The Dread Pirate Sawyer, Prologue


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Scene Title The Dread Pirate Sawyer, Prologue
Synopsis Within the tempest, Prospero is dying.
Date December 23, 2018

Just a dream.

Slate gray light filters in through curtained porthole windows trimmed with rusted metal. Parted lips suck in a sharp breath that tastes faintly like metal, cold steel walls and tangled blankets greet dark eyes as they open. With a rise and fall of her chest, Veronica Sawyer can feel the palpating of her heart hammering inside her chest. She can see it — her breath — like a silvery shard of her dream, twisting in the air just past her mouth. It's cold today.

The captain’s room remains as it was left last night, with a robe draped over a tall dressing mirror, boots dropped haphazardly on a Persian rug that covers most of the cold, rusting floor. A weathered orange pill bottle sits on the corner of an oak desk next to a hunting knife and a loaded handgun. Two pills left. The wind-up alarm clock beside those items shows the time clearly. Dawn came and went and no one woke the captain.


Inside the Stormfront

December 20th

8:24 am

A distant peal of thunder tumbled through the hull, though the storm’s presence isn't a worry. The chill in the air is a more pressing concern, made all the more challenging by how warm it is beneath layers of blankets tangled by a night of fitful sleep. She sees her breath again, just another silvery sliver.

With a groan that comes with the creaking joints of a life lived on cold boats in colder waters, Veronica forces herself out of the warm cocoon of blankets, reaching for the pants slung nearby and tugging them over her lean form. Boots next, because the spots of the cabin where the rug doesn’t reach are too cold for bare feet, and a rusty rivet might give her tetanus.

She moves to shake out those last pills, swallowing them with what remains of a finger of whiskey in a glass from the night before. She makes a mental note to send someone to find more for her, then pulls a thick sweater over her head meant for someone much taller than her, the cuffs permanently rolled up to keep her hands free. She stares into the mirror — like the rest of the boat, it’s seen better days, cracked at one corner so that one spiderwebbing leg splits her image in two. She shoves a few strands of hair in place, before grabbing her coat and making her way outward and upward, to greet the day — however reluctantly.

Outside of the captain’s cabin the rust-streaked halls are quiet, though the din of distant conversation floods through the air from further away. On her way down the hall, Veronica passes by more closed doors and private crew quarters, fitful coughing heard behind one. The ship was rusting more and more and some of its residents have started to complain about breathing problems. Another issue, another nail to hammer down.

Through another door the noise of the ship proper hits Captain Sawyer like a wall. Out beneath the gray skies, there is a cacophony of voices aboard the deck of the six hundred foot long cargo ship that is the core of her fleet. Dozens of tents like the deck, between which children run unsupervised and dogs can be heard barking in the distance. Birds circle overhead, a few gulls coming to perch on a nearby railing, watching Veronica as she breathes in the first lungful of cold morning air.

Captain,” comes from above, the metal stairs that lead up to the bridge. Already halfway down them, Sawyer’s first mate Montgomery Biard is hustling toward her, his jacket buttoned closed, ratty scarf wound around his neck. “A moment?” There's never a minute of free time.

From the deck, one of the Tempest's sister vessels is visible. The Typhoon. She isn't much bigger than the queen, but her paint darker. Floating off to the starboard side, a few widths away, white foam and grey water splitting and churning up under the nose of the ship. Weapons both fully installed and those still in-progress, scavenged unmistakably off whaling captures, lashed down over the top level. Typhoon is in a similar hubbub this morning. Crew running over its surface, navigating the rigging, eating meals out of shallow boats at the rail, where accidents will fall overboard sooner than get them in trouble for cleanup duty with their own captain. At this distance, the people look more like bugs, nearly faceless.

They'll check in soon. Radio, walkie-talkie. But even her best seconds know better than to bother Sawyer before she's had a few tins of coffee to go with her pills and alcohol, barring an actual fucking emergency.

Squinting in the gray light at the Typhoon, scanning its deck for its master, but not finding him, Sawyer turns at the sound of Montgomery Biard’s voice, head tipping up to find him descending the stairs.

Without her bidding, one of the crew, a scrawny teenager with wild curls and a scar on one of his cheeks, hurries up to press a thermos of coffee into her hand, darting away before he can be accused of trying to eavesdrop or interrupt. She glances through the corner of her eyes at his hurried escape, and there’s the hint of amusement curving her mouth upward.

“We need to find a replacement for this rusting piece of shit,” is her greeting to Monty, as she twists open the thermos and pours out a bit of the steaming dark liquid into the cup that caps the canister. “What else is new?” It’s not rhetorical.

“Sooner, rather than later,” Biard admits reluctantly, following the captain’s eyeline to the Typhoon, then back to her. “Doctor Young diagnosed six more people with siderosis yesterday. She’s doing what she can for them, but we’re running low on everything.” Biard steps to the railing on the stair landing, looking out at the other ship, then back to Sawyer.

