Friday, February 28, 2014

The Adventures of the Inkstained Succubus, Part 4: For Better and For Worse

The Adventures of the Inkstained Succubus, Part 4:

For Better and For Worse

Gabriel gasped as he came back to consciousness. He sat bolt upright, almost knocking heads with Lisa. “Where’s Cole?”

Lisa, the needle in her hand, blinked. “The whole ship’s lost its mind. I don’t know.”

Gabriel tried to move, finding that the field dressing was more painful than he’d ever imagined, but that he could move. He levered himself to his feet, cringing. “I have to stop him before he shoots the Captain.”

“Up, take her up!” came Sparrow’s shout of command.

“I’d say he hasn’t shot her yet,” Lisa said. “Now sit down.You don’t have enough blood to run your whole body and think too.” She scuffed through some on the floor. “Pretty.”

Gabriel staggered across the room and fell onto his equipment. Bracing himself against the bar, he grabbed two wires and twisted them together. The airship’s rapid ascent dropped Lisa to her butt on the deck and nearly flattened Gabriel against the bench. Gabriel smiled. If nothing else, that would tell the Captain he was alive and well.


Angelia clutched the wheel, knowing exactly how fast the ship could rise. Straith channeled the gas appropriately, but an extra boost told her Gabriel was still on the job, despite Cole’s best efforts. The sudden rise made Cole--who had just gained his feet--sit down hard, and she was ready for that.

She shot him again, the lightning making him hitch and jerk. She pulled a second gun and fired a net over him, the darts at the edges pinning him to the deck before he could recover. Returning her attention to the wheel, she took advantage of the z-axis rise and the ensuing confusion among Cole’s men, to lay hard about.

The incoming ships came in hard. The whine and scream of powering weapons and engines was deafening. The flagship, faster than the rest, was the only one that pulled upwards to the altitude of the Inky Suki. It seemed to pause a moment, the hitch before someone yelled the attack.

Angelis kicked open the Combat Bellowing Tube. Gabriel had a fancier name for it, but she preferred hers.

“Attention Locke and Rowe ship! We have Cole Locke as our prisoner. Any attempt to fire on us will lead to his death. Stand down and prepare to be boarded for parlay!”

After a moment, there was the sound of a lone gunshot that rang out over the whine of the engines. The figure of a man fell from the side of the ship, only to be ripped asunder in the melee below. Another voice came over a responding tube. “Inkstained Succubus Ship! While we would regard the loss of our brother as no great loss, understand that you are outmatched and outgunned. Prepare for boarding under parlay.”

“Of course I am,” she grumbled under her breath and well away from the tube, “Why do you think I asked to talk first?” She addressed the tube. “Lucas, sweetie, come on over. You and two men. Gabriel will be happier to see you than I was to see your brother.”

The engines shifted. Several more bodies were flung overboard as things resolved themselves on the other ship. Angelia suspected Lucas was doing bit of housecleaning before boarding. The ropes came flying shortly thereafter, and Lucas stood proudly, shirtless, on the boarding plank. His hair was wild and unkempt. He had almost as many bruises as his brother, and there was something hard about him as the plank slammed down and hooked to the side of the Inky Suki.

Angelia looked over to see Gabriel making his way slowly up the stairs, a pole in one hand to steady himself. “Lucas…”

“If it is Lucas, and this hasn’t been some sort of elaborate Shakespearean twin double cross.” Angelia kept the lightning pistol on the man on the plank.

“I can tell you.” Gabriel made his way across to the plank, slowly and carefully. He fell into the man’s arms and leaned up to kiss him. When he pulled back, he smiled, only to lean his cheek into the man’s chest. “You’re Lucas. I’d know the kiss anywhere.”

“Get aboard, you idiot before you wobble right the hell off the plank,” Angelia snapped. “Let’s talk.”

A flurry of activity later, Gabriel was supported on a bed across from the two Captains. Cole, still wrapped in the net and twitching, sat in the corner grumbling to himself. Lucas clapped his hands and laid them flat on the table. “Alright. You called for a parley. Parley.”

“First, what is it you’re wanting? Is there a way to get it without a lot of people having to get shot? And you do know, Cole wanted you killed in battle?”

Lucas looked down at his hands. “ somehow not surprised. He threw me to the crew for my rebellion earlier.” He touched his cheek gingerly across the wide bruise marking his skin. “Cole wanted revenge for you refusing to publish. He needed the support for a large push. He was trying to start a war this time, not just support one. I can stop that now, but he didn’t just buy out your suppliers, Captain Sparrow. He destroyed the supplies.”

“I figured as much after we destroyed the printing machine. We’ll be all right if we have to go to California to get supplies. So now we get the added bonus of stopping a war.”

Lucas nodded. “Without his contacts, we’ll have no issue calming things back down. But...we need to dissolve the company of Locke and Rowe. He’ll be doing no further damage, especially without his bargaining chip.” He looked down. “I suppose you’ll be asking me to go and turn myself in.” He shuddered a little, for a moment exposing the damaged person his brother had made him.

