Moore watched the first officer charge towards one side of the tree in pursuit of the prisoner. Thinking himself clever, he tripped over himself trying to go around the other side of the tree to cut her off. But as he passed through the curtains of hanging vines, more people plummeted out of the branches.
He grunted and lashed out as nearly-naked bodies piled atop him, crushing him into the wet ground. Dizzy from a blow to the head and with the breath knocked out of him, he fought back as bare fists and feet battered at him from every direction. A stone knife cut him on the arm. Another prodded his side. He kicked someone in the loincloth and speared someone between the nude breasts, causing them to scream. Pulling the trigger, he might have shot someone else in the face. Then the musket was yanked from his hands, leaving him defenceless.
Slipping on ground slick with mud and blood and scared out of his mind, he got to his feet and fled, wanting nothing more than to get as far away as possible from the angry Caribs shouting at him and trying to murder him.
He ran wildly, paying no heed to what direction he was going. He must have gone a hundred meters through dense jungle before the vegetation opened up and he careened into a deep puddle and fell forward into the shallow water.
Sputtering, he rolled over and backed up on his hands and feet. Something caught in the ground and dug into his back. Only then did he realize that he had a second musket slung behind him. He scrambled to get it into his hands. Frantic fingers went for the other bayonet at his hip but, to his immense dismay, it was gone. It must have fallen away when he’d been attacked or running.
He brought the musket up and pointed it where he expected pursuers, only to see that the protective cover over the pan was broken and water had gotten in. A countdown timer in red showed that he had minutes before the gun was dry and usable again and, even then, only if he could keep it dry in this drizzle. “Curses!” he swore. Heaving himself to his feet, he ran again rather than wait for the natives with a gun that couldn’t shoot and that lacked a stabbing element.
Going pell-mell through the jungle, he was surprised when the volcano rumbled again, and the earth shook beneath his feet, sending him sprawling in his haste. He landed hard on his chest, right on a stray rock that got him right in the solar plexus and drove the air from his lungs. His diaphragm spasmed, and he couldn’t breathe. Panicking, he lay there, unable to think or do anything as the ground trembled and he focused on getting air again.
Time passed indistinctly. His ability to breathe slowly returned, for which he was grateful. Then it occurred to him that maybe he wasn’t being chased. If he had been, surely they would have caught him by now?
His hands muddy and bloody, scratches on his face, pants torn over one knee and bleeding from multiple wounds, he crawled into a nearby hollow at the base of a tree, dragging the musket alongside him. He sat within, with his back to the trunk. A weary, defeatist glance told him that the timer on the musket was not going down because he’d yet to keep the pan or barrel dry.
There was enough room to curl up and kind of hide in. So he lay there, panting, chest heaving, and wondered what the hell he was going to do now.
What a mess, almost from the moment they’d left port. They’d been bleeding men, one after another. And so easily. As far as he knew, even First Officer Williams could be dead by now too, which meant that he was alone. Alone and trapped on this island with a bunch of dumbass Indians who wanted him dead.
Gah! He helplessly kicked at the dirt with a heel and was so pissed off that he threw the useless musket at the bushes nearby. The moment it left his hands, he knew that it had been a stupid move, but he was too stubborn to get up and get it. He would. But not right now. Right now, he just wanted to sit and hate the world.
That lasted about two minutes before he remembered that Redington was still on the catamaran. That’s where he should go. Screw chasing after the First Officer. If that guy wanted to brave an entire tribe of cannibals and hunt the woman who’d dropped out of the air like a video game character and killed Pavel, then he was on his own.
Yeah, Moore was done with this nonsense. He was going to go back to the boat. Just as soon as he’d calmed down a bit. He glanced over in the direction of the musket. He really should go pick that up.
A dark, spotted face poked out of the underbrush. Big, yellow eyes stared right into his own.
His heart stopped, and his mouth fell open. A jaguar!
The great cat inched forward, shoulders hunched.
His heart kicked in and started racing a mile a minute. He knew that face. He was well familiar with it because he’d been one of the ones tasked with taking care of the governor’s strange pet.
