Bob Kiwi: Buccaneer
The only thing worse than watching a bad movie is being in one.
Sunlight glistened off foam-crested cerulean waves, warming the sparkling seawater with every ebb and flow of the oceanic currents and coastal tides. A light, refreshing breeze drifted across the surface of the water, its soothing touch taking the edge off the California summer’s midday heat and filling the Silver Princess’s flowing white sails into taught, puffy crescents that tugged the vessel forward insistently as they sought to capture the rushing currents of winds. The handsome yacht boasted a polished teak-wood deck over a hundred feet long and twenty across, with a towering polycarbon mast, achieving a trim and beautiful elegance despite its pearlescent pink paint scheme and the delicate Irish lace pattern engravings adorning its cabin and handrails. She cut a stately pace across the waves, frolicking in the deep, open waters several leagues off the southern California coast, drifting along a carefree course set by the ocean’s currents and racing any breeze strong enough to fill her sails. The yacht’s owner had no particular destination in mind – they were, after all, just out on a brief pleasure cruise, and the Silver’s state-of-the-art GPS tracking systems made getting lost nearly impossible - and most of her passengers were so overawed by the vessel itself that it hadn’t occurred to them to inquire as to just where exactly it was they were going.
Blue sky. White clouds. Warm sun. Light breeze. Following sea. All in all, the perfect day for sailing, Ivan thought to himself. It was refreshing change of pace for the mobster. True, the prevailing pink-and-lace decorating scheme that so permeated all of Bobetta’s belongings overpowered the yacht’s opulent elegance in a manner that doubtlessly would have made the entire population of Victorian England – not to mention the Saudi prince that had originally commissioned the vessel - blanch, and he could have done without some of the company – Bob in particular, especially after his nemesis had made a show of ‘accidentally’ knocking the Mafioso’s gift overboard - but the mindless outing was nonetheless a welcome distraction from the daily demands of running San Viano’s criminal underbelly. And it had been his own decision to come along, despite the knowledge that his own invite doubtlessly had more to do with Bobetta’s penchant for rubbing his nose in her boundless wealth than the heiress actually desiring his company.
The rest of the partygoers were mingling down by the stern, oblivious to the gray kiwi at the raised bow. It was Bobetta’s birthday – which one, she wouldn’t say, simply smiling and stating coyly that a lady does not reveal her age - and in celebration of this momentous occasion, she had invited her fiancé Bob Kiwi and his closest associates to a weekend sail-away party she was throwing for herself on her brand-new, custom-built yacht. (For despite the fact that the decadent playboy Amir Gazebo had commissioned the vessel, in the months it took to complete her, the Saudi prince had moved on to bigger and better things: rumor had it his new toy was fully twice the size of the Silver Princess and included a helipad. But Bobetta, ever the debutant, simply dismissed attempts to correct her on how to properly refer to her ‘new’ yacht as simple, low-browed semantics.) Everyone – or almost everyone, rather – had jumped at the chance to get away from the city for a bit, as things had been quiet enough lately that their presence would not be missed. So there they all were – Bobetta, Bob, Beak, Ferdie, and Iiwi – the motley crew of Bob’s detective agency – as well as Ferdia and Squeaks, a pair of cops that more often than not found themselves entangled in the agency’s cases, and Ivan himself, often entangled in those same cases as either their cause or someone with a controlling interest in their outcome, with his two wards in tow.
Bobetta, trussed up in her frilly pink satin-and-lace, corseted, bustled, petticoated, and probably even hoop-skirted Southern Belle birthday attire, was reclining amongst her gaily-wrapped gifts, leisurely unwrapping her presents while listening to Bob relate his latest heroic adventures to her. Beak hung around nearby, embellishing the tales and occasionally filling in details that had Bob glaring at his tall brown compatriot for painting the cocky yellow kiwi in a less-than-heroic light. Both kiwis had taken the spirit of the party’s theme to heart, and had probably raided every last costume shop from San Viano to Hollywood in pursuit of their current attire. Neither, however, seemed to know much about limits and tasteful coordination, and as such they made for two of the most ridiculous pirates ever to grace the planet, decked out in a riot of many-colored tattered clothes, eye patches, bandanas, peg legs, and fake jewelry. Ferdie had cobbled together a costume based on the miscellaneous faded scraps the two kiwis had rejected, and - had he not been doubled over the railing, slowly oscillating from one end of the spectrum of green to the other – would have looked like a veteran pirate. But his pallor indicated that the coward was far more at home in haunted houses and conspiracy theories than at sea, and thus he had positioned himself near – or, rather, doubled over - the starboard railing, avoiding the sights and smells of the bountiful buffet of fanciful finger-foods and hors’deorvers packed onto white-lace-draped tables lining the portside cabin as best he could, and turning interesting shades of green with every slight bob and lurch of the ship.
Vacations were a rarity for Ferdia and Squeaks – or, at least, vacations that were actual holidays, as opposed to unofficial investigations and/or sudden spontaneous space-time relocations – and for their part, the detectives were making the most of the luxury of a weekend away from work by staying largely out of Bobetta’s way – or, more accurately, her line of sight. Tucked all the way at the back of the stern, Ferdia was stretched out on a lounge chair and napping in the sun, taking advantage of this rare opportunity to rest while her partner alternated between leaning against the railing watching the pods of dolphins trailing the yacht and - since no one else was bothering to - actually sailing the yacht, keeping them reasonably close to a westerly course. As near as Ivan could tell, San Viano’s finest had either reached the costume shops long after the private detectives had raided them, or simply had far more sense than Bob to begin with, as they wore mock-ups of revolutionary-war-era naval uniforms instead of piecemeal pirate regalia. Or at least they had, until the afternoon heat had led them to shed their jackets; now they looked more like a pair of turn-of-the-century deckhands in white linen undershirts and khaki pants.
Iiwi, grudgingly clad in a vaguely pirate-y vest and belt to placate her employer’s demand that she attend in costume, had decided at the onset that the best way to keep herself from killing Bobetta’s haughty, refreshment-laden maid would be to remove herself from the French hen’s vicinity entirely. Therefore, while Gracie strutted about the deck in ridiculously high stiletto heels, fishnet stockings, and an even briefer, wenchy-er ensemble that her usual fare, the scarlet-plumed Flier cavorted amongst the clouds, performing light aerobatics and enjoying the sea breeze’s caress through her feathers.