Angelia laughed. “Pirate. Why would I ask a thing like that of you. But we do need the company dissolved, that armada below us off our tail. On the other hand, you don’t get off scot-free either.” She looked at Gabriel. “I assume you can come up with a fitting punishment?”

Gabriel nodded. “Oh, I can think of a thing or two to do with Lucas here. Cole, on the other hand? Up to you, Captain.” An evil grin crossed his face as he glared at Cole, who glared back, his potential protestations muffled by a gag.

“Hmm,” Angelia kicked back and eyed him speculatively, “wondering if President Harrison and the goombahs in congress might have a suitable problem with our little war monger, or if we should take matters into our own hands. I hear the railroads are buying pretty men for their brothels out west…”

Cole screamed in protest, unable to form words. Lucas smiled, and it wasn’t pleasant. “A taste of his own medicine seems right up his alley.” He turned to his brother. His voice took on a mocking tone that was obviously one that had been used with him.  “I truly hope you enjoy yourself. After all, it’s what you’re good at. You just let me do all the thinking, and enjoy your little slut phase. I’ll put it to good use, brother.” The sneer twisted strangely on his features, much easier to see on Cole’s face strangely.

Gabriel pushed himself up and gently put a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “Fair enough. We’ll make some money back, but we leave it there. After all - your freedom is forfeit at this point, Lucas.”

“Shame he didn’t learn anything from your slut phase,” Angelia grumbled. “Look, I’m going to put a three year sentence on you both. Cole, we’ll lease you out for that time.” She ignored his protests. “And Lucas, you are Gabriel’s for those three years. If he needs wires twisted, you twist. If he needs to test a device, you’re the guinea pig. If he wants a sandwich, you’d best ask double or triple decker.”

Gabriel leaned forward and whispered something into Lucas’ ear that made him turn a bright shade of red. “Yes, sir.” Gabriel grinned and took a kiss possessively. Lucas didn’t look too upset about the arrangement.


The long trenchcoat slapped against Gabriel’s thighs as he gave orders from the helm of the ship. When Captain Sparrow...well, Admiral now...had complete command of the Inky Suki and given Gabriel control of the Incubus a year ago, she’d become an admiral with the hat to match. She was back on the east coast, heading towards the Caribbean with a special delivery. He, on the other hand, had a more solemn duty - to retrieve Cole after three long years as a brothel boy. He looked up at the rigging.

Lucas climbed there, letting out sail, his skin tanned from the hard work and the silver of his collar gleaming in the sun. He caught Gabriel’s eyes and smiled, the smile of a dedicated lover. Gabriel had already offered to remove the debtor’s collar, but Lucas had refused. He gave the signal to come down and dock right outside the little town.

“Do you think he’ll have changed much, sir?” Lucas asked, stealing a kiss of Gabriel’s cheek.

Gabriel smiled, but quickly sobered. “Three years is a long time to be on your knees. He’ll have changed a lot, I’d wager.”  He turned to the other rats. “Keep the engines hot!”

“I’ve enjoyed my three years there,” Lucas whispered as he went to help with the mooring and launching the dinghy.

Gabriel’s boots hit ground for the first time in months. He adjusted his gun and the belt of pouches that held his inventions. It had taken some getting used to when he abandoned his lab coat in favor of a captaincy. The town was small and dingy, not like some of the newer skyway cities the air-lines were connecting to. He knocked the dust away from his heels and headed into the town to look for the brothel.

Lucas waited behind, ready to cast off and run at a moment’s notice. One thing the time with the Admiral gave him was an appreciation for a fast exit strategy. He doubted the three years would have improved his brother’s temper any. If he knew Cole, the man had spent the time plotting revenge. But, he didn’t want to worry Gabriel.

The brothel was a terrible place, really. The rail workers weren’t the most kind or thoughtful of men, and the wing where the boys stayed wasn’t kept up like the women’s quarters. A girl with a limp greeted him at the door.

“What’s your taste?” she asked, her bored tone indicating she didn’t care what he chose.

Gabriel sniffed and stuck a hand in his pocket. “I’m here to pick up my property, actually.” He pulled out the papers that Cole had been forced to sign three years previous.

She hollered for the owner, a short round little man with a German accent. He looked over the papers and shook his head.

“No, no, that one, he is long gone. He killed his customer and went out the window in less than six months.”

Gabriel sighed and growled, crumpling the paper in his hand. “Of course he did. I’m sorry. Wasn’t he supposed to be chained?”

He was, he was. For many nights. But this client wanted a change, so he was unlocked. Stupid, sometimes I am stupid in giving the customer what they pay for.”

“Well, he’s had two and a half years to…” Gabriel stopped in his tracks and lost all the color in his cheeks. “And he knew exactly where we’d be on this very day. Fuck.” He turned and started to run, pouring on speed, back to the ship.

“Gabriel, dear man,” came the voice over the announcement horn before he could set foot in the dinghy, “so good to see you and my sweet brother again. I must say, I like the changes, especially the collar. I’d recommend getting your hands up. There are eight men around you, ready to shoot you on my say-so.”

