Pirate's Life

28 – Angry Volcano

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Watching a big, athletic and very dangerous man charge full tilt at her with a rifle, one with a huge knife on the end of it, was intimidating. Mei instinctively wanted to back down, to run, to beg for mercy. 

But there was no mercy in those eyes. Only excitement. He grinned and moved so fast that he appeared to double in size, a giant coming after her. 

The fear was nearly overwhelming. Her hand shook and the barrel wavered from its target. She held off her shot, knowing she needed to wait until the last moment for the bullet to hit him.

The rifle pointed and fired.

The bullet hit her in the side of the chest and it was like being kicked by a mule. She staggered back a step, eyes watering from the pain and shock. And then he was almost on her, so she fired the pistol. 

He twisted his torso and lowered his shoulder like a football player. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and bounced off, barely grazing him and not slowing him in the slightest. His grin widened, feral and full of teeth. 

Her eyes widened and she tried to protect herself with her arm and the pistol. But he rammed into her with his full body. The bayonet pierced her left bicep, the steel eerily scraping against the bone as it went in, a sensation she wished she’d never experienced. The impact lifted off her feet and then slammed to the ground. His weight and the bayonet pinned her to the ground, the blade having gone through her arm and into the soggy soil below. She cried out as the air was expelled from her lungs and gasped for breath. 

The naval officer, who she thought might have been somewhat handsome if he hadn’t looked so happy to murder her, pressed down on her even more, glee in his eyes.

She whimpered and closed her own eyes from the pain, back trying to arch yet unable to do so with him pressing down on her. Her arm felt like it was being torn off!

“Should have given up,” he gloated.

She opened her watery eyes, his face a bit of a blur above her. “Why? So you can try to rape me again?”

He smirked. “This is a prison.”

“And that justifies doing whatever you want to the people in here?”

“If you’re in here, it means you deserve what you get.” He cruelly twisted the bayonet.

She grunted but refused to scream, though every muscle in her body tensed. Panting, she looked him in the eye. “Maybe some do. But I don’t.”

“They all say that,“ he mocked.

“Read my file, asshole!”

“Yeah yeah. Come on. It’s about time we ended this, huh?”

“You’re just as corrupt as the rest of them. I’m going to kill you.”

“You wish.” He smiled wide and lowered his triumphant expression until it was only a handspan over hers, close enough to feel his breath on her face as he chuckled and then spoke. “Not a bad run though. I saw the sword. Didn’t think you’d have a pistol on you, too.”

Grimly determined, she stared back into his blue-green irises and forced her own semblance of a smile. “Your mistake was thinking I only had one.”

His eyes narrowed in puzzlement, then widened and he looked down between them, one hand reaching out.

But she already had the second pistol pointed, the one she’d hidden behind her while he’d charged at her. He hadn’t seen it when she’d fallen. And she’d pulled the trigger as she’d spoken. Unfortunately, she hadn’t had the freedom to aim up at his chest or head. 

The gun went off with a bang and his eyes flew open, his mouth widening in what was probably the worst shock of his life. His jaw worked for a couple of seconds and then he toppled sideways off of her, hands going to his crotch, where the white pants were being flooded by a bright red stain. He screamed in unholy torment. 

Mei took a few moments to catch her breath, which was harder than it should have been. Probably had something to do with having been shot in the chest. Each time she took in air, she felt the pain in her arm too. Tears streamed freely. She dropped the pistol and reached over to grasp the rifle by the barrel, wincing at the agony in her chest. With all her strength at that awkward angle, she pushed the weapon upwards—and then paused as a realization hit her: if she drew the blade through her arm, it would take mud and other stuff into the wound, wouldn’t it? What would happen then? 

