A New Ship, A New Mission
A small scooter sputtered down the road running along the docks in Hjem, darting back and forth to dodge both people and crates. It made its way to the end of the pier and abruptly halted. A Yeti of smaller stature hopped off and began walking quickly to a ship at the end. A man was hunched down in front of the gangplank rummaging through a box.
“Good day”, said the Yeti. “I have a delivery for Captain Phinneus Cromwell.”
The man stood. His deep green skin glistened in the sunlight and his tail swished behind him.
“I will make sure that he receives it”, replied the Vibranni, holding out his hand.
“I was told to deliver it directly to Captain Cromwell. Please direct me to him”, The messenger replied sternly.
“Captain Cromwell, you are needed on the dock”, the Vibranni shouted, turning his head toward the ship.
A gruff looking man, with a beard that had long since been trimmed, walked quickly across the ship and down the ramp.
“What is it, Yuri”, he said.
“A message is delivered for you.”
“Good Morning, Captain. I have been asked to deliver this letter directly to you”, said the messenger handing the letter over and quickly walking away.
Phinneus opened the letter and read it, a small smirk crawled onto his face.
“We have a delivery to make. Yuri, tell Boric to prepare the ship for departure, then help Olaf secure the supplies below. We leave within the hour.”
The vibranni picked up the box and swiftly walked up the plank. Phinneus turned the letter over, to learn who was hiring him, and the smile immediately sank into a frown and his brow furrowed. On the lower left of the note was a small stamp. It was the insignia of the Brotherhood of Demitrius. It had been several months since he had been contacted with a mission, but that was their way. As a lower ranked member, he had hoped to have been contacted more frequently, but he was not privy to most of the communications, and was mostly unaware of their actions.
Still, he was excited. It had been many months since he had been on the water in his own ship, and now, since the Northstar had been rebuilt, he was finally able to do so. He felt more than a little apprehensive about the first time out on his new vessel being a potentially dangerous task. The last time he had been tasked by the Brotherhood, he nearly lost his ship.
“Where are we going”, asked Boric shouting down from the helm, as Phinneus walked onto the ship. Phinneus said nothing and went below deck. Boric quickly followed.
“Phin, what’s the job? Where are we going”, he asked again, when he caught up with the captain.
“To Gearford. We are to take on cargo and leave for Clarusia.”
“You look upset, what’s wrong?”
Phinneus looked around, to ensure that they would not be heard.
“The Brotherhood has given us this job.”
“The Brotherhood”, whispered Boric. “We haven’t been contacted by them for over a year. Why now?”
“I’m not sure. The last time I was contacted was when I was travelling down to Conwell, about two months ago. But they were only checking up on me. They must feel that I am, somehow, well suited for this task. I hope it’s not too dangerous.”
“Their missions tend to be.”
“I know”, said Phinneus. “I just don’t want anything to happen to the Northstar again. Get us ready to move out. I'd like to leave as soon as possible.”
Boric nodded, turned, and walked up the stairs to prepare the ship. Phinneus continued to his quarters.
He sat down at a small desk and opening a drawer. He removed a small, locked box and placed it in front of him. The box contained each of the orders that he had received from the Brotherhood. He quickly tossed the note inside, shut, and locked it, before placing it back in the drawer. Placing his face in his hands, he sighed. He hoped for the best, but he knew this job would not be pleasant.
Phinneus sat at his desk, lost in his thoughts. He thought of the how little he knew of the mission, how the ship would perform, how he would be received in Gearford, and many other things. His mind wandered to his role, and future, in the Brotherhood until the sound of rushing feet and moving crates grabbed his attention. He quickly stood and headed up to the helm.
“Lars, are we ready to get underway”, Phinneus asked of the navigator as he approached the helm.
“Aye, we are. Boric told me to set course for Gearford. We should be able to leave shortly”, Lars replied.
“And where is Boric?”
“He is down overseeing the last of the supplies being brought on board and bringing up the plank.”
“Thank you, Lars.”, said Phinneus as he began to move towards the stairs.
“Captain, are we to fly once we are out of sight”, asked Lars.
“No, I don’t think that the engines are up to the task, yet. I still need to work out a few kinks. Maintain the course to Gearford at full sail.”
“Very good, Sir.”
The masts creaked as the wind filled the sails. Slowly, the Northstar began to pull away from the pier. As they sailed out of the harbor, a strong wind grabbed them, and pushed them south-east. Phinneus looked back, as the city disappeared in the distance. He closed his eyes and, holding his hands out a bit, let the wind blow past him. It was refreshing. The crisp smell of salt in the air, the gentle rolling of the waves. He had missed it.
“Captain”, said Boric, slowly approaching.
“Boric, it has been too long since we have been to sea.” Phinneus placed his hands on the rail and looked down at the water. “I was growing restless. I felt cooped up in the city. I feel free again.”
“You left the city many times, quite often on ships.”
“I know, but not like this. Having my ship back. Being in command again. This, Boric, is freedom. Out here, we answer to no one.”
“We still have a job to do.”
Phinneus let out a long sigh and turned around.
“You couldn’t let me have five minutes, could you”, said Phinneus, smirking slightly.
He walked over to the helm, Boric followed.
“What is our speed, Jens?”
“We are at seven knots, sir”, replied the helmsman. “We should arrive in Gearford by sunset tomorrow.”
“Excellent! We will store the cargo and be off by morning after next.”
“Do you have any idea what the cargo is?”. asked Boric as they began to walk down to the main deck.
“I haven’t a clue. But at this point, I really don’t care. We need this job. Most of my finances are tied up with the rebuilding of this ship. The crew needs to get paid.”
“That they do.”
Phinneus stopped and looked at Boric.
“Have any of them said anything?”
“They understand the circumstances. You don’t have to worry, the're loyal.”
Phinneus paused and looked off to the horizon, deep in thought.
“Are you really worried about the crew?”
“No, it’s not that.”
“What is it then, the delivery.”
Phinneus looked around to make sure that they would not be overheard.
“The delivery and the ship. She’s new, and I had hoped to have a few weeks to get used to her quirks, but I couldn’t refuse the mission. With any luck there won’t be many surprises for us on this voyage.”
