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The Nina cut a quiet line through a still ocean. They were four days out from Adleshore, four uneventful days, and Xiphos couldn’t care less. No, she was lying to herself. She couldn’t wait to get back and rekindle her shipping career. She asked Martin to print off a list of clients waiting back in port, and he came back with a heavy stack of referrals. Xiphos took the referrals to her office, sat down with a pot of tea, and began to look through them.
Xiphos had made only a few sheets before…
She looked up from her tea. Toby stood in her doorway, hands in his pockets. His ears sat low on his head.
Xiphos sat back in her chair.
“How’s it going?” Toby asked. His voice carried the weight of that question, and Xiphos chose to ignore his tone.
“Fine,” Xiphos said conversationally. “Martin’s given me a lot to look over. When we get back to Adleshore we’ll be able to get to work right away. It’s nice, actually.”
Toby shifted his weight from foot to foot. He started to speak, but Xiphos said, “Look, I know why you’re here, so let me stop you right now. I’m not interested in talking about it.”
“You risked your life to save her,” Toby said. “You can’t just walk away from a relationship like that.”
“What part of ‘I’m not talking about this’ do you not understand?” Xiphos asked.
“She was important to you,” Toby said.
“I’m calling Martin,” Xiphos said. She leaned over her desk and reached for her intercom.
“To what?” Toby asked, his voice cold, focused, carving a line between them and the bridge. Xiphos knew if Martin crossed that line…
She sat back, folded her arms across her chest. For a moment, she just stared at Toby. He stared back, his ears flat against his head. Xiphos’s eyes flickered, then fell away. She turned slightly in her chair, the fur on her neck standing up, and she sighed.
“This is something I really don’t want to talk about,” Xiphos said. “I made a decision and I’m standing by it. And I would like you to trust that I did it because I thought it was the best thing to do.”
Toby squared his jaw. “I’m just concerned about you.”
“I know,” Xiphos said. She looked up at him. “And I appreciate it.”
“Okay,” Toby said. He looked away from Xiphos.
“So what’s this I hear about you being arrested,” Xiphos said, a smile creeping over her muzzle.
“Who told you-“
“You are changing the subject,” Toby said, his arms down at his sides.
“Yup,” Xiphos said. “What’d you get arrested for?” Her tail bounced behind her.
Toby rolled his eyes. He mumbled.
“What?” Xiphos asked, tilting her head. “You kind of mumbled there, Cupcake.”
“Once because I was on a pirate ship-“
Xiphos squeaked with excitement.
“And the second time because they were looking for you,” Toby said grimly.
“They said that?” Xiphos’s smile faded.
“No,” Toby said. “But it certainly seemed that way.”
Xiphos thought about this a moment. She propped her chin up in her hands. “So how did you ever get out?”
“Frankie,” Toby said. “She talked her way out, and then talked my way out.”
“I’d have never guess, and yet…” Xiphos looked at him. “Are you blushing?”
Toby didn’t say anything. He eyed the hatch to the bridge.
“Whoa,” Xiphos said, standing up. “Whoa, hang on.”
Toby dropped his head, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing the bridge of his muzzle.
“What were you two up to while I was gone? Did you,” Xiphos brightened further, “did you kiss her?”
“She kissed me,” Toby mumbled.
Xiphos cried out. “No way!” She circled around her desk to Toby. He didn’t look at her, the fur on his face growing an ever more intense shade of red.
“It’s really not that big of a deal,” Toby said softly.
Xiphos hugged Toby tight. Toby shifted in her arms uncomfortably.
“It’s a huge deal,” Xiphos said. “You two deserve each other, I’ve said this before. Wait, you kissed her back, right?”
“Yes,” Toby said. His voice would have rained daggers down on Xiphos if it could.
“So it’s official, then?”
“Yeah,” Toby said.
Xiphos let out a giggle. She kissed Toby on the cheek.
Toby turned away. “Why-“
“Because I’m happy for you,” Xiphos said. “For real happy. What else have you guys done?”
“I mean, that’s it?” Toby said. “We snuggle. She wants to move slowly. I want her to be happy.”
Xiphos stood back and smiled. “I like that a lot.”
“Yeah,” Toby said thoughtfully. “It’s really nice.” He looked around the little office. “So you’re okay?”
“Yeah,” Xiphos said. “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m completely fine. I don’t know how else to say it. Jace and I had a very fundamental disagreement and it wouldn’t work unless we could agree with one another. So… I’m fine.”
Toby nodded. “Okay. I’m glad to-“
Something rumbled, low and deep, off the side of the Nina. Xiphos held up her hand. Toby froze, his eyes darting over to the helm. There was another rumble, this one closer, like thunder before a storm. Xiphos moved to the helm, pulling a screen towards her and paging through the displays to the sonar.
Toby joined her, looking over her shoulder. A ship sat on the surface above the Nina. Xiphos’s ears twitched.
“What is it?” Toby asked softly.
“I don’t-“ Xiphos started. The Nina lurched. Toby fell to the floor and tumbled into the corner of the bridge. Xiphos gripped the helm, keeping herself on her feet. She reached over and sounded the alarm.
“What was that?!” Toby said, standing up.
“I think we’re being attacked,” Xiphos said. “I’m going to try to surface so we can see what’s happening.”
“And if we’re being attacked?”