Lita had at least made a token effort at pirate clothing, which amounted to a worn pair of jean cut-offs, a striped tank top, a shredded vest, a tatty bandana/do-rag, and a shiny golden hoop earring that Ivan couldn’t help feeling he was better off not knowing whether or not was real jewelry. Both Lita and the Sign Holder - who had thankfully, Ivan noted, declined every last scrap of pirate regalia the rabbit had offered him – had at first stood at the portside railing and watched Redbird’s impromptu little air-show - but, youthful attention spans being what they were, it hadn’t long before his wards appropriated lounge chairs for themselves and were gleefully obliterating each other in some cable-linked hand-held video game or other, lost in a world of pixels and electronic beeps.
And there he was, the great Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi, sulking at the bow - invited only because Bobetta seldom missed an opportunity to flaunt her superior wealth under his nose. Still, he thought to himself, at least he could derive a modicum of satisfaction from the fact that he was one of the few souls on board that didn’t resemble a hastily-cast extra for The Curse of Dreadbeard’s Sword.
The absurdity of the situation really defied all imagination, Ivan decided. Indeed, he half regretted not thinking to ensure at least one of his wards brought a camera along to record the event for posterity (and, possibly, blackmail). At some point in time, Gracie decided that she would pilot the yacht from there on, shooing Squeaks off to doze by the railing as the ‘barmaid’ took the helm. Which made the whole crew look even more ridiculous – an effect that Gracie’s erratic steering and zigzag course only served to heighten. They were probably giving some poor desk jockey tracking their progress in Homeland Security a heart attack, and if at some point in time a Coast Guard cutter were dispatched to determine just what was going on with the gaudy little radar blip meandering across the Pacific like a drunken seagull, Ivan didn’t doubt for a second that they’d be written off as the proverbial ship of fools.
Iiwi was lazily cruising the sun-warmed misty clouds at 10,000 feet when the sudden presence of a darkened shape gliding across the waters below caught her eye. Her initial impression was that it was a commercial vessel of some sort, but she quickly dismissed that thought - Bobetta’s yacht might be sailing about willy-nilly, but even with all the pointless zig-zags and drunken weaves imparted on their course courtesy of Gracie’s particular style of steering by spinning the wheel around whenever she felt like it, the Silver Princess should not have wandered into any commercial shipping lanes. After all, if it had, both the commercial vessels and the Coast Guard would’ve quickly squawked at the yacht and sent it packing in the right direction. The Flier was equally certain of her own whereabouts – despite a carefree flight of cartwheeling dives and reverse-Immelman figure-8 loop-de-loops, her own internal compass assured her that her flightpath had kept her far from the shipping lanes. After all, airliners and smugglers often used said lanes to orient themselves as well, and she had no desire to run afoul of either.
She flexed her wings inward, reducing their surface area just enough to send her gently sinking below the clouds as physics sought to relocate her reduced lift-to-drag-ratio form to its proper place in the sky. Glancing right as she drifted free of all but the lowest-lying clouds, she spotted Bobetta’s splendid yet ridiculous, tackily-painted yacht sailing several dozen leagues northeast of her position, a tiny shimmering pink pearl amongst the swells on the far horizon. To her left, and much farther away, she could just make out the bulky forms of a cadre of container ships, each a massive black hulk capable of carrying two to four hundred oversized steel boxcars, with a floating profile that easily swallowed that of even a modern military aircraft carrier. Container ships never strayed from shipping lanes, and for good reason – they were hulking, huge, and slow. They needed the guaranteed safety and depths the shipping lanes had to offer, and their presence so far afield meant her mystery ship wasn’t a commercial sailor.
A fisherman, maybe? But – her shape was all wrong for that. Even from this high up, Iiwi could tell the vessel below was mostly wood and mast and sail; most modern fisheries used diesel-powered vessels with wide, open decks and a rear crane to hoist their catch and swing it into the chilled cargo holds immediately. And yet, she seemed far too big for a pleasure craft.
Iiwi dropped lower still, flaring her right wing out to take her into a wide, slowly-descending arc around the ship. Passing below two thousand feet, she was finally able to make out enough of the ship’s design to place it squarely in the realm of 18th - 19th Century Atlantic shipbuilding. An old schooner! Well, no wonder she hadn’t recognized it, then - she’d hardly seen but a dozen of them at sea, and with the Tall Ships expo currently touring Europe, they were an even rarer and more interesting sight than usual! She found herself wondering where this particular ship hailed from, where it was headed, and whether it was a reproduction or a carefully-restored original.
Curiosity piqued, she pulled her wings in close, opting for a low-altitude flyby. Surely the owners wouldn’t mind; they probably got that sort of thing all the time, albeit closer to port.
She drew level with the tops of the midlength trim-sails about twenty feet away from the portside deck of the ship, eyes greedily drinking in the sights of the schooner’s tatty, salt-bleached linen sails and pockmarked wooden hull, reveling in details like the powder-burns around the cannon-ports and the thick crust of barnacles peaking into view overtop the rushing swells as the schooner cut across the waves. A crudely-painted name adorned the bow in a faded reddish-brown tint, and as she angled towards it for a closer look, a chorus of gruff voices rose over the rush of the wind and the sea, and her attention shifted to the crew of the ship. To the man, they were dressed as turn-of-the-century hard-luck sailors – a hodgepodge of mismatched, ruined garments, stained and faded and torn and threadbare, held in place with rope, salt-cracked leather, or rough metalwork, and accented with chipped and crudely-shaped knives and cutlasses, many of which were currently grasped in the dozens of hands madly gesturing her way.
She flared her left wing out, tucking in her right one for a moment to barrel-roll back another twenty feet off the schooner’s side again before spreading her wings and righting herself. Her presence seemed to have upset the crew. Had she interrupted something, then? A movie shoot, or possibly some strange new Reality TV series? Maybe it was part of a harbor festival, or some celebrity race or prank. People could get awfully fussy and secretive about such things - was she ruining a surprise? Were they worried she’d bring a bevy of mediahounds descending around their ears before they even got into port?
