A Pirate's Life

Jan 16th, 2017
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  1. Primer for readers
  2. Aft: to the rear of ship or boat, eg the stern
  3. Forward/Fore: to the front, eg the bow
  4. Port: left side
  5. Starboard: right side
  6. Outboard: facing outward, to the sea
  7. inboard: facing inward, towards center of boat
  8. Bulkhead: wall
  9. Deck: Floor
  10. Overhead: ceiling
  11. Hatch: door
  12. VBSS: Visit, Board, Search and Seizure, basically stopping boats and looking for contraband
  13. Knot: Nautical Mile per hour, a unit of speed. 1 knot=1.15 mph
  16. The day had started worse than most, but now it was a complete shitshow. Engineman 3rd Class Sims was in a world of shit. The Bulkeley was taking on water, fast. It started in the bow with a sickening crunch of steel on rock, and no one was securing watertight hatches. It was hard to hear anything but the sounds of rushing water and twisted metal, even with the double hearing protection from his watch station. Sims moved forward, securing hatches behind him. Just which dickhead on the bridge managed to run them aground?
  18. Sims started to hear something undercutting the rushing water and alarms going off, it sounded like a peaceful, pleasant tone, but it began to increase in pitch. It was starting to hurt, so he shut his eyes hard and leaned on the bulkhead as the ship shifted. She was beginning to slide off whatever she ran into, and things were about to get more complicated. Sims didn't know what the Bulkeley hit, but it felt like the speed was beginning to increase right before the crash. Was it intentional? He didn't know. He ran up a ladder and started making his way up to the main deck. The sound was getting stronger the closer he got, but he didn't stop. It was calling to him, and he obeyed.
  20. He opened a hatch to the main deck and walked through it. What he saw was beyond his imagination. The sounds were really pounding his head now. He looked where they had run aground, it was near a lighthouse on a cliff. Probably Punta Europa. The Rock was off in the distance, shrouded in clouds. The bow of the ship was twisted up and smashed headfirst into the cliff. Whoever was steering did this on purpose. It looked like everyone was outside for some reason. No one was at their watch station. Sims' shipmates were standing on the decks with him, but they weren't as concerned as him. Ten feet from him the CO stood with his arms outstretched into the sky, tears of joy in his eyes. Master Chief Wilson was right next to him, doing the same thing. It looked like most of the crew was doing it as well. Sims looked up and saw them. They'd been telling crew members about the risks the "visitors" were posing, but no one really believed the stories. But there they were.
  22. They made big lazy circles in the sky, wings spanning what could be 10 or more feet. It was hard to tell with the sounds in his head, but he believed they were originating from these bird-things. They didn't have the torso or heads of birds, but of humans. While Sims studied them, one took a dive from it's circle straight at the ship. With terrifying precision and grace, as well as large talons, it, she, picked up the CO and carried him off into the sky. Sims began to panic. No one else moved. Another picked up Gas Turbine Electrician 2nd Class Rodrigues, but dropped him into the water. Sims quickly leaned over the safety rail and saw something with a green fish tail whisk him away.
  24. "What the fuck..." was all he could think to say. He didn't really hear himself over the sound in his head and his hearing protection. He looked up just in time to see another bird come swooping towards him. He dropped to the deck, her claws missing him by a few inches and closing on nothing. She was already a few feet off the deck and climbing before realizing she'd come up empty. She began to wheel around in a tight circle, but Sims was already moving inboard, away from the rails. Sims turned aft to where the Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats were, for piracy ops. There was no one standing on the starboard side of the ship and Sims looked at the RHIBs, undisturbed. It would take too long to lower one into the water by himself. He pressed himself flat against the bulkhead, hoping the bird hadn't seen him, when he saw her huge wingspan right above.
  26. She began to make a turn towards him. Sims was running out of options. He didn't know if anymore of those fish things were in the water, but he didn't have any other choice. Taking a running leap, he cleared the safety rail like jumping a train station turnstile and quickly crossing his legs at the ankle before hitting the water. The water was a cold shock, and before he could wonder about which way the water flowed, he surfaced. The jump into the water had taken off his ear muffs, so he heard what everyone on board was hearing. Beautiful, haunting singing, the kind that you might hear at a funeral for a king from ancient times. He floated there, not doing anything but keep himself afloat as he stared up into the sky. They were calling to him, he could see that now. Best thing to do was to wait for his turn to be picked up. She was going to treat him right. He couldn't wait. He raised his arms out of the water as the bird was swooping towards him. He didn't see the fin in the water coming up behind him.
  28. Being pulled down into the water broke the trance. He couldn't see, but he knew he was moving, and fast. Something rough and scaly had a hold of him. Whatever had him would surface every 30 seconds or so, and Sims would feel the air and see through the water coming off his face and take a deep breath. He only got brief glimpses of what had a hold of him. It was grey. Did a dolphin rescue him? They were reported to sometimes rescue shipwrecked sailors. No, dolphins were smooth. This was rough, like ground glass or sandpaper. Was it some other kind of monster, worse than the winged bird? All he knew was that every time they surfaced, the song of those terrible creatures became harder and harder to hear. It was a relief. He had no control over his body when he heard it, and still felt a pang of fear when hearing it. But it was too far now.
  30. He felt himself being pulled out of the water. He tried to mentally prepare himself for a fight, but the cold water and adrenaline left him shivering. He was set down on a surface that was slightly irritating but at the same time, infinitely familiar. Non-skid. A non-skid deck. He was on a ship or boat of some kind.
  31. "What's the catch, May-koh?" A thickly accented voice, Italian?
  32. "One of the guys from the ship that just went aground near the Rock." A different voice, sounds almost aggressive.
  34. Sims began to feel like he was being surrounded. He opened his eyes, coughing a little. One of them towered over him, with large sharp teeth curled into a slight smile. Her dark eyes didn't show evil intent, but they sure as hell didn't tell him that she was trustworthy. She had black hair and pointed black dog ears. She looked like she was at least 7 feet tall. She was wearing a white shirt with blue horizontal stripes over her clearly muscled physique, the kind that says Eastern Bloc to anyone who's seen Hunt for Red October. The grey one, the one who was grabbed him, looked like she was in some kind of swimsuit, and she had gills in her midsection. A large finned tail came out of her lower back, and she had a fin higher up on her back, like a shark. Her arms were muscular, and her fingers had webbing between them. There was also a young woman with blonde hair looking with disinterest, she looked normal except for the pointed ears pointing out from the side of her head.
  36. "Where you followed, May-Koh?" The huge woman with dog ears turned to the shark.
  38. "Hard to tell when I'm swimming around carrying this sack of human."
  40. "Captain, contact off port side, 4 o'clock, 1000 meters." A new voice, cold, mechanical.
  42. "Harpies." The huge woman turned and grabbed a pair of binoculars
  45. "Affirmative. Should I engage?"
  47. "Let them get a little closer, then take out the one in the middle. The rest will be going away."
  49. Sims looked over and saw a small girl, no, she looked like a doll sitting in a turret with two heavy machine guns, aft of him. She had gray skin and white hair. Her joints were visible on her fingers. She was a robot? With no change in expression the violet pupils of her eyes constricted slightly with what Sims thought was a slight mechanical whirring. She squeezed down on the trigger and the dual guns thundered, spitting flame and huge brass casings. Sims suddenly remembered the importance of good earpro. She probably only fired 5 or 6 rounds, but they were enough. Squinting, Sims saw a tracer fly into the harpies, sending feathers and blood everywhere. The one in the center spiraled into the water while the two flanking her flew back the way they came.
  51. "Well, that was fun, but we need to keep moving. We lost time here." The huge "Captain" looked at Sims and smiled.
  53. "Well, Human, or should I say, Seems? How are you feeling?"
  55. She was talking to him. He snapped out of his trance.
  57. "Uh, cold. And confused."
  59. "That is understandable, Seems"
  61. "How do you know my name?
  63. "It's on your uniform, of course."
  65. His coveralls. Soaked through completely, the nametape on it was almost the same color as the blue cloth it was sewn onto.
  67. "Alright, where am I?"
  69. "Welcome, Mr. Seems, to the Furtună."
  71. A few days earlier
  73. Sims and his shipmate Gunner's Mate Seaman Ferrer looked with a touch of sadness as the U.S.S. Bulkely pulled away from Portsmouth. It might have been sadness, or maybe alcohol withdrawal, perhaps a bit of both. This was their last port call before they would be thrown into...whatever was going on the Mediterranean. The shitstorm in Afghanistan couldn't really be helped from the deck of a ship, but with the dramatic increase in piracy, the Navy could return to one of it's original missions, to keep sea lanes open. Both Sims and Ferrer were on the Visit, Board, Search and Seizure team for the Bulkeley and they'd be working overtime looking for pirates this deployment. They stood there on the smoke pit, Ferrer flicking a butt into the water.
  75. "They almost got us," he said to Sims.
  77. "Almost."
  79. "Never taking a cab again."
  81. "Well, let's not go crazy."
  83. "Fuck that, that asshole almost made us miss getting back on time."
  85. It was true, they made it by under a minute. The Officer On Duty eyed them suspiciously, then checked their IDs. After letting them sweat for a minute, he let them cross the quarterdeck. Relieved, they headed back to their respective berthings. Looking back on it, Sims knew that the only thing wrong with what happened last night was trusting a cab driver to get where you needed to go on time.
  87. "Sucks it was the last night, I was getting somewhere with that chick," Ferrer said, changing the subject.
  89. "The only place you were getting was in your rack with a crusty sock."
  91. "Fuck you, man, she wanted the D."
  93. "Why didn't you give her the D then?"
  95. "Not enough time."
  97. "Yeah, right. If you wanted to, you could have taken her in the cab, seeing how the driver was going to make us late anyway."
  98. The thought had never occurred to Ferrer apparently, as he furrowed his brow with calculations of time and distance.
  100. "Shit, maybe you're right."
  102. The next several days were spent on watch, in briefings, and doing training drills with the RHIBs, and practicing with small arms. Sims was always happy to tool around with old M-14s and light machine guns, so he took the extra workload in stride. It was also more maintenance on the small boats, but that's what he was paid to do anyway. The stuff with the guns was just a bonus. The briefings usually consisted of updated procedures on how to respond to "monster" threats. The whole idea would have been a laughing matter a few months ago, but they had shown that they weren't playing around. They possessed speed and strength beyond the normal human range, and no one knew what new species was going to pop up where and with what ability. Some were huge spiders, some had wings, some had paws. Some were good, some were bad. Some fought for the enslavement of man, some fought against that. Sims longed for some kind of conflict where both sides were clearly defined, but that didn't seem very likely.
