- Text Size +
Author's Chapter Notes:
skeleton crew
The next three days were among the most grueling of any of their lives, running the Excelsior on a skeleton crew, with no clue how long they might have to keep it up.

Much to Roxy’s vexation, they had to spread themselves dangerously thin in order to maintain this ‘prison ship’ arrangement. Always two jailors for the prisoners. Always someone at the helm to keep them on what little they had in the way of a course. Always someone, mostly Roxy, watching Rufus at all times.

Even the fact that they hadn’t tried to pull anything did nothing to put their minds at ease.

Combined with Sebastian doing most of the chores, as well as cooking and serving as a go-between, meant that only one of them could sleep at a time, and with one eye open, between shifts.

On the first day, Rufus led them on a search of the ship, scrounging up any tools they could possibly use to fix the engine. The only thing working in their favor being that Striker’s stranded crew had mostly dismantled, rather than destroyed, most of the works. As if expecting to use both the tools, and the generators, to leverage Mercer’s crew into fixing the engines as a bargaining chips.

Roxy used the same trip as a pretense to scour the ship for any remaining members of either crew, but found no one, though none of them slept any easier for it.

The first order of business was getting the power back on, which enabled them to reactivate the radio scanner, which was their best hope of finding dry land out here any time soon. Much to every-one’s relief, it appeared they were still in range of the signal Rufus detected the other day, though it would take some time to get a fix on the signal’s exact source, let alone range, it meant they could potentially reach land with just the sail rigs, if need be, even if they couldn’t salvage the engines. Rufus then showed them how to read it so he could turn his attention to the engine room.

When Shades quipped that such a device would’ve come in handy aboard the Maximum, Rufus simply pointed out although he had heard rumors of such things, few ships below freighter size range could support all the extra gear involved.

Fortunately, Max, Justin and Rufus had prevented the Cyexians from doing any functional damage to the sail rigs, as the best Rufus could do was MacGyver some makeshift tools that weren’t quite right for the job, barely getting the engines up to about a quarter power, and even that might not last without proper tools to finish the job.

Along the way, they rounded up all the hand radios as they went, and Rufus set them all to the same channel. For, sure enough, Mercer had set them to different channels to talk to the Cyexians, as well as his own patrols. Fortunately, there were enough to go around for each station— jailors, helm, engines, and Sebastian, to each have one, which they subsequently kept on them at all times. With the power restored, could also use the battery charger on the bridge again.

Which was good, because, unlike the engines, the Cyexians did their damnedest to make sure the intercom would be unusable without tools and parts no one out here possessed.

Periodically, Roxy would leave Max watching Rufus long enough to dispose of each fallen pirate one by one, stripping each of any weapons, equipment or other valuables before dumping them overboard in the name of sanitation. A self-appointed task the others left her to without comment. The loot was collected in their home base room for safekeeping, to be divided up later, should they find a place to sell it all down the way.

While Rufus was working on the ship, Sebastian rounded up all the remaining food stores. Which didn’t add up to much. The fact that they had so few prisoners was the only reason any of them got anything to eat at all, mostly leftovers.

Both groups of prisoners mostly ate in silence. Sat in silence, despondent and defeated. Likely also too hungry, exhausted and demoralized to challenge captors who had already defeated them once before.

Mercer himself quite possibly the most beaten of all, looking as if he also suffered the wrath of his own surviving henchmen, as well.

In spite of this, none of them lowered their guard for a second when feeding the prisoners, or inspecting their impromptu cells periodically for signs of shenanigans, Shades in particular recalling all of the wacky jailbreak attempts he had ever heard of.

By the second day, they had a direction, and possibly a range, though it was anyone’s guess exactly how long it would take to cover the distance with only a quarter power to the engines.

The one thing they all agreed on— including Rufus— was that it would be wise to keep their prisoners in the dark about how close they might be to land. Though it carried the risk of driving them to desperation— possibly in a matter of days, as food dwindled— they agreed it was worth the gamble. Certain that any hint of a destination was guaranteed to inspire trouble on their part.

It wasn’t until high noon on the third day that the helm caught sight of land ahead.

“Guys!” Justin called out, clutching the radio with both hands, “It worked! I see land! Dead ahead!”

“Dammit!” Roxy reminded him, “You’re not supposed to just blurt that kind of information unless it’s an emergency! Now the whole ship knows about it!”

“Too late now,” Shades remarked, “Don’t worry, we have things well in hand down here.”

“Sebastian just woke me up,” Maximilian chimed in. “Is it really true?”

“Rise and shine, Young Master,” the bounty hunter told him, “Looks like you’re needed on the bridge.”

“On my way,” the Young Master responded. “So tell me, helmsman, what do you see?”

“What? Oh, you mean me…” Justin continued peering out at the looming coastline, afraid it would vanish if he took his eyes off it for even a moment. “Well, I see some buildings and ships and stuff… And what looks like a seaport farther up the coast. I think we really made it!”

“Just don’t let your guard down,” Roxy warned them. “We don’t want to lose it all, right when we’re in sight of our goal.”

“We know,” Max assured her, “We’ve come too far to let it end like that.”

“Damn straight!” Maximilian declared, borrowing from Justin’s stock phrases. “Today is our day, and we’re going to seize it! All hands, prepare to make landfall.”
Chapter End Notes:
-rough draft: March 22, 2012 – Nov 21, 2012
-word draft: Oct 01, 2012 – March 02, 2013
-additional revisions: March 11, 2013

So, here I am again. One year, three jobs and three apartments later, with half of my life in limbo in storage, and my best friend (and former roommate) on the other side of the ocean in Japan. I’m sure you can imagine how much chaos this has caused in my creative life. As a result, I’m still working on Tradewinds 19 and 20, but rest assured, I have every intention of having 19 up and running by fall.

In the meantime, it’s hard to figure out where to even begin with how much this tale changed from what I had originally written in my notes years ago. Starting with Maximilian, who was originally going to be a one-shot character. Then again, my original idea with the story had simply involved the Young Master winning back his inheritance, and had nothing at all to do with the Tri-Medals subplot, so what can I say? That, and their ship getting stolen was already part of the endgame concept for that story. By the time I was finished with Part 17, I knew it would be the height of cheesy to just have him hand Max & Company some cruise tickets and tell them Bon Voyage, so I instead lit on the idea of him starting a new life from the ruins of his old one, which also placed him onboard, when it was originally going to just be the main three. That, combined with driving Striker away necessitated a second adversary. Mercer.

Of course, the original story also involved Max enlisting the help of powerful creature in ridding them of Striker, a character from an older story I made up with my friends many years ago, but who just didn’t seem to fit in with this series’ direction. That, and it totally undermined the whole Round 2 vibe if Max didn’t battle her himself. Instead, I found that this was probably a better place to introduce Roxy than where I originally expected to (in Part 19), since she would now be a more established character, giving her a chance to work with Max and his friends before they face their next big foe.

On that subject, I’m sure most of you were probably wondering when she would appear, given the references I’d made to her in Parts 12 and 15, and I hope she didn’t disappoint, because she’s still got a lot of bounty hunting to do, both on-screen and off. Much like how Maximilian’s been hanging around longer than I expected him to, Roxy has turned out to be more important to the long-term of the series, even though his immediate role is drawing to a close. On the other hand, you can expect them to encounter the Excelsior in the future, and we’ll see how the Young Master’s seafaring career fares.

In the meantime, here’s hoping I can finish sorting this crap and get the rest of my stuff out of storage soon, so that I can take back more of my spare time, and get my ass in gear on the next leg of the journey.