Gabriel skidded to a halt, looking around him. He tried to pinpoint the men Cole was speaking of. “Cole, you aren’t going to get another chance from this. I was a younger man three years ago, and much more prone to mercy,” He called out clearly. “And if you’ve hurt one hair on Lucas’ head, I’ll do much worse. I -won’t- kill you.”

“Your precious captain made that mistake already. Or should I say Admiral. Oh yes, I follow all her butchery, of people and books alike, from a distance. I don’t need another chance, I already seized this one. And Lucas is just fine, aren’t you?”

“Gabriel,” his love sounded strained but not hurt, “run while you can.”

Gabriel slowly reached into his pocket and put fingers to the little mechanical box that lived there. “Cole, you’ve already lost. Surrender now.” He didn’t see the men Cole was referencing, and had to assume they were a ruse. Surely a man on the run from a murder rap didn’t have time to recruit an army.

A bullet slammed into the rail of the dinghy. A voice from behind him called “Might ought to do what the bossman says.”

“I don’t think so.” He pushed all of the buttons. Part of him winced to use one of his dead man’s switches to blow one of his engines, but he needed the distraction. As he heard the rumble and explosion, he darted to the left, headed for the dinghy.

Another shot into the dirt from that direction slowed him. Another voice said, “Bossman says we can’t kill you. Didn’t say nothing about not shooting you.”

Gabriel had to once again skid to a halt, this time with a curse in Mandarin. He put his hands up, finally turning to glare at the men. So they wouldn’t kill him. As long as there was life, he could hopefully put his brain to figuring out how to stop this.

The promised eight men emerged from their concealment. One nudged him into the dinghy and two more joined them. “Let’s go upstairs and see the boss.”

He went, marking each of these men as killers...and taller than him. He hoped the explosion had at least been enough for Lucas to get away and into hiding. His brother may underestimate him, but Gabriel certainly didn’t.

He came aboard to find Cole sitting in his favorite chair with Lucas chained and kneeling at his feet. Crew and outlaws rushed about, trying to put out the fires and save the ship, but Cole hadn’t turned a hair, as if he couldn’t bother with such trivialities.

“Good of you to join us, Captain. Lucas and I were,” he ran fingers through his brother’s hair, “catching up.”

Gabriel’s face didn’t change, though he folded his arms. He was much more a Captain these days. Parts of wars and deadlines had changed him. “Pathetic. Your own brother. So how long did they fuck you in the ass before you liked it, Cole? Hope you were better at receiving than you apparently are an active.” Yes, he’d learned much from the Admiral.

“Crude, aren’t you? But what else could I expect from one who took orders from a petticoat? I haven’t bothered with your leavings, if that’s what’s got you worried. But if you think I should…” Cole’s face left off the decadent aspect and he glared at Gabriel. “What I want is compensation for six months of my life. You, and your ship are going to get that for me. My men want money. That’s only one of my goals.”

“I won’t help you, Cole. My answer hasn’t changed. Not in three years. I’d hoped you’d learned something. Now, I see you’re full of nothing but darkness.” Gabriel spat at the man’s feet and stood proudly, half-certain he was going to die right there on his own deckplates. Not a bad way, really.

“Shoot him, boss, and we’ll use the ship,” said one of his outlaws, a spindly Mexican fellow bristling with weapons..

Gabriel resolved to keep an eye on that one, since he seemed to have at least half a brain.

“To the brig with him. Any of the crew willing to sign on for plunder can stay. Leave the rest in this slop bucket of a town.” He turned to where the crew stood under guard. “So, who wants to fly free and rich instead of taking up farming?”

Only a couple of Gabriel’s crew opted to stay. Their loyalty warmed his heart. He would have liked to insist they all sign on, and outnumber the bandit crew, but he couldn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure how to feel when Lisa, the former lab rat, now the chief engineer, stepped out of the men. “I can’t live on the ground,” she announced.

“We didn’t ask for a ship’s whore,” Cole said. “Besides, you shot me once.”

Lisa gave him an evil grin. “Nobody except me can fix that engine Gabriel blew. If you want to fly, I’m your only option.”

“Fine.” Cole’s face said it was asmirk.nything but. “One look out of line, girlie, and my men get a special treat. Are we clear?”

“As a silvery bell, Captain, sir,” Lisa said with a smirk. She turned and headed below decks, collecting two of Cole’s men to fetch and carry.

Prompted by her defection, Ying, his first officer, stepped out and bowed very low. “I am but a humble manservant to the captain, but I dream of flight and my freedom.”

“We can always use more help.” Cole gestured. “I think you get to be his jailor. Get Belthir off my deck, I’m tired of his face.” He yanked Lucas’ hair. “And when you maroon the rest,  stop in and inform Herr Althaus you’ve retrieved his runaway who must serve the rest of his sentence, without ever being unchained.”

“You SON of a BITCH! I’ll fucking kill you! You’re going to regret leaving me alive, Cole Locke!” Gabriel screamed as he was dragged away by the remainder of the men. There were too many of them, and his own men were subdued. The Mexican man shook his head as Gabriel was pulled below decks.

