Enchanted Spark

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Bright Ladies

Jennifer R. Povey

The Bright Lady was moored outside the town, above the reds of the desert. That was wise on the part of her captain, for the airship was not registered in any port. In fact, the townsmen likely knew their visitors were outlaws or pirates, but they didn't care. It was hard to question the motives and legal status of people who brought good money with them, as these pirates did.

Just as their ancestors who plied the seas, they'd stolen money and treasure. Now they came to spend it - on booze, on women (and sometimes men), and on supplies. Those who dealt with them would come out well, with both money and protection.

The Lady's captain was a swarthy man with a full moustache, known to the rest of the crew simply as Pete. He was not a man who felt the need for some crazy moniker, nor was he a flamboyant individual. Instead, he relied on his skill and his (quite present, but not nearly as considerable as he thought) good looks to succeed in his life of crime. He was neither greatly popular nor vastly unpopular. He treated the crew harshly, but fairly, never denying a man his share nor sparing punishment when it was needed. The sun was setting as he swaggered into town, setting to reveal a night with no moon.

No moon was one reason they were currently moored. None of them liked flying on moonless nights. Even though it was easier to navigate, it was harder to see and to stay focused. Even in the fading light, desert stretched as far as the eye could see. But then, there was little left of this continent but desert. Hence piracy. If Pete was honest with himself, he'd admit it was the only way he could imagine to survive. Perhaps in the old days of oceans he would have been a pirate, perhaps not. Either way, he was a pirate now, and he had a full purse.

It jangled as he strode into the saloon, the doors swinging closed behind him. It was a little cooler inside from a fan struggling against the summer heat. Townsmen filled the tables, and a few townswomen, although this was no place for a lady. The painted wenches who served the drinks were certainly not ladies, unless one immediately followed it with "of the night." Pete had no problem recognizing whores when he saw them, and he smiled inwardly.

He would find a good woman tonight. Or at least a skilled and expensive one. With the money he had he could afford the best in the house. Just another way to make a living, and the best whores he'd known had chosen it with their eyes open and enjoyed it.

He preferred a woman to enjoy it, even if he was paying her. "A drink and a girl," he told the waitress, flicking a grin. "Somebody experienced."

Some men got excited by virgins. Pete found them hard work. The girl giggled. "Sophie's available." She pointed to a sultry brunette.

Good. She wasn't a girl, but she wasn't fading out and turning grey yet either. Pete thought she would definitely do. "Booze first, though." In this place there was no chance of beer, but they had the strong, sweet liquor made from cactus flowers.

Not as good as some he'd had, but as he sipped at it the sultry Sophie approached. She was dressed in a purple gown edged with white feathers, something which spoke to him of the missing moon. It contrasted beautifully with her hair. Whoever the madam was, she was giving her girls good advice. A little overdone, perhaps, but that seemed to be the style here. Pete liked overdone anyway.

He was just reaching out to her when a commotion sounded in the street outside, a commotion that alerted his trained senses on a moonless night, the streets not well lit. He turned from Sophie and moved to the door. Fortunately he'd had only the one drink. His senses were still sharp, even if some parts of him didn't want to pull away from the woman in the feather-edged gown. Then he heard gun shots: three of them in rapid succession. Somebody had a semi-automatic.

Hard to find these days, semi-automatics. "Down and stay down!" Pete yelled at the inhabitants of the saloon, although he was too slow for most of them. Sophie had dived under a table. They knew what to do in a firefight. Good. He positioned himself behind the door pillar, letting the solid wood protect him. The double doors gave him enough of a field of view to see something of what was going on. He knew what to do in a firefight too, and he pulled out his pistol. His single-shot pistol. That was all he had, one shot, and he was going to use it very carefully indeed.

Then somebody knocked over the street lamp or blew it out. He wasn't sure what had happened, except that the street was plunged into darkness. The shooting stopped.

Good. Nobody involved was actually crazy. Nobody was firing into total pitch black night.

Something flickered. A match, lit for a moment, then fading. Pete felt his breathing start to return to normal. The lights in the saloon had gone out too, a moment after those in the street. The barkeep had probably turned them off so they wouldn't be the only visible targets.

