by Dan Swanson
Just after noon, a band of clouds blew by overhead, and it rained for about fifteen minutes, a cool, light, refreshing rain that was the perfect complement for the beautiful, warm, clear day. The five women were seated at an outside table shaded by palm trees, cooled by the constant afternoon trade wind blowing out of the northeast directly down the windward passage. About a mile out, she estimated, Alex Silverstone spotted a sailing ship with two masts heading directly downwind toward them under full sail. She realized, as she heard the rock instrumental Tequila, that it seemed to suit the mood perfectly.
“So you guys still get pirate ships? I thought they were wiped out centuries ago,” Alex jokingly asked their waiter. Her eyesight was far superior to that of a normal human, and she could see the Jolly Roger flying on the mast mid-ships even at this distance.
“There are a lot of sailing ships in our waters,” the waiter replied in his charming local Virgin Island accent, “and some of them fly that flag for a lark. But I don’t recognize that one at all.” Before he could say more, Alex stiffened.
“Crap — they’re shooting at us!” She’d seen the smoke from the swivel gun on the bow.
“Probably blanks,” the waiter replied soothingly. “All part of the gag — and even if it were real, the maximum range of the guns on a schooner that size is only around a thousand yards. Nothing to worry about…”
While he was speaking, something splashed into the water with a tremendous boom only a few yards offshore, throwing a geyser forty feet into the air. Somebody on the beach yelled, “Incoming! Out of the water!” in an incredibly loud voice, and the resort guests and staff were suddenly screaming and scrambling toward shore and over the beach. “To the hurricane shelters!” the same voice was now shouting. One of the staff was a veteran of World War II and Korea who had retired to St. Thomas to escape the stresses of the mainland, and he now called on his almost-forgotten command experience to try to bring some order into the chaos around them. Somehow, the background music had changed to the cannon part of the 1812 Overture.
Fortunately, a pirate ship only had one gun that could shoot forward, and it took a trained team almost four minutes to reload. Alex could see that team in action, and she warned her teammates that the pirate schooner was about to fire its uncanny weapon again.
“Rakasha!” Lily Martine cried out in the strong, clear voice of the actress she was. A gout of greasy flame roared up through the ground beneath her, melting the sand before it surrounded her, and then the flame vanished, leaving Lily wreathed in a clinging cloud of thick, oily black smoke. The smoke dissipated, and Kali stood before them once again.
At the same instant, Alex yelled, “They’ve fired again!”
Kali leaped into the air and flashed toward the attacking pirate ship. She saw the incoming cannonball, which was about the size of a fist, and her speed easily allowed her to fly to intercept it. It would shatter harmlessly against her invulnerable form, and then she’d easily wipe up the pirates, and she wouldn’t even miss lunch.
Except it didn’t work that way. The four-pound iron ball smashed into her and exploded, releasing stinging mystical energies that blasted her backward through the sky. The impact was worse than being kicked by Master Man in a full-contact training exercise; in fact, she’d never been hit harder. She spun groggily through the air and crashed down on the beach she’d just left, gouging a long ditch through the sand until she finally stopped moving just short of the table where her teammates were still sitting. She tried to struggle out of the ditch, and managed to drag herself to a sitting position, then slumped over, unconscious.
“Crap,” said Tammi Paige, very softly. “I think we’re in trouble!”
The four women had been sitting absolutely still as they watched with disbelieving eyes the world’s most majestic woman get casually blasted out of the sky. When she couldn’t rise, and instead collapsed unconscious, it was as if someone had thrown the on switch. There was a sudden flurry of activity, and in an instant the table was empty as the heroines ran back to their rooms to don their costumes. In less than three minutes they were back — Lady Victory, Miss Music, Palette, and Majique — ready to fight for truth and justice. Instantly, the air was filled with so much babble it was difficult to distinguish who was talking at any given moment.
“What are we going to do against someone who can knock down Kali so easily?”
“We need a plan of attack!”
“I sense powerful magic.”
“Follow me — we need a speedboat! I can’t swim!”
“They just fired another cannon shot, but it’s going to miss.”
