“They’re following us!” I cursed, looking out from the ship’s stern.
There were two ships behind us and following. One looked to be much larger and more threatening than the other. The smaller one looked quick, though, and it was gaining on us quickly. The other ship looked to be slower and was only managing to keep up with us.
We had just passed the shore of the island and were heading rapidly west. I looked to the side, seeing the back of the island I had called home for my entire life. I had left the island only a few times, usually on fishing trips and once to West Island with my father.
Watching it pass by on the port, I had an indescribable feeling like I would never see it again. There wasn’t much left to it, with the majority of the forest burned down and the village ransacked. My family was no longer there, and my home was gone. I forced myself to look away from where I had been, and toward where I was going. That was what caused me to frown. Our current direction was almost directly west. We had our closest relations with West Island, being closest in proximity and also sharing several marriages.
West island was about a week-long sail from the North Island, while East Island took nearly five times as long. It actually took longer to get to West island compared to South island, as a direct route put you into a dangerous patch of water that was frequently stormy and caused the destruction of many ships. It was eventually considered too dangerous to sail, and an alternative longer route was eventually created. However, it was inconvenient, and unnecessary when we could just trade supplies with the easier to reach South Island, who in turn regularly traded with the East. Yet, even South island was a month-long voyage, and so it was most common to only head to the West Island.
Therefore, if there was anywhere we should head, it would be West Island. I had family there, and it was the closest place. We could sell the things that weren’t important to us and stock up on what we needed for a long journey. Furthermore, the population of West Island was nearly three times our own, and I might have luck getting a few hot-blooded youths to join us on our journey.
Yet, West island was actually south-west, and at our current position, we would sail on indefinitely until we reach the Endless Sea. At that point, we could sail for years and never find the end. Taking one last look at the smaller ship that was chasing after us, I ran back down below.
“Alice! We’re too far north. We need to head more south!”
“Automatic piloting is currently inoperational. Repairs required on radar and navigation. Manual piloting only.”
“Manual…” I struggled to follow with Alice’s often complex vocabulary. “Yes… a helm! You have a helm, right?”
“The helm is currently on the outer deck of the ship. Would you like to bring the helm down to the bridge?”
There was a grinding sound, in the ceiling above, then clicking followed by a thud.
“Caution. The manual helm cannot be brought down to the bridge. Service is suggested.”
“No, shit!” I cursed, glancing over at Zoe. “I only know the general direction of West Island. You wouldn’t by chance have a map up in that brain of yours, or whatever you call it.”
She silently cocked her head and then gave a nod.
“Come on! We need to turn this thing south before we end up in the Endless Sea. Then we’ll truly be fucked.”
Zoe followed me as I went back up onto the deck of the ship. My eyes whipped around until I noticed the wheel sitting in the upper portion of the stern of the ship. This part had previously been buried when we were trapped in the cavern. I went up the second flight of stairs and around to the wheel. Although it looked like a typical ship’s helm, it had a board full of buttons that seemed meaningless, and various other additions that I didn’t understand.
I had only ever piloted a ship once, the navigator allowing me to do so for only a few nautical miles under careful supervision. I didn’t even get to turn the ship. Zoe pushed me aside and grabbed the ship, immediately spinning the wheel. I almost fell against her as we suddenly made a sharp left on the port. I incidentally took one last look at the island, which was now in the distance. After my eyes locked onto it for one last moment, I turned away. However, then I immediately looked back.
“Where is it? Where is the scout?”
The larger ship was still following us, but the smaller ship was no longer behind us. I spun around, looking frantically across the sea. Finally, I spotted it on our starboard. It was almost caught up to us, but also at a fair distance.
“What is it…” My eyes widened. “It’s trying to get in front of us. It’s trying to cut us off!”
I shot Zoe a worried look. Her expression gave nothing away, even now. She pulled a lever, which seemed to lock the wheel in place without physically blocking the wheel. It was weird, and it left me feeling anxious. However, after a tug on the wheel to guarantee it didn’t move, I followed after her as she headed back down to the bridge below.
“What are you doing?” I demanded. “We have two ships on us! One of them is trying to block us. They want to slow us down so the bigger one can catch up. They don’t know how many are on board and they’re not confident they can take us. That’s one advantage we have at least.”
Zoe stopped for a second and looked at me, then tried to speak in her usually guttural speech. “Weapons.”
“Right…” I nodded. “Alice! When can that cannon shoot again!”
I had already asked when I remembered that it would take two days before I asked.
“In current sunlight, the Dreadcannon will take three days to charge once the solar sails have been deployed.”
“Three days? Before, you said two!”
“Two days in optimal light conditions. It is currently not optimal.”
“We don’t have three days. We don’t even have three hours. Can we move faster?”
“The fusion reactor is only functioning at a 50% reaction at the moment. Engine speed has been throttled accordingly. Repairs must be made to increase the total ship movement.”