“We can run away faster,” Xiphos said.
Frankie and Martin stumbled up to the bridge. “What happened?” Martin asked.
“We’re potentially being attacked,” Xiphos said. “Both of you get survival suits on right now.” She turned to Toby. “You too.”
“What about-?” Toby started.
“I’m going to try to talk to them,” Xiphos said.
“Sir,” Frankie said. “Let me talk. I can try to get them to stop.”
Xiphos pushed the Nina to the surface. She didn’t look away from her controls. “It’s worth a shot.”
As soon as the Nina broke the surface, the Relay lit up. “Unidentified transport ship, you will shut down your engines and comply with our orders.”
Frankie picked up the Relay mic. “This is The Nina, registration CAP 7589-E. We are a transport ship returning to port.”
“And you will shut down your engines and comply with our orders.”
Toby leaned in to Xiphos. “She sounds familiar,” he said quietly.
Xiphos grunted, her jaw pulled tight.
“Unidentified ship, we are not aware of your orders, please repeat,” Frankie said.
“Comply with our orders or face consequences.”
“Please identify,” Frankie said, The Voice coming out.
The other end hissed and crackled, and then said, “This is Captain Nara Molyneux of La Fido de La Patrolo. We seek the pirate you carry on board, Jace Norton-Li, alias Burian Lake.”
“We are carrying no pirate,” Frankie said. She stood up straight, concentrated, becoming the embodiment of The Voice. “You have no business with us.”
There was another burst of static. “Turn the pirate over to us,” Nara said, her voice strong. “Or face consequences.”
“Captain Molyneux,” Frankie said, pushing The Voice further, “we have no pirate on board-“
The Nina lurched again. Frankie fell forward. Xiphos caught her and stood her up again.
“That was your last warning shot,” Nara said evenly. “Next time I fire I will not miss.”
Xiphos reached for the engine controls. She began to drop the engine levels. She took the Relay mic away from Frankie.
“Captain Molyneux, we are complying and shutting down engines,” Xiphos said. “We have no pirate to turn over. However, you may search our ship. I assure you you will find no pirate aboard.”
The Relay hissed at them. “Do you copy, Captain Molyneux?”
There was no response. Static crackled again. Xiphos hovered her hand over the ballast controls. “Do you copy?”
The explosion came from the back of the Nina. The ship lifted, throwing its crew forward. Xiphos kept her grip on the helm. She slammed her fist down on the emergency dive button, and The Nina sank into ocean.
Alarms sounded from the helm.
“Sir, I’ve got hull damage aft,” Frankie said.
“Martin, go check for breaches,” Xiphos said. Martin barely touched the steps on the way down to the crew quarters.
Another explosion knocked The Nina down. More alarms came from the helm.
“-reading major tension on the dorsal side of the hull, possible hull breach. Engines reporting power loss at three percent, mark that, four percent, five percent-“ Frankie continued.
“Check them,” Xiphos said to Toby. Toby nodded and plunged down into the crew quarters.
Almost immediately, Martin returned to the bridge. The front of his body was soaking wet, head to toe. “I did my best to patch what breaches there were, captitan.”
“Are we taking on water?” Xiphos asked.
The intercom came to life. “I’m seeing at least two, no three centimeter-sized holes in the hull up here,” Toby said. “We are taking on water.”
Xiphos’s eyes flicked over the screen she and Frankie watched. She pushed the engines, moving The Nina out from under the Fido. She pushed The Nina in a wide arc, and then pushed the throttle as far as it could go. The Nina’s engines wheezed, burst to life, and then sputtered.
“Engine capacity dropping to fifty percent and falling,” Frankie said.
“What do we do about the hull breach?” Toby asked.
Another explosion rocked The Nina. Toby cried out before the intercom cut off. Another alarm sounded.
“Life support levels falling,” Frankie said. “We appear to be sinking, captain.”
Toby climbed the stairs to the bridge, dripping wet. “I sealed off the cargo bay. The breach is too much to contain. Xiphos… Xiphos, it’s bad.”
Xiphos stared down at the screen, watching the alarms blinking, one after another. They were sinking, engines failing, life support failing, hull failing.
“What do we do?” Toby asked.
Another explosion rocked The Nina. Xiphos looked up from her screen.
Toby jumped down the steps, followed closely by Frankie and Martin. Xiphos tore into her quarters, grabbing a bag from under her bed, her hat, and after a quick search, the photo of Nina. She spun back to the bridge, and down to the crew quarters.
Xiphos landed in knee deep water. More rained down from the ceiling. Martin opened a lifepod and began to usher them in. Xiphos made sure Toby and Frankie were inside, pushed Martin in, and swung into the pod, closing the hatch behind her. She popped the security bolts, and the life pod drifted away from The Nina.
Toby manned the controls of the lifepod. Xiphos leaned over his shoulder. She pushed buttons, turning off the lights inside and outside the pod. Then she pointed. “Over there. We’ll run dark and silent. She’ll be looking for us. So we wait until she goes away.”
Toby nodded. He set the pod down on the floor of the ocean. Xiphos stared out the back of the pod, tears welling in her eyes. Toby hugged her, resting his head against hers. They all sat in silence.
Out of the back of the pod, they could see The Nina touch down on the ocean bottom. Its running lights flickered and then blinked out.
[end of act 3]