Poor Unfortunate Soul

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Armand studied their destination from where he drifted in the river next to the log, hidden behind an unoccupied fishing boat. They were nearly at the mouth of the river, and the water had become briny, fresh and salt mixing, the smell of the ocean in his nose. 

After the bridge, the river had widened, and the banks had become lined with fishing boats. Luckily, a few had already departed as fishers sought their morning catch, and others had yet to arrive. Those few already aboard and preparing had been too busy with nets and other preparations to pay much attention to a piece of driftwood floating by, so the prisoners had gone undetected. 

Just before the mouth of the river, where the naval headquarters stood, the north bank became lined with a long, wooden dock that would allow at least two large vessels to tie up parallel to the shore. It was likely designed to be used by merchant and cargo ships loading and unloading from the many warehouses and factories lining the river. Only one of those berths was currently occupied. 

At some point, most of us have probably seen beautiful pictures of the glorious ships of the golden age of sailing. Huge, beautiful things with a forest of masts and sheets upon sheets of snow-white canvas. Long decks and high rear castles with the captain confidently at the wheel. Dozens of deadly cannons lined up in perfect rows, poking out of portholes and ready to blast you to smithereens. 

The work sloop looked nothing like that. 

It was an old, fifteen-meter-long bathtub made of worn gray wood. There were no lower decks and no cabin; it looked like a large rowboat with a single mast. It had one baby cannon in the front and two guns that were even smaller and on swivels in the back. The sides only rose a meter above the water, and if you loaded too much weight, it would probably sink beneath the waves. All-in-all, it packed about as much punch as an angry toddler compared to the true ships of war that dominated the seas.

Tied up to the main pier, a facility designed for larger vessels, the hull was slightly below the top of the dock, and you had to climb up to get out of the boat. It was not a ship to inspire stories or one in which anyone sane would risk trans-oceanic voyages. In fact, one should probably stay within sight of shore unless in calm weather and run before any sincere storm. 

On the plus side, only two men stood guard over it, one in the sloop itself, sitting at attention on the bench in front of the rudder, back ramrod straight, the other marine slowly pacing back and forth on the dock with precise footsteps. Each had their trusty musket and was alert to trouble, as the escaping prisoners had successfully stirred up the entire island. Besides, when your boss could just look out the window and see you at any given moment, you probably wanted to look like you were doing your best at all times.

Armand, Lance, and Lia bobbed in the river in the lee of the fishing boats moored to the north banks. They hastily came up with a plan. Well, Armand came up with a plan, even miming it all out to the Carib girl, at which point both of the others strenuously objected to it. However, as neither had any better ideas and Lia’s blowgun was useless after getting wet, they reluctantly agreed to his strategy. 

Lance was sent ahead first. Draped over the log in the water, and not having to feign the pain he was in, he floated down to the practically derelict sloop. With a wave, he croaked to get their attention. “Oi! Little ‘elp ‘ere?”

From the shadows behind a fishing boat, Armand rolled his eyes at the man’s exaggerated accent. 

The soldier in the boat was the first to turn and notice Lance. He waved at the other on duty. “Gimmel! A hand!”

The other soldier saw the trouble and swiftly jumped down into the boat. Together, they reached over the edge of the hull and tried to help Lance into the ship. 

Lance winced and groaned for real as they hauled him out of the water. “Careful! I’m wounded,” he protested as they dropped him into the bottom of the ship. 

“What happened?” the first asked. 

Lance grabbed his stomach. “Stabbed and shot. Spanish agents. Got me upriver.”

The soldiers looked at each other in surprise. 

“They’re this far south?”


“What about the men posted on the bridge?”

Lance’s reply was a bit shifty. “Uh…I didn’t see any.”

One of the men scowled. “Spaniards must have taken them out!” 

The second soldier narrowed his eyes at Lance. “Say, where’s that accent from? Seems muddled.”

“Yeah. Um, I get tha’ a lot. Grew up in America.”

“Oh.” The man became apologetic. “I’m so sorry.”

“You must be good with a gun, though, huh?” the other asked. 

Lance looked confused. “Uh, no. Not especially.”

“But don’t Americans love their guns? I thought everybody had a gun. You hear stories about little old ladies carrying them in their purse.”

“And don’t you have mass shootings, what, every two or three days or something?”

“Yeah.” The other nodded in quick agreement. “Schools, concerts, middle of the street. Seems like the US president is always on TV talking about hopes and prayers for the dead and stuff.”

