Dragon*Con, Decatur Book Festival and Parade Pics

This weekend I almost went to my second-ever Con.  I was all mentally-prepared to go.  I assumed that was my plan for the long weekend.  What a great chance to exercise my writerly-networking skills, right?

And then Dear Wife asked a couple leading questions: not saying I shouldn’t go but asking what I was going to do when I went…  Which got me thinking: what would I do if I went to Dragon*Con this weekend?

The 2011 Dragon*Con Parade

The start of the 2011 Dragon*Con Parade

Dragon*Con seemed like a no-brainer.  It is a major convention in a reasonable proximity to where I actually live.  Lots of major editors, authors, agents, and pop-culture F&SF heroes would be there.  What’s not to love?  Except the sticker shock.  (A weekend pass costs how much? I sputtered.  And a day pass isn’t exactly cheap, either.  I know major theme parks that cost a lot less for a few day’s fun.)  But what really got me thinking was my lack of a real plan.  Sure some authors and other luminaries would be there.  But did I know who those were?  How would meeting them, if I knew who they were, benefit my writing career?  What was the point of meeting them?

In fact, I had answers to none of these questions.  So what if I met an editor or agent at the con?  That’s assuming I even knew of any specific editors or agents at the con and where I could find them to meet them.  I don’t have a book finished, so I can’t sell them anything.  I don’t have any major short story publications, so I can’t point to anything I’ve done.  I’ve got nothing by which they will even be able to remember they met me.  At this stage in my development as a writer, I realized, it was an exercise in futility.

There was the possibility that I could attend the writer’s panel track and learn something about the craft of writing – except I’m slowly finding that after a decade of absorbing generic writing advice there isn’t much that’s news to me.  I’ve mostly heard all these things before.  I still appreciate getting those lessons refreshed, periodically, but I can do that for a lot less than the ticket-price at a major convention.  On balance, I realized, Dragon*Con was turning into a somewhat over-priced F&SF-flavored theme-park ride.  Under my immediate circumstances, it just wasn’t an expense I could presently afford or rationalize. Continue reading

Regarding “Taking the Rats to Riga”

So, I find I’m getting a lot of hits today from folks directed here after author Jay Lake picked up my post from yesterday – in which I reviewed The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities – in his daily Link Salad.

Which is making me feel a tad guilty, because my mention of Jay Lake’s story is one not-very-enlightening line, with respect to his specific contribution to that anthology.  I reason that a good number of those who are coming over from Jay’s link are interested in my take on his story, in particular.  So I thought it might be useful for me to say just a few more words on Jay’s story, specifically, since he was kind enough to link me.

In my review of the Cabinet, I called “Taking the Rats to Riga” a “more peculiar specimen” and, more specifically, an “artificial [exegesis] of an imaginary [work]”.  Which is only partially true, since an artistic rendition of the supposed famous painting Jay  was commenting on accompanied his story.

Overall, Jay’s story plays beautifully into the conceit and conception of the book as a whole.  It takes the mythology of Lambshead book at face value, and does an able job exploring the quixotic compulsion of the imaginary doctor to collect quixotic objects of some imperceptible import.  In that way, I feel that Jay’s contribution was a seamless part of the fabric of the book, and goes a long way toward making the book, as a whole, into something more than an anthology of stories and into a work of art.

Although Jay’s story doesn’t do much with character or plot or the traditional trappings of story and narrative, it does something a little more subtle.  I’ve talked on this blog before about my enthusiasm for “Mythopoeia” (the link goes to the first in a series of three articles I wrote on the subject).  I think an understanding of what I mean by “mythopoeia” (as opposed to what might more commonly be meant by the word) is relevant to a discussion of the Cabinet of Curiosities, because I see the Cabinet as a form or type of mythopoeia – or, more specifically, as an artifact of mythopoeia.  It weaves a world and addresses that world not through the lens of a single narrative, but through a broader and more varied historiographic and mythographic sequence.

