Hidden Pages – Chapter 37 – A Fiery Arrival


The guns on her father’s ship didn’t blow Beth out of the water. It would have been foolish for them to try. Ships guns weren’t designed to fire at targets as small as a single person. That’s what the muskets the crew carried were for.

Fortunately the crew didn’t shoot her either, though Lagressa and Starshine had more to do with that than any clever plot weaving or negotiating in Beth’s part.

Climbing a rope onto a moving ship turned out to be drastically more difficult than Beth had imagined. Even lifting herself up would have been a struggle, but with the rushing water pulling her backwards as the ship surged through the ocean waves, Beth quickly found herself questioning why she’d ever thought a brute force solution to her problems was a good idea.

Lagressa and Starshine had the answer for that.

Lagressa was built to more-than-human specifications and made the climb look effortless. One moment she was bobbing above the waves and the next she floated up the line and landed on the deck with a flourish that would have done a ballroom dancer proud.

Starshine, on the other hand, made up for her still-human limitations with spunk and gumption. Where Lagressa had joined the adventure out of a mixture of curiosity and desire for companionship, Starshine was in it for the thrill of the adventure. And it showed.

Monkeys would have climbed the ropes with more caution and less wild hollering than Starshine did. She landed on the deck with her makeshift pistols drawn and a wild gleam in her eyes that begged for the opportunity to start shooting. There was zero possibility than a real pair of pistols from the time period could have survived a trip under the waves and still been ready to fire, but Starshine’s were at best visual facsimiles of Beth’s poor description of a pistol. Their inner workings had little to do with black powder and would have survived if they’d been submerged in lava or liquid nitrogen as easily as they withstood the rigors of a little cold water.

The sailors turned on the two women when they appeared on deck, intending to repel the surprise boarders. Before any of them could run afoul of Lagressa’s claws or Starshine’s pinpoint accuracy though a larger problem emerged.

Beth felt the narrative shift a moment before the fireball erupted from the gun emplacement near the ship’s prow.

A cannon had gotten in a lucky shot and touched off the powder store that was being used to fuel the forward cannon. It could happen in any battle, a voice whispered.

But it shouldn’t have happened in with Beth’s father onboard.

Beth felt the Unread closing tight around her. Someone was speaking about the sort of damage that shipboard explosions did. Fire was just as dangerous on the ocean as it was on land. And the shrapnel. Sailors were more likely to be killed or permanently wounded by pieces of jagged wood flying around at hundreds of miles per hour than by the impact of the cannonball itself. One good hit like what the pursuing ship had suffered could do more than disable it. Ships had been sunk with all hands lost by lesser impacts.

There should have been a counter narrative, but all Beth could hear was the whispering french voice from the lead ship as it suggested ever worse turns of fate.

“No,” she said aloud. Plenty of ships made it through single catastrophes. The people on her father’s ship knew what they were doing. These were people who spent their whole lives on the water. They knew how to deal with fires and damage, how to secure the injured, and how to manage the ship despite the damage done to the sails and lines.

A new voice bellowed from the deck in French. It had a commanding boom completely unlike the whisperers and it got people in motion. There was another explosion but this one was well off the ship’s deck. Beth looked up to see Lagressa shielding herself from the debris of the flaming powderkeg which she’d hurled off the ship’s deck.

Then she felt herself being hauled upwards. Lagressa was assisting the crew, so Starshine was assisting Beth.

Even with the language barrier in place, the sailors seemed to understand that the new arrivals were friendly forces, if for no other reason that Lagressa was helping them fight the fires that had broken out, so they didn’t bother trying to interfere with Starshine’s work.

Beth was able to pay enough attention to what was going on aboard the ship to work out that much. Beyond that though her attention was focused on the Unread. The whisperer was still weaseling the narrative to sink her ship, so she struck back.

The lead ship had been firing awfully fast. Cannons didn’t do well with overuse, especially not ones made from the metals available in the 1400s. All sorts of things could go wrong with a cannon that was overheated. From cracks in the metal, to  breach fires, on up to complete detonations of the cannon itself.

Beth heard a distant explosion, this one from the ship in the lead.

The Unread seemed to find explosions during ship battles at sea perfectly appropriate, almost asking for an excuse to have some more occur.

“Keep pushing me,” Beth said to her hidden foe. “Let’s see how that goes for you.”

Starshine hauled her over ocean the ocean-slicked railing and Beth wasted no time getting to her feet.

“Thank you! Now we need to find my Dad!” she said and launched herself down to the main deck, where she knew he had to be.

The sea salt air was choked with the smell of burnt gunpowder and ashes. That was good, wonderful even. It covered the smell of the blood the deck was splattered with.

Someone had been at the fore gun when its powderkeg was hit. Several someones judging from the carnage.

Beth felt her heart clench and then beat again when she saw her father lying at the far back corner of the deck. He wasn’t covered in blood but his wife shirt was dirty grey with smoke and ash. He’d been close enough to the explosion to be stunned but had been spared any injuries like she had been back in the port town they had left behind.

She rushed to him in time to see him shake his head and blink his eyes. For a second he blinked at her, his eyes struggling to focus. Once they did, he blinked again in confusion.

“Beth?” he asked. “How did you get here?”

“Spaceship,” she said knowing that elaborating anymore would take much too long.

The French whispering had turned angry. Or angrier. Behind them a storm rose up. Not impossibly fast, but that didn’t mean there was anything natural about it.

“De Rais has a hand on the central thread,” her father said. “We’re going to be lucky to survive this.”

“That’s no problem,” Beth said. “We make our own luck right?”