Captain’s report: We have arrived at the Shazukar culture, a Pantheon member renowned for their compassionate nature. While we wait for the dignitary we transported to finish his business, this seemed like an excellent chance to give the crew some rest and relaxation.
Joseph Baxtor was reading in his dressing gown when someone knocked at his cabin door. “Come in,” called the captain, after which third captain Reeves opened the door. Seeing the captain in his dressing gown, Albert Reeves apologized and excused himself.
“Not at all, come in, come in,” said the Captain. “I’m reading Robinson’s account of his solo journey across Swivox. Have you ever read it? It was quite a feat back when he did it.”
“I haven’t,” admitted Reeves.
“I’ll give it to you when I’m finished,” said Joseph Baxtor. “The calming aura in Shazukar waters is quite pleasant, isn’t it?”
Nodding, Albert Reeves said, “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about those damn sweetums.”
“What about them?” asked the captain. “I thought we had them pretty well under control.”
“We do,” said Reeves. “However, we’ve had to secure all the foodstuffs more carefully, to prevent another outbreak. And, despite our best efforts, we can’t seem to eradicate them off of the ship. Every time we make a push to get rid of them, somehow they come back. I had a bounty on them and it turned out Mr. Nickerson was breeding them to collect.”
Joseph Baxtor chuckled.
“I’m also concerned that they may get off the ship when we’re in port and cause local trouble, which we might be blamed for,” continued Reeves.
“I’ll ask Second Captain Ward if he has any ideas for wiping them out on the ship,” said Baxtor. “And it would probably be a good idea to spread the word about them through the Pantheon, so other ships don’t run into the trouble we did. I’ll include a message about your concerns in the next report I make.”
Reeves nodded and turned to go when a deckhand came to the cabin door. “Captain Baxtor, sir, a message just came in. Henry Cook has been arrested and sentenced, sir. Apparently, he’s to be imprisoned for life.”
* * *
Joseph Baxtor looked at the clerk with exasperation. “So,” he said, “You can’t tell me where Henry Cook is, what he did, who judged him, or what happened at his trial. All you can tell me is that he’s been arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment?”
“That’s right, Captain Baxtor, sir,” said the clerk helpfully. “And if I can just add, all of us here in Shazukar sure appreciate you coming to visit us.”
Albert Reeves cut in as Baxtor was getting increasingly frustrated. “We don’t understand. Why won’t you give us any information?”
“Well, that’s just the way we operate,” said the clerk. “We find it’s best to keep the details quiet, so it doesn’t distress the victim. You know? They might be embarrassed if details of a crime committed against them got out.”
“So there’s a victim?” asked Albert Reeves.
“I can’t confirm that, sir,” said the clerk. “We keep the details of all crimes confidential so that the crimes with victims who might be embarrassed about them don’t stand out.”
“What if the person didn’t commit the crime?” asked Reeves. “Who defends them?”
“What do you mean, sir?” asked the clerk, confused.
“Who protects arrested people who have been falsely accused or who didn’t commit the crime?” clarified the third captain.
“Oh, I understand,” said the clerk. “People like that wouldn’t be arrested.”
“So the police never make mistakes?” asked Reeves.
“No, sir, they don’t,” confirmed the clerk.
“Why did you inform the ship that our chief engineer had been arrested and convicted?” asked Captain Baxtor, cutting in again.
“Well, sir, we didn’t want you to worry that he’d disappeared and for you not to know where he’d gone. Now you know,” said the clerk.
Giving up, the captain and third captain returned to the Phoenix.
* * *
“So that’s the long and short of it, Frank,” said Joseph Baxtor, in the dark cabin of the second captain. “We don’t know where he is, what he’s done, or how to get him back. Do you think you’re up to looking into it?”
“I’m actually not feeling so bad today, I’ll get right to it,” said the muscular Frank Ward. “I could use an assistant, is there anyone you’d prefer I take?”