In the Cabinet of Curiosities, for instance, we don’t see a single overarching story about the good doctor’s mythic exploits and accomplishments and adventures.  Instead, his world is hinted at subtly through the varied stories and perspectives collected in this book.  Some address the doctor’s story directly, some indirectly, and some apparently not-at-all.  And what we’re getting isn’t really just the story of Dr. Lambshead but the story of an alternate history world in which Dr. Lambshead was a luminary figure.

In that respect, what’s delightful about “Taking the Rats to Riga” is that it is a fine specimen of mythopoeic artifact (or perhaps sub-artifact?).  Within the context of the Cabinet of Curiosities, it is one of those that somewhat indirectly hints at the history and character of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead, but it’s a glimpse that feels authentic and textured.

So, if you came here hoping to read more about Jay’s story, hopefully this satisfies your curiosity a little more fully.  And thank you for reading!

Not Your Father’s Steampunk: Reviewing “The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities”

I didn’t set out to become an expert in Steampunk – and in that regard I suppose I’m not in any real danger of becoming one – nor did I have an specific desire to write Steampunk, per se.  It was just another reflection in the funhouse mirror that is the greater Speculative Fiction genre umbrella: a little bit sci-fi, an little bit fantasy, and a little bit something different.  I liked it, the same way I liked Fantasy and Sci-fi.  Heck… I liked it before I knew what to call it.  (The word “steampunk” dates back to the late 80s, but the genre didn’t seem to enter the popular consciousness until the late 90s and 2000s.  When I first discovered steampunk I had no word for it, and thought of it as “retro-futurism” and except for the fact that there’s now a significant fantasy cross-over segment of steampunk, I still think of it that way.)  But my first love was the classic Epic and High Fantasy.

But then I started this blog.  In the years before I started blogging Steampunk as a community – one part cosplay and one part literary movement – started gaining… um… steam.  So by this time I was aware both of the genre and its attendant aesthetic and of the now-accepted term itself.

The first time I mentioned Steampunk on this blog was in response to a Flash Fiction challenge that I completed as a Friday Flash.  This particular challenge asked us to use the word “zeppelin” somewhere in the story.  So, naturally, steampunk.  And this was the result.  After that, I discussed Steampunk once or twice with other bloggers in comments on their posts, throwing in my own two cents on the ins and outs of the genre.  Somehow, as a result of all that, I ended up writing one of my most popular posts on this blog: “A Steampunk Society“, which still gets hits today from people who apparently want to understand what values and mores would be present in a steampunk-inspired, pseudo-early industrial society.  I guess there was a small hole in the internet concerning that particular sub-topic of the genre, because writing that piece made me into something of a second- or third-string “expert” on the Steampunk genre.  And I’ve enjoyed digging deeper into the genre.  I’ve promised myself someday to return to that article and rewrite it with a more scholarly and exegetical focus.  I believe the popularity of that post lead indirectly to my first professional publication, here.  And those two things together likely combined to lead to this post.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

The Curious Cover of The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

All of this was a long way of saying I was somehow identified as a member of the Steampunk literary fan community – possibly even someone of some influence, although I might have a hard time believing that – and that as someone of this type I might be interested in reviewing Ann and Jeff VanderMeer‘s latest steampunk-themed anthology, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

Well… indeed I was interested in reviewing it – so when I was contacted to ask if I was, I responded in the affirmative.  A few days later, a shiny new review copy of the Cabinet arrived on my doorstop.  So now, allow me to introduce you, if you have not already made the acquaintance, to The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

What is the Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities?

A fine question, my dear friend.

The Cabinet of Curiosities is, quite naturally, a curious specimen.  It’s an anthology, sure – but it’s unlike pretty much any anthology you’re likely to have picked up.  A typical short story anthology has a theme and a bunch of stories from different authors that fit that theme.  But that’s not exactly what you’ll find in the Cabinet of Curiosities. Continue reading

Steampunk Musketeers

So… Steampunk Three Musketeers?

I’m sold.

