Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 34

It's unmistakeably the freighter, through Tallis' telescope I can even see people on board, although I can't make out their faces, from here they just look like moving dots. I remember when I was stood on the freighters deck in my sailor's uniform watching The Firebrat approach in silence. The large sailing ship had seemed to loom out of the sea with an air of menace then, now it's the sight of the solid black steamer that's making me nervous.

It turns out the hard part for us is to actually get along side of it. The ship is as busy as I've ever seen it as everyone works together pulling on the lines to move the sails keeping us heading in the right direction. The Captain is at the wheel and Zizi is shouting a constant stream of orders. The only person not doing anything is Topher, who's standing at the rail watching the freighter as we draw closer to it.

I stop what I'm doing for a moment to look at him and feel slightly resentful at the ship being sighted just at the moment we were about to head back to our cabin together. Although it could have been worse, if we had already been in there and Tallis came to find me, especially if he just walked in without knocking, that could have been very embarrassing.

"Drumeri, stop daydreaming and get over here now!" His voice pulls me back from thoughts of what Topher and I could be doing right now, and I jump across the rigging to him.

"This is the tricky bit, we need to come along side them without damaging our ship, get on that line there." He points to a rope about six feet away. "But don't do any thing until we get the signal from below."

Eventually we manage to position ourselves side on to the freighter, close up I can see that it's about a third longer than we are but its smoke stacks are nowhere near as high as the top of our rigging. The sails themselves have been taken in to keep us from drifting and ropes are being thrown across to the other ship, and once they are secured some of the crew climb over to the freighter. I drop down to the deck and watch as rope ladders get thrown between the two ships for the freighter's crew to cross over to The Firebrat. The first of the sailors start to make their way carefully over the ladders and I stare at each one of them in turn looking for anyone I know. Some of them seem familiar from the short time I spent on the ship, but none of them are the people I'm looking for. Then suddenly I spot a head of white blond hair and see Vio climbing slowly and carefully across. As she scrambles on to The Firebrat I desperately want to run over and hug her, but I know it would be a beyond stupid thing to do and I stay put. I can see her scanning the pirate crew until she catches sight of me. I step forward a little so she can see me better, so much is going on around us that no one's really paying any attention to me, and I doubt a single person notices when she gives me a small relived grin, holds her hands up to her chest and quickly signs "hello monkey boy". I smile back at her and when she turns her head to look at someone behind I look too, and find myself staring into a pair of green eyes.

The strangeness of seeing Vin here roots me to the spot and it takes one of our crew walking into me and grumbling to himself about people not looking where they are going to remind me not to act as if I know any of the freighter's crew. Vin gives me a small crooked smile and I almost forget myself again, but Zizi comes up and thrusts a handful of short pieces of rope at me and tells me to start binding our prisoner's hands. She then gives a short speech telling them that they're going to be our "guests" for a few days and as long as they behave themselves they won't be hurt.

I head straight for Vin and Vio with the ropes. "Hands behind your backs." I order, and I can see them both trying very hard not to smile.

"How are you?" Vio asks quietly as I tie a knot around her wrists.

"I'm fine." I reply, not sure what else to say.

"Can you leave my smokes and matches on me? Three days without them last time and I was ready to commit fucking murder."

"Will do." I murmur. Zizi didn't tell me to search them so it's not like I'm disobeying orders. I move onto Vin's wrists. "It's good to see you in one piece, we've been worried." He say quietly.

It's been so long since I heard his voice that it sends a shiver through me, and I tie his wrists as loosely as I can get away with.

"Exit, hurry up. Tallis isn't going to be testing you on the quality of your knots, just get them bound." Zizi shouts at me from across the deck.

"I'll visit you in the gaol tonight." I say softly, and reluctantly move away from them to start on some of the others.

Once I've finished the Captain comes down to address them, and I recall that it was at this point when I was first on The Firebrat that Quint noticed me and my life changed.

As I'm stood watching the speech Topher comes and stands beside me. "I saw what you were doing there." He whispers into my ear.

"What do you mean?" I try and say as levelly as I can, my heart suddenly beating faster and my palms becoming damp.

"Going straight for the sexy redhead, can't blame you, he's fucking gorgeous. Not as nice as the Captain though." He adds hurriedly.

I realise he's looking at Vin as he says this, and Vin's looking back at the two of us, and I can see the slightest hint of a smile on his lips.

"He's smiling at me." Topher says in a pleased voice.

"No he's not." He's smiling at me.

"He smiling at me, why would he want to smile at a monkey?"

I wonder if Topher would be so keen on Vin if he knew that he had fought against Surosa in the war?

As the freighter heads off toward Kipp to have its cargo unloaded we make ready to sail again.

