Chapter 23:

The Ebb Tide IV - "Sick Hack"

Destiny Marine

Isaac had never been inside a ship before, so he wasn’t sure what he expected. The light fixtures still worked, their small glow illuminating the way downwards. Metal pipes of all sizes lined the walls, with the occasional gauge and valve appearing under the orange light of the fixtures. What surprised Isaac the most was the human touch; there was the occasional common room with a couch and chairs and radio, and some of the doors were open, revealing beds and offices behind them. Up ahead of him, Reed led the way, red Rddhi still running through her sword. She came to a sudden halt; a second later, Isaac heard a significant crackling sound from further below that indicated the activation of Rddhi powers. Another second later came a screeching sound of torn metal that sent the ship rocking slightly. The three remained on their feet and, after giving each shared nods of encouragement, continued further down.

No more crewmates appeared to block their path. Considering how many they took out already, Isaac wondered if Panama and Jackson were all that were left. If they were even on the ship, that is - the drug bust had already been sent awry by the sudden appearance of numerous, though relatively underpowered, cultivator crewmembers. Isaac hoped there wouldn’t be any more surprises.

Metal squeaked as the three descended down yet another staircase. This one brought them to a hallway that led to a large, sealed door. From beyond it, they could hear the sound of rushing water, which was not something they wanted to hear from inside a ship. But they had a job to do. After a gesture from Reed, Isaac gripped the opening mechanism on the door and gave it a strong pull. After some resistance, the metal wheel turned and the door opened up. Isaac braced himself for water to rush out, but his shoes remained dry. Gripping her sword in one hand, Reed lunged through the door; no sounds of battle followed, so Babs and Isaac moved inside after her.

The three arrived on a catwalk that overlooked the ship’s cargo hold. Down below, dozens upon dozens of wooden crates could be seen. Many were stacked in tall piles, but some had been separated and now flowed along in the water rushing through the hole in the side of the ship. Isaac supposed he should’ve noticed that first, but he was still quite new to nautical business. Coming from the interior of Arcadia, he also never considered drowning as a possible way to die; he looked at the growing layer of water at the bottom of the cargo hold with apprehension.

An alarm bell gave off a shrill screech from above them, bathing the three in red light. The door they entered through hissed as steam billowed from its hinges; it then sealed itself closed. Isaac definitely did not want to drown, while Reed gave the door a dry look.

“That’s not good.”

That’s when they heard footsteps from the other side of the cargo hold. A man calmly walked across that side’s catwalk; his dark skin and hair gave him away as Panama. He wore a conical straw hat that usually could be found on the heads of field workers, as well as an unbuttoned red jacket over military fatigues. Now that he had Squad 3’s full attention, he tossed away his hat and gave them a dazzling smile.

His voice was deep. “I put that hole in the ship,” he explained nonchalantly. “But I also sealed off this ship compartment. The only ways out are through that door behind you…” He gestured with a thumb to a door on his catwalk. “And this door. The panel to unlock either door is on this side as well.”

The glow of light fixtures on the wall behind him illuminated his face in orange, while the red light of Reed’s sword illuminated hers as she spoke. “What’s the point in telling us all of this?”

Panama laughed and shook his head. “I’ve spent years killing soldiers and marines. It’s gotten a little boring, so I’ve decided to make things interesting. Will that blade of yours strike me down, or will I crush you all with my power, or will the rising water in this compartment doom us all?”

Isaac eyed the hole in the ship, trying to think of any ideas on how to seal the opening, but he had only recently learned his multiplication tables and thus wouldn’t be any help with engineering projects. Babs looked unsure as well. Reed raised her sword, pointing across the gap at Panama.

“The answer’s simple. I’ll just kill you first.”

Isaac noticed how tightly she gripped her sword as she spoke. Reed kept her eyes on the amused Panama, but spoke quietly to her squadmates. “See if you get the door behind you open. I’ll focus on Panama.”

“Shouldn’t we help?” Isaac proposed.

She shook her head. “You’ll only get in the way. Not sure if you feel it, but this guy has to be at least Circuit 2A.”

Isaac, who felt so proud of moving up from 1A to 1B, now felt small again. Reed said she was 1C, so it’s not like there’s a huge gap between them. But still…he’s in a whole different stage of cultivation. It’ll be an uphill battle. And since Babs and I are only at 1B, all we’d really do is get in the way as well.

Reluctantly, Isaac and Babs nodded in agreement to her plan. While Babs tried to reopen the door, Isaac kept guard in case of any sudden attacks. Though the catwalk was tight, Reed positioned her body to shield Isaac and Babs behind her.

This only made Panama more amused. “Fantastic! I have a lot of respect for a man stepping up to defend his best friend and woman.”

Reed slowly lowered her sword; the air seemed to deflate out of her tough posture. “...what?”

“I said I have a lot of respect for you, a fellow man who knows the importance of his loved ones.”

Reed briefly shifted her eyes back toward her friends, who gave her reassuring nods. Isaac didn’t want to admit that the reason Reed emphasized her alleged beauty so much was because she was compensating for something.

