Author : Anthony Tedeschi

“Okay, so look – I don’t do nitrous anymore.” Sirius Dunbar whispered through a weaseled grin. He sat on the splintered wooden floor within the cabin of the flying fortress. Around the crooked table, littered with disheveled playing cards and open bottles of whiskey, sat the other three participants of the gambling.

The propellers spun on the wings of the mammoth zeppelin as it caught a bout of wind and ascended abruptly. The SS Marmaduke was out in front – leading a caravan of wing-ships through the Kalahari Desert. Her mission: see to it that the cargo (84,000 quarter-kegs of nitrous) makes it to the Pittsburgh metropolis unscathed. 38 zeppelins followed directly behind the Marmaduke.

Captain Mathias Chelmsford sat across from Sirius Dunbar, drinking from an aged bottle of red wine. “Like bloody Hell you don’t do nitrous you senseless wit! Do you not remember your last hand? Going 64 on a pair of lows! Don’t try to fool me; I know your pockets are drying up! Drier than the air outside.” The Captain rambled through his rich gray beard between swigs of the tart nectar. Sirius Dunbar stopped talking then. Chelmsford looked around the table to the other two gamblers – on the left was his first mate, Hille Fitzroy. Fitzroy had spent many years in the dregs of New England, which had become a ravaged battlefield once the Industrial Expanse began. On the right of Chelmsford was a new conscript of the Marmaduke, a world-weathered man by the name of Eli Grave. The crew knew little about him besides the fact that he knew his way around a 308 Zep-Engine. The lantern in the middle of the table lit the room dimly as wax dripped from the wick.

Chelmsford furrowed his brow and addressed Fitzroy: “Mister Hille, I believe it’s your turn.” The Marmaduke convulsed then; oil and grease spewed out from the copper exhaust pipes just beneath the cabin.

Fitzroy reached into his pocket, searching for a wager as Dunbar opened in a snide grin once more: “There have been whispers aboard the Tulkinghorn of a Dead-Ringer on board. No one’s seen his face, but they say he moves like an apparition, disappea-…”

Chelmsford roared: “I won’t submit to such preposterous rumors, Dunbar, I just won’t have it! Dead-Ringers are myth, legend.” Fitzroy pulled from his jacket a hand-carved, snub-nosed blunderbuss and placed it on the table.

Dunbar began again: “That’s a rather hefty sentimental sum, Fitzroy! How much trust you have in them cards?” Hille Fitzroy sneered towards the dimwitted cannon-jockey. “Some of the crew aboard the Tulkinghorn says he is moving freely from ship to ship.”

Captain Chelmsford caved: “And what animal adorns his watch? He then turned to the new conscript: Mister Grave, I believe it’s your turn to wager.”

Eli Grave reached into his pocket, breathing deeply. Dunbar whispered through a furrowing moustache: A Serpent….

Just then, Mister Grave produced an emerald pocket watch  – engraved on the surface with a hissing rattlesnake. He placed it on the table, and promptly disappeared.