Brigantine Island Part I.

23 Aug

1.

Drinking pivo in a harbor beer hall with his newly hired pilot, Captain Icho Nidat spoke with nostalgic emotion of the time before his own birth.
“Things were much different when our ships were made of hard wood, not today’s iron alloys. There were a lot more schooners in the old-time piracy of yore. It was a different age, and our raiders sailed all over the Interior Sea. My father, grandfather, and great grandfather were involved in the buccaneer trade at various levels, with jobs on clippers and galleons that had wind sails soaring over the ship. Those old schooners were slower and lacked any modern plasma engines. But our predecessors took greater risks than anyone would today.

“They were genuine adventurers back then. The pirates of Brigantine Island were know and feared all over,” murmured the skipper, picking up his mug and swallowing down a mouthful of dark liquid.

The new pilot, Pero Arslan, studied the lionlike face of his employer, a large bruin in his late fifties with copious locks of chestnut brown.

The short, slight navigator had learned his craft on commercial transports and had experience of only two voyages on freebooting raiders. But his own father had from an early age trained him in the secret knowledge of piloting over the varied sectors of the Interior Sea. Pero had impressed Captain Nidat at the short interview of three possible candidates and had unexpectedly won the post on the pirating outlaw ship. Why had he been chosen for the vacant post? Pero could produce no credible answer even for himself. Perhaps Icho had depended on some secret intuition, some instinct gained from years at sea.

The young, tow-haired, hazel-eyed novice was not at all intimidated by the duties and responsibilities that would now be his. This pilot position was what he had dreamed of and aspired to as he grew up as a seaman, mariner, and deck hand on commercial vessels. What could compare with genuine pirating, though? he had asked himself countless times. Finally, I have reached my desired post, he told himself with pride and anticipation. I shall be main navigator of a Brigantine Island marauding privateer. I shall be fulfilling an important function on a sea raider.

“I will do my best at the post you bestowed on me, sir,” said Pero in a humble, grateful tone. He picked up his big mug and drank a long swig of the island brew.

Brigantine Island had never enacted or enforced any laws against piracy at sea. It became the refuge of freebooters and swashbucklers who were the scourge of legitimate commercial trade in other areas of the Interior Sea. Many generations of islanders had the knowledge and experience needed for success in raiding the lanes of transport.

Even the main island port of Insula serviced and supplied pirating craft, although many adventuring enterprises preferred the many minor harbors available on the outer coastlines of Brigantine.

But in recent decades the legal commercial ships became the dominant vessels using Insula harbor, while the brigand ships tended to gravitate toward the smaller ports. It was an unwritten rule that pirates never raided any vessel whose home was on the island. Native commercial traders were protected by custom, only outsiders could be made victims.

The balance of operations in recent years continued to shift toward legitimate trade and commerce, while piratic raiding on the sea was a falling, shrinking part of the island’s economic activity. Pirate vessels lacked the new plasma engines that provided speed and power to the mercantile craft that could outdo them on the sea.

Captain Icho Nidat was a leading adventurer who continued to return to Insula port for supplies and repairs. In many ways, he remained a traditionalist in the craft he had inherited. Never the first to try out the new, Icho depended on the knowledge passed on to him by forefathers and predecessors. It took a lot of proof and argument to get him to attempt or try the unfamiliar.

His new pilot, Pero Arslan, discovered how conservative his skipper was on their first voyage out into the Interior Sea. Captain Icho preferred to look for lucrative targets in the busy, most used lanes between the major countries on the outer shores.

“Why don’t we attempt to find valuable cargos way out in regions of new mining and metal smelting?” asked Pero one morning on the bridge of the iron raider. “Piracy should be surveying the new products coming out of unfamiliar, underdeveloped areas the were ignored in the past,” speculated the pilot. “What do you think, Captain?”

The latter seemed to make a sour face with a negative grimace on it.

“I have never liked chancy gambles,” he grumbled. “Yes, we are adventurers, but we should always know what we are doing and play the odds in a favorable manner.

“I will go into unfamiliar or unknown regions when I have some kind of idea what might be available to us coming out on commercial transports. We should not be the last to try the new, but I am not eager to be the first either.”

Icho fell silent and began to examine the electronic compass board in front of him.

Pero resolved to find a fresh new field and area that would be acceptable to his captain.

The target picked for attack and looting was a slow, large carrier of metal ore from one of the largest islands in the Interior Sea, transporting the raw material to refineries and smelters on the coast of an industrial region of the mainland. Captain Icho outlined his plan to the officers assembled for a strategy meeting in his ship’s galley.

“This big transporter keeps a low speed and has very little armed protection aboard,” he declared, standing upright in front of the others. Pero sat close to the front edge of the half dozen top personnel of the pirate vessel.

“This material is pretty heavy stuff and will quickly fill up our cargo chambers,” continued the skipper. “And the price we will get for it at the far-flung outlaw markets will be below the legal commercial rates for ores. But there is nothing we can do about it.

“Pirating ships have always had to dispose of their loot at low price rates. We make up for it with our very low rate of major expenses,” cynically grinned the ship commander. “We will be able to share our large profit with the investors who are bankrolling our adventurous enterprise. All of us will come out ahead.” His dark brown eyes fell on Pero in the front tow. “Do we have a potential carrier in view on our magnetic screens yet?” he asked the pilot-navigator directly.

“Indeed, sir,” reported Pero briskly. “There is an old, giant ore-ship bearing a heavy load from Bauxite Island to the aluminum plants on the central coast of Forgeland. This target should be easy to halt and then commandeer with a thick barrage of fog out of our brume tanks. There has been constant checking of the conditions and potential operation of our six large evaporators. Everything is ready to go as soon as we reach a rendezvous with the metal ore carrier.

“The grappler arms on our decks are prepared to take hold of the target within seconds of a signal from you, sir.

“Everything is set for a successful assault as soon as we meet and come near to the carrier in question, sir.”

“Good,” said the Captain. “Let us hurry our speed and meet with this ship and its waiting donation to us. We may be fortunate that it is not powered by plasma, like so many carriers in our time.”

The twenty-five member crew maintained its silence as the steel raider rushed toward its victim in contemplated surprise.

