Watching the dark clouds amassing on the horizon Boon shifted his weight as the S.S. Omnia rose and fell with the swell of the sea. The mighty cruise ship was already starting to lumber uncomfortably and the sea was barely shifting. Peering through his binoculars he watched the lightning crash on the horizon and the way the rain was hitting the surface of the sea. Lowering his binoculars the polar bear rubbed his chin fur and turned to look at the softly glowing screen that displayed the weather radar. Rolling his shoulders he tugged his jacket straight, it always bunched up a bit when he lifted his arms and everyone expected the captain to look the part.
It was stupid, having to be in this uniform all the time instead of a nice comfy roll-neck sweater and sensible trousers. But the line-company insisted the officers wore their uniforms all the time. Sighing the bear turned his attention away from his uncomfortable if finely tailored uniform and glared at the clouds moving in from the north. The temperature outside was dropping, the pressure was falling and the sea was starting to show its displeasure.
“Ok Star,” he rumbled, turning to the lynx in overalls standing next to him and tipping back his hat, “I’m calling it, full stop, sea anchors, that storm front is going to hit us within the hour.”
Rubbing her muzzle the lynx stared north at the advancing clouds and nodded, “I’ll head down to engineering and get us settled. It’s going to be a nasty one look at that lightning.”
The polar bear glanced out the windows of the bridge and nodded his head, “Yes… keep me informed, I am going to have to go down to the ball and let the passengers know. They’re not going to be happy about us calling off tonight’s events.”
Star shrugged, “That’s the risk of being at sea, anyway see you later Captain,” she then turned and headed out of a door, heading for the staff lift that’d take her straight down to the engineering deck. Boon meanwhile started issuing orders to fourth officer Reed and the Bosun at the wheel. The S.S. Omnia was a big ship, sleek and modern, with all the latest technological gizmos for navigation and plying the seas but she wasn’t really made to plough through storms needlessly.
Satisfied Reed had everything under control he ducked down a gangplank and made his way toward the security centre. Swiping his ID card the large polar bear punched in his access code and squeezed through the door. That was another issue with the ship, it was new and modern and the doors in the passenger decks could accommodate giraffes and elephants let alone bears. But for some reason the doors on the top deck were all slightly too short for the big bear.
“Kyrio,” Boon called out to his security chief as he slipped inside, “How’s it looking down below?”
The blue dinosaur sat before the bank of monitors that covered one wall turned and nodded to the polar bear before gesturing with one hand at the screens. “It is busy as you’d expect for Halloween night, the passengers are already starting to gather for the Masquerade, in the saloon though a lot of people are still lingering over dinner.”
The dinosaur brushed back his thick black hair and held out a folder, “I’d say we are in for a busy night though, “Lots of people have signed out costumes or added their names to the various lists and activities planned in the saloon or on the fiesta and pool deck. We have a huge program of events planned.”
“I was afraid of that,” Boon rumbled softly, shaking his head, “I need you to cancel anything happening outside and clear the decks.”
Kyrio turned around fully and stared up at the Captain, “Are you serious?”
“‘fraid so, we are about to hit a massive storm. Top deck, fiesta, pool, anything that’s outside needs to be closed to the public. Keep everyone inside, if you can keep the promenade deck clear to anyone who wants to gawk at the storm should be sent to forward observation.”
“Nuts,” Kyrio muttered, standing up and moving to the dispatch desk, “Why did this have to happen tonight.”
“Bad luck,” Boon rumbled turning to look at the monitors with a frown, “Weather was fine this afternoon, this storm swept down out of nowhere.”
Kyrio nodded then pulled on a pair of headphones and started chatting away into the radio, issuing orders to his security teams and the stewards. Swaying gently as the Omnia started to rock Boon frowned at the screens, letting his eyes drink in the bright images of his ship. It was decked out with pumpkins, paper chains shaped liked bats, spooky cauldrons glowing with peculiar vapours and bubbling liquids. The crew were dressed in a variety of costumes, his eyes stopped on the purser. The golden fleeced ram Aesc was dressed as an egyptian pharaoh as he dealt with customers at the security deposit room. He then flicked his gaze to the band in the ballroom who were dressed up as the Addam’s family, complete with frankenstein butler. The Ballroom itself was filling up as costumed guests started to make their way down from the central atrium.
The restaurant was winding down, the staff were clearing tables and starting to set up for breakfast. Whilst waiting patiently for the last few lingering tables to move away. The costume shop on C-deck off the main atrium was heaving, people were arriving to collect their costumes, use the changing rooms and then shuffle into the makeup room next door.
