The Butterfly Dragon: Night Boat - Episode 04 (First Draft Completed Friday July 28, 2023 at 11AM EST)

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Excerpts From The Butterfly Dragon: Night Boat - Episode 03

The divided crew of the repurposed Gearing Class Destroyer Many Faced Maiden have begun reinforcing their position on the ship. Steadman's forces secure the bow to midship with their headquarters at the bridge, while Zek's forces have entrenched themselves from midship to the stern, their base of operations in engineering.

Steadman has teams of guards scouting the ship for any stragglers, when one such guard and his team stumbled upon one.

"Heads or tails?" asked Dennis.

"...heads..." the man spoke, gurgling.

"Do any of you recognize him?" Dennis asked  his fellow guardsmen, all eighteen of them.

They each took a look in turn, and none could recall his face.

"Sorry. The odds aren't in your favour," Dennis said as he leveled his SMG at the man's chest, pulling the trigger.

As the man laying on the deck dying, from the corner of his eye, Dennis saw something flying overhead. Quickly and completely silently, it shot by just above them and disappeared beyond their vision in one fell swoop.

"What the hell was..." Dennis didn't have a chance to finish his sentence before they were hit by the double sonic boom of a jet that had been traveling at mach 1.5 and had slowed upon arriving in the vicinity of the other sinking ship.

Most of the men had protective inserts in their ears, and even with those in place, the shockwave hit them like a ton of bricks.

"What the hell was that?" asked Steadman of Norman.

"That was a jet. Depending upon whether that carrier we spotted earlier is tasked with a Marine or Navy fleet, its either an F-35 Lightning II, or an F-22 Raptor..." Norman speculated.

"Can't we just identify it on radar?" asked Steadman.

"And break electromagnetic silence? That pilot would detect us immediately, and relay our position directly back to their fleet operations carrier," Norman advised him.

"Did it see us?" asked Steadman, suddenly panicked.

"We've got no alarms for their detection systems or missile lock so we can assume that they're just investigating the wreckage of the other vessel," Norman told him.

"Accelerate the ship to full speed and set a course out of here!" Steadman ordered Norman.

"I strongly advise against that sir. We'd leave a long visual wake in our aft, which could be spotted by any recon jets or drones they'll be sending to the area, especially after having spotted the wreckage.

"We'll proceed along our current route at the speed you suggest, and at night fall we'll accelerate to full speed for an hour, and for the remaining six hours of night we'll slow to three quarters until daylight. Understood?" asked Steadman.

"Aye, Sir," Norman responded affirmatively.

The old dial phone left of the helm began ringing.

"Who could that be?" asked Steadman.

"Who do you think?" asked Norman, somewhat sarcastically.

Steadman picked up the phone and put it to his ear.

"Captain Steadman here," Steadman spoke into the old headset.

"Captain Zek on this end," Alomera Zek responded.

"What would you like to discuss?" asked Steadman.

"It seems that we have some negotiating to do," Zek smiled, holding the decryption drive in his hands.

The Butterfly Dragon: Night Boat - Episode 04


The Many Faced Maiden pushed forward back towards the South Pacific, a small wake leaving a trail behind them. Now more than a nautical mile away, the smoking remains of the ship that had attempted to liberate Mr. Zek was mostly below the surface. What remained above sea level was consumed in fire, like the ship's fuel that floated on the surface around it.

Steadman stood on the bridge of the Many Faced Maiden alongside Norman, who was at the ship's helm. Six guards stood against the far wall, each spaced two meters apart.

Steadman broke the relative silence on the bridge, speaking into the handset of the old dial phone that still adorned the helm station of the heavily upgraded ship.

"There is nothing to negotiate Zek. You are still a prisoner on this ship, amidst men who've but one day to reconsider their allegiances lest they lose their pitiful lives," Steadman asserted.

"George, you know as well as I do that everything in life is a negotiation. If you have something that I need, then it is in my best interest to acquire something of your needs. That is how this world works. You give something, you take something. You have something that I want, and I have something that you need," Zek worded his statements carefully.

"You have nothing that I need, except for the time it will take to expunge your little mutiny from the decks of this ship! If you're willing to give it back and simply surrender, with all of your mutineers, I'd be most willing to forego the immediate punishments due to you and your loyal followers," Steadman kept his momentum.

"You're going to have to do much better than that, George. Especially for what I have that is up for negotiation," Zek responded, unjilted by Steadman's assertiveness.

"Like a poker player with a crappy hand, you're bargaining with nothing. You're just Bluffing. Wasting time to delay your inevitable end," Steadman replied, unperturbed by Zek.

