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Marcel Ghostraven did not understand what he was seeing.
He had been assigned the night watch the eve of the Admiral’s Ball aboard the HMS Leviathan. Dressed in his best uniform he felt both dashing and encumbered. The moon had risen over Port Twain making the sea sparkle and shimmer in the quiet of the summer evening. He could hear the muffled tones of the orchestra wafting with the breeze and he imagined the line of officers waiting to dance with Abigail, the girl he would have called his sweetheart if he could ever make her aware of his existence. Drawing nightwatch on this of all evenings wasn’t about to help his chances, and the awareness of that made him feel slightly ill.
The fall of his steps kept cadence with passage of time and the monotony forced him to be vigilant. Turning the corner of the quarter deck, he was called from his thoughts by a surprising movement in the shadows.
Someone was entering the Admirals Quarters.
Marcel sped his step to the stern, wondering who would be afoot in spite of the ball and their reasons for so being.
Standing in the half light was First Mate Magruder. Marcel Immediately responded by saluting the superior officer, but did not understand what he was seeing. Magruder stood in the Admiral’s quarters and was hurriedly going through his locker. He was obviously looking for something -though Marcel could not imagine what.
Magruder seemed to find what he was looking for and briskly forced it into a small leather handbag. Noticing Marcel standing at attention, he exchanged the salute and began sputtering a story about being asked by the Captain to retrieve something for the Admiral, and shuffled passed awkwardly without another word.
Marcel, seeing the mess that had been left of the Admiral’s belongings, the suspicious bag and the demeanor of the older officer knew that there was something amiss. While he did not relish the idea of wrongly accusing a superior, he determined that the consequence of failing to detain a possible thief the greater misfortune.
Marcel carefully drew his pistol and aiming at the First Officer, shouted “Halt!”
Magruder turned and rushed towards Marcel and motioned for his silence furiously.
“Shhh, boy! Don’t be a hero.” Magruder was agitated. It was only a few feet to his waiting airship and he had not planned for a delay.
Marcel stood at attention and apologized for inconviencing a superior officer, explaining that as the nightwatch he would have to send for confirmation of the Admirals orders.
Magruder understood that Marcel was an obedient soldier, but considered that even a good soldier could be swayed with the right bait. Magruder gave Marcel a dry smile and withdrew the stolen object from his bag. It looked much like a standard nautical sextant but with a few interesting features that Marcel did not recognize.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
Marcel kept his pistol engaged, but shrugged.
“It’s the Apport Sextant. A thing of myth – but real as you or I. It can read the coordinates of sea and sky for certain -but also those of parallel universes and dimensions.” The Chief Officer toyed with the gadget hungrily. “If you knew how to work it, you could travel through time.”
Marcel was having difficulty believing that a rational man of rank in the Royal Sevice would be so foolish as to believe in fairy stories. His distaste for Magruder was growing, but he was committed that men of rational minds and civilized manors could make the situation right.
Marcel held his pistol firmly and stated clearly, “If you put the object back now, and leave things as you found them, I will not shoot. We will part as gentlemen and it will be undone. I give you this chance; do not miss it.”
Magruder continued, “You know what it’s doing on this ship? The admiral is taking it the Meiville museum to be auctioned for some private collection. It’ll go under glass, boy! It’s truths will be lost to history.” He moved slowly toward Marcel, giving him an opportunity to see the instrument.
“But imagine what you could do if you could understand it! The worlds would be yours to command.” The first officer turned the piece of brass and glass over in his hands with wonder in his eyes. Treasure, power, fame, you could experience the world as a king or a god. You could claim any woman…even that pretty Abigale that you boys all fawn over. Imagine!”
Marcel was beginning to tire of the older man’s litany. He considered that he had given him a gentleman’s way out and that he was a fool for persisting.
“I have to take it, boy. I have to keep it in the hands of us who understand the sea and the sky.” His tone was turning plaintive. “Let me go, and I’ll cut you in. Make you my Mate. Take the sea and the sky and heaven and earth, boy! This is your chance…”
Marcel did not move nor did he lower his pistol.
The older seaman, growing impatient and cautious of additional attention, stuffed the object back into his bag. It was only a few steps to his ship and he judged the young Marcel Ghostraven too much a coward and a child to shoot.
Marcel Ghostraven was neither of those things. He had made his position clear, and once Marcel set his resolve there was no changing course.
Two steps from the hovering airship, First Mate Magruder fell to the deck howling. Marcel was a steady aim and had placed a bullet clean through the man’s boot.
The sound of the shot rang through the quiet summer night and brought the entire elite class of the Meiville Royal Navy to deck.
For his honesty and bravery that night, the young Marcel Ghostraven earned a commendation and an express route through the naval ranks. He joined the Ball at the Admiral’s table for many years to come, often at the side of his lovely Abigale.
First Mate Magruder earned a court martial and a long stay in the brigg.
Magruder would learn years later that the Apport Sextant had been sold at auction to one Captain Marcel Ghostraven. An indignity that would radiate with the pain that never left his wounded foot.
SkyCapain Magruder smiled deliciously as Amos Devile walked away. He had given the man four score to retrieve the Apport Sextant from Marcel Ghostraven. It was a decent job: If Amos succeeded he would keep the airship, five hundred shiny -and walk away from his past offense.
If he refused or failed, Magruder would put a bullet through each of his eyes.
Though to be honest, he couldn’t imagine why Amos would need his eyes after he had done the job.