and The Pirates of the Mystic Caravan.
Chapter 2 - Buster
It was just another New Year, except for one soft voice in the dark of night during a three day sleep-over of the BlackEagle Girls at Monique's new home not many days after she and her parents had moved in.
'Buster has found your target and is waiting. You go tomorrow around midnight. Four hours maximum to get the goodies. And don't forget, I'll be right there with you all the way.'
Priscilla rubbed her eyes in the gloom as the three dimensional box that was a template of the Black Eagle and a communication device neatly folded back into its anonymous flat, metallic shape. Nearby in the darkened guests bedroom, Belinda snuffled into her pillow and Surban tossed uncomfortably beneath a single sheet. Monique's bedroom was next door, and for a moment Priscilla was tempted to sneak in and wake her with the news, but thought better of it, not wanting to disturb her or Narenda, who was also bunking there.
Umm, thanks Harry. Well at least it's going to happen while we're altogether. But I guess you managed to get that sorted somehow. Now all we have to do tomorrow night is pretty straight-forward really: Dress in the dark without disturbing Moni's Mum and Dad, watch over Surban while she gets taken for her first Dream Ride, get into the Black Eagle and off we go to find this Buster character and a ship run by pirates. After that it's just plain sailing. Get on board, continue to convince Surban it's all a dream, get her to find where she hid what-ever-it-is she hid and get out of there before dawn so that we can all be back in our beddies and waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed. No sweat! Wait til I tell the girls in the morning.
Priscilla tucked the metal plate away into her carry-all and settled down.
Sleep, must get some sleep, it's gonna be a long night tomorrow.
The Black Eagle hovered above restless, dark waters. Beams that might have been some kind of infra-red lights, except that they were orange, played out across the rolling waves from beneath its floor, and those within traced these wandering paths through the viewing panels as they probed the sea.
'Where are we, like exactly?' asked Priscilla.
' "Like exactly" is a little difficult to plot,' came Harry's voice from an internal speaker. 'On the border of the Andaman Sea is my best guess. Up north is Burma and south-east lies the Malay Peninsular and further down, Sumatra. Between these two land masses sweeps the Malacca Strait. Buster says that's where your pirate ship is now prowling. It picked up cargo at Port Dickson and is heading north toward us, probably bound for Rangoon or somewhere along the Malay coast. And no, she doesn't know what the cargo is, although it's probably laced with all kinds of illegal stuff. But she does confirm that the ship Surban knew as the Han Maru, is now the Koto Star.'
'How can this Buster know that?' asked Priscilla.
'Told you. She's pretty good with bottoms. You can change flags and paint jobs and all that stuff above the waterline, but you can't change the underwater hull of a ship, at least not to someone like Buster. She knows barnacles and limpets and rust and scale and the beat of the screws that are the hardware of all vessels. Besides, she's one of us, doing lonely, boring duty in the ocean, working daily to ensure... '
'Save us the hearts and flowers Harry.' said Priscilla, 'You guys have your own reasons for what you do and how you... '
'Look down there!' Narenda cut in, pointing at a large dark form sliding along beneath the turbulent surface. 'My goodness! What is it?'
The shadowy creature rolled several times, then descended rapidly beyond vision and reappeared again in the blink of an eye, surging through the water at a rapid pace. In the pale orange light it seemed to be a violet colour, then crimson as it broke the surface and dived again.
'That's my girl! Yowell!' Harry yodelled. 'We're on course! All we have to do now is follow.'
'Excuse me Master Harry,' said Belinda, putting an arm about Surban, who seemed to be in silent shock, but what is Buster?'
'Buster? Aw, she's a Sousa Plumbea. Ya know, related to the Chinensis who kick around in these waters. She has a sometime-pod way up north and west that range the east coast of Africa, but she often gets out on her own. I asked her to do a little research and she obliged. What else do you guys need to know?' said Harry's voice. 'Buster is my pal, although it's been a long while between sardines. So, she swims about a bit, and she keeps track of what's moving around. That's how she knows about ship's hulls and where they come from and who they are and who they were. There are other ways of finding out where your pirates are, but this is the most straight forward. She'll track us to your vessel, sure as the crow flies, even if they've repainted, changed rig, altered registration and had a new hair-do. Right now we gotta get after her. Settle down and hold tight!'
'Buster is a Sousa Plumbea!' said Belinda Moss as the Black Eagle rose rapidly into the clouded night sky.
