Ash came back above decks and rolled the map of the Teveitian Sea out on the closest flat surface he could find. “Okay–I did some work around the pirate attacks logged in the past two weeks. There are some predictable patterns, I think there’s four separate ships operating in this area right now.”
Zane, more pale-faced than usual, looked over the charts. He was worried sick about Mari – they all were, really, but he wore it the hardest. At least he was sleeping. They had made sure of it this time.
“And they can’t stop these people?” he said, curiously.
“Lot of ocean out there,” said Ash. “Most of them don’t start killing people if they’re not given a reason and most of what they take is insured. But some of the bigger shipping companies have put a price on their heads.”
“There’s been a crackdown of sorts,” Jayna said, drawing two x’s on the map. “Looks like the Jeweled Dagger and the Mystic Marauder have both been recently flagged–they’ll be into other waters by now.”
“Man, Songbird suddenly seems like such a lame name for a ship in comparison,” said Zane.
Ash glared at him. “Say that again and you can walk back.”
Zane smiled sheepishly. “Sorry,” he said. “So, that leaves… Kapo’s Love and the Wandering Fog.”
“Both of which could be anywhere as far as we know,” said Jayna.
“Not anywhere,” said Zane, scratching his head. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to get his thoughts in the right order. “The big money on this planet is the shipping companies, right? Which one of ’em is funding the floaty food places?”
“Um, Silversun Technologies, they do a lot of agricultural research,” Jayna said, looking up. “You’ve got that thinky face on again.”
“Think one of our contacts can get in touch with one of the bigwigs?” he said, the thinky face hardening a little. “They’re probably as juicy a target as any, so if we can track a couple of their shipping routes…”
“Maybe we can beat the pirates at their own game?”
Ash grinned. “I’ll reach out to our employer,” he said.
“She might not be happy about us not having completed the job yet,” said Zane, because somebody had to.
“Well, I’m not happy about our crewmate being kidnapped by pirates,” said Jayna. “That’s life.”
“Just let her know we think these are the same pirates that knocked her over,” Ash said, rolling out the lie as smooth as silk. “If they’ve been sighted again, there’ll be no good in trying to deliver this new package,”
Ten minutes later, they had a chat up with the scientist from before.
“…I can’t make any promises, but I’ll see what I can do,” she said. “Did you get a good look at the vessel?”
Ash nodded, giving a sigh. “Zane can give you a full write up of the ship. We think it may be the same one. If we can get a bead on that ship, we may be able to solve this problem for good.”
“It was sleek, gray, really fast,” said Zane, eyes shut. “The storm didn’t seem to bother it too much. It may have been a retrofitted fishing ship. It had two sets of harpoon guns on each side, and a few discolored panels near the stern.”
A strange expression went over the scientist’s features. She cleared her throat. “I… may know the one you’re talking about,” she said. “They’ve been a problem to us before. If you come across them, deal with them.”
“Give us a name, Doctor,” Ash said softly. “And we’ll do what we can.”
“It’s called Kapo’s Love,” she said. “They’re ruthlessly efficient and very, very good at evading capture.”
“Then we’ll just have to be very, very careful,” Ash said. “Thank you Doctor–we’ll be in touch very soon.”
The line cut off.
“She was lying about something,” said Zane.
“We were lying about something,” said Ash. “It’s fine, our employers never tell us everything.”
“Yeah, but she’s worse at it than you are,” Jayna shrugged. “We know where we need to go. Ash, do you think you could hop onto the ship’s trail?”
“I don’t know,” said Ash, looking down at his tablet. “It’d be one thing if we were in space, but I’m out of my element here.”
“Well, at least they can only move in two dimensions here.” Jayna said.
Ash nodded. “I know one thing,” he said, pointing out a small landmass on the map. “A lot of them circle around this place… it may be where they weathered out the storm.”
“It’s worth a shot, then,” said Zane. “If nothing else, somebody there might know more.”
“I guess we’ll set course for there, then,” Jayna said, and headed towards the navigational panel.
“Zane, go put your head down for a few hours, we’ll be there soon.”
“But I could be-“
“Zane, what do I look like right now?”
Zane squinted at Jayna for a moment. He rubbed his eyes. He moved his finger across the air as if counting something.
“…I’ll go put my head down for a few hours.”
“Thank you,” Jayna said, and then looked to Ash. “Strap him in if you need to, I think there’s rope down there.”
