Darius was a cabin boy aboard the Flying Dragon, and he hated it. Nothing about his job resembled the stories of pirate life he’d been raised on. He’d never even witnessed a sky battle, though there had been several tussles over rations.
Darius blew his hair out of his eyes, scowling down at the half-scrubbed deck. Piracy was too much work, and not enough explosions when you were at the bottom of the pecking order.
A familiar roar distracted Darius from his foul mood, and a grin spread over his face. Only one person drove a motorcycle that sounded like that, and if she was coming aboard, there was sure to be excitement. Of course, he knew she’d have to come eventually, but this was sooner than he’d hoped.
“Make sure you keep control of that mechanical pest this time!” Captain Sauveterre barked, as midshipmen lowered the gangplank for Aife to board.
Darius smirked. The animatronic dragon was probably the only being in existence imbued with more mischief than Darius himself. Last time they’d been left alone together they’d almost crippled the ship permanently with ill placed explosions.
“Only if you keep a leash on that cabin boy,” Aife sassed back, as only she could. Sauveterre was known through the skies for his temper and overblown sense of dignity. Darius had more than one scar to remind him to treat his captain with the utmost respect, as did the rest of the crew. But Aife was special. She was the best mechanic willing to work for pirates, and as such, was irreplaceable.
Darius ducked behind a loose coil of rope as Sauveterre’s fiery gaze swept the deck.
“He shows his face within ten feet of you and that winged menace and the gutter rat will wish he’d never been born,” the captain growled, brushing an imaginary speck of dust from his sleeve. Sauveterre took pride in being the most impeccably dressed brigand that ever terrorized the atmosphere.
Darius made a face at Sauveterre’s back. “Like you have any clue how to lock this ship down,” Darius muttered, scampering belowdecks. He knew every nook and cranny of the Flying Dragon, and frequently made use of this knowledge to avoid awkward situations. This time, his goal was mischief.
“That pirate captain is a bigger spoil-sport than you are,” Eratosthenes grumbled, coiling around Aife’s neck as she walked to the engine room.
“You can’t blame a man for wanting to keep his home intact,” Aife shrugged out of her coat, draping it over a bulkhead as she inspected the faulty coil.
“Well, clearly you can blame someone for being true to themselves,” Eratosthenes huffed, squinting at the dents in the coil, “funny. You could almost think this was intentionally damaged.”
“What do you mean?” Aife straightened, plucking the metal dragon from her shoulders.
“You can’t see it from up there.” Eratosthenes hopped onto the damaged coil, scratching at the dents. “There are flakes of red paint in these dents, like the kind used on those alarmingly large wrenches.”
“No, I wasn’t asking-” Aife huffed, “You seriously haven’t realized that Darius periodically sabotages the engines so we come visit? I was asking about me blaming people for being themselves.”
“Wait, what?” Darius’s head poked out from behind a cooling vent, “How long have you known that was me?”
“What is happening?” Eratosthenes exploded, steam billowing from every joint, “Why does everyone know these things but me?”
“I hardly count as everyone,” Aife replied, pulling Darius out and snatching the wrench from his waistband. “I’d still like to know why you think I’m such a judgmental person who blames people for being.” She tightened the wrench on a bolt holding the coil in place, and gave an experimental tug.
“You do tend to scold Era when he gets…overexcited,” Darius offered, scooting furtively away from Aife, just in case she took exception to his contribution and felt like taking a swing. He still had a dent in his skull from the last time she took exception to him.
“Looks like you have a reputation aboard this bucket of bolts,” Eratosthenes chortled, flicking Aife’s cheek with his tail and pouncing on Darius’s head, “the scaredy-cat has a point, though. You never let me carry out my best ideas.”
“All your best ideas include fire and explosions!” Aife protested, bracing her back against the wrench, “and since you’re here, I could use some extra torque.”
