A bunch of kids fly around doing pirate things and then everything goes wrong.
The wail of a siren pierced the night, biting deeper than the chill of the mountain air. Gin stepped from the grocery, pausing to wrap a scarf tightly around her head, leaving only her green eyes exposed, before hurrying on.
Overhead several search lights illuminated swaths through the sky and the rat-tat of gunfire echoed off the buildings. It was not a good time to be outside. Gin’s sack swung loosely from her shoulder as she walked, her recent purchases occasionally striking against her hip in protest of her unnaturally quick gait. Why did Aunt Pamora have to live on the far edge of town?
As though to affirm every pessimistic thought floating in her head, something in the sky exploded. The flaming metal hull of a guppy crashed moments later into the road behind her, bouncing and skidding until it lodged itself halfway into the grocery building where she had been standing to adjust her scarf not a minute before.
Gin watched in horror as the flames spread from the fallen aircraft to the store. She took half a step towards returning to help before her eyes fell on the empty cockpit and the skull markings on the back of the chair. The pilot must have ejected and that meant a conscious, but angry sky pirate would be nearby, likely searching even now for a young hostage to help him escape.
Knowing that she was probably scaring herself unnecessarily, Gin gave her surroundings a nervous glance. The main road led unerringly straight towards the refinery and was well lit by street posts and store fronts. All the alleys would take her straight into the more curving and darker residential areas. Both seemed deserted and either could take her home.
Gin fidgeted with her sack, trying to secure it to her in case she needed to run. Another explosion shook the night and one of the search lights winked out causing her to glance up. A man, tall and with broad shoulders was running towards her. No, Gin corrected, probably running towards the fire. Still, she wasn’t taking any chances and quickly ducked down the side street for the housing district.
A fence cut the alley in half, but Gin scrambled up onto the barrels stacked against it, placed her hands on the top of the fence and vaulted over, landing in a crouch. The sudden sharp pain that ran up the back of her heel told her the landing hadn’t been entirely smooth. Gin breathed a low oath, rubbing tenderly at her ankle. Aunt Pamora would give her no end of grief for this stunt. What had she been thinking trying to jump the fence like that? That guy probably wasn’t even chasing her.
Rising unsteadily to her feet, Gin peered through the fence to confirm that she wasn’t being pursued. She was. The man was closer now. Close enough that even in the dark she could see he was wearing the uniform of a fleet officer. Gin almost laughed at her own foolishness. This was no pirate, but a man of the empire. He would probably insist on escorting her home.
“Stay where you are, pirate,” the man said, spitting the final word with contempt. “Resist further at your own peril.” He waved a pistol in warning.
Gin raised her hands to show she had no weapons on her. “I am a citizen, not a pirate,” she explained. “I only ran because I thought you were one.”
The man stopped on the other side of the fence. “You hide your face from me, but those eyes, such a piercing green. A rather unusual color wouldn’t you say?” Gin wasn’t sure what to say, but the man did not give her time to think. “I could have sworn they were the same green eyes I shot from the sky. No matter, if you are innocent then you will have no objections to coming along and answering a few questions.”
Gin took a step back and winced as her weight came down on her injured foot. A few questions meant an interrogation at best, a trial at worst and pirate trials were more like witch hunts than legitimate attempts to ascertain her innocence. If she wasn’t a pirate, then maybe she was a pirate sympathizer. Who else did she know that flew on the wrong side of the sky? The town would know it was lunacy, but the empire wouldn’t care about that.
“If you run then I will know you are guilty,” the man said, putting his pistol in a hostler strapped across his chest.
Gin waited until the officer’s hands were occupied with climbing the fence and then ran down the alley, half expecting a pistol shot to end her escape at any moment. She clenched her teeth at every step on her injured foot, but Gin no longer needed to look back to know she was being pursued. Turning out of the alley, Gin hobbled down the street, taking random roads in hopes of losing the man in the maze of houses.
He had been right about one thing: if she were caught now, she would most assuredly be found guilty.
After three minutes of stumbling randomly through the street Gin knew she couldn’t keep the chase going, yet the echoing boots of the officer told her she could not stop. Tripping into a lamp post, she leaned heavily against it, her breath in unsteady pursuit of her heart as she cast her eyes about for any sort of a lifeline. The gas light revealed a surprisingly familiar sight. The school house stood gated across the street. Having run thus far without a plan, Gin nearly laughed at how well her unintended path now laid out so clearly a solid option of escape.
Like all other eligible males, the Morfest Boys had been whisked away by the military three years ago, but before that they had been like a pebble she couldn’t dislodge from her shoe. It wasn’t that they bullied her. Nor had they ever tried, to the best of her knowledge, to bother her intentionally. They just had annoying and persistent as ongoing personality traits.
