The Catch

This story takes place roughly 200 years before The Chase.
If it wasn't for bad luck, Rye Mash would have no luck at all. As a foal, he was taken during one of the infamous sweeps of the Shetland Isles. Now, as a young colt, he is an indentured servant, forced to spend the rest of his life working for his master, a unicorn named Lace Collar, so he can pay off the bill for his education.
However, Rye Mash's bad luck ends up being Lace Collar's bad luck as well, and both of them end up as prisoners of the infamous sky pirates and their dreadful leader, Captain Spyglass, the mass murdering lunatic that is feared the whole world over.

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13. Chapter 13

The Apogee was overwhelming. As Rye moved belowdecks, each new room was more impressive than the last. The ship seemed to be a marvel of the age. There was a small galley to fix meals. The engine room seemed to be little more than a closet. There were several small but well appointed cabins. The ship was small, without feeling small, and that was quite a feat.

Grinning, Rye Mash stepped into the room where Bloody Velvet was having a look around.

Seeing Rye Mash, Velvet said, “Well, aren’t you a fancy fellow… feeling good about yourself?”

There was sarcasm in her voice. Rye felt confusion well up in his mind and he looked at Bloody Velvet as she twitched. “What?”

“You just killed somepony without a moment’s hesitation at a spoken command.” Velvet gave Rye a blank stare.

“I was given an order—”

“What if you were given a bad order?” Velvet asked.

“But this was a good order—”

“Maybe, this time, but you didn’t even think! You pulled the trigger and you turned Mister Bitter’s skull into meaty marmalade! You didn’t even hesitate when Spyglass gave you the order to kill him!”

“I thought I was supposed to follow orders… I’m confused.”

“Yes, you should follow orders. And in a crisis, you should obey them without hesitating so that we might all live…” Velvet raised her foreleg and rubbed the side of her head with her fetlock. “Look, Rye, it bothers me how eager you were. I get that you want to impress Captain Spyglass. I get that you are enamoured with the image of a sky pirate. I get that this is romantic and empowering for you… but I don’t want to see you lose the best parts of yourself, the parts of you that have the most potential… you’re too nice of a pony to become a cold blooded killer.”

“I’m sorry, Velvet… I… I’m very confused right now and I don’t know what to say.”

“Just… try not to be mindless,” Velvet said in a soft voice. “I’ve let you into my heart. You’re my friend. I don’t want to harden my heart to you as I have had to do with the others.”

“I think I understand.” Rye Mash hung his head and allowed his ears to droop in submission. “I’ll be more careful.”

“Captain Spyglass is a good pony, but he has his faults. He makes mistakes. What if he told you to kill somepony that didn’t deserve it?” Velvet asked in a low voice as she looked at Rye Mash and felt bad because of how pathetic he looked. “You cleared leather at the mere sound of his voice.”

“Sorry.”

“Okay. Fine. Now stop being sorry and make yourself useful. We need to begin sorting through all of this and going over every inch of this ship.” Bloody Velvet heaved a sigh and blew her mane out of her eyes.

 

 

Focused upon his task, Rye Mash turned the page of the business ledger. House Avarice, through House Bitters, owned a mining company called ‘The Golden Cornucopia’ and through this company, several other small companies were managed. There were ties to several other companies in Fancy, in Germaney, in Minos, and even in Griffonholm. Through one of the puppet companies, Avarice was selling coal to Griffonholm, which was illegal because of the embargo against the griffons.

An embargo created by House Avarice.

Rye Mash understood what was going on at once. With the trade embargo, they were the only Equestrian company capable of selling coal to the griffons and they have removed all sources of competition. House Avarice was now free to sell Equestrian coal and charge as much for it as they wanted.

And with the coal came assets. Labour assets. Along with the coal, labour was being sold in the form of what Rye Mash knew were slaves. And this was just one ledger. Frowning, he closed the book, set the book down upon a small desk, and continued to look around the cabin. What he hoped to find was more code, or a means to crack the cipher.

“Mister Mash?”

Looking up, Rye glanced at Captain Spyglass.

“We’re towing The Apogee for now… we are too close to hostile territory and we need to be moving… but once we know more about it, The Apogee that is, I plan to form a little fleet. I have given command of The Apogee to Bloody Velvet. You will move your quarters to this vessel and Skeeter will be moving here with you, to help you get from ship to ship. I want you to go over everything that can be found on this ship and I want you to give me detailed summaries of everything that you find. Even the most mundane of information can be useful.”

“Sir, yes sir,” Rye Mash replied.

“I am trusting you to be thorough. Do not let me down, Mister Mash.” Spyglass smiled and backed out of the door.

Rye realised that he had a lot of reading ahead of him.

 

 

The strange protrusions on top of the gasbag were cloud scoops. Cerise Velvet’s eyes narrowed as she peered at the manual for the ship that she had found in the control cabin. Pegasi were no longer needed to gather clouds and stuff them into the gasbag. One needed to fly through a cloud bank to gather cloudstuff for a refill.

The Apogee was the bleeding edge of airship technology. It had shield generators. Lightning guns. A semi-automated piloting system that would allow the ship to fly in a straight line if left unattended would make corrections for minor winds.

It even had a heater, of sorts, the heat generated by the electrical generation system and the lead acid batteries could be ducted into the cabins to provide some minor protection against the chill. The engine was a closed loop steam turbine that turned four airscrews.