“Actually, Mr. Nickerson has been breeding sweetums to collect bounties from Albert Reeves and is due for some sort of punishment. Would he be of any use to you?” asked the captain.
“William Nickerson would be perfect,” said Frank Ward.
“Please get Henry back, Frank,” the captain said.
* * *
“Mr. Hudson,” said Frank Ward as William Nickerson stood behind him and listened. “Word around the ship is that you and Henry Cook were out together last night.”
“Yes, we went out with a few of the deckhands and one of the marines,” said Adam Hudson, the elementalist’s apprentice. “Has something happened to Henry?”
“When did you last see Henry Cook?” asked Ward.
“I’m not sure,” said Adam Hudson, flushing. “I lost track of him during the evening. He didn’t come back to the ship with us.”
“You seem embarrassed Mr. Hudson,” said Frank Ward. “It’s of the utmost importance that you tell us everything you remember about your evening out with Henry Cook. What embarrassed you just now?”
“I don’t want to get Henry into trouble,” said Adam Hudson.
“We’re trying to get him out of trouble,” said William Nickerson. “Be a good lad and answer the second captain’s questions.”
“Henry went off with a girl,” admitted Adam Hudson. “After we’d been at ‘The Siren’s Song’ for a couple of hours, just having drinks and having fun, he got talking to one of the women there. They seemed to hit it off because the two of them headed out together shortly after that.”
“And you haven’t seen him since then?” asked Ward.
“No,” said Adam. “Is he ok?”
“What was the woman’s name he left with?” asked Frank Ward. “What did this woman look like?”
“I never talked to her or heard her name. She looked like a pretty typical Shazukar,” said Adam. “Blonde hair, blue eyes. She was on the shorter size, a little over five feet I’d say. Her hair was done up in a bit of stack-type thing on her head, I don’t know what you’d call it. That was a bit unusual.”
* * *
Walking along the cobblestone street, Frank Ward and William Nickerson approached ‘The Siren’s Song’.
Entering the establishment, the bartender was working behind the bar. “We’re not open until after sunset, gents,” he said in greeting. “You two looked parched though, I’ll give you each a beer to tide you over until the end of the day.”
“Mighty kind of you,” said William Nickerson as he sat down on one of the barstools. Looking back at a disapproving Frank Ward, he stood back up and said, “But, now’s no time to be drinking. We have a few questions for you.”
“How can I help you?” asked the barkeep.
“We’re trying to figure out what happened to a young man from our ship. He left here with a woman last night. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a little over five feet tall, her hair was done up.”
Shaking his head, the barman said, “Sorry, that could describe a lot of women who come in here.”
“You wait here,” Frank Ward ordered William Nickerson. “Keep an eye out for her. I’ll canvas the area, maybe she lives nearby or somebody saw them after they left.”
“Yes, sir,” said Nickerson, sitting back at the bar, looking at the bartender, and then the bar top in front of him.
* * *
Coming back to the bar that evening, Frank Ward saw that place was getting busy. William Nickerson was at the bar, entertaining a young, blonde woman, just over five feet tall with her hair done up in a stack. The second captain joined them.
“Second Captain, this is Sinfam,” said William Nickerson, prompting a laugh out of the young woman.
“That’s your name, right?” asked the quartermaster.
“Close enough,” said Sinfam. “Bill was just telling me about your adventures in Leomara. So exciting!”
“Yes, Mr. Nickerson is very charming,” said Frank Ward absently. “Did you meet Henry Cook last night?”
“Yes, I did,” she said. “He’s quite charming too.”
“He’s been arrested, do you have any idea what could have happened to him?” asked the second Captain.
“Yes”, said Sinfam. “He was arrested after I reported him. Should we have another drink?”
* * *
“You reported him?” asked Frank Ward, perplexed. “For what?”
“After we left here, we got a bite to eat, then I took Henry back to my place,” said Sinfam. “We started fooling around and one thing led to another. In the morning I woke up and he had left. I started thinking that he hadn’t shown much gratitude for the previous evening and that leaving without saying goodbye was rude. I reported him to the clerk at the local operator center and they arrested him when he returned. I guess he’d gone out to get us breakfast.”