“More pressingly,” Biard notes with discomfort, “the radio room picked up encrypted chatter on military bands last night.” He looks down to the deck, lips coming together in an anxious frown. “We weren’t able to break encryption, but I put a few people on observation for the night shift. There’s chatter from down in New York that the Sentinel may be moving north… it sounds like it’s going to be a purge. Any day now, potentially.”

The cup of coffee is lifted, sipped, while Biard goes through the litany of bad news. There’s no surprise on Sawyer’s face, only grim acceptance.

“We need a replacement ship. Or five.” There’s not that many vessels out there that would provide the living space for all of the people on the Prospero. “The next ones we can take, we should jump ship and get everyone settled. It’ll be a process. Right now we could move maybe… what, twenty, thirty to the others if people don’t mind close quarters.”

But years of living as a pirate has taught her they do, in fact, mind close quarters. Nothing begs a mutiny more than bad living conditions.

The Sentinel news earns him a nod. “Can we take them? What are their numbers now?”

“I don't know. At least one warship. We could try and fight them, maybe. But not without massive casualties,” Biard regretfully informs Sawyer. “We don't have the numbers we used to.”

As they make it up the metal stairs, Biard stops at the balcony overlooking the rows of shelters built into the deck of the Prospero. “While Helena’s hiding us in the storm we’re fine, but we can't stay in there indefinitely. We’ll run out of supplies or…”

Biard pinches forefinger and thumb at the bridge of his nose. “If it was just Manhattan that'd be one thing. But we talked to some folks in the Sill that said five or six ships left the Pelago yesterday and were headed north. If they lead the Sentinel to our doorstep even the Stormfront won't be able to protect us.”

His gloved hands clap down on the railing, and Biard leans forward, looking straight down. “Most of the people down there survived the first purge. Too many kids, wounded, and sick. The deaf girl who can manipulate color isn't going to win us any wars. Most of our kind,” he says with a look up to Sawyer, “the ones who could fight? They're dead.”

He looks over to the silhouette of the Typhoon against the dark of the ocean. “This was never supposed to be a permanent solution.”

Veronica leans against the railing, her hooded eyes following his gaze, tracking a few of the civilians below as they move this way and that. Her little city. Not all of the Prospero residents are pirates, or even fighters, like Biard said. Most of them are barely surviving, and only doing that because she, Biard, Wu-Long, Etienne and the others provide them the protection they need to get by. But not to thrive.

Her lips press together thinly, and she looks older than her years — too many days in the harsh sea air under the harsher sun, too many meals missed or drank instead of eaten.

“This ship’s a death trap,” she says flatly. “We may as well let Sentinel kill us if we stay aboard. So we need to take care of these five ships, then survive this Purge. And then we need to find the civs a place to live,” she says. “Some of them might be fit for the Sill but most…”

Some is probably generous. A handful, at best.

“That kid Miles can help relocate some of them, maybe. At the Pelago, at the Sill,” Vee says, taking another swallow of coffee, before she hands him the thermos and cup. “You ready to call it quits, then? Maybe we can just pass on my name and title like in Princess Bride.”

Her smile at the allusion is fleeting. She never called herself the Dread pirate. Somehow it took. “I’m tired, too.”

Right then, one of the hands comes up— another teen. Instead of coffee, seeing as how that fundamental life necessity was recently taken care of by one of their peers, this gangly one has a walkie-talkie in hand. Boxy, black. The stem of its antennae flops, narrowly avoiding thwapping Biard in the chin as the youth presses the device toward Sawyer herself. "For you, Captain." Biard just belatedly gets an apologetic look.

The device crackles. Receiver's off until someone puts their thumb down on the button, but Wu-Long's voice comes through.

"Good morning, Sawyer."

Even flattened and rerendered tinny by the gain/loss ratio drained into the interference from thousands of tons of metal, Wu-Long's voice is recognizably serene, but never sunny. "Biard. I can call back in five minutes." Out over the water, hundreds of feet away, the ragged black figure high at the stern of the other ship is watching them through binoculars. He'd probably wave, if he had an extra hand. He means: their faces look serious. And he knows that the situation is.

Sighing into his hand, Biard just slowly shakes his head. “No,” he says, unsure if the man on the other boat can even hear him. Composing himself, he gingerly takes the radio from boy and depresses the call button. “No,” he reiterates, just in case. “Honestly,” He looks to Sawyer, then to the man perched with binoculars in the distance, “this is probably good timing.”

Scratching his face with his free hand, Biard releases the call button and looks up to Sawyer, about to pose a question to her. But then just makes a judgment call for himself, clicking down that plastic switch again. “I'd rather we not discuss it over channels. Can you just— ” he releases the button in a sudden fit of realization and turns around, waving Wu-Long over with an over-accented fling of one arm. He can basically fly, after all.

The captain pats her belt where she usually carries her own radio, but realizes in her groggy, half-assed routine she hadn’t clipped it on. She takes it from the teen, giving him that expression that says shoo without saying it, and off he goes, a scrawny dog at his heels.