Gabriel paced in the brig for hours, knowing that Lucas was being beaten as Cole back at the brothel. He wouldn’t serve a sentence. He had a murder rap. He’d be lucky if they left him with all his limbs. He beat on the door and the walls, wishing he’d bothered to put in some sort of escape hatch...except for the fact that he’d built this brig himself for men like Cole, and he knew there was no way out of it. By the time the door opened to reveal Ying with a plate of food, Gabriel was curled up against the wall with his head in his hands. He looked up. “About time, humble manservant. Took you long enough.”

“Ah, so sorry. Had to poison many many bad men,” Ying said in a terrible accent. He held up the key he’d concealed under the crust of bread on Gabriel’s plate. In his normal voice, he said, “Locke’s down to about a third of his crew. Lisa’s got the engines ready, but had told him it will take another day and a half. Never saw a white man who wouldn’t fall for the humble servant routine.”

“Yeah, well, white men are stupid.” Gabriel grabbed the key and let himself out. “Take care of as many of them as you can. I have to get to Cole...and then to Lucas before they remove things.” He slapped Ying firmly on the shoulder. “I’d promise to give you a promotion, but…” He couldn’t take any more time, and ran out of the cell. It didn’t take him long to find the armaments - the Incubus tended to coast through war zones regularly. He growled and headed for that bastard’s favorite chair quietly. No more chances. No more talking. He was going to shoot someone in the head.

“A raise will do,” Ying called after him.

He stepped over dead and bloating bodies, only to find that the chair was empty. He kicked the chair in a temper fit before coming to a realization. His face darkened, and he turned for the engine room.

“I really am not interested, Captain.” Lisa’s voice, cool and disdainful, floated up the hatchway and made Gabriel move faster.

“Get interested, brat,” Cole growled. “You’ve grown into something tasty and it’s been a long time.”

“If you keep crowding me, I’m liable to make an error and strand us here even longer.”

Gabriel kicked down the door to the engine room. It wasn’t hard - the bolts had been torn free. He levelled his gun and pulled the trigger. No mercy, no quarter. No hesitation.

Lisa spun around, her heavy wrench passing through the space where Locke’s head had been a moment before. The gunshot registered, and then the blood. “Ewww! Really, Captain? All in my hair?” She rolled her eyes. “Besides, I almost had him taken care of.”

“I was tired of -not- shooting him, sweetheart. I’m sorry. Are you alright?” He stepped into the engine room and held out his arms for her. Her bravado was always just that, and he loved her like his own.

She dropped the wrench and hugged him. “I’m fine. He got as far as my shoulder, before my wrench ‘slipped.’ The engines are almost ready. Ying and I will get this warmed up. You go save Lucas and the crew.”

Gabriel pressed a kiss to her forehead and nodded. “I’m off then.” He turned and ran, headed for the dinghy. The town lay dark below him as he let himself down to the ground. Street lamps guttered and most of the decent folk were in at supper.

Fortunately, the saloon and brothel were just gearing up for the night. He passed in, ignoring the whores and the customers, and headed straight for Althaus’ office. Raised voices made him pause.

“Oskar, I have to take him into custody. He’s a murderer.”

“No, no and no. He is mine. I bought him fair and square. In two and a half years, you may take him and hang him. But I will have my money back from him.”

Gabriel pushed open the door. “Neither of you will do any such a thing.”

Althaus and the other man turned. The second wore a star on his chest and looked Gabriel over. “Who are you, sir, to be telling me what I will and will not do in carrying out justice?”
“Because, that man is not Cole Locke.” He produced paperwork on Lucas and handed it over to the sheriff.

The sheriff looked it over and grumbled. He passed it over to Althaus. “Seems to be in order. So where is Locke?”

“I just shot him for attempted rape, mutiny, and murder.” Gabriel’s face darkened. “So where have you stashed Lucas? He is mine, and I’d like him back, please.”

“He’s safe, perfectly safe.” Althaus had started to sweat. He handed the papers back to Gabriel. “Please, we have put him in a holding room. He is not working.” He dug in his desk and came up with keys. “I am taking you to him now. And I wish I had never set eyes on those men.”

He led the way out of the room, hands very visible, and took Gabriel to a storeroom just off the kitchen. Althaus cranked the key around in the lock and opened the door on a dark room. A man covered his eyes against the light.

“Lucas?” Gabriel walked inside and knelt down.

Lucas said nothing but threw his arms around Gabriel’s neck. “Is it over?”
Gabriel nodded. “It’s over. There’s only one man with your face now. I’m sorry, Lucas.” He held the man close to him. “Come on. I’m getting you out of this godforsaken town. And i’m sick of war fronts. What would you say to the Caribbean?”

“Warm sun and blue water and all the sugar I want in my rum? “ When Gabriel nodded, Lucas smiled and kissed him. “Yo ho, a pirate’s life for me, then.”

Gabriel led Lucas past the flabbergasted men and out into the moonlight, headed for the ship, the sky, and the sunset. “A pirate indeed.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Inkblots from the Captain's Log

We hope you've been enjoying Steampunk month as much as we've enjoyed having it.