"Is that so? I'm assuming that your men haven't yet secured the Data Center, for I hold in my hand the one thing you've been chasing for this whole time," Zek assured Steadman.

Steadman put his hand over the old phone's mouthpiece and spoke into his headset.

"Carver! Carver!! Have you made it to the Data Center yet?" asked Steadman in a panicked voice.

"That's a negative Sir. We're about three minutes away from..." Carver began before Steadman interrupted him.

"Forget whatever you're working on. I'll send guards down to the galley. Take your team and secure the Data Center immediately! Over and out!" Steadman ordered Carver.

"Copy that Sir! Over and out," Carver responded, immediately shouting the new orders to his team.

Steadman then turned to the guards on the bridge.

"I want three of you to go down to the galley and hold it until Carver and his team return. Understood?" confirmed Steadman, picking three men with his finger.

"Aye Sir!" they responded, immediately leaving through the bridge hatch and making their way down the stairs and to the galley.

Steadman took his hand off the microphone of the old phone and resumed his conversation with Zek.

"We secured it two minutes ago, and my men say there's nothing sabotaged or salvaged down there," responded Steadman, he himself now bluffing.

"Then you should have your men search again, for you'll find that one of the key data drives is now missing. The one to which the formula was to be written. You see, only minutes after you left the Data Center earlier, before the attack, the decryption process succeeded. How ironic it is that it didn't simply do so while you were still there. If so, I suspect that the tone of this conversation would be much different, and more like the scenario you envisioned in your delusion of the disadvantage of my situation," Zek said calmly to Steadman, perhaps making him that much more agitated.

"You could have just grabbed that drive so you'd have an operable bluff," Steadman responded, still holding the line.

"Belief or disbelief alone will not cure the dying man's ailments, for there is no stopping the truth in such matters. I have the data drive and the formula, and that is truth. No matter how you assert your stance that I'm bluffing, the truth will prevail in this instance. The moment at the showing of our hands. The moment that your men make their incursion into the Data Center and find that drive gone, and the feedback display repeating the flashing message: Decryption completed. 100% accuracy. Zero errors." Zek responded to Steadman's accusation.

"If what you say is truth, then you've stolen it from me. It would have long remained dormant in the trap infested bay of Treadwater Island, perhaps never discovered again. I made it possible for that data to be retrieved on my equipment. Its mine, making you a thief," Steadman's ground began slipping.

"Actually, I stole it from the researcher. Alicia Westin, and then you attempted to steal it from me," Zek corrected Steadman.

"Steadman? We just arrived at the Data Center. There's nobody around, but the display is showing a message. It says: Decryption completed. 100% accuracy. Zero errors. What would you like us to do?" asked Carver, coming through on Steadman's earpod.

Steadman cupped his hand over the phone once again.

"Search the drive bays. Tell me if there's any drives missing," ordered Steadman.

"Searching them... Drive bay one is good. Drive bay two. Drive bay three... there's a drive missing. The last one. Number sixteen in the drive bay," Carver responded.

"Damn!" Steadman slammed his hand down on the console behind him.

"Leave two men to hold the Data Center, and the rest of you return to the galley and finish up there. When you're done, we'll setup the guard duty and sleeping schedule. Over and out," Steadman told Carver, the sound of defeat thick in his voice.

Steadman removed his hand from the old phone's handset and resumed his talk with Zek once again.

"What do you want for it?" asked Steadman, his earlier bravado now all but gone.

"That's better. That sounds more like a negotiation. Unfortunately for you, I am holding all of the good cards in my hand. I'd like you to take a visit to drop me off at a location inhabited by old friends of yours," Zek asserted, this time with all the bravado.

"Where might that be?" asked Steadman.

"The island facility at Cora Hau. You see, I was the most powerful industrialist in the world at one time, and my contacts are vast. You will drop me and my crew off at their port facility, where your ship will be refueled and resupplied. From that point, you will be free to leave with your remaining crew. That is a fair deal is it not?" asked Zek, an air of arrogance in his voice.

"You'll starve before we reach Cora Hau. What if I don't agree to your terms?" Steadman asked, already calculating alternative plans.

"Then the drive and all of its data will be sleeping with the fishes, while your ship remains stationary, with inoperably sabotaged engines. You will float idle in the middle of the Pacific Ocean until the authorities sink you, or arrest you," Zek assured him.

"I see," Steadman said, sounding very much like a defeated man. 