“Well...the thing about surprises is…”
“I know, I know”, interrupted Phinneus. “Let’s just get to Gearford, and we can worry from there.”
“You shouldn’t worry. What you should do is get some rest”, said Boric, Phinneus staring into the distance.
“Boric, you’re in command. I am going below to work on the engines. I want them working by the time we leave Gearford.”
“Aye. I'll let you know if you are needed on deck”, Boric replied, letting out a sigh.
Phinneus disappeared below deck.
Phinneus was still growing accustomed to the new look of the ship’s engines. He had been planning the renovation for over a year, but with the destruction of the last Northstar, the plans had been accelerated. Instead of the deck being covered, floor to ceiling, with glass and tin capacitors, a single stack of cases, running most of the length of the ship, served the purpose. Inside the cases were a new type of capacitor, fashioned from mica found in the mines of Sorditudo. They are capable of withstanding the high voltages and large currents needed, but much more stable and durable than the glass plates. At the rear of the engine room were two large batteries. These were also new and boasted higher efficiencies.
He had spent the past month wiring up the new engine and power supply, and was still not sure if it was going to work properly. Theoretically, it should, but he had already been pushing well past theory. One benefit of the new ship and engines is being significantly lighter than before. Staying aloft for longer would be easier. The issue he was having was not knowing if the whole thing was just going to fail and set his ship on fire. He was beginning to understand the fear of the electrical system he installed that Captain Nolan had, but quickly dismissed them.
Phinneus heard footsteps coming down the stairs. When he looked over at the threshold, he saw Boric standing in it, slightly hunched since he was a bit too tall for the door frame.
“Phin, it is time for supper”.
The captain looked down at the pile of wires and capacitors and sighed.
“Oh well, I’ll come back to this later.”
Boric was not sure if he was being spoken to or not.
“You could use some rest. You’ve been at this for weeks”, replied Boric.
“This is relaxing for me. However, at the moment, there is a lot of repetitious work to be done. But, you're right, I could use a break.”
The two of them walked up to the captain’s mess. The steward, Henry, had just finished setting the table and was bringing out the food. Already seated were Olaf, the bosun, and his assistant, Yuri, as well as the ship’s physician, Robert. Phinneus was greeted boisterously by Olaf and Yuri. Robert was staring intently into his recently empty wine glass.
“What’s wrong, doctor”, asked Phinneus as he was sitting down.
“Oh...I don’t know…”, he stuttered. “I am just worrying about our delivery. We don’t know who it's for or where it's going to…”
“We are headed to Gearford”, exclaimed Lars, as he walked into the room. “Sorry for my being late, Captain. I was checking in with Jens to make sure we were on course.
“I know we're going to Gearford”, Robert said, glaring at Lars. “What I think we ought to know what we will be delivering, and to where. But nobody tells me anything. Maybe you already know.”
“We don't know much. What I can tell you that it shouldn't be any more dangerous than our typical voyage”, said Phinneus, who had already began to eat.
“That’s comforting”, replied Robert, sarcastically.
Phinneus put down his cup a bit harder than he intended. Everyone could see that he was preoccupied and on edge.
“The client is a merchant from the Barrett District. We are to deliver several crates to Clarusia. That's all I know.”
“Sir, if that is all it is, then why were we hired”, asked Olaf. “Surely there are cheaper and faster ways to get it there”.
“I don’t know the circumstances, but, from the letter, it sounds like we have come recommended”, replied Phinneus, taking a drink from his glass.
“Will we be in Gearford for long, Captain”, asked Yuri.
“Unfortunately, no. We’ll only be in port to pick up the cargo. There won't be any time for leave.”
“Olaf, do we have sufficient supplies to reach Clarusia? I know we left Hjem in rather a hurry”, asked Boric.
“We do, though I would feel more comfortable if our stores were full.”
“We will get more supplies if there is time. I'm finished. Everyone, enjoy the rest of your meal. Boric, I am going back down to the engines.”
Phinneus stood and left the room. Everyone looked at each other, perplexed. Boric sighed.
“I have been telling him he needs to rest, but he seems obsessed with that engine of his.”
“His last one worked fine, why obsess over this one”, asked Robert.
“All I know is that he's using new technology”, replied Boric.
They all sat in silence, quietly finishing their meals. A shadow seemed to be cast over the room, dampening all of their moods.
“Well, Yuri and I will go write up a list of what we should pick up in Gearford”, said Olaf.
“I think that I will go and relieve Jens at the helm, he's on duty at midnight”, followed Lars.
Boric remained in his seat as the three men left. He covered his face with his hands and let out a long sigh.
“Well, I suppose that I will be turning in soon”, said Robert, stretching out his arms.
“Alright. Good night, Doctor.”
“Good night, Boric”. The doctor walked over to Boric and placed a hand on his shoulder. “ Try to get some rest.”
Phinneus was hard at work with placing all of the capacitors and wiring them up to the lightning rods and batteries. Just as he had positioned the last capacitor bank and sat back, quite pleased with himself, he heard the heavy footfalls of Boric.
“Strange for you to be up so late, Boric. I thought that you would have been to bed long before now”, he said just as Boric passed the threshold.
“Late...it's well past sunrise. Didn't you get any sleep?”
“Sunrise...No, no, no, I've only been down here for a few hours.”
“Phin, go get some sleep. At least a couple hours. We won’t arrive until mid afternoon.”
“Mid afternoon? I thought it was to be sunset.”
“It was, but Jens reported a strong wind that came just past midnight. We made very good time.”
“I should say so...alright, alright. I am tired, maybe I'll go to bed”, said Phinneus letting out a long yawn before resting his head on the table with engine parts strewn about.
Boric, about to ask the captain if he wanted a meal before he slept, was cut off by the sound of snoring.
Docking in Gearford was always a lengthy procedure and Phinneus wished that he could put in at the airship docks where the landing and takeoff were much less regulated. They had spent the last hour being towed in by two small boats and were finally tying off at the pier.
