The Dutch Governor

Mei found the mansion airy and rather pleasant. She laughed aloud at Lia’s wide eyes and how the young woman reached out to touch everything, from the pale green walls to the furniture to the paintings. 

The white-walled reception room was a corner parlour with windows on two sides and patio doors overlooking a terrace and the island below, including the port. 

Overhead was a hand-painted mural on the ceiling depicting merchants at sea and wealthy counting houses on land. The couches were dark, imported oak with zebra-striped pelts for cushions. On the coffee table were crystal cups sitting on a golden platter next to a bottle of white wine, along with a three-tier dessert tower laden with brilliantly coloured treats. 

The governor was seated across from Lance and Armand, the former looking genteel and casual, perhaps because of the guards standing just inside the door. Lance and Armand seemed quiet and warier as they listened to the governor. The two cellists ignored the conversation and stuffed their faces with mini cakes and macaroons. Cheeto sat in an oversized stuffed chair, sinking into it and looking both uncomfortable by the surroundings and dwarfed by the massive vase of flowers next to him.

When she swanned into the room ahead of them, Brechtje smiled at her husband, interrupting him. “Schat, I’ve brought the rest of our guests.”

Cheeto, biting into a pink muffin, spit crumbs out in surprise. “What did you call him?”

The woman raised a brow. “Schat. It means treasure or dear in Dutch. A term of affection.”

Cheeto coughed and tried to swallow. “Oh. ‘K. Thought you were saying something else.”

The governor seemed annoyed by the interruption. He gave his wife a tight smile in return. “Thank you.” He was about to go on with whatever he’d been saying to Lance, in particular, still looking excited to have made the man’s acquaintance, but his wife again interrupted. 

“You’ll never guess who I’ve met.” She excitedly gestured to Juan. “Juan Fernandez!”


“The actor. He’s famous. From Spain!” Her eyes still shone as she looked at Juan.

The governor was far less impressed. “I’m sure. Well, if he’s in here, he’s no longer an actor anymore, is he?”

“Well, that’s only—“

The governor turned an irritated gaze on the Spaniard. “What did you do? Tax evasion? Drunk driving and kill someone? You’re an actor; it probably has something to do with cocaine and underage girls, hmm?” He sniffed and shook his head before picking up his glass. 

Brechtje’s smile became awkward. “It wasn’t like that, mijn schat. You see—“

This time, he cut her off, his frown sharper. “I’m talking business. With someone who actually matters. Not some washed-up actor who fucked up and landed himself in prison over something stupid.” He waved her away in dismissal. “Why don’t you…I don’t know, go show the Carib something sure to amaze her. Like a working toilet.”

She looked hurt but forced a smile and turned back to Mei and Lia. “Perhaps you’d like to join me for tea in another room?”

Mei apologized. “I think I need to stay. But Lia could go?” She gently nudged Lia in Brechtje’s direction, urging her to accompany the other woman. 

Cheeto jumped up from his chair, looking eager to get out of there. “I’ll go with her. Come on, Lia. Vamos.” He put an arm around her and pulled her to the door, Lia looking uncertain but allowing it.

Juan turned to follow. 

The governor lifted a finger, though he didn’t look up. “Not him. He stays.”

Two marines closed off the doorway, preventing Juan from following, while two more followed the others out of the room. 

Juan watched the others leave but said nothing. 

Mei eased herself into the chair that Cheeto had vacated, giving Juan a grateful smile when he took up a position behind her, like a guard, his arms folded as he stood over their conversation. 

“Now, back to business—“

Armand seemed to deliberately interrupt the governor. He gestured to Mei. “Our captain.”

The man stifled his annoyance and gave her a fixed smile. “A female captain. Well, you certainly dress the part.” 

Armand addressed Mei. “Governor Daniel Koopman was just telling us about the island. And the mercantile philosophy here.”

“Exactly,” Koopman said. His attention had returned to Lance and he spoke passionately about the subject matter. “This is a prosperous colony, and we have every aim to make it richer yet. Did you know that the Netherlands is the birthplace of modern capitalism? The financial and trade systems that are the foundation for the wealth and prosperity we enjoy today came from innovations we Dutch pioneered. 

“There was the establishment of the Amerstadam Stock Exchange in 1611, along with a capital market. The foundation of the VOC, the Dutch East India Company, the world’s first publicly listed company and the first model for multinational corporations. This gave rise to corporate-led globalization, corporate identity, corporate governance, and corporate finance. We formed the Bank of Amsterdam, the world’s first central bank and the concept of bank money. We formed the first collective investment funds and mutual funds, today a multi-trillion-dollar industry.”

