Chapter 12 – Caper’s New Home
Molly sat in the shade of a tall palm-like tree, eating a lunch of fruits and berries. The island had all sorts of edible plants, but not knowing which ones would kill her, she stuck to the those that she was sure of. She took a sip from a flask she had found in the wreck, having filled it with rainwater still running down the side of the tower after the storm – and admired her morning’s work.
Thinking of a more permanent home, she liked the safety of the cave. Not only was it out of reach of general predators, but also safe from high seas. And since it was above the jungle, it would give her a better chance of seeing a passing ship.
But to do anything with it, she would at the very least need to shore up the walls and roof, and add a more rugged front door. Her canvas quickie had barely survived a single storm. There were plenty of beams and planks she could take from the wreck (which she learned was named the “Caper”), but getting those materials up through the jungle to the tower base was problematic.
It was watching a gull effortlessly glide down from somewhere high above that she got the idea for an aerial ropeway. She saw that she could easily rig a pair of pulleys with the heavy lines from the mainsail, so that she could take large objects right over the jungle, from the top of the Caper’s broken mast, all the way up to a fixed point near the entrance of her cave.
She merely walked up a lighter line to use as a guide for the mainsail rig, and then dragged the heavier gauge on through. The whole setup took about twenty minutes. Of course, actually fixing a load to the rope and pulling it up was a different matter. For starters, she only had one good arm. She had her Nanaris, but it wasn’t designed for that kind of heavy labor. The solution presented itself when she was doing a second exploration of the wreck.
The Caper, like most passenger vessels, was both wind and impeller driven. An impeller was an electromechanical means of driving water, and thus pushing the ship (albeit slower) even when there was little or no wind. So long as there was sun to charge a matrix, they could keep moving. When she discovered the Caper had impellers, Molly knew she could pull the tech and and rework it into something more useful. Only one of the wreck’s impellers was easily accessible, and even that was well under water, but using her Nanaris as a probe, she could send down her mechanical hands to do the work while she stayed safely above the surface. Matters were made more interesting by the fact that Guild tech was purposely designed to be difficult to remove once installed. The Guild didn’t want there to be any kind of black market for used parts, so they worked in features like special panels that could only be accessed with a Nanaris, and contained features like recessed screw holes that turned ninety degrees just inside.
All of those protections were fine on land, but trying to do the same work remotely through five meters of water was quite frustrating. She literally cried aloud for joy when the last of the connections to the ship was severed and the impeller finally disengaged. Dragging it to the surface was a piece of cake by comparison.
She easily repurposed the motor, gearing it down so that it would slowly and evenly lift a load to her cave home. All she needed was a power source. She considered just trying to power it directly from the suncloth sail, but then she would be dependant on the sun, something that had proven fickle just yesterday. What she really needed was the Caper’s matrix.
Like almost all ships, the power matrix was housed in the very bottom most hold before the bilge. This was partly as a safety measure in case of attack, but also so that if the matrix were to somehow short, as it had on the Pettifore, the blast would be contained by the water pressure against the hull. In the Caper, this hold was in the forward half of the ship that was quite a bit deeper down than the back half where she had found the Captain. Her Nanaris wouldn’t reach from the shore, and she was forced to sit half in the water on a yard off the mainmast.
When the Caper had cracked against the rocks, the back half was lifted up while the front of the ship was pushed to the bottom, effectively folding her up. That severing allowed her to reach her tendril-like probes right into the body of the ship to where the matrix should be, only there was a door blocking the way. When her Nanaris was operating as a probe, her screen contracted close to her face, became more opaque, and split. Somehow, the device was able to mimic her actual eyes, so that it felt as though she herself were moving along underwater. She could ‘feel’ with these limbs just as she did with Manny in the mess. So, when Molly’s ‘hands’ tried the handle on the door, she felt it resist. It was locked.
It wasn’t hard to pick the mechanism with her tiny fingers, and the door swung inward easily enough. Once inside the room, it was suddenly quite dark, and she had to activate a light so she could see. The moment she did, she gasped and cried out, nearly falling off her seat on the yard arm.
“Ahhh! Oh goddess!”
In front of her were dozens of skeletal bodies, some half decomposed. Most of the corpses were resting on the floor of the hold, but a few floated at the ceiling like macabre balloons. In the middle of it all was the matrix.
It took Molly several minutes to work up the courage to move forward, and she had to keep reminding herself that she wasn’t actually there, that it was the Nanaris’ arms pushing aside the gruesome bodies to get to the housing.
It took her twice as long as it should have to release the tech and attach ropes so she could pull it out, and in the end she was very grateful to just close the door again and let what looked like the entire crew of the Caper have rest. Just before she did, however, she noticed a slim notebook bouncing along the bottom of the hold. She could see that it amazingly still had writing in it, so she snagged it and then sealed away the nightmare.