Scanning the screen Boon nodded in satisfaction at the group heading into the theatre. The all night showing of the Rocky Horror Show with audience participation was sold out. So that was three hundred passengers safely tucked away in the theatre and another three hundred split across both cinemas. The Addams Family Trilogy was playing in screen one for families and younger audiences. Whilst a series of Halloween themed horror movies for older audiences were being shown in screen two. That would keep a good bunch of passengers settled down in one place for the duration of the storm which meant less passengers wandering around.
The screens showing the cargo hold and engineering spaces were much quieter. The cargo holds were being patrolled by several security officers whilst Star was on screen directing her teams in switching the Omnia to Storm Shift. She had everything under control down there but as he looked across the monitors he frowned at the screens showing the upper decks and promenade.
Security officers and stewards were starting to shepherd people back inside. From the way the crowds were stopping and staring at the speakers in dismay the storm warning was being announced. The polar bear watched with interest to see where people went. Quite a lot of people headed down to the bottom of the Atrium where the large soft seating area offered lots of space for chilling out. Quite a lot of people also wandered back toward their staterooms. Boon watched a pair of slender, weasels creatures with little horns wander along arm in arm down a companionway. They seemed in good spirits, a lot of passengers were migrating toward indoor events now which was good. There were plenty of activities they could keep going or put on at short notice with the outer decks closed off.
Turning to Kyrio as the dinosaur pulled off his head-set Boon smiled, “Well that seems to be going well.”
Smiling his security chief nodded and brushed back his hair, “Yes, some grumbling but Revya has her team putting on a bunch of different activities inside. She also thinks she can move the children’s games into the gymnasium easily enough.”
“That is good news,” putting his hat back on Boon tugged it straight, “I should get back to the bridge, keep me appraised of any changes and I’ll see you later.”
“Later Sir,” Kyrio saw Boon out and shut the door behind him. Sighing and swaying in time with the rocking of the boat Boon waddled back to the bridge. The edge of the storm was lashing the boat, the first splatters of icy cold rain hammering the windows. It was only going to get worse from here on out. It was going to be a long night.
Standing at the railing of the small yacht his team had hired Furtivo watched the S.S. Omnia rock up and down in the water. With all the lights on it was the brightest thing on the horizon compared to the dark, rain soaked ocean. Only the lightning added anything and that was a monochrome flash that just highlighted the stark emptiness of the ocean.
Adjusting his hat and the black scarf wrapped around his muzzle Furtivo smiled softly. The Omnia was rocking up and down, clearly struggling to hold its own against the storm. His vessel however was perfectly calm, sitting in a patch of unmoving dark water It was unnaturally still but it was a good sign, it meant their plan was proceeding well.
“Is everyone ready,” the thief asked as he turned to his companions, leaning his whip thin, black leather clad body back against the railings to consider his crew. It was so cliche, the black leather body suit, the wide brimmed hat, the scarf wrapped around his head so only his eyes were visible. But it was a look he had spent years perfecting and he wasn’t about to change it now. People expected El Furtivo to dress and present himself in a certain way and tonight could be no different, even if he didn’t plan to announce his presence.
“We’re ready,” Aira said from where he was standing beneath the yacht’s deck marque. The blue and white fox avoiding the rain as he considered the distant ship with a discerning eye, “Now the most complicated part is over it should be a simple infiltrate and grab mission.”
“You hope,” Rhaiza muttered as they adjust their headset, the Avali casting a frown toward the figure perched on the front railing, “I still dislike using such an unpredictable creature as this imp in our plans.”
“Kal’Tano was needed,” Furtivo said in his soft voice, straightening up and turning his bright eyes on their tech expert, “You know that, without this storm I’d not be able to infiltrate the Omnia safely.”
“Indeed,” Aira murmured, “It’s simple enough, with a storm like this the crew will be so busy keeping the ship safe and the passengers entertained it’ll be easier for Furtivo to move around.”
“Aye stop worrying,” Jalas said thumping Rhaiza, the wolf then nodded to Furtivo, “I am here if you need back up as usual, hopefully it won’t be needed.”
“Indeed,” Furtivo breathed then turned to the imp who was now watching them, “Are you ready Kal?”
The imp just nodded, his unblinking blue/white glowing eyes not shifting from Furtivo’s face. The peculiar rings that filled his irises swirling and moving around one another. He was a strange creature, less than two feet tall with thick blue/white fur, huge ears and currently he had a large pair of wings. His tail was long, sinuous, fluffy and the tip his a sharp spike of ice-white crystal that seemed to grow out of the end of it. He was an imp, an extra-planar creature summoned by Aira and Furtivo to help them in their heists.
