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Captain, Can You Hear Me?

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            There was a loud crash, and the Erebus rocked. There had been much crashing and shaking for the past several minutes, and Mary knew it wasn’t likely to end anytime soon. The ship was in broadside combat, again. She had grown used to this, for it had been about two months since she was first arrested and imprisoned. She had lost track of what day it was. No, they weren’t starting to blend together. It hadn’t been that long.

            She didn’t quite know how she was going to get out of there, but she knew she had to. She wasn’t going to die like a dog at the hands of some faceless Armada executioner. Not only that but it was extremely dull in the tiny cell. Usually the only changes of pace were when the ship engaged in combat or when a new prisoner was jailed. It had been a while since that had happened. The most recent prisoner had been brought in a few weeks ago, but she hadn’t known them. She didn’t make a habit of getting to know the others, since she had learned early on that they were usually killed soon after. She assumed she was the prisoner who had been there the longest. Or, at least, one of them.

            There came sounds of clashing metal and electric blasts. The Erebus had been boarded. That happened less often, usually the attacking ship was sunk before they got the chance to board and engage in deckside combat. She heard shouting, the words of which she couldn’t make out, and assumed it was the attacking ship’s captain yelling orders at his crew.

            Usually deckside battles were short. The crew of the Erebus was stronger than most people knew. Of course they knew it and the ship were stronger than the rest of the Armada ships and soldiers, but the crew was much stronger than what they thought it would be. An opposing ship would attack, and it would seem like a normal, albeit difficult, broadside combat. If the ship survived long enough to board the Erebus, the crew and Captain would, and by then it would be too late. This battle, however, was lasting longer than usual. The blasts and clashes were getting closer to the door that led down below the deck.

            This must be a very skilled team of fighters, Mary thought. They’ve managed to push all the way back to the brig entrance.

            ‘Get down, she’s goin’ ta blow!’ a gruff voice said, followed by a loud explosion and a fit of coughing. ‘It’s one o’ these prisoners. Check the ones down there, Monkey.’

            ‘I’m on eet...’ said a higher voice in a thick Polarian accent. ‘Is zis ze prisoner we’re looking for?’

            The voice had gotten much closer. Mary turned around. A short, stout pirate man, with an eye patch and a long, wild white beard and moustache, and a small, well-dressed Monkey man with a cane were standing right outside her cell, looking at her. She wasn’t quite sure whether this was a good thing or not.

            ‘Hard to say,’ said the pirate. ‘You there, ye’re standin’ on me blind side. Are ye a boy, or a girl?’

            ‘Uh, a girl,’ Mary replied. ‘Though technically an adult.’

            ‘What’s yer name, pirate?’ he asked.

            ‘Mary Silver,’ she answered. ‘And I’m not a pirate.’

            ‘I told you!’ the Monkey said. ‘She is ze one!’

            ‘Maybe so,’ the pirate said sceptically. ‘If ye are who ye say ye are, prove it.’

            ‘How?’ Mary asked. ‘What am I supposed to tell you?’

            ‘We know ye’re an orphan,’ he said. ‘How’d ye lose yer parents?’

            ‘They were killed,’ she said. ‘By someone in a white mask.’

            ‘Ah, blasted by the Armada, were they?’ he replied.

            ‘Clockwork fiends!’ the Monkey added angrily. ‘Zere is no dishonour in dying for ze Resistance!’

            ‘So, who raised ye, then? Where’d ye grow up?’ the man asked.

            ‘Well I was born in Cool Ranch,’ she answered, ‘and I stayed there until I was eight. But after my parents died in Krokotopia, I was raised there. A Mander picked me up and carried me off. Started takin’ care of me, and teachin’ me.’

            ‘Ye learned to fight in the arenas of Krokotopia, under the blazin’ sun?’ he asked.

            ‘Uh, yeah, I guess...’ Mary said.

            ‘You must be good wiz a staff!’ the Monkey said. ‘Krokotopian pit fighting is deadly!’

            ‘I can use ‘em,’ she agreed. ‘I don’t like ‘em.’

            ‘So how’d ye end up locked in this brig?’ the man asked. ‘What crime did the Armada arrest ye for?’

            ‘Ah, I assaulted an Armada Officer while standin’ my ground,’ Mary answered. ‘He broke into my house. What was I supposed to do?’

            ‘You sound like quite ze Swashbuckler!’ the Monkey said. ‘Swashbucklers are known for zeir speed and cunning!’

            ‘Well, uh, thanks, I guess,’ she said.

            ‘Ye were right, Monkey,’ the pirate said. ‘She’s the right prisoner. Now, let’s get ye out of this confounded cell,’ he said, turning to her and opening the door.

