The following morning, Max and his friends came aboard the Seeker platform, having been awakened early at the announcement that the Nimrod wreck had been relocated. Bandit, though, had to stay back on Kalona. The captain was a good deal more adamant about it than Corrick ever was.
Captain Harper seemed pleasant enough at first, but she could be hard-edged about some things. Such as being delayed for days by the aftermath of that storm when she was right on the verge of her greatest find. Now her crew moved fast to make up for it.
The weather was partly cloudy, but fair, excellent conditions for the operation, and they had no intention of missing their window of opportunity.
From what Corrick had told them, the Seeker crew started out as a salvage outfit, but a lucky break got them into the treasure-hunting business. Apparently, while searching for recently-sunken cargo ships in another realm, they stumbled upon the wreck of a trading ship that had eluded local efforts for more than a century. By then, there was a standing reward— a substantial sum— for the recovery of the ship’s lucrative jewel cargo.
That was how Harper got her start.
Though they had gained a reputation for finding ships that defied all past efforts, the Joint Island Council didn’t fully trust them. Based on the Islands’ past history, some flat-out called Harper a treasure-hunter, and insinuated that she would take the treasure and run. Even though the Council ultimately agreed to split the proceeds 40/60 in a “rainy day” fund for the Kona Islands, certain factions still fought the decision.
The end result was Max, an impartial third-party observer, who would watch every aspect of the operation, and inform the other party if either side violated the bargain. Shades and Justin were there only because Max asked for it, and Corrick put in a good word for them.
Now that the Nimrod was (again) relocated, the Seeker’s divers spent most of the morning exploring the wreck and moving things into place to prepare for recovery. The Nimrod’s hull had deteriorated to the point that there wasn’t much left of the roof, so that the two intact crates of gold could be raised directly to the surface with the Seeker platform’s crane. It took them hours to clear away all of the debris, but they finally gave the “all-clear” signal to start hauling, and now it was time to raise it from the depths.
As the line came up, everyone watched with varying degrees of anticipation— days’ worth of work, not to mention weeks of searching and debate before that— waiting to see the lost treasure of the Nimrod.
There was a big splash as they hit the end of the line, and the biggest crate most of them had ever seen was lowered, pouring and dripping, onto the platform deck. Half-covered in seaweed and other growth, but still intact. So, too, was the heavy, rust-encrusted lock holding it shut.
As the line was lowered to retrieve the second container, Harper stepped up and took a crowbar to it. Rusty as it was, though, it still wouldn’t open for her. After that, Max took a crack at it, getting it on his second try by jamming the bar in place and kicking it.
Then Harper stepped back in to open it, revealing a loose pile of gold ingots, hastily melted down, each one impressed with the brand of some long-extinct mining company.
“The method is crude,” she commented, “but—”
Whatever else she may have had to say about the ingots was interrupted by an energy beam that hit her in the shoulder, knocking her down, and sending the gold piece clanking to the deck.
That shot proved to be a prelude to more yet to come; before anyone could piece together what was going on, more shots came from the horizon. Along with the high-pitch, rattling drone of small engines now that they were within range. All anyone got to see at first was at least a dozen single-person watercraft approaching the Seeker platform before hitting the deck.
Several crew members weren’t quick enough, getting hit by the attackers’ front-mounted weapons as they swept to either side of the platform in two distinct groups. After this initial volley, both formations started circling the Seeker platform like black-helmed vultures. Shades and Justin ducked behind the treasure crate for cover, the latter cursing the Island Patrol for insisting he leave his guns behind.
As most of them had little or no combat training or experience, the rest of the Seeker crew completely lost its composure. Several jumped overboard and tried to swim for the ship. Others stayed right where they hit the deck. One tried to help a fallen comrade while another pulled off his dirty white shirt and started waving it at them in frantic surrender.
To no avail, Justin predicted, only half a second before the man was cut down by the next wave of shots. Whoever these guys were, they weren’t taking any surrenders. His first instinct was to run, but the problem here was that there was no place to run to.
And no place to hide, either, Shades observed, for the very crate they took cover behind must surely be the enemy’s goal. The thought occurred to him to abandon the platform and swim for the nearby Seeker, as most of the others were doing. Totally oblivious, he now realized, to the fact that the Seeker herself was also being swarmed, and scratched that idea.
No choice but to fight, Max concluded, struggling against the shock of memories he could really do without. All of those craft looked so much like the ones the Cyexian Slash’s clan attacked with all those years ago… He shook the sounds of rain and thunder and crashing waves from that fateful night out of his head, then made his move.
As one of the craft passed, he sprang from the deck, dashing and making a flying leap, tackling the pilot just before he got out of reach.
Taking his cue from Max, Shades grabbed a short length of chain with a hook on it lying next to the crane. Staying as low as he could, he swung it around several times for momentum, hurling it at one of the raiders as they passed. Though the man wore a black helmet, just like the others, the hook was still heavy enough to knock him slouching overboard.
The second Justin saw him go down, he jumped into the water and started swimming madly for the stalled craft. The pilot was stunned, unable to resist, so Justin simply left him floating there as he took off with it. Shades, meanwhile, saw Max fall overboard with his opponent, and dove in to help him. Even as it occurred to him that he had no aquatic combat experience, he saw Max kick off the hull and start swimming toward the Seeker instead. Unknowingly leaving Shades to face to the pilot all by himself.
Before such a fight could begin, though, another craft swerved by, sideswiping the stranded pilot. Shades noticed Justin at the controls as he stopped, just long enough to say, “Get goin’! They’re on to us!”
Sure enough, the other raiders started making evasive maneuvers as they realized there was someone onboard who could offer resistance.
Shades climbed aboard the unmanned craft before its original occupant could catch up with him, glad that the machine was similar to one he had once taken out on Flathead Lake a couple years ago, starting the engine and getting underway before the others could come about to target him. He caught a brief glimpse of Max, swimming underwater to avoid the hailstorm of enemy fire across the surface. Though Shades understood, much to his dismay, that in a firefight like this, a stray shot could hit you just as easily as a well-aimed one in this chaos. Yet he had to confine his worries to the back of his mind, as it was currently occupying all of his concentration on just surviving this mess himself.
While Shades and Justin dealt with the threat out on the water as best they could, Max’s swim became a shorter, but more complicated, one as the Seeker started moving. Unlike the rest, he had seen what else was going on while everyone else was busy fighting or panicking. As the Seeker pulled up alongside the platform, the remaining crew found, instead of rescue, that more raiders had taken control of the ship. Having left only a skeleton crew during the raising of the cargo, the enemy quickly overran the Seeker, and now two of them covered another pair as they boarded to hijack the platform, as well.
The crane was still raising the second crate as the attack began, and one of the hijackers reached the controls just as it surfaced. Another hijacker attached lines from the crane on the side of the Seeker itself, to the first crate, swinging it over aboard the ship. Meanwhile, the second crate was being set up for transfer.
Max suspected that whoever was leading this attack was likely onboard the Seeker now, and that stopping them would be the key to winning this battle. The best way to save his friends, as well as anyone else who was still alive, to say nothing of perhaps throwing a wrench in these hijackers’ works.
As Max climbed the diver’s ladder near the rear of the ship, his plans— as well as the ongoing battle beyond— were interrupted by an underwater explosion that jarred him back into the sea, just as he was about to launch his surprise counterattack.