I hold the door open as Aleks proudly strides outside. “Eugh,” he raises his hand to block the light, “how can you people stand this?”
Quickly looking to the other ship, I see Sind and his crew look over Aleks with fear and awe. Just as I suspected, bringing him out with no shirt was a great choice! Honestly, it looks like if you stabbed him, the blade couldn’t even pierce his muscles.
Aleks fumbles a bit from waves I don’t even notice, but walks over to the side of the ship and grabs hold of the bannister. I walk over as well, and I see his pale grey eyes struggling to stay open against the harshness of the twin suns. “Now,” he says, his voice free from any hint of weakness, “which one of you is the pir-“
I slap his broad arm, “let me do the talking, Aleks.” The man grumbles, but stays silent for now. At Aleks’s side, the top of my head reaches his shoulder, even though he’s hunched over slightly. I bend my knees a little to bring my head lower, which effectively makes Aleks look even larger by comparison. “Now, Captain Sind, is there anything you’d like my employee to say?”
“Y-yes…” standing on the opposite side of a small gap, Sind has to look up at Aleks. “Earlier, you threw a barrel of wine overboard for us.” He gulps. It’s subtle, but I notice him steadying his nerves. “It was poisoned, and you could have killed us. I-I… demand an apology from you!” His eyes dart between Aleks and I.
“…” Aleks says nothing.
“…” I look up at him, his eyes are closed tight, I think still a result of the suns, but the muscles around his face are twitching. “Aleks?” I wave my hand in front of his face, did he pass out while standing up?
“…am I allowed to respond, captain?”
My cheeks turn slightly red, I can’t hide my embarrassment. “Y-yes, Aleks. He was talking directly to you so it’s your turn to speak.” These peldaks, I swear.
Aleks nods, then leans on the bannister. His voice drops a dozen octaves, and he opens his eyes just enough to see Sind. “Sorry I failed to kill you, how about you lean over here and I’ll crack your skull on the railing,” he taps his knuckles against it, “that’ll fix the problem.”
Sind freezes in horror as Aleks’s words crawl up his spine, while my heart flutters with joy! Very undiplomatic, but he managed to say it without showing a hint of seasickness! Fantastic job, Aleks! That’s what I paid you for!
“Well, Captain Sind, there you have it. I’m not sure why you were so insistent on having me bring the peldak out, you should have known it would end this way.”
“Per…haps it was a mistake on my part.” Sind looks away and scratches the back of his head. “My apologies, Captain Reed. Then, we’ll take those 15 crates as apology and be on our way.”
Oooh? He actually thinks he can get out of here with the original offer? Fat chance, buddy. My kindness has expired, you’ll be lucky to get out of here with five. “Hmm… 15? That’s a little steep, I think. I brought Aleks out here as you requested, it’s not my fault you-“
Aleks bares his teeth in disgust, “you’re giving him crates?! No, absolutely not.” He turns to Sind, and I can tell his eyes have finally adjusted. I raise objection to him speaking, but he ignores me. “Hey blondie, how about you and your pirate buddies swim on out of here? I don’t even know why we’re wasting time talking with you.”
I look to Aleks and tug his arm. Sind and his men recoil, frowning and insulted. “Hey, Aleks,” he looks down at me, “you can’t just call them pirates. That’s taboo.”
He raises an eyebrow, “but that’s what they are. We talked about it when they were approaching.”
“Yeah, but you can’t say it.”
Aleks rolls his eyes and pushes me away. “Actually, pirate, how about this? You give us all your cargo, or I climb over there and take it.” Aleks gives a wide smile, and his muscles flex, certain veins bulging under the skin. With a face like that, even I’m having a hard time telling he’s sea \sick. It’s like he himself forgot about it, he looks like a man with complete confidence in himself, he’d try it without hesitation, but I’m not sure he could actually win a fight.
Sind gulps, “r-really? You think we’re pirates? What proof do you have, haha! What law have we broken?” He gestures to his crew, and they all start laughing with him. I recognize these laughs as hollow and forced, but Aleks doesn’t.
“What’s my proof? The fact that I have a brain.”
Sind smirks, “that would never hold up in court.”
