512 years in the future.
A Thursday morning.
Just as Devereux hit the floor, the door to the Shifting Sands slid open.
The door lock actually only had eight layers of encryption, not ten. Devereux’s estimate had been out by two.
The air from outside the lounge flowed in, immediately changing its oxygen to carbon dioxide ratio. Slowly but surely, oxygen began finding its way in to the lungs of the eight unconscious pirates. Slowly but surely, they began to revive.
From where he stood in the lounge’s open doorway, Mr Abara saw all of this, but he barely registered it. He only had eyes for the woman right in front of him. It was her. And now, at last, here they were – together. She was close enough to touch.
He looked down at her, as she slumbered. She was even more stunning up close. Although her clothes were rough and a little scruffy – scuffed brown leather boots, faded black trousers, and a patchy, voluminous green velvet coat – to him, they looked stylish and extremely exotic. She lay on her side, breathing quietly, her pretty brown hair covering her face. He saw now that her skin was pale, delicate, and had been blessed with a few faint freckles. Her eyes were closed, but he remembered them – they were the prettiest shade of blue imaginable. Should he attempt to wake her?
“Hello hello hello, Mr Abara!”
Marie’s cheerful greeting made him jump.
“What brings you here?”
Although her question had taken him by surprise, he answered quickly.
“N’awwww…” said Marie.
“Aaaawuergh….”, said Gotmund.
“Eeeeurgh….”, said Richards.
Their utterances weren’t as sentimental as hers, though – they were simply groaning as they woke up.
“Araaaargh….”, added Lightfoot, drawing herself up on to one elbow.
A.J, Jiang, Jelani and Salazar were also starting to stir, and open their eyes.
Salazar looked around him, and inhaled deeply, savoring the fresh air that was now filling his lungs. “Devereux!”, he laughed, “Ha ha! You did it! You did it!”
He spotted her lying on the floor inside the open doorway, her tools, devices and gadgets strewn on the floor around her. He also couldn’t help noticing a male Symphony crew member standing in the doorway, gazing down at her adoringly.
Devereux’s eyelids fluttered, then opened. She looked around her and then up, to see the smiling face of a friendly looking man in his mid-twenties. He wore a Symphony uniform, had shoulder length auburn hair and… was that a flower behind his right ear? Yes, a Rigilian pansy, by the look of it.
Their eyes met.
“Hello,” he said quietly.
“Hello,” she returned, a little bewildered.
Tentatively, he reached out a hand to her, but before she could take it, a gruff female voice yelled across the room.
“You want I should shoot him, Captain?”
“No, Richards, that’s alright – not yet,” Salazar answered, as he got to his feet, rubbing his head. “Not yet.”
The most trigger happy member of the Albert’s crew looked disappointed at this, and lowered the rifle she’d pointed at Mr Abara’s chest.
“Well, well, well,” said Salazar as he moved across to Devereux, eyeing Mr Abara all the while. “What have we here?”
“Chief Technology Officer Kit Abara,” Mr Abara answered, raising both hands in surrender. “… erm… Captain?” (‘Was this guy even their captain?’, he wondered) “I was trying to open the door from the outside.”
“Oh really?” Jiang asked skeptically. “And why would that be?”
“I was trying to save you.”
Salazar and Jiang exchanged an incredulous look.
“And why would you want to do that, Mr… Abara, was it?”
“Our captain – my captain, the person whose orders I’m supposed to follow – just locked you all in here and tried to suffocate you. That’s wrong – that’s murder, wholesale murder. I couldn’t just stand by and let that happen. I just had to save…” and here, he turned to look directly at Devereux, “… you. But I failed; it wasn’t me who opened the door. It was this young lady.”
Smiling, he held out his hand to Devereux again, to help her to her feet.
When she took his hand and gripped it, Kit Abara felt a thrill that was almost electric course through him. They were holding hands! They were actually holding hands. ‘I’ll never leave her now. Never!’ he thought.
But as she stood up, the only thing Devereux felt was realisation; ‘Ah,’ she thought. ‘there must have been only eight layers of encryption’.
“I’m Kit. Kit Abara.” he blurted out, involuntarily squeezing her hand a little tighter.
“Oh. Erm – I’m Devereux,” she returned, looking at him with those lovely blue eyes of hers. “But my first name’s Ariane. Ariane Devereux.”
The words came to her more awkwardly than she’d expected; she couldn’t remember the last time she’d actually had to introduce herself to someone new.
“I’m very, very, very pleased to meet you, Ariane Devereux,” he gushed, savoring saying her name for the first time.
“Well, Mr Abara,” Salazar said, interrupting again, “what are we going to do with you?”
“Take me with you! Wherever you’re going, I want to be there. Whatever you’re doing, I can help. I’m the Chief Technology Officer here; I can help you, I’m sure of it!”
“Swapping sides, eh?” Jiang looked askance at him.
“How do we know you’re not a spy?” Richards chipped in.
Salazar agreed. “How can we be sure that she hasn’t sent you here to infiltrate my crew? To report back to her with inside information?”
“All I can give you is my word. And my loyalty. Captain, the past few days here have been horrific. Before you arrived, one of my crew mates had been killing other crew members. It continued right up until this morning, when Captain Singh caught her. It was… Dr Zivai!” he said significantly.