Thick white fog shot forth from the evaporator tanks on the forward deck. A wall of opaque-looking steam and brume flowed out in front of the pirate ship, rolling toward the ore-carrier. Figures on the targeted vessel were visible, running about its deck in fevered movement and desperate action.

Pero stood at his post on the attack ship’s bridge, beside Captain Nidat and acting as if he had been promoted to second in command. In fact, the pilot found himself taking over new responsibilities on board as time went on.

Icho is taking note of my capacity to accept ever-expanding duties, Pero noted with satisfaction. I never anticipated that I would be so active in the actual operation of this pirate vessel.

All at once, the pilot noticed something happening that had not been foreseen.

The veil of fog approaching the ore-carrier was rising into the atmosphere above the target. It was avoiding the metal ship by shooting upward into the sky above.

The would-be victim ship is saving itself through a clever instrument, Pero suddenly realized.

He caught sight of half a dozen gigantic blower devices on the deck of the carrier. These powerful fans were diverting the wall of fog in an upward direction, thereby saving the target from the first move of attack.

The ore transport had been fitted out with protective technology in the form of wind-making mechanisms that got rid of the invading vapor.

Captain Icho, realizing that he had been check-mated by an unforeseen defensive device, sensed that the pirates had been defeated.

It was useless to try to approach any nearer or attempt to use the grapplers and extension arms aboard. Without a concealing veil of fog, the ore ship was able to speed away in safety.

Icho shouted out a desperate order. “Shut off the evaporators and reverse course so that we can get our vessel out of here!” he commanded his defeated buccaneers.

2.

Dango Kirp was an Insula merchant who had succeeded in acquiring a small fleet of three commercial transport ships. At an early age, he had decided to forego any pirating activity for the sake of building a reputation in the sea trade beyond Brigantine Island. His specialty developed as carrying raw materials from the tropical islands of the southern areas of the Interior Sea to the industrial cities of the central coastlines. He met with success both in buying island materials at favorable prices and in winning profitable deals selling his cargoes in advanced regions of economic development.

How can I expand my plasma fleet and its reach? the tall, skinny but athletic young businessman asked himself every morning and every evening.

It was not easy to gather and assemble capital on Brigantine Island, where the biggest risk-takers were the pirates who roved the open sea, searching for wealth they could take and make their own.

Money-lenders and banks were tight-fisted and skeptical of anything that seemed adventurous or speculative.

Dango surveyed and studied the lending institutions and private investor scene of Insula, until he settled upon one person of one of the wealthy financial elite. Here was where he decided to make a probing attempt to acquire funds with which to expand his reach and his trade. He discovered that the head of the family, Mr. Balno Mitne made island folk music his personal hobby and leisure-time interest.

The enterprising ship-owner signed up to join the Brigantine Folk Music Society and began to attend its meetings and private concerts.

One evening, during the social hour after the music presentation by a pair of amateur musicians, Dango moved over to where Balno Mitne was standing next to the table of snacks and introduced himself to the banker.

“That was a fine rendition of old island songs, I believe,” he began. “Are you familiar with the musical versions of songs from two hundred years ago? There is growing interest in it by collectors and performers both. I am sad to have to acknowledge that I myself cannot play any of our traditional Brigantine Island popular instruments, either string or wooden ones.”

He smiled pleasantly at the fat middle-aged man whom he wished to impress and get to know. There was immediate success in making the other man talk back to himself.

“I happen to be in exactly the same boat, for I have never learned or mastered any of the musical instruments in our cultural tradition.”

Balno eyed the stranger carefully. Dango passed the quick, outside test of his appearance. There was nothing menacing or dangerous in the evaluation made by the successful banker.

After picking up pastry snacks and paper cups of fruit juice, the two men sat down at a small table and Dango continued his detailed description of his commercial affairs.

“I do not restrict myself to carrying material cargos for others, sir, but also buy and then sell transported materials on my own. That allows me to take advantage of promising market conditions that turn up on my voyages to various tropical ports.

“For instance, I gather a lot of information about favorable circumstances in industrial and commercial locations on continental coastlines further north. In this way, I am able to combine my experiences in the tropical sources of raw products with knowledge of the market prices and conditions in more developed regions.

“Thus, I am able to profit from what goes on at both end. Both the supply and the demand for it serve me and my personal interest.

“That is the way that I have learned to operate my transport business, Mr. Mitne.”

The latter took a drink from his fruit juice, then smiled at his new acquaintance.

“What you say is most interesting,” he remarked. “We must talk more. Can you come to my office tomorrow morning? I am located in the Brigantine Bank’s building. It would be a pleasure to have you visit me, young man.”

Dango was happy with the progress he was making in befriending the wealthy banker, but he realized that he should not show what he had in the back of his mind too fast or too early.

“I carry tropical natural products such as copa, coconut oil, and palm wood,” reported the commercial shipper. “There is a range of materials for which there is lively demand in the cities of the industrialized countries.”

“What are your immediate plans, and what do you aim for in the long run?” inquired Balno Mitne.

Dango gave him a self-satisfied smile. “I have hopes and dreams of my own for the years ahead of us.

“I am already hauling loads of hard coral from the tropical water ports that my ships visit on a regular basis. There is a growing demand for these materials to be used in building construction in many lands. They are not only strong and durable, but have beautiful coloring that can enhance the outer looks of any new structure.

“My personal view and opinion is that there will be more and more need for imports of coral in time to come. There exist an endless selection of usable colors and textures.

“Besides all of that, there are new innovations in chemical modification and conditioning that, I believe, are going to make the use of coral material ever more popular and prevalent around the Interior Sea.

“I can foresee no ending to this continuing development of coral development and processing. It will be transported from the tropical islands and coastlines, and I hope to become an important factor in that burgeoning trade.”

He paused a moment, studying the face of the banker to learn what effect what he was saying was producing there.

Dango felt a sense of enormous victory.

“What you say is very interesting, my friend,” announced Balno. “Can we get together again soon? I see that you have thought out this subject of coral shipment quite well, and I want to learn much more concerning these plans that you are making.”

The young merchant soon rose, took his leave, and departed in a happy spirit of success.

Captain Icho Nidat decided to take his pirate vessel into the tropical waters for a raid on some carrier of raw materials for more northern markets.

