"Captain Svensgaard, we're not on the intended course!" Winter said as she stepped onto the bridge.
Despite her accusing tone, Svensgaard kept his voice calm, his hands on the ship's controls. "The ocean demands the change." This was metaphorically true.
"Does it? The currents might make another route a bit easier, but by my estimation, General Santiago's desired route should be traversable." She sounded more relaxed though and with an encouraging nod from him blabbered on about oceanic geophysics, oblivious. Winter was bookish for a Spartan, a self-taught oceanographer. Her appointment had been on Santiago's insistence. While it could be argued on objective terms, Santiago had primarily wanted someone to spy on him.
Svensgaard drew his pistol and turned around. Winter stopped mid sentence, her expression almost comic and her weapon holstered. Avoiding killing her would be nice, as every person swayed to his cause made it more likely to succeed. There only were twenty-seven people aboard. The crew skewed rather male too, so attracting women would be important for the long term. Winter was probably a goner though. Born shortly after Planetfall, she was twenty-four now, as old as she was likely to get. "When I said the ocean, I wasn't talking about minutiae, but about the grand. The sea is mystery, adventure, freedom. I chafe under Santiago's-"
Winter lunged. He pulled the trigger once, twice, three times. Point blank. The gunfire reverberated through the room, loud, but not as loud, nothing would ever be as loud as the explosions that cost him his eye.
Winter collapsed, dying. Yet on the ground she fumbled for her pistol. Svensgaard shot her twice more for her troubles.
A final bullet put an end to her ragged sobs.
Breathing heavily, Svensgaard cursed. A waste, both of a potential follower and ammunition. Still, she'd brought it upon herself by not accepting his vision, by being Santiago's creature. Her and Santiago were to blame, not him. Defying the captain was mutiny.
Now to inform the rest of the crew of his plan and discover how many were seaworthy. Svensgaard had been given a lot of leeway when choosing his crew, but asking around Spartan bases whose interest in adventure on the high seas included throwing off the Spartan yoke would not have ended well. So he picked people with whom he had established a personal rapport, who had grievances with the Spartan command and whose spirit matched the endeavour, but remained silent about his true intention, even after selection. "Loose lips sink ships," the saying went.
Svensgaard had waited until the ship was out of range of Fort Legion's artillery before changing the course. The Spartans had no other ships, so there could be no better time for his plan. The proposal was brilliant and his people well chosen, but should the crew mutiny against him, Svensgaard had no illusions about his fate. That was part of the adventure.
He touched his collar and flicked on the speaker system. "Attention everyone, this is Captain Svensgaard. I want all of you to come on deck for an important announcement. See you there!"
Five minutes later, Svensgaard strode onto the deck. Around them, there was only water as far as the eye could see. The salty air could be smelt even through the breath mask. Even the sound of his boots against the metal was good. Adventure called. This was what he imagined when asking for the Unity post, what the landlubbers tried to rob him of with their petty ideological squabbles. He had no time for such things.
All the crew was waiting for him, except Winter of course. Svensgaard walked to the front of the crowd. A crate or something to stand on would have been nice, but the deck was to be kept clear. "Fellow swashbucklers! Now we sail on the high seas, maybe the first to do so on this new world. Adventure awaits us, as does wealth and, most of all, freedom!" The crew cheered. A good sign, even if he had yet to drop the revelation. The correct Spartan was by now supposed to have fallen in line with Santiago's sneering disdain for wealth.
"The ocean is a harsh mistress. The weather is fair now, but storms can be terrible to behold. Waves can swamp a ship, treacherous currents drag her against the rocks. On land, mind worms crawl among the fungus. We have yet to learn what monsters haunt the oceans. Only one thing is certain: Fathomless depths await those who fail." Silence from the crowd, as expected.
"But I picked you because I believe that you will prevail. Only challenges offer glory! Santiago expects all men to serve and die in the mud for her ambitions, but I say 'No!' You shall find freedom upon the waves!"
Several in the crowd had drawn their weapons and were eyeing each other warily. Would they prove stubbornly attached to Santiago? Were they ready to fight for his vision? Or only to defend themselves against all the other people pulling their guns? No one was shooting at him yet, so that was a good sign.
Svensgaard spread his arms to the sky. "Choosing the sea offers immortality, not only in song, but in fact as well. We have knowledge of how to achieve eternal life, but the procedure is expensive. How many of you are on Santiago's short-list for longevity treatment? You're all on mine!" Now the crowd was cheering again. Neglecting to mention that they still needed to acquire the facilities was too obvious to count as deception.
"Immortality?" Someone from the back cried, interrupting the approving shouts. "If we betray the Spartan Federation, we'd better worry about our natural lifespan!"
