- I don't remember much about my early childhood, Fly started. From what I've been told, I was found in the Vernian Sea, clung to a piece of broken wood, as a child of about seven years old. Apparently I had been involved in some kind of accident and that may have caused my memory loss.
- You really don't remember anything at all? I asked.
- Just a few things, with no connection one to another. As if my brain was a unicolor chess game. I remember living in New Babbage and flying in the sky, and I remember having a younger sister and playing in a park with her, but I don't recall her name or even mine.
- I thought your name was Fly, I intervened.
- Not my birth one I'm afraid. The sea pirates who found me called me like that because I was so fascinated with everything flying.
- So the pirates picked you up and kept you as a prisoner? Did they want to ask for a ransom or something like that?
The boy's face relaxed in a smile while the gaze of his green eyes softened.
- No, I became one of them. Their Captain's daughter was feeling very lonely on board and she begged her father to adopt me to have a little companion to play with. Granted she was already seventeen at the time, but she immediately took a liking to me and would have given hell to her father if he hadn't complied with her demand. And this is how I became Captain Copperfield's adoptive son.
- Oooh, so you’re a pirate! I concluded.
- That I am, nodded Fly. But I’ve only been one for eight years. Still, that’s my life now.
- I’ve been an orphan for eight years too, I informed him, tilting my head pensively. But I was living on the streets of New Babbage, not on the seas.
The boy glanced at me sharply :
- You must know the City quite well then?
I pulled a face, raising my eyebrows :
- I used to, I sighed, but I’ve been away for so long. It must have changed a bit.
- It can’t have changed that much, Fly assured. It’s a City after all, the streets and buildings won’t move around on their own.
- Well, there’s a high rate of demolition over there, I explained. So new buildings appear every week.
- I see, replied the pirate boy in a perplexed tone. You might still be able to help me find my way around there though, if you agree?
- Of course! You helped me, I’ll help you. What are you looking for, there? I asked, glancing at him.
- Ah, I’ll tell you the rest of my story, and you’ll understand.
I moved slightly, sand sliding softly beneath me, to settle down into a new sitting position and focused back on the boy across the fire.
- So I had been adopted by the pirates' Captain, and that was quite a nice life I must say, Fly continued. I was like a kind of mascot for them I think, and they taught me how to become a true little pirate. One was teaching me how to tie sailor knots, another how to juggle with a flick knife, and someone did show me how to whistle loudly using my fingers. I quickly became able to climb up the mast and was staying in the look-out for hours, watching the seagulls around me, wishing I could fly like them. I was happy, even if I didn't remember everything from before my accident. But my happiest moments were spent with Amnelys, Captain Copperfield's daughter.
- She's the friend you were talking about? I asked while snuggling Flynn, installed on my lap.
- Yes, he confirmed. She is the one. She's a very pretty girl and she was spoiled by her father. She was used to get everything she wanted and would never take "no" for an answer. I can't blame her for that since I think I owe her my life. Without her insistence, I would have never been taken care of like that and they'd have killed me, or left me to the sharks.
Fly paused, gazing absent-mindedly into the fire, and I did not dare speaking up to ask for the rest of the story. After one or two minutes, he sighed and looked at me :
- She's stubborn, you see.
I nodded to encourage him and he went on :
- Almost one year ago, we moored the ship in Port Babbage undercover and we spent a few days in the City for some business my father had to deal with.
Fly shook his head with a sad expression on his face :
- That was a very bad idea. Amnelys and I went for a walk in the streets, looking at everything in amazement. That was the first time we were allowed to run freely in such a big city and it was all new for us. At some point, we managed to escape the attention of the pirates our father designated to look after us and we got lost in a narrow alley behind a big brick building. We were about to walk back to where we came from when a man stepped in and stood in front of us, blocking the alley. I could see in a glance that he was not the nice kind, in spite of his elegant costume and pleasant face. There was something fake about him. But Amnelys thought otherwise and she returned his smile when he grinned at her. I placed myself between them and frowned at the man, asking him to let us pass, but my sister put her hands on my shoulders and giggled, telling the man to pay no attention to me, that I was just a child. And then the newcomer grinned again, in that fake charming way, and he started smooth talking her, saying how beautiful her shiny eyes looked under the dim light and all that kind of nonsense. I was waiting for Amnelys to tell him off and grab me by the arm to go back to the ship, but instead, I saw her blushing and acting all smitten-like. Next thing I knew, he was taking her "for a stroll" and she told me to go back to the ship.
- You should have punched him, I stated knowingly.
- I would have! Fly protested. But she didn't let me... She just shooed me off like a cumbrous insect and wouldn't hear anything from me. What could I do...?
The boy's shoulders slumped and his voice lowered :
- I ran back to the main street, somehow found my way to the Port and went to warn our father. He immediately came with me and a few of his men to bring his daughter back, but we looked everywhere and could see no sign of her. The night was getting darker and so we went back to the ship. We were supposed to leave in the morrow, but the Captain delayed our departure until we would find Amnelys. The day after, we searched again the streets of the City, with no luck. We were starting to lose hope, and my father was becoming moody, with fits of anger directed against me for having failed to protect his daughter.
