[identity profile] copperbadge.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] originalsam_backup
Chapter Twelve

From the start, Jack had been against going across open water if it could be avoided; they had rarely lost sight of some coast or other until they left Ethiopia behind and struck out for India. If they clung to the coast at that point they'd be backtracking, and sooner or later they'd have to cross coastless water to get to Australia. So, though he fought against it at first, in the end he reluctantly agreed that flying from the African coast to the southern tip of India would be good practice.

Nothing mechanical had yet gone wrong, aside from the occasional stall on the propellers, easily fixed by shutting them down and restarting after a few minutes. Jack thought it was probably a lubrication issue, and managed to distract himself for nearly an entire afternoon, designing a controlled-flow lubrication delivery system to solve the problem. They had already sighted the dim coast of India in the distance when the trouble finally hit, and it was not at all what he expected.

Jack took the early-morning shifts most of the time, so that Clare could navigate in the daylight and Graveworthy could set a course by the stars when he piloted at night. Jack suspected that his own vaguely inept directional sense would have put them badly off-course if Graveworthy hadn't gently corrected them night by night. Jack had little head for navigation. After all, trains ran on rails.

At any rate, Jack felt most able to sleep when he knew Graveworthy was piloting, because he knew they wouldn't stray off course. Which was why, when he felt Graveworthy shake him awake long before dawn, he didn't immediately realize anything was wrong.

"Why aren't you piloting?" he asked, propping himself on his elbows and looking around blearily for his shirt.

"There's a storm," Graveworthy said. His pale, frightened face combined with the urgency in his voice woke Jack far more sharply than the shaking had.

"Can we go around it?" he asked. "What's the time?"

"I make it near midnight. You'd better come and see."

Jack stumbled out, following the older man to the rail. Clare, buckling the belt on her trousers, appeared from the bow.

"What's going on? I thought I heard thunder," she said sleepily. Graveworthy pointed, and both followed his gaze. Jack swore when he saw it; Clare gasped and clapped her hands to her mouth.

Before them lay the edge of a stormhead, illuminated with lightning and shifting tumultuously with the furious winds, moving east. Even following the storm as they were, Jack felt the temperature dropping. Below, however, it was worse; a large sailing ship was adrift and all but unmasted in the storm, battered by the waves, and bearing down on it --

Jack stared at the wooden three-master, slicing through the water as if it were impervious to the tempest around it, every plank and rope alight with ghastly green flame that flickered across the rigging and danced in the sails.

"Stormpirates," he breathed. "Look how the storm runs on either side of them. They're completely untouched."

"They aren't," Clare said, nodding at the crippled target of the eerie pirate ship. Jack saw, with the detachment of adrenaline, that the pirate ship flew a black flag with a skull on it, crossed by vivid green swords.

"Can't we help them?" Clare asked. Graveworthy's fingers clenched the wooden rail.

"I don't know what we would do," he muttered, as a burst of cannon-fire informed the pirates that their prey was not yet defeated entirely. "It's not as if we have cannons, and..." He laughed mirthlessly. "A boarding party is right out."

"Well, technically, cannons..." Jack said slowly, turning to look at the steam engine. His mind felt fuzzy from sleep still, but he had the beginnings of an idea. "It's not gunpowder, but the steam vents on either side of the hull could be loaded."

Graveworthy and Clare both turned slowly to look at him.

"If we load the vents and close them we could get a lot of pressure going. Open the vents and whatever's inside would grapeshot the target. And," Jack continued, considering the matter as if it were a theoretical question from a university course, "since we're overhead, we can hit them from above. Won't do any damage really, but it should scare the hell out of them. Might buy the other ship some time."

"One bullet and the balloon fails," Graveworthy said. "I can't risk the airship -- "

"I wouldn't worry. Our range is infinite. Theirs isn't very high."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Clare asked, following him as he began to hurl coal into the boiler.

"Gravity's on our side," Jack said with a wicked grin. "You'd better pilot. Take us as close as you can but keep the balloon level with the bottom of the clouds. Graveworthy!"

"Jack, I really don't think we should -- "

"If that were true you wouldn't have woken me. That's a British ship they're attacking, isn't it?" Jack asked. He offered Graveworthy the shovel.

Graveworthy looked at the ships, now nearly locked side by side, and then back at Jack. Far below, the Union Flag fluttered on the one remaining mast of the damaged ship.

He took the shovel. Jack grinned.

"Steady, Clare!" he shouted, fetching the chamber pot from the bow. As always, Clare was fastidious; she'd scrubbed it clean, for which he was more than a little grateful.

"Get some of the hot coal in here," he said to Graveworthy.

"What are you doing?"

"Loading the cannons!" Jack replied, tying a length of rope around his chest. He left enough to tie the bucket to and threw the other end over the railing, letting it hang free. He grabbed a plate left over from dinner for a scoop, and as an afterthought the fragmented wooden remains of a former food crate.

"Jack, what are you -- JACK!" Graveworthy called, as Jack steadied the rope and went over the rail, lowering himself down carefully.

When he was level with the open steam vent he hooked the loose rope around his arm to free his hands and began stuffing wood into the vent chamber, glad now that he'd fitted locking covers on the vents. The heat made him dizzy, both the coals and the steam, but not as dizzy as the height at which he hung over open water. He scooped a healthy portion of coal in behind the wood, closed the cover, locked it, and tied a piece of twine to the bolt.

"Don't just stand there," he ordered as he pulleyed himself back up to the rail. "More coal!"

"What -- "

"I'm going over the other side too. Clare, when we're in range, pull our port to their starboard and yank hard on this," he said, throwing her the twine. She caught it and saluted, not even flinching as he re-hung the rope on the other rail and began lowering himself. He saw her turn off the steam safety valves before the side of the ship filled his vision. He began to load and scoop again, tightening the rope around his arm when it threatened to fall free.

He was almost done when the airship veered sharply and began to drop. He shut the vent and edged away, waiting. Below him, the green flames were frighteningly close.

