= CHAPTER 48 =

512 years in the future.

A Thursday morning.

9:20 AM

6 minutes until impact

Wait a minute – aren’t we forgetting something?” protested Devereux.

Salazar looked at her, unsure.

The Albert! You’re seriously suggesting sacrificing the Albert? That ship’s been our home for the past fourteen years!”

Yeah! The Cheeky Albert’s where I keep all my stuff!” AJ added.

AJ’s got a point, Cap’n,” said Jiang.

You can’t expect us to give up the last fourteen years of our lives, just like that!” said Devereux.

The chorus of disapproval grew louder – the pirates’ voices were raised, they interrupted each other, spoke over the top of each other, the discussion became heated.

Captain Singh and the other Symphony crew members watched on incredulously; did any of them have time for this? Ms Arenson spoke for all of them – and quite economically, too – when she suddenly yelled “IMPACT IN FIVE AND A HALF MINUTES!”

Alright, alright, alright!” said Salazar, holding up both hands, in the universal gesture of calling for calm. “I’ll give each of you one minute on board to clear out your stuff and get back to safety. Then I’ll have to go.”

Ms Arenson stared at him, stunned. “Are you INSANE?”

Salazar ignored her. If retrieving their few meagre possessions was this important to his crew, then it was important to him too.

One minute – no more. And that is an order,” he continued, eyeing each of his crew in turn. “Understood?”

There were various mumbles of “Aye Cap’n”, as the pirates realised that this would probably be the last order their Captain would ever give them.

Right. Then let’s go!”

But Captain Singh stopped Salazar, gripping his upper arm and fixing him with a piercing stare.

You do know that you probably won’t be able to get out in time?” she asked.

If I can save all of you – and the Symphony – it’ll be worth it.”

She eyed him with bemusement.

The captain should go down with his ship,” Salazar said, surprising himself. “Huh,” he continued. “You must be rubbing off on me.”

It took a moment for Captain Singh to respond.

Just so,” she said finally, her voice equal parts maternal pride… and utter desolation.

She let go of Salazar’s arm, and he ran off. Her shoulders drooped as she closed her eyes and exhaled slowly.

Captain Diana Singh was spent.

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Within seconds, Salazar had sped down to the Docking Bay – closely followed by AJ, Devereux, Lightfoot and Jiang – and back onto his trusty ship, the Cheeky Albert.

None of the pirates expected to be greeted by the smiling faces of the Symphony’s Chief Steward Mr Lebedev and its Cruise Director Mr Martell.

Oh, at last! You’re here! We’re escaping!” gushed Mr Lebedev.

Thank you so much for rescuing us!” said Mr Martell.

They clearly hadn’t heard any of the discussions in the Engine Room.

Sorry gentlemen, change of plan,” Salazar snapped. “In a moment, I’m gonna pilot this ship out there…” he gestured in the general direction of the cruiser’s starboard side, “… ram it up against the Symphony’s hull, and push it off its current collision course. You’re welcome to come along for the ride, but the odds are it’ll be a one way trip.”

Mr Lebedev and Mr Martell shrieked with fear and darted off the Albert and back into the Symphony’s Docking Bay.

Salazar ran to the ship’s bridge, as Jiang, Lightfoot, AJ and Devereux all sprinted past him, heading for their various berths.

YOU’VE GOT ONE MINUTE, PEOPLE!” Salazar yelled, as he settled into the pilot’s seat and began firing up the ship’s flight systems.

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Lightfoot was the first one out. There had only been two possessions she wanted to save – a little data drive, packed with treasured and endlessly useful information… and an old, tarnished Cetanian Moonstone necklace, whose only value was sentimental.

On her way out, she stopped by the ship’s bridge, to bid her captain farewell. On hearing her footfall, he spun around in the pilot’s seat, to face her.

Ah, Lightfoot! Hey, will you do me a favour?”

She nodded. Of course she she would. After all, this would probably be the last thing he’d ever ask of her.

Anything, Cap’n.”

Salazar smiled. “Now, while this plan of mine IS, most definitely, undoubtedly, one hundred percent going to work…” (Salazar had always subscribed to the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach) “… the Albert will not survive it. So. I want you to transfer all of the Albert’s data – and all of the Albert’s wealth, such as it is – over to the Symphony… can you do that?”

Of course.”

Salazar nodded. “But you don’t have to be here to do it, do you?”

Nah, not at all – I can do that from over there on the Symphony.”

Good. Let’s do that, then. Might as well salvage whatever we can from this old rustbucket,” he said, smiling sadly.

Aye Cap’n.”