The Depths of Genre, the Heights of Audience Expectation

I regularly read the Magical Words blog, whree a group of speculative fiction authors joined together to offer writing advice and stories from the word-mines.  Over time, I’ve become ever-so-slightly more active a commenter on the posts, sharing my own thoughts and experience.

One recent post got me thinking about Genre.  In it, fantasy author Misty Massey begins a series of genre-definition posts similar to what you’d find on fellow writer-blogger T.S. Bazelli’s blog.  The post and ensuing discussion made me think about genre a lot (so much so that I was accused of overthinking the matter; I deny the charge as I don’t generally think it’s possible to overthink anything, and more likely to underthink something; I’m guilty of the latter as often as anybody else, but I’d rather be guilty of the former, which I think is no sin).  So, this is going to be a long post.  I’d split it up, but I think I’d lose something salient to my point in doing so.  My intention is to inspire deeper thinking on this topic – maybe even overthinking.  So put your thinking caps on.

Misty sets off on this whirlwind tour of the many genres and subgenres and subsubgenres of Speculative Fiction by discussing high and epic fantasy.  But before launching into discussion of individual genres, she says this:

When you’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to send it out into the world, one of the most important things to know about it is what genre it belongs to. Once upon a time, if a book had magic in it, it was fantasy. Period. Tolkien was fantasy, Tim Powers was fantasy, Glen Cook was fantasy. That’s no longer true. Genres have split and split and split again, becoming more and more specialized as the audiences demanded. Where once agents said they read fantasy, now they say they only want comic paranormal romance, dark epic or dieselpunk. Which puts the writer into a quandary – how do you know what you’re writing? Continue reading

Drumroll Please…

Today, everything changes.  Well, not everything

But I cross a threshold today.  Today I am not merely a writer.  I am not merely an aspiring author.  Today I am an author – an honest-to-goodness published author.

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

My piece, titled “Now Hiring in the Airship Lounge: Fantasy Archetypes Get Steampunked” appears today in Fantasy Magazine

I can’t even tell you how excited I am to share this news.  Obviously, I’ve been sitting on it for a while (for a lot longer than a week), but I didn’t want to say anything until I had something to show for it.  But now it’s here, and I’m letting the cat out of the bag at last.

My article, as you can guess by the title, isn’t a story: it’s nonfiction.  But as is also probably clear, it’s nonfiction of a sort that’s right up my alley, as a writer of fantasy and speculative fiction.  It’s a great little piece on the relationship between character archetypes in Fantasy and Steampunk fiction.  If either genre is of interest to you, you should check it out!

Fantasy Magazine is an online magazine dedicated to fantasy fiction, in the broadest sense.  They publish stories of a variety of different fantastic types, making them available online  for free periodically throughout the month and in an ebook format available for purchase at the beginning of the month.  And, obviously, they publish fantasy-related nonfiction as well.  Of which my article is one.

And thus beginneth my reign of terror.  Today, a short article on the subject of Steampunk archetypes on Fantasy-Magazine.com… tomorrow, the world!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! [Insert evil steepling of fingers and evil petting of my evil dog Shasta here.] You poor fools. There’s nothing to stop me now!

Ahem.

So, I hope you go and check out Fantasy Magazine – and particularly my article and the story it is paired with (Genevieve Valentine’s “Study, for Solo Piano”).

A Note on Novel Nomenclature

So, I’ve written in the past about “the novel that I’ve been working on since forever” (and also often used the term “blather” when referring to it) and I’ve mentioned the new novel that I intend to start writing (just as soon as I have time to write).

I’ve come to find these long descriptive phrases to be unwieldy.  And, from the perspective of you, the reader, they’re not entirely useful or meaningful.  Because those long, unwieldy descriptions don’t tell you anything about the book itself but instead tell you about my temporal relationship with the book.