Uncertain, she felt she had no choice but to lift the rifle and her arm at the same time until the blade came free of the ground. She then rolled to her side, away from the screaming marine, and rested the rifle on the ground. Fingers reached under her arm and wiped the bayonet blade clean before she pulled her arm off of it. Once more, the blade scraped her bone as it came out and she shivered at the creepy feeling. Once it was removed, much more red liquid streamed out and she knew that she needed to tie the wound off as soon as she could. And address her chest. 

One of her pistols had recharged. She picked it up with her right hand and stood over the marine. 

A great explosion rocked the air and the ground shook so hard that Mei almost lost her balance. 

She looked up, startled, and saw a huge, white smoke stack rising in the sky. The volcano was growing impatient. Her eyes turned back down to the marine and became grim once more.

He glared up at her, slowly bleeding to death in a very unfortunate way.

“Sorry,” she half-apologized. “Didn’t have much choice in where to aim.”

“You’re a dead woman,” he snarled, voice gutteral.

She sighed. “You want me to put you out of your misery or not? I could just leave you here for the next hour or so until you end on your own. But I’ll bet that hurts pretty badly, doesn’t it?”

Daggers shot from his eyes. 

She pointed the pistol at his head. “Remember this. Because I’ll bet that mercy isn’t something you guards are all that familiar with.” She pulled the trigger. 

Weapon Class: Pistol

Skill Level: Novice

His body slumped, the life gone out of it.

She stared at the corpse. One of so many. The gun fell from her hand as a wave of despair washed through her. Wavering on her feet, she deeply wished that she’d never come to this place. That she’d never had to experience being burned or stabbed or shot. That she’d never, ever had to kill anyone. 

She’d even levelled up from it. Just as she had when she’d slain the other guard with the sword earlier. What kind of a world would make it so beneficial to take lives?

Mei pictured the corrupt judge who’d taken her from the life she’d lived and buried her in this prison. She raised her head and screamed at the heavens, wishing the judge and all the political garbage on top of him could hear her rage. “Cào nǐ mā! Cào nǐ zǔzōng shíbā dài!” Motherfuckers! Fuck eighteen generations of your ancestors!

Well, that might have been a stupid thing to do, because the pain in her chest redoubled from the effort. She gasped and looked down. On her right side, just below her breast, the bullet had left a gash. Gingerly probing with her fingers, however, it seemed she’d been very lucky. The bullet had hit a rib. And while the rib was cracked and broken, the bullet had ricocheted away rather than enter her body. Lucky. Though not as lucky as not being shot at all. 

Was it too late to be reassigned to a prison where she just sat in a nice, safe cell somewhere instead? Solitary confinement somewhere might be perferable, as long as she had a supply of good books. 

Weary and hurting, she looted the corpse. If there was one thing she’d learned from playing Dungeons and Dragons and other table-top RPGs, it was that you always loot the corpse. Guns, bloody pants, a grenade, it all got dumped into a pile. Then the flesh faded away, leaving only a skeleton. Perhaps the most important thing she took? His boots and socks.

Detaching the bayonet from the rifle, she cut strips of cloth from the dead man’s pant legs. With some effort, she tied off her injured bicep and even managed to do the same for her chest, though the field dressing did take some time. 

The rain had stopped as she worked. Now, the light dimmed even further as evening approached quickly in the overcast sky. 

Mei slung both rifles over her shoulders, put one pistol and the grenade in her pockets while she carried the other gun, and felt like she could barely walk from the weight. The boots were loose on her but it was better than being barefoot. Her bruised and cut-up feet thanked her profusely. She needed to remember to loot another pair of socks so that she could double up and make the boots fit better. Men and their stupid, big feet.

The trudge through the jungle was slow and unfun. Her thoughts kept wandering on their own and she repeatedly had to drag herself back to keep a watchful eye around her. More marines could be out there. 

A rustle to the side caught her attention. But before she could react, the jaguar ambled into the open, almost within reach. It looked up at her, someone else’s blood all over his mouth. 

