Reading time: 5 min

chapter four Hitting rock bottom

“Commander, we’ve got something on scope. Not sure what.”

The commander got our of her bunk and made her way to the bridge. It was already a flurry of activity. She settled into her command chair and tried to look important while everyone else did all the work. Until a decision had to be made, it was the sum total of her job, looking important.

“What do we have?”

The comms officer saluted her. “One of our coastal beacons picked up an unidentified undersea vessel roughly 20 kilomi from the mouth of the Yanti River. Close to land, so we wanted your permission before we went in for a closer look.”

The commander mulled it over. Dangerously close to the shore in such a heavily trafficked area, but it did bear a closer look. “Hug the floor and take us in close enough to get a better reading.”

“Aye aye!”

A chain of called out commands rang through the bridge and through the ship. She felt it change direction and speed up.

“Time to distance for close range scans,” she called out to no one in particular.

“Four hours,” said a voice indistinguishable from all the others around her.

We were off to a great start in covering the 5000 kilomi that we had less than three weeks to cover. In fact, after only two days we were just off the coast of the mainland, almost within sight of the twin cities that flanked either side of the Yanti river that separated the Nine Dragons from the Empire. The only small, little problem was that we were sitting on the ocean bottom, engines dead, tilted at a slightly awkward angle on the rocky ocean floor, and slowly taking on water. Good thing Rimares worked so hard to make sure that we wouldn’t drown too fast in the event of the ship going under.

Aside from that we were making great time.

At two months to the day after Ornery had arrived we were ready to set out. The crew was me, Rimares, Ornery, Birch, Officer Puppy, and Dr. Pac. The destination was the pirate moot, at the far end of the habitable world in a city called Perala.

The pirates claim they founded Perala to keep the peace between all the states around it that fought so bitterly with each other. Now there was nothing beyond it but hostile wastes and nasty things you didn’t want to run into, especially if they were hungry. I guess that side lost.

We had set out with fanfare, my naming the Catalyst with a fancy ceremony, and lots of goodbyes to everyone. Mom stayed behind because she didn’t think she had any place in a pirate moot. She was probably right, but there were lots of tears anyway.

The plan had been pretty simple. Take shifts driving the Catalyst to the mainland, drive up the Yanti a bit and then cross the rural side of the Empire to the Great Wastes to Perala. Ornery knew the safe routes and the safe places to stop once we were securely on land.

Being stuck on the bottom of the ocean was not part of the plan.

I passed Rimares a wrench, both of us with our heads shoved in one of the engine housings.

Ornery harrumphed to let us know he was there.

“Doesn’t look too bad,” Rimares said, answering the question Ornery hadn’t asked. “Just some worn parts we missed.”

“How long?”

“Four hours to rig something. Need to be on dry land for real fixes.”

Ornery was silent. I peeked out to realize he had wandered off.

I listened to the hull creaking and popping under the pressure, and hoped the pile of junk was more watertight than it felt.

The commander looked at the scan and let out a slow whistle. “Haven’t seen one of those in a long time. Wonder where they found it. Are we sure it wasn’t scuttled?”

“It’s live. Getting a reading of five on board. Signatures look like one human, three pirate, and one the systems can’t identify. Could just be livestock.”

The commander moved over to look at the console with the life form scans. “That’s not livestock.” She laughed. “Too bad protocol doesn’t allow us to capture them to learn what brought them together. Now that would be a story.”

She thought for a bit. “If it weren’t for our livestock, I’d be willing to bet some idiots got it running and took it out on the water before it died. Keep an eye on it. Properly maintained, those things are watertight. It’s what made them such good smuggling vessels. But the electronics on those things were never really meant to deal with salt water.”

The commander decided it was a good a time as any to return to her cabin. “If it sits there, let them drown. If it moves, let me know.” With that she left the bridge.

We hadn’t really planned on having to run the ship air tight, so there were no air tanks. Well, there were, but we hadn’t filled them. So after a few hours of hard work, the air had gotten pretty heavy and stale. We were all exhausted and in bad moods. Well, except Ornery, who seemed happier than normal if he seemed anything. Birch had tried to rig something up that converted the salt water seeping in into breathable air, said it was an old pirate trick when flying really high where the air was thin, but Rimares vetoed it, mumbling something about explosions.

We were gathered together in the mostly empty cargo hold, one side of it claimed by Rimares for a workspace, water lapping at our ankles and we all stared unhappily at the mess of ruined parts on his workbench. “The electronics in this thing were never really meant to deal with salt water,” Rimares said. “Thought we had swapped all those components out. Guess not. Real problem is it leaked while testing to make sure it was watertight.”

Ornery stared at the mess with a disturbingly cheerful expression. Or maybe we were all so tired and grumpy that his normal orneriness just looked cheerful compared to the rest of us. “We good to get moving?”

“Enough to limp to shore, but save juice and run in the water. Hovering might be more than the beast is ready for. We can poke our top out and cycle some air.”

I was staring at the ruined parts, so it took me a second to notice everyone was staring at me. Birch poked me in the ribs. “Time to give some orders, captain.”

I don’t know why I bothered to give any though. Except for the getting underway part, everyone went and did whatever they were going to do anyway. Even the ship ignored me and proceeded to keep wandering off course in random directions in spite of Birch’s best efforts to keep it going in a straight line.

The Commander made her way back to the bridge to resume her customary seat. “Status,” she asked.

“Vessel is back in motion. It made for the surface, but is keeping underwater at a slow crawl. Looks like it just poked its nose out to get a bit of fresh air.”


“Looks to be headed for the coast, but it is not keeping a steady heading. They are weaving back and forth like they are looking for something.”

The Commander didn’t like to hear that.

“Anything nearby?”

“There is an old coastal monitoring station, but they are moving in the wrong direction. Besides, it should be well enough hidden to not be seen, even if they come close enough to kick some sediment off it.”

“Put it on the map.” The Commander plugged into the navi built into her chair. She considered their position, the location of the unknown vessel, and of the station.

“Is it still active?”

“Marginally.” Station information began to read out on the screen.

“Do we know what else is there?”

“Some old undersea vessels and a smattering of old tech of an unrecorded nature.”

The Commander mulled this information over as a station manifest scrolled by. After a lengthy pause she made a decision. “Can’t risk it. If they are coming from there, they may have found something. And if we go check, they’ll reach the coast before we can get back to them. Take them down.”

A hand came down on her shoulder and a voice said, “I suggest you belay that order.” It was not a voice that was supposed to be on her sub.