This ends now.  Inasmuch as I may continue to refer to either or both of these books – or even inasmuch as I might refer to any of my writing projects – I intend to start referring to those works and projects either by their titles (in the fullness of time) or by code-titles (in the beginning).  Eventually, therefore, I may be able to add word count meters and write in blog posts about my various projects and what I’m doing in them, and it will be easier to you, the reader, to understand what I mean rather than having to parse some long-and-not-altogether-useful-phrase like “that novel that I’ve been working on since forever”.

So, let’s get started. Continue reading

Defending Steampunk

So, my post from a few months back on the themes of the Steampunk genre has been getting a fair number of hits in the past week, thanks mainly to my comment on the blog of author Charlie Stross.

In his post, Stross attempts to eviscerate the Steampunk genre, but comes off sounding more like an angry curmudgeon who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about… (Authors Jeff VanderMeer and Tobias Buckell respond to Stross’ post here and here, and Steampunk novel writer Scott Westerfeld’s reply here.) But he does make some good points, and they coincide largely with points that I made in my “Steampunk Society” article: that point being that the reality of the era from which Steampunk takes its inspiration is anything but ideal or utopic.  But, whereas he finds in this fact a condemnation of the Steampunk genre, I find it a matter of praise: that Steampunk as a genre embraces an era of gritty dystopianism and finds in it cause for optimism.  In my article, I felt I made clear that I see a lot of potential in a full exploration of the themes of social and class upheaval that are part of the bundle that comes with Steampunk.

Charlie’s problem, apparently, is that a lot of Steampunk eschews this conflict-rich thematic approach for an “oh, aren’t gears and cogs and springs and brass just so sexy” (which, yes, they are… but that’s not the whole point) approach that tends to linger over-long on the gentlemanly adventures of the upper class without ever straying into the real and hard challenges of the lower classes.  It’s steampunk with polished brass, where the brass never needs polishing because it never gets dirty.  Admittedly, I have never read this kind of steampunk, what I have mentally taken to calling “Steampunk-light”, and I don’t intend to start.

The result of Stross’ post was to lead me to reread my Steampunk entry… and to lead me to muse further on the topic.

I still believe that my fundamental thesis is sound and correct.  But, I think I can do a better job of defending that thesis.  I think I can improve upon that article.  I think I will improve upon that article.  But it won’t be today.

The new, better article would be better-sourced, with more links, more references to existing works in the genre, both historical and modern, and a more thorough analysis thereof.  I won’t say that it would be the definitive article on the topic… but it’ll be a sight better than what I wrote previously, which I thought was pretty good at the time.  Would there be any interest in this?

A Steampunk Society

So, writer Juanita McConnachie (alias Writer’s Block NZ) sent me an interesting question last week:

I was wondering if I could pick your brains on steampunk… Do you know if a ‘steampunk’ society would have any particular values?

Frankly, I was intrigued by the question.  I’m not really sure I’ve seen something like this addressed anywhere before.  On the contrary, I’ve seen some work out there that has refuted the idea that steampunk can inherrently be tied to any specific values or themes at all.  But, I thought a full and fair answer to that question requires a little bit of thinking about the history and development of the steampunk genre, and an identification of what it is.

First of all, Steampunk has been described by people smarter than I in the subject not as a genre but as an “aesthetic” (see: “Steampunk Scholar“).  I’ve even seen the steampunk aesthetic described as “goth discovers brown“.  The idea behind defining it thus is that you can skin the steampunk look on something from virtually any other genre – fantasy or sci fi and beyond – and describe the result as “steampunk”.  This is a half-truth, though, because you can skin the components of advanced technology and space exploration over anything and call it sci-fi or of magic and pointy-eared humans over anything and call it fantasy.  But the thrust of this argument is that a proper “genre” of fiction touches on certain consistent and discernable thematic elements. Continue reading

Some Steampunk Fiction

Fellow writer-in-training T.S. Bazelli, over on her blog, has started up an occassional fiction writing prompt meant to excercise certain fundamental writing skills that’s called “Author Aerobics”.  I’ve decided to participate when I can, so in accordance with that, here’s the first dose of genuine fiction written by your’s truly.

