Eventually the storm broke, as all storms do, and dawn found the battered longboat swept ashore on a beach by the last of the gale’s angry waves, cast far beyond the normal high tide mark as the ocean receded once more, the past night’s fury long forgotten save for the unusual bits of debris and driftwood left strewn about the sand.
The sun beat down on the occupants of the boat, warming their bodies and drying their waterlogged clothes as seagulls flew overhead in search of beached fish and other tasty morsels. After a while, one particularly brave gull alighted on the ruined oar-lock along the boat’s rim, peering into the storm-delivered beach curiosity’s depths in search of food.
There was a big white thing lying inside the storm-fish’s belly. (Seagulls do not understand the concept of boats. They do, however, understand the general principle of fish carcasses floating ashore.) The white thing didn’t look like a fish, but by seagull logic, just because something didn’t look like a fish didn’t mean it was actually not a fish. In fact, from the seagulls’ point of view, they got fish-that-didn’t-look-like-fish on this beach all the time – especially after storms. A smarter creature might have attached names like octopus, shrimp, and giant sea-monster to these un-fish, but your garden-variety seagull has a brain the size of a macadamia nut, and at any rate thinks itself quite sophisticated with its three-tiered categorization scheme (fish, not-fish, and not-food). After all, there were bunches of tiny twittering finches further inland on the island that could only group things in two categories: food and things-to-poop-on.
This particular seagull thought of itself as a kind of prodigy, because it had come up with a hypothesis that some things that looked like fish were actually not fish. (Again, a brighter bird might have termed these things whales and dolphin, but we’ll let that go for now.) It had run into quite a bit of resistance to its theory, however, and thus tended to scavenge its meals alone. Perhaps, it thought to itself, if I find some especially tasty fish, and share it with the others, they will stop trying to drive me into the sea. Which, in seagull, translates into approximately, “Kree?”
That said, the seagull leaned forward for an experimental taste of the white possibly-not-fish’s possible-fin. It tasted like sea salt. But, then, so did most of the things that storms washed ashore. The seagull reached over for a more informative nibble.
The thing in the storm-fish’s belly jerked awake with a start, sending the seagull screaming away in alarm.
Squeaks rubbed his nipped ear sourly, scowling after the bird that had roused him for a moment until the sun’s rays and the beach’s tall, rustling sea-oats awakened him to another reality: land.
He was out of the boat in a flash, landing on cramped leg muscles that protested all this sudden movement and threatened to buckle beneath him unless he stretched them properly. This he did, grudgingly, sore muscles resisting the movement at first before fading to a dull ache. His throat hurt as well, and as the memories of why returned to him, he turned and dashed toward the sound of the ocean’s waves…
…and was promptly jerked back onto his tail by the forgotten lifeline. The knot looped around his belt was so completely encrusted with dried sea-salt that it wouldn’t budge; he had to undo the belt latch and thread the rope off manually to free himself. That done, he sprinted down the beach to the water’s edge, eyes scanning the wide stretch of sea and shoreline – half of him wanting desperately to find some sign of a red life preserver; the other worried about just what such a find might entail.
“ ‘tis a fine beach,” a voice broke through his thoughts. Squeaks rounded on its source, ears swept back and stance poised to attack the graying marten strolling casually out of the tropical forest behind the longboat, causing the pirate to pause halfway down the tide slope. “Easy, now, lad,” Biggs cajoled, raising his arms in mock surrender, “’re’s naught t’be gained by fightin’ now, is there? I’m sorry about th’ lass, truly I am - but ifn’t’weren’t fer me stoppin’ yer then, there’d nae be a ye t’be mad at me now, ye ken?”
Squeaks’ scowl deepened, glaring at the pirate captain. Logic was not what he wanted to hear at the moment, and the marten was a person he wanted to see even less. He found himself suddenly roiling for a fight, and with a sort of detached clarity realized that a lifetime of training and discipline was steadily losing out to the more visceral and primitive desire to rush the grinning pirate in a primal rage. His hindbrain absolutely insisted the latter would make him feel better, despite the more rational portion of his mind’s cold reminder that even vengeance-killing was murder. He wavered for a moment, pitting his gut reaction against professionalism and self-control, and in the end conceded that an immediate tactical withdrawal was going to be necessary to avoid bloodshed. Very deliberately, he straightened out of fighting stance, forcing the look of anger from his face. He was a professional, after all, therefore he would act like one.
At least, that was the plan. But one look at the bedraggled pirate captain’s infuriatingly complacent grin set his blood boiling again, and no amount of self-control seemed about to remedy that. “I’ve nothing to say to you,” he spat, stalking off down the beach as fast dignity and an inner voice bellowing a call to arms allowed.
“Will ye nae be wantin’ a bit o’ fresh water afore settin’ off on a hike like that?” the marten called after him, shaking the half-filled flask of drinking water he’d allotted them back on the ship.