Phinneus stood by the gangplank, waiting for it to be lowered. He saw on the platform below him, two representatives of the port authority and two soldiers, with rifles on their shoulders.
“Good Afternoon. What is your intended business and length of your stay here in Gearford”, asked the taller of the two representatives, as Phinneus walked down the dock to join them.
“Good Afternoon. I am here to take on cargo. I shall be leaving in the morning”, replied Phinneus.
“What is the nature and destination of the cargo”, asked the other.
“Some crates are being delivered from a factory in the Barrett district for shipment to Clarusia. That should be sufficient.”
“It is two hundred ciams to dock your ship for the night”, said the taller, with an unpleasant look and his hand outstretched.
Phinneus removed a small leather billfold from his coat and handed the money to the man. The two of them, along with the soldiers, quickly turned and walked away.
“It is getting expensive to dock here, eh Boric.”
“Well, your ship is quite large to be pulling in like this. We could have docked further out. It wouldn't have added much more time to taking on the cargo”, replied Boric.
“The client requested that we dock as far in as we could. We will be compensated for it, so I’m not concerned, just making an observation.”
“Where are we to retrieve the cargo”
“They should be meeting us here. We just need to be patient. Go and tell Olaf to take Yuri, purchase the supplies we need, and be back here before sundown.”
“Very good. I'll let them know.”
A couple of hours later, Olaf and Yuri returned with two small carts loaded up with food, rope, lumber, and just about everything else that an ocean voyage required. They began to busy themselves with stowing the supplies. There was still no sign of the cargo and Phinneus was beginning to grow concerned.
“What’s wrong, Captain”, asked Boric, returning from overlooking the supplies being stored.
“It is not like them to keep us waiting. I'm getting worried.”
“I'm sure everything will be alright.”
“I hope so. Did Olaf get all of the supplies that he needed?”
“There were a few items he couldn’t find, but he said they weren't very important.”
“Very good. Make sure that the supplies are secured and a space is clear for the cargo.”
Just as Demitrius sank behind the skyline of Gearford, a small cart, drawn by a mechanical beast moved down the pier towards the Northstar. As it drew closer, two men could be seen riding on top. One was an older gentleman in a black coat and hat, but with a bright paisley vest underneath. The other was a young man in a light-gray suit. The automaton proudly displayed the insignia of Buford Automaton. The cart stopped directly in front of the plank up to the ship. It carried a single large crate.
Phinneus, along with Boric, Olaf, and Yuri, walked down to meet the client.
“Good Evening, Captain, gentleman”, said the older man as he hopped down from the carriage and looking at the men standing on the dock. “I am Herman Thatcher.”
“Very nice to meet you again, Mr. Thatcher. It has been some time.”
“Five years, but we will have a chance to catch up later.”
“Bring the crate on board and secure it in the hold. And be careful, the cargo might be fragile”, said Phinneus, turning to Olaf and Yuri. “We can take it from here, sir”, turning back to face Mr. Thatcher.
“Actually, Captain, I'll be joining you.”
Olaf, Yuri, and Boric began to tie off the crate. Hearing that the cargo would be escorted, Boric gave Phinneus a concerned look.
“That isn’t necessary, Mr. Thatcher. We are quite capable of delivering the cargo without supervision.”
“This isn’t a reflection of our trust or your capabilities. I have been charged to remain with the cargo at all times and as such, I will be going.”
“Very good, I will make sure that a cabin is prepared for you”, Phinneus replied hesitantly, looking at Boric, who simply nodded.
“When are we departing, Captain.”
“We are set to leave in the morning.”
“That is not good enough. We need to leave tonight, as soon as possible.”
“We can be ready to leave tonight, but we are on the schedule as the first out in the morning.”
“Change the schedule, we need to leave tonight.”
“Okay, we'll leave tonight.”
The young man turned the cart around and headed back towards the city. Phinneus and Mr. Thatcher walked up to the ship. They were greeted by Boric.
“The cargo is secured below deck. Henry is preparing Mr. Thatcher’s cabin as we speak.”
“Thank you, Boric. Mr. Thatcher, shall I take you to your room?”
“Thank you, but I would rather inspect the cargo to ensure that it is secure.”
Phinneus opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted.
“Again, Captain, this is not a reflection on your, or your crew’s, abilities. The cargo is very important, and I must be sure that it will arrive undamaged.”
Mr. Thatcher began to walk towards the stairs that led below deck.
“Very well, I will take you to it. Boric, go to the dock master and inform them that we will be departing tonight.”
“Captain”, Boric asked.
“I don’t know, but I am going to find out. Be back quickly, I'd like to get this over with.”
Boric nodded and quickly walked off of the ship. Phinneus joined Mr. Thatcher below deck and took him to the hold where the crate was stored. Chains and ropes fixed it to large steel rings in the floor.
“As you can see the cargo is quite secure. It will not move, even in a storm.”
“Thank you, Captain”, said Mr. Thatcher as he walked up to the crate. “Your contributions here are greatly appreciated.”
“Sir...please, can you explain what’s going on.”
“I’m not sure what you mean”, he said turning around.
“Late night cargo pickup. Middle of the night departure. A single crate for delivery across the ocean, without regard for cost. This seems to be a hell of a lot more than a simple cargo run. Can you tell me...what’s in the crate?”
“True, it's not a simple delivery and I cannot reveal the contents. You must trust in the Brotherhood. Everything will be alright.”
“I trust the Brotherhood. It’s only that...this ship is new. This is its first voyage and I don’t want anything to happen to it.”
“Trust the Brotherhood”, he said, patting Phinneus on the shoulder before walking down the out of the hold.
Phinneus stood, looking at the crate, for several minutes before he heard footsteps rushing on deck. He ran up the stairs, and saw Boric out of breath.
“What is it”, exclaimed Phinneus.
“Guards...soldiers…”, Boric replied between heavy breathing.
“Did you tell the dock master we were changing the schedule?”
“I didn’t have the chance. The guards were already there. They were interrogating the cart driver who brought the crate. I figured we didn't have time.”
“Get the crew on deck. We leave now”, Phinneus looked up toward the city. “And be quiet about it!”