"UP!" he shouted. He noted with irony that several faces below, on the deck of the pirate ship, looked up. Then the airship jerked again and Jack saw a horrifying ball of flying, flaming wood and coals gout forth onto the decks from the other side of the airship.

He looked at the latch nearby. It was beginning to glow with heat. Very carefully, edging away as far as he could, he reached out with one last stick of wood and raised the bolt.

Debris spewed out and one of the glowing sails below caught fire, orange fire this time, real fire. Jack found it oddly easy to pull himself up again, much easier than last time --

Until he got over the rail and found himself trapped there, pinned by some weight on the loose end of the rope dangling below.

"The storm's clearing!" Clare shouted, frantically opening the helium valve and raising them at an alarming rate. "They're opening their sail -- "

"Reinforcements," Graveworthy called, pointing to the unmistakable outline of an English warship bearing down. "Clare!"

"Doing my best!" Clare said, giving the propellers full throttle and steering them south down the coast, away from the ships in the dark.

Jack, worried, leaned over the railing he was trapped against. Far below, something was tangled in the rope. No, not something; someone, clinging to the end for dear life.

"Boarding party," he said, trying hard not to laugh hysterically.

"What?" Clare asked.

"Someone's on the rope," Jack said stupidly. Below, a white flicker glittered in the darkness. "I think it's a pirate."

"PULL ME UP!" the dark figure yelled. The voice was young and female, and not a little bit panicked. "I SURRENDER! PULL ME UP!"

Graveworthy's hands grasped the rope still tied to Jack's chest and he began to pull, Jack confusedly taking up the slack behind him. The rope creaked over the wood until a brown, nail-bitten hand appeared and groped for purchase. Jack grabbed the hand and leaned back; over the rail came a girl with a white handkerchief clenched between her teeth. She tumbled to the ground, picked herself up, took the handkerchief out of her mouth, and braced herself against the railing.

Jack heard a click. To his left, Graveworthy was holding a revolver at arm's length. He didn't even know a revolver had been brought on board. First buckets, now guns...

"Ellis! Put that down!" Clare said, leaping down from the pilot's chair. She strode purposefully between the gun and the girl, putting her hands on her hips.

"Clare -- " Jack started to pull her away, but she shook him off.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" she demanded.

"An agent of Her Majesty's government, authorized to defend the crown and its protectorates," he retorted. "She's not a guest, Clare, she's a captive."

"I surrender!" the girl repeated.

"She's a child, and you're a bully," Clare said.

"Am not!" the girl said, annoyed.

"You see?" Graveworthy said.

"Put the gun away!"

"Hey!" Jack said, and all three of them looked at him. "Nobody's piloting. Give me the gun and go pilot, Graveworthy. Clare, tie her up."

"Listen to him," the girl said, and he heard a trace of an unidentifiable accent in her voice. "I am surrendered captive! You cannot shoot me! Captain say you cannot!"

She pointed to Jack, which shocked him as much as anyone. There was a tense moment of silence, and then Graveworthy leaned the hammer forward and held the revolver out butt-first to Jack. With an odd look at Clare, he brushed past them and took the pilot's seat. The girl offered her wrists placidly to Clare, who looked annoyed.

"Sit," she said, pointing to an upturned crate. The girl sat. Clare sat next to her and picked up a nearby plate, offering her half a sausage left over from dinner. The girl took it cautiously and chewed.

Jack couldn't think of anything to say, so he said the first thing that came to mind. "Sorry about the flaming coals."

Clare shot him an annoyed look and shook her head. "What's your name?" she asked.

"Purva," she said. "Purva De La Fitte, second-mate aboard the Queen Jacqueline. You are American?"

"Yes -- I'm Clare Fields, this is Jack Baker," Clare said.

"Ah. Captain Baker. Your rank, please?" she asked, turning to Clare.

"We don't really have ranks," Clare said.

"But the gunman is the pilot...you are his wife?"

Jack snorted. "Not hardly, Miss Fitte."

"De la Fitte, Captain, sir," she corrected.

"I'm not the Captain!"

"The man piloting is Mr. Graveworthy," Clare said. "How old are you?"

De La Fitte frowned. "I do not know in English well. Ten and ten and -- one or two? What sort of ship is this? I have never seen belike."

"It's an Airship," Jack said proudly. "The only one of its kind in the world."

"And your cannon? Your crew is below? You have a steam engine?" she asked. "I have seen on the big ships, but that…not plunder for ships with masts."

"We don't really have cannons," Jack said, feeling a little foolish now. "What you see is what there is. We're not a warship."

The girl frowned, turning this slowly over in her mind.

"I thought you were pirates also," she said. "You fly no flag..."

"Pirates!" Clare said. "We're...explorers."

"Poor pickings, explorer ships. Just dried animals and scientists," de la Fitte said with a sniff. "My mother -- she was captain -- she said, we must not attack explorers or the immigrant ships, they are too poor."

"Your ship's probably been taken by now," Jack said. He felt an odd remorse; when the pirates were attacking, he had only seen a shipful of people who ought to be stopped. With a man'o'war nearby, however, it meant that the pirates would be in custody -- and sentenced.

"Yes," de la Fitte said, as if she were reading his thoughts. "Captain probably be hanged."

"But you said that's your mother!"

"Oh! No, my mother died -- some time ago. I do not like the new captain; we never ran a storm before him. Makes easy, too easy. No fighting chance. No, he will be hanged or shot and also the rest, mm, prison. They may spare our storm-maker. He was very young."

Jack looked past the seated women to see Graveworthy descending from the pilot's chair, the steering yoke strapped in place and the propellers at half-power. De la Fitte turned and stared insolently at him.

"Course is set; we're south-southeast until we pass into the Indian Ocean," he said. "Baker, you are going to be the death of me."

"Me? What'd I do?" Jack asked, annoyed.

"Oh, I don't know, you led the charge against a pirate vessel and took a prisoner that we now have to feed or throw overboard or something," Graveworthy replied.