“So,” Lance broke in, “basically, everything that America ever became is all thanks to you.”

Koopman’s face brimmed with pride. “Well, I won’t take credit for the hard work of others, but for the ideas, the conceptual part of it, the establishment of a trade empire, yes, that was on us. Back in the day, economies were based on industry, on production, and making things. Until we realized that there was far more money to be had in the ones investing in others, more profits in buying and selling than in creating.”

“Profit,” Armand said. “The act of unequal exchange.”

Koopman angrily shook his head at that. “An unfair assessment. For thousands of years, merchants have been vilified in societies all over the world, hated because people are just jealous of our success. We turned all that on its head. We began a modern culture that saw merchants become the biggest movers and shakers, even heroes and idols. Today, many of the most famous and lauded people on the planet are the richest and most successful of us.”

“You must know my history,” Lance told him, his voice low. “I am not lauded. Not anymore. Nor do I deserve to be.”

Koopman leaned forward. “I understand. Things went terribly for you. Those bastards in your congress decided to make an example of you. Fucking left-wing extremists. Communists. You did nothing wrong!”

Lance’s face looked pained, then turned stony. “People died.”

But Koopman waved the man’s emotions away. “There are always sacrifices on the road to greatness, and there will always be those who disagree with us. None of what happened was your fault.”

“What did happen?” Juan asked.

Nobody else answered. Lance stared at the table for a long minute. Finally, he sighed. “I took over a tech startup many years ago. I was bored with the world of finance, which is just numbers in a bank account, and I wanted to build something instead. 

“It turns out I had a knack for innovation too. Or recognizing it when others came up with new ideas that worked. I was ambitious and impatient. And I was in competition with established giants, the biggest names in the tech industry. If I didn’t become as successful as I possibly could in the shortest time I could, others would just copy and do it better. 

“We branched out into gaming, social media, app development. We did very well for ourselves. I turned down offers from the big guys to buy us out, certain we could stand alongside them on our own.”

He took a deep breath to steady himself. “The thing about modern software is that hundreds of millions of people rely on us—many of them for their entire livelihoods. We build platforms and do everything we can to get as many people on those platforms as possible. The more users, the more ad revenue we can sell. And revenue is everything. 

“When you’re in the middle of it, developing new tools, evolving and competing, you don’t stop to think of the consequences to users. You’re focused on that profit margin, that stock price, looking to impress at the next investor and shareholder meeting. Just like finance, you focus on numbers, not real people. People are just numbers to you. Something to be manipulated and calculated. So when it comes time to tweak an algorithm here or there, you don’t think about the real-world impact it’s going to have on every little person dependent on your platforms. You just update the tech and move on. You expect ripples, complaints, whatever. Doesn’t matter. You’re always moving forward. 

“When it came time to seek higher profits in the gaming division, we had long planned for microtransactions to be a part of it. We had a dozen major gacha games under different labels.”

“Gacha games?” Juan asked. “What is that?”

Lance cast about for an explanation. “They’re…how to explain? They’re not regular games. There’s no real point to them. You just collect characters and build them better and better equipment. Every couple of weeks, you come out with a shiny new character, probably with bigger tits, to entice males with money, and players can roll the dice on whether they acquire it or not. We call them games, but we put all the same tricks into them that casinos use on their customers. Gacha games are just slot machines, but fancy.”

“One-armed bandits,” Mei stated.

Looking guilty, Lance nodded. “Exactly. They’re very manipulative. We bring in psychologists and scientists and do everything we can to get players to go from free-to-play to pay-to-play—five bucks here, a hundred and fifty bucks there. Whales, the big spenders, dropping tens or even hundreds of thousands. It’s very profitable. The entire gaming industry had moved to the microtransaction model. It’s just too profitable not to.”

“Because you trick people’s brains,” Mei said. “You abuse their dopamine response, their hunter-gatherer desires.”

“Yes.” He grabbed a glass and took a long drink. 

“What happened?” Juan asked. 

“The first was a husband getting addicted to those games. He kept rolling and rolling on new characters, new gear. He spent thousands, then tens of thousands, put himself on the edge of bankruptcy. The family might have been ok—because of the wife. She was an influencer, making money with videos and doing very well for herself. She was making enough to keep the family afloat. Maybe, given time, they could have broken his habit and survived.”

He mulled his thoughts over and put the glass down. “We were trying to appease advertisers on our platform. Many were complaining that their ads were showing up on content they didn’t want to associate with. So we started tweaking the algorithms. 