Lightfoot stood there, wanting to say so much more than that, but not quite sure how to. She wanted to acknowledge the last fourteen years – to thank Salazar for the good times, to laugh with him about the bad ones, and to reminisce with him about…. Well, about all of them. She wanted to thank him for this sacrifice; this sacrifice he was making not only for his crew, but for a bunch of people who were, just a couple of hours ago, ‘The Enemy’. But no words came.

It fell to Salazar to end this pause. These were valuable seconds, that he really couldn’t spare.

Now go.”

Aye, Cap’n.” Lightfoot turned and jogged off the ship’s bridge, disembarking the Cheeky Albert for the last time.

The moment she left his sight, Salazar yelled “FORTY FIVE SECONDS, EVERYBODY! FORTY FIVE SECONDS!”

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His warning echoed throughout the ship.

First Mate Jiang heard it, as she was opening the foot locker adjacent to her berth. She frantically rummaged around inside. Where were they? Where were they?…

Aha!” she said aloud, as she spotted the ring – a dull platinum piece, set with seven Zilmarian starstones. She deftly slipped it onto her left index finger, and continued rifling through the locker’s contents.

Now,’ she thought, ‘if I can just find the map…’

And there it was – the stained, ancient parchment, rolled up and tied shut with three crumbling leather bootlaces. She picked it up and stuffed it into the folds of her jacket. She remembered the day this map came into her possession. Now that was an eventful –


Yep, fair enough,’ thought Jiang, snapping out of it, and slamming her foot locker shut.

She bolted towards the bridge.

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Thirty seconds?!” AJ repeated in exasperation, as he rifled through his chest of clothes, gadgets, spare parts and keepsakes.

He’d already stuffed a few random items into his many pockets, but there was one in particular that he was looking for…

He spotted it. A small oil painting – a portrait of two people, on a canvas not much bigger than his hand. It showed a much younger AJ, and his partner Simon; their arms were around each other and they were smiling joyously. For a moment, AJ’s face mirrored the image – his smile was jubilant as he kissed, and then pocketed, the picture.

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When it came to what she saved, Devereux wasn’t being quite so choosy. She stood at her locker, snatching every item she could, and hurriedly stuffing them into her pockets. Her enamoured companion Mr Abara stood by her side. He was helping.

Grab everything,” she’d told him. “Everything you can carry. Between us, I reckon we can probably get all of it.”

He worked hard, swiftly collecting and pocketing everything he could. He desperately wanted to serve her well; the thought of being useful to her was a joy to him. When she had asked him to help her with this, he’d replied “I’d be delighted”. And he had meant it – with every fibre of his being. He did love her so.

Right, that’s it – EVERYBODY OUT!” Salazar’s voice boomed throughout the ship’s dingy corridors.

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On the ship’s bridge, Salazar was completing the final steps of the pre-flight protocols.

AJ appeared behind him.

Cap’n, I just wanted to say – ”

But Salazar had no time for long goodbyes.

Go, AJ – go!” he commanded, shooting AJ a brave smile.

Aye Cap’n. Good luck Cap’n,” Salazar nodded, and as AJ left, Devereux arrived on the bridge, with Mr Abara in tow.

She knew time was tight, so she just offered a simple, heartfelt “Good luck Cap’n,” as she beat a path to the exit.

Yes, good luck,” Mr Abara also mumbled to Salazar, as he trailed along in her wake.

And now First Mate Jiang stood on the ship’s bridge, directly behind Salazar in the pilot’s seat. She didn’t move. She didn’t know what she was waiting for; she only knew that she was reluctant to leave. Although she wasn’t standing in his eyeline, Salazar knew she was there.

Jiang,” he said, “will you do me a favour?”

Of course.”

Look after Maggie for me?”

And that was when Jiang knew. She knew Salazar didn’t expect to return. Blinking away sudden tears and swallowing hard against the lump in her throat, she answered “Aye, Cap’n”. She didn’t trust herself to say any more than that.

Now go! Go!” Salazar said.

She didn’t.

Clock’s ticking, Jiang – GO!”

Jiang ran out of the Albert, through the Docking Bay and further into the Symphony, sealing the Docking Bay door behind her.

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Salazar detached the Cheeky Albert from the Symphony’s docking portal, and carefully piloted it away from the massive cruiser, to begin this fateful, all-or-nothing gamble…

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From their (relatively) safe position inside the Symphony, his crew anxiously watched the battered little freighter pull away. Jiang said the three words so quietly, they were almost a whisper; “Good luck, Cap’n.”



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


Text copyright (c) 2020 Stephen Hall

All rights reserved.
No portion of this story may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher. For permissions contact author@TheStephenHall.com

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