“…” Aleks stands there for a moment, considering Sind’s words. He’s lost in thought, like he’s trying to decipher an impossible riddle. I’m not sure what he’s confused about, but then he finally speaks. “How will you go to a court when you and your ship are at the bottom of the sea?”
Fear spreads through Sind and his crew. A recoil here, their eyes widen, teeth clench, hands ball up into fists. They must have never dealt with peldaks before, as they all seem to finally realize that this alien is devoid of common sense. You can’t hide behind laws when the other person cares nothing for them. Customs and traditions are meaningless for someone with no frame of reference. ‘Do as I say, or I’ll kill you, simple as that’.
Even Aleks picks up on their fear, and he smiles mischievously, “eyy, don’t worry pals, I won’t do that. Probably.” He gestures to the iron hooks placed around the side of my ship, holding us together. “How about you just take these things off and leave us on our way?” His smile fades in an instant and his voice transforms to a low, feral growl, “now.”
He walks to the side in order to grab one… and then a large wave hits us. Suddenly walking, having his hand off the bannister, the burst of confidence, and the sudden jostling of the ship all combine to knock Aleks off balance and send him to the floor with a thud. A bit of saltwater splashes on to the deck, and I feel a few cool droplets hit me.
I rush to Aleks’s side and help him up, “are you okay?” No, nooo! Don’t go back to seasick now, when we’re so close!
“J-jus… just fine, c-captain..!” His voice is strained, his pointed ears are flapping, when I grab his arm and waist, he’s trembling.
More waves hit our ship, and his stomach convulses as if he’s about to puke, though I know for a fact he has nothing left in his gut. When Aleks was talking, was the sea calm? I wasn’t paying attention and everything seemed normal anyway, but maybe he only appeared fine because the ship was steady.
I bring him up and he clings to the bannister. My crew are looking over, the worry clear on their faces, while Sind and his crew can barely contain themselves.
“Sorry, peldak, what was that?” Sind leans forward, “you were going to kill us, is that right? Haha! Tricking us all was a good effort, but you get seasick? Really? Ha!” Aleks’s cheeks turn red, and his ears twitch in embarrassment. “You should have given us the crates and sealed the deal before the sea turned against you, you blew your chance.” Sind smiles, and tips his hat as his crew begins to chuckle, “but fine, fine. We are pirates. Now that the pleasantries are dropped, and we had to go through that whole rigamarole, why don’t you give us all your cargo?”
“A-all our cargo?”
“Yup. Including all the irreplaceable crates you picked up in port. We’ve been following you ever since you left, and we’re not leaving empty handed.” His crew howls with laughter, and Sind yells to them, “and you guys wanted us to take the 15 crates and run! Ha! I knew there was something Reed was hiding about the peldak, turns out he’s useless!”
I glance back to my crew, nobody wants to die out here, and Sind’s certainly in a position where they could kill us all. I’m the only one who’ll go bankrupt from losing the cargo, my crew are just employees. Why wouldn’t they stand to the sidelines? “N-now come on,” I say, “you can’t really justify taking all our cargo. Especially the irreplaceable ones! You’d bankrupt me.”
Sind shrugs, “you were content with letting your peldak friend threaten our lives. Can’t say I really care.”
I bite my bottom lip, “b-but if you take it all, then you’ll make a lot of merchants mad, you see? They’ll start funding anti-piracy measures, and it’ll be a net loss for everyone. Just take all the non-irreplaceable cargo and I’ll deal with the consequences. You get a nice pay day, military patrols won’t start combing the sea, everyone wins.”
“Hmm,” Sind coyly taps his chin, pretending to consider it, “but see, when I resell all that cargo, I’ll make enough for us all to retire. If I’m no longer a pirate, what do I care if patrols increase? You made a bad business decision by carrying so much valuable treasure. Sorry guy, that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
He has me. There’s nothing I can do. Aleks can’t fight, they outnumber us, they know about our special cargo, and my crew knows it’s a hopeless battle so they have no reason to even try and help fight these pirates off. It’s over.
I should have just given them the 15 crates and not pushed my luck.
