Chapter 8: Pirates and Cowboys
Location: The Deck
Timeline: Day 5 after arrival
Going on a three day bender hadn’t been one of Ashrieda’s brightest decisions. She had crept back to the ship, hoping to sleep off the last remnants, only to find herself at the receiving end of a Holland Jefferson lecture. The First Mate had ranted about the crew going straight to pot since landing in the Pass, sabotaging things and turning into filthy drunkards and trying to kill each other, et cetera, et cetera. Ashrieda hadn’t paid proper attention; she was still nursing a hangover and trying to remember what the hell happened, which made Jefferson irate.
And that was why she was on the deck with Jefferson at four in the morning, tasked with deciding what to do once the townspeople discovered that they were all pirates and attacked the Steamhawke under cover of darkness and how the ship could defend itself if certain crewmembers were perpetually drunk.
She was sure she was going to be sick.
Hearing rumors of a combat drill, Melisande snuck out of sick bay. It was of the utmost importance to her to meet her fellow teammates. Even though she managed to drag Carol up the ship when there was barely a skeleton crew, the length of the doctor's appointment coupled with more of the crew arriving caused speculation on what really happened. Perhaps she could minimize any damage. Yet she was shocked at first to see only two people there, with one verbally berating the other. Though she quickly deduced that the other two war dogs could very well be in town and Carol was certainly in no condition to be there. While the sky was lightening, the sun was still out of sight.
"I must be late, but how is that possible? It must have been pitch black out here no more than ten minutes ago." Melisande walked silently over to them and began to hear the conversation.
"The enraged townspeople are about to board the ship. Carol is a drunken danger to friend and foe, but is ready to charge. You have ninety seconds before they board. It will take the crew one hundred ten seconds to secure the deck and Brem won't be able to have the ship ready to leave for a whole minute thirty seconds. Ashrieda, what do you do?!" Holland Jefferson boomed.
Melisande looked at Ashrieda cradling her head with one of her hands and looking at her with a sad sympathy, answered quietly, "Howling Terror."
Jefferson glared at Melisande in confusion. She cringed slightly realizing she wasn't quiet enough, but chose to answer assuming he didn't know what that was, "All that is needed for a Howling Terror is alkabellum, table salt, and a base plant. I noticed a small fern in the captain's quarters that would only take five seconds for the effect to start and last between one to two minutes. The crew is at an advantage as we have a supply of ear plugs for the sleeping quarters. I could simply throw the plant overboard into the crowd, but it would also likely affect those on board closest to the crowd, thus leaving Carol or anyone else without plugs incapacitated as well as any townspeople who made it aboard. Ideally, we could simply leave quickly and easily using this alone. Worst possible scenario would be a completely deaf man in the crowd close to where the plant landed who had the foresight to simply throw it than try to smash it. Even with this, it would likely give Ashrieda at least five seconds with a more probable fifteen in addition to the ninety to deduce what to do next. Would...this suffice, sir?"
Jefferson squinted and shook his head: "What?" He looked from Ashrieda to Melisande. "Howling...? Oh well, please do show us, miss!" He said with more than a hint of sarcasm. "We're all ready for our alchemy lesson now." He chuckled.
Melisande's eyes narrowed at Jefferson's patronizing remarks. While she was happy to prove herself, some of the antagonist attitudes she was running into were offputting. At least this was going to be much simpler than having to battle Carol. She snapped her heels in attention and answered, "Yes, of course, sir."
She quickly came back with an eye dropper full of alkabellum, a fistful of salt, and found the fern waiting for her. She suspected Jefferson got it for her. As the dropper laid on top of the fern's pot, she handed Ashrieda and Jefferson the ear plugs, pointing to her plug filled ears before saying, "Be sure to put them in deeply. The Howling Terror can cause ruptured eardrums. You should be able to hear it even with these on."
Melisande held up the pot with one hand, and only used one drop from the eye dropper near the base of the plant, then quickly sprinkled the salt over the top of it. Noting Jefferson's frustration growing with each second, she cracked a smile as she felt the pot begin to vibrate and emit a whine. The whine turned to a full screech almost instantly. The leaves began to move wildly on their own and the base of the fern seemed to shudder as if it were an animal in extreme pain. Melisande wasn't sure how long it lasted, but felt it was over a minute and thirty seconds.
