The first thing Grandmère Hutan tried to do was pull the glowing sword out of Terence Ransom’s chest. The first time failed, because it was flickering in and out of existence. The second time failed because her hands went right through the blade. By that point, most of the ship’s contingent were on deck and around her.
Senhor Capoeira Capybara had Dr. Ransom’s hand in his paws, saying, “He’s alive--but his pulse is intermittent. I’d advise CPR to counteract that thing’s effect on his heart.” The orangutan put her hands on his chest and started rhythmic pressure.
The last two to arrive were the Captain and Queen Parice. Ngozi Makena Odile put her hand to her throat, and the whole ship began to glow with green outlines. She turned to her daughters. “Start sweeping this ship top to bottom, dow to the milliampères. Find that piece of shit. Lord Elphinstone, be so good as to accompany me to the hold.”
“Captain, we really should release Jeanette from confinement,” said Grandmère.
“Give me five minutes. Capybara, go down to the dispensary for the heartkit. It will be waiting for you when you get there.”
The Captain and the armored tiger came to a bolted hatch amidships. At a touch of a necklace the bolts flew open and they descended. The whole ship was glowing green, and not just the containment field before her, but when she lifted a silver whistle and blew its inaudible note, the field dissolved, filling the chamber with radiance.
“EX-CAPTAIN AMBIVALENCE PUGH, FRONT AND CENTER!” The Pirate Queen of the Night thundered. Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone panted his longsword point down on the deck and crossed his huge paws over the hilt. A figure in green outline emerged--with a couple of pauses--from the glow.
“How can I help you, Captain?” The voice was an unsuccessful stab at being unctuous--difficult at the best times with the high level of static.
“I want you to account for the members of your crew.” Her attempt at steely hostility was much better.
“What, all of them?”
“No, you can leave a few of them out, OF COURSE, ALL OF THEM!”
“That could take some time…”
“Pugh, if you try to stall me one more time I am going to rewrite you line by FUCKING line. He, or they, are NOT going to come sneaking back into the field while you dance the Hesitation Waltz with me! You can call the role at speed if you have a short attention span, but CALL IT.”
Pugh seemed to collect himself a bit. “My, you’re in a state, bun-rab! What’s set your nostrils a-quiver?”
“A saber in the heart of one of my passengers, Ex-Captain. Rubs me the wrong way.”
Pugh’s outline distorted for an instant at this. “Assembling the company, ma’am.”
A reduced-size array of an ill-assorted group of pirates in outline assembled behind Pugh. There were two holes in the formation. Ngozi touched her necklaces. “Do you have two yet?”
“They were the size of flies, but yes, we have them. Is that all of them?” Said a young voice.
“Could be. Stand by.” The Captain turned to Pugh. “Explain what this is all about, Pugh. You know full well that failure to keep your crew under discipline is a violation of our agreement, and I am quite justified in putting the lot of you on double rations for this.”
“Please, Captain…” There was misery in the ex-Captain’s voice.
“If you don’t want the subjective duration of your imprisonment to be twice as long, leave nothing out.”
“It’s Mad Rolf and Reekie Tim, Captain. The wanted to try to get picked up by the Ghost Ship.”
“And how did they--never mind, I know you’ve managed to tap the logs. And how were they able to get outside the containment field?”
“Well, I’m not certain of that, Captain. Those looters were trying to dislodge the field to plunder it, and had disconnected some circuits before they all, um, vanished...so maybe there was a flaw. I didn’t know about them until they were well away.”
“That ain’t it, Yer Grace,” said another voice.
"Fitz!” warned Ambivalence Pugh.
“The game’s up, sir. She’ll find it anyway, and I’ve no desire to have my boredom doubled.” The pirate named Fitz moved forward. “You see, your worship, when we had that little picnic aboard them Bravura and Sprezzatura boats, we managed to crack open one of the Bravura’s banks.”
“We found ourselves a nice little counter-infiltration AI, and decided to take it home with us, with an eye to reprogramming it so it would bust ourselves out of this hellhole,” Pugh finished.
“Meanin’ no disrespect, Your Majesty,” Fitz added as a codicil.
“And so instead it ended up reprogramming you,” the Captain said. “Odds are, your little friend has been broadcasting Bravura handshake codes for quite some time now--and that may explain the run-in with the lobsters in the first place. Lord Elphinstone, would you please run your blade through the containment field?”
The tiger did so, and when he pulled it out it was crackling with a non-green energy. The captain took out something that looked like a satin clamshell purse, and ran it along the edge of the blade. The purse now glowed with a soft illumination.
The captain turned to Ambivalence Pugh. “Sentence is thirty years. That’s predicated on what we get out of torturing Mad Rolf and Reekie Tom. If I find out you’ve been leaving things out of your explanation--other things out, I mean--it’ll be far worse.”
She made a gesture and all the outlined figures vanished. The cube dimmed and Silvertyger followed Ngozi up through the hatch.
In her cabin, Jeanette’s contrition had turned to irritation, which turned to anger when Wynken, Blynken and Nod told her about all the excitement of the boarding, and finally to boredom. She had pulled out the book she’d been promising herself to read, but had been daunted by the small typeface and skinny margins. Instead she kept flipping through the dense pages, hoping against hope that there were pictures she’d missed the last time. Even a map or a chart, but no.
The door opened and her father came in. He looked brighter and happier than he’d been for days, which dispelled 90% of her bad mood. He sat down beside her on the bunk. He smelled of soap and a shower.
“What’s the book?” He asked, and she held it up. “What’s Been Did And What’s Been Hid,” he read. “Interesting title. What’s it about?”
“Not sure yet,” she answered. “Well, never mind that. Let’s go down to eat.” At her brightening face, he smiled. “Yes, I’ve come to break you out of the slammer, my daughter.” He took the book from her and laid it on a shelf. They left the cabin, Jeanette doing a little dance as she went.
In the Captain’s cabin, Ngozi took out the glowing purse and upended it over a fancy fluted cylinder, with a base of a complex array of colored rectangles. A bright light eased down out of the purse as if the air was thick glycerine. She sat and looked at it.
“All right, my little friend, tell me what you’re all about. Something tells me you’re something quite different from a Bravura security AI. It’s not all that hard to fool that chestful of undead pirates, but I am another matter.”
“Hello, captain,” a babylike voice said. “What I really am is an envoy from what you call the Ghost Ship. I know all about your quest for the Night Land and the Last Redoubt, and I am here to tell you that your mission will fail disastrously, unless you heed what I have to say to you.”
“Fail disastrously?” The Pirate Queen of the Night asked.
“You will all die.”