The jaguar sniffed, nose flaring, and then glared. There was hate there. Animal or not, those yellow eyes promised death.
A chill raced through Moore’s body. He shook. Because he recalled all those months where he and the others had taken turns teasing and tormenting the beast, despite the fact that the animal had still been young and growing and kept behind bars. Partly in a stupid effort to prove their manliness and superiority, and partly to indirectly and safely get back at the governor that everyone hated. If the cat grew foul-tempered and turned on its owner one day, the owner who had ordered them to tend to a pet instead of doing real work, then wouldn’t it be funny when the thing clawed the governor’s face off?
They’d starved it for days. They’d poked it through the bars with their muskets, though they’d never dared go so far as to use bayonets lest it leave a mark. And what fun they’d had coming up behind it and firing a gun in its ear when it was lazing about. At the time, it had all been hilarious.
But one look at that bestial face, those narrowing eyes, and the way those dark lips curled back from huge, white fangs in a display of fury, and Moore knew that the jaguar wasn’t just some dumb animal. It remembered the man before it as one of those who had tormented it.
The jaguar roared.
Moore pissed himself at the sound. In a panic, he tried to flee, rolling to his left and attempting to get to his feet.
The jaguar bounded towards him in a flash and then leapt.
Claws dug right through his clothes and pierced deep into his shoulder. Moore screamed and felt more claws dig sharply into the backs of his thighs. But as vicious as that pain was, it was nothing compared to how the ivory teeth and strong jaws felt as they clamped onto the back of his skull and crunched down.
Redington was grumpy. Sure, sitting here on the boat, back to the water barrel, musket across his lap, it was easy work. The prisoners weren’t doing anything, not even talking, just slumped over and looking as uncomfortable as he was with sitting in the rain and doing nothing.
He could kill for a roof over his head and somewhere dry to be. Maybe a nice hot rum toddy to warm himself up with. Dark rum, with honey and a bit of lemon. Maybe a warm bath to drink it in, too. And a nice, naked woman to share the water with him.
They were supposed to be getting a bonus for this little trip. Thanks to those idiots falling off the ship on the way here, there might even be a little extra coming his way. He chuckled to himself. Yeah, a few extra silver in his pocket, and he could rent Rita two or even three times this week instead of the usual one. The thought brought a wide grin to his face.
Yes, there were indeed benefits to working in this virtual world. For all the inconveniences of living in 1675, there were some upsides. Like cheap whore houses he was actually encouraged to go to, all the liquor he could drink on his days off, and a lazy job he was pretty good at. One that allowed him to treat these fool prisoners any way he wanted. Which was generally with contempt and a firm crack to the skull to keep them compliant.
He closed his eyes with a sly smile. Let the others keep a lookout. He had things to daydream about.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before someone disturbed his fantasies.
“Hey. Does that canoe look closer to you?”
“Are you off yer marbles?”
“No, seriously. Isn’t it?”
“It’s a canoe. Can’t move on its own.”
“Yer idjit. Canoe ain’t movin’ on its own. Yer imaginin’ it.”
“Maybe. Don’t recall it poking out of the bushes before though.”
“Yer sleep addled. We all are.”
They went quiet after that. For a while.
Someone jumped to their feet. “Ok, it’s definitely closer now. Lookit!”
With grumbling, someone else rose. Then paused. “That’s…weird.”
Redington, who had been drifting off quite nicely, felt himself rudely pulled back to being fully awake and resented it strongly. He was dead tired. Couldn’t they give him twenty minutes, the dumb bastards? He opened his eyes. “What?” he snapped.
One of the sailors licked his lips and pointed. Both looked nervous. “One of the canoes moved.”
“Then go put it back,” he mocked. “Wouldn’t want us accused of making a mess now, would we?”
“There it goes again!” the other sailor shouted, pointing.
Now, even the prisoners were getting to their feet and backing away from the front of the catamaran. Only the chains prevented them from going too far.
“What the hell?”
