The timer counted down to zero, and started into the negatives. Minus one, two, three seconds, and… nothing. Van thought perhaps he’d better inform Hina, but that would mean saying things aloud, and dealing with the inevitable fallout from Graham, after which Chip would get in on the blame Van action. Better to figure out what was going on with the program while they lived out the last few minutes of their game fantasies and didn’t stand behind him, staring over his shoulder.
“Holy shit, this is awesome,” Graham said, plowing the ship through a pod of dolphins. Chip squealed behind him, staring at the momentary wash of red in the ocean waves. Hina bulked over them both and pointed to the distance.
“More over there,” she growled. Chip turned around and marched under deck, muttering. Maybe I won’t have to say anything at all, Van pondered. He worried a bit about Hina, though. Smashing through animals, even fake ones made up of nanites, wasn’t something he’d ever thought she’d be into.
He tapped his foot, counting out the long seconds. Minus one-hundred, minus one-hundred one. Something definitely wasn’t working right. He turned, his mouth open to speak, and then a fly flew into it. He gagged and spat.
“You doing alright over there, Van?” Hina rumbled. Footsteps sent a small quiver through the deck of the ship.
“Yeah, I’m doing fine, Hina.”
“Hina doesn’t live here anymore. There is only Skrøll.”Van blinked. She wasn’t smiling. Okaaay.
“Sorry, Skrøll. Yeah, I’m fine. It was just a bug. But listen, we don’t have a ton of time so we should probably head to the treasure island quest.”
“What’s that?” Skrøll asked. Graham laughed out loud as he slaughtered yet another pod of squeaking dolphins. “Oh, uh, that’s a special quest I got when I chose my character build. You didn’t get one?” Van’s face shifted as he lied, his eyes darting. It was one thing to be a corporate spy and saboteur, but it was quite another thing to lie to people you’d known all your life. Especially when they were people you had masturbated to frequently.
Skrøll nodded. “I didn’t get a quest. Hey, Graham, did you get a quest?”
“Yeah. Ending Socialism. Suck my balls, Lenin.”
“He didn’t get a quest, Van.”
“Yeah, well, none of you picked my build either? And, hey, maybe I got lucky?” His voice hung on what felt like a very artificially high note. But Skrøll nodded and walked back over to Graham.
“Van said we’re gonna go kill these Socialist pirates. Bring her about,” Skrøll said, pointing. Graham turned the wheel hard starboard, putting them on course.
Chip sulked back up from below decks. “What the fuck is your problem with Socialism?”
“Just that it sucks hard. Tell me one nation that has made Socialism work. Oh wait, that’s right, it’s not real Socialism,” Graham whined in a sing-song voice.
“Guys, enough!” Skrøll scolded. “Let’s do this quest of Van’s and have some fun before that virus of his shuts it all down. Chip, go man the crow’s nest. Graham, shut that lip and keep ‘er steady forward. Van, I want to hear more about what we’re heading into.”
He could feel her eyes bore into him. He backpedaled a bit on his feet.
“Um, well . . .”“Libertarians!” yelled Chip, just a quarter of the way up to the crow’s nest. Graham scowled as the approaching ship revealed a jolly roger upon her foremasthead. It was still quite distant, but as a three masted two decker it stood out long and hard on the horizon.
The whole lot of them gaped.
“Seems like a lot for first level characters,” Skrøll mused. Van seized upon the statement.
“Why don’t we run with full sails and simply escape the vessel while also getting to my quest as quickly as we can. Fighting these guys isn’t going to work out — even if we win we won’t have much to show for it.”
“Except XPs– shared equally between us all. As they should be!” Chip yelled from above.
“Well that ship sure as shit isn’t Socialist– it’s still floating. Only private industry could make a ship that actually works,” Graham yelled back.
“Also dibs on treasure.”
“There isn’t going to be any treasure if we’re all dead!” Van interjected. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Hold on,” Skrøll said. Her biceps bulged as she hefted a two person harpoon gun by her lonesome. His eyes played over them, imagining what it might feel like to have guy Hina crush him in her sexy iron grip. His? Van shook his head. This was all sorts of confusing. “What happens if we die?” Skrøll asked. He or she glared at each crew member in turn, demanding an answer. Van felt that he could curl up in those eyes. He shook himself again. There was a mission to complete.
