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Fic: The Very Model

The Very Model
Doctor Who, Gallifrey audios
Rating: teen
(some violence and character injury, swearing.)
Characters: Romana, Braxiatel, Narvin, Leela, K-9, Darkel, Torvald, Arkadian, and various minor characters (more or less gen)
Wordcount: 10,000ish, in two parts.
Summary: Being the tale of how Admiral Romana kept her job, how Rear-Admiral Braxiatel fought off the empire's enemies, how Leela of the Sevateem gained an audience with the Admirality, and how Captain Narvin was irritated by just about everyone. (A Gallifrey/Age of Sail fusion, where most of the characters are still Time Lords, even though that doesn't make much sense when they're on wooden ships.)
A/N: Written for hoshinekoyasha, for the Gallifreyathon on morepolitics! It is based on the prompt 'Pirates.' I hope this is okay, even if there aren't nearly as many pirates in it as I had hoped.
Thanks to the amazing aralias for the beta, and generally for running an awesome fic exchange which is always a pleasure to take part in.


Admiral Romanadvoratrelundar tapped her pen against the desk. It kept splattering ink against her papers in a rather displeasing way, but if she ruined the papers then she wouldn't have to sign them, which was all for the best.

"Is this really the only way?" she asked.

"If you want the Phaidon ships captured, we have to call in outside help," said Rear Admiral Braxiatel. "It was your own idea. The Navy's spread far too thin to chase after any sign of an enemy ship."

"I know that," said Romana. She tapped the pen some more. If she could get a few more flecks in the right places, she could make a cat. "But privateering's a dirty job, Brax."

"Then why not give it to those who are already covered in grime, Admiral?" asked Brax. "Just sign it, and we can begin."

Romana grimaced, but she signed the letter of marque which gave the bearer authorization to attack trade vessels. She threw sand on the paper to dry it (more forcefully than she need have done), shook the paper, and rolled it. Brax extended a hand.

"No," said Romana. "I want to meet this person we're giving so much authority to. I want to look in their eyes, and judge their character."

"Is that wise?" said Brax, raising an eyebrow. "Surely deeds such as this are better done at arm's length. Further, even."

"Perhaps," said Romana. "But this is important. Bring me the Dread Pirate Leela."

Brax nodded. "I shall send a courier at once."

---

Captain Narvin hated this job. Any of the Navy’s work was for the glory of the empire, yes, of course, but at least the work could be productive. Narvin had scoured the coast of all three continents, and still there was no sign of the Dread Pirate Leela. Either she hadn't bothered to put in for land, or she had killed anyone who might rat her out to the Navy. Narvin suspected both might be true.

"How long have we been out here?" he asked Lieutenant Torvald.

"About a month, sir," said Torvald. He had a spyglass to his eye, surveying the surrounding water. There wasn't anything out there, as far as Narvin could tell, but he appreciated the dash of paranoia.

"And we've nothing to show for it," muttered Narvin.

"How long before we give up?" asked Torvald. He closed the spyglass with a careful snap.

"Never," said Narvin. "I'd be back to the fleet like a shot if I thought our Lady Admiral would let us return, but I think she'd view that as mutiny. I'd rather not give Admiral Romana an excuse to have me hanged, if it’s all the same to you."

Torvald shrugged, smiling. Narvin often suspected the man of having a rather cavalier view of his own mortality, but it was a view which Narvin did not share.

"No," said Narvin. "I'm meant to deliver this summons, and I shall, if we sail until our water casks run dry and scurvy takes the crew."

"Shouldn't say that too loudly," said Torvald. He was still smiling grimly. Not as grim as death, quite, but grim as a sucking belly-wound or a reprimand from the Lady Admiral. "You'll have the whole crew up against you, if they think their lives depend upon it."

"It may come to that," said Narvin. He tapped his foot against the deck, and straightened his hat. "But we'll find the pirate savage eventually. Run some exercises to keep the crew busy, why don't you?"

Torvald nodded and strode away. Narvin stood gazing out to sea for a long time, as he had little better to do.

If the world had any sense of narrative at all, that would have been the best time to produce the long-sought-after pirates. When the crew was busy at their drills, and only Captain Narvin was still staring out to sea.

The waters remained blank, and Narvin crossed the decks to look the other way.

Or perhaps it would be time for a mutiny, with the sailors stirred into angry rebellion by a treacherous and conniving Torvald. Lieutenant Torvald certainly had it in him to turn mutineer or pirate, thought Narvin, if he felt it was in his interests.