"Does he always talk to the Captain that way?" Jack heard de la Fitte whisper to Clare. "He should be whipped!"

"We have enough food to spare and we'd have had to take on provisions for the return journey when we landed anyway," Jack said. "What did you want me to do, let her dangle there till she dropped? You're the one who pulled her up."

"We can't very well take her with us," Graveworthy said. "We'll have to -- we'll have to land somewhere and let her off."

"Where are you bound?" de la Fitte asked.

"That's not important," Graveworthy replied. "What's your name?"

"Purva de la Fitte, second mate, Queen Jacqueline," she replied with a sullen look.

"Does the Queen Jacqueline sail alone?"

"Yes, but we fly Baratarian colors."

"Bara -- but that's American!" Clare said. "Barataria's south of Louisiana, isn't it? What are you doing in the Arabian Sea?"

"What are you doing in the Arabian sky?" de la Fitte asked. "Ships are for sailing. Not flying. We sail Indian Ocean. I have been round the Cape!"

"Baratarian ships have a code," Graveworthy said. His voice was icy and hard; Jack hadn't encountered it before. "I'm not familiar with the details, but I believe prisoners are entitled rights and given restrictions."

"Is in French," de la Fitte said.

"Oui, je parle," Graveworthy retorted, and she blinked.

They spoke back and forth in French for a few minutes; Jack didn't follow, but he saw that Clare caught a stray word here and there. It seemed to be a sort of negotiation, but the prisoner was the one laying out terms. Finally, Graveworthy nodded. The girl rose quietly and walked to the bow, ducking behind the curtain Clare had rigged for her sleeping quarters.

"That's my bed!" Clare said.

"It's only for one night. Come to the pilot's chair, where she can't listen."

"Are you going to shoot her?" Jack asked, holding up the revolver.

"Not anymore."

Jack passed the gun back to him, and watched as he stowed it between coat and shirt. Graveworthy climbed the steps and eased himself back into the pilot's chair, buckling the harness out of habit while Jack and Clare sat on the steps.

"Baratarian code isn't well-known to sailors in any waters, let alone this far from America," Graveworthy said, checking the dials. "They aren't required to explain it unless asked; it gives them a loophole for all kinds of nasty business, but I think Miss de la Fitte and I have reached an understanding. She's clever, and someone's educated her well enough."

"What kind of code?" Jack asked.

"Prisoners are entitled to adequate food, water, and bedding. If these aren't provided, they consider themselves hostile captives. Destruction of ship's property, murder, mutiny, looting, rape -- all permissible as hostile captives under the code," Graveworthy said. Clare glanced at the bow of the ship; Jack put an arm around her shoulders. "However, if they're treated with civility they're required to answer any questions not pertaining to fellow ships or comrades, and while they are permitted to attempt escape it must not be violent. So in this at least we're protected; she won't blow up the boiler or shoot any of us in our sleep. You might think she's just a girl, Jack, but I promise you she wouldn't think twice about putting a bullet in your head if she thought it would get her back to her crew."

"Her crew's probably in irons on an English ship," Clare pointed out.

"Yes, and probably being maltreated, by their lights, enough to justify armed uprising if they can manage it."

"What do we do with her?" Jack asked.

"Well, we won't leave Indian waters until tomorrow or the day after. We might put down somewhere over land and let her off, or there are a few islands near Australia that might do. We can't land unless we're sure we can lift off again, and we can't be seen. I intend to sleep on the matter, once my shift is done."

"Where am I supposed to sleep?" Clare asked.

"You're not, Miss Fields. When I go off shift you can wake her; you and I will sleep and Jack will pilot. The girl can entertain herself, I've no doubt. Jack, you had better snatch what sleep you can."

Jack glanced at Clare questioningly, but she shrugged and nodded. He didn't hear either of them speak much as he stripped off his shirt and prepared for bed below the pilot's platform; even though he lay awake a while, trying to calm his mind, he only heard the whirr of the propellers, the hiss of steam from the engine, and the creaking of the ship as it sailed through the air.

***

"Do you know what I can't believe?" Clare asked.

Ellis viewed this as an incredibly dangerous question.

It was not a question that was ever asked in innocence, and it usually meant that whoever was asking it was going to make a point. Probably a very sharp point. And it was another two or three hours before he could pass the pilot's chair off to Jack and go to bed, so he was trapped.

"What's that?" he asked.

"I can't believe you almost shot de la Fitte and then gave her my bed. I mean, one or the other I could understand, but both seems to indicate some kind of mental instability on your part."

"Miss Fields, we're flying through the air in a boat with an engineer asleep below my feet and a pirate asleep amongst the food supplies. If, in the face of these facts, what you find unbelievable is something so utterly banal as a change of heart, I'm not certain I'm the mentally unstable one."

"I don't think it was a change of heart at all," Clare said, leaning back on her elbows on the top step.

"Well, you're right. If I didn't give her a bed for the night she'd have got up to all sorts of mischief. Tomorrow we'll lay down a pallet for her near the steam engine, once we find something decent to use as a mattress. I haven't ruled out the idea of landing and leaving her somewhere remote."

"We're so close to Australia, though. Seems a shame to waste half a day going inland to find someplace where nobody's going to notice that a flying boat is landing. What are we going to do when we land in Australia, anyway?"

He frowned, sitting back. "I have certain orders and a little intelligence on the matter. There are plenty of coves around Port Darwin where we can put the ship down. I'm to investigate the situation at Darwin, and from there I thought probably sneak aboard a train for Brisbane. In Brisbane I'll have business to attend to, but you and Jack are free to go hunting for your family if you like."

"Without you?" she asked.

"Indeed, if you manage to pass for Australian well enough. You're doing all right with the dialect, so it shouldn't be a problem. You sound like quite the native already."

"I am a native," she said, as if Ellis ever forgot it.

"With an American accent. Will you be all right?" he asked. "Speaking that way again, hearing that accent again?"