Eratosthenes looked confused, but Darius scrambled to get a good grip on the wrench and pulled, while Aife pushed against the bulkhead with her feet. For about ten seconds, nothing happened.
“Are you even pu-AUGH!” Aife and Darius tumbled to the floor in an undignified heap, as the rusted bolt gave way.
“How much do you eat?” Darius groaned, pushing Aife off so he could get up, “I’ve wrestled lighter neutron cannons!”
“Of course you have,” Aife scrambled to her feet, bumping Darius so he fell over again, “Neutron cannons are gravity resistent, and at an altitude of a thousand feet they weigh about thirty pounds. Besides, it’s rude to comment on someone’s weight.”
“Isn’t it also rude to sit on someone without permission?” Eratosthenes commented from his perch atop the engine.
“Only when the situation is avoidable,” Aife replied, picking up the wrench and fixing it on another bolt.
“Was that a pun?” Eratosthenes looked flabbergasted, “You never use puns!”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Darius grabbed the wrench, “This time, I push, you pull.”
Aife rolled her eyes. “Fine, if you’re going to be a wimp about it.”
Darius adjusted his grip, and braced himself. “Ready? On three.”
“One, two, three!” Aife lunged backward, tugging as hard as she could while Darius threw his entire weight against the wrench.
This time, when the bolt gave way, Aife was ready. She tucked her knees up to her chest, planted her boots in Darius’s stomach, and propelled him up and over her head in a flip.
“I guess that’s one way to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation,” Eratosthenes commented, circling above Darius as he scrambled to his feet.
“The last thing either of us needs is the crew getting ideas about our relationship.” Aife pulled the coil free, tossing it to Darius.
“What relationship would that be?” the Captain’s voice made everyone jump, and Eratosthenes let out an undignified squeak.
“A friendship I completely regret,” Darius groaned, shoving the dented coil into the trash chute, “It’s earned me nothing but beatings and tongue lashings. Plus the occasional singed eyebrow.”
“Funny,” Sauveterre leaned against the doorframe, “I was under the impression the two of you couldn’t stand each other.”
“That is the defining trait of a friendship filled with regret,” Aife replied, prying some couplings loose, “now, are you going to make yourself useful, or are you going to let me get your ship back in the air?”
Sauveterre growled deep in his throat, but went on his way. Within seconds, they could hear him berating some unfortunate airman for the state of the cargo holds.
“I will never understand how you do that,” Darius marveled, obediently holding whatever tools, parts, or wires Aife waved vaguely in his direction.
“It took me awhile to learn,” Aife mumbled around a screwdriver she had clamped between her teeth, “but it’s all fairly simple once you figure out which parts are supposed to move and which aren’t.”
Eratosthenes chortled at the confused expression on Darius’s face. “I think he meant the ease with which you bully the dread captain of the Flying Dragon. The boy is smart enough to know how to break the ship without blowing it to kingdom come, after all.”
“Oh, that?” Aife slid out from under the tangle of tubing and wires to look at Darius. “That’s simple as anything. The Dragon likes me more than him.”
“Once he bellowed that Aife was overcharging, and the ship threw him overboard,” Eratosthenes added, giving the bulkhead a friendly head butt.
“Wait, are you telling me this ship has feelings?” Darius nearly dropped everything he was holding, but he suspected the ship might actually catch fire if he did. One of the cables was actually sparking.
Aife stared at him.
“How long has the ship had feelings? Do all machines have feelings?” Darius felt like he was missing something really obvious, but had no idea what that might be.
“Is he stupid?” Aife asked Eratosthenes, who was having trouble controlling his steam vents.
“It seems like a pretty logical question, considering our present company,” Darius huffed.
“What, did you think the Sergeant and I were completely unique?” Eratosthenes asked between fiery giggles.
“Your motorcycle can talk too?!”
“Darius,” Aife ran her fingers through her hair, causing it to stick out in more directions than usual, “I think it’s about time I told you my secret.”