“Damn it! Is there any way we can get more power to the engines.”
“Calculating… the release of the solar sails will increase energy production by 10%. This will increase the total ship speed by 5%.”
“Hopefully, that’s enough. Release solar sails!”
“Warning: Solar sails are currently damaged. The automatic release may cause further damage. I recommend manual release only.”
“Of course…” I rolled my eyes. “Zoe…”
She let out a sigh from whatever control panel she was in and then followed me back up to the main deck.
“Alice… are you here?” I said.
“Yes, captain.” Her voice sounded slightly distant, but she was on the outer deck of the ship too.
I had been afraid that she was only on the bridge.
“Okay, walk us through this…”
I carefully watched as the ship started to surpass us, all while following the steps asked of me. It took nearly fifteen minutes with Zoe’s help, but large golden sails filled our vision. They were extremely eye-catching, and I hated the thought of using them. They made this ship look even more valuable. At a distance, it was difficult to tell that this ship was composed completely of metal, but with golden sails, there is no way everyone wouldn’t instantly know the ship wasn’t normal.
The sails didn’t seem to catch the wind, but instead were facing up toward the sky. There was a heavy and difficult-to-push crank that required two people to change the position of the sails. We got it facing the sun, but in an hour or so we’d need to adjust it again as the sun moved. Furthermore, the sails had various holes and rips in them. It was clear they weren’t very stable. At this point, the ship was already ahead of us. I could only grit my teeth as Zoe retreated back down below.
“Alice… are we going faster?”
“Yes, captain. The sails are functioning better than predicted. We are moving at a speed 6% greater than previously.”
Looking back, the ship following us maybe seemed like it was falling behind now, but I didn’t notice any change in speed like a jolt or something. The island behind us was nothing but a distant spec, and the ship was maybe three nautical miles back. Everything else was just an endless blue. There was no indication we were moving faster. I didn’t even know if we were heading in the ballpark of the Western Island at this point. However, none of that would matter if the ships caught us.
At the very least, we were moving faster than the larger ship. Now, we just had the scout to worry about. It was in front of us, but moving perpendicularly. They were still keeping their distance, unaware of how powerful we were. They were probably watching the deck though with a telescope. I didn’t try to look back. It would only cause me to worry. Once they realized it really was just the two of us, they’d finally attack and then it was game over. Even if their ship had only fifteen crew, it’d be more than enough to overwhelm us. Maybe Zoe could take on five or even ten if I wanted to be optimistic, she was still ultimately just a slime, albeit an odd and sometimes scary one.
I went over to the helm and pulled the handle, following the motions I had seen Zoe do. One good thing about me was that I was a quick learner. I didn’t need to see it done twice before I was certain I could replicate the actions. I spun the wheel and brought us into a turn. I didn’t know for certain if we were faster than the scout now. I was hoping we could escape their attempt to block us off. At least, by turning more south, I was remaining within the Sky Heaven Archipelago. The idea of sailing outside the radius of the four islands terrified me.
The other ship was sailing alongside our own ship, but I noticed after about a half-hour at the helm that they were steadily drifting more and more toward us. They were still faster than us, but they were no longer trying to get ahead. They had figured out that we were crewless. I cursed my luck as I watched them draw closer and closer. The other ship had become a spec on the horizon, but this one was growing bolder and bolder as it spied on us. It was close enough now to realize we had no weapons and no defenses. Now, it was going in for a boarding approach.
I locked the helm and then ran back down onto the bridge. Zoe was tinkering with wires. She was always doing that. It was really starting to become irritating. We were about to die, and she was busy fiddling with wires. Just as I was about to walk up to her and speak my mind, there was a sudden spark. It would have likely electrocuted a normal person, but Zoe seemed to ignore it.
“Rerouting successful. Power has been provided for torpedo bay 1. Torpedo bay 1 is live.”
“Huh? Torpedos?” The odd named seemed slightly familiar on my tongue. “Ah! Th-that’s a weapon, right?”
“The torpedo is an underwater missile system. Warning: There is currently no guidance system; all torpedoes must be released dead ahead.”
“We’ll make it work!” I called out. “How do we fire it?”
“A torpedo must first be loaded in the Torpedo Bay 1. Then, the bay is flooded until pressure is equalized. The outer door is opened, and the torpedo is ejected. When the torpedo reaches its target…”
“Yes, yes, I got it!” I started heading down the torpedo loading area in the storage rooms, stopping as I hit the stairs. “Zoe, take the helm!”
She nodded and then headed up while I headed down into the poorly lit underbelly of the ship. I had started cleaning a bit, but the place still had the look of abandonment. Racing down to the racks filled with long tubes, I read the word torpedo above them. I then looked around for something that looked like a bay. I ended up settling on a row of small, circular doors. Only one of them was lit.