The pirates exchanged blank looks. A little crestfallen, Mr Abara continued.
“But then the captain threw the rulebook away, and set Dr Zivai adrift in space… While she was still alive! And then, for an encore, she’s tried to suffocate all of you…. I tell you, I think there’s something wrong with Captain Singh – she’s snapped. I don’t feel safe here any more. This is not what I signed up for, She didn’t need to do that! You were already incarcerated,she could have just kept you locked up in here – she didn’t have to kill you! She’s lost control. She has to be stopped. For her to think that she could kill Ariane,” – he corrected himself – “that she could kill all of you, just like that… I just want to get out of here. I want to join you. And I want to be with you and help you in any way I can. Whatever I can bring to your crew, please let me bring it. Please! I’ll serve you well, and I know most of this ship’s systems better than anybody else. You need me. And I…” he addressed the next three words specifically to Devereux. “I need you.”
Mr Abara’s earnestness and passion seemed sincere. Salazar looked him up and down, then called out “Marie, get this man a drink! I need to discuss this with my crew.”
“Right you are,” said Marie, as she beckoned Mr Abara over to the bar.
Jiang called AJ, Lightfoot, Richards, Gotmund and Devereux into a huddle in one of the bar’s plush booths, with her and Salazar. They didn’t bother dragging Dr Jelani away from the bar, where she’d now progressed from lying on the floor drunk, to sitting on her bar stool again, slightly more drunk.
“So… What’s your poison, Mr Abara?” Marie asked him pleasantly, as he sat next to Dr Jelani.
Spotting the panicked look in his eye, Marie rephrased the question.
“What would you like to drink?”
“Oh,” he chuckled, relieved. “I’m not sure. I think it might be a little early for -”
“You know, I can recommend the rrrum,” slurred Dr Jelani. “Very hhhhhighly.”
Blinking at the fumes of Dr Jelani’s breath, Mr Abara was about to place his order when Salazar’s voice suddenly cut through the moment again.
“It’s decided, then! Mr Abara, you will join us on our mission. However, you will be kept under close watch at all times, and if you communicate with your old crew, or show any hint of loyalty to them, or any hint of betraying us, Richards has her orders to shoot you. Is that understood?”
Mr Abara gulped. “Yes, captain.”
“A simple ‘aye’ will be fine, Abara. Now!” he clapped and rubbed his hands together as he changed tone, “None of us have taken too kindly to being locked in a room and left to be slowly poisoned by our own breath… even a room as magnificently inviting as this.”
Salazar climbed up and stood on the couch, as he warmed to the subject of his speech…
“So we will all have our revenge. I will face Captain Singh on the ship’s bridge, and we will take her precious ship from her. I will make her understand why I’ve brought us all here, and I will rescue my beloved Maggie from her while I’m at it. Abara, are you able to find out where all the Symphony crew members currently are?”
“Aye captain.” And Mr Abara noticed that Devereux was looking admiringly at him. A ball of pride and excitement swelled and burned in his chest.
“Captain, you’re not planning to… to kill them, are you?” he asked uncertainly.
“No, Abara. I am not.”
Gotmund and Richards looked disappointed.
“We don’t want to kill anybody. Take them hostage? Yes. Throw them in the brig? Yes. It’ll only be in the worst case scenarios that we’ll use our weapons. All of which have now been set to stun. Right, Richards?”
“Aye, cap’n,” Richards replied sulkily.
“There’s no reason why we can’t have our revenge, take this ship and rescue our mascot without bloodshed. So… Abara! All Symphony crew members’ current whereabouts, if you please!”
Using his personal tablet, it just took a few seconds for Mr Abara to access the relevant ship’s schematics and pinpoint all his (former) crew mates.
“Aye, captain. Chief Engineer Ms Arenson and Second Engineer Mr Chamberlain are down in Engineering with the Cruise Director Mr Martell. And everyone else – that is, Captain Singh, First Officer Mr Sinclair, Second Officer Ms Aku, the Chief Steward Mr Lebedev and the Deck Ratings Mr Ferrer and Ms LeGuin – are all up on the ship’s bridge.”
“Right,” said Salazar. “We’ll split up. Abara, you’re with Gotmund, Richards –
“And Devereux?” he asked eagerly.
“And Devereux, alright. The four of you will take Engineering. Jiang, Lightfoot, AJ and Jelani – you’re with me. We’ll be heading for the bridge. Let’s go!”
The pirates checked all their weapons, ensuring they were set to ‘stun’.
“But captain, don’t I get a gun?”
“No Abara, you do not. I’m not sure we can trust you with one just yet.”
“But what if I need to defend myself?”
“Use that big brain of yours,” he grinned. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Come on, let’s move out.”
Seven of the eight pirates – and Mr Abara – started toward the door. Dr Jelani, however, did not move.
“Um, excuse me, Cap’n,” she drawled, “if you don’t mind, I’d prefer to just stay here with Marie, if that’s alright.”
When Salazar looked at her, he noticed that she was having trouble focussing on him.
“Ah. Yes, on reflection I think that would probably be wise, Dr Jelani.”
She nodded, slowly.
“I think it would probably be wise too” she agreed, and fell off her bar stool.
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.