Outrageous Fortune: Chapter 41

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Five hours later, John stepped off the gangplank onto the soft, springy grass of the Lycos Keep ‘shipyard, set on a plateau high above the Lycos wild lands. High as they were, the salt smell of the sea still drifted up, mixing with the tang of pines surrounding the open meadow. 

Tariq’s Al-Jinn already sat at anchor, her sleek allusteel-and-bamboo hull gleaming under the late-afternoon suns as they made a break from the heavy clouds. Beyond the Al-Jinn sat a light scout ‘ship with the deep red envelope marking her as a Keeper vessel, one of several patrol ‘ships responsible for the safety and preservation of the Avon wild lands. 

But John’s attention was taken by the party waiting on the airfield, amongst which Tariq stood, his long black coat distinctive against the wall of red and saffron around him which included a dozen Keepers, most of them armed marshals, and a woman whose middling height did nothing to decrease the stature of her red-on-red garments, indicating her status as a Senior Hive Master. 

Her elaborately braided hair held somewhat more gray than Tariq’s, and her complexion was a hint more gold than his. As he neared, John noted her eyes were a deep amber, and her face held the comforting lines of one who smiled often.

She was not, however, smiling when he came to a halt in front of her. 

“Captain John Pitte,” Tariq stepped in, “may I present Master Shohreh Nazri, the superior I spoke of.” Here he paused, and the woman cleared her throat. Tariq’s lips tightened, he clasped his hands behind his back, and added, “And my mother.” 

Which explained the eyes. And up close, John could see more…the defined cheekbones shared with her son, and the tilt of chin that had skipped Tariq and emerged again with Izaldine. “Master,” he said as he bowed formally, “your grandson favors you.” 

Now came the hint of a smile. “Captain,” Shohreh greeted him, then gestured to the party behind her, who split and filed, six to a side. “My son tells me you have some inconvenient passengers.”

“Inconvenient,” John echoed. “A circumspect description.” 

“As my son will have told you, I live in a very circumspect world,” Shohreh replied. 

“He has.” John shot a glance at Tariq. “Just not in so many words.”

“No,” John said.

He was standing in the foyer of Tariq’s house, where he’d come to a stop on hearing Tariq suggest the Errant crew retain possession of the calculator. 

Tariq hissed and stepped back to join him. “Listen a moment—” 

“I have listened,” John told him. “And I am telling you, no. You can’t expect us to keep the damned thing.” 

“Then who? I can hardly keep it,” Tariq pointed out, suddenly the voice of reason. “Whoever Mary and Colin work for will be watching me—watching my family. If they even suspect I lied about having the device in my possession…” 

John pressed a finger to his right eye because Tariq was right. “And we can’t deliver it to the authorities,” he said.

“Not unless we are prepared to spend our remaining years in the Barrens,” Tariq agreed. “Or worse.” 

“We have hammers aboard the Errant,” John pointed out before the same logic he’d used against Jagati’s earlier destructive urges reared its reasonable head. “Except destroying it would likely—”

“Make the calculator’s owners angry,” Tariq finished the sentence. “I,  for one, do not wish to spend the rest of my days avoiding retribution.” 

“Then what?” John asked, frustrated to have no better options than he did six hours ago, in the Errant’s galley. 

“Let me contact my—my superior—and arrange delivery of the device to a place of safekeeping,” Tariq said. 

“For all I know, your superior is a Midasian boffin with aspirations towards starting the war again.” 

John wasn’t certain, but he thought Tariq’s eyes came near to a Jagati-level eye roll. “I swear, by the First Landers, the party I report to will not put the calculator to any ill use. Or any use at all, come to it.”

Now, standing in a meadow, faced by a Senior Hive Master and her marshals, he looked over to Tariq. 

“I did swear,” Tariq told him. 

“So you did,” John said with a nod and returned his attention to Shohreh. “There are four… inconveniences aboard. One, the leader, is in our medbay. The others are being held in the cargo bay. Your son will know them.” Here he glanced at Tariq. “One in particular.” 

Tariq’s expression darkened, but he said nothing of Ysabel’s betrayal, which he knew of because John had already informed him over the radio that his missing first mate had been part of the hostile boarding party.

Shohreh nodded and, at the motion, the twelve marshals headed towards the Errant. “We will take custody of all four and see what our doctors can do for the leader—Kane, you say he’s called?”

