The Rot covers the planet, destroying life, scorching soil, decaying even metal to dust. Humanity has only one option: the sky. Massive ports spread throughout the atmosphere. Docking stations for the ships that fill the air. The last refuges of a doomed race.
Captain Nila Yeden controls the skies. She’s sworn to protect the ports, protect the people, and hand down judgment to criminals who threaten society. Her job is vital, keeping the peace in a ravaged world, and she never questioned her importance. But one fugitive forces her to hesitate.
Can she bring down her own sister?
The balloon beasts provide food for all the ports, and only the bravest crews man the hunting ships. Commander Sitha Yeden devoted herself to the hunt, but something changes when she finds the map, and her bravery leads her to mutiny. And now the police forces looms over her, her sister among them. But in her hands, she holds a tether to her past, and a map to a new future. For herself and the world
Will the quest destroy her, or will she finally find the fabled Mountains of Good Fortune?
“We’ve got her in sight.” Captain Menit nudged the wheel to the left and pulled back the power, slowing the Nedell to a hover. With his free hand, he pressed the intercom button, broadcasting his voice through the whole ship. “If it takes more than five minutes to take this bitch down, you can all jump down and get taken up by the Rot.” He released the button, then turned and sighed to Sitha. “Be ready with the shockers. We’ve got a big female. She could haul us all across the sky, if she wanted.”
“Aye, Captain.” The control panel, stainless steel studded with buttons, levers, and screens, stretched out before her. She wrapped one hand around the power lever, her fingers sliding into familiar ruts in the rubber handle, and put the other on the winch switch. “Ready, Captain Menit.”
He nodded and pressed the intercom on again. “Why don’t I have harpoons in the air, yet?”
A gruff, crackling voice came over the line. Desyet, the lead harpoonist. “Firing now, Captain.”
Sitha looked at the balloon beast floating next to them. Its bluish-gray skin filled the whole portside window, blocked the sky from view. Huge, black eyes blinked at her. She had to be at least a ton. All good meat they could take back to port. It would feed a lot of people. Her hands sweated around the handles.
The Nedell vibrated as the harpoons left their barrels. They flew, tiny metal barbs compared to their quarry, and stuck into the thick hide. The beast noticed. She pulled, yanking the ship into a heavy tilt, almost ninety degrees. Sitha jerked back the lever, loosing the Nedell’s stored electricity along the shockers’ cables, right into her body. More than enough of a charge. The beast calmed in death.
Captain Menit spun the wheel around, righting the ship. “Start that winch, Commander!”
She pulled the switch back. The hum started, then the rumbling as the shockers reeled in, pulling the balloon beast’s carcass along with it. She thought of the food it would mean, again. The food and the payday.
Sitha sighed and stopped the winch. “I’m sorry, Captain.”
He must not have heard. “What’s wrong, Commander?”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out the handshocker her sister had given her. For protection, she’d said. Just in case. Sitha aimed it straight at Menit’s chest. She looked at his polished copper buttons, not into his eyes. “I’m taking the Nedell.”
“Commander, stand down.” He boomed, using the voice that made people listen. It made Sitha shiver. “This is ridiculous.”
“I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m taking the Nedell. It can be peaceful, or it can be otherwise.”
“My crew, Captain.” Still not making eye contact, she gestured with the weapon. “Get into the escape pod and go. We’re only a few hours out from Ausin Port. You’ll only be traveling for a while.”
“Go!” She pushed him in the chest, knocking him back. He stumbled toward the pod door. “I won’t ask again.” She brought her other hand to the shocker and primed it. A single button press and he’d be unconscious. “Please, Captain. Don’t make this difficult.”
“I can’t give you the Nedell, Commander.”
Staring at her feet, she shook her head. “Then I have to apologize again, Captain.”
The barbed needles flew, landing in Captain Menit’s chest with a scattering of tiny thuds.