She had a nagging, uneasy feeling that wasn’t the case, and quickly put a bit more distance between her and the ship. Her instincts were telling her something was very wrong here…but her intellect just couldn’t figure out what. So it was a schooner full of angry pirates more at home in comics and movies than modern times – so what? Hollywood filmed stranger things every day. A boatload of rogues sailing under the Jolly Roger was banally pedestrian by their stand-
She had been in the midst of casually rowing away from the anomalous ship when that fleeting thought drew her gaze to the ship’s topmast, the puzzle-solving part of her brain curious as to what flag the ship flew, half-convinced it would be the stereotypically familiar, monochromatic, “under-a-black-flag-we-shall-sail” skull-and-crossbones everyone and their nestlings immediately recognized as pirates. The sight of the blood-red banner that greeted her, however, made her blood run cold. No one flew that flag in jest, for it was a flag still very much in use across the Pacific and throughout the coastal waters of Asia, a warning and constant reminder to local fishermen and rural seaside villages that gossip could be deadly and curiosity kills more than just cats. Few criminals openly advertised their presence in such a manner in modern times, but the pirates of the Orient were – and had always been – some of the bloodiest, most brutal and cruel killers to sail the seas, their flag’s appearance as unchanging as they themselves. It remained a symbol frozen in time, a moniker whose meaning had yet to change in over five millennia.
And one does not inherit a career of treasure-hunting and tomb-raiding without learning to fear that blood-stained banner more than death itself.
Jolly Roger, indeed, Iiwi’s mind screamed as she hurriedly sped away from the ship, impatiently clawing her way through the air on hastened wingbeats that tore at the wind in a blur of scarlet and snapping feathers. Joyeux Rouge is more like it – the original Jolly Red, the flag murderous pirates more interested in blood than booty fly to strike terror into the hearts of all ships within sight of it! Suspension of disbelief be damned – these guys are real!
Questions as to just what a pirate crew was doing with a vintage schooner would have to wait. Behind her, the crackle of gunfire split the quiet of the day. Not the cannons - she was too small and swift a target for such heavy ordinance – but the half-rusted pistols she’d seen decorating several of the crew’s ensembles. Crude iron pellets whizzed by her, hand-cast irregular blobs so far from actual spheres that they slipped and spun in the air like lead curve-balls, their imbalanced nature making the task of aiming them equally as difficult as avoiding their unpredictable paths. The antique weaponry and projectiles only served to make the encounter seem even more bizarre and unreal; despite having seen more than her share of nonsequitor battles, Iiwi found herself at odds with a lingering sense of bewilderment – and that sort of thing could get even the most skillful aviatrix killed. Hold tight your bearings, Papa had told her ages ago, when a hungry coyote had nearly made a meal of her, and above all, don’t panic. Lose your wits, lose your head!
A shot blazed across her left wing, the friction and turbulence of its passing singeing the tips of the feather barbs mere millimeters beneath it, and Iiwi spun in the air in a barrel roll as tight and quick as a figure skater’s triple axle, abruptly dropping twenty feet before rolling out and redoubling her efforts. She had to get out of range – and, more importantly, she had to get out of sight. The schooner well out to sea, and open ocean was far beyond the range of Fliers like herself. Long-distance migratory birds such as terns and albatross and even swallows could make it this far from shore without a ship, but not island songbirds like herself. Not iiwis. And bright red stands out against a blue sky like no other color. If she were lucky, the ship’s crew might not realize the discrepancy between her range and her location, might miss the fact that her presence this far out meant that another vessel was close by - but if she wasn’t, and failed to shake their pursuit, she risked leading them straight to Bobetta’s yacht, which had no weapons save those the guests themselves might have thought to bring aboard.
She beat her wings harder, faster, like an airborne sprinter eager for a win, her mind racing at an even faster pace as she sought to recall the finer details of her father’s half-forgotten history lectures and anthropology lessons. How far was the range on those pistols? More than that of contemporary designs? Less? They were mostly iron and wood, neither of which could handle the incendiary temperatures of modern steel and carbon composite, but they also took a variable amount of powder, which could pack a greater punch than standard ammo, provided the pistol didn’t explode on ignition. And what about rifles? Did any of the crew have those? What were their range? Greater than pistols, surely, but by how much? She’d heard stories of Revolutionary Era stone bullets flying miles through the air when fired skyward, but how much of that was just bunk? And what if the pirates used buckshot? Did they even have-
A streak of fire seared the underside of her wing, not far from the second joint. By virtue of marksmanship or just blind luck, one of the pirate riflemen’s aim was true, and five tiny pellets of shot tore into her wing. Two bounced off feather shafts - shearing precious flight feathers from their moorings but falling back to earth with them - but the remaining three leaden balls buried themselves in the tender flesh of the Flier’s right elbow. (Author’s Note: Anatomy Lesson! Birds’ wings are composed of three main joints: the shoulder, which attaches the wing to the body, the elbow, which is the part that folds tail-ward when a wing is closed, and the wrist, which supports the forward-folding portion of the wing. This A/N brought to you by Jennies: we do the research so you don’t have to! We now return you to your regularly-scheduled story, already in progress.)
With a shriek of pain, Iiwi dove away from the ship, sacrificing altitude for speed and skimming mere breaths above the waves in a desperate beeline for the distant yacht. She couldn’t feint and maneuver as much now, hobbled as she was, but she had distance and speed in her favor. Wingbeats slower and less frenzied now - for overexertion might further tear delicate flight muscles and hasten the flow of blood from her wound, bringing her crashing to earth in a faint she was not likely to awaken from - her best bet was a fast, shallow glide just above the surface of the water. Put enough distance between herself and the pirates at this height, and maybe, just maybe, they’d lose her amongst the foamy swells before she reached sight of the yacht.
It might just work…
Ivan hadn’t realized the sea had lulled him into a hazy daydream until a familiar squawk abruptly jarred him back into reality. His head snapped up at the sound, eyes scanning the seas spread out before the yacht for the source of the wind-borne shriek as he leaned into the bow railing for balance. He finally caught sight of the distant, screeching Iiwi amongst the ocean swells some three leagues to port, crashing through as many waves as she cleared and winging her way towards the yacht like a half-sodden bat out of Hell. He’d scarcely glimpsed the struggling scarlet form when Lita’s own alarmed shout rang out behind him; a quick glance at the rabbit’s urgent gesticulations and outstretched, hastily pointing arm announced that the sharp-eared teen had also located the distressed Flier. This in turn triggered a frantic scrambling on the lower decks as everyone save the flustered hostess and her maid rushed up to crowd at the bow, flattening Ivan against the forward rail in their haste.
