Boats of any variety tend to have issues with issues explosions. Even the most sea worthy vessel isn’t an ideal environment for detonating payloads, unless the goal of the detonation is to cause fires and immediate panic. In that circumstance, a boat is an excellent location to trigger a bomb.
Val had the layout of the ocean liner memorized from their earlier search for Geoffrey St. Laurents, so in the chaos that followed the explosion, she took the lead, guiding Anna and Tam into the smoke filled corridors within the ocean liner.
“The blast came from this side of the boat, probably from one of the upper cabins,” she said, as she held her shirt to her mouth to help screen out the smoke.
“How can you tell?” Tam asked.
“The boat rocked away from this side but it felt like the force was lateral more than vertical. An explosion below the water line would have moved us differently,” Val said. “Also, all the smoke is up here. If the bomb had been on a low deck, we’d still have clear air up here for a bit.”
“Do we look for the source of the explosion then, or try to track down Geoff?” Tam asked.
“I think we get you to the explosion site as soon as possible,” Anna said. “With security as tight as it was, no one should have been able to carry on any explosives. We’ll need you to confirm whether someone cheated and used magic and whether they’d be able to do so again.”
“If magic is in play, do we know that Geoff can’t get away?” Val asked. “We thought he was a mundane lackey of PrimaLux, but if he can turn into a jellyfish or something that’s going to be a problem.”
“The moon phase is wrong for transfigurations at this latitude,” Tam said. “But we should find him anyways. Anyone who’s willing and able to bomb a boat could probably afford to send another boat out to help our target get away too.”
“We need to talk to the Captain as well,” Anna said. “There are established emergency protocols for accidents while at sea, but they depend on the captain’s evaluation of the situation, and the Captain doesn’t know that there is a wanted fugitive onboard.”
“I thought we wanted to convince St Laurents to work with us by not bringing the authorities in on it yet?” Tam asked.
“That was before he started endangering innocent lives,” Anna said.
“I’m going to ask the stupid question,” Val said. “Do we know this was him?”
“It is a safe bet,” Anna said.
“Maybe,” Val said. “But it could as easily be PrimaLux coming for him too, right? We know he took off without any warning. Didn’t call his bosses, and didn’t put in for any vacation time. He’s running from them as much as he’s running from the law.”
“Probably moreso from them,” Anna said. “Whether he was the culprit or the target though, the captain needs to choose what to do next with the knowledge that his vessel is still in danger.”
“If we catch St Laurents though we can stop all this, Val started to say and stopped herself. “No, wait, if he’s gone all Mad Bomber then he’ll have other devices already set up around the ship.”
“Exactly,” Anna said.
“So where are we going to meet up?” Val asked.
“If you find him, bring St Laurents to the captain’s quarters,” Anna said.
“It’s going to take me longer than that to scope out the blast zone,” Tam said.
“Take whatever time you need,” Anna said. “We’ll need to be able to stay in touch though.”
“We can use these,” Tam said, and handed Anna and Val two of the bracelets she’d been wearing. “I was experimenting with something new before we left. Cell coverage out here is non-existent and I wanted something that would stay off the ship’s Wifi.”
“Are these tech or magic?” Val asked.
“Both. There’s some simple wireless circuits etched into the inner ring of the bracelet and a sympathy spell written on the outside to connect them. Just say one or both of our names and we’ll be able to hear and talk to each other as long as they don’t get wet.”
“I can’t imagine we’ll have any problem with water out here on the open ocean.”
“The design is a work in progress,” Tam grumbled.
“I want to hear from both of you within ten minutes,” Anna said, clicking the bracelet Tam gave her onto her wrist.
“Goeffrey isn’t a fast runner,” Val said. “I should have him in five.”
Five minutes was an optimistic appraisal. Val could have covered a lot of ground in five minutes but not with a crowd of panicked people struggling to get through the corridors too.
“We have experienced…” an announcer said over the shipwide intercom before their voice was drowned out in static. “Passengers are asked to stay in their cabins until…” Their voice was drowned again.
The explosion had damaged more than just one cabin. It had to have hit something important in the electrical system from how the lights were flickering.
“Please make room,” one of the uniformed staff said as he lead a trio of people in fire suppression gear back in the direction Val had come. The same direction that Tam had gone to find the source of the blast.
“Tam, you’ve got fire fighters incoming,” Val said.
“Thanks,” Tam said. “That’s not a great sign for what I’m walking into but maybe I can give them a hand.”
“Can you do that without obscuring traces of the blasts origin?” Anna asked.
“We’ll have to see,” Tam said. “I’m not seeing any traces of Igneum, so the most common source of magical fire probably wasn’t used.”
“Keep us informed,” Anna said.
Val reached a set of stairs that led both down and up. The smoke was less than a mild haze so she took a moment to gather a clean breath and focus her mind.
St Laurents had looked panicked before the explosion. He either knew it was going to happen, was working up the courage to make it happen, or had reason to suspect that something bad was going to occur.
The stairs up lead to the three higher decks that were accessible by passengers. There would be plenty of people up there in the middle of the day, which would make it very easy to blend in.
The one’s going down lead to decks primarily devoted to passenger cabins. People there would either be staying inside or would have already raced out to find family members they were concerned about.
Val tried to put herself in St Laurent’s position. His life had fallen apart, and he was terrified it was going to get worse. Hiding among a throng of people would be the safest move he could make, but given what Anna had said, it wasn’t going to be the option he’d go for.
