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Dutchman's Curse

Dutchman's Curse

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Dutchman's Curse

Lunghezza:
359 pagine
5 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Feb 7, 2015
ISBN:
9781311190710
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

By the year 3160, Genny Hopman has been a ship’s captain as well as the chosen of a being that has inhabited her vessel for hundreds of years. The captain, her crew and ship, a legendary Dutch Man-o-War, quickly come to the attention of the trade clans when forced into a confrontation that will decide the fate of two younglings they have sworn to protect.

Genny, her ship and crew must take on the challenge of protecting not only the children, but all they hold dear. Fighting against the clans and an old nemesis, the captain must determine if she should sacrifice the honor of her crew or the ship itself.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Feb 7, 2015
ISBN:
9781311190710
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

An Air Force veteran that lives and works in Oklahoma. Married with 3 children and 3 dogs, Gates enjoys shooting and riding a motorcycle. She also loves to hear from readers at gates_watson@yahoo.com.

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Dutchman's Curse - Gates Watson

vampires.

Prologue

Myths are based on legend and legend on fact.

Fact – The Flying Dutchman, a Dutch Man-of-War, disappeared while fighting a monstrous squall off the Cape of Good Hope in the late 1600s.

Legend –The captain made a bet with the devil that he could make it around the cape during the storm. He bet his soul and those of his crew on a roll of the dice, and lost.

Myth – The Dutchman was condemned to sail for an eternity, never to know peace, and will bring death to those who see it until the sins of both captain and crew are atoned for.

The ship, once known as The Flying Dutchman, began its existence as a Dutch Man-o-War in the 1600s. Having fifteen decks, including bilge, four gun decks, quarter deck, and cabins for the captain and ship’s compliment, galley, and bridge the Dutchman was the largest ship of the line ever built. Although legend holds it was the crew of the vessel forever fated to sail and never make port. In truth it was the captain alone whose fate was entwined with that of the ship.

Documented sightings of the legendary craft, most often spotted during violent storms, began in 1780. Ship captains and crews, a future king, and sunbathers on the coast of South Africa all described seeing the vessel. Sightings were reported multiple times in the 1900s as well as 2100s. Witnesses in the twentieth and thirtieth centuries told of the Dutchman hailing vessels and attempting to send messages to people long dead. Crews and captains alike reported the ship glowing red and vanishing into thin air.

The ship evolved over the years from Man-O-War, to destroyer, to battleship, and beyond. When space flight became the norm, the craft adapted again. Likewise, its name changed over the years, from The Flying Dutchman to Dutchman’s King and, most recently, to King of the Netherlands.

The ship’s class mutated over the years as well, going from galleon, to privateer to merchant ship, depending on what the times and situations allowed.

During the Claiming Wars, the vessel became a privateer once more. Working for the Council of Clans, the Dutchman ran the trade routes protecting merchant ships, stations, and diplomatic missions from raiding Earth Alliance attacks.

The Claiming Wars began in 3102 and lasted two and a half seasons or twenty-five standard years. The Earth Alliance, a confederation of governors from inhabited worlds colonized by Earth, decided, in all its infinite wisdom, that the coalition owned every trade route in every system colonized or inhabited by Earth descendants. Anyone travelling those routes would therefore be required to pay a tax for the privilege. Their first mistake.

The well-travelled (and some not so well known) routes were utilized by clan ships from all planets as well as independent ship captains for trade and exploration. Clan ships, vessels owned and operated by various family units throughout the solar systems, believed the routes should be free for all to use...or at the very least free for them.

Clans were governed by their chieftains, or heads of family, who made laws, arranged or gave approval for marriages, fostered children, and acted as judges in clan disputes. The word of a clan chief was law.

Chieftainship usually passed down through either the patriarchal or matriarchal lines, with the chiefs selecting their successors from within the family. Only once in history had an outsider been named clan chief successor.

Independent captains were not beholden to a clan. These ships were owned and crewed by men and women who wanted nothing to do with society in general and had fought aliens, loneliness, hardships, and death for the right to go where they pleased, when they pleased, and were not willing to allow a government light-years away to rule or tax them. They respected loyalty, honor, freedom, and little else.

When news of the trade tax reached them, clan chieftains held a meeting, the first clan Dáil in two thousand years, and agreed the tariff was outrageous and ill conceived. The clans made it known they would not be fined for travelling the trade routes they themselves had fought to establish. The alliance would receive no tribute from them.

The chieftains invited independent ship captains, most veterans of older wars and harsh environments, to join with them in their rebellion.

