= CHAPTER 23 =

512 years in the future.
A Thursday morning.

6:48 AM

“I don’t want to hear it, Captain Sharp. Whatever you have to say to me, I do not want to hear it. You will listen to me, and I will tell you what’s going to happen next.”

That’s what Captain Singh had intended to say. She was in no mood for negotiation. These marauders had invaded her home, blasted holes in the ship’s hull, lost its precious cargo and killed two of her crew. She was furious with them, but she had them all trapped now. She had them exactly where she wanted them, and was in total control.

And yet, when she’d seen his face…
There was something there that made her receptive to him, curious to hear what he had to say. Pity? No, it wasn’t that. Admiration? Respect? Certainly not. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

The two captains scrutinized each other. Although she was on the ship’s bridge and he was in the Shifting Sands, they felt no distance between them. Salazar smiled at Captain Singh. The smile was not returned.

“This ends here, Captain Sharp. Your attempted raid this morning has been a disaster. One of your crew is dead, others have deserted you, and the precious prize you were all chasing after so greedily is gone – strewn through space. You lose, Salazar.”

Salazar looked to Jiang, whose stunned expression mirrored his own. Dead? Who’s dead? He scanned the bar. Apart from Evans, Fullbrook and Skarsgard, the whole crew was here, except for –

“Suarez is dead?” he blurted, disbelievingly.

“Yes, just now. You didn’t know?” Captain Singh gloated. “Oh dear, Salazar. Not much of a ‘Captain’, are you?”

“I don’t believe you. You’re bluffing,” Salazar countered. She had to be, didn’t she? Surely those waiters and maids on the Symphony’s crew wouldn’t have the guts to actually kill anyone.

Captain Singh didn’t bite. “Time to wind it all up, Salazar. You let one of your crew get killed, you let various others abandon you, you let the gold slip through your fingers, and how do you show leadership in a time like this? You go to the pub. Your failure is total, Salazar. You are a disgrace. Even for an amoral pirate, you’re a disgrace.”

“Wooooh!”

Marie the bartender’s attempt to lighten the mood by emitting a high-pitched whine of mock fear while waving her hands about drew an unimpressed silence from seven of the eight pirates. Dr Jelani, however, found it hilarious, and snorted with laughter that caused her current drink to shoot out of her nose and straight onto Marie’s crisp white blouse.

“Oops, sorry about that, Marie,” the doctor giggled. “Can I have another one, please?”

Marie nodded, winked at her, and reached for the bottle again.

Salazar could feel the others – Richards, Gotmund, Devereux, Lightfoot and A.J – eying him judgmentally. Only his First Mate Jiang, it seemed, was looking at him kindly.

“Captain Singh, you make some good points there,” he said, swivelling back to the wallscreen, his customary swagger somehow returning, “But I’m not finished here yet. Far from it, in fact. You see, Diana, our mission here today was never about the gold.”

The other pirates exchanged confused looks. Only Jiang nodded, knowingly.

Captain Singh frowned, as Salazar smiled smugly, enjoying her confusion.

But before she had a chance to respond, the door to the ship’s bridge slid open to reveal Deck Rating Mr Ferrer, drenched, bleeding and bedraggled, holding a violently squirming fox at arm’s length.

“Captain…” he panted, “I… got the… fox.”

He staggered a couple of steps, leaving a trail of blood from his wounded arm, and dropped to his knees. He was pale, he was shivering, and looked as though he was about to faint. Ms LeGuin rushed forward and smartly grabbed the fox’s tail, just as Mr Ferrer released his grip and fell to the floor, unconscious.

In the Shifting Sands, Salazar’s composure instantly evaporated.

“Maggie!” he shouted desperately. “Please don’t hurt her! What do you want? What do you want?”

All the pirates at the bar – even First Mate Jiang – were slightly appalled at their captain. They regarded this shameless display with disdain.