  103. As Sims returned a rifle to the armory, Ferrer stood behind the counter.
  105. "Fuck off with that bullshit, petty officer. You got salt in the action."
  107. "Was there when you issued it to me, dick. Gunner's Mates are the reason all the weapons here have rust."
  109. "Eat shit."
  111. "Didn't know the mess deck was upgrading their menu, I'll give it a try."
  113. Ferrer laughed and took the weapon back.
  115. "How bad do you think it's gonna get in the Med, Sims?"
  117. "Fuck if I know, the last time I was there there weren't monsters kidnapping guys. Shit, I didn't even do the VBSS thing the last time I was there."
  119. "We'll just have to see what it is, I guess."
  121. 'What it is' came the next day, when the crew of the Bulkeley went into a heightened state of alert to go along with their straits transit watchbill. There was to be no gawking at the Rock this time. This time, they were on guard. Gunner's mates stood at the ready on .50 caliber machine guns, and the Combat Information Center was fully staffed, eyes glued to radar screens and other monitors. The mood on the bridge was similarly tense. Sims spent his watch looking after the auxiliary engineering equipment. It was a long, boring watch, and boring was the only kind of good watch. It was boring, that is, until the ship ran aground near the lighthouse at Punta Europa.
  123. Present day
  125. The Furtună began to get underway with the shark, the blonde, the Captain and the robot all attending to their jobs. Sims stood there uncertainly and shivered, wondering what would happen to him. The Captain broke the silence.
  127. "Seems, my name is Captain Vãduva, my right hand Elfriede," motioning to the blonde, "my boatswain Meiko," pointing to the shark, "And Sue," pointing to the robot on the gun turret.
  129. "Hello."
  131. "The rest of the crew is either working below decks or sleeping, you'll meet them soon."
  133. Elfriede handed Sims some old wool blankets. Blankets were probably older than him, he mused. He was shivering, and needed to get out of his coveralls. He felt eyes on him, but didn't know enough about this boat to find a place to change. So he thought, "Fuck it, it's got to get done", and stripped right there. Peeling off the freezing coveralls, he looked around. The Captain was busy with steering the boat. The robot looked on indifferently, but it still creeped him out. Elfriede looked on with a hint of disgust, but the shark stared like he was a wounded baby seal and she hadn't eaten in a few days. He elected not to say anything and to wrap himself with blankets as soon he could.
  135. "Seems, you can head down to the racks for some rest, we'll hang out your clothes to dry. Racks are in the bow," said the Captain, motioning to a hatch leading down into the boat.
  137. "Thanks," said Sims, stealing a glance at the shark, who was still eye fucking him. Did she save him just to jump his bones? Naked, shivering and unsure of what was under the deck of this boat, he carefully went down the ladder. The blanket wrapped around him had other plans, however, and he felt it fall off.
  139. "Oof," said a voice.
  141. "Oh my goodness," said another.
  143. A blanket with a white and black spotted tail and a woman with round ears and a leaf on her head stood beneath him. The one with the leaf on her head was looking at Sims with a slight blush, but quickly recovered. She had dark hair, tanned skin and was wearing a simple t shirt and jeans. A large, bushy striped tail of brown and black fur came out from behind her. The blanket flew off the other one, she had round ears, but they were fluffier, white with black spots. Her hair was silver and her skin was darker than the other woman's, but she was shorter. Instead of hands, she had paws, white fur with black spots, and instead of wearing shoes, she had paws and fur over her legs. Once she realized what she was looking at, her golden eyes widened and her paws went over her mouth in a gasp.
  145. "Oh wow, I don't remember this being on the manifest. We need to go to Tangiers more often," said the taller one. The shorter one with paws couldn't seem to find any words.
  147. Sims finished coming down the ladder and picked up the blanket quickly. It was embarrassing enough flashing monsters, women, monsterwomen he didn't know, he wasn't going to make it worse with weird small talk. Wrapping the blanket around him again, he moved past them going forward to the small berthing onboard.
  149. "I wonder if he's the Captain's new toy."
  151. One of the racks was occupied with the curtain covering whoever was in it, so Sims went to the one opposite it. Quickly shutting the curtain and turning away from it, the gentle rocking of the boat combined with his exhaustion from the day put him to sleep immediately. His dreams, however, were not so pleasant. Winged beasts picked him up and dropped him on the deck of the boat, only to have him dragged off by huge ogres and torn apart by sharks. Multiple glowing sets of eyes spied on him from the blackness as he ran from his tormentors. Gasping and covered in sweat, he woke up in a start and banged his head on the rack above him. Swearing and holding his forehead, he lay back down and tried to sleep again.
  153. He woke up some hours later, feeling a little better. Dry, at least. As he rubbed the sleep from his eyes he became aware of the feeling of being watched. Looking to his left he sees a pair of brown eyes looking intently at his morning glory, still covered by the blanket. A bit unnerved by this, he snaps his fingers a few times. The eyes turn to him.
  155. "What the fuck are you doing?"
  157. "Hannah told me there was a cutie in the racks, so I had to come see after I got off watch." A voice filled with curiosity.
  159. "Well, stop staring, it's freaking me out."
  161. "Why?"
  163. "Because someone I don't know is staring at my dick."
  165. "Oh, of course!" She reaches a gloved hand into the rack and "accidentally" brushes against his erection. "Name's Edna, I run the engines here." Sims, who was suspicious of everyone on board so far, carefully reached his hand to hers. Her handshake was stronger than her voice might imply. She had a pair of pointed brown ears that twitched a little as her hand ran by his dick.
  167. "EN3 Sims." He was still used to introducing himself as a petty officer.
  169. "Eeyenthree? That's a weird name."
  171. "Dan Sims."
  173. "Got it. Hey, they told me to give you this." She placed a folded up set of coveralls and a t shirt with some socks directly on top of his erection, turning it into a blue tent.
  175. "I was wearing underwear when I got on board"
  177. She smiled deviously.
  179. "I didn't see anything like that."
  181. "Right. Can you give me some room, I need to get out and put this on."
  183. Edna backed away from the rack while he rolled out. Still hard, he turned away from her for a moment and put on the shirt and began to put on his coveralls.
  185. "You're no fun," Edna said, pouting.
  187. "What's all the- oh wow," said another voice, a pair of green eyes and messy blonde hair hanging out of the bottom rack near Sims' feet. She had strange green fins coming out of the side of her head, and a slight blush was forming on her cheeks. The curtain was pulled shut quickly after she got an eyeful. 'God damn, can I go a minute without one of these monsters from spying on my dick?', he thought, though from what he had been briefed on, these women, even the ones that weren't trying to rape and kidnap you, had the sex drive of a 14 year old boy who found Dad's viagra stash. Judging from the size of the boat, it couldn't have a range of more than 500 miles or so. So the next time they made port, he'd leave and contact the Navy. If they let him leave. Their intentions were still unclear, but to be fair, he hadn't asked yet.
  189. After his boots were on, he turned to see Edna still staring at him, hoping for another peek. His morning erection had gone away after standing up, as they often do, but she was still eyeing the half chub that remained. He could swear she was licking her lips.
  191. "Mmmh. Mmmhmmm. Well, anyway, I'm supposed to show you around. Follow me, sexy."
  193. She walked through a hatch that had a ladder leading up to the main deck.
  195. "That's the toilet," she said, gesturing to a small hatch. Sims immediately walked in there, closing the hatch behind him so she couldn't follow him. After quickly taking care of his business, he walked back out again.
  197. "Didn't know you were so shy."
  199. Walking further aft they entered the engine room, where two ancient diesels were rumbling loudly. Sims could see they were held together by a very competent mechanic or probably a team of them. Inside he could see a redhead standing behind the aft engine, with freckles and grease smudges on her face as she leaned in close to a water temperature gauge. She tapped it a few times, then wrote down a number on a clipboard. Her eyes were a hue of green with brown around the pupil. 'Finally,' Sims thought, 'a human'. Until she came out from behind the second diesel engine, revealing a set of red tentacles that she was apparently moving around on. A tentacle reached into a nearby toolbox and pulled out a wrench, moving it up to her hands. She took one look at the wrench and handed it back, telling the tentacle, "I need a 13mm, not a 12mm." The tentacle put the wrench back and feeling around, grabbed another. Satisfied, she turned a bolt about 1/8th of a turn, tightening it a little.
  201. "ALINA! COME MEET OUR VISITOR," yelled Edna over the engines.
  203. Alina looked up and made eye contact with Sims, smiling. She made her way over to Edna and Sims, as walking maybe isn't the best word to describe it. Her large tentacles reached out in front of her and pulled her along, a lot more gracefully than Sims expected it to be. She stuck out a grease covered hand to Sims.
  205. "Dan Sims. Nice to, uh, meet you."
  207. "Alina. Will you be staying long with us?"
  209. "No, I'm getting off at the next port, need to call my family."
  211. "Of course. Based on speed and fuel consumption, we'll be reaching port within a few hours."
  213. "Good."
  215. "But I'm sure we could maybe," she said, pausing and letting it hang, "find a place for you."
  217. "I'll, uh, think about it."
  219. Sims was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable as her eyes looked him over. It was a recurring theme since he got on board the Furtună. None of them, except maybe the shark, looked like they were going to eat him. But almost all of them looked like they wanted a piece of him. He needed to get off this boat if he didn't want what happened to his shipmates to happen to him. Shipmates. Sims winced thinking that one of those harpies got Ferrer. Hopefully he got away, but you have no idea what's been going on the outside world. He might end up in the same place all those guys in Afghanistan did. And they're still missing. He quickly said "Nice meeting you" to Alina, then walked to a nearby ladder and opened the hatch to the weather deck. It was dark out, Sims must have slept a long time. He pulled himself up and stood on the deck as the boat cut a path through the black water. Edna followed him. Up on deck was the Captain standing at the helm, the robot manning a machine gun turret, the Shark at the other and Hannah sitting at a small console next to the helm. Eyes turned to him, then went back to their work.
