Captain Anthony Hunter took a careful measure of the man in front of him, named Durante Marino. Granted, the captain did this with a revolver pointed at Marino’s chest. It seemed to bring some much-needed clarity to the situation. Unfortunately, that did little to clear the room of the lingering gray haze left over from the smoke bombs. The acrid smell reminded Hunter a little of rotten eggs and baking soda. He wrinkled his nose and did his best to ignore it.
Marino bowed slightly at the waist before he slowly retreated back to the wooden chair. With a flourish, much less theatrical in comparison to a moment before, he sat down. He folded his hands in front of him so that Hunter could see them.
“So, Capitano, I believe this is now your move,” Marino said with a polite smile and a knowing glance at the captain’s revolver. “This is where you would extract a confession, is it not, Signore?”
The captain’s eyes were narrowed in thought. He could holster his revolver as a show of trust, which was a commodity in short supply at the moment. However, keeping it trained on Marino allowed Hunter to negotiate from a position of power, which also might color what Marino chose to say. The captain pushed both thoughts back in his mind and let them marinate a moment. Then, he made his decision.
He dropped the pistol into the holster at his hip, then folded his arms over his chest.
Marino smiled. “Ah, interesting. So very interesting. As I do not wish to be shot, and I am sure, Capitano, you do not wish to waste the time doing the shooting.”
The captain shrugged. “Generally, I do. Though, I do make exceptions.”
The Italian man smiled nervously. “Perhaps then we should try a new conversation under this new spirit of cooperation? What do you wish to know?”
The captain’s eyes narrowed. His irritation with the man was in check, for the moment. However, the future remained uncertain.
“No, Capitano. No tricks this time,” the prisoner replied, his words colored with sincerity. “I suspect my brothers and I have been misled. Please, let’s try and reforge this conversation.”
Hunter watched the man silently. He put no faith in the man’s words. Captain Hunter spared a concerned look over to the two guards and their first officer. One sailor moaned slightly, while the other reached back and tenderly brushed his fingers against a bruise on the back of his head. Mr. Mason, in a rather undignified sitting position next to the door, likewise regained consciousness. The first officer blinked, obviously confused. Hunter knew a rap on the head had that effect. In fact, he had personal experience to draw upon. The first officer then nodded to Hunter, wordlessly indicating that he was gathering his wits about him. The captain slid his gaze back to Marino.
“Indeed,” the captain replied carefully with a small, brittle smile. “Just the other day, two of the Britannia crew met a premeditated, and explosive, demise. My ship and my crew have nearly suffered a similar fate. You and your ‘brothers’ are at the heart of both assaults. I’ll not stand for rampant acts of terror over antiquated trinkets, no matter how valuable others think they are. The safety of my crew is my main concern, the passengers and crew of the Britannia second. So, let’s begin our conversation with precisely why I do not have you flogged, hung or simply thrown overboard?”
Marino shrugged slightly, his face lit with a mischievous smile. “An honest misunderstanding?”
Hunter’s scowl deepened. The sour look was his only reply, and it spoke volumes.
The prisoner held up both hands, as if to wave off the captain’s anger. “Signore, please. My rash behavior before was the poorest of manners. My brothers were led to believe you were a man without mercy, but with a quick temper. A pirate, nothing more. If you mean what you say, then perhaps we have both been led astray. Yes, we bombed the Britannia’s engineering. However, we took pains to try and lure the crew away. We did not intend to murder anyone. Our careful work was subverted!”
“Interesting idea,” the captain replied sternly, his anger starting to boil. “I’ll need more than just your assurance that you meant no harm. How was it subverted? By whom? In addition, explain yourself with regards to the explosion that nearly harmed my own engineer? What was that outburst for a moment ago? Those are but the tip of the sword, Sirrah.”
Mr. Mason pulled himself upright with a hand braced against the door to steady himself. His left hand reached up to touch the back of his head gently. He scowled at Marino, then glanced at Hunter curiously. The first officer cleared his throat then brushed at his uniform to regain some form of dignity about him.
Mason smiled. “I see you’ve got the villain back in his cage. Good work, Captain. I’ll get the cage door.”
“Stand fast, Mr. Mason,” Hunter replied.
“What do you mean?” the first officer exclaimed. “The man’s dangerous!”
“The man’s cooperative, and more importantly talkative,” Hunter replied sternly. “Which is a bloody sight better than a moment ago. Besides, open door or no, I doubt he’ll try the same trick on us twice.”
“Oh, most certainly not,” the prisoner replied.
Mr. Mason cast a suspicious look towards Marino, who smiled innocently in return. “I’m unconvinced, but for now I’m mollified. I would like to hear what he has to say.” He knelt to check on the sailor nearest him.
Captain Hunter nodded to Marino. “Crack on with it, Sirrah. What proof do you have for your claims?”
Marino closed his eyes, took a deep breath, only to let it out slowly. “The device from engineering has been found, sì?”
Mason helped one of the two dazed, young sailors to his feet, then gave Hunter a cautious look. The captain acknowledged it before he answered Marino. “Yes, it has.”
The prisoner raised an eyebrow, curiosity shining from his eyes. “It is being examined, yes? Forgive me for asking, but it is by someone competent?”
“My engineer,” Captain Hunter replied curtly. “The very one I mentioned before.”
“Ah, yes, the one who made the curious centrifuge for the doctors!” Marino beamed. “Yes, she will decipher it in no time. I have a feeling about these things.”
Hunter’s scowl darkened. “I’ll thank you Sirrah, to keep a civil tongue about you and your feelings with regards to my engineer. She might take offense.”