"You should be thankful that I didn't call in the debt of my missing right hand," Zek added salt to the wound.

"Very well. I will deliver you to Cora Hau as you request. I assume there's no chance of my getting that data?" asked Steadman.

"I will make that decision upon my safe arrival at the port facility and on dry ground. If you have carried through with your end of the bargain, then you could consider the prospect promising. That's all I can give you right now," Zek smiled, and Steadman could feel it on the other end of the phone.

"There are to be no delays in servicing the engines, and any premature sabotage, especially while we're in port at Cora Hau will be met with the swiftest of response. Do you understand?!" Steadman responded, frustrated by the outcome of their talk.

"I do. I understand that you're in no position to make demands. I will do everything that is necessary to ensure my safe passage to Cora Hau. Nothing more. It has been a pleasure negotiating with you, George," Zek smiled once again, hanging up the phone.

The cheers around Zek filled the tool room, as he delivered his first victory to his loyal men.

Steadman slammed the phone down on the receiver.

"Norman. Set a new course for Cora Hau, continuing with our earlier arrangements for speed of passage. Once the men's sweep for stragglers is done, I'll send someone up to relieve you should you food and rest," Steadman ordered Norman.

"Where are you going?" asked Norman.

"To the galley. There's a bottle of Whiskey with my name on it," Steadman responded, heading out of the hatch and down to the galley.

From The Air

Flight Lieutenant Theresa Stafford inhaled deeply and held his breath as he prepared for a tight turn. She'd purposely overflown the rising pillar of smoke missing it by a hundred meters, intent on preventing her aircraft from getting too close to any heat based updrafts that might damage her flight systems.

By that point she'd slowed to a stead five hundred knots as the mach one point five sonic boom from her previous speed trailed her. The sonic boom hit the area just after she'd overflown it, disrupting the rising smoke in a chaotic pattern as Stafford prepared for her high G turn.

As she edged her F-35 II Lightning into a sharp turn, her flight suit inflated, maintaining her circulatory pressure which helped prevent her from blacking out. As she reached the apex of her turn, she began exhaling and inhaling deeply, holding each breath for about half a second before exhaling again, almost involuntarily. She pulled out of her turn cleanly and the semi-dizziness afterwards passed quickly as her flight suit deflated.

"Good. No bogies. No phalanx. Just a sinking ship," she said to herself. 

She steered back towards the Warren G. Harding, a Nimitz class carrier that had been given permission to continue its search of the region for a mysterious electromagnetic anomaly. She'd been briefed on the matter, but was essentially given no details.

She pressed a button on her MFD, preferring it to the voice recognition system as she'd previously been an F-15E pilot, one of the few younger pilots that sought to fly the old classics. Eventually her squadron was upgraded to the newer F-35 II Lightning, and she reluctantly became familiar with the technology.

The MFD cycled to a FLIR view of the wreck she'd just passed, the camera still padlocked to the sinking ship. She used the joystick to pan the camera, looking for any potential survivors in the ocean, and any other craft that might have been in the region. Her FLIR system glitched momentarily as the camera passed over a part of the ocean.

"Even new tech has its glitches," she said to herself once again, continuing her search for any signs of life.

When she was satisfied that she'd scanned the area sufficiently, she switched off the FLIR system and checked her situational awareness screen. The sinking ship was indicated by a flashing yellow icon with the text: UNKNOWN CONTACT, while the rest of the region for at least forty kilometers bore no contacts of any kind. No ships or small craft were about in the rough ocean on this day. Only the big players were out, and one of them was sinking.

"POSEIDON? This is BIRD'S EYE reporting in. I've got a sinking vessel at -5.41 east by -91.20 south. No signs of survivors. The ship is so far down in the water that my identify at range systems can't determine its make or origin, copy?" reported Stafford.

"BIRD'S EYE this is POSEIDON. We copy your SITREP. We're on route to the site. We recommend that you RTB so we can check out your data recorder. Copy?" responded the control tower on the carrier.

"Copy that. On my way home. Keep the beer cold for me. Over and out," Stafford finished up with her report and accelerated her craft to mach one point five.

Intelligence Analysis

Stafford was now being debriefed while her flight data recorder was in the hands of the Lieutenant Charlie Retson of Naval Intelligence. He strode along the deck of the carrier after thanking the flight technician that had removed the drive for him on his way to the tower and within, the Intelligence Analysis Center.

When he arrived, he greeted his fellow officers and went over to the drive bays and plugged the flight recorder into one of the available slots, making note of its ID. He then went over to one of the free workstations and began working on the flight data recordings from Stafford's flight.