The assignment was this:

In 1000 words or less, write a piece of fiction that includes all the elements of the 3 act structure, including at least one crisis in the rising action. To make things more interesting use the word “zeppelin” somewhere in the story…

…There’s only one rule: set a time limit.

Throwing the word “zeppelin” up there to get the creative juices rolling got me this little story.  The only problem is that I totally blew the word-count limit (it clocks in at almost exactly 2,000 words), and it took me a bit more than just one lunch break sitting to type it up – more time than I’d set for myself.

It’s a highly flawed piece – the characterization is weak, the ending is not particularly satisfying, and it’s not especially original.  As such, I have no immediate plans to spruce it up into something more publishable.  But, so that you can get a taste of my writing (albeit not at my peak), here is your first sample of my work, a little steampunk tale I call:

The Last Flight of the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance

By: Stephen Watkins

Leda watched as Captain Davney Ellory took the telescope from Saxwith and peered through it out the central window of the bridge.  Leda was done fixing the Engine Order Telegraph, but she was still tinkering with the controls, to give her a reason to stay on the bridge.  She liked being on the bridge; this was where the real action was!  Captain Ellory harrumphed, and lowered the telescope.  Leda followed his gaze to the horizon, where three black dots chugged on a course toward the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance.  The Lord Winstead’s Vigilance was a dirigible, an aging battlecruiser stationed out on the frontiers of the United Principalities of Alberot, patrolling the demilitarized zone.  It was a rust bucket, yeah, but Leda was proud to serve on it.  It was her rust bucket.

“An armored cruiser,” the captain confirmed, “And two destroyers.  Markovian marks.  They’re no more than a dozen aeronauts from the demilitarized zone.  They’re flirting with breaking the armistice.”

“They’re no match for the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance, sir.” Saxwith pulled herself up haughtily.

“Individually, no, Leftenant Saxwith.  Together, they’d easily overpower us.  Put the ship on alert.” 

Saxwith nodded and  starting barking into the voicetubes, sounding general quarters.

“Captain,” Leftenant Arbery warned, “They’re signaling.”  The Markovian ships were closer, now.  Leda could just make out their profile.  And she could see the flashes of light, blinking in a pattern unknown to her, coming from the lead vessel.

“Take it down, Leftenant Arbery.”

Arbery confirmed the order, and pulled out a sheet of paper and began taking down the complex pattern.  As it began to repeat, he went back and translated, then gasped.

“Captain, they’re demanding our surrender!”

Ellory swore, and swiped up the telescope again.  “Damn, they’ve crossed into the demilitarized zone.”  He glanced back at Saxwith.  “Hold course steady, but ready the guns.”  Saxwith nodded, and grabbed the handle of the Engine Order Telegraph.  At that moment, a whistle sounded from the voice tubes, then a garbled voice.  “Crumwell to bridge.  Trouble in the engine room.  We’ve blown a gasket on the main boiler.  Send Tensbit to engineering, on the double.”

Saxwith glanced at Leda to ensure she’d heard the command, and Leda nodded before turning to the portside.  Leda raced down the ladder into the engineering hold, in the bowels of the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance.  As soon as she passed the bulkhead door, she was confronted with a wall of steam, smoke, ash and soot clogging the engine room.  She waded into the thick miasma, coughing and trying to clear her path by waving her arm.  She could see the bright orange glow from the furnace, and there were Haddock and Whir, the stokers, still shoveling coal.

“What in the name of burning Tarshish do you think you’re doing?”  Leda was Engineer’s Assistant, so she could pull rank on the stokers.

“What’s it bloody look like we’re doing?” barked Haddock.  “We shovel coal, that’s our job!”

“Shoveling coal when the main boiler’s blown a gasket?  You want this rig to explode?”