“I’ll find my own.” I hope.
“Oh, aye? An’ I suppose ye’ll wash off all that sea-salt then, too, eh?”
“I suppose I will.” Absolutely. Stuff’s caked on like dried mud.
“Itches somethin’ terrible, don’ it?”
“It doesn’t.” Ohhh yes it does.
But we seem to be the only one caked in it, a voice at the back of his mind piped up. Squeaks halted briefly, turning around to look back at the smug-looking marten. It was true; the pirate didn’t appear to have so much as a speck of sea-salt on his coat. That seemed like a terrible waste of limited drinking water, unless… “You know where there’s water,” he ventured.
“Thet ye didnae have anythin’ ter say t’me,” the marten grinned.
“That’s right – I don’t.” His anger rushed back as swiftly as it had abated, a heady rush of blood pounding so loudly as to blot the sounds of the beach from his ears, hands clenching unbidden into fists at his side as a voice like black velvet whispered to him from the past. Revenge is not about getting something back, it purred, revenge is about getting even.
He’d hoped to never make sense of those words.
“’ey, now, wait a minute, lad,” Biggs called after him as the mouse bolted down the beach at a dead run, intent on distancing himself from the pirate as much as possible lest he act against his better judgment, “I was only joshin’ with ye, I was!”
Despite his entreaties and protestations, the pirate remained where he was as Squeaks raced out of sight. Joshing or no, Biggs wasn’t about to chase after the mouse – the old pirate knew his limits, after all, and if the younger man wanted to run along the beach like a madman at nigh onto midday, then that was his own fool business. Odds are we’ve come ashore on one o’ the many lonely little islands o’ the Caribbean, he nodded to himself, in which case, the lad’ll lap the beach an’ be back at the boat by sundown.
Perhaps by then, the mouse would have sufficiently cooled down, and regained enough of his senses to work with his fellow castaway again. Survival on a desert isle was difficult enough when one was alone; but survival on a desert isle when the only other soul for miles refused to speak to a body – now that was torture.
Iiwi awoke to the rather disconcerting feeling of not knowing where she was; a feeling made all the worse by the fact that she couldn’t remember what it was she’d been doing before falling asleep. It was a disorienting sensation she didn’t experience very often, and for good reason: she hated it! In her experience, it generally meant she’d been hit with some kind of tranquilizer dart, knockout gas, or an equally unfriendly form of greeting – and like most in her line of work, she always liked to know where she was and how she’d gotten there. It could mean the difference between life and death at times.
Like now, for instance. She was reasonably comfortable, and could feel something supple but supportive beneath her outstretched wings and across her torso – and yet she also had a sensation of weightlessness. There was nothing within reach of her dangling talons, as if she were being suspended in the air somehow, and the scent of seawater and palm oil permeated her senses, bringing back memories of her nestling home and Ozzie’s oceanfront bungalow.
A beach, then. Except it didn’t quite feel like she was in a hammock - the pattern of support was too random. And at any rate, she never slept with her wings outspread; like any flying bird, she folded them carefully at her sides, mindful that any other position would net her nothing but bent primaries and a morning-ful of preening the next day. Besides, her home was gone, and Ozzie was dead.
A breeze rustled through her feathers just then, and in a flash, she remembered the past night’s nightmare ride aloft in what had very likely been a small hurricane. Her eyes snapped open.
A short, involuntary gasp escaped her throat as she took in her surroundings. She was dangling some thirty feet above a tropical forest floor, held in place by an umbrella of overlapping palm fronds. A stream burbled over ferns and loose river stones a mile or so to her left, and a beach just was visible through the fronds to her right, at the far edge of the lush forest.
Oookay, she blinked, drawing her feet back towards her body because having them dangle in the air felt odd, as if she were landing but had gotten stuck in the air halfway to the ground. Now, how to get down from here…she glanced around: nothing but palm fronds on her level, and nothing but air at her feet. She was too far from the palm’s trunk to kick off of it, and she couldn’t quite reach the fronds across her chest with her feet either. That left her suspended largely by her wings on springy fronds. With nothing to push off from, she doubted she could launch herself into flight; the fronds would probably absorb the motion of her wings, robbing her of the lift her wingbeats produced. And she wasn’t about to try sliding off the fronds; if she’d sustained any further injuries to her wings during her unconscious landing than she had in her tumultuous struggle amidst gale-force winds before blacking out, thirty feet above the ground in freefall was not the time to find out about it.
Perhaps she could flutter her wings a bit, just enough to lift and drag herself a little bit further forward onto the fronds – enough to grasp at a them with her talons, and find a place to perch properly.
