Damn those French bastards!
Hardly sentiments worthy of polite company, they were appropriate to the situation nonetheless. Fortunately for the woman who the curse belonged to, there was no polite company to be had for a very great distance. Unfortunately, the invective was the last coherent thought that passed through the mind of Agent Lieutenant-Commander Myka Bering, first mate of HMS Artifact Hunter under Captain Arthur Nielson. For in the next instant, the French frigate's guns sounded, the world seemed to explode, and everything went dark.
The next thing Myka was aware of was being in a great deal of pain, and bitterly, terribly cold. Her thoughts felt slow, as if they too were frozen, and there was a persistent ringing in her ears that refused to dissipate. The distantly familiar sounds of splashing and shouting teased at the edge of her hearing, but before her normally quicksilver mind could decipher what those sounds signified, her body failed her, and unconsciousness dragged Myka under again.
Awareness returned several more times after that. Once it was accompanied by sharp pain and exclamations – she thought she heard someone cry "hold her! I have to set the arm!" before she passed out. After that her brief periods of lucidity carried more pleasant, if equally transient sensations. She felt warmth over her body, a soft pillow beneath her head, gentle hands stroking her face and sometimes a soft voice coaxing her away from oblivion. None of it, however, made any sense, or stayed fixed in her mind long enough for her to grasp before she slipped back into the darkness once again.
Myka came awake between one moment and the next, as if someone has simply flipped a switch in her mind. Her senses, long denied, now crowded her with information: It was dark and she was indoors somewhere, on a ship apparently, as the familiar rolling sensation was instantly recognizable. They were underway and if the sound of water rushing by the hull outside was any indication, making good speed. Myka herself was resting in a real bed in what must have been the Captain's quarters. The blankets were thick and soft and not stained with salt – a luxury indeed. Nearby a heavy mahogany desk was scattered with charts and if she craned her neck she could just see a window through which the full moon hung low and bright. Her situation deemed secure enough, Myka's next act was to try and move. An act which presented rather more difficulty than expected. Her right arm was bound in a sling and it appeared her ribs had been wrapped as well. Just how badly was I hurt? She wondered. Hard on the heels of that thought came the memories of the attack and … Artie, Pete, Claudia, the crew! It came rushing back like wave against the shore and Myka felt the iron bands of panic tighten her chest. She had to get up, she had to…
"Oh, bollocks," she hissed softly as her entire body protested her attempt to leave its supine position. Her frustration however, was short lived. There was a gasp, a commotion on the other side of the room, and before her heart could finish its attempt to leap through her chest, a worried "Myka? Myka are you awake?"
"Claudia? Is that you?"
A lantern flared and suddenly Myka was face to face with the midshipman of the Artifact Hunter and her own dear friend, Claudia Donovan. "Claudia! You're okay!" Relief flooded Myka, easing some of the tightness in her shoulders.
"Oh my god Mykes! We were so worried," Claudia's eyes were suspiciously shiny as she attempted to hug the older woman awkwardly. Protocol be damned, the two had always been more sisters than mere shipmates and Myka wrapped her good arm around the girl.
Joyous reunions, however, must needs be short lived.
"Claudia where are we? What happened? How long have I been unconscious? Where are Pete and Artie and the crew?" she asked fervently, her good hand gripping Claudia's arm.
"Whoa there, slow down. The crew is fine. They were picked up by The Steadfast not long after the French frigate left and were, uh, are being taken back to port." When Myka expected Claudia to continue however, the younger woman pushed a wisp of bright red hair behind her ear and fell silent, gnawing on her lip in telltale nervous gesture.
A suspicion gripped Myka. "Claud….we're not on the Steadfast are we?"
"Uh well no, we're not." Claudia stalled for a moment and then turned eyes that had taken on a pleading look to her friend. "See, they couldn't find you in the wreckage and the Captain said you were lost but I knew you weren't because you're just too stubborn so I kind of um, went AWOL but it's alright because I got picked up by another ship and the Captain believed me when I said that you were still alive and she totally knows all about the Warehouse and we're on the trail of that French ship and we're going to find Pete and Artie, I mean Captain Arthur and...I should probably just stop talking now."
Despite her growing concern and confusion, Myka had to bite her lip to keep from smiling at the midshipman's typical ramblings. Talking without pausing for breath was a true specialty of Claudia's.
"Slow down Claud. Start with where Pete and Artie are."
Claudia's face fell. "We don't know. They weren't in the wreckage either but H…the Captain thinks that they've been taken prisoner by the French. They would have been in uniform. And we think the only reason they didn't take you is that you had drifted so far away from the ship. We almost didn't find you."
The last was said in a small voice that made Myka reach out and pull Claudia to her again. "I'm here Claud, and I'm not going anywhere. Now tell me where here is," she said sternly, shifting back to look the younger woman in the eye.
"Uh, well…we're on a British ship, and uh, you know maybe I should just show you," replied the redhead, suddenly evasive.
"Just trust me alright? We're safe, and we're on Pete and Artie's trail, and here's your clothes all clean and pressed." Claudia beamed, producing a square bundle with a flourish.
Myka's eyes narrowed.
Claudia's expression turned pleading again.
The Commander sighed. "Fine. Help me get dressed."
"Squeal of delight!"
"Right. Sorry, yes ma'am."
Myka managed not to sigh this time.
Getting dressed required much more effort than Myka would have liked and her head was spinning when she finally managed to pull her boots on over her breeches. Still, even without her uniform jacket, simply being back in her own clothes – Claudia helped her tame her thick hair back into a regulation queue – she felt much more herself and ready to face whatever came. The younger woman also carefully buckled the officer's sword belt around her hips and Myka stood up, resolutely ignoring the sharp surge of pain through her ribs and shoulder.
"Very well midshipman, lead the way," she said with as much of her usual confidence as possible. In truth, Commander Bering was far from at her best, and had what she could only describe as a vibe. Something was off kilter, and that knowledge irritated her as much as it worried her. Vibes were supposed to be Commander Lattimer – Pete's – strength. Myka preferred observation to detail, planning, careful assessment of facts and… Oh fresh air…
Her inward analysis cut short, Myka – leaning rather harder on Claudia than she would have ever admitted - walked through the cabin's forward facing door and emerged onto the upper deck of a slim, triple-masted cutter as it sliced through an ocean like black glass, awash under the silver light of the full moon. Lanterns swayed gently here and there, throwing soft puddles of warm light on the spotless deck and neatly coiled rigging.
The main deck itself was empty, the crew presumably asleep except for, ah yes. Myka looked up and saw a figure outlined against the moonlight in the crow's nest, a gleam of metal suggesting a spy glass in their hand. And there, in front of her at the ship's wheel, with their back turned to Myka and Claudia stood a figure that could only have been the Captain. That feeling of something flared in Myka's chest and, as if called, the figure at the wheel turned.
The world spun in a way that had nothing to do with her injuries.
Silhouetted against the moonlight, her raven hair flowing over her shoulders and her skin creamy porcelain above a white poet's shirt tucked into breeches and thigh high leather boots, stood none other than …