The ship was meant to be advertised as being unassailable by sky pirates. Cerise Velvet laughed. It had been tricky, but they had taken over the ship. Mid laugh, she stopped. Most sky pirates didn’t have powerful unicorns. Against griffons, against minotaurs, against diamond dogs, this ship would be almost unreachable for those that had no means to pierce the shields. Against sustained bombardment from enemy cannons that could wear down the shields, The Apogee boasted a countermeasure in the form of an unbelievable top of speed of sixty knots, which if true, would allow it to outrun anything else in the sky.

The Apogee was not intended for heavy combat, but it could function as a warship. The manual said its designation was as a corvette. It was promised to be small, light, and maneuverable, relying on agility rather than brute force.

It was with a slow feeling of creeping dread that Cerise realised that this ship was meant to be a display model and that House Bitters intended to sell it to the enemies of Equestria. The Apogee was unique, as it was a demonstration model, the actual production model promised smaller cabins, more efficient use of space, and could be built to specifications of the buyer. The manual slipped from her telekinesis and she looked around the cabin she was sitting in. A griffon fleet with corvettes like the The Apogee would be formidable, a terrible foe to face in open warfare in the sky. Backed with battleships, heavy cruisers, and dreadnaughts, the griffons could become an unstoppable rampaging menace to their neighbors and perhaps even against Equestria.

The thought was sobering.

 

 

“You comfortable, Skeeter?” Rye asked as he helped his friend get comfortable in his bunk. “You look a little better… and you don’t feel so warm.”

Skeeter gave a weak nod.

“We’re going to share this cabin and you’re going to get the top bunk and you’re going to get better… I’m glad you are feeling better. Want anything to eat?”

The pegasus looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded.

“You have an appetite again… wonderful. Let me go look around and see what might be in the galley. I am actually a fair cook, or so Lace Collar said. Cooking was one of my many duties. Lace Collar was dreadfully afraid of being poisoned so he made me cook for him,” Rye Mash said in a low voice. “I was never allowed to eat the food I prepared for Lace Collar. It was always gruel for me.”

“Mmm umm hmm,” Skeeter murmured.

“Okay, hold on, let me go fix you something to eat,” Rye replied.

 

 

The small pantry seemed well stocked. There were all manner of glass jars filled with foodstuffs. There were bins filled with dry goods, staples of the Equestrian diet. The four unicorns were prepared to be away from home for quite some time, it appeared.

There was a bin filled with root vegetables and an icebox that was frigid but had no ice. Rye Mash had no idea how it worked, but he was impressed. Inside the icebox were cheeses, eggs, and square glass jugs of juice all pressed together to conserve space.

Stuck to the inside of the door, Rye Mash found the most useless recipe ever, but he could not help but to study it out of curiousity. It seemed very much out of place upon this ship, but perhaps there was some mysterious reason why it was here.

“Nine pounds of salt, twelve pounds of pepper,” Rye Mash read to himself, his brows furrowing. “Thirty five pounds of flour, thirty four pounds of vegetable shortening, one hundred gallons of vegetable stock, one hundred and twenty pounds of peas, three hundred pounds of tomatoes, diced, two hundred and fifty pounds of onions, minced, one hundred and seventy five pounds of carrots, sliced, seven hundred pounds of potatoes, cubed, one hundred and sixty pounds of celery, sliced thin, an additional twenty five pounds of flour to make gravy, and seven gallons of water.”

Rye Mash read through the cooking instructions and then said, “Serves two thousand ponies.” He could not help but feel curious as to why this recipe was stuck to the inside of the icebox door. This much food was mind boggling.

Rye lifted several jars of tomato paste from the pantry, cracked open the lids, poured them into a large stock pot, dropped in several vegetable bouillon cubes, and then added water. In another pot, he set some water on the stove to boil and pulled out a sizable portion of egg noodles from a bin. He pulled a brick of cheese from the fridge, a soft smelly cheese, and began to crumble it up.

“We have a cook… wonderful,” Bloody Velvet said as she entered the galley. “I will see that your wages are corrected and that you are compensated.”

“But I was just—”

“But you were just fixing me a bite to eat? How sweet!”

“No, I was just going to fix Skeeter—”

“And the rest of the crew aboard The Apogee a nice meal? You really are the nicest pony, you know that, Rye Mash?” Bloody Velvet batted her eyelashes at Rye and gave him a sweet smile.

Defeated, Rye Mash began to add more ingredients to what he already had out on the stove and on the counter. “It wasn't anything fancy… tomato soup with egg noodles and some of this crumbled cheese. Skeeter can’t eat anything solid at the moment.”

“Hmm.” Bloody Velvet pushed her way into the galley and began to pull stuff out of the pantry herself.

“What are you planning?” Rye asked as Bloody Velvet began to pull stuff out.

“Some sort of fritters, savoury. Might be nice to dip in soup. Ah, here we go, a jar of preserved white and yellow corn!” Bloody Velvet lifted up her prize and grinned.

“I didn’t know you can cook,” Rye Mash said.

“Because I’m a noble… I know… and no, I can’t cook. Not really. I just learned a few things here and there. In my old life, I had servants that took care of everything I needed. I hated it. But you are never too old to start learning a new way.” Bloody Velvet began to set out her ingredients upon the counter. “Come on Rye, this will be fun. Let’s make a mess and we can get Starjammer to clean it up. We’ll make him the head dishwasher.”

“What am I?” Rye asked.

“Why, the head cook. I meant what I said, I will see that your pay is adjusted. Somepony has to cook on this vessel and we’ll die if I do it,” Bloody Velvet replied. “Besides, I am now the captain of this ship.”

“Oui, mon capitaine,” Rye said, raising his hoof in salute.

 

 

 

 

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