Haddock blinked.  Leda growled, then jerked her hand in a get-thee-behind-me gesture.  “Come on, let’s find Rubet and get this turbine rolling again.”  Leda swam deeper into the Engine room, and found the main shut-off valve on the central boiler.  She could feel the heat from the furnace through her leather work gloves as she grabbed the valve.  It was stuck, but she threw her shoulder into it, and Whir came up to help.  In a moment, they’d thrown the valve, and the steam began to clear.  As it cleared, she could see Rubet Crumwell’s legs sticking out of a hole in the side of the central turbine, wiggling.  He pushed himself up and out of the hole and settled his heavy frame on the deck, tapping the side of his head with a massive wrench.

“About got this problem figured out, no thanks to you, Tensbit.”  He looked back toward the gaping hole, then stuffed his wrench back in.  “You’re late by the way.  You were due back a half hour ago.”

Leda suppressed a blush, but offered no explanation.   “See here,” Crumwell ordered, “Tighten down that clamp on the boiler.  We’ve got to get this turbine spinning, else we’re dead in the air.”

As Leda headed over back to the boiler, the Engine Order Telegraph sounded with three loud rings.  The reader read “All Ahead Full”.

“See now!” Crumwell barked, “Hurry with the gasket on that boiler.  Cap’n wants power!”  Haddock and Whir hopped to help Leda pull out the broken piece of piping and replace the damaged gasket.  Before she got it sealed, the E.O.T. rang again, reading “Back Emergency”.

“Cap’n’s ordering evasive maneuvers!” Crumwell shouted.  “What’s going on up there?”

“Three Markovy ships bearing down on us!” Leda shouted back as she finished tightening the clamps.  She pointed and Haddock and Whir threw open the main valve as Crumwell set the turbine in reverse.    The zeppelin lurched as the turbine roared to life. “Looks bad!  Cap’n says we’re outgunned!” 

To punctuate her remarks, the armored zeppelin began to shake as artillery shells started exploding all around.  Then there was the deafening thump, thump of return fire.  Crumwell swore as the artillery barrage continued.  With each detonation, the engine room rattled.  Loose tools and materials started clanging to the floor, and Leda’s newly replaced gasket groaned.  “We can’t take much of this!” Crumwell yelled, “She’s falling apart!”  The look in his eyes said much more. He’d served on the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance since her maiden voyage.  For all Leda was proud to serve on her, this rig really was Crumwell’s.  But he’d not had the engineering staff he’d needed to maintain the venerable old ship since the armistice.  It was killing him to watch the Lord Winstead suffering so.

Leda ducked in time to dodge the blown rivets as her gasket job shook loose after a near-impact. The engine room began filling with steam again.

Then, as quickly as the barrage began, everything fell silent, except for the straining of the turbine and the whistling of the steam.  Then a voice sounded from outside the hull, in thickly accented Albish, ordering the vessel to prepare for boarding.  A moment later, the Lord Winstead shuddered as the boarding gangplank made contact.

“Hurry,” Crumwell waved Leda, Haddock, and Whir toward the back of the engine room.  “Into the air ducts.  They try to take the Engine, I’ll hold them off, here!”  Leda nodded as she climbed onto the back of an equipment bin and lead Haddock and Whir into the ducts.  As he lowered the vent cover, Leda watched for a moment as Rubet Crumwell dashed back to the furnace and started stoking the coal hot and high.  Leda turned on all fours and lead the way down the duct pipes.

“Where we going?” asked Whir.

“To the armory.”  Said Leda.  “We won’t let them have this ship without a fight!”  There were soldiers on board, of course, but Leda’d be damned if she let them be the only thing standing between the Markovian shock troops and mastery of the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance.

The ducts were like a maze, but Leda’d done enough work on them to know her way.  She’d inspected nearly every inch of them in her time on the Lord Winstead.  Within minutes she’d lead Haddock and Whir to the armory, where she opened the vent and took a glance around.    As she’d hoped, the coast was clear.  The Lord Winsead’s armory was in an unconventional place for an Alberot battlecruiser, she had been drawn up on an experimental design that never caught on during the Albo-Markovy war, so Leda reasoned it would take the Markovian troops a while to find and secure it. She dropped lithely into the armory, followed by the loud klumps of Haddock and Whir.

