I couldn't really do anything else than tell a quick story about Lady Dorleith Ahralia, Captain of the Edward Teach, In nominate ruler of the Open Lands and High Voort of the Shattered Spire (whatever that is) and what happened on HER fourteenth birthday.
Or this is what she told me happened at least.
'Wake up!' Her mother's strident voice echoed through her cabin as she was roughly shaken awake.
'Five more minutes, yeah? 'K thanks bye...'
'No, no, no... You need to get up, we're under...' A large munition detonated against the hull, shaking books from the small bookcase by her bed, 'attack. I need you to man a gun.'
She rolled out of bed, suddenly more awake than she had ever felt in her life. Pulling on a ship-suit, some socks and her favourite old boots, she made her way forward, heading for the bridge. She was constantly buffeted by a tide of crewmen desperately trying to get to their duty stations, alarms were blaring and Alexander, the A.I. that controlled the systems onboard the Grabthar's Hammer was providing almost constant status updates in his calm, measured voice.
'Attention gunnery crews, we have Spiders inbound on multiple vectors, the Baroness has announced that "firing at will" is the current standing order.'
Dorleith stopped at a corridor junction and tried desperately to clear her head and remember where her gunnery station was. All of the corridors aboard the Hammer looked the same and her Mother had removed all of the signage, working on the theory that her crew should really know where they were going by now.
Another explosion rocked the ship and she stumbled against the wall, looking up she saw the engraved brass head of Alexander directly above her, staring down.
'Ion cannon seven, deck three. You're welcome My Lady.'
She turned back the way she had come, slid down a steel ladder without touching any of the rungs and made her way to the control nexus for deck three's ion cannons. Settling into the seat, she put on the gloves and helmet that comprised the control system and activated the interface. Immediately she became cannon 7, wherever she looked, the barrels that were her arms pointed, whenever she punched, a beam of blinding blue light shot out into the early morning sky. Her first few shots were wild and uncontrolled, even though she had practiced and been drilled for this moment since she was twelve years old.
Eventually she emptied her mind and relaxed into her position, everywhere she looked there were Spiders. The targeting scanners that were her eyes picked out the separate targets and displayed details of speed and range and the probability of a clean hit. She picked out a target that was closing at 200 miles per hour. Zooming in, she saw that the spider had a huge rotating drill attached to its carapace and was planning to board.
Her first few shots bounced harmlessly off, the spider was obviously shielded. She clenched her fists and felt the buzz of the stored energy building in her arms. Her next double punch almost blinded her, but caught the mechanical arachnid straight in the sensor array. Immediately, the light in its eyes died, the drill stopped spinning and it fell away into the clouds, far below.
Heartened by her victory, she spent the next ten minutes furiously punching Spiders from the air. whooping and yelling as the force of her blasts removed legs and mandibles wholesale and the creatures themselves spiraled to the ground.
The sky started to clear, the immediate area around the airship was almost devoid of targets, but Dorleith continued to fire at anything that moved. The trill of the incoming message alert had been playing in her ear for three long minutes before she noticed it.
'Aye Cannon 7, ceasefire was called five minutes ago, stand down and return to the Nexus.'
She took off the helmet and gloves, stowed them back in their receptacles and ran her fingers through her long, red, sweat-soaked hair. As her eyes got used to the sudden darkness she noticed that the Gun-Commander was scowling at her. 'You're to report directly to the Baroness on the Bridge... My Lady.' He bowed whilst simultaneously shaking his head.
She looked at him for a second, perplexed. He nodded towards the exit lock, 'I think she meant now.'
The adrenaline was still pumping as she entered the Bridge, walked over to her Mother's command chair and waited patiently for her to finish reading the battle reports. Baroness Bhin-Dhee Lohlephel of the Rustholme slowly turned to address her young daughter.
'Thank you Mother, I...'
The Baroness pressed her index finger to her lips. 'I just wanted to explain to you why you weren't currently in the Brig.' She waited for the whorls of confusion to reach their crescendo on her daughter's face. 'The cease fire was called a good five minutes before you actually ceased firing. What you should have done at that point is explicitly described in the name of the order. Cease... Fire... Are you suffering from some kind of hearing deficiency?'
'Insubordination then perhaps? Did you think that my order was some kind of recommendation? Something you should only do if you couldn't think of anything better yourself?'
'It's just that I...'
The Baroness waved away the communications officer who had bought her a data tablet that required her authorisation and looked directly at her daughter. 'Do you know how many Spiders you shot down?' Dorleith shook her head. 'I'll tell you, fifteen. You shot down fifteen of them, including three that were set on boarding my ship and trying to wreak as much havoc as they could have done, which would have no doubt have entailed the death or injury of many valuable crew-members. After the ceasefire however, you shot down nine ducks, an albatross, one of our camera drones and number four gasbag, which is why we are currently listing...'
Mr Britt turned around and grinned. 'six degrees Ma'am.'
The Baroness nodded at him and continued, 'six degrees to port. Do not repeat this next time you are manning a gun. Birthday or not you'll spend a day in the Brig.'
Dorleith looked up and could feel hot tears welling behind her eyes. 'Yes... I mean, no Mothe.. Ma'am. I will try to be more careful.' She curtsied deeply and started to slowly back her way towards the door.
'See that you do. Oh, and Dorleith?' Her daughter froze and stared at her like a kitten that had fallen down a well lined with rabid dogs. 'The next time you come onto my Bridge wearing mis-matched socks, I'll skin you alive.'