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Pirate among thieves: The last Goodbye (Part 6)

The ship Domino had stowed away on was an old wooden schooner. The surfaces of the deck planks showed a lot of wear, but also that care had been taken to preserve them. There were two masts, both at full sail now the ship was underway.

Below, there were two decks. The upper deck was lined with cannon ports, though most of the cannons had been replaced with more modern weapons. She thought she’d seen a Gatling gun as she’d snuck past. Hammocks were slung at one end, enough for a crew of fourteen. At the other end was a small galley area and a hatch to the cargo hold.

The lower deck consisted of the hold and ammunition stores. A plank wall separated the two rooms with a door clearly designed for people much shorter than Domino. Another hatch came down into the ammo store from near the gun ports, but so far no one had used it. She’d nested herself behind a row of ammunition crates, watching the door through a gap in the stack.

Listening through the deck, she could hear the crew in the hammock area above her laughing and joking. Most of them spoke in the coarse, grating language of the Qaribal tribe, but luckily for her there were two who seemed to prefer English. Hands on loan from another tribe, she reasoned. The rest of the crew didn’t seem to trust them and she’d heard some angry words pass between them. From their hushed conversations, she’d picked up that the ship would anchor somewhere off the coast near Babbage, laying in wait for a large cargo ship they’d heard would soon be arriving at port. Tonight would be her night to act.

As the sun began to set, Domino started making her preparations. She crept to the door and pressed her ear against it. Nothing. Turning back to the crates, she gently pried one open. Bullets, not what she needed. Picking another, she levered the lid off. Perfect! The crate was filled with fuses. She took out a handful and began tying them together. Once the combined length was about two meters, she set it aside and looked through a few more crates until she found one filled with bags of gun powder. She opened her bag and took out a few sticks of dynamite. She tied off the fuses, pushed them about half way into one of the bags and attached the extra length of fuse to the end. Smiling to herself, she laid the long, knotted fuse out along the wall, re-stacked the crates to hide her handiwork and stopped to listen again.

Footsteps moved above her as, she assumed, the crew came in from the deck and the night watch took over. A few of the men laughed and there was a crash and some scrambling around. Another voice, stern, and the footsteps returned to quiet pacing, gradually settling into occasional conversation.

Domino sat in her hiding place, giving the crew a few hours to settle as she planned her route. There were two ways onto the deck, stairs fore and aft. If she was careful, and lucky, she could slip into one of the two dinghies and get away before anyone noticed. The aft stairs were closer to the dinghies, but she’d have to sneak past hammocks full of sleeping tribals. She decided to go with the bow stairs, coming onto the deck next to the forecastle.

Nothing but snores from upstairs. Careful not to knock any of the crates, she climbed out and listened at the door. Someone was there. Looking through the crack at the bottom, she could see a pair of boots facing away from her. Cracking the door slightly, she smirked as she saw one of the tribals hunched over a crate, helping himself to some kind of sweet bread. By his posture, she guessed the captain wouldn’t be happy to see this.

Domino drew her knife and slipped into the room. As she crept closer, the man glanced up at the stairs and stopped eating. She froze, holding her breath until he went back to his snack. Creeping behind him, she took a deep, slow breath, she slipped her left arm under his and clamped her hand over his mouth, pulling him back against her. He started to struggle, then flailed as she shoved her knife in through the top of his rib cage. She lifted him slightly off the ground, aided by her nearly one foot height advantage, and held him until he stopped moving.

Domino slowly and carefully lowered the midnight snackers body behind some crates of ships biscuits and draped a sheet over him. Once he was hidden from a casual inspection, she tiptoed back into the ammo store and took a box of matches from a pouch in her bag. She struck one, listening for any movement from upstairs. Nothing. Smiling, she lit the end of her long fuse. She estimated it’d give her about fifteen minutes.

Domino crept through the door, past the hidden snacker and up the stairs, wincing at every creak and groan in the planks. Reaching the hatch, she stopped to listen. Faint snoring came from beyond. She slowly pushed it open and slipped into the galley. All the men in the hammocks looked fast asleep, but there were four empty. Excluding the one she’d left down below, that meant three on watch and the captain, who usually had their own cabins on ships this size.

