• Jabe Stafford

One Page Worlds - Sabotage Catalyst

A whole world on a single page!

The short story morsels of One Page Worlds are flash fiction adventures of all flavors. Every Wednesday will feature a complete story in one page, or the first page of what could be a novel or novelette.

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A spy would appear to belong, but would sabotage the Savant at a bad time.

Come on, Ensa. Find him.

I rush along the gearship Savant's corridors belowdecks, past portholes flaring with lightning and toward gearwind rooms with their doors thrown open. Odors of sweat and grease pour out of each one. I skid to a stop in the doorway of the first room I come across and stick my head in.

Crankers-Men and women in cheapspun brown cotton-are winding huge mechanisms with cranks in a rhythm to a drumbeat a tattooed woman bangs out. All that winding adds potential energy to dozens of treated, engineered springs attached to carriage-sized propellors beneath the ship.

Greasy-cheeked runner boys and lanky teenagers dash to trigger plates at the back of each mechanism, stomping them when the drummer strikes a rimshot to propel the ship forward with that fully-loaded spring’s suddenly-kinetic energy.

Then they do it again with another cranker’s set of loaded springs. And again.

No strange faces. No suspicious activity or personal items. Nobody waving or cheering, “Chief Mate Ensa” at the sight of me.

They grunt with the effort of driving the ship against the storm winds outside.

The Savant lurches for the second time in two minutes.

I brace myself against the door’s frame. Crankers inside aren’t so lucky. Screeching of metal from two rooms away bites through the screams of experienced men and women. They plunge to the floor, heads smacking on the oak. Their arms meet with too much resistance at the cranks, bones jackknifing beneath the skin.

Pained screams ricochet off the bulkhead.

The captain had roared two minutes ago. “First man to find the saboteur gets lands and titles when we reach Queen’s Harbor.”

Stopping to help these poor people would lead to more getting hurt.

I sprint away aft, past a second room with the door open.

The third room’s door is splintered off its hinges. A pair of crankers lay sprawled in the doorway unconscious, thrown by the ship’s tossing.

Rushing inside, I find more crew injured, scattered, half-working the cranks. The only person not helping or cranking is a mouse-haired twig of a man in the same brown cheapspun as everyone else. He chases after juggler’s balls, corked vials, and bags of empty balloons that roll pell-mell across the boards.

The worst time to not be helping the Savant’s crew.

“Get him,” I yell, pointing at the spy scrabbling about.

The only muscle-bound woman standing leaps at my command, gripping the man’s hair with one hand and his throat with the other. “Aye, Chief Mate,” she barks, hauling him to his feet. “You order this instead of helping in a storm. I assume he is no juggler. Who is he?”

A sharp crew, the captain’s got. I bare my teeth at him. “Spy. Whose remains to be seen. Did you say he was a juggler?”

Water pounds the ship’s sides and we all three tense. No springs snap this time.

The woman keeps her grip on the spy tight. “He performed in each gearwind room. For each cranker team. We laughed. Nobody thought much of a klutzy juggler dropping balls and water balloons.”

Water balloons. Metal. Oxidation.

He’d been stripping the treatment on the springs during the voyage to Mirehall while the crankers slept, then ‘performing’ in order to sabotage the ship. That would make our deaths look like they were caused by faulty construction if we had the good fortune to be found by any Queen’s Harbor ship.

“Those gears and springs are thick queensmine steel and they’re treated,” the woman says. “There’s no breaking them.”

My upper lip curls and I point at the snapped gearwind and spring under the cranker’s mechanism. “It was a clumsy act. Look at that spring. He stripped the treatment and made them rust. He targeted them on purpose.”

“He’s sinkin’ the ship with water balloons?”

I nod. “Which means he’s a clever chemist. Take him to the brig and get back here. We got a storm to live through.”

“Aye, Chief Mate.” She backhands the spy when he whimpers, then drags him bodily out.

Which kingdom would want the Savant and her crew gone? Someone with a fantastic chemist-actor-spy in their court who gains something by destroying a queensmine ore ship.

We can’t stay still in a rager like this.

Soon, we won’t be able to move. How close are we to Mirehall?

Tortured metal screams and another spring snaps.

The Savant pitches backward.

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