The silence was eerie. The only sounds to be heard were the waves hitting the sides of the ships and the creaking of wood as they pushed up against the pier. A sturdy wind began to blow. The crew moved swiftly and quietly. Phinneus saw the lanterns of the soldiers begin to move closer.
“Let’s move out”, Phinneus whispered.
The wind filled the sails and Jens carefully steered the Northstar out of the port.
Antiford’s coast vanished below the horizon as the sun began to rise. Phinneus relieved most of the crew to get rest, since they had been up all night. Danger seemed to be behind them and he let out a sigh of relief. The morning was uneventful. Mr. Thatcher took it as an opportunity to reassure Phinneus that there was nothing to worry about.
At about noon, Lars was confirming their position and course, when he noticed something on the horizon.
“Captain. Could you please come back here”, he asked Phinneus, who was standing by the helm.
“What is is Lars?”
“Behind us, two points to starboard. I think I see something.”
Phinneus pulled out his spyglass and raised it.
“There is a ship. I can’t make out what it is though. It may just be a merchant ship.”
After a few hours, Phinneus once again looked behind them. The ship had drawn nearer and it was clearly a military vessel, Falcon Class. It was still too far away to see its name, but it was quickly closing the gap between them.
“All hands”, Phinneus shouted. “Bring the ship to full sail! Move!”
The crew busily ran about, unfurling more sails and securing the rigging. Mr. Thatcher came up top when he heard the shouting and joined Phinneus at the stern of the ship.
“What is going on, Captain”, he asked.
“There's a ship coming up behind us. I intend to make it more difficult for them to catch us.”
“How do we know that they are after us?”
“It’s a Falcon Class ship, and it's getting closer.”
“Surely, you have the faster ship.”
“In the air, the Northstar is faster than all but the Swift and Nightingale class ships. That ship, however, is faster on the water than we are.”
“Then why don’t we take to the sky.”
“Well, the engines aren’t ready yet and I don’t want them to see me take off.”
“Why not. It's not as if they aren’t aware that the Northstar can fly. You have a reputation, Captain, and I can tell you that the government has very little interest in your ship. The technology wouldn’t do them any good. We are aware of their research, and they have deemed what you have is unsustainable.”
After a brief moment in thought, Phinneus, reluctantly, agreed.
“Fine! I'll be below, preparing the engines. I shouldn’t need long”
“Captain”, shouted Lars.
“What is it?”
“The ship has disappeared.”
The captain pulled out his spyglass and looked behind the ship again. It appeared that they were no longer being followed.
“They must have taken off. They are in the air now. They would not have just disappeared.”
“Then, Captain, all the more reason for us to do the same”, said Mr. Thatcher.
“Right. Boric, you are in command. I will be below. Hopefully, I can get this done before they get here.”
Phinneus worked as quickly as he could. After a rushed two hours, and a couple of systems dangerously bypassed, the engines were ready. He threw the switches on and rushed up to the helm. He reached the top deck in time to see a ship landing fifty yards to port. The crew was still. He dared not take off now. They would fire on him before he could get out of the water.
The ship drew closer. Ropes and hooks landed over the railing and were pulled taught. Soon, the two ships were side by side and a plank was placed between them. Three men began to walk across. Phinneus stood in front of them.
“Captain Phinneus Cromwell”, the man in front exclaimed. “I thought you were still sulking in Titania.”
“Commander Jon Pennington, it has been a long time.”
“That is Captain, now. I have been promoted. The Adelaide is my command.”
“Congratulations”, said Phinneus sarcastically and Pennington bowing his head slightly, with a smirk. “So, not that I dislike visits from the military, but what can I do for you? I am in a bit of a rush.”
“So I noticed. May we come aboard? I do hate to inconvenience you, but I have some questions to ask you.”
“As I said, Captain, we are in quite a hurry. I am afraid that we simply don’t have the time.”
“I see...well, I am afraid that it is not entirely your choice. And it is within my power to insist on the questioning.”
“In that case, please, come aboard. We can talk inside. Boric, show our guests to the dining room.”
Boric nodded and led the three of them below deck. Mr. Thatcher approached Phinneus.
“This is unacceptable. We cannot have the military poking around the ship.”
“We don’t have a choice. It’s either this or a fire fight, and I had to bypass my main weapon to make the ship ready for takeoff, and the pneumatic guns are not set up yet. I will have to convince Captain Pennington to leave us alone.”
“Do you know him?”
“Oh yes, he and I have known each other for a long time. We attended the academy together. The last time I saw him, he was a lieutenant commander on the Apsara.”
“Is he to be trusted?”
“Not in the slightest. He came from a wealthy family in the Horn district and never liked the fact that I achieved more than him even though I was from a poor family. I expect that he will have a new superiority, now that he is a captain.”
The two men walked below deck and joined Boric in the dining room. When they entered, Pennington was seated at the head of the table, with his feet propped up on it.
“Who is this”, asked Pennington taking his feet off of the table.
“Captain Jonathan Pennington, might I introduce Mr. Herman Thatcher. He is the man who hired us to deliver the cargo.”
“Are you in the habit of taking your clients along for the delivery, Captain?”
“Captain Pennington”, Mr. Thatcher started. “I am in the process of purchasing property in Clarusia. The Captain, here, is an old acquaintance who came highly recommended when it was time for me to travel there to finalize the transaction.”
“I see. Would you be able to tell me what it is that you are transporting.”
Mr. Thatcher and Phinneus looked at each other.
“The crate has some personal property as well as some examples of machinery that will be used in the factory I will be building there. There is nothing nefarious about it.”
“Of course there isn't. I am sorry for the questions. You know that I do not wish to disturb your travel. You understand, though, that I am just following orders.”
“Now, I have taken up too much of your valuable time”, said Pennington, standing to leave. As he reached the stairs, he turned. “I do have one more question. If you are travelling to a finalize a business transaction, why leave so late at night without telling the dockmaster?”
“The transaction date was moved and I had to leave much sooner. It hadn't occurred to me to change the departure time. I do apologize, Captain Cromwell.”