Taking part of the matrix and making it into a smaller portable unit was pretty straightforward, and before noon she had a working winch to help her move into her new accommodations.
It wasn’t until after she had finished her lunch that she remembered the notebook. Drawing it from her pocket, she started reading. Most of it was faded to the point of illegibility, but the last few entries were clear and fresh on the paper.
12th of Lot – 1 day out of Ringlet Harbor
We are afraid. Twice now we have seen a ship bearing the flag of a merchant tailing us, but the Captain believes them to be pirates. The crew is trying not to worry us, but I see it in their faces. Several passengers have asked the Captain to turn back, but it’s too late for that.
13th of Lot – 2nd day out of Ringlet Harbor
The ship is definitely following us, and they no longer run colors at all. In the night, the Captain tried to change course to throw them off, but his ruse did not succeed. We are training with the crew to handle the canons, but most of us are terrified of having to use them. If the pirates overtake us, it’s likely the women will suffer the worst fate. I’m trying not to think about it.
14th of Lot – 3rd day out of Ringlet Harbor
The other ship is tracking us by moonlight. The Captain feels our best chance is to head for the islands nearby and try to out-maneuver them. Our ship is smaller and more agile, so perhaps he’s right. They are gaining.
15th of Lot
We are dead men. The pirates were able to come within gun range just before midday. Our only choices were to start taking fire to our stern (which the Captain says would have resulted in many lost lives), or turn and fight. When we finally did start to turn, they shot down our deck and took out the wheel with a chance hit, we were not able to repair it in time to keep them from boarding us. Some of the crew fought back, but there was never a chance. They took the women for their pleasure, and I can only hope they die quickly. Everyone else save for the Captain has been locked in the forward hold while they toss the ship, and I think they mean to make us for target practice.
It won’t be long now…
Looking up at the wreck, Molly found tears on her cheeks. All those men in the hold… They had all drowned when the ship had been ripped to pieces for sport. And her breath caught when she thought of the women. She couldn’t help but remember her own close shave aboard the Mistress… how she was nearly given to the crew ‘for their pleasure’. Was Pennylust really that cold, she wondered? According to Brill, she was. But that was different. That was the case of a single stowaway. These pirates took every female from the Caper and raped them to death.
She set the notebook aside. At least she could convert some of their doomed ship into something new and helpful. They couldn’t save themselves, but they could help save her.
The winch and aerial ropeway worked just as they were supposed to, and by mid afternoon Molly had a sizable collection of materials in and around the cave so that she could start building. In this respect her Nanaris was the perfect tool. While better suited to handling small constructions like the impeller, it still allowed her to work on several aspects of her project at once. She was reminded of her time in the Mistress’ mess with Manny as she simultaneously cut planking for the floor, leveled the cave, and fixed the boards to the basing. And just like the kitchen, she only needed to abstractly concentrate on each task, letting her Nanaris work on the details. She had the floor, support beams and columns, and walls where needed – all up and finished by the time her stomach reminded her that dinner was a necessary task as well.
She sat with her legs dangling over the side of her new porch while she admired the sky and munched on some nuts and berries. The milk from a Guft fruit served as a welcome and refreshing substitute to plain water, and she raised the large ovoid in honor of the Caper.
“May you rest in peace knowing that I will think of you every day I am here.”
Molly wanted to finish one more section of the cave remodel before sunset, and that was the front entrance. She took a bit more care moving the windows from the back of the Caper, and managed to find enough unbroken panes to give her a nice sized viewport on each side of the door from the captain’s cabin. When she affixed the last board, it was just twilight, and she moved inside, setting up an oil lamp from the ship to use as lighting instead of the green glow of her Nanaris. The golden light was much more natural looking, and actually made the place feel somewhat cheery. She’d work on other furnishings in the morning, but after setting up her hammock and the bottom half of a barrel as a table, she turned to one of her walls. On a pair of small embedded dowels, she reverently hung the ornate sword.
“Well, if there’s such a thing as ghosts, know that yours is welcome here, Captain,” she said, bowing before the blade. “I swear I shall try to honor your memory, and will do my best to give the Caper a new life. She’ll never sail again, but this way, at least she’ll always be near the sea.” Moving outside, she affixed one final item just above the door. It was the Caper’s nameplate.
That night, Molly slept better, but was still awakened by night terrors. As before, she could barely remember the horrid phantasms, but she knew they had to do with Cassandra and the barrel. She must have been sweating, because her shirt was soaked and she was shivering in the cool of the night. She didn’t know how cold it got in the islands, but given her current state, she seriously considered how she might add a fireplace and chimney to her little abode.
