The assembled bridge crew turned slowly to look at the Captain. She looked at When, the corners of her mouth pointing upwards in a barely noticable smile.
'Dr When, you have something on your cheek and I pray to the Gods that it's lipstick.'
'Aye Ma'am I'll see to it, erm..' The first officer patted the pockets of his waistcoat until he found one containing a silk handkerchief, which he produced, furtively, and wiped away the waxy mark.
'When did you start buying handkerchiefs with gussets and waistbands?'
The hirsute privateer looked down at the scrap of silk in his hand, noticed the embroidered cog on the front and realised that he must have picked it up accidentally in his hurry to retrieve his clothes in the whore-pit. He quickly stuffed it back into his pocket.
'Frobisher, connect to The Great Cloud and look for reports of our little shopping trip to Chandra, specifically anything about prisoners.'
'Working...' The lights on the bridge dimmed slightly, 'No mention of the raid on normal channels, boosting power to access the Company network.'
'Be careful, this doesn't feel right...'
'Lines secured and encrypted, I am invisible to their security measures Ma'am.'
'If only you were inaudble too,' The Captain whispered, in a strangely good mood for someone who had recently lost a valued crewmember.
Frobisher's head turned towards her, paused petulantly and said, 'I have a report of a single captive, found unconcious at the scene with minor burns. She has been taken to the secure hospital aboard the Company ship Hellingly, currently en route to Nukuoro'
'Cut the connection!'
The lights on the construct's metal face resumed their normal cycling and the captain took a deep breath. Nukuoro was just outside the juristiction of the Democratic People's Republic of Australasia, it was a Company supply base during the first trouble with the Spiders. She'd visited there once, a long time before she was Captain of the Edward Teach, on a resupply raid. It was a barren ring of rock and sand barely four miles across, a few buildings, a fuel dump, and strangely, a small school.
'Helm, plot an intercept course for the Hellingly, take us high and quiet.'
'Course set, range just over a thousand miles, less than three hours at best speed,' The helmsman barked the numbers at they appeared on his display.
'No, take us slow, three-quarter speed at 20,000 ft. Make us look as much like a cargo barge as you can.'
When took a deep breath, opened the Intercomm and barked out his standard string of orders, 'All hands, make ready to leave port. Secure all lines and hawsers, we will be breaking dock in 30 seconds, anyone still on board who's not on my roster'll be thrown over the side the second I find 'em, let me remind you that water's as solid as concrete from the height we'll be cruising at. All Doxies, Merchants and Pox-Doctors, off the ship now! Repeat - We are breaking dock in 25 seconds.'
The deck below them shifted as the docking cables were reeled in and the sudden release of pressure on the gasbags lifted her higher into the air. The station slowly receded into a small dot below them, as they reached 20,000 ft, the fusion engines started and the ship leaped forward like a scolded porpoise. Everyone waited for the traditional thundering crash from the Galley, but this time it seemed that the cook had finally learned his lesson.
'Blades out, make us look fat and non-threatening.' Called the Captain.
All over the hull, molecule-thin carbon-fibre sheets flowed out from between the hull plates, they billowed briefly, then caught the wind and took on the impression of solidity, what had once looked like a traditional buccaneer's ship now looked like a bloated, unarmed cargo barge, painted in an independant haulier's colours.
They sailed westwards for nearly four hours without incident until suddenly the Helmsman called that they were approaching the position where the Hellingly should be.
'All stop!' Called When, 'Scan for the big shiny bitch.'
'Nothing on scanners sir, nothing for 200 miles.'
'Sky's empty Captain, she must have changed course, we've lost her.'
The Captain stood, reached under her chair for her respirator, looked at When and said, 'Get your mask, we're going on deck.'
The air rushing from the pressurised door helped the reluctant Doctor out onto the deck and the cold atmosphere caused condensation to form on the outside of his brass respirator. He stayed well away from the guardrail as heights were his least favourite thing, next to sobriety, celibacy and hunger.
'Out of the way you bloody Jellyfish', called the Captain, her voice sounding muffled through her mask, 'Pass me the Glass!'
When passed her the magnifier, and she put it to her eye, the view was slightly blurred through the fabric of the blades, but she could see well enough to spot the Hellingly, two thousand feet below them and floating in the sunshine as bold as a halibut.
'Sky's empty?' Asked the Captain, 'Weren't those your exact words?'
'Aye... Well... Maybe the scanners need an overhaul?'
'Maybe you're lucky and they're cloaked or maybe we're being jammed.'
'Why would a hospital ship be cloaked?'
The Captain shrugged, 'I have no idea, but I mean to find out, let's get below before we have to insulate ourselves with layers of your stolen underwear.'
The Doctor's face reddened and he quickly made his way back below deck. The Captain paused to take a long look at the large silver airship below them.
'Hold on, we're coming for you...'
Back on the bridge, the Captain settled back into her chair, cracked her knuckles and opened a communications channel.
'Company Airship, this is the Cargo Ship... ah...' The Captain looked desperately at When,
'Tydirium?' Suggested When with a shrug,
'Tydirium. We have a minor medical emergency and request succour.'
There was no reply.
'Company Airship, I repeat, this is the...'
'Tydirium, this is the Company Hospital Ship Hellingly, we received your transmission but are unable to assist.'
'Hellingly, we have a crewman effected with what we believe to be an unknown toxin, we require immediate assistance as per Company regulations, Book thirty-six, subsection eighty-seven..'
'I know the regulations Captain! Hold for further instructions...'
The Captain muted the channel and turned to her first officer.
'When, you need to start acting sick, well, sicker...'