Val descended the steps and imagined Geoffrey St Laurents fleeing from agents who were out to get him but didn’t exist. Geoffrey had met Anna and Val the night before so he knew someone had discovered his whereabouts. When Tam had joined them on the deck, he’d seen proof that it was more than two people and if it was more than two the odds of it being more than three were pretty high. With that thought screaming in his head, he couldn’t afford to risk being around people at all. He had no means of determining who was just a regular passenger and who was aware of who he really was.
That meant he’d flee to the lower decks, which unfortunately had hundreds of rooms. Val, however, had a secret weapon.
Geoffrey St Laurents was not a burly man. He couldn’t risk an altercation with anyone so the only rooms he could try to hide in would be ones with no passengers in them. Those would be difficult to find though because the cruise ship was operating at near 100% capacity. The only open rooms he would be able to locate were on the lowest levels.
With that in mind, Val descended into the belly of great boat, hoping to catch sight of St Laurents before he made it to one of the open rooms and covered his tracks.
Tam had less ground to cover than Val did, but the smoke created a few unique challenges.
As she walked down the hallway towards the blast site, only the red lights of the emergency signs were visible through the heavy, acrid clouds. Most were light be had sparks falling from them that suggested they might be igniting soon as well. That would be a problem in the future, assuming that Tam didn’t wind up wandering the room direction or choking to death on the deadly fumes.
Tam caught one of her breaths in her cupped hands and managed to intone a series of latin words three times without coughing and disrupting the spell. For her efforts a small zephyr spirit answered her call, swirling in a tight sphere around her head.
The zephyr’s winds were cool and clean, free from the toxins that suffused the smoke, but Tam knew the zephyr could only stay with her for a short time. They were not the sort of spirit which took well to captivity and the moment she bored it, the flighty being would leap away and continue its ceaseless frolic around the world.
Walking towards flickering tongues of flame was enough to keep the spirit’s attention for a few moments fortunately, though when she arrived at the location of the bomb blast, Tam almost wished she’d been forced to turn back.
“This wasn’t magic,” she said.
“That was quick,” Anna said.
“There’s too many dead people,” Tam said, looking out at a gaping hole in the top of the ship.
“Magic can’t kill people?” Val asked.
“It can, but the more people a spell effects the more resistance it faces, and the more it effects them, the harder they’ll fight back. There had to be a hundred people or more in the section I’m looking at. Even a supreme wizard would have trouble with half that number.”
“So we’re looking at a normal bomb then?” Anna asked.
“Not that normal,” Tam said. “This was a high end explosive. Military make I would guess? There’s nothing in this section that should have added to blast, so whatever blew up, it did all this work itself.”
“That’s wonderful,” Val said. “I’ve got an even more awesome question for you though; what do you think the odds are that someone only brought one of those on board?”
Anna knew the answer to Val’s question. Long experience had taught her that however bad a situation was, it could always get worse, and that if someone was willing to kill to achieve their objectives, they wouldn’t stop at one attempt.
“Excuse me m’am, you can’t come in here” one of the ship’s officers said as Anna strode onto the bridge.
“Yes, I am aware of that,” Anna said, walking past him without breaking her stride.
“We do not have time for passenger complaints, Ms…?” the captain said, turning to look at the new intruder in his domain.
“This isn’t a passenger complaint, Captain Starling,” Anna said. “Your ship has suffered an attack. It remains in peril. I have been tracking a fugitive who boarded your vessel when it sailed from Fort Lauderdale. There is a high likelihood that he or parties connected to him have rigged additional devices throughout the ship. You need to call in a May Day to all available craft.”
“Pardon me m’am, but we are still assessing the extent of the damages,” Starling said.
“We are in well traveled waters Captain Starling,” Anna said. “Despite that a critical failure in the ship’s superstructure would send us to the bottom before anyone could reach us unless they set a course in our direction immediately.”
“How do you know this?” Starling asked. “Are you associated with this terrorist?”
“The fugitive my team is searching for is wanted for embezzlement, among other financial crimes,” Anna said. “He holds a great deal of information on an international criminal organization. I did not expect them to go to these lengths to silence his testimony, but they have both the means and the motive to do so.”
“Captain,” a junior officer said from one of the communication consoles. “The fire team is reporting in. We’ve lost over thirty cabins and the fires are more than the automated systems can handle. They’re going to have to manually battle the worst parts of it.”
“The Journey of Discovery is on a retrofitting run not far from here,” Anna said. “If you raise them, they can help offload passengers and non-essential crew.”
The Captain looked Anna in the eye and she watched him turning over the biggest decision he’d ever had to make. To his credit, it didn’t take him long.
“Do it. Issue a general May Day and contact the Journey of Discovery directly. Instruct the passengers to move to the safest areas of the ship for now. We’ll work out the transfer procedure when Discovery confirms they can reach us.”
It was a good plan, boldly chosen and acted on without hesitation.
Sadly, it wasn’t enough.
In the middle of the instruction to the passengers to proceed to the decks another bomb blast went off.
This time it wasn’t on one of the highest decks.
It was below the water line, and it ripped an enormous hole in the ocean liner’s hull.
The ocean is wild, and beautiful, but most of all it is merciless. As thousands of gallons of water poured into the hull, the boat began a trip beneath the waves that it would never recover from.