Serial Saturday #2.14: The Black Flag
Sarah raised her head from the toilet bowl and blinked sore eyes. Something's different? Then, she realized: the Enugu had stopped shaking. The turbulence was gone. The storm was over. She staggered to her feet, stepping over to the tiny sink to splash some water on her face.
Most of the storm, she had spent hugging the toilet, hanging on, sliding across the floor. Once or twice, she briefly went into freefall as they hit air pockets. Still, unsteady on her feet, Sarah palmed the door to her cabin open, and, clutching the walls for support, made her way down to the bridge.
"Alive, are you?" Osoko smiled.
"Barely," Sarah croaked.
Everyone laughed at that. Harcourt pointed at the viewscreen. "Congratulations, Ms. Hoavy. You made it to Samundra City."
"It's... pretty," Sarah managed. It seemed an inadequate way to describe the glittering white palaces, domes, and spires filling the viewscreen.
"It's all pretty and shiny on the surface." Ema rolled her eyes. "The underbelly's full of shit like any other city."
"Captain," Osoko leaned back in his chair. "We've got confirmation. They're going to meet us at our berth."
"Ema, Kamara, and I have some business in another part of town," Harcourt unbuckled his seatbelt and slipped out of his chair. "I called in a favor. Kamara, how long until we dock?"
"We're five minutes out."
"Well, everyone go get cleaned up," Harcourt ordered. "And no swearing either. Best behavior. Are we clear?"
"Yes, Captain," they all replied.
Five minutes later and the crew was drawn up in good order, waiting for Harcourt's mysterious guests to arrive. The cargo bay doors opened, revealing six women, all clad in white habits, white coifs, and black veils Four of them were carrying pulse rifles.
Sarah leaned over to Injinia. "Are those... nuns?"
Injinia nodded. "Militant Dominicans, defenders of the faiths."
"What, all of them?"
Harcourt turned and shot them a glance and they both subsided. He stepped forward and gave the lead nun a respectful bow.
"Acho Harcourt, when was the last time you went to church?"
"It's been many years, Sister Hildegarde."
"Actually, it's Abbess Hildegarde now," the nun corrected with a gentle smile.
"Congratulations," Harcourt replied.
"Where is this young woman you wish us to help?" Abbess Hildegarde looked around and Injinia prodded and pushed Sarah to the front. Not knowing what to do, she tried to imitate Harcourt's bow and ended up doing a strange half-bow, half-curtsey that was so painfully awkward, she blushed.
"She needs to get to the Jaipur Palace Library. She's got a book to check out there and a contact to meet in the gardens."
"At the gazebo?' Abbess Hildegarde asked. Sarah nodded.
"We will see her safely to her destination and protect her from all harm," Abbess Hildegarde intoned. "Come, child. Let us begin our journey."
After a moment's hesitation, Sarah walked down to the cargo bay door. The rest of the nuns followed her.
About twenty minutes later, Ema was looking at the doorway, a dubious grimace on her face. Harcourt had led them away from the Jaipur Palace and the bazaars, twisting and turning through tiny, narrow streets until they reached the alley. They were in a grimier part of Samundra City already- this alleyway was a bit excessive, even for the surrounding neighborhoods.
"This is the place," Harcourt assured them. With a chuckle- for Kamara's expression was just as dubious as Ema's- he strode forward and pushed open the rickety-looking foot and held it open for them. They both ducked down and stepped inside. "Welcome to the Harbor Bar."
Inside, they were greeted with dim lighting, low ceilings, and a long wooden par that ran down the length of the main room. The bartender put down the glass he was polishing and put his hands on his hips. "Harcourt!"
"Ah, bonjour Denis!" Harcourt spread his arms wide in greeting.
The bartender turned his head and spat. "Putain!"
Ema laughed. Kamara grinned.
"You better have enough money to pay your bar tab," the bartender shook a fist at him.
"No time for that," Harcourt replied. "We're here on business. Is he in?"
Denis pointed. "In the back."
"Merci," Harcourt bowed and then walked down the bar and to the back of the room. Waiting for them in the back booth was a mountain of a man with a flaming red beard. To polite society, he was Eamon Mulcahy, a prosperous merchant. To the less polite, more disreputable parts of society, he held the title of Barbarossa, King of the Pirates of Venus.
"Harcourt, you bastard," he growled. "You took your sweet time getting here."
"We had to fly through a nasty storm to evade some people, Eamon," Harcourt slipped into the booth opposite him. "But we're here now."
"I got your download," Eamon replied. "The Mad Robot's analysis seems to be correct."
"How many cities?" Ema asked.
"Too many," Eamon replied. "I think I know what you're going to ask."
"Ema thinks it's the right move," Harcourt nodded in her direction.
"I agree," Eamon replied. He shoved himself out of the booth and stood, walking over to the corner where he picked up a furled flag that had been leaning there. "We'll get the word out," he said. "Then see if this damned title of mine is worth anything anymore." He handed the flag to Harcourt. "Venus needs defending. Go raise the black flag and let the people know."