Of recent note:

Peter Tupper guest-blogged for us Monday:

HC Playa is having a chat at Bitten by Books and giving away a $25 gift certificate:

The Deadline for the Steampunk anthology is FRIDAY! Run in circles, scream and shout!
If you type quickly, 5000 words is still doable!

The Furry anthology, EPIC TALES, is still open, until March 15. 5000-10000 words of anthropomorphic adventure.

Me, I'm lost in the wilds of editing and being attacked by rabid commas.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bitten By Books event

Bitten By Books is hosting HC Playa on 2/26

RSVP to the event and get 25 entries to win a $25 gift certificate.

Guest Blogger: Peter Tupper

Author Aboard!
Today, Peter Tupper joins us for a brief cruise on the airship.

Greetings. My name is Peter Tupper. I’m a writer and journalist in Vancouver, BC, and I’m here to tell you about my new book, "An Angel Has No Memory," published by Inkstained Succubus.

“I’m not going to dive into a threesome in front of every woman in the arcology.”

“Hey, we could have just talked, had a drink, like co-workers. No pressure.”

“I’m not looking for anything right now, all right?”

“All right.”

“Just don’t spread this around.” Rose hated being in the closet almost as much as she hated being known as “the Asian lesbian” wherever she was. “Please.”

This was supposed to be a meritocratic corporate society where race or gender or sexuality didn’t matter, but Rose had realized long ago that there were still glass ceilings. Being a woman was a strike against her in technical fields, and being Asian a strike against her in management, but being known as queer would make her life intolerable. Better to present a face that was perfect for the job, and keep everything else hidden.

One of Rose’s big problems is that she’s in the closet about her lesbianism and her sexuality in general. I had some hesitation about including this social idea in this story.

Science fiction tends to be more or less liberal, viewing human history as a progress narrative, from ignorance, barbarism and prejudice to enlightenment, peace and tolerance. Science fiction that does not assume this gets its own category, dystopia. The default assumption is that in future, society will be more liberal about social issues like race, gender and sexuality, and it would be unnecessary for a woman to keep her sexuality a secret.

Western society’s views of GLBT people have changed remarkably over the past few decades. Just the last few years have seen increasing liberalization on issues like same-sex marriage in the USA. Obviously there’s still a long ways to go, and there are people who will fight it every step of the way, but things are indeed happening.

On the other hand, other societies are moving in the opposite direction. The 2014 Winter Olympics are under controversy because of Russia’s harsh treatment of homosexuals. That’s a society that has gone from tacitly ignoring homosexuals to actively persecuting them. The rise of the fundamentalist strain of Islam in the Middle East has created some of the most culturally repressive societies in the world. And the fundamentalist Christians who inspired Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are still out there.

We can’t count on our future being more liberal, more progressive, even if a totalitarian theocracy doesn’t take over. Arguably, Rose lives in a neo-liberal dystopia, where consumer-capitalism hasn’t produced the level playing field it promised. She still has to hide her sexuality to maintain her precarious position in society, much less advance. To express her desires, she has to leave the surveillance-heavy, subtly conformist corporate world where she works and go to underground clubs. Her gender and race are other aspects of her identity that could be liabilities, though harder to conceal. Therefore, she is alone.

There’s an additional, self-imposed layer of closeting on Rose, her own sexual fear and shame. Even when told that her immediate superiors are at least tolerant of sexuality, she keep hiding, just in case. She can’t show her intricate fantasy life to others out of her own sense of shame for going against what her family and her culture have taught her to be. The irony is that her job is helping to fulfill the fantasies of those who have enough money and privilege, and have it done discretely. She’s basically the new middle-class, a service worker providing entertainment and luxury goods for the new aristocracy, and it is a precarious position, one that doesn’t leave much room for self-expression. Of course she’s stressed out.

 All these political and economic issues trickle down to the level of individual psychology and day to day decisions. Our diverse culture requires affluence to support it. It’s hard to be part of a subculture when you’re hustling three part-time jobs with no benefits just to keep a roof over your head. The mounting inequality of our society is changing our minds in ways we can’t even recognize yet.


"An Angel has No Memory" is available in .pdf and .epub from, Amazon and All Romance Ebooks

Friday, February 21, 2014

Steampunk Month Weekend Photo Dump!

 So, we at the Inkstained Succubus ship have been enjoying our foray into history. We hope you all have as well. The submission deadline for the Auld Lang Syne anthology is only a little over a week away. Don't forget!

So, from all of us rats to all of you, a visual cornucopia of steampunk goodies.

And, of course, our very own Captain and Boss, in full regalia:


-The Inky Suki Team

The Adventures of the Inkstained Succubus, Part Three: The Good Hunter

The Adventures of the Inkstained Succubus

Part Three: The Good Hunter

Off again, the bowl of sky arching clear and blue around the Inkstained Succubus, Angelia held the wheel of the airship as they left Tackston behind. The crew scuttled here and there, checking the boilers and rigging.

The sails were more for effect--nothing like a square-rigged ship bearing down out of the sky, whether to deliver books or rain destruction--but this morning they caught the wind, bellying full and helping the engines.