"Of course," she said scornfully. "I didn't come this far to let that scare me away."

They were silent for a while, until she spoke again.

"When you came to Jack with this idea that had already nearly gotten him killed, I didn't like you much," she said. "But I still respected your abilities. You're a different kind of person than anyone Jack or I ever knew."

"Thank you, I think."

"I hope you remember that not everyone can think like you or be like you, that's all," she said.

"I never forget it," he replied, with a bitterness he hadn't meant to show.

"I just mean that not everyone's cut out for your job. Jack wants to please you, but he's not a spy or a..."

"Liar?" he asked lightly.

"Maybe. I mean, he's definitely not. Whether you are, I couldn't say."

He adjusted the power to the propellers slightly before he spoke again. "Well, of course I am a liar in the general sense. I lie for my living. Both my livings. Are you that worried about Jack?"

"No," she said reluctantly. "I'm that worried about me."

He smiled. "I doubt you need worry. You're smarter than Jack when it comes to people, and you never forget yourself. Well, nearly never."

She turned to look at him again, an odd worry in her face.

"You called me Ellis tonight," he said, carefully studying the dials. "I'm not certain the last time a woman under the age of thirty called me by my first name. I know you never have."

"Did you mind?"

"I think we needn't stand on formality in our little craft. I just found it...peculiar, that's all. Given the circumstances, it wasn't unnatural."

"You mean me scolding like a fishwife," she said with a smile.

"Oh, that was far better than your average fishwife."

Clare laughed, which was what he'd been angling for. They flew on in comfortable silence, the coast of India passing slowly, the water below calm.

"Would you mind if I called you Ellis?" she asked.

"It's less of a mouthful."

"Well, I mean. Will you call me Clare, in that case?"

"If you like."

"You're a Creationist, aren't you?" she asked.

The observation brushed him back, and he hesitated before speaking. Her eyes were still amused, but her face was serious.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"You know too much about the theology to be a casual observer. And I was thinking, someone said you did go to Cambridge but you left without a degree. Mr. Anderson told me, I think."

"I trained as a Creator, for a while. I never took my license."

"Why not?"

"An easy question, a complicated answer."

"That's not an answer at all."

He fussed with the helium tank for a moment, to give himself time to think. He didn't want to confess his entire youth to this young woman, someone who'd left her Trade School and her own life to come with him to Australia.

"No doubt you've studied the Mystical Writings," he said. "How well do you remember the passages on the Cycle of Everlasting Imperfection?"

"Men and women exist and die because they are born in mortal conception," Clare recited. "We cannot create but we fail, to teach us humility and grace. What we create dies inevitably, but the world continues because That which made the world whispered a secret word to hold the center forever. The world is unending for ever and ever -- "

"And mortal men die," he chimed in. "The natural world exists as proof of the Creator's divinity, because it is unending. And men are reborn because they cannot hold their center, but the Creator decrees that Its creations shall never end. I used to make up stories about a man who could remember being reborn. I understand the laws against Creating living things, but when I write I do make things live. The people in my stories are alive to me. I felt that I couldn't reconcile my own form of Creationism with the Creationism I was taught in school."

"I've never seen you Create anything," Clare said.

"No, and you probably never will. I stopped, years ago; I can hardly make anything anymore. When we land in Australia, I imagine that'll be the end of it for good."

"But it might kill you!"

"I doubt it. From the stories, those Creationists who died perished from the shock of losing something very precious to them. Those who survived did so because Creation wasn't their whole identity. It might not be pleasant, but I don't think I'll be hurt."

Clare stood up from the step and walked to the edge of the ship, behind the pilot's seat. After a while, she returned to stand near the steam levers, one hand resting on the locked left-propeller control.

"Why would you go to Australia? There must be other people they could send," she said. "You don't have family there or any connection with it, except through Anderson, and you don't seem like the kind of man to follow when you could lead."

He smiled without looking at her. "For the same reason Baker took up the challenge, Clare. Because it's an adventure."

***

The next day, at a decent hour sometime not long after noon, they convened a council to decide what was to be done with Purva de la Fitte: pirate, stowaway, and boarding party of one. The coast of India still spooled away to their left, but the course was steady enough that Clare could set it, strap up the yoke, and come down to the midships deck to take part in the discussion. She hadn't slept particularly well; with only Jack and de la Fitte awake, she'd been anxious about Jack being attacked no matter what Graveworthy -- Ellis -- said of the Baratarian code of ethics.

"I suppose we shall have to discover how loyal she is to Barataria," Ellis mused, chewing on a piece of toast Jack had prepared. Nearby, de la Fitte stood on the rail and held onto one of the guide-ropes, ship-spotting at distance with a spyglass.

"Why?" Jack asked.

"Well, our options are limited, aren't they? We've either got to sail inland before we leave India and set her down in some field somewhere, or we've got to take her with us. If she's loyal to Barataria, which has strong connections to France and America, she's a risk in Australia. She's a risk anyway, but I'm disinclined to abandon her."

"Can't we ask her?" Clare asked. "She might want to come along."

"What she wants is immaterial. I've already risked the airship once. I can't endanger the mission just to satisfy the curiosity of a pirate."

"I spoke a bit with her last night," Jack said. "Her English isn't great but she knows a little about wind currents and she catches on quick to the mechanical side."

Clare looked at Jack. She saw Ellis doing the same; he was probably thinking -- well, a more profane version of her own thoughts, which were that Jack needed to stop assuming that everyone he met either wanted to know or ought to know how to operate a steam engine.

"What?" Jack asked, looking confused. "She's clever. I think we could use her, if for nothing else than to help us navigate. She knows the southern hemisphere, and she hasn't got anything to go back to really. Especially now that her ship's been taken."

"It'd save us a trip inland," Clare ventured. Ellis watched de la Fitte on the rail, swaying with the natural motion of the airship.

"De la Fitte!" he called. She turned, dropping lightly to the deck. "Come here, if you please."