Svensgaard gave the crowd his best winning smile. "A fair concern for cowards, but not something we need worry about. We are well out of range of the landlubbers' artillery. They have no other ships. Even if they did, they lack a captain skilled and cunning enough to match yours truly. You can follow your heart and join me without fear!" Svensgaard paused. "Of course, if anyone wants to leave, a lifeboat is ready." The survival chances of anyone who took up that offer were slim indeed. They were far out at sea and no one would come to the rescue.
"That's murder!" the complainer shouted as he worked his way to the front of the crowd, turning out to be Ensign Kuznetsov. It seemed that the very public dressing down Santiago gave him three years ago hadn't cost her his loyalty. "An even surer death than what Svensgaard has planned for you all! Should you somehow evade Sparta's wrath, how can you survive without support from the land?"
"This ship is designed to do just that for five years. These shall be used not just to lay the foundations for our legend, but for our new society. What do you think Lukas, my Chief Science Officer?" Santiago had passed over Lukas for that position in favour of Bonaventura. It was a post easily offered. There wouldn't be much competition for it among his adventurers, particularly with Winter out of the running.
"I'm for it!" Lukas shouted back.
"Madness!" Kuznetsov looked around frantically. "Somebody back me up! Winter, you at least must see this!"
Svensgaard laughed. "She doesn't appear to be answering, so you may be on your own. What's your choice? Our ship or the lifeboat?"
Kuznetsov reached for his pistol instead. A bang and he slumped, his face a ruin. Ensign Jones stood behind Kuznetsov's body, her own weapon raised. "Thought he might do something like that," she said, shrugging. The crowd had been Spartans and were not disturbed by a little bloodshed. This would remain true of their new faction.
"Are you with me?" Svensgaard shouted.
"Aye aye, captain!" they roared back.
Leaving the crew to prepare a small party, Svensgaard returned to the bridge. Another person needed to be informed about their decision. He turned the commlink to the Spartans' channel. Ignorant of the developments, the operators put him through to Santiago immediately. He'd been looking forward to this. It would be a lot more fun than telling his family that there were no more fish to be caught, so he'd abandon their boring life and join the navy instead.
"Hey Corazon! I have a surprise for you!"
"Call me General Santiago. And say what it is, I have a faction to run," Santiago snapped.
"What a coincidence! I have one to run too."
"Do you now?" she said softly.
Svensgaard hesitated for a moment. There was no going back now though. "Indeed. We'll take no orders from landlubbers."
"And the crew is joining you in your suicide? Tell them to turn around and deliver you to me. Then they will live." It would be nice if she included more threats so he could counter with defiance. Unfortunately, Santiago didn't need to.
"Having to take orders from you is no better than being nerve stapled. It's better to be dead, like those who don't share my vision already are. Your spy bled all over the bridge."
"I gave you my best ship and oceanographer."
"Your only ship and oceanographer. But I forgive you. The ship is adequate and Valkyrie Winter was ultimately no obstacle at all."
"The next ship will bear her name. We will hunt you down."
Svensgaard laughed. "And force me to kill her again? That's not very nice of you."
"I am not nice. Had you remained loyal, you could have become an admiral in time. Now you'll be a miserable pirate until we destroy you. Assuming your hubris doesn't kill you first." Santiago cut the connection.
"Pirates are cool and swashbuckling," Svensgaard told the silent radio. Pity he hadn't mentioned that Santiago shouldn't be offended by him seizing the ship, as she attempted the same aboard the Unity, the difference being that he was not only fully successful, but a more worthy leader. Well, one couldn't have everything in life, though Svensgaard was going to try.
After being stripped of all useful equipment, the corpses were buried at sea without ceremony. Endings required no fanfare.
Beginnings did. Santiago was a harsh woman, completely devoid of romance. The landlubber had been uninterested in properly christening the ship, only entering the name in a register. Given his plans, Svensgaard had not bothered mentioning it. This would be rectified now.
Svensgaard turned the bottle over in his hands. Using a lab beaker filled with orange juice was not traditional, but it would do. Securing a source of alcohol would be one of their resource priorities.
"Adventurers!" That got the crew's attention. "This is our new beginning. We should celebrate our new society with a new name for our ship. What should we call her?"
"The Nautilus, like Captain Nemo!" Lukas shouted. That was a submarine, but the name sounded good.
Svensgaard raised the beaker. "Our boffin Lukas gave us this bottle to christen the ship, so it seems fair that he gets to pick! Who agrees that the Nautilus is a good name?"
Jones took only an instant to call "Nautilus!" back. Chief Engineer Rivera threw in an "I do!" and Campbell the cook shouted "Me!" Then it became a roar of agreement.
Svensgaard waited a moment, then shouted, "You've chosen well!" He hurled the bottle against the ship's bow. As the glass shards and orange juice rained down into the ocean, he became the captain of the Nautilus, leader of the Nautilus Pirates.