“Hey! One of you get over here! Check this out!”
“It’s coming closer!” barked the first sailor.
Redington sighed. With great reluctance, he groaned and got to his feet. “What are you idiots freaking out for? Isn’t the volcano going crazy? It’s just shifting the canoe because it’s on sand.”
Both sailors shook their heads, worried eyes not leaving the canoe.
“No, sir! Ain’t felt a tremor recently. Canoe is moving on its own.”
One of the prisoners, a white man, turned angrily. “You just going to stand there? Or go over there and shoot whoever’s inside?”
The canoe moved forward again, and this time, they all saw it, including Redington, because it didn’t stop. Bottom-side up, it slid across the rest of the beach and into the water alongside the catamaran. Everyone backed up as far as they could to escape but were trapped on the craft, most of which was floating, the tide having come in as far as it would go. Only the anchors were keeping it in place.
“Someone’s in there!” the first sailor warned.
“And now they’ll be under us!” the black prisoner scolded.
A bad feeling started to come over Redington. Like maybe he’d made a bit of a mistake taking his guard duty too lightly. Like maybe he shouldn’t have been dozing and daydreaming. Like maybe when the others had said something, he should have gone down and stopped that canoe before whoever was underneath it could use it to sneak up on the catamaran. Because now that person, or persons, were underneath, likely swimming right under his feet, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.
Prisoners and sailors and Redington all moved about, faces down, trying to spot movement through the cracks in the deck.
“Anyone see anything?” he barked at them.
No one replied. A couple shook their heads. No one was standing in one place for more than a moment because everyone was expecting to be stabbed from below.
Maybe it was his imagination, but Redington thought perhaps he saw something under his feet. He jumped aside. Then he drew his bayonet and fixed it to his musket. Pointing the tip between his feet, he readied himself to spear whoever was down there. Probably the natives. Who knew how many had snuck under that giant canoe and were under there now, just waiting for their moment? He began to sweat, even in the cold.
If you’ve ever been to the beach, you’ll see that not all waves are the same size when they come smashing into shore. They vary and, every now and then, a bigger one will come in and destroy that sandcastle you foolishly thought was safe and undo all your hard work, and that bikini goddess tanning nearby will laugh at you.
Out of the corner of his eye, Redington saw one of those larger-than-usual rollers coming in behind the catamaran.
A big, tattooed man jumped up from underwater and used the rolling wave to raise himself above the deck. He had a Carib spear in hand, the stone tip dark. With a wicked grin, he threw the weapon.
One of the sailors screamed as the tip struck him from behind in the kidney.
“It’s Putin,” someone breathed.
The tattooed man, a career gangster if Redington had ever seen one, was carried forward on the wave. He slammed into the deck with his chest and took hold of the spear. Then he pulled backwards and dragged the helpless man with him into the water. The pair disappeared under the deck.
The victim screamed and gurgled and screamed again.
Redington raced over to where he thought the sound was coming from and stabbed through a gap. When it did nothing, he fired the musket.
The screaming continued. And continued.
“Hell!” spat the muscular Spanish prisoner. “He’s doing it on purpose. He’s torturing him to scare us.”
“It’s working!” the little latin loudly muttered.
Redington mentally urged the musket’s countdown to go faster. He couldn’t reliably make two shots per minute yet. With trembling hands, he danced about, taking stabs blindly at the deck but hitting nothing. “Come out, you bastard!” he yelled.
The screaming bubbled and then cut off. It did not return.
The face of the remaining sailor had gone pale. He whirled on Redington and held out his hand. “Unlock the chest. Give me a gun too!”
Redington hesitated. Having two men armed might be wise. But he wasn’t sure he trusted the scared sailor not to turn the gun on him and then demand something Redington would not want to do. “No.”
“Give me a gun! Before he gets another one of us. I’ve a right to defend myself!”
“You’ve got your belt knife,” Redington told him, uncaring of the man’s fate. “Use that. I don’t want him taking a gun off you and using it on me.”