“Well, that wife, the influencer? She kind of had a middle eastern look. And her content was often political. If someone had taken the time to look at her and her content beforehand, we would have seen that there was nothing objectionable. I mean, we’re supposed to have a culture of free speech and all that. She should have been allowed to say her piece, criticize the system, whatever. 

“But nobody did take a personal look at her or her work. No one fought for her rights or thought she should be important. Only the advertisers and their billions of dollars a year were important. We just blindly changed some numbers in an equation for our own profitability to please people selling cars and phones and all kinds of crap. And overnight, she stopped showing up in searches; people stopped seeing her as related content. She became invisible. Her income plummeted within a couple of weeks. The family went bankrupt. Husband committed suicide, leaving the wife and three kids behind.”

Juan shook his head in disgust. 

“I was on a late-night talk show, like some kind of celebrity. The wife, she showed up. Screamed at me on live television.” He looked haunted, his eyes dead as he relived the past. “Screamed at me for being coldhearted, uncaring. For not understanding that other people’s lives were at stake, that these platforms we build, that other people come to rely on, it’s infrastructure as crucial as any road or bridge. And when we make arbitrary changes, sometimes those are unfair. And sometimes, people get hurt.

“She pulled a gun out and started firing. Hit me twice in the chest. Turned it on the host, security. Then shot herself in the head.”

Juan looked like he wanted to throw up. 

Mei felt similar. She’d reported on the story, as had the rest of the world. But it was different doing so from a different continent, far removed, and hearing it now from the source. 

“I tried having the kids taken care of,” Lance muttered. “Family tore the checks up on local news. Told me to go to hell.” He poured a tall drink and downed the entire thing. 

The governor leaned forward, his face serious and sympathy in his voice. “Lance, my friend. What happened was a tragedy. It was. I think we can all agree on that. But it was not your fault!” he insisted. “The politicians demanding your head, they were only out to further their own agendas. The media were only out to sensationalize and sell more clickbait. Nobody made that man go broke over a videogame; he did it himself. Nobody forced that woman to shoot up a room full of people; that was her terrible decision, and as much pain as she might have been in, it was a monstrous thing to do. She had no right to lash out at you with violence like that.”

Lance just stared at his glass. 

The governor sighed. “I can see that they have done a number on you. They have convinced you that you must be guilty of some crime, of causing this pain. But that is not so. You only did what many people do. Your decisions were in the best interests of yourself and your people. How many employees did you send home every day with good paychecks? How many people did those games bring real joy to? For each influencer who was inconvenienced, how many millions of others found fame and success and are thankful, even now, for the opportunities your company gave them?”

Lance tried to shake his head. “It’s not that simple.”

“It is. You must not be so hard on yourself. You must forgive yourself. Do not allow others to make you feel guilty just for doing business. Do not let them absolve themselves of their responsibility in the matter. Forgive yourself and move on.”

Lance’s response was sour. “Yeah? Kinda hard to do that in prison, though, isn’t it?”

Now Koopman beamed. “Anything but. You can rebuild yourself here. Find new purpose. A new life. Try again.”

Lance looked up, perhaps unable to help himself. “How?”

“I have put together a team. Special people, like yourself, who are wrongly being punished for their successes. Here, they are free. Here, they do not languish in chains. Here they can put their talents and skills to good use.”

Lance sat up straighter, looking interested. “You mean, you’ve formed some kind of corporation? You’re doing business in the system?”

“Of course we are. Much, much business. You see, this might be a prison; it might have been built to house certain kinds of people. But the way it has been designed, real-world profits are not based on simply babysitting those who are incarcerated. Companies make more money the larger their share of the overall prison economy.”

Lance nodded with understanding. “The more money the colonies make, the better, regardless of how it’s made.”

“Precisely. Whether we put our convicts to work in the fields growing sugar or put them to work on ships, buying and selling sugar, we profit. But guess which type of work profits more?”

“It’s the same as the real world,” Lance surmised. “So while other people are producers, you’re trying to take over trade itself. Where the real money is.”

“And we have been very successful thus far. It is why the French have decided to pick a fight with us.” Koopman smirked. “If they had waited a year or two more, we might have become so profitable that our position would have been unassailable. The money we make in prison is part of an in-world economy, allowing us to create more ships, more soldiers, more power.”

“And with that, you can take over more colonies; push the other national corporations out.”

“Yes. That is the plan. And you can help.”

“I’m just a tech junkie.”

“You’re a businessman. Smart. Educated. Innovative. A proven commodity. With you and other talents like you, we can only become stronger and more successful. Everything you had out there and thought you’d lost by coming here, you can have again.” He smiled wide. “And if you thought life was grand as a billionaire in the real world, even if it is 1675 here, life can be very good in here too.” He gestured to the room around him. “How would you like your own palace? A staff of a hundred to serve your every need? All the women you could ever desire? And, best of all,” he leaned forward and spoke intensely, “there are no stuffy politicians and idiot rules to get in our way. There is nothing to hold us back from doing what we love, what we’re good at. Here, capitalism is as free as it can be.”

