The black haze slowly gave way to a white and blinding mist. Upon trying to raise my head the immense pain became apparent, and the veins in my temple felt as if they were about to burst. Slowly regaining more of my consciousness, I noticed that I was lying on a wooden floor. Everything around me was swaying in a constant motion, turning my head from left to right, to left, to right. It was only after a few minutes had passed that the white mist cleared and I could recognize distinct shapes. I was in a darkened room, with beams across the boarded ceiling and several linen hammocks suspended between posts along two opposing walls. Then I noticed the smell, the stench of urine and algae mixed with the salty air of the open sea. Where was I - and what had happened? After a few moments of intense concentration, the control over my limbs was such that I managed to raise my head, and then my torso to a sitting position, using the arms to stabilize my body against the rocking motion of the floor.
“Ah, you’re finally awake. A few more hours and your corpse would have been thrown to the fishes. You’ll surely be thirsty.”
I turned my head towards the direction of the voice and discovered Clare in the corner across the room, forcing a smile on her bruised face and pointing towards a jug of murky water that had been placed on the floor next to me.
“Where am I?”
“You are onboard the 10,000 Birds.” The grave tone and a voice strained by what must have been days without food and drinking water almost concealed the identity of the speaker, but I was still able to recognize him as Duncan, and old companion from my whaling days in New Zealand. Duncan looked terrible. The chain around his ankles had cut into the flesh, his eyes were reddened and sunk deeply into his skull, and a severe cut ran across his left cheek. I looked around the room and found that I was in good company, and was also not alone in my physical miseries. There was Dan sitting a few feet to the right of me, a chain around his chest firmly fixing him to the wall. His left wrist looked like it was broken. He used his right arm attending to the wounds of someone I barely recognized as Redgannet, who was too weak to move or support himself. They had gotten James as well. He had sustained no apparent injuries, but the hollow expression in his empty stare, his slow and rhythmic rocking back and forth, arms wrapped tightly around his shoulders, had everyone sense the horrors he had seen. Renato was the last I spotted, crouched on the floor behind one of the hammock poles. He did not move and was apparently still unconscious. There was a small pool of dried blood next to him which boded ill for his overall condition.
All these formidable birders and writers caught and captured onboard the 10,000 Birds, the terror of the seven blogospheres, commanded by Captain Black Bird Bergin himself and his hit-thirsty crew of Internet Pirates.
It appeared that Clare had best recovered from her capture, so I turned to her once more. “What has happened, and why are we here? The last thing I remember is sitting at the bar of the Laughing Seagull in Portland. I was celebrating a successful Shorelark twitch when a scar-faced mariner walks up to me with a bottle of Rum. From then on, everything seems blank and blackened.”
Clare gave a short disdainful laugh that was quickly choked by her coughing. “The Scar-face was Charlie Sharky Moores, and judging by the sorry state you’re in, there sure was no Rum in that bottle. I got captured at the beaches of Broome checking an Oystercatcher nest. When I noticed a shadow approaching from behind, I turned around and the last thing I remember is seeing Corey Cutlass Finger with a club raised above his head.”
She ran her fingers through her hair towards the back of her head, where she paused with clear agony. Then she resumed her tale.
“I have been here for roughly a week now, and they tossed your unconscious body in about a day ago. As to why we are here and not amongst the dead, we can only guess. You surely know that Black Bird and his crew recently expanded their blogging territory even further, and their frequent sweeping raids on the Internet, the fact that no one in the NBN seemed able or daring enough to halt their reign, have kept the entire online community terrified. Now it seems someone is finally determined to challenge their dominance. A ship called the BirdingBlogs recently left port, captained by Cardinal Gunnar the Gunner Richelengblom and manned with the fiercest sea-faring mercenaries of our time, amongst them Tom Mack the Knife McKinney, Dale Dagger Forbes and Kenn Coffin Kaufman. They are out to hunt down the 10,000 Birds and send her and the crew to the bottom of the deep for a dance with Davy Jones.”
It was at this point that an eerie hissing brought the conversation to an end. All heads turned towards James, who had silently walked to the locked door of our confinement and gazed out onto the deck through a small crack between two of the door’s boards. “I can see them! They’re walking around the deck, back and forth, back and forth like rats in a cage. The BirdingBlogs must be near.”
As he turned towards the rest of our group, the immense change in his expression chilled us to the marrow of our bones: the hollowness was gone, and his face seemed calm and quiet. His blank stare had given way to a sparkle of determined aggression, and as he looked down upon me, a short smile flickered across his face.
“We are their only hope of survival. They know that Richelengblom will give no quarter to anyone onboard the 10,000 Birds. It is do or die for us and we must serve the ship or go down with her. We are the reinforcements that will carry them to victory. Now it is the BirdingBlogs that’s being hunted by Black Bird, a remarkable change of events. You know, … “ - he paused to looked at me with an expression of pity and superiority – “we are not the first bloggers they shanghaied. About a week or two ago they got six others, amongst them Nitro Nate and Carrie the Great Auk. The BirdingBlogs was last seen near Iceland, and Black Bird suspects the ship’s lair to be on Geirfuglasker. If anyone knows how to navigate these waters it is Carrie, which is what sealed her fate. It seems pretty clear what kind of service they are expecting from Nitro Nate.”
“But if we are twelve against three, why don’t we just take over the ship and surrender to Richelengblom?” I burst out.
James gave a deep and hollow laugh that slowly rose in pitch until it gave way to the same drawn-out hissing noise that had silenced us all before.
“Do you really think Black Bird hasn’t taken care of this? Do you really expect you can out-wit the old pirate? Why do you think he captured us in two waves?”
He bent down until his face was a mere inches away from mine, and his words, spoken swiftly through grinding teeth, bore through me like a bolt of white heat. “We do not know for certain if it is twelve against three. We do not know if anyone from the first wave or anyone in this room got onboard voluntarily and has joined the crew by their own will and choosing. We can’t trust anyone. If you started a mutiny, whose dagger you reckon would pierce your back? Carrie’s? Renato’s? Or would I be the one to put an end to your pity hope of survival?”
At this he rose up again, straightened his body and looked around at each of us in triumphant determination. “No, we have no choice but to fight with them or be doomed. And by their preparations and the scurrying all across the deck, it would seem judgement day can’t be too far away.”
To be continued.