Leda quickly secured a couple Prowith rifles and armed the stokers, then rummaged around a bit for the proper size shot.  She found a small pistol and tucked in her tool belt.  She grabbed another Prowith for herself, then shouldered up to the armory bulkhead door.  She threw the latch slowly, and peered out into the hall.  She signaled quiet to Haddock and Whir as she caught site of a dozen Markovian troops marching Captain Ellory, his Leftenants, and a few disarmed ship’s guard away from the quarterdeck.  She cocked the rifle, then stepped carefully out into the hall, behind the Markovian soldiers.  She didn’t wait to see if the stokers followed her.  She’d only handled a rifle a few times in her career.  But all hands on an Alberot aeronautical vessel are required to take training in marksmanship, and Leda found the memory of what to do rushing back to her.  She took aim and fired into the backs of the Markovy men.  Honor be damned!  They’d broken the armistice and boarded her ship!

The corridor quickly filled with smoke as Leda and the stokers fired off another round and the surviving Markovians  turned and opened fire.  Leda dropped to the deck floor, pulling out her pistol as the captured Alberot men turned on the Markovian and wrestled their rifles away.

The firefight was over as quickly as it began.  Leda pushed herself up from the deck, then saluted sharply as Ellory broke away from his officers to inspect her and the stokers.

“Fine work, Tensbit.” He complimented her.

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’m afraid, though, that the Markovians have us at a disadvantage.  We’re heavily damaged, and escape will be difficult, perhaps impossible.”  The look on his face was grave.

“Of course sir.”

Then Ellory grinned fiercely.  “But we’re Alberot people, in His Majesty’s service.  Never let a little thing like certain failure get in the way of our service!  Let’s see if we can regain control of my ship!”

“Yes sir!” Leda smiled as she saluted again then fell in alongside Ellory’s officers.  Ellory lead the way back down the corridor, while Arbery and Saxwith stopped off to gather more rifles at the armory.

The deck groaned as Ellory and Leda marched toward the crew quarters, then a loud crack shook the whole ship.  An explosive boom reverberated against the bulkheads, and the armloads of rifles Arbery and Saxwith had collected clattered to the deck floor.  Another explosion sounded, followed by another crack.  Leda lost her balance and fell as Ellory, Haddock, and Whir collided against the bulkheads.

“No!” shouted Leda.  “By Tarshish!  Rubet’s overstoked the furnace!  He’s going to blow up the whole ship!”

“Damn!” snarled Ellory.  A klaxon warning sounded, and a frank Markovian voice began yelling orders.  Though Leda didn’t speak Markovian, she knew enough to recognize a general order to abandon ship.

Ellory turned about and led the group down a side-hall.  “Looks like the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance is going down.  We’ll make for the escape skiffs.”

They passed another patrol of Markovian troops, but they hurried on without a second glance.  Smaller explosions continued to wrack the body of the dying zeppelin.  Ellory held the hatch as Leda, Saxwith, Arbery, Haddock, Whir, and the guards trundled into the small escape skiff.  Ellory was last to enter the skiff before pulling the hatch closed.  Leda climbed to the aft to start loosing the rigging tying the skiff to the Lord Winstead, while Arbery started loosing the rigging on the bow.  Ellory ordered the aerosail deployed, and in moments the skiff was away from shuddering dirigible.  Leda glanced out the starboard porthole.  The Lord Winstead’s Vigilance was engulfed in flames, and the Markovian ships were now moving to put daylight between them and the burning ship.  Nobody moved to give chase to the escaping skiff.

“That’s that,” sighed Ellory, “So much for the Versadian Accord.  So much for the armistice.”  He turned to the remnants of his crew.  “We’ll land the skiff comfortably in Alberot territory, where we’ll be picked up by His Majesty’s Army.  I want to thank you each for your faithful service on the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance.”

The end.