She tried flapping her wings, and almost immediately regretted doing so. To be sure, nothing felt as if it were broken, thankfully – but oh, how they ached! It felt as if she’d strained and pulled every last muscle in her wings – and, given the beating and buffeting she’d taken at the mercies of the storm winds, she very likely had. Still, hamstrung or not, a wounded runner can limp to safety; likewise, she managed to struggle up onto the fronds, gingerly folding her tender wings as she debated her next course of action.
“What I could really use now,” she sighed to herself, “is a little help.”
Not ten heartbeats after the words were out of her mouth, a white form in tattered navy rags jogged into view along the line of debris on the beach. Iiwi blinked, incredulous. Redbird, someone is really looking out for you today, she mused. It isn’t perhaps Da’s birthday, is it?
“Omigosh,” she chirped anxiously as the mouse continued on along the beach, “Squeaks! Squea-eeks! Squeaks! Over here!” she yelled, standing up on tip-toe and flaring out her wings as much as she dared as the mouse paused and looked out over the ocean. “Heeeeeey!”
His ears flicked back towards the forest, and he turned, finally catching sight of her amongst the treetops. “Iiwi!”
“Yes! Yes,” she shouted as he trotted up the sandy slope, “Who else?”
“It’s good to see you again,” he greeted her, slowing as he neared her tree.
“Yes, well, you’re a sight for sore eyes, let me tell you,” she grinned through the palm fronds, “Help me down, willya? That storm did a number on my wings.”
“I’ll bet it did. I haven’t got any rope, though; think you could manage a jump?”
“Jump?” She peered at him critically. “Are you serious?”
“Absolutely. You’re, what, thirty pounds?” (Author’s Ornithology Note: Birds have hollow bones, and thus only weigh about a third of a similarly-sized mammal. Iiwi’s only about 4’6”; the mammalian weight range of a petite female, i.e. 90 – 100 pounds. Though as an active athlete, she’s mostly fluff and muscle, and if anyone tells her I said that, I will deny it under oath and send you my hospital bills...)
“Please,” the Flier snorted, “Twenty-eight. Possibly less, after a day and a half of hard flying and no food.”
“Still fairly light by mammalian standards,” he smirked. “Really, now, we do this all the time with kids that get themselves stuck up a tree-” – here she stuck her tongue out at him – “Just drop down, and I’ll catch you.”
She hesitated. “Squeaks, falling like that goes against everything I’ve learned since before I was a fledgling.”
“So flare your wings out, if it helps you rationalize it. I promise, I’ll catch you.”
“Trust games go against my better nature as well,” Iiwi muttered, slowly edging forward on the fronds. “Ready?”
“Alright, then, here I go!” she pushed herself off the fronds, flaring her wings out but keeping them limp to minimize the strain on her muscles. She felt a brief rush of air whistle through her feathers – and, as promised, Squeaks caught her, and set her gently on the ground. “Nice catch,” she commented, folding her wings gingerly across her back and peering past him to the shore beyond. “So, what, you making a circuit of the beach, picking up salvage?”
“Something like that,” the mouse allowed, brushing a layer of salt crystals off his arms somewhat distractedly.
Iiwi looked at him more closely. “Hey, you’re covered in that stuff. Wanna wash it off? Or at least stop for a drink of water? I caught sight of a stream running through the forest just a bit further in…”
Squeaks’ ears perked up at the mention of water. “Sounds good.”
“Great. Follow me, then,” the Flier hopped around, striking out in the direction of the stream. At least my legs are fine, she noted with relief. Hiking may have been a far cry from her list of favorite pastimes, but it was better than the alternative, which was being carted around like an invalid while she waited for her torn muscles to knit. She set a leisurely pace across the underbrush, pausing every now and then to check her bearings – her orienteering skills were predominantly wired for aerial maneuvers, not pedestrian ones – or carefully pick her way around this or that thorny outcropping. Several times she made an attempt at idle conversation, none of which lasted more than a few moments as the task of finding the stream required most of her concentration and her companion seemed disinclined to keep the conversation going on his own. Eventually she gave up and shifted all her attention to locating freshwater as Squeaks followed her wordlessly; and after another fifteen minutes of walking in somber silence, the two of them reached the trickling stream, and traced it back to a small cascading waterfall and pool.
By now, however, Iiwi, a detective by training if not entirely by trade, had picked up on her companion’s distracted state of mind. It wasn’t like the mouse to be so unfocused, even when he was tired to the point of exhaustion, and she couldn’t think of a time when he hadn’t had a string of wry comments on-hand to lighten the mood of any situation, lest morale take a hit and fears or fatalism begin to take a hold on the group. It was, as he’d explained once, a carry-over from his Arellian training. But, then, he usually had Ferdia to join in on the banter, and right now, the bluebird was nowhere in sight.
A very worrisome thought crossed the Flier’s mind.
“Say, Squeaks?” she queried, as he knelt at the edge of the pool and splashed cool water on his face before beginning to scrub at the dried sea salt caking his arms, “Where’s Ferdia?”
