We must accept life for what it actually is - a challenge to our quality without which we should never know of what stuff we are made, or grow to our full stature.
- Robert Louis Stevenson
A high-pitched ringing started to fill Jim's ears, and with each breath he was more aware of the pressure inside of his skull as it threatened to explode.
"Finally coming to, man?" Someone's voice, muffled as the sound around him suddenly snapped back to the correct volume.
His eyes shot open only to be blinded by the bright sunlight overhead, and smoke hung in the air that scraped against his dry throat. It sent him coughing as he shifted slightly, feeling hard and unforgiving stone underneath his head.
"Slowly now," the same voice spoke again, its owner coming into focus as he loomed over him. A constable—Terran, like himself, though considerably shorter and older in age.
Jim sat up with every muscle protesting strongly, blinking a few times to make things clearer. The man standing over him was dressed in a traditional blue and grey uniform, presumably accompanied by at least two robo-constables in the distant background. He began to realize his hands were pressed against cobblestone and not the packed dirt of the dock area. This registered as an important fact in his mind, but he couldn't work out why exactly.
"Do you know what happened here?" The man had a forgettable face, and Jim was already ignoring him as he began to take in his surroundings.
He was lying in the street just outside of Wilcott's home-or what was left of it. The smoke that lay thick in the air was still rising from the ashen skeleton of the home. The upper floor had collapsed down into the first, making it almost impossible to recognize. But Jim knew it. And he knew there'd been four people inside of it when he'd left.
"Take a moment," the man continued, graying hair cut close to his skull. "Why were you out here, Captain?"
Jim looked up at him for a moment, trying to gather together his thoughts. Was it his appearance that gave away his title or had he woken up previously? No, that piece of information was irrelevant.
Why had he been out here?
"There were people inside, they—" He forgot where that thought was going.
He'd left, though, and then he ended up here on the street. What had happened in between?
He sat up a little more, feeling a sharp pain in his back as he did so. The sensation alone was enough to throw everything rushing back to his memory.
The bad feeling that he'd had upon leaving had been right—not moments after turning the corner a short block away, he'd gone back just to check on the house to ease his own mind. He knew how the unthinkable could happen in the blink of an eye, and he'd given in to the superfluous worries of his mind. A sliver of light had spilled out onto the street from where the front door had not been shut all of the way, and a crash from inside confirmed his suspicion that it wasn't by mistake.
B.E.N. had ingored his command to stay behind, following him down the alley between the two houses towards the back door. Jim carried a pistol with him only when in the worst of ports, and so being in Carib, he had only a knife which was concealed in his boot. Motioning for B.E.N. to be quiet, he crept closer to the back door.
Mrs. Sullivan's scream from inside was followed by the door exploding open as a man tumbled out, falling against the fence in a crumpled heap. There was the sharp smell of burning cloth and flesh—he'd been shot with a handheld plasma gun. Not cheap.
There was movement in the doorway, and Jim crouched behind the bins against the house, trying to figure out how many there were before he could get inside. Christ, where was—?
Elena stepped over the threshold and stopped when Jim stood up quickly, Mrs. Sullivan standing close behind. Both women were disheveled and upset, and he noted the fact that the young woman was holding a gun loosely in one hand, her face flush with tears.
"Captain!" She exclaimed, taking a step forward while her housekeeper shakily followed. He put a hand on her shoulder, about to ask what in the etherium was going on when the upstairs window shattered and they all instinctively ducked a bit, a gust of hot wind rushing out as flames consumed the drapes. "My father—!"
"Get the girl!"
There was a commotion in the kitchen and shadows in the doorway, and Jim let her go, moving past them and shouting, "Get out of here!"
He had heard B.E.N.'s voice—perhaps he had followed them—as a man stepped through the doorway with a cutlass raised. The man wasn't expecting to see him, so he had enough time to push the sword away and knock him back into his friend. Scratch that—friends. There were two more, with other voices from deeper inside the home, and just as Jim wondered how he was possibly going to get to the second floor without getting shot, something had crashed into the back of his head from the alleyway.
And then he woke up here, on the street.
Jim picked himself up, looking around for… anyone.
"Careful there, man," the constable exclaimed, stepping back with a concerned look.
"Did they get out? Did you find anyone inside?" His words jumbled together a bit, but the man understood him well enough.
"Just the one inside. Owner of the home, we believe. Mr. Wilcott," he replied.
