One Sunny Night
©2016 by Charon Dunn
Rufe finally moved, peeling his jersey off and draping it around the woman’s shoulders. She thanked him graciously and introduced herself as Risha. Her makeup was smudged all over her face and her hair was one big tangle, and Sonny didn’t think this detracted from her beauty at all.
“I’d be willing to exchange large sums of cash to get out of this country immediately if anyone has any connections whatsoever.” She removed the jersey from her shoulders and stepped into the neckhole, then tied the sleeves around her waist, transforming it into a skirt of conservative length. “Train, ship, dirigible, pack mule, I don’t care.”
An explosion caught their attention, out toward the sea. A flock of the jellyfish-like domes were clustered around the last remnants of the Vanram Navy, sinking it. Slender cannons protruded from them like antennae. Sonny could see people scrambling around on top of some of them. A cruise ship that had been anchored in the harbor was slowly trundling past them, heading toward the Principessa Larisse. All the rest of the biggest ships were sinking, leaving the smaller ones bottled up behind the harbor gate.
“They’ve got my family,” he said. His knees went weak, and he sat down. “And my friends.”
“Over there.” Rufe stood up and pointed, and began striding down the pier. Sonny couldn’t tell where he was headed but he got up and followed, as did Risha and the doctor, the dog trotting along behind. Rufe’s destination turned out to be a saloon that had escaped the flames by virtue of being built directly over the water. It was overflowing with agitated people. Rufe parked himself out front and shouted about how he was willing to pay an extremely high price for passage, which set off a mocking chorus of other voices asking the same thing.
The dog whined uneasily and Sonny stepped back from the crowd to reassure her. He tried not to think about her teeth. She had a lot of them, packed into an unusually long snout. Sonny had grown up with a dog named Oscar, a spaniel with long silky ears and a gentle disposition, who had passed away last year. He missed having a dog. The family had talked about getting a new dog, but since Sonny was headed directly toward college and adulthood Marilyn’s wishes came first, and she was more inclined toward a pair of cats, or perhaps rabbits. He sat down and wrapped his arms around the tiger-striped dog, and she licked at his forehead.
A raggedy, smelly guy with sun-weathered skin beckoned. Sonny blinked, feeling the dog shift against him. “Hi.”
“Is that guy with you a doctor?” He pointed toward Quicksilver, standing near Rufe with Risha sandwiched between them. “I know a guy needs a doctor. He’s got a boat.”
Sonny got the doctor’s attention, and a moment later they were headed down a dark hallway in a building adjacent to the saloon, Rufe bringing up the rear and grumbling they were probably headed into some kind of trap. A door at the end of the hall led to a darkened room, and as they piled in behind the raggedy man someone struck a light, illuminating a scowling face covered in swirling black tattooed lines.
“Got your doctor,” said the raggedy man, holding out his palm.
The tattooed man filled it with folded paper, hanging his lamp from a ceiling hook and settling back down into a chair. His hair was in jet black braids, with small carved ornaments hanging from the tips. He had a pot belly that strained at his buttoned waistcoat, purple velvet with gold dragons chasing each other up the sleeves. The thick-fingered hands emerging from his sleeves were also tattooed, Sonny focused on a laughing pig decorating the base of his thumb as he looked them over, still scowling, his gaze lingering on Risha before finally settling on Quicksilver.
“I am prepared to leave this nation immediately once a medical emergency among my crew has been alleviated,” he said, in a deep melodious voice. “I should, however, advise that the situation is not entirely without controversy as to matters of international law. I should further advise that the patient is anatomically complex.”
The doctor sighed and gave him a brief uncomfortable nod.
Risha stepped forward, sliding a bracelet from her wrist and offering it for inspection. “We’re willing to pay for passage.”
The tattooed man accepted the bracelet and looked it over, twirling it around on his big finger. A big white smile interrupted the tattoos on his lower face. “I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, madame. You may call me Kai. I am captain of the Lono, a modern recreation of a ship from the past.”
“Charmed.” Risha showed dimples.
Rufe peered through the window. “Can’t break the law if it ain’t there. Let’s get going.”
