A young girl stood in the doorway holding a tray with a cup and a lid. Steam was drifting lazily from a hole in the lid. Her eyes were wide with fright. A horrible burn scar rose up from under her shirt to the left side of her face, covering the cheek, turning it a permanent rosy color, and touching the corner of her eye, as if at one point she had cried fire. Lorelai stood still, the metal IV stand cold in her hands, shocked to see the little girl. But perhaps she was a prisoner like me, Lorelai thought.
“Hey.” Lorelai said.
“H-hello.” The girl said, her accent thick. “I’ve brought you some tea.”
Lorelai released her hold on the IV stand, unsure of how she was planning on removing it from the floor. She sat on the bed and waited for the girl to come in. “I’m on the Summer Lyn, right?”
“Yeah.” The girl said as she set the tray down on the bed.
“Are you…” Lorelai stopped and looked out the door, nervously. She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Are you a slave?”
The girl’s face lit up with a smile. The left side of her mouth seemed to have trouble moving the scarred skin, but her unscarred cheek became flushed to match the color of the left side as she did so. “No, mate. My name is Mary! I help out around here.”
“But…” Lorelai thought hard about the stories and legends of the Summer Lyn. The crew was supposed to be men; not women and certainly not girls. But that didn’t mean they had women working with them and just kept them out of sight below decks. “So you’ve been with them for a while?”
“They picked me up just after my 7th birthday. I’m 10 now.” She said, puffing out her chest.
“Have you… Did they…” Lorelai was becoming lightheaded, the adrenaline quickly leaving her system. She took a deep breath and pointed at the small girl’s face. “Did they do that to you?”
Mary’s persistent smile wavered slightly, and she looked at the floor.
“Did they hurt you?”
Mary’s smile disappeared from her young face. She looked at the door and then back at Lorelai, “I’d better go.”
“Please. Tell me what’s going on! Am I in danger?” Lorelai whisper-screamed, half-delirious from anxiety and pain. The darkness was closing in on her vision and she needed to know before she passed out. “Please.”
“I… I need to go. Please get some rest, Gabriel said you weren’t feeling well. Someone will come check on you in a little while.” Mary stood up quickly and turned to leave. Lorelai resisted, weakly, only for a moment.
Mary picked up the tray and looked at the tea cup, then up at Lorelai. Lorelai watched through half-lidded eyes as Mary supported the tray on her hip as she stepped through the open door. Before she closed the door, someone stopped her. A conversation, or an argument, had Mary looking from the person to Lorelai and back quickly. She listened for a while, finally, after a long look at Lorelai, looked at her feet, and then nodded once.
The door closed behind Mary and Lorelai soon fell asleep. She dreamed she was stranded in a little wooden rowboat in the biggest cup of tea she had ever known. She didn’t know how she knew it was a giant cup of tea, but when she tried to paddle with her hands, the tea was too hot and she hurt herself. Behind her, a giant storm cloud in the shape of a sailboat moved toward her, giant demons flailing their weapons as they licked their lips in anticipation of the taste of her flesh. Lorelai screamed and paddled faster, the hot liquid scalding her hands. Somehow, her small boat began moving backward, toward the black ship-cloud. She screamed and screamed…
And screamed. Lorelai woke up in a cold sweat. She was still in the same small cabin as before, but she felt better than before. Much better, in fact. The I.V. bag was gone, and a small bandage was over where she had pulled it out. In the place of the IV stand was a small metal stand, affixed to the same spot. On top of it was a small package of cookies and a carton of milk. Before she knew it the milk was gone and the package open and half the cookies gone.
Only when she was done did she notice that the storm had stopped, the sky still grey. Some of the merchants said that in some parts of the world the sky was never clear. Lorelai had always thought that sounded terrible. The clouds looked devoid of happiness and Lorelai wondered again how people in skyless parts of the world survived.
She watched the waves as they moved in every direction. She barely felt them on the boat. That meant that the boat was massive. Just like her father’s ship, the Nautilus, now at the bottom of the ocean, along with the hundred staff and her family. The clouds reflected her mood as she stared out at them.
She closed her eyes and started a small prayer for them when someone knocked at the door, harder than when little Mary had. Her eyes snapped open and she stared at the door. It remained closed. “Come in.” Her voice cracked, barely audible. She tried again, speaking louder and more forceful. “Come in!”