Although he felt like he'd been punched in the stomach, Jim would always hate himself for the wave of relief that also swept over him in that moment. "Elena—his daughter. Did you find her? Their housemaid, Mrs. Sullivan?"
The other man turned back to look at the other officers standing a bit closer to the house. "The maid's gone down to the station house to help sort things out." Jim didn't like the pause. "We're not sure about the young lady, as of yet."
God damn it all.
"Where's—?" Jim muttered under his breath, looking over his shoulder and seeing nothing but other officers in blue coats. "There was an antique AI with me, have you—?"
"JEREMY GLASS WAS OLD AND CRASS," an obnoxiously loud voice sang from down the street. "DEFIED THE BRASS WITH A FLASH OF HIS-
"B.E.N.!" Jim shouted—half in surprise and half in embarrassment. The officer cringed, motioning for him to follow as they made their way towards a medical wagon whose staff could do little to help their patient who was sitting on the sidewalk just beside.
"He's been shouting and uh, singing, ever since they got him back online. Unfortunately, he won't let anyone get near him to fix the wires hanging out of his head. Starts yelling every time we get close." The man stopped a few feet back while Jim continued on. Other than the fact his primary memory circuit was hanging on by a wire and that he could do with a good shining, the robot looked okay.
He was staring at him with a crazed look, though, but was quiet so far until Jim got close enough to touch him. He pointed a long, jointed finger at him, exclaiming, "I know you!"
Jim nodded, crouching down beside him. "Yes, B.E.N., I know you too. Now, let me…"
"I'm not telling you where she is!" He said loudly, but not quite at a shout, turning his head up and away from the young captain. "You can't make me! I promised, and when B.E.N. makes a promise, he never ever breaks it, you hear me? Threaten me all you want. I'd rather you disassemble me than tell!"
"Fine. Just let me fix—" Jim reached out a hand, but hesitated as the robot broke out into hysterical sobbing.
"Okay, OKAY! I'll tell you! She's down at the docks! I told her not to go, but she wouldn't listen. He's trouble! I think you're an old fart just as much as she does, but I agree with you there. Oh, why? Why won't she leave him—ALONE?" On that last word, Jim smacked him, wincing as he did so.
"B.E.N. get a grip and hold still!" This quieted the robot just long enough for him to replace his loose wires, his friend's eyes turning back from green to blue.
"Whoa! What happened there? I—I—I think I blacked out for a minute!" He exclaimed with wide eyes. "And woke up with an odd desire to sing sea-shanties."
Jim rolled his eyes, pulling the robot to his feet impatiently. "B.E.N., what happened to Elena?" In response to the confused look on the AI's face, he continued. "Last night, B.E.N.! Did you go with them?"
He shook his head quickly enough to make himself dizzy. "I dunno, Jimmy! When we got out onto the street, she went the other way—back to the house. Said something about her dad, I think! Oh, um, gosh, I dunno. It all happened so fast, I uh—!" B.E.N. squirmed a little under his gaze. "Pirates! Right, the pirates! They came out the front door, and they... We, uh, me and that nice lady, we were already down the street by the time we noticed she had turned around. Then, uh, there was a, um, crash. Or something. Oh, Jimmy, they took her!" he finished with a sorrowful face.
There was a long stretch of silence before the constable from before spoke up, having listened to the robot's story. "Come along, then. We need to get this down on the record, if you wouldn't mind." B.E.N. cast a heartbroken look his way before heading off while Jim remained where he was for a moment, looking over at the ruins of the home.
They took her.
Why would they take her?
"Excuse me, officer?" Jim caught up to the man a second later, his body running mechanically while his mind went into overdrive. "There was a young man there last night. He works… worked for Wilcott. Victor Powell. Did you find him?"
The man shook his head. "No, but I'll have someone go pick him up. If you wouldn't mind, Captain, we'd like to get some more information from you. Won't take long—we want to find this girl, too."
The sympathetic smile on the man's face did little to reassure him.
"The local constabulary renewed a warrant for Mary Williams' arrest," Markose Napier commented as he entered Avery's office, sidestepping a bright green potted monstrosity that had fallen just inside the door. The opening comment was rather vague, but it was met with no question, so Markose continued. "He runs with Augustine, the last I heard of him. I think you were right-Black Dog is definitely looking into the area already."
