“Our scouts report that the hijackers have dropped anchor in the old shantytown on Kon Aru,” a very haggard, but determined, Chief Toma informed them. Wincing slightly at the burn on his back, he pointed to a large map of the Kona Islands hung on the wall, indicating the old mining port. “According to the report, they had another ship anchored there, but it was sunk by an underwater attack. The most likely culprit is the same saboteur who bombed the Seeker’s salvage platform. We at least have a solid lead on his identity.”
“Erix, most likely,” Justin muttered, dawning on him almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth that the name itself didn’t really tell him anything useful. Visibly uncomfortable in the midst of so many authority figures, and realizing mumbling to himself was only making it worse.
His remark, though, was drowned out by the Kona Council members’ reaction to the violation of Kon Aru’s standing desertion, which was every bit as unpleasant as Toma feared it would be.
“I’ve consulted my records,” for, as Chief of the Island Patrol, Toma kept a record of outland bounties and wanted listings, any info that found its way into his island home, “and I believe the man who sabotaged the Seeker raid was a fugitive outlaw named Erix. Origins unknown, but he has a hundred thousand credit bounty on his head in several realms. In New Cali, Centralict and the Mesa District alone, he’s wanted for murder, assault, robbery, piracy, sabotage, arson, criminal trespass, burglary, extortion, hijacking, smuggling, weapons violations…”
The chamber went stone silent as Toma continued to rattle off the bounty notices’ list of charges.
“What about that gang of thieves?” Harper demanded, for that was what she really wanted to know. Shifting her wounded arm in its sling for emphasis.
“I’m afraid I have no leads on that one,” Toma admitted. “Based on all witnesses, they would appear to be an ex-military outfit from another realm. That would explain their precision and tactics.”
“And where the hell were you when they attacked?” Harper continued, refusing to break stride in her interrogation. “Aren’t you supposed to be policing these waters?”
“That’s exactly what we were doing.” Toma tried hard not to grind his teeth. This whole affair was humiliating enough as it was. “We were responding to a distress signal that turned out to be fake. It claimed the Cyexian pirate Striker had returned, and was attacking Miribar, and so they managed to draw our forces away right before the attack.”
“But what do you mean, ex-military?” one of the Kona members asked, frowning. His neighbor added, “And what are they doing on Kon Aru?”
“Well,” Toma explained, “when a government loses control of its army, sometimes they turn to banditry. It wouldn’t be the first time, especially if they were mercenaries to begin with. They’ve got weapons, and nothing better to do with them.”
“And they trespass on sacred ground,” another Kona added.
“Who cares!?” Harper demanded. Once upon a time, she might have been more sympathetic, but after wading through indigenous politics to get this far, her patience was at an end. “Those sons-of-bitches killed ten of my people, and managed to injure damn near everyone else. Those murderers are going to pay! Now tell me, Mr Island Patrol, why haven’t you gone in there and busted them already?”
“Because it’s not that simple,” Toma shot back, agreeing with her on general principle, but wishing she would quit acting like the sole victim of this tragedy. “They killed seven of my men, too, and when this is over, I’ll have to go speak with every one of their families…
“But that’s not the issue. You didn’t get to see the end of the battle, or you would know that they’ve got a rocket-launcher, and an unknown amount of ammunition for it. They have fortified themselves in the ruins of the old shantytown there, and I can think of at least three places off the top of my head from which they could sink our ships if we try to get anywhere near them. Even if most of their weapons were disabled by Mr Black’s EMP attack, they may have hidden more on the island.”
“So we’re just gonna sit here and do nothing?” she hissed.
“Of course not,” Toma replied, “because—”
“Excuse me, Chief Toma,” one of the Councilors cleared his throat, “before we go any further, might I ask what these outsiders are doing in an emergency session? They’re not part of the Council.”
“Yes,” Toma fielded that one as well, chalking it up to unusual circumstances that it hadn’t been brought up before, “but their friend is the one being held hostage by that extortionist. You’ve all read his demands. Max here is the one who was chosen as the third party observer for the salvage operation, and Justin Black is his friend.”
“I’m sorry things turned out the way they did,” Max told them, “but Shades is my friend, and his life is more important to me than any treasure. As long as Erix has him hostage, he can make me go get the treasure, even if I have to fight them all alone.”
Max got some odd looks from most of the people in the room, the look in his eyes apparently imparting a sense of perspective, based on their reactions.
“We have to reclaim the treasure,” Corrick told them, “for no other reason than to save that young man’s life. Both he, and those standing before you, risked their lives to save everyone else. I don’t like negotiating a ransom any more than you, but there are people in this room who owe their lives to these brave young men.”
There were words of agreement from around the Council this time, after a long pause for reconsideration.
“You’re not alone, Max,” Justin told him, feeling more than a little awkward at his own words, “I guess we’re just gonna have to save the bastard…”
“Thank you,” Max sighed, hoping he wasn’t leading another friend to his doom.
“To that end,” Toma interjected, “I ask that the Council conclude this session on a resolution to retrieve the hijacked Seeker, and secure its cargo, for the purpose of opening a dialogue with the outlaw Erix. Our goal: to rescue his hostage.”
As Corrick recalled Erix’s demands, especially the meeting place, he realized that he probably knew the exact location on Kon Kimbar. A truly horrifying thought crossing his mind. First the storm, then cleanup and repairs, then the salvage, then the surprise attack. Realized that in the midst of one mess after another, he had never gotten around to finding out if Larson was alright out there. Just so certain the old coot would turn up all on his own…
Now he was sure his old friend would never be coming back.
After a few minutes of deliberation, resulting in Captain Harper’s objections being almost unanimously overruled, the Council concluded its session. Much as some of them might resent being left out, Toma had convinced them that there was little left for them to do; after all, Shades’ rescue would not be accomplished by discussing the matter as a committee. After the others filed out, all that remained of the original gathering were Corrick, Toma, Max, Justin, and several trusted Island Patrol officers. All that was left now was laying out plans of their own.
There wasn’t much time, and options were limited.