She snorted in amusement. “Well, I hope you aren’t getting a taste for human blood.” She cautiously lifted her hand so the cat could sniff it, which it did. She petted it on the head and it joined her trek.

The pair soon returned to the location of the earlier ambush. There was blood in the mud and tracks everywhere. The Caribs had gone but her sword lay on the ground, stuck in the bones of the departed marine. She pocketed the pistol and took the sword up instead. As if she needed to carry even more. But she’d be a fool to give up a free arsenal. What she really needed was a magical bag of holding.  

Ok, she might have a bit of a geeky side. 

In the village, she found that most of the Caribs still alive had returned. Wounded were being treated. One woman had lost an ear. Another had a gash on her chest. Most people were packing up. A small band of seniors herded frightened children back into the ring of huts from where they’d been hiding in the jungle. A baby cried, refusing attempts to calm it. 

The previous evening and this morning, Mei had discussed the future with three women and one man who had become a kind of council since the loss of their warriors. Many in the tribe had been eager to flee and now they knew for sure that they had no choice. Preparations were well underway, but as yet they were not hauling anything down to the canoes. 

A council woman came up to Mei and gestured towards the beach and spoke in her own language. Mei didn’t understand, but got the impression that the ship the marine’s had come in was out there, and that there was still a guard. 

Giving the woman a tight smile, she bowed. She’d take care of it. 

One of the male warriors approached and the look in his eyes said he was there to help, for which she was grateful. He carried a spear and a bow.

They stepped quietly through the trees and paused within the foliage to study the landing site. To her surprise, a rough catamaran, was anchored to the beach. And an all-too-familiar figure stood over four helpless men in manacles.

⚓️

Odessa grinned down at them, malice in his eyes. “Is like Christmas. Many presents for me.” Knife and broken bayonet blade glinted in his grasp. He had been shot in the chest, but not badly enough to stop him. Perhaps the bullet had lodged in his thick pectoral muscles and failed to penetrate farther. 

Lance, like the others, looked up at the monster, forlornly wishing they were not chained to the deck. They couldn’t fight back and couldn’t run. He found his voice. “Forget revenge. Don’t you want to escape this place? Go ahead. Release us and take the ship.”

The bigger man laughed. “Release you? Why? I can just kill you. Like him.” He nodded towards the spot where he’d stabbed the marine to death, where only a blood stain, a ring of keys and two rifles remained next to a skeleton. Odessa hadn’t bothered with the guns. Seems he preferred blade work. Maybe because it was more personal.

Swallowing hard, Lance glanced at the others for help, but all were silent. “Look, I had nothing to do with what they did to you.”

A brow rose over one brown, uncaring eye. “So?”

He sagged at that. This was clearly a man who enjoyed violence and causing pain. And there wasn’t anything he could do about it. 

A flicker from the side caught his attention. But before he could look, an arrow thunked into Odessa’s back. 

The gangster cried out and fell to one knee. He dropped the bayonet and tried to reach back for the offending object, but the arrow was in a place difficult to get to. Growling, he rose and sought to take cover by going over the side of the catamaran. But he’d only gone two steps when one of his legs buckled and gave out, send him to his hands and knees. A puzzled expression slowly turned to one of horrified recollection. Then he collapsed on the wooden planks. 

Curare? Lance wondered. He’d gone through the experience once.

All heads turned towards the beach. 

There she stood, alive and well for the most part, a rifle in her hands, a Carib man a step behind her, carrying a bow. 

Mei. 

She turned to the warrior and used her hands to gesture breathing with a bag. The man nodded and jogged off.

A mix of feelings welled up within Lance: anger and frustration, but also relief, though he didn’t really want to admit the last part. 

She tiredly strode down the beach towards them. “Hey guys,” she greeted them once she got close and began climbing up on to the catamaran. 

“You’re alive!” Cheeto exclaimed. 

“But not unscathed.” Juan’s eyes were on her bandages. 