Ferdia reached the bow ahead of the rest of the crowd (No surprise there, Ivan remarked to himself – the da Birdies were known for their fleetness of feet, and the detective, at least, excelled in using that speed to rush headlong into, as opposed to out of danger…), barely allowing Ivan time to dodge out of the line of fire as she leapt up onto the lower railing rung to better see overtop the waves. Bracing herself against the top railing with her knees and the fingertips of her right hand, the cop leaned over the railing and peered off to port through a set of binoculars she’d picked up goodness-knows-where-
Strike that, Ivan mused, catching sight of the source of the bluebird’s binoculars as he turned to seek out her partner. Squeaks dangled from the binoculars’ leather strap, tugging at it in a futile attempt to remove the binoculars from his neck - or at the very least, loosen them enough to be able to breathe again. His blue-feathered partner remained oblivious to his struggles, however, her attention riveted to the sky ahead until the mouse rather unceremoniously elbowed the back of her knee and jerked the binoculars from Ferdia’s grasp as she flailed for balance. The bluebird’s balance faltered for a moment despite her frantic efforts, her knee buckling - but she managed to pivot around and tip her weight forward without pitching into the crowd behind her.
“She’s losing altitude,” Ferdia observed, pointing out the struggling Flier’s erratic wingbeats and flight pattern as she plucked the binoculars away from Squeaks once more – albeit this time without catching her partner in their strap – as if the previous interchange hadn’t happened at all.
Bob, looking a little miffed with his position at the back of the crowd - mostly because it blocked his view of whatever it was that was happening over the railing - wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to play the hero, especially when his fiancée was around to admire his daring rescue of a hapless damsel. “In that case, we should get as close to her as possible,” he declared, pounding his fist into his palm before darting back to the now-abandoned helm and starting up the yacht’s internal engine with flourish, “So she doesn’t have as far to fly.”
Freed from the binoculars, Squeaks took a minute to enjoy his newly-regained ability to breathe as he surveyed the seascape ahead. After a moment, the mouse frowned, squinting at the horizon beyond Iiwi. “It looks like there’s a ship behind her,” he pointed, wresting the binoculars away from Ferdia, “Almost as if they were chasing her.”
“Who’s chasing her?” Ferdia grabbed at the binoculars, commandeering one of the eye-holes after a brief tug-of-war with her partner and peering out toward the distant ship as Lita loudly clamored for a turn, “I can’t make out a flag.”
“She’s bigger than we are,” the mouse volunteered, adjusting the focus dial as best he could with only one eyepiece to work with, “two, three hundred feet, easily, and most of it wood. I count two masts, six sails…and…are those cannons?!?”
“She’s an old sailing ship!” Ferdia cried. “Probably a luxury tourist charter or Hollywood rental or something. But…what’s that flag they’re flying? Flat red? Is that Russian? Chinese?”
Lita, having procured a gilded spyglass from someplace Ivan was fairly certain Bobetta hadn’t wanted her exploring, eagerly leaned over the two cops, training the pilfered object on the ship’s flag once she’d gotten a feel for how it worked and where the vessel was. “That’s not a national flag,” the teen informed her impromptu elbow-rests, “That’s what those of us in pirate circles call a Joyeux Rouge.”
Beside her, the sign holder frowned. “But I thought the Jolly Roger was the skull-and-crossbones?”
“Most people do,” the rabbit nodded, scowling and staggering back a step as Ferdia and Squeaks shoved her off their shoulder blades, “but, really, that’s another type of pirate flag entirely. Actually, that’s the one you want to see, because it means they’re taking prisoners.” She blinked at the skeptical faces surrounding her. “What? Am I the only person here that visited a library after seeing Captain Jack?”
“I’m surprised you know what a library is,” Ivan commented dryly.
“Actually, it was a bookstore,” the teen shrugged, “but I’ve got credit.”
Squeaks shook his head at the deck and tiredly pinched the bridge of his nose. “Getting back to the matter at hand…”
“Like, why would a tourist ship bother with a detail like that?” Ferdia mused. “The bulk of the pirate-cosplaying population adore the skull-and-crossbones to the point of designing their own customized variants. Why go against the grain there?”
“Maybe they’re trying for accuracy?” Lita shrugged. “Shooting a documentary for the History Channel, something like that?”
“Or,” Ferdie interrupted, the green draining from his face as the coward contemplated a nightmare scenario, “They might really be pirates!”
“Like the pirates of the Caribbean?” Beak frowned.
“Kind of,” Ferdie nodded, “Except the Caribbean is on the East Coast, and we’re on the West.”
“These are not pirates!” Ferdia scowled at her brother. “They’re probably just trying to help Iiwi out.”
“Oh, yeah?” Ferdie returned his sister’s scowl with a defiant glare of his own. “Then why’s she running from them?”
Ferdia was still trying to come up with an answer to that question when a sudden rumble, like distant thunder, split the air around them. Two smoky white puffs drifted up from the bow of the distant ship, followed a moment later by the muted sound of twin splashes.
At the helm, Bob The Hero was steadily boosting the engine’s power, speeding towards Iiwi as fast as his fiancée’s yacht was able while cheerfully singing “Here I Come to Save the Day” in his best heroic voice. He couldn’t quite pull off the bass baritone, but he made a jolly good effort of it nonetheless.
Bits and pieces of the heated discussion at the bow drifted back to him occasionally, but Bob was a staunch supporter of the school of thought that held that Heroes were Doers, not Thinkers, and as such he liked to refrain from detailed planning as a matter of policy. Let the others worry about ships following behind Iiwi and their possible connotations; as the Hero, it was simply his job to hurry to her rescue. Everything else would fall into place from there; it always did.
