So, as I mentioned in the last update I ran a RPG set in this world (using Savage Worlds with Mars 1889 for the skyships, for the nerds out there) and thought it would be fun to write it up as a short story. I'm going to put it up in bits and at the end provide an outline of the actual game. So, without further ado:
Habana, Cuba. 1730.
Captain Smyth stopped in the doorway of One-Eyed Juan’s taproom, looking back at the bulk of the Habana skyport looming above the low sprawl of the colonial capital. The light was dimming, but even if it was noon his eyes were bad enough he couldn’t make out his skyship. Not that he needed to; he could see her just as they’d left her.
Peregrine was moored at one of the mid-level spars that jutted at all angles from the enormous stone tower. Not the posh, expensive spars lower down, but also not relegated to the top of the port which would mean a long haul for loading and offloading cargo and passengers.
“Definitely making it, lads,” he said to his two companions. They’d come in from Antigua fully laden. Not much, by most standards, but the skyship was built for speed, running small, high value cargoes past the prowling sky buccaneers and the occasional revenue cutter. She was straining at the mooring lines now, her holds empty, ready to leap back into the sky.
The other two didn’t hear him, on account of them already being inside. Eager to spend some dollars. Fox, his engineer, at the bar. Hidalgo, his first mate, at the gaming tables. He smiled, and followed them in.
Juan’s place was low-ceilinged, smoky, packed with ships’ officers. The skyport had only opened three years ago and trade was already booming. A steady stream if ships moved between Cuba and the other islands of the Habsburg Lake, as some had taken to calling the Caribbean. Even some big, long-haul skyships from the colonies on the mainland had started to transit all the way here. Many of the men crowded in to the place were, like him, owners as well as captains. Some more honest than others, none of them saints. His kind of people. He kept a cheerful smile on his face and nodded greetings as he made his way across the taproom to where his officers had already settled.
Fox was easy to keep track of, his unnaturally pale pate emerging from gunpowder whiskers like some enormous egg protruding from wiry undergrowth. The multi-lensed eyeglass apparatus worn perpetually on the top of his head – unless some particularly intricate work was being done – caught the lantern light. Hidalgo was the youngest of the three of them, slim and quick, handy with a knife. He’d been Smyth’s shadow since he’d rescued the little blighter from a justifiably angry mob, showing himself to be an excellent first mate.
“Here’s to another successful run!” Fox boomed as Smyth joined them, sliding a tankard of rum to him. The captain winced – his engineer’s accent seemed to veer wildly, particularly when around people from all over the Empire, and today he was in a rather rambunctious Scots mood. Hidalgo scowled sideways as their somewhat eccentric companion, and then nodded towards the bar.
“Senor, we are being observed,” the first mate said. “Since we first walked in.”
“Eh?” Smyth rummaged around for his monocle, spat on it and gave it a thorough scrub on his coat before fitting it and craning round to look in the direction Hidalgo had surreptitiously indicated. “Pair of rum looking coves.”
“That’s Captain Sanchez, Captain,” Hidalgo said patiently. “I speak of the two men who are now approaching us.”
Now they were a bit closer, Smyth could make them out. A tall fellow, dressed in the loose garb favoured by Spaniards in these warm climes but looking decidedly Northern European and moving with the self-assurance of someone who knew his way around a fight. A shorter, slender man – little more than a boy, in reality – nondescript except for the heavy leather satchel he clung to as though his life depended on it.
“Still think they’re rum looking,” Smyth muttered to the other two, then forced his smile back into place as the two of them sat down across from him. “Gentlemen. Do please take a seat. My name is Smyth.”
The taller one regarded him along the length of an aquiline nose. “So I am told. Captain of the Peregrine. I’m told she’s a fast ship.”
Smyth scratched his chin, resettled his monocle to have a better look. The chap wasn’t carrying any weapons, that he could see anyway, aside from a silver-headed cane. “I prefer to know who I’m talking to.”
“Forgive me. My name is Colinbroke. This is my associate, Mr Lewis. We seek passage from Habana, on a fast ship.”
“In a hurry to get somewhere, eh? Well, you’ve come to the right man. Peregrine and I have made the Antigua run in three days. I imagine you’ll want to be leaving in a couple of days’ time.”
“We were rather hoping we could leave sooner. Tomorrow, at dawn, perhaps?”
Smyth stopped scratching, realising it made him look too calculating. “And your destination?”