The captain was standing near the concave yellow window, one arm propped on the tall bookcase to his left. His fingers tapped the glass while his other hand rested in his pocket, where-with keen ears-one could hear the clock of several small coins that he absentmindedly counted. Markose took a deep breath, recognizing the habit and dreading actions that would follow suit.
"There was also a fire in the residential district last night. Someone spotted a group of sailors with them—Mary included—so we could suppose..."
Avery stopped fiddling with the coins, and Markose hardly saw the point in continuing since he was soon to be interrupted.
"…All confirmed by the rumor that's spreading through town this morning," he started hesitantly. "The Aerosea was seen around the equator, not two hundred miles from—"
Avery swept an arm across the top of the bookcase, sending the empty brass cage and the items stacked inside flying across the room where it hit the floor with a reverberating clange. It knocked over a stack of books, causing the papers that had been atop them to scatter across the floor. Markose stood quietly with his usual irritated expression while Avery settled into the high backed chair with his elbow on the desk and a hand covering his eyes, the other curled into a fist so tight that his knuckles turned white.
While Markose sympathized with the man's anger, he did not share it. At best, the strongest emotion he could tie to the whole situation was a dreadful annoyance. Keeping with his own sense of morality, he would never wish the woman any physical harm. Still, he had to admit that things would be decidedly uncomplicated in her absence. He certainly could have done without the past few years of cleaning up the mess-filled situations that she always managed to drag back onboard.
Were she to stay missing, it might have actually been better for her and the captain.
"I suppose those rumors," Avery finally spoke, through clenched teeth. "Didn't include their direction, did they?" He dropped his hand to the desk, still looking mightily cross.
With a muttered curse, he looked across the room, avoiding Markose's gaze, saying, "The navy's got too tight a hold of the West, and they won't have gone east near Cangaria during this time of year."
Markose nodded, adding, "Weymouth and Hydra are the closest ports to the North, but the South seems most likely. Porto Bello is big enought hide them, and perhaps—"
"He won't go there," Avery said quickly as he glared down onto the papers that covered his desk, declining to offer any explanation.
"...Very well. Weymouth or Hydra. Of course, depending on their supplies, they could go right between the two and through Widowmaker's Crossing." The nebula was dangerous and aptly named, but not completely uncrossable, and once on the other side, they could go anywhere.
The other man remained silent, looking down at either his hands or the old cargo and crew lists they rested on. "You need to make a decision, Avery." His words were met with silence, and he was unsure if he was being ignored intentionally or as a result of the man's thinking process. "Of course, you might consider the more practical alternative—"
His look of mild irritation turned to frustration. "Nickolas—"
"Do you realize what kind of man he is?" Avery's voice rose loudly. "The stories they tell about him? Unlike ours—those are real. He is insane, and the men he commands don't rank much better."
"You need to consider the well being of your crew, then. Not one of them will follow you against him. They are not imbeciles—like how you, my friend, will be remembered if you actually confront him," he replied strongly.
Avery stood up, the chair tipping back precariously for a moment. He appeared as if he might continue the argument, but for a split second, a look of helplessness crossed his expression which he was quick to drop. His hands brushed the surface of the desk as he shook his head, looking across the room.
"She has the journal," he said after a moment in a composed, steady voice. "I'll be damned if I let that man get his hands on it."
As a question sprung to his lips, Napier opened his mouth without hesitation, catching himself at the last moment. He knew this new venture had more to do with the woman than the journal, so he turned the conversation towards the odd tone he caught in Avery's voice toward the end of that last declaration.
"You've met him," Napier concluded aloud.
The captain looked at him as if he were deciding just how much to say. "Not yet," he answered quietly, pushing the chair back and turning back toward the window, crossing his arms.
Unconvinced, Napier dropped the matter for the now, leaving before anything else was thrown.
"It's been over twenty-four hours, and all I've been told is that a pirate vessel slipped by your border patrol, heading North? There has to be someone who can tell me what's going on!" Jim's voice was a little louder than he or the officer behind the wooden desk cared for, and he made an attempt to look a bit more calm. "Please, I need to know if they've found any sign of her."
"We can't discuss the full details of an open investigation with the public. I'm sorry, Captain." The man looked over at him with sympathetic eyes, moving as if to get down from the tall chair. "I can contact the officer who took your record earlier, if you like. Perhaps he—"
"No," Jim replied, stopping him before he could. "I apologize for taking up your time," he said politely, leaving the office in a hurry. Outside, it was almost mid-day, and the streets were busy with foot traffic, wagons, and carts. He made his way down the main road without a destination in mind, mulling over things uninterrupted since B.E.N. holed up in his room at a local inn.
