I found myself deeply concerned, because I could not imagine that a fight between pirates ended with kindness from either side. I had to admit the need for the fight, and even my part in it. I had no wish to be part of a massacre however. Blaze had a pistol pointed at a now unarmed Captain Jackson, one of Captain Jackson’s own crew had knocked the pistol from his captain’s hand. Much to my surprise no one moved forward for the kill, instead everyone turned to look at Captain Neriena. Captain Neriena seemed to have lost interest in her enemy now that they were defeated however. She was already kneeling by one of her injured men, trying to stop his blood with her neck cloth.
“What do you want done with them?” asked Blaze, who as her second in command, seemed to be the only one brave enough to ask.
“Take anything that we need from their ship,” said Captain Neriena, looking up for a moment. All of the emotion seemed to have drained from her face, leaving behind something empty, and more than a little frightening. If I had been concerned before about what would happen to the crew of Captain Jackson, now I became almost entirely certain that I was not going to care for her decision.
Even as Blaze took men over to the Stribog, using the enemy’s own ladders, more men came forward to care for the wounded. Captain Neriena was among their number, doing what basic aid she knew before those members of the crew with medical skill could come to care for injuries. I looked about myself, searching for Catfish, who I had seen take a blow to the arm from an enemy, but he was nowhere to be found. As I was being completely useless among the wounded on the gun deck, I decided I would go see if I could find Catfish and make sure that he was alright.
Finding Catfish proved to be surprisingly easy. He had simply returned to his engine room, which was the first place I had thought to look for him. His assistant was tying a piece of cloth around his arm, but he was already back to work, explaining to his assistant why it was that in the future she needed to keep a better eye on how much grease was used on some of the moving parts of the engine.
“I thought maybe you might need someone to look at your arm,” I said, feeling slightly uncomfortable by the strange surroundings of the engine room.
“I’m fine,” said Catfish, turning to glance at me, and then turning back to what I could only think of as his engine.
“Are you not concerned what will happen to Captain Jackson?” I asked, voicing what was truly on my mind, and why I had followed Catfish to his retreat. “I know well that there is no love lost betwixt you, but I should think that having served under him you would worry yourself some with his fate.”
“He surrendered, he will be fine,” said Catfish, for the first time his calm broken with a look of slight surprise.
The same whistle as I had heard before, came once again from the speaking tube. Catfish put down the wrench he had been using and walked over to the tube so that he could hear what was said over the sound of the engine. I being a journalist, and therefore naturally curious about other people’s conversations, also came to listen.
“Catfish, I have a need for you on deck to deal with the Stribog,” said Captain Neriena’s voice. Catfish paused for a moment to see if there was anything else, and then turned to me.
“Come,” he ordered.
“Why?” I asked, backing away slightly. I still imagined a massacre and I had no wish to see one.
“We are not barbarians,” said Catfish simply. With that statement he headed back towards the gun deck and I followed, because to do anything else would clearly insult him.
To my amazement, the order that Captain Neriena gave Catfish was a simple one, stop the engines of the Stribog. Captain Jackson and his crew had been returned to their ship, but Captain Neriena did not trust that they would not attempt to continue the fight even now if they were left to their own devices. I cannot in honesty say that I doubt the accuracy of that fear. Captain Jackson had proven to be stubborn in his grudges. Several other members of the crew of the Aeolus climbed over with Catfish, and while the engineer stopped the engines of the enemy ship, the rest of the men made small holes in the air bag, so that the Stribog would sink slowly. As I watched them work from my viewpoint on the Aeolus, I could not help but notice that I was surrounded by a good deal of new cargo that had not been there during the fight. It seemed that the crew of the Aeolus had taken Captain Neriena’s order to loot the enemy very seriously.
Ropes had been added to hold the Aeolus to the Stribog while Captain Neriena’s crew worked. As I watched with confusion however, the ladders that had originally connected the two ships were dropped from the Stribog side. The expedition that had been sabotaging the Stribog took up the ropes that connected the two ships, sliced through them, and as the ships drifted apart, the men swung out into midair.
“They are showing off,” said Blaze next to me, though he did not sound disgusted. “They could have easily come across on the ladders and then cut the ropes.” I looked back down, to where Catfish and the rest of the men were steadily climbing up the ropes back to the ship, and I could not help but wonder what sort of sensation the men would make in the one of the city’s athletic clubs back home. It is clear that being a part of a pirate crew lends itself to a certain amount of gymnastic ability.
Since we parted with the Stribog there has been far less excitement. With the lack of excitement however, I find myself once more thinking of my family, and worrying about what they must think of my letters. I fear that they may have some difficulty forgiving me for being so long from them, though it is not of my doing. I see little chance for me to escape from this ship so long as we continue in the air, and when we are on the ground we are more carefully guarded than any prison.
Just as I was beginning to fear that I would never be free, I find myself on a train from New York City to Chicago. In my company is Captain Bilke, as well as the rest of the crew of the Defender. With us is also a guard of several members of the crew of the Aeolus, but they are simply with us to see to it that we speak to no one about where we were. We have been allowed to announce ourselves as safe, indeed the press made a great fuss of us when we made ourselves known. The story that we have been ordered to tell is that we witnessed the Aeolus fall from the sky in the storm that sank our ship, and that we believe that all of the men of the pirate ship were drowned. We then floated about the ocean in an open boat until we finally reached the land.
It is strange to be speaking of the supposed death of men who I can see watching me from the crowd, but it is what we were told to do in exchange for our freedom, and it seemed a small price to pay. Captain Neriena, and indeed the main portion of the crew of the Aeolus, swear themselves ready for retirement from a style of life they have lives for some time. Captain Bilke took some effort to convince to perjure himself on where we had been and what we had seen, and let the crew he had been sworn to capture go to freedom, but Captain Neriena was just as insistent that they mean to give up the life of pirates. The crew had gained too many enemies, become too well known, and was now too hunted was her argument. Having seen what I had since being rescued by the crew, I could not argue that she was wrong. Captain Neriena could see little reason to gather great wealth if she was never going to be able to enjoy it. Instead the crew of the Aeolus has for the most part agreed to release us, to spread the news of their death, so that they will be able to retire quietly. We were warned however that we would always be watched, against the possibility that we might change our minds about speaking about what happened after the storm.
I am having to write this in secret. My journal is something that I was not meant to take from the Aeolus as it has rather more information about the crew than they are entirely comfortable with. I ripped out the pages that I was able to, and put pen to paper to write this final entry. It is difficult to put into words the emotions that I feel however. On the one hand I am returning to my family after a longer absence than I ever plan for again. The anxiety I feel to see them again is such that I feel as though I could pull the train forward to meet them. However, I am never able to forget that I am a journalist, and it pains me deeply that the words that I have written about my adventures must always be a secret, even from my family. I leave this adventure thinking much about the high cost of freedom.
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