Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 44

Some of Tobias' crew were loyal to him until the end and pushed for Lottie to be punished for his murder, a couple even going so far as to suggest she should face execution.

The Admiral and Quint spoke to both her and Summer at length and concluded that the dead man's treatment of the pair of them had been so horrific that her actions could almost be classed as "self defence", and that she had suffered so much any further punishment would just be cruel.

Summer wanted to be returned to her family, from whom Tobias had kidnapped her, and the Admiral arranged for that to happen. Lottie however refused to tell anyone where she had come from, and in the end Magda offered to let the girl stay with her until she decided what she wanted to do. The Admiral also gave them both a substantial sum of money, a fact he told us over dinner.

"Kind of feels like blood money." He says, chewing on a fork full of fish and rice. "In hindsight I should have tackled him about the way he kept his pets years ago, but I didn't realise things had got quite that bad. Some of what those poor little girls told me made me sick to my stomach, and I'm the man who made the Rhea delta run red with the blood of my enemies."

I spent some time with Summer before she left, I know she didn't go into all the details with me, but she said enough to make me wish I had carried out my plan of freeing them, whatever the consequences.

"If Quint ever starts treating the pair of you like that just come and see me, he's not too old for a good hiding." The Admiral says with a wink.

"I'm far too old for a good hiding, and you'd have to catch me first." Quint replies smugly.

"Too old boy? Nonsense, you're not even thirty. When you've lived as long as I have then you can tell me you're too old, not that I'll be around to hear it mind."

"You know I have a funny feeling you might be." The Captain says, pouring himself another glass of wine.

"Well, I don't intend dying any time soon, I'm having far too much fun living, although I may change my mind if the old wood goes soft, eh? What's the point of being alive if you can't give the fireplace a damn good poke? If that happens you have my full permission to shoot me."

I glance across the table and see Teena rolling her eyes at her husband in mock exasperation.

Three weeks slip by, The Firebrat is fully repaired and I can hardly see where the damage was. We spend ten days at sea tracking down another debtor, and the rest of the time on the island. The admiral suggested that Quint move into Tobias' house as it's much larger than than the one he's currently living in, but to my relief he declined. Although I did help him and some of the other crew clear it out, which was not a pleasant experience, especially revisiting the room I was imprisoned in. But whatever I'm doing, be it sailing, swimming or sorting through the dead captain's belongings I can never quite ignore the gnawing sensation inside of me that is the anticipation of the next freighter raid, and when Quint finally announces that we will be setting sail again for that very purpose it almost comes as a relief.

As I board The Firebrat I find myself wondering if it is going to be for the very last time. I could warn Quint that we're sailing into an ambush, but that would mean having to tell him everything, and I truly don't know what he'd do if he found out I'd been lying to him for these past few months. Still, if it was just a question of me being punished then maybe I'd do it, but if he finds out that we're going to be attacked he'll want to get the first shots in, and although the freighter won't break apart under cannon fire like a wooden ship would it's not unsinkable either and I could well be condemning Vin, Vio and everyone else on board to death.

We don't have the gunship going with us this time, although the Admiral intends to replace Tobias with one of his crew, possibly even Rufus if he recovers, he insists that despite the man's shortcomings he's an excellent sailor. But as no replacement has been decided on yet, and on raids like this the gunship is more for show than anything else the decision was taken to go without it.

Setting sail is second nature to me now and before I know it we're off. We've got a good strong breeze behind us which leaves me with little to do so I climb across to where Tallis is sitting to speak with him. As I approach I think back to the first time I saw him, and the shock I had at seeing another echoback, he's taught me more than just how to sail, and I'll forever be grateful to him.

"Hey, drumeri, good sailing weather today." He says as I balance on the spar beside him.

"Yes, it is." There is so much I want to say I don't even know where to begin.

"It's days like this that make me glad this is the life I chose." He grins into the wind.

"Tallis..." I start.


"Thank you."

"You're welcome, but what for?"

"For teaching me, not just the sailing stuff, but, you know, everything else as well."

He looks at me frowning. "What's brought this on, you haven't been drinking again have you?"

"No, of course not, I just...I didn't know anything about what I was before I met you. The nuns, they kind of tried to pretend I'm human, but I'm not. They always made me being different kind of...shameful I suppose, and after that I think people saw me as something like a living tool, you know, you can climb stuff and see in the dark, come and work for us, and maybe some saw me as, something like an exotic sex toy but I'm not ashamed, or a tool, or a toy, I'm an echoback and you made me proud of that."

He goes quiet for a long while, then wipes his eyes, but that could just be because of the wind.

"So you should be proud drumeri, you're a credit to us, even if you do sometimes make rather questionable decisions." He smiles at me. "And I'm sorry about that Senis business, I should have listened to you. I still can't say I understand your preference for male humans, but than it isn't really isn't any of my business."

"I liked Senis, just not in the way you and her mother were hoping for. Next time you see her send her my love please."

"I will do, but why don't you come with me and do it yourself?"

"I will if I can." I reply, swallowing down a lump in my throat.

"Look drumeri, things are quiet up here, take a break for a bit, you seem like you're in need of it."