But there were no cries of fire and murder, no rushing from the decks. The ship cut easily through the waves, propelled by the light breeze.

No, thought Narvin, the universe was not controlled by the laws of good story-telling. It had been a month, and he had no idea where they should be going. He was headed to the south coast of the Phaidon territory on nothing but a whim. If Narvin was lucky, he might find the pirates in another month, while he still had money and promises enough to buy supplies. But that would be the very height of his fortunes.

Narvin shook his head at the sea and turned again, to the port side.

And there it was – a sail. A black sail, with white marking too distant to be seen, but Narvin knew what it was.

"A ship!" he shouted, and one of the crew took the call up.

"A ship! Pirates!"

"Get Lieutenant Torvald!" ordered Narvin. "All hands on deck, hop to it!"

It would probably be another pirate all together, but the hope was rising, rough and warm in Narvin's throat. Another hour or two, long enough and close enough to see the markings on the ship, and they would know.

He hoped that the world had regained its sense of narrative at last.

---

Braxiatel was going through the ship’s logs when Vice-Admiral Darkel arrived on his deck. He turned the pages slowly, ignoring her presence.

"How are you, Braxiatel?" Darkel interposed her gloved fingers between the book and his eyes. Braxiatel looked up, reluctantly.

"I could be better," said Braxiatel. "And yourself?"

"Excellent," declared Darkel. "Have you seen Romana lately?"

"The Lady Admiral is on the van's flagship," said Braxiatel. "I suggest you go there if you wish to meet her."

"She refuses to see me," said Darkel. Her lips turned down into an overwrought moue. "She keeps sending some Midshipman to give me her orders, and won't let me meet for clarification."

"The Lady Admiral is very busy," said Braxiatel. He looked back down at the logs, reading between Darkel's fingers. The fleet was drifting north, now, and they needed to decide soon whether to set sail for the war or try to find somewhere to anchor.

Darkel snatched the book away.

"Rear Admiral Braxiatel," she said, "I would remind you that you are my subordinate and, as such, I do not appreciate the amount of time that you spend with the Admiral when my petitions are refused."

"Perhaps the Admiral worries you'll poison her," observed Braxiatel, mildly. “Metaphorically, of course. She has a delicate set of sensibilities.”

Darkel laughed, short and sharp. It was not a reassuring laugh. "Next time you are summoned to the van's flagship, you will tell me," she said, "and I will accompany you. Is that understood?"

"Clearly," said Braxiatel. He held out his hand, and Darkel returned the log before leaving the cabin. Braxiatel stroked the book, calming it like a frightened cat.

He understood why Darkel had been made Vice Admiral, second to none but Romana. Quite apart from questions of seniority, everyone had thought it better to have her commanding the fore of the fleet, in front of Romana and Braxiatel, rather than at their backs. But it rankled, all the same.

There was a knock at the door.

"Enter," said Braxiatel. He set the log to one side.

"Sir," said Midshipman Nighn, Romana’s most trusted junior officer. He closed the door carefully behind him. "The Lady Admiral sends her respects, and wishes you to join her for dinner."

"Alas, I cannot," said Braxiatel. "Send my deepest regrets."

Midshipman Nighn blinked. His hands were still clasped behind his back, and his expression showed no sign that he had marked Braxiatel's words. He had a rather mechanical face, reflected Braxiatel. Gray and blank, with a long nose and big ears.

"The Lady Admiral requests your presence," repeated Nighn.

"Take a message," said Braxiatel. "I cannot attend, lest I bring unwanted guests along with me. She will have to tell you what she wants me to know, and we will communicate in that way."

Nighn nodded, and Braxiatel waved him out.

"And ask her when we're moving!" called Braxiatel, after him. "We cannot drift here forever!" The door shut.

“I’m afraid Darkel is getting restless,” muttered Braxiatel, to himself.

---

The pirate flag was a skull with a knife in its teeth, the mark of Dread Pirate Leela. Narvin had been briefly pleased, just before the other ship began firing on them. That has rather tempered any pleasure he might have felt.

Around his ship, the water frothed as cannonballs dropped around the bow, finding their range.

"Prepare to fire the broadside!" shouted Narvin. He didn't want to destroy the pirates he had come to negotiate with, but he'd also prefer it if they didn't sink his ship.

The crew rolled the cannons back, preparing them with grease and gunpowder before letting the balls roll down the muzzles. Lieutenant Torvald stood with his arm raised, waiting for his captain's order.

