Thom made up his mind at last but it didn’t mean he had to tell the whole crew. He climbed up the mast, through the well and onto the deck and that alone caught the first mate’s interest.
“Mr. Doggel, is there a problem?”
“No, er, aye, or rather, was wondering the mate’s opinion on a matter.”
“And I’m wondering why you thought it important enough to abandon your post. Yet here we are.”
“Aye sir, when ye has a moment. Be needing yer expertise in the tees.” Thom slid back to his perch as lookout. Mr. Kirakiray did not come down straight away, though it was doubtful he had anything real to attend on decks. The heavy freighter practically sailed itself. Maintain altitude and there was nothing out here to hit or see for days.
Or so Thom had thought.
At last the first mate lowered himself down to Thom’s perch beneath the great airship and between breaths and oaths asked what was of such fiery import. “That,” Thom pointed, “four points offa north there, just skirtin’ the horizon.” Lt. Kirakiray trained his glass in the direction and took a moment to focus. Thom knew from the low curse exactly when he recognized it for what it was. There was no missing that long pale green pennant. The Lieutenant studied it a bit longer then lowered the glass as though it had gained the weight of the knowledge they now shared in pounds. “You gunna tell ‘im?”
“He’ll want to know.”
“But if he didn’t know, then he wouldn’t know, y’know?” The first mate just looked at him. He knew. “We could just keep on sailin’. Maybe even make port in a week. Hale and hearty as you ever are right here’n now. Jes’ sayin’.” The first mate still didn’t say anything, his heavy brows in close council with each other and Thom allowed himself to hope.
“He’ll want to know,” he repeated.
Thom let go the breath he had been holding. “Aye sir, reckon he will,” and under his breath, “Reckon ‘e won’t wanna lead the boarding party though.”
He, being the captain, did not want to lead the boarding party. Technically, with his suckered feet dropping onto the plague ship’s deck first, Thom led the boarding party. Though Kirakiray was the officer in charge. In full chemsuits, he and the other two took a might bit longer to descend the rope ladder. Thom secured the dangling end of the boarding ladder, poked through the whole catamaran and secreted a few baubles and doohickeys that might fetch a penny in port before they plopped onto the deck.
“Yer a fool, Thom Doggel,” said Bodhi. “Scamperin’ aboot with no coverin’.”
Thom shrugged. “Those suits are for nasties and acids in the hold. No proof or provin’ against fever. Though the respirator mighta helped with the smell. Some of these poor bastards ain’t been dead a week.”
“You’ve been through the whole boat, they’re all dead then?” Kirakiray asked.
“Aye sir, all dead.” A ‘dead’ body lashed to the mast above their heads moaned. Thom rolled his eyes. It just couldn’t keep quiet a couple of moments longer, could it? “All save one. Appears one is clingin’ to a wee bit o’ life yet.”
“Well, Thom, seein’ as yer fond of climbing and are unencumbered, you can have the pleasure of retrieving the not-quite-dead.” They made a pile in a lowered cargo net of anything useful, gathered the ships logs and markers while Thom laced a harness to the dying panthera hanging from the ship’s yard like a crucified criminal.
“Nng, leave me, ‘m cursed!” it hissed through cracked lips.“No argument from me, m’raka. Reckon you’ll get your chance to kill our ship same as yours afore you kick. Up to me, i’d cut yer throat and burn yer filthy kindlin’ around you.” He drew his hooked blade and one of the panthera’s eyes bulged at him, yellow and wet like a hard boiled egg. “Lucky fer you, t’aint up to me.” He slashed the lashings cutting the wretch free of the doomed boat to swing upwards into the clear sky and waiting airship. “And may God have mercy on’er souls.”