“They arrested him?” asked Ward. “For a lack of gratitude?”
“He could have said thank you,” said Sinfam thoughtfully. “It would have been nicer.”
“Perhaps him getting breakfast was his way of saying thank you?” suggested Nickerson. “Maybe the lad had trouble expressing himself.”
“Maybe,” said Sinfam. “It’d be a shame if this whole thing was a big misunderstanding.”
“Apparently he’s been sentenced to life imprisonment,” said Frank Ward.
“Yes, that’s quite a common punishment,” she said. “They say it’s to enforce societal norms. I don’t really know about all that.”
“But he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment because you reported him. Is that what you wanted?” asked the third captain.
“No, I don’t want Henry to be imprisoned for life, but I didn’t arrest him, sentence him, or lock him up. I just told the clerk at the operator center what he did. If they felt life imprisonment was the right action, who am I to second guess them,” said the young woman. “Do you have any more stories about your travels?”
* * *
“This is madness,” said Captain Baxtor, banging his fist on the desk. “My chief engineer has been imprisoned for a lack of gratitude. I want him back, now!”
“Well sir, the thing is,” said the clerk, “for years we’ve made allowances for foreign visitors to not be subject to our rules and laws. The feeling recently has been that you’ve started to take advantage of our good nature. A change was proposed that applying our laws to visitors would help them be nicer. We hope that you and your crew have learned from Mr. Cook’s example.”
“Release him to us and we’ll leave,” said Captain Baxtor.
“That wouldn’t convey the message we want to send,” said the clerk.
“This is utter madness. I’ll have him back,” said Joseph Baxtor again, bringing his fist down on the desk.
“I’m starting to feel that you’re not being as nice as you could be,” said the clerk coldly. Frank Ward thanked him for his time and ushered the captain out of the office.
“This isn’t over, Captain,” promised Frank Ward. “You head back to the Phoneix and Nickerson and I will see if we can track down Henry.”
* * *
Walking into a bakery, Frank Ward ordered a half dozen sweet buns. When William Nickerson started to reach for one, the second captain swatted his hand and said, “Those aren’t for you.” The quartermaster gave the second captain a hurt look as Ward started talking to the baker.
“When people are arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment are their family and friends allowed to visit them?” Ward asked.
“Oh no,” said the baker. “That might reveal details about their victim. Family and friends are never told where they are.”
“So imprisoned people are never seen again?” asked Frank Ward.
“No, they’re seen all the time. There are rehabilitation compounds all around the city. Prisoners are able to talk to passersby. Keeping them in isolation would be very mean, we wouldn’t do that,” said the baker.
“But, what’s to stop family and friends from looking for people they know who are imprisoned? Or the imprisoned getting a message out to their friends?” asked the second captain.
“Oh, nobody would do anything like that. That wouldn’t be nice,” said the baker.
Outside the bakery, Frank Ward handed the sweet buns to Nickerson. “Take these to Sinclair Foran. I’m going to make sure he got all six of them when I talk to him later. Afterward, start visiting the rehabilitation compounds near the ship. I’ll canvas the ones on the other side of town. I think we’re going to be able to track Henry down. We’ll meet back at the Phoenix at sunset.”
* * *
In Healer Foran’s quarters, Norah took out another sweet bun from the bag.
“You’ll give yourself a stomach ache if you gobble them down too fast,” warned her father. The redhead gazed at his daughter with affection.
“But they’re better fresh. Why save them just for them to go stale?” asked the girl, a smile on her boil-covered face as she bit into the bun.
She offered the bag to her father, who waved them away. “You know I don’t like sweets,” he told his daughter.
The two sat there happily, her eating and him watching her eat.
* * *
Walking up to the cell window on the street, Frank Ward looked inside. Laying on the bed was Henry Cook. “Henry!” said the second captain in greeting. “We’ve been looking for you all over town.”