"Thanks, I think I'll do that." I say gratefully, if I start to cry in front of him I don't know how I'll explain it.

I climb down to the deck and lean on the rail looking out at the impossibly blue sea and sky, I'm lost in thought when Zizi comes and stands beside me.

"Shouldn't you be up there?" She questions pointing upwards.

"Tallis sent me on a break."

"He's letting you slack off? He must be going soft." She teases.

"You know Zizi, you're the nicest visk I've ever met." I say.

"Hmm, I'm not exactly sure that's a compliment." She muses after a while.

I think about it, she's possibly right, it sounds a bit like I'm telling her she's the best of a bad bunch. "It was meant as one." Fortunately she laughs.

"We're not all awful, even the green ones have a few decent souls among their ranks. It's just that we're raised to compete with one another, to scramble and fight and trample on each other for worth and status, to kick those beneath us while at the same time sucking up to those above us in the hope it'll elevate you further. It's hard to just give up everything you're ever been taught since you hatched and live for yourself. In a way it was easier for me because of the rest of my family being green, I was always going to be the bottom of the heap no matter what I did so I had nothing to lose, but for most visk to loose status is considered worse than death. You can have a glorious death, but if you come to be seen as a nothing the shame will always be there."

"I don't think I understand visk at all." I say.

"I wouldn't expect you to, I don't see that monkeys and lizards have much in common, but that doesn't mean they can't sometimes be friends."

I open the cabin door to find Topher lying naked on his front reading. I let my eyes travel over him enjoying the sight.

"Stop perving monkey." He says without even bothering to look up.

"Why? You look good."

"I do don't I?" He glances over his shoulder at his own body.

I lie down on my bed and watch him, there was a time when I would have gladly never seen him again, but now that's become a very real possibility my chest aches at the thought of it.

"Did you want something?" He asks after a moment.

"Tallis sent me on a break, so I thought I'd come and relive you of your boredom." I try to sound as normal as possible.

"I'm not bored, but if you're suggesting I could be doing something more fun than reading I wouldn't complain, how long is your break?"

"Not sure." I shrug. "He didn't say."

"Then it can be as long as you like." Topher shuts the book, gets up off his bed and climbs onto mine to lie on top of me. I run my hand slowly over his back enjoying the sensation of his warm smooth skin under it while he kisses me. I squeeze his ass which makes him wriggle and grind against me, a small sound escaping from his throat. He breaks the kiss, sitting up and starting to unbutton my shirt, I help keen to be out of my clothes as fast as possible, but I still have to stand up to remove my trousers, I just can't get them over my tail lying on my back. Once I'm stripped I lie back down and he lies on top of me, licking my jaw and ear.

"You should ask Tallis to send you on breaks more often in the future." He says as he bites my neck.

"Mmm." Is all I can reply, I don't want to think about the future, I just want to enjoy now.

"Topher." I say as he starts to kiss a trail down my chest. "You've never fucked me have you?"

"Hmm...no." He's licking my nipple which is making it hard for me to concentrate.

I take a deep breath. "Do you want to?"

He looks up at me. "Do you mean now, or in general?"

"Now." It has to be now.

"We're not allowed to, remember?" He frowns.

"Just this one time, I won't tell the captain if you don't." Up until now we've stuck very strictly to his rule.

He bites his lip, I can see his desire at war with his loyalty to Quint.

"All right." He says eventually. "But if we get caught you're taking the blame."

The size of the bed doesn't leave us much choice of position, and we end up with him backed up against the wall spooning me.

"Are you ready?" He asks breathlessly, stroking the base of my tail.

"Yes, I have been for ages, for the gods sake just put it in." He has spent a very long time fingering me and playing with my tail, he's good with his hands and if he doesn't stop I'm going to come before he's inside me. He goes slow and I almost want to shout at him to hurry up, once he's all the way in he groans. "That feels fucking amazing."

I reach my arm up and thread my fingers through his hair, turning my head I pull him in for a deep kiss while he wraps his arm over my waist and begins to stroke my erection.

"Easy there." I say as he speeds up his hand and starts to thrust into me as much as the space will allow. "I'm very close."

"Me too." He pants.

My tail is wrapped around his leg to help stop me falling off the bed and this gives me the ability to move as well. I match his strokes with my hips, the pressure growing inside me with every move we make.

It's a moment that I wish I could make last forever, but as he digs his fingers into my side and groans my name in the throes of his orgasm mine starts deep inside of me and I spill myself into his stroking hand with a cry of his name.

We lay together for quite some time after and I listen to the sounds of the ship. When I first sailed on The Firebrat I was always aware of the creaking and clinking noises but now I hardly ever notice them at all, they've become such a normal part of my life. Eventually I sit up and start to put my clothes back on reluctantly.

"Stay away from Jasper, remember to say please and thank you sometimes and try not to get yourself in too much trouble and you'll be fine." I say as I button my shirt.

"Huh? What the fuck are you talking about?" He asks sleepily.

"Quint loves you but he won't stand to be made an idiot of by your actions, if you push him too far he might one day actually put you off the ship, if that ever does happen find me."

