Their flight took them far south of the city nearing the Aquila III island. It was well after midnight when she saw a small ship coming from the west. It was headed in the same direction as them, a cloud high above the ocean. Beryl thought nothing of it as the ship went through the cloud but did not emerge on the other side. When it was their turn she could feel the humidity increase. She started to fan herself before she caught the spectacle in front of her.
Hidden deep within the cloud of steam was an massive battle ship supported by several air balloons and many propellers. On either side of the ship, and below it, she could hear the rush of steam escaping vents surrounding the vessel. It was producing its own steam screen blocking it from sight. The ship that had disappeared into the cloud was docked and dropping off its cargo ahead of them. It was flying the flag she had seen last in the Riff.
The flag pierced her concentration for a moment. Memories of the Hag returned, unwanted and unbidden. Dark thoughts clouded her mind making her clarity vanish into the mist. She tried to leap from Pan’s transport, to get away from the memories, but her movement was limited by her harness.
“Calm down,” Pan reassured her quietly. She made a few calming gestures, “There is no need to panic. They’re not going to hurt you. You’re going to be my special guest.” Beryl stopped struggling slowly, but Pan added after a brief pause. “Where would you run to anyways? It’s a long fall down.”
Beryl sagged as she accepted her fate for now. The humid air was only getting thicker as they passed through and docked on the other side. There a small hatch opened that would allow them to enter and for her to park her transport.
It was no wonder that no one had found them hidden in the cloud, not without knowing what they were looking for yet. They must have stolen this battleship. The Rif wouldn’t have something like this.
Pan smiled to her as they entered the hangar. “Welcome aboard” She sounded more subdued than when she was on land and her walk lacked its previous swagger.
“Thanks,” She said quietly. She took in the metal structure. It should have been easy to confirm the ship had been stolen; if she had not relapsed moments before. The imagery used in the lining decals were more Victorian than Arabian. She traced them with her eyes for a time, idly wondering,”…this is where I report to the brig yes? I figured about halfway here I was your prisoner.”
Pan was not standing near her anymore. She had called to a small boy to join them. She growled as she spoke to him. “See quarters readied for our guest, cabin boy.” She spat the last two words at him like an insult.
“Guest?” Beryl joined them slowly, not paying attention to the lad who ran off as she approached. “That is nicer than I was anticipating.”
“Guest. Mostly.” Pan replied quietly, her voice difficult to hear over the thundering machines. “You’re not a ransom, and you will be returned when all is done, unharmed.”
“A woman of your word then?” Beryl shook her head. That would be as much of a surprise as the ship itself. Pan did not respond, and remained silent as she escorted Beryl through the hangar and engine rooms. Beryl could see conveyor belts feeding coal into many large boilers.
Perhaps they had been stealing coffee and coal? It would make sense she supposed. Over twenty vessels went missing from multiple countries, so coffee was not the only thing they must have plundered.
They ascended the stairs and found themselves in what appeared to be a living quarters, but the Cabin boy was standing next to the bring in the adjacent room. The door was open, and a sleeping boy bedded down within. “The room is ready.”
Beryl could only laugh. Something about this seemed so funny to her, though she could not have said what. Pan however was not amused. She approached the boy menacingly, “Wrong. Quarters.” She pointed back at Beryl. “Guest.”
The lad jumped as he shut the gate and rushed back to the rooms. He passed through and selected a room under the stairs. He was throwing things out of the room, and setting clean sheets. Almost she offered to help, but Pan approached her, “Cat, a request before you settle in? I would have a lock of your fur, if you would spare it. It is to let those below know you are here.”
Beryl could see no reason to refuse, and combed her own tail for the hair. Finally she gave a tuft of it to Pan who was eager to deliver the message. The Gadgetier gave a final growl to the cabin boy, “See her needs met. She has free run of the ship except the bridge and engines. Escort when she’s visiting the brig. Got that?”
The lad nodded slowly, “Yes ma’am.”
Beryl hardly heard it as she shut the door to the small room that would be hers for some time. The thought of escape never occurred to her. She knew there was a plan in motion already to free Tepic and the others. They could parley for her too.
The Parley, she realized suddenly. I can set up the Parley with the pirates!
Beryl had not had that planned at all. She figured Emerson would dumb luck himself into finding the pirates and negotiating with them on his own. Now she could set it up for him ahead of time.
She was starting to get excited, dozens of plans starting to form in her head, but with the excitement came the ‘headaches’. It was a dull at first, but it grew in its insistence till it was all she could think about to rub her head.
They couldn’t tell which was worse, the confusion or the headaches. Perhaps one day she would not need it anymore, or could find a balance between the medicine and the confusion. She reached into into her pocket and pulled out the prescription Doctor Avalon had given her.
Leave it to Dr. Avalon to make people want to take their medicine. Beryl smiled, she was confused again, but content. Apparently these pirates weren’t half as bad as they wanted to make themselves out to be.
That was what she thought before she met the Captain, at least. A small knock at the door caught her attention. She opened it and was suddenly tackled…
(To be continued)