He explained his reasoning to Pero and the other officers of the ship in the galley hall as soon as they were out of the vicinity of Brigantine Island.

“I have had experience in past years finding lucrative sources of transported goods in the well-traveled channels out of the southern zone,” he explained. “I can recall being on crews able to capture and then quickly and easily sell cargos of raw flax, jute, hemp, linseed, as well as less common but valuable ambary, abaca, and kenaf. These substances have proven to get us good prices at markets distant from the point of their confiscation.

“My choice is for us to look for a contributing vessel in the areas not too far away from the tropical sources that grow such desirable crops for export to other shores in our zone of the Interior Sea.”

Satisfied with his presentation, Icho dismissed the crew leadership. Only Pero stayed behind with the skipper. The two men eyed each other in silence for a time. Finally, the navigator-pilot spoke.

“Do you believe that these older ships that carry raw materials from the hot tropics lack up-to-date defensive devices or mechanisms? Is that why you chose to go for items like flax and jute?”

The Captain made a face undecipherable to his subordinate.

“I did not consider the problem that minutely, Pero, but you may have hit upon the answer.

“Yes, that is in all probability why I decided to venture down into the tropics and to seek out carriers of raw materials that have not been highly processed yet. You have caught the truth of our situation. Conditions at sea have changed drastically, and pirates like us cannot go on as we have in past years and decades.

“The tragic truth is that we, like everyone else, have to change with the times.

“Buccaneering will never revert to what it was in previous ages. Therefore, we have to reshape and reform the way that we operate.

“We have no alternative, so we?”

The pilot thought a moment. “You are correct, sir. All of us have to adjust to the changes of our own time.”

3.

The raid became a surprise to all the pirates involved in making it.

Captain Nidat could not understand the depth of the defeat at once.

Pero Arslan, by now the second in command of the ship, attempted to console his commander as they fled from the scene of the disaster.

“It was impossible for us to win against the transport’s powerful blowers,” he pleaded. “There was no way that our cloud could have overtaken the forced air that opposed it. The fog from our evaporators was lost into the upper atmosphere as soon as it was created. And our grabbers never reached anywhere near to the tropical vessel.

“What was easy to accomplish in the past has become infeasible today,” concluded the ship’s pilot. “We have to think up new strategies, tactics, and methods, sir.”

Icho, looking away and gazing out through the front window of the bridge, avoided making any reply or response as long as he could. At last, he turned his head and eyed Pero directly.

“What can we do?” he mused aloud, but as if he were alone. “Are we doomed to turning into useless relics from out of the past of Brigantine Island? Are we well past our good days and on a course to oblivion?”

Finding that he knew of no solution, Pero decided to say nothing more about the difficulty that they now faced. Instead, he abruptly changed the subject.

“It will be a relief to return home,” he dreamily declared. “We can, all of us, take some time to relax and restore our strength and energy.”

Ova Mitne had lost her mother to a dysentery contagion when she was a girl of only five. Her father had hired several governesses in succession to oversee her growth and education. Finding none of them fully satisfactory, he himself had taken over supervision of his only child when she reached her teenage years, spending most of his time free of banking business with her. The pair spent their weekends at a country villa that Balno had built when his wife was alive and Ova was a small child. This was where father relaxed from his taxing work, but his daughter found herself mostly bored and unoccupied.

Her father appeared never to consider the future of the young woman. She had little education, no professional prospects, and no eager suitors buzzing about her.

She first met Dango Kirp when her father invited his new friend to their villa outside Insula for a summer weekend.

The young, ambitious merchant sensed that the older man looked upon him as an unacknowledged protégé, as a substitute for the son he had never had and saw no future prospect of ever acquiring.

Balno picked up the trader at the latter’s small cottage near the northern edge of the city in the personal motor-sedan that he liked to drive.

“My daughter, Ova, has been at the country estate all this week,” explained the bank president. “She likes to be out among the island’s natural beauties when the weather becomes as hot as it’s been the last several days.”

“What does she do out in the countryside to keep herself busy?” inquired Dango with genuine curiosity. His mind was already conceiving schemes centered on this young woman who would someday inherit a lucrative pot of wealth and property.

I hope that this Ova has regular, acceptable looks, as well as a pleasing, amiable personality.

Dango suddenly smiled, without realizing that he was.

He was continuously speculating about possibilities and the odds of their coming true.

Captain Nidat, once back to port in Insula, spent most of his day in various drinking establishments in the vicinity of the giant harbor.

Pero was astonished at the amount of bock and pivo that his commander was able to drink down and continue to converse in a rational, logical manner.

The pilot attempted to raise the spirits of the ship’s chief, but without noticeable effect. Yet he persisted.

“There has to be some way out of the dead end that we face,” asserted the younger man. “It does no good, in any way, to give up all hope.

“There is always some unseen solution, even if we still don’t know what it is or where to find it.”

All at once, Icho looked into the hazel eyes of Pero as if searching there for something unknown and not yet visible. “What would you suggest that I do with my raiding vessel? Do you think I should junk it and sell the scrap somewhere as old iron?”

“Not at all, Captain,” grinned the other. “Let’s keep our eyes and ears open and alert. We have to trust and believe that something surprisingly good will turn up for us.

“We have to be wide-awake and alert to catch hold of it when it surfaces, and don’t fail to see and understand its nature.”

Pero smiled, but Icho did not return it.

Ova Mitne turned out to be a major surprise to the guest her father brought with himself to the villa.

She was as unlike Balno as could possibly be. The young woman was tall and willowy, likely in imitation of her deceased mother. Her face was long and well-portioned, with a small mouth and nose. Eyes of a shade of shiny chestnut looked forth with unusual sureness, close to boldness.

Dango, for a moment, felt shaken as he gazed at her attractive face and slender body. She has a unique, old-fashioned kind of beauty, he had to say to himself immediately once her father introduced them to each other.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Mitne,” he smiled with his spirit lifted up.

It was very good that she was not ugly or disfigured in any sense.

Ova is a prize both because of her father’s fortune and position, but in herself alone. Yes, it would be worth while going after her in any case, even without her potential family inheritance and legacy.

