= CHAPTER 14 =

512 years in the future.
A Thursday morning.
6:07 AM

On the ship’s bridge, Captain Singh, her First Officer Mr Sinclair and Chief Steward Mr Lebedev watched the feeds on various screens in stunned silence.

They’d seen the gunfight – from numerous angles – via the cameras in the Cargo Hold, they’d watched all the water instantly get sucked from the pool via the poolside cameras, and now they were staring at all the water, all the cargo (including the gold), and the tiny, pathetic figure of Mr Ellis tumbling and drifting further and further away from the ship, and out into the vast cold emptiness of space.

They’d heard it all, too – Ms Aku had left her communicator channel open, hoping her heroics would impress her beloved captain. She hadn’t foreseen this disastrous result. The result that she’d been instrumental in causing. Captain Singh was angered by Ms Aku’s recklessness, by her irresponsibility and by her extremely poor marksmanship. But she would deal with her Second Officer in due course. Right now, there was someone else she needed to talk to.

“Mr Sinclair, please open the ship’s emergency public address system. All speakers, all decks.”

“Yes, Captain,” he nodded.

Captain Diana Singh took a breath, as Mr Lebedev watched on, helplessly.

“Captain Sharp, I know you can hear me,” she began. “And I know your crew can hear me too. Your mission has failed, sir. You’ve shot up my ship, you’ve torn a hold in its side, you’ve killed two of my crew members, and terrorised the rest.” She paused, determined not to let any emotion creep into her voice. “And all for nothing. Your precious gold is gone; scattered and dispersed into hundreds of bricks, now randomly spinning through space. Go and collect it, if it’s that important to you – be my guest. You have failed… Salazar.

The mocking contempt in her pronunciation of his name could be heard throughout the length and breadth of the ship.

“Now get off my ship, all of you. Or my crew and I will force you off. I promise you that.”

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Captain Singh’s speech found its target down on C deck, where Salazar and Jiang listened intently.
Salazar tapped his forearm tablet, closing his communication channel, and motioned for Jiang to do the same. She did. He didn’t want the rest of his crew to hear what he was about to say to his trusted First Mate.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “This was never about the gold.”

“Well, I know that,” said Jiang, “but the others don’t. You gotta tell them what’s going on, Cap’n. You have to tell the crew the real reason we came here.”

Salazar was staring into the distance, his mind clearly on something else.

“Not yet,” he replied at last.

“Well, at least call a three-fourteen.”
“But what about Maggie?” he said forlornly, with a hint of desperation. “We’ve gotta find her…”

‘That fox,’ thought Jiang. ‘That damn fox!’ She sometimes thought he cared more about that animal than the people willing to risk their lives for him.

“Cap’n,” she said, as reassuringly as she could, “we will find Maggie. I promise. But right now, your crew needs you. They’re scattered all over the ship, and right now they’re easy targets. We’ve seen how trigger happy this lot are, and they’re gonna be even angrier now that we’ve killed two of their own, on this supposedly ‘casualty-free’ raid. Our people are in real danger, and their big shiny reason for following you here has just been blasted into space. You owe them.”

Salazar looked into the imploring eyes of First Mate Jiang. She was right. As usual. He nodded gravely, and cleared his throat as he re-opened the general communication channel.

“All crew members of the Cheeky Albert, this is your Captain. I’m calling a three fourteen. Repeat, I’m calling a three-fourteen. You all know where to go.”

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As they left the Epicurus restaurant on B deck, Lightfoot and AJ were interrupted by Captain Singh’s announcement. They processed the information it contained, and looked at each other.

“Wait – so, the gold is gone?” said Lightfoot.

“She’s bluffing,” said AJ, shaking his head vigorously. “She’s got to be bluffing.”

“Of course she is,” Lightfoot agreed. “She wants us off the ship, and obviously, she’ll say whatever it takes…”

“That’s right. Of course that’s right. It must be…”

The idea that their mission could prove entirely fruitless – the thought that there could be NO GOLD on this ship after all – plunged AJ and Lightfoot into deep, speculative discussion. Discussion so deep that they didn’t notice that Suarez was no longer with them.