She was also surprised by the fact that she could easily see. It wasn’t morning, of that she was certain, yet the single room of her home was quite well lit. She followed the glow and was shocked to see the moon shining like a lighthouse beacon through her windows.
“Right… First thing in the morning we make some storm shutters,” she groaned to her Nanaris hanging nearby, and then rolled over.
Later, the dawn light was all the reminder Molly needed. She took the time to attach some fold-down shutters to the windows, and even worked some cords so that they could be closed from the inside. The task was necessary, but her mind was on a continued search of the Caper. The front of the ship was deeper under the water, but it was less damaged by cannon fire than the stern. It was also where the eight passenger cabins were located. She doubted that the pirates had failed to search them, but they were likely looking for things they could easily carry and sell, whereas, she was in search of a different kind of treasure.
Almost anything intact was usable to her at this point. Chairs, desks, more oil lamps, quill and ink! These were all things of irreplaceable value, and she brought each item to the surface with reverence and delight, carefully setting them aside to be lofted away to her home.
Much of it would need to be cleaned and repaired, but that was easy enough. She was sad that so much of the passenger’s belongings had been simply scattered. The finer clothing had pretty much rotted away. She did find a pair of nice leather gloves in reasonable shape though, and one of the cabins held an oil painting that hadn’t been vandalized. It was a lovely portrait of a little girl, seated at the edge of a forest in a bright yellow dress. Her face was so calm and serene that Molly could hardly look away from her face when she was finally able to see the work with her own eyes.
But it was the very last cabin that held the greatest surprise that morning, for floating at the ceiling was a sealed chest. The fact that it wasn’t at the bottom like everything else, meant that at least some air had been trapped inside. Many of the sea chests were water tight, and if she were lucky, its contents might just be unspoiled.
She was extremely careful not to bump it around as she brought it up, fearing a leak, and even made use of her slowly healing shoulder to lift it manually to the shore. She waited until she had it and her other treasures back in her little house before opening it. And while anyone else could have been hoping for gold or jewels, Molly squealed in delight to see blankets, undergarments, two frilly dresses, and many other articles of simple clothing. There was even an ornate full length coat of black leather. She couldn’t have been happier.
At the very bottom was a small paper-wrapped figurine of the Goddess. As she held up the treasure, marveling at the workmanship, Molly sighed, amazed that something so delicate had managed to survive a cannon attack and months under the surface of the water. She set the object down on her table so that she could carve out a small alcove in her wall near the sword. Then, with a certain reverence, she set the figurine safely within the space and bowed. She’d never been religious, though she knew her mother had once been before she married, and the Guild never allowed such distractions, so she smiled as she admired the way the light in her cave home seemed to pool around the trinket almost mystically. Maybe Star was right. Maybe there was a Goddess looking after her. She’d certainly been lucky enough so far.
Most of the clothing was much too big for her petite frame, but that could be tailored easily enough, and the blankets alone would improve her bed immeasurably. She held up one of the dresses, trying to imagine herself in such finery… Then stopped. Why imagine?
Giggling, she kicked off her boots and reached for the draws of her trousers. The dress was indeed too large for her, in several directions, but she could still hold it around her and admire the way it swirled and fluffed as she danced around her cave home. The Guild would never permit students to wear formals like this, especially females. Their uniforms were notoriously drab, as though any sort of color or a hint of lace would be far too distracting for tech work.
She sighed, wondering what John would think of the outfit. The Royal Academy had no such restrictions on color or finery, indeed, they reveled in it, sometimes to a fault. Thinking of the Professor made her wistful for more than just his fashion approval. She wondered if they were looking for her. Had they just assumed her dead? Would they even consider delaying their mission to search for a simple bondservant?
But that was Cassandra Plinket talking again. Molly knew she was part of the crew, even if only for a short while. And she’d done well, Captain Pennylust had said so. Bondservant or no, she had a place there, provided she ever saw them again. She’d only been gone… three days was it?… and already she missed them terribly. At that moment, she would have done anything for a chance to be back with Manny, Star, and of course her lover. Her breath caught as she let the dress fall around her ankles. Staring down, she saw that her nipples were so prominent that they ached.
“Damn it… later,” she promised herself. “I have too much to do right now,” she added, pulling on her “work” clothes. She was just stepping into her boots when there was a deep boom from outside.
“Thunder?” she questioned, and then heard two more booms, like deep drumbeats. “Cannon fire!”
Racing to the door, Molly scanned the horizon until she saw sail. They were much too far away to hear or see her, but they might see a signal fire if she…
There was another pair of booms, this time very close together. But she saw no smoke from the ship. Frowning, she puzzled at this mystery until she finally noticed a billowing white cloud rising up from behind the island just east of her.
