“On deck! Sail! Sail Ho!” cried the lookout stationed near the taffrail of the ship.
Cain strode to the aft of the metal slug and asked the look out, “where away!?”
The lookout turned and from his seat and shouted, “two points starboard abaft of us!”
Cain nodded to himself, borrowed a telescope from one of the midshipmen, and peered through it. He leveled the glass to the horizon, and trained it on the ships in a smooth piot. The larger ship he recognised it as a caravel and she was beautiful. It was a caravell, at least sixty tons, with enormous square sails and a lateen one her foremast. She was ancient, but her decks gleamed white from faithful holystoning. Her hull was beautifully painted, and her cannons were old enough to fire marble shot, something that has not been used for centuries now. The strange thing was that they looked as if they were fired recently.
Blinking, Cain trained his glass farther around the caravel and spotted a number of smaller boats. Most of them were fore and aft rigged outriggers with larger boats being catamarans. The boats were sailed expertly but the crew of the caravel seemed not quite as skilled with the bigger vessel. Nevertheless, the the strange fleet was catching up, only an hour or so behind.. “If they would adjust the trim they would overtake us in forty five minutes,” Cain said to no one in particular. He didn’t know off-hand whether the fleet with strange colors were meaning to attack, or just sailing on the same tack as the Phoenix. To that end, he ordered, “we shall beat to quarters!”
There was a steady urgent drum beat as the hands began moving about the deck. In an organized chaos, and stream of humanity, each hand moved to where they were supposed to be. Not as practiced as the Peregrines were, thought Cain, but he was just an advisor, and not the captain here
“Excuse me!” said a voice behind Cain.
“Yes? How may I help you?” Cain asked with a touch of sharpness to his reply.
The engineer said, “Mr. Osiris would like you to keep our starboard side to the incoming ships.”
There was a definite difference between sea and shore etiquette, thought Cain as he said, “very well.” He then turned toward crew and gave a series of orders to slow down the ship. There was a series of whistles and calls as the sprit sail was rolled up and the ship began to slow down.
As the strange fleet bore up on the Phoenix, Cain took another look at it through his glass and observed their signals movements and calls. A series of pendants (no not pendants, he thought, but streamers) were raised, and the smaller boats shifted position. “Fetch me a fresh log and a pen!” he ordered, never taking his glass off the fleet. Each streamer was of a different color or series of color.
“Your log sir,” said the nearby voice of the ship’s steward, who was touching his knuckle to his brow.
“Thank you,” Cain replied and began scribbling down notes.
~Blue, and red and white striped equaited to wear in succession. ~
Cain once again looked through his scope focusing more on the crew members. They had a mottled grey skin with quills on the back. He focused his attention on what seemed to be the boatswain. The boatswain had begun to striking one of its idling subordinates with the end of the rope. Some things are universal, thought Cain. Then he observed something very strange - both the boatswain and his subordinates skin tone seemed to shift in shade and color. The boatswain’s skin first turned crimson, while the subordinate flashed a bright scarlet, followed by a pale yellow, followed by a faded blue. The subordinate’s shipmates carried on some sort of caper, and had a skin tone of light green.
Thinking back to his younger days in the lower decks, Cain remembered the bitter end of the boatswain's rope. The boatswain had been annoyed that he was idling. Cain was pissed that he was struck by the rope, then feared being smacked again, and finally felt shame for being struck in the first place. Again he scribbled notes. Thanks to the expanse of the ocean, and the rumble of the steam engine, not to mention all the other sounds the steam engine made, he couldn’t hear what was being ordered on the other ships. Not yet, at any rate. He scribbled in the log again.
~Red equates to anger or annoyance.~
~Yellow equates to fear or startlement?~
~Blue equated to shame.~
~Green equated to joviality.~
The fleet bore up closer and closer, and the crew of the Phoenix grew anxious. When the caravel came to within pistol shot, Cain had the opportunity to observe her crew more closely. There was a lot of orange, and yellow skin tones. If they meant to board us or give us a broadside, I suspect there would be more red and maybe some blue, Cain thought, and ordered, “‘vast quarters!”
"Cain called for both the sailmaker, and the ship's carpenter mate. From the former, he asked for streamers that matched those of the strangers. From the latter, wooden planks painted green, blue, yellow, orange, and red. Both men touched their knuckles to their caps, and disappeared below."
Minutes later, both crewmen were back on deck, awaiting new orders. Looking at his opposite member with consideration, Cain decided to try. “Green placard, hoist the red and white streamer!” The boatswain lifted the green placard while the red and white streamer.
The captain of the caravel watched this, his skin tone changing to various shades of orange and green, and his quills shivered curiously. Eventually, the captain of the caravel grunted an order. The ship and the boats wore and formed up in a line, and the captain of the caravel pointed up at his signal line. Cain looked up and saw it had the red and white streamer with a yellow streamer. “Ok, making progress,” Cain said.
Throughout the next hour, Cain and the captain of the caravel experimented with one another, using the streamers and various maneuvers, tacks and sail configurations. Through communications via signals, Cain learned enough that the crew of the fleet were in some sort of trouble. At this juncture, he was not sure what kind of trouble, but it begged to be investigated He gave the order. “Bare up and follow the fleets course.” After some calculations and consultation of the charts to double check, Cain knew he was going home. The fleet was sailing for Corone Cain then ordered a midshipman “Would you pass my compliments to Mr. Osiris and desire him to come up on deck.” The midshipman proceeded down below