Chapter 30: The Plan
Ethan was the first one to notice the blinking light. The ship was trying to contact them. He gestured to Zak and pointed to it.
Zak jumped into the flight seat. “Yeah, I see it, Ethan. I’m debating on how to answer.”
Ethan responded, “I wouldn’t answer it at all. It will give our position away.”
“Considering that there is hardly anything to hide behind here, the Empress should have Aegis over the entire world.”
Doctor Peck looked over his shoulder. “Here, boys, hand me the pad. I think I might be of some use.” Zak handed him the pad and Jackson Peck logged into the flight computer. Using the same skills his daughter had displayed earlier in the day, began rifling through assorted communications protocols and programming. After about a minute, he handed the pad back.
“What did you do?” Zak asked, suspiciously in awe.
“I turned off the flight beacons and the comm acknowledgment protocol. We can open a channel and at least hear what they are going to say without instantly giving away our position.”
Zak reached into the console and pushed the blinking button. Captain Grumm’s voice filled the cabin. Ethan reached for the switch to acknowledge, but Zak waved him off.
“Just wait for a second, it could still be a trap,” cautioned Zak
“But it’s Artie.”
“Yes, it’s Captain Grumm, but he might even be prisoner for all we know.”
“True, I never thought of that,” replied Ethan.
Zak just placed his index finger above his eyebrow and tapped his forehead.
Ethan made a completely different gesture with a completely different finger.
Zak turned up the volume so everyone in the cabin could hear.
“Captain Artemis Grumm calling the Becky Thatcher. Please come in. Zak, Ethan, Liam, Jackson, anyone? We’ve established a secure connection that can’t be traced. It’s risky of course, but we can’t wait for another drone communication.”
Zak had heard enough, he flipped on the commlink and responded.
“Yeah, we’re here, sir. It’s damn good to hear your voice again.” Everyone else shuffled to the front of the RV to listen in.
“What in blooming tarnation took you so long to respond then?” Grumm questioned.
“We had to make sure it was really you, sir and you’re not under some kind of duress.”
“Well it is and I’m not. So, everyone there is alright? I heard about Simmons. That’s too bad. He was quirky, but I liked him.”
“Well sir, if we ever get the chance, we’ll go back for him. He was a good soldier and resourceful on the ground. If anyone can survive, he can.”
“Yeah, but the fauna has changed just a bit, hasn’t it?” replied Grumm.
“Yes sir, it most certainly has,” responded Zak grimly.
“OK, well we don’t have a lot of time. As you know, we are about to be boarded. Fortunately, Miss Peck did a wonderful job isolating Jules from the bridge…”
Jules interrupted, “Hello”
“Ha! It’s good to hear your voice again Jules,” replied Jackson.
Grumm continued, “Yes, it’s all good, but we don’t have a lot of time. Fortunately, Kyton is going to be so busy soon that I doubt he will notice us at all. The big unknown, of course is the size and strength of the boarding party.” Grumm continued to outline the plan.
When he was finished, Daniel was the first to speak up. “That sounds just crazy enough to work, sir.”
“Daniel? Good to hear your voice again, son.”
“You too sir. You gave us all quite a scare coming back from the Waite plant.”
Grumm swallowed. He hadn’t told them the other half of that news yet. “You men just take care of yourselves. Oh, and let me make one thing clear. Do everything in your power to keep our crew safe from these thugs. That includes Mister Kyton.”
“Kyton is way over his head on this one. I’ve known he was planning something for a while and I let him. I wanted to see where it led. He’s a zealot, but he’s a good person and this time he is walking right into a trap.”
“No buts, Mister Trimball. That’s an order, Zak. Do everything you can to protect him.”
“Yes, sir.” The tone in Zak’s voice betrayed his contempt for this last order. “We will do everything we can, sir.” Zak felt compelled to ask the Captain about someone else, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember.
Kyton almost yelled into the commlink. “What do you mean he’s gone?”
The voice responded, “We went down to the sickbay to check on the captain and he ain’t there. In fact, nobody’s there.”
Kyton really didn’t have time to ponder this most recent development. He, Sydney and a contingent of hastily gathered men were going topside to meet his father. “Well, keep your eyes open, he couldn’t have gone far and he might need help again. He is probably very disoriented after his ordeal.”
The voice replied “Just giving you an update. We’ll check in later.”
Kyton turned to the others. “Keep sharp guys, we have no idea what we are up against. This ship clearly outclasses anything we have seen, but we cannot let on that we have less than ninety people on board. If only we could get that damn computer online so we could get some eyes and ears on the scene.”
Sydney said, “Understood sir. We have your back.”