“Oh no…” She whispered, her heart-rate climbing. A moment later the bow of a second ship appeared from behind the landmass, in pursuit of the first. The second vessel was obviously built for speed, nearly twice as long as the other ship, with a single row of cannons along its side. It was this longer ship that was firing from guns on its bow.
She leaned far over the rail of her little porch as she strained her vision to its limit.
“Goddess, what I’d give for a glass right now…” she commented. A few seconds later her Nanaris made a quick series of notes, and brought up a screen she had never seen before. It was a bit like the remote probe, though it did not cover her face, and the view was clearly not her own. When she understood what she was seeing, she gasped.
Just like a ship’s glass, the images in front of her were magnified considerably. It appeared as though she were standing a dozen meters off the deck of the first ship. She could clearly make out the crew as they scrambled to stay ahead of their pursuers. Experimentally, she played with the various controls at the sides of the screen. With them, she could increase or decrease the magnification, change what she was ‘pointed’ at, or even track objects, keeping them in the center of the view. She focused her attention to the second ship and saw only gruff men on deck. When the pursuing ship raised new colors, Molly’s fears were confirmed. A solid black flag with a single skeletal man brandishing a sword in the middle. They were pirates.
But why were they attacking a passenger ship at all? Such ships rarely carried enough of value to make the undertaking worthwhile. She thought of the Caper, and the Captain’s sword. Perhaps a specific item? She couldn’t imagine what would be worth risking your ship and crew for. Returning to the first ship, which was now finally using its own rear guns, though fruitlessly, she scanned the deck crew. There didn’t seem to be anything outstanding about them. It was even a mixed crew. That last thought made her swallow nervously.
Molly saw the muzzle flashes from the pirates many seconds before the echoing booms reached her. Their forward guns briefly lighted the late afternoon sky. It would be sunset soon, and perhaps a chance at escape for the fleeing vessel. She knew from the book she had found that as soon as the moon rose, such tricks would be hopeless.
Two more flashes from the pirates, and this time they seemed to hit their mark. Molly saw debris fly from the stern of the other ship, and all return fire ceased.
“No…” she whispered, as she realized how they had been hit. Star had explained to her that a shot to the stern, or raking fire, was one of the most deadly kinds of attacks. While the less armored stern of the vessel presented a smaller target, a cannon hit could travel the entire length of the ship, doing incredible damage below decks, or hit multiple masts or rigging above. More so, there was a good chance it could take out the rudder mechanisms, meaning that they might not even be able to change course. Apparently, that was indeed the case, because the pirates moved slightly to the side of the passenger vessel, which did not slow or turn. In the ship’s blind spot, they were safe from all but the deck guns, if they even had any.
She heard the sound of musket fire, and scanning the rigging of the pirate vessel, she saw multiple shooters on the masts. They were picking off anyone on the deck of the other ship. By the time the pirates were within range of grapplers, there were only a handful of crew members left to repel the boarders.
It was over in minutes. The passenger ship offered only a brief fight before it was taken and stopped. Both ships then dropped anchor and moored side by side. Molly watched with growing apprehension as the attackers started bringing up various goods from below decks to be carried or lifted to their own vessel. They also brought up the female passengers.
“Oh Goddess… no,” she moaned as the women were tied to the masts or railings, and then stripped. Some fought back, and were quickly subdued. Even knowing what was coming, it still took her breath away when the pirate crew began raping them. They were brutal, even vicious. And when a victim was spent, either unconscious, or just hanging there limply, one of the pirates, a man with an orange bandana on his head, would come around and slit their throat. Before the darkness finally obscured the worst of the gore, almost the entire main deck was wet with red blood.
At first, she thought that perhaps the men dumping barrels of liquid on the quarterdeck were cleaning the ship, but when they climbed into a dinghy and started back toward their vessel, she knew that something else was taking place. At the last moment, one of the pirates in the little rowboat tossed a torch up onto the passenger vessel. Flames erupted at once where it landed and quickly spread until the entire ship was ablaze. They were burning her.
And then she heard them… screams coming from within the flaming hulk. Molly pounded her fists on the railing of her little balcony, her body shaking in rage. It wasn’t enough to rape the women and murder the deck crew. They had locked the rest of the passengers below deck to be burned alive. Since most able-bodied men died trying to repel the pirates initially, that left the elderly… and children.
Wiping away the glowing green screen, Molly could no longer hold in her emotion and let loose a bellow of her own. Deep and primal, her cry of despair seemed to echo through the jungle below, and out across the waters. Collapsing, she pulled herself into a ball and wailed at the loss until her voice was hoarse. Finally, she dragged her still trembling body back inside, curled up on the floor, and sobbed herself to sleep.