Thoughtful - Chapter 8

Not so sweet

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‘Fire!’ screamed Zed, Commander of the Returned as he saw the Anhinga ahead of them, in their sights.

They had been tracking Lady’s ship for the past few days. It had been a nail biting chase. Well actually it hadn’t. It had been rather dull but now they had finally gotten to the good bit. Attacking them.

Zed was known as a bit of a nutter by not only the other submarine Commanders who traversed the planet’s remaining waterways, but also by his own crew, which is why they liked him. Zed’s command attracted a specific type of person. Nihilistic. Damaged. Motivated by violence and self-destruction. Zed’s was not a vessel you wanted to be picked up by, and if you were unlucky enough to join his crew unwittingly then essentially you had no choice but to batten down the hatches and wait for a chance to escape. Zed was not a vindictive man however, and if you wanted to leave he would happily see you go. His world only functioned in chaos, and it didn’t suit him to have those alongside him who wanted to bring order to that chaos.

Lady herself had only met Zed in person once, a few years prior, but she still recalled the encounter with unease. Both crews had been raiding the same laboratory and had inadvertently interrupted each other. Given that at the time they had assessed the situation was too dangerous for them to actually fight each other for the scientific spoils they had agreed to a temporary truce and the Commander’s had taken a moment to speak to each other formally. Awkwardly they shook hands, and Lady looked up into his face. Not one inch of it was free from scar tissue, thick-banded, white and horrific. His face was a nightmare of pain brought to life. His eyes were a deep, burned blue while his hair – or what remained of it – hung down his back from underneath a thin-brimmed hat. It was a fair, strawberry blond. His lips were almost non-existent, and Lady assumed that whatever terror had befallen this man was much worse than the usual severity.  Dressed all in black, Zed wore a heavy wool coat over jeans and a long sleeve jersey. Hiding as much of his skin as possible. Her heart not skipping a beat, Lady had smiled. Refusing to show she was affected by his appearance. Looking down at his hand, Lady saw the same scarring, and felt a stab of sorrow. She wondered what had happened to him, what was it that had disfigured him so. To this day she still didn’t know, and hadn’t had the courage to ask at the time.

Lady remembered their actual conversation as one of the most polite, but disturbing, she had ever had with another human being, and that included the discussion with her parents that had ended with them throwing her off the bridge. They had only spoken for 10 minutes, as they waited for their crews to finish pillaging the lab, but it had been long enough for her to understand the exact kind of lunacy she would be facing once again after they were back in the water.

Zed considered himself a man at once living and dead. A Zombie, as he described it. Hence he had taken the name Zed as his moniker. He explained that he was someone who had faced death (“I love my death, I accept it, I am married to my death, she is my betrothed, my beloved, my destiny, my fate” as he poetically explained it) and lived to tell the tale. He had taken command of the Returned from its former master, a Russian Commander who had fought in the Last Battle and only survived by hiding the vessel and its skeleton crew in the Marianas Trench. The Commander had then enjoyed a brief psychosis, during which time he killed his crew, and ejected their bodies from the ship via the torpedo tubes. Though Lady didn’t quite believe this part, and felt he was exaggerating for effect, she found Zed to be an astute story teller. And it was indeed an interesting story.  

Lady had smiled intently and nodded, only offering small bites of information about herself when prompted, and sensing his captive audience Zed had continued on. Quite flattered by the attention though he would never admit it. He described himself as a fatalist, explaining that he believed one day soon everything and everyone would be dead by his hand. Including the inhabitants of the Arbour. Lady had frowned slightly when she heard this, unable to stop herself, but this only caused Zed to smile. Finally sensing that their crews were wrapping up, Lady had bowed to Zed and said quite honestly that it had been good to meet him in person. It was so rare that Commanders got to interact via any means other than a Commsline or through violence and warfare. Then Lady had signalled her crew that it was time to leave, and nodding to Zed they had disappeared into the dark corridors, and made their way back to the Anhinga. For weeks after the sub had reverberated with discussions of Zed and his crew.

Over the following years Lady had uncovered more about Zed via defectors from his crew, and had pieced together parts of his life. Zed had been one of the Russian Commander’s crew, and had survived. His injuries were sustained after he had been drugged, covered in fuel, set alight and then indeed been shot out of a torpedo tube. Luck had been on his side that day and he had been picked up moments from death by another sub, the Heathen. For months his rescuers had worked to save his life and his body, but they soon began to regret their benevolence. As Zed’s insanity became apparent, the Commander of the Heathen admitted that perhaps they had made a mistake, but not wanting to abandon their patient they did not know what to do. Not long after this, the choice had thankfully been made for them when Zed simply disappeared one night in one of their research pods. Though the loss of the tech was lamentable, they were happy to count their blessings as Zed had departed from their lives. The Heathen went its way, and Zed went his – which included seeking revenge on the Commander who had assigned him to this fate of anger, hatred and disfigurement. Though the details themselves are patchy, Lady could imagine Zed confronting his old Commander and taking command of the Returned.

As Zed now watched, the Anhinga rocked from the blast as his gunner scored a direct hit. The force field rippled slightly, visible for a few moments in the water. Zed had expected the Anhinga to have one. No submarine was without some line of basic defence these days. But he also knew with some satisfaction that he had done some damage to the Anhinga. For a submarine to rock as violently as that, well something had to give. He was surprised however at the power his new guns had. He hadn’t been expecting that, and he made a mental note to thank his Chief Weapons Engineer for a job well and truly done.

Smiling in excitement Zed was about to order a second blow when the inky black substance suddenly blocked his vision. Howling in anger Zed made a mental note to punish his Chief Weapons Engineer for his shoddy cloaking job. The Anhinga could obviously see them. Gritting his teeth, and struggling for patience, he turned to his Navigator.

‘Can we still seem them on radar?’ he demanded, knowing full well that a visual was now almost impossible.

‘Yes, got them,’ she replied with a smirk. Valley (short for Valley of Death as she explained whenever asked, which was not that often these days if she was being honest) liked to pride herself on her skills, boasting that she could find a hay shaped needle in a haystack.

‘Continue then,’ smiled Zed, his good humour returning once he understood they could still take another shot.

It was at this moment that the cotton candy hit the Returned, and everything went suddenly pink and fluffy. The Anhinga had also successfully scrambled their main Fragment processor, effectively shutting the submarine down electronically. They still had power, but they just couldn’t route it to where it needed to go. As a result, nothing inside the Returned was currently working.

Zed picked up a bottle of Vodka sitting on a small table to his left and in one draught drained the remains of the bottle before smashing it unceremoniously on the side of the Commander’s chair. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

‘Oh she will pay for that one,’ he growled, his voice a low rumble.  

‘Get us back online!’ screamed Valley a little too excitedly.  

‘Thank you, Valley,’ acknowledged Zed.

He appreciated her zeal, even though it was no necessary. Telling the crew to get them back online was somewhat redundant. They knew what they had to do, if they wanted to keep their Commander from going the full homicidal. And they would do it quickly too. From a leadership perspective, being unhinged had its advantages.