            She stepped out and started down the hall.

            ‘Wait!’ said the pirate man. ‘Ye need somethin’ to defend yerself! Here,’ he said, taking out a pair of daggers and handing them to her. ‘These aren’t the best knives out there, but they’re handy in a pinch.’

            ‘Thanks,’ she said, sticking them in her belt. ‘Who exactly are you?’

            ‘Call me Boochbeard! This here’s Gandry,’ he said, regarding the Monkey. ‘Now hurry! We’re runnin’ outta time!’

            He and Gandry ran down the hall, and Mary followed.

            ‘You! I need help!’ one of the other prisoners called out to her. He was a brown Horse barbarian with a black mane, beard, moustache, and tail, a nick in his right ear, and a scar on his face. He was dressed in red clothing with orange trim and a protective vest and he was carrying a long, menacing-looking blade in his left hand, the sheath hanging on his right hip.

            She stopped and went back to him. ‘How? Do you know how the door opens?’

            ‘Zere is no time!’ Gandry called urgently. ‘We must get out of here, now!’

            Mary looked at her rescuers, then back at the barbarian. She hesitated. She was being rescued. She was free. There was a very real chance that she would get off the Erebus and see sunlight again. There was a very real chance that she would get to fight the Armada, and live an actual life, something that she had never truly experienced. She was only eight when her parents had died, and Krokotopia had never felt like home to her. She had only turned nineteen a few short weeks before she was arrested and thrown into the brig. Even if she hadn’t been, what could she have done? She had no money and no ship, where would she have gone? What would she have done? This was probably the only chance at freedom she had, but it wouldn’t be worth anything if she went down with the ship.

            But...this was a person inside that cell. There was a reason he had called out to her, asking for help. He didn’t want to die any more than she did. He had to be rescued as well. She could either help him, and they could escape together, or she could leave him, and have a slightly higher chance of living. Or she could continue to stand there without making a decision and they could all die.

            ‘I’m not leavin’ without him,’ she said firmly. ‘What do I do?’ she asked, regarding the Horse.

            ‘Use that lever! Get me out of this cage.’ He said the last word with a mix of anger and desperation.

            She ran over to the lever across the hall and began pulling on it. It wouldn’t budge.

            ‘It moves the other way!’ he said.

            ‘Oh,’ said Mary, slightly embarrassed. She pushed on it a few times, and it still didn’t move. She tried kicking it and the switch was thrown. The cell door slid open.

            ‘I am in your debt,’ said the Horse barbarian. ‘I am Subodai, from MooShu. Take me with you! And together, we shall crush our enemies!’

            Mary stared at him for a few seconds. Her face split into a smile. ‘I like you, Subodai.’

            They ran down the hall together, towards the stairs.

            ‘What took ye so long?!’ Boochbeard asked.

            ‘I was savin’ a life, is that a problem?!’ Mary shouted over the din.

            ‘That sounds bad,’ said Boochbeard. ‘We’d best be out of here, quick!’

            They ran upstairs onto the upper deck. The sails were torn and the ship was on fire. Cannonballs were flying and there were holes in the deck. The air was hot and thick with haze and smoke.

            ‘The prisoners must not be allowed to escape,’ an eerily calm voice said. ‘Take them.’

            Two Clockwork Musketeers and a Marine marched forward.

            ‘We’ll have to fight our way back to ze ship!’ Gandry said.

            Mary darted forward and attacked the Marine with the daggers Boochbeard had given her. It immediately recovered. It slashed her twice with its poleaxe and stabbed her with the top pike, and she yelled out in pain. She attacked it again. It made a sort of twang noise, like a spring breaking, and dropped its halberd, its arms hanging useless. It fell to the deck, flat on its face, at her feet.

            ‘You dare hurt my friend? You will pay!’ Subodai shouted angrily, running forward to fight beside Mary. He attacked the Musketeer to the left of Mary with a few powerful slashes, and it fired at him. He let out a shout of pain, growled, and wiped his mouth. The other Musketeer fired at Mary, who quickly dodged the shot.

            ‘Don’t just stand there!’ said the voice again. ‘Capture them!’

            The four Marines who had been so far standing to the side marched forward.

            ‘Oh no! Reinforcements!’ Gandry said. Mary attacked the unharmed Clockwork with a powerful strike, destroying it in one hit, and Subodai finished the wounded one off with one last slash.

            ‘You’re still outnumbered!’ Boochbeard said. ‘Hmm. Let me even these odds!’ And he brought a barrage of bombs down on the Marines, destroying them all.

