Skyjackers - Episode 3: The Winds of Justice (Skyjackers: Season One) (4 page)

Greenbeard quieted them again. “I know you must be antsy to
open your gifts, Ben,” he continued, “but I’d like to present you with a very
special one this year, if I may. Mr. Yancey?”

Greenbeard’s quartermaster handed Benedict a wrapped package
the size of a cigar box. It was heavy, but nothing moved within when he turned
it to slip a finger beneath the wrapping paper. He tore the paper away to
reveal a smooth wooden box, finished in dark lacquer. He turned it over in his
hands. “What is it?”

“A puzzle box. Only by discovering its secrets will you
collect its contents.”

“Curious,” said Benedict. “Quite unique.”

Greenbeard smiled. “The table of gifts at left is for you to
ransack at your leisure.”

The party continued long into the evening. After cake and
coffee had been served, Greenbeard and his crew said their goodbyes to Benedict
and his. The tension between them had dissipated to such a degree that an
outside observer might’ve assumed the two sailing crews were the best of
friends. The
Wind Titan
and its cohorts sailed off into the skies,
leaving Caine and his fleet in a state of exhaustion.

“What do you suppose is inside that puzzle box Archie gave
you?” Gertrude asked later, as she and Benedict were in their cabin preparing
for bed.

“Who cares?” said Benedict. “Mystery is overrated. It’s a
rather useless gift, if you ask me.”

“That’s a little harsh.”

“Only Greenbeard would ever give me a present I have to work
for.”

Chapter 19

The
Dawnhammer
had been following the
Justice
and its convoy for several hours when the first sign of trouble appeared.
Vivian was the first to spot the dreadnought-class airship in the distance,
headed on a collision course for the
Justice
. By the time the lookout in
the crow’s nest called down to report the sighting, Vivian was already peering
through her spyglass to read the name off the ship’s stern:
Intrepid
.
That sounded familiar. It looked like the sort of vessel that might’ve been
part of the escort, only it was far too big for such a job, rivaling the
Justice
itself in size.

“Surely that vessel can’t be joining the convoy,” Vivian
said.

Cork Buffner’s earrings clinked when he shook his head.
“Looks like a hostile approach to me, mam.”

“It would appear someone has gotten wind of the
Justice
’s
cargo and come to preempt Father’s burglary.”

“Begging your pardon, Captain,” said Rita Boscoe, the
lookout, “but that ain’t someone else. That’s your sister.”

Vivian shifted her spyglass. The young brunette behind the
wheel of the approaching dreadnought was none other than Misty Josephine Caine.
The
Intrepid
’s deck appeared otherwise empty. Vivian wondered whether
the
Justice
and its escorts had tried contacting the
Intrepid
via
bluewave radio yet. More than that, she wondered how Misty had managed to
commandeer it, and whether this stunt was part of some elaborate plot on
Father’s part.

A ship’s bell clanged in the distance. The smaller vessels in
the convoy began taking evasive action, splitting off from the group to give
the
Justice
room to maneuver. It was too little too late.

The
Intrepid
rammed the
Justice
at full speed,
striking a direct blow to its starboard side. Wood splintered. Boards creaked.
Sailors dove for cover.

“What in the heavens is she doing?” Vivian said.

“Making a real mess of things, looks like,” said Rita.

“We’ve got to help her. She doesn’t know what she’s gotten
herself into. Full steam, Mr. Buffner. Right standard rudder.”

Buffner repeated the command.

The
Dawnhammer
lurched beneath its bag and accelerated
toward the convoy. Vivian sensed her crew’s apprehension. She knew they were
taking an idiotic risk by engaging the convoy alone. Foolhardy or no, Misty was
her sister. Vivian would do everything in her power to keep her from harm.

The convoy appeared to be so preoccupied with avoiding a
collision that no one even noticed the
Dawnhammer
approaching. Vivian
saw Misty sprint across the
Intrepid
’s deck and leap across to the
Justice
.
There she drew her sword, intending to fight her way through the marshals. The
marshals ran right by her, scrambling to perform damage control.

The
Intrepid
had punched a jagged hole in the
Justice
’s
hull and was stuck there by its bowsprit and forestays. The
Justice
’s
crew were clustered at its starboard side, trying to devise a solution for
separating the two vessels before they both sustained irreparable damage.
Vivian navigated the
Dawnhammer
into the opening left by the convoy and
brought her alongside the
Justice
’s opposite flank. When she pulled up,
Misty was nowhere to be seen.