Aleks slams his fist down on the bannister, “d-dumb blonde prick…” he clenches his teeth and pushes himself to his feet. Sind just looks amused at this point, Aleks is swaying so much and seems to almost vomit with every wave. “Y-you haven’t… gotten our cargo yet!” He clenches his fist so tightly that his knuckles turn white. One admirable thing about these peldaks is their lack of rationality, when it works in your favor. Sure! Go ahead! Fight an impossible battle on my behalf, maybe it’ll work out.
“I basically have,” Sind says. “Bringing it from your cargo hold to mine is really just a formality.”
“Tch,” Aleks clicks his tongue, “but if…” he needs a second to take a deep breath, “your fingers get broken on the way…” he wipes the sweat from his brow, “how you gonna grab the crates?”
“…you know, that isn’t as intimidating when you can’t even get the sentence out, but no matter.” Sind grabs the two swords on his hips and pulls them out, “if you’re the only obstacle, so be it!” He puts his boot on the side of his ship, then leaps over to mine, landing perfectly with a thud. “Peldak though you may be, I’m actually confident in my ability to stand.” Right on queue, a wave hits and Aleks stumbles. It’s disheartening, but he recovers to a standing position quickly.
Sind’s crew excitedly rushes over to the side of their ship, calling out taunts to Aleks, cheering on their captain, whistling, and just being a menace. There’s a dozen of them focused on what’s happening on the deck of my ship, but since there’re so many tethers and hooks keeping us connected, they don’t have much to worry about anyway.
I back out of the way, and Aleks raises his fists to fight. “I hope you know…” his breathing his heavy and labored, he’s swaying even without the waves. “Surrender is your only way off this boat alive.”
“I’m sure,” Sind smiles, a joyous tone in his voice and the corner of his eyes tick up. I can tell he won’t just run Aleks through with his sword, he really wants to embarrass Aleks and make a fool of this peldak.
Aleks lunges forward, his fist back and ready to punch… and then he lands flat on his face. Sind, his crew, even my crew laughs at how pathetic that is. Sind hunches over and grabs his knees from laughing so hard, even though he could have taken the opportunity to stab Aleks in the back.
Aleks’s ears flutter wildly, “sh-shut up!” He screams to no avail. It is pretty funny, seeing a peldak being made a fool of like this. While my homeland has objectively benefited from the peldaks influence, it’s still funny seeing one brought so low. Were Aleks not carrying my future on his back, I’d probably be cheering Sind on.
But as it is, I can only sit on the staircase and watch as my ‘future’ fumbles and flails about. A punch here that Sind backs away from. A kick which only puts Aleks off balance and makes him fall on his butt. Every so often he hunches over, or braces himself against a wall and tries not to puke. Laughter and cheers fill the air and Sind goes in just for quick slashes, perfectly aimed to only draw a bit of blood.
It’s our eyes. Large and golden, they can see far into the distance or absorb a large amount of detail quickly. Especially with Aleks’s shirt off, every muscle is analyzed and we all know exactly how he’ll move. His intentions are so clear, he thinks about throwing a punch, then it seems like an eternity passes before he actually throws it. Usually it’s irrelevant since peldaks move faster than you can react, but seasickness has slowed Aleks to the point that Sind is running circles around him.
Still, Sind stands in front of a wall, then Aleks punches. The pirate slides out of the way, and the peldak’s fist connects to the wood, easily splitting the wall in a sharpcrack, crushing it inward as a deep series of spider-web-like fissures are sent along the main board. When Aleks pulls his hand from the fist-sized indent, it’s revealed his knuckles are perfectly uninjured. Shock runs through us cirathans. Even if Aleks is weaker than normal, one good hit would probably kill Sind.
As such, he and his crew quiet down slightly. They focus on Aleks’s every move, and treat this as the serious death-match that it is. Sind is still determined to embarrass the peldak, but he understands the risks involved.
They continue their little fight, and it’s just sad. Aleks keeps getting cut up and stabbed. I suppose it’s impressive that he keeps going despite it all, but he can’t win. I look over to Sinds crew and they’re all so focused, leaning over their railing as they watch the fight, shouting out words of encouragement to their boss. Their eyes are locked on the pair, it’s like nothing else in the world exists.
…could I use that?