“Oh I am ready master, though you should know the storm is now beyond my control,” his voice was soft, melodious and charming; perfectly pitched to hum inside a mortal’s mind and make them relax and listen.
“Good, prepare to teleport me over there,” Furtivo ordered, moving to stand under the awning out of the rain, “Then stay here and follow Aira’s instructions.”
Bowing low the imp smiled, “As you so command my master,” his smile was unctuous, his servility so very false. He obeyed the letter of his contract with the team but you had to be so careful about giving him orders. Despite all that though he was a useful member of the team if one who delighted in a bit of chaos now and then, which is probably why Furtivo got on so well with him.
“Any last instructions?” Furtivo asked as he moved to the centre of the awning, taking a last moment to adjust his own headset.
“Nothing from me,” Rhaiza said, checking her tablet, “Comm lines are green and scrambled so we can stay in touch.”
“I’ve got the maps and plans set up below deck,” Jalas said starting for the deck hatch, “I’ll get to my console, see you soon.”
Aira smiled and nodded to the thief, “See you soon.”
Kal’Tano lifted up off the railing, hanging in mid air, his wings barely stirring as his eyes glowed. He raised his hands and shards of ice crystallised out of the air around Furtivo. There was a moment of snow, a whirling flash of ice and cold and the world moved. The gentle repose of the yacht was replaced by the heaving, darkened uneven deck of the Omnia. Furtivo dropped four feet and landed on all fours, catching himself and allowing his body to adjust. A moment was all he took to check his location, he was inside one of the cruise ships cargo holds, it looked like the third one where passenger luggage and large items were stored.
“I am on site,” Furtivo whispered into his headset as he started off, creeping between the stored crates and cargo boxes, “Cargo Hold three, second level.”
“I’ve got you,” Jalas’ voice whispered back, “Location confirmed, there are six cameras in that hold, and a heat sensor web on the door to the next hold.”
“Understood, beginning infiltration now,” Furtivo replied, sliding his goggles down from beneath his hat and over his eyes. The green lenses gave the world expanded his vision, allowing him to see further into spectrums other than the usual visual.
It wasn’t hard to move around the cargo hold, Furtivo slipped from shadow to shadow with ease, abandoning the floor where he could which made crossing the long, dimly lit corridors between cargo cages and piles of crates a lot easier. With Jalas’ well-mannered, calmly pronounced and succinct directions the going was easy. The shadow cloaked thief stole from the large, wide open cargo hold into the smaller, smaller hold beyond through a vent up near the ceiling.
Perched atop a lighting gantry Furtivo swung his head from side to side, examining the hold below. There were six sealed metal cages, three on either side of the room. Plain, unmarked except for small numbers stencilled on each door though one of them had a pair of guards standing outside of them.
A very large, female rabbit with black hair pulled back into a bun and soft cream fur showing beneath her polyester-tastic guard uniform. Her companion was shorter by a good foot but no less intimidating. Broad shouldered, heavy set, he was everything a good wolf should be. Tall, unmistakably strong and with a series and stern countenance.
“Are we sure that’s the one?” Furtivo whispered, tilting his hat back slightly to get a better look at them, “It could just be a decoy, I mean it really stands out, sticking guards on the door like that.”
“I’m quite sure,” Jalas whispered back in reply, “It’s part of the insurance documents we lifted from Northern Cruise HQ. Guards must be posted at all time for the transfer of the cargo.”
Shifting his left arm to get a better grip on the gantry as the ship lurched Furtivo watched as the guards expertly moved their weight, compensating for the ups and downs of the sea.
“It still seems suspicious to me, the Pharaoh's Crown is the most valuable artefact in the world right now. Why make it so obvious where you are keeping it?”
“I’m sure that’s it,” Jalas whispered in return, “The documents we lifted are clear and we didn’t go to all the trouble to summon the ice imp to bail out now. This storm was expensive.”
Furtivo hesitated, something about this felt wrong, a tingling warning sensation down his spine making his fur stand on end, “Aira, are we go or no go on this snatch?”
There was a moment of silence, then the boss’ voice echoed over the controls, “You have a go Furtivo, bring back the crown.”
Holding his breath Furtivo waited for the ship to rock as the storm outside raged and then rolled off the gantry and dropped. Hands flashing out from under his close fitting clothing he landed between the guards as they were shifting their weight. Two well placed needles, a quick hiss of drugs into their necks and they dropped like ragdolls to the floor.