Rising from the bed, Henry Cook rushed to the window. “Second Captain Ward! What’s happening?
“You’ve been arrested and imprisoned for life apparently,” said Frank Ward, looking at the clean, but spartan, room the young man was locked in. “What did they tell you at the trial?”
“I could barely understand it. There was talk of a lack of gratitude and not being nice, then I was sent here. Is Sinfam alright?” said the young engineer.
“Sinfam is the reason you’re here. She reported you to the authorities for a lack of gratitude after your night together,” said Ward. “She didn’t realize you were going to get breakfast and thought you’d just left.”
“What?” asked Cook, confused. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“The captain is outraged and we’re working hard to get you out of there. Are they treating you ok?” asked Ward.
“Everything is just fine, except they won’t let me leave,” said Henry.
* * *
“We want to make an appointment with your superior,” said Joseph Baxtor, at the main desk of the operator center.
“Supervisors don’t like to meet directly with the public,” explained the clerk. “If you tell me what you need, I’m sure I can help you.”
“We have a member of our crew who is imprisoned and we need to have him released,” said the Captain.
“Oh, we can’t do that,” said the clerk. “And my supervisor will tell you the same thing.”
Standing next to Captain Baxtor, Frank Ward said to the clerk, “We understand that all punishments are set and can’t be changed, but we want to talk to your superior. We want to talk to the people who changed the laws and decided they should apply to visitors.”
“Well,” said the clerk, looking at the men doubtfully. “As long as you stay nice I suppose I can ask them if they want to meet with you. I’ll have a message sent to your ship.”
* * *
Adam Huson sat cross-legged on the floor of Radiance’s cabin. He had a wavering portal to the elemental plane of water and was struggling to commune with it.
“Allow your thoughts to be guided by the sprites that you contact. Don’t instruct them, just observe, and let your thoughts be led by them,” said Radiance.
The apprentice struggled to follow the instructions.
“Master,” Adam Hudson said. “Why don’t I focus on learning specific techniques? What’s the point of communing with the elemental planes? I never learn to do anything from them the way I do from you.”
“We don’t commune with the elemental planes to learn techniques, apprentice,” said Radiance. “We commune to better understand the elements themselves and the sprites we summon. Our understanding of the elemental planes is the foundation our techniques are built on. No talking, focus on following the currents and eddies…”
* * *
Looking across at the captain and second captain, the operator center manager gestured to the plate of biscuits. “Have another cookie,” he offered.
“We’re fine, thanks,” said Frank Ward, cutting in before Joseph Baxtor could get frustrated. “We want to talk about one of your prisoners, Henry Cook.”
“Ah, yes, young Mr. Cook,” said the manager. “It’s a shame he turned out to be so immoral. From my limited interactions with him, I would have guessed he’s a fine young fellow. I guess we don’t always know what’s in people’s hearts.”
“He is a fine, young fellow,” said Joseph Baxtor. “What makes you think that he’s so immoral?”
“Well, he was reported for misbehavior, so the person who reported him didn’t think so highly of him. And he broke the law. People made those laws to separate nice people from people who aren’t nice,” said the manager.
“Who actually judged him and sentenced him to prison?” asked Frank Ward.
“Well, there wasn’t any ‘judging’ involved, but I ascertained that he broke the law, explained to him what he’d done wrong and what the consequence would be,” said the manager.
“He didn’t understand what he’d done wrong. He didn’t even know that Sinfam had lodged a complaint against him,” said Frank Ward.
“How do you know the victim’s name?” asked the manager. “And how have you been talking to Mr. Cook? This isn’t very nice of you. It isn’t nice at all.”
“Can we talk to the people who make the laws?” asked Frank Ward.
“Why would you want to talk to them?” asked the manager. “They aren’t going to adjust them for you. The whole point of having a committee of learned citizens decide on the rules and laws that will govern our society is to provide an impartial guideline for sorting good people from bad people. Impassioned pleas to them are wholly inappropriate.”