The mouse froze for an instant, then looked away.
“Oh,” Iiwi blinked. Caught on open ocean in a hurricane, in that rickety old boat and no lifejackets… “Oh, Squeaks, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry…”
“I am going to kill Bob,” Ivan growled, shouldering open the door to the cramped but empty livestock closet and brushing grungy chicken feathers off his arms, “Make me hide in a chicken coop….Never been so insulted in my life…”
His wards knew better than to point out that it had been Ivan’s own idea to stow themselves in the wooden niche during the storm - at the time, it had seemed to be the only self-contained, leak-free shelter devoid of deadly ordinance, bone-crushing unsecured cannons, or dangerous flying objects (either the pirates had no chickens, or the fowl had fled their dark coop when the door had opened earlier). But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t argue with him.
“Aw, come on, boss,” Lita protested, “Why kill him now, when we can wait just a bit longer for him to regain his memory? I mean, ‘Pirate’ Bob is borderline psychotic; imagine what ‘Heroic’ Bob will think of how he’s acted?”
Ivan kicked at the remnants of a
nest of twigs that had somehow gotten caught on his foot. “Sorry, Farlane, but the mental torment
of my nemesis just isn’t going to cut it this time.”
“What about Bobetta?” the teen countered, following behind Ivan and the sign holder as the Mafioso splashed through thigh-high puddles of stagnant water and climbed over piles of broken debris, splintered support beams, and the occasional squashed pirate, “She an’ Gracie are gonna be so pissed at him-”
“And just what makes you think I give a flying-” he checked himself with a glance at the Sign Holder, muting the curse but continuing his tirade without missing a beat, “-about San Viano’s fluff-brained little neophyte princess?” the kiwi snapped. “I only associate with her to annoy Bob!”
“I thought you liked annoying her, too.”
“Side benefit, but not enough to save him. In addition to the indignity of forcing me to take shelter in a chicken coop, according to you he ran an injured Iiwi off the ship and left the detectives adrift in a rowboat. Do you honestly believe any of them made it through last night’s storm?”
“Well, yeah,” the rabbit frowned, following her boss up damp-smelling stairs coated with slime and seaweed, “I did…”
Ivan smirked condescendingly. “Ah, to be young and stupid again.”
“Hey!” she yelled, hands angrily balling into fists at her side.
The sign holder’s head snapped back and forth between the two of them like a spectator at a ping-pong match. “But boss, I thought you said they weren’t our friends.”
“That doesn’t mean I wanted them dead!” Ivan snapped. “If nothing else, I always knew where I stood with the detectives! Probably the only two cops in the city who could stop me for a broken tail light and not use it as an excuse to search the limo and bring me in for questioning. And Iiwi – Iiwi was…useful, if not entirely bipartisan. She’d get any info you asked for, then half the time, turn around and put it to use before you did! It’s people like that what help keep a business like mine running, whether they know it or not, and if Mister Look-At-Me-I’ve-Got-A-Peg-Leg wants to go around throwing them to the wolves-”
“Wouldn’t it be sharks?” the sign holder interrupted quietly, “I mean, seeing as how it’s pirates an all-”
“Whatever,” Ivan growled. “Point is, he’s got an appointment with a pair of cement shoes, and I’d hate for him to miss it.”
“What about Beak?” Lita tried as the kiwi’s hand closed on the door to the upper decks. “He may have no clue what’s going on half the time, but he’s not about to let anything happen to his friends.”
“He’s already let something happen to them.”
“Yeah, but…he’s not going to let anything happen to Bob, and if you make something happen to him, the pirates will get their memories back, and we’ll be facing keel-hauling all over again.”
Ivan paused, hand still resting on the doorknob. “You do have a point there,” he admitted with a grimace, after a long moment of searching for a rebuttal argument that didn’t come.
“Always happy to play Devil’s Advocate, boss,” she grinned, arms draped along the length of the iron cannon-loader she carried propped across her shoulders.
“Yes, well, go up there and advocate to ‘Captain Bob’ that he and his merry band of lunatics might want to rethink their stance on keeping me prisoner. And then bring the conspiracy theorist and the bananabrain back down here so we can talk strategy.” He paused, considering the gleam of mischief in his ward’s eyes. “Politely, if at all possible.”
Lita laughed. “Boss, when am I not polite?”
