Pillaging a Plantation

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They stared towards the island in the dying light of the day, Barbados sitting on the very edge of the horizon, waiting for darkness. 

The fiery ball of the sun sank into the ocean behind them and extinguished itself, hiding them. 

The time of debating and waiting was over. Laughter and cheer fell away, replaced with quiet contemplation and nervousness. Danger and potential capture lay ahead. The catamaran and the Carib canoes aimed for shore.

Juan’s jaw set. Cheeto’s hands twitched and Lance looked like he was already sweating. But Armando had a slight smile and was cool as can be. 

Winny, back in sight of her home again, looked desperate.

Mei stared into the darkness ahead of the catamaran and fingered one of her flintlock pistols, knowing that she’d probably have to use it again soon. She wondered whether her nerves were shaking because she feared that fact, or because she excitedly looked forward to it. How odd that it might be the latter; she laughed at herself. Just who was she becoming in this world?

Lance pointed them to a spot on the north side of the island, furthest from Bridgetown and the bastion of military power in the south. By the time the canoes were pulled from the water and rested on the sand of the beach and the catamaran anchored, it was late evening. There was no wind and the island was without modern lights so it was a mass of shadowy shapes. Stars sprinkled the heavens and the moon was rising, three-quarters full. 

This landing point had been chosen because it was near a small but successful plantation. They could see the main mansion a couple of hundred meters away, the upper floor rising above the surrounding forest to look out over the sea. 

Mei had to keep an arm around Winny to restrain her lest she give them away. As much as was sympathetic to the woman’s plight, she didn’t trust her. Together with the Caribs and prisoners, they crept through the brush and forest, arriving at the farm in minutes. 

Jie, taking her cue from the stealthy behaviour and wariness of the others, hunched over and slunk through the grass and trees like a deadly shadow, always following Mei.

They arrived in the forested area around the mansion and hid in the jungle, just outside manicured gardens filled with flowers and palm trees. 

The huge, butter-yellow house was something out of a picture. It was two stories tall with a small, slightly sloped roof of green tiles. Both the ground level and the second-floor porches were pure white, fanciful in detail, and entirely ringed the house. Eleven floor-to-ceiling windows ran along the entire front of the house and four more ran along the side, meaning there must have been many rooms or some very large ones. 

A patio of white stone surrounded by hedges and more flowers formed an isolated backyard with a tea table and wicker couches, while the white-stone steps and drive in the front were much more open and ringed with palms. The drive led to a dirt road that ran along the front of the property and it was lined with a long flowerbed filled with roses.

Mei spotted a garden shed and pulled Winny over. She looked her in the eyes. “I’m sorry, but there are a lot of lives at stake and we can’t just let you go on your own right now.” She nodded towards the shed. “Can we lock you in there for the night? They’ll find you in the morning.”

The woman whined at the idea, afraid. But she gave in. “Ok. Because you saved me on that island. From that fiend.” She entered of her own free will, then looked back at Mei. “Thank you. I wish you good luck. Please don’t hurt anyone.”

“I’ll try.” She smiled to reassure Winny and then closed the shed door. They propped a stray board against the handle, then used some shovels standing against the outside wall to make an arrow pointing to the door. That would help someone find Winny in the morning, if she didn’t free herself, which probably wouldn’t be too hard if she tried. The shed was flimsy and the board was not a great lock. Hopefully, Winny’s gratitude would last for another hour or two.

On the other side of the road from the main house, the forest in opposite the mansion had been cleared away and replaced with sugar and vegetable fields that stretched for hundreds of meters. On the west side of the fields, close to the road, was a collection of much smaller buildings. These did not have manicured landscapes or pretty details and porches. They were squat and functional and all single story and most were painted dark green as if to blend into the landscape and be less of an eyesore. There were four smaller residences, sheds, silos, a warehouse, a barn with the doors wide open and wagons and horses inside, and two red brick buildings that were larger than any of the houses. Beyond these buildings were a few pens for animals.

Crouching in the treeline, Lance pointed to various locations in front of them. “Obviously, we’re right next to the main hall where the owner and his family and servants live. Across the road, that closer brick building is the main bunkhouse where the prisoners are locked up for the night. Probably about fifty crammed in there or more. They’ll all be chained to their bed with a leg iron so even if they wake, they won’t be able to do anything. Over there are houses for locals. There’s probably about six per house. Most have the mindset of indentured workers which is a nice way of saying voluntary contract slavery. If they wake up, they may defend the place themselves but more likely call for the guards.” There were four houses for a total of twenty-four local NPCs. “That smaller brick one is the guardhouse. The silos and warehouse are for storing sugar and food and other stuff. Vegetables will be in that root cellar over there. And you can see the cow, pig, and chicken pens.”