“They’ve adjusted the rules to apply to visitors. They should meet with some visitors and understand how those rules affect us and how they came to be broken,” suggested Ward.
“Well, perhaps that would be nice. I’ll pass your request along to them and send their response to your ship,” said the manager. “Take some biscuits with you.”
* * *
Henry Cook lay on his cot in the jail cell. A jailer walking by his cell greeted him. “Hey, Henry! What did you think of that book I left you?”
“It’s not really my thing. It’s a description of medicinal plants. It’s better than nothing though, thank you,” said Henry.
“When you learn to read Shazukar it will be easier to find you something you’re interested in,” promised the guard. “Shall I come back for another lesson in a couple of hours?”
“That would be great, thank you,” said Henry.
After the guard departed, Henry saw a child’s face at his window.
“Hello there, little man,” the engineer said in greeting.
“My mom says you’re a bad man,” said the boy. The boy’s mother peered around the boy and, quickly correcting him, said, “I told you this is where you’d end up if you didn’t start behaving!”
Chuckling, Henry moved over to greet the pair. “Are you being a good boy for your mother?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said the boy. “We brought you a chocolate.”
“A chocolate for me?” asked Henry. “That’s very generous of you.”
* * *
The village elders sat around a large round table and had been asking Ward, Baxtor, and Radiance various questions about their visit to Shazukar. One of the elders said, “Well, this has been quite pleasant. Perhaps we should invite future visitors to come and meet with us. We hope you enjoy the rest of your time here.”
“Before we leave, we’d like to talk about our chief engineer, Henry Cook,” said Frank Ward.
“Ah yes, the young man who behaved inappropriately,” said the elder. “No need to apologize for him, we don’t hold you responsible for his misbehavior.”
“No, that wasn’t what we wanted to talk about,” said Frank Ward. “We want to talk about how to get him released from prison and let him depart with us.”
The elders began chattering disapprovingly between themselves. “No,” said the elder who had spoken previously. “I don’t think that would be nice at all. What kind of message would that send to our citizens and future visitors?”
“Henry Cook wasn’t aware of the expectations or rules,” said Frank Ward.
“Nice people don’t need to know the rules to behave decently,” said the elder. “Our laws are there to sort good and bad people apart. Him breaking the law tells us he’s a bad person.”
“But the woman who registered the complaint doesn’t seem angry at him. She doesn’t seem to feel that he did anything seriously wrong. She just felt that she was supposed to lodge the complaint. The manager of the operator center hasn’t considered the specifics of the situation. He received the complaint from her, matched it to a law from you, and imprisoned Henry Cook. He didn’t consider the specifics of this situation.”
“That’s exactly what the manager is supposed to do. And the young woman lodging the complaint did the right thing as well. How have you determined all of this? I hope you haven’t approached the victim or the criminal,” said the elder.
“I have,” said Frank Ward. “How else are we supposed to understand the specifics of this situation?”
“Well, that’s not nice,” said the elder, looking around the table at the others. “I guess we’re going to have to imprison the three of you now, too.”
* * *
Albert Reeves listened to the reply from the Pantheon in response to the report he’d filed about the imprisonment of his crewmembers.
“Really?” he asked Adam Hudson, who had sent and received the messages. “They aren’t going to assist us in the release of Captain Baxtor and the crew? They expect us just to leave them imprisoned?”
“At least they’re sending us a replacement elementalist,” said Adam Hudson, hopelessly.
“We won’t need the replacement elementalist, because we’re retrieving Captain Baxtor and the others,” said Reeves.
* * *
Meeting with Sinclair Foran, William Nickerson, and Adam Hudson in the Captain’s mess, Albert Reeves updated them all on their current situation.
“I’m going against orders and I want to retrieve our people and get out of here. Any of you who want to lodge any complaint and not participate, now is the time,” said Reeves. “If you’re not going to excuse yourself, I’m open to any ideas about how to get them out.”