He happily explained all this to Bobetta, who had wandered to the helm once she’d finally grown curious enough about the commotion at the bow to want an answer as to just what all the fuss was about and realized none of her guests where genteel enough to think to venture down to her shaded lounge of their own accord and give her one. Still, her fiancé’s version of events didn’t quite satisfy the heiress, who could see for herself that they were “going to rescue Iiwi” and was a bit more concerned with the ship those at the bow alternatively referred to as “helping” and “chasing” the bird than Bob seemed to be. She knew the Flier was a treasure-hunter of sorts, and even a bit of an unsavory one at times, but surely her dealings hadn’t brought a shipload of ruffians - or, worse, police - after her now, of all times! Bobetta wasn’t sure if she could stand the sort of public embarrassment having her beautiful new yacht dragged into a sordid news story like that would bring!
Then a sudden thundering sound boomed overtop the whistling of the wind through the sails overhead, and the arguing at the bow fell silent for one long, drawn-out minute.
Ferdie was the first to break the lull. “Cannonballs!” the coward yelled, turning to flee sternward so quickly that, in his haste, he plowed straight into the line of buffet tables. As several thousand dollars’ worth of canapés and pastries and tiny handmade truffles sailed into the air and peppered her beautifully wrapped presents and polished deck like expensive bird-droppings, Bobetta swooned into Bob’s arms.
Which was probably for the best, as mere moments later, Iiwi plunged to the deck like a kingfisher gone kamikaze, crashing through the disheveled buffet line in an explosion of hor’deouvres, ladyfinger sandwiches, and shards of fine china that put Ferdie’s collision to shame. The Flier’s flailing talons slipped on the splattered icing smeared about the deck as she attempted to bring herself to a halt, and she lost her footing, tumbling head-over-heels as she plowed straight through the sizeable pile of Bobetta’s gaily-wrapped birthday gifts, sending the ribbon-bedecked boxes and delicate tissue-paper bags flying across the deck like oversized pink hailstones before finally skidding to a stop amongst the tangle of lounge chairs and cushions at the far end of the yacht - eyes closed, wings splayed, and on her back, her left leg and talons twitching ever so slightly.
Still at the helm and trying to work out just how to steer whilst supporting his swooning fiancée, Bob saw a spreading dark stain on Iiwi’s wing, and had just enough time to notice the streaks of red blood mixed in with the trail of icing and destruction along her landing path before the rest of the crew descended upon the wounded bird with First Aid kits and Magi Healing abilities.
“Bob!” Squeaks shouted, catching the kiwi’s worried stare as the mouse turned towards the renewed sound of thunder with a look of apprehension and concern, “Get us out of here, now!”
At the helm of the Bloody Mary, Captain Biggs laughed heartily as the shimmering pearl of a ship before them slammed her rudder and spun her sails in a hasty about-face.
Aye, now she runs, the gristled marten chuckled, absently polishing his canines with the tip of his tongue in anticipation. Oh, she was a fast little chit, he’d grant her that - but she’d be sailing against the winds now, and would likely be within range of their guns long a’fore she trimmed her sails prop’rly and got up to speed. He didn’t recognize the flag she flew - all bars and stripes with a patch o’ starry night sky tucked up in the corner like an afterthought - but it looked a bit like the ones the Colonies used, and that was good enough for him - after all, any friend o’ the Empire weren’t no mate o’ his.
Truth be told, the pearly pink girl was a bit pretty for a Colonial ship, and rather small for a trader. Her mast was swept back towards her stern as if in the grasp of a strong headwind, and she hardly looked big enough to brave the seas beyond the sight of land – then again, he wasn’t all that picky about his prey. ‘Specially when the holds an’ larder of his own ship were empty as they were now, as long as a vessel were afloat and in his path, petty details like size, crew, cargo, and even flags mattered not. Biggs had never really been much of a patriot, he supposed – but, by heck, as long as the Brits were out to hang a body, ye might as well rack up as much of a profit as possible, he reasoned. And if that meant sacking every ship he came across, so be it.
The battered old schooner cut to the right, making the most of the wind. Her ragged sails caught the air current and billowed outward, boosting the swift ship’s speed and bringing her to a course parallel with their fleeing quarry. A stony rattling gurgled up from beneath the bow – blasted barnacles again, no doubt; too long since last they’d beached the ship and scraped her belly. One good haul, he’d promised the lads – just enough to replenish their stocks of drinking water, shot, and gunpowder - and then they’d be due for a bit o’ a stopover on one o’ the tropical beaches the boys liked to keep wives at. With a bit o’ luck, this little Colonial bird would do the trick, set them up right pretty for a while. She was almost in range now; Biggs ordered shots fired across her bow once the cannons would reach more than her wake, just to shake ‘er up a bit.
Now seemed as good a time as any to get an idea of their defenses, he decided, fishing a tarnished and dented spyglass out of his vest pocket and wiping the grime from its lenses before bringing it up to his eye….
He almost choked at what he saw through the spyglass. The ‘Silver Princess’, as her shimmering letters proudly boasted in fancy scriptwork, had no discernable defenses to speak of! No guns, no cannon, not even a handful o’ whaling spears to hurl at intruders! Honestly, now - what manner of fool ventured out to sea without a means to repel boarders? He turned his eyes towards the crew for an answer, and nearly dropped the spyglass in disbelief.
The Silver’s crew looked to be even more ridiculous – a “Ship of Fools”, indeed! Besides the wounded Flier, who he assumed was a sort of lookout or scout, the crew appeared to be composed of two deckhands, three buffoons, a pair of cabin boys, a wench, and a lady passenger. He paused, wiping sea spray from the lens of his spyglass once more before peering at the magnified - if fish-eyed and only marginally focused - view of the hurried activity aboard his quarry’s deck. Upon closer inspection, he decided, the pair of ‘deckhands’ helping the tall brown bird dress the Flier’s wound more accurately appeared to be clad in a variation of British Naval attire – possibly part of some Colonial unit, though what good the Colonies thought an escort like that would do on a ship as poorly armed and armored as the Silver, he couldn’t say. At any rate, they seemed to be the two aboard most capable of putting forth any sort of resistance, along with perhaps the gray fellow arguing with one of the buffoons by the ship’s wheel - his manner suggested power, or at least authority and an expectation of being obeyed, which Biggs reckoned made him either the ship’s owner or its captain.