"I do not report to pilots," she said, thrusting her nose in the air.

"She thinks I'm Captain, and Clare's first-mate," Jack said under his breath. "De la Fitte, you heard Graveworthy."

De la Fitte approached but didn't sit, hovering just to the left and forcing Ellis to turn his head and tilt his body to address her.

"While it may not be obvious at first," he said, turning slightly, "we sail under English colors. We are not a raiding ship or a vessel of leisure. Our mission is one of diplomacy, in which there is little room for...eccentricity. It is our decision whether to put you off before we leave India or bring you along as navigator."

"Where do you travel?"

"Never you mind for now. What I -- what the Captain requests," Ellis said carefully, and Clare grinned, "is that you answer my questions honestly."

De la Fitte glanced at Jack, who nodded. She returned her attention to Ellis.

"You say your mother was captain of the Queen Jacqueline. She's dead now?"

"Oui. First mate took the ship. I do not like him so well. She is dead maybe a half year?"

"And your father?"

"He was a Hindu," she answered. "This is what I am told. My mother came from Barataria to here."

"Why?" Ellis asked.

"Oh, Grandfather had so many children. America is not so rich. My mother and also an uncle and also another uncle came East to leave America to the others."

"So you were born on a pirate ship?" Clare asked.

"Oui," Purva said complacently. "My grandfather, he was King of Barataria."

"De la Fitte," Graveworthy muttered. "De Lafitte. Your grandfather was Jean Lafitte?"

"The Jean Lafitte?" Jack asked. De la Fitte smiled a superior little smile. Clare looked at Ellis, who seemed to be calculating something rapidly in his head.

"Plenty of women claim to be daughters of Jean Lafitte," he said suddenly. "Prove it."

"You question me?" de la Fitte demanded.

"It's a wise child who knows her own parents," Ellis said. Clare knit her brows. He might sometimes try to shoot people but he was rarely rude.

"You insult my mother, you -- you pilot!" de la Fitte said angrily.

"Lafitte had a lot of women but he only married one," Ellis continued.

"Oui, my grand-mère!"

"I guess you'd have to cling to the idea that you're Lafitte's grand-daughter, not knowing who your father was -- "

"My papers were left! You fired on my ship!" she said.

"That wouldn't stop Lafitte's grandspawn from proving it," Ellis said calmly.

De la Fitte started forward, turning sharply around and putting herself between Ellis and Jack. She opened her mouth to say something else and Clare caught a glimpse of pure, unbridled fierceness -- this was not a child or a student like themselves. This was some strange woman, someone who had spent her entire life on board a ship and made her living from piracy. And for a second Clare found herself oddly jealous of the static in the air between Ellis and this French-speaking spitfire.

Then de la Fitte shut her mouth almost audibly. Her hand, which had been hooked in her waistband, moved as if of its own accord, falling to her side and forcibly relaxing. Clare could see the bulge of some object in her pocket, a squarish thing a little larger than a wallet.

"Is that the Baratarian letter of marque you were reaching for?" Ellis asked.

"It is hereditary," she said.

"But not for the eyes of outsiders?"

"What do you give me in return?"

Ellis held out his hand and looked to Jack to back him up. Jack rubbed the back of his neck anxiously, but gestured for her to produce the letter. She handed it over reluctantly -- a thin, worn leather case with a single sheet of paper inside.

"Hereditary Baratarian letter of marque," Ellis said. "Issued to the -- aha, issue of Jean Lafitte. Doesn't do us much good, but I imagine the captain will miss it. Not that it would have stopped him being hanged."

"Mine by right," de la Fitte said.

"What does it mean?" Clare asked.

"The American government legitimized eight pirates as privateers," Ellis replied. "The children of Jean Lafitte. Lafitte helped them win the battle of New Orleans. Lafitte's offspring don't prey on American ships, and in return America doesn't bother the Kingdom. As historical documents, the letters of marque the eight privateers carry are invaluable. Only five remain intact; the others have been burned or presumed lost with the pirates who carried them. Imagine a half-Hindu grand-daughter of Jean Lafitte stormpirating around India," he breathed, sounding impressed. "Are your uncles still alive?" he asked de la Fitte.

"God knows," she answered indifferently. "Give me back the letter."

"Of course," Ellis said, passing it back. "Does God also know whether you or your uncles have ever got as far south as Singapore?"

"I have."

"What about Australia?"

De la Fitte spat. "I have sighted shore. No good. Too many guns."

"At Port Darwin?" Clare asked.

"Whatever port," de la Fitte said carelessly. "Many ships, lately. Cheap metal. We prefer gold."

"Here's what I'll give you in return, for your services as a navigator and for a look at that letter of marque. You will be the first Baratarian pirate to set foot in Australia. And if you'll do me a bit of light theft, there's a pardon from the Queen and possibly a treaty with the Empire to be had for your country. Who's King there now?"

"I have never seen Barataria," the girl said, almost wistfully.

"It's not far in an airship," Ellis replied. Clare saw the temptation dangling, and almost wanted to warn de la Fitte what it meant. "But it means accepting naval commission from the Queen."

"Under command of the English!" De la Fitte snorted dismissively.

"Think of it as hireling work while you're searching for a new berth," Ellis advised.

"Is this the wish of the Captain?" she demanded.

"More so than myself, Miss de la Fitte," Ellis said, gesturing at Jack. Jack nodded and smiled hesitantly. "You can be useful. Are you a Creationist?"

"I have not the skill. The curse of Lafittes. But -- it is called the Dead Isle, is it not? Creationism -- "

"Doesn't work there," Jack interrupted. "But that's why we have to know. You can get hurt if you land there as a Creationist."

Clare glanced sidelong at Ellis, but his face was carefully blank.

"Well, I am not," de la Fitte said. "So, it is decisioned. For navigation, land-privateerage, and able-handed assistance," she said, pronouncing assistance with a French lilt, "I am pardoned by Her Majesty Queen Victoria and promised parlay with English Empire and furthermore two shares of all lootage and plunder."

