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David Bailey, 02 May '13

                                                                        Steam and Smoke

The rails sang in sympathy as the train slowed down. Steam wafted over the station, droplets began to form as the steam met the cold brass on the leather caps of the waiting officers. Tugging his cap low, Ethan watched as the steam dispersed.

The locomotive could not be called pretty or elegant. A kind person might call it strikingly utilitarian, blunt nosed, and painted in the steel grey blue of the Imperial military a series of carriages snaked behind, Ethan noticed a few normal passenger carriages tacked on the end, it seem that the military had commandeered the rail line for this train, the citizen carriages were appeasement to the populace. Secured firmly on the open carts, tanks sat their mottled brown and green is stark contrast to the bright sky behind them. As the doors clanged back a steam of grey clad troops, poured in to the carriages, ahead of the long barrelled tanks. The train pulled away surprisingly smoothly for the noise and steam that erupted.
                                                                                        ~
Speeding though the foot hills the steam adding to the near clear sky a slight glimmer betrayed a telescope held my Emilia a slim girl nested in the fauns of the ferns, dressed in loose tartan, noting the number of carriages and their contents, she leapt to her feet and headed up the mountain reaching the top Emilia set about hauling rocks twice the size of a man’s fist, made of bright limestone, on the smooth slate surface that created the top.
                                                                                        ~
Settled in a sheltered valley three miles away the 'Paupers Prince' rested on the grass, its mooring ropes slack and the crew member laid about on the grass, enjoying the warm sun and the respite from the conflict. Captain Samuel rested against a support strut on the engine deck while chief engine Caleb, stared at the pressure gage, the needle crept upward hitting sixty psi, the release value opened and steam streamed in to the compartment. Samuel remained immobile as the engineer hit the emergency cut off, "Did we learn any thing?" Samuel deadpanned, Caleb shot a murderous glare at his captain before shuffling round the condenser. "Ah ha" came the triumphant cry, Caleb's hand came in to view, "3/4 wrench" Samuel stirred from his place and handed the wench over, a few minutes latter the pressure held and the 'Paupers Prince', rose off the ground straining against its mooring ropes. The captain strode to the door and hollered "Mayur", the executive officer a heavy-set woman hoisted her-self off the grass and strode over shielding her eyes against the sun "we good to go captain?" Samuel nodded, Mayur turned and yelled "Get off your lazy backsides you bunch of barrel bottom scraping inbreeds" the crew started to head in to the airship grumbling good naturally at the XO’s comments. The last of the crew unhooked the mooring ropes and scrambled aboard, as 'Paupers Prince' soared in to the sky. Crossing the mountain above Emilia’s perch the chef navigator Sara cast her scope across the mountain top noting the distribution of the stones with a quick reference to the navigation chart and an even briefer word to the captain, the 'Paupers prince' wheeled across the sky.
                                                                                        ~
Ethan started out the window of the rocking carriage, half listening to the conversation between the other officers round the table. Mark, Steven, and Natasha, discussing the latest batch of recruits that were riding the train with them to the dockyards. So it was Ethan who saw the mucky grey ship drifting through the sky toward them. Reaching in to his satchel Ethan pulled out his spotting scope and trained it on the ship, when Ethan spat out on the obscenity, the others round the table stopped in shock and stared at Ethan. Keeping the scope trained Ethan made a solemn announcement "that is not one of ours". To Ethan’s right Mark pulled out his scope levelled it at the airship, the others round the table held their breath, Mark spent many hours studying the diagrams of a great many ships, of all the faction and those without an recognised faction, now it was Marks turn to swear "it’s the sodding Pauper" the members of the table blanched at that at that, Ethan fixed each of the other officers eyes, and closed his own for a second before snapping them open and getting to his feet for the smallest fraction of a second Ethan regretted his superiority. "Steven get to the back of the train and disconnect the passenger cars. Mark gather the blue patches and get the shells from the mutations carriage to the tanks". Turning to Natasha, Ethan continued "Natasha rally the red patches and get the tanks operational" heading towards the back of the train Natasha after the others she, stopped and turned "what are you going to do?" Ethan’s finished buttoning up his coat before looking up, a smile ghosted across his face "to the engine see if we can goose the throttle a bit, the red rock battery is forty five minutes away if we can get under their air cover" Natasha finished off his sentence "we might be safe" turning on her heel Natasha strode off barking orders to the now ashen faced recruits.
                                                                                ~
Sighting the train caused a palpable change in the bridge crew, a fat military prize, passenger cars, flat beds loaded down with tanks, boxed cars, followed by a couple of more passenger cars, Samuel stood at the wheel personally directing his ship, the engine indicators on flank ahead, if those on the train got the tanks working before the Pauper made it’s move life would not be happy, someone on board had obviously seen the ship as the train put out a belch of smoke and speed up. Sara pointed to the rear of the train, "are they ditching carriages?” Samuel nodded, “Sara went to one of the bridges heavy binoculars and peered at the decoupled carriages, "they look like normal passenger carriages no one is wearing grey in any of them" she reported. Jake the weapons officer scoffed at that "detaching the civilians, cowards", Samuel did not spare a glance at his officer "they know that we don’t go after civilians, properly getting them out of the way while they make a run for Red Rock" Jake did not lift his eyes from the gunny calculation engine, "they going to make it?" he asked, "at the speed they are going" Sara shook her head they don’t stand a chance.