“What happened to her?” Vivian shouted, hoping someone in her
crew would know. “Where’s she gone?”

“I saw her running for the aft hatch, mam,” said Rita Boscoe.

“Mr. Buffner, take the wheel,” said Vivian. “Keep moving, but
stay close if you can.”

“You’re not thinking about boarding the
Justice
… are
you, Captain?” Buffner asked.

“My sister is over there, Mr. Buffner. The time for thinking
has passed.”

A thunderous report shook the
Dawnhammer
. For an
instant, Vivian thought the ship’s powder magazine may have exploded. When she
looked left, she saw the smoking cannons of a sky marshal cutter. “They’re
firing on us?” she said. “They could’ve hit the
Justice
with that
volley.”

“Clearly it was more important to hit us,” said Audrey Giles,
Vivian’s quartermaster. “Orders, Captain?”

“I’d rather not start a war we can’t win, Ms. Giles. Stand
down for now. I want a full damage report when I get back.”

“And if they fire again?”

Vivian sighed. “Hit them in the bags and see if you can
disable them. Let’s try not to kill anyone, shall we?”

“We’ll try, mam.”

The gap between the
Dawnhammer
and the
Justice
was too wide to jump, so Vivian grabbed a line and swung across. She heard
marshals calling out after her as she ran for the aft hatch, but at the moment the
Justice
had little man-power to spare abovedecks.

Below was a different story. The door to the cargo hold was
guarded by a pair of red-jackets, with whom Misty was engaged in a fierce duel.
Vivian was impressed with how much trouble one teenage girl could give two
full-grown marshals. Misty’s greatest advantage, of course, was that she fought
dirty.

Vivian heard a crack when she reached the bottom of the
staircase. This was a bone in one of the marshals’ legs. Misty smacked the
other marshal across the knuckles with the flat of her blade and shoved him
into a cluster of barrels before barging through the cargo hold door.

Vivian followed, apologizing to the marshals on her way past.
“Misty, you stop this right now.”

Misty stopped and turned around. The cargo hold they were
standing in was like any other, except that it was piled high with banded
boxes, steel safes, and flat-topped chests.
It’s no wonder this ship can’t
maneuver to save its life
, Vivian thought.
It must weigh a thousand tons
.

Misty’s gaze was poison. “What are you doing here?”

“We need to get off this boat before those marshals raise the
alarm.”

“I’m not leaving until every last coin is out of here,” Misty
said.

“Oh really? And how do you intend to carry it? What ship were
you planning to escape on? The one you crashed into the side of this one?”

“Go away,” said Misty. “Fun-ruiner. You always spoil my
enjoyment of everything.”

“Oh, I see. Well then, please accept my apology for coming to
your aid.”

“I accept nothing.”

“Except for kisses from Jon—Captain Thorpe, apparently,” said
Vivian. “I saw you two snogging in your bedroom.”

Misty was pleased to hear it. “You did, did you?”

There were footsteps down the corridor. Vivian slammed the
door and barred it. “Yes. I did.”

“How much did you see?”

“Only enough to be completely put-off.”

“Captain Thorpe and I are madly in love,” Misty said. “He
told me he thinks you’re a bloody bognobbler. And he said to tell you he
doesn’t appreciate your snobbery and always being so bossy.”

Vivian smirked. “He said that, did he?”

“Yes.”

“Misty, stop this nonsense. You must return with me at once.”

“You’re as obnoxious as Mummy sometimes.”

The marshals began to beat on the door, threatening to knock
it down if the girls didn’t come out at once. Cannons erupted somewhere
outside.

“You can’t hope to carry more than a fraction of this gold by
yourself,” Vivian said. “And we can’t very well fight our way out of here while
we’re holding it, either.”

“I don’t mean to carry it,” said Misty. “I’m going to blow a
hole in the floor and toss it all out. I don’t care what happens to the stupid
gold as long as Daddy doesn’t get it.”

Vivian gave a nod of understanding. It was starting to make
sense now. “Are you cross with Daddy?”

Misty folded her arms, pouting.

“You’ve done your work, then. I doubt Father will ever get
his hands on the treasure now, unless he turns up within the next five minutes.
The whole convoy is on high alert at this point. And if we don’t get going,
there will be nothing left of the
Dawnhammer
to ride home on.”

Misty looked at the stacks of valuables, then at Vivian. “Are
you sure Daddy won’t get it?”