I think I am going to like this aspect of my campaign, a voice in his mind told the ambitious, grasping businessman.

“Let’s go in and find out what Ova has had cooked for us for dinner,” said Balno to his weekend guest.

Ova left her father and his visitor to converse after their meal of tasty cervine steaks from wild deer roaming the highlands of Brigantine Island.

“I have been contemplating increasing the number of ships I am using in trade,” began Dango. “But the problem is that it is very expensive to buy either new or old vessels from the mainland or from other islands. So, I am in the process of seeking another, unexpected source of usable transport.

“My thought has veered in an entirely unconventional, unforeseen direction.”

“And what could that be?” asked the banker with rising curiosity.

Dango grinned with self-confidence. “I am thinking of hiring some of our islander pirate captains and their schooners, along with the crews involved.

“What could be easier? The more I think about this idea of mine, the more sense it makes. What could really be simpler? The ships in question come right into Insula and the minor harbors. This island is their home base.

“I know that their condition has for years been in decline. They have lost many of their prior advantages at sea. No longer are commercial ships as defenseless as they once were. Time seems to have passed the pirate profession by. The leaders and their teams of men lie about in Insula and the other ports, waiting for things to change in their favor. But solution never comes for the dilemmas they face in this day and age.

“I trust that if I went out among the pirate chieftains and attempted to recruit them to become my legitimate transportation assistants, most of them would willingly join up and operate as my licensed commercial subordinates. What I can promise is to modernize their vessels with new plasma power. The most advanced power systems, based on ionized argon gas, will provide them sufficient power and speed to become competitive with the best of the mercantile ships now in the Interior Sea.

“It is possible for me to envision a fleet of such vessels carrying tropical products and materials to northern industrial centers and urban communities. The profits involved will be incalculable, nearly unimaginable.

“But it might take some generous financial inducements to get many of the experienced veterans of the sea to sign up as lawful haulers and transporters.”

“Would it take a lot of money to convince the raiders and buccaneers to change from robbery to trade?” asked the banker with a keen glow in his chestnut eyes.

Dango stared with inner satisfaction at his host, believing that he almost had the man hooked. Just a little more effort, and his will shall be conquered, the trader told himself.

“Yes, it may be expensive at first,” he replied to Balno, “but the final prize will be well worth it.”

4.

Sako Gor had climbed up to the position of boss of the main gang of racketeers on Brigantine Island. This had not at all been easy for him to achieve.

A giant bruin with blackish hair and eyes, he was used to intimidating anyone standing in his way or presenting opposition to him.

Sako began in the numbers policy game popular with islanders. At an early age, he became the head of a crew of associates who looked to him for their leadership. Other rackets beckoned to the hungry, greedy gangster. A clever, industrious entrepreneur of the underworld, ambitious Sako went on into the field of sexual vice and money-lending at usurious rates.

From an early date in his career, the rising operator kept an eye on the troubled field of piracy. As conventional shipping developed new instruments of defense and fought back against raiders from Brigantine Island, Sako made a point of becoming acquainted with owners of brigand schooners and learning about conditions out on the Interior Sea.

Spending many of his evenings roaming about the harbor taverns and dives of Insula, the gang chief came to know and have talks with both Icho Nidat and his pilot, Pero Arslan. Sako asked them questions about why they hesitated to go hunting for loot out at sea.

“The situation is rapidly growing unfavorable for us,” moaned Icho over his mug of malt. “Our ordinary means and methods are now all but obsolete. There is no advantage possible any more from blowing out great clouds of fog and vapor. It has become useless against what the transports now carry to block and stymy our efforts.”

“Are you planning, therefore, to give up the entire business of buccaneering out on the waters?” inquired the large man from gangland. “Is that what circumstances are forcing you and your crew to do?” He looked sharply at the pirate captain, searching for anything he could utilize for himself.

Icho suddenly turned his head and threw the matter at his navigator.

“What would you advise me to say, Pero? Do you yourself have any idea of how to restore our old capacity for overcoming the commercial transporters? How can the pirates of Brigantine Island ever come back to what they once were?”

Pero gazed downward at his mug of dark pivo. “I wish that I had something to offer and present, but I don’t. Despite a lot of thought and consideration, there is nothing I am able to point to or describe.

“I am very sorry to have to confess that there is no solution visible for me. My condition is a helpless one, like that of every other person on our ship, as well as all the others that go forth from this island.”

Icho turned his face and his eyes back on Sako.

“As you can see for yourself, there is nothing available for us to share with you, my friend.”

“I myself continue to hope that something we can apply turns up in time to do us some good,” announced Pero. “I have always tended to be an optimist at my roots.”

Icho picked up his mug and drew a long swig. The other two at the table did the same.

Balno, back at his mansion residence in Insula along with his daughter, ate breakfast with her in a small porch-like nock that both of them enjoyed being in early in the morning.

The father noticed that Ova said very little, keeping from any extended conversation with her father.

“What’s the matter, my dear?” he said as he finished his barley porridge. “You seem to be unusually quiet today.”

Ova looked away, viewing the weeping willow tree right outside the porch window. She seemed to be taking thought a moment or two, then turned her head and directly addressed her father.

“I have been at loose ends the last several days, since our return from the country. It would be nice if I could identify the reason why, but I can’t.”

“Is there anything that is annoying you, my dear?”

“No, I don’t think there is.” She furrowed her brow and frowned. “It is nothing definite or tangible that vexes me. That is a good part of it for sure. I can’t put any sort of label on what is making me feel a general sadness and moodiness.”

“Perhaps this depressing feeling will disappear on its own,” mused her father. “Who knows? Who can say? I hope that you keep yourself busy all the time, Ova. That is always a good means of taking the mind off of troubling subjects of all kinds.

“That is what I advise you to do. Keep your mind busy. Don’t give it any opportunity to fret or worry. I myself will be busy downtown at the bank. Mr. Kirp will be coming in with one of his specific, detailed plans for the formation of a commercial fleet based here on Brigantine Island. I plan to delve into it and study all the many details involved. There will be a lot of accounting labor involved in what we are planning to accomplish.”

Ova put down the fork she was holding. “You, then, will enter into a contract of partnership with him?”

