Part five in the Brangxi serial. A table of contents for the series.
"Lift the bars." Chester fished a bent metal wire wrapped around his gums underneath his lips and shaped the instrument into a hook. "I need you to release the pressure on the mechanism so I can pop the lock's gears."
Terrance strained at the bars, ten-foot heavy poles. Dim refractions bathed the cells sufficiently to light the room gray and Alexander, the explorer, stood in his cell with black suspenders dark against his lighter shirt. Terrance grunted as his hands became sweaty and his fingers cramped with the weight of the bars.
Chester wiggled the pick in the lock, scratches echoing through the cells and alerting Brangxi guards if they had this place bugged. "I've almost got it, so don't let the bars slip. Even a wimp of a reporter should be able to do that."
A final click and Chester pushed against the bars without a warning to Terrance who fell forward as the door opened. Chester hurried towards Alexander's cell as Terrance approached the steel door, nudging it open to look at the empty hallways.
"Hurry, the way is clear," whispered Terrance.
Chester glanced up from his fiddling with the picks, but shadows shrouded his face. His head twitched reminding Terrance of the Graklii elder. Terrance's skin crawled as he peeked through the crack in the doorway expecting to see an approaching Brangxi. The thought of waiting here for the others like a cow plodding towards the meat merchant's abattoir clogged his thoughts with visions of another failed attempt. He cringed at memories of the Brangxi soldier carrying him flailing back to the cages. Terrance pushed on the door.
Chester pulled Alexander's cell open with a creak and slid the pick back under his gums. "Never known a reporter with patience. Hold your hot-blooded death wish. If we get out, we get out through teamwork."
Alexander followed as Chester led the way his thoughts stewing on memories of what the Graklii elder had told him and the knowledge that he had to return to the news office and get the revelations published. The Brangxi weren't their friends. He remembered Xebla's long gams, a confusion he didn't understand, before shaking his head to concentrate on Chester and Alexander's echoing footsteps. They descended a stairwell into the depths of the airship and away from freedom. Terrance choked a protest. Chester had a way of twisting Terrance's words against him, belittling him. Silent, Terrance followed, lost in the airship's maze.
They stopped before a door, the only sound a creaking of the airship's metal hull. The door didn't budge and Chester retreated to ram a shoulder against the door with a thump.
"All three of us, together."
Chester held up three fingers dropping one at a time until they threw themselves against the door, a harsh bone-rattling crash, that splintered the door's mechanism as the door fell open. Inside, Chester ran to the far side of the room and slid wing bolts open to release a panel in the airship's side. Bright light shone into the room.
Copper-tinged air whistled through the panel and Terrance slid his hands along the edge of the ship looking at the green trees flickering in the winds. "Parachutes?"
Chester sat on the floor with his legs splayed wide as he pulled a drawer from the opposing wall to spray metal parts across the floor. "The Brangxi count the parachutes nightly, impossible to obtain them without alerting the Brangxi. Terrance, slide over the parts from that drawer."
Chester pieced metal flanges over a metal tube and secured latches to pull the tube tight with a metal cone tipped across the top. A metal screech sounded behind Terrance and he turned to see Alexander lifting a cylinder over one of the pipes.
"Stop," yelled Terrance. "The Brangxi use those to communicate."
Alexander stepped away from the piped contraption that descended from the roof. "I... I'm sorry."
"Stop your yammering." Chester nodded his head at another one of the drawers. "Defend the door while I finish assembling."
"What are you making?" asked Terrance.
"A steam sail. Don't stare at me like a whelp, go help Alexander."
The floor of the airship vibrated as footsteps approached. Terrance and Alexander held revolvers and shot as the Brangxi neared. Ricochets careened off the metal walls and the peppery metal taste of gunpowder filled Terrance's mouth.
"I'm done." Chester stood with a metal canister on his back and two slings slid out to either side of him.
Terrance couldn't imagine hanging onto the thin leather straps as they flew out the panel. "What about us?"
"I'll tie you in." Chester waited but no one moved. "Or I can leave you and go by myself."
A pistol fired and Chester's chest became a raw red wound. Chester fell against the far wall slowly sinking to the floor.
"No," said Alexander. "No one escapes the Brangxi."
Alexander leveled the pistol at Terrance. "Sorry, they made a deal, full rights to explore their world and I'll be the first human to see these lands. Now, drop that pistol."
Terrance bent to drop the pistol rolling forward as the pistol clattered to the floor and he knocked Alexander over. He struggled. A gurgle and then Alexander's hands released Terrance. Chester had wrapped one of the leather straps around Alexander's neck choking the man until he fell limp to the floor.
Chester pulled a watch off his wrist and slid it towards Terrance. "Sorry, you're going to have to fly this thing without me. You think a reporter can do it?" A trace of a smile curled the edge of Chester's lip.
Terrance swallowed. "I can't just leave you."
"You must. Take the watch. There's a bookseller in Greenwich who will know what to do."
Chester's eyes closed. "Get going. Prove that not all reporters are turncoats."
Continue to part six, Publishing Revelations.