The Storm Bug sailed into Lamacoln’s protected bay just before a cloud bank rolled in, blocking the light of the moon. The ship’s captain dropped anchor as soon as they were inside the bay. They only had a small lamp lit, shaded to help keep it from being seen, and the captain was worried about getting too close to shore and hitting something.
Ellison had been up on the deck since they first caught sight of the island after sleeping most of the afternoon. He woke up just in time to watch the sun set over to the horizon, then to see the island came into view up ahead. He and Welton stayed topside to watch the island get closer and closer in the moonlight.
After the anchor dropped the Royal Season and dimmed the light even further, the security chief came up on deck as well to confer with his lieutenants. Ellison wasn’t invited to the planning. He knew that he wasn’t much use in a combat situation, anyway. But he and Welton drifted over, anyway.
Salty Dog, the pirate who Matilda found, was telling Clinio and his team about the lay of the land.
“So the road starts right there,” Salty said, pointing towards the most inland part of the bay. “It winds up to the top of the mountain. I’ve never been up myself, but it seemed to take people a couple of hours to get to the top, then another couple to come back down again with the crates. You have go all the way up, past the temple, and there’s a storage shed up there. The only thing is, when our guys go up, they’re not supposed to interact with the cult members. So sometimes the ship has to wait a day or someone to come down and meet us and take us up. I think there’s someone up there always watching for us to show up.”
“So as soon as the sun’s up, they’ll know we’re here,” Clinio said.
“I’m more interested in the crates.” Welton leaned in. “These are the crates of guns?”
“And gun powder,” said Salty Dog.
“Are you sure this is where they originate?” Welton asked. “Could they have come from somewhere else, then stored here temporarily?”
“In that case, why carry them all the way up the mountain?” said Clinio. “It would make more sense to have the storage closer to the coast.” He shook his head. “But that’s not the important thing. What I’m worried about is that they have guns and ammunition, and we don’t. If they know we’re coming, they’ll have an opportunity to arm themselves.”
“Or get rid of the evidence,” said Welton.
“You’re going to go up the mountain in the dark?” Ellison asked.
“Once we’re off the ship, the trees will probably hide any light we carry, as long as it’s not too bright,” said Clinio. “We should be able to see well enough to make it to the top.” He clapped his hands together. “Let’s get everyone together. Salty, you’ll come with me in the first rowboat, help us find the start of the road. Ellison, Welton, if you want to join us, you can come on a later boat.”
The Storm Bug had four rowboats, normally stacked on top of each other on the main deck. One of those boats was
Salty Dog nodded, then looked over at the shore. “Hold on, I see something,” he said. He moved towards the handrail and everyone else followed. Salty leaned over the railing and pointed. “See that?”
Ellison peered into the dark and after a minute he spotted a group of small lights moving along the shoreline.
“Those are electric lights,” said Clinio.
“That can’t be right,” said Welton. “We don’t give import permits…”
“We need to get as close as we can, to see what we’re dealing with,” said Clinio. “Let’s get the first boat going. Wait for our signal, then send the rest.” The security team started rushing around the ship, packing supplies into the rowboat, getting everything together.
Ellison and Welton stayed out of the way to allow them to work. The first boat was down in the water in minutes, with Clinio and his men and women rowing as silently as they could.
Another of Clinio’s team stood next to Ellison and Welton, watching the shore. Ellison recognized him as Cleeve Freer. The man had been on one of the guardships accompanying the Santa Maria, and had been killed by pirates.
“They’re moving slowly,” Cleeve said. “Very slowly.” He peered into the night, trying to make out the shore, but it was impossible to see anything now. “Maybe the terrain is really difficult. See how the lights sometimes stop moving or even back up a little bit?”
“They must be trying to find their way around obstacles,” Cleeve said.
“Maybe they’re tired,” said Ellison.
“Or carrying things,” said Welton. “Like crates full of guns.”
“What happens if they meet?” said Ellison. “Is Clinio going to fight them?”
“Depends on who they are,” said Cleeve. “And how well armed they are. If they have guns, and they see us, they can probably kill everyone before we get anywhere close to them.”
“I need to get closer,” said Welton. “I’m going on the next boat. I have to confirm that those are electric lights they’re carrying.”
“What’s the big deal?” asked Ellison. “So they have electricity. Krim has real physics, right? Someone could make electricity if they wanted to, right?”
“Sure,” said Welton. “Get some magnets and some wire together. But making electric lamps requires significant infrastructure.” He pointed to the shore. “They have several. I doubt this island has the manufacturing capability to create everything you need to make portable lights. That takes batteries, the ability to create a vacuum to make the lightbulb. Or, if they’re using light emitting diodes, that requires the ability to manufacture semiconductors. Nobody on Krim has the capacity for anything like that. In fact, we actively discourage people from trying. It’s wouldn’t go with Krim’s brand identity.”
“So if they didn’t make those lights themselves, how did they get them here?” Cleeve asked.
“Probably with their private gate,” said Welton. “Which is strictly against the terms of service. I know the board approved their gate, but these kinds of violations are strongly frowned upon. The board member who vouched for them is going to have some explaining to do.”