"We don't intend to do much plundering," Jack said drily.

"Two shares!"

"One share," Ellis said. Clare scowled at him. "You aren't captain, de la Fitte."

"One and three quarters."

"One and a quarter."

"Done," she said triumphantly.

"She earned less than that on her ship," Ellis said to Clare. "And, Miss de la Fitte, we must find you a place to bunk; you've had the first mate's cabin, but that can't continue. What do you say to a pallet amidships?"

"Non," she replied. "I will arrange myself. Have we rope and sacking?"

***

A few hours later, with dark settling on them, Jack stood on the deck and admired not only the industry and inventiveness of Purva de la Fitte, but her utter fearlessness as well.

"I should have thought of it," he said. "We could have saved at least twenty pounds of weight, using hammocks."

"You could not put me into one of those things for love or money," Graveworthy replied, gazing upwards at the hammock rigged and dangling from the belly of the balloon. It was just aft of the steam engine, and would catch all the heat without any of the unpleasant vapors.

"It's only a hammock. I'd do it for money," Jack said. "I'd do it for free."

"It's hanging off a silk balloon on an airship hundreds of feet in the air. I'd roll over and fall to my death," Graveworthy replied.

"You'd just hit the deck. Unless we swerved sharply, I guess," Jack mused. "It looks comfortable to me."

"Well, if you're going to swagger about it," Graveworthy said, and Jack saw his lips quirk. They'd learned to entertain each other in the long days aloft, and bets were one of the few pleasures that hadn't worn out yet. "Shall we lay something on it?"

"It'd just be taking your cash," Jack replied. "It's nothing but a short climb up a rope ladder."

"Then put up, Baker," Graveworthy taunted.

"Don't think I won't! What's the bet?"

"Two shifts steering."

"That's not safe," Jack said.

"Fine -- loser foregoes sausages for a week. We're running low anyway."

"Only because you practically live on them."

"Now you'd better go up or I'll have to thrash you."

"Children," Clare drawled, carrying a shovelful of coal past them for a fire. "Play nicely or Mama will throw you both overboard."

"Gentleman's bet, then," Graveworthy offered Jack his hand. "Honor and glory."

"And sausages," Jack replied, shaking it and reaching for the rope ladder. "Miss de la Fitte!"

"Aye, Captain?" de la Fitte answered from the bow.

"Permission to inspect bedding?"

"Granted, Captain!"

Jack gave Graveworthy a look that he hoped implied a captain's utter disdain, and began to climb. It hadn't looked like it was very high up when de la Fitte was hanging the rope-and-sacking hammock, but the rope seemed longer while he was climbing it. The ladder itself was better than Jack's attempt, though it galled him a little that a common pirate had managed more skillfully than a Harvard-educated engineer.

Truth be told, he felt less like an engineer and more like...well, like an air-man each day.

He reached about the midpoint of the rope ladder, and suddenly the rest of the climb seemed more precarious than he'd previously imagined. He swayed in the air, indecisive.

"Ready to come down?" Graveworthy called. "I'm going to enjoy your share of the sausages!"

"Never say die!" Jack called back, and began to climb again. The further up he got, the less steady the airship was; it should be the reverse, but up off the deck he swayed and seemed to tip precariously close to the edge.

"There's no dishonor in failure -- oh wait! Yes there is!"

"Oh, Jack," Clare sighed, standing below him. "I thought you, at least, were a grownup."

"He -- what?" Graveworthy asked. "I happen to be twice your age, Clare."

"Sixteen years. you're shy by three."

"Seventeen, you're shy of twenty."

"I'm not the one wagering breakfast on whether or not Jack has the guts to get into de la Fitte's hammock."

Jack wrapped one arm around the rope rung he held to, gazing down at the crew of his little craft. After all, why should this be frightening? A day or two before he'd been hanging off the edge of the ship in far less safety, loading coal into a steam vent. Then, though, anything had seemed possible; probably the situation. Certain death was far more motivation than certain lack of sausage.

He turned resolutely back to the ladder and began to climb again, carefully focusing not on the deck below or the looming horizon but on the multicolored hammock over his head. It tip-tilted a little as he tumbled into it, but once inside he could see the appeal; the fabric was raised up over his head, and all he could see was the belly of his helium balloon, which was as familiar to him as his own body.

"I FEEL LIKE HAVING A SAUSAGE," he shouted. "GRAVEWORTHY, CARE TO BRING ONE UP TO ME?"

Then the world spun crazily and he found himself clinging to one edge for dear life as he nearly fell over the side of the hammock that was being pulled this way and that by Graveworthy, who had the bottom of the rope-ladder. He swore and flipped over the edge, hooking his feet in the rungs and easing himself down once more.

"You," Jack said, dusting himself off, "are a bastard, Graveworthy."

"It's only that I've got to know you now, so I'm no longer on best behavior," Graveworthy replied, grinning.

"I'd hate to think what you're like when you really want to cause trouble," Clare said.

Jack, triumphantly anticipating Graveworthy's share of the sausages, smiled on the little band of air-travelers -- Clare teasing Graveworthy, Graveworthy lounging against the rail, and de la Fitte seated on the steps watching them with a look of faint disapproval for the lowly pilot joking with the Captain and First Mate.

The next day they would leave India behind and strike across the open water for Australia, a point of no return. It wouldn't be a long voyage from there, not more than a few days, but the Dead Isle lay heavy on their minds like a shadow on the water, far below.

Chapter Thirteen

Date: 2012-05-01 05:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kallaneboi.livejournal.com
Yay de la Fitte!

No one has mentioned Jack's Creation abilities. I suppose his would be covered under the "it's not something precious to him so it shouldn't hurt too much" category like Ellis's, but it's been bugging me since it hasn't been mentioned.
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Date: 2012-05-01 05:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] derridian.livejournal.com
"Is in French," de la Fitte said.

"Oui, je parle," Graveworthy retorted, and she blinked.