"Fire," said Narvin.

"Fire!" shouted Torvald.

The ship rocked with the explosions, and then rocked again as a pirate's cannonball skidded through the rail and over the deck. A man screamed, and Narvin gritted his teeth.

He would not let them win, come hell or high water. He was an officer of the Lady Admiral, whatever he might think of her politics and command, and any person on this ship was worth fifteen lawless savages.

A cannonball struck the underside of Narvin’s ship, and they began to take on water.

Narvin's conviction began to waver. They weren't a fighting sloop, weren't rigged out for this, didn't stand a chance-

Narvin screamed for someone to bail.

---

Leela looked around her prize, and bared her teeth in a grin. A ship of the Gallifreyan Navy was worth much, both in the prestige it carried and in the ransom of its crew. She hoped she could repair it, and make her fleet larger.

Currently her fleet was two ships and the other ship was at harbor, but more than one ship was still a fleet, as far as Leela was concerned. Three ships would be a formidable fleet indeed.

Scuffles were still breaking out between the captured crew and Leela's pirates. Most were small and easily dealt with, but Leela could hear shouts and a few screams from the fo'c'sle. She drew her knife and strode over.

A wiry man with small eyes and a rich uniform was standing back to back with a tall and muscular man with a slightly poorer uniform. Together they were fighting off the pirates with cutlasses, their pistols dropped after the first shot. They had had no time to reload.

The tall man crossed blades with Rodan, Leela's best fighter. They struggled for purchase on each other's blades, seeking enough to disarm or cut through the other’s guard. Leela was proud of how well Rodan's arm held, how the strain barely showed on her face.

Then the tall man growled and headbutted Rodan between their crossed blades, and Rodan yelped and jumped back. The other man swiped at poor Kaska and cut his arm, letting his blood flow.

Leela had not the patience to watch any longer. She waded in, pushing her pirates aside. She threw an elbow at the tall man's eye, and he went down, clutching his face. The other man tried to hold Leela back with his sword, but she was not afeared of his metal. In a moment he was down on the ground, with Leela's knife pressed to his neck. His hat fell off, and Leela could see the retreating hair on his head, as if it too was trying to pull back from the cool threat of her knife.

"I am Leela of the Sevateem," said Leela. "And you will give me your surrender."

"I am Captain Narvin of the Lady Admiral's Navy" said the man, "and I will not." His voice was cold, and his eyes looked deep into Leela's own, but the tremor of his throat betrayed his fear.

"You will give me your surrender or you will die, Captain," said Leela.

"I will not give you my surrender," said Captain Narvin. "But I have a message for you."

---

"And tell Brax to send another courier home, with the budget reports. We shall need more money this year, for repairs, so make sure the homefront can see that we're scraping the bottom of what they've given us," said Romana. Mr. Nighn nodded, filing it all away in that remarkable memory of his. It wasn't particularly safe to write all of her orders down, and anyway it wasn't as if Romana had time for handwriting every little thing.

"Rear Admiral Braxiatel would like to know when we are moving the fleet," said Nighn.

"Rear Admiral Braxiatel always wants to know when we are moving the fleet," said Romana. "We will wait until supplies and the main couriers have arrived. I won't have them chasing after us and losing vital time."

Nign nodded. "Yes, Admiral." It was all very agreeable. Too agreeable. Braxiatel would have argued – he didn't like being a floating immobile target. Of course Romana would have overruled him, but at least there would have been a moment of discussion.

Romana missed Brax, though she'd die before she told him. Perhaps she would put it in her will, a message to be revealed only after her last regeneration was over and done with. 'I bequest to one Irving Braxiatel, the knowledge that I, in a moment of weakness, missed him.'

"Just tell Braxiatel to keep an eye out for ships and stragglers," said Romana, rather than revealing any of these frankly embarrassing thoughts to Mr. Nighn. "We're waiting on fifteen supply ships and two couriers from mainland. After that, we can safely move on."

Nighn nodded and turned to go.

"And Captain Narvin and the pirates!" added Romana. "I should hope he's accomplished something, as long as he’s been gone.

---

"Drinks for our guest, Kay!" said the Dread Pirate Leela, lounging in the hammock chair in her cabin. A man with a long, gray face nodded, and stepped out of the cabin.

"Who is that?" asked Narvin. "He looks very familiar."

"Kay the cabin boy," said Leela. "He is a good man, and a fine friend. But let us talk of other things. It is well that your Admiral sent you, for I would look upon the face of the woman who wants my help."