'I have to ask what that is?' asked Monique, securing Surban, who now seemed completely submissive, onto a comfortable couch.
'Oh, they are hump-backed dolphins, but from my studies there is little known about them. They live in the Indian Ocean and roam from the southern tip of India to the Malacca Straits. I can't tell you much more,' offered Belinda as the Black Eagle changed direction and the forward thrust forced the girls back onto their couches.
'This is the closest we can get to below?' asked Priscilla, as the group stared out of the viewing windows of the Black Eagle at the gloomy, rain-misted stern of the Han Maru, now re-birthed as the Koto Star.
'What would you like,' came Harry's voice, 'breakfast in the morning with the Captain in his cabin? Come on guys, give a dog a bone. I can't send the Black Eagle down the companion-ways. This is your base here at the back of the bus. When you hit the deck there's only for'ard. Ho-ho me hearties, a bottle o' rum on a dead man's chest. Harrhh!'
'Don't you give us 'Harrhh!' Harry, or it will be a dead dog's chest when we get back,' said Belinda, pulling on a wet-weather jacket. 'You're fine at home, and we are here where it is wet and rather dark outside.'
'What do you think,' asked Narenda of Surban, who seemed transfixed, her hand resting on the glassy surface of the viewing port.
'Surban cannot think. This is not... cannot be true. Must be dream in Surban's head. Is dream. Yes! Surban wake soon.'
'Yes.This is your dream!' exclaimed Priscilla. 'And we need you in it Surban! You have to take us below, to where you and your folks were, to where you hid the goodies.'
'Yes Surban, do make yourself please get real, even if it is unreal,' Narenda added, while a panel slid open and the mist was blown back by the warmth of the Black Eagle's interior.
'It's all going to be a snap,' came Harry's voice from Monique's Hand Activator as the group stepped out onto the slippery deck, 'sea's a bit choppy, but all you have to do is keep your footing and help Surban find her hidden treasure. Don't forget to... '
'Yes Harry, we do have it sorted,' interrupted Belinda. 'Surban, with Priscilla and Narenda go below, and Monique and I stay up here to keep a look-out and... oh dear, here comes a man with a very big gun!'
'Where the heck did he come from?' said Priscilla, pulling both Surban and Narenda down behind a bulk-head as the shrouded gunman swayed along the gently heaving deck, puffing heavily on a cigarette cupped in his hand, his automatic weapon swinging from the sling about his shoulder.
'Don't forget to keep your Activators on Silent and Invisible modes,' croaked Harry.
'Like as if we haven't? Otherwise that big palooka would've heard you coaching and we'd already be dead meat!' hissed Priscilla, as the man turned, spat over the railing, flicked the glowing butt into the rain and ambled back, smearing the back of his hand across his eyes.
'Come on Surban, all we have to do is get downstairs. We can dodge around this bloke while he's trying to stay awake. Let's get moving.'
Between them Priscilla and Narenda managed to steer Surban between piles of garbage, broken glass and rolling beer cans until they came to a companionway leading below decks.
Priscilla, daring to venture down, spied out the way beyond. 'Very narrow, wouldn't want to be squeezed by somebody coming past, even if they can't see us. So far so good! Come on Narenda, Surban. Now it's up to you girl. It's your call Surban. Where do we go from here?'
Surban stumbled down the metal steps, wandered forward a few paces and then slumped back against Priscilla. 'I do not know. How can Surban know? Family were crowded in ship and kept in place somewhere down here. We must go on. If dream, we must still go on. Surban is not believer of this dream, but come, I do not know this place, must be where we were further on.'
The three girls threaded their way forward along the narrow passage, between steel containers and metal stanchions until, swinging around a bend, they were suddenly confronted by another gun-bearing pirate.
'Back up, back up fast!' said Priscilla, who was in the lead. 'We can't get around him and he's coming through! Find a place to stick your bums quick!'
The man, looming along the corridor, suddenly stopped, his automatic weapon swinging to a halt, the barrel coming to rest against Narenda's ear where she cowered in a fire-hose alcove behind Priscilla and Surban.
'Oh, his gun is cold and if it goes off I will be too,' shivered Narenda.
'Don't panic. Stay still. Just stay still! He doesn't know we're here. He'll move in a minute,' whispered Priscilla, carefully drawing Surban past her but still keeping hold of Narenda.
'He is moving, and now I have the gun almost in my mounmmphh! Ohhh!'
