The Buccaneer Chronicles:
By Karen Dunn (Despite Interference by Keith Dunn, Andy Simpkins, Adam J Purcell and Tony Gallichan)
Chapter Five - The Road
"Cheese and pickle are very hard to come by in E-Space, yet he ate all the sandwiches himself.
Blanche once described Macfadyan as 'a bit of a berk'.
I have no point of reference to ascertain whether or not this is true, and she did not volunteer information to determine which part of the berk he is, but I am becoming more skilled at interpreting the moods of humanoids and I find her statement holds true.
Macfadyan is indeed a bit of a berk.
If it were not so he would have shared the sandwiches. Or at least said thank you.
If I point out this flaw in his character he will simply say that he forgot.
So when he asks why I did not point out that the person to whom he is speaking does not register on my sensors and is, in all likelihood, a vampire, I shall say that I forgot.
There is enough cheese and pickle left to make one more plate of sandwiches. If he becomes angry I shall simply present them to him as a peace offering.
'To shut him up', as Blanche is wont to say.
Captain Curtis often tells me that I should stand up for myself.
I have no legs, and Captain Curtis is not a man prone to cruel jokes, so I believe he means I must do what I wish on occasion.
My processors have yet to inform me if this is the correct course of action, but until the data is presented to me I shall stand up for myself on this point.
Cheese and pickle will surely be enough to smooth over any unforeseen error in my judgment."
Stackmore paused inside the doorway of the tumbledown house and allowed Macfadyan to pass, his mind to snaking out to read the man - to know him inside and out.
When he met resistance he blinked in surprise.
Stackmore was not entirely sure how long he had been alive, but knew that the years had run into the hundreds.
In all that time he had never met a mind even close to being the equal of his own. He read the thoughts and feelings of the puny people of this world as if they were pages of a book.
They were never aware of him leafing through their minds, and even if they had been, they wouldn't have understood or known what to do.
And now he met resistance in this joke of a man - this stranger - who hadn't even blinked when his own companion had warned him of danger.
Speaking of which...
He peered out at Cre'at. The creature was bobbing gently at the edge of the trees, its motors whirring gently: "Fascinating..."
It did not speak again and Stackmore got the absurd impression that it was fighting the urge to flee.
He raised an inquiring eyebrow at Macfadyan: "Machine?"
Macfadyan nodded. Stackmore took a step forward, and sure enough Cre'at whirred back a yard.
"You know what I am, little creature, and you do well to fear me."
"It's afraid of me."
Macfadyan smiled: "He's funny around strangers. Quite harmless though."
"Will it join us inside?"
"Yes, come and watch me play your master for the fool he is."
Cre'at's motors whirred and he spun round, zipping into the trees and away from Stackmore.
Away from Macfadyan.
He had to find Blanche.
Macfadyan gaped at the shower of leaves that floated gently to the forest floor in Cre'at's wake.
"I'm terribly sorry about him," he said with an apologetic shrug, "He's due a tune up...gets very ratty if his cogs aren't oiled properly."
Stackmore waved a dismissive hand: "Think nothing of it. Allow me to show you around. Would you care for some tea?"
"You silly creature. Is that all you think of me? How long have you known me?
Do you think me incapable of smelling power? I'm the Buccaneer - power comes to me when it wants advice.
I know what Stackmore is - I'm not a fool.
This planet reeks of vampires and there he stands looking like a reject from a trashy Goth novel.
There's nothing to fear here except a night crawler who needs a new line in bedtime reading - and some serious fashion advice.
It would have been helpful, Cre'at, if you had credited me with some sense rather than running for the hills.
What kind of fool must he think I am? And now you've left me to work this out alone. It's a good thing I have enough know-how for both of us.
This creature is nothing. He's a worm with ideas above his station. We need to find the man in charge - the big cheese, the head honcho - and if it was down to you we would be hiding in the bushes until the scary things went away.
You and I will have words about this, Head.
I do not appreciate being abandoned on a strange world in the company of some two-bit vampire with delusions of grandeur who thinks me a fool.
If I have to resort to saying 'Take me to your leader' I will be extremely annoyed.