Lance licked his lips, tempted. 

Mei decided to break the spell the governor seemed to have cast over the room. “I assume your offer only applies to Lance?”

Koopman blinked in frustration, then smoothed his features. “Unless you bring something to the table? Who are you? Do you have useful skills?”

“I was a journalist.”

“Ha! I do not need such things.” He looked at Juan. “Nor do I need washed-up actors who are too attractive for their own good.” He turned his head to Armand. “And you?”

The black man lazily shrugged. “Most recently, I worked with computers. A hacker.”

“No computers here.”

“Then I suppose I shall have to try another method of employment.”

Koopman turned to the musicians. “I see you have instruments. There’s always room for someone with artistic talents. How well can you play?”

Andon reached for his cello case, full of enthusiasm. “Would you like us to play?” Without even waiting for an answer, he and Stasio began pulling their cellos out. But when they put bow to strings, such a screech sounded that it caused Mei to wince and put her hands over her ears. 

Stasio and Andon had big, silly grins on their faces and they put all their energy into playing—and could have shattered glass with how bad it was. 

Mei couldn’t believe what she was hearing. What was going on? Before, the two had played as well as any professional she’d ever heard. With one song, they could be living it up with a wealthy governor as a patron. 

The governor frowned and waved at them. “Stop! Stop! Enough!”

Stasio showed him an innocent expression. “What did you think? Want to hire us?”

He was disgusted. “I think your playing is the crime that probably got you sent to prison. Don’t ever play another sound in my presence again.”

The brothers looked at each other, shrugged with sad resignation, then began repacking the cellos. 

Mei and Armand shared a glance; he shook his head, telling her not to say anything. 

Koopman sat back in the couch with a sigh. “Talent is so difficult to find. I suppose most of you will find work in the fields. You,” he flicked his fingers at Mei, “and the Carib I’ll toss in the brothels. Always looking for fresh meat there.”

“I’m afraid that won’t work for me,” Mei countered, “or any of my crew.” It felt strange to call them that, but she knew she had to act like a leader right now, even though it was a new experience for her. 

“Crew?” He chuckled. “Making crew out of the Caribs? Novel idea, if you don’t mind them trying to eat you while you’re sleeping. Are those primitives even smart enough? Honestly, they’re just a nuisance. We should just get rid of all of them.”

Mei looked him in the eyes. “The English already tried that. We killed them.”

From the look in his eyes, he didn’t believe her. “Did you now? Impressive, I’m sure.” His tone said he wasn’t impressed. 

She leaned back in the chair, trying to show confidence with an easy smile. “I also blew up an English warship. And killed its captain. That’s where I got this nice jacket.” She fingered the blue material.

His eyes lit, and he snapped his fingers with recognition, sitting up with genuine interest now. “That was you? Now that is impressive!” He looked at her with a new light, as if she now had potential.

Mei knew she needed to impress him, to find some way to be valuable and profitable. “You said yourself that you’d prefer prisoners make themselves more useful than grunts in the fields. I agree. Why waste us like that? We’ve all got the pirate class. I’m a captain. I’ve got weapon skills. Let us sail under your flag.”

“You want a letter of marque? Become Dutch privateers?”

“You get a share of anything we capture, right? Isn’t that more profitable? Especially when you have a war going on right now?”

“It might be. If you had a ship.”

“We do.”

“Oh?” He asked her which and where, then grabbed a spyglass from atop a low bookcase and went to the patio doors. It took only a few seconds to locate the sloop. He laughed too loudly. “That’s your ship? What could you possibly capture with that thing? Fishing boats?” He turned back to her with a mocking expression. 

Mei gambled. “Give us a ship.”

“No. Do you even know how to sail?” He returned to his seat on the couch. “Why would I waste a ship on the likes of you?”

She had to think fast. “You’re right; we’re new at this. But we have potential. We’re learning. Give us a chance. Even with our current ship, we’ll capture something bigger. And bigger again.”

“Doubt it. You’ll get sunk. Even if you snuck up on someone, what would a girl, a few untrained men, and some bad musicians possibly do? Are you going to take your jaguar hunting on the sea with you? An attack cat?”

“If you don’t believe in us, give us a better ship. Give us a poor ship. We’ll find more crew.”

He looked disappointed. “We’re at war. I’m not wasting resources on someone who must have just gotten their captain class and has no experience or anything to bring to the table.”