The door opened and a tall young man not much older than Lorelai with broad shoulders and dark-blond hair came in. He had the look and attitude of a soldier. The pistol in a thigh holster on his leg and knife attached to his vest were also good indicators. Short sleeves showed tattoos that came down to his elbows. His blue eyes caught the light and seemed to crackle with electricity as he stared at her. “Lorelai de Orleans.” A statement. He knew who she was.
“Yes. Who are you?”
“Why was your ship in Antarctic waters?”
Lorelai’s confusion grew, it had been nothing more than a fun trip for her. “I don’t know, my dad wanted to take the family to see the oil ships off the Antarctic coast.”
He held up a hand. Stop. “Lorelai, Lorelai, Lorelai. Please don’t play dumb. You were aboard the ESS Nautilus, a primary scout ship for the Eastern States of America. You were in the South Arctic Circle with a small contingent of soldiers armed with advanced weapons,” he held his hands up and shook his head. “Why?”
Lorelai balked at the information. Soldiers? There hadn’t been anything more than her father’s personal guard. She stared at the man in shock at the information. Then she realized that he was either mistaken or he was using it as an excuse for some reason.
“You sunk the Nautilus,” She said, anger flailing up inside her. “You killed my family.” Tears stung her eyes as she wiped them away. The man in the doorway watched her, unblinking, his eyes smoldering, his face impassive.
“You should come with me Ms. Orleans.” He moved aside so she could exit. Lorelai stood, feeling much stronger than before, walked to the door. “And my name is Gabriel.”
They walked through the ship and Lorelai could tell it had once been a ship of pleasure rather than of war. Some of the shiny teak wood walls and the fancy kitchen seemed to pay tribute to the days of the past. Lorelai did not see many crew as they walked through the halls. They remained in the centermost part of the ship heading toward the stern. They finally reached the rear of the ship, the engines making a soft humming, and walked up a flight of stairs, passing the open deck, to the wheel house. Inside were three men. Lorelai froze at the door as she realized who this was. The Captain, the man with no name. The most feared man in Orleans, followed only by the elusive terrorist known as the ‘Reaper’ of New Zealand. The older man seemed normal, yet he exuded a calm air of confidence. The air around him seemed slightly electrified.
He finished talking to the men at the array of controls and patted them on their backs. He turned and looked at her with a neutral expression. His dark brown hair was short-cropped and streaked with silver stripes along the sides. Her mind told her to run, to throw herself into the ocean. The stories and songs and legends all told of a man in a black cloak with red eyes that killed indiscriminately. Torture, murder, rape, massacres. This man had established the most brutal legend in the years following the Impact. And he was staring at Lorelai and… smiling?
And instead of burning red eyes his were nearly black. He did not wear a cloak, but instead black pants and a dark blue, form-fitting wetsuit that had diamond-shaped patterns inlaid in the material with a maroon lotus flower with eight pedals on the left breast. The smile was not evil, but fatherly, almost apologetic.
“Thank you, Gabe,” he said, nodding to Lorelai’s escort. “Would you give us a moment alone, please?”
“Yes sir.” Gabriel turned and stepped back through the door. The two men at the controls glanced at the Captain and he gave them a little nod. They tapped a few buttons and followed Gabriel out.
“Lorelai de Orleans, Daughter of Wilson and Deborah de Orleans. Next in line for governorship of the floating half of the city of Orleans, population approximately 53,723 Mariners on the floating city and 3,810 Terrans on the land. Port of the Gulf of Mexico arm of the ESS’s navy and, due to it’s breathtaking two 3D printing factories, the main ESS exporter of manufactured goods.” He took a breath and waved his hand toward the forward-facing windows over the deck of the massive ship. “Welcome to the Summer Lyn.” He paused dramatically, looking at his ship affectionately, before looking back at her as if he’d forgotten she was there. “Are you feeling better?”
“Ye-“ Lorelai’s voice broke. “Yes.”
“You were practically dancing the jog with Davy Jones himself when Gabriel pulled you from that life raft. Nearly ran the zodiac onto the Summer Lyn’s deck getting you back to the ship. He checked on you every hour until Mary brought you tea. Scared the bejesus out of her, by the way. But she’s a tough girl. Wouldn’t have brought her along if she wasn’t.”
