Bold rescue mission heads into the sensational south sea.
The mighty “Curly Cue”, fresh off some maintenance and modifications, tore through the Pacific blue at top speed. Thanks to guidance help from The Mesh, Escapo was basking in the overconfidence of being moved by an infinitely efficient master chess player, which A.I. most certainly was. He gulped down generous air currents on the top deck and held a buddha-like look of contentment on his face. It was a ruse, of course. Deep inside, he was fraught with fear and uncertainty.
An automatic lift gently brought Cidel and Cactus up to the same level. Taking in the spectacle that was Escapo, they shared a look of bemusement before they approached.
“It’s almost time,” Cactus said gruffly. “The sun’s about to come up and we’re almost in position.”
Escapo turned around and frowned at the newcomers, “You’re ruining my zen.”
“I didn’t know smugglers had zen,” Cidel quipped.
“You say smuggler as if it were a bad thing. And as for when to go dark, isn’t The Mesh supposed to take care of that?”
“No, The Mesh doesn’t decide everything. If it did, then our being here would be superfluous, now wouldn’t it?”
“And are you going to make these critical decisions then, old man?”
“Boy, I was creating and jumping through loopholes and dodging the state before you wasted your first gulp of air.”
“Look, grandpa, just try and keep up, ok?”
Masher hovered nearby as they gazed into the dark hazards ahead. “Waves will be over 15 feet when it’s time to launch, and winds of at least 35 knots. Are you sure you can handle sailing manually in conditions like this?”
Cactus looked at the A.I. roughly, “Masher, if you had a better idea, you should have brought it up a bit sooner. Just do what you’ve got to do. Have you been able to dig up any more intel on their defenses?”
“Sorry, but no. Defense of Setarcos’s position is top priority on their network. What you have already is everything we’ve got.”
“Thanks for the warm and fuzzy news,” Cidel quipped.
Cactus asked, “Are you sure coming in by air wouldn’t be advantageous? Or at least using some type of tactical move in the air?”
Masher gave a logical explanation, one that had rung true for decades. “Generally speaking, The Mesh holds the upper hand on the water and most airspace above it. Governments have an edge on land and the airspace corresponding to it. Making a stealth landing by water is the most logical choice.”
Moments later, the rescue crew was putting on their heavy weather gear as they were on the brink of the launch. Cactus put the final touches on his thick, all black, waterproof ensemble, made of lightweight material. As he adjusted a tight ski-cap over his ears, he glanced at Escapo, who was donning a puffy parka and double-thick black pants with a waterproof exterior. Cidel put a heavy, insulated raincoat over a light and tight jacket.
The motley crew then proceeded to check their personal gear, which consisted of gloves, knives, a crowbar, rope, lighters, a compass, paper maps, small alcohol bottles, cloth squares, bungee cords, climbing cables and hooks, and 3D printed hand guns. One gun, however, was not 3D printed, as Cactus flashed a much older firearm, which caught some attention.
A stunned Cidel asked, “What the hell is that?”
Escapo looked back and forth at Cactus and the gun curiously, “What kind of gun?”
“Old.” After a pause, Cactus continued with a wry smirk as he held it into the artificial light, “This is a Desert Eagle 44 Magnum.”
“I’ve only seen 3D printed guns.”
“Yes, an unfortunate and unintended consequence of technology.”
They finished checking their gear. Escapo, annoyed, asked, “Are you sure we can’t bring a flashlight?”
“Only if you want to increase your chances of detection.”
“I’m more worried about the lack of smartclothes keeping me warm.”
Cactus adjusted his ski cap and said, “Another case of technology making people spoiled and soft. Put on your parka and deal with it.”
Escapo groaned as he zipped his heavy coat over his massive torso, which made him look even more cartoonishly puffed-up than normal.
Cactus looked over the horizon. The sun forced some dim light through the thick blanket of gray at the dawn of a new day. “Masher, how far out are we?”
“Approaching 30 nautical miles. We can’t get any closer than 20, just to be on the safe side.”
Cactus gave a determined look all around. “It’s time. It’s your ship, though, Escapo, so you make the call.”
Escapo looked over the 3 small sailboats ready to launch. The handsome and venerable “Moneybit” that belonged to Cactus. “The Audacious”, which Escapo had inherited from his father, and where Escapo had learned the basics of seafaring. Both were old Hunter 44-foot cruisers, charming fiberglass relics from the not-so-distant past. The third ship was “Renegade”, an Endeavor 40-footer from about the same era, which had been purchased by The Mesh just for this occasion. Cidel had the privilege of taking “Renegade” on its last hurrah.