“Well, it is not a serious transgression. Please, don’t make a habit of it.”
Captain Pennington smiled, turned, and walked up the stairs followed by his two companions.
The room was silent for several minutes. Phinneus turned to Boric and let out a sigh as if he had been holding his breath.
“Let’s get out of here”, said Phinneus quickly moving towards the stairs and heading up to the helm.
When he arrived on deck, twenty soldiers were waiting. In front of them stood Captain Pennington. Phinneus and Mr. Thatcher froze.
“I am afraid that I cannot allow you to depart quite yet, Captain. I must insist on inspecting the cargo. Please take us to it.”
Six of the soldier stepped forward with their rifles at the ready.
“Fine”, exclaimed Mr. Thatcher. “Inspect the cargo.”
Phinneus and Mr. Thatcher escorted Captain Pennington, and his men, to the hold. When they arrived, Captain Pennington ordered two of his men to open the crate.
Unhooking the heavy chains and forcing the top off, the soldiers looked inside. They rummaged through some of the boxes and bags on top, but eventually turned to their captain with a look of confusion and disappointment. Captain Pennington strode over to the crate and looked in. He saw several small boxes, labelled “Clothing”, “Photographs”, and “Designs”, as well as two small bags, one with some personal items, and the other with some collectible items of the Vibranni, clearly meant for a gift. Under all of the items on top there were two smaller crates, with heavy ropes securing them. Written on the top in bold, red letters was “Heavy Machinery - Handle With Care. This End Up.” Captain Pennington looked furious. He turned and walked quickly over to Phinneus.
“I don’t know what you are up to, but I appear to have no grounds for detaining you any longer.” He looked towards his men, who seemed to understand an unspoken command and filed out of the hold and up the stairs. Captain Pennington followed after them. “But be careful, Captain. Don’t think that we've stopped keeping our eye on you.”
He continued out of the hold and walked up the stairs. Phinneus, Boric, and Mr. Thatcher were once again silent.
“Boric, go up and make sure they are leaving.”
Boric looked at Phinneus and nodded, then gave Mr. Thatcher a disappointed glance, before walking out of the room.
Phinneus and Mr. Thatcher stood in silence, trying to listen above. A rushing of boots could be heard and soon, Boric could be heard coming down the stairs.
“They're leaving”, he said as he entered the room.
“Thank the gods”, replied Phinneus, breathing a sigh of relief and turning to face Mr. Thatcher. “Now, Mr. Thatcher, you are going to explain the situation. What the hell am I transporting?”
“Trust in the Broth…”
“No! This inspection was not supposed to happen. That was far too close”, interrupted Phinneus. “I have worked for the Brotherhood for many years now, I think that I deserve a bit more trust, especially given the sacrifices I have made for them in the past.”
Mr. Thatcher stood quietly, seemingly in thought. Slowly he looked up at Phinneus, and then over to Boric.
“Very well. The Brotherhood does trust you, Captain. You would not have been asked to take on this mission otherwise.” He began to walk over to the crate. “What I am about to show you, is of great concern to many of us.”
He pried open the crate, struggling to lift it. Boric and Phinneus rushed over to help. The top was moved off and the bags and smaller boxes were taken out. Ropes were removed and the lids of the crates inside were lifted as one. The crates were actually only one built to appear as two. Boric and Phinneus looked inside. A mix of shock, wonder, and horror was expressed on their faces.
“How well do you really know Lucas Buford”, asked Mr. Thatcher.
In the crate, facing up and carefully, but securely, strapped down, was a vibranni woman. She was nearly seven feet tall and her tail wrapped around her waist and legs. She was dead, though the method of preservation showed little sign of decomposition. All over her body were mechanical protrusions. Various machines and metallic parts replaced portions of her own flesh and bone. Several of these new parts clearly displayed the Buford Automaton insignia.
“No...he wouldn’t do this. There has to be a mistake”, said Phinneus, as he slowly backed away from the crate.
“We are not so sure. We had thought you were keeping an eye on him, but in light of this, we may have to take matters into our own hands.”
“I’ve worked closely with Lucas for over seven years. Before that, I worked closely with his mentor. He has earned the trust of those he works with. I cannot believe that he would do something like this.”
“The evidence would suggest otherwise. He has the knowledge and resources to carry out this kind of research. Not to mention the incident with Charles Button.”
“Lucas made an error in judgement and took things into his own hands. We have held him, ultimately, responsible for those events and we have pressured him into discussing any important decisions with the Order first. This is not something that he would have done. There has to be a mistake.”
“An investigation is still ongoing. I hope, for the sake of your friendship, that he is innocent. For the moment, however, we cannot afford to make that assumption.”
“Where did you find her”, asked Boric.
“There are members of the Brotherhood within the Argenstrath Medical Facility. She was supposed to be cremated, but they were able to get her out. Unfortunately, they were unable to obtain any of the research notes for the experiment.”
“Will you be…”, Phinneus started, but was quickly cut off by Mr, Thatcher.
“No more questions, Captain. We must be getting back on our way. We need to be in Clarusia as quickly as possible. Besides, I have told you, and shown you, far more than I was supposed to. I will retire to bed, this whole ordeal has left me quite spent. Good night.”
Phinneus and Boric stood still and nodded. Once he had left, they returned the crate to its previous state, making sure to tightly secure everything in place.
“You don’t think Buford could have anything to do with this, do you?”
“I want to believe that he is innocent, and I do believe that he is. But, I have to admit that the evidence is strong. Especially in light of what happened last year with Button, not to mention his competition with Cerillius Industries.”
“What should we do?”
Phinneus regained some of his composure.
“We complete our delivery”, he said. “The mission is all that matters.”
The two of them walked out of the hold and went up to the helm.
A strong wind was blowing east and they quickly began to regain the time that was lost when they were boarded. Phinneus stood at the helm with Lars and Boric.
“We need to get to Clarusia as soon as possible. Boric, get the crew up here, we will be flying the rest of the way.”
“Captain? We're going to fly”, asked Boric.
