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How I Fell in with Air Pirates, Part 9

Andrew woke up slowly and stretched. As he did, he suddenly realized he was not in his bunk, but rather he was in the Lazy-boy recliner that he kept in his cabin, and he had no idea why. Sleeping in the recliner always left him stiff, the drawback of being over 40, and that was the exact feeling he was experiencing now. He blinked a couple of times to clear the sleep and then leveraged himself up a little straighter and looked around the dimly lit room, then he remembered.


Talia and Grace were still sleeping in his bunk, right where he found them when he returned to his cabin after the Renegade left Greenock. He had another bunk that he could have set up above them, but he had decided not to disturb them, and just use the recliner for a few hours of sleep. As he quietly shifted the chair out of the recline position so he could put his feet on the deck, he again questioned that decision. Yeah, getting older has its drawbacks. Rubbing his face, he decided there was no point in trying to sleep more, so he stood up and went over to the bags that he had brought into the cabin before he crashed for the night.


True to his word, the Captain XO had called the Kommandant up to Greenock in order to fully resupply the Renegade for an extended overseas trip. The Kommandant’s crew brought plenty of drink, bacon, snacks, ammunition, and clothing for everyone, whether they wanted it or not. Andrew was thankful that Badger’s wife took it upon herself to pack some bags for his family, and that she delivered them personally to him, not trusting Badger or anyone else to handle them.


Digging through the one for him, Andrew pulled out a change of clothes before going into the bathroom to shower and change. He didn’t shave, it was Monday after all and he had shaved for Church the day before, but the shower did help him to wake up and wipe away some of the memory from yesterday evening. Andrew pulled on clean pair of khaki cargo pants and a red long sleeve shirt with the Renegade logo emblazoned on the upper left front, then he stepped back into his room to put on boots, grab his holster and a jacket. Once he had everything together, he headed out the door of his cabin, leaving his wife and youngest daughter to sleep some more.


Initially, Andrew wandered around the decks, passing crew that were on duty, stepping over others that had passed out on the deck from their drinking, and praying to himself that his oldest daughter would stay safe and praising the actions of the crew in their attempts to rescue her. Eventually he arrived at the Plunder and Lightening for something to eat. When he entered there were a couple of crew members doing the same thing, and Kiwi was at her usual place behind the bar keeping an eye on things, with Yoda lazing in front of her occupying one hand.


Andrew smiled as he walked past her heading for the table of food. “Good morning, Kiwi.”


“Good morning Redleg. Or should I call you Sean now?”


Andrew chuckled as he grabbed some bacon, biscuits, and honey butter. “Redleg or Andrew is fine,” he said. “We made the choice to change names and shed the old life. It wasn’t easy, but we knew we would never be able to go back. Plus, with new names our families back in the States can’t be threatened with anything. It kind of sucks, but we knew it was the best way to go forward.”


Kiwi nodded as she continued to stroke Yoda’s fur and Andrew sat down at the bar.


“Yeah, I can see your point. Ok, Redleg it is. So, would you like your normal Mountain Dew (CAPTAIN’S COMMENT: I literally shuddered when I read this) or a Hot chocolate?”


“Hot chocolate please,” replied Andrew. “A regular mug now and a thermos mug to take with me when I go. It’s just chilly enough to need something warm.”


Kiwi smiled again, “No problem.” She turned to go grab a mug, much to Yoda’s displeasure as he sat up to look and see where Kiwi went. This caused Andrew to laugh out loud, something he immediately regretted as Yoda then leapt off of the bar-top and crashed directly into Andrew’s chest causing him to drop his bacon biscuit back onto the bar as his hands grabbed the cat. The force of Yoda’s “attack” could have knocked Andrew off the stool he was sitting on if he hadn’t already had a foot under the foot-rail.


“Dang it, Yoda!” Andrew snapped as he stared into the cat’s eyes that were now less than an inch from his own. “Are you trying to kill me?”