I sense a 'tears before bedtime' situation coming up."
Cre'at zipped through the forest as fast as his motors could carry him.
Branches whipped against him as he passed, sending him spinning wildly until her servos regained control. Sot'ms, he reasoned, were not built to deal with greenery; and the leaves and twigs that had embedded themselves all over him were playing havoc with his workings.
He contemplated returning to the Ship and waiting it out.
Macfadyan would eventually talk his way out of the vampire's clutches and rescue Blanche and Captain Curtis from whatever trouble they had stumbled into.
He could wait in the control room until they returned perhaps work on correcting that annoying glitch in the time circuits that insisted on taking them to Albuquerque, New Year's Day, 1473, every other week.
There really wasn't much to see in Albuquerque on New Year's Day in 1473.
Yes, those circuits definitely needed immediate attention. The others would be fine.
He burst through one final curtain of leaves and there was the Ship, alone and silent, bathed in shadows as dusk crept in, a curious long-eared mammal hopping around in front of it.
Shaking himself in a futile attempt to dislodge the assorted forestation from his sockets, Cre'at told the Ship to let him in.
With a gentle hum, the Ship refused.
The long-eared mammal sat up on its haunches and twitched its nose at Cre'at.
The Sot'm reasoned with the Ship, threatened the Ship and finally begged the Ship to let him in, but the doors remained closed and the hum intensified.
"Are you ignoring me?" asked Cre'at.
The long-eared mammal ran away.
Cre'at pootled round the Ship and back again.
"I am crew," he said, "You must obey my commands."
The humming took on a singsong tone and the Sot'm stared at the Ship as hard as he could.
"Very well," he said, "I shall retrieve the others and return. And then I shall re-programme you."
And he zipped off into the forest, his guidance systems leading him towards the town and Blanche and Colin.
The humming stopped and the long-eared mammal poked its nose out of the foliage.
With a cautious twitch it hopped back into the clearing.
The Ship opened its doors and let the creature in.
Then it fed it raisins.
"I like what you've done with the place."
Stackmore smiled graciously as he led Macfadyan through the run-down tangle of decay that was the house.
"Your politeness is appreciated," he said, "But this is not my home."
Macfadyan wiped a streak of dust from his sleeve, "I did wonder how you kept up appearances."
Stackmore pushed open a battered door that looked as if it would fall off its hinges with the slightest breeze.
"There are many unsavoury characters in these parts," he said, "It does not do to show off. I let them think me a hermit and they leave me alone."
Macfadyan peered into the ruined room, "Then I take it you have a coin or two to rub together?"
"Appearances can be deceiving."
Stackmore approached a large, ragged box that might once have been a wardrobe. Its door was missing and mice were playing chase in and out of its musty depths.
Macfadyan frowned in distaste as Stackmore thrust his arm into the wardrobe and gave its back panel a hefty shove.
The panel swung back to reveal a tunnel - Deep and dark, Macfadyan noted. Obviously.
Stackmore dusted himself down and sent the mice skittering away with a stamp of his foot.
"I was unlucky enough to fall through the floor not long after I arrived," he said. "But lucky enough to find quite a roomy cave system beneath my feet."
"Not at first. A few home comforts and a woman's touch and it became almost bearable."
He stepped back and, with a flourish, beckoned Macfadyan forward.
"Step into my parlour. Allow me to show you around."
With a shrug Macfadyan edged into the wardrobe and stepped through to the tunnel beyond.
"Do you have any Turkish delight?" he muttered as Stackmore followed him in, pushing the panel shut.
The first thing Blanche became aware of when she woke was the drilling pain in her head, as if some tiny miner was trying to chip his way out of her skull from behind her eyes.
The second thing she became aware of was that she was being carried rather uncomfortably in someone's arms, each jolt making her stomach heave.
The third thing she was aware of was a growl of disgust as she leaned over and threw up all over someone's rather grubby shoes, and the threatening snap in Colin's voice as he said: "Don't even think of dropping her, pal."
"Yeah, whatever, give her here."
Blanche opened her eyes as Colin helped her find her feet; Matthias glaring at her as he tried to wipe his shoes clean on the grass.
