Into the Leaden Sky

This is a short piece of fiction which was originally aired on 600 Second Saga on May 13th, 2016.

It is difficult to tell whether the sun was up or not through the soot-laden sky. The air had a stench of burnt rubber mixed with coal-dust. It formed a choking smog that coated the buildings with a grey stain and made the air soupy and hard to breathe.  A far off bell rang, the brassy sound mixed with a whistle indicating break time.


“Daytime then.” I coughed and pulled my heavy coat tighter.  I pushed my way through the crowded narrow streets jostling between workers.  This was a bad time of day to be travelling to the docks through the factory district, with the lunchtime rush making the streets nearly impassable.


Blank masks and automatic guns greeted me at the checkpoint for the Wulfe-Hampton Docks district. I queued in the line, and pulled out my identification. Little puffs of black smoke came from the card reader, before a small green light flashed its approval. The silent guards stepped aside to grant me access before scanning the next in line. I didn’t notice the men with the dark coats who came out of the crowds.


The smell of fish mixed with the burnt rubber to make the air even more ghastly. The crowds thinned here, but the paths were occasionally blocked by pallets of cargo and wagons transporting goods.  Despite the helix-steam-ships and tesla-mobiles, the average worker used a simple wooden cart and their own arms to lug cargo around.


All of the so-called advances didn’t really bring humanity any closer to a techno-revolution like the stories of the golden-ages in the long past. We were trapped in the smelly damp reality of the now.


Lost in my thoughts, I turned down the wrong alley – a dead end. I sighed and turned around only to find the end of the alley blocked by the two men who had been following me. They wore heavy coats, and their eyes were hidden behind brass goggles and black lenses giving them a bug-like appearance.


“You know that we can’t let you continue.” Came the heavily filtered voice, buzzing with the distinct sound of the vocoder to mask their identity. It only added to the bug-like feeling. “Your actions have attracted the wrong attention.”


The pair took several steps towards me. On the street beyond them people hurried past, very careful not to notice the special deputies of the Chancellor. That was my problem – I’d been noticing far too much recently.


I gulped, reaching nervously into my pockets. I didn’t want to play my trump card, until I absolutely had to.  


Stepping backwards, I was halted when my back pressed up to some stacked boxes.


“Just come along quietly, you don’t want to cause a scene.” Buzzed the lead deputy advanced.  The sky started to spit rain, giving a sheen to their coats as they stepped closer, raising their hands.  One of them carried a well-used pair of iron manacles.


As they closed within arm’s reach, I launched forward.  In each hand I held a makeshift device of my own design. Held by grips similar to a pistol, the weapons wrapped around my knuckles with little brass and steel gleaming nubs, like a sword-less basket hilt. I pressed the trigger causing electricity arced from both devices, seeking grounding.  Their bodies provided that conduit.


Their vocoders sparked and popped as their limbs went rigid. The manacles fell to the ground, followed their bodies.


Pocketing my weapons, I stepped over the bodies and ran back out into the docks. The clock was ticking now, and next time they would be more heavily armed.  I navigated through the docks with a greater sense of urgency until I reached my destination.


The warehouse was out on one of the piers. It was three stories tall, with soot-blackened windows high up along the roofline. The slightly peaked roof was tiered giving the impression of a resting armadillo.


I pushed through the door marked ‘Private – No Solicitors’ with a smaller sign scrawled in hand saying ‘This means you – Go Away!’  I doubted it would keep out the Chancellor’s deputies.


Inside most of the space was taken up by a dark boat-like vessel. Its hull rested on large reinforced pylons set into the floor, and a large gangplank lead up the side.  Overhead a large air-envelope barely fit into the rafters of the warehouse.  Sleek and pointed, several nacelles jutted out with spiral-shaped propellers.


As I stepped onto the wooden gang-plank a form moved to block the doorway at the top. Wearing a heavy oil-skin coat and goggles, the figure leveled a broad blunderbuss at me.


“We can’t wait any longer.” I called out, clambering up the plank.


“Were you followed?” The figure spoke, the gun not wavering.


“Yes.” I replied.


The figure cocked back the wrought-iron hammer. “That’s not the answer I wanted to hear. You are supposed to be more discreet.” Even through the helmet, I could hear her feminine tones.


I knew she wouldn’t shoot. We had a history. I stepped forward, reaching for the barrel of the gun. I saw her trigger finger twitch. “I took care of them,” I said, my eyes staring into her goggles, “But more will be coming. We need to go. Now.” This was her opportunity – she could shoot and leave me for the Chancellor, or she could join me.


The impassive goggles stared at me for a moment longer, and then slung the rifle. “Raise the gangplank.” She turned, her heavy coat flaring as she continued barking orders to the rest of the crew who had stopped to watch. “Cast off the lines. Fire the boilers to 120%. MOVE it people.”


The crew jumped into action, and I followed the captain as she moved through the lower decks towards the bow of the ship. Deep within, the throbbing metal heart of the airship started to beat louder, and faster.


The bridge was encapsulated by a wrap-around window, set with panes of glass against the gothic buttressed frame. Through the slightly warped glass I could see the warehouse doors burst open as a mixture of dock workers and constabulary lead by special officers burst in.


They were too late. The warehouse roof was sliding back, and the airship was already lifting off the massive pylons. The propellers angled up and the craft angled up towards the sky.


I watched as they fired at the ship, but the bullets were ineffective against the thick skin of the craft. The belly of the airship protected the more vulnerable envelope. The pane in front of me spider-webbed as a round hit it, but the captain held her mask in her hand and stared up. “They can’t get us now.” she said with a soft voice.
The airship lifted into the leaden sky.


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