The allied governments learned of the insurrection and sent their best ships to enforce compliance of the tolls. Their second and final mistake.

When Alliance ships attempted to collect the fees they were met with armed resistance. Small and large battles raged throughout the solar systems. The ensuing war saw clan and independents fighting a guerilla action against the Earth alliance. Battles were fought throughout the solar systems. Many ships, both alliance and clan, were destroyed, while many others made names for themselves and are still whispered about today. One such ship was the newly christened King of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands was outfitted with one hundred forty-four laser canons and eight torpedo tubes both fore and aft. Four missile launchers were hidden in the bow and stern. The ship and its captain garnered a reputation for ferocity in battle, asking for and giving no quarter.

The Netherlands also laid claim to fame by playing a game of cat and mouse with twelve Alliance ships among the fire and ice planets in the Circinus system. After thirty-six standard days, the Netherlands made it out of the system. The Alliance ships were never seen or heard from again.

After twenty-five years of hard fought and contentious battles, the Alliance was defeated and a treaty with Earth reached. Trade was again established throughout the systems. Some old pirates and privateers took up the mantle of merchants and traders, while others occasionally continued to dabble in older professions.

Part 1

Chapter 1

In 3102, pirates needing a safe harbor during the Claiming Wars established Antigone station at the edge of the Aldon sector of the Andromeda galaxy. Corrupt since its inception, the station was now known for its high port fees and corrupt tax officials. Criminals outnumbered honest citizens nine to one. Pirates of all types came and went with impunity.

The station’s current compliment of ships docked in its bays included one argosy, five turtle ships, a balener, three barques, a couple of Bermuda rigs, a trio of Yorkshire billy boys, four xebecs, two sloops, one quadrireme and one Man-of-War. For a station which could easily hold three hundred vessels, business was slow to say the least.

Smelling of old oil, grease and the stench of several hundred sweat soaked bodies, the station was not a destination frequented by many who had a choice in the matter. Rundown shops lined the docking bays where equally shabby merchants loudly hawked their wares. Aliens of all types strolled the docks looking for either an easy mark or a berth on a passing ship. Crooks and captains alike rubbed elbows at local watering holes, both looking to make their fortunes, one way or another.

The Man-of-War, King of the Netherlands, had been docked at Antigone for seventeen station days. The ship was a sight to behold. With a heavily armored exterior, multiple gun decks, laser cannons mounted both port and starboard and torpedo tubes fore and aft it was not going to be taken easily. Powered by an Alcubierre drive the ship was state of the art. Along with its captain, the ship had a compliment of ten crewmen but could easily berth three times that many.

Rumor had it port officials were trying to impound the ship by forcing the captain to pay exorbitant docking fees, fines and taxes. So far the owner had been able to pay, but bets were being taken as to how many more days the ship would remain in the captain’s possession. The port authorities couldn’t wait to get their hands on it. Only a very few diehard gamblers were putting credits on the captain’s ability to keep the vessel.

Well hells bells and damnation! Throwing down the trowel she was using to put sealant on her ship, Genny Hopman gave the hull a disgusted look. If she could have jumped off the scaffold she was strapped to she would have. The captain was fed up! Fed up to her back teeth with the sealing agent she was forced to use on the skin of her ship not adhering. Fed up with the docking fees she was paying. Fed up with the port authorities trying to take her ship. Fed up with everything!

The weak sealing agent the port authority demanded that she use wasn’t working. The seals weren’t adhering. The patches had to be in place and bonded for forty-eight standard hours prior to the ship being allowed to leave the maintenance bay. At this rate it would be another fortnight before she could set out for her next port of call. And to top it all off the stringent smell of the sealant she was being compelled to use was giving her a migraine.

Genny wanted to get out of this hellish place more than she wanted anything at this point. She had been stuck in the Aldon sector for almost three months. First a missing cargo manifest had delayed her leaving Cerberus. Then a meteor storm above Icarus had scraped a large patch off her hull.

Now here she was, literally sitting high and dry at Antigone. Required to pay outrageous fines and fees along with the cost of the repairs to port authorities that wanted her ship, she was losing credits hand over fist. If she could just get the sealant to work she could leave. Things had to improve and soon.

Ship says you shouldn’t say bad words like that, said a childish voice from the gangway. Annie you promised not to say anything! whispered an equally young voice.

From her vantage point on the scaffold, Genny looked down and spotted two younglings standing on the gangway leading up to her ship. Dressed in nondescript gray coveralls, a boy of about one season, maybe a little more, stood holding the hand of a female child half that age. The girl was wearing a matching set of coveralls and clutching a bedraggled toy of some sort.

