Slick hasn't eaten for days. The swaying of the small scout ship doesn't bother him, but he is too nervous to think about food. The gnawing in his stomach isn't letting him forget about it though. Succumbing to his animal instincts, he descends into the hold to find something palatable.
The ship groans with each listless arc. It's made entirely of wood and is a laughable relic next to the modern cyclodrive cutters or satellite-jamming stealth cruisers. It has fortunately been fitted with a mechanical power plant, but the durability of the system is questionable. Slick's job is to maintain it, and he has never had so much trouble keeping up with repairs in twenty-three years of being a mechanic. The crew is counting on this appearance of dilapidation though. Until recently, it was a fairly simple matter of raiding rural coastal cities, but the cheapening of Aquatec's defense systems means that they have been installed in every port worth pillaging. To remain in Slick's line of work is to learn new ways of doing it.
Rust Island isn't exactly a port, but it does serve as intermediate trading point for those too impatient to make the trip to a proper harbor. It is also technically not part of the federated West States. Because of this and the get-in-get-out mentality of the island's clientele, Rust has acquired a reputation of vulnerability to pirate attack. Undoubtedly, this reputation reinforces the aversion to prolonged stays.
Slick himself has served with no fewer than ten of these Rust Raider crews, as they have come to be known. Most of them were successful, but during the most recent mission, he had the poor fortune of learning what an Aquatec 9700-X could do to a 10-ship armada. It turns out that the few residents of the island were unhappy with the enormous loss of tax revenue and had a security system installed just days before the attack. The unbelievable odds of retaining both life and limb that day does not escape him, and he has spent his months since then helping a new crew plan a more elaborate raid.
Normally, Slick would have crossed Rust Island from his list of potential targets after that, but he has come to find that all ports in the area worth the effort have been outfitted with similar systems. More importantly though is the intel Slick scavenged from discarded comms data. It seems a wealthy conglomerate has been taking advantage of the island’s ambiguous status to hide its illegal undersea mining operation, and today is the day of one of their biggest drops of the year. This naturally piqued Slick’s interest. Nothing teaches a lesson like watching your mates get sliced at all angles from a dozen invisible lasers, but then nothing makes you forget a lesson faster than the promise of an incalculable haul. Still, even now with the plan in motion, Slick has a bad feeling. Perhaps it’s the notion that the events of his failed attack might repeat themselves, but there is something else making him uneasy – something he missed.
Finding himself with a few moments of peace for the first time since setting sail, Slick puzzles over this dread. He grabs an energy bar from the shelf and tears off the wrapper. His teeth slice into the bar and extrude a gooey piece from the end. Except for trying to keep this antique afloat, everything is going exactly as planned. Even the idea of himself, a mechanic, also playing captain hasn’t bothered him. He has plenty of experience in every role of a pirate crew, and he knows the intricacies of each one. “In all the years of hitting Rust, why have we never seen anything about this mining operation?” he asks himself. “Is it so well hidden?”
Slick climbs back to the upper deck. Various crew members are roaming about and looking their part. A tall, gaunt man with no shirt approaches Slick. He is colored more with grease stains than his own skin. “Sir, the cloak net is at 96.3%.”
“Thanks, Gunner. How are they doing down there?”
“Anxious, sir. But they report full ready.”
“Good. Tell them ten minutes and no more chatter,” Slick orders.
Gunner nods and heads astern. Suddenly, Slick regrets not delegating his own mechanic position. Maybe he is not as sure of himself as he assumed, and anyway, how could one expect to do both jobs at once with any amount of efficiency? Slick’s anxiety tightens. “Now’s not the time,” he chides himself. He leans against the railing and looks across the open sea.
Very soon, a dot will become visible, a dot of infinite potential. Cruising approximately fifty meters beneath his feet is a cluster of six stingray class submarines shrouded in a cloak net. His ship is towing the subs and their protective covering to their target. The subs, unable to navigate under their own power without being detected, are left with only the task of steering clear of each other during the trip. Radio and propulsion silence are requirements for keeping them from suffering a quick death.
The dot comes into Slick’s view, a dull point of an oasis anchored in the glistening waters. Lines and colors begin to resolve themselves with their approach. The mouth of the island’s harbor is visible now. “What the… fuck,” Slick mumbles as he drops his energy bar into the sea. He doesn’t believe it at first, the war ships glinting in and out of existence. “Gunner!”
Gunner sprints to Slick. “Gunner, are those…”
Gunner raises a scope hanging from his side and eyes the island. “Yes, sir. I think we’re rightly fucked.”
“It’s an ambush. The comms data!” Slick curses himself. He feels a deathly sinking in his stomach. All the planning is worthless. Rust is ready, and he is not. All the other missions, they were so easy, but he knows now, too late, that he is in over his head.
“Sir, may I make a suggestion? Considering the outlook, I doubt we can complete this mission with any level of success. However, if we turn back now, they will know to attack. No matter how you cut it, we are sentenced to death. My instinct is to at least make a go of it and not suffer the embarrassment of a laser cannon to the ass.”
Slick squints at Rust. “How do we know there’s even anything to take? Why would they port anything valuable while waiting for a pirate attack?”
“Because, sir, the flag of that ship there.” Gunner points straight into the gaping maw which is widening its jaws, inviting them as a patient does his dentist.
Slick sees it and freezes. “No. Fuck no. Are you insane, Gunner?”
Gunner shrugs. “That's what I've been told.”