A tiny crew and a nearly helpless ship. Biggs muttered a silent prayer of thanks to the goddess of the sea for providing him with such an easy raid. Perhaps they could sell the ship at Barbados, if she didn’t take too much damage. It was tempting to remind his crew that the same could be done with survivors – though the Bloody Mary currently sailed under the Jolly Roger for lack of freshwater and supplies, youths such as those the cabin boys’ age fetched high prices at the cane fields. And from the quality of her gown, he figured the lady to be of a very wealthy family - perhaps they could ransom her for a few hundred pounds of her daddy’s gold.
The sound of his name being called roused Biggs from his thoughts, and he turned to see the ship’s bosun, a lanky young ferret with an ragged ear and two fingers missing off his left hand, whose name the captain could never remember but who was called Twitch by the crew for his tendency to fidget, hailing him anxiously and eagerly dancing about the lower deck. Their target was in range, he reported, and refusing to yield under their warning shots. What were the captain’s orders?
Biggs grinned. Time to lay out some ground rules, afore the boys got ahead of themselves. They were itching for a good fight about as much as they were for a good meal, but as captain, it was his duty to temper their desires with a dollop of sense. Their coffers were empty, and the Silver’s crew tiny but valuable. Jolly Roger or no, he needed to convince them that slaves and a captured vessel were a better option right now than a bloodbath and a fiery scuttling.
The cannonfire was coming more rapidly now, deafening bursts of thunder that sent sets of iron shot the size of bowling balls streaking across their deck like primitive strike-fighters. “Warning shots,” Squeaks had called them, and despite their straining engine and properly-tacked sails, they didn’t seem to be getting any further away from the ship lobbing them. Ferdie was holed up by the radio, had been since Iiwi crash-landed on deck, frantically calling for help, trying to raise the Coast Guard or anyone else listening with a nearly hysterical S.O.S. that might have sounded ludicrous were it not for the near-constant echo of panic and cannons in the background. For once, Ferdia couldn’t fault her brother’s terror – they were, after all, losing ground to their attacker, under heavy arms fire in a ship that would very likely splinter into kindling with the first hit, and armed with only a handful of firearms and a flare gun. And Beak’s lightsabre, for all the good it would do.
Iiwi was conscious again, the pellets removed from her wing by Squeaks, the bleeding stoppered by Beak and whatever Magi-powers the kiwi had had time for before the ship had fallen under attack in earnest. The wounded Flier could do nothing to help their situation - a frustration loudly echoed by Lita until a few moments ago, when the teen had snapped her fingers and dashed belowdecks with a cry of sudden inspiration.
Tempting as it was to follow after the rabbit to see whatever solution the creative young deviant had devised, Ferdia remained where she was, darting back and forth between the tie-offs holding the sails, trimming them this way and that as Squeaks, at the helm again and apparently dredging up every last bit of traditional sailing knowledge the Arellian navy had seen fit to train him up with, did what he could to dodge their pursuers.
But a game of cat-and-mouse can only go on for so long. Growing tired of giving endless warnings, the Bloody Mary – for so her nameplate declared her to be, in inexpertly-stroked letters painted a faded reddish-brown hue that years of homicide cases and her cop instincts told her was dried blood – drew abreast of their starboard side and loosed a volley of ten cannons – one from each twenty-pound gun mounted on her port side. And this time, they meant business: two shots sailed overhead, but one clipped the last of the buffet line, sending the tables overboard, and another shattered the sternside rail.
But it was the last of the five that did the real damage. It slammed into the mast six feet above the deck, twisting the forty-foot spindle around like a child tearing off an errant pull-tab and nearly shearing the entire structure – mast, sails, and all – clean off. A thin piece of the hollow mast’s aluminum/carbon-fiber shell held fast, though, sending the massive web of metal, rope, and sailcloth toppling down towards the deck – right at her, Ferdia realized. She dove out of the way with just enough room to spare as the mast came crashing down onto the port side of the yacht, then flung herself backwards toward the mast as the metal boons that anchored the bottoms of the sails swung her way. Her tailbone stung in protest as she hit the deck, tumbling backwards as steel cable and sailcloth swished by, dangerously close to her chin. For a moment, the world was lost in a milky-white canvas veil amidst the piercing shriek of metal and crash of wood as the crippled mast smashed in a good portion of the yacht’s side. She heard a good deal of shouting as she blindly fought her way through the folds of sailcloth, and eventually the sound of Beak’s lightsabre slicing through the canvas nearby reached her ears. Moving towards the sound, she finally found herself free from beneath the sails.
Her heart sank as she took stock of the damage. The ship was listing dangerously to port, and the spinning, whirling, plunging mast had taken out the helm – and with it, the radio, she heard Ferdie gibbering – torn up the deck, and finally come to rest half in the sea and half in the trough it had pounded into the portside run of the yacht. And, though their waterproofing currently stemmed the tide a good deal, the sails nonetheless began sinking in the seawater, adding even more weight to the heavy mast currently tugging the ship off-balance. To make matters worse, apparently the cannonball’s destruction hadn’t stopped with the mast - a soaked Gracie bolted into view from below-decks shrieking “Ve ah Zinkink!” at the top of her lungs.
Ignoring her brother and the panicked maid, Ferdia ran to the others. Bobbetta was, naturally, in hysterics, clutching at her fiancé like a drowning woman as Bob yelled “S.O.S.” into a portable emergency radio’s microphone nonstop and Beak frantically flipped through the dials in search of a frequency someone within range was using. Squeaks and the Sign Holder were searching the shrouded deck for life rafts and emergency flares; Ivan, meanwhile, was trying to calm Bobetta down enough so that she could tell them just exactly where she had hidden these necessary items – no small task, as the heiress only shrieked and clutched her fiancé more and more with each half-forced, deliberately calm platitude from Ivan.
A moment later, Lita emerged from belowdecks clutching a garbage bag of what looked suspiciously like several dozen jerry-rigged Molotov cocktails crafted from wine bottles, kitchen grease, motor oil, and very expensive socks. She wasted no time in flicking a butane lighter to the tips of several of these and lobbing them at the dangerously-close decks of the pirate ship, and the fiery explosions the concoctions caused temporarily stilled the pirates’ cannons – especially once the pirates realized the teen seemed to be intentionally aiming for groups of pirates manning said cannons.