On the bridge, Captain Singh ignored him. Mr Ferrar had fainted and he needed first aid. Just as she knelt down beside him, though, the door opened again, and Dr Zivai entered.

“Doctor Zivai – good timing,” said the captain, urgently. “Mr Ferrer’s unconscious, he seems to have lost a lot of blood. Attend to him, please.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Dr Zivai strode across the room, reaching into the folds of her coat as she did. She rummaged – carefully – in her pockets for a good 20 seconds, before bringing out her dualphased panmediscope. This was a small handheld unit whose dozens of medical functions made it an indispensable tool of her trade. She knelt down beside Mr Ferrer, and within a minute, she’d disinfected the wound, repaired the nerve and tissue damage, cloned and replaced the lost blood and tissue, and invisibly sutured the skin. She’d also given Mr Ferrer a dose of strong painkillers and a stimulant to bring him around. He sat up, blinking and rubbing his left arm. He opened and closed his left hand, marvelling at the disappearance of the pain.

Sitting down on the floor next to him, Dr Zivai asked “How are you feeling?”

Mr Ferrer considered the question carefully before responding. “Fine. Thank you,” he said, in a tone of grateful surprise.

It was then that Dr Zivai and Mr Ferrer looked up and saw that they’d been surrounded by their crew mates, who were staring at them coldly, suspiciously. Mr Ferrer suddenly felt extremely self conscious. “What is it?” he asked Captain Singh, tentatively.

“MAGGIE! Please don’t hurt her!”
Captain Singh rolled her eyes at the interruption of the pirate captain’s plaintive cries. She turned to the wallscreen that showed his anxious face. Looking Salazar straight in the eye, she held up her index finger… “Hold that thought,” she barked, as she killed the link to the Shifting Sands. She had more pressing concerns.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

In the Shifting Sands, Salazar gasped when Captain Singh cut the link.

“Maggie! They’ve got Maggie!” he exclaimed, pathetically. Then, as his helplessness was replaced by firm resolve, “I’m going after her.”

“Cap’n,” began First Mate Jiang, “do you think that’s wise?”

But he was already on his feet and heading toward the door.

“You don’t understand – ” he began.

“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” she responded. “What about us? What about your crew? You’ve just casually announced that our mission today was never about the gold – you don’t think you owe them some sort of explanation?”

“That can wait,” he said as he reached the door. “They’ve got Maggie! I’ve got to rescue her!”

“But Cap’n -” protested Lightfoot.

“Oh,” said Salazar. He had stopped, and was now standing at the door, having just learned that it was locked.

“The door’s locked,” he informed his crew helpfully. Adding “We’re all locked in here, ” somewhat unnecessarily.

There was silence, as A.J, Lightfoot and Devereux looked concernedly to Jiang. Richards gave a worried-looking Gotmund a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Nobody spoke for a moment.

“Fine by me!” announced Dr Jelani suddenly, as she drained her glass, and summoned Marie to bring her another.
“Pffffffft,” she added, happily.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

“Ms Arenson, please transfer the Engine Room feed from the bridge to my ready room,” Captain Singh commanded. “Dr Zivai, Mr Ferrer and Ms Aku, come with me, please. Mr Sinclair, you have the bridge.”

“Yes, captain,” said the First Officer, moving to replace the captain at her console.

Captain Singh walked briskly to her ready room – her small office adjacent to the bridge – and waited until the three crew members were inside and the door was closed, before she spoke. She addressed the wallscreen that showed the link to the Engine Room.

“Ms Arenson, is Mr Abara still there?”

“Yes captain,” came the response, as Ms Arenson gestured to Mr Abara to come to the screen.

The Chief Technology Officer reluctantly tore himself away from the screen where he’d been watching his piratical beloved, and stood front and centre, awaiting his captain’s orders.

“Yes, Captain?” said Mr Abara.

“Mr Abara… Mr Ferrer… and Doctor Zivai,” she said, looking each of them in the eye, as she slowly and deliberately pronounced their names, “One of you is a murderer.”

