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   Chapter 23 No.23

Free-Wrench By Joseph R. Lallo Characters: 6141

Updated: 2018-01-19 12:02

The deck was in utter chaos. Whatever had slowed the ship had cost them most of their maneuverability, and without the speed and turns to keep the wailers constantly readjusting, their attacks became more frequent and more accurate. Dagger-sized nails cut through the air from both sides as the tiny crafts strafed the ship. Coop cried out as one of the spikes slashed across his arm.

"Brother!" Lil screamed, rushing heedlessly across the deck to her stricken sibling.

"Another hook, ready to fire!" Coop yelled as Lil helped him to the shelter of the stairs to the captain's quarters.

Nita turned to see a hook streak across the length of the deck and drop across the other side, pulling taut and chewing into the side of the boat. Even from her vantage point, Nita knew the hook was well out of reach. She wouldn't be able to dislodge it from the hook end of the rope. As the attacker continued on his strafing path, the rope swept across the deck, sliding along the top of the railing and catching her across the stomach before she could drop below it. She was dragged backward across the deck until the rope struck some of the rigging that held the gondola to the envelope, bringing it to a sudden stop and sending her sliding along the deck until she struck the next strut along.

The blow dazed her, but not enough to knock the sense of purpose from her head. She rushed back to the rope and fumbled for her knife. In the steamworks there wasn't much call for it, so she didn't keep the short blade in any of the more accessible places. As she fought for it, she noticed a regular jerk and vibration to the rope, and looked aside to see that the wailer ship was reeling itself in on a small winch. It gave Nita her closest look yet at the craft, revealing two pilots seated one in front of the other. The pilots were nothing

her belt again and launched herself at the attacker. The surprise of the sudden attack managed to thump her attacker hard on the shoulder, but he recovered quickly and fired his weapon. Nita saw it coming and stepped aside, but a follow-up attack from his saber clashed against her raised bar with enough force to knock her from her already unsteady stance. He pointed his pistol, and, for a moment, Nita believed her end had come. Then came a call from the captain.

"Fire starboard cannons!"

Deafening thunder rang out, and the whole of the ship jerked aside as if struck. The force of it sent Nita's attacker stumbling back toward the railing and nearly threw him overboard, but he held firm. Out of the corner of her eye, Nita saw a burst of greenish gas as the wailers' main ship began to plummet. Her main attention remained on her own threat as the man recovered and raised his pistol once more. A second, quieter crack filled the air and the wailer jerked backward, dropping his weapon and cupping his hand to his chest. Another crack split the air, and the man, stricken, finally went over the side. Nita swept her eyes across the deck until she spotted Coop, smoke still drifting from the barrel of his rifle.

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