“Yes ma’am,” Ash said. “You think we’ll get there before she ends up fish food?”
“Mari’s a tough little thing,” said Jayna, nodding. “Whatever she’s going through, she’ll survive.”
“No, I don’t want to know how it got up there, just be more safe next time, alright?”
Mari sighed as the blushing pirate quit the impromptu sick bay she had been given. The last two days had been interesting. Kapo’s Love, she had learned, was formerly a fishing boat, but when the whole crew had been laid off after a corporate merger, they took the only logical career progression that had presented itself.
She washed her hands in a small basin as she heard the door creaking open again.
“Gimme a couple minutes, I gotta sterilize that bench. Trust me, you don’t want to sit on it.”
“Oh, I’m not staying, nor would I deign to sit on it after ‘Up and At Em’ McCoy.” Mari turned to see the captain leaning against the wall with a grin on his face. “I see you’re settling in here nicely.”
“It’s not too different from patching up my crew,” she said, as she took a pull from a bottle of rum and upended the rest onto the bench. “The biggest difference is that what we do is ostensibly legal.”
Captain Izzy shrugged, producing another bottle of rum and setting it down on the table. “Look, I don’t pretend that we’ve got some kind of moral high ground, but it’s not like we’re setting fire to orphanage boats. These corporations are probably more bloodthirsty than my crew is. We do what we do, we get paid, and then we make sure our families are taken care of. And most of these crews just sit back and tell us where the good stuff is. Their payout from the insurance companies is probably more lucrative than anything they’re shipping.”
“Seems like a pretty sweet gig,” said Mari, accepting the captain’s offering. “Maybe I jumped too quickly at the opportunity to be a spacer. Clearly, pirating is a career that’s going places.” She and the captain shared a chuckle at that. “Or maybe you’re just really good at it,” she added.
“I can’t take all the credit,” said Izzy. “I’ve got someone on the inside. There’s this middle-management flunky that’s not fond of the way the company is being run these days, so she keeps me up-to-date on their routing changes in exchange for a sliver of the profits.”
Mari looked back at him, bottle wavering a bit. “What did you say?”
Izzy shrugged. “Best way to know what’s going where is to be the one who put it that way in the first place. Sometimes we act as ‘travel consultants’ so they know which way to send their boats in the stormy season.”
“Are there other seasons around here?” said Mari, feeling an involuntary shiver.
“Kanaloa’s a harsh mistress,” said Izzy, giving her a nod. “Sometimes there’s waterspouts that’ll reduce a ship to driftwood, waves as tall as a building… but y’know, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. “
“Is this the part where you say something like ‘the sea calls to us’?” said Mari, cocking an eyebrow.
“Well, not anymore,” said Izzy, with a hearty laugh.
Mari smiled. Despite being trapped on a boat, she honestly hadn’t minded her time here. “Look. you seem like nice people. If I know anything about my crew though? They’re going to think they need to come for me guns blazing. And you probably don’t want that.”
Captain Izzy immediately looked like he did not relish that prospect. “We don’t want to make trouble,” he said. “But we don’t have any means of contacting your crew, if they’re even alive.”
“Trust me. They’re alive.” Mari said, settling down on a barrel next to her improvised operating table. “There won’t be any trouble as long as I’m not hurt, which I’m not, and I think you’re smart enough not to let anyone try.”
“Got no quarrel with them,” said Izzy. “Our beef is with Silversun, and you’re not with them. Even if they did hire you out. If anything, thank you for taking some of their money.”
In the back of Mari’s mind, a puzzle piece snapped into place with a near audible click. “Hmm,” she said. “I hope my crew does find me. It seems as if you and my… captain will probably have something to talk about.”
Izzy gave her a strange look. “Why does that worry me?” he said. “If your captain’s half as sharp as you are.”
And twice as crazy, Mari added in her head. “You’re not the one that’s going to have to worry–although I’m not sure if you’ll be able to use Silversun a source of income for very much longer. They may just get sued into the ground. But enough about that. We’re in paradise, right? If I’ve got anything worse than Pink-Eyes Honda, I’m going to need something a little stronger than pineapple juice to mix with my rum,” she smiled. “Got any coconuts?”
Izzy’s gaze hardened. “What the hell kind of ship do you think this is?” he asked. “Of course we have coconuts.”