“I’m supposed to meet Derek for a walk on the beach at two-thirty; I hope that splash doesn’t get icky stuff in my hair.”
“They’re turning. What if they hit one of us?”
“I think there’s a ghost on that ship.”
“The schooner was a commonly used ship for piracy in the sixteen-hundreds and seventeen-hundreds.”
“I hope everyone’s in the hurricane shelter by now.”
“We need someone who can fly.”
“Who said they’re turning?” Lady Victory’s roared question was so loud it stunned everyone, even Miss Music, into silence.
Palette answered, “You can see it now, too. Look!”
“Sailing ships used to have to turn broadside in order to fire all their guns at an opponent,” Lady Victory said quickly. “We need to move!” As she spoke, they could see multiple puffs of smoke from the side of the boat. It would take a couple of seconds for the gunpowder-propelled volley to travel the half-mile to shore. “Quick, into the pool! Dive and hold your breath as long as you can!”
The four heroines ran to the side of the pool and dived in. A few seconds later, they heard several explosions and the sounds of destruction on the grounds above them, weirdly amplified and distorted by the water of the pool. After about thirty seconds, it was quiet again. Lady Victory signaled to the group to surface. Debris was dropping into the pool and sinking around them, but nothing dangerously large.
“It should take a few minutes before they can fire again.” She climbed out of the pool and looked at the debris around them. “They must have used chain shot; look how things are torn up. We should try to get out of their firing line before they can reload.”
“Hey, who died and made you boss!?” Miss Music asked petulantly.
“I’ve been Lady Victory since 1956 — can you match my experience? Can we argue about this later? Or we can go back into a huddle and babble at each other again until the bad guys manage to shoot us? Shut up and follow me, or I’ll beat the crap out of you when this is over — if you live through it.” She was already headed toward the resort’s boat shack.
“She wouldn’t dare — the ancient bitch. This isn’t over yet!” Miss Music mumbled to herself. Palette overheard.
“Shut up, Tams!” Palette ordered. “She’s right. We’ll take her orders for now, and vote on a permanent leader later.”
“You always give in to the bossy types!” Miss Music complained, and then shut up. She knew she was pretty bossy herself. It was part of her charm.
Majique didn’t follow orders unless she wanted to, anyway, so it didn’t make any difference to her if Lady Victory wanted to be in charge. She certainly didn’t want to be the one responsible for giving the orders, so she followed the group toward the boat shed.
After a quick inspection of all the boats in the shed, Lady Victory began swearing to herself. “No keys!”
“No problems, mon!” Majique grinned as she hopped into a fast-looking powerboat, patted her hair, and crouched in front of the instrument panel. Within a few seconds, the motor coughed, then kicked over into a powerful purr. “I’m driving! Where we going?” the Romany heroine asked cheerfully.
“Out and away in a hurry — they should be ready to fire another broadside, and that last round was pretty accurate!” said Lady Victory. Especially from over a half mile away, she added inwardly. She’d heard Majique, probably, say that she sensed a ghost; events so far definitely suggested that they were facing a magically powered foe.
The team piled into the boat; Lady Victory used the edge of her shield to sever the lines, rather than wasting time untying them, and then almost fell out of the boat as Majique opened up full throttle.
As they raced through the ocean-facing door of the shed, Palette pointed at puffs of smoke blowing away from the schooner and exclaimed, “You were right — they just fired again!”
Majique whipped the wheel around to the right, and the boat heeled over and threw up a grand plume of water, then slapped back down and almost threatened to go over the other way as they raced off in a new direction. They didn’t see the incoming fire, but they could hear projectiles whistling through the air, and the boat shack simply vanished, cut to tiny pieces by the mystically charged chain shot. A wide swath of vegetation behind the shed was torn to tatters as well, and some of the bungalows exploded into shards before the deadly hail ran out of energy.
“I sure hope everyone got out in time!” The devastation was enough to awe even Tammi into silence.
“They’re dropping their sails,” Palette realized. The fast motorboat had by now carried them much closer to the schooner, and everyone could make out more details. Still, Palette’s sharper vision picked up the next stunning surprise. “The crew is all skeletons!”