He first noted the flight trajectory taking note of any contacts along the route towards the site of Stafford's SITREP. He then examined the data collected with regard to the sinking ship, though even with the tools onboard of the carrier, he was unable to make a positive identification. They'd have to dive in order to identify it now.

He then went on to examine other flight data, noting that shortly after arrival at the site, that Stafford had activated the FLIR system and padlocked the INTELCAM to the sinking ship. He'd then used the joystick to scan the area for any heat signatures that might indicate survivors. It was at a particular point in the FLIR recording that caught Retson's eye. In a part of the open ocean, there appeared to be a glitch in the camera system when Stafford had panned the camera over a particular location. It had glitched a second time, only minutely on a second pass.

Retson quickly got on the intercom phone beside him and made a call.

"This is Lieutenant Charlie Retson, I need Vice Admiral Harris now!" Retson addressed the ship's communications operator.

"Right away Sir!" the sailor responded.

"This is Vice Admiral Harris. What can I do for you Lieutenant?" asked Vice Admiral Harris.

"Sir, remember that glitch from a day and a half ago we examined?" Retson asked Vice Admiral Harris.

"I do. What have you got?" Harris responded quickly.

"I've got a glitch on a FLIR recording taken from BIRD'S EYE on her reconnaissance flight, near the site of Stafford's SITREP. It looks awful spooky. It could be a systems glitch, but it occurred on a second pass which leads me to believe there's more than meets the eye, Sir," Retson informed Harris.

"I'm on my way!" Harris hung up the phone and made his way from the bridge to down to the Intelligence Analysis Center.

Rest And Recuperation And Romance

Celeste's room was perhaps amongst the largest of the rooms on board the Many Faced Maiden, although it could not be found in the same area as the rest of the crew cabins for it was a converted storage space. Steadman had gone to great lengths to ensure that he could have a luxurious space for Celeste, despite the fact that he'd indicated that Alicia Westin was his romantic goal. Despite that fact, he had a great deal of love and respect for Celeste and hence he'd had her cabin custom crafted.

Not only did it have a large canopy bed, but it also had a separate sitting area, a living room and even a small kitchen. It was its own self contained apartment within the ship, and it was hidden from everyone except Steadman and Carver.

Since the mutiny, she'd been ordered to lock herself in her room, and she'd done just that, remaining completely hidden for the duration of the onslaught, locked in her luxurious room.

Steadman now stood before the door, with a bottle of the finest whiskey he'd stashed on board, a bottle of bubbly sparkling wine, and a wrench which he'd picked up from the floor beside the door. He used the wrench to knock on her door, tapping out a code they'd decided upon in advance.

The door clanked once, unlatched and then opened, and standing before him was Celeste, as inviting as ever.

"Oh thank the heavens you're safe!" she said, wrapping her arms around him.

"Likewise. Let's go inside and forget about all of this nonsense. Just for the rest of the day and into the night?" Steadman asked her.

"Certainly. Come in," she invited him into her cabin.

Steadman placed the wrench upon the floor and then entered the cabin, placing the whiskey and the sparkling wine on a nearby table.

"I was just cooking something, but I can put enough on for you if you'd like?" she asked him and he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her gently, running his hands through her long black hair.

They broke their kiss gently, and she looked at him.

"What was that for?" she asked, her arms still wrapped around his neck.

"That was something I've been wanting to do for some time, and the only thing I could think about when we were out there fighting the boarders," Steadman admitted, returning her passionate glance.

"Why don't you shower first, and I'll prepare something for us. We can eat, drink and be..." she began.

"Lustful. Ever so lustful," Steadman finished her sentence, giving her a short kiss again before making his way to her bathroom.

"Where's my housecoat?" asked Steadman, checking her closet.

"I hid it. Just in case they managed to find me. I didn't want anything that might give away my association with you," she admitted.

"All this and brains too? How ever did I end up with you?" he asked her as she got his housecoat for him.

"Because I wanted it," she replied, smacking his hind quarters gently.

"Now go get showered and I'll prepare something to eat and set the table," she told him.

Steadman made his way into the bathroom, removed his clothing and hopped into the shower. The water did its best to wash his stress away, but couldn't get into his head where it was needed most. For the last minute of his shower, he cranked the cold water and simply remained stationary beneath the showerhead as the water got colder and colder.

When he stepped out in his housecoat, the table was mostly set, a small tray of hors d'oeuvres had been placed in the center. Celeste scooped her preparation into two bowls and headed to the table where she placed one at each of their settings.