“Of course, gun legislation might be a little more effective,” the other joked, giving his partner an elbow in the side.

“Oh, couldn’t do that. Think of the economic ramifications,” the other retorted, joining in the fun. “Gun companies making less money. Media with fewer ugly stories to cover.”

“Coffin makers and funeral homes going out of business.”

“I mean, Americans would go to school and it would be peaceful. They could actually get an education.”

“Ha. Wouldn’t that be nice for a change? The world could do with fewer flat Earthers and anti-vaxers, eh? Why, they might even realize that climate change is real.”

“Or that socialism isn’t inherently evil.”

“Bloody capitalist wankers. More billionaires than brains, wot?”

“Hey, careful what you say. You might get shot.”

They both laughed, heartily enjoying themselves. 

Lance half-heartedly joined in. “Riiight.”

The second soldier looked down at Lance and then frowned. “Don’t think I’ve seen you around before. You a new hire?”

“Uh, yeah. Been here a few days.”

“Really?” the man seemed suspicious. “Haven’t seen you in the barracks.”

“I’m posted in Speightstown,” he hastily replied. “Was on patrol, scouting. Chased some agents down this way before they turned the tables on us.”

Armand sensed trouble brewing. He gave Lia the signal and watched her get her fear under control. 

The little Carib woman climbed out of the water and up onto the river road, near the end of the dock. Feigning innocence, she ‘idly’ strode down the street like a tourist, probably not having to feign her wide-eyed amazement at the large, foreign buildings around her. 

The soldier suspicious of Lance unslung his musket. “Speightstown, huh? Who’s your commanding officer?”

“It’s, uh…” Lance struggled. Then he caught sight of Lia. “Hey, look!”

The first soldier snickered. “Oh, come on. Who’s gonna fall for that ol’ trick, eh?”

“There’s a Carib girl on the dock!” Lance insisted. 

The first soldier reluctantly looked up and then did a double-take. “There is!”

Both soldiers spun in surprise. 

Knowing that was her cue, Lia beamed at them and gave them a cheerful wave. 

That only added to their astonishment. 

The first soldier called out to her. “Hey there. Who are you?”

Lia, who couldn’t understand a word of English, just tilted her head in response. Then she turned on her bare heel and wandered back the other way, away from the sloop. 

The soldiers scrambled out of the sloop in pursuit, shouting at her. 

“Hey, stop there!”

“You! Don’t move!”

Jumping in fright that was probably real, Lia warily kept going, speeding up.

Armand let them all pass by his position. Then he emerged from his hiding place, carefully exiting the river and going around the fishing boat tied to the bank. He snuck up behind the two soldiers and flung his left arm around the rear one’s neck. Stabbing him twice in the kidney and then once in the neck kept him from screaming. 

“Stop, I said!” the lead soldier commanded.

Lia broke into a scared run.

“Bloody hell,” the soldier sourly spat, raising his musket to shoot. “Why’d they have to give us standing orders to shoot on sight, dammit? She don’t deserve it.”

Not waiting for the first man to die, Armand dropped him to the side and jogged forward. It was a shame he’d have to kill the other guard after the other man’s comments had indicated apparent decency. But they were in no position to negotiate, and the man wasn’t going to just let a bunch of prisoners and a Carib steal the ship. So he swung the knife as hard as he could in a roundhouse arc. His aim was off a bit but precise enough that the tip of the blade entered the man’s ear and then sank into his brain. 

Instant death. The soldier folded down to the street. 

Armand whistled. 

Lia glanced over her shoulder and then slowed and stopped when she saw that she was no longer being pursued. She shivered once and then returned. 

Luckily, their activity hadn’t been noticed by anyone in the naval headquarters, and the streets were empty at the moment. The two dragged the corpses into the river and then joined Lance in the ship. While Lia hid in the bottom of the sloop, the other two pretended to be the guards assigned to it. 

Movement caught Armand’s attention, and he lifted his head to see down the street. His spirits rose when he saw that it was Mei, alive and no more harmed than she already had been. Even the jaguar followed behind her. 

A gunshot rang out, and he jumped, looking everywhere for the shooter.

“What is it?” Lance hissed from behind, unable to see. He lounged in the seat in the stern, clutching his stomach, unable to maintain the posture the real guard had had. 

Even Lia nearly rose to see what was happening before Armand instinctively waved her back down. 

Then a sterling captain appeared from the headquarters building, armed and smug, and put himself right between Mei and the ship. Three more soldiers appeared behind him and stood just outside of the doorway to HQ. All were at ease, watching the scene unfold with anticipatory grins and looking like spectators, certain that their side was about to deliver an easy victory. 