I'm pretty sure that the french part should be "Oui, je le parle" (je parle = I speak; je le parle = I speak it) afaik. Admittedly I haven't spoken french in more than 10 years, so any native speakers feel free to correct me.

Also, I'm confused. If you can get hurt landing in Australia as a Creationist, what about Clare? (And Anderson for that matter.) How does it hurt them? Or is that explained later?

"We're so close to Australia, though. Seems a shame to waste half a day going inland to find someplace where nobody's going to notice that a flying boat is landing. What are we going to do when we land in Australia, anyway?"

And this raises a point that I realise has been bothering me; that there doesn't seem to have been any discussion of the practicalities of what would happen once they reached Australia earlier in the story. I'd have thought Clare at least would want to know details before even agreeing to go rather than bringing it up a day or two before they are going to land.

Date: 2012-05-01 06:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sorrelchestnut.livejournal.com
I thought the reason that there were Australian expats is that very occasionally, a child is born that can Create even in the Dead Isle, and then they're promptly shipped off to prevent imbalance of power. Or was that wrong? I haven't read the book before, this is my first go-through, so I might have gotten confused.

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Date: 2012-05-01 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chicleeblair.livejournal.com
Agreed about the French. It jarred me, because Graveworthy is basically saying "I speak" not "I speak it."

Date: 2012-05-01 06:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] catlinye-maker.livejournal.com
"But it might kill you!"

I hastened to post in concern for Claire; if landing in Australia would hurt Ellis, wouldn't she be even more at risk, only to find that I'm third in line.

Date: 2012-05-01 08:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kethrua.livejournal.com
It seems strange to me that de la Fitte is so consistently referred to as a child or girl. She says she's 21-22, and Jack and Claire can't be more than five years older than that, tops. They shouldn't be thinking of that as childlike. She's more their peer than Graveworthy is. If she looks young for her age I'd expect her to say so, loudly, but instead the repetition of girl leaves me with a mental picture of a sixteen year old (or younger) kid inexplicably given authority on a pirate ship, and brought along on a dangerous mission by supposedly moral people. De la Fitte does yell right off the bat that she's not a child, but ten year old's do that. It doesn't help much, for me. I'm not sure if you said how old she was in the first version, but my memory of her was a mature 16, and that it was kind of icky when the guys had tension with her, no matter what she thought about it. That's still the impression I'm given.

I'd fully understand Graveworthy thinking of 21 or 22 as a girl rather than a woman, and still bringing her for practical reasons, but the story is more from Claire and Jack's perspective. If she's actually young enough for them to consider her a child, they shouldn't think it's okay to bring her, and if they don't think she's a child she should be referred to as a young woman or woman a lot more often, I think.

Other than that, I love this story.

Date: 2012-05-01 08:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kethrua.livejournal.com
Or even if Claire is occasionally regarding her as 'the other girl' or 'the younger girl' to keep them more on the same level, or Jack contrasts her in his thoughts with the students he supervised at school. That would also put her in the same general age group with them but still definitely younger.
Edited Date: 2012-05-01 08:55 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2012-05-01 08:19 pm (UTC)
ext_74: Baron Samadai in cat form (Default)
From: [identity profile] siliconshaman.livejournal.com
Oh I like Ms de LaFitte, I always wondered what would have happened if the Admiral hadn't been betrayed by the federal government.. one of my ancestors was a captain under him, a former Royal Navy captain retired and turned privateer with his own ship.


and why do I envision airship pirates at some point in the future?

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Date: 2012-05-02 03:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] harkpad02.livejournal.com
I like Purva's introduction here. I remember thinking that the earlier draft was a little harder to follow, but this wasn't. I'll probably reread this tomorrow when I'm a bit more coherent, but the only comma nitpick for today is this: and she hasn't got anything to go back to really – comma before ‘really’

As for Clare and Anderson not being harmed since they're Creationists, I was very confused about that the first time I read it, too. I've read it once and didn't make a note to check for that earlier, but it seems like a little more clarification somewhere might help. I know it's because they're natives - it's Creationists who try and go to Australia but aren't from there who are harmed. Right? But I'm not sure I know that from this read-through or because I already read the whole thing before.... And Jack says he can't do much - but Ellis can't do much, either, though he was creating flame for Anderson's cigarette at one scene earlier....

Argh. Note to self: you're not much help to Sam when you're worn out from your day.

Sorry, but I wanted to make sure I commented that the "why isn't Clare in danger" thing confused me a great deal the first time I read it as well. And the comma. :D Can't leave a comma unattended....

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Date: 2012-05-02 03:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] loqi.livejournal.com
"Sixteen years. you're shy by three."

"Seventeen, you're shy of twenty."


This would make Ellis 36 but you mentioned in a previous chapter that he's 34. =) I am a little curious as to why you made him 2 years younger in this draft though. I remember him being 36 last time...

Date: 2012-05-02 04:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] corbistheca.livejournal.com
I LOVE THE BOARDING PARTY OF ONE! Purva de la Fitte for the win.
~ c.

Date: 2012-05-02 05:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beyondthesunset.livejournal.com
I believe it should more properly be Oui, je le parle - Yes, I speak it.

The hook was definitely in Chapter Three - before that I was just tootling along thinking, "This is nice"; after that I couldn't stop. And now I'm caught up and have to wait. :( MOAR PLZ.

Date: 2012-05-02 05:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beyondthesunset.livejournal.com
Something that's been nagging at me for the past several chapters: what about Created food? Fabulous diet plan? Dangerous and unethical assault on the body? What would the ethics be here?

Not remotely important to the story, mind you. Just indicative of my getting caught up in the setting. You've done some very nice world-building here, Sam.

Date: 2012-05-02 06:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] edibleflowers.livejournal.com
"Sixteen years. you're shy by three."

Either "you're" needs to be capitalized, or the period should be replaced by a comma.