Why on Earth would someone want to go to that windswept, flybitten scrap of land? But then, he’d long since learned not to ask too many questions. “Cargo?”
“Just passengers. Mr Lewis and myself.”
“Well, for a journey of that length…”
A leather purse hit the knife-scarred wood of the table and was slid across to him, soaking up who knew what along the way. He picked it up, weighed it. They are keen to get going. “Of course, for a journey of that length I’ll need to take on other cargo – to make it worthwhile, you understand. I should be able to manage dawn on the day after tomorrow, which would be…”
“A Wednesday,” Hidalgo supplied.
Colinbroke – and something about him suggested that wasn’t his real name – frowned very slightly and fished in the wide waistband of his trousers, producing a few more fat gold coins which he placed, one atop the other, in front of Smyth. His slow deliberation suggested that this would be the end of this careful negotiation. “Dawn. Tomorrow, Captain.”
Smyth produced his best oily smile. “Of course, sir. Though I should ask – you ain’t a Don, are you? I cannot abide a Don.”
“You trade in an odd place, for that attitude, and keep odd company,” Colinbroke said, with a slight smile and a nod to Hidalgo. “And do I appear Spanish?” He touched his companion on the shoulder, and the two of them stood. “You will find us at the Rose and Crown. Kindly send someone for our dunnage and persons when you are ready to depart.”
“At dawn, Master Colinbroke. At dawn.” He watched his clients depart, his smile fading into suspicion. “Hidalgo, see what you can find out about those two.”
His first mate nodded, sliding out of the booth and sidling through the increasing crowd of patrons. He knew what was to be done – if you needed to know what was going on in and around One-Eyed Juan’s place, you asked the man himself. Smyth watched as coins were slid a cross the sticky countertop and words were shared.
His first mate’s expression was stormy as he came back to the table. “Juan doesn’t know much, and what he knows was not worth the coin. They have been in here the previous night, si, looking to hire a fast ship. Everyone knows our Peregrino is the fastest, and this they were told. But after they left, two other men who let it be known they were from the Governor, they came looking for the two. They have only not been taken up because they did not give anyone to understand where it was they lodged.”
“Are ye capable of a straight answer, lad?” Fox asked, then his voice shifted into the slightly nasal Brummy tone he used when he was about to suggest something he knew the captain would not like. “If they’re on the run, mebbe turning them over wouldn’t be such a bad thing…”
“We know nothing of whether or not they are on the run,” Smyth said, with some asperity. “Gold has been laid down and promises made.” He sniffed. “Besides, I’ve never liked the Dons and don’t intend to start being an informer for them.”
“D’ye want to keep your voice down?” Fox hissed. Hidalgo’s attention was already on something else, though.
“Trouble,” he hissed, drawing Smyth’s attention to the two men currently talking to Juan. He couldn’t make out much, but when he saw the glint of gold being passed across he knew whatever the barkeep was telling them was worth a lot.
“Now’s our chance,” Fox muttered. Hidalgo had already slipped away from the table as the two imperious looking Spaniards approached.
“You are Smyth, owner of the trading scow Peregrino?” the first one said.
“I’m Captain Smyth,” he replied coolly, taking his monocle out to clean it on one lacy ruff before ostentatiously resettling it and examining the two men. Trouble indeed. “Of Peregrine skyship, yes. How do I have the, uh, honour of addressing?”
“Who we are does not matter!” the second man, squatter than the other two, declared. “You will tell us where the fugitives you have given succour to are!”
Smyth smiled slowly, knowing what he said next he could say with a clear conscience. “I have no knowledge of any fugitives.”
The taller of the two, definitely the brains, cast a brief frown in his companion’s direction. “We are seeking two men and believe they have taken passage on your skyship. One tall, haughty, carries a silver headed cane. One smaller. Soft. Bears a heavy satchel.”
“Unless you demonstrate that you have any right to have an interest in my private business, I must bid you good evening, sir. Good evening to you!”
The thin man smiled, in a way that made Smyth’s heart sink. Reaching into his close fitting linen jacket, he produced a small rosette.
“The Inquisition charges me, and I bind you to speak the truth to me. Where are your passengers?”
Smyth knew the sensible thing would be to co-operate, but gold had been exchanged and promises made. And there was just… something about this fellow that got his dander up.
Fox saw the expression on his captain’s face. “Well, bugger,” he muttered.
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