Crouched down between the pair Furtivo waited, he wanted to be absolutely sure they were 100% out of it, “That’s some potent stuff, where did Rhaiza get it?”
“Not sure,” Jalas replied, “I’ll ask her later, now get in and out, there are crew members down there despite the storm.”
Checking for keys took but a moment but as he suspected neither guard had access to the cage they were guarding. Not that it slowed him down for long, his lockpicks where first rate and took him a couple of minutes to unpick the lock and slip through the steel door into the compartment beyond. The lights embedded in the walls flickered on as he slipped through the door and Furtivo pushed his goggles up so he could see the room without the green haze of his goggles.
It was a simple metal cube with shelves along the back wall and a large wooden crate on the floor. Approaching the crate Furtivo peered over the rim with interest and then swore.
“What is it?” Jalas demanded over the radio as Furtivo lifted out a heavy paint can. He pried off the lid and stared at the thick, gelatinous brown gloop filling the can.
“It’s paint, nothing but tins of paint, I told you those guards outside were suspicious!”
“Shit, well get out of there or else…” Jalas shut up as the microphone picked up a new, unexpected voice.
“Hey guys, I have your lunches,” a flashlight’s beam swept around the corner, ”all the orange soda was warm so I brought you a lemon soda instea-” said the weaselly crewman as he stepped around the corner and stood illuminating Furtivo with his torch, “The hell?!” shouted the marten scrambling back while fumbling for his radio.
Furtivo’s reaction was instinctual and practiced as he took the tin in both hands and expertly slung the contents into the marten’s face.
The marten stumbled back with a yelp, the oily black paint completely covering their head. He clawed at his face try to wipe his eyes clear, leaving his torch to clatter on the deck’s floor.
“Oh jeeze,” Frutivo muttered looking at his hands in surprise before he snapped himself out of it, “hope that wasn’t toxic” he said as he pounced on the radio that the crewman had. With a tug Frutivo ripped the radio from the crewman in distress, at the very least he had to delay the alarm being raised if there was going to be any chance to salvage this mission.
The tug sent the crewman off balance and he slid over on the slick of paint covering the floor. “get it off me!” the martin pled, still trying to get the paint off himself which only managed to spread it further.
“Did you incapacitate another?” Jalas asked over the radio and Furtivo cursed, releasing he had left the connection open, that was sloppy.
“In a sense” replied Frutivo turning away from the marten, very much not happy with his own professionalism. He tried to continue his report to get support back to speed to salvage the mission but every time he went to open his mouth to say anything the painted crewman would interrupt him with a new plead of agony, time and time again each plead interrupted him.
The thief’s patience was swiftly running out as the groans of pain shifted into a nervous laugh which forced Furtivo to turn back to the crewman, “Can’t you see I am trying to do thievery here…” he trailed off looking at the marten.
“What is happening?” asked Jalas.
“It wasn’t paint.”
The crewman was distorted, His hands that had been wiping away at the liquid were exaggerated, broad three fingered, and clubbed without distinctive claws. He pulled his now stylized paws down his face releasing their grip with a snap and laugh. His head was malproportioned to his untransformed body, large eyes teeming with excitement. His eyes locked on Frutivo as a mischievous smile spread across the marten’s rounded muzzle showing his oversized toothy smile.
“It was toon ink,” the dread tone in the thief’s voice caused silence at the other end of the line.
The ink infected pine marten let out a proper cackle, the toon ink already spilled around him sprung up to life like magnetized ferrofluid before climbing and flowing over his unmodified body, coating him completely. The soft peaks shifted and swirled around the weasel, folding their form in on themselves before tightly constricting the figure. All at once the oily texture was absorbed giving way to the, now compact, toon pine marten.
The marten looked themselves over, their three digited short nubby fingers and toes, spinning in place to check on their tail before planting their feet and twisting one more time around to look at Furtivo and releasing one dook of excitement.
Furtivo watched the toon advance on him, he knew that the crewman had no proper idea who he was but the sense of vengeance survives this sort of thing. Any commercially available toon ink shouldn’t have done anything like this, this fast, to this extent, this toon ink must have been undistilled. Which meant that much toon ink had made this guy extremely dangerous.
“Furtivo respond, what is happening?!” Jalas tried again for his attention.
But toons, especially new toons were subject to specific universal rules: Comedic timing. Furtivo snapped his vision off of the toon well to the back of the cargo hold, “What’s that over there?!” he shouted.
The toon snapped around, “What where?” he squeaked, but when he turned back the thief was nowhere to be seen.