Escapo boomed, “Computer, all stop and anchor in 8.8 nautical miles!”
The ship methodically hummed and slowly brought itself to a halt and used its nano-stabilizers to keep it still among the massive swells.
Masher tapped on Escapo’s shoulder. “I couldn’t help but notice while I was double-checking your sailing inventory, Escapo, that you’re hoisting a spinnaker.” It gestured to the colorful sail built for speed that headlined “The Audacious”.
Cactus and Cidel chuckled under their breath. They’d both noticed but not said anything. Escapo said defensively, “What’s so funny there, gents? Something funny?”
Cactus was the first to crack, “You’re going out in this swirling mess of an ocean with a bloody spinnaker? It’s been nice knowing you.”
Cidel burst out laughing, “Don’t lie to him! It hasn’t been so nice knowing him.”
Masher joined the mocking, “Do you have what humans refer to as a ‘death wish’?”
Escapo puffed his chest out, “I can handle it, and I’ll get to shore twice as fast as you two amateurs.”
Masher said with a parental scold, “I can’t let you go out like this. You’ll jeopardize the mission. I’m sorry.”
“The hell you can’t machine. This is my boat, and I make the rules.”
Cactus said with a dark joy in his voice, “Let him go, Masher.”
Escapo looked at Masher menacingly as he straightened his puffy sleeves, “There, at least somebody’s got some sense. I’ll have the boy rescued before you two even make it to shore.”
Masher sighed deeply, “This isn’t a race, you fool.”
They all took one final look out into the merciless sea as dawn began to expand clouded light over the horizon. Behind the force field, it all seemed so calm and beautiful. White crested fields of aqueous hills welling up methodically and then crashing down chaotically.
They climbed into each ship, took their place near the controls astern, and braced themselves for the fury they were about to enter.
Escapo grumbled, “Computer, drop force field.”
A buzz indicated that the only thing separating them from the unrelenting gales had stopped. Sails and hair started whipping. Cables rattled like giant, out of control guitar strings. Torrents of water from the sky drenched everything. The three men staggered at first as they adjusted. Escapo yelled over the gales, “The winds won’t get much more favorable than this!” Nobody heard him, as it’s almost impossible to hear any human voice over a gale, so they shrugged it off. Only Masher could hear them, and they, in turn, could hear Masher.
Cidel nodded to his human counterparts. After checking to make sure everything was in good order, he signaled to be released. Escapo ordered the computer to release the little boat and it was carefully lowered into the chaotic blue.
The old man went next, gripping the side of his vessel as he struggled to adapt to the wind. Escapo looked at Masher uneasily. Cactus gave the go-ahead, and he too was launched out to the roaring sea.
Escapo was mildly surprised that the sick old man went through with it. He looked around his old ships with an air of nostalgia, as he knew this was the last time he’d see them in one piece. Masher interrupted loudly, “They’re just boats, Escapo! Get over it!”
Escapo grimaced and peered at the perilous whipping of the sails. Masher continued, “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”
Escapo sputtered, “Well, I wouldn’t put it exactly like that, but...”
“You buy the ticket, you take the ride! Now get moving!” Masher blared through its force field.
“Easy for you to say, machine, from your protective little bubble.” Escapo pointed his chin up with great showmanship and gave the go signal. Masher glided towards him and screamed in his face, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
His face drooped with confusion and he felt his pockets up and down. “Not the foggiest!”
“I need control of the ship for this to work, remember?”
Escapo’s face became mildly embarrassed and he yelled, “Computer, Masher is now in control of the vessel. Confirm, please!”
Moments later, he was launched towards the target. Masher immediately put up the main force field and checked all the technical parameters necessary to move on with the plan. It concealed itself in the bar area, where it had been trapped on its earlier excursion with Escapo.
“Computer, prepare for 5-way splinter. Confirm when ready.”
Masher gave the command. The beautiful, enormous vessel began taking itself apart with laser-like precision. Within minutes, it had transformed into five smaller vessels, or “splinters”. Each one would be controlled by Masher and The Mesh. Two knife-like boats traveled on the surface, while the other two were mini-subs that dove deep and started cruising east. Two would serve as decoys, another was carrying a small EMP device, and the fourth was to serve as the valiant rescuer.
The fifth “splinter”, holding Masher and the main computer control center, dove deep and stayed put as it waited for things to progress.
Slice 23 Coming Soon!
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