Elena had been missing for over a day now, and if the police had any idea about what happened to her, they weren't about to inform him. What was there to do?
Wilcott… was a good man—a good friend—and his daughter was in danger. With no other family to speak of, who else was there to look out for her besides himself? He owed it to the old man and to her.
As far as he could find out, no one had seen Powell since last night, which made walking to the warehouse a completely useless venture. He stopped, realizing that's where his feet had been taking him automatically. With a frustrated scrowl, he turned down a different street, returning to his room and a, most likely, restless B.E.N. His run in with these pirates had done nothing to help his nerves, and Jim cringed at the thought of his incessant verbal worryings.
Apparently, though, it wasn't the only thing awaiting him once he got there.
"Jimmy!" B.E.N. jumped to his feet, sending Morph into a tumbling spiral off of his shoulder.
The room was brightly lit from the two windows that opened out to the street, but he stepped inside hesitantly, noticing a figure sitting at the table at the other end. The young man sprung to his feet when he heard B.E.N. say his name, pulling the patched hat from his shaven head only to grip it tightly in his nervous hands.
"Captain! I…" He trailed off as his face turned from excitement to guilt once again. "I wasn't sure… I mean, I didn't know where—" He visibly moved back a bit when Jim rushed forward, about to demand answers for all of the questions that had been plaguing his mind. He stopped himself, though, instead trying to remain levelheaded so that Powell would do likewise.
"The police are looking for you."
The young man's dark features twisted into a cringe. "I know, sir, but I… I've made a mistake. I couldn't speak up, sir. I wasn't sure they'd understand!"
"Well, try me. What happened last night? What happened to Elena?" He almost had to bite his tongue to stop just there.
Powell opened his mouth but couldn't seem to know where to start. "It was… It's my fault, sir, I—I told them, but they didn't say anything about… I just mean…" While Jim was used to listening to stuttering, incoherent sentences, he was still growing impatient. "We were on the dock, sir. Just closing up, me and some of the boys. They were… making fun. At Elena. Well, no! Not at her—at me. I, uh, sorta fancy her a bit. We just got to talking, and when I left to go home, this man… he kinda pulls me aside the street. Pulls a gun out 'n says he heard me say her name—said he was looking for her dad. Threatens to kill me—and her!—if I didn't take him to where they was. So I did. He didn't say anything about his other men—or that they were gonna take her!" His eyes were wide with fear still.
It was quiet for a moment while Jim tried to process, but he eventually said, "Powell, you need to go to the police. If you can remember what they looked like, it could help, maybe—"
"That's just it! It was dark. I couldn't see their faces too good. I got no helpful information—just the fact I told them where they was!" He exclaimed, eyes still wide. "And now she's gone and Master Wilcott's dead…"
Jim rubbed his eyes with a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose as he winced at the mental onslaught of frustration. He took a deep breath, however, clamping a hand down on the young man's shoulder. "This isn't because of you. Don't give the constabulary a reason to blame you by doing it yourself," he said quietly. "But you do need to go talk to them, even if… you can't remember anything you think is useful."
Still looking fretfully guilty, he nodded slowly for a bit before straightening with a slightly hopeful expression. "I do know one thing: they had to be sea-faring men. I mean, I know we got a lotta folk from all different parts around here, but their weapons weren't from anywhere nearby—they don't let you bring some o' that around here."
Jim gave a half-hearted smile. "That's good. Remember to tell them that."
"Yes, I know they were. One of them mentioned they had to hurry and get back to Augustine," he continued. "And Augustine's the capitol of Selk Territory south o' Rommer's Nebula, ain't it?"
"…Yes." Had he heard the name as well last night? It sounded familiar, in any case. "That's exactly what you need to tell the police, Powell. Now hurry."
The young man nodded, ducking out of the room quickly.
Jim sat down at the table, all of his energy suddenly draining away. He rested his head in one hand while he heard B.E.N. take the seat opposite him. Thankfully, though, he was quiet for the time being.
Jim still couldn't remember anything remotely useful from last night, but at least now the police would have a possible location to work with… his hand slammed down on the surface of the table, causing B.E.N. and Morph to jump.
"It's not a city!" He stood up quickly, looking to grab his coat before realizing he'd never even taken it off.