Armand’s heart sank. He lowered himself down below the level of the dock and turned to the others. His eyes met Lance’s and saw the worry there, a worry that mirrored his own. “They just cornered Mei,” he said in a flat voice.

Lance looked even more anxious. “Can we help her?”

“Not without giving ourselves away. Besides, we’re outnumbered. And we’d be outgunned.” 

The other man’s face twisted with concern. “Then…what do we do?”

Armand hated the idea, but he had to be honest, even if it was disappointing. “I think we might have to leave without her.”



Gerald Barnes was proud secretary to Captain Fowler, the kind of position that people in modern times referred to as executive assistant. He handled as much of the everyday workload as he could when it came to the administration of military matters. An expert at paperwork, detail-oriented and unfazed by monotony or repetition, he excelled at his job. He did all that he could do to take care of the little things so that the illustrious Captain Fowler would be free to handle more significant decisions. And so that the naval officer could spend as much time as possible aboard his ship. 

Not that he had a ship any longer. And the reason for that had just shown up in the street.

Gerald stood in the second-floor window, overlooking the street, a lesser clerk at his side. The two watched as their incomparable leader entered the street and stopped the infamous Mei Ling in her tracks. 

A sly uptick in the corner of his lips was all the emotion that the ever-professional Gerald would allow, though his heart was filled with happiness for his boss. “Most excellent. The perfect opportunity to redeem himself after that woman humiliated him.”

The other secretary, Tony, was much younger and did not have Gerald’s sense of refinement. But he was somewhat competent at his work and would be much more so after a few months under Gerald’s merciless tutelage. He cleared his throat, as always nervous around the ever-proper older man. “Right amazing it is, predicting that she’d show up. How’d you figure he knew the whole Spanish invasion thing was a trick?”

“He didn’t, not for sure,” Gerald replied. “But he is a man who understands his enemies and who can anticipate them. He plans for all contingencies and not just an elite warrior, but a man capable of outthinking opponents as well.”

Tony nodded, his mouth open slightly in awe. “So that’s why he stayed behind even though the governor ordered him and everyone north to Speightstown.”

“The chaos sewn last night is likely only a product of this woman’s reprehensible antics. Now, Captain Fowler will deliver justice. And it shall no doubt be swift and painful.” He snorted in contempt. “That woman got incredibly lucky once. She’ll not do so a second time.”

Tony grinned, excited by the prospect of seeing the famed captain confront the prisoner. “That bitch is gonna pay now.”

“Tsk tsk,” he reprimanded his subordinate. “Language.”

Tony shrank, readily chastised. “Ah. Sorry. I meant wench. That wench is gonna pay.”

Gerald allowed his smile to spread a tenth of a degree wider. Yes, she was going to pay. Though she was a foe unworthy of Captain Fowler’s greatness, she would quickly come to understand just how formidable he was.



Mei stared at her opponent. The world seemed to stop. 

Every now and then, we come to what we call a crossroads in life. These are pivotal points at which the direction of our existence can dramatically change. 

Sometimes, it’s about choices we create for ourselves, like whether or not we ask that certain someone out on a date and how that could either lead to a short relationship that promptly fizzles out or to a lifetime together. Sometimes new paths lead to happiness; sometimes, they don’t. 

But sometimes, there isn’t a choice; life throws something unexpected in our way, and we’re forced to deal with it whether we’re willing to or not. Maybe it completely derails our current plans, maybe it takes away the choices we’d previously put all of our hopes on, or maybe it’s an unexpected boon, like winning the lottery. 

The appearance of the legendary Captain Fowler in the street was emotionally a bit like winning the lottery—but in reverse. As in, congratulations, you’re screwed; it’s now game over. 

She was a hair away from screaming in frustration. 

The sight of him should not have been unexpected. After all, this was the very location that you’d be most likely to run into him unless he’d been drawn north in response to the alleged Spanish activity in and around Speightstown. Alas, drawn away he had not been. 

Mei felt something akin to getting kicked in the stomach. That shock was quickly replaced by fear and a plunging of hope so drastic that it seemed intent on drowning her in despair. 

He stood between her and the ship, between her and escape from this abusive place, between her and what might be a free and prosperous life. He seemed to loom over her like an insurmountable mountain, especially in her condition. Wounded, exhausted, beat up, starving, and her brain fried from lack of sleep, what hope could she possibly have against a man famed for his skills and who looked fresh as a daisy at the crack of dawn? He sure didn’t look it if he’d been up all night dealing with the chaos she and the others had sewn. 