She was going to have Locke and Rowe’s heads, stuffed and mounted on her cabin walls. No, better on the bowsprit. That way, when she had a warm and lovable person in her bunk, they wouldn’t be watching her.

She gripped the wheel a little tighter. Cole Locke. The name burned in her brain. Nobody had her and then made a fool of her. Boiling ink might have been a suitably poetic way to die, but that wasn’t on today’s flight plan.

The rage burned hotter with each stop. In small towns, dingy cafes and disreputable bars, in pirate air harborages and floating junkyards, she put in and asked after the brothers. Below decks, Gabriel and his lab rats scrambled with the salvaged supplies to meet the deadlines.

Whispers of mutiny and complaints reached her, but Angelia stood her ground even as Gabriel laid about him with harsh words and the occasional beaker downstairs. The sound of smashing glass would have once made her wince at the cost, but now it barely registered. She would find those men and they would pay.

Finally, on the pirate air harborage of Terrapene, the cold trail grew warmer. A note, left for Gabriel in his favorite tavern, spurred the chase.

He’s lost his mind. I’m sorry. I never intended for that. I knew he was going to have his fun, but not put you in mortal peril. I need help, Gabriel. I want out. Meet me in Kalaran. I’ll break free of him. Help me, please. He’ll kill me.

“And I suppose we’re going to Kalaran?” Angelia raised one eyebrow at Gabriel, who clutched the letter like a nervous girl afraid of being jilted. “Has it occured to you that this is a trap even more transparent than the last one?”

“...Maybe.” Gabriel looked down at the letter in his fist. “But he looked so sad at the warehouse. You didn’t see him. What if we could help him, Captain?” He looked back up again.

“Icarus save me from puppy dog eyes,” she sighed. She finished the whiskey and looked at Gabriel. “I expect you to have an all-fired amazing plan to get us out of this one.”

Gabriel lit up like one of his electrical inventions. “I will by the time we get there, Captain,” he said in a breathy voice, and was gone like a shot back to his laboratory before Angelia could reply.

“St Joseph of Cupertino, patron of flight, St. Tesla and Our Lady of Airships preserve us.” She looked at the sky, imploring the saints she hadn’t spoken to since childhood. “We’re really going to do this. Keep an eye on all of us.” She raised another glass, drank it off and followed Gabriel back to the ship.

Kalaran was a week away at reasonable speed. They made it in three days, well before Cole would expect them. The element of surprise was always a powerful one. No one slept for the last two days of the trip, thanks to a vile concoction Lisa the Lab Rat brewed and kept everyone supplied with.

A day out, Angelia summoned Gabriel, Lisa and the other Lab Rats for a planning session. “It’s your sexy boy, so amaze us with a clever plan to get him out,” she told Gabriel.

“He said he was meeting us here, having slipped his brother’s gaze. That leaves us with two options. A, it’s a trap. That means we’ll need a fast extraction plan. B, he’s going to have Cole hot on his tail, which means we’ll need a fast extraction plan. Ergo, it’s not really relevant...” He shot Angelia a look, “whether its a trap or not.”

“That letter practically had “trap trap trap” twined around the edges like decoration with a TRAP watermark for the paper. So basically, when he shows, we grab him and run. We always did do good smash and grabs.”

“So we send the pyros down to make a distraction with Cole’s ship. We’ll set some charges to slow him down. We grab Lucas and exit here.” Gabriel rolled out a large map of the city and showed the exit vectors. “Lisa, you’ll be on support, so take the munitions to this area to cover us. Captain? You’re going to want Cole. My best guess is here...or here.” He pointed to two different places.

She gave a lopsided smile. “Why brace the badger in his den? He’ll come after us and we can choose the battlefield.” She studied the map of the surrounding territory. “Here. It’s got enough hills that we can lie in wait. When he comes looking for Lucas, we come in from the belly and shoot to kill.”

Gabriel nodded and shifted some things around, leaning down with a charcoal to make marks on the map. “Which means we” He made a wide X on the map with a mildly maniacal grin.

“He’d better be worth it. Because Cole certainly wasn’t.”

“A good lover is always worth it,” Gabriel sniped right back as Lisa cringed.

The Inkstained Succubus lay berthed in an outer slip at Kalaran’s dock, bow first. It was bad for the escapees but Angelia trusted the boys to be clever and fleet of foot. She wanted to be away with Gabriel’s prize before Cole knew his brother had slipped the leash.

Damn the man for requiring so much of her mental effort. She’d be much happier when he was dead and his skin turned into new boots. Fancy dress ones, she decided, since they wouldn’t be nearly sturdy enough for every day wear.

But Gabriel had vanished into the heart of the city, looking for his man, and she had to wait. She hated waiting. If these bastards cost her Gabriel, there was going to be hell to pay. She would blow up the whole stinking city, kill every last person in it if she had to. It would burn beautifully, plummeting to earth in a fiery arc.