She gently put the plant on the deck, and pulled out her ear plugs, indicating for Ashrieda and Jefferson to take theirs out. She nodded to Jefferson, "That is the Howling Terror."
Had Ashrieda been feeling at herself, the noise coming from the plant wouldn't have been so bad. Today, however, even with the earplugs it made her skull feel like it was being ground with a mortar and pestle, and she was almost certain she was going to be sick. She glowered at Jefferson, looking green. “Was it really necessary to ask for a demonstration?” she muttered under her breath.
She waited until she was sure she wasn't going to throw up on Melisande’s boots and said, “You know what? You've got style. We’d need to let everyone know ahead of time what’s going to happen, or else have a warning signal agreed on beforehand, ‘cos if everyone’s got their plugs in and that thing’s screaming bloody murder then no one’s going to be able to give any orders in the middle of things. If we've got our people running amok along with the townspeople, that could get nasty.”
Melisande nodded and grinned in response, feeling tightness in her cheek where that shard of sword entered, "Yes, of course. I must admit, I already recognize the sound, so I know what to expect. I am also not used to coordinating with a team. Oh, let me properly introduce myself. My name is Melisande. I will be your combat engineer for a short duration. It's a pleasure to meet you both."
Ashrieda stifled a yawn. "Well, it won't be that difficult to institute, fortunately. I'm Ashrieda Sjaarda. Tactician. And this ol' lug is Jefferson, first mate. Real stand up gent when it's a normal time of day." She clapped the man on the back heartily.
"Combat engineer, you say? That means you're a War Dog. Guess you're working with Carol then. I hear that's been going famously. Jesus, I come back to the ship and Carol's out for the count."
Memories flashed for Melisande from desperately bandaging Carol, having to threaten some crew member at gun point to leave them alone, holding down Carol for doctor Barnes to perform surgery, all the while hearing Carol yell how she was going to kill...well anything and everything. Carol still wasn't completely lucid and there was a very real prospect she would still want her dead. Still, something about seeing a woman like that so helpless made her feel oddly protective, "She wished to see my fighting prowess. After the fight was done, she fell from a cliff in into razor sharp plants. She bled out quickly, I barely had time. That is what you wished to know, right?"
Jefferson raised his eyebrow in clear disbelief over what happened, but said nothing. Melisande crossed her arms, tilted her head to the right subconsciously trying to cover the sealed wound on her neck, and responded to his look coldly, "When I was hired, I promised the captain that I would protect the crew to the death. Carol is no exception. I will not discuss this any further. Still...I apologize for not being able to show you want I am physically capable of today. I can check and possibly improve your weaponry however."
The first mate nodded, new respect in his eyes, and a wariness of the skills of this young woman. And he thought Carol was a handful. As a distraction he laid in to Ashrieda, who had been reported drunk to him more than once. "And what about you, Sjaarda?" The colour on Ashrieda's face was still not quite right, and for a moment Jefferson thought she might throw up on him. "Had your fill of drink for now?"
Ashrieda was well aware of what Jefferson’s implications were, and she probably should have left it at that. But it was too early to any living creature to be awake, she felt terrible, and the last few days had been anything but fun. Worst of all, she felt an overwhelming urge to cry, which was the most appalling reaction she could think of. Stifling the urge, she shot Jefferson a baleful look. “What about me? What do you want me to say? 'Sure, Mr. Jefferson sir, I’ll be good and not drink any more for now on?’”
Jefferson had a point, however. Maybe the crew had gone to pot, and maybe she had contributed quite a bit to the problem.
"Alright then," Jefferson puffed up his chest and leaned on his walking stick with both hands. "What did you think of De la Tre... Tru... her solution?" He didn't want to press the point in front of a new crew member, but made a mental note to talk to the Captain about Ashrieda's behaviour. He waited for her answer.
She sighed. "The townspeople are mostly farmers and are highly unlikely to be armed with much more than guns and pitchforks, meaning that the Howling Terror should be enough to disable them if they were to mount an attack. We’d just need someone to be responsible for getting Carol out of there all right, and to not use the cannons if at all possible, since they’re civilians just protecting their stuff. Just in case, though, we should add earplugs to everyone’s arsenal and … um … remind them not to do anything stupid while they’re in town. If you’ll excuse me, sir...” She ran to the edge of the deck and threw up.
Jefferson exchanged a look with Melisande. "Welcome aboard," he said grinning.