The sailor swore a blue streak. Then he shook his head. “I’m not staying here. It’s not safe!” He turned and ran, jumping off the catamaran and into the surf, intent on getting to land.
The gangster, Putin, roared out from under the vessel.
The sailor turned his head in panic and fell.
Putin sprang on him and got his big hands on the shorter man.
The timer ran out on the musket. Redington lifted it and stepped forward to get a clean shot. But before he could shoot, Putin dragged the sailor under the deck and into deeper water.
“Help! Stop hi—“ The words cut off and the man screamed.
This time, the screaming went on for a long time. It visibly unnerved the prisoners.
Redington, feeling suddenly very much alone now, felt himself starting to lose it. He eyed the beach. Maybe he should make a run for it. He had the musket. He’d just wait for the timer to count down, then sprint. If the thug tried to tackle him, he’d get a bayonet in the gut or a bullet in the face.
But that would leave the catamaran unguarded.
There were two anchors, of course. But these were attached to chains that ran to the thick beams under the deck, holding it all together. Thing is, a man could reach under the deck from above and release the emergency pins and drop the chains, freeing the catamaran to float away.
Leaving Redington alone on shore. The First Officer and all the others would find their one-and-only way off St. Vincent gone, along with their prisoners.
This would very likely not go well for Redington. Not well at all. It would, in all likelihood, go quite poorly. “Aw hell,” he breathed, not liking that option, nor what remained, which was to take on the gangster himself.
The sailor continued to scream, though each burst grew weaker, and there was more silence in between.
“You’ve got a gun; use it!” the white prisoner demanded.
“Shoot him!” the Spaniard angrily demanded. “He’s going to kill us all. Or worse, if we don’t.”
“Shut up! Or I’ll shoot you, too!” Redington shouted back without much force. He turned this way and that, trying to watch everywhere.
Something flickered under his feet.
He speared at it with the bayonet. The blade slid into the crack between boards of the deck and wedged into the soft wood. As he tried to yank it out, he twisted and snapped the blade clean off. He stared at the broken end of his bayonet in shock. Even the mechanism holding the bayonet end to the musket was mangled, blocking the barrel, and it would no doubt be hard to remove.
“You just gave him another weapon!”
Redington’s face heated up and he stormed over to the prisoners. Swinging the musket like a club, he laid into the insolent pieces of garbage, bashing them mercilessly, taking all his fear and frustration out on them, leaving them bloody and moaning on the deck.
Luckily, each marine carried two muskets on this mission. He unslung the second from his back and slung the first in its place. He reached for the spare bayonet blade at his hip and drew it, then clumsily dropped it. He bent over and reached to pick it up.
A blade swiped up from below and sliced a gash across his fingers.
He cried out and stumbled backwards, clutching his bloody hand. Recovering himself, he anxiously looked at the wound. It was his shooting hand. He shouted, storming across the deck, feeling utterly stupid and helpless and not liking it one bit.
Why hadn’t the others returned? Why was he alone here having to deal with this?
Breathing heavily, he snatched up the fallen bayonet with his left hand, moving fast. Then he awkwardly tried to attach it to the end of the musket, also with his left.
A blade jabbed him in the bottom of the right foot.
He yelped and danced away. Fortunately, the soles of his boots were thick enough that they’d only allowed the tip through. But he limped and twirled around, scared to stand in any one place for more than a moment.
He looked at shore again. “Screw this.” He might suffer for it later, but he was going to try for the jungle like the sailor had. Even left-handed, he could probably pick the guy off with the musket before the gangster was able to steal the ship.
“Behind you!” someone shouted.
A moment of calm clarity hit his mind and, within it, he realized that he’d stupidly been standing there in one place, contemplating what to do. And left himself open. He turned, but too slowly.
The grinning face of the gangster leapt at him from the side of the catamaran, the man having climbed up and pounced once Redington had had his back turned. He had a knife in one hand and the broken bayonet in the other, torn cloth used for a handle.
Redington brought the musket down and pulled the trigger at the same moment that the bayonet entered his chest.