Marino waved his hands. “No, no. I mean no offense. If she is good, as the one doctor suggested, by now she has found that our device was tampered with. Some small adjustment, crudely made to amplify the explosion?”
The captain’s eyes narrowed, his expression was tense. “To some extent of ‘tampered’, yes. However, that also suggests you might have done the ‘tampering’ yourself, Sirrah. You will have to do better than that. Perhaps, why do you want the journal and the knives? Who do you believe tampered with your work?”
“In addition, just how many of your confederates are aboard? More importantly, how do we make them stop slowly destroying the Britannia!” the first officer interjected.
Marino nodded. “We have some idea. There is a group of mercenaries that seek the daggers. We thought they were with you, Capitano. They were responsible for the tampering and for the death of one of my Brothers in that same explosion with the Britannia’s crew.”
“I see,” Hunter replied tersely. “What made you think I was associated with these people?”
“Despite the animosity, it struck us as odd, Signore, that you and your crew would invariably find yourselves in the one place the mercenaries would be. Likewise, the journal you took from the High Fens relay station? We were looking for it as well – to destroy it because of the secrets it holds, such as the secret of the daggers. However, the few we were able to question mentioned you took a small portion of the research. You did not destroy the journal, in fact have made some small inquiries around it. You were even speaking to Duke RiBeld about it, were you not? With the journal in hand?”
Mr. Mason gave Hunter a concerned look while he gestured for one of the sailors to take watch outside the room. “Captain, just what is this journal he’s talking about? He makes it sound as if it has some connection with what’s happening here.”
Captain Hunter’s eyes never left Marino, even though he half-turned his head to answer the first officer. “This journal is a scribbling of notes from a set of mad-men intent on creating some very hellish weaponry. I kept the thing only to find the matching manuscripts that the journal implied did exist.”
“They do,” Marino admitted. “One of which was recovered by my Brothers and destroyed.”
“So you say, Sirrah,” Hunter replied tartly. “I was goading Duke RiBeld into showing his hand. I was suspicious that he might be involved with your Brotherhood.”
Marino barked a laugh at that. Hunter ignored him.
“Be that as it may, I suspected it in either case. Until one of your number stabbed him,” the Captain explained.
The Italian man shook his head. “That was not us, Capitano. We sought to gain in the moment, but it was not our blade in the Duke. If it were, rest assured, he would not breathe at this moment.”
Captain Hunter watched Marino for a moment with a measuring look. “I believe you in that. Why, I can’t say, but I do.”
Mr. Mason adjusted one of his sleeves to smooth the wrinkles. “That is grand, but where does that leave us? I’ve dead crew and seriously damaged engines!”
“It leaves us with the start of an uneasy agreement that perhaps we’ve all been victim to someone else’s game.” The captain silently weighed his thoughts. He settled on a leap of faith. “The journal you’ve been accusing me of pandering? It’s a fraud.”
“What?” Marino said, his brows knit into a frown.
Captain Hunter pulled it from his coat and tossed it to the floor at the Italian’s feet, then gestured to it. “See for yourself. The drawings are similar, but the wording is gibberish. The actual one is under lock and key and will be destroyed eventually, once I know there are no other copies laying about.”
Marino scooped up the journal and frantically flipped through several pages. He was silent, though his astonished expression spoke loud enough.
Mr. Mason rubbed his temples. “Captain Hunter, I cannot let this man go just on your, what? A hunch? A guess? This man and his confederates have been terrorizing my ship! I’ve nothing to prove he is telling the truth.”
The prisoner looked up from the journal at the first officer. “Allow me to contact my Brothers. I can get you the proof you require, Signore. I can prove we did not intend to end the life of two of your crew.”
“How?” Mr. Mason asked skeptically.
Durante Marino pressed a hand to his right shoulder. “You see, Signore, we of the Brotherhood are more than inventors. Each of us carries with them a device that can record key events we experience. It is how we record our history. The one who was killed had a similar device. It would have recorded his true actions in that moment. I know you have the body in your morgue, si?”
“Yes, we do,” the first officer replied uneasily.
“Then escort me there, and I will prove with his last moments the truth of what I am telling you.” Marino offered.
Mr. Mason looked at Captain Hunter. “What do you think, Captain?”
Hunter considered Marino a moment. “I think, Mr. Mason, it’s something to at least consider for the moment. We won’t lose much time here unravelling this particular knot.”
The first officer frowned. “Captain, if he’s misleading us …”
“Then we’ll deal with it straightway,” Captain Hunter replied sternly. “As it stands we’ve precious few leads, and far too many avenues of attack to defend against. I’d like to not feel as if I’m fighting on all fronts.” The captain gave Marino a stern look. “Sirrah Marino? I don’t want to know the secret of these daggers, I’ve too much to worry with as it is, however I would like to know what you intend to do with them if you had them. ”
Marino smiled. “Remove them from sight, Capitano.” The Italian hesitated a moment. “A question in return for you: Capitano, if you do not want the secret of the daggers, why do you quest for them?”
Captain Hunter was quiet a moment while he considered his answer. Finally, he settled on a reply. “The lives of my crew are in jeopardy over them, and they are important to a young lady of my acquaintance. The daggers themselves, to her, represent a bit of knowledge … a connection … that should be studied and shared. A way to learn from the past on our collective march to the future.”
Marino raised an eyebrow. “Noble sentiments, Capitano. If we are all on the same side, ‘noble sentiment’ will do little against those who want the daggers for their own personal gain. They will stop at nothing.”
“They have yet to encounter my crew,” Hunter replied. The thin line of a smile played across his face a moment. “With Mr. Mason’s strained indulgence, let’s see about this ‘proof’ of yours, Sirrah Marino and see if it merits the trust you claim.”