Her head was thumping and she felt absurdly tipsy, as if she was watching the world from a distance. She held on to Colin's arm for a moment while her legs tried their hardest to remember how to hold her up.
"You keeled over right in the middle of a sentence. I had to let weasel boy carry you."
"Yeah, thanks for that."
"It was either that or drop you on your backside every time he tried to clobber me. I only have the one pair of hands."
She grinned at Matthias, "Thanks for the ride, buddy."
Matthias glowered at her, his face hot with fury, "I should have culled you, vampire. Eleanor only needs one of you..."
Blanche felt her headache intensify and she squeezed her eyes shut against the pain.
Colin pushed the annoying man forward and the three of them continued their walk towards the lights of the town, Matthias muttering foul curses under his breathe every step of the way.
With her head thumping, it didn't take long for Blanche to tire of his attitude.
Allowing her fingers to dig into his arm, she spun him round to face her, "Listen, weasel boy, if we were vampires, creatures of the night - whatever - would we have let you knock us about? You wouldn't have got within two feet of us."
He shook himself free of her grip and glared at her.
"I mean, think about it. Wouldn't we have changed into bats and, I dunno, flown away?"
Matthias' eyes widened, "You can really do that?"
Behind, them, Colin grinned, shaking his head as Blanche continued.
"Oh, yeah," she said seriously, "It's one of the first things they teach you."
Colin glanced around at the forest around them, keeping his revolver trained on Matthias as he listened, wide-eyed, to Blanche's explanation of the intricacies of turning into a bat, complete with expressive actions.
"...of course, changing back's a bit of a bugger, 'cos I can never remember where I left me clothes." She flashed the man a knowing wink and filthy grin, "Had one or two dodgy moments, I can tell you. And it takes a fair few hours to get over the urge to hang upside down from a tree..."
A rustle from the trees ahead of Blanche and Matthias knocked the grin from Colin's face, and he stepped forward, his revolver cocked and ready to fire.
The warning died on his lips as someone grabbed him from behind, wrapping a muscular arm around his throat.
"Lower the weapon," said a voice at his ear.
Colin cursed as the cold metal touched his throat; a lethally sharp blade caressing the skin with an almost gentle sting that he knew had drawn blood.
Blanche's verbal rambling was cut off in mid flow and she froze, hands in the air to illustrate hanging upside down from a tree, as three men stepped onto the path in front of her.
Moving slowly, aware that the fourth man's blade could fillet him in seconds, Colin crouched and placed his gun on the ground, hands raised in submission as he stood next to his friend.
"There's been a mistake," he said.
"I can see that."
The voice at his ear seemed almost amused and Colin craned his peripheral vision to take in a well-built man, with shining green eyes and a clean-shaven head.
Matthias was almost bouncing with glee, "I caught them in the forest, Rafe. I was taking them to Eleanor. For the experiments, you know."
Rafe gave an impatient snort and stepped away from Colin, "Shut it, Matthias."
Blanche almost laughed at the expression of shock plastered across the little man's face.
"But, Rafe..." he whined.
With a flourish, Rafe returned his knife to its sheath, and bent to pick up Colin's revolver. He examined the weapon carefully, turning it over in his hands before returning it to Colin with a quick nod.
"Eleanor needs vampires," he said.
Matthias' voice was almost childlike, begging for his efforts to be appreciated, "But, these two..."
"Are as normal as you and me...well, me anyway. I don't know what hole you crawled out of, Matthias, but you left your brain down there."
The little man glowered, "Eleanor said I was to watch the forest. She said I was to bring any of those creatures to her. She said..."
Rafe turned his back, fumbling at his belt for a canteen, "How many vampires have you known to throw up and pass out?"
Matthias blinked at him.
"And given that the sun hasn't quit gone to bed, I'd say you've been throwing you weight around with a perfectly normal couple out for an evening's walk."
He handed the canteen to Blanche, who unscrewed the top and took a cautious sip. Water. She drank deeply, rinsing her mouth.