Usually children were dressed in their ship colors to insure they were protected at all times by their clan and returned promptly to the correct vessel in the unlikely event that they should they wander off.

Ship colors were determined by the clan as well as the ship’s mission. For instance the Allen clan owned cargo ships. Their base color was kelly green. Diagonal blue stripes ran through the green down the sleeves of their ship suits denoting the cargo carrier designation. Their ship shields were the solid green of their clan. Any captain seeing the shield or uniform of the crew would immediately know to whom either belonged.

The Netherlands’ shield, as well as its crew’s uniforms, was an unrelieved charcoal gray. Theirs was an independent ship, with an ever changing mission.

The children could be station young Genny supposed. She had seen a few of them about from her observation point on the scaffold. The boy held little interest for Genny, but the girl’s comments garnered her full attention. It was the boy who spoke last so Genny directed her comments to him all the while keeping an eye on the girl child.

I don’t listen to the ship more often than not. Who are you and why are you here?

I’m Tom Clancy. This is my sister AnaLise and we’re lookin for a berth.

Not much surprised Genny but this response coming from a youngling did. On a station that appeared to hold nothing dear, she had noticed the few children, that appeared from time to time, at least seemed to be well cared for.

The boy and girl on her gangway both looked to be human with maybe a touch of Assyrian. Both had the black hair and fine features of Assyrians but the build of human children. They could belong to any ship in port as well Genny thought. Although, why a clan would let their young, especially young of their ages, off ship unattended was a question she didn’t yet have an answer for.

And what type of berth were you looking for? Genny asked as she began wiping the sealant off her hands.

The boy shrugged and replied, Well I can fix things and would work real hard. AnaLise can’t do much but she’ll grow and be able to do stuff soon.

That’s right. The little girl chimed in.

Genny welcomed any break from her fight with the sealant, so told the bairns she would come down and speak to them. After unhooking from the scaffold and dropping through the service tube leading back into the ship, she made a quick stop to put away the damnable sealant and clean up a bit before going out to meet them.

Taking a moment to straighten her ship suit before making her way to the gangway, Genny took a quick look in the mirror. The woman she saw was dressed in a baggy, stained, dark gray uniform, hair tucked under a cap and looking more like a grease monkey than a ship’s captain.

Oh well she thought, I may not win any beauty contests but at least I shouldn’t scare them away. Pasting what she hoped was a welcoming smile on her face; Genny went to meet her guests. The bairns were still waiting when she appeared at the top of the ramp.

Okay Tom Clancy and sister AnaLise, said Genny, tell me why you want to sign on with the Netherlands? Tom hesitated before answering. Crossing her arms over her chest, Genny tapped her foot while she waited for his response.

Well, the boy rocked back on his heels as he started to respond, I heard them talkin this morning. They’re gonna send me off on the Siam and put AnaLise in the Weavers Guild. I can’t let that happen. I promised our ma before she died I would keep my sister safe.

The Siam was a penteconter. Propelled by droid manned oars, it had a bad reputation when it came to her captain and crew. Neung Chankul, captain of the Siam, had been charged with negligence in the death of half his troops during the last war. Family connections had gotten him off. His current crew was made up of thieves, cutthroats and not a few escaped convicts.

As for the weavers, the guild was based on the planet Neith. Master Tejedor was head of the weaver’s guild. A harsh task master, he had lost more apprentices than had gone on to become journeymen. Once you were attached to the weavers guild your life was no longer your own. Weavers were a mean dangerous lot and the thought of that fragile looking child in their clutches made her sick. Who would sentence their children to such fates?

Who did you hear saying that? Genny asked.

My uncle, Tom quickly responded. The captain didn’t know what to say to this. Family had control over children, second only to the master of their ship or clan chief.

Have you talked to your captain about this? If the captain decreed the children should stay, then no matter what the family wanted the children would remain on their ship or could be fostered with another clan family.

My uncle is the captain, replied young Tom.

This put the children’s plight in a worse light. If the captain was the family then Tom and AnaLise would have to obey his wishes.

What’s the name of your ship? asked Genny.

Tom surprised her again by responding, The Omaha.

Even though it had once been a great ship, the Omaha now had an even worse reputation than the Siam. After the war ended, charges of piracy had been leveled against the Omaha on more than one occasion.

Dale Lochlan was the acting captain of the ship. Even though the Lochlan clan was a matriarchal one, and Dale’s sister Aine should have been clan chief and captain, she had married outside her family and taken her spouse’s name. When she took the Clancy name she renounced any right she had to the leadership role for the Lochlans. Her daughter though, Genny thought, could still be in the line of succession.