He came to a lazy stop in the centre of the street, and the corners of his lips curled up just a bit. “What’s wrong?” He asked in a light, mocking tone. His eyes flickered to Jie, who was standing behind her. “Cat got your tongue?” He seemed to be in a good and playful mood, yet he was also utterly zeroed in on her, his tense body language revealing how eager he was to unleash violence.

She didn’t reply right away. Normally, she might enjoy a round of witty repartée with someone. 

But not with him. 

Not here. 

Not like this. 

Her heart thudded in her chest, and her body sagged. While she longed to reach the ship right before her eyes, her feet suddenly felt leaden, for all prospect of success was fading fast. 

A bit of heat came to her eyes, heralding tears, and she fought them back. She was so close to escaping. Why did he have to be here? Why did he have to be the one soldier or marine not drawn away by the explosions and fires and distractions she’d caused? 

“Please,” she begged before she’d even realized she’d spoken aloud. “Don’t do this. You don’t have to do this.”

He barked an incredulous laugh. “I don’t? Miss Ling, this is literally my job. And it looks like today is going to be a very good day. After last night, who’d have thought it?” His hand twisted, perhaps in anticipation, and the polished blade of his rapier glinted in the early light. 

It was so unfair. And the situation was all-too-familiar. Back home in her old life, she’d fought and fought for a better society. For a long time, she’d believed that it would be possible to help create that. Her dream had come to an ugly end when she’d run full-tilt into the seemingly immovable corruption and selfishness that had a tight hold on the leadership of her society. No matter what she and her friends had tried, the evil people in government ultimately held all true power. When good people had decided to rise up, those determined to preserve their selfish ways had shut her down as easily and callously as swatting a fly.

It was no different here. She’d fought and struggled, endured pain and pursued hope. Yet with her goal in reach, the truth was once more slapped in her face: the forces in charge were too powerful, and she was helpless before them. There was nothing she could do to defeat Captain Fowler. He was stronger, faster, and far more skilled. 

“Give up, Miss Ling,” he advised her, not unkindly. “It’s over.” So he said, yet his eyes danced, surely eager to pounce on her in revenge for the defeat she’d visited on him earlier. He was so close to drawing her blood right now that he could probably taste it.

She felt an urge to comply and spare herself further pain. Why not? After all, she’d done enough at this point, hadn’t she? She’d proved to herself that she could put up a good fight when she wanted to. She’d tried as hard as she could. But losing was inevitable. The deck was just too stacked against her. She might as well just give in and get on with being used and abused the same way as everyone else. Continuing to resist was only going to bring more pain and bloodshed, most of it hers. At least if she was taken captive here, perhaps the others could still escape. She could be their distraction.

And yet…

Her leather-booted feet did not move forward so that she might surrender herself. Her hand did not relinquish its hold on her gilded sword to disarm herself. In fact, her other hand, perhaps in rebellion against her weakness, reached down into her pocket and withdrew one of the beautiful, lion-headed pistols. A corner of her mind chastised herself: what the hell are you doing, you fool?

Fowler’s smile widened. 



Two men wearily stomped down the main street towards naval headquarters. They wore striped prison uniforms and carried very large instrument cases made of black leather. Black stubble on their faces, black hair flopping over their dark eyes, they had the scruffy good looks of Eastern European musicians. They carried themselves with the natural confidence that comes from being a lifetime of hard work and achievement. Each was the mirror image of the other, leaving no doubt that the pair were twin brothers.

On the left, Andon grumbled. “You are always the slower one in the morning.”

On the right, Stasio yawned, unbothered by the criticism. “We’re used to playing late into the night. What kind of labagiu forces us to get up at such an unholy hour?” Jerk.

“The Spanish are invading, you lazy goat.”

“I’m lazy?” Stasio pointed a well-manicured finger. “Who is the one who took three whole months to master Scriabin’s Mysterium?”

Andon threw his free arm in the air. “Because it’s the most depressing piece of doomsday music ever! How can anyone enjoy that monstrosity? Of course my mind rebelled against playing it. Besides,” his voice turned wry, “you’re one to talk. Who still hasn’t managed to complete La Campanella without making a mistake—or three? Or a dozen?”

Stasio rolled his eyes and smirked. “Are you still having trouble with your basic scales?”

Andon came to a stop, incensed. “Really? Really? You’re still bringing that up after all these years?”