The ship had weathered the storm beautifully, Bob observed, scanning the flurry of activity below as his remaining crew collected the lifelines and swabbed the debris and seawater from the deck. Towards the rear poop deck, the cook was merrily smoking the fish that had been washed up on the deck over a stone barrel, occasionally stopping pirates passing by laden with armloads of seaweed and splintered timbers to pluck out this or that ‘succulent’ strand of weed or the tiny clinging crabs or strings of oysters or whatnot caught up in the muck. The bravest of the men were repairing the rigging lines and fetching down the torn sails, tossing the tattered sailcloth down to pirates armed with needles and thread and the hidden talent of darning. Those aloft also had the unpleasant task of untangling their brethren that had become caught up in the rigging the night before, and a growing number of bodies lay stacked at the bow, the youngest pirates relieving them of valuables, weapons, boots, and any clothes that took their fancy. These dead were easy enough to count, but Bob wasn’t entirely certain what score of men had been swept overboard in the storm; he’d assigned Ferdie the task of comparing names and numbers with the ship’s ledger to get an idea of how many lives had been lost in the fearsome gale.
The Bloody Mary herself was in manageable condition – much better than he’d had any right to hope she’d be after such a fearsome gale - but she’d need a fair amount of work before she’d be rightly seaworthy again. The top ten feet of the central mast had been split by lightning, and it was doubtful any number of taught iron bands could bolster its strength into something that could withstand the stress of the ship’s sails. And their grievances didn’t stop there - a good deal of the crossties on each mast had been partially or totally ripped apart and twisted askew, there was hardly a scrap of canvas not in need of darning, and a good deal of the crew quarters and cargo holds were flooded – so much so that some areas were completely underwater. The bilge pumps were helping ease that hardship somewhat, but the sheer amount of water told him his ship had sprung more than a few leaks from the pounding waves. No doubt about it - they’d have to beach the ship and haul her aground the first chance they got.
“Ferdinand!” he shouted, waving the damp bluebird up to the rear poop deck, where an array of charts had been laid out upon a table.
“Not ‘Yeah, Bob.’ ‘Aye, captain,’” he corrected the bluebird.
“Oh, right. Aye, captain?”
Bob blinked. “So what?”
“So, what did you call me up here for?”
“Ah, yes. That’s right.” He indicated the maps on the table. “I’m afraid last night’s storm has knocked us off-course and cost me my navigators. Since I distinctly remember you looking out at the stars the night before last, and First Mate Deadeye assures me you know how to take longitude readings, you will take over navigational duties from here on out - starting with finding me a nice, uninhabited island on which to repair my ship.”
Ferdie blinked. “Um, okay…” He looked at the antiquated maps of the Central American coastline laid out on the table, frowning. “First off, we’re, ah, no longer in this part of the Caribbean,” he said nervously, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a sodden square of multi-colored paper. (Having hidden below-decks for the entire storm - and remained there until the cook had found him hiding in a stewpot when said pot floated past the flooded kitchen - Ferdie had not yet had a chance to dry off as completely as those pirates that had been above-deck since shortly before sunrise. Bob would have upbraided the coward for his actions, had they come at any surprise at all to the kiwi.) Unfolding the soggy map and spreading it out flat on the battered table - making sure to keep the section that showed California folded over, lest ‘Captain Bob’ spot it and ask any number of inconvenient questions about it - he pointed to the mass of blue between the Hawaiian island chain and the Californian coastline. “All right; generally speaking, we’re somewhere in this region here.”
“What’s that strip of land there?” Bob frowned, indicating the thin strip of coastline peeking out from under the folded seam of the map, “And why isn’t it on any of my charts?” Delusional amnesiac or not, the kiwi was still a detective.
“That’s a, ah…newly-discovered territory,” Ferdie stammered, scrambling for a passable lie. “Hasn’t really made it onto most maps yet.”
“It looks rather large,” the kiwi remarked critically. “I’ve been sailing these waters all my life; I’d like to think I would’ve run into something like that long ago – or at the very least heard whispers about it in Tortuga.”
Ferdie’s eyebrow twitched. Give him the regular Bob Kiwi any day of the week; at least that one wasn’t as swift on the uptake all the time. “It’s, ah, not all that big, really. The map’s just a large-scale enlargement of the area.”
“Look, it’s the lost continent of Atlantis, okay?” the bluebird snapped, “And it only surfaced recently. There’s no way you would’ve seen it before, because it was underwater. Now, can I continue?”
Bob scowled. “If you watch your tone.”
“Fine, then. Now, the night before last, I took readings that put us around here,” he pointed to a square on the map, “And at least until the storm, we were sailing about 15 degrees southwest at somewhere around 20 knots, which puts us…” he frowned, mentally working through the calculations, “around here when the storm hit.”
“I don’t care about any of that,” Bob interrupted, “All I want to know is, where are we now, and what’s the heading to the nearest desert isle?”
Ferdie sighed, pulling out his pocket compass. “Well, I can tell you we’re currently heading just south of due west,” he frowned, “But I won’t be able to say exactly where the storm dropped us until I can see the stars tonight.”
“All the same,” the coward continued, gesturing to Hawaii, “There’s a pretty large island chain nearby, so even without an exact location, we ought to be able to reach a desert isle, or at least get significantly closer to one, simply by continuing to sail west.”
Bob muttered something about bloody useless fools.