Narenda was shaking so hard that Priscilla had to take hold of her neck and release Surban. 'It's O.K. Narenda, he's going, you're alright, you're alright, Surban! Stay here! Don't go wandering off on your own!'
'Surban does not like this dream. Want to get away. Want to wake up.' The girl began to stumble blindly ahead.
'Bugger! Come on Narenda, get your act together! We can't let Surban out of our sight!'
There came a confusion of voices over the Hand Activator that Narenda carried: 'What is happening? Priscilla?' from Monique, with Belinda in the background, 'Is Narenda alright?' and Harry cutting in, 'Come on both of you, don't let Surban out of your sight. She still thinks this is a dream!'
'Can't talk now!' shouted Priscilla, dragging Narenda with her as they dashed around a corner and glimpsed Surban struggling between stacks of piled bales in an open area of the hold.
'The Hand Activator field might not cover her if she gets too far away,' came Harry's faint voice.
'Going as fast as we ca... ommphh!' Priscilla tripped on a loose rung and crashed amongst some sacks.
'Priscilla! Are you alright?' said Narenda, turning back.
'Yeah, sure, scraped my knee. You've got the Activator, keep going. Go on! Follow her, I'll catch up!'
Narenda hesitated for a moment, then set off after Surban.
Priscilla could hear a dwindling squabble of voices issuing from the Activator as Narenda raced ahead, then only the sound of the ship's bilge plugging away and the faint surge of water against the hull. The pungent smell of oil and rust, and spices and fish assailed her nostrils as she rubbed at her throbbing knee before dragging herself upright. Come on dopey, get moving, don't let a couple of scratches...
A dulled sound, sharp and repeated several times, echoing from somewhere above, got her moving even faster than she thought she could with a bruised and bloodied knee.
Priscilla pounded between the hills of bales, her heart thumping as further sounds above continued: Dock-dock-dock! Dock! Batt! Batt-Batt! Dock!
She rounded a last stack, found herself staring at another dirty companionway and launched herself through. Ahead, in the dull yellow light of the caged electric globes she saw, between tall storage cylinders, both girls grappling with a vent enclosure just above their heads.
Another burst of staccato chattering from the decks above and then a sound like a sky-rocket exploding was all that was needed to get Priscilla limping to where the others were, still struggling to rip off the outer casing.
From the Activator Narenda clutched, Priscilla heard Harry's voice, 'You're about to be boarded! Get out! Get off! This is Harry! I'm over-riding everybody. Priscilla, bring your girls back to the Black Eagle now! Monique, Belinda, get inside! We may have to lift off! Navy gunboats are alongside! Be very careful...'
At that moment the vent cover fell away and Surban, standing on her tip toes, tried to reach inside. 'I can not do it!' she cried in frustration. 'Find something for Surban to stand on!'
'No time!' shouted Priscilla, 'Come on Narenda, cup your hands and give her a bunk up!' Together Narenda and Priscilla hoisted Surban between them so that she could reach inside the opening.
The sound of further gunfire above crackled away and the plash, plash of bullets striking steel on the main deck echoed hollowly through the hold.
'This is not the one!' cried Surban, confused. 'Next one maybe!'
'You don't have time! Get on deck now! Black Eagle is off and above! Monique and Belinda aboard. Shooting all along the upper deck, light-rockets firing, pirates fighting to hold off Indonesian naval patrols! Beat it girls! These guys aren't going to give up and neither are the patrol boats!'
'Last try!' Priscilla shouted, limping behind Surban and Narenda, 'we don't get a "maybe" after this! Up you get Surban!'
Batack-Batack! Dock-Dock! Batt-Batt-Batt! Bullets were hurtling and richochetting around the deck above, voices were shouting and there were screams from those hit.
The venting grill crashed to the floor as Surban thrust her arm inside the opening and with a cry of joy withdrew it, her hand grasping a cloth bag.
'This is Mazda's!' she cried, leaping down.
'Bloody-well good! I've got you two, but who's got us?' shouted Priscilla. 'Come on! We're outta here! Go! Go! Go!'
The three girls rattled along the rough board-walk between piles of bales and huge containers until they gained the open area of the hold. They were crossing it when a further burst of firing, both behind and ahead, halted them. A dying pirate, his weapon still randomly squirting bursts, tumbled from a landing above to crash face down onto the metal grid before them. Blood streamed from several wounds in his chest.
