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Episode 8 Part 11

By:  Wynn

“Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to reassure you that you will all be notified when-”

     “We want answers!  What happened to that Nathian you sent after the pirates?”

     “You said all of our belongings would be returned to us!”

     “I have already contacted my attorney, he said that-”

     “I want my money back!”

     The small group paused outside the massive dining room, listening to the uproar from within.  One of the Diyetian’s bodyguards opened the door leading in slightly, giving Bullet and the others a glimpse of the enraged crowd.  Up on a platform that was, no doubt, often the territory of the ship’s Master of Ceremonies, a beleaguered crewman tried his best to reassure the ship’s occupants, efforts which seemed to have little success.  Smiling grimly, Bullet glanced down at the squat form of Cruluxiam, who wiped a hand across his forehead, which seemed even moister than before. “That doesn’t sound good,” the Guardsman offered helpfully, his eyes sliding over to the source of the Diyetian’s discomfort: Vonter, who oddly seemed to be growing more confident by the moment.

     “I, ah, shall go in and announce that the fugitive Derek Vonter has been apprehended, and we shall shortly begin dispensing all of the stolen goods back to their former owners.  If you will wait-” Cruluxiam began, his watery eyes narrowing in tense anticipation.

     “If you don’t mind, I will leave you to take care of the latter.  As for announcing my capture,” suggested the silken voice from behind the Diyetian, drawing his attention just in time for the pirate to brush past him, “I will see to that myself.”

     “No, wait, stop him!” Cruluxiam wailed belatedly, his guards grasping at Vonter just as he escaped out into the dining hall.  They started to barge in after him, but held their ground, aware of what effect their presence would have on the already-agitated mass of patrons.  Instead, Cruluxiam and his guards watched in abject horror as Vonter wound his way through the crowd, making his way towards the platform occupied by the overwhelmed crewman.  Bullet winced sympathetically, almost able to imagine the nightmarish possibilities running through the Diyetian’s mind, but chose watching the proceedings over trying to stop whatever madness Vonter had in mind.

     “Excuse me,” Vonter requested politely as he reached the edge of the platform and gazed up at its occupant, his quiet request unable to draw the crewman’s attention away from the teeming mass howling for answers.  Shrugging, the pirate grasped the floor of the raised level and, with more effort than he would perhaps have wanted to show, pulled himself onto it.  This managed to draw the crewman’s notice, and he turned towards the broad-shouldered servers standing conspicuously close at hand, ready to shout for assistance with what he assumed to be an overly-aggressive patron.  It was the broad smile that Vonter flashed him that drew that action up short, and the horrified burst of recognition cemented the man in place as Vonter reached over to take the microphone from his fear-paralyzed fingers. “If I may,” the pirate spoke gently, claiming the microphone and turning towards the crowd. “Good evening, gentlefolk of the ship Decadence!”

     The silence that followed felt, to Bullet’s ears, to be almost as loud as the shouting that had preceded it.  Crew, customers, bodyguards; all stood in shocked stillness, gaping at the apparition that had taken center stage.  Though it was obvious that he stood on the precipice of violence and pandemonium, Vonter smiled proudly towards the assembly as if savoring the attention, his stance suggesting he was entirely at home on his new perch.  In that split-second of quiet, bullet’s mind flashed over the agreement he had made with Vonter: if the crowd quickly devolved into a mob, as they had all rights to do, would Bullet be expected to protect the pirate?  No, the Guardsman reassured himself; this was outside his purview.  Surely it would have to count as suicide.

     “Ah, in circumstances such as this, typically one would introduce themselves, but in this case I think it hardly necessary,” Vonter declared, sweeping into a bow despite his words. “You all know me as the dread pirate captain Derek Vonter, scourge of the seas of space, the rampaging raider of renown, the-”  Bullet groaned, watching as the faces of Vonter’s surprised audience quickly shifted towards the rage he had been expecting.  This was about to get ugly. “-and, as of recently, the vagabond who made off with all of your precious belongings.”  Vonter beamed towards the crowd, taking a deep breath to restore his wind. “I am here to announce, however, that you may be slightly mistaken as to my identity, or, at the very least, should consider adding one final appellation to the list.” Vonter exploited the confusion this final remark inspired in the crowd for a lengthy dramatic pause. “I am also Derek Vonter, the man who is here to return all of your pilfered valuables.”