Cirathans have a tendency to be overwhelmed by small details. When trying to focus on something with so many moving parts, like a fight, our eyes will curse us by analyzing every last bit of information, often at the expense of the outside world. Sounds wash away, as do feelings or other sensations, all so our limited brains can better examine what our eyes are telling us. The only way to disturb a cirathan from this trance would be to walk in front of them and break line of sight.
I slowly back my way up the stairs, just in case any of them haven’t reached that level of enthrallment. They cheer and clap when Sind gets a cut in, and laugh whenever Alek falls over. They end up laughing a lot.
At the back of the ship, the raised section with the wheel and the lever which controls the breaks, none of their crew is back here. I can jump over to their ship without worry. Haji, the helmsman, looks over to me. I put a finger over my lips, give a thumbs up, then hop over to the other ship.
Their ship’s layout is the same as ours. A small raised section in the front, a deck with a mast in the center, a door to a cabin that leads below deck, and a raised section near the back, with a staircase on either side of the cabin. There’s a dozen pirates on this ship, and they’re all on the deck, standing on the left side and cheering on the fight.
They’re all so focused on the brawl, hopefully Aleks can last a bit longer. I gulp, then sneak to the right side of the ship and walk down that stairwell.
On my ship, digging into the wood, are half a dozen metal hooks connected to ropes. Those ropes reach over the gap between our ships, then stretch across the deck until they’re tied to mooring bollards attached to the mast. The ropes are taut as they hang at about waist height.
I keep low, just to make sure Sind can’t see me out of the corner of his eye while fighting, and scuttle over to the mast.
Everyone cheers and starts beating the wood around them, I hear Sind laugh as he says “you’d think the deck is made of ice or something! Don’t your boots dig into the wood?”
I take a flip knife from my pocket and hurry over to the mast. In a gap between Sind’s crew, I see the pirate kick Aleks’s hand as he tries to get up, knocking the proud man back to the floor, and sending a howl of laughter across both ships. His face clearly shows distress and frustration, I won’t be surprised if he starts crying.
I hope my crew realizes that, one way or the other, they’ll have to travel with the alien for a few more weeks. I know I’m the only one facing bankruptcy, but it’s a rather poor idea to make fun of him like this.
But never mind that. I reach the mast and saw the serrated blade back and forth over the first rope. Strands snap and untangle as I work, and I keep my eyes on all the men just in case they notice me. If they do… I suppose I just have to surrender. They’re already planning to take all my cargo, what more could they do?
As I get further into the first rope, it starts bouncing from the vibrations. I try to pull it even tighter as I do, but I lack the strength to make much of a difference with one hand. I get through the first rope, and gently set it on the ground. Then the second, then the third.
It’s quick work, but my heart is thumping in my chest and I’m sweating more than normal. I look to Aleks, and he’s covered in blood. No cut looks deep, but there’s a lot of them, and thin strands are rolling down his torso and limbs, I see a few cuts on his legs as well. Our eyes meet for just a moment, and I have to wonder if he planned this. Was it his intention to be a distraction for the crew, or did I make good use of his bravado?
It doesn’t matter. If he didn’t plan it before, he knows the plan now and won’t give up until I’m back off this ship. The fourth rope is sawed, then the fifth, six goes, and finally, the seventh is sliced in half.
Instantly, with nobody on Sind’s steering wheel, I notice our ships drift apart. My heart is racing, they’re not gonna notice! I did it and got away scot free! I can’t contain my smile, and I put both hands over my mouth to suppress my laughter. I hurry towards the back of the ship, up the stairs, then across. My ship is a few feet further than when I jumped before, Haji is doing his best to keep us close without hitting their ship and knocking the crew out of their trance.
I take a deep breath, climb on the railing, then look over the edge. Our ships are still moving, and the current between the two are rough, the water is white from the bubbles and splashing. If I don’t make the jump and fall, I might break something and drown before they can pull the ships around.
But… no matter!
I steel myself, crouch down, then use all the strength in my legs to jump across the gap!
As I do, my ship rolls over a wave with exactly the wrong timing, so the bow tips forward and the rear pulls up. It won’t be a clear jump across! I bring my legs up to plant on the hull, then my chest smashes against the outside of the railing as my arms drape over and grip whatever I can.