She was interrupted from her maniacal plans by Gabriel’s voice, soft and growing in volume. “Captain! Get the thing with the thing and DUCK!” He came running up with one of the brothers with short and ragged hair, beaten a little and with torn clothing. The scientist didn’t even skid to a halt - he went running right past her.

“Over the speaker tube, she gave the order, “Blow it, baby girl.” Then she opened the next tube, to the engines, “Full ahead.”

The Inkstained Succubus sailed majestically out of her slip, the masts and sails folded down so nothing would slow her running. Behind them, parts of Kalaran bloomed with red flowers of flame.

Gabriel grabbed a rope and threw it around his running partner. “Hold on. It’s going to get bumpy from here.” He swung up to the top deck and ran along a beam to catch ahold of an errant rope and pull it down with his body weight, slamming the last sail shut. “Go, go, go! They’re hot for us, Captain!”

“That’s our Lisa.” She laughed as she turned the ship toward the hilly country. They would lead Locke’s goons a merry chase, cut the flagship from the fleet and destroy the entire operation. And Gabriel could have his sweetheart and she could meet the deadlines. She loved happy endings.

A flaming ball of tar landing on the deck next to her reminded her that they weren’t at the ending yet. She checked to make sure they were clear of the city limits. The law said no firefights in town, but there was no guarantee the opponents would adhere to that.

Seeing they were clear, she ordered the rear guns to fire. More fiery orbs launched toward their pursuer, and she spun the wheel, steering them out on the set course. Gabriel lit something at the aft of the ship and lightning sparked as it arced out towards the other ship, dancing across the engines and setting some of the smaller sails on fire. His whoop of mad scientist success could be heard all the way up to the wheel. The other ship fell behind swiftly and the ship finally made it to more even currents before another rat took the helm and Angelia went down to see this newest acquisition about the time Gabriel did.

He looked beaten. His hair was shaggy, as though it had been chopped. Gabriel approached carefully. “Lucas?”

“Speak up, man,” Angelia commanded. One hand drifted to her pistol. One wrong word, hells, one wrong nose twitch, and she’d shoot him where he stood. Of course, Gabriel would sulk, but she could live with that.

Lucas looked up and startled. He flung himself on Gabriel’s neck, clinging and babbling, soaking Gabriel’s shirt with hot tears. “He blamed me for your escape. It’s so good of you to come! He was going to kill me. He already set the crew upon me…” Lucas trailed off, burying his face in Gabriel’s shirt front and hitching out great choking sobs.

Gabriel wrapped arms around the larger man and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s alright. You’re safe now. Come on. I know there’s more to you than this.” He tipped Lucas’ chin up and smiled very gently. “We’re safe here in the air. Cole can’t catch us when we’ve got full sails.”

Lucas said nothing more, but his sobs eased to general hiccuping. He held onto Gabriel as if the scientist was the last solid thing in his world.

“You’re responsible for him. Keep him in your cabin, keep him secured. I have an ambush to lay.”

Gabriel quirked an eyebrow at his Captain, as if to say Is this really the time for that? and led Lucas off. “Hope this lay will be more beneficial than the last,” he sniped over his shoulder.

“Considering it’s for the same person, so am I.” Sparrow stomped up the stairs to the deck. “Make for the ambush point,” she ordered.


Gabriel set Lucas down on the cot in his lab and locked the door. He leaned against it, regarding Lucas with a measuring look. “Why’d he cut your hair?” he asked softly.

“He didn’t.” Lucas’ face twisted. “The quartermaster took it as a trophy.”

Gabriel ran a hand across the back of his neck. “ doesn’t look terrible.” He shook his head at himself. That was the best he had? “I’m at a bit of a loss here, Luc. I don’t know what to say or do for you. We had one night together...and you left me hanging over a pit of certain doom. Not much to build on there…” He laughed a little.

“I’m sorry about all that.” Lucas rose and came to Gabriel, putting one hand on his chest, his big eyes earnest. “I wanted to keep you, but Cole said you were too dangerous. The crew follows him, not me.” That same twist of the face. “I’m just useless. A pretty face with pretty manners to lure in marks.”

“Nonsense.” Gabriel put his hand over the one on his chest. “I’m sure Cole hasn’t come up with everything in your long history. He’s not smart enough.” He tried a cheeky grin, working on cheering them both up.

“Thank you,” Lucas said, the same earnest expression on his face. He  leaned down to kiss Gabriel.

Gabriel snaked an arm around Lucas’ lower back, melting into the kiss. It was different somehow, more aggressive. He pulled back and smiled. “I don’t want bad places in your head, Luc. Tell me what you want.”

The barrel of the gun in Gabriel’s stomach answered that. Its immediate discharge and the searing hot pain were faster thinking than Gabriel gave anyone credit for. Most people had to work up to shooting someone.

“I want your ship and you and the bitch dead.” Lucas shot him again in the gut and once in the knee just for good measure.

Gabriel didn’t have the air to scream. He slumped down the wall, betrayal a mask across his face followed quickly by pain. “L….Luc?” he asked weakly. He tried to flail towards the shipwide announcement system, but the world was fading much more quickly than that.

