and The Pirates of the Mystic Caravan.
Chapter 4 - Slaughter on the Han Maru
'Harry? Harry! I know you're here, stop playing around! I need to talk to you!'
Priscilla was growing short on patience as she negotiated the shelves of tools and tall racks of stored wine her father and brothers had managed to install in the old bomb-shelter basement of their new home during the latter months of the past year.
'If you think it's game time, you little Alien, you're gonna get a rocket up your little Alien bum! Come on! I saw you snitch down here! This is important!'
'Errm, you called?' said Harry, appearing from the far end of the roughly hewn rectangular cellar, squeezing out from a tangle of never-removed junk that had been there for many years. It was on the Mathew Black 'to do,' list, but hadn't been 'dood' so far.
'What are you fossicking around for anyway?' hissed Priscilla impatiently.
'Oh, I just like the smells; damp, dank, oil, kerosene, old paint, old rubber, you know.'
'Well get your nose out of it and let's talk quickly before anyone comes looking for me. Belinda's just gone and you weren't there. Thanks very much! Anyway, while the others are all still sorting themselves out, I've got to ask for a favour from you. I've thought about this through the night, and I think it's worth doing if you agree.'
Sparks were spinning in pinwheels all around Priscilla's head, her sight was flickering through a vista of blackness and star-burst. She had the weird feeling that parts of her anatomy; arms, legs, hands, feet, internal organs, were all whirling away from her essential being: that she was deconstructed and reconstituted in the vita-miser of space and time. It was as if a jig-saw of her actual being had been shaken apart and re-shuffled to fall, slowly, back through a virtual time-prism.
Coming to some kind of vacant consciousness, she struggled with the vision of the sterile internal surfaces of the Black Eagle. Again she was on her back on one of the couches available, and she was alone.
Except for the voice.
'Don't attempt to alter anything. You know you can't change what has already happened. Observe only. This is as close as I can get you back in time to when Surban said the pirates boarded the ship. And remember, this is where you aren't. They're here, but your actual self is months in the future. Parts of your molecular structure are floating around in the past making sense of all this,' came Harry's voice, as Priscilla stumbled to her feet and prepared to climb down onto the Han Maru from the open port of the Black Eagle. 'This is a big favour Miss Black, and you better have a good reason. Don't let an old dog down, and don't let go of that Hand Activator.'
'Harry, woozy as I feel, I'm hanging onto it and anything else the best I can.' Priscilla answered, easing herself onto the slippery deck. Around and ahead of her, people were being herded toward the bow by a number of menacing, armed men, sporadically firing their weapons.
'Looks like your timing is right on. No one is being shot. All the screaming is because of the gunfire, but that's in the air just to frighten them into the boats.' Priscilla peered over the side. 'No! some are in the water too! There's not enough space for everyone on the pirate boats down there. I don't know who Surban's parents are, there's so many people crowded together and the men with the guns are pushing and shoving them off! Wait on! I can hear Surban's name being called. It's that woman being forced over the side. And the man trying to ward off the two pirates must be her Da... Oh no! One of them has smashed him over the head with the butt of his gun and another one is kicking him!'
Priscilla watched, horrified, as several more of the ruffians lifted the inert body of the man and heaved it overboard while the woman, screaming, was also shoved from behind so that she too plummeted down into the murky sea. Other passengers began to protest and were battered into submission and forced overboard by the pirates, now using their weapons as clubs. One crewman, defying them and making a run for it back along the deck, was mercilessly gunned down, crashing headlong, sprawling with arms and legs splayed wide right at Priscilla's feet. The pirate who had killed him had no idea that she was there, and sneering at his deed, turned about to get on with the business of emptying the ship, but on that instant Priscilla recognised his bearded face and realised that he too would be dead not many months into the future when the ship, renamed the Koto Star, was again re-boarded by the Authorities.
'What do I do now Har... ' Priscilla stopped short as several things happened amongst the confusion all around her.
'You blundering idiots!' A man in a grubby white suit shouted, emerging from the group of tightly packed, milling people in the bow. 'I paid you well enough. What do you think you are doing? We had a bargain about them!'
'Shut your face, you fool! We don't care for your bargain!' shouted a short, greasy-looking pirate brandishing a pistol. 'Get off with the rest of them or I'll shoot you where you stand. I am taking command of the vessel now, and have no further use for you or for the pig officers on this ship!
Then a shrill female voice made itself heard above all the din.
'Mother, Father! I'm coming. Wait! Wait for Surban!'
Priscilla turned to her left and saw, amidst another crowd of milling people on the forward deck a number of children, and one in particular, struggling to get past the pirates herding them forward.
'It's her! It's Surban Harry! But the pirates are shoving them all the other way! Oh Harry what can I do?'
'You can do nothing,' came Harry's voice from the Hand Activator. 'And you've only got a few moments left to do it in. Focus! You're looking at the past. Done and dusted! Time's almost out. Get back to the Black Eagle. Gotta fly now.'
Gunfire echoed both forward and aft as Priscilla fumbled her way to the rickety tree-house where it hovered above the deck. Climbing in, she turned back. Her last vision was a terrible sight. Officers of the Han Maru were trying to protect their passengers; mostly women and children, Surban amongst them, from the onslaught of the raiders. But the crew were singled out and killed even as they pushed their charges down the ladders into the ship's boats. Priscilla glimpsed Surban as she vanished from sight, while the Captain of the Han Maru, who had ushered her off, was shot from behind and collapsed on the deck.
The stainless metal portal of the Black Eagle slid across her vision, and suddenly she was again within the comforting, quiet interior, which now, for all its sterile surfaces, seemed most welcome.
'I can take out all that memory, if you want me to, on the journey back through time,' said Harry's voice.
'I... No, don't Harry. I'll need to remember... Although I'll wish I couldn't... But I think I might need to... Have to tell Moni... Something seems weird about all this... That man banging on about a bargain... '
'At least you saw for yourself what actually happened to Surban and her parents back then. It was terrible. You humans are capable of great things, yet there are those amongst you who are less than the soil they walk upon.'
Priscilla heard Harry's words, even as he began the process of returning her back through time and space to her own bedroom at 210 A. Silverglade Road.
'I saw Harry,' said Priscilla, vaguely feeling the whirling of atoms sorting and reassembling her own being, 'but I'm still wondering... '
Chapter 5 next