“Speaking of useless,” Lita called from the middle deck, “Why don’t you cut down your ‘figurehead’ before she dies of exposure, eh?”
“You!” Bob rounded on her, “Traitorous dog! Where have you been?!?”
“Below-decks, attempting to convince Ivan to join your rather-diminished crew,” the teen replied through clenched teeth. To think, I argued against killing this idiot… “And you really should pull Bobetta’s girl back into the boat. She is a maid, after all; I’m sure she could help with the sewing…”
“Perhaps…” the kiwi allowed, “All right, the maid can go free. Put her to work on the sails,” he instructed Beak, who hurried off to order the bedraggled Gracie cut loose, “But I’m not about to release that blackguard Ivan!”
“For the record, he’s already released himself,” Lita interjected, looking bored. Her eyes flicked over to Ferdie. “And he’d like to speak to you.”
“Never!” Bob pushed the bluebird into the table full of maps, ignoring his squawk of protest, “I won’t hear of it! Why, I’ll-”
“Oy!” one of the pirates shimmying out along the bowsprit in order to untie the unconscious Gracie from her bindings set up a commotion, waving wildly to his fellows as they glanced up from what they were doing and crowded to the bow for a look, “There’s sommat shiny up ahead! Could be salvage!”
There were voices in the darkness.
“Careful, now, not so rough!”
“Aye, more gentle-like!”
“Oi, I’se a pirate, aye is. Aye dunt know fer gentle!”
“Aye, only Deadeye sez nae so ruff, an’ ‘e’s got ‘isself ‘at demon s’ard, ‘e does, so I sez, heed th’ cap’n’s mate.”
She felt herself being lifted, then stretched out on her back along something flat and dry and warm – which only her realize just how very cold and drenched she was.
And the stimulation of at least two senses often brings the others around just to see what all the fuss is about.
“Oi! She’s movin’, she is!”
“Ar, see? Tol’ ye she wuz’nae dead! Ye owe me a sack o’ pipeweed!”
Her eyes opened to the sight of a dozen sunburned, battle-scarred faces with bad teeth peering down at her with varying degrees of concern. And if that’s not enough to awaken one up and bring them bolting upright, very little is. Squinting in the sunlight, Ferdia had just enough time to vaguely identify her surroundings as a ship before a mass of blue feathers and mismatched clothing plowed into her shoulder with all the force of a guided missile.
“Sis!” Ferdie cried, enveloping her in a hug so tight it fell shy of crushing by virtue of the bulky foam life vest alone, “You’re alive!”
“Not if you don’t let go, I won’t be,” she gasped.
Sheepishly, her brother released her, rocking back onto his heels and sitting beside her on the sun-warmed deck as Ferdia glanced around at the bustle of activity just beyond her row of curious onlookers.
“This is the pirate ship?” she asked her brother.
“And the pirates are…helping us?”
“Yep,” Ferdie nodded again, grinning. “Beak ‘asked’ them to,” he clarified, winking conspiratorially.
“O…kay…” Ferdia nodded doubtfully, slowly getting to her feet. Ferdie rose with her, trying to support her as she wobbled unsteadily on legs that, if her tattered costume was any indication, were covered in tiny fish bites. She blinked down at her trousers – and at her jacket sleeves, which seemed to have suffered similar wear – and smiled weakly. “I suppose I about look the part now, don’t I?”
“Well…minus the life vest, maybe,” her brother grinned.
“So, where’s Squeaks?”
Ferdie’s grin faded, and he suddenly refused to meet her gaze. “You’re the only one we’ve picked up, sis. No one’s seen the longboat at all.”
“Hey, it’s okay, bro,” she reassured him with a pat on the shoulder, putting on her best ‘Big Sister’ face, “Last I remember, the storm was sweeping us off in different directions. He’s probably halfway to Maui by now.” That’s right; he’s got a compass and all those supplies, and if the Coast Guard hasn’t found him yet, I know a whole squadron of ducks that’ll champion a search once I get ‘em on the phone…
“Detectives!” Lita appeared at the edge of the stairs leading down to the main deck below, using the side railings to vault over a handful of pirates in transit. A confused frown tugged at the corners of her mouth as she noted the lack of a third familiar face atop the front poop deck. “Say, where’s your other half?”
Ferdia blinked, fighting back whatever her initial response had been with a resolute shake of her head. It was too easy to spiral from rational conjecture to panicked what-if-ing on that line of thought. “Squeaks was still safely lashed to the longboat when I got knocked out.”
“Waitaminute,” the teen gaped, falling into step with the siblings, “You tied him d- ow!” she yelped as Ferdia smacked her upside the head.
“It is not funny!” the cop snapped at the glowering rabbit.