He stepped out into the nighttime street. "Okay, gentlemen, I don't know who was shooting at who, but if any Bright Lady crew were involved, they'd better get their butts back to the ship. Now."

He thought he heard running feet. It might have been his crew. It might just have been somebody clearing the area and willing to risk tripping over in the dark. Then it wasn't dark any more.

With a suddenness, a lantern was lit. An electric lantern, expensive and hard to recharge. Somebody had money. Automatic weapons and electric lanterns, and Pete felt something in his stomach tighten. He only had his old gun. It had served him well, but it couldn't match...

...that carried by the woman who held the lantern. He blinked, but the sight remained. A woman in a pink gown, in the dark of the moon. "Don't worry, pirate, you aren't my enemy."

He felt himself relax. Those words and her sex disarmed him, but he shook his head. He knew he needed to focus and to concentrate. Just because she said it didn't mean she wasn't his enemy.

"As long as you aren't shooting at my crew."

"They had the sense to get out of my way." She closed the distance between them. Blonde hair. Remarkably young, but with a certain old look in her eyes. The face of somebody who had been through a war. On a young woman.

Pete shook his head. "Then who is your enemy?"

She wandered past him to the body lying in the street and kicked at it idly. "He was." She kicked harder and turned the body over.

For a moment, Pete didn't recognize the face. Then he did. The notorious bounty hunter who called himself the Red Fox. Taken down by a young woman. Superior weapon or not, she was dangerous. At the same time... "He's no loss," Pete admitted. 
The Fox didn't care who he killed as long as he got to his quarry. He was likely the one who had taken out the lights, not her. It would be his style - he was not a sly fox, no, he was a crazy one. But at the same time, it was hard to trust the woman who had killed him.

"Less than no loss. He needed killing." She'd tucked the gun into her bag, but he could still see part of the handle poking out. Other than that, and the fact that the bag was a little large for the dress, she looked like a respectable woman.

He knew better. No respectable woman could outdraw the Fox. No respectable woman would. Before, women had fought in the army, had carried guns on the streets. The history said that. Before the desert.

Now, women were too valuable for that. This one, though. "What will you do now you've got him?"

Her expression turned lost. "I don't know."

She was a woman, but she clearly had skills. "Come with me." He was sober enough, and he no longer wanted the whore, as gorgeous as she was. He began walking toward his ship.

She fell in next to him, striding casually. They both knew that if she wanted him dead, he'd be dead. Her lantern lit the way. "I'll give you a place on my crew," he said as they walked.

"I'm a woman," she noted, unnecessarily.

"Did you take out the Fox?"

"Yes. But I got lucky. He was drunk."

He laughed at that admission. "Lesson number one. Don't get so drunk you can't shoot straight or think straight. Drink, sure, but never to excess."

She nodded.

"Still, he shot better drunk than most men sober. You may have gotten lucky, but most luck is made. Are you interested?" The crew would think he was crazy, but they trusted him. He knew she'd have to fight off the indecent propositions, but she was surely used to that.

She looked up at the moonless sky. "I don't have any place to go. I can't go back..."

Back to being a respectable woman. Or even a whore. Pete thought of Sophie. Not a bad life, but not one for this woman.

"Then come forward. With me." And he knew he wasn't just interested in her as a potential extra gun for the crew. This was going to be a challenge. For them...and for her.

Jennifer R. Povey is in her late thirties, and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband. She writes a variety of speculative fiction, whilst following current affairs and occasionally indulging in horse riding and role playing games. She has sold fiction to a number of markets including Analog, Digital Science Fiction, and Cosmos. Her first novel, Transpecial, was published by Musa Publishing in April, 2013.

Website: http://www.jenniferrpovey.com/


2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Shari | April 30, 2013 at 02:52 PM EDT

Very nice story, Jennifer.Sounds like one that could continue.

2. Holly | May 02, 2013 at 08:06 PM EDT

I agree with Shari. I like how the story continues after its done. Loved the descriptions and word choice here. \"A fan struggling against the summer heat\" I think was my favorite.

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