  221. "So I guess you've already met everyone else," said Edna, standing behind him.
  223. "Yeah, it's been a warm welcome."
  225. "Not as warm as I'd like, but the Captain said we can't take you for a spin, so there goes my weekend."
  227. Sims looked back at Edna, looking for any sign that what she said was a joke. Her smile looked plenty devious, but it was unsure if she was fucking with him or just thinking about things she'd want to do to him. If the Captain really did order this, it's probably the only thing that's kept him from getting used like a living dildo or worse. He turned to look forward again, at the dark water and all the stars that shine that much brighter when there's no other light. Sims was doing something he was used to, but there was something missing.
  229. "Anyone got any smokes?", he said, looking around. The pack of Camels in his pocket were destroyed by the water. Eyes briefly turned to look at him, some heads shook, then they went back to work. Shit. There'd be some in port, but he didn't have any money. In lieu of smoking, he quietly tapped his feet and hummed a song. What was it? One of those progressive rock bands with the weird polyrhythms and lots of synthesizers. Yes? ELP? ELO? Was ELO a prog rock band? They were more like the Beatles with synthesizers. No, it was King Crimson. The album with the face on it. As he pondered the many facets of English 70's progressive rock, the sky began to lighten. They were heading to the horizon as it began to turn orange, the sky burning with holy fire. When the sun made its appearance, Sims began to see the scrub and sand of Algeria. They had begun to get close.
  231. The robot and the shark got up from the turrets and pulled tarps over the guns. Hannah began to hail frequencies on the radio in French, and got back a reply that sounded like they weren't mad, and Hannah turned to the Captain and gave a thumbs up, to which she replied with a small nod. Buildings began to pop up on the coastline, a lighthouse here, a mosque there, a few small buildings. On the point of a cliff rose a fortress of brown stones, a fortress from the 16th century. Mers el-Kebir was the site of many battles and has seen many masters, Roman, Arab, pirate, Spanish, Portuguese, Ottoman and French. The port they were pulling into was the graveyard of the Vichy French fleet in 1942. How many had died here? How many would still die here in this new age?
  233. The Furtună made port with no incident, and the Captain started gears turning as soon as she was on land. She leaned into Elfriede's ear and whispered something, and she left promptly. Hannah walked off the boat as well, not needing instructions. The robot and Edna left together as well. Sims had things to take care, but no means. He walked over to the captain, trying to look like he had a question.
  235. "Listen, I need to call home, or someone, and tell them I'm alright. I don't have a single cent to my name and I don't know anything about this place. So if you could point me in the direction of a phone and lend me a few bucks, I'd appreciate it."
  237. She pondered this for a few seconds before bending down into a hatch and shouting, "Irina! Come up here for a minute, will you?" The blushing girl from before, with the round white ears and white spotted fur on her arms and legs came up the ladder, making eye contact with Sims and trying not to look away too fast.
  239. "Take Mr. Sims to Fixer and call in a favor, if you would, please? And be careful, I saw another boat similar to Furtună as we made port."
  241. Irina nodded and motioned to Sims to follow him. They walked in silence as the village began to come to life. People were opening doors, sweeping, putting up signs, and giving these two very odd looks. Some of it was hostility, some surprise, but it was becoming clear that no one wanted to try anything with Irina around. Something told Sims they had made port calls here, and the locals had seen the monstrous crew before. Irina made a turn down a narrow alley and Sims followed. He began to notice things about her, how her small frame carried dense muscle, how her backside swayed back and forth as she walked, and her tail with it. It was large and long, and the fur was very fluffy on it. There was a hole cut in a specially tailored boiler suit that didn't do much to cover up her figure. He became aware that she was looking back at him, and that he was staring. He quickly looked up and away from her.
  243. "It's this door," she said, the first time Sims had heard her speak. He couldn't tell if there was an accent or not. She was referring to a non descript door with a small sign on it, in Arabic and French. She opened the door without knocking. Sitting behind a desk with several old telephones on them was a woman, or it looked like a woman. She had pale white skin, white hair, and red eyes, black sclera around the red, with black horns coming from the side of her head and curving a bit before coming to a point. She wore a white suit. Her burning eyes immediately latched onto Sims, and he could feel something similar to when he heard the Harpies' song at Gibraltar. He was falling into infinity with those eyes, and he picked up his foot to walk forward when-
  245. "HEY." Irina spoke sharply to the woman behind the desk, and her gaze turned towards Irina. Sims flinched a little as the spell was lifted.
  247. "Captain is calling in a favor. We picked him up from a shipwreck and he needs to call some people and let them know where to pick him up."
  248. The woman rolled her eyes.
  250. "This is only because you work for Her." She reached into a drawer and pulled out a satellite phone, standing up and walking to Sims. Her eyes locked onto his, and he got a case of tunnel vision. Her figure was the only thing he saw, swaying her hips and smiling lasciviously at him. It seemed like forever, but she grabbed his hand, putting the phone in it. She put a finger under his chin, rubbing the 5 o clock shadow that had accumulated. Then she turned sharply around, and Sims found himself standing looking like an idiot, his jaw hanging open to the point of him drooling a bit, with a growing erection in his pants. He blinked a few times, realized what had happened, then quickly turned around so he could make a phone call without having to look at that woman again. Dialing the only numbers he could remember by heart, he listened to the phone ring a few times before it was picked up.
  252. "Hello?" said the voice on the other line. It was probably 1 or 2 in the morning there now.
  254. "Mom?"
  256. "Oh my God, Daniel?! I heard about the ship and you were listed as missing!"
  258. "I'm not, I got rescued. I'm fine. I'm in Algeria, I'll be fine."
  260. "You have no idea how worried I was! I thought you were going to end up like those soldiers on the news."
  262. "Don't worry, I'm ok. I'm going to find a way to get the Navy to pick me up here."
  264. He felt a tapping on his shoulder, and not wanting to turn around, he knew what that was the signal for.
  266. "Look, this phone is going to die soon, tell everyone I'm ok, and I love you and Dad."
  268. Before he could hear her start to cry or get his dad on the phone, he hung up. Sighing heavily, he held the phone over his shoulder and felt the woman's hand on his, like a jolt of electricity. She took the phone and got really close to his ear, making him shudder.
  270. "Do you need a place to stay while you wait? I can make you feel very welcome here in Mers el-Kabir." She was whispering with a seductive breathy voice, and Sims could feel his coveralls tenting again when a paw clapped down on his other shoulder, breaking the spell again.
  272. "That won't be necessary, thank you for your services", said Irina with a noticeable amount of annoyance in her voice. She led him out of the small office, slamming the door behind her.
  274. "Thanks for that."
  276. "Just doing my job."
  278. "I was supposed to call someone from the Navy."
  280. "Do you know the number?"
  282. "Well, no..."
  284. "I'm not letting you back in there."
  286. "Right."
  288. "I guess Miruna can send the word out back on the boat."
  290. "Miruna?"
  292. "The Captain."
  294. "Oh. Anyway, thanks again."
  296. "Don't worry about it."
  298. She walked the same way out of the alley they came, and they began to make their way back to the marina. Suddenly the world was moving much too fast, Sims was pulled to the ground and he saw stars as his head hit the dirt. He heard what sounded like growling and yelling. Irina was fighting something, and it wasn't going well for her. Big arms picked him up, dazed, and he caught a glimpse of Irina being manhandled by something big and green before a pair of arms went around his neck. The world went black.
  300. "Wake up sweetcakes"
  302. His vision started to come back to him. There was a snake in front of him. She had the body of a woman, but instead of legs, a snake's tail that was coiled up underneath her. Standing behind her was a very large green woman, at least 8 feet tall. She had muscles that would suggest she could easily pick up a car to look for spare change under the tire. Sims began to understand he was not in a place he wanted to be.
  304. "I got first dibs," said the huge She-Hulk.
  306. "No way, you'll break him, and we need him in one piece, otherwise we don't get any money." The snake woman flicked her tongue at her colleague.
  308. "Why do we need money if we have him?"
  310. "Because, idiot, we need the money for fuel."
  312. "Oh. Well can I still play with him? I promise not to hurt him bad."
  314. "NO, I'm going first."
  316. The snake began to uncoil her body and move towards him.
  318. "Sssssso, first time?," she said, seeing the naked fear in his eyes. Here it comes. All those briefings about what they were capable of were now running through his head. She draped her arms around his shoulders as she began to wrap her huge tail around his body. He felt the cool, smooth scales wrap around his arms with a strength like which he'd never encountered. They held him in place firmly. With a forked tongue she licked his sweat from his face. Running a hand down his chest, she grabbed the zipper at the top of this coveralls, making sure for her fingers to touch him as much as they could. He could feel himself swelling up, and by the time she had reached the bottom of his coveralls, he practically sprang out of them.
  320. "Oooooh," she said. "They're not like this back home."
  322. The tip of her tail worked its way up his leg and wrapped around the base of Sims. The snake moved her body down to look up at him. She flicked her tongue at him a few times, teasing the tip. Sims clenched his teeth. This wasn't what he had in mind with his first port visit in the Mediterranean. She opened her mouth, sharp fangs glistening and dripping with what he believed to be venom, breathing heavily on the tip. Sims shut his eyes.
  326. Immediately Sims felt the coils of the snake's tail loosening on him. He opened his eyes and saw her, the pale woman with white hair and horns from before. Her eyes weren't the seductive pools they were when he met her earlier in the day, but burning fire, like the lake of fire in Hell itself. The black sclera surrounding them only intensified the fury of the burning red. It was hard to pay attention to things happening around him, as he was fixated on her beauty. Her black tail, moving in the direction of her swaying hips hypnotized Sims. He didn't really notice the snake woman letting go of him, head hanging in supplication. He didn't see the huge green woman looking away from the pale woman in fear. All he saw was her, walking towards him. He felt his painful erection throbbing in anticipation at her approach.
  328. "You were supposed to deliver him untouched, filthy reptile," the pale devil said, sending a harsh backhand into the snake's face and nearly bowling her over. Turning her attention to Sims, she smiled malevolently, the corners of her mouth turning upwards slightly, licking her lips and running her tongue over a pair of sharp canines.