Vivian drew her blade and approached the door, where the
marshals were still pounding away. “Come on. Draw and fight with me. We’ll get
this all sorted out at home.”

Misty jerked her sword free of its scabbard and joined Vivian
at the door. Together, they counted to three, then lifted the crossbar and
tossed it away.

***

Jonathan was meeting with Admiral Farrelly aboard his
Endeavor
when there came a loud crash from outside. They hurried out on deck to find the
crew of the
Justice
trying to disentangle another vessel from its hull.
When a familiar-looking airship pulled alongside the
Justice
bearing an
equally familiar ginger-headed pirate, Jonathan was stupefied. “Dear heavens,”
he whispered. “I’ll never escape them.”

“What was that, Thorpe?” asked Admiral Farrelly.

“That’s a Caine vessel, sir,” said Jonathan. “No matter how
hard I try, I can’t seem to avoid them.”

“So it’s you who’s lured them here, is it?”

The truth was, Jonathan didn’t really know. He didn’t
think
anyone had been following the
Maelstrom
as it caught up with the convoy.
Nor had the lookouts reported any dubious craft in their wake after the Caine
girl jumped ship. “Well, sir, I—”

“So you admit it,” the Admiral snapped. “If I didn’t know any
better, I’d say you were on their side.”

“I’m not, sir. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“What
is
happening, exactly? Would someone care to
explain?”

“It appears there’s been a collision, sir,” said a marshal standing
nearby.

“Yes, I can see that much. How did it happen? Who’s
responsible? What are we doing to fix it?”

“I’m not sure, Admiral Farrelly. I shall find out at once.”

“Well it’s about bloody time you did something useful, isn’t
it?”

The marshal hurried off with his head tucked into his
shoulders, like a turtle expecting danger.

“I ought to be getting back to the
Maelstrom
, sir,”
Jonathan said. “Perhaps we can waylay the Caine ship before it escapes.”

“How do you know they’ll try to escape?”

“It was only a guess, sir.”

“An awfully suspicious one. Did you arrange all this with the
Caines beforehand?”

“Arrange it? Why, I—”

Cannon fire erupted from a Regency cutter and tore through
the
Dawnhammer
’s hull.

Admiral Farrelly ducked his head in surprise. “Oh, gods, no.
What are they doing? They mustn’t do that. The Caine vessel is not to be
engaged.”

“But Admiral… there’s only one of them, and nearly a dozen of
us.”

“That’s what those crafty Caines would like us to believe,”
said the Admiral, eyes darting. “The moment we make a display of aggression
against one, the others will come down on us like a sudden tempest. Mr.
Alderman, get on the bluewave and tell that vessel to stop firing on the Caines
at once.”

Jonathan saw Vivian swing to the
Justice
and disappear
down the aft hatch. “Shouldn’t the
Dawnhammer
be detained at the very
least?” he asked.

“So you are privy not only to their plans, but to the names
of their vessels as well?”

“I’m very good with names, sir.”

“Not anymore, Mr. Thorpe. This is the final straw. As of this
very moment, you are hereby relieved of your post.”

Jonathan was stunned. “Sir… don’t you think that’s a bit
rash?”

“I know about the recent hostage exchange between you and the
Caines, which you conveniently neglected to tell me. One of the reasons I
called you aboard my
Endeavor
today was to give you the chance to come
clean. I can see I’ve overestimated your character.”

“Sir, I didn’t think it was important enough to bother you
with.”

“I was a fool to believe someone so young as you could handle
the myriad responsibilities of command, Jonathan. If there’s anyone to blame
for this, it’s me.”

“No, Admiral, I would never.”

“You shall serve a two-week suspension, after which you’ll
resume duties as the
Maelstrom
’s quartermaster.”

“Quartermaster? That’s a two-rank demotion.”

“Yes. It’s as much power as I’m comfortable giving you right
now. Your excellence in the classroom is no substitute for real-world
experience. I see that now. You’ll learn a lot under Mr. Manchester and Mr.
Bigsby. They’ve both been at this a lot longer than you have.”

A quartermaster’s salary would give Jonathan enough to live
on, plus a little extra; nothing near what he’d been able to send home to
Winifred and Mother. “Admiral Farrelly. Please reconsider.”

“That’s my final word, Thorpe. When the convoy reaches its
destination, you’ll begin your term of suspension. Take some time to think
about what you’ve done and how you’ll improve in the future. At the moment, we
seem to have encountered a problem which requires our attention.”

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