She turned to the stairs up towards the deck. Movement. She stepped into the shadow of one of the large guns lined up along the ships side and waited. Voices drifted down from the deck, one talking in broken English. She caught a few words. “Your brother should watch his speak. Captain have head if talk bad.” The other voice, one of the hands from a different tribe, seemed to agree.

Domino sat in the dark, counting seconds, cursing under her breath as the two voices changed topics and kept talking. “Get out of the bloody way!” she screamed in her head as the thought of her fuse burning down ate at her patience.

After what felt like forever, the shadows vanished from the stairs and the voices moved away. She quickly climbed the stairs and, peeked around the hatch to see the two figures had moved to the stern and were watching the lights of a small ship through telescopes. Just past them were the dinghies she planned to escape on, hanging from davits already swung out over the sea ready to be lowered for boarding.

The men moved toward the bow, still tracking the ship with their spyglasses. Domino moved while they were occupied, darting behind a capstan, then the edge of the poop deck, in reach of the boats.

“Khinzir alnisa’!” The third watchman had been standing around the corner, keeping an eye on ships leaving port. She’d almost backed into him before he shouted and he was drawing his sword.

Unsheathing her blade, Domino charged him, thrusting at his chest. He raised his kopesh and deflected her stab to the side, but she didn’t stop. Bracing her shoulder, she barged him against the bulwark, knocking the wind from his lungs. He tried to raise his sword, but she grabbed his forearm with her left hand, brought her sword around with her right and thrust it through his torso. Pulling his arm, she turned him to face the side, brought up her leg and shoved him over, freeing her blade.

Shouts came from the bow. She peeked around and ducked back as shots struck the wood by her head. reaching into her jacket, she grabbed one of the quick fused dynamite sticks she kept strapped to her side. She flicked the inbuilt flint striker and tossed it in the direction of the shots.

Boom! Not stopping to look, she kicked off the bulwark, put one foot on the wooden gunwale and launched herself into one of the hanging dinghies, slashing the rope holding it as she landed. The dinghy crashed down into the sea, spraying freezing water over her as she raced to the stern to shove off from the ship. She’d never be able to row far enough to be out of range before the crew recovered. Turning, she drew her pepper-pot pistols and aimed at the deck, hoping to keep the crew pinned down until her bomb went off.

A head appeared over the gunwale and she fired, sending the tribal ducking. Another head, this time near the bow and with holes burnt into his headscarf. She fired again, covering fore and aft with each hand. A rifle appeared at the stern and fired a shot, splashing harmlessly way behind her. She fired at the spot it had been and heard a cry as her bullet passed through the wooden planks. This might actually work.

Domino’s stern but confident glare faltered as she realised what she’d overlooked. The gun ports were opening. She fired a few shots through them, but knew the crew inside would be well protected. Something big whirred inside the ship and a hot stream of bullets shot past her, blowing the stem off the dinghies bow. Her eyes widened as the gunners corrected their aim, turning the Gatling gun to face her.

Domino turned and dived from her boat as the gun fired again. The shots blew holes in the thwart and side, then the ship erupted in flame. Splinters of mast and deck were blasted into the air as the powder stores exploded, setting off a chain of smaller blasts as the other ammunition went off and shot holes in every direction tearing the schooner into pieces.

Burning fabric and splintered decking rained down around her as Domino swam back to her upturned dinghy. She grabbed hold of the keel and, with a huge pull, hauled the little craft upright. She grabbed the gunwale and pulled, muscles shaking as she dragged her waterlogged body up and over the side to tumble back into the battered boat.

The soggy pirate sat back against the transom, taking deep gulps of cool air as relief washed over her. She was in sight of Port Babbage! A few hours rowing and she’d be home. As she stood to untie the oars, a groan drifted across the water from the direction of the wreckage. She watched cautiously as light from the port faintly illuminated a body floating in the water. Groaning echoed in her ears as it drifted closer.

Domino smirked as she saw the face, it was the tribal who had intended to sacrifice her by cannon. Their eyes met as he floated against her boat and feebly reached for the gunwale.

“Why do we sail?” she asked, her eyes flashing with malice.

“F..f..for freedom..” he said shakily.

She nodded, raising her oar. “Mine!” she spat, bringing it down hard on his head.


Part 5:

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