  330. "I was hoping to save you for a later time, but, I suppose there's no sense wasting this," she said, gesturing to Sims' erection. She bent down and ran a finger along his balls and up the shaft and it Sims felt like he was struck by lightning. Spasming, he had an orgasm that was, in his mind, earth shattering. Thick ropes of seed shot up onto the devil's face, more than Sims could ever remember in his life. She smiled and giggled as he grunted, the last of his release hitting her outstretched tongue. His mind was a blank sheet of paper, and he could hear her speak, but the words weren't making any sense. She smiled and ran a finger across her face, pushing his cum onto her red tongue and played with it in her hands.
  332. "Mmmhmmhmm," she laughed and moaned simultaneously. Normally after cumming, Sims would be drooping and ready to go to sleep. Nothing about the past several days were normal. He was still hard, still throbbing, still ready to go when she positioned herself over him, lifting her skirt and rubbing her opening with his dick. His eyes rolled back in his head as he felt the heat from her. Suddenly, Sims felt nothing. He could hear the sounds coming in from the outside world again. Wood splinters flew everywhere and the room filled with the thunder of guns. Sims looked to see a very angry devil standing over him, looking to the entrance. Behind the devil was the large green woman with pieces of wooden door sticking out of her, and it looked like she had been clocked with a flying doorknob. The snake was nowhere in sight. Sims followed a red dot that was holding on the devil's chest to the robot standing in the doorway. From the Furtună. It's face, or what a robot can have that resembles a face, was focused on Sims' assailant. It had a barrel of some kind of weapon coming from it's wrist. The pupils in it's violet eyes constricted slightly and made an adjustment on aim.
  334. "Step away from Mr. Sims, Ms. Devona."
  336. "I wasn't planning on hurting him, you rusty sack of gears"
  338. "What you were planning on and what you are doing are apparently two different things. I have authorization to open fire if you do not step away."
  340. "You can't touch me, bucket head!"
  342. "I do not answer to you, I answer to the Captain. And she informed me to shoot with any sign of aggression. I believe you will be receiving a transmission soon."
  344. At that moment, Devona's phone lit up and began to ring, the light shining through her white blouse pocket. Eyes widening, she put the phone to her ear. Muffled speaking on the other end said everything Sims needed to know. Devona's eyes burned with the fury of hate and helplessness, and she stepped back from Sims. Edna ran in from behind the robot and pulled a small tool from a belt pouch and cut Sims loose. Looking different than before, not as suggestive as when he woke up this morning, she had a face of concern on her as she helped him stand up, and gave him space when he zipped his coveralls back up.
  346. "You alright?"
  348. "I think so. I feel a little weird. Like I wasn't in charge of myself."
  350. "Come on, Captain's waiting for us."
  352. They walked out with Edna holding Sims up, past the robot, who kept her aim on Devona the entire time. "Come on, Sue," said Edna. The robot moved out of the doorway, walking backwards and aiming until the interior of the room was out of sight. The late afternoon sun beat down on Sims. Outside was Irina, the left half of her face swollen from where the large green woman had socked her, knocking her out. The fact that she wasn't in a coma was a testament to her strength and will. Her eyes met Sims, and she quickly looked away in shame. Held up by Sue and Edna, and followed by Irina, they made their way through the town back to the marina where the Furtună waited. The boat had a few crates strapped to the deck that weren't there before. The Captain stood on the bridge, looking stern. Irina looked at her pleading, with one eye swollen shut, and tried to speak.
  354. "Miruna, I tried-"
  356. "That's enough, we can talk about this later. Go see Elfriede and get your face looked at."
  358. Irina looked like she had more to say, but didn't. Hanging her head low, she walked up the gangplank with her tail dragging behind her.
  360. "Well, Mr. Sims, it would appear you're more popular than you realized."
  362. Sims didn't have anything to say to that, nothing could describe how weird today was.
  364. "Perhaps you should stay with us we can bring you to a safer location. Our employer can assist you in getting home."
  366. "Thank you."
  368. "Thank Irina, she contacted us in time for Edna and Sue to save you."
  370. The Captain threw a bottle of water to Sims, who caught it. He opened it and greedily chugged it.
  372. "I can imagine you're very dehydrated after today's adventure. There's a good chance Ms. Devona would have left you in a much sorrier state than you are in now."
  374. Edna and Sue helped him up the gangplank, and he sat on the deck as preparations were made to get underway. He looked to the Captain, who was attending to the fuel guages at the console. A paw came out of the hatch near the console holding something. The captain bent down to grab it and handed him something wrapped in foil. It smelled good. It appeared to be grilled meat in a baguette. Having not eaten all day, he began to attempt to unhinge his jaw so he could fit more of the sandwich into his mouth. Soon, in true military fashion, all of the sandwich had disappeared.
  376. "So where is this employer of yours?"
  378. "The Island of Malta, but we can't make it there with the amount of fuel we carry. We'll have to make a stop on Sardinia to refuel and get more provisions. Hopefully, we won't run into any more...complications there."
  380. "Who were those women who kidnapped me?"
  382. "Mercenaries, I would guess. The Furtună is not the only crew out here."
  384. "And Devona?"
  386. "You are a young man, who is not from here, and would just as easily disappear from here as you arrived. I believe she has learned her lesson, and I can't do much else about her."
  388. Captain Văduva went back to her work and soon the Furtună was underway again.
  390. The next few days passed without incident, although everyone on board was on a heightened state of alert. They barely paid attention to Sims at all, and when one did, it was usually a look of indifference. Only Irina failed to meet his eyes on the run to Sardegna, and the feeling was mutual. Everyone expected her to have been able to protect him, and he was just as ashamed at not being able to defend himself from monsters. He mainly spent time down in the engine room with Alina and Edna, trying to familiarize himself with a Chinese diesel engine built before he was born. To further confuse the issue, all the instructions and warnings were written in Romanian Cyrillic. Edna just seemed to know where everything was by default, so she wasn't much help in teaching. Alina, with her probing tentacles, could reach tight spaces between parts and was more helpful. He was wondering what was happening in Illinois, he had told his parents he was OK, even if this wasn't entirely true. They were definitely still worried, and he didn't know what they told the Navy. Or what the Navy told them. Could he still go back? Would they take him back? Would they just arrest him? Or even worse, throw him in some weird quarantine for coming in contact with the monsters? He didn't know, and he wasn't particularly ready to find out. But where did that leave him? Without a country, without a job, stranded with a crew of monsters who would rape him as soon as look at him? What was the alternative? Aside from some stares and jeering, no one had made a move on him, consensual or otherwise. Were they not interested? Or did the orders of the Captain keep him safe because they feared her? What was her agenda? Did she want him for herself, or were they planning on selling him into slavery? They hadn't hurt him at all, but that doesn't mean they weren't capable of it.
  392. When Furtună reached Cagliari on the southern tip of the island, Sims stayed on board and worked with refueling and resupply. Everyone agreed he would draw too much attention in his Navy uniform. At least the food was better than in Algeria, he thought. After leaving Sardegna, Sims continued to work in the engine room until the sound of guns made themselves known even over the roar of the engines. Edna continued to monitor the engines and Sims ran to a hatch going up. Sue the Automaton was manning the amidships turret, guns firing to the port side, and Sims could see the barrels of the aft turret pointed starboard, massive flames spewing forth from the barrels. Big shell cases, bigger than the .50 BMGs rained down on the deck. Looking port, then starboard, he counted about 5 boats in total, smaller than the Furtună and behind her at about 3 and 7 o'clock. Then Sims heard something he'd never heard before, incoming fire, cracking and zipping a few feet above his head. He looked to the "wheelhouse" where the Captain and Elfriede stood, and Elfriede slid a pump action shotgun along the deck to him. He couldn't hear what she said, but it probably had something to do with getting as much lead flying at these guys as possible. He racked a shell into the chamber and clambered up on the deck. His heart pounded, and he could barely hold the weapon he shook so much. The boats were too far out to hit anything with buckshot, so he kept as low as he could. Sue's rounds found a home in one of the pursuing boats, which caught fire and produced black oily smoke as it was left behind by the other boats. Suddenly the turret closest to Sims stopped firing. Peeking his head above the turret, he saw that Sue had been hit in the eyes, and small blue sparks emanated from damaged sockets.
  394. "You alright?!," Sims yelled over the gunfire.
  396. "Affirmative. Steel splinters have damaged optic sensors. Remove unit from firing position."
  398. Sims led her out of the turret, as she could walk but not see.
  400. "Get below deck!"
  402. "Affirmative. Repairs are needed."
  404. Sims climbed into the turret, and looked for the trigger. He found the wheels to turn the weapon, then the trigger. He knew how to work a mounted M2, but this was a little different. The boats behind were shooting, but the waves made their shots miss. The Furtună was up on hydrofoils at this speed, which was a slight improvement to bouncing on the surf. He picked the boat closest to the port side and opened fire. It kept their heads down and they slowed down a little, but that was it. The Furtună banked hard to starboard, and Sims caught on quickly, and turned the guns to the same direction. The pursuing boats hadn't expected this, and all of Furtună's guns were brought to bear on the attackers, who tried to peel off, but two of them were immediately hit by a storm of 14.5mm rounds from both turrets. One boat exploded, hit in the fuel tanks, and the other caught fire. The remaining two boats got away. When the noise stopped, the Furtună was brought to a stop to assess any damage and bring some more belts of ammo to the guns. Sims sat in the turret, white knuckling the machine gun controls in his hands and staring at the water until Elfriede pried the weapon from his hands. He looked lost for a second, staring at her face, then bolted upright and ran to the rails, vomiting. No one had ever tried to kill him before. It was the first firefight he'd ever been in.
  406. "Better than I thought you would do", said Elfriede, and the look of contempt on her face that was now all too familiar to him softened slightly.
  408. Wiping the sick from his mouth, he didn't really have a comeback for that.
  410. "Who were they?"
  412. "Not sure, they looked human, no flags or ID on the boats, probably hijackers that weren't expecting us to shoot back."
  414. This was exactly the kind of thing Sims joined the Navy to do, and when it actually happened, he wasn't sure how to react. He tried to avoid the reality of the situation but it kept crashing into him the like tide coming in. Aside from a few holes in the hull, there were no leaks, no injuries except Sue's replaceable parts, and no busted equipment, so the Furtună corrected course and continued on its way to the Malta Channel. Furtună made port late in the evening, the medieval domes and church towers visible with the lights of Valletta shining. Sims came up on deck to see centuries old fortifications and medieval churches, some built during the Crusades. When they approached the pier there were some well dressed men waiting. A large black sedan, limousine, but not a long stretch, with dark windows was parked behind them. It looked like an old Mercedes from the 1960s. Captain Văduva spoke with them after the boat was moored, then motioned for Sims to join them.