Everyone avoided the three boys and Gin had made the mistake of trying to be nice to them without first seeking the reason. She quickly found out why. Elmer smelled funny, like an unwashed sock. Darwin talked too much and never about anything interesting. And Arthur caused small disasters everywhere he went. Worse, once they had identified her as a friend she couldn’t get rid of them. They met her on the walk to school. The followed her on the way home. They invited her over every day.
Gin had pleaded with her brother to help pick them from her hair, but he had only laughed. She soon took matters into her own hands. The lengths she took to avoid them quickly backfired, but not before she had discovered a well hidden path between her house and the school.
Confidence bolstered, Gin began retracing her steps. It had been a while since she last used her secret trail, but all she’d have to do is look for the hedge row along the old Winoline Mansion and slip through. Her clean escape would be that easy. She turned the corner almost skipping and collided with the very officer she had been trying to avoid.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. How could she have been so careless?
Before she could run he grabbed her wrist and pull as she might, his rough hands only tightened. Amid the shadows on his face she saw a frown.
“Resisting me further will not help your case.”
Gin swung a kick at his shin hoping to even the odds, but he twisted her around and grabbed her other arm. She felt cold metal against her wrists and heard the click of the cuffs. Her shoulders sagged.
“I am not your pirate,” she said, turning her head to give him her best furious glare. “You’ve got the wrong person.”
“So you say,” the officer said. He gave the edge of her scarf a tug, loosening until it puddled around her neck. If he was surprised by her gender he did not let it show. “But really, what do you think a ‘real pirate’ would say to me?”
A shot sounded, striking the ground at their feet. In the light of a small explosion in the sky, Gin saw him: a figure illuminated on the top of a roof, dressed in a flight suit, a white, skull print scarf flapping madly about his neck in the wind. He laughed and called down to them.
“Probably something like: The next one won’t miss. Or. You’ll be letting the girl go now.”
Even through the glass lens of his goggles, his eyes were a striking green.
“Who are you?” the officer demanded, squinting through the night as the darkness reclaimed them.
“Me? I’m the pirate who’s pointing a gun at you. One might have thought that would be enough for anyone. The same pirate in fact, who knocked your plane out of the sky. I am insulted you don’t remember me.”
“What I remember,” the officer cut in sharply, “Is a pirate who crashed into me after I shot off his propellers.
“An inconvenience I’ll admit, but my tactical landing was flawless.”
“And,” said Gin, “your plane crashed into the grocery. I could have been killed.”
There was a moment of silence in which Gin wondered if they had forgotten she was there. Then the pirate’s cheerful voice broke in, “And how is the old girl?”
“If you mean the Guppy,” Gin snapped, growing increasingly annoyed at her rescuer’s flippancy, “It was a burning pile of scrap metal. You won’t be escaping in it any time soon.”
“He won’t be escaping at all,” said the officer with enough certainty that Gin decided he believed it. “Now come down from there and submit to the law.”
“You are in no position to be making demands,” the pirate said, the shadow of his gun refocusing on them. “It should be clear to you by now that the girl is no pirate. Let her go.”
“No.” The officer stepped between Gin and the pirate, blocking her view. She could hardly believe it. Was he really trying to protect her? “I, Pepper Von Bonneville, Fleet Officer of the Empire’s Fourth Battalion, cannot in good conscience release a civilian into the custody of a pirate, even under the threat of force. You will have to shoot me if you wish to kidnap this young lady.”
Gin felt a wave of relief mixed with horror. She wasn’t going to be arrested, but had gone full circle back to the possibility of being kidnapped by pirates. If Pepper Von Bonneville died as part of that, it would only make it that much worse.
She nudged the officer with her elbow and whispered, “You really shouldn’t be giving him any ideas. Your blood on the streets won‘t help to mount a rescue later.”
The pirate chuckled. “Relax. I am not asking for a hostage, merely trying to stop an injustice. It is not right that she should get credit for my aerial feats. Remove her cuffs and send the girl on her way. I think we can both agree that our, ah- disagreements- can be better settled without her getting caught up in them.”
“Perhaps I misjudged you, pirate.” the officer said, “But it changes nothing. This civilian ran from me and the law is clear. I must bring her in to face the consequences of her disobedience to authority.”
“You would have me shoot you, rather than release a girl you are holding for, what is that, a misdemeanor?”
“The law is only the law if no allowances are made.”
Unbelievable. Gin felt guilty for it, but found herself hoping the pirate would just shoot and be done with it. It would certainly be in her best interest. Somehow, though, she didn’t think the pirate would. No, if he wanted to shoot the officer, then he would have done so from the start. Perhaps the officer suspected this too, but it was a dangerous game if so.
“Well then,” said the pirate, “I guess we’ll just have to go with plan B.”
So saying he lobbed an egg-shaped object from his vantage point. It spun a few times in the air then hit the ground and rolled until the officer stopped it with his foot and looked down. It was a grenade.