'Don't look!' shouted Priscilla, leaping the twitching body and urging the others to follow. 'Got to get upstairs! Narenda! Help Surban! Come on!'
Fragments of metal were zipping and flying around the upper deck as the three girls emerged, taking cover behind a large bollard. Fires flickered around the Wheel-house and forward deck.
Dawn loomed, but a pall of smoke obscured the faint light until a drum of something, oil perhaps, exploded, sending a fireball skyward and illuminating the scene before them.
Gunmen were ducking and running along the aft deck, firing bursts from machine pistols, and return fire was coming from both the stern and somewhere forward of the Wheel-house where the boarding parties had established themselves. The end was certain. The pirates had no hope of survival other than surrender. Already the deck was littered with several bodies and one or two more, still alive, moaning and dragging themselves out of the firing line.
'Harry! Harry! We're stuck in the middle of all this!' Priscilla shouted into the Activator. 'We've got Surban's mystery bag... '
There was another explosion that erupted closer to the girls with a deafening boom; heat and light enveloped everything for some seconds, the actual blast throwing them into the open.
When Priscilla regained her senses she saw Narenda lying flat on her back and Surban, hampered by her long gown, scrabbling along on hands and knees toward the bag which was sliding down the slippery deck.
Then several things happened at once: Priscilla reached Narenda and saw that she was conscious and unharmed, Surban pursued the bag, but it had already come to a halt against the leg of a large, bearded man bobbing up and down, firing repeatedly across the railing. As Surban's fingers reached for the bag, the pirate cursed and unknowingly kicked it away. Surban screamed, twisted her body in the direction of the skidding object and squirmed after it.
Priscilla crawled along the deck, the pain in her knee forgotten as she hastened toward Surban. Meanwhile the man, still cursing as he attempted to jam another magazine of ammunition into his weapon, momentarily exposed himself to those closing in. A sharp burst of gunfire sent him sprawling right across Surban, the dead weight of his body crushing her to the deck as his weapon clattered from lifeless fingers.
'Narenda! Come on!' shouted Priscilla as she reached Surban's side. 'Help me roll him off!'
'Be careful Priscilla, he might still be alive!' Narenda called, shaking like a jelly with the shock of what was happening all around as she made her way toward them on hands and knees.
'Not a chance!' cried Priscilla, heaving at the motionless body, while sporadic firing continued from the bow and the clang of grappling hooks clattering against the railings in the stern could be heard between the shooting. 'Look!' she added as Narenda reached her side. Blood was steadily ebbing from several bullet wounds in the pirate's body, mingling with the persistent rain and washing down the rolling deck.
'Surban cannot wake up!' moaned the girl still pinned beneath. 'So, must get bag! Get bag for Ahura Mazda!'
'Get you out from under first!' Priscilla answered, working with hands that were trembling almost as much as Narenda's.
Forward, another explosion rocked the Bridge area and sporadic shooting continued, now also coming from below deck.
'Ermmphh! Got to get this guy... humphh!' grunted Priscilla, heaving with Narenda's aid and gradually, between the two of them, dragging the dead pirate off Surban.
'Dream is bad,' said Surban, struggling free, 'yet here is bag! Praise to Mazda! She clutched the sodden object to her chest and began rocking back and forward. 'Is dream, is dream!'
Narenda, her hands covered in blood, started to retch, coughing and choking and spitting as the rain snarled down, mingling with fire and smoke and a weeping sunrise.
The rattle of gunfire in the bow and the zinging and thwacking of bullets below roused Priscilla from her exhausted state. Snatching up the Hand Activator she bellowed into it. 'Harry! If you don't get us out of here in the next three seconds, we're gonna jump over-board and take our chances in the ocean...'
'No need, Kiddo, Black Eagle coming about now, get ready to climb in. Stay cool!'
Harry's voice had no sooner sounded when the rickety form of the tree house materialised, scooting along the deck, around various obstacles, to hover an arm's length above. The entry port slid open and Belinda and Monique leaped down to gather up those on the deck and bustle them inside.
'Well done girls,' said Harry's voice. 'A bit squeaky, but you got the job done and Surban has her prize. I'll get you all back home again real soon.'
Distantly, came the sound of further gunfire and the odd rocket exploding.
'Mon... Monique, I'm just so glad to see you again,' muttered Priscilla, slumping onto a couch. 'Narenda and Surban... Are they alright?'
'Of course, my dear friend. We are all safe. Rest. Home soon. Home soon... '
Chapter 3 next