The Netherlands and the Omaha had done battle several times over the years. While fights between ships were less common now, during the Claiming Wars they were an everyday occurrence. The two vessels had been on friendly enough terms at one time, but that time was long past.

Genny had a reputation herself when it came to the Omaha and her captain, which wasn’t something the children needed to know about. Right now all they needed to understand was if she could help them.

First though, she had to determine if their story was true. If it was, she could begin making plans. She had to keep the girl on her ship. If the boy came along as a package deal, so be it. After asking the children to wait on the gangway a while longer, she went to the weather deck to contact members of her crew, fill them in on the situation and ask them to do a little sleuthing.

Genny got in touch with her first officer, Morrigan Allen, and sent her along with her mate, Raven Blackbear, on a fact finding mission. They were to try to learn the truth about the children and verify their story, hopefully without alerting the Omaha’s captain or crew or the port authority.

After speaking to Morrigan and Raven, Genny came up with an idea that should keep the children safe, at least for a little while.

A captain could offer hospitality to anyone they chose for forty-eight standard hours. During that time, the captain was held accountable for the actions of their ‘guests’. On the flip side, no one could remove said guest without challenging the ship and her crew. If they agreed to the hospitality offer, the children would be protected. At least until Genny could come up with a better plan of action. Hastening back to the gangway, the captain was relieved to see the children patiently awaiting her return.

Okay Tom Clancy and sister AnaLise, I’ll offer you hospitality for two station days while we see what we can do for you.

Clutching her stuffed toy to her chest AnaLise asked, What about Lucky? I can’t leave him behind!

After assuring the child her toy was also welcome, Genny invited the pair aboard. After a whispered conversation, they accepted the offer and slowly made their way up the gangway, stopping occasionally to look over the ship.

The trio was met on the quarterdeck by Doc Case. Doc was a hologram that enjoyed trying out different forms. Today he had the appearance of an Alterian butterfly. Having a florescent purple body and gossamer wings made of every color in the spectrum, he was a unique sight to say the least.

Genny asked Case to watch the younglings and check them out for illnesses and injuries. The doctor took the children to the med lab and ran tests while they admired his butterfly wings.

Four station hours later, after the doctor had completed his tests and taken the children to the galley for something to eat, he reported back to Genny.

Okay doc, what’s the verdict? How are they? asked Genny.

They are half Assyrian as you suspected he responded, but they’re severely malnourished and have evidence of trauma to their arms, legs and torsos. Genny those kids have been mistreated in the not too distant past.

So I really have no choice, Genny thought. The girl can hear the ship so they have to remain here. I just need to bond them before Dale and that tight assed port governor find out what I’m doing and try to take them back to the Omaha.

Can you tell when the injuries occurred?

No, sorry captain, I can’t. All I can say for certain is they occurred in the last two weeks.

Thanks doc.

About that time, Morrigan contacted the captain, We’re coming in fast captain – authorities hot on our tails!

So much for two days to make plans, the time for decisions, it appeared, was fast running out.

While the offer of hospitality would keep the children onboard for two days, there was only one way Genny knew of to keep the younglings safe once the offer expired. After speaking to her first officer, and making hasty arrangements for her crewmen’s return, the captain hurriedly went to find the children.

When she finally came upon them she wasted no time in asking Tom if he or AnaLise had sworn service to their captain or ship. Tom took so long answering that Genny was sure the answer would be yes and was surprised when he said no.

Most captains had their crew swear allegiance to them and their ship upon reaching a certain age. On most ships the age of consent was ten years or one season. This did, however, vary from ship to ship or clan to clan.

Swearing allegiance served two purposes. First, the captain was assured of his crew’s loyalty. Secondly, the crewman knew his captain and fellow shipmates would always have his back. Or that was how it was supposed to work.

Some captains treated their crew worse than bilge rats. If a crewman protested their treatment or tried to leave the ship, the captain could and would level charges of mutiny against them. Since the captain’s word was law no one could dispute his treatment of his crew. Due to this, crewmen, even clan crewmen, were very careful about swearing allegiance.

Genny’s only chance to insure the younglings were safe and could remain aboard, was to bond them to both herself and the ship. Her crew would go ballistic. On the Netherlands, new crew members were agreed upon by the entire compliment. If she weren’t afraid the girl’s uncle would summarily remove her from the ship, she would never have considered bonding the pair to the vessel. Oh well in for a penny in for a pound she thought.

Okay Tom Clancy and AnaLise there’s been a bit of a change in plans, this is what we’re going to do. I need you to swear allegiance to both me and my ship. First, I need to stick your fingers and make you bleed.