“Could the dignitary we were transporting be any help?” asked Sinclair Foran.
“Alfred Walker?” asked Reeves. “It’s worth a try, let’s get a message to him and see if he has any pull with the local authorities.”
“Could we try hiring locals for help?” suggested Nickerson. “Whatever the criminal element is here, maybe we could hire them?”
“Yes, let’s put the word out and see if we can hire anyone to help us,” agreed Reeves.
“Could we appeal the Pantheon’s judgment?” asked Adam Hudson. “Tell them we don’t want to leave without the rest of the crew?”
“That’s not the way it works, Mr. Hudson. When the Pantheon issues an order, they aren’t interested in whether or not we agree with it. We’re expected to carry it out,” said Albert Reeves.
Looking around at them, the third captain said, “I’m going to start planning a covert operation to extract them. If we can find out where the others are being held, we can break them out and bring them back along with Henry Cook.”
“Get to work and report back when you’ve made any progress,” ordered Reeves.
* * *
In the infirmary, a deckhand brought a note to Sinclair Foran. Opening it up, he read the response from Alfred Walker.
“Dear Mr. Foran, Deeply sorry to hear about your troubles. The Shazukar have been delightful to visit in the past, but we may have to be more careful with them in the future. My work here is mostly economic, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do to help you with your imprisoned crewmembers. I’ve found out the locations where they’re imprisoned and included them with this note. Hopefully, this helps. -Alfred Walker”
* * *
As he strolled down the street in the run-down area, William Nickerson looked into the windows of the various shops he passed. A man on a nearby street corner greeted and leaned in close to a passerby. They had an interaction, then the passerby moved on. Nickerson approached him.
“Morning, friend,” said the quartermaster.
“Hey pal,” said that man on the corner, eyeing Nickerson appraisingly. “What can I help you with?”
“I’m looking for somewhere I could hire a few men for a job. Morally flexible men ideally,” said William.
“You might want to poke around at ‘The Tipsy Flea’,” suggested the man.
“Much obliged,” said William Nickerson, tossing a bronze assarius to the man on the corner and moving off.
* * *
Opening the door, Adam Hudson entered Radiance’s quarters and lit a lantern. He placed it on the table, then pulled multiple books from the elementalist’s library and placed them on the table as well.
Pouring over the books, the apprentice frantically studied techniques for creating and maintaining air bubbles around submerged ships.
* * *
Walking through town, William Nickerson entered ‘The Tipsy Flea’. After ordering a beer, he circulated through the room, getting to know the other patrons.
“I’ve got to say, meeting people here in Shazukar has been easier than most places,” the quartermaster said to the man he was talking to.
“Well, sure,” said the man who had introduced himself as Jarmax. “We try our best to be helpful. Now, what is it you’re looking for? A good time? Some gaming? Something to help you sleep?”
“I’m hoping to find a team to help me extract a few prisoners from some rehabilitation compounds,” said Nickerson.
“A rehabilitation compound?” asked the man, perplexed. “But they’ll be released once they’ve completed their sentence.”
“They’ve been sentenced to life imprisonment,” said William Nickerson. “I don’t want to wait that long.”
“But, if they’re in a rehabilitation compound, it’s because they haven’t been nice,” said Jarmax in confusion. “If they get out, they’re likely to continue not being nice.”
“I’m going to take them and sail away with them,” said the quartermaster.
“But then they’d just not be nice somewhere else,” said Jarmax. “No, I think the rehabilitation compound is the best place for them.”
“Isn’t helping people have a good time or gaming or finding things to help them sleep not nice?” asked William, perplexed at the reaction.
“What isn’t nice about those? The elders would like us to be discrete when we do it, which we’re happy to do,” explained Jarmax.
“Thank you for your time,” said Nickerson in resignation.
“I’m so happy to have been able to help you,” said Jarmax, beaming.