And when Captain Sharp’s three-fourteen order came through, Suarez drifted even further from their minds. They made their way toward the nearest elevator.

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By the side of the Symphony’s second pool up on B Deck, the brawny pirate Gotmund had also heard the cruise ship captain announcing that the gold was lost. He assumed she was telling the truth. Gotmund had always assumed that everyone else was as much of a straight shooter – both literally and metaphorically – as he was.

‘This is serious,’ he thought. ‘Really serious.’

It was so serious, in fact, that it made him take his bare feet out of the pool, put his shoes and socks back on, and think – think, dammit! – about what to do next.

Gotmund came up blank.

So often the way.

Thankfully, Captain Sharp’s three-fourteen call had come just after that. Gotmund checked the ship’s map, and started out for the rendezvous point.

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Devereux, Richards and Jelani – still shaken from their experience in the ship’s morgue – stopped when they heard Captain Singh’s announcement. They’d seen none of what happened in the cargo hold, so the speech raised more questions than it answered.

Richards wondered idly about the second dead Symphony crew member, and hoped that she wouldn’t be blamed for this casualty, too. All the pirates’ guns were definitely now set to stun, weren’t they?

But more than that, all three of them wondered about the gold. It couldn’t really be gone, could it?

The three-fourteen would sort this out. They knew where to go.

And so they went there. Just like all of their crew mates.

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All of them, that is, except Evans, Fullbrook and Skarsgard. They’d heard their captain’s announcement, but they were currently running towards the docking bay.

“Sorry Cap’n,” said Evans, under her breath as she turned off her communicator, “But we won’t be able to make it…”

A minute earlier, back on the wet floor of the cargo hold, Evans had yanked Fullbrook and Skarsgard to their feet and dragged them out and into the corridor.

“Come on!” she’d said. “We gotta get that gold!”

“How?” spluttered Fullbrook.

But she’d run off, sternward, leaving her dazed companions little choice but to follow her. They’d sprinted past the ship’s laundry, past the ship’s brig, and were now nearing the Symphony’s cavernous Docking Bay, where Evans had berthed the Cheeky Albert just a few minutes earlier.

“I still don’t understand,” puffed Fullbrook.

“Me neither,” added Skarsgard. “Those gold bricks shot out of the hold in all directions. And the Albert’s much too big and unwieldy to take us around collecting them all.”

“Yes it is,” agreed Evans. “But the pinnaces aren’t.”

Fullbrook and Skarsgard smiled. Yes, that could work.

The two pinnaces housed aboard the Cheeky Albert were smaller vessels, used by the pirates for short trips and lightning raids. Lighter and more manoeuvrable than the Albert itself, they were fast, and fitted with fearsome weaponry, making them perfect for hit-and-run strikes where speed was essential. Each pinnace could accommodate four crew members, and had very basic amenities – berths, replicators, sanitation facilities, and an emergency spacesuit for each crew member on board.

Evans and Skarsgard crossed the threshold of the Docking Bay, followed by Fullbrook, who was beginning to tire.

“But we’ll never be able to get all of the gold,” he moaned.

“So what?” said Evans, as they reached the aperture where the Albert was docked. “Even if we only get half of it, or a third of it, or just a quarter… we’ll still be set for life.”

“And,” added Skarsgard, “however much we get, splitting it three ways is a whole lot better than splitting it twelve ways…”

And with that, the three of them darted through the aperture where the two vessels joined – off one ship and onto the other.

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If you’d been observing from outside, from a fixed point in space, you then would have seen two sections of the docked pirate ship’s hull slide apart, to reveal a smaller spaceship inside.
You would have seen that smaller ship emerge from the larger one, and gently make its way around to the Symphony’s starboard side. You’d have seen it sweep half way down the length of the gigantic cruise ship, until it was adjacent to the fresh gaping breach in the hull.

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Inside the pinnace’s command module, Evans and Skarsgard had taken up positions at the two control consoles, while Fullbrook hovered impotently behind them. From the piloting console, Evans issued an order;

“Skarsgard, kill all communications channels, would you? I don’t want us to be disturbed. We’ve got work to do.”

 

 

Author’s note: I’ve recorded a short video diary entry about the writing of this chapter, and if you’re interested, you can watch it right here.

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