed airship could be seen with just the naked eye.

The Loose Confed merchant airship was painted a colourful array of colours, from green, blue, yellow, to red, orange and even pink. The only normal coloured parts of the airship were its white sails. Patchworks of hull plating covered the majority of the merchant's hull and Boldstar do not even need to know the exact model of the airship to know it was a design that was at least two models old.

"Hail that ship!" Lord Boldstar ordered with a smile. "Order it to heave to and prepare to be boarded for an inspection!"

The message was passed on to the signaller who started to flash a series of lights, mirrors, and flags at the merchant ship. Lord Boldstar turned to his First Lieutenant and said, "You shall take a strong detachment of shock troopers with you when you board that ship for inspection."

"Take over command of the ship and arrest its crew," Lord Boldstar said. "I will transfer some of the Bronze Picker's crew over to you so you can crew it."

"If any of that ship's crew causes any trouble..." Lord Boldstar's eyes glittered. "Just toss them overboard."

"Will there be any trouble with the Loose Confed...?" The First Lieutenant asked in a worried tone. "If they found out took one of their ships..."

"By the Mountains!" Lord Boldstar glared at his First Lieutenant and shook his head. "This is why you will never be promoted! There is nothing here and this means they are mostly doing something illegal! This is our territory! We have all the right to protect our lands!"

"We don't need any evidence to hold them accountable!" Lord Boldstar said. "Just charge them with illegal smuggling and running of illicit goods!"

"If they resist, kill them!" Lord Boldstar added.

By this time, both airships had come within shouting distance between each other and Both airships hung in the air, wobbling under the crosswinds. The Bronze Picker was almost a quarter larger than the colourful merchant and a large cargo hatch swung open slowly from the side of the Bronze Picker.

Lord Boldstar watched with a smile as a couple of steam barges left the side of his ship and came to dock against the merchant. He watched the decks filled with the merchant's crew and his eyes drifted to the side of the hull where he could barely make out the name of the merchant airship among the riot of colours.

"Hmmm... The Old Ugly?" He let out a bark of laughter and shook his head in amusement. "Ha! That thing is truly ugly!"

A note from neo Koh

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