He paused, obviously waiting for Lorelai to say something, but she could think of nothing to say. Her mind was running through the stories she’d heard of this man. A sailor off Cape Horn had been found hanging from fishing line that was so thin and strong it had cut through his throat and esophagus as he had hanged there. The first responders hadn’t been able to tell if the man had died from the hanging or the sliced open throat. The sign of the Summer Lyn, a bleeding lotus flower, similar to the one that adorned the Captain’s wetsuit, had been painted in blood on his chest.
“Lorelai?” He said, jarring her out of her reverie.
“What?” she asked reflexively.
“I assume you have some questions for me.” he took a seat at a chair in front of a large paper chart pinned to the rear wall and a small table of instruments. He gestured to a seat next to him and Lorelai slowly walked over and sat.
“I’m on the Summer Lyn?” she asked hesitantly. Her mind still refused to believe that simple fact. This boat was legend. What was happening to her only happened to people that were friends of friends of friends, not her. Not the daughter of…
“And you are the Captain?”
“Two for two.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Are you going to let me go?”
A look of something, pity perhaps, crossed his face for a moment. “I’m sorry. But that’s not in the cards. Not for you.”
“Did you sink the Nautilus?”
Another look of something swept across his face. Lorelai would have said fury if his smile had not held up. “No.”
“Did anyone else escape it?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
“Where are we?”
“Somewhere in the Pacific,” A sly grin crossed his face. “Or is it the Atlantic? I always was bad at geography in school.”
“What’s going to happen to me?”
“You are going be our guest until we make landfall. You are more than welcome to stay in your room if you wish; meals will be brought to you and you will be well looked after. But I would like it if you came out. Help around the ship. Talk to the other crew. Learn the truth about our little world. It’s not all pretty, but I believe you’ll be happily surprised at what you find out.
Before we make landfall, come find me and tell me what you’ve found out. Ask any questions that you have after talking to the crew and I’ll tell you whatever it is you want to know. Then, you can decide what it is that you want.” He held up his left hand, “Freedom.” He raised his right, “Or slavery.”
“Why would I choose slavery?” Lorelai asked, confused by all of this. The Captain’s smile turned into a hearty laugh, “I honestly have no idea. Every person on my crew had that choice and decided to stay with me. Well, almost all of my crew.” The Captain looked at the door Lorelai had entered through. Where Gabriel stood outside. Then he looked back at Lorelai. “Do you have any more questions before Gabriel shows you back to your room?”
Before Lorelai had time to stop herself, she blurted out the question that had stopped Mary cold, “Are the stories about the Summer Lyn true?” The look on the Captain’s face made her instantly regret it. But he was not angry. Nor was there any grotesque pleasure there. No, a deep sadness in his eyes, like he carried the burden of a thousand souls.
“True enough. We are, for lack of a better word- pirates. Everyone here has taken a life, either in self-defense or in battle. But before you cast any further judgment, you should talk to the crew. None of them will harm you. Pinky promise.” He waved at the door and Gabriel stepped back inside.
Lorelai watched the Captain as Gabriel approached and stood behind her.
“It was a pleasure meeting you Ms. Orleans. I have a feeling we will become fast friends before we reach our destination.” His smile was back as he held out a hand. Lorelai took it and they shook before she turned to leave. This time Gabriel led the way. He explained where everything was as they walked toward the front of her ship, where her tiny cabin was. This time they also passed crew as they wound their way through the ship. The sailors were soaking wet, heading to their bunks; or as they headed out to the deck with sleep still in their eyes. They passed Mary in the kitchen and Gabriel called out a good-natured jibe at her. Mary replied without missing a beat. Lorelai had never heard such a young girl curse so fluently.
The trip back to her room made the entire crew more human to Lorelai. She almost forgot the stories. Forgot that she had vomited the first time she had seen a first responder video. Almost forgot what the Captain had said, that everyone on board had killed- that meant young Mary, too. She saw what the Captain was doing- Humanizing his crew to her so that if she escaped, she could tell people the ‘truth’ about them. A ploy that, she promised, would not work
As they reached her room, Lorelai turned to Gabriel, “Tell me about the Summer Lyn.” The question caught him off guard and his mouth opened silently then closed again. He looked at her a moment longer before answering.
“What do you want to know?” He said in his deep voice.
“The stories. Are they true? That’s the one question no one wants to answer around here.”
“Do you really think we would have the reputation that we do without some or most of the stories being true?”
“I guess not.” Lorelai said. Gabriel opened the door for her and waved her in. She entered and sat on the bed. He folded a seat attached to the wall down and took a deep breath.
“Ok, from the beginning. Here we go.”