Clinio Lind, the Royal Season security chief, was holding an emergency war meeting at the temporary office on Banking Street. Ellison Davo was supposed to be there, but he was running late. He had a good reason.
He had been scouring the areas around the docks with the help of Matilda and a couple of other mercenaries most of the previous day.
Clinio hasn’t been much help. He refused to believe that Captain Clare Lestrange wasn’t who he thought she was. After all, he had done a full background check on her and on everyone in her crew. A real background check, involving their true off-world identities.
“If she was acting odd, it’s because she had just eaten something that morning that disagreed with her,” Clinio said when Ellison had tried to warn him that Clare might not be who she was pretending to be..
“It’s someone else, someone in disguise,” Ellison insisted.
“I think I would know if that wasn’t Clare Lestrange herself,” Clinio said. “I’ve been interacting with her for a week. We just did a two-hour walkthrough this morning of all the security precautions. And if she somehow did manage to fool me, what about all the sailors? They’ve known her for years.”
“She could have been switched at the last minute,” Ellison said.
“That’s a little far-fetched, don’t you think? In any case, we’ve got guards on the ship, and two ships accompanying them for added security. Even if you’re right, she’s just one person. She’s not going to be able to do anything without anyone noticing. Anyway, what do you want me to do?”
“Hire another ship and go after them,” said Ellison.
Clinio spread his arms. “Look around. Do you see any ships ready to go?”
The security chief was right. The docks were empty. What with the Royal Season hiring three of the ships, five others still on an expedition to find the New World, and the rest scattered on the usual cargo and tourism runs, there were no ships to be hired.
“What about that one?” Ellison pointed. North of the docks, across the Krim River, they could see the bow of a sailing ship emerging from the giant commercial gate.
“It’ll take weeks for that ship to be ready to set sail,” said a nearby street vendor. “They’ve got to set up the masts, furnish the cabins, stock the provisions.” He leaned into his wagon and pulled out a basket. “I’ve still got some sausages left. Want one?”
Clinio shook his head. “Hell, no. That’s probably what made Clare sick.”
“She’s been on Krim to long to buy sausages on a warm day from a street vendor,” said Ellison.
“Hey!” said the vendor. “My sausages are made from top-grade meat products.”
“So eat one,” said Ellison.
“I would, but I’m completely full.”
Ellison turned back to Clinio. “Clare’s got to be around here somewhere. She was only out of sight for what, a few minutes? They wouldn’t kill her right away, because then she could raise the alarm.”
“Fine,” said Clinio. “If you can find her, I’ll find another ship to charter.”
But they didn’t find her. Not right away, at least.
Finally, this morning, a lead paid off and they discovered Captain Clare Lestrange — the real Captain Clare Lestrange — tied up in a small warehouse full of coffee pots and ashtrays. Someone a few years back had fallen for the hype about the expeditions to the New World and invested in a large supply of products useful for coffee drinkers and cigarette smokers. But since there was still no coffee or cigarettes on Krim, the warehouse hadn’t seen much traffic lately.
They still could have made the meeting in time, but Clare insisted on visiting the main gate first so that she could step off-world and freshen up. That was on the way, so it wasn’t too much of a delay.
“Sorry, I got sidetracked checking my messages and social media,” she told Ellison and Matilda after she came back to Krim.
Then they headed down Banking Street, but as they walked past the post office, Clare realized that she needed to check her mail. There was a line.
By the time the three of them got to Clinio’s meeting, they were at least an hour late. It turned out that they hadn’t missed anything.
The meeting room was packed with Clinio’s guards, but none of them had anything useful to offer. Instead, they were offering excuses for what happened.
“They got me in my sleep,” one guard was saying. “I didn’t even hear a thing.”
“One of the sailors came up to me and asked me for a light,” said another. “And someone else came up from behind. None of us were expecting anything to happen. All the sailors were supposed to have been vetted.”
“Yeah, what happened to those background checks? My mother had to vouch for my character, and the whole ship we were on turned out to be full of traitors?”
When Clinio saw them walk in, he raised his hand and quieted them down. The guards turned and when they saw Clare Lestrange in the doorway, they started yelling.
“Quiet!” Clinio banged his fist on the table behind him. “Captain, please tell us what happened.”
Clare stepped into the room, keeping a wary eye on the armed men around her.
“I was on the way back to the ship from running an errand when I was jumped and chroloformed,” she said.
One of the guard scoffed. “They didn’t have chroloform in the 1500s,” he said.
“It’s made from whiskey and chlorinated lime,” said another. “The ingredients are available. You just have to mix them.”
“It might have been something else,” Clare said. “I’m not an expert.”
“What was the errand?” another guard asked. “That sounds suspicious to be.”
Clare looked away. “Well, actually,” she mumbled. “It was a something I ate.”
“It was a sausage, okay? I had one of the dock sausages.”
The guards gasped.
“I needed a few minutes of… of private time.” She looked up and squared her shoulders. “I was hungry and I’d been running around all morning and hadn’t had time to get breakfast.” She shook her head. “I should have known better. I’ve been on Krim long enough.”
Matilda reached through the doorway and patted Clare’s shoulder. “We’ve all been there,” she said. “And whoever it was, they would have found some way to lure you away. Clearly, they did their planning.”
“Anyway, I woke up last night,” Clare said. “I was tied up and couldn’t get free. These two found me this morning.” She gestured at Ellison and Matilda.
“She’s not lying,” said Ellison. “She couldn’t have been on that ship.”
“So who was?” asked Clinio. “And how were they able to subvert all your sailors?”
“I don’t know who it was,” said Clare. “But I know it wasn’t my sailors. I stopped and checked my messages before coming here. At least five of my guys were killed last night and contacted me. A couple have even filed for death benefits already.” She pulled out paperwork from a pocket inside her vest. “These were in my mailbox this morning.” She passed them to Clinio. “I’m sure more will be coming soon. For all I know, all the rest of them were murdered as well and are trying to find me now. I need to get back to the docks. I also need to talk with my insurance agent.” She turned to leave then paused and looked back at Clinio Lind. ” They’ll be following up with you, as well.”
The guards started yelling again and Clinio banged on the table several times before they quieted down.
“Barret, go with the captain and interview any of her sailors who are back,” he ordered. A guard with an eyepatch followed Clare out of the room. Ellison stood aside to let him past. He recognized him. Barret the Beast had been one of the guards assigned to Benedicta Bernewelt, and had had a brief relationship with Wynefrede Aumberden.
“The rest of you, write up your notes about what happened. Try to remember everything you can. We need to find out who took the ship, and where they’re taking her.” Clinio then walked to the door. “Captain, a word!”
Clare stopped and looked back.
“Do you have any idea of who could have done this?” he asked. “Or where they might go next?”
“My best guess? Pirates. As to where they’ll go, well, there are a few places. Port Royal is known to be friendly to pirates. It’s an island, southeast of here. Any navigator can tell you how to get there. But it’s well defended. There are also rumors of other pirate islands. Each group has its own, but for obvious reasons, they keep those secret. You’ll probably be getting ransom demands soon enough. If you pay them, they’ll kill the captives.”
“You mean, if we pay them, they’ll bring the captives back?”
“No,” she said. “They’re lazy. They’re not going to bother making an extra trip back. It would be too risky for them, anyway. They’ll just wait to hear that they got the money, then make the captives walk the plank. Or slice their throats. Whatever is more convenient.”
Clinio rubbed his face. “This is a nightmare.”
“If I were you, I’d head off-world and check if any of the passengers have already been killed,” said Clare. “I doubt that any of them will voluntarily return to Krim now.”