She beamed at them. “Something like that.” Spotting the keys, she scooped them up. “Let’s get you out of those.”

They allowed her to undo the manacles and leg irons. Yet no one returned her enthusiasm. And only Armand thanked her, his charming manner unphased.

She sensed their ill mood and gave them a puzzled look. “What’s wrong?”

Something snapped in Lance. “You killed them, didn’t you? All of them?”

She frowned first in response to his tone, but then looked guilty. “Yes. They’re all dead.”

“You fucked us!” he shouted at her.

The guilty expression deepened and she glanced away. “I’m sorry.”

Juan, normally stoic and quiet, was also very upset. “We gave ourselves up. Everything would have been fine. Even if he’d killed us,” the Spaniard pointed at Odessa’s unmoving body. “We would have respawned and they would have taken us into custody again. But because of you,” he turned his finger on her, “they’re probably going to punish us! They might even think we’re in on it with you!”

“And I’ll just bet you think you’re going to waltz out of here on this boat, too, don’t you?” Lance accused her. “Leave us all stranded with a bunch of pissed-off guards for a few weeks if we don’t want to risk our necks playing pirate with you. Let them take their frustration out on us and make everything even worse.” He snarled. “You selfish bitch!” He was afraid and worried and he absolutely hated her right now. Because it was her fault they were in this mess.

Caribs began coming out from the village. They gave the people on the catamaran wary and dirty looks, but dedicated themselves to putting their big canoes in the water and loading them up, working fast.

Armand tried to put a hand on Lance’s shoulder only for Lance to slap it away. 

Cheeto’s face screwed up in uncertainty. He looked back and forth between Lance and Juan and Armand as if unsure how to feel.

“I’m sorry,” Mei told them, raising her head. “I am.”

“Go to hell!” Juan spat at her. 

At that moment, another huge explosion boomed across the sky and a ball of white smoke rose up from the volcano’s peak, laced with dark ash and glowing orange sparks. For a few moments, it held everyone’s attention.

The warrior who had shot Odessa returned. He stopped at the edge of the surf and tossed an air bladder onto the deck of the catamaran, getting a bow of thanks from Mei in return. 

Mei looked guilty again, but firmed her resolve and squared her body to their group. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that there had to be a choice.”

“You think you’re such a good person, like you’re better than the likes of us,” Lance leered. “But when it came down to it, you only thought of yourself. And you’ve damned the rest of us.”

“I wish there had been another way.” Mei glanced down only for a second and then met their eyes without looking away. “All is not lost.”

“Oh really?” Juan threw up his hands. “You’re going to wait until they come back and apologize? Give yourself up nicely?”

“No,” she replied evenly. “But we have a ship now. And that gives us all a choice that you didn’t even want to think about before. You thought we’d have no chance against the marines when they came. Well they did. And they failed. Doesn’t that change how you feel at all?”

He spun away in disgust. She just didn’t get it. 

“This is true,” Armand added in his infuriatingly calm manner. “Although, as I’ve said, we have no way to navigate. We are not sailors.” He eyed the catamaran under their feet. “I’m not even sure how seaworthy this thing is. They must have barely made it in that storm.”

Lance waved at the boat. “And if anyone sees us sailing along with this thing they’re going to immediately chase us down and pick us up, knowing we’re not a legitimate vessel.”

“Which is good reason to sail to Barbados and take the sloop,” she argued. “I’ve struck a bargain with the Caribs. They’ll get us there in exchange for the ship and whatever they can raid from the colony.”

He growled and stamped a foot. “What is wrong with you? Why the hell do you want the impossible? And why are you trying to force it on us?”

She shrugged and spoke reasonably. “Escape was impossible, but I did that. Blowing up a ship is impossible, but I did that. Surviving their attempt to recapture me was impossible, but we did that, together. Sure, it may be difficult to sail off or steal the sloop on Barbados, but who’s to say we can’t?”