“Not exactly. Although I must say you kiss better than your captain did. Seems a shame to splatter that brilliant mind all over the baseboards, but better safe than sorry. I’ll make Lucas clean it up after I have the ship.” Cole worked with the gun a moment, aiming it at Gabriel’s head. “Dammit, jammed again. That’s the last time I let someone tinker with weaponry. No matter, you’ll be dead in minutes.” He tucked the gun back into its hidden holster and Gabriel dimly saw a second beside it.

Gabriel gritted his teeth. “She’s going to kill you for this.” His hand made a fist and started banging on the floorboards in an unintelligible rhythm.

“She can try, and I’ve no doubt the formidable lady has done far more than a few men. But your captain will never see this one coming.”

Gabriel started to smile as the world went a little darker, though he could hear the responding rhythm through the baseboards. “That’s always your problem, always assume things. My Captain? She’s never see this coming. My lab assistant, however.”

This was punctuated by the door flying off its hinges, crackling and sparking as though it would catch on fire. Standing in the opening was none other than Lisa, an oversized arc generator in her hands, and murder in her eyes. “Back. Up.” Her girlish voice was barely audible over the generator’s power cycle amping back up for another blow.

Cole raised his hands with a charming smile.“Of course, my dear.” He stepped away from the door, and almost went for Gabriel’s workbench. A gesture from Lisa’s generator stopped him and he bolted, going out of the port hole instead.

Gabriel reached up to Lisa’s knickerbockers and yanked. “He’s not...gone. Get up top. Tell the Captain. Go!” This was the last he had before sweet unconsciousness took him. Lucas waited for him in the blackness. Maybe he was in love.


The old girl cut a fast swath through the sky and Angelia took the wheel herself for the last bit of tricky flying. They cut the engines, furled the sails and let out enough gas from the semi-dirigible airbag that they dropped very low behind the high hills. The engine crew had more to pump in and make them rise quickly when the moment was right.

They ran hither and thither, loading cannon and trebuchet and other weaponry for the coming fight. Good folks all. She only wished Gabriel was up here, overseeing it. But he had a lovely young man in his cabin, and couldn’t be bothered. It still felt like a trap,somehow, even if they had gotten Lucas out.

Right now, safely in position and ready to strike, she hated with a bitter fiery vengeance. Cole. Locke. She was done with men, totally and completely. Gabriel could make her a consolateur in the shop. He had had her, under false pretenses, and he had tried to kill her. She didn’t hold a grudge, all of her best lovers had tried killing her at one time or another, but this one had lied and stolen and made her look unprofessional and incompetent. That she could not forgive.

Shots from under her feet pulled her attention from planning. Now she knew why it felt like a trap.

“Identical twins,” she grumbled under her breath. “Of course.” She stayed at the wheel but adjusted a shiny bit of brass to reflect the scene behind her and undid the strap on her pistol.

The treacherous man didn’t disappoint. Climbing up the side rigging, he popped up silently behind her, murder on his face. He pulled up a gun to bear.

She pulled her own and aimed it over her shoulder, lining up the shot with all the time she could spare. When she pulled the trigger, no bullet emerged, but rather a net of violet lightning ensnared Cole, making him jitter and jerk, dropping his gun as he did.
Angelia handed the wheel to the quartermaster, who’d heard her shot, and turned to Cole. “Very clever.” She picked up his weapon. “Shall I assume my Gabriel is dead?” she asked aiming it at his head. “Or shall I wait and see?” She took aim at his knees.
“Oh, if he’s not, he will be,” Cole cried out with the voice of a wounded predator. “You’ll need to get him to a leech if you want him to live, you fetid tripe. It’s a shame to waste such talent, especially in service to someone like you.”

“Were you raised by wolves? Do you have no sense, that you threaten the person holding your life in her hands?” Her voice was soft and deadly. “Gabriel will be seen to.” She shot him again with the lightning gun, making him arch as the electricity wracked him.

A loud groan escaped from him as he shook from the electrocution. When he once again landed on the deck, twitching, he was laughing. “I have nothing to lose, Captain,” he sneered the word. “In the battle, you’ll kill my traitor brother, who wrote the missive you received. Gabriel will expire with three bullets in his gut. And you?” He closed his eyes in glee when a klaxon sounded across the Inky Suki. “You’ve played with me long enough for your engines to reach critical. All that gas in preparation is nasty stuff.”

She slapped a speaking tube open, “Vent it!” She looked back at Cole, “My crew is at least competent. And by my calculation, you have a great deal to lose.” She nodded to the quartermaster, “Fracastoro.”

The airship rose and swung out of hiding, veering off on a new heading. “Your brother gets to live, Gabriel gets to live and my ship is fine. Now, you are the only problem on my plate.”

The responding voice on the speaking tube was mildly panicked. “There’s something wrong with the vent system, Captain. We can’t vent it fast enough. We’re going to have to jettison, and then land.” Straith, the Head Engineer, yelled over the sounds of the klaxon. “And the aetheric tank’s making all hell. We’ve got incoming, and we’ll be a sitting duck if we jettison.”

The look on Cole’s face was absolutely pleased.