Balno smiled at his daughter. “It looks that way, Ova,” he told her. “Everything tells me that this fellow possesses a great amount of promise for the future.”

Dango felt the inner warmth of confidence. He had a legal contract with the president of one of the primary banks in the business economy of the entire island. That meant he was going to be provided sufficient funds to organize and begin a system of hired vessels from the pirate fleet of Brigantine.

Where am I going to start? he asked himself. He had to decide which ship owners to pursue as participants in his scheme. It would be best to pick a pirate chief with a strong reputation out in the Interior Sea. Which one might be amenable to a proposal?

His choice came to focus upon Captain Icho Nidat. He had heard of the man from many sources. Here was a man of courage and nerve. That was exactly what he needed at this initial juncture.

Tonight I will have to visit the harbor taverns and find this captain in order to hire him and his craft for service in transporting cargos.

5.

Captain Nidat sat by himself at an empty booth in one of the beer halls that he frequented. He had not seen Pero, his ship’s pilot, for several days. The young man was away, traveling about the island to satisfy his curiosity about how the population managed to survive in the comparatively depressed market conditions on Brigantine Island.

Icho had finished three mugs of pivo beer when he happened to catch sight of a figure he knew entering the establishment from the street outside.

It was Mr. Dango Kirt, the sea merchant whom he recognized immediately.

Surprising the sea rover who had at once identified him, the businessman made his way to the table where Icho was sitting.

“Good evening, my friend,” said the newcomer with a bright smile. “How have you been? I thought of you today because something interesting arose today that I found to be fascinating.

“Would you like to hear what it was that drew my thoughts in your direction?”

“Hello,” mumbled the pirate. “Why don’t you sit down here with me and have yourself a mug of beer? If you wish, you can describe for me what it is that has aroused you so much.”

Dango did exactly that, then signaled to a waiter circulating about the room that he wished some beer brought over to where he was located.

“How is your commercial trade progressing?” asked the Captain.

“I am about to begin on a completely new venture,” explained Dango Kirp. “It promises incredibly great returns, and I am very sure of its prospect for success.

“No one has attempted anything like it up to now.”

Icho lifted his mug and drew a mouthful of brew, swallowing it in one large gulp. “The matter sounds intriguing. What does it consist of?”

The trader gave a benign smile. “I have obtained sufficient funds to try my hand at independent commerce in tropical substances and wares. But I have only a limited number of my own vessels to use as carriers. I must find ships not in use at the present time that I can hire under terms of contract. That will become an urgent necessity for me, if I am to go forward with my plan.”

“Will that be possible for you to obtain, though?” asked the Captain, just as Dango intended him to.

The businessman smiled. “For me, that is the way to restore the prosperity and reputation of our country. We have to seize control of a new current of trade out of the tropical zone. And we already possess the necessary means by which to that goal. It lies in our piratic operators like you, my friend. Someone like me, an investor who can equip your ship with ionized argon gas in the form of plasma, will be your partner. Your craft will then become a modernized, improved plasma ship.”

An uneasy silence reigned for a considerable period as the pair looked into each other’s face.

“No,” said the Captain in a strong, steady voice. “To attempt such an enterprise at my age would be too risky to take up. I choose not to become involved in anything such as you are imagining.

“It must be turned down by me. I dare not go into anything like what you have outlined to me. I do not need you as my partner, not at all.”

Pero did not even try to conceal his astonishment at the offer presented to Icho by the enterprising merchant who had singled him out for a business arrangement centered on the iron pirate ship.

The Captain met with his navigator in the main cabin aboard the vessel sitting in a harbor berth, idle and out of operation for a considerable period.

“This may well be what you and I have been looking for, sir,” said the younger man once he had heard and absorbed what the project consisted of. “We would continue operating at sea as we used to. Our earnings would return to nearly what they were in the past. I find this an intriguing proposal that we must study with focused attention.

“Why are you still reluctant to accept this opportunity? I don’t understand this attitude of yours. My preference is to go in as a partner under contract with Dango Kirp. He can provide us a solution to our current inactivity out on the Interior Sea. What alternative is available for you and me?”

Icho was mum for a short time, thinking over the arguments that conflicted with each other.

Pero stared at him expectantly. Would the skipper change his mind and choose the path of change and innovation? Or was his choice going to be one of fear and old habit?

“I cannot continue like I have,” decided the owner-commander. “You must accompany me, Pero, when I sit down with this merchant to set the terms of our arrangement with him.

“My hope is that I never have to be sorry for what we will soon be involved in.”

6.

The iron ship of Captain Icho Nidat was restructured rapidly into a sea transport. Dango supervised the hired craftsmen who made the changes needed for the vessel’s new task as a carrier of cargos.

“This being my first leasing of a former piratic raider, I intend to accompany you on the first transport voyage into tropical waters,” announced the Insula merchant. “I see this journey as a sort of first run, a testing out of the general concept behind the entire enterprise. We shall be witnesses of the superiority of plasma over steam power.”

Icho hired a crew, mostly veterans of pirate schooner and galleons. The job market for old salts and sea dogs had mostly dried up, and an aura of new confidence characterized the mates and deck hands recruited for this initial voyage.

The day before they were set to leave Insula harbor, Dango described the scale of his plans to the Captain and Pero in the map room behind the bridge.

“What do I intend to purchase and stock up in this ship of ours? I will be looking for some of the traditional wares and goods that traders have usually hauled back to northern countries.

“There is plenty of space available aboard this craft for traditional food stocks such as papaya, guava, plaintain, cassava and maniot, cane sugar, avocados, and island breadfruit. I am also thinking of substances that I have experience in trading with, for instance rubber latex, tung oil, balsam oil, gutta percha, and varishes of copal and copaiba.

“But in terms of heavier items of trade, I am planning to carry cargos of jute, hemp, kapok, bamboo, raffia, ramie, and rattan. There are markets for such materials in northern ports.

“I am familiar with industries and work places that contain demands for wood such as teak, mahogany, balsa, rosewood, sandalwood, and other tropical species.”

Icho asked a question of the trader. “You believe that you can locate buyers for such a variety of different objects of sale?”

Dango grinned with anticipatory fulfillment. “Never have I ever been so certain of good fortune and luck,” he boasted with visible confidence.