They followed the captain out the door and pushed their way through a crowd. Gunshots crackled nearby, and embers from the blazing warehouse district peppered them with flying cinders. The tiger-striped dog pressed close to Sonny’s leg, snarling whenever a stranger got too close. They walked fast toward the slips, which were guarded by a lone cannon-bearing jellyfish, methodically sinking a couple of yachts that were trying to escape. Sailors in white uniforms were gathered atop the jellyfish, aiming the cannons. Beneath them was a dark undulating shape easily bigger than both yachts put together.
Most of the slips held ships made of pitted, weathered composite, the type that hauled miscellaneous freight up and down the coast. The last slip held a two-masted schooner made entirely of wood. Lono was painted on the bow in fancy letters, beneath a voluptuous mermaid figurehead.
“A ship like this could sail in deepwater, all around the world,” Rufe commented as they hurried up the gangplank.
“It does,” the captain replied.
The captain and the doctor headed rapidly belowdecks as sailors gathered around, pulling the gangplank up behind them. A few of them seemed interested in the tiger-striped dog, who was still pressed against Sonny’s leg. Sonny noticed the sailors all had Asian features and it occurred to him they might actually have sailed from Asia. He also couldn’t help but notice that some of them were removing the covers from a pair of cannons mounted near the bow.
The captain emerged from below, carrying an unconscious Quicksilver slung over his shoulder. The ship shuddered. Rufe looked pointedly at the sails, which were still wrapped tight around the masts and Kai handed him the limp doctor, barking orders to the crew. A couple of sailors appeared to escort them down two flights of stairs, into a dark, stuffy cargo hold sparsely furnished with empty pallets and barrels and coils of rope.
Rufe propped the doctor in a corner and Risha fussed over him, making sure he was wedged into a comfortable position. There were three tiny windows, not too far above the waterline, and Sonny stationed himself beside one as the ship moved through the harbor much faster than one would expect from a motorless ship with its sails tied down.
They reached the mouth of the harbor, where they stopped short at a barricade made of several logs encrusted with rusty spikes, strung across the exit and threatening to puncture the hull of any ship drawing near. Beyond it, the cannon-bearing jellyfish was sinking a tugboat.
On a pier beside the lock was a wooden shack, next to the capstan that raised and lowered the spiked logs. A battle had recently taken place outside the shack, and bodies were lying around the platform. People with strong opinions were clustered around, expressing them. A dark-skinned woman in a soot-streaked uniform was waving a pistol in the air and yelling at the mob. She seemed to be more in charge than anyone else and the captain hailed her.
“Madame! The Lono formally requests that you remove the obstacle impeding our egress.”
“Shit on toast,” Rufe said. He dashed toward the stairs.
Hina barked excitedly and took off after Rufe. Sonny followed. He emerged onto the deck in time to see the woman fire her pistol into the air, which made the recede a couple of meters. “I regret that I cannot comply with your request, captain. They’re destroying everything that moves. If they get in here there won’t be anything left afloat.”
“I am willing to assume that risk. Please open the lock.”
“Do you see that man?” She turned to face them and Sonny noticed that she had a pronounced limp. Her close-cropped hair was shot through with gray. An oversized key hung around her neck on a thick chain. She was gesturing at one of the corpses.“He was all set to retire next week. Now he’s dead. Because somebody took issue regarding opening the lock.”
“Dee!” Rufe bellowed. He stepped up to the bow, making himself visible.
The harbormaster startled at the sight of him, taking a lopsided step back. “Aren’t you supposed to be winning a game?”
“Game was called.”
“In ten seconds I shall fire upon your lock, destroying it,” Kai announced. “I urge you to stand clear.”
“You folks heard him!” The harbormaster turned her attention to the mob, firing into the air again and shooing them back.
“Don’t do it,” Rufe said. He reached out to grab the captain by one of his embroidered sleeves.
The captain turned to face him and they exchanged a brief glare, for only a few seconds, and then the captain yelled something in a foreign language which apparently translated to “Fire!”
The ship bucked as both cannons fired. The shack and the capstan collapsed into the water along with the end of the pier. The harbormaster limped rapidly away, but she was too slow to avoid being pegged by a chunk of flying debris and she fell onto the pier, then she fell again as the pier collapsed, splashing into the water.