Grabbing it, I managed to open it somehow. The torpedo itself was on some kind of guided lift, and it went where I pushed it. Lining it up with the bay with a click, I shoved with all my might, sending the torpedo rolling into the bay. Pulling off the mechanism, I locked the chamber. At this point, I was breathing hard. It had taken about ten minutes. It was really a job for two or even three. It was pure adrenaline that allowed me to move it, and I probably pulled something in the process. If it wasn’t for [Fast Healing], I’d probably feel it in the morning. I heard a distant boom, and then a couple of thuds on the side of the ship. Frowning, I ran back up to the outer deck. There, I saw the ship only about 100 meters away. They had large black cylinders pointed in our direction.
“What the hell are those?” I asked as I ran up to Zoe.
We could see the crew now. There were at least twenty, and ten of them were huddled around three of those cylinders. They were all women, not a single man in the mix, which told me they must be the same pirates that attacked the island. They had put a metal ball into the black cylinder object. Someone lowered something that looked hot against the back. Suddenly, there was a flash and a boom that caused me to jump.
The black tube rolled back forcefully, pulling against a rope that tied it in place. A ball ended up flying out of the end of the cylinder. All three fired, but two of them were low and bounced harmlessly off the metal ship, only causing a ding. One of them though flew much higher. It struck the rail cracking it and then flew up. Realizing the direction, it was heading I spun to Zoe. However, it was too late. The speedy ball flew right into her head, which exploded as the ball went past and over the other side of the ship.
A headless woman suddenly fell down to her knees and then collapsed dead on the ground. I heard laughter and cheers from the ship next to us. I let out a scream of anger and horror. They had killed Zoe, and now they were cheering about it.
Grabbing the wheel in Zoe’s place, I spun it as hard as I could, the entire ship jerked, nearly causing me to fall as the entire ship turned. Within twenty meters, we were now facing directly at the scout ship. When they noticed the trajectory of our ship, they were no longer smiling. Slamming two ships together was deadly. I didn’t know if this ship would tear through theirs, or only bounce off. Either way, we were a bit lower, and I bet that a few of them could jump onto my ship even as I tore theirs in half. In other words, if I depended on that alone, we were screwed. Fortunately, we weren’t.
“Alice, fire the torpedo!”
“Control has been redirected to the helm. Flip the switch to eject a torpedo from torpedo bay 1.” Her voice seemed to be coming from somewhere within the various panels around the helm.
“Fuck you, pirate bitches!” I cursed, flipping the switch.
We were just 50 meters away. The ship had also turned, and at this rate rather than ramming them, we’d pass side by side, bumping into each other as we went. In other words, they’d be boarding us in a second. The women on board were looking on hungrily and greedily as they saw their prize coming right to them. A metal ship that was impervious to cannons and could create a light so powerful that it lit the night sky for hundreds of miles. Who wouldn’t want such a ship?
“Where is it!” I demanded, looking anxiously.
I felt nothing and heard nothing, so I didn’t know where the weapon was. Did I install the torpedo wrong? Was this a situation where it needed to charge up first like the Dreadcannon? I hadn’t considered that. In only fifteen seconds, it’d already be too late to do anything else.
I reached forty meters, then thirty meters. Just as I hit twenty, I noticed a shadow in the water moving quickly. I thought it was a fish, but a moment later there was a massive explosion. I let out a cry as the ship in front of me was torn apart. There wasn’t even a chance for the pirate’s faces to turn from shock to horror. They were simply there one second and gone the next. The entire ship seemed to explode as if it had been torn apart at the seam.
Ten meters. The ship shuddered as it collided with the other ship, but it kept going and tore right through the burning remains like butter. Seeing no pirates left to leap on board, I fell to Zoe’s headless body, finally allowing the shock to overwhelm me.
“Zoe… no…” I cried, grabbing onto her body tightly. “Please… don’t leave me. I’m sorry… I need you. I’m so sorry. I can’t do this without you. I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner. You saved us. You saved me. Please… please don’t-“
Her head suddenly reformed with a slurping sound. Even in my arms, she cocked her head and looked at me with a quizzical look.
Right… she’s a slime. No head.
I felt intense relief, throwing my arms around and hugging her tightly. I expected her to toss me off, but a moment later, she gently patted my back. After holding her for a solid minute, I finally stood back up, my emotions regaining control. Zoe grabbed the helm, turning the ship around. She also pulled some kind of lever, and it felt like the ship had slowed a bit as well. It was at that moment that a thought occurred to me.
“Hey, Zoe… you can reform your body almost instantly, right? Yet, you collapsed and remained motionless for a solid two minutes. You even made your slime resemble blood to the point I forgot you weren’t human.” I turned a glare to her. “Did you play dead so that you could escape once the pirates took over the ship and killed me?”
Zoe stiffened suddenly. “R-repairs!”
She locked the helm and then ran back down to the bridge. I shot a glare at her back as she fled.
“You… you…” I tried to think of the worst thing I knew to call her. “Pirate!”