  416. "These men will take you to my employer, and she will see if she can get you home."
  418. "Right," said Sims, somewhat apprehensive. "Aren't you coming?"
  420. "You are safer with them than with us, Sims."
  422. "If you say so."
  424. The large man approaching him with a blindfold was doing little to ease his fears.
  426. "Hey, what the fuck?"
  428. "Orders," said the man with a thick accent, "you want to meet the Madam, we can't have you knowing where she is."
  430. "That's quite alright, Bruno," said a woman's voice coming from a slightly rolled down window, "If the Captain trusts him with a gun, I can trust him too." The voice was slightly throaty and a bit deep, like Lauren Bacall with a vaguely European accent.
  432. "Come inside, Daniel Sims, we have some things to discuss."
  434. Bruno opened the door and gestured for Sims to enter. He ducked his head into the car and saw large red tubes filling much of the car's passenger. He paused as he noticed they were moving almost imperceptibly. And had smaller red circles on the undersides. Tentacles. Reluctantly, he sat down in the car and came face to face with a woman sitting in the rear of the car, pink skinned, lighter than the tentacles. The door shut behind him. The tentacles all converged on her lower body, covered by a revealing black dress. Swallowing hard, he ran his eyes quickly to her face. A lazy smile, confident that he couldn't hurt her if he wanted to, was on her face. She was almost malevolently beautiful, with long black hair and some kind of hood behind her head, bright red.
  436. "Now then, Daniel, we were going to talk about sending you home. Ah, where are my manners? My name is Marcella Cascarone, I run a shipping company and I might be able to help you with your situation. Also, I would like to apologize for the misconduct of one of my employees in Algeria, she has been...reprimanded accordingly."
  438. She reached over and extended her hand. Sims took her hand and noticed it was cool to the touch.
  440. "Well, Ms. Cascarone," she smiled hearing Miss, "I'm not sure if I'm ready to go back."
  442. She raised an eyebrow and asked, "And why is that, exactly?"
  444. "I have no idea how the Navy is going to respond to me being the only survivor to an attack like this. I don't feel up to being quarantined and interrogated because none of us understand what happened."
  446. "And what makes you believe you're the only survivor?" Before Sims could answer, she kept speaking. "If this is what you wish to tell yourself to stay with the Furtună, that is not a problem with me. Captain Văduva says that you can handle a gun fairly well, and can be considered reliable under pressure. I was going to employ your services in exchange for a return trip home, but I believe it is safe to say that you are one of my employees now."
  448. Sims furrowed his brow. "What did you have in mind?"
  450. "You're unseen by anyone on this island except for me and some of my employees, which makes you useful for a certain predicament I must deal with."
  451. He looked at her, somewhat puzzled.
  453. "You see, for every action, there is a reaction. The recent visitations and others of my kind beginning to show themselves, very publicly, is producing a backlash. I expected this, but not this quickly. A group calling themselves the Knights of Malta, not actually affiliated with the Knights of St. John, mind you, is making themselves known. Demonstrating, destroying businesses that serve people like me, and trying to beat them up. They've begun to look for weapons to clear us off the island. You're going to sell them these weapons."
  455. "I'm not sure I follow."
  457. "That's alright, it's not necessary for you to follow. You just need to wait on the Furtună a day or two. Now hold still."
  459. Sims suddenly became aware of the tentacles wrapping around him, suckers feeling him, sliding around his body. They pulled him closer to her, filling his nose with an intoxicating fragrance.
  461. "Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you. I can't have you dressed like a fire stoker, I'm just getting your sizes."
  463. "You could just ask!"
  465. "That wouldn't be as much fun, would it?" The tentacles loosened the grip on him, almost dropping him face first into her chest, but he caught himself.
  467. "You're definitely no fun, Daniel. If you insist on being such a stick in the mud, you might as well wait on the Furtună. I'll have some clothes made for you and a more detailed set of instructions."
  469. Without trying to look like he was wanting to escape, he got out of the car. Bruno gave him a look behind his sunglasses, and Sims looked down, immediately adjusting his erection to try to get it out of sight. Walking back to the boat, Captain Văduva smiled knowingly at him.
  471. "Did she put you to work already?"
  473. "Not like you're thinking."
  475. "You'd be surprised, now get on board and please stay out of sight. Try to keep that thing away from the crew members too, please. If one takes you, the rest might get jealous. I ordered them not to touch you, but if they see you poking a hole in your coveralls like that they might lose control."
  477. Her tone was joking, but Sims couldn't tell how much of it was a joke. Sims closed his eyes and took a deep breath before continuing to the boat.
  479. The next day, Bruno showed up again, handing Sims a few bags and telling him to come with him. A sedan was waiting for him, and took him to a nearby hotel. Sims showered and shaved, and put on his new suit. It was a black Italian cut suit, perfectly fitting him. The shirt, the shoes, everything fit perfectly. In under an hour, he'd gone from a grubby unwashed sailor to slick international arms dealer. In the jacket pocket was a passport, and in the wallet was a lot of Euros and American dollars. Completing the look was a pair of squarish Italian sunglasses.
  481. A phone rang nearby. It was in his other pocket. He pressed the screen and put it to his ear. A familiar voice on the end of the line said, "You look good, Daniel. Now walk to the desk in the room, in the right side drawer, you will find your instructions." She hung up and Sims sat down at the desk, opening the drawer and reading the instructions a few times. He walked out to the parking lot, finding a car fitting the description in the instructions, a blue van, and reached in his pocket for the keys. He started it up, and following the directions on the phone provided to him, the van made it's way through the winding streets of Valletta into a narrow alley, shaded from the hot Maltese sun. He sat in the van for a few minutes, waiting. Two cars pulled into the alley, one in front, one behind, blocking Sims in. Some men got out of the cars. Sims took a deep breath and opened the door of the van.
  483. As Sims stepped out slowly, the man closest to the van spoke in a thick accent, "You are the supplier, yes." Not a question, but a statement of fact.
  484. "Show us merchandise."
  486. Sims nodded and walked around to the back of the van, opening the cargo doors. To his surprise, a pair of eyes and a wide grin were floating above the crates. One eye winked and the vision quickly disappeared. Sims was shocked, but before the man talking to him could see, he quickly put his poker face on. A false move here could have him killed. He opened one of the crates and saw the bright brass of thousands of rifle rounds shining back at him. Another crate had AKM rifles, and another had hand grenades. After perusing the selection, the man nodded and turned to one of his associates and spoke in what sounded like a mix up of Italian and Arabic. The associate walked to one of the cars and pulled a briefcase from it. The leader presented the case to Sims and unsnapped it, opening to show Euro bank notes.
  488. "Non sequential numbering, all real."
  490. Sims nodded and handed the leader the keys to the van. Suddenly, everyone moved. The van drove off, and all the cars cleared the alley, leaving Sims with a briefcase full of money. His new phone vibrated in his pocket. A text message telling him where to go led him walking down the street to a late model grey sedan where Bruno was waiting for him. They drove off without a word.
  492. "So what was with the floating eyes?"
  494. Bruno said nothing.
  496. "That shit could have got me killed, whatever it was."
  498. "You have questions, you direct them to the Lady in charge."
  500. Sims' phone rang.
  502. "Yes, Daniel?"
  504. "What was smiling at me from the back of the van? I almost blew my cover."
  506. "She is an associate of mine. She has an...odd sense of humor. You needn't worry about her, her job is different from yours. Now, when Bruno drops you off, take a stack of bills from the briefcase. This is your pay."
  508. "OK?"
  510. "When everything has already happened, I will tell you more of what you helped me do, alright Daniel?"
  512. It was better than nothing, Sims thought.
  514. "Alright."
  516. "That's a good boy, Daniel. We'll talk later." She hung up on him. Sims and Bruno spent the short ride in silence until they reached the pier the Furtună was tied to. Stuffing a stack of bills into his pocket, along with the wallet already full of money, Sims had a pretty decent payday. Not really anywhere he could spend it if he was going to be at sea all the time, but that was the classic dilemma of the sailor, wasn't it?
  518. Walking the gangway onto the boat, Vãduva and Elfriede caught glimpse of him, with Vãduva snickering to herself and Elfriede wrinkling her nose in contempt. The blonde lizard person with the fins coming from the side of her head looked on in surprise, almost dropping the bore brush she was using to clean the deck guns with. Hannah looked up from her console and gave an obscene wolf whistle. Irina poked her head out of a hatch, ears twitching, and quickly dropped back into the boat. Hannah walked to Sims and wrapped her bushy striped tail around Sims' waist.
  520. "Cascarone's got you looking like a Sicilian gigolo, Danny boy! She got you working corners already, or is it just for her own personal use? And are those Euros I smell on you? You dog, you!"
  522. "Watch it, I don't need you shedding all over the new suit."
  524. Hannah's raccoon like ears twitched a little, her smile turning malevolent. She ran a finger underneath Sims' chin and her tail pulled Sims in a little closer.
  526. "You're lucky you're not on the menu, Danny, otherwise I'd show you a time you'd never forget."
  528. Vãduva cleared her throat very noticeably, and Sims felt the tail around his waist momentarily jump. Hannah kept her cool other than a brief twitch and slowly pulled her tail away, winking at Sims.
  530. "You might want to change out of your pimp suit, Danny, it gets dirty onboard." Hannah walked back to her work station, swaying her hips maybe a bit too obviously.
  532. Sims realized his coveralls got left in the hotel room earlier. A large hand gripped his shoulder from behind. Vãduva smiled at him in a way that could be considered motherlike.
  534. "One of Cascarone's people left a few sets of work clothes in your size down below, said they should fit fine. Now you don't have to act like you're in the Navy anymore."
  536. "Thank you."
  538. "Get dressed in work clothes, we have contract work at sea tomorrow."
  540. "Copy that."