     This comment was enough to defuse the situation sufficiently, leaving the mass of watchers gaping at the pirate, whose smile grew even wider, improbable as that was.  It took several heartbeats for the shouted questions to begin, and even after that Vonter waited for several moments, allowing the confused cacophony to rise to defeaning levels before he lifted the microphone to his lips once more, leaning forward to emphasize his intent as he hesitated for silence.  This was enough to strangle the noise, the occupants of the dining hall waiting for some relief to their besieged comprehension of the situation. “I will strive to answer your questions… in just a moment.  First, I would like for you all to allow me to apologize; this was not supposed to happen this way.” Vonter leaned back, and almost on cue the angered shouts resumed, the patrons releasing all their pent-up fury in the brief moment Vonter allowed them.  Despite this renewed barrage, it took only a few more words for silence to take its place over the dining hall once more. “After all… this was all supposed to be for your benefit!”

     “What is he thinking?” Cruluxiam muttered in the hallway, still staring in horror at the man who had usurped his typical post above the crowd.  The Diyetian glanced back at Bullet as if the Nathian would have some answer; instead, he received only a helpless shrug in response.

     “You must understand,” Vonter continued, cutting through the whispers that had only just begun in the wake of his last declaration, “piracy remains a serious threat, despite the order imposed by the valiant, and all-but-omnipresent, defenders of the Council’s intergalactic peace.  Especially at danger are targets such at this ship; one must only glance around at the noble and prestigious personages standing before me to see why brigands would choose to assault such a craft as the Decadence.”  Bullet was amazed as he watched the crowd before Vonter shift and gaze amongst themselves, all but preening in response to the pirate’s obvious flattery. “That is why such a drastic, albeit regrettable in hindsight, course was taken; we did it to ensure the safety of not only yourselves, but all those who would chose to voyage with us in the future!”

     Now even the bodyguards turned to glance to Bullet, not bothering to hide their confusion.  The Guardsman, on the other hand, let a predatory smile spread across his lips.  He had begun to see where Vonter was intending to take his speech, or at least so he believed.  Now, to see if he could pull it all off…     

     “It was a radical idea, especially considering the lengths it would have to be taken in order to see that the test was genuine.  Not even your crew was informed as to our plans, to insure that their reactions would be accurate.  Our attack would be bloodless, as overpowering the defenses of this ship would be nigh impossible; no, our interest was in how smoothly operations would be enacted in the wake of an attack, and how countermeasures only recently developed could be utilized to pursue and apprehend a (reportedly) vicious character such as myself.  As you can see,” Vonter purred, bowing once more to the crowd, “those actions were successful indeed.”

     “Do you mean to tell us this was all just a big game?” demanded a deep-throated bellow from the midst of the group, the words trailed by a dozen such recriminations.  Vonter nodded gravely in response to the vitriol being directed his way, his face solemn, but finally he turned a bright smile back towards the angered assembly.

     “A game, you say?  Well, on the one hand, no, no, of course not!  Your protection, the safety of yourselves and your belongings, is the sacred duty of all of those loyal to…” Vonter faltered for just a moment, the name of the company that funded the Decadence slipping beyond his grasp, before choosing a safe alternative, “this ship and its brethren.  However…”      

     If Vonter had seemed defeated and remorseful before, he now shed that skin, taking on the persona of a skilled entertainer with practiced ease. “On the other hand, yes, this was a game!” He gave that claim a moment to sink in, speaking again just before the questions could resume. “After all, such esteemed paragons of financial virtue such as yourselves doubtlessly live in stifling security and serenity, protected by the finest hands that your wealth can maintain.  A cruise such as this one is meant to be a moment of relaxation from the stresses of overseeing your inspiring fiscal empires, a reprieve from the pressures of your daily lives.  And yet…” Once more Vonter leaned towards the crowd, almost conspiratorially, and his smile was all but a leer. “What is life without excitement?  Without danger, and fury, and passion!” Clenching his fist, Vonter rose up before the multitude with the rousing furor of a general before his troops. “This is what we have offered you tonight: a glimpse into the hazards of space-faring you are typically deprived, an embellishment to your voyage for no extra charge!  We have offered you this taste of glorious intrigue as added flavor for your journey, whilst at the same time insuring that you will be absolutely protected by any real incursions from roaming marauders.  After all… who would be brave enough to attack a cruise ship reinforced by the proud crew of my own fleet?” Vonter straightened, resolutely staring off into the distance as if standing at attention.  The pride in his voice made his audience blink in awe, and almost immediately the gathered patrons turned to each other, whispering hurriedly as the pirate stood awaiting their verdict.