Taking advantage of their attackers’ momentary distraction, Iiwi half-flit, half-hobbled to the remains of the helm and set about trying to steer the yacht clear of their boarders, since the engine and rudders were still functional even if the wheel had been reduced to a splintered half-moon - but between her wing injury and lack of opposable thumbs, the Flier wasn’t getting very far. Clawing her way past the wreckage and dodging the shots the pirates’ marksmen were blindly firing in an attempt to stem Lita’s deadly barrage, Ferdia took control of the ruined helm, now little more than a mass of shattered fiberglass and dangerously twisted metal, motioning the wounded Iiwi to the bow to advise her on exactly which direction was away from the enemy ship.
Which turned out to be a rather useless thing to do, since, moments later, a bevy of steely-clawed ropes flew overhead and lodged themselves in the yacht’s railings, hauling the crippled boat alongside their pursuers as several dozen unkempt, unwashed, and altogether unpleasant-looking pirates leapt onto the deck.
It would perhaps be too gracious to suggest that all hell broke loose. In all honesty, all hell did NOT break loose. But a rather peculiar type of pandemonium did.
First off, the sudden arrival of several dozen pirates on the small luxury yacht effectively shot its weight capacity to hell. Which would have been bad enough if the yacht had been intact. Damaged and water-logged as it was, the extra weight on the starboard side swung the yacht back into a level bearing again – and then, amidst a good deal of creaking and groaning and cracking from metal fatigued to the point of failure, began to hasten its sinking, as water gushed in through the cracks in the damaged hull.
This caused a great deal of screaming from Gracie and Bobetta – but, on the upside, it did cause the heiress to remember where her life raft was. She fished the bright yellow rubber inflatable out of the tackbox she had been sitting on, pulled its cord, and lobbed it over the yacht’s portside. Which caused no small amount of dismay among those of her crew that realized the raft was now impossible to reach.
That realization was secondary, of course, to their primary concern, which was that several dozen very angry – and, in some cases, badly singed - pirates had just boarded the yacht and were charging at every living creature already on the yacht, waving cruelly-shaped sabers and blood-encrusted daggers as they did so.
That’s when the fighting began. Despite the fact that Bobetta had explicitly forbid weapons aboard her yacht, nearly every last one of her guests had come to her party armed. Ferdia and Squeaks had brought their service weapons with them and were steadily picking off any pirate that showed too much homicidal aptitude. Bereft of their customary belts full of extra clips of ammo, however, it was obvious from the start that their ammunition supplies would fall far too short of the sheer number of boarders lining the decks of the larger ship, and the pair took up a defensive position, standing back-to-back and kick-boxing every last pirate that came within their reach. Iiwi stayed close to the cops, as with her wounded wing, she couldn’t build up the speed and altitude she needed to effectively stoop her opponents, and was left with kicking and clawing with her talons and pecking and tearing with her beak. Across from them, Ivan, Lita, and the Sign Holder held their attackers at bay with an interesting combination of martial arts, knife-fighting, gunplay, and some rather vicious sign-swinging, with the occasional Molotov cocktail thrown in for good measure. Bob and Beak, hero and hapless baNAnabrain that they were, took it upon themselves to defend Bobetta and Gracie: Bob heroically charged and booted anyone who ventured near his fiancé, while Beak had drawn his lightsabre and was using it to calmly – if perhaps sometimes a bit too literally – disarm his opponents.
For the curious, Ferdie was now screaming with such vigor that he put Bobetta and Gracie to shame.
Biggs was rather impressed. He hated to admit it, but there it was, plain as day: though the Silver Princess boasted no ship-to-ship defenses – save the strange fire-bottles the mammalian cabin boy had bombarded his portside deck with in the moments before boarding - she was proving quite difficult to subdue once boarded. Despite the fact that they were hopelessly outnumbered – and, apparently, sinking, despite his entreaties to his men to treat their quarry gently – the Silver’s crew refused to surrender, fighting with a ferocity he had not anticipated. Moreover, they were using tactics and weapons he had never seen before – and even those he could identify, like the naval officers’ firearms, were notably more sophisticated than any others he’d come across. And Biggs had taken on more than his share of military persons.
There was no getting near the officers. They had felled – or at least wounded – no less than half the force that had originally boarded the boat, and were steadily picking off those still boarding. Moreover, they were devastating any man that approached them - and when none approached, the pair would charge into the nearest group of pirates, beating them away from the lesser-capable members of the crew.
The red Flier that one of his marksmen had downed earlier was doing a rather commendable job of holding her own. He didn’t recognize her species, but he did recognize the dangers of her sharp beak and talons. She fluttered about a bit, hobbled by her injured wing; if she was anything like the Fliers Biggs was accustomed to, most of her attack strategies relied on flight, which was a rather painful and difficult process for her at the moment. Still, even the smallest kitten can fight, and those that drew too close for her comfort soon found themselves harried overboard – or driven straight into the willing boots of the blasted naval officers.
The gray bird he took to be the boat’s owner also seemed to be its captain, as the two cabin boys had formed ranks and were actively defending him. Oh, he was doing a fine job of doing that himself – Biggs wondered if the bird was, perhaps, a privateer himself, despite the defenseless state of his current vessel. He certainly looked to be, with all the weapons he carried. He directed the cabin boys from the helm, and seemed to be trying to fend off enough pirates to allow him to steer the boat away from the never-ending supply aboard the Bloody Mary. The avian cabin boy had started off with a large wooden object that looked suspiciously like – but could not possibly have been – a sign. This had broken rather quickly, and he now fought with the splintered, club-like remains. He’d taken out quite a few of Biggs’ men, either with a solid blow to the head or a hearty smack into the ocean. The second cabin boy, an odd-looking mammal of sorts, was most assuredly from the East Indies: the tall youth fought with the impossibly fast speed and peculiarly skilled moves of a Chinaman, as well as a rather frightening capacity for knife-play. His trick with the fire-bottles may have raised the ire of the boarding crew, but none that approached him managed to extract even an ounce of revenge. Already, Biggs had lost count of the men that had been done in with their own weapons after venturing too close to the boy.
