Captain Emilio Esteban did not appear concerned about the travelers being fugitives. As long as he got paid, he did not seem to be concerned about anything. His ship El Diablo, a Spanish carrack of twenty-six guns, carried a crew of nearly four hundred sailors and mercenary soldiers with a dozen horses of their own. They had enough food and feed to sail a month before they had to head for a port to resupply. A quick trip from Santo Domingo to what would one day be Port-au-Prince would be easy money. The captain said he was headed for Havana and dropping eight people on the west side of Hispaniola hardly amounted to a detour.
“Convenient to find a ship already stocked and ready to sail,” Decker mused and watched the morning crew scurry about the deck.
“Sometimes things work out,” Nanette responded. “Santo Domingo is a main Spanish port here in the Caribbean. It probably gets lots of traffic.”
Decker was not convinced. Katie and Tony both had questions as well. Katie talked to Lockhart about it.
“These are the days right before the English and French begin to build settlements on Tortuga. The French have already settled the northern coast of Hispaniola and are moving into what will one day become Haiti. The Spanish drive out the settlers three or four times between 1630 and 1650, but they keep coming back. The French especially build plantations on Haiti and import more African slaves than they can handle. The slaves eventually revolt, and well, that is all in the future. Right now, it is about 1605.”
Lockhart asked. “So, what is the difference between a pirate and a privateer?”
“The Spanish call them Buccaneers—the French on the north coast,” Katie answered, and looked at the captain and his officers on the deck above. “A privateer is an independent contractor, usually having papers and supplies from a monarch, like the English, French, or Dutch parliament. They are tasked with harassing Spanish shipping and taking the gold and silver, or cash crops like sugar cane or tobacco. Some goes to the monarch. The privateer gets to keep some. It depends on the contract, which is carefully not spelled out. They often sail under the country flag, and if they get caught, they are sometimes treated like enemy combatants, like prisoners of war, and held for ransom or exchange. Of course, the country can always deny and say the captain was acting on his own and that was not according to the contract. Then they are treated like pirates and usually get hung. Pirates are completely independent ships that don’t work for anyone but themselves.”
“So, what is the difference?”
“On a practical level, not much.”
“So, do you think Captain Esteban is a pirate or privateer?”
Katie shook her head, but on further thought, she nodded. “Like a Spanish privateer paid to go after pirates, maybe. Like an anti-pirate or pirate hunter, like a bounty hunter, maybe.”
Tony talked with Lincoln, Sukki, and Elder Stow. They sat on some boxes along the starboard rail and tried to keep out of the way. “Captain Esteban seems pretty anxious to take us where we need to go. My guess is if the governor in Santo Domingo thinks we are pirates or connected to the pirates, Captain Esteban hopes we will lead him to the pirates.”
“The western coast of Hispaniola is mostly populated with Frenchmen,” Lincoln reported, holding up the database. “Buccaneers, hunters and trapper mostly, and some lumber men. Not much in the way of settlements yet. There are some small villages, though mostly on the north coast.”
“You got the horses loaded and we got out of jail fairly easily,” Tony said.
“We were invisible,” Elder Stow said as if that explained it all. He shifted Lincoln’s moneybag which he held in his lap. He had a personal screen, turned on at the moment, which protected his belt full of devices. While it could not be expanded to cover other people, like his officer’s device, he could expand it enough to cover the moneybag. No pirate could steal their money, or even touch the bag. “Invisible,” Elder Stow repeated.
“But no alarm got sounded when the horses vanished,” Tony countered that thought.
“It did take us a couple of hours to load the horses,” Sukki agreed. “I was worried that whole time about what they might be doing to you.”
“We were fine,” Tony said. “They ignored us. But then we vanished and walked all the way across town, and no one sounded the alarm. We were not ignored that much.”
“I see what you mean,” Elder Stow admitted. “It does appear as if they let us go.”
Up above, Decker asked and was granted permission to step on the quarterdeck. Nanette followed and let Decker make his suggestion.
“Now that we are away from the city, you can drop us anywhere along the southern coast here. We can go back to minding our own business, and you can get on to Cuba. Just a thought.”
Captain Esteban smiled as he spoke. “Clearly, you are new to this island. I would guess the ship that brought you from Europe dumped you on the east coast before heading down into the Lesser Antilles. You came into town like you did not expect to be noticed, two Africans riding on horses. The others may claim to be German and Swedish, with one Italian, though he is not a priest.” The captain shrugged. “Such are not wanted here, either.”