“Yes. There's no time for or point with secrecy anymore. Now, let’s see what she can do”
Phinneus threw a couple of levers. A loud whirring sound came from inside the ship. The surrounding water began to roil. The crew pulled on ropes and two large fins extended from the sides. More ropes were pulled, sails were unfurled, The ship began to raise out of the water and gain speed. The eastward wind swept under the fins and pushed the ship up and forward. They began to travel at a quick pace, faster than Phinneus had thought.
Once they were stable in the air, and on their way, the crew cheered and shouted. Even Phinneus managed a smile.
“Congratulations, Captain”, said Boric walking up to the helm. “I told you that it would work.”
“Yes...Yes you did. I am still going to have to remove the bypass I set up, but it works.” Phinneus paused, watching his crew running about the ship, performing their duties. “I will be below, making sure that nothing is going wrong with the engine.”
The sun had not yet reached noon when land began to emerge from the horizon. It had been three days since they were boarded. Much to Phinneus’ disappointment, Mr. Thatcher was not very forthcoming with information, who spent most of his time was spent in his cabin.
The ship had set down in the water the morning before and approached the coast as quickly as the wind could push them. They could see a all manner of sail and steam ship moving along the coast. Gulls were flying about, landing on the ships, hoping for a meal. As they drew closer, they could see the port city, and capital, of Sela.
The countries of Paorr are quite different from those on Araz. Old roots and deep set traditions made them slow to accept change. However, when change comes, it is wholly embraced by the people. This is a sentiment not shared by many of the humans living on Araz, who are often looking for the newest innovation. Better access to resources and artisans allow for the architecture and technological advances of Paorr to be displayed more prominently.
Phinneus could not help but feeling disappointed. He had not been to Clarusia for several years and he had looked forward to visiting some of the museums and enjoying the city for a couple of days. However, in light of the accusations against Lucas, he decided to head back to Antiford with as much haste as he could.
The Northstar pulled into the harbor just before sunrise. A small boat pulled alongside to greet them.
“Good morning”, shouted Phinneus to the ship.
“Good morning. What brings you to Clarusia”, asked the skipper of the patrol boat.
“We are making a delivery and will need to put in at a dock.”
“Very good! Hold this position and we will arrange it”, he said before steering his small steamboat back into port.
Soon, two tug boats pulled up alongside and threw ropes up to the crew, who quickly secured them to the ship. It was once again a slow process to be brought into the harbour.
While they were being towed in, Phinneus went to Mr. Thatcher’s cabin to inform him of their arrival. The only response Phinneus received was a muffled acknowledgement and the sound of bags being packed.
Within the hour, The Northstar was secured at a dock and the gangplank was lowered. At the bottom stood a representative of the dockyard.
“Good Afternoon, Sir”, said the man as Phinneus and Mr. Thatcher approached. “It costs fifty thalers to dock.”
“That's fine”, said Mr. Thatcher, who brushed past Phinneus and handed the money over to the man. “I am Herman Thatcher. I believe that there is a cart waiting for me.”
“I will check on that and send them down if they are here.”
“Thank you”, said Mr. Thatcher. “And thank you, Captain. I do apologize for any awkwardness there was the past few days. I kept to myself to protect you, as much as myself. I couldn't risk telling you anything more, I may have already told you more than the Brotherhood is comfortable with.”
“It is quite alright. I'm sorry for putting you in such a position. I felt that I was being used by the Brotherhood, and I got frustrated.”
A cart approached and stopped just in front of the ramp, the man driving did not get out, nor did he greet them with anything more than a slight nod. The cart had no beast or machine pulling it., the engine was contained inside. Phinneus had seen the technology before, but it was somewhat rare in Antiford, since it was expensive to fuel, and those fuels were reserved for larger machines and vehicles.
Boric and a few of the crew unloaded the crate and moved it to the cart.
“Captain”, Mr. Thatcher began as he turned away from the cart. “I do hope your friend is innocent. And, while I cannot tell you more, I urge you to prove his innocence soon, if you can. The Brotherhood is likely to act on this swiftly.”
“Thank you for trusting me, Mr. Thatcher.”
“Good luck, and safe travel.”
Mr. Thatcher then hopped into the cart and it quickly puttered off the dock.
“Boric, make ready to sail, we have to get home.”
The train came to a halt in Astam Station. Soot and steam filled the air, obscuring the hot sun above quite effectively. The hustle and bustle of the crowds were quite typical for a Reisday morning, and Phinneus had no option but to be swept away with them. Once on the street, he quickly made his way to Lucas’ office.
When he entered, he was greeted by the secretary, who was looking at some papers on the desk and did not immediately recognize him.
“Good Morning, sir. What might I help you with.”
Phinneus did not have time to waste talking to a receptionist and he stormed passed her and made his way up the stairs. Then, she recognized him. In a panic, she stumbled out of her chair, she raced up the stairs after him.
“Sir! Sir!”, she shouted running after him. Phinneus ignored her.
“Captain Cromwell, please stop!”
Phinneus stopped, having just arrived at the office door, and turned towards the young lady running after him.
“I...am sorry...Mr. Buford is not...in the office today”, she said, trying to catch her breath.
“I see, Tracey...right?”
“Yes, my name is Tracey”
“Well then, Tracey, do you know where he is?”
“He is at the factory on Carlisle Street. But, he is overseeing some important developments and doesn't want to be disturbed.”
“My business with him is urgent, he will see me.”
Phinneus walked away from the office and headed back down the stairs. Tracey followed quickly after him.
“Would you like me to send a telegram, to let him know to expect you?”
“No, given the nature of my business, I would rather he not know.”
Phinneus stopped abruptly and turned. The secretary bumped into him, then backed up quickly.
“Give me your word that he will not be notified. It is a very sensitive matter, and if you let him know, you might be putting him in danger.”
“I promise, Captain. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Mr. Buford.”
“Neither do I”. Phinneus’ expression softened. “That is why I am in a hurry.”
Phinneus turned and walked out of the building and back onto the street. He hurried back to the train to take him back to Gearford.
The factory was quite large and housed the majority of the manufacturing for the newest models of Buford’s Automatons. Phinneus walked in and made his way to Lucas’ office.
