Catching up to two ships leaving port would have been a lot easier without all the cannon fire Beth decided.
“Why do they both seem to be firing upon us?” Lagressa asked, as she hauled on the lines to send the small sloop careening in a new direction.
“Oh, we’re lucky there,” Starshine said. “We’re not getting even half of the fire. All of the little shots that are landing over here are coming from the ship in front. They’re targeting systems must be completely offline if they’re spraying and praying like that.”
“These are ancient sailing ships,” Beth said. “Their targeting systems are the gunners deciding when to touch a flame to the cannon.” She wasn’t sure what era the ships actually belonged to but something made her wonder if they were entirely ‘period accurate’. With her father being a history professor, she was a little better versed in World History than the rest of her classmates but knowing all the fine details took either a real scholar or access to the internet.
“How do they account for the rolling of the waves then?” Starshine asked. She’d been true to her word about being able to pilot the boat. Doing it alone was another matter though. They’d barely splashed down into the water when she’d started calling out orders for Lagressa and Beth to raise the sails and get them going. Sailing was a complicated business, and they didn’t have the proper vernacular to reference the tasks, but Starshine’s preternatural talents allowed her to direct them efficiently nonetheless.
“I think they guess and hope,” Beth said, tying a rope around a peg that Starshine directed her to. The knot was one she’d never tied before, and wasn’t sure she could manage again, but with Starshine’s directions Beth had it cinched fast enough to do a real sailor proud.
“They need to start guessing better then,” Starshine said, leaning on the rudder to slew then around. “If they were hitting what they were aiming for, the big ship in the back would be blocking more of the shots for us.”
“That’s the ship that I think my Dad is on,” Beth said. “So I’m all for the lead ship missing if you don’t mind.”
Beth tried listening to the Unread again. The great narrative they were sailing away from was one of war and turmoil. It boomed with the force of volcanoes erupting. Against that backdrop, the fight between the two sailing ships was easily lost. A firecracker attached to a keg of dynamite.
It felt like her father should be present, but she could get a sense of him shaping the smaller narrative of the ship battle that was playing out in the Unread. That alone made her hesitate to suggest many alterations to what was occurring. She had the idea for a giant squid to rise up and swallow de Rais ship, or, if that was too much, a simple accident in the ship’s powder bin. Those did happen and she was pretty sure even a monster like de Rais would have issues with his boat being blasted into kindling while he was on it.
But her father, if he was present, hadn’t done that already. So she waited too.
Maybe too long.
One of the stray shots clipped the edge of the sloop. Beth had been trying to add a thread to the tale that allowed their boat to pass through the cannon fire unharmed. They were a small, fast craft. The ocean was a huge place, even the little bit of outside the harbor. The realistic odds of a cannonball fired at someone else hitting them should have been remote.
Even small odds can turn against you though. Or be turned.
An instant before the cannonball hit, Beth thought that she heard another voice whispering. It was low, and cold, and speaking in French. She didn’t need to understand the words to grasp their intent though.
History is a tapestry of accidents and tragedies. The odds of one shot hitting a small boat were low, but there were many cannons being fired at once.
And if the sloop was destroyed…
Beth couldn’t quite follow that. Things would be quiet? They would dissolve? Neither idea captured the sentiment properly, and Beth couldn’t understand how it was adding to the ship battle story.
Then she didn’t have time to think about anything but the chilly water that was trying to pull her under.
The shot on the boat wrecked its port side and flipped the craft up enough that Beth was launched overboard. The world went end over end and then everything was water with no particular direction having a better claim on “up” than any other.
Drowning’s not going to kill me, Beth told herself, fighting back the instinctive terror that clutched her heart. She was still within the Unread. Nothing could really hurt her here. Probably.
She still didn’t want to let the ocean claim her though.
And neither did Lagressa.
Before Beth could try to strike out in a direction she hoped was towards the surface, she saw a lithe, aquatic figure knifing through the night blackened waters, hands gleaming with light.
From the space suits they were wearing.
Apparently those worked just fine if no one was around to see them.
Lagressa spotted her the moment Beth deployed her own suit, the automated sequence creating a bubble around her head and filling it with air fast enough to make Beth’s ears pop.
“You two doing ok down there?” Starshine asked.
“Yeah,” Beth said. “You’re space suits are top notch.”
“Never understood people who skimped on those,” Starshine agreed.
“Can you swing around and pick us up?” Beth asked.
“We’re missing a good chunk of the boat,” Starshine said. “I think I can manage ‘not sinking’ with maybe a ‘limp back to shore’ thrown in for good measure.”
Beth knew that would be the safest play. If there was someone in the game would could alter the narrative like she could, then there could be considerable danger in continuing the chase.
But her father was on board the pursuing ship. She knew he was. With her perspective from outside the theater of engagement she could feel two story threads coiling against one another and one of them was being whispered in a warm, familiar voice.
“Running would be smart,” Beth said. “But I’ve got an idea for how we can catch them. Can you make it down here to us?”
“Sure,” Starshine said. “Sinking is the easy part.”
“Good,” Beth said, as an underwater riptide started to pull them towards ships faster than the wind was blowing.