"I believe that was her reasoning also," said Narvin. "You should get along splendidly." He tried to sit a bit straighter in his own hammock chair, but only succeeded in breaking his balance and getting a little more tangled in the weave.

Narvin's ship was being repaired by his crew, Leela having reluctantly given up the prize as a requisite to being taken back to the Lady Admiral. Soon Leela would be discoursing with the leader of the Navy and receiving payment for her future services. In the meantime, it was up to Narvin to entertain the great pirate.

He wasn't sure how. All he could do was run a ship – it wasn't as if he could juggle or sing or do magic tricks.

“Where are the rest of your ships?” asked Narvin.

“It is in a bay somewhere,” said Leela, rocking comfortably in her hammock. “We shall meet with it before continuing on to your Navy.”

“What’s that? ‘It?’” Narvin tried to keep his face blank, but he suspected that a frown was creeping around the corners of his mouth. “I had thought you had many ships.”

“There have been some losses,” said Leela, still unconcerned. “The waters are not kind, during a war such as this. But one ship, more or less, will make no difference.”

The pirate had no understanding of tactics. Narvin would have taken the opportunity to teach her, but he was on her own ship, and he had been told that his manner of lecturing was somewhat hostile. He settled for sighing, instead. Leela looked at him, questioningly.

“Three ships,” said Narvin. “And this makes you a Dread Pirate?”

"It is a title handed down from long ago,” said Leela. “But let us speak no more of this. Tell me, what is your Admiral like?" Leela swung forward, her eyes eager. "Is she a great fighter?"

"I have never seen the Lady Romana fight," said Narvin. "But they say she is very formidable." He probably would witness some sort of violence, if he brought Leela and her mere two ships back with him. Obviously reports of her clout had been greatly exaggerated. But it wouldn’t do to ignore orders, whether or not the Admiral liked the outcomes. Narvin, as he so often did, resigned himself.

Leela frowned. "You have little contact with your leader."

"I have met the Admiral often enough," said Narvin, "but largely for bureaucratic matters. I have my own ship, and I serve within the fore of the fleet, commanded by the Lady Darkel."

"I understand," said Leela. "Then I shall have to discover Admiral Romana myself! We must set sail as soon as your ship is recovered!"

"Excellent," said Narvin. "We've recorded where the fleet is – we should find it easily enough." Unless they've moved, he thought. Or been attacked.

Narvin wished he had the sort of mind that could be optimistic, if only in a glass jar where he could look at it from time to time.

The drinks arrived, four mugs of grog. For a moment Narvin thought that Kay the cabin boy was going to join them, but the man handed two mugs to Narvin and two to Leela before leaving them again.

"One to drink, and one to take the taste away," explained Leela.

"But it's all grog," said Narvin.

"Once you've had two, you will no longer care about the taste," said Leela. "To your health! And the health of your Lady Admiral!"

"I think it would be healthier not to drink this," said Narvin. But he did. And it would have been.

They sailed for the fleet the very next day, while Narvin was still reeling from an awful hangover. Torvald commanded their ship, while Narvin lay down in the cabin and tried to appear professional with a damp cloth over his face.

---

The fleet had been in the same place, more or less, for nearly a month. Supply ships had come in and gone, and there was news that the Phaidon fleet was starting to move for Gallifrey.

Romana gritted her teeth, and called a meeting of the Admirals.

"We should move immediately," said Brax, predictably. "We should be creating a blockade, or perhaps attempting a rear attack on the Phaidon fleet. This was a good position for readiness, but now is the time for action."

"But we have little idea of what action to take," argued Romana. "The fishermen have been unbearably vague about what the Phaidons are actually doing.”

“A common fault of fishermen,” said Braxiatel. “They’re not intelligence operatives, for all that we rely on them.”

“They can’t help but see what’s happening in their own waters,” said Romana. “And neither they nor anyone else has giving me clear confirmation that Phaidon is attacking Gallifrey directly. If we create a blockade in Gallifreyan waters we will leave our outposts and colonies completely unguarded."

"Better that than leave our homeland to be razed," said Brax.

They were not usually so at loggerheads. Romana thought that it would not have come to this, if she had heeded any of Braxiatel's little hints about moving the fleet earlier. He grew tetchy whenever the fleet was in one place for overlong – the Phaidons had a tendency to appear suddenly when one least expected them, and the chance of them turning up grew the longer one remained in the same general area. The Gallifreyan fleet had suffered from several near-disastrous ambushes during the early years of the war.