He looks at me blankly. "Monkey, I think you've spent too much time in the sun today."

I'm fully dressed now, I bend over and kiss him on the mouth, stroking my fingers through his soft hair. "Zizi was right, you're not so bad." I say as I stand up and open the door. He gives me a grin which I return as best I can, then I turn and shut the door behind me, trying to fix the image of him in my mind.

I cross the deck slowly, a horrible churning feeling is building in the pit of my stomach. I can see Quint but he's at the wheel, although even if he wasn't I'm not sure what I would say to him.

I stand and watch the business of the ship going on around me trying to come to a decision. I look at the faces of the Captain and the crew, none of them knowing that we are sailing into an trap.

I'm going to do it. I'm going to tell Quint, to hell with the consequences, I can't let The Firebrat come under attack.

I walk up to the wheel breathing deeply to try and keep my panic at bay, I'm sweating, my heart is hammering and I'm pretty sure any moment I'm going to be sick. Quint spots me and frowns, I suppose he's thinking I should be aloft..

"Captain..." I begin, my voice shaking.

"Exit, I'm busy, is this important?" He grumbles.

I take a breath, but before I can answer him a shout goes up, the freighter has been sighted.

"Get aloft!" Quint barks at me.

"Captain..." I begin again as he turns the wheel to start our path toward the other ship.

"For the god's sake what?" His voice is full of irritation.

I'm about to speak again when a hand falls on my shoulder. "There you are." Tallis says, also sounding displeased. "I sent you on a break not a holiday. Come on, I need your help."

The freighter is getting closer, the crew have shifted the sails and we are moving at a good pace, Tallis grabs me by the arm and starts to pull me away. "Hurry up." He snaps.

I follow him up the rigging feeling numb, I should have just said it but somehow I didn't. He throws me a line and I begin to haul on it, my instincts taking over. The freighter is close enough for me to see people on board now and the deck seems more crowded than last time.

"Take my line!" I shout at Tallis, my heart pounding in my ears.

"Why?" He questions, but does as I ask.

"Sorry!" I yell to him as I descend as rapidly as I can without getting tangled up.

Back on deck Jasper is now at the wheel while Zizi hands out rifles and Quint gives the orders for the delicate operation of getting us along side the larger ship.

I stand still for a moment, this is it, I've made my choice. "Captain!" I shout to get his attention, he turns to look at me, then throws me an annoyed "I'm busy" gesture and turns away.

"Captain." I run over and stand beside him. "It's an ambush."

He stops and stares at me. "What did you just say?" He asks quietly.

"It's an ambush." I tell him again, my whole body shaking.

"And how would you know that?" His voice is pure, quite menace.

We're now almost along side the huge grey ship and out of the corner of my eye I can see the crew readying the ropes to throw across.

"I'll explain later." I glance at the freighter, whose crew are now standing at the rail. "Please, they're armed and they're going to attack us." I say desperately pointing at the ship.

"Is this true?" He stares at me and all I can do is nod.

"You fucking treacherous bastard." He says, his voice almost a whisper, then turns his back on me and starts shouting orders.

I run to the rail and only just make it in time to vomit over the side, and as I'm coughing up the last of the contents of my stomach the men on the freighter start swarming over the ropes onto the ship.

All hell breaks loose, shots are fired from both sides as the invaders attempt to take over The Firebrat. I stand rooted to the spot almost hoping that a bullet will hit me, because if I live through this Quint is almost certain to keel haul me, or worse, although all I can think is that whatever happens to me I deserve it, I've somehow managed to betray everyone. A hand suddenly grabs me by the shirt and pulls me backwards.

"Exit, come on, get out of here." I look round to see Vin, pistol in hand nodding toward the ropes connecting the two ships.

"Don't shoot anyone, please." I say, knowing how stupid this sounds.

"Hey, monkey!" A hoarse voice comes from behind me, and I look round to see Jasper aiming a rifle at me. "Always fucking knew there was something going on you, couldn't put my finger on it until now. You know what we do to traitors don't you, shall I save Quint a job?"

Without warning a shot explodes from behind me and Jasper's head fountains with blood as he drops to the deck.

"You killed Jasper!" I exclaim to Vin as he lowers his gun.

"I saved your life." He says flatly. "Now go, I didn't come all the way out here to bring a corpse back with me."

We start toward the ropes, men fighting all around us when Quint steps into our path and points a rifle at Vin's head.

"Where are you going with my pet?" He asks almost casually.

"I'm taking my agent back to where he belongs." Vin replies, training his gun on the Captain.

"Don't shoot him!" I shout in desperation, not even knowing which one I'm addressing.

Vin is standing close enough behind me for me to feel the bunching of his muscles as he prepares to pull the trigger and without thinking I grab his arm with both hands and pull it downwards. I hear the shot and for a fraction of a second I wonder if he did manage to hit Quint, then the pain comes. It was so close range that the bullet has torn through my thigh and out the other side, and my leg is gushing bright scarlet blood from the wound. I collapse onto the deck unable to stand and barely able to comprehend what has happened, my vision starts to blur and the last thing I hear before I lose consciousness is someone shouting that they need help before I bleed to death.

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