* * *
Dressed in black, Albert Reeves led the team of marines overboard from the Phoenix. Silently slipping into the water, they swam under the dock and followed it toward land. As they pulled themselves out of the water on shore, next to the support pylons of the pier, a lantern was unveiled further underneath the boardwalk.
The third captain and marines squinted into the light as they saw an operator center clerk carrying a lantern with a large group of men holding hand cannons trained on the marines.
“This isn’t nice at all, third captain,” said the clerk.
“Ah, yes. Well, sorry about that. Shall we return to our ship?” asked Albert Reeves.
“We’ll escort your men back to the ship, but you’re going to have to come with us, unfortunately,” said the clerk, as he held up a pair of manacles.
* * *
Adam Hudson and William Nickerson sat in the Captain’s mess with Sinclair Foran. “So, the capture of the third captain didn’t change anything,” the apprentice elementalist said. “The Pantheon wants to keep everyone on the ship and for us to set course back to Mytertown as soon as the replacement elementalist arrives. They wanted me to try to get the ship back, but I told them I wouldn’t be capable of making the trip. They’re going to begin issuing a warning to any ships coming to Shazukar.”
“No,” said Healer Foran. “We’re not leaving without our whole crew. Set up a meeting for me with the village elders.”
* * *
Going through the verb conjugations, Henry Cook received small applause from his jailer after getting them right. “Very good, Mr. Cook, you’ll be talking like a native in six months or a year!” the jailer said.
“I’m surprised the Shazukar have kept their native language,” observed Henry. “Most cultures adopt the trade tongue within a few generations of contacting other cultures.”
“Yes, that’s something we’re grappling with. Parents see the benefit of their children learning the trade tongue, so they teach it or have it taught to them. There are conservative elements that promote our native language and resist its loss.”
“In Mytar we all just speak the trade tongue now. Our previous language is incomprehensible to most of the population, only scholars can decipher it,” said Henry.
“Well, I suspect you’ll get lots of visits from children whose parents want them to practice speaking with a native speaker, once people know that you’re here and you speak trade tongue,” said the guard.
* * *
Pacing in his cell, Joseph Baxtor saw the face of one of the village elders in his window. Walking over, he said, “We need to get out of here. Seizing my crew and myself won’t be tolerated by the Pantheon. The only possible outcome from this-”
“I brought you a cake,” announced the elder, proudly.
“I don’t want a cake,” said the captain. “The only possible outcome from this is to provoke-”
“How do you know you don’t want a cake?” asked the elder. “I didn’t tell you what flavor it is.” The elder smiled at the imprisoned, nonplused captain.
* * *
Lying on his cot, Frank Ward stared blankly at the wall. A young woman came to the window and kept calling to him until he rolled over and looked at her.
“I’ve talked to a number of prisoners over the years. You can’t let it overwhelm you. Get through this minute, then the next minute, then the minute after that. Is there anything you like to eat or drink that I can bring you? Is there anything I can do to help you get through today?” she asked.
With a sigh, Frank Ward turned back over in his cot and resumed staring at the wall.
* * *
Sitting cross-legged in his cell, Radiance was deep in communion with the elemental plane of air. He ignored the guard who said, “So, you’re communing with an elemental plane I see. Whatcha got there? The elemental plane of air? That’s a good one.”
Later, a child was propped up outside his window on her father’s shoulders. “Hi, sir. How are you today? Sir? Can you hear me? Would you like a cookie? Sir?” she asked. After being ignored for a few minutes, they left a package of cookies in the cell window and departed.
* * *
Moving smoothly through another set of exercises, Albert Reeves saw a guard approaching his cell door.
“I’m almost done, is it ok if I just finish off,” he said, continuing his routine.
“Oh, definitely! Take your time, I don’t have anywhere to be,” the jailor said. “We’ve got nothing but time, you and I.”
Finishing off the exercises, the out-of-breath third captain came to the cell door. Smiling, he said, “Good to see you again, friend. What can I do for you?”