Two of the buffoons were defending the lady and serving wench, and proving to be a lot more capable than they looked. While the third, a blue fellow with no wits about him, had run about screaming – at least until a pirate had smacked him silly – the other two were doing an admirable job of holding their ground. The taller, brown bird brandished a saber the likes of which Biggs had never seen – it seemed to glow with light – and calmly repelled all who ventured too close. Moreover, the awkward false hands both he and the yellow bird wore were obviously clever ruses, as neither appeared to be lacking an appendage.
However, as mean as the yellow one’s kicks looked, they were avoidable, and to a man, across the bogged decks of the ruined ship, the colonial fighters were running short of ammunition and visibly beginning to tire.
Victory was drawing near. It was inevitable, after all - for despite their skill, the Silver’s crew had only numbered eleven at the start. Biggs, however, had dozens of battle-starved killers at his disposal aboard the Bloody Mary.
Ferdia grimaced as her gun clicked, a short hiss of frustration escaping her beak as the forty-five’s hammer met only empty air inside its chamber. Out of ammo. She released the spent magazine with the flick of a switch, free hand flying toward her waist, seeking the spare magazine tucked in her belt and snatching it free. She slapped the magazine into the automatic, thumbed off the safety, and resumed firing as easily as if she were on a speed course at the firing range – only to hear the familiar click of an empty chamber again far too soon. There was no backup magazine this time, no more ammo to load; she and Squeaks had been traveling light, as the day had promised to hold no more than a leisurely day-cruise far from the cares of city life. So much for that idea, she snorted, jamming the automatic into the back waistband of her costume, her left hand instinctively reaching for her nightstick. A nightstick that wasn’t there, of course – she had left it, along with the rest of her uniform, back on shore. The rest of this fight would have to be fought with fists and feet.
Which hardly seemed fair, given that their enemies had pistols, daggers, cutlasses, and the gleam of bloodlust in their eyes.
Squeaks had used his ammunition a bit more sparingly, and still held half a clip; together, the two of them managed to keep the worst of their adversaries at bay – for a while, at least - before she heard the empty echo of another hollow click, followed by an oath as her partner exhausted the last of his rounds as well. Reduced to street-fighting, the two pulled into a more defensive stance as the pirates closed in. She lost track of how the others were faring, her focus narrowing to the cluster of angrily-contorted faces immediately before her: a kick here, a jab there, all the time on the lookout for where the next attack was coming from.
The flutter of wings and a strangled cry from somewhere off to the left announced that Iiwi was in trouble. Risking a glance in her direction, Ferdia saw a group of pirates had cornered the Flier. Iiwi leapt backwards, into the air, beating her wings to stay airborne long enough to claw at her attackers with her talons – only to have one of the pirates snake out a hand and grab her right foot, jerking the Flier off-balance as another stepped behind her to catch her in a full-nelson.
The sound of a fist meeting the flat of a knife brought her attention back to her own situation in time to flinch away from the dangerously-close blade as it fell across her field of vision, far too close for comfort. She recovered in time to meet the pirate charging her partner’s flank, catching the rat with an elbow to the nose as Squeaks whirled to deal with their faltering defenses, eyes meeting hers for the briefest of instances in a look that said simply, pay attention! as if the world outside their immediate circle of pressing opponents had ceased to exist.
And, Ferdia thought as she looked around at the ever-increasing horde of pirates surrounding the two of them, perhaps it had.
They were in trouble.
Any idiot could see that. They had been in trouble from the very start – from the instant the pirates landed their first shot to the moment they began boarding the crippled ship in droves. The enemy had the advantage of numbers – a huge advantage in numbers, to be precise - as well as a ship that, while smoldering a bit from Lita’s pyrotechnics, was at the very least not actively sinking.
Still, a few years’ tenure in San Viano would have even the most skeptic man believing the city’s finest capable of miracles, and it wasn’t until he saw the never-ending mob of pirates finally overwhelm Birdie and Arcadia that Ivan realized they were in even more trouble than he had thought. The two cops were an army in and of themselves, in his professional criminal opinion, and while he had seen them routed and fought to a standstill before – on very rare occasions – he’d never seen them outright defeated. Oh, there was still quite a bit of kicking and yelling and struggling going on over there, but unless one of them had some sort of last-minute ace up their sleeves, they were essentially down for the count.
And the Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi was no fool. If those two couldn’t beat the odds, then he certainly stood no chance of doing so. Even his wards, with all their youthful exuberance and creative modes of violence, were beginning to show signs of tiring: the sign holder’s swings barely had enough strength to score a base hit off of, and Lita’s kicks were being supplemented more and more often with the swing of a broom handle she’d managed to pick up somewhere along the line and fashion into a spear with a bit of rigging rope and a captured sword. If anyone came at them brandishing a pistol at this point, they would be in serious trouble. And yet, they – and Iiwi, who was currently dangling a foot and a half off the deck in a burly rat’s full nelson, and had been doing so for a good fifteen minutes at this point – remained alive and relatively unharmed. There was only reason Ivan could think of that even began to explain this unexpected stroke of luck: despite his ward’s assertions of the meaning behind their flag, the pirates were taking prisoners. Fabulous! Being a prisoner was, in his opinion, far better than being shark bait.
He pushed his way in front of his faltering wards, causing their attackers to pause just long enough for him to raise his hands and utter what was quite possibly the only French word in his vocabulary: Parlay.
Had Ferdie been conscious at this moment, he would have uttered a single, blood-curdling shriek, ‘urk’-ed, and fainted dead away. But Ferdie had been conked unconscious soon after the start of the attack. Fortunately, Gracie’s reaction was the exact same thing, so the world was not deprived of its occurrence.
Bobetta reacted not much better, turning and fleeing as Ferdia and Squeaks fell and Ivan surrendered to the pirates. Unfortunately, she ran right into the arms of a waiting pirate, and promptly swooned.
Bob heroically ran to her aid, leaving Beak behind. However, before he reached her, he was snatched up from behind by a rather large pirate, who held our hero beyond booting-length a frightening distance from the ground. Beak would have gladly helped get Bob out of this predicament, but he himself was in currently a choke-hold, courtesy of a pirate who had stepped in when Bob darted off to help Bobetta.
Bob frantically looked around for someone else that could help him. Hadn’t they brought anyone else? They had to have brought someone else. They were the Good Guys, and someone always arrived in the Nick of Time to help the Good Guys win, right? The Good Guys always won, right? They didn’t lose. They never lose.