"Ugly things steam ships aren't they?" Tallis says, watching it go. "I can see how they're practical, but what skill is their in sailing them? Those men." He gestures to the captured crew below us. "Will never know how it feels to truly be a sailor, to understand the moods of a ship or learn to detect a change in the weather from nothing more than a tingle on the back of the neck."

I look down at the captured crew sat on the deck with their hands tied behind them. Captain Hyde is among them, I remember the evening I ate dinner with him and Vio in his cabin.

"I may not like Quint's motives for taking you, but he saved you from a lifetime of monotony." He adds.

We move across the rigging, unfurling the sails and when we've done with the last one I look down again to see Vin and Vio directly below me, Tallis puts his fingers in his mouth and whistles the signal that we're finished, and the noise causes the two of them to look upwards. They spot me and I have to strongly resist the temptation to wave at them. Both of them stare up at me, Vin says something to Vio which makes her laugh and shake her head, I would give anything to know what he just said.

"Drumeri, what's wrong with you today? Stop dallying and come here." Tallis' voice shouts out from above me, and I climb up to join him.

The journey back to Nightport only takes a few hours, I think back to the last time I made it, chained up to what was to become my bed with Topher making his feelings about me being there very clear. It seemed to take a lot longer then, when all I could do was lie on the bunk and wonder what was going to happen to me. Once we've docked in the harbour the freighter's crew are rounded up and marched off to the town hall gaol. I watch as my boss and my partner disappear off through the doors, and once they've gone the fact of then really being here hits me.

"Have you ever been in the gaol?" Topher asks me as we walk past on our way back to the house.

"No, why would I have been in there?" I lie.

"It's really damp and smelly, and not very big. The Captain showed it to me when I first came to live here."

"Lucky thing." I mutter sarcastically.

"What the fucks up with you?"


"Well something has got you acting moody."

"Yeah, you'd be the expert on that." I'm not being moody, not really, not compared to him.

"Fuck off!" He sounds hurt.

We walk in silence for a bit, then I start to feel bad. It's not his fault that my colleges are in the gaol, or that I just don't know what to do. I have to try and visit them tonight, and I very much want to see them, but I know what they are going to want me to do. They are going to want me to get proof of the pirates links to the cartel, and I have an awful choice to make. Do I betray Quint and everyone else here, or do I turn my back on my job and my life in Parnell?

I look at Topher who glares at me. "Sorry." I say.


We reach the house and let ourselves in, the maid has left some salad out for an early dinner on the dining room table, and we both head straight for it.

"Do you want to go swimming after we've eaten?" I ask him to try and make up.

"You shouldn't swim straight after eating, you get cramps." He still sounds sulky, he's really no good at being on the receiving end of someone else's bad mood.

"All right, do you want to go to the beach and when enough time has passed since we ate, then go swimming."

"It'll be getting dark by then."

"Fine, lets stay here." I give up.

"No, I want to go to the beach, as long as you're not too much of a moody monkey."

The sun is hanging low in the sky by the time we make it to the beach. Quint returned home while we were eating, he had some news, we're shipping out again day after tomorrow. The cartel wants us to deal with some smugglers who are operating just up the coast from Kipp. Apparently customs haven't managed to capture them and the cartel just want us to blow them out of the water when we find them. I asked what would happen to them if we sink their ship and the Captain explained that they would most likely all be killed, as that's what the cartel want. So we will be responsible for a dozen or so deaths. I don't like this.

"Brought your bathing suit?" Topher teases me as I start to unbutton my shirt.

"Maybe I should ask Magda to make me one." I come back.

"With a hole in the the back for this weird thing." He laughs, stepping behind me and wrapping his hand around my tail, his fingers going straight for the sensitive underside.

"For a weird thing you like to touch it a lot." I say, turning my head and kissing him on the mouth. He responds by putting one arm around my waist and pulling me closer, deepening the kiss. I suddenly feel him pulling away from me with a shout, I open my eyes and look round to see Tobias dragging him backward by his hair, when he shouts out in protest again the man's fist slams hard into the side of his head, and the sound of the impact is awful.

"What the fuck...put him down!" I shout at Quint's brother, as a pair of hands grab me roughly by the wrist and tail, bending one arm behind my back painfully. I whip my head around to see Rufus' bearded face sneering at me. "Don't struggle monkey, you'll only make it worse for yourself." He laughs.

Despite his warning I try to kick backwards at him, my foot makes contact with his shin, and he grunts, but without shoes I can't do as much damage as I'd like, and he lets go of my tail and hits me in the side of my face. I taste blood and for a moment everything goes grey and fuzzy.

"Try that again and you'll feel this." As my vision returns I see him holding a short knife up in front of of my face, the sinking orange sun flashing off its blade.

"Tie his hands and let's go." Tobias passes his first mate what looks like a thick leather leash that he binds tightly around my wrists, but I'm more concerned about Topher. Tobias is holding him up by the arms none to gently, but his eyes are closed and his body is worryingly limp.