“Not anymore it isn’t, no,” Lita grumbled, rubbing at an imaginary welt on the back of her head and following after them as they traversed the stairs. “Don’t see what you’re all worked up about – mouse ought to be resourceful enough to weather a storm like that, no problem. Arellians train on seacraft from birth, you know. Gets ‘em ready for spaceflight, the old cap’ used to say.” Her gaze flicked to the kiwi across the ship, manning the helm. “So, uh, you guys happen to see Iiwi before that?”
Ferdia glanced back at the girl over her shoulder with a confused frown. “No, why?”
“Because Bob chased her off, and since we’re too far out for her to make landfall, we thought she might have gone looking for you guys,” Ferdie explained.
“We never saw her,” Ferdia frowned. “She probably just headed for a shipping route or something – they’d’ve been far easier to spot from the air than the longboat. But…Bob chased her off?” his sister frowned. “Why would he-”
“Because ‘el capitan’ up there got clocked upside the head and thinks he’s a pirate,” Ferdie grumbled. “Beak’s going along with it, too, which puts us in a fix. Took a helluva lot of trying just to convince him to let you come aboard.”
Lita grinned, patting the wirebrush-tipped iron rod braced against her shoulders. “Mr. Cannon-Loader an’ I helped.”
“Naming our sticks now, are we?” Ferdia teased, scanning the deck of the ship as the teen tossed her head with a mock huff. “So where’s Ivan?”
“Down below-decks,” Lita informed her. “Bob had us thrown in the brig, and now that we’ve busted out, I’m the only one allowed on deck. Still, the boss’ll wanna see you, I bet; been eulogizing ‘the loss of San Viano’s only sensible cops’ for hours now, but you didn’t hear that from me.”
“No, but I’m flattered nonetheless. What about Bobetta?”
“Her, he’s got considerably less flattering things to say about,” the rabbit shrugged. Ferdia frowned.
“She’s in the captain’s cabin,” Ferdie supplied. “Locked herself in there the minute Bob untied her from the mast.”
“He tied her to the mast?”
“Yeah, well, ‘Captain Blud’ up there’s kinda psychotic,” Lita jerked her chin at the kiwis on the rear deck behind the rudder wheel, where Bob was apparently taking Beak to task over yet another of the brown kiwi’s unthinkable nautical oversights. “We’ve tried askin’ Beak to get Bob his memory back, but…”
“He doesn’t think he can keep the suggestion that Bob’s are their captain in the minds of the crew and poke around Bob’s mind for his lost memory at the same time,” Ferdie clarified. “And Bob’s not showing any signs of shaking this amnesia on his own. So, since we need the crew docile and cooperative to avoid getting killed, we’ve been giving Bob free rein of things.”
“Why not just knock him unconscious?”
“Beak won’t let us,” Ferdie sighed. “Besides, the crew think he’s their captain, so any move we make against him will be interpreted by them as mutiny, and Beak’s too tired to switch their perception of who’s captain.”
“Which begs the question – how much longer can he keep up this ruse?” Ferdia frowned, ducking her head as the pair led her through the door to the ship’s interior.
“Detective! Welcome back!” Ivan greeted her tactly as the three of them rounded the wooden stairs and filed into the brig – ironically enough, Ivan’s base of operations now that he was free. “Come to join our little mutiny, have you? Please, take a seat.” He waved her over to the opposite end of the wooden table he and the sign holder were using as a seat, as the tabletop was one of the few things in the leaky brig not soaked with brackish water. “Any ideas on how to get around the ‘mutiny’ angle?”
“What’s wrong with a plain vanilla mutiny?” Lita scowled, the pilfered cannon-packing brush that made up her latest weapon of choice slung lazily about her shoulders.
“About forty pirates, that’s what,” the Mafioso said, in a tone that indicated the two of them had covered this ground before, “And while I’m sure you’re sure you could take them, I’d rather it not come to that.”
Lita huffed, pouting.
Ferdia watched the scene with a bemused smirk, giving their options a mental rundown. “If we could get him off the ship,” she said after a moment, “and away from the crew, then it won’t matter if Beak loses his hold on them; in all likelihood, they’d sail away, or get too embroiled in a power struggle over the next captain to remember us.”
“Kinda hard to take a leisurely stroll at sea an’ all, though,” Lita muttered.
“Well…we are headed for an island,” Ferdie piped up, “Er – more or less. I’m not entirely certain where we are, but we should be fairly close to Hawaii at this point; desert isles are supposed to be a dime a dozen out there. And Bob already said he wants us to beach the ship for repairs, so he won’t object landing somewhere - as long as it’s remote.”
“But will he object to getting off?” Ivan countered. “I might, in his place – it’s far too easy to leave a man behind – intentionally or otherwise - if he strays off the ship.”
Lita frowned. “Well, it’s a pirate ship, so captain or no, he might be expected to help gather wood for lumber and drying fires, and scrape barnacles off the hull, and stuff, just like the rest of the crew. But he’ll have other pirates with him for all that.”