The fourth person in the ready room, Second Officer Ms Aku, looked between the three suspects, grateful that the captain hadn’t included her in that macabre roll call.

“About ten minutes ago,” the captain continued, “down on B Deck, in the cellar of the Epicurus restaurant, one of the invading pirates was murdered. By one of you.”

Dr Zivai, Mr Ferrer and Mr Abara all stared at Captain Singh, wide eyed. None of them dared to speak.

“He was not shot. He was killed by a very quick, lethal injection; exactly the method that was used on Chief Cabin Steward Ms Stuppeck and Second Technology Officer Mr Vickers a few days back. The question is… which one of you did it?”

The first protestations came from Mr Abara in Engineering. “It wasn’t me, Captain! I’d never kill anyone. I was devastated when Mr Vickers died, you remember. We worked so closely together. And I didn’t even know Ms Stuppeck; why would I want to kill her?”

“What about this pirate?”

“The one that’s been killed?”

Captain Singh inhaled impatiently.

“Yes, the one that’s been killed.”

“Well, I’m just glad it’s not her…” Mr Abara’s voice softened to a reverent whisper on that last word.

“What?” snapped the Captain.

“Her! The one I’m in love with! I don’t actually know her name, but -”

“I’m sorry?”

“Oh, don’t be sorry, Captain; don’t be sorry – it’s wonderful! I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love….”

“Alright.”

“I’m in love – ”

“ALRIGHT! But you were on B Deck, alone, 10 minutes ago?”

“Yes! I was looking for her. I couldn’t find her though, so I came back to Engineering, where…” he looked over his shoulder at the monitor, and a smile spread across his face, “I find out that she’d been in the Shifting Sands all along! I love her.”

“Alright,” said Captain Singh.

“I LOVE HER!” he declared, ecstatically.

“ALRIGHT!”

‘That moony grin really does make him look idiotic,’ thought the captain, as she turned to Dr Zivai, and stared at her, probingly. Captain Singh wielded this silence well – eventually Dr Zivai felt compelled to speak.

“You can’t suspect me, captain, surely. I’m a doctor.”

More silence from Diana Singh.

“You know, a physician? Surgeon? Healer? Someone who’s sworn to uphold, treat and prolong life?”

“All life, Dr Zivai?” the captain asked, coolly.

Dr Zivai nodded eagerly, glad that this had finally become an exchange, and not just a monologue. “Of course!”

“Even the life of a scrawny, frightened pirate?

“Yes, even a – even a scrawny, frightened pirate.”

Captain Singh gave a small nod and turned to Mr Ferrer. Dr Zivai exhaled.

Ms Aku had been standing next to the captain, watching the scene unfold. She was spellbound, but bewildered as to why the captain had brought her in here.

“And Mr Ferrer? Can you account for your whereabouts over the last 10 minutes?”

“Of course, Captain. I’ve been chasing that stupid fox,” he said, rubbing his left arm. “All through the library, half way up the rock climbing wall, then up the waterslide and…” here, he gestured to his wet clothes “… down the waterslide as well”.

“Half way up the rock climbing wall?”

“Yes…” said Mr Ferrer, now wondering if he’d made a mistake, “half way up the rock climbing wall.”

Captain Singh held his eyes for a full five seconds before giving another small nod, and turning her back on him.

“Well,” she said, “thank you Dr Zivai, thank you Mr Ferrer,” then, turning to the wallscreen, “and thank you, Mr Abara. You’ve all been very helpful.”

Each of the three suspects looked at their captain uncertainly. As they did, they each thought they spotted a glint in her eye that wasn’t there before. There was a moment’s pause.

Then, in one quick, continuous movement, Captain Singh grabbed Ms Aku’s gun, flicked its setting to ‘stun’ and shot Dr Zivai in the chest. She dropped to the floor instantly.

 

 

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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