[Note: For those unaware, flash fiction basically just means a very short, encapsulated story. There’s no hard-and-fast definition of just how many words counts as “very short”; some people cite a limit of fifty-five words, though I prefer a somewhat meatier thousand. Even that ends up being tight for me sometimes. It’s a fun format that my friend Bika got me started with a while back, and I thought maybe it was time to bust out the fiction chops again. So, enjoy!]
It never ceased to amaze Marcus just how quickly he snapped to his senses when staring up the barrel of a gun. The last hour or so had been a blur of darkness and breathless silence, brought to a painful end in a frenzy of yelling and kicking. As they’d dragged his sorry, battered hide out of the gasbag compartments he couldn’t tell whether the nauseous swaying he felt was from the pummeling or mere airsickness.
“You got even the slightest inklin’ o’ just how must shit you’ve landed yourself in, tosser?” said a cockneyed voice from somewhere on the other side of that spiraling barrel.
He came so close to saying it. The line materialized in his mind like an aether wraith, unbidden and, given the circumstances, just as deadly. It hadn’t even been a particularly inspired line, just a generic crack about the general aroma of the zepp and its crew. But even now, beaten to a pulp and surrounded by killers, it was all he could do to pass up that kind of straight line. If I’d had that much willpower last month, he thought to himself, maybe I wouldn’t be in this mess. Instead he had to settle for the much less satisfying response of, “Can’t say I do, sir, no.”
The giant man towering over him snorted something that might have been a laugh. “Well ain’t you just as dumb as a sack o’ hair. Almost enough t’ make me feel sorry for ya.” He grinned down at Marcus with the ease of someone who’d had this conversation dozens of times before. A few knowing chuckles emerged from the crowd surrounding the two of them as he cocked the hammer. “Almost.”
“Wait, I’m…” Marcus barely had the chance to begin.
The captain’s contemptuous grin broke into a snarl as he kicked Marcus squarely in his kneeling chest, hard. The force of the blow actually lifted him up into the air a little before sending him sprawling onto his back. “Wait?!” the captain roared down at him. “D’you know who the hell I am, you bloody tosser?! I’m Captain Ezekiel Barnizan, most feared goddamn pirate above these bloody islands, that’s who I bloody well am! There’s people all ‘long this ‘pelago what piss ’emselves at the sound o’ my name! But you think you can stow away on my zepp? Tell me what to do?! I was gonna be merc’ful an’ just give ya a bullet in the brain.” Barnizan reached down with one massive arm, careful not to break his aim even in his rage, and lifted Marcus bodily into the air by his throat. “Now, though? Only thing yer gettin’ is a long drop an’ a sudden stop.”
Marcus dangled helplessly in the giant man’s grip, barely able to breathe. He struggled weakly as the captain effortlessly carried him through a bulkhead door and into what looked to be a large hangar bay. Even at his best, though, he knew there was no way he could compete with Barnizan’s raw strength. The captain kicked some kind of mechanism, knocking it clean off its post in the process, and Marcus had little choice but to stare in horror as the bay doors opened to reveal endless blue sky beyond. He redoubled his struggles on instinct as the two moved ever closer to death’s door, but Barnizan didn’t even notice.
“Any last words, tosser, ‘afore ya live up t’ yer name?” the captain growled as they reached what might as well have been the edge of the world.
He was surrounded by nothing but air, but he couldn’t breathe. He had to speak, but the air wouldn’t come. Panic rose from primal depths within him as the blackness closed in, but the vice grip on his trachea was unrelenting. Somehow, he managed to choke out the word, “Ran… som…”
Barnizan’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, but not quickly enough to hide the flicker of greed from deep within. “What’s that, now?” he said, carefully neutral.
The pressure on Marcus’s throat yielded by the tiniest of measures. The small mercy let him breathe just a little more but also setting his heart racing even faster as he slipped imperceptibly downward. “My father… noble… he’ll pay…”
Those suspicious eyes narrowed further, but he didn’t let go. “D’you think I’m bloody stupid? That I’ll just lap up some story o’ a rich daddy? That maybe I won’t be askin’ meself why some noble’s son would be dressed like a damn gutter rat? Or why he’d be stowin’ away instead o’ flyin’ his own bloody private zepp?”
“Lost everything… gambling… Trying… to get… home…”
The pirate captain’s features twitched almost imperceptibly as avarice and fury vied for dominance. The battle raged for several long and worrisome seconds before he finally turned and threw Marcus back down onto hangar deck. “Get this tosser down to the brig, ‘afore I change me mind.” For a moment nobody moved, pirate faces a medley of confusion and disappointment, but they sprang quickly into action when their captain turned and yelled, “Now!”
Time blurred by for Marcus. How much he couldn’t say. When he came to his senses, a small metal room and a night sky were all that were there to greet him. End of the line, he thought. Gathering his thoughts, he allowed himself several minutes to recover before he sprang into action. It had been difficult to conceal his gear underneath the ratty clothes of his disguise, but the effort had paid off. Document replicator, lockpicks, signal flare, detonator for the bombs he’d planted in the gasbag; all had been missed when they searched him upon discovery, even the micro-parachute at the small of his back. Ship schematics put the brig right underneath the captain’s cabin. Right where I need to be. All right then, time to get to work. For Crown and country. A small smile, as unprofessional as ever, crossed his lips. And maybe a little extra for my troubles.