            ‘Impressive,’ said the remaining stranger. ‘It seems we’ve underestimated you, young pirate.’

            ‘I’m not a pirate,’ Mary said, waving smoke away and looking at the Clockwork for the first time. He was wearing a white mouthless mask, a long black cape, and a tall, black, gold-trimmed tricorne hat, and he was carrying a thin black cane. She froze.

 

‘It’s no use...Darius, we can’t keep running, we’ve got to try and fight them off!’ a young woman with long black hair said to her husband. ‘Mary, you have to run and find somewhere to hide!’ she said to her young daughter. ‘Go! Now!’

            ‘O-okay,’ the girl said, and she began running, looking for somewhere to hide. She didn’t know where she would go, or what exactly was happening. All she knew was that her mother had told her to hide, and she had learned that if she was told to hide, she really needed to. She saw a building and went behind it. She sat still to wait until her mother or father came to get her.

            The woman, the one called Darius, and their crew drew their weapons to fight off the troupe of Clockwork Musketeers and Marines marching towards them.

            ‘Natalie, run!’ said Darius to his wife. ‘We’ll hold them off! Go find somewhere to snipe them from!’

            The one called Natalie took off, her hair flying behind her.

            Darius raised his shotgun and fired at one of the Marines. It slashed him across the face.

            ‘Gaspard, I need you on my flank!’ Darius called to a Guinea pig in armour wielding a large axe, who immediately ran up beside him. Darius shouted more battle orders at the rest of the crew while he and the Guinea pig Gaspard fought off Clockworks. Darius dodged a few blasts from Musketeers while Gaspard stabbed a Marine. Two crewmembers were fighting off a group of four Armada Marines while Darius was attacking a Musketeer. Gaspard defended him from a Marine in his blind spot. There was a formation of Musketeers standing back and firing from long range that Darius called for two of the crewmembers to try and break up.

            Natalie was hiding on the top floor of a building, watching over and sniping Clockworks that everyone else either didn’t see or couldn’t handle, along with the weak ones, from a small window. A badly damaged Armada Musketeer was taking aim at Gaspard, and she took it out in one shot. Three Marines were cornering another crewmember, and she fired a few blasts at the weakest one, making it collapse.

            ‘Natalie Moone located,’ a robotic voice said. Natalie gasped and whirled around, facing an Armada Officer and two Armada Marines. She was cornered. ‘Militus Vicus. Custos Vicus. Incapacitate the renegade,’ the Officer ordered, and the Marines marched forward. Natalie aimed her musket at one of the Marines and fired, but it kept marching. Once they reached her, one of them wrested her weapon away from her, and the other took hold of her arm.

            ‘Get your greasy metal hands off me!’ she shouted, twisting and trying to wrench free from the Marine’s grasp. The other Marine gripped her other arm, and both of them forced her arms behind her back. She continued struggling, even as they began to march her towards the exit.

            ‘Your efforts to escape are futile,’ one of the Marines said in its monotonous voice. ‘Your best course of action would be to cease resistance and come quietly.’

            Natalie hissed angrily and stopped struggling. ‘Where are you taking me, then?’ she snapped.

            None of them answered.

            The Armada Marines took her out of the building and stopped, holding her there. The Armada Officer, however, continued on. It marched onwards, towards the fight where Darius was. It did not stop and join. It kept marching until it reached the port where the Erebus was docked. It boarded the ship and went into the captain’s cabin.

            ‘Optimus Viridis,’ Deacon acknowledged the Clockwork. ‘What is it?’

            ‘We have apprehended Natalie Moone,’ he notified Deacon.

            ‘Wonderful,’ Deacon answered. ‘I shall interrogate her. If all goes well, the Armada will have the map sooner than Kane predicted. When she has exhausted her usefulness, arrest her and the rest of her pitiful band of renegades.’

            ‘It will be done,’ Viridis said.

            Deacon and Optimus Viridis left the Erebus and approached the scene of the fight. ‘Cease fire!’ he ordered. The Clockworks left standing stopped fighting, and silence fell.

            Mary cautiously looked out of her hiding place, seeing if it was safe to come out. She could still see Clockworks everywhere, including a unique one who was wearing a tall, black, gold-trimmed tricorne hat, a long black cape, and a white mouthless mask. He was also carrying a thin black cane. She didn’t take her eyes off the scene.

            ‘Restrain them!’ Deacon ordered. The Clockworks marched forward and restrained Darius, Gaspard, and the few other crewmembers left standing. They were too exhausted to resist. ‘Bring me the woman,’ he said. Natalie’s captors marched forward with her and forced her down on her knees. ‘Where is the map?’ Deacon interrogated.

