Being a reluctant pirate captain used to be easy for James Hartwell. He just had to deal with the pursuing English navy, a corrupt English admiral, marauding pirates, his own crew of technologically mutating buccaneers, and his private feelings toward a mysterious and attractive cyborg fallen from the stars.
Now, he has to do all this while chasing a mechanically enhanced kraken across the world’s oceans. What’s worse, they seem to have picked up Charles Darwin on the way, and Lady Mechatronic seems quite smitten with the young naturalist.
Can Hartwell negotiate the seven seas, his own emotions and a giant cyber squid with a laser eye that can burn through a ship in seconds? Or should he just stay in his cabin with his absinthe?
Book 4 of a reasonably thrilling steampunk/pirate mash up.
“Tremble in fear, you dogs,” shouted the pirate captain, “and surrender immediately or else I will send your ship straight to the ocean floor!” He stood on the side of his vessel, his legs astride, his hands on his hips, a toothy grin glinting in the sunlight. It was a carefully calculated pose, one that usually struck fear into his victims. The captain was somewhat unnerved to see that the only response he was getting from the crew of the galleon was disinterest, bordering on disdain.
“Allo, ‘ow can we ‘elp you?” asked the tiny Frenchman, Francois Bardon, who had taken up a pose very similar to that being adopted by the pirate captain. The effect of Mechatronic’s technology on Bardon was an astonishing regenerative ability and the strength of ten men.
The captain detected the note of mockery in Bardon’s stance and words. He stared at the galleon crew, who all appeared to be watching him with great interest. He felt a shiver of apprehension. He should have been looking at a crew making ready to flee, fight or surrender, so why weren’t they?
“Help me?” he repeated angrily, ignoring the sense of unease. “You can help me by preparing to be boarded and by surrendering.”
“Why ever would we do that?” asked Lucky Pete, a lazy grin on his scarred face. A white bandage disguised the intense radiation that spilled from his eyes. The upgrades to Pete included dark matter vision, which had the side effect of dissolving human flesh, if he so chose.
“Because you’ll die if you don’t,” snapped the pirate captain. He looked at the crew and noticed Madrigal, as well as several other dark faces amongst the Europeans. There weren’t many ships that sailed with a mixed crew. There also seemed to be a few women on board, too. All unusual signs.
“Why would we die?” asked Pete. “Do you think we’re all going to drop down dead if we don’t follow your orders? That seems a most illogical argument.”
The pirate captain’s face darkened in anger as the crew laughed at him. He swore he would make them regret their folly. “I have more cannons and more men,” he snarled. “I could blow you from the waters or I could take you, man for man, and leave your blood spilled over the deck of that ancient vessel of yours!”
“You’re very welcome to try,” smiled O’Rourke, who loved a good fight. “In fact, we may even insist you try!”
“Lor, are we being attacked again?” demanded a breath of alcohol. Ruby, the ex-serving wench, had staggered on board with her mop in one hand and her gin in the other. “How am I supposed to keep the ship clean if we keep on being attacked all day long?”
“Don’t worry, lass, we’ll be through with this sprat in no time,” grinned O’Rourke.
“That is enough,” said Hartwell quietly. “I appreciate your confidence and camaraderie, but it is not honourable to torment a weaker opponent.”
“He’s tormenting us, and he thinks we’re weaker, Captain,” pointed out Keating, a young and shapely woman whose disguise of a cabin boy was appallingly bad. The disguise hadn’t even been able to fool Lucky Pete, who had been completely blind before his upgrade.
“Agreed, but that doesn’t mean we should fall to his level. We are all better than that,” replied Hartwell, looking at his crew rather like a stern but fond teacher. The crew even found themselves acting like unruly pupils as they all mumbled, “Yes, Captain,” in a variety of contrite tones.
Hartwell nodded in satisfaction. “Good,” he said with a grave smile before finally turning to the irate pirate who was standing with his mouth open in shock at being ignored. “You really should go, before you and your crew are harmed.”
“We’ll be harmed? How do you come to the conclusion that we’ll be harmed? And don’t think about trying to escape,” added the captain, trying to regain the initiative by emphasising the perceived weaker condition of the galleon.
“I can assure you, I am only thinking of your well-being,” smiled Hartwell. “This is the third attempt by a pirate crew to attack us in just over ten days. What do you think happened to the others?”
“Hell and damnation,” snarled the pirate captain. “Don’t think you can bluff your way out of this. If you had been attacked by another pirate vessel, you’d be dead or in captivity by now!”
“Interesting. Why would we be in captivity?”
The pirate captain looked even angrier at having revealed something significant. “It doesn’t matter to you,” he spluttered, “but there’s a price on your heads, put there by Captain Cutler of Pirate Cove!”
“That matters to me very much,” replied Hartwell. “Why do we have a bounty on us?”
“You stole his galleon.”
“I stole his galleon with my original crew,” interrupted Madrigal, “so the bounty should be on me, not my crewmates.”
“Be that as it may,” replied the pirate, “you’ve all got a price on you. Captain Brough saw to that.”
“Brough?” echoed Hartwell. “That feeble, second-rate toady? Did he say why he was adding to the bounty?”
“No, he and Cutler set it between them. What do we care why? We just want to collect!”
“Captain, captain,” sighed Hartwell, shaking his head. “Always ask why the bounty is there. We had a single encounter with Brough and sent him off with his tail between his legs. It was scarcely noble of him to set others to do the dirty work he failed to do himself.”
“At least it explains why we’ve been attacked so many times,” observed Fitch. “I was beginning to wonder. Who was the first one? Captain Tanner, was it?”
“No, he was the second,” squeaked Madrigal’s huge brother, Anatole, a man who looked like a murderer yet had the character of a kitten. “The first was Bouvier and the last pirate was Captain Duboyne.”
“That’s right,” mused Hartwell. “Bouvier was left pleading for his ship. Tanner was left pleading for his life. Duboyne was just left pleading by the time we finished with him.”
“He was a miserable little pleader,” interrupted Fitch. “Sorry, carry on, Captain,” he added contritely.
“You’re lying,” shrieked the pirate captain. “Men! Ready the cannons! We shall blow this ship from the water and claim the bounty!