  542. Sims climbed down the ladder into the Furtună, ignoring the curious glances of the women on board.
  544. The next morning they left before the sun rose, heading northeast after passing St. Elmo's lighthouse near Valletta. As the morning sun began to burn the horizon, Sims stood in the pilot house with the Captain and Hannah. Elfriede moved about the deck obsessively checking the weapons with the Lizardman, Gabrielle. The shark, Meiko, was bundling up the mooring lines. She caught Sims' eyes and flashed a toothy smile as she played with the ropes. Wanting to avoid her gaze, he turned to the Captain.
  546. "What's the job?"
  548. Without turning to look at him, she replied, "Escort duty through the Straits of Messina to the Italian mainland. Client needs to get to Napoli, but the shortest distance is through a bottleneck. Lots of pirates."
  550. "Pirates like us?"
  552. She turned and smiled, "Yes, but we're getting paid, so we have no need to steal from them."
  554. The Furtună made its way north throughout the morning, plugging along at 25 knots. Sicily came into view off the port side of the boat. Elfriede was scanning the horizon with binoculars when she stopped at one spot.
  556. "Captain, I see something. G015, 12 miles."
  558. Sims looked through a set of binoculars and could see nothing yet. Maybe Elfriede's eyes were better than his. Văduva looked through her binoculars. She didn't say anything, but a look of concern creased her brow. She increased speed and adjusted course. As the Furtună continued on, Sims could see the dot finally, growing slightly. It didn't appear to be moving.
  560. "Something is off", said Elfriede. "That's the ship we're supposed to escort."
  562. "I know", said Văduva. "Hannah, see if you can raise them."
  564. Hannah began attempting to hail the ship in Italian. No response. The Captain spoke into a walkie talkie, and shortly after Sue came up from the hatch loaded down with a bandoleer of shotgun shells, and some chest rigs with magazines in the pouches, followed by Gabrielle. Gabrielle had several rifles and a shotgun slung across her back. Meiko manned the amidships gun turret and loaded a round into each of the guns. Gabrielle handed Elfriede a rifle, then Sims a shotgun. Sims considered asking what was going on, but it was becoming more apparent as the Furtună approached the container ship that the pops of gunfire could be heard. There was no boat on the port side of the ship, they must have hit starboard. So probably only one boat. There was no way to know.
  566. Sims began loading shells into the shotgun, first loading one into the chamber, then into the magazine tube. He counted six shells. Slinging the bandoleer around his chest, he took a deep breath. The Captain turned to Elfriede.
  567. "Get on board and stop whatever's happening. I will take care of the rest out here."
  568. The Furtună was getting near the container ship on the port side, near the stern. The Captain eased the boat right alongside a ladder going up to the deck of the ship. Elfriede pointed at Sims, Gabrielle and Sue.
  569. "On me", she said sternly, before turning and climbing up the ladder. Once on the deck, she readied her rifle and motioned for the rest to join. Gabrielle was next, followed by Sims, then Sue. Sims tried not to stare at Gabrielle's muscled posterior and legs, but it was difficult to avoid it. Sims readied his shotgun and they followed Elfriede, who moved with swift grace and silence. Gabrielle didn't move as elegantly, but she still gave the impression of a lot of training. The robot didn't make a sound at all. Sims felt a little out of place, but he still had some idea of what he was doing.
  571. They made their way up the decks, following sounds of gunfire and yelling. Upon reaching the hatch leading to the bridge, they quietly stacked up. Elfriede gave a nod and opened the hatch. Gabrielle was first in, followed by Sims, then Sue, then Elfriede. What they saw nearly made Sims drop his weapon. A woman, large, dark skinned and muscular, with burning orange eyes of fire and black paws and tail was slamming her hips down on a hapless sailor. Her skin wasn't the color of someone from Africa, but someone from hell. Black as pitch. It looked like she was smoking, like she was liable to catch fire at any moment. She looked up at the ones interrupting her fun and bared her teeth, sharp and innumerable. Standing up from her plaything, it was clear the sailor had some broken bones and internal bleeding. It was also clear that she was probably a foot taller than Sims, at least. Faster than Sims' eyes could follow, she bolted across the bridge. Three shots rang out in quick succession and the huge monster dropped like her legs had been taken out from under her. Elfriede stared down the sight of her rifle and walked to the mass of black, steaming flesh and fired two rounds into its back. Sue walked over the body to the sailor and checked his vitals.
  573. "He needs medical attention," Sue said, stating the obvious. Before Elfriede could call the captain, the hatch on the other side of the bridge opened and two men with guns walked in.
  575. "Captain told you not to break the merchan-", was all was said before Sims' 12 gauge boomed, catching the man in the sternum with 00 buckshot and punching a hole the size of a half dollar into his chest. He was pushed backwards by the impact and slammed into the bulkhead behind him, leaving a bloody mess as he slid down to the deck. Elfriede quickly fired two rounds into the other pirate's knees and then a third into his right arm, forcing him to drop to the ground and drop his weapon. Elfriede was on him instantly.
  577. "And where, pray tell, is the Captain?" Her voice wasn't like when she had spoken to Sims before, it seemed more accented. Definitely filled with malice, but not anger.
  579. "Fuck you, you knife eared-AGGGHGHHHHGHG!"
  581. Elfriede was pressing her boot into the pirate's shattered knee and began to grind the sole in.
  583. "You were saying? This can get a lot worse, human."
  585. "They're down in the engine room! They're waiting on the transport boat to pick up all the sailors!"
  587. "Thank you, that's all I needed to hear." Her boot came off of the pirate's knee and he almost looked relieved until he looked back up at her. Elfriede fired two rounds into him. The room stank like cordite and blood. Sims gathered his bearings and reached to load a shell into the magazine tube to replace the one he fired. The one that just killed a man. He just killed a man. He almost fumbled the shell with the realization.
  589. Elfriede grabbed her radio and said, "We have one wounded civilian on the bridge, requires medical attention. Moving on to the engine room.
  590. With that, they were moving again, heading down ladders and passageways leading to the engine room. Sims wasn't entirely sure what was waiting for him there, but he knew it wasn't going to be pretty. Every now and then they would pass a blood stained wall and some shell casings. When they reached the hatch, all four of them stacked up. Elfriede opened the door and Sue was first through. Sims was right behind her and saw burning red beams of light emanating from Sue's wrist. A man and some kind of cat woman had flaming holes in their chests, perfect center mass. Sims covered his corner like in training and saw a monster with wings and a tail fumbling for something, so he fired, sparks and thunder heralding the death of whatever it was. It had wings like a bat and a tail much thicker than, say, Irina.
  592. Once the ringing in his ears subsided, he began to hear shouts from farther into the engine room. He racked a shell into the chamber and aimed at a man with an AK, firing once. The sound of automatic fire now rang throughout the engine room. Sims saw Elfriede and Gabrielle drilling several men and a few monsters with carefully aimed shots from behind cover, so it occurred to him to do the same. Sue stood essentially in the open, occasionally being hit with little effect. He fired several more times, but some of the lights had been shot out, so it was difficult to tell if he had hit what he was shooting at. While he was reloading he noticed the gunfire had stopped. He was still keyed up on adrenaline but noticed how calm his crewmates were, although Sue was a robot, so it didn't really count.
  594. Gabrielle and Elfriede stood up and began slowly moving forward, carefully stepping over a few bodies. Sue appeared to be scanning the engine room for life and would occasionally fire a beam into a pirate, finishing him or her off. Elfriede and Gabrielle turned a corner around an oil tank, Sue and Sims caught up but they had stopped. They were staring at a woman even larger than the dark skinned one on the bridge, covered in tribal tattoos, and with a massive sword on her back. She held a hostage in one hand, ready to crush the life out of him.
  596. "TAKE ONE MORE STEP AND I WIL-", she was interrupted by a beam of red hot light going into her neck. She immediately dropped the man and grabbed at her throat. Elfriede fired several times, and the huge woman dropped to the deck. The man, still in shock, tried to curl up in the fetal position. Gabrielle stopped him.
  598. "Where are the rest?"
  600. He pointed to a huge boiler, then dropped his hand. She let him sit down against the wall. Around the corner of this boiler was a line of men with their hands tied and their mouths gagged. A number of them had bruises, and some others had their pants around their ankles. Sue produced a small blade from her arm and began to cut the bonds on the prisoners one by one. Some said thanks. Most said nothing. Everyone flinched at a noise coming from outside the ship, a rhythmic booming that Sims recognized as the guns on the Furtună. Sims stepped out of the engine room. He couldn't stand to look at the mess anymore. He began to shiver despite being soaked in sweat. A feeling of light headedness began to come over him. He wobbled slightly and dropped to one knee. The jolt was all his stomach needed, and he began to vomit on the deck, retching violently. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
  602. "Do you require assistance?" It was Sue.
  604. "No, I'm alright."
  606. "Did you contract a virus?"
  608. "I doubt it."
  610. Sims stood up and walked back into the engine room to wait for the rest of the crew of the Furtună.
  612. The pirate boat had returned to pick up their booty, but after some persuasive 14.5mm fire from the Furtună, they left in a hurry. After the Italian Coast Guard arrived to pick up the survivors, the shipping line had a new crew flown in at great cost, and the crew of the Furtună resumed following the ship to Naples. Sims stayed down in the engine room with Alina and Edna, checking gauges and keeping to himself. His mind was racing for the rest of the day, leftover adrenaline and what if scenarios burning through his brain at 150 miles an hour.
  614. "That could have been me with my pants around my ankles and two black eyes. Hell, that's probably what happened to most of the crew of the Bulkeley," he thought. This line of thought carried his mind to bad places, and before he realized it, he had been standing in front of one gauge for 5 minutes. He began to notice how loud the engines were, the overpowering smell of grease and fuel, and even the haze grey paint on the engines against the white paint on the bulkheads were beginning to wear on him. He shut his eyes tight, so tight a multicolored galaxy of spots in his vision appeared. He began to wobble a little and propped himself against the bulkhead. A hand settled on his shoulder and he jumped in alarm.
  616. "Are you alright," said Alina over the diesels.
  618. "Yeah, I'm fine", Sims replied, regaining his composure. "I'm alright."
  620. "If you need to talk about anything, let me know."
  622. Sims searched her face for any kind of ulterior motive. She seemed to be genuine in her concern for him. Edna looked on in mild interest, shooting him a wink, then going back to inspecting fuel gauges. Slowly nodding his head, he excused himself to the weather deck. He came up and saw the coast of Italy approaching, the tree covered cliffs of Naples and the imposing shadow of Mount Vesuvius staring back at him. Lights were sprinkled around the port where the cargo ship was pulling in. Sims hoped the cargo was worth the people who'd died on board earlier, but he guessed that it wasn't. Walking forward to the pilot house, he saw the Captain turn around and acknowledge him.