“All the more reason to leave you to your business,” Decker suggested.
The captain shook his head. “You see the coast. It is very rough country for horses. You would struggle to get over the hills. Also, most of the native population has been wiped out, mostly by diseases and such, but the survivors have banded together along this shore. They hate Europeans. They will kill you on sight. Then also, many Caribs have come up from the lesser islands where they have been driven out. They will not only kill you; they will eat you. And I haven’t even mentioned the Buccaneers. Many French have begun to build settlements in the west, though mostly in the north to avoid the natives. They are armed camps and hidden, and they don’t like strangers.”
“You make the whole island sound hostile,” Nanette said.
Captain Esteban looked at her and appreciated what he saw. “The governor is planning to tell the Spanish population to move closer to Santo Domingo for their own protection. He imagines the French and natives will wipe each other out and spare Spain the trouble. I have argued against it. He may lose the island, or at least the western part of it. Still, that is a small matter. Don Fernando Delrio in Havana has plans to colonize the whole north coast from Florida to Louisiana and up to the river they call Ohio. The land is well suited to tobacco and other cash crops if we can import enough slaves to work the land. I understand there is gold along Sugar Creek and the Cabarrus area in the Carolinas. We shall see.”
“Looks like you have it all figured out,” Decker said.
“Yes.” The captain smiled. “And I will take you safely to your French friends. I may even give them the west side of the island. That way, the resources that are being wasted in Hispaniola may be diverted to the colonization project in the north.” With that, he waved them off, and Decker was able to report what he learned to the others.
Lockhart said, “That will kill the future United States.”
Katie went a step further. “There might not be a United States.”
The following day, the travelers acted on their suspicions, that maybe Captain Esteban was a servant of the Masters, or at least worked for them. Lincoln spent the day trying to dig out the relevant information from the database. Decker and Katie, both marines, spent the day watching the captain and his officers on the quarterdeck to see if anything seemed off in their behavior and conversation. Lockhart, the former police officer, with Nanette’s help, searched as much of the ship as they were allowed, looking for clues. They watched the crew but figured the sailors and soldiers aboard ship were pawns just there to follow orders. Elder Stow kept his eyes on his scanner, marking their progress as they sailed along the coast of Hispaniola, and kept his eyes open for sudden energy signals that might pop up aboard ship or on the coast if the captain was leading them somewhere. That left Tony and Sukki to watch over their horses, Ghost, and their equipment down in the hold.
Mid-afternoon, Tony came up from tending Ghost. He had a question. Sukki, Elder Stow, Lockhart, and Katie were all present at the moment. He turned primarily to Katie. “You know, my grasp of historical details ended with the fall of the Roman Empire. I followed the east and Byzantines until they get overrun by the Turks, so I may be off base here.”
Katie smiled. “I’ve been grasping at straws myself since Prudenza and the days of the plague. My area is the ancient and medieval world. I’m not studied in the modern, or pre-modern, or gunpowder age, or whatever you called it back in 1905.”
“Understood,” Tony said and returned the smile before he looked down and looked serious.
“What is your question?” Lockhart asked.
“Well…” Tony framed his thoughts. “Several cannon balls, or what I thought were cannon balls got loose and some soldiers came to secure them. I was tending Ghost. I don’t think they knew I was there. Anyway, the head man said be careful with those canisters. There is enough gas in just one of them to kill everyone aboard the ship. I did not know the Spanish in this age had poison gas filled canisters they could fire from their cannons.”
“They don’t,” Katie said.
“What kind of gas?” Sukki wondered out loud and turned to Elder Stow. They all looked at the Gott-Druk. He appeared to know something.
“Mustard gas,” he said without hesitation. “I picked up the chemical signatures when I scanned the entire ship this morning. I did not say anything because the chemicals might be used for other things. I did not know. But gas canisters makes sense of the data.”
“Mustard gas,” Katie repeated. “That is strictly nineteenth century and did not get used until the first World War, as far as I know. Sorry Tony.” Tony waved off her concern while Lockhart summed things up.
“If the captain is not a servant of the Masters, he is certainly working for them. We need to lay low until we reach our destination. Meanwhile, maybe we can work on ways to make the compound inert. I hope we don’t have to throw it all overboard.”