No one was there, and Phinneus took the opportunity to look around. This office was messier than his other, with unfinished automatons scattered about, half punched programming scrolls. Standing in the corner, next to a work table, was Bob, one of Lucas' assistant automatons. He wasn't moving. Phinneus noticed that one of the automaton's arms was detached and on the table.
Nothing in the room seemed to be out of place. He decided to wait for Lucas and sat in the large cushioned chair behind the desk.
“You are all doing good work, very good work. But, I feel, no, I know that you can do better. We need these new machines to be able to han…”, said Lucas to a group of his engineers as he walked into the office. He was cut short when he saw Phinneus staring at them.
“Well, I now have an important meeting with a colleague mine. If you'll excuse me”, he continued, quickly recovering the situation.
The engineers quietly filed out, looking at Phinneus as they did.
“What did I say about surprise visits, Phin?” Lucas shut the door quickly.
“We may have a problem, and by we I mean you.”
“Why am I going to have a problem?”
“You're being investigated.”
“A possible, new application of technology that could have serious repercussions.”
“The government is supposed to be off my back. I don’t understand. We’ve paid off the right people. I’m selling them some of my best products. There is no reason for them to investigate me.”
“The government isn't who is investigating you.”
“What? Who IS?”
“Shit! I thought you said they weren’t interested in my automatons.”
“They aren’t. But I just returned from a delivery to Clarusia that changes things.”
“But I haven’t done anything.”
“What I delivered had many parts with your insignia on it. It is also uses some technologies that you are intimately familiar with.”
Phinneus glanced at Lucas’ hand, which he pulled close to his chest.
“What ever it was, it wasn’t me. You know I’ve been a victim of corporate espionage recently.”
“I know. And I defended you to the Brotherhood, but they aren't stopping their investigation. The best I can do is try to figure this out before they do. I don’t know what would happen if they were going to investigate you more than they already have.”
"I do. They would find me innocent...but even that could be enough to ruin me. If my stockholders found out that I was being investigated, they would bail. My stock would be worthless overnight!"
"Calm down. That's why I am here. I am trying to prove your innocence. Any thoughts on how I might do that."
Lucas walked over to a large filing cabinet at the back of the room and pulled open the long drawer at the top. He removed a very thick folder, twine was wrapped around it to keep it closed. He walked over to the desk, Phinneus stood and looked down at the folder.
“These are all of the components that have come through this building in the last three months. It contains component type, serial number, and employee name. Do you have any of the serial numbers?”
“I do not. I wasn't allowed to examine the body that closely.”
“That is going to make things more difficult...wait, body?”
“Body. It appears that someone was trying to splice a vibranni with a machine.”
“I don’t understand, we already do that.” Lucas gestured to his mechanical hand. “What kind of procedure was it?”
“It appeared that nearly every part of the body was being enhanced in some way. At least half of her body was replaced, and that was just what was visible from the outside. Whoever she was, she didn't survive.”
“Damn”, said Lucas softly as he slumped into the chair in front of his desk.
“Lucas, is there any way that we can find where the parts are from.”
“Not without the serial numbers.” Lucas raised his head and stood. “Come with me, I have an idea.”
Searching for Guilt
“What is it, Lucas?”
“We might be able to figure out something if you can remember what any of the parts looked like. It’s no serial number, but maybe we can find something.”
The two men walked out of the office and down to the store room. A dozen rows each with a dozen shelves were lined with hundreds of boxes. Employees were busy taking items out and placing new items in.
“These are all of the components that we need for the research and construction of our automatons. These are all top of the line and some are not used in the current models. If you can find something that you recognize, we might be able to narrow it down to this facility.”
“There must be three thousand boxes. There's no way that we have the time for me to look through everything.”
Lucas ran to the top of the stairs and onto a small platform used to overlook the store room.
“May I have everyone’s attention”, Lucas shouted. They employees stopped what they were doing and looked up at him. “I am conducting a surprise inspection. I want the long tables around the floor to have one of each component from the shelves. I want this done quickly.”
Everyone on the floor rushed to complete the task, the foreman hurriedly barked orders to ensure that the employees were working as quickly as possible. It took nearly two hours for the twenty employees to fill the tables with each of the more than three thousand components.
“Very good job, everyone. You are all dismissed from work and don’t worry, you will be paid for the remaining hour of the work day.”
After the employees left, Phinneus began to search through the parts for something familiar.
“No...not yet. Wait!”
Lucas looked down at the component as Phinneus lifted it.
“This actuator was protruding from her upper arm and into her forearm.”
Lucas took the device and looked it over.
“Are you sure that it was this one?”
“Yes, definitely. I recognize the size and style.”
Lucas placed it on the table and walked away, Phinneus followed him to a large stack of filing cabinets. He climbed a short flight of steps, opened a large drawer, and removed a small folder.
“We use many types of actuators in the automatons,” Lucas said as he walked back towards Phinneus. “However, the one you pointed out is a new type of hydraulic actuator. It is just out of development and hasn't been integrated into main production yet. So, we should be able to see who exactly was working with them. Here, you look through these, while I look through the rest.”
Lucas handed Phinneus half of the papers from the folder. The two men sat at a nearby table and began to examine the documents.
“It appears as though only eight of your employees have worked with these components since they came here,” said Phinneus looking up from the papers.
“I’ve noticed that, too. Though, the factory foreman, Henri, I trust completely. He helped me start this facility.”
“We should check to see if any of these actuators are missing.”
Lucas nodded and the two moved the large crate containing the actuators and placed it in front of a large table. Slowly, they began to remove each of the components and verify the serial numbers. When they checked the last one in the box, they still had one sheet unmatched to a part.
“Well...at least we know it was taken from here.”
“That isn’t very comforting, Phin. I am being stolen from and probably framed.”
“You aren’t being framed. It's the government that is researching something potentially dangerous.”
“Yeah...but the Brotherhood thinks that I am to blame.”
“Everything will be fine", Phinneus said reassuringly. "We'll find the one who stole it and stop them. Then, the Brotherhood will be off your back.”
