Five minutes later, they were off, steering towards the input coordinates. It was warm, as it typically was on the planet with a huge reflective surface, and for the most part the sky had been clear. But the longer they’d sailed, they’d noticed a growing squall closing in from the horizon.
“That thing looks pretty nasty,” said Ash, looking through a set of binoculars. He wasn’t feeling good about this whole endeavor. Space beat the sea in his book any day.
“You’d think somebody would have given us a bit of a heads up!” said Mari.
“Well, we’re not heading right for it,” said Jayna. “Maybe we’ll hit the lab before we have to get close to it.” Judging by her expression, she didn’t quite believe that.
“I told you we should have packed the umbrella,” said Zane, head poking up from below decks.
“I don’t think the umbrella would help much,” Ash murmured, keeping an eye on the clouds. “Just keep going. Nothing for it but to get the job done. I’ll see if this tub has a bubble roof.”
Other ships could be seen in the distance, going to and fro, crossing paths, occasionally exchanging messages via waving flags and flashes of colored light. “Such a weird planet,” said Mari, adjusting her sun hat. “I can’t imagine what it’s like living here.”
“Salty,” said Jayna with a grin. “But you know, what a tan.”
That’s when they started to feel the first raindrops. Both of them looked up in unison.
“Is this the part where we batten down the hatches?” said Mari.
“ Go get the boys,” Jayna said, tapping into the controls. “We’ll just have to try and make this run another day.”
Before she could even make it down the stairs, it began to rain in earnest and the wind seemed to shift.
“What the hell?” shouted Mari, as Zane came up from below decks clad in a yellow raincoat.
“Big storm front rolling in!” said Zane. “I just heard it over the radio!”
In the distance, several other ships could be seen, with their crews retreating below decks. One ship, smaller and sleeker than the barges and fishing boats, was cutting across the waves with some speed towards a cargo hauler.
Jayna watched it carefully. She suddenly wished that they’d brought along some sort of weaponry. The wind picked up again and scattered her thoughts back to the problem at hand. “Ash, did you find anything to secure the ship?” she hollered to be heard over the wind.
“I have no idea what I’m even looking for,” Ash shouted back. “It’s like trying to learn a new language overnight! This boat’s got nothing that I understand on it!”
There was an explosion in the distance. The smaller ship in the distance had fired at the hauler. In the rain it was impossible to make out anything, but Jayna could swear it looked like they were trying to board it.
“Guys, we’ve got bigger problems than rain!” she said, even as the boat creaked as it made it slowly over a ten foot swell.
“Pirates?” said Mari, squinting into the distance. “Why should they bother us? We don’t have anything worth stealing! I mean, as far as they know.”
Another wave battered the side of the ship, splashing water over the upper deck. Mari was right. The pirates were a secondary concern at the moment. “Get downstairs!” Jayna shouted. I’ll try and get us to safety!”
As she prepared to turn the boat, lightning struck and the thunder rattled them. The whole boat tilted to the side, and Jayna watched with horror as Mari was flung overboard.
“MARI!” shouted Zane, leaping out and trying to grab onto her hand. There was a great splash as she fell into the roiling seas, bobbing up and down like a cork.
Jayna pulled him back as Mari was quickly pulled away from the ship.
“Ash, look for a life preserver! Mari’s overboard!”
Ash nodded and sprinted down the stairs. Mari was struggling to stay afloat, but trying to swim against this kind of storm was no going. She was quickly being driven out to sea. Jayna flipped on the spot light to keep Mari in sight, but it was hard with how fast the rain was coming down.
There was a crack of thunder and a huge gale of wind, and each of them found themselves momentarily blinded. When they could see again, the pirate ship was sailing straight toward them.
“Shit,” Jayna breathed, and started to push the boat forwards. Ash came aboard to see the pirate ship shoot something out into the waves.
“Is that a flare?” Ash said, coming up with the preserver.
“I think it is,” she said and the the pirate ship flew towards Mari. Within three minutes, the pirate ship had come close to the girl’s side. Two smaller, speedier vessels came up, holding a net between them. As Mari bobbed up again, one of the boats did a quick circle, the net scooped her up like a fish. Once she was secured, they took off back for the ship.
“What!” Ash cried. “They…they–“
“They saved her life. Now we just gotta go get her back,” Jayna said firmly.
“Do you think she’ll be okay?” said Zane, looking up as he clung to a railing.
“She’s a tough cookie. I’m sure she’ll be fine until we get there,” Jayna said. “But we can’t do it in this storm. If we take on too much water we won’t be able to go anywhere. It’s going to have to be after the storm passes.”
Zane watched helplessly as the pirate ship took off away from them. “If they hurt Mari–“
“They won’t. And if they do. It’ll be the last mistake they’ll ever make,” Jayna said. “We gotta go. Memorize their call number and we’ll pick them out later.”
“They don’t have one,” said Zane. “They’ve got it faked. They can change it at will. But I’ll remember the ship. Every last detail of it.”
“And then we’ll go find them,” Ash said. “C’mon. The SS And Then Some has a hole somewhere, we need to plug it.”
Mari came to slowly and felt herself being rocked back and forth.
It was nice, peaceful even. The last thing she could remember was just being wet and cold and miserable–
She jumped awake and found herself in an unfamiliar bed. Very unfamiliar, as it was, in fact, a hammock. She gave a minute for her brain to catch up with current events, and then slowly took a look around the room.