  624. "You should get some rest, Daniel."
  626. "Wish I could."
  628. "You won't get any sleep in the engine room, go to a bunk. We'll be in port for a few days, so you can take some time off if you'd like."
  630. "Thanks."
  632. He shuffled down a ladder and walked to the berthing, rolling into a rack. He didn't even bother shutting the curtain.
  634. When Sims awoke, the Furtună was moored and most of the crew had left. He climbed up the ladder to the weather deck and saw Irina sitting on the port side torpedo tube, facing Mt. Vesuvius. Her bushy tail was swaying slowly back and forth. The tail stopped and her ears perked up at Sims' approach, then went back to normal.
  636. "You want to get something to eat?", she said, surprising him.
  638. "Yeah, haven't eaten in a while."
  640. Without a word, she got up and walked the gangplank down to the pier. They walked through the narrow brick streets of Naples, conspicuous in appearance. There weren't many monsters there, and any that did got a stern look from Irina if they looked too long at Sims. The Italians gave them a wide berth, and the looks shot at Sims ranged from jealousy to contempt. Sims was beginning to feel uncomfortable when Irina found a place. It was a hole in the wall, probably ran by the same family for generations. A small, hunched over woman with a face made of squints and wrinkles started speaking in rapid fire Italian and gestured for them to sit. She walked off to the kitchen without taking an order from either of them.
  642. A man walked out of the kitchen with an unmarked bottle of red wine and poured them two glasses. Irina was unsure if it was too early in the day to drink, and Sims answered her internal question by picking up his glass and taking
  643. a long pull.
  645. "Elfriede...told me what happened on the cargo ship."
  647. "Yeah." he said, nodding.
  649. "You know not all of us are like that."
  651. "Enough of you are to be a threat."
  653. Her face dropped. Looking down at her feet, she mumbled something.
  655. "Say again?"
  657. "I said I'm sorry."
  659. "You don't have to be sorry for anything. You guys saved my life, more than once. If I thought you guys were like the ones on that ship I wouldn't be here."
  661. She looked up, smiling. "You know we like you, don't you, Daniel?
  663. He wasn't used to being called Daniel. He took another drink.
  665. "I get the feeling a few of you like me a little too much."
  667. "No, I mean, you're a good crew member, you know how to handle a gun, you're a good shipmate."
  669. "And those of you who want me to be more than a shipmate?"
  671. She looked a little lost, then began to look down, blushing. The waiter came out with a massive plate of some kind of spaghetti. Irina looked thankful that something had arrived to change the subject, and she happily shoveled a huge amount of pasta onto her plate. There wasn't much more he could say, so he started eating and drinking. He began to get distracted by watching Irina eat, he wasn't sure how she could use a fork and knife with those paws, but she made it work. She tucked into her spaghetti, getting sauce on her face and completely oblivious. She looked cute, he thought. She became aware that he was staring and looked up. Sims pointed to his cheek.
  673. "You got some sauce."
  675. She tried to wipe it away but missed. Sims reached across the table with a napkin and got it, his hand pausing, holding the napkin against her face. Their eyes locked, they both seemed to realize they were staring, and looked away. What was that, thought Sims. She obviously didn't know either. They continued eating silently, trying not to look at each other. When they had finished, all of the spaghetti was gone. Irina had eaten almost all of it herself, and Sims had drank most of the wine. The tiny old lady had given them a piece of paper with a number on it, and Sims set down 20 euros as they left. Sims was a little tipsy from the wine, and Irina began to look more and more appealing as they made their way back to the ship. She would look over at him and smile a little every once in a while. He thought about grabbing her, but hadn't realized that his body had followed through.
  676. He stood there holding a very surprised Irina in his arms. He wasn't sure what to say, so he kissed her. When he stopped, her face was beet red, and her golden hued eyes were watering. She looked on the verge of tears.
  678. "I didn't think you liked me."
  680. "It just kind of happened."
  682. "The kiss or liking me?"
  684. "Both, I guess."
  686. Sims let go of her and they kept walking. They got back to the pier to see some of the crew milling about. Hannah smiled smugly and made a show of getting close to Irina and Sims, sniffing the air and putting her hand over her mouth for a practiced laugh. Irina turned red from embarrassment. Meiko swam near the boat in lazy circles. She was probably drunk. The Captain stood in the pilot house, smirking. Making their way down the ladders, Sims heard a man groaning and shouting. Irina made a bee line to her rack while Sims investigated. Opening the door to the Engine room, he saw a man blindfolded and tied to a chair. Edna stood behind him with a remote control, and Sue was kneeling in front of him, her head bobbing rhythmically over his crotch. Edna looked at Sims and smiled a big grin.
  688. "You want to go next, Danny? I'm testing out Sue's new functions on a local. He's having a good time, I think. I don't know, I can't speak Italian."
  690. Edna turned a dial on her remote and Sue picked up speed dramatically. The man in the chair squirmed and shouted.
  692. "Uh, no, I'm alright. Just try to keep it down, I'm hitting the rack."
  694. "No promises, Danny, we're gonna be at this all night."
  696. Sims shut the door behind him and walked to the berthing. He climbed in his rack and hoped he wasn't going to regret this night in the morning.
  698. He did regret it, but it was mainly because of all the wine he was drinking the night before. As he slowly came to the realization of what he did last night he groaned a bit, then rolled out of his rack. Irina was nearby, and she smiled meekly at Sims. He smiled back, and neither of them had anything to say to each other. She quickly left the berthing. After dressing, he made his way through the engine room where Edna and Sue were carrying out the man who had been tied to the chair all night. He looked like his clothes didn't fit him anymore, he'd probably lost weight in fluids alone since they brought him onboard.
  700. Sims followed them up the ladder to see the morning sun shining on a deck littered with a few empty bottles and some "dead soldiers". Meiko's legs were splayed out on the deck as her upper body hung off the side. Sims walked over to the rails to investigate. Her long black hair looked like it was nearly dipping into the water. Sims decided she looked more peaceful than he had ever seen her before now. His thoughts were abruptly cut short by a pair of loud splashes. Sims nearly jumped out of his boots, and Meiko's head rocketed upwards into the cable directly above her head.
  704. Meiko's large arms went to cover the top of her head and she continued muttering. A pair of women with green fins for ears and white hats floated there in the dirty water of the harbor, bobbing up and down in a way that made their breasts look like flotation devices. They appeared to have a bundle of laminated pamphlets just below the water's surface.
  706. "Oh, hello! I hope we didn't wake you! My name is Sister Margaret and-"
  708. Margaret ducked under the water to avoid Meiko's arm from hitting her in the head as she swiped at her.
  710. "-this is Sister Florence!"
  712. Sims was too hungover to ask what they were, so he managed a half assed nod.
  714. "Do you have a quick moment to hear about the great lord of the sea Poseidon?"
  716. "Not really."
  718. Florence and Margaret looked down sadly. Sims grimaced. Normally when Jehovah's Witnesses would come to his door they'd be guys, not good looking women with their tits hanging out.
  720. "Ah, just give me one of the pamphlets or whatever."
  722. Margaret's eyes lit up and she reached up with a pamphlet but it was swatted out of her hands by Meiko.
  724. "FUCK OFF," Meiko growled, showing gleaming teeth. Margaret and Florence looked away with downturned eyes, their ear fins drooping. They submerged without another word.
  726. "You have to be shitty to those missionaries or they won't ever leave you alone," Meiko said, still holding her head.
  728. "Meiko, be nice to our passengers!" shouted the Captain. Meiko gave an angry grimace and got up to clean the empty bottles on the deck.
  730. The Furtună was soon underway with their passengers, and apparently all they wanted to do was to tell crew members about the glory of the great god of the sea, Poseidon. Florence proselytized in the engine room, trying to talk over the diesels. Sims tuned her out with some hearing protection, occasionally nodding if it looked like she was talking about something she cared about. She was following him around the engine room, waddling about on her large mermaid like tail. Alina simply rolled her eyes, and Edna followed Florence around making dumb faces when she wasn't looking. He climbed up the ladder for some air and she followed, pulling herself up the ladder with just her arms. Margaret was bugging the Captain and Hannah in the pilot house, being sure to steer clear of Meiko, who was leering at her and smoking a cigarette.
  732. Sims sat down next to Meiko and lit up a Camel, which was enough to get Florence to fuck off. He exhaled smoke from his nose as Meiko grunted and spit on the deck.
  734. "These fucking bitches. You can't trust them. They've got to be up to something," growled Meiko.
  736. "Up to boring my face off with all this talk of Poseidon."
  738. "It's not just that, I don't know what they're doing, but it's something!"
  740. As if by chance, or maybe hearing abilities beyond those of a human, Văduva turned her head and gave Meiko a look that turned her a little pale. Whatever the intent was, Meiko got the message and clammed up. She quickly flicked her butt into the water and stood up to go check the ammo cans on the aft guns. After that, Meiko didn't have much to say the rest of the way back to Malta. The two missionaries continued bothering everyone on the crew, either oblivious or not caring that no one wanted to hear any more about Poseidon's divine grace. Sims didn't even have a chance to talk to Irina about their date in Naples because of how intrusive and annoying these two were.
  742. Upon return to Malta, there was Cascarone's limousine waiting on the pier. Already knowing it was for them, the missionaries made their way there and got in. Instead of driving off, the limousine stayed there for 15 minutes or so. Sims watched as Margaret and Florence got out and half waddled, half slithered to the pier and jumped in. The door on the limo remained open. Văduva gave Sims a look, and Sims sighed, knowing he was next. When he sat down in the car there was a slight dampness to the seats, left, no doubt, by the tails of the two girls who were just there.
  744. "I'm told you had an...interesting time on this voyage," said Cascarone with her somewhat husky voice. Her tentacles moved slowly, almost imperceptibly. Sims knew how fast they could move if commanded to.
  746. "All except for the return leg, those two mermaids bored the shit out of everyone with their talk of Poseidon."
  748. "Sea Bishops, Daniel, Sea Bishops. I'm always ready to help the faithful make pilgrimages for a fee, you see."