Sako Gora had discovered partners and allies among the discouraged, depressed, and desperate pirates, buccaneers, and sea raiders of Insula. He was successful in bringing them under his sway and influence by presenting to them simple means of overcoming the defensive measures and devices of regular merchant vessels.

“You must start to apply instruments and weapons commonly used in landside robbery both on the mainland and out here on the islands.

“For instance, you have to learn how to attack prize shipping with gliders and small octocopters that can give control of the air to you. Some on your crew will have to learn the art of flying tiny aircraft that can be carried on pirate schooners. Conquest of the air above the sea level is a key to overcoming what the mercantile fleets have been equipped with in recent times.

“I also advise that every pirate ship purchase artillery pieces that can threaten the sinking of sea carriers used in trade. Nothing will frighten conventional skippers more than a loud shot across the bow. If it gets that far, the raiders can put a large, visible hole in the side of commercial vessels under assault.

“A couple of dead mariners and seamen can convince even the hardest, most stubborn captain that further resistance would be useless and hopeless.

“Join up with the pirate’s syndicate that I am in the process of organizing and you will be supplied with aircraft and artillery that ordinary commercial shipping lacks. I have skilled people in my gang who can go to sea along with your own crew and carry out the enhanced, advanced type of raiding that I have described for you.

“The tough operators I can provide for you will guarantee victory against any possible opposition from those under attack,” proclaimed the giant bruin from the Brigantine Island underworld.

Pero consulted many times with Dango over the course and destination of the converted pirate ship. What were they going to seek for, and in what specific location?

“I have thought and thought,” confessed the overseas merchant. “What kind of product and from where? Those are the primary principles that should guide us in all decisions made.

“I believe that tropical wood would be the most valuable kind of material that would have demand everywhere, in every port, in all the countries on the Interior Sea. That would be the most advantageous direction for us to take.

“That is the reason I have chosen the harbor town of Pirg as the best place from which we should operate. I have close friends and several acquaintances there. They will help us to the degree that is possible. It is to their advantage that this ship hauls away a great amount of what they can sell to us, and that we return in the future because our trade has turned out so well for us.

“Yes, Pirg is the optimal location from which to seek out promising supplies to take back to the northern zone.

“You will be surprised, Pero, at all we can find to take back with us.”

The pilot smiled in silence, uncertain what to say in response to the high hopes expressed by the trader from Insula.

Balno Mitne appeared overjoyed and jubilant to his daughter as he entered her private day room in their Insula residence.

He held a piece of note-paper on which he had just written something of importance to the two of them.

The banker went over to the easy chair in which she sat and handed to her what he had carried in with him. He explained what it happened to be.

“A radio text has arrived at the bank from Mr. Dango Kirp on the transport ship he is journeying on toward the southern tropics. He sends special greetings to us, especially to you, Ova. He mentions you by name and expresses hope for your health and well-being, along with my own of course.

“I think that was most kind and generous of him. You recognize how much I value him as an associate in the shipping and transporting business that we have undertaken with him.

“My admiration and trust in this young man rises higher and higher all the time.

“I ordered my secretary at the bank to transmit our thanks and best wishes to him and all those aboard the ship with him.

“Your name was added right next to mine, Ova.”

“I appreciate what you did, father. He will be receiving and reading greetings from the two of us here in Insula, won’t he?”

“Indeed, Ova. Indeed.”

7.

The port of Pirg occupied both sides of a long, fairly narrow bay surrounded by forest greenery of extraordinary intensity and dimensions.

Once the iron vessel from Brigantine Island had occupied its assigned dock position, Dango Kirp stepped ashore to find and converse with some of his old commercial associates from previous dealings at this tropical center.

The entrepreneur returned after several hours with news he reported to Icho and Pero in his cabin aboard the carrier.

“The prospects look very good for us!” he told the pair. “The local merchants seem eager to built up their ties with new customers like we are. They claim to have abundant supplies of commodities and materials from out of the forests of this region. I was surprised at how eager they are to sell whatever they can to ships like ours. These traders are willing to grant us favorable terms, especially in terms of prices.

“I am overwhelmed by the opportunities available for good deals and bargains open to us. It is best to get them signed up with contracts as soon as we can.

“We have no time to lose. I believe we can fill up our cargo hulls with breathtaking speed. We may not have to remain here in Pirg too long because of what we can quickly gain from the sellers we do business with.”

“What sort of wares do you intend to concentrate upon?” asked Pero with evident curiosity.

Dango gave him a broad grin. “Tropical hardwood. I sense a great, growing demand for it in the northern lands. There are favorable prices for various types of wood here in Pirg. I hope to obtain a shipload of such materials from some of the local dealers I will find in the town. If necessary, I can make short journeys out into forest villages and win even better terms out there.”

Truckloads of exotic wood began to arrive for loading into the deep hulls of the carrier vessel.

Dango proudly gave Icho and Pero the exotic names of these materials that would fetch very high prices in northern mainland markets.

“I was able to gather together large stocks of kingwood and rosewood. We shall also have the so-called Devil’s Ear variety of parota wood to dispose of over the sea. There are a number of rare woods I will be able to offer to the furniture-makers and builders of other zones.

“Have either of you ever heard of wood called Wawa, Emeri, Iroko, Kapur, Majau, Sapele, Utile, or Cumari? There will be supplies of these exotic tropical wood varieties on this ship when it leaves Pirg harbor.

“I anticipate enormous profit resulting from the sale of this cargo of ours in distant ports, my friends.”

Dango smiled, looking forward to future fortune and wealth.

Pero was surprised when he saw Dango standing in the opening to his personal rooms. “Can I help you?” he asked the merchant-adventurer.

“An idea occurred to me this morning. I am going to make a short trek to a small community deep in the tropical rain forest. It will be an interesting expedition, because I have heard several rumors about valuable stocks of cocobolo trees that the inhabitants use for their own furnishings and home furniture. I want to go there and see for myself what they may have.

“Why should I make the trip with only the native guide accompanying me? I wondered. So, I made a decision to take someone from our ship along with me.

“How would you like to go there with me and my guide, Pero? I am sure you will find it amusing and interesting. It will not take more than two or three days, and then we will start getting ready to depart for the northern latitudes.”

