A Ghost from the Past
It was nearly a week before all the well-meaning mourners left her to her grief alone in the empty, echoing rooms of the Inn. Everything seemed to be wrapped in cotton like her feelings. She knew she was going to have to reopen the Inn and that her son would not have wanted her to hide herself here like some forgotten ghost from a life that no longer mattered. She knew that eventually she would get to her feet and her life would go on, but not Jim’s.
It was almost midnight and the night was as black as the emptiness in her soul, blackness which rivaled that of space itself where Jim had died. What had the letter said? There’d been an accident on a run by the Annabelle Lee to the nearby nebula with the loss of all thirty souls when an anti-matter rock had struck the ship. Almost nothing had been left. The Admiralty was investigating, especially where an anti-matter rock had come from. It should’ve been impossible but it had happened and now Jim was gone.
There was a distant knock at the front door. She ignored it, expecting one of the servants to answer it. The knock came again, more persistent. “Sally?” She called and then she turned to the little floating alien who was hovering solicitously near her. “Morph, where’s Sally?”
The little shape shifter who still had tears in his eyes shrugged and said something like. “No know.”
She shook her head. She was really out of it. Sally was not available since she had sent all of the servants home, telling them to come back tomorrow and they would reopen the Inn. The knock came again, harder. Whoever it was would not take silence for an answer.
She sighed and got to her feet. As she neared the door she remembered what had greeted her last time. Nothing could be any worse than that. And if it was Death she might just welcome him. She opened the door and saw a black-cloaked, heavy-set figure as tall as she was. Outside it was raining and off in the distance lightning flashed and there was a distant peal of thunder.
“I’m sorry, but we’re….” She didn’t get any further before the black-cloaked figure stepped through the door and shut it quietly behind him. The rudeness of this man was unbelievable. “We are closed. Now leave or you can explain yourself to the constables.”
“Ah, Lass, I’m afraid I can’t do either.” The voice was deep and rich and had the sound of the sea to it. “See, Lass, the bobbies and I have a difference of opinion over what’s proper and what isn’t which goes way back.”
She felt the first stirrings of anger. She wanted him gone. “I don’t care.” She reached into the drawer in the reception stand and pulled out the laser pistol and pointed it at him. It’s cocking made a sharp sound in the sudden stillness. “You will leave now.”
She was interrupted by a shout of glee and down the hall Morph came flying. She stared dumbfounded as Morph swirled around the stranger making all sorts of excited squeaking sounds.
“Go on, Morphy. Cut it out, you crazy bit of protoplasm. I’m happy to see you too.” The stranger had taken the little shape shifter in his hand and seemed to be stroking him. Morph purred like a cat.
She half lowered the gun. “Who are you?”
The stranger stepped over by the window and in a flash of lightning she could see him clearly for a moment. He had a mechanical peg leg, a cybernetic arm, and a mechanical eye all on his right side. That vision vanished as he hurriedly drew the curtains close, hindered by the over exuberant Morph. He held up a chiding finger which she could barely make out in the dark. “Now behave yourself, Morphy. I’m not here just to play with you.”
She lit a candle and held it up. “Once again, sir. Who are you?” Her heart was pounding. She was afraid she knew.
He looked surprised as if he had forgotten her and turned to the dancing shape shifter. “Now, Morphy you rascal, look at what you’ve done, you’ve gone and made me forget my manners with a lady present.”
He used the cybernetic arm with its multitude of flickering mechanical fingers to sweep off his hat and make a bow. “Long John Silver at your service, Mrs. Hawkins.” He was a heavy-set man with a two-tone face and in his ear a gold ring flashed.
“Silver?” She lowered the gun. “Are you the man who befriended my son?”
“Guilty as charged, Ma’m.” He cuddled the happy Morph against his chin. “There, there, Morphy. I missed you too.”
She started to reach for the light switch but suddenly Morph was in her way, blocking her. “Morph, let me turn the lights on.” She protested.
Silver replaced his hat and glanced at the window. “I’m sorry, Ma’m, but the last thing we need here is lights. The candle is dangerous enough.” He glanced around and said softly. “I suspect this house is being watched and if them that’s watching saw me here it’d go bad for ye and maybe for Jimbo.”
She felt her heart skip a beat. “Jim’s dead.” She managed to speak without bursting into tears and didn’t know whether she should be proud of that or disgusted with herself.
