I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to write about Sunday night's attack on Steam SkyCity. The experience left me a bit shell-shocked, and for a time I was simply unable to contemplate reliving my memories during the process of transcription. Also, as often happens during historical events, I was witness to only the small slice of things that occurred around me, and later found myself quite confused as to what had actually taken place. My appeal for information has been answered from several quarters, but it appears that I was not alone in this confusion, because everyone seems to have a different version of what happened.
There had been an attack on SSC earlier that day, but all seemed clear as I joined the Caledon Third Anniversary Celebration in the Aft Commons Ballroom. I looked for Governor Shang to pay my respects, and found him seated on a couch near the music stand. He was apparently busy with official business, because he uncharacteristacally failed to respond to my greeting. I decided not to interrupt him and went off to join the dancers.
As always, Magz Kamenov was spinning a fantastic selection of dance tunes. I was happily dancing and chatting with friends when suddenly there was a horribly loud BOOM, a flash of light, and the flying city shook itself like a wet dog. I heard the sound of planes overhead, and there were many other booms.
An announcement came over the loudspeakers: "Calling all catgirls. Report for duty at once." Magz vanished, doubtless off to join her squadron in the Caledon Catgirl Brigade. Being a total professional, she had cued up a stream of music before her hasty departure, and this continued playing throughout that long and terrifying night.
Much later, I learned that the initial attack was by the Hellcats, a rogue band of pirate catgirls. In a moment, I will tell you how I learned this. They had two objects - to capture the Governor and hold him for ransom, and to teach Mr. Volare a lesson, because they felt he had not shown them proper respect in previous dealings. Being catgirls, they also had some plans for playing with the Gov a bit before releasing him. To be able to taunt the Catgirl Brigade and the Crimson Pirates was a lovely bonus.
Meanwhile, people were still dancing in the Aft Commons, while flames raged all around them. It had become a point of honor, to continue dancing and not let a mere pirate raid interrupt the Anniversary celebration. Some of us began to organize a bucket brigade and tried to fight the fires.
We were just beginning to make a bit of progress, when the entire ballroom vanished in a huge ball of white light. For an amazingly long time, all I could see was this ghastly whiteness. Then the floor dropped out from under me, and everything went black.
It is rare for me to die in SecondLife -- the last time was over a year ago, in a cave on the Island of Monserrat. I awoke, still falling, and at first I did not realize that I was dead. The falling stopped, and I was floating high above Steam SkyCity, watching helplessly as squadron after squadron of airships battled before me. I saw the Crimson Pirates in their speeders, and almost fancied I could hear them calling instructions to one another. Rachire Andel, Lucien Brentano, and Wrath Constantine were in the front row of their formation; Gerr Huntress, Tehanu Marenwolf, and Aevalle Galicia were in the back row. Behind them were the RCAF Cloudbuster and the CP's heavy gunship "Dionysus."
Far below, SSC was in flames. And all around, the biplanes and triplanes of the Hellcats and the CCB were locked in dogfights.
Then, suddenly, a voice as silky as a purring cat spoke in my ear: "Were you down there?"
"Yes," I said. "There was a huge white flash and..."
"I did that! I did the trick! I put 20 emplacements of max damage enabled c4 to the posts and walls so was one big blast. Killed me instantly, but it was worth it. Hellcats don't mess around!"
"Yes, just like you."
And that was when I realized that I was dead.
The battle continued all around us. Night fell, and it grew dark. Two enormous dragons joined the fight, defending Steam SkyCity. One was a firedrake, glowing red against the sky, shooting flames into attacking aircraft. I saw more than one plane go spiraling down, flickering like a torch thrown to the wind. My companion was excited and kept talking, giving me a play by play description, her voice growing fainter and fainter until at last I realized she was gone.
I sat alone in the sky for a bit, watching the last of the battle. Then I let myself fall. I felt the sudden shock of hitting cold water, and my screen went black.
When I awoke, I was back in the Aft Commons Ballroom. We were surrounded by fires, but amazingly the music still played on and people were still dancing. I saw Miss Alana Steamweaver shooting arrows at the planes, trying to penetrate the cockpit turrets. Miss Anna Darwinian had a huge gun that SimplyAmy Iwish had made for her - she was shooting at the planes as they buzzed by, but anxious to explore the city and determine how badly her new store was damaged. Professor Woodget sat quietly writing - I found out later that he was making notes for a lecture entitled "How To Guard Against Pirate Attacks: A Syncretic Approach."
Peering out the shattered window, Mr Whybrow and Miss Charisma discussed the dragons, who were still locked in battle far above us. My dragonsister, Elegia Underwood, soon joined them as they watched. She was in her human form, but I could feel her longing to be soaring high. She whispered, grinning toothily, "Go, Dragons!... Provided they are Caledonian Dragons, of course."
Panacea Luminos raced in to tell us that the flames were growing larger, and Miss Darlingmonster Ember called that bombs had just hit the rotors. At this news, Mr Volare looked pale, almost as if he had taken the hit himself.
Professor Woodget looked up from his writing. "The rotors? Aren't they what keep the city airborn?" He pondered this obvious fact for a moment, then returned to his lecture notes. Beside him, Jayleden Miles muttered something about going down with the ship.
Miss Ember shouted there were secondary explosions, that the power grids were going out. A purring voice spoke in my head: "Hellcats know how to light a candle. I'm surprised Volare didn't notice that Steam Grenade belt." My Hellcat friend, apparently, had returned to the battle.
Anyplace had to be better than standing in a sinking ballroom as the lights went out. I fought my way out of the room and through the flames, into a corridor the fires had not reached yet, and began searching for survivors. All around me there were flames, explosions, the crash of walls collapsing, and I could feel the ship begin to lurch from side to side as the rotors failed.
I always get lost in Steam SkyCity, even at the best of times, and for most of that night I had no idea of where I was or what might lie around the next corner. I saw the ruins of the Green Fairy Tavern and the Volare Warehouse. At one point I realized I was in Prop Spinners, but so dark and empty that at first I didn't recognize it. Once I turned a corner and there was Moonbeam's, totally undamaged, looking just as it always had. And always there were flames, and sirens, and booms away in the distance.
Finally, I climbed a flight of stairs and emerged onto the roof. There was a red triplane near me, sitting quietly, as though the pilot had simply parked it for a bit while she went downstairs to dance. The flames were coming closer, and I fought the lag to try and reach the next roof. The sky turned white again, then everything went black once more.
I don't think I will ever go back to Steam SkyCity. I spent the rest of that night in the arms of an old friend, who held me while I cried and tucked me in when I'd stopped shaking. Later people told me that the Hellcats had managed to capture the Governor, but the Catgirl Brigade had rescued him. Others told me complicated tales of pirate feuds and smugglers' rivalries. A mysterious person sent a lovely portrait of a catgirl in a flying suit, standing by the same red triplane I had seen on the roof. I'm told rebuilding is proceeding rapidly at SSC and soon it will rise like a phoenix from the ashes. I'm sure it will be amazing, but I don't think I'll be there.
Photos by Riven Homewood, Gwynna Cleanslate, Anna Darwinian, Wrath Constantine, Denny Kozlov and others