  750. "Pilgrims? A few sets of eyes and ears for intel, more likely.
  752. Her face showed a bit of surprise, then was darkened with a cool malevolence.
  753. "You're smarter than you look, Mr. Sims, but your mouth could get you into trouble one day." Her face lightened a bit and she smiled.
  754. "Besides, they're true believers. They're just willing to keep their eyes open for people who make generous donations to the church. We all have shared interests, after all."
  756. "Speaking of which, are you going to tell me what I did in that arms deal?"
  758. "Yes of course, Daniel, it's why I called you here. While you were gone, the so called Knights of Malta made a move. An abortive move, but they still showed their hand."
  760. She handed Sims a cell phone positioned horizontally. A video streaming service was on the screen with the headline "Gunfight in the streets! Anti-Monster gunmen terrorize Valleta!" Sims pressed play to see a group of men running down a street with AKs, shouting in Maltese, presumably. Whoever was holding the camera began to panic. A man fired in the cameraman's direction, causing the cameraman to duck. An explosion was heard and the firing stopped. More confused shouting, some gunfire and several more explosions. Then silence. The cameraman cautiously peaked over a counter to see the gunmen dead. The video cuts out as sirens begin to be heard.
  762. "Ok, I'll bite, what happened?"
  764. "Are you familiar with the Operation Eldest Son?
  766. "No?"
  768. "Your Central Intelligence did this to Vietnam, they made ammunition that was set to explode weapons and kill the user. They would sneak the ammo into stockpiles to make the Vietnamese doubt the source of the munitions."
  770. "But I was the source of the munitions!"
  772. "You worry too much, Daniel. My associate has taken care of the issue."
  774. Sims didn't want to ask any further than that, so he remained silent. A tentacle caressed his face and Cascarone smiled.
  776. "I wanted you to know that you did an excellent job, Daniel. I'll need your assistance again soon, and you will be handsomely rewarded. You can buy something nice for Irina, she'll like that."
  778. Sims was more than a little uncomfortable with how much Cascarone knew about him. He realized that this was just one way she kept control over employees, by knowing everything there was to know. He told himself to look for some
  779. kind of leg up on her in the future, he just didn't know what it would be. She must have known he was thinking of some way to get from under her thumb, as she simply smiled smugly and dismissed Sims. He got out of the limo, which promptly drove off to Valletta.
  781. There was a few days before the crew would head out with new cargo, so Sims went below decks to change and get a bite to eat. He could use a drink too. He was at the point where he was changing near the bunks despite the stares of other crew members. He left in search of a bar. As he made his way towards the city, he swore he could feel eyes on him. Without trying to look too suspicious, he would occasionally check over his shoulder. He started to notice a few non humans giving him the look, then carefully looking away. He was starting to get a little nervous, and he lit a cigarette. As if on cue a man walked up to him, looking very much like a tourist. He was wearing those gold rimmed sunglasses that Sims' uncle would wear, with orange lenses. He had a Hawaiian shirt on and a camera hanging around his neck and a street map in his shirt pocket. His short pockets bulged with crap he bought in souvenir shops. All he needed was a fanny pack. Must have been right off a cruise ship.
  783. "Hey uh, excuse me, do you have a light?" He was gesturing to Sims' cigarette in a way that Sims could tell, this man didn't think he spoke English and was using hand gestures.
  785. "Yeah, sure." Sims reached in a pocket and handed him a lighter.
  787. "Thank God, someone who speaks English! I'm lost as hell out here." He took the lighter and pulled a pack of Chesterfields out, which Sims had never seen in the US. He lit a cigarette and handed the lighter back.
  789. "Thanks. Hey, are you headed for the beach? Like I said, I'm lost and none of the cab drivers are speaking English to me."
  791. "I mean, I'm going into town to grab a bite, but I'm not going to the beach."
  793. "Mind if I tag along? Downtown is closer to the beach than where I'm at."
  795. "I guess."
  797. "We got to stick together, right? Name's Bill." He reached his hand out, and Sims shook it.
  799. "Dan"
  801. "Damned good to meet you, Dan."
  803. They began to walk together, smoking cigarettes and making small talk about the weather. Sims couldn't quite shake the feeling he had earlier, but talking to someone who knew English and didn't have a tail or tentacles was doing a lot towards easing his mind. He couldn't remember the last time he had a conversation with a human. They found their way into an Irish style pub, and Bill bought the first round. They sat down at a table and sipped their beers.
  805. "So Dan, when are you making your way back to the Navy?"
  807. Sims was blindsided, but trying not to show how surprised he was. This was something he had been expecting for a while, just not from this guy. Bill's friendly demeanor hadn't changed at all either.
  809. "Should I be in a hurry to?"
  811. "As far as the Navy is concerned, you're still MIA. And that's just fine with my employers. We figured since you still have a few years left on your contract, that you should be ready to help us out when we need you."
  813. "What kind of help are you talking about?"
  815. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. By the way, I saw your handiwork here not too long ago, that was pretty funny. I'd keep an eye out if I were you, though, those guys weren't too happy about losing fingers and eyes."
  817. Bill got up and tossed a few Euro coins on the table, downing his beer and clanking the glass on the table. "We'll be in touch, Sims." Bill left, leaving Sims with a free beer. The uneasy feeling he had earlier in the day was back. He continued drinking until late in the day, running through the different scenarios Bill might want him to do for him, and whoever he worked for. Was he some kind of Navy intel guy? Central Intelligence? There wasn't a way to know for sure. His thoughts were going in weird places with all the beer he'd been drinking. He went to the bathroom to relieve himself, putting one arm up against the wall as he stood at the urinal. Everything went red, stars shot through his vision, and his forehead slammed against the wall. Before passing out, he could only think 'Not this again'.
  819. He woke up, with his head on fire. His vision was still blurry, and as he tried to move, he came to the realization that he was tied in place, which was starting to surprise him less and less with each time it happened. He was in a back room somewhere. The bar? A different bar? Cases of beer stacked up on each other lined the walls. A man with a bandage over part of his face and a scowl over the rest of it was holding a gun in his left hand. His right hand was bandaged. Sims began to recognize the man, and the reason for his kidnapping became all too clear. Clearly Cascarone's operation had missed a few guys, and they weren't too happy about ammo that exploded their rifles. The man was shouting in what Sims believed to be Maltese. Two other men were flanking him, but they didn't have any bandages. They must be the B-Team.
  820. There wasn't anything really for him to say to them, so he sat there and got hit in the face a few times. Sims spat blood on the floor.
  822. "Is there a point to all this, or what?"
  824. This didn't help the mood of the man hitting him, but he stopped long enough to reply.
  826. "You sold us bad ammo, American!"
  828. "Let the buyer beware, was I supposed to test fire every round?"
  830. A good hit to the gut was the only answer he was expecting, and got it. This continued for 10 minutes, but it felt like a day for Sims. The guys without bandaged hands were pretty good at hitting people. But it wasn't to last. The man with bandages raised his pistol, and Sims was pretty sure this was the end for him. He sighed deeply, closed his eyes, and waited for the shot. He heard five shots, and opened his eyes. He didn't appear to have any extra holes. Sims saw the three men on the floor holding their legs and yelling. The two with no bandages had a bullet in each knee. The one who was holding the gun now had two messed up hands. He cradled his newly injured hand with his bandaged hand. A woman with pointed triangular ears on top of her head walked into view, pointing a suppressed pistol at the men. She wore all black. Sims felt his hands being cut free.
  832. "We're supposed to let them live this time, Masha," said a voice behind him, too bubbly and cheerful for Sims' liking.
  834. "I'm aware of this Magda," said the woman with the gun. Masha handcuffed the gunman and tied up the men on the ground as Magda walked into Sims' eyesight. She looked like Masha, except dressed like a maid. Whereas Masha's long sleeves covered her arms, Sims could see Magda had grey feathers on her arms, gathered around her wrists. She had a big smile on her face. Her blue eyes were smiling as well. She was holding a phone in her hands, gesturing to Sims.
  835. Sims took the phone.
  837. "I told you to keep an eye out, Dan, and what do you do? Get shitfaced in one spot for hours. Honestly, you had it coming, being so careless." It was his new "friend" Bill.
  839. "Guess I'm stubborn," said Sims through swollen lips.
  841. "Good thing I'm here to help you out, huh? Well, have fun, the girls are paid to take care of any of your problems, if you get my meaning. We can talk about the favor you owe me soon." The emphasis he placed on "any" was a little off putting to Sims. Sims hung up and handed the phone back to Magda. Magda, smiling, got on her knees in front of Sims and produced a switchblade, flipping the shiny blade out. Sims tensed up a little until she cut the ropes around his ankles. Masha had already begun pulling the men out of the back door, and Magda began to clean the blood that they had spilled onto the floor. Sims slowly stood up, sore and stiff. Magda gently set him back in the chair.
  843. "You've had a long day, Master. Won't you relax? Do you need my help relaxing?"
  845. Magda batted her eyes coquettishly, and a few ideas ran through his head when Masha returned to the doorway, holstering her handgun. Masha didn't look relaxed. She looked like a steel cable held tight. The thoughts in Sims' head about relaxation vanished.
  847. "I better head back," Sims said as he stood up again. He walked past Magda and Masha out the back door, seeing a black sedan with a trunk that shook a little every now and then. He slammed his fist down on the top of the trunk and it was quiet inside there. It hurt to walk, but he made his way back to the pier. Gabrielle saw him first, making an "O" with her mouth and wincing. Hannah grimaced similarly. Irina was the first one to grab a first aid kit, sitting him down on the weather deck of the Furtună and started to dab his face with cotton swabs soaked in antiseptic. It stung, but it felt nice that she was taking care of him. She lifted her nose in his direction, sniffing a few times.
  850. "You smell like beer and the Kikimora twins. Did they do this to you?" Sims could see the claws on her other paw begin to come out.
  852. "No, they stopped the guys who were kicking my ass."
  854. "Guess you owe Ms. Cascarone a favor, then."
  856. "Wait, what did you mean by that?"
  858. "They're freelancers, but Cascarone is usually the only person who needs any work by them. A cleaning crew, of sorts."
  860. "I see."
  862. "Come on, let's get you down below decks and clean you up."
  864. Sims followed her down the ladder. It felt good that someone cared for him.
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