When Biard takes the radio, Sawyer doesn’t protest — they’ve worked together so long, they tend to take these sorts of licenses, finish each other’s sentences. She turns to look to Wu-Long as well, to await his arrival.

“Any idea who’s on these five ships, anyway?” she asks. “ Do they have a death wish or do they think they can fight us?” And if they think they can fight the pirates, what sort of weapons do they have? What do they know that Sawyer doesn’t, is the unspoken question.

Poof! Metaphorical poof. Wu-Long's dissolution is always soundless, and it would have had to be incredibly noisome to carry over the din of his ship's morning prep. But one moment, there's a tiny, Reaper-black figure standing on the far vessel; the next, there's a nightmare swatch of twisting black nothing. The absence of light more than a substance or shape.

He sleeks over the deck, down the side of the ship. A misplaced shadow, a dumped barrel of ink.

He swarms across the surface of the water, vanishing briefly from view as the Tempest's side blocks him out.

If this were a horror movie, there would probably be a series of screams and punctuating gunshots to mark Wu-Long's passage toward the crew leaders, but this isn't. Moreover, nearly everyone who works under Sawyer is somewhat accustomed to this spectacle, nowadays. And so, it surprises no one in particular when he passes between their feet or through the blades of a rotor they're carrying through, and he's polite enough not to temporarily blind anyone with a face-level altitude. Finally, he wafts sinuously through the air vent off behind Sawyer and Biard, dropping soundlessly to the floor.

In the space of a breath, the blackness is black shoes. Trousers, shirt and his hair, yanked back into a haphazard ponytail. He's still holding his binoculars, which are also black. But that isn't a murder ninja statement. Binoculars are usually black.

"I can," Wu-Long says. "Please continue."

The tiniest of shudders runs through Biard when Wu-Long manifests. Something about the movement of energy attenuation unsettled him in the way snakes and spiders do to other people. He’d likened it once to an old Harryhausen stop motion monster. He apologized for the monster part. “Captain,” Biard bleats in greeting, flicking a look between him and Sawyer.

“Uh,” Biard continues, recollecting his thoughts. “The uh, yes. Ships, we don’t have any handle on. They’re all regulars in the Pelago region. Merchant and salvage vessels, one belonging to an orphanage. They’re likely refugees fleeing the Sentinel.” At that, Biard flicks a look back at Wu-Long, nervous and fleeting.

“They’re probably trying to do what we do and hide in the storm,” Biard continues, but with a helpless shrug. “If we weren’t already short on food and medical supplies we might be able to absorb them, but— there’s just no way. We can barely keep the mouths we have fed. It doesn’t leave us with many options.”

“Good morning,” Sawyer says to Wu-Long when he settles at last, her eyes crinkling just a tiny bit at Biard’s reaction that does not go unnoticed. But any and all amusement fades again as Biard continues to explain their situation.

Her expression groes grim, dark eyes hard beneath her scowl, and she shakes her head. “If they are regulars, they know better,” she says coolly at last. “They should have asked for permission.”

The unspoken directive here is use them as an example.

“Do not harm the children, if there are any. We will make room,” she adds after a moment. Before Biard can protest, she adds, “Temporarily. And try to get any of the boats worth keeping.” They need a new boat, after all, but none of the five will be large enough to take on the numbers of the Prospero’s manifest.

"That shouldn't be too difficult," says Wu-Long, who seems neither offended nor particularly pleased by Biard's squeamishness. Maybe someday, at some far-off mutiny. Alternate universe execution. That's a good time for another time. He regards his two companions one at a time, and then his attention finishes on Sawyer. "It's rare to find an adult man or a woman who will hide behind a child. Most will go through efforts to protect them. Easy enough to kill the front line and leave the little ones alive and well.

"Probability is in our favor," he concludes. He shrugs his shoulders, apparently content to selectively ignore or privately process the rest of the tactical information at hand. Capture. That's always a logistical challenge, but not a hopeless one. Most ships would do fine with a scary hole or two in its hull, as long as its well above the waterline— sometimes even below. Sometimes, all you have to do is scare the people aboard. Patching can come later. Worst comes to worst. "The new harpoons will come in handy.

"I'll be careful." He reaches up, flips the binoculars strap over the roof of his head. “Contingency plans.”

“Contingency plans,” Biard echoes, nervously. As he looks down to the floor, brows furrowed and fingers tight, there's a tension in his shoulders and a clenched quality to his jaws. “I'll get the forward ships prepared,” he says instead of remarking about his own uncertainty, instead of belaboring the fact that he's not sure if he has the will for this life anymore. He knows what the blood of weakness does when it touches the water.

“As you order,” Biard adds to Veronica, then levels an uncertain look to Wu Long before finally turning toward the stormy horizon. His uncertainty may not be voiced, but it's evident in his eyes to both of the others. But at least he has the cold comfort that Captain Sawyer isn't the monster the people of the Pelago have made her out to be.

She's her own monster, made of her own choices.

They all are.

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