"…Uh, what? It's… what's what then?" B.E.N. was following him out of the room.
"Augustine," Jim explained as they left the inn, quickly pushing through the crowd outside. "It sounded familiar. I thought I'd heard one of them say it last night, but I didn't. I remember—I heard one of them make a joke."
"Augustine isn't a city… it's a joke?"
Jim stopped, turning to B.E.N. so that he didn't have to shout back at him as they walked. "I heard a man say that 'he' would use them for chew toys if they messed it up. It makes perfect sense. Why would they go to a tiny little town like Augustine? There's too much of a Naval presence there. Don't you get it? Augustine isn't a place—it's a name," he exclaimed. "The pirates… they were talking about their captain. Matthew Augustine. Or as most people refer to him: Black Dog."
The unsure look on B.E.N.'s face wouldn't be the last he would see that day.
"You are acting irrationally." Onyx was standing behind him with a look of absolute disagreement. "Honorable, to be sure, but completely and utterly reckless."
"I didn't tell you because I wanted advice," Jim replied, setting the dull tan pack down on the creaking floorboards at his feet. He gave his desk a once-over, checking for anything he may have forgotten or neglected to take care of in preparation for his absence. "I told you because I'm going."
"Where will you even begin? You are the last one who needs to be reminded of the size of this galaxy, my friend," he said solemnly. "I also need not remind you that we are not keepers of the law any longer. The authorities have greater numbers and therefore greater leads. You are one man."
"I'm the only man who's looking in the right place! They refuse to believe me—they're going to send some men all the way out to Selk Territory, and they're going to come back empty-handed," Jim said. "They're going to be looking in the wrong direction, since they refuse to believe that pirates could be involved. Not one piracy-related incident in five years, and they refuse to look into that North-bound ship because if it turns out to be true, it looks bad on their records!"
Onyx took a deliberate breath. "You have to admit it sounds far-fetched. Augustine's a fairly reputable pirate—what use would he have for her? Or for killing her father?" He may have been speaking out of concern, but it wasn't exactly helping at the current moment.
"…I don't know, but—"
"Because it doesn't make sense," the taller man finished.
"It's the only explanation that really fits!" Jim held back the rest of his reply for a moment, looking at the organized contents of his desk if just to avoid speaking. After the room grew quiet, he continued his defense, saying, "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think it was the best shot. And since they refuse to believe me, I'll just have to figure something out on my own. Besides, I have connections they don't."
Well, that was just speculation.
"And even if I didn't," Jim said. "I'll make some. I'm not going to let something happen to that girl. Not when I should have…" Shaking his head, he lifted the pack over his shoulder, exiting the stateroom without so much as a glance toward his Cragorian friend.
"There is no blame to be assigned from this situation." The man's loud voice followed him out to the bridge, though it went quietly ignored. "I am not suggesting I do not care, James. I want justice for her family and for her safe return, but this is not the way to do it."
Jim stopped for a moment, squinting as he turned around to face him since he was temporarily blinded by the bright sunlight.
"Where will you even look?"
Jim shook his head for a moment, his eyes adjusting as he looked out over the clean deck, devoid of crew. "The ship was heading north. I'll find a ride a Weymouth first—see if anyone's seen it there. Then…" What next? As long as he wasn't sitting around, though, he felt as if he was accomplishing something.
Onyx didn't nod or ask anymore questions. He was silent for a moment before heading over to the helm, picking up a spherical device from the dashboard there. His large hands clumsily tugged the wires from the console, and he handed this as well as a small square screen over to the captain.
"Then take this with you," he said with a solemn look.
Jim started to argue, but stopped himself, saying, "I suppose you won't be needing it. At least I'm hoping you won't run into any trouble near Tamarind." He finished this with a laugh, but Onyx didn't smile.
Jim looked down at the gilded sphere in his hands for a moment before tucking it into his pack. The thing always perplexed him, since it obviously shared a connection with the same type of technology that had housed the map to Treasure Planet all those years ago. This device, however, showed a much more updated map, allowing the user to see islands and ships at ranges much farther than the eye could reach. Ever since they had picked it up from those pirates back in their Navy days, it had become essential to ensuring a safe trip, though it sometimes filled him with bad memories.
Onyx put a heavy hand on his shoulder for a moment before saying, "Good luck, then, my friend."
Jim nodded with a growing sense of dread. He was really going to do this.