“How many guards?” Armand inquired.

“Probably around a dozen soldiers posted here. Maybe more.”

Mei counted their own party: five free prisoners and twelve Caribs, only one of which was male and a warrior. Those who were armed had spears and bows but most of the women didn’t look very experienced with the weapons. “Odds are about even in terms of numbers but they’ve got muskets. We’ve got spears and a couple of pistols.”

Lance pointed to the guardhouse again. “They’ll have two awake inside all night long and they’ll walk ‘round the plantation once every couple of hours. They change shifts sometime after midnight.” He seemed to mull something over. “If we snuck up to the guardhouse and found a way to block the door, that would delay them.”

“What about the windows?” Juan noted.

Lance half-smiled. “No windows. It’s a bunker in case there’s a rebellion or invasion.”

Mei hoped to avoid direct confrontation at this point. Stealth would be key. “Let’s wait for the patrol to return to the guardhouse after they’ve been out. That’ll give us an hour or two. We should be able to loot a lot of stuff in that time. We just have to be really quiet.”

Juan countered. “Things are going to get noisy quickly if we try making off with any of the animals, especially the chickens.”

Cheeto stated the obvious. “If the guards wake up, then we’re doomed.”

“The Caribs need those animals,” Mei insisted. “The chickens at least, since I don’t know how easy it would be to transport the pigs or cows. But having some kind of domestic animal will keep them from raiding colonies and resorting to cannibalism. If we give them a way to be more self-sufficient, they’ll be a lot safer.”

“Should we take risks just for non-prisoners?” Lance asked. “They are just AI, aren’t they?”

“They helped us,” she answered. “And if we ever need help again, this is how we trade for future goodwill. I don’t care if they’re human or AI, they’re people.”

“And helping is how we prove what kind of people we are,” Armand added, looking his friend in the eye. “Everything is practice.”

Lance looked conflicted but reluctantly nodded.

“We could wake the other prisoners,“ Juan suggested. “Get them to help.”

Mei shook her head. “All of you were reluctant to rebel. Do you want to take a chance on strangers who might call for help and get us caught instead of joining us?”

“True,” he admitted. “I suppose we might not all fit in the boat either.”

“Even if they were willing, we’d have to free them, and the keys are probably in the guardhouse. Let’s just be very, very quiet,” she reiterated. “And do our best. If the guards catch wind of us, we run.”

Lance looked pensive. “Ok, I know this is kind of a, um, dark idea.” He looked up at Mei. “Didn’t you say, about the Carib village, that Putin had been sneaking into houses and killing people in their sleep? Could we try that?”

“Isn’t that murder?” Cheeto asked. “I thought we were trying to be good people.”

Mei felt distinctly uncomfortable about the idea. “I think there are a lot of guards, the governors, the staff who are all perpetuating this awful system. Maybe not every individual is abusing us, but those with their heads down are still choosing to work alongside people who do, and they do nothing to stop that corruption. I consider them all, in general, to be opponents. But I don’t want to go around hurting people we don’t have to.”

“There could be a lot of soldiers in there,” Armand reasoned. “Several of us would have to sneak in and we’d have to kill them all at the same time.”

“Risky,” Juan muttered.

“Bloody.” Cheeto snorted. 

Mei felt sickened. “Let’s block the door. If there’s a fight and we have to kill, fine. But I’m not going to kill people in their sleep.”

Juan looked at the others. “I would prefer the same.” 

The others agreed, Lance reluctantly so.

Armand looked around, studying everyone’s faces. “Are you all ready for this?”

Cheeto, Lance, and Juan shared glances but nodded. 

Mei conveyed the plan to the Caribs, who also warily agreed. Some of the women had fire in their eyes, others only fear. But they would do what they needed to.

“Let’s do this!” the little Mexican hissed. 

The group edged their way onto the plantation. They snuck through a strip of young potatoes and tomatoes and broccoli towards the storage facilities, everyone keeping an eye out for the patrol. They heard the voices before seeing them and flattened themselves in the dirt amidst the vegetables. 