- But that was not your fault! I interjected.
- I don't know, Fly whispered. Maybe I should have insisted for her to come back to the ship with me.
- She didn't let you, I retorted. She wanted that.
- Either way, for my father, I was guilty. Although she did come back, after two days.
- Did she? I raised my eyebrows, relieved.
- Yes but only to tell her dad that she wouldn't come back to live on the ship. That she was staying with that man in New Babbage, that she loved this guy and that nothing could make her change her mind.
I glanced at the cabin boy, astonished :
- What did he do, then?
- We left her behind, Fly announced, gloomily.
- You what?
- I told you she was stubborn, the boy explained in a blank voice, looking up at me. Even her father had to surrender. We left, and all the blame fell on me once again. The Captain has never been the same after that. He became cranky, nasty, locked himself up in his cabin for hours and beat me on a regular basis. We went back to New Babbage a few months ago, again for his business affair, and he sent his best men around to find her. Which they did.
I glanced at him in expectation, uncertain about the way his story would unfold.
- So they brought her back this time, I suggested doubtfully.
Fly shook his head :
- No, they did not. They came back to their Captain and explained with great caution how she had started working for that New Babbage man as a whore and how she had refused to go back to the ship, saying she didn't want to see her father anymore as he wouldn't understand.
I held my breath, observing him with concern.
- So the Captain shot dead one of his messengers and shouted orders to leave the Port at once. He had always been the short-tempered sort, but he was becoming downright mad since Amnelys' departure. And she wasn't there anymore to control him.
Fly's gaze wandered over the sea.
- I hope Davy Jones won't have too much trouble dealing with him, he concluded humorlessly.
I turned my eyes towards the sea as well and watched in silence the glittering of the stars' reflection on that dark moving mirror.
After a few minutes, I turned back my head towards him and asked softly :
- So that is why you want to go back to New Babbage? To find her?
Fly nodded slowly.
- I'll help you, I affirmed. We'll rescue her.
I smiled at him cheerfully and he smiled back faintly.
We then decided it was time to sleep as we would have a lot to do the day after, starting with finding a way to leave that island.
In the morning, we gathered every piece of wood we could find, all the barrels and crates coming from the sunken ships that had been washed ashore, and we started assembling them into a raft.
Satisfied with our work, we had a bit of breakfast with apples and clear water we were lucky enough to find in the remnants of the wreck, and then we hopped on our homemade vessel to start our journey back to New Babbage. We had made up a paddle with a pole and a piece of plank and were taking turns to maneuver it.
Neither of us had a compass of course, so we agreed on finding our way through the position of the sun in the sky. It did go well for most of the day and we were progressing swiftly, but the sun disappeared behind a curtain of thick clouds on the way down from its zenith.
We waited for about half an hour, looking worryingly up, but the cloud layer was getting darker if anything. I put the paddle down and sat on a crate, letting the raft drift away, rocked by the waves.
- How will we find our way when the sky is that cloudy? I lamented.
Fly wrinkled his brow, glancing at me helplessly.
Suddenly, something fell onto my foot and I yelped in surprise.
- Flynn! I exclaimed, identifying the cause of that mischief.
I stretched down to pick my squirrel up with one hand, grabbing the stone he had pushed outside my small belt bag with the other hand.
- You're a naughty critter, I scolded him softly. That hurt you know!
- What is it? enquired Fly, eyeing the stone with interest.
- That was part of the cargo of the airship I sneaked on in Steelhead, I shrugged. I think it's called a sunstone, they got a lot of those over there.
- Show me? he asked, stepping closer to the crate I was sitting on and laying his hand in front of him, palm upwards.
I raised the stone up to his hand and suspended my move abruptly.
- Wha... started Fly.
- Wait! I interrupted him incisively.
I raised my hand higher to make sure that what I had a glimpse of was real and gasped :
- The sun!
- The sun? echoed the pirate boy, arching an eyebrow.
- The sun, I repeated with excitation, glancing at him. I can see it! Here, through the stone!
I handed over the polished piece of rock to him and watched, as he lifted it up against the cloudy sky, realization painting itself on his face.
- I wonder how it works, I asked myself aloud.
- Who cares! Fly whooped, starting a little dance. We can see the sun! We're saved!
I giggled at his dance though holding firmly the sides of the crate as the raft was swaying dangerously.
Thanks to the stone, we managed to follow the sun's course in the sky and stop sailing in circles. I could feel we were getting closer and closer.
I inhalated the invigorating marine air and thrilled at the subtle change in smell that was growing more and more sooty. The clear line where the sky meets the sea was beginning to blur and a grey cloudy smudge suddenly appeared, bristling with needles of steel and brass.
- New Babbage! I exclaimed, overcome by emotions at the sight of the familiar clocktowers and airships silhouettes standing out against the setting sun-tinted smog.
I started paddling faster, along the rythm of my heartbeats.
Finally, I was back.