“I do!” Juan pounded his chest, his face red. “They’re going to punish us bad enough for this. Because of you! We’re not running away and trying to steal a ship out from under them too!”

Lance slowly nodded, an idea coming to him. “You know what? Fuck her. Maybe we should hand her over ourselves and buy us some good will. All the trouble they went to capture you, maybe we’ll even get rewarded. It certainly can’t hurt.”

Her eyes widened a bit in surprise, then drooped. Sighing, she gave him a flat look. “I just killed two marines. Do you really want a shot at me too?”

He didn’t answer that. 

“I’d much rather be friends,” she told him and seemed sincere. She addressed them all. “I get it, the idea of leaving and defying the system is scary and part of you wants to stay. If that’s what you all really want, then I won’t stop you. I won’t try to take the ship on my own. I’ll hitch a ride with the Caribs when they leave.” She plucked the air bladder from the deck. “That guy is going to die from the curare if we don’t help him breathe.”

“Why would we save him?” Cheeto asked, bewildered. 

“Because,” she pointed out, “if you want someone to hand over to buy goodwill, he works too, right? But if he dies, who knows where he’ll respawn?”

Cheeto’s head bounced in understanding. He grabbed the bladder from her and went over the body. Kicking Odessa over onto his back, Cheeto used the air bladder to keep him breathing. 

Lance felt fixated on the idea of handing Mei over to the guards. “Nah. We don’t let her leave.” He looked at Juan. “We hand her over, they might forgive all of this. Blame her for it instead of us. Take it easy on us when we get back to Barbados.”

Juan hesitated and then nodded in agreement. 

Mei looked exasperated for the first time. “Guys! Don’t do this. This is an opportunity, one you’ve never had before.”

“What’s your solution?” Armand politely asked. 

She excitedly jumped on his question. “Don’t make a decision yet. We all take this ship and we sail to Barbados. The Caribs will help. Once we get there, then you can choose. Either turn yourselves and the gangster in and hope to buy leniency, or help me steal the sloop and sail away to a better life—for all of us. Whatever you choose, take the crossing to think about it. Because you may never get a chance like this again.” She looked pleading. “Are you all really so eager to go back to being prisoners in a system that outright abuses you?”

None answered that. 

Lance ran a hand through his hair. A voice in the back of his head was trying to urge him to caution. He knew he was emotionally volatile. What was he really afraid of? Of being punished by the guards? Of being free and having to make his own decisions again? And to be responsible for the consequences? Of failure? Of getting his sentence extended? All of it? Something else?

A deep rumbling took over the island. The Caribs stumbled and fell as they filled the canoes. The catamaran lurched. All eyes turned to the north. 

The final, full eruption blew off the top of the volcano and sent ash and fire into the late-evening sky. Streamers of lava and molten rock flew in all directions in great arcs, a brilliant light show in the darkness, a primal display of power and danger.

The natives shouted and cried out in fear and rushed twice as fast to pack their entire lives into the canoes. A pair of women turned anxious gazes on Mei and gestured about leaving. 

Mei looked at the four men, challenge in her brown eyes. “Do or die time. It’ll take a day or two to get to Barbados. Use it to think. Make your decision there, not here.”

Armand spoke. “It is a good idea. I agree.”

“They’re going to be pissed that we took the ship,” Juan argued, though not as hotly as before.

Armand laughed, tension easing from the conversation. “Oui. But we can argue that we fled the Caribs perhaps. If we turn ourselves in, and give them the gangster, then it should be enough to lessen their anger. But I, too, think this opportunity is one to consider at greater length if we have the chance to do so, no?” He looked at both Lance and Juan, a bit expectantly.

It was hard to be angry in the face of the man’s calm, self-assuredness. Lance gave an angry shrug. 

Juan took a deep breath and was thoughtful. Finally, he gave in. “Fine. We decide in Barbados.”

Mei’s smile brightened the night almost as much as the falling rain of lava did. 

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