She sat down as Steadman stood to pour their sparkling wine.

"So I take it that everything was a success?" Celeste asked him, taking seaweed wrapped salmon and oyster from the hors d'oeuvres plate and taking a delicate bite.

"That depends upon how you define it," Steadman said, picking up his wine glass and holding it up.

"Have one of the hors d'oeuvres, they're good!" she responded by holding her own glass up, which she then gently clanged to his.

"How do you define it?" she then asked him after taking a sip of her wine.

"In terms of a power struggle over control of this boat? I'd define it as having command of the entire ship," Steadman responded, taking an hors d'oeuvres from the plate in the center.

"Don't you?" she asked him, having a bit of her chicken stir fry from the bowl.

"The glass is both half empty, and half full," Steadman replied, not willing to admit it directly.

"You don't have command of the entire ship?" she confirmed with him, a sudden look of shock overcoming her.

"I have control of the half that matters, Zek has control of the stern. Engineering and the engines. You know, like a mule costume? I'm the head, he's the ass," Steadman said begrudgingly.

"So that's what's bothering you," Celeste said, her look of shock transforming to one of slight amusement.

"Its a part of it," Steadman took a healthy drink from his wine glass, emptying it.

"Would you like some?" he asked her, already standing with the bottle in his hand.

"Just a top up," she replied.

Steadman poured hers, and then filled his glass and sat back down.

"So what's the other part?" asked Celeste.

"He managed to decrypt the formula. The SY349. He's got the data with him and he wants us to take him to the Cora Hau facility and leave him there with the rest of the mutinous crew. In return, he'll refuel and resupply the ship and send us on our way," Steadman told her, still steaming inside over the issue.

"I could just send in a sizeable force to overpower him and the mutineers," he considered once again, speaking out loud on the idea for the first time.

"You could, but that would incur sizeable losses on your side. Why not outthink rather than overpower him?" Celeste asked him to consider an alternative plan of action.

"How? He'll just see that the data ends up in the ocean if I try anything," Steadman said, already having defeated himself.

"You can't let him leave this boat. If he does, he'll put global naval authorities onto you anonymously. He'll tell them about the veil, and they'll find us, eventually," she reasoned with him.

Steadman's face suddenly illuminated with life.

"You're right. We have to get him when he's making his way from engineering to the gang plank at Cora Hau. He'll have the data drive on him, he won't be anywhere near a portal or hatch through which he could simply discard the drive into the ocean. He'll be vulnerable," Steadman reasoned.

"He could give the drive to any one of his men. If you use firearms, you might shoot the drive," Celeste reminded him.

"We'll need a very special skill set to achieve that and I've got just the men to achieve it, but I'm going to need more than just five skilled men," Steadman began thinking, taking another healthy drink from his wine glass.

"Have those five men train more. We're still a distance from Cora Hau, aren't we?" asked Celeste.

"We're about a week away, with the restrictions I've placed upon traveling speed in order to avoid detection," Steadman told her.

"A week might be enough time to train another five men close to the level of your special team?" Celeste suggested.

"You're brilliant!" Steadman said, standing up and finishing his wine.

He went over to his clothing which lay in a heap on the bathroom clothes hamper and retrieved his headset from his pocket. He then inserted it into his ear and switched it on.

"Carver? I want you to select the five most able men from the guards you trained, and spend the next five days giving them the best training you can for closed quarters combat on this ship, focusing on  stealth and melee weapons rather than firearms, though include more firearms training for at least a half a day. Begin immediately and have this task take up six hours of your working day. The remaining two hours spend ensuring that we're secure. Understood?" Steadman asserted his command into the microphone.

"Yes sir! Five men, train them in closed quarters combat, stealth, melee with a portion of that time dedicated to firearms training. Roger that!" Carver replied, encouraged to hear that Steadman was thinking and had a plan.

Steadman then removed the headpiece, switching it off and placing it on the counter. He then returned to the table and took Celeste's hand.

"What about dinner?" she asked him.

"We've got the whole rest of the evening and the night to eat," Steadman said to her.

"I've got to put it away, it will spoil," she replied.

"Put the stir fry in the fridge, and bring the hors d'oeuvres and wine to bed," Steadman said, helping her to get the food put away.

They then grabbed the hors d'oeuvres, wine and two glasses and disappeared under the sheets of Celeste's bed.

To be continued in The Butterfly Dragon: Night Boat - Episode 05

Credits and attribution:

Artwork: Amy WongWendy PuseyGhastly, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3DUnreal Engine...