Tradewinds 20: Into the Woods by shadesmaclean
II by shadesmaclean
Meanwhile, Erix spent the night holed up in his own ship, sleeping with one eye open, in case the external sensors conked out on him.
The storm had proven even more turbulent than he expected, especially down below, and his attempts to surface only got him slammed against the rocky shore. At several points, he would almost swear something crashed against the ship, and his sensors seemed to bug out, indicating massive shapes around him at several points, but never with any consistency. He still had no clue what to make of that, beyond a violence and turbulence he had never encountered before down there, and hoped never to see the like of again.
The compact experimental reactor that seemed to supply the Checkmate with unlimited energy was damaged in the crash, with backup power reserves fading fast. As well as leaving a leaky gash in the side of the hull. Barring tools, resources and technical expertise that he lacked, his extended joyride was over.
The final readings from his long-range sensors indicated that the mysterious seaplane that continued hounding him ever since he left Anchor Point had landed a short ways downshore. Telling him all he needed to know about who was onboard. His only guess, that she had planted some kind of tracking device back in Yarbo.
Though hiding out in his ship struck him as a rather cowardly thing to do, he also knew better than to tempt fate.
The woods and rocks along the shore provided solid cover for anyone approaching his position, so he left his remaining auto-gun standing guard with what little auxiliary power it had left as an early warning system. The rain and dark would only increase his peril, so he waited for the storm to blow over before slipping out to do a little recon.
Had to admit he didn’t like the vibes he was getting from those woods, but it was hardly the first time he ever had to rough it. From here, he would follow the shore from the cover of trees; that always led to what little passed for civilization in these backwater realms. Admittedly, there didn’t seem to be any towns or settlements, still the camp he found out that way still struck him as having been abandoned far too long by his reckoning.
What bothered him most was that both the lodge, and the beached plane, were too dark to see into, to tell where his pursuers might be hiding, so he decided to fall back to the ship and let them come to him instead.
Or so he would let them believe.
Once back, he packed up the supplies and gear he’d sorted earlier while waiting out the storm, placing them in a waterproof bag and strapping on the same diving equipment he used to gather salvage back in Yarbo, prepared to disembark. The horizon beginning to lighten, so he doubted he had much time left before the Hunter made her move. To that end, he prepared to leave one last, unpleasant surprise for anyone who came after him.
This Checkmate was clearly a military prototype, and as such, was equipped with a self-destruct system meant for scuttling the ship should the need arise. Now he set it to activate the next time the cabin was opened by anyone not wearing his friend-or-foe transmitter. Rigged to serve him one last time before going out with a bang.
Then, using the ship and some jagged rocks for concealment, he slipped into the water and started swimming around the bend, toward the plane. Staying deep enough to avoid being seen, and the waves would cover up the bubbles from his mask, yet close enough to still see the shoreline, he made his way over.
About halfway there, he froze in mid stroke as he spotted something out of the corner of his eye, farther out at sea. Something about that wavy motion struck him as just plain wrong. Which bothered him, because on closer inspection, it appeared to be just an ordinary clump of seaweed—
Then he caught it again.
What looked like a pale hand reaching out from the tangle of lamina, shifting in and out of sight. Which struck him as a most unusual place to find a corpse, in the wake of such a powerful storm. Though it could be anchored down with rocks or other weights— by no means an uncommon way to get rid of anyone certain people never wanted to see again— yet doing it in the middle of nowhere was a rather strange amount of trouble to go to. Possibly the handiwork of pirates.
He doubted he would be so lucky, that it would turn out to be any of his current foes.
As he turned to resume his sneak attack, the mass of fronds shifted back the other way, and he caught a glimpse of a face staring out at him. A human face, bloodless as that hand, and frozen in a rictus of abject terror. Its cloudy eyes wide open, and staring right at him.
In the face of that dead gaze, he found a moment to wonder why the fish hadn’t picked these remains clean. It just couldn’t be that recent, as long-abandoned as everything was topside. And it didn’t look like the face of any of his adversaries, unless it was the pilot, but this didn’t look like anything Max’s crew would even be capable of, not even Roxy…
He blinked for a moment, his reverie broken by the disconcerting impression that sinister seaweed had somehow drifted closer to him.
That got him moving again, hugging closer to the shore, heedless of the startled burst of bubbles from his diving mask, wanting to be well clear of what he was sure must be some sort of exotic undersea predator, not wanting to find out what it might be able to do to him once he found himself tangled up in there.
He barely remembered to exercise caution poking his head out of the water in his haste to make it back to the surface.
Nearly overshot his mark, but he managed to creep up on the plane’s tail end, its biggest blind spot, to find no one standing watch outside. Resisting waves of relief from being out of the water, and away from that creepy cadaver, he ditched his diving tank and mask behind a large rock and crept up against the seaward side of the fuselage, reminding himself that these enemies required more of his attention than the one he left behind.
Concluding that forward was the only meaningful direction left to him anyway, as going back struck him as most unwise.
Timing his movements against the wash of the tide to mask the sound of his steps in this gravelly sand, he worked his way toward the front of the plane, keeping below any windows and using the curvature of the fuselage for concealment.
Fast deciding that macabre delay actually worked to his advantage, as he spotted Shades and Justin working their way from cover to cover, moving in the direction of his ship, catching Roxy just as she rounded the bend in the coastline, leaving what surely must be only one or two people onboard to guard the plane.
Taking one last look over his shoulder to satisfy himself that creepy thing hadn’t crept ashore while his back was turned, Erix slipped back around, energy blade at the ready to break in through the cargo door he noticed earlier, and waited for the fun to begin.
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