Still. Romana was loath to move when she had nowhere to go to.

"Admiral," said Brax, breaking the silence, "I understand your hesitancy. But I can do nothing but advise you to the best of my ability."

"Of course, Rear Admiral," said Romana. She turned her eyes to the other participant in this conversation, the woman who had been sitting and smiling, watching two habitual allies fight amongst themselves. "And you, Vice Admiral Darkel? I suppose you agree with Brax."

"Hardly," said Darkel. She straightened a little in her chair, out of the pleased slouch she had been achieving. "I can see no reason for us to move without any intelligence."

"My point exactly," said Romana. This was a surprise. Darkel disagreed with Romana ten times out of ten, but apparently this was time number eleven.

"Anyway, we cannot simply leave our lost ships with no way to find us," said Darkel. "What about the important missions that are due to return? The pirate queen, for example."

"Ah," said Romana. Darkel wasn't meant to know about that plan. She glanced at Brax, but he was frowning, uncertain.

Romana decided that if Darkel wanted something, it was probably for the wrong reasons.

"We'll move to blockade," said Romana. She held up a hand against Braxiatel's support, Darkel's questioning outrage. "But only with two-thirds of the fleet. Brax, I want you and the rear fleet to remain here and direct any stragglers or returning missions to a rendezvous point. If you receive intelligence about an attack on any of the outposts, you must move immediately to defend. Understood?"

"Perfectly," said Brax.

Romana looked at Darkel, waiting for the other woman to make some protest about dividing the fleet. It would be warranted, for all that Romana could think of no other solution. The Gallifreyan fleet was not so large that it could be separated without difficulty and potential weakness. But Darkel just nodded.

"I shall inform my ships at once," she said.

"Good," said Romana. "I shall send Mr. Nighn with the formal orders and designated rendezvous points. Dismissed."

---

Rear-Admiral Braxiatel was left behind with his third of the fleet. It was something he was used to, as part of his function as the commander of the rear. He tried not to view it as some sort of trite metaphor.

The rest of the fleet faded into the distance, headed for the Gallifreyan Channel. Braxiatel did not watch them disappear behind the horizon, because the horizon was very far away and Braxiatel had a long list of things to do with his time that were not pointlessly sentimental.

He did, however, wave a bit.

There were thirty ships under Braxiatel's command. He could and had to be able to name every captain, have them over to dinner, and make sure they were treating their crews properly. Braxiatel blessed the fact that this was no labor – he liked his captains, by and large, and they were remarkably easy to get along with. This had not always been the case. Once, when Braxiatel was still a commodore, he had been placed in command of a squadron of the Merchant Marine, charged with shepherding the ships from port to port. Unfortunately, Braxiatel’s own lamentable brother had been captain of a rather suspect brig within the company, and made the journey a trial, from the time he said hello, until he abruptly abandoned his ship and his command in a dinghy, accompanied by a trio of young stowaways.

Happily, the lamentable brother had never been retrieved, and could never be placed under Braxiatel's command again. Braxiatel’s dinners, thus, were calm and luxurious, without any cricket balls being thrown in the punch or adorable urchins being revealed from where they had been hiding under the tablecloth. The most exciting dinner featured a rousing game of whist.

For a week, Braxiatel idled. Now and then he responded to calls for help from outposts and colonies, as per his orders. He sent a ship or two, and slowly his third of a fleet dwindled to fifteen ships. It was still a large company, more than great enough to withstand any lone Phaidon ships that might stumble on Braxiatel's command.

But it was only barely enough to withstand a squadron of pirate vessels, when they suddenly appeared over the horizon.

How pleasing, then, that they wouldn't have to. Braxiatel imagined that Captain Narvin had finally returned with the Dread Pirate Leela in tow.

He hadn’t thought she had quite so many ships.

---

The trip back was briefer than the long, meandering search for the pirate vessels, though it was not free from trouble. A detour to locate Leela’s other ship took longer than Narvin would have liked, solely because of odd crosswinds. Narvin's ship had to be repaired as they went, and the pirate ship began discovering minor damage from the short-lived battle, which had to be similarly dealt with. Narvin was pleased with his crew's abilities at war, but he was more and annoyed at the time and timber needed to repair the broken boards and leaks from the cannon fire.

At least the wind was on their side. Narvin jammed his hat a little tighter on his head as he gazed out to sea.

If he looked sideways, he could see Leela on the deck of her own ship, arguing and laughing with her pirates. Narvin did not look sideways.