Her eyes had adjusted more to the lack of light and she could make out his features and they were filled with concern as he shook his head. “No, Jimbo is still alive and will be only as long as they that haves him finds him useful to them and both of us getting ourselves killed will do poor Jimbo not a particle of good. Come, let’s go to an interior room with no windows and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned.”
“No!” She shot back. “You claim Jim is still alive and I’ll hear proof of that before I go one step anywhere with a man I don’t know even if he claims to be my son’s long-lost friend.” She was not aware of it raising it but her pistol was pointing at him again.
He did not seem to be upset by this. If anything she got the impression that he approved of her caution. He looked at the little shape shifter and sighed. “Just like Jimbo, Morph. And why should that surprise us? He’s her son.”
He reached into his side pocket and plucked out a folded paper. He looked over at her. “This is a pulse-gram from Jim on the Annabelle Lee. I got back in touch with him through the mail two years ago and we’ve been sharing tall tales ever since.”
“He never told me.” She blurted out.
He sighed. “I told Jimbo he could trust you but he didn’t want to chance the Doctor and Captain finding out as there’s still a noose waiting for me.” He looked again at the letter. “As I said I got several letters from Jimbo, what’s different with this one is that it’s dated the day he was supposed to have died and three hours after the Admiralty says the ship was destroyed.” He handed it to her.
She took the paper and opened it and her mind reeled. The phrasing was all her son’s and the date was as Silver had said, the day her son had died. She read it and became more convinced that this had been written by her son. It was a typical breezy account of his activities on his newly assigned ship. It ended abruptly almost in mid-sentence as if he’d been interrupted.
The time entry confirmed that and the new time code when he began writing was almost three hours later. Scrawled in capital letters he had written. IT’S FLINT. HE’S KIDNAPPING ME TO USE THE KEY. GET… The last code was the burst date of the last hyperspace message the Annabelle Lee would ever send. Her eyes filled with tears. “He’s alive.” She whispered and then more forcefully. “He’s alive!”
“That he is.” Long John replied. “Jimbo was a smart one, he was. Some how he got free of his captors on the Lee for a moment and managed to send this message to my private box. By sending that message he warned me that it was Flint who scuttled the Annabelle Lee and that Flint had the key. And that makes things even worse since Flint is not dead like we thought.”
She frowned. “I remember Jim left here with the map to Treasure Planet, I don’t recall any key.”
He sighed and rubbed his head. “I was wrong about many things on that cursed voyage, Mrs. Hawkins, but none worse than assuming that little golden sphere was only a map. It turned out to be a key that unlocked a door allowing you to step into any world clear across the galaxy. Doctor Doppler once remarked in my hearing that he thought that the key was a wormhole maker.”
He shrugged. “Not being a learned man like the good Doctor, I can’t say if he was right or not. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that for some reason only Jimbo could operate it and because of that Flint needs him. He’s the last person Flint would want dead.”
“He’s alive.” She whispered. Then more resolutely. “My son’s alive!!” He nodded and was caught by surprise as she strode by him. “Come, Mister Silver. You wanted a private conversation and that’s what we’ll have.”
The only room with no windows was the kitchen. Once there she poured him a cup of coffee still hot from where it had sat on the stove. “Thank you, Ma’m.” He took the cup sniffed it, shrugged, and set it aside. “Sorry, but I’m not really a fan of pure coffee.” He turned and hung his dripping rain gear on a hook on the wall.
“I didn’t think you were.” She replied. She reached up to a shelf and brought down a bottle of whiskey used in cooking and poured a couple of jiggers in his abandoned cup. He smiled, took the cup and this time drank it. He raised an eyebrow as she poured at least three jiggers in her own cup and then he smiled as she downed it. “I knew you were a lady who knew what was what.” He said before he finished his cup.
“Now tell me. What’s happened to Jim?” She said as she ignored the burn of the whiskey in her stomach.
He leaned forward. “Jimbo is alive but maybe not as well as we would like.” He looked at her with a flash of agitation. “That’s because them that has him are some of the worst scum that ever sailed under the Jolly Roger and I should know, some were ship mates of mine.”
“I know you’re a pirate.” She said. “I was told that repeatedly by Jim and the others.”
He grimaced. “I’m no longer a pirate, Mrs. Hawkins. I’ve been retired these last five years and been practicing the merchant trade. Your son convinced me I could do better.” He shook his head and said softly. “Your son is quite a man, Mrs. Hawkins.”