Yoda started to purr, loudly, and Andrew swore the cat smiled at him. From behind the bar Andrew heard Kiwi, “It’s a good thing he likes your family, Redleg, otherwise I’m not sure he would let you out of here without a good shredding.”

The purr got louder.




After his breakfast and surviving the encounter with Yoda, Andrew grabbed the thermos of hot chocolate that Kiwi had prepared. He headed out so he could check out the gunnery stations before he headed up to the CIC to get a status of their travels so far, and to see if Jerri had any better data on their Target in Utah.


Andrew knew that Gilead was headquartered in Utah, but he was never able to get anything more detailed. He avoided any kind of internet research, not wanting to open himself up to any back-tracing, and really the best info he came across was open-source news and recruitment tracts. Even then, the facts were thin; most of his knowledge, such as what he knew about the ‘Eyes’, was based on personal experience.


The most relevant information that he’d come across was some news articles comparing The Handmaiden’s Tale with Gilead, but even that involved some guesswork. Anything that was denied or explained away, Andrew took that as confirmation that it was true. Considering how everything had gone so far, he felt that they were still behind in the information game.


His morning checks were also a habit during missions. It let him check on the gunnery crews, discuss the upcoming mission (and potential loot) with them, and follow up on anything from past discussion. He knew that Smoke Cooper would tell him if there was anything critical with a gunnery member, but Andrew also knew that it was just good leadership to get in and around the crew. He checked the ventral turrets first, then went all the way down to the dorsal ones, before coming back up to the main deck on the starboard side and then heading forward so he could loop around and check the port turrets.


As he went past the forward hold to head down the port side, he was suddenly aware that another member of the crew was with him. Smiling, but not looking, Andrew spoke out loud, “Good morning Vlad, how are things?”


A chuckle, then a reply. “I’m good Andrew. How are you? More importantly, how are Talia and Grace?”


“Still asleep, thankfully,” said Andrew. “Let’s see how things go today. Yesterday was not something I ever thought we’d go through and I have no idea how they will be when they wake up.”


“Interesting thought considering your past,” Vlad continued, “I always knew there was more to you and your family, but I decided that your business was your own.”


Andrew paused before replying as he ducked his head into Turret #4. The crew was awake, not drunk, and no one was duct taped to the bulkhead. Everyone nodded and the chief gave a thumbs up, so Andrew moved on and replied to Vlad. “Not talking about it was a form of protection. If no one else knew, then they couldn’t talk about it in a bar where others could overhear them.”


Vlad nodded in understanding. “Oh, that’s not a criticism, and I completely understand. Most of the crew do not know a lot about me either and I will admit that I do my part to help perpetuate certain rumors in order to keep people guessing. In fact, I think your daughters know more about me than anyone else.”


Andrew had just traded nods with the Port Lookout, so he wasn’t fully listening to Vlad and now that last comment confused him. “Wait, what?” said Andrew as he gave Vlad a surprised look.


“What?” was Vlad’s confused reply.


Andrew stopped to look at him. “What did you say about my girls knowing stuff about you?”


Vlad smiled. “Aahh, so they’ve kept their word. I knew I could trust them.”


“Vlad” Andrew growled.


“There’s nothing to worry about” Vlad said evenly. “The two of them have an intellectual curiosity to learn and a disdain for the ‘Twilight’ books. We’ve spent quite a bit of time talking when they’ve been on the grounds of Castle Wick. They even help perpetuate the rumors about interns.”


Andrew cringed and then continued to walk towards Turret #5. “Suddenly I’m not feeling so good about allowing my girls to wander the grounds. On the bright side there’s no Department of Child Welfare that’s going to start asking questions”


Vlad chuckled. “Your girls are stronger than you think. I believe you’re the one who always tells people to have faith?”


Andrew stopped at the turret and then turned as he replied, “Yeah, that’s true. Thanks for the reminder.”