It wasn’t her bunk and it certainly wasn’t the ship they were given. It was a small mug, and the decor was mostly done up in faux wood. Beside the bed was a small nightstand, upon which was a flask. It smelled of tea.
She considered the flask for a moment.. If someone had wanted to kill her, they could’ve done it in her sleep a lot easier. And everything still tasted of the sea. Mind made up, she bent over and grabbed it, unscrewing it and taking a gulp. It was a little too sweet for her taste, but it was warm, and that was the important bit. She had downed half of it before she noticed the shadow of boots outside the door.
She looked around the room for something to use as a makeshift weapon, but nothing presented itself. As the door opened, she brandished the flask at the figure who entered.
It was a young man, younger than her, with dark hair and tanned skin, dressed in clothing typical of a sailor. And he had an eyepatch.
“You feelin’ okay, miss?” he said. “You were cold as a well digger’s arse when we pulled you outta the drink.”
Mari blinked. “I… I’m fine,” she said and pulled the blanket closer. “Might get a bad cold, but I think I’m fine other than that… where… am I?”
“You’re aboard the good ship Kapo’s Love,” said the young man. “Your friends’ boat capsized in the storm.”
“What?” Mari said, hopping to her feet and then regretted it. She was still quite dizzy. “What do you mean capsized? What happened?!”
“It was a dinky little tourist boat,” he said, looking her over. “They’re not made for bad weather.
Whoever sent you out in that thing was some kinda grade-A shitbrain.”
She paled. “What… What about the rest of the people onboard? Big amazon, twitchy guy with goggles, fidgeting black guy?”
“I’m sorry, we didn’t see anyone else,” said the man, shaking his head. “But we didn’t see any bodies either.”
Mari looked down at the thermos and clutched it tightly. “How far are we from where it could’ve gone down?”
“Dunno,” he said. “But c’mon. The cap’n wanted to see you as soon as you woke up.”
He led her out onto the upper deck, where it was a clear, sunny day. There were six or seven more people milling about, all men with dark hair and tanned skin, features that suggested islander ancestry. Like her guide, they wore typical sailing gear, though with some distinctive touches of personalization. A patch here, a bit of artistic fraying there.
They were currently working on cleaning up and repairing various parts of the ship. And they were being directed by a rather large man, barking orders to and fro.
Jayna had somewhat skewed Mari’s standards for what constituted “large”, but this man certainly wasn’t small. Over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and barrel chested, with a thin beard and a
huge, shaggy mane of curly hair, tied into a bun at the back of his neck.
She approached the man, looking him over. “Well then,” she said. “You’re the biggest and loudest, so I’m guessing you’re in charge?”
The man turned to look at her. Then he looked down. Several other men looked as well.
“Did I say you could stop?” he barked, without turning around.
“No, Cap’n!” came the chorus of replies. And work resumed, faster than before.
“Glad to see you up and about, miss,” he said, his voice much softer. “If we hadn’t been by, you’d have been claimed by the depths.”
Mari nodded, remembering the feeling of cold water slipping into her lungs despite her best efforts against it. “Thanks again,” she said, looking around. “But now I need to get home.”
“That may be difficult,” said the captain, sitting down on a nearby crate so that he didn’t have to bend as much to talk to her. “We have no idea where your crewmates might be, or if they’re even alive. And we’re on something of a timetable besides.”
She sighed and looked out to the doorway he’d come through. “Timetable to go do more pirating? I thought you guys were supposed to be your own masters?”
Someone working in the background snickered. The captain pretended not to notice.
“Strictly speaking, that’s true,” he said. “However, the freighter we’re about to knock over keeps to a very tight schedule, and if we don’t meet it in the right time and place, there will be more difficulty than we need.” He gave her a goofy grin. “You don’t look like a poker, so you’re more than welcome to ride with us for awhile, but pirating is a business just like any other and we’re already late for work.”
As he said it, someone else came down the stairs. “Sir, we’ve come up along the blind side of the freighter. Now or never,” he said, pulling his hat off. Mari noticed the nasty wound that was partially bandaged and cringed a bit.
“Get in position everyone,” said the captain. “But not you, Kai. You’re sitting this one out so that little scratch you picked up doesn’t get infected.”
“Come on, Cap’n Izzy!” the newcomer pleaded. “You’ve had me benched for a week!”
Mari looked him over, then gave the bandage a poke. Kai let out a yelp. “I’m afraid you’re too late for that,” she said. “It’s already infected. Whoever stitched you up didn’t do a great job. If you don’t get that thing properly dressed, bits are going to start falling off.”
Both of them gave her a look. She shrugged.
“I’m a nurse,” she said. “And since you lot saved me from a watery grave, the least I can do is tape up your ouchies.”
Izzy looked between the two of them and gave a wicked smile. “Hmm.” he said. Then he hurried up the stairs. “Please, tape away–We’ll be back.”
Mari and Kai looked each-other over for a moment.
“Don’t suppose you’ve got much in the way of medical supplies,” said Mari.
“Last time I checked?” said Kai. “We’ve got half a first-aid kit, half a bottle of lab-grade ethanol and a lot of duct tape.”
Mari had a brief flashback to the clinic back on Raulin. “I’ve made do with worse,” she said. “Just don’t stare at my ass while I patch you up.”