"Quite a woman, isn't she," said Torvald. He moved too quietly. Narvin didn't jump, but only because he disguised his start with the swaying of the boards.

"She and the Admiral will do well together," said Narvin. "Either that, or start another war."

"We're at war with all of the temporal powers," said Torvald. "How much worse can it get?"

"Please," said Narvin. The wind caught at his hat again and he gave up and took it off, tucking it under his arm. "Do you want a list?"

Leela was demonstrating something to Kay the cabin boy, a knife move that somehow turned into a dance. Narvin couldn't see their faces from this far away, but he could imagine them easily – Leela's pleased grin and Kay's mechanical neutrality. As far as Narvin was concerned, involving pirates was already making things worse.

Leela must have caught him looking because she waved, shouting something across the divide between the ships.

"I can't hear you!" shouted Narvin. "Use the flags! Semaphore!"

Leela continued to wave, joined by the incomprehensible shouts of the rest of her crew.

"Do you even know semaphore?" muttered Narvin. "Or do you communicate with other ships with a pair of barrels and a string hooked between?"

"I think they're trying to tell us about that, sir," said Torvald, pointing over Narvin's shoulder. There was a jumble of ships there, just barely visible over the horizon.

"Oh," said Narvin. "The fleet. Well, we knew we were getting close."

"No," said Torvald, "no, it's the other ships."

Along the horizon were ten ships, moving fast. They'd meet the fleet in three hours at the outside.

"Spyglass," said Narvin, holding out a hand. Torvald gave him the spyglass without comment, and Narvin held it to his eye. He bit the inside of his cheek as he spotted the black flags.

Leela's ship was leaning closer or she was screaming louder, because Narvin could just catch her words over the sound of the surf.

"-rates! More pirates!"

"I can see that," snapped Narvin, waving a hand at Leela. "But we're five hours out, and what can we do?"

He had to repeat himself a few times, so that Leela could hear, and every time Narvin said it, he liked it less.

---

Three hours to prepare for battle might seem like a long time, but it is significantly less than ample when you are expecting the pirates to be friendly. Braxiatel told the crews to ready the guns, of course, just in case, but inwardly he was planning interviews with the Dread Pirate Leela and debriefings with Captain Narvin.

The first warning sign came when Braxiatel realized that every one of the ten incoming ships was bedecked with a black flag. Captain Narvin's ship did not to appear to be amongst them, no matter how carefully Braxiatel searched with his glass.

"They're preparing to pass, sir," said Lieutenant Hallan. "Shall we let them?"

"Keep the guns on them," said Braxiatel, still uncertain.

The second warning sign came when a cannonball hit the waves before the farthest ship in Braxiatel's squadron, and then Braxiatel was screaming for the crew to haul up the order to open fire and everything was sparks and gunpowder and blood. Two warning signs was two too many, and he should have acted earlier-

A piece of shrapnel hit Braxiatel in the leg, and he continued barking orders from the deck, his weakening words relayed by Hallan.

The pirates sailed through, in the end, limping along, down two ships, but quickly pulling out of range. Braxiatel saw a laughing little man with an overblown and gaudy costume, waving from the deck of the largest ship, and then the battle was over and Braxiatel was being dragged to surgery.

---

Mephistopheles Arkadian, also known as Devilbeard, was beside himself with glee. One section of the Gallifreyan fleet down, two more to go. And then he could hold an entire empire to ransom. He smiled as he thought of it. He would be paid tribute, all the money and arms that he could hope for. Perhaps he might even retire, in a palace of his very own! A working retirement, of course. Arkadian loved his job.

"We lost two," said a pirate, looking back at the slowly sinking casualties. "Boss?"

"Never mind them," said Arkadian. "I'm sure Rear Admiral Braxiatel will follow us, whether or not he has prisoners."

"Yer," said the pirate (Arkadian never bothered to learn their names, they tended to die). "But if we lost two on a quick run through a third of the fleet, what are we going to do when we get to the rest?"

"Don't worry," said Arkadian. "I have friends in interesting places. How do you think I knew where the fleet was?"

The pirate shrugged. "Strategical thinking?"

"Really," said Arkadian. He looked back at the Navy ships, the squadron floundering around, still trying to decide whether to follow Arkadian at once, or regroup and recover. Trying to find its rear with both hands, perhaps? Arkadian smiled. "No, my man, no. Why think, when you can use your ill-gotten intelligence?"

---

(part two)