Captain Emilio Esteban proved to be a gregarious sort of man. He had the travelers dine with him that night, offered plenty of wine, and kept the topics of conversation to pleasantries. The second night proved different. When the travelers entered the captain’s cabin, they were met by soldiers who stripped them of their weapons and equipment. Only Elder Stow managed to hang on to his things. His personal screens went up and the soldiers could neither touch him nor his equipment.
“Hand over everything or we will have to hurt the others.” The head soldier grabbed Sukki by the arm. “This is your adopted daughter, is she not?”
“Try not to hurt him,” Elder Stow told Sukki. She nodded before she removed the hand from her arm, grabbed the man by the shirt, and threw him down the hall to where he crashed into the stairs. “My equipment stays on my person for now,” Elder Stow announced. “You soldiers will just break it or push the wrong button and sink this ship by accident.”
“Fair enough,” Captain Esteban said. He invited the travelers to his table set for twelve, where the first mate, second mate, and navigator were already waiting. “We are entering Guanabo bay and passing the island of the same name. I considered dropping you there. The island is mostly barren, but the Taino people that have taken refuge there would probably help you escape so there would be no long-term benefit.” The officers stood until the captain got seated. “I decided you would serve better as hostages. Of course, depending on who we run into, I might even be persuaded to temporarily return your weapons. Let us hope the buccaneers leave us alone.”
Everyone sat with questions in their minds. Katie was the first to frame those questions into words. “What are you afraid of?” she asked. “What are we headed into that a servant of the Masters might return our weapons to us?”
The ship’s stewards brought in plates of food for everyone. The chief steward opened the wine and began to pour. Captain Esteban sipped his to taste the wine before he spoke. “It is not fear,” he said. “The Masters are masters of fear, doubt, and pain. Resistance is futile, to use the old expression.” He looked at his plate of food but downed his glass of wine. The chief steward filled it again while he thought. Then he began.
“You know the north coast is full of buccaneers—French settlers who hunt and cut the trees. They trade in leather and lumber and grow subsistence crops to make their daily bread. But now, they are beginning to leak down into the western lands, looking for places where they can build plantations to grow tobacco, sugar cane, cotton, and other cash crops. They are beginning to import slaves. And as if that is not bad enough, they have given ports for French and English, privateers—men with papers from various monarchs and governments. Some of them have begun to explore the island of Tortuga as a possible redoubt against us, should we raise the men and ships to drive them off. For the present, though, the north is controlled by buccaneers and pirates. It is not safe for plain farmers and families.”
“You said the south was full of cannibals,” Decker interjected.
“Natives,” the captain nodded. “Many Taino have found refuge on the island of Guanabo, as they call it. But most remain in the south of Hispaniola, the southwest, away from the forts around Santo Domingo. They have begun to protect their territory. They are not slow to kill any Spanish they find in their land. But they are not many or strong at this point, and they have been unable to fight off the Carib who have invaded the south coast. The Carib do sometimes eat people.”
“Why don’t the Spanish fortify the center, here in the west?” Lincoln asked. “I would think once the center is secure, turning to the north and south might be manageable. You might even negotiate a peace with the natives and the French.”
Captain Esteban grinned. Most of the others gave Lincoln hard looks, like he did not need to be helping the Masters. “That was the plan,” the captain said. “That, and fortifying Santiago against the English so we do not leave a strong enemy at our backs as we colonize the southern states of what will never be the United States. Unfortunately, something has landed in the center. Do you know what I mean, landed?”
“How do you know?” Lockhart asked, as Elder Stow began to fiddle with his scanner to see what he might pick up, long range.
“There are reports of whole villages, French and native, destroyed, not abandoned. The people that have been found are said to have been drained of blood, and many eaten. Both the pirates and the Carib are afraid to go there, and the governor of Santo Domingo is drawing up an order to insist the people move closer to the city and forts in the eastern part of the island. It is for their own protection.”
“Depending on who we are talking about, I don’t see that anything in this age will protect the people,” Decker said, and looked at Nanette and Sukki, both of whom looked frightened, or at least uncertain.
“Yes,” the captain said with a sigh. “Depending on what we find, I may have to return your weapons temporarily. I know your weapons have been taken from you more than once in your journey, but I do not have time to train my men in their use and you have all the experience in both their use and in dealing with alien creatures.”
“Maybe the Flesh Eaters,” Tony suggested. “I might say Wolv, but I am not aware of them draining the blood.”
“Maybe the New Exterminators Lady Catherine mentioned,” Nanette said. “She did not give many details, so we don’t know what they are, exactly.”
“I hope they are not the arachnids… Panknos… the spiders,” Sukki said and shivered to think of it.
“We all hope they are not the spiders,” Katie agreed, and turned to Lincoln who had dug out the database. He read for a second before he reported.
“Spiders,” he said.
“Let me see that.” Captain Esteban reached out to Lincoln. Lincoln hesitated, but two of the guards in the room stepped in his direction, so he handed it over. The captain stared at the screen, tried touching the three buttons, and let the first mate have a look. The man merely shrugged, so the captain handed the database back to Lincoln who adjusted the buttons to get back on the correct page.
“It is as I suspected,” the captain said with another big sigh. “All we can see is fuzz and wavey lines.”
“The hedge of the gods,” Katie said. “It prevents ears from hearing, or in this case, eyes from reading about the future.”
“Yes.” The captain seemed to understand. “But I have no such hedge. There is nothing to prevent me from speaking about the future. Sadly, hardly anyone understands what I am talking about. When I mentioned the film Gone with the Wind, only Don Fernando smiled and said, “But now, there will be no Civil War, and the film will be in Spanish since we will hold on to California as well as Texas.” Captain Esteban shrugged like it was a done deal.
“The Kairos might have something to say about that,” Elder Stow interjected.
“Ah, yes. The other reason you are my prisoners. You will lead me to the Kairos, and I will get to kill many birds with one stone, as the saying goes.”
Katie frowned. “Assuming you don’t get eaten by whatever landed on Hispaniola.”
“Of course,” Captain Esteban said, and smiled. “More wine?”
The ship comes to land not far from where the aliens have landed, most likely the giant alien spiders. Until Monday, Happy Reading.