Two guards wandered out from behind the large barn. The soldiers differed slightly from their maritime counterparts, their red coats longer and looser. Instead of tight white pants, theirs were blue and were regular trousers tucked into tall black boots. Both had muskets casually slung over their shoulders and one held a brass lantern in his hand. Neither man was all that alert on a duty that was surely routine and uneventful. 

Everyone silently watched through potato and tomato leaves as the pair ambled past them without so much as glancing in their direction before making their way back towards the guardhouse. 

They waited in silence and the guards vanished into the guardhouse. The door opened outwards, so all they would need to do was block it with something heavy. It was a poor design for anyone trapped inside and they would prove that this night.

“There,” Armand whispered, pointing at the wagons parked in the barn. “Let’s wheel one over. Push it sideways against the door.

The first wagon had a vicious squeal, so they had to abandon the idea of using it. However, the next wagon they tried was silent. Everyone pushed and pulled and maneuvered it into place as quietly as possible. 

When the wagon came to a rest, Mei saw that the door would only be able to open a handspan, not enough to allow anyone out. 

Their first stop was the tool shed, which opened readily enough. Juan, lantern in hand, entered first. 

“What have we got…” He looked around at the shelves for things the Caribs might make use of. “A saw.” He grabbed it and passed it out. “Maybe a hammer. No nails because they can’t get more. Canvas sacks! Here, take lots. They can put the chickens in them. Won’t be comfortable, but it’ll keep them contained in the canoes. Oh, and make sure to get the rooster too.”

“Good call.” Mei took an armful and started explaining to a couple of the Carib women.

Under cover of darkness, they stole tools, netting, chickens, and all the vegetables they could carry, including a couple of dozen actual plants that were dug up and the root balls covered in sacks so that they could be replanted. They even hog-tied three sows and a male pig and loaded them onto the catamaran. 

To keep the jaguar busy, Mei slaughtered a pig and invited the great cat to dine, which she did, with an enthusiasm that caused everyone else to shudder and give the predator an even wider birth. 

After an hour of gruelling work, the prisoners stood on the beach and watched the Caribs paddle and sail away, their canoes and the catamaran overflowing with treasure. The natives had big smiles and waved. They might have suffered horrible losses and would grieve for days and weeks to come. But, in return, they’d had what had probably been the only profitable cultural exchange with non-natives ever. They’d come away with new sources of food and possibly even social changes, like an end to cannibalism and a boost to gender equality. 

All in all, Mei hoped they’d have a bright future wherever they settled. And to her utter surprise, one of the Carib women had elected to stay behind!

She was probably in her twenties, slim and with long black hair in a thick rope braid that reached her lower back. She wore only a white cotton skirt with a solid front and back but crisscrossed on the sides over her hips to allow easy movement of her legs. Around her neck was a thick collar made of pink coral and a longer necklace of gleaming white shark teeth hung between her bare breasts. A pink-and-white seashell pierced one ear while a small tuft of green feathers and a sliver of dark brown wood hung from the other. 

On a string around her narrow waist hung a stoppered gourd of curare and a steel knife which must have been taken from a European soldier at some point, probably someone captured and eaten. A quiver of wooden arrows hung on her back, each arrow about thirty centimetres long. The blowpipe for the arrows was a hollow wooden tube about two metres in length. 

There had been some discussion over the young woman’s presence. Her tribe had been desperate for her to continue on with them. But the young woman, whose name seemed to be Liamuiga, from what they could understand of the exchange, had been looking at Mei with something like hero worship in her eyes ever since they’d landed. She’d been on the catamaran and had watched Mei’s exchanges with the men and the way that the jaguar respected her and had seemingly decided that she admired Mei and wanted to stay by her. 

Leaving behind her people and her culture to be with others she didn’t even share a language with seemed wild. And yet, one couldn’t help but admire her adventurous spirit. 

Even now, she stood near to Mei, putting the latter’s body between her and the men. She momentarily watched the canoes depart with a measure of longing and anxiousness, as if regretting her decision, but then gave Mei a shy, stealthy glance and slid a little closer.

Mei put a comforting arm around the young woman’s shoulders. This was going to be a very dangerous mission, and if they lost, Liamuiga could very well die here or worse. She’d done her best to dissuade the girl and had only given in after Lia had adamantly refused to leave and had begged Mei to stay. So Mei would do all she could to keep her safe.

She turned to the others and four male faces regarded her. “Well, that was the easy part. You guys ready to cause some mayhem?” She grinned. 

Four smiles answered her. 

“Oui, madamoiselle, but of course,” Armand replied. “We are soon to be pirates. Mayhem is part of the job.”

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