By now, the water seemed halfway up to the catwalk - tall enough to completely submerge any of the four in the hold. Crates bobbed along the murky current. Reed gathered herself and raised her sword again. “I’m a woman, and you’re dead.” The red lights along the edge of the sword picked up in intensity, whirring and then roaring as energy flares streaked out from it, striking the wall behind them or plunging into the water below.

She spun the sword in her hand and then sent a slash across the hold. The sound wave exploded out of the sword, the shrill noise blasting apart several of the light fixtures behind her. The wave moved like a flash across the distance; the speed even surprised Panama, who only had time to lunge away. The sound wave caught him in the side of the ankle; he still managed to stand, but a bloody spot appeared at the bottom of his fatigues.

He laughed. “I see, so you have sound waves-”

Reed had already sent another slash his way. Panama was ready this time, jumping off his catwalk as the sound wave slammed into the wall behind him. Isaac thought he would land on one of the crates, but instead, he aimed himself directly at the water. Red lights erupted from his shoes, and the moment he made contact with the water, the blue water of the ocean turned into a gray ooze that allowed him to stand at ease on top of it.

“Viscosity,” Reed observed, then added for the sake of her friends who had never taken a science class before, “How thick a fluid is. Syrup is more viscous than water. His ooze has enough viscosity to stand upon it.”

Babs gave up on trying to unlock the door and banged it on with a fist, but it was no use. She unholstered her pistol and fired it at the hinges, but that made little difference either. A powered punch from Isaac confirmed it; there would be no way to open the door without the control panel on the other side. Panama, meanwhile, advanced along the water towards them from down below, dodging Reed’s sound waves that only succeeded in kicking up explosions of water behind him.

Panama slid to a halt then kicked the water next to him in the direction of the trio; as the water droplets flew through the air, they hardened into ooze pellets so that, rather than simply splashing water at them, Panama was shooting the equivalent of a shotgun at them. Reed sent a sound wave to block it, but Isaac realized in dismay that her sound wave went out as a thin line. Once the line moved through the burst of clouds, it only took out the ones it made contact with; the rest continued onwards. Isaac and Babs dove out of the way as the pellets struck the door and ricocheted around them; a timely powered breath from Babs knocked away most of the bullets, but a few struck her hand, knocking her side-arm away and down into the water below.

While those two dove, Reed leapt over the catwalk, energy flaring from the sword. “Nowhere to run!” Panama taunted as sent another pellet blast at her. Isaac realized he was right; by jumping down, Reed was stuck in that direction, and what did she have to defend herself if the pellet barrage could survive her sound waves?

Isaac wanted to leap down after her, but then he saw something that made him want to smack his head; in the corner of her mouth, Reed displayed a grin, and in her free hand, she made a tiny “okay” symbol with her index finger and thumb. As she descended, she sent out a sound wave right into the barrage. This time, when the sound wave struck the pellets, a new screeching sound erupted, and the pellets exploded, one by one.

Panama’s jaw slackened as Reed moved through the former barrage without a scratch. “It’s called resonance frequency - read a book!” Reed was right on top of him; when Panama leapt out of the way, Reed’s sword cleaved right through his lower arm. Blood sprayed across her face, while his arm disappeared into the depths of the rising water.

With a subdued cry, Panama landed on a new spot of ooze. Reed just used his former spot of ooze as a temporary launchpad, propelling herself off of it before the ooze could move and slice through her ankle like a bear trap. Reed landed on a floating crate and spun the sword in her hand again. As she built up energy, she wiped the loose strands of hair off her forehead.

Panama stared at his bloody stump for a moment, then looked back at Reed. “You’re…just like Myra.”

Reed tilted her head as she caught her breath. “Who?”

Compared to all his previous bluster, Panama’s voice sounded soft. “A woman…a woman I loved-”

“Cares,” Reed answered, sending out another blast. Panama deftly dodged this one, but Isaac noticed a difference in him as red lights erupted throughout his entire body. He's been holding back so far!

When Panama landed, he didn’t just create a spot of ooze below him. The ooze cascaded out from his foot, transforming water into a growing sludge that rocketed toward Reed. She only had enough time to jump to another crate, but the trail of ooze followed her as she went. With Reed kept at bay, Babs sent a gust of wind down at Panama, but he stomped his other foot; the water next to him rose up to form a solid wall of ooze that stopped all of Babs' attacks. With another stomp, the wall left the water and thundered towards them. Isaac stepped in front of Babs and punched right as the wall arrive, splitting it down the middle to either side of them, but the force was enough to send stingers up his arm. After another wall or two, his arms would be useless; Babs must’ve noticed this too, since she stopped her attack.

The two put their trust in Reed, who sent a sound wave at the trail of ooze. The screeching noise returned as the ooze exploded similar to a glass being broken by a certain pitch, but new trails of ooze appeared just as fast. Reed only escaped by arriving at the top of a tall stack of crates.

As she caught her breath, Panama started monologuing.