Kyton continued, “Don’t show any weapons or aggression and we should be ok.”
They stood in awe as the smaller wooden craft circled and slowly descended to the deck about a hundred yards in front of them. Sydney watched the craft for any sign of aggression. The best analogy that he could come up with was a sloop. The ship itself was about fifty meters long with triangular sails and it appeared the bladder above was made from some sort of natural hide. It was painted bright red and blue colors and seemed to brandish a sigil of some house, clan, or order that was totally lost on him.
As it descended, an anchor system of feet seemed to fold out from the sides of the craft and plant themselves on the deck below. They secured the vessel and a gangplank appeared and dropped to the deck. A contingent of many men in armor filed out and began to assemble on the deck of the Empress. Another man in finer garments appeared amongst them and they snapped to attention. The contingency then rotated and began the march towards them. The colors on their uniforms matched the colors on the airship bladder above and one of them, bringing up the rear, appeared to be holding a sigil banner.
There was a queer little creature with them. No more than three feet tall and obviously female, she more resembled the classical definition of a gnome or leprechaun than anything else.
Sydney looked over at Kyton. The look on his face was hard to read. He actually looked happy. Sydney looked back at the approaching guard and then back at Kyton. Slowly, he saw Kyton’s demeanor run through an entire gamut of emotions. They got closer. Kyton’s face turned to puzzlement. They moved closer. His face turned to bewilderment. He looked around. There was another airship that had banked in behind them. They moved closer. There were actually two sigils the bannerman was carrying. They stopped and the one standing next to the bannerman pulled a small brass instrument from his sash and blew into it. On command, the bannerman unfurled the second banner and a very familiar blue/white/silver sigil caused Kyton to go completely ashen. He began to stutter and back away.
“Run…” Kyton whispered. “Just run…” Sydney didn’t need any excuse.
The five men that had gathered to meet the alien airship turned just in time to meet a team of soldiers rappelling from the craft behind them onto the deck. In another few steps, they would be completely cut off. Escape would be impossible. A shot rang out that hit the deck right at their feet. With that, the five men lifted their hands in the universal symbol of surrender.
They turned back around to face their captors. The central man seemed to tower over the others and certainly over the Grommon standing next to him. He approached Kyton with an uneasy familiarity. The other guards surrounded the five and quickly removed their weapons. Kyton felt someone reach behind him and relieve him of his sidearm. The larger man got very close to Kyton and suddenly Sydney saw an uncanny resemblance between the two men.
The man began to speak but not in any language the men could recognize. However, the diminutive figure at his side began to translate.
Nora-Ky Davici Nova-tonne, In the name of the Holy House of Harnor-Everoth, I arrest you for Treason, Sedition and other high crimes against the state of Castalan. We further confiscate this vessel for the Holy Navy of Darnik and conscript any and all persons on this vessel and press them into the same service.
The man in front pulled his arm up and suddenly backhanded a stricken Kyton Davis, knocking him to the ground. Blood poured from his busted lip and cut on his cheek. He knew better than to look up. Sydney tried to intervene, but the men behind him held him fast.
“Kyton! Why in hell are you under arrest and who the hell is this person?”
Kyton Davis turned painfully to look at Sydney from his position. “I am so sorry Captain Sydney.” Kyton continued to emphasize. “I didn’t mean for it to happen like this.”
Sydney was beside himself. “But how do you know these people? Who is this person?”
“This, Captain Sydney is my younger brother, Daran Davici Ni-torre!”
Sydney was speechless.
The man identified now as Kyton’s brother spoke through their Grommon interpreter. “That’s Count Daran Harnor. The name Davici is dead to me. It’s no longer counted among worthy clans of Aerathiea. I am no longer fourth son to anyone. Sergeant, escort the prisoner back to our brig while we learn more about this fantastic vessel. Have the others sent back to their posts under guard?” The men moved to comply as Count Harnor walked amongst the line, stopping in front of Sydney. “Except the Captain. He is of great value to me. Take the others. Leave this one to give us a tour of our grand new ship.” He turned to Sydney. “Obviously, should you offer any resistance in any way, your crew will be summarily executed.” As this was translated by the Grommon, Sydney suddenly realized the ruse.
This was completely out of Sydney’s league. He just nodded compliance.
With that, the groups split off, the larger group forming a phalanx around their captain and the smaller group taking Kyton back to the flagship corsair. The larger group, consisting of Sydney, Daran, eight guards and a miserable looking Gnome began walking back to the doors that had brought them out on deck. As they proceeded, more troops began to rappel down ropes from the other two Corsairs to the decks and begin to form regiments. From the corner of his eye, Sydney counted about two hundred men forming lines on the deck.