            ‘What map?’ she snapped, and he hit her across the face with his cane.

            ‘Don’t play innocent with me, pirate,’ he said. ‘Where is it?’

            ‘I don’t have it,’ Natalie answered. ‘And I’m not a pirate, Clockwork. Not anymore.’

            ‘If you tell us where the map is, we will allow you to go free unharmed,’ Deacon said.

            ‘Lies!’ Natalie spat. ‘We both know that the second you find out where it is we’re all going straight into the dungeons!’

            Deacon raised his cane again. ‘Where is the map! We know you know where it is!’

            ‘I don’t know!’ she shouted. ‘And even if I did, I would never tell you!’

            ‘Comply and perhaps Kane will be merciful in return for your help!’ Deacon said.

            ‘I would never!’ Natalie said in resistance. ‘You will never find that map, and I am the last person that will ever help you! I will sooner die!’

            ‘As you wish,’ Deacon said. He took out his gun, pointed it directly and deliberately into her face, and fired a blast so powerful that it knocked her backwards. Her face held a permanent expression of mingled defiance and shock. She was dead.

            ‘Natalie! No!’ Darius shouted, and he rushed forward. Deacon fired an equally lethal blast into Darius’s chest and he, too, collapsed to the ground dead.

            There was a long stretch of silence.

            ‘Arrest the lot of them,’ Deacon ordered. The Clockworks complied. The crew was in too much shock to fight back. They were led onto the Erebus and down into the brig, where they were locked in individual cells. Deacon and Viridis stayed behind.

            ‘Sir, our previous orders indicated that Natalie Moone and Darius Silver would be arrested and tried along with their crew,’ Viridis stated. ‘I was not aware they were to be executed on site.’

            ‘They would have been executed regardless,’ Deacon said. ‘I simply accelerated the process.’

            ‘Very well,’ Viridis replied. They went on towards the Erebus, boarded, and set sail.

            Mary was still there in her hiding spot. She did not believe what she had seen. She did not move. She did not blink. She barely breathed. She didn’t even move when a Mander found her there, realised that she must be the child of the couple who had just been murdered, and took her home to begin taking care of her.

 

Mary was standing stock-still, staring at the Clockwork. ‘It’s you,’ she whispered.

            ‘What?’ he asked.

            ‘It’s YOU!’ Mary screamed. She snapped out of her trance and lunged towards him. Subodai threw his arms around her waist and restrained her, knowing that the Clockwork would only harm her if she were to attack him, and that he would likely win. The ship was also badly damaged, and Subodai could feel it sinking. They had to leave, and he had to convince her to leave with him.

            ‘What the—? LET ME GO!’ she shouted, struggling to escape.

            ‘Captain, this ship is sinking!’ Subodai said. ‘We must abandon it!’

            ‘Not until I’m done with him!’ she yelled. ‘Let me go!’

            ‘And what exactly are you going to do to me?’ the Clockwork snapped.

            ‘You are the one who murdered my parents!’ she yelled, still struggling to get free from Subodai. ‘For my entire life I have been tormented by the memory of nothing but a tall black hat and a white mouthless mask! I have been trying my whole life to understand why you killed my parents! I have been trying my whole life to find out who you were, and what you wanted with my mother! Well listen here: I WILL HAVE YOU MOUNTED AS A FIGUREHEAD ON MY SHIP! I WILL NOT REST UNTIL I MAKE YOU PAY FOR WHAT YOU DID TO MY MOTHER AND FATHER!’ She screeched her last threat.

            ‘I somehow doubt that,’ he said, almost amusedly. ‘Your friends won’t be there to save you next time. You’ll regret making an enemy of the Armada. Enjoy your freedom—while it lasts.’ He took out his gun and fired it at the crate directly in front of Boochbeard. It exploded. The force of the blast sent Boochbeard flying backwards, and he landed on his back about six feet away. Gandry rushed over to him to see if he was okay.

            ‘Ze smoke is clearing,’ he said. ‘Ze Armada leader! He is gone!’

            And so he was.

            ‘No! Where is he?! Where did he go?!’ Mary screamed, looking around wildly, but he was nowhere to be found. Subodai let go of her.

            ‘What the Hell was that for?!’ she shouted angrily, rounding on Subodai.

            ‘I was protecting you!’ he answered. ‘He would only have harmed you if you attacked him!’

            ‘I don’t care! I could have gotten him and you let him get away!’

            ‘You cannot defeat him if you are dead!’ Subodai told her, retaliating. ‘Do you not see the way ahead? You now have the chance to get stronger, to become an adversary superior to him, to hunt him down and exact your vengeance when you are ready and he is least expecting it! Of course, this will be worth nothing if you sink with the ship!’