“I told you --” Rufe did his best to loom over the captain, but the captain was well versed in occupying space.
“Mutiny carries harsh penalties,” he said.
Rufe lowered his head and backed away. He glanced over the side, and suddenly he was moving fast, grabbing a rope and leaning over the gunwale to throw it. Sonny patted Hina, who was very anxious from all the artillery, and went to the side to see what was going on.
The harbormaster was swimming, and the ship was moving swiftly past her. Rufe’s aim was perfect and his rope landed on top of her head. She grabbed it and hauled herself hand over hand, her teeth bared in pain. As she got closer Rufe began to lift from above. Sonny and a few of the sailors pitched in to help, which wasn’t particularly necessary as she wasn’t heavy at all.
When they laid her on the deck it was apparent her leg was broken. Sonny winced and got out of the way as people attended to her. He headed up to the bow, cautiously. Risha was right there, arms wrapped around Hina, watching the ship advance on the cannon-bearing jellyfish.
The cannons dutifully fired. The jellyfish also fired, and since it didn’t correct for the ship’s recoil, its waterline shot hit the water instead.
“He’s going to ram it,” Rufe yelled, grabbing a harpoon from a rack.
“I do have a ramming bow specifically for occasions such as this,” the captain replied. He gave another shout, and he also stamped his boot heel on the deck three times, hard.
The Lono seemed to gather like a pouncing tiger. She shot forward, almost catching air, revealing the blunt spike of a ramming bow protruding from the tip of her bow. Rufe let out a crazy laugh and brandished his harpoon, ready for battle. The jellyfish shot long, shimmery tentacles at them, groping for the bow of the ship as the impact happened. It was a soft, fleshy, yielding sort of impact. The jellyfish tore open, revealing the wall of some kind of container inside it. When that ruptured, sailors spilled out into the sea. They were all the same size, slender and dark-haired, very much like the ones who had taken over the stadium.
One of them jumped. Holding something shiny which stabbed into the side of the Lono. Sonny’s first inclination was to throw something to knock the sailor back into the sea, and he groped around for something to throw. His hands found a rope, the same one Rufe had used to rescue the harbormaster.
He could throw the rope instead. Then they would have a prisoner, who would know where his family was being taken.
Sonny threw the rope. His aim was bad, but the rope eventually drifted to the sailor’s free hand. A few seconds after that, the sailor climbed onto the deck and produced the shiny thing, tucked into a belt holster for the climb. A utility knife, made of coated obsidian. After throwing down the weapon, the sailor stood with raised hands and said, “I surrender.”
“What’s your name?” Rufe stepped forward.
Sonny stared at the enemy sailor, who was much younger than the twins from the stadium. About Sonny’s age, with smooth cheeks, and the same pointy nose and intense eyes as all the rest.
“Where are you taking my family?” he blurted. Hina barked for emphasis.
“I can’t submit to interrogations outside protocol. Sorry.”
“You were taking people out to the ship. My family was with them.” Rage surged through him and some of it came out in his voice.
“A lot of my family just drowned. Life can be harsh. I’m still not going to be interrogated outside protocol.”
Rufe suddenly backhanded Kayliss, who went flying. “Here’s some protocol for you.”
Risha shrieked. “Stop it! He surrendered.”
“They all surrender.” Rufe spat for emphasis. “Primary directive: preserve your hide, and that of your fellow clones. Am I right?”
“I demand that you conduct this circus somewhere other than my deck,” the captain said. “Back to the hold, if you would be so kind. I shall send carpenters to turn it into luxurious passenger accommodations forthwith. Please restrain that prisoner. Supper will take place at sunset.”
The ship was still moving rapidly as they made their way downstairs, putting the land far behind them.
The harbormaster was in the hold, along with the doctor and a couple of sailors who had laid them on makeshift cots. The doctor’s pale hand lay against the harbormaster’s dark arm, and her leg was in a heavy dressing. Both of them were sound asleep.
Rufe grabbed a coil of rope and used it to tie Kayliss’ hands together, and once that was accomplished he bent over the harbormaster, concerned. “We go way back.”