“What happens if we die?” Graham snorted. “The government comes and takes ninety percent of all of your shit. That’s what happens.”
“That’s fair,” a voice sounded from above. Graham shook a fist.
“No. No! Shut up. I mean in the game. They can’t actually kill us. Van, you work here. What happens?”
“Well, we get encased in nanite blocks and —” Van slapped his forehead. The rest of them peered at him curiously, even Chip from the Crow’s Nest. “We get transported to the HUB!”
Skrøll grunted and nodded. “That’ll be useful for when the timer cuts out. How much time do we have left anyways?”
Van hesitated. If Hina, uhh… Skrøll, were to realize that he’d somehow jacked up the whole operation there was no way he was going to visit her huge meaty thighs in bone town. Or, his huge meaty thighs? How would that all even work? His mind began to slip away but was brought front and center by the sexy growling grunt of Skrøll, her bristling nose hair inches from his face as they glistened in the midday sun. She pulled her pirate flag mask back over her nose.
“No time for daydreaming, Van. How much time?”
“Thirty minutes,” he lied. “Enough time to kick some pirate ass, dig up a buried treasure, and maybe even swing by Pirate Cove for a Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”
“Good. Alright, everybody, change of plans. We’re not gonna run from these sons of bitches. We’re gonna board them, level up, and plunder their tight booties.”
“Yar!” Chip sounded from above.“To arms!” Graham yelled in agreement, swinging the wheel to port and gunning the ship straight for the enemy warship.
“Van, start hitting them with the bow chaser,” Skrøll commanded. He dutifully took his station behind it, letting his Hunt do the talking. A 1 and a 2. The cannon popped with a strange sound, then spit smoke and fire out its touch hole, firing nothing out of its aperture. Backfire, a six wedge clock stated, appearing within his HUD. He sighed, selecting his Engineering skill and kneeling down to clear and clean the damn barrel, inspecting it for cracks and fissures as he did so. His HUD rolled, a 7 and a 1 popping into view. Success! Two wedges of the clock filled in, but to his dismay he realized that the touchhole was thoroughly fouled and would need a hard scraping before he could restore it to function. Meanwhile the crew yelled about him and the enemy two-decker was closing the distance. It swung itself into a rounded corner, turning a broadside bristling with men and cannons to face them.
“Fire in the hole!” the pirate master gunner yelled from afar. Flames belched and blasted, a cloud of black metal balls hanging in the air before dropping into the sea.
Pow! Black powder spread in a cloud out from the crow’s nest. The pirate master gunner screamed.
“Power to the people!” Chip exulted.
“What about gun control, you hypocrite?” Graham yelled back, swiveling his wheel to try to keep out of a full broadside.
“Just for the mentally ill!” Chip fired back.“That includes you, buddy. Liberalism is a disease.”
Van stood up. Goddamn were the ships moving fast. There was no point in fixing the cannon. Especially since he planned on dying and getting back to the Hub, and fixing his part of the mission, with none of them being any the wiser.Another broadside fired, but the enemy ship sported a “Command in Confusion” four slice clock debuff from the loss of one of their officers, and their shots were chaotic, lacking coordination. All of the cannonballs sailed too far overhead, splashing into the ocean behind them.
“Ramming speed!” Skrøll screamed. The ship slapped into its larger enemy and the program automatically snarled their rigging, engaging melee between the crews.
A pirate jumped down to the deck, snarling at Van, while the others engaged with their own enemy targets. Acting on instinct he drew his cutlass, and drove the point forward, scoring two 5s in his heads up display and driving his blade into the wood of the deck.
“Yar!” the pirate laughed, kicking his sword out of his hands. “You be a dead man walking. Bait for the sea, matey.”
Van scowled, then charged and jumped on the pirate’s blade. “Yar?” the confused pirate asked as Van refused to spend Stress Points and allowed himself, nay, forced himself to be stabbed through the guts.