            She blinked, staring at him, but said no more.

            ‘Captain?’ she asked after she had calmed down a bit, questioning Subodai’s earlier reference to her.

            ‘Is that alright?’ he asked.

            ‘Fine by me...’ she said.

            Boochbeard stood up and started coughing. ‘That blast nearly did me in! I can barely see! Young lady, get to my ship. You’ll have to sail us in to safe harbour.’

            ‘Zis ship is dying!’ Gandry said. ‘Cross ze gangway to our ship so we can sail away! Take ze helm! Climb ze stairs and stand behind se wheel of ze ship!’

            ‘Go north until ye hit Skull Island,’ Boochbeard said. ‘Trust me, ye’ll know it when ye see it. Find Captain Avery, an old friend of mine. Always hirin’ good pirates for some scheme or other.’

            ‘But I don’t remember anything about how to sail a ship!’ Mary said in a panicked voice.

            ‘It’s real simple, don’t worry,’ Boochbeard said. ‘The wind’ll take ye where ye need to go. All ye need to do is steer. Just look at the compass, and if the needle strays too far from north, put the ship back on course.’

            ‘Okay...’ Mary said, still not entirely sure of herself. She stepped up to the wheel and took hold of it. Gandry and Subodai loosened the ropes, lowering the sails, which caught the wind and propelled them forward. She had her hands on the wheel and her eye on the compass, making sure they were keeping north. Boochbeard was right; this was surprisingly simple. She only had to spin the wheel every now and then. Subodai had gone up to stand beside her once they had set sail and were at a steady pace.

            It felt pretty good, steering a ship, being in control. She had even been called ‘Captain’. She supposed that made Subodai her Firstmate. It was also rather peaceful, just flying through the sky with the wind in her hair, not wondering if today was the day she was going to be taken out of her cell and executed. She was free. She was free to do whatever she wanted, and she knew exactly what she was going to do....

            ‘Captain,’ Subodai spoke up after a few moments of silence.

            ‘Yes?’ Mary replied.

            ‘Before you lunged at our jailor and started shouting at him, you froze for a moment. What happened?’ he asked.

            ‘Oh, so he’s the one that put me in that cell? I’ll be sure to remember that. As for what happened? Hmm...’ said Mary. She was a bit reluctant to recount her flashback. She had only just met Subodai. She hardly thought she could go about sharing her past and feelings with a random person she had met not even an hour ago. But she had never shared her past with anyone. She had never had a real friend. She had sort of been the odd duck in Krokotopia, being one of the only humans. And he had called her his friend, even when they had known each other for even less time. That sounded pretty loyal to her. So if she was gonna tell anybody anything about her, it might as well be him. ‘Well...I was remembering my parents dying. Like I shouted earlier, he was the one who killed them. This is actually the first time I’ve remembered their deaths since it happened. The memory had faded afterwards—either over time or trauma, I don’t know—but not completely. I still remembered his face. For over eleven years it drove me nuts not knowing who he was or why he did what he did.

            ‘Then I was arrested. But he did not imprison me personally. It was two Officers who put me in that brig. I never saw him. I was in there for about two months until now. Even when he was speaking I didn’t see him, it was hazy and the Clockworks attacked before I could get a good look at him. Then when I did see him, it just...happened. I was back hidin’ behind a building in Krokotopia, watchin’ that Clockwork interrogate my mother. Somethin’ about some map. She refused to help him, and he just...shot her. Then my dad ran forward and he shot him too,’ she finished her story.

            ‘Why did looking at the Clockwork cause you to remember your parents’ deaths so vividly?’ Subodai asked.

            ‘Why?’ Mary repeated. She paused. ‘I honestly don’t know.’

            They were silent.

            In what seemed like no time she saw a large island with a slightly smaller, but still very large, skull on it. Damn, she thought. Boochbeard wasn’t kidding when he said I’d know it when I saw it. She steered the ship towards the Skull Island docks and called for the sails to be raised. She eased into the docks and lowered the anchors. She and Subodai climbed down and tied up the ship.

            ‘Thank you for rescuing me,’ said Mary, looking up at Boochbeard and Gandry. ‘I hope we meet again.’

            ‘It was no problem,’ said Boochbeard. ‘I thank ye fer sailin’ me here. You run along now to Avery. Ye can’t stay rescued if ye don’t get hidden! I’ll rest up here, and then we’ll be on our way.’

            ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Thank you, again. Bye.’ And she ran off towards the stairs leading to Skull Island, Subodai following behind her.