The pilot made a instantaneous decision. “Yes, that sounds like something worthwhile to me.

“I would be most happy to make the journey with you,” grinned Pero.

“Good,” beamed Dango. “We will start out of Pirg tomorrow morning, soon after dawn.”

The trail through the thick, shadowy forest was an ever-winding one.

His name Ardo, the guide led the way forward for the two from Brigantine Island.

“We are going only a day’s walk from Pirg,” muttered Dango, growing tired and exasperated. “I just pray that we are not wasting our time in senseless pursuit of something that may not even exist.”

Every two hours or so, the guide halted in order to rest. Dango and Pero used these interludes to rest up and converse with each other.

“I did not tell you what I overheard in a bar by the docks back in Pirg,” said the business man in a low, guarded tone. “The village we are headed to has the reputation among traders in the port of being able to harden their wood through some secret, undisclosed process that no outsider knows about.

“It might be advantageous to uncover what it is they are doing to their cocobolo wood to harden it even more than nature does.

“That could be something of use to know and take away with us.”

Pero made no reply or response, because all of a sudden their guide announced that it was about time to start walking again.”

“See that strange-looking tree with its roots protruding high outside the level of the ground?” said Dango to the navigator of the ship that was contracted to serve him and his interests. “That is what the native people of this southern rain forest call a walking palm. It is a kind of palma that is technically a cashapona.

“Legend has it that this tree moves its location over the years, putting out new root stems and letting the oldest ones on the opposite side wither and die. It is ever-changing, and that creates the illusion of movement from place to place.”

“I did not realize that the southern forests were so spectacular and variegated,” muttered Pero, almost to himself.

“Do not let your fatigue take over,” advised Dango. “We will soon be at the village famous for its cocobolo wood.”

They reached the village with the promising supplies of colobolo wood late in the afternoon, leaving little time for serious deal-making or anything else.

Once inquiries were made by Dango and the guide, decision was necessary about who was the person to contact about where they would stay and whom business would be carried out with.

“Go to the lumber mill and talk to Baxin,” advised one old villager.

A few questions to others took the visitors to a forest stream with a small waterfall where a stone mill was in operation.

A short, slight middle-aged man approached the group of three strangers from the entrance to the milling building.

Dango began to address him once the man who had to be the miller stepped close enough to hear with accuracy what was said to him.

“We are members of a trading ship that came to Pirg from overseas. Our trek to your area results from our interest in purchasing quantities of hard wood that grows in your nearby forests.

“Specifically, we need to see and speak to the grain-mill owner whose name is Baxin. The goal is to carry out whatever transactions turn out to be advantageous to both sides, ours and that of Mr. Baxin.”

“I am the individual you speak of and wish to deal with. The hour is getting late, so follow me back to my watermill. Your group can stay there tonight in a spare room that is used for storage.

“Follow me and I will show you where the three of your can sleep tonight.”

Baxin turned around and started returning to his mill, followed by the others.

8.

The water mill was a tall yellow brick building that contained the falling of the stream water onto rotating circular stones of considerable size.

In an empty room usually a place of storage of milled grain the trio of travelers ate and rested that night. Only after the sun set and night began did Baxin the mill-owner appear in order to discuss matters of concern with his guests.

It was Dango who explained the character of the visit they were engaged in.

“I am a trader with a wide range of connections in many ports and markets on all sides of the Interior Sea. My interest reaches to many different types of goods and materials. As a result of years of work in making commercial deals all over in many countries, I am an experienced international merchant.

“At the present moment, my personal focus rests on the market for tropical hardwood of all kinds. That is why I brought my cargo carrier to Pirg. It was while staying in that port that I came upon the name of this village as a source of extremely hard wood products. That information intrigued me and impelled me to make my way to this locale.

“When my party arrived here, I learned that your lumber mill happens to be where the famous colobolo trees of excellent hardness known to many traders are worked on and cut up.

“Tomorrow, I plan to view and evaluate the wood that is finished in your watermill and sold elsewhere with notable success.”

Dango halted speaking and stared expectantly at the little miller of colobolo wood planking.

“I shall show you how the cocobolo that I sell in Pirg is processed and hardened,” declared Baxin with spirit. “You will find what you see to have great interest.”

The pair of visitors followed the miller into a long room with a high ceiling.

The owner halted and faced the two outsiders, addressing them in a strangely elevated, well-modulated voice.

“Some time ago, I began to experiment with the glassifying of the most precious wood available in the forests surrounding my lumber mill. I read and studied many books on the topic of vitrification. I became interested in the process by which metals and textile fabrics can be altered in their molecular structure and chemical formation. Such topics came to dominate my private, personal thought.

“Because of my profession and business operation with this mill, I pondered the problems involved in transforming hardwoods, such as cocobolo. This subject turned into an obsession for me. I had to find a solution to the problems that I encountered when I attempted molecular reforming of wood.

“I spent a great amount of my money purchasing expensive equipment and devices from large southern cities and factories. My objective was to strengthen and solidify the bonds between the molecules of wooden material, making them as glassy as I could.

“I experimented with pottery and ceramics, vitrifying porcelain, china, and stoneware. My knowledge of what is possible with today’s technology grew, and I began to move into the region of the unexplored.

“These were difficult tasks and took a long time to complete, but I finally became able to make the kind of changes I wanted in my hardwood products.”

“How did you accomplish that?” asked Dango, brimming with curiosity.

“It was quite simple to figure out. I apply what may be termed a centrifugal arc to a quantity of pure ionized plasma surrounding the wood planks set to be glassified through extended treatment, over and over.

“In time, the hardwood acquires a thin, microscopic layer of vitric molecules. This occurs at the nano-level of material structure. The smallest particles of the cocobolo adhere together in a solid, impermeable wall of tough, permanent wood. Cerium laser lights are in operation to set and fix the new molecular layer. Nothing like it has ever existed before. It is a result of the nano-molecular effects that are possible through plasma treatment. I have proven that such glassification is possible.”

For a few seconds, both listeners to the miller were speechless.

“I want you two to see and examine some samples of the special hardwood that we turn out here with the plasma tanks that are used,” announced Baxin with a wide, victorious smile.

