“What’s that?” The captain’s young nephew pointed to the horizon, where the pure white sails of a ship flew taut in the wind. The only flag that bore any color was the one at the top of the mast: four squares of black and yellow.
Seeing it, the captain set his lips in a hard line. The flag’s meaning was unmistakable. “That, my boy, is someone who wants us to stop immediately.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide. “Are we going to?”
The captain blew out a sigh. “Yes, Ashwin, we are.” He glanced back at the pilot. “Heave to, Igor!”
“Aye, Captain!” called the pilot, and then they were slowing down.
“Below decks, why don’t you, Ash?” said the captain, tapping the boy on the shoulder, one eye still on the quickly approaching ship.
The boy wilted. “I want to watch.”
“Yes, but your mother wants you alive. And you know how she is when she’s mad.”
“Fine.” The boy slunk away dejectedly.
The strange ship approached at rapid speed, meeting them swiftly on the open water. It drew up beside them, close enough to lay a gangplank in the space between, and the alien captain emerged, surprisingly small of stature. She jumped down from the gangplank, landing gracefully on her feet, and crossed her arms as she regarded her taller counterpart.
“Welcome aboard,” said the captain suspiciously. “May I help you?”
“This is the Volkvolny,” she said, eyeing him. “But you’re not Sturmhond.”
The captain narrowed his eyes. “My good lady, are you saying that because of the color of my skin? That’s very rude.”
“I’m saying it because of your faulty memory,” she answered, strolling past him and looking around. “Though, to be fair, I did not think Sturmhond was Suli.”
“Takes one to know one.” She tossed a look over her shoulder.
“Indeed.” The ghost of a smile crossed his lips. “Now about my momentary lapse….”
“Sturmhond would have remembered that we’ve met before.”
“Aha. And how did that meeting end?”
“For me?” he asked. “Or for you?
Now she faced him fully. “What do you think?”
He studied her. “Judging by the hostility I see in your eyes, I would say it was you.”
“Guess again, pretty boy.”
“I give up.”
“Then let me remind you.” Before he could react, she had thrown him over her left shoulder and pinned him to the deck of the ship, a knee on his chest and a knife at his throat.
“You know,” he wheezed, “It’s all coming back with startling clarity.” She stepped off and pulled him to his feet. He dusted himself off. “You’re losing your touch.”
“And you’re losing your charm.” The other captain turned her back on him and gazed out over the ocean. “Good to see you, Lantsov.”
“Good to be seen, Shadow.”
“Isaak…” she groaned, shooting him a look.
“Oh, so are you going by Jordiana now?”
“No.” Her eyes blazed. “But that’s Captain Shadow to you.”