“Galileo Kane,” John agreed. “Though he may be more in need of a cog—one familiar with sensitives.” He glanced over his shoulders to see the marshals tramping up the gangplank to his ‘ship, the thud of their boots echoing through the meadow and raising a talon of dracos from the nearby trees. 

“Keeper Constantine has some experience in the area,” Shohreh said. “And Tariq says you have wounded of your own?”

“A leg wound that took infection,” John told her. “My mechanic’s hand could also use a better splint than we were able to manage. And we have a pregnant woman, six months along, who suffered a bout of hypoxia, and would rest easier knowing no harm came to the child.” 

Shohreh glanced to her left, at the novice Keeper standing ready. “Fetch Anya and Edward,” she said. The young woman gave the fist-to-palm bow of the order and raced to the Keep proper, a massive granite structure that seemed to grow out of the cliff face against which it stood. “Doctors Dvorak and Montagne are quite skilled. Your crew will be well cared for,” she said. 

“Thank you,” John said, unable to hide the relief in his voice. The hours of flight to Tariq’s rendezvous had been more than a little strained, with he and Rory trading helm duty and watching the prisoners while Jinna stayed with Jagati, trying to keep her fever down, and Eitan kept watch on Galileo, for fear the sensitive would waken and make another attack on the crew.

So while it had not been a long journey to Lycos, it had been a tense one, and John hard put to keep his mind on any given task because he couldn’t stop thinking of Jagati. 

“It is the least we can do,” Shohreh said, bringing John’s attention back to the present. “That being said, I believe you have something for me?” 

“Of course.” As he spoke, John unslung the satchel—the same he’d carried in Dyar’s Canyon, and through Nike the previous night—from his shoulder and held it out. 

At another of her nods, Tariq accepted the satchel. Feeling it leave his hands, John felt more than the weight of the calculator dissipating and let out a soft huff of relief. 

Unless Tariq’s mother meant to haul them all in on charges of illegal trafficking of Tech, the worst was over. Assuming, that is, that Jagati… But no, of course she’d be fine. 

She had to be. 

Even as he thought this, the young Keeper came trotting back with two others in her wake, both in the red with saffron trim of Hive Masters, both carrying medical satchels. Anya and Edwin, then. They sent their Master a nod and proceeded into the Errant. 

John turned, meaning to follow.

“Captain.” Shohreh stopped him and he looked back. “Once your crew is settled, I would ask your presence in the Keep.” 

He looked at the Errant, then back. “Assuming all is well, then yes, I will call.” 

She nodded, as if certain all would be. “Ask the porter to show you to my office.” 

John, already half-running back to the Errant, waved over his shoulder.

He arrived at the gangplank at the same time the marshals were escorting Mary, Colin, and Ysabel down. 

Mary’s expression was contrite. Another mask, donned for the Keepers, John suspected. Colin appeared resigned, and Ysabel’s expression was the resting neutral John had become accustomed to over the past hours. He’d little doubt the woman had emotions somewhere under that placid mask—one didn’t betray one’s captain and crew without some driving internal need—but whatever those needs might be, Ysabel wasn’t sharing. 

And just as well, because he’d little interest in spending another minute even contemplating the trio. Likewise Galileo, whose inert body was being removed from the medbay when he arrived. Taking a wall as two marshals carried the stretcher past, he looked down at the lost man. 

Handsome as ever, he lay on the litter with his eyes open to nothing John could see. 

Every so often he’d sigh, or let out a low chuckle, or a snippet of the ballad Eitan had asked Jinna to sing, but other than that, Galileo Kane was a blank. 

And John had a difficult time caring. 

What he cared about—all that mattered to him—was on this ‘ship. 

Galileo had known that, and knowing, threatened it so, as far as John was concerned, Kane could live in the shadows of his mind for the rest of his life.

Jagati would have pointed out such coldness wasn’t the usual for him, that it was more her style, or Gideon Quinn’s.

Except Jagati was unconscious and fighting an infection, and Quinn hot on the trail of his own revenge, so John was left to, at least in the privacy of his thoughts, condemn Galileo. 

And, he thought as he stepped into the med bay, where Edward was already bent over Jagati, if Shohreh proved wrong—if all were not well—he’d do much worse than condemn the man.

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