Tim Pratt commented ’round these parts this week, which reminded me that I hadn’t posted any of his stories for a Saturday selection. He’s a writer, under various names, of short stories (obviously) and novels, including the recent exploration of gender in Victorian England, The Constantine Affliction. He’s is also an editor, both of anthologies and of Locus Magazine. He also tweets prolifically. In short, he apparently writes all the things.
Back in the unregulated days, when the Gracious Trading Company mined in full force, whole small countries were turned into deserts by the strip-mining of the clouds overhead. These days there were only a few outlaw cloud miners, since existing cloudboats were damned hard to acquire and new ones nearly impossible to fuel—there were only a few places where mountains touched the sky, allowing cloudstuff to be gathered from solid ground. The small number of outlaw miners weren’t enough to do much harm in the aggregate, but in the specific . . . Well. It was dry days ahead for the good people of Crater Rim.
I first knew something was amiss when the shouting started, though I just thought someone had just fallen. Then there was a sudden lurch as the mooring lines were cut free. I grabbed a handhold and kept my grip, but Salmon, fast asleep, rolled right off the gasbag, and I heard him curse and bounce on the side. I made my way along the curve of the gasbag so I could get a look around.
There was another cloudboat coming toward us from the west, its gasbags black, its deck polished and gleaming, utterly unlike the patched and ragged mien of the Corpulent Whale. Captain Ham was shouting about pirates, which wasn’t strictly accurate. There aren’t enough cloudboats plying the skies to support full-fledged pirates, but occasionally two outlaw ships will happen upon the same seam of silver, in which case the better-armed bunch generally gets all the spoils. And the losing boat gets its gasbags popped for a swift midair scuttle, if they’re lucky. Crueler foes will just poke slow leaks so the cloudboat drifts to the ground gradually, providing ample time for the people on the ground to set up a proper welcome, the kind with tar and torches and hanging ropes.
But this black ship was no mining vessel. It was a warship, the only one of its kind in all the world.
And it was coming for me.