“Alright. We talk to Henri in the morning and set up to talk to the rest of them.”
“Okay. I am going to go get some sleep. I have a spare room in my apartment here, you are welcome to stay.”
“Thank you, I really should get some rest.”
Phinneus and Lucas arrived back at the facility early the next morning. They left a message for Henri with his secretary and waited in Lucas’ office. The two remained in silent thought until they were joined by the plant foreman.
They did not have to wait long. After only twenty minutes, there was a loud knock on the door before it opened. A tall man in his mid-forties walked in.
“Good Morning, Henri. How are you this morning”, said Lucas.
“Good Morning, Lucas”, replied Henri in a deep voice. “I’m well, though somewhat confused as to why twenty of my employees were sent home early yesterday.”
“We needed to do an inspection with the room clear.”
“I still would have liked to know about it.”
“I’m sorry about that, it couldn’t be helped. Allow me to introduce my friend and colleague, Phinneus Cromwell.”
“It is nice to meet you”, said Henri holding out his hand.
“Nice to meet you”, replied Phinneus standing and shaking Henri’s hand.
“So, did you find a problem?”
“Yes, we did. And Phinneus brought me some disturbing information.”
“It appears that someone has stolen several components and used them in a terrible experiment”, continued Phinneus. "I am not one to balk at scientific advancement, but in this case, the methods are...shall we say...unsettling."
“That is horrible. Are you sure it was one of our employees? I can't think of anyone who would have the motivation to do such a thing.” Henri turned to Lucas. "You and I have personally hired everyone here. I would hate to think that I could have let in someone like that."
“Try not to trouble yourself about that. Lucas has been the target of espionage quite a bit lately. And yes, It was definitely here. We found the paperwork for one of the missing components. Lucas and I would like to question the employees who worked with the parts.”
“Of course. Would you like me to round them up?”
“Yes, Henri. Assemble them in your office, we will be there shortly", stated Lucas.
“Very good. I should be ready in fifteen minutes.”
Henri quickly walked out of the room and down the hall.
After several moments in contemplative silence, Phinneus spoke.
“So...how do you want to handle this.”
“Well, we can’t really hand the culprit over to the police. Besides stealing a few components, they've done nothing wrong, at least not in the eyes of the government. There would also be an investigation if they just disappeared.”
"And that is precisely what we're trying to avoid. The Technocracy wouldn't be as silent in their investigation as the Brotherhood."
Lucas thought for a moment.
“Let’s take it one step at a time. We should focus on finding him. Then we can deal with him.”
They made the short walk to Henri's office. Through the small window looking in, they could see Henri with five of the people on the list.
Entering the office, they left the door open for the remaining two. They were greeted and Lucas made the introductions to Phinneus.
The engineers who had been called into the office were nervous. Not only were they being questioned by the boss, and the owner. They were intimidated by a man they did not know and whom Lucas would not describe.
The last two employees passed the window and entered the office. The second, a tall, thin man in his late twenties saw both Lucas and Phinneus in the room. He locked eyes with Phinneus, and before Lucas could greet him, he took off running. Phinneus barreled through the line of employees, and began to chase after him
"Lock down the building", Lucas ordered. Henri hurried off to lock the doors, while the remaining employees looked at each other in surprised confusion.
The factory was massive, with many levels and catwalks connecting the various sections. They two men ran through assembly lines and store rooms. The man who was running was fast, much faster than Phinneus. He was only just able to keep the culprit in sight.
Their chase finally ended on the catwalks above the main shop floor. Below them were dozens of machines stamping, cutting, welding, and milling metal. The noise was almost deafening.
They looked at each other from across the gap between two of the catwalks. Phinneus was breathing heavily, but determination was still gleaming in his eyes.
"Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Cromwell", shouted the man.
"I'm afraid that I can't say the same of you", Phinneus returned.
"I was told that you might be conducting an investigation. I must confess, I didn't actually expect to get caught."
"You were the one who ran."
"Ah...", the man paused and chuckled awkwardly to himself. "If I had just kept quiet, you might not have found me?"
"More than likely."
"Where do we go from here", asked Phinneus after a moments pause.
"They told me it might come to this. That I would be caught."
"Who are 'they'."
"They told me my family would be safe. That I wouldn't have to worry."
"Anthony! Please come down and we can talk about this", shouted Lucas from the shop floor.
The two on the catwalk looked down to see everyone on the floor looking up at them.
"There are people in this world that you don't want to cross", said Anthony looking back up at Phinneus. "The Technocratic Council is stronger than you think. You can't possibly hope to stop them."
"Who on the Council sent you?"
"They don't want people to know who they are, especially people who are part of the Brotherhood."
Anthony paused and proceeded to climb onto the railing of the catwalk.
"I really hadn't thought that it would come to this, but it would appear that I don't have any other options."
"Anthony! You don't have to do this! Just come down, we can protect you and your family", pleaded Lucas.
"You won't even be able to protect yourselves."
Without another word, Anthony stepped off of the railing and landed in the machinery below. Henri winced, Lucas looked at the ground, and Phinneus looked down at Anthony's broken body, distraught.
"Henri", said Lucas after a moment. "Contact the police and the hospital. Let them know there has been an accident."
Henri nodded and began to walk away.
"And Henri...make sure that Anthony's wife and daughter are cared for."
Henri let a small smile slip through his stoic expression. Phinneus walked down to the shop floor and joined Lucas.
"I'm sorry, Lucas."
"Thank you, Phin. Anthony's death I can clean up. It will look like an industrial accident. But now we won't know who's behind this."
"Very true. I just hope that the Council doesn't lash out against us. Until now we've been little more than a minor annoyance. We may have larger problems on our hands now."
"We can deal with those when they arise. We may need more allies though. Any chance of the Brotherhood helping us?"
"I highly doubt it. they doesn't really like to involve themselves with subversive groups."
Phinneus paused for a moment.
"I should report this to them as soon as possible." Phinneus let out a short, sarcastic laugh. "Who would have thought my first mission with the new ship would involve three trips across the ocean."
"Yeah...you'd better hurry. I want all this bad business to be over...soon."