     “I do not believe it.  They… they…” Cruluxiam stared out into the mass, his eyes bulging precariously from their sockets, as the applause began and quickly spread. “They actually believe him.”

     “I know he’s lying, and I almost believe him,” one of the guards commented wryly, shaking his head in disbelief.  Another glanced back to Bullet, who could only shrug in disconnected relief.

     “And now, if you gentlefolk shall allow me, I must adjourn to see that your belongings are properly being sorted in preparation for their redistribution.  Any further details will be explained by the crewman who spoke to you before,” Vonter gestured towards the terrified man, who shook his head weakly as he realized what he had just been sentenced to, “and then, with all of this exhilarating business behind us, we shall join you in celebrating a marvelous evening!  Farewell for now!”  Vonter lowered the microphone to the stage and bounded from the platform, chased into the hall by the shouted compliments and appreciative applause of the formerly-hostile assembly.  Again he brushed by the guards, who looked almost compelled to applaud him themselves, and only turned once he stood beside Bullet, who offered him a bemused smile. “Well?  How was that?”

     “I… I…” Cruluxiam’s face was a battlefield, the tide quickly turning between anger and relief, only to reverse once more. “You…”

     “An inspired idea, if I do say so myself,” Vonter commented, redoubling the efforts of rage on the Diyetian’s visage. “How better to atone for my crimes than by turning them to your profit?  With this, you can easily erase any stain to the honor of your crew, whilst hopefully leaving my own record equally unblemished-” Vonter winced as he heard Bullet clear his throat, and sighed as a heavy hand came to rest on his shoulder. “Or, at least, for this occasion.”

     “…Or, I could still order my guards to shoot you.” Cruluxiam commented, sending Vonter edging nervously behind the Guardsman. “Personally, I think that is the better option all said.”  His already-bulging chest swelled in a deep sigh, and he shook his head in resignation. “Still, this could prove beneficial in the long run, and I would prefer to avoid staining the carpets aboard my vessel… so I shall offer you my mercy, this time.” The Diyetian extended his hand in what looked to be a gesture of benediction, and Vonter responded with a nervous grin, still not emerging from Bullet’s shadow.

     “Sir!  We have a problem!” The seven in the hall turned as they heard the shout, noticing a crewman hurriedly jogging towards them.

     “No running in the halls!  Have I not told you a hundred times-!”

     “Sir, it’s pirates!” The crewman stopped a safe distance away, panting for breath.

     “Pirates?  Don’t worry, we’ve already apprehended Vonter, I’m sure it is only his ships returning to insure the delivery of their stolen loot-” Cruluxiam suggested, glancing over towards Vonter appraisingly.  He froze as he noticed that the pirate’s already-pale skin looked all but translucent, and Vonter shook his head tightly, looking towards Bullet with wide eyes.

     “I told them to stay out of range, just in case someone got trigger happy.  If it’s pirates… it isn’t mine,” Vonter proclaimed grimly, frowning helplessly.  Bullet met his eyes, his own lips set in a tight line.

     “What?!  More pirates?” Cruluxiam exploded, forgetting the crowd standing just on the other side of the doors at the end of the hall. “This is disastrous!  This, this… this is your doing!” He stabbed a wrathful finger towards Vonter, who shook his head in panicked innocence.

     “Looks like we have no choice,” Bullet growled, abandoning Vonter to the mercy of the Decadences crew as he marched hastily down the hall.

     “Wait, Nathian, where are you going?” the Diyetian cried, his attention diverted from the pirate captain for just a moment.

     “To my ship,” Bullet responded darkly, his hand resting tensely on the hilt of his sword.  He offered Vonter a grim smile and a nod. “You assured them that they would be safe.  Since it sounds like your people won’t be here in time to carry out that promise,” Vonter shrugged weakly in silent response, “it looks like it’s up to me and the other guards aboard this ship to stop the pirates before they can get on board.  The rest, I leave to you.” With that said, the Guardsman resumed his march towards the Silverfang, already preparing himself for the battle to come.

     “Myspeed, Guardsman,” Cruluxiam offered quietly, watching as two of his bodyguards rushed after Bullet towards the hangar, determined to reach their own craft and aid in the coming battle.

     “You said it,” Vonter commented tersely, not bothering to hide his concern.  There was little they could do now to see to their own safety.  That, they were forced to leave up to the Nathian and those trained to defend the Decadence, offering only what prayers that could in the hopes they would all make it through the conflict alive. 

 

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