“Hrgh!” My ribcage aches from the hard blow, but I didn’t hear a crack. “H-help!”
Haji looks between me and the wheel for a second, before letting go and running over to help. He grabs both my hands tight, then puts his boot on the inside of the railing to help pull me over.
I land on the wood floor and hold my chest as I cough weakly. Haji runs back to the wheel, and I quietly yell, “get us out of here!”
Haji nods, then uses all his muscles to pull the lever, which closes all the flaps on the underside of the ship. With less drag beneath us, we quickly pull away from Sind’s ship, and Haji spins the wheel away. Everything tips to the side, and in the distance I hear a thud, followed by cheering. Though, from the other ship, I hear the screams of realization, and the many thuds of pirates running around the ship, trying in a panic to get moving once more.
“I imagine…” I force myself to my feet and do my best to ignore the pain, “Aleks is down?”
“Yes, captain. I don’t think he’s getting back up.”
I trudge to the front of the cabin and look down. Aleks is a bloody mess on the deck, Sind is raising his swords, my crew is clapping politely -those traitors- and Sind’s crew is only just now realizing what’s happening. They’re scrambling to fix this mess, but it’s too late. Because Sind exhausted himself while playing with Aleks, I’ll only need a minute.
“Congrats!” I yell while clapping. Sind looks up at me, a joyous smile on his tired, sweating face. He beat a peldak! He’s a cirathan who managed to do it! That’s a genuinely praiseworthy achievement… but he’ll find no reward here. “Men! Grab your swords and kill the good Captain Sind.”
“What?!” Sind shrieks as he readies his swords, “are you a fool? I beat your best man and mine are right-“ he looks to the side, only to find the vast sea. He looks to the other side and spots a similar sight. Looking behind me, he can see the top of his ship’s mast, far behind us. His eyes round and he turns palid, “oh…”
My crew realizes the situation and quickly grabs their swords, and Aleks rolls over onto his back with a wet plop. “I t-told you…” he forces a toothy grin, full of enthusiasm, “the only way… off this ship alive… i-is surrend-“ he nearly barfs, and has to turn over and curl into a ball.
“I… I surrender.” Sind bites his bottom lip, and I can tell that a lot of frustrated, foul thoughts run through his head.
“Good. So, here’s the deal. You take three crates, we don’t kill you, and you get to leave. Do you accept?”
Sind says nothing, just nods his head.
“Wh-at?!” Aleks yells, his voice strained “I we-ghugh… went through all that… and you’re still giving him stuff!?”
I roll my eyes, Sind looks down at him and seems to think ‘I should have finished you off’.
“Yes, Aleks. I’m making a deal with Captain Sind. If he goes back with nothing, his crew could mutiny, and he’d no longer be the captain, thus making our deal null and void. If our deal is void, then there’s nothing to keep them from just trying to steal from us again, this time with the knowledge that you’re far weaker than you should be. They’re the ones who didn’t notice me cut the ropes, they share most of the blame, so three crates will satisfy them, and they’ll let us leave. Got it?”
He grumbles, then pushes himself to his feet. With a body covered in sweat and blood, he stumbles his way to the cabin. He mumbles ‘cirathans are crazy, the sea sucks, I’m probably gonna get sunburnt from all this…’
He manages not to fall as he walks to the door and disappears inside.
Sind’s ship approaches before long and Haji pulls the lever again to slow us down. We hand off the crates, and every man aboard their ship looks so guilty and ashamed of themselves! Haha! It’s what they deserve. I hope it keeps them up at night, thinking about aaaaall the wealth in my cargo hold that could have been theirs if they didn’t fail! We’re they not outsmarted by Captain Reed!
With a grim look, Sind tips his hat and their ship pulls away. I make sure to savor his look, and I don’t bother hiding my pleasure. These men had no problem with bankrupting me and destroying my life, I want to make sure they know who the winner here is.
“Haji!” I yell.
I walk to the front of the ship and look out over the vast blue sea, “get us out of here, we’ve a long way to go until we reach the southern coast, and they’ve wasted enough of our time.”
With a warm wind at our back, everything’s looking great.