“What are friends for?” Vlad gave a toothy smile. “I’ll check in with you later.”


Andrew smiled back and then he ducked into Turret 5. Martin was on duty, and he looked up from his still as Andrew entered. The two stared at each other, then Martin smiled and offered his flask to Andrew, knowing full well that Andrew didn’t drink. Andrew just held up a hand and smiled. “No thanks. How are things?”


“All good,” Martin replied. “No reason to have a full crew when we are making a speed run, plus I needed the time to try a new brew.”


Andrew held up his hands. “As long as it doesn’t put you in sick back, I’m good”

Martin laughed. “One time I don’t verify an ingredient, and you never let it go.”


“Hey, I’m just glad you’re here” replied Andrew. “Also, that was some good shooting last night, thanks.”


Martin toasted Andrew after the compliment, then he took a drink of his new formula. His face tightened up as if he bit into a persimmon, then his watering eyes snapped open and he let out a blast of air. “Woah, that hit the spot. Yeah, I think we’ve got a live one here.” With that he sat back in his chair and Andrew thought he was about to pass out. Instead, Martin smiled and looked back at Andrew. “Oh yeah, this will be fun to go through with the rest of the crew.”


Andrew chuckled. “Good to know. Ok, I’m headed to CIC.” He went back out of the turret and headed back amidships until he arrived at the CIC, nodding at a member of the Zouves that was on guard duty as he went through the hatch. Not surprising, Jerri was inside with her team of intel specialists. What was surprising is they were packing up and as if they were about to leave the room.


“What did I miss?” asked Andrew.


Jerri looked up and realized Andrew was there. “Oh, hi Redleg. We’ve got a brief for the staff in the P&L in a few minutes. Didn’t you get the word?”


Andrew shook his head. “Nope. When did this come down?”


“We just sent it out over the ship’s intercom.”


“Aahh, apparently the intercom isn’t ‘working’ in Turret #5 again, I was just there talking with Martin.” Andrew smiled then continued, “Color me shocked”.

Jerri smiled knowingly. “Come on, we’ve got some information that I think will interest you.”


Andrew followed Jerri back down to the P&L. Kiwi had drinks and snacks out, and Andrew could smell the next meal cooking already. Teriyaki chicken, probably on skewers. Grace would like that; she was a chicken fiend. Andrew got to his place and found another mug of hot cocoa waiting, so he figured he would keep the thermos for later. He saw that Angel was helping Top with his food, despite his grumbling that he could do it himself, while Turbo, Kim, Loggie, Smoke Cooper, and several others were already seated.


As Andrew sat down, Captain XO walked in, followed by the ship’s library staff. XO headed for his spot, an extra-large coffee mug in his right hand. Andrew looked up at the ship’s clock that was over the bar and saw that it was still before noon “ship’s time.” That meant that the mug only contained coffee.


Probably.


Maybe.


Actually, Andrew had been wrong about what was in XO’s coffee mug so many times in the past that there was no telling what was in it. It was still entertaining to guess.


“Ok, Deuce,” said Captain XO, “what have you and your wonder geeks dug up on these cultists?”


Jerri looked around the room and then nodded to one of her analysts. The first picture appeared on the large screen TV that dominated one of the bulkheads, and suddenly the mood in the room jumped through the roof as everyone there had the same thought. The Renegade was going to make Bank.


“This is the Temple of Gilead,” Jerri said, “and as you can see, it’s covered in gold. Not just gold leafing on the flat surfaces, but also statues and other ornamentation. As best we can tell, the building was built to rival Saint Peter’s Basilica in size. It’s definitely got the upper hand in the gaudiness department. The walls and pillars are solid, lots of stone and iron went into the building. From what we’ve found out, the entire population of Gilead can fit inside, assuming the information that we have on their total population is accurate, more on that later. We’ve also confirmed that in addition to all of the gold, the temple has a lot of other decorations that are either precious metals, precious gems, or art works. If we manage to grab all of it, our most conservative estimate is that everyone’s net worth is going to triple, and the retirement fund won’t run dry until long after our great-grandchildren are dead.”