“Oh, aren’t you the sweetest! I’m just here to see if you want chicken, beef, or fish for lunch?” asked the guard.
“Living on a ship, you get your fill of fish,” said Reeves. “Let’s go with the beef.”
“An excellent choice,” said the guard. “I think there’ll be a glass of wine coming with it today, so you can look forward to that.” He departed, whistling as he moved down the corridor.
* * *
The village elders looked at Sinclair Foran. Tea and biscuits had been served. The healer nibbled on a biscuit and had a drink of tea. “We’re planning to set sail in the morning, and I just wanted to stop in before we left and thank you for your hospitality.” said the healer.
“Your captain started out our meeting with him in a similar way, then stopped being nice,” one of the elders said.
“Yes, I understand,” said the healer. “I wanted to thank you for that as well. My understanding is that all of my imprisoned former crew members are being treated very kindly. That’s nice of you, and we appreciate it.”
“You’re most welcome!” said the elder, lighting up. “We hope that, over time, they’ll find a new purpose in life with us here.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s true,” said Sinclair. “Of course, Mytar is inconsolable.”
“About what?” asked the elder. “We were given to understand that our laws and customs had his full support as a member of the Pantheon.”
“About the loss of his favorite son, Radiance,” said Sinclair Foran. “They’ve told us that he tosses and turns all night, flies into rages, and vows revenge.”
The elders looked at one another. “We were not aware that Radiance is Mytar’s son.”
“Oh yes. Well, his divine blood is obvious, isn’t it? The large size and orange skin. I’m sure over time Mytar will appreciate how well you’re treating him,” said Sinclair Foran.
“We hope so,” said the elder.
“Apparently warnings are going out to the whole Pantheon fleet to avoid all Shazukar ports. I suspect Pantheon ports will be closed to Shazukar ships soon,” the healer continued.
“That’s not very nice,” said the elder.
“Not nice at all, I agree,” said Sinclair. “There’s another rumor that the Pantheon is recruiting allies for war. Mytar wants to punish someone who hasn’t been very nice. I don’t know who though.”
“What sort of punishment would that be?” asked the elder, looking horrified.
“Bombardments, blockading ports, seizing ships, slaughtering locals. As you’re aware, the Pantheon isn’t as nice in its punishments as the Shazukar. I imagine they’ve contacted you to ask for your help,” said Sinclair.
“We haven’t heard anything about this,” said the leader, looking intently at Sinclair.
“Well, maybe they haven’t gotten around to asking for your help,” said Sinclair. “You’re a member of the Pantheon. I think they’ve contacted all the other members. I can’t think of why they wouldn’t include you in any preparations for war…”
“Do you think we might be who they’re preparing to attack?” asked the elder.
“You? That wouldn’t be very nice of them if they did. The Pantheon sometimes isn’t nice though…” said the healer.
“Maybe we could release Radiance. Do you think that would satisfy Mytar?” asked the elder.
“Radiance wouldn’t leave without his crewmates,” said Sinclair. “If he was forced out alone, I imagine he’d tell his father how angry he is at being imprisoned and losing his fellows. I don’t think releasing him alone would help.”
“I don’t know how we could release them all,” said the elder. “It’s one thing to make an exception for someone with divine blood. To release five people from prison would be too much.
“Perhaps you want to adjust the rules for foreigners? So many cultures just aren’t able to be as nice as the Shazukar. If you were going to rework the rules, then maybe it wouldn’t make sense to keep my crew imprisoned under the old rules?” said Sinclair.
“Would Mytar find that nice?” asked the elder. “Would it calm him down?”
“I’m certain it would,” said the healer.
* * *
Sailing away from Shazukar, Captain Baxtor, Henry Cook, and Sinclair Foran watched the receding coast from the quarterdeck.
“It’s ‘nice’ to get away from Shazukar,” said Sinclair Foran.
“You said it,” agreed Captain Baxtor. “That was quite a bluff you pulled off against the village elders. Remind me never to play ‘Matches’ with you.”