"Let him go, he's hurt." I shout to Tobias as Rufus starts to push me toward the scrubby trees at the edge of the beach.

"Shut up, or Rufus will shut you up." Tobias spits at me, walking backwards dragging Topher behind him as he goes.

"What are doing with us? Captain Quint's going to find out." I risk saying, which results Rufus pushing me hard from behind, sending me sprawling into the stony ground. He watches as I struggle to my feet, my knees stinging from the impact.

"My brother is a weak man who happily lets his pets run wild. I however am not, in the event of another captain's crew member, or pet, being caught breaking the rules, any captain, or first mate has the right, indeed the obligation to punish them." He stays all this while still pulling the unconscious Topher along. I thank the gods that unlike me he wears shoes, or his feet would be raw and bleeding by now.

"Punished for what?" I ask, and get another push from Rufus, this time I manage to stay on my feet.

"You think pets are allowed to grope each other whenever they feel like it? My brother may not have taught you our rules, but ignorance of the law is no defence."

We arrive at the back of Tobias' house, it's much larger than Quint's, and similar in style to the Admiral's mansion. Tobias manhandles Topher inside, who seems to have regained consciousness and is looking around dazed. Rufus roughly prods me through the doorway behind them and then we're both forced up a set of narrow back stairs, Topher moving on his own again but seeming to almost be sleepwalking. Halfway down a dimly lit hallway Tobias unlocks a door then pushes Topher into the room beyond, I follow with Rufus at my back.

Inside is a large sparsely furnished room. Two small iron framed beds are placed at right angles to one another against the walls, and on them lie Alpha and Beta, both of whom look up at the intrusion. It's immediately clear that they are both chained to their bed's by their collars, and between the beds sits a metal bucket that's smell gives away its contents. Other than the beds I can see a single chest of draws, and an unlit oil lamp hangs from the ceiling. The window is barred and the floor is nothing but bare boards. Tobias goes over to the draws, pulls out two more lengths of chain and some padlocks and brings them over to us. He unties my hands and grabs my wrist, pulling it toward him and looking at my silver cuff.

"What does my faggot brother think he's playing at with these things?" He shows it to Rufus, twisting my arm around to do so. "He may as well just put diamond bracelets on them." The bearded man laughs at this.

"What's going to happen when Captain Quint comes looking for us?" I say as he pushes me to the floor and attaches the chain to one of the girls beds.

"What makes you think he'd look here?" Tobias sneers as he starts on Topher, clicking the padlock shut on the second chain. "Tomorrow the two of you will be taken to my ship, and given the cat in front of my crew. All proper and above board, so there's nothing my lovely brother can complain about. Twenty lashes each should do, I think that's fair, and in the interests of fairness I'll have Rufus carry it out."

I look at the red haired man, who gives me an evil grin. He's not small and I suspect he'll put his full strength behind it.

"Topher's only seventeen." I say.

"You got proof of that monkey?" Rufus asks casually. "'Cos he looks eighteen to me, what do you think Captain?"

"Most certainly eighteen, unless you can produce one of his parents to say otherwise, he gets the cat."

"Are my parents here?" Topher asks looking around confused, Tobias must have hit him in the head really hard.

"Yeah, your mummy and daddy have come to take you back to their palace." Rufus sniggers.

"Shut the fuck up!" I shout at him, realising my mistake before it's even out of my mouth. He steps toward me and kicks me hard in the ribs, pain shudders through me and for a moment I can't breath. I cough trying to fill my lungs again and they both laugh.

"Goodnight boys, sleep well." Tobias says in a sing song voice. "And if either of you so much as lays a finger on one my girls it's forty lashes.

They both leave the room and I hear the snick of a key turning in the lock. Once I'm sure they're out of earshot I softly ask Topher if he's all right.

"My head hurts and I don't know where I am." He replies after a moment, I try to reach him but even with the chain stretched to it's fullest he's too far away.

"Are you bleeding?" I question him.

"What do you mean?" He comes back, sounding muddled.

"Your head, is it bleeding? Touch it, is it wet?"

"Touch what?"

I look at the girl on the bed he's chained to, it's the brunette one. "Please, can you check if his head is bleeding for me?" I ask her, she looks at me but doesn't move.

"They've gone, please, I need to know how badly he's hurt." I try again.

"Lottie, do it for him, the dark one is injured and he's worried." A whispered voice from the bed I'm chained to says.

"I can't, he'll know." The brunette replies without emotion.

"I want to go to sleep, I'm tired." Topher suddenly says, then lies down curls into a ball on the bare floor. Even I know people with head injuries shouldn't be allowed to sleep, and I call out his name desperately trying to stop him, but get no response.

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