Top let out a long whistle, which summed up the feeling in the room. Andrew was in shock, he had no idea that Gilead had that much wealth, and obviously had no idea where they got it, or how they had built this Temple.


Finally, Badger spoke up. “Oh goody, what do we get to steal first? Hehehehe.” That brought a round of chuckles to the room and a smile to Andrew’s face. “More importantly” said Captain XO, “where is the temple dand where did they get this wealth?”


Jerri smiled in reply. “Coming to that boss, next picture.” Now everyone was looking of a map of Utah. The Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake City were easily identified, as was the town of Provo. Right between them, was an X indicating the treasure site that the Renegade was aiming for, because of course an X always marks the spot.


Seeing that X, Andrew did a double take, but PSG Kim was the first one to speak up.

“Hey, that’s where we hit the gold train two years ago, and where we picked up Redleg and his family.”


Jerri nodded. “Correct. Apparently after that raid, Gilead moved in and took over the community of Bingham Canyon. I wasn’t part of the crew then, so I can’t speak to the damage you did, but from the photos we’ve obtained the entire place has been rebuilt and upgraded. Our evaluation is that Gilead used the local gold and other building materials to build their temple. They also used the threat of future air pirate attacks as a way to control the population. What we can’t figure out is how they did it all in two years.”


XO snorted. “Ok, we know where they are and where at least the gold came from. I’m guessing the rest is from donations from their followers and such?”


“That’s part of it,” Jerri agreed, “we are pretty certain the rest comes from their transport operations, both legitimate business and the smuggling that they do. In fact, we found a correlation between their missionary work and missing art and treasure from various parts of Europe, Central America, South America, and Africa.”


“That explains why some of our raids have been coming up short in expected high value treasure.” This came from Cindy Lou, the resident curator and appraiser of rare stuff. “That’s annoying, we put a lot of work into planning for those items, it cost us.”

Captain XO looked at Cindy and nodded in agreement. “So more for our haul after we rescue Morgan, and potential opportunities to ransom back a lot of stuff. This operation is going to more than pay for itself.” He then turned back to Jerri. “Ok, what about the population? How many shooters and supporters of the cult, and do we have any idea how many people may simply be trapped in their circumstances?


Jerri shook her head. “All we can tell for certain is that the population is definitely a mix of real supporters and those being compelled. Everything that Gilead releases to the public is nothing but praise, but we’ve found evidence that there is a lot of dissatisfaction, especially among the people that already lived in Bingham Canyon. The problem is Gilead seems to be pretty effective at killing off critical voices of former members. A lot of dead critics makes for a lot of people not wanting to draw attention to themselves.”


“I can appreciate that,” said Andrew. Jerri nodded in agreement.


Top then spoke up from his seat. “We know how to keep from killing civilians, but do we know anything about the mystery creature that attacked us? Or if they have any more?”


Jerri shrugged. “We don’t know, and that’s not my area of expertise.” She then looked at Captain XO. He shifted in his seat, took a drink, and then began to talk. “So, 2 years ago, we picked that particular gold train because the gold in this region is of a distinct quality, with certain impurities that certain people claim are mystical. I learned later that the reason for the impurities is due to the mine having an actual mystical connection due to how deep it goes. That creature that attacked the Zouaves was from the mine.


Top stared at XO. “Wait. Are you saying that we fought a Balrog?”


Instead of XO, it was Chimaera, the Librarian and Archivist, that answered. “Balrog’s don’t have tentacles, so no, you didn’t fight one. Besides, if one still exists, it would be in England and we would have heard about it long before now.” Top sighed with some relief but then kept looking at Chimaera, waiting for more information. He was not disappointed. “We’ve dug through our own books and papers, and we’ve found some references to that creature. As best we can translate, it’s called a behemoth. You’re lucky you survived, you also demonstrated that they can be killed.”