“What if we went with him instead?”
Ivan shook his head. “Won’t work. He might not have a problem with consigning that fool maid to manual labor, but can any of you see any incarnation of ‘Danger Kiwi’ making his beloved fiancée gather firewood and scrape barnacles?”
There was an assortment of sullen “no’s”.
“Plus there’s the fact that he’s not about to go anywhere with me,” the Mafioso added.
The sign holder looked thoughtful. “Say, boss?”
“What if we just followed him out of the ship? We’ll still get him away from most of the crew, and we could just knock out the rest, right?”
“By Jove, I think he’s got it!” Lita snickered in a mock British accent, clapping the small brown kiwi on the back so hard the boy nearly pitched forward off the table. “Congratulations, kid! We’ll make a criminal mastermind out of you yet!”
“But…what if Bob doesn’t go out with the other pirates?” Ferdie queried, interrupting their celebrations, “What if he stays behind to, I don’t know, supervise, or something?”
“Oh, that’s where Plan B comes in,” Ferdia shrugged, lifevest squeaking with the gesture.
“Plan B?” her brother repeated, “What’s Plan B?”
“We tell ‘im Lita’s making off with his treasure,” the bedraggled cop grinned.
“And he’ll believe that, will he?” Ivan smirked.
She nodded at the teen’s sagging cargo pockets. “Take a better look at your ward, Ivan – because she jingles when she walks.”
The gray kiwi eyed the young thief appraisingly. “Exploring the cargo hold, are we, Farlane?”
“Had to find some way to pass the time, Boss,” she shrugged unashamedly.
Darkness fell some hours later, and to Ferdie’s immense relief, very few clouds marred the starscape. He took as many readings as he felt he needed to correctly triangulate their present position – and just to be absolutely certain, he took three different sets of readings and ran said calculations three different times - then jotted down a slight course correction and handed it to the ferret behind the rudder wheel.
Then he paused, reclaimed the scrap of parchment from Twitch as the pirate turned it this way and that, and carefully explained their new heading using as few words as possible. After about four repetitions, the ferret seemed to understand just what it was he was supposed to do, and Ferdie turned back to his maps, mentally scolding himself for forgetting – however briefly – that the main reason Bob had made him navigator was that the bulk of the surviving crew was about as literate as a stuffed radish. He sighed.
He had half a mind to sail them right into Maui, or to the big island itself – but, he chided himself, the Bloody Mary had nearly forty cannons, and he didn’t want to run the risk of Bob getting it in his head to sack a harbor town just because some overly-observant pirate spotted a port city cop or the lights of a commercial pier. Instead, he aimed to skirt most of the larger islands, and land on one of the tiny uncharted ones at the western fringe of the chain. There was less of a chance of running into innocent civilians that way – but it still meant they’d be within sight of the airlines headed in and out of Honolulu if they lit a signal fire.
And if they really were going to risk marooning themselves on a desert isle somewhere, he wanted to at least think there was a chance of them being rescued.
Iiwi sat across the driftwood fire they’d built along the beach, studying the mouse sitting across from her as he stared out at the dark expanse of ocean, chin in hand and lost in thought.
“Shouldn’t we make the fire larger?” she ventured, breaking the silence and rousing him from his trance, “Make it easier for anyone nearby to notice?”
“There’s a pirate somewhere on this island that I’d rather not notice us,” he replied, eyes still fixed on the sea. “And we can always build it up quickly if we spot an airplane’s trace lights.”
“You’re not going to spot any planes staring at the ocean,” Iiwi chided gently.
He whipped his head around and straightened, looking affronted.
“But, then, you’re not looking for planes, are you?” she sighed, watching the crackling fire for a moment. “Is there any point in telling you not to beat yourself up over this? That it’s not your-”
“I told Biggs to cut the rope!” the mouse snapped angrily.
“A thing like that can tear a boat in half, or smash it in two!” she fired back. “You had no way of knowing it was going to-”
“Maybe not, but then I couldn’t fight him off; I couldn’t do anything to help her!”
“Not for lack of trying!”
“You weren’t there, all right! You didn’t have to watch; didn’t have to listen-”
“Look, you said she had a life preserver on, right?” Iiwi frowned, mind racing for some possible scrap of hope for her to cling to as much as for Squeaks, “Maybe she made it though-”
“Yes,” the mouse hissed, rising to his feet, “And if you think that’s a kindness, I’d suggest you try it for a few days. Drifting along an endless expanse of sea and sky, half freezing, half burning, and slowing dying of thirst, blinded by the light reflecting off the waves and gnawed on by the fish beneath them. Yes, that’s far better than simply drowning!”
“Well!” Iiwi huffed, feathers ruffling as Squeaks angrily stalked off into the night, “I was only trying to help!”
Back to Chapter Four! | Chapter Six Coming Soon! Really!
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