Stasio’s smirk grew wider as he strode on, leaving his brother behind. “Mama said it took you twice as long as it took me.”

“I was three!”

“So was I.”

“Ma freci la melodie!” You’re pissing me off! (Or, literally, you’re rubbing my melody.) Andon stomped forward, catching up.

Stasio mock gasped. “You speak to our mother with that mouth?”

“I can speak to our mother any which way I please. After all, she loves me more.”

“Ha! We both know that I’m her favourite. She only pretends to like you because you’re such an insecure baby who never grew up.”

The banter abruptly cut off, and they froze in the street as both caught sight of what was before them. 

Ahead of them, a tall, raven-haired woman in a long, blue coat faced off against a man they, unfortunately, knew all too well: Captain Fowler.

Andon’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t we know her?”

Stasio’s eyes widened in recognition. “It’s the woman from the ship!”

“The one who blew us all to hell?”

“The one who killed the captain.”

“Ooh. I like her.”

“It appears the two are about to face each other again.”

They shared a glance, grinned maniacally, and spoke at the same time. “Epic soundtrack!”

With all speed, they scampered forward into the naval plaza. In mere seconds, they had their instruments unpacked and were ready to play. 

Two cellos gleamed in the morning sun. Two handsome, dark-haired men raised their bows and lightly placed them on the strings. At a wordless nod from one to the other, they began to play, the tune soft and ominous and filled with rising tension. 



Juan and Cheeto had separated from the others before arriving at the mouth of the Constitution, where the sloop was tied up. Crossing to the south side of the river, they had waited until Lance had drawn the guards’ attention and then swum past. Only after putting the ship behind them, and reaching the point where the land stopped and the ocean began, did they cross back over to the north side.

The beach here was very narrow, only a meter of sand and rock. There was no traditional fort here, just a low stone wall around the flagstone naval plaza where headquarters and barracks stood. The wall rose a couple of meters from the shoreline, the top crenellated like gap-toothed teeth. Every few meters, the head of a large cannon poked out, pointing towards the river mouth or the sea, guarding the small harbour entrance. A hedge and tall trees thick with leaves lined the back of the narrow fort, their old, overhanging branches keeping the guns and any gunners who used them comfortably in the shade.

The two prisoners exited the water and hid at the base of the wall. 

Juan raised his head and peeked past the barrel of a cannon. A quick survey. Then he lowered again and showed Cheeto two fingers. 

Cheeto smiled, looking relieved. He gave a quick nod. 

Juan, too, was at ease. Their distractions had drawn most of the soldiers around here away. All they had to do now was subdue this pair, and then they could work on ruining the guns. 

The two-person patrol was doing circles through the gun placements and then around the plaza between headquarters and the barracks. It was a fairly small route. When they came around a second time, the prisoners crept up the wall behind them as they passed and charged.

It was noisier than they would have liked, but neither soldier got the chance to fire a weapon. And with the element of surprise, both were eliminated without incident. 

“Grab the bayonets,” Juan said, pointing at one. “We’ll spike the cannons with them.”

“I’m gonna dump a couple of grenades down the barrels, too, just in case.”

“There are…” Juan silently counted, “…eight cannons. We’d better hurry.”

A gunshot nearby caused both to duck behind the hedge that blocked any view of them from the plaza. When they realized the shot probably hadn’t involved them, both cautiously poked their heads up to look around. 

Cheeto perked up, looking anxious. “Oh no.”

Juan silently swore in Spanish, using several invectives. 

Mei stood in the street, not so far away, and faced off against what could only be an officer. 

Cheeto looked at Juan with pleading eyes. “What do we do now?”

Juan saw two other prisoners run forward and bring out a couple of musical instruments. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he also heard voices from up ahead, meaning more people might have come out of the headquarters building. 

“We should help her!” Cheeto insisted, starting to rise. 

Juan grabbed him and dragged him back down. “We can’t.”

“Why not?”

“We have a job to do. The others are probably already on the ship. If we don’t take the cannons out, none of us are going to escape.”

“But what about Mei? She needs our help.”

He reluctantly shook his head. “All she can do now is buy the rest of us enough time to save ourselves.”

Cheeto looked both defiant and even more crestfallen than Juan felt. However, he didn’t race out to assist the woman. When Juan hurriedly went about disabling the guns, Cheeto followed suit. 

He stabbed a bayonet deep into the touchhole of the first cannon, then sharply bent it sideways, snapping the blade. One down, seven to go. And they had to hurry.