"Besides, the girl's right," said Rafe, peering owlishly at Matthias, almost nose to nose, "They could have finished you off and flown out of here before you could say 'thick as a plank'."
Matthias was turning a curious shade of purple, "Eleanor said..."
"Eleanor sent you out here to keep you out of trouble. Stackmore and his recruits are still in hiding. There's no way any of them will be venturing out yet. It's too soon."
"But we saw one," said Blanche, a little too loudly, before covering her mouth with her hand.
Everyone was looking at her and she began to wonder whether admitting there were actually creatures of the night around was such a good idea.
After all, where there was one, who's to say there weren't two more.
She and Colin had already had one close encounter of the crazy kind - and she had the pounding headache to prove it. The last thing they needed was for Rafe and his men to have a change of heart and slam a couple of stakes into their chests - just to be sure.
She blinked up at Rafe, her hand still firmly clamped over her mouth.
He raised an eyebrow and beckoned to one of his friends, "Marco..."
A hand on her shoulder made her jump, and Blanche turned to face the youngest of the other three men.
Men...he was little more than a boy really, but good looking, with eyes you could drown in, and when he smiled down at her Blanche knew she would tell him anything he wanted to know.
Gently, he prised her hand away from her mouth, "What did you see?"
She told him about the body staked to the tree and how Mac had said it was a recent kill.
"You're sure it was a vamp?"
She nodded, "He had the teeth thing going on and seriously needed a suntan."
Marco chuckled, "You get that a lot round here."
He turned to Matthias, expecting to see the little man puffed up with gloating pride, but instead saw a confused frown wrinkle his brow.
The little man shrugged, "I didn't stake no one tonight. Wasn't me."
Matthias bristled, "Of course I'm sure. I may be thick as a plank but do you think I'd forget something like that?"
He spun round to Rafe, fists clenched, "I want to speak to Eleanor. I don't care what you think, she needs to see these two."
Colin tightened his grip on the revolver. His instincts were telling him that Rafe and his crew were safe enough, but he had no intention of allowing Blanche and himself to be delivered to this Eleanor person like sacrificial lambs.
He edged closer to the girl and watched Rafe consider Matthias' request.
Matthias was glaring at the taller man, frustration flickering across his face.
"I want to speak to Eleanor," he said again.
Rafe clapped a calloused hand down on the little man's shoulder and flashed him a friendly smile, "You'll speak to her," he said, "But she needs you to finish your job first."
Matthias pouted, "What job?" he whined, "There's no one out here."
Rafe looked him in the eye, "You need to get over to the clearing and find out who their vamp is...was. Find out who staked him and then come to the pub and report to me."
"And then I can talk to her?"
"I'll let her know you're coming," said Rafe.
Matthias pulled himself up to his full, unimpressive, height and puffed out his chest, "I won't let you down."
With a sneer at Blanche and Colin, he slipped into the trees and was swallowed up by the fast-encroaching night.
Blanche looked up at Colin, "Damn," she said, "And I was really starting to warm to him."
Colin didn't answer, his concentration focussed on Rafe, Marco and the other two.
The group were huddled together, talking in low voices, the occasional glance back at the two time travellers letting Colin know exactly whom they were talking about.
Blanche nudged him, "What's up?" She tapped his gun hand, "And what's with the fire power? We're among friends."
Colin kept a firm grip on the revolver, his eyes riveted on the other men, "I'm taking no chances."
Blanche shrugged, "Well, if you're that worried," she whispered, "we could leg it. They're not paying attention. We could hide out in the forest."
He shook his head, "They'd find us. I didn't know they were anywhere near us until that Rafe guy had a knife at my throat. They're good. They'd find us easily. Besides," he looked down at her, "I have no intention of letting them take us to Eleanor unarmed."
"You don't even know who she is."
"Then he has good instincts."
Colin's head snapped up. He hadn't heard Rafe move, had only taken his eyes off him for a moment, yet here he was - gazing at them intently.
"He has?" said Blanche.
Rafe inclined his head, "No one should face Eleanor unarmed."
With a nod and a grin to Colin, he turned and walked toward the town, his friends in tow.
With few options left open to them, Blanche and Colin followed.