The Work of a Gunpowder Trafficker
The sand crunches under your boots. The searing wind drags daggers through your parched skin. Your tongue tastes salt and ash, but at least you are almost there.
Half buried buildings rest on creaking, slanted beams. Bricks protrude out of the dunes like teeth. You crawl through a door that is three quarters buried. Shelter, at last.
You pour the sand out of your boots and gun muzzle. Not everyone can get their hands on black powder, much less can have a weapon to go with it. But you can. You got your weapon from no one. You made them yourself. The trafficked parts have been to more countries and broken more laws than most people will in a lifetime.
Of course. Who else would have the need, hell, the daring for weapons like these? If these are pistols, then the British army marches with tin toys. These are cannons, mortars, the devil's choir, who lives in a cylinder, and you got two of em. Sure, you can't guarantee the quality, but they can dispatch a dozen thugs before you need to reload.
Your guns break about every regulation in existence, and you, every law for man. A gunpowder trafficker. Nitre and brimstone for silver and gold. The Queen outlawed civilians from owning, using, or, God forbid, manufacturing gunpowder, and that's where you come in. A trafficker known to all and none. You'd be wanted everywhere if not for the fact that no one has seen you before.
This isn't your average supply run. This time, your merchandise is forbidden knowledge, and your destination is a little rebel group outside Constantinople. You have for them the formula for smokeless powder, given by the Sultan himself! They say the formula was imported from China. They say the powder shoots ten times as strong as a British naval gun. They say that if you eat it with ginger and honey, you can live forever.
No matter what it does, the Ottomans decided that they'd use it in the war effort. The fate of nations rests on your shoulders right now. By your campfire, you look at an old ambrotype of yourself. The only one to make the papers, and you wonder. Why are you in this mess, anyway?
For money, obviously. No. Actually though, why? You wonder about it at night sometimes. Smokeless powder? Really? Could it be used in your guns, perhaps? Would you really live forever? Would it be... Palatable?
You have your dinner and set off to the outskirts of Constantinople, determined to get your hands on some of this mysterious powder.
The desert is not so bad at sunset. You arrive before midnight at a dilapidated collection of brick buildings. You pass by some patrolling dreadnoughts and make small talk. They bid "evening, citizen!" and lazily trundle off. You wait until they leave view, and walk in the back door of a warehouse.
The people inside ferry you in quick. You trade some code and they shake your hand. A few sooty chemists hail you over and you give them a stack of formulae and notes. A revolutionary in overalls hands you a bag of crinkled banknotes for payment.
You stay for tea and biscuits. Actually, you stay to see the new powder for yourself. The chemists work for a few hours, complaining now and then, with small explosions interspersed. Finally, before break of dawn, a loud explosion wakes you. The chemists cough while fanning themselves, the revolutionary frowns, and the logistics officer peaks his head through a door to check. Broken beakers litter the floor, but indeed! No smoke in the air! And even more importantly, is that rolling, unbroken flask, full of smokeless powder? It is! While the officer condemns the chemists for their clumsiness, you swiftly pick it up, huff a handful of it, and wash it down your cold, honeyed tea.
Well, at least you try to.
You taste metal, of iron and of bronze. You taste chalk, smooth and dry. You taste... Nightsoil? You lean on the door, coughing uncontrollably. Gunpowder clouds fly everywhere.
Suddenly, the door shakes you. "THUMP, THUMP! Night patrol! Is everything alright?" A dreadnaught stands at the door. "Do I smell sulphur? I will need you to open this door right this instant!"
Oh, blasted! He starts knocking harder, the knocks turn to punches. He's going to tear the door down!
The bolts on the door are giving in, the hinges groan under the repeated thumping, the chemists stare at you in shock, and the officer starts frantically packing up chemicals.
You raise your six-gun, wait until a punch is just about to be thrown at the door, and you open it. The dreadnought stumbles in, lifts his head and stares right down the barrel you rifled yourself.
The chemists cry out: "NO!", but it was too late. a deafening explosion later, a gaping hole is left in the dreadnought's head. His goggles did nothing to protect him. His servos struggle to maintain his balance, and after a long few seconds, the joints buckle, and the hulking dreadnought falls back and slams onto the dirt road.
"You fool!" The officer shouts between his frantic steps, "now the whole town knows that we're here!" The town, as if to prove him right, light up window by window.
"Well, some of them must've been woken by your explosion earlier." You say, but they already packed their things and ran out the back. You peer out the dented front door and hear distant running. The coppers are coming.
You look down at the dreadnought. You intentionally aimed under his enviable helmet. You grab it and put it under your hat. Fits alright. You contemplate shutting the poor man's eyelids, but they're messily slathered on the window across the street. Oh well. You walk back and shut the warped door haphazardly.
You were just going to leave, but what's that? In their hurry, the chemists left some of their notes and formulae! You pick them up, along with the jar of the powder. You'll try it again next time, when you get your hands on some ginger as well.