Mei reluctantly gave up on her independence. “We will agree to join an existing privateer crew. We can learn until we take a worthier prize, then we can sail on our own.” She tried her best to look earnest. “I managed to destroy an English warship, escape hostile Caribs after being kidnapped, defeat a capture squad sent after me, then returned to Barbados and, with their help,” she nodded at the others, “we disrupted operations in multiple towns, including blowing up a mill, before stealing that sloop, the last ocean-going ship on the island—and defeating the captain for a second time, this time in personal combat.”

He scoffed. “Not possible. That you got lucky once, maybe. I heard about the brig sinking in Barbados. But you beat Fowler in personal combat? Lies.”

The others all fell over each other, agreeing with Mei and assuring the man it was all true.

The governor looked skeptical but also undecided.

Mei waved the others to quiet. “Let us prove our worth. If nothing else, you’ve got more bodies on a ship to throw at the enemy. Maybe we’ll never be anything more than cannon fodder to help win this war. And maybe we will become something more and bring back a couple of rich prizes. It’s win-win for you.”

He thought about that for a couple of minutes, then gave in. “As that’s currently more profitable than locking you all up as passive income, and since I do want to win this war… There’s a particular ship that I happen to know in need of crew. You can sail under that captain. For now.” Looking brighter, he smiled again. “I’ve always been a fan of the idea of taking gambles on promising startups.” He clapped his hands, enthusiastic now. “Aren’t you lucky? Report to the Flying Dutchman. The captain will give you your orders.”

Mei realized she had a problem. She couldn’t very well take Jie on the privateer with her, not when it wasn’t her ship. No other captain was going to allow that. And a ship wasn’t a good place for a while animal like that. “I’d like to leave the jaguar in your care, for now. If that’s ok.”

He waved her request away. “It’s fine. The menagerie will make a fine home.”

She wasn’t sure if the man had any intention of giving the jaguar back up now that he had it in his possession. But she would take it back if she had to.

Koopman looked at Lance and stood up, facing the American. “What do you think, Mr. Kinsely? Would you rather go to sea and get shot or drowned? Or would you like to get back to what you’re great at? And live like a king here on Sint Maartin?”

Lance hesitated but stood. He raised his head and reached out his hand. “I’ll stay.”

The governor shook the hand firmly. “Ha! Excellent! A profitable day.”


They were dismissed. The marines took the prisoners outside to the front of the mansion and gave them back their arms. 

The twins looked uneasy. 

“The Flying Dutchman?” Stasio pondered aloud, worry lines on his brow. “Wasn’t that a ghost ship?”

Cheeto grumbled. “Maybe they took the worst of all the prisoners here and made a fearsome pirate crew out of them?”

No one liked the sound of that. 

Brechtje came out of the house, still very much enamoured of Juan. She practically vibrated with excitement as she spoke to him and him alone. “It was so wonderful to meet you. I hope we meet again soon. Please be safe out there.”

Juan’s reply was simple and promised nothing. “Thank you,” he said, though he did give her an actor’s warm smile. And his hands did linger on hers as they shook, both using two hands to do so.

Lance came out as well to say goodbye. 

“Are you certain?’ Armand asked, looking disappointed. “I do not think he is a man to be trusted.”

Lance had some guilt on his face but shrugged one shoulder. “Come on. I’m better suited to a desk. What the hell kind of privateer or pirate would I make?

Armand argued for a while but failed to make an impact. Finally, he reluctantly hugged his friend and let it go. 

Mei took Lance’s hand in her grip and held it, looking into his eyes. “We’re crew, you and us.”


“We’re crew. We all escaped St. Vincent together. We all took on Barbados together. We’re only here now because we all helped each other. Even if we’re not on the same ship, that makes us crew. Even if you’re living it up here while we’re out there sleeping in hammocks and eating hardtack.”

He couldn’t help but laugh. 

“If there’s anything we can ever do, ask. If we’re in port and have a chance to see each other, let’s buy each other a drink. Crew once, crew always. Right?”

He squeezed her hand with genuine friendliness. “Crew always,” he agreed with a smile. 

The others jumped in with similar sentiments and there were more hugs and handshakes. Then they waved and set off for town, leaving Lance behind but not alone. 

Brechtje caught Lia’s eye as they walked away. “Tot ziens!”

Lia grinned and waved back. “Bye-bye!” She seemed to have enjoyed the other woman’s company in their short time together. 

Mei looked one last time in the direction of the menagerie as they departed. They would be privateers, for now. But she’d be back for Jie. Jie was crew. And she refused to leave any of her crew behind for long.