“The temple is built directly over the mine where it came from,” said Jerri, “could it be drawing ‘power’ from whatever is down there where this behemoth came from?”

Chimaera nodded. “That’s what we believe. Gilead’s use of the gold isn’t just for decoration, it’s to give them control over the people, and I am assuming it gives them a combination of control and power enhancement for any other behemoths. It’s also a valid explanation for how they rebuilt so fast. The sooner we can take out the mine, the better.”


Andrew frowned. “The electrical conductivity of gold is going to cause problems with the Teslas, and I imagine the mystical properties won’t help. Plus, the malleability of the gold is going to dampen the effects of any explosives. We’re not going to be able to blast our way in with anything in our inventory.”


“Yes,” said Chimaera, “we need to find a way around the Gold, not just so the Teslas will work, but also to dilute the power of Gilead. It’s an interesting conundrum that I don’t have an answer for.”


“What if we used the Teslas to melt off the gold first?” This came from Smoke Cooper, who was obviously already thinking of a way to do just that.


Chimaera looked back at Cooper and smiled. “That would work I think, then we just have the stone and iron framing, nothing in our research shows that’s a problem, it’s just regular earthly material.”


“How long to adjust the Tesla’s, Smoke?” asked Andrew, “And what will it do to their effectiveness against other targets?


Cooper smiled. “Don’t worry boss, with what I’m thinking, it will mean the creation of a new power setting that gunners can switch to. The only drawback is the amount of time it will take to set up each Tesla. I think I can have two of them set up before we get to Utah, but I make no promises about more.”


Andrew smiled back. “Two should be sufficient. Do numbers 4 and 6, that way we can cover the front and both flanks of the Renegade.” Then Andrew turned to Captain XO. “Melting the gold also means we can recast it into bars for transport.”


“Nice.” XO then looked back at Jerri. “Ok, as much as I want to stare at gold and imagine swimming in it, what are the defenses that we need to take out first?”


Jerri clicked a key and the photo changed. “From what we’ve learned we may face Dirigibles similar to what we fought in Greenock, but no other air power. We’ve seen no signs of any air defense assets but I anticipate we could see some ground mounted Teslas similar to what the Q-ships had. We have confirmed they have a police force that appears to be a paramilitary organization and it’s larger than our own ground force, but we haven’t found any evidence or information that they have anything more than small arms. Knowing the capabilities of our teams and the Renegade, I do not assess the police to be a significant threat. The big question is: what other paranormal surprises do they have?”


Leaning back in his chair, XO took another drink form his mug as the rest of the staff waited to hear his guidance. After a few more seconds, their patience was rewarded. “We prepare for anything and everything. If it points a weapon at us, then we put it down with a head shot. If it’s in a brown dress, assume it’s another one of those tentacled behemoths and put it down with a head shot. If it is running at you screaming bloody murder, just shoot it in the head before it turns into something that will give Vlad nightmares. But remember, if anyone surrenders, we take them captive. We might be air pirates, but we do not engage in wonton destruction when there is a potential for innocent bystanders to be there. Now based on how these cultists acted in Greenock, I doubt any of the true believers will surrender, so if someone does, they are probably being held against their will. Secure them quickly and then move on to finish whatever objectives each team is assigned.”


He took another drink and looked back at Jerri. “Anything else Duece?”


Jerri nodded. “As a matter of fact, there is. Within the last hour, we’ve picked up some chatter that both Bermuda and Miami are expecting raids from the Renegade in the very near future. We don’t have anything specific from Miami, but everything out of Bermuda is screaming hysterically that the island has been marked for plunder. Are you running some kind of recon that I don’t know about?”


Captain XO’s eyes narrowed at the question. “If I was, I wish I would have told myself about it. Anything else besides the SIGINT?”