Sako Gora decided to accompany the pirates who were to be the first with the new air weapons he was sponsoring for the purpose of perfecting the methods of buccaneer attack and raiding.

His position on the bridge of the improved vessel, beside the captain and his chief officers, gave him a spot from which to judge the value of the gang-lord’s innovations.

With unprecedented, increased speed from its plasma engines, the raider approached the chosen target, a large but slow carrier of mechanical and electronic equipment.

The victim ship seemed to make no attempt to flee or change its straight course ahead, but continued as if in no danger.

All at once, a team of trained aviators slid themselves into the octocopters and gliding flyers on the rear deck of the newly armed raiding ship.

As the flying craft left the vessel and soared up into the atmosphere, the speed of their home ship began to fall back, giving the first wave of assault a clear priority, ahead of the pirate carrier.

The sound of gun shots split through the air, coming from the deck of the victim ship. None of the airborne vehicles suffered any hit.

Sako turned his eyes on the deck cannon below on the lower level. A team of four pirates were in charge of it.

The underworld boss watched as a shell was entered into the cannon muzzle, then fired at the target ship.

He saw the same procedure followed with a second deck cannon, across the ship on the opposite side.

A second shot at the victim was followed by another loading and firing of the original cannon used by the pirate crew.

All at once, ordinary swabs rolled forth from the lower levels of the pirate ship. Acting according to specific orders, they piled into skiffs and sloops on the rear deck. These boats began to go downward into the sea, lowered by ropes and chains.

Sako looked out at the ship about to undergo capture and looting.

He could see no sign of any additional defensive actions, for the rifle shootings had ended.

We are winning this battle and shall soon be enjoying complete success.

I have proven myself right on how to revive and reshape our old piracy, Sako said to himself with renewed confidence.

9.

By the time he was finished buying vitrified planks of colobolo, Dango had almost half of the cargo space of the carrier filled.

The ship left Pirg for northern port markets with raised hopes that the new product of commerce would find eager buyers on other coasts facing the Interior Sea. “Our first port of call has to be Chixosa on the eastern, right coast,” decided the merchant in charge of the speculative venture. “I am familiar with many of the commercial agents of that city. They are always awake to and on the look-out for the new and attractive. There will be great interest and curiosity about anything unlike what is bought and sold at the present time.”

The former pirate vessel found an available vacant berth in the harbor and settled into it.

Dango set forth to explore the lumber market for potential purchasers of his vitrified form of wood. Pero and Icho together explored the bars, beer halls, and taverns along the long, crowded dock. Smells of whiskey, gin, rum, and hops filled the air inside and outside the seaside dives.

It was in a drinking spot frequented by professional mariners that they picked up some news of particular interest to themselves.

“There has been a sharp pickup in pirate raiding and robbery, and it appears to come from vessels based on Brigantine Island.

“Because of technical innovations that include octocopters, gliders, and light aircraft, and raiders have reconquered the initiative lost by them in recent years. And beyond their new tactical agility and speed, they have learned how to use artillery of an electronic and nano-technical nature.

“No defensive measures can cope with their renewed aggressiveness. Ships everywhere have become vulnerable to attacks from these modernized marauders who are taking back control of the sea lanes and channels.”

Pero and the Captain looked at each other in wonder.

This knowledge of what was transpiring back at home surprised and astounded both of them.

Who had organized and led this wonder? Who was enjoying the probable profits from this application of new means and methods?

Icho spoke aloud what was in the mind of the pilot.

“We have to present what we just learned to Dango,” muttered the Captain. “He may be able to figure out what in the world is happening on Brigantine Island.”

Dango sat back in his swivel chair, calculating and considering. The Captain and Pero stood, waiting for his reply to their startling report to him.

The trader at last revealed the direction of his thoughts.

“We need to dispose of our cargo first of all. Already, I have discovered amazing interest in the vitrificating of hardwood, like what I have offered to the merchants here in Chixoza. I can recognize how these traders are foreseeing magnificent sales and profits they can make in this region of theirs.

“We still have supplies of cocobolo in our hold. Two more of the stops that I planned to make, and we will be ready to return home. It is then that we can investigate and find out what is happening on Brigantine Island, and who may be involved and connected with it.” He made a sudden disarming smile. “Just a couple of weeks perhaps, and we can make our way back to Insula.

“Does what I say make sense to you?”

Icho first gave a nod, then Pero did the same.

The Captain turned and led the way out of the merchant’s cabin, Pero following him.

Icho turned as the two began climbing up onto the deck.

“I had no choice and had to agree to what he decided to do,” he whispered.

Pero made no reply to him.

The carrier continued down the eastern coast to the enormous, important port named Maregdo. The waterways and docking areas were occupied with large, medium, and small craft and vessels from all sections of the Interior Sea.

The industries of Maregdo were makers of a variety of products assembled from nano-alloys that combined aspects and characteristics of a variety of different chemical elements. Aluminum, copper, tin, zinc, iron, and lead were fused and melted into specifically ordered compounds, with molecules linked at the atomic level. New combinations continually appeared on the metal market of the great metallic metropolis.

Dango found several purchasers for his vitrified tropical wood, quickly selling the supply of cocobolo remaining in the ship’s cargo hold.

He used the opportunity of dealing with traders to make inquiries about the new pirate campaign out in the middle range of the Interior Sea.

“I hear about new technical means that are being employed,” he remarked. “But I am uncertain what they may consist of. And, being myself from Brigantine Island, I wonder every day, every night, who may be the people planning and organizing such expensive ventures in the area of piracy.

“There must be tremendous expenses involved in bringing aircraft and artillery to bear in carrying out pirate raids on such an augmented level.”

No one he met with in Maregdo was able to furnish him any leads on what he wanted to know. No names of captains or financial backers were available from anyone.

The raids occurred as if by anonymous, invisible perpetrators.

Dango returned to the ship disappointed on this matter, although he had won some extremely large amounts on the deals he completed.

Captain Icho and his pilot were no more successful in their inquiries.

“No one seems to be able to make any kind of identification,” grumbled the former to Pero. “We will have to wait and find out what is behind all of this when we are back on Brigantine Island. That is the only alternative left us.”

“Even back home, it may turn out to be difficult to deal with this question,” muttered the ship pilot.

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