“Excuse. Hello.” A new sailor appeared, and the hold was starting to feel crowded. “Captain said to build some racks. How many?”
“We need two rooms, actually.” Risha stepped forward. “One for the men, and one for the women. With a latch on the door, that works from the inside.”
“We need three rooms,” Rufe said. “We’ll need a cell for the prisoner, with a latch on the door that works from the outside.”
“You can put me in the room with the other women,” said Kayliss. “I’ll latch myself in.”
Rufe grabbed a handful of her shirt and pulled it tight across her chest. Sonny stared. They weren’t very large, but she definitely had boobs. A girl twin.
“You don’t need to tie her up,” Risha said.“ I don’t think a teenage girl is going to singlehandedly take over the ship. She surrendered, and we can turn her over to the authorities when we get to shore.”
“Captain’s orders,” Rufe snarled.
“I’ll be on my very best behavior,” Kayliss said. “I’m an officer. And I do have a stunrod on my belt, but I think the seawater killed it.”
Rufe made a big show of unfastening her belt, and whipping it rapidly through her beltloops, and uncranking a window, and tossing it outside. While he was doing that, Risha smiled at the translator and clasped his hand in hers. She smiled, showing dimples. “Two rooms. And a washroom.”
“Two. Yes.” The translator grinned, stuttering slightly. Then he turned and spoke with the sailors, and soon after that hammers were pounding and saws were flashing. Pallets and barrels and other scrap lumber were turned into walls and doors, and latches, and sturdy bunks.
All the sailors liked the tiger-striped dog, and they built Sonny an extra-wide bunk to share with her, adjacent to the window. After it was constructed he huddled there, stroking her bristly fur and staring into space as everyone else got settled. Rufe lifted the unconscious people into their own bunks, then he left the women to their own room as the latch noisily fell into place behind him.
There was something approximating a bathroom between the mens’ and womens’ rooms, with buckets standing in for toilets and basins, and a window for convenient disposal of whatever wound up in the buckets.
The sailors brought thin mattresses, and blankets and pillows, and armfuls of clean dry clothes in various sizes. Sonny watched Rufe paw through the shirts in search of a fit.
He sat up, feeling dazed, and peeled away the remnants of his shoes and socks. He emptied the pockets of his ripped-up pants. He had some soggy pieces of paper, and some ruined cinnamon candies, and a key to room 314 at the Hotel Argalia. His ticket to the game. And his wad of cash for the concession stand, which he smoothed out on his knee. Forty-seven dollars all together, printed in bold red ink. Staring from the center of each was an old guy in a uniform, scowling over a watermark of crossed swords. Probably wouldn’t be enough to buy a slice of pizza back home.
He shoved it in his pocket. Then he pulled one of the bills back out and stared at it. Old guy in a uniform.
The blood rushed out of his head and he sank into his bunk, where the tiger-striped dog was already curled up sleeping. “Rufe?”
Rufe was busy ripping the sleeves off of one of the donated shirts. “Yeah?”
Sonny held out the money without saying a word. Rufe glanced at it. “Hey, kid, don’t worry about money, I’ve got enough to get you home as soon as I get the captain to drop us off down the coast.”
Sonny shook his head and pointed at the portait in the center of the bills. “No. Him.”
“Him.” Rufe slid his modified shirt over his head and sat back against the wall, studying Sonny with his artificial eye. “No longer among the living, from what I’ve heard.”
“I hardly remember anything,” Sonny babbled.
“No,” Rufe agreed. “You probably don’t.”
Sonny stuffed the cash into his pocket and curled himself around the tiger-striped dog, soothed by the regular rise and fall of her chest. There was nothing to see outside the window except for blue sky and blue sea.
Rufe went out to the staircase, braced his feet and did a long series of sit-ups. Sonny wondered if this was his way of handling anxiety. He wasn’t exactly sure how he should handle his own anxiety since he’d never had this much before. He stared at the undulating blue water as his thoughts leapfrogged from one worry to the next. His body ached, and he was pretty sure he could feel the exact lines where the nanobots had hauled his tissue back into alignment and glued it into place.