She nodded and leaned forward. “You say that it’s Flint and his gang of pirates that kidnapped Jim. How can Flint still be alive? Jim said he saw his body when he told the Admiralty what had happened.”
Silver shook his head. “I’m sorry but Jimbo never saw a body. What he saw was a skeleton. Nathaniel Flint had a brother, Dago Flint, just as bloody as he, but unfortunately for Dago, Nathaniel didn’t want to share his treasure with anyone, including his dear brother. I am assuming it was Dago’s skeleton that we both saw.”
She poured herself more whiskey and then handed him the bottle with its two remaining jiggers in it. With a nod he tipped it back and finished it off. She burped but didn’t bother to excuse herself. What did manners matter when your guest was a pirate? “But why would they kidnap Jim? Treasure Planet was destroyed so there’s no gold unless they want to pan for it in the floating rubble and the key as you call it was destroyed.”
Morph dropped into her cup and made the liquid vanish. She stared at him as he lay in the cup and burped. “Bad boy, Morphy.” Silver chided him and then returned his gaze to hers. “We should all have remembered that Treasure Planet and the key were all based on a science that looks like magic to us. As soon as I got Jim’s message, I sent a space probe from my trading ship the Mary Anne to the last known coordinates of Treasure Planet.” He swallowed. “The pictures I got back showed that Treasure Planet looks just like it did when we first got there, pure and untouched. I’m betting the key is fine too.”
“What else did you see? Did you look for Jim?” She leaned forward eager for his answer. Below her in her cup Morph snoozed happily.
Silver looked uncomfortable. “I’m afraid Flint became aware of my inquisitiveness. There was a bright flash from the surface and the probe ceased transmitting.” He grimaced. “I was probably lucky to see as much as I did. It was then I remembered that the transmissions of a probe can be followed back like a hound on a scent. I barely had time to get off the Mary Anne before a shot from out of nowhere ripped her from stem to stern. Flint is no one to be trifled with.”
“We have to inform the Admiralty.” She said. “They’ll put a stop to Flint.”
He held up a hand. “We can’t or at least I can’t. All they know about me is that I’m a pirate with a price on my head. They’ll tell you I’m trying to con you and take your money. The message having come from my hands will mean nothing to them.”
She stood. “First thing in the morning I’ll go see the authorities. They’ll listen to me!”
“Will they now?” He asked. “Or will they consider you as being overwrought and pat your hand and send you packing? I’m afraid we’ll have no help from them.”
“We’ll see.” She replied. “Shall I show you to a room for the night?”
“I think Morph and I will be safer here. Besides I’m a cook and kitchens as ship shape as this one make me feel right at home.” He yawned. “I’m about ready to join little Morph in his cup.”
“Your choice.” She replied. I’ll get you some blankets and pillows. There’s no need to sleep on the cold stone floors.” She hurried out of the room.
Silver leaned back in his chair and confided to the sleeping Morph. “Now Morphy, there goes a lady if I ever met one, but I think she’ll find rough seas ahead, that I do.”
Rough seas were a small description of what was about to happen as a video message flashed from an unseen ship in orbit to a familiar ringed planet. “So, you found him.” A mechanical voice growled. “It’s about time. Now, that you’ve located him, finish it.”
“There may be a bigger prize, sir. Remember you said you wanted to be informed if he ran into her. Well, he has. They’re both in the same inn, but there’s a problem. The shields around the spaceport are interfering with our weapons. It’ll take time to create a hole in them, unless you want us to go in shooting like last time.”
“No. That damned Silver has more lives than a cat. Is the bug on him still active?”
“We think so, sir. It’s the shield problem again.”
“All right. When you get the window you need, shoot and damn the consequences.”
One of the senders of the message looked at his companions. “That’s easy for him to say. He doesn’t have to fight the damn Admiralty if they get wind of this.”
They didn’t know that their conversation had just been monitored. A technician in a grey shirt and pants said. “That was the end of the transmission, my lord. Do you need to hear it again?”
“No need. I’ve heard enough.” A man in a black cloak with the hood pulled over his head so that his face couldn’t be seen turned to look at the man in black armor on his right. “Everything falls out as I’ve foreseen.”
“Yes, my master.” The man in black armor replied. “Soon everyone will acknowledge your power and you will rule the galaxy forever.”
However, even they were being watched and a being who was not a living being but yet not a machine either shook its head. The great game had begun and whoever won would determine the fate of Treasure Planet.