Date: 2012-05-08 05:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] twirlynoodle.livejournal.com
Last chapter notes from me tonight! Now I’m only six behind! (until you post the next one tomorrow morning...)

they had rarely lost sight of some coast or other

Well, there goes my theory about losing altitude away from land. Maybe they’re just sufficiently far not to be seen? After all their airship isn’t that big …

easily fixed by shutting them down and restarting after a few minutes

Um … is this possible with a steam engine? Don’t you have to wait for the furnace to burn off and cool down, and then stoke it up again? Maybe Jack could have designed a mechanism that breaks off the connection between the engine and the propellers – I don’t know if such a device is feasible but I imagine it would be something like putting it in neutral (have I mentioned I know nothing about cars?). I just know for sure that stopping and restarting a steam engine is no small potatoes. (Thank you, Terra Nova...)

a large sailing ship was adrift and all but unmasted in the storm, battered by the waves, and bearing down on it --

I had to read this three or four times before I realised you weren’t trying to say the stricken ship was bearing down on something ambiguous. Perhaps throw a ‘was’ at the end just to leave the reader hanging and make it look like you’re interrupting yourself?

the pirate ship flew a black flag with a skull on it, crossed by vivid green swords.

How low are they flying, that they can see this amount of detail? Maybe this is something you can move later when they do drop? Or maybe they have a spyglass? That would be a useful thing to have for navigation and, you know, spying

I believe the Union Jack is actually known as the Union Jack when it is at sea; at least this is what I have been lead to believe by the pedants on Radio 4 who complain whenever a Union Flag on native soil is referred to as a Jack.

With a man'o'war nearby,

I … think … you may have cut the man-o-war mention from the establishing bit and forgotten you had done so? I missed it, then, if you didn’t … this is the first time I’ve seen the man-o-war mentioned. (incidentally, my spellchecker prefers man-o-war to man’o’war; I’m sure there are accepted variants of it, but for what it’s worth …)

Oui, je parle

Okay, my French is FAR from serviceable, so take this with a grain of salt, but I believe this should be ‘je le parle’ (I speak it) rather than ‘je parle’ (I speak). Obviously Graveworthy speaks. You probably know a real French speaker who would be much better at sorting this out, though.

You sound like quite the native already.

Did I miss the part where they decided they were all going to speak in Australian all the time? I got the dialect lessons but not the full immersion. That seems like kind of an important thing; I’d assumed it’d come later but now I think I missed it.

Certain death was far more motivation than certain lack of sausage.

This needs to … go on a t-shirt or something.

Date: 2012-05-09 06:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maeritrae.livejournal.com
Can you note something with irony? Irony has always confused me, so maybe you can.

"Sixteen years. you're shy by three."

"Seventeen, you're shy of twenty."


I'm very, very confused by this. I know what you're going for, and I really want it to work because yay Ellis and Clare banter. But it sounds like Clare is saying she's 16 and he's 16 * 2 - 3 = 29, and I know what you mean is that she's 19 and he's 36. Also, you should have capitalised the you're in the first bit, or made it a semicolon.

Date: 2012-05-20 08:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] insixeighttime.livejournal.com
Reading Notes
- "Jack had little head for navigation. After all, trains ran on rails." --> I feel like there was a comment last chapter about Jack navigating by the stars?
- Between Jack telling Ellis to load the bucket and him loading the vents, I don't think Jack gets the bucket back.
- This is a distance thing. How low down are they - and how long is the rope - that Purva can grab ahold? I'm sure you have it laid out in your head, but it isn't translating into mine.
- "He didn't even know a revolver had been brought on board. First buckets, now guns..." --> Jack knew the bucket had been brought on board.
-- "and its protectorates," he retorted." --> Last male character referenced was Jack, thus the He is Jack and not Ellis.
- ...What has Ellis been calling Clare, if not Clare? He's really been calling her Ms Fields this whole time? Things that have not registered.
- "well, a more profane version of her own thoughts," --> haha.
- "Oh, Jack," Clare sighed, standing below him. "I thought you, at least, were a grownup." --> Sounds like Clare is talking to Ellis.

End
- Even with the pirate attack, there is a sense of serenity that belies the 'hurry up and wait' atmosphere of the ship.

Meta
- Good point about Jack's creation.
- Something about Created food and theatre props just stuck in my head.

Date: 2012-06-01 01:45 am (UTC)
ext_14419: the mouse that wants Arthur's brain (Default)
From: [identity profile] derien.livejournal.com
"... I can hardly make anything anymore. When we land in Australia, I imagine that'll be the end of it for good."

"But it might kill you!"


Still so confused by this. I should have responded to your other explanation to me. The thing is, I had got the impression that the Australian kids were being sent away because their families were trying to save them. Australia would kill them if they stayed until they were too old, so as soon as they realized the kids were Creationists they sent them away to other countries, and that was why they were sending them with plenty of money. That was why I was confused by Clare suddenly saying she was immune.

Date: 2012-06-21 05:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beyondthesunset.livejournal.com
Okay, so I haven't been able to get back to look at Puva's dialogue, and I may not be able to be any help, at least not before you need to be done with edits. Sorry.

As a general rule, though, I'd say don't leave out "the" when it's called for, and err on the side of putting it in in any circumstance when it's remotely appropriate. This chapter seems fine in that regard.

"Well, I am not," de la Fitte said. "So, it is decisioned.

Okay, I don't think a native French speaker would say "decisioned" in English - the past tense in French is "decide" with an accent on the final e, and the verb infinitive is "decider". It's too much like English for "decisioned" to make sense. Just "it is decided", I think, would be more natural.

Date: 2012-06-21 10:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beyondthesunset.livejournal.com
I was lucky enough to meet a French Creole speaker today; he said that French Creole - probably the closest analogue to what Purva would speak - tends to chop things off, and based on that I think leaving out occasional articles in Purva's speech is justifiable. He says the do conjugate things as in standard French, though, so "decisioned" would still be strange for her to say.

I hope that's helpful rather than annoying and too late to be of use.
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