Putting her hands behind her back, AnaLise shrunk away from both Genny and Tom when she heard this.

To Genny’s relief, the boy calmed her down and told her it would be okay. He stuck his finger out first and the captain pricked both his and her middle fingers. AnaLise slowly extended her trembling hand and was stuck as well.

Okay said Genny, now put your fingers on mine so our blood mixes and repeat after me I swear oath to both the King of the Netherlands and her captain in blood and in service. I promise never to lie to the captain or crew or ship, never to cause harm to the captain, crew or ship and to always be faithful to the captain, crew and ship.

Both children repeated the oath. Once this was done, Genny told the younglings they needed to begin service to the ship immediately. Not wanting to scare them she didn’t tell them about the port authorities.

Leading the bairns back to the scaffold she had been working from, Genny made a stop to get a bucket of adhesive she knew would seal the patch to the frame of the ship. The three then joined hands and Genny led the children back to the service tube she used to access the hull of the vessel.

The captain knew using the new adhesive would cause problems with the authorities, but if they were to charge her with kidnapping then using it would be the least of her worries.

The trio then climbed through the tube and out onto the platform. Once they had secured themselves with the safety lines, Genny explained to the bairns how to apply the sealant to the hull. After convincing AnaLise she would need to set her toy aside to apply the patch and a little trial and error on the part of both children, all three began completing the arduous task.

Ouch! said Tom and AnaLise at the same time jerking their hands back from the hull. The ship bit me! complained AnaLise.

It’s okay said Genny, it’s just the ships way of getting to know you. Now no matter where you go the ship can find you.

Tom looked concerned for a moment but then smiled and both children seemed to accept the explanation. Suddenly, in the distance they could hear running feet.

A booming voice shouted, There they are! There’s my family! I told you she had them. Now arrest her!

There was no need for Genny to turn around. With his first words, she had recognized the harsh voice of Dale Lochlan, captain of the Omaha.

Lochlan was a tall strongly built man. With a height of a little over two meters and weighing over sixteen stones, Dale had the physique of a sailor. With strong, muscular arms, a barrel chest and thick wavy blond hair, he still looked, Genny thought, like someone who could keep you safe. At least until you got to know him.

Dale was in fine form today. Never one to miss an opportunity to show any crew member of the Netherlands in a bad light, he appeared to go out of his way to make all their lives as miserable as he possibly could. Each time the two ships were in the same sector, he would do anything from filing bogus port claims against them to trying to steal their cargo.

To make matters worse, he was once a crew member of the Netherlands. Well not exactly a crew member, more like a liaison between the clans and the ship.

In Dale’s mind, however, he and Genny had been a couple. He wanted more from her than she was able to give. Their relationship, what there was of it, had ended when Genny belatedly realized what an ass Dale really was. He was put off the ship at the first possible port and blamed Genny for the loss of his berth. Now he thought he had her right where he wanted her.

While Lochlan was throwing around threats and trying to get port security to arrest Genny; Morrigan, Raven Blackbear and two other members of the crew quickly boarded the ship.

In the meantime, Genny hurriedly got the children off the scaffold, down the service tube and had one of the droids raise the gangway, leaving both Lochlan and the port authorities shouting at her from outside the ship.

After taking the younglings to the galley and leaving Cookie in charge of them, she contacted the remaining crew still on the station to insure they knew what was happening and to order them back to the ship.

Cookie was a Taygonite. He had worked as a bodyguard to emperors and kings. Unfortunately he also had a bounty on his head after a smarmy prince had leveled charges against him for the death of his mate. To make matters worse the prince had been Cookie’s older brother. Even so, the children would be safe with him.

Genny then made her way to the weather deck to fill the remaining crew in on the situation. It appeared by this time, that most of her bridge compliment had made it back on board. The ship could leave port immediately, if need be. After insuring the vessel was ready to set out immediately if it was required, Genny called both her first officer and weapons master to her ready room to discuss their current plight.

Well, said Morrigan, what kind of shit mess have you gotten us into this time captain?

They’re younglings Morrigan. What did you expect me to do? asked Genny. Both women exchanged a long look. Both knowing the other’s past meant there really was no choice where children were concerned.

Raven Blackbear squeezed his mate’s hand and went on to explain what they had learned about the children.

The kid was telling the truth Gen. We confirmed they are the children of Aine Lochlan Clancy, Dale’s baby sister.

A few years younger than Dale, Aine Lochlan had not been much more than a child herself when her brother was a liaison aboard ship.

"The good news is Dale and Aine were known to fight

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