What Lies Beyond: Chapter 13

“What do you mean, 'you're Steven'?” she asked, incredulously.
“Lapse used to talk about about searching for another me in the other world. She was convinced that one of the strangers would be the same as me. I never really believed it, but now that I hear about Steven and Michelle it seems she had the right idea all along.”
“Slow down”, she urged him, still trying to make sense of his theory, “how do you know that the two events are related?”
“I never told everyone the full story”, Pack started, looking away from her. “...The night before Lapse disappeared, something terrible happened. Lapse was always coming up with crazy ideas, and I had to keep her in check, you know, for her own safety. We understood each other, Lapse and I, and we were always happy to be together.” He paused for a moment, closing his eyes and smiling a little. “...But that night, when I said no to her latest scheme, she was utterly devastated. She thought that I hated her, and she looked like all the life had gone out of her. I had never seen her like that before, and after that I never saw her again. Something must have happened to her that morning, she was probably so upset that she didn't make it back. When I heard about Michelle and Steven, I felt the same thing. It's exactly the same story. There must be some connection.”
She paused to think for a moment. “Even if that was true, you've already heard the message, and it didn't do anything. We must still need to give the message to Steven in the other world, and we still don't know how to find him. Even if you and Steven are connected somehow, it still doesn't tell us anything about how to save Michelle.”
“On the contrary, it tells us everything.” He turned around, looking up at the night sky. “Whenever she wanted to find me, Lapse would follow the dullest star in the sky. That star will take us to Steven”, he said, pointing upwards. “We should set sail right away!”

Pack rushed back to his ship and immediately set off in the direction he had indicated. Sister walked to the helm of her own ship and turned the wheel to follow him, wishing she shared his confidence as she stared upwards at the distant star. Could this really lead to Steven? And if she found him, would they also find Lapse? Pack hoped so, she realized, but she still wasn't sure. Something about what he had said didn't seem to add up, but what other leads did they have? The sun was beginning to rise, and she desperately hoped that they would find Steven this time.

But first, there was something she had to do: She hurried down from the helm and opened the hatch to head below deck. She quickly turned down the hall towards a specific room, knowing she didn't have much time to make things right.
“I'm sorry”, she said, hugging Hope close to her, “I didn't mean to lash out at you.”
“It's all right”, Hope said, surprised but relieved, “I'm just glad you're feeling better. Are you ready to look for Steven again?”
“About that...” she said, her scepticism momentarily forgotten, “we might just have a bit of a lead on where to find him...”
She returned to the deck just as the sun was rising high in the sky. She pressed her paws to her chest and hoped things would turn out better this time.


Suddenly, there was a deafening explosion immediately to their left, and a shower of dirt and rocks rained down upon them. “That was too close!” cried a nearby man wearing a brown helmet and matching vest. “We're completely pinned down here!”
Corsair lifted the assault rifle off his back and peeked over the outcropping, and he was immediately greeted by a hail of gunfire narrowly passing over his head. He quickly ducked back down. “Can you see where they're shooting from?”, he asked a second soldier.
“The mortar shots are coming from up on that ridge, but we'll never be able to get to it without taking care of those snipers first.” He motioned upward with the barrel of his gun.
Corsair leaned to the right of their outcropping to fire a few shots in the direction of the snipers, but at this distance he had very little chance of hitting anything. “What happened to our backup?” he asked, hiding himself again, “where's Lieutenant Steven?”
“I can't get through!” cried the first man, shaking the little black device he was holding. “It's just static!”
More shots whizzed by overhead. “We've got to get closer”, Corsair told them. When the next mortar shell explodes, I'm going to make a break for that building. I'll need you to cover me.”
“Got it”, said the second man, readying his gun.

Unfortunately, the next shot was right on target. “Scramble!” cried the first man as the mortar shell dropped right on top of them, blowing their hiding place to pieces. Corsair took off towards the building as the other two dove backwards, and in the confusion he made it most of the way before the snipers spotted him. Several shots flew past his head, and one nicked him in the arm, but his comrades fired upon the snipers, and he made it to the wall of the building safely. He immediately started shooting back at the snipers from the safety of his new position, but they were more interested in the others, now left without cover. “Come on!” Corsair shouted to them, taking a moment to reload his gun before firing another salvo at their distant assailants.

And run they did, under heavy fire the whole time, with Corsair proving what little support he could. The second man seemed to make it okay, but the first was moving with some difficulty. “I've been hit”, he said, covering the lower right side of his stomach. The second man helped him get well behind the wall. “Forget it”, he said, “worry about the snipers.” Corsair fired upon them again, and to his satisfaction, he saw one of them slump over. “That's one of them down!” he told them excitedly, but when he turned he saw that the other man had fallen to the ground.
“They got me... twice”, he said, struggling to prop himself up. “My shoulder, too.”

“Hang in there!”, Corsair told him, as he saw another one of the snipers fall. “We're going to make it through this!” He turned back to the injured man and saw him lying on his back, still clutching his stomach, barely moving at all.
“Hey!” Corsair told him, “You can't give up yet!” He paused, looking at the man for a second. “Isn't there something you still want to do when you go back?”
“That doesn't matter now”, he said softly, as a mortar shell exploded in the distance. “...I just wish I could have patched things up with my father. I know he cared about me, but we could just never see eye to eye about things, we just ended up arguing all the time. I hope he doesn't think...” he winced in pain, clutching his side, “...that I hated him.”
“If you care for each other, why did you fight?” Corsair asked the stranger, leaning over him.
“He didn't want me to become a soldier.” he said, his voice momentarily clear again. “Said I had a bright future ahead of me, that someone else could fight, that our family had suffered enough already. But I was the one who answered that phone call.” his voice grew hoarse. “The moment I heard her voice I knew that I couldn't let this ever happen again.” It was suddenly quiet all around them, allowing their hushed conversation to be heard.
“So why didn't you tell him how you felt? Why didn't you clear things up?”
“I always thought I'd get another chance”. His voice was barely audible and his eyelids were slowly drooping. “...but it's too late now... it's getting dark...”

He was right, it was quickly growing dark all around them. Corsair could still hear the sound of gunfire, but it seemed to be passing far overhead now. “I won't forget what you told me”, he said to the stranger, “your story won't be in vain”. He peered at Corsair through one eye, then closed it. To their right, Corsair heard the sound of breaking waves, and his ship pulled up alongside them in a nearby inlet.
“It sounds like our backup's finally arrived...”, he heard the stranger say, but when he turned back he was gone.
“Come on!” called Sabre, waving her paws at him. “It's time to go!”

There was only soft dirt underneath his paw now. “Did he make it back?” Corsair wondered. “Do they have some place to go back to?” He took hold of the ladder and began to climb.

“About time”, she said, irritably, “I was getting worried I'd have to fish you out. Can you believe I was stuck horseback riding again?”
“Did you find out anything?” He asked, hopefully.
“I found out that riding horses gives me a sore butt, and that it's dead boring if you don't have something to shoot with.”
“You were supposed to be asking about Steven”, he reminded her. She rolled her eyes.
“Who cares? That's no fun. I want to do something exciting.” Sabre put her left paw on her hip and narrowed her eyes. “So what did you get to do, anyway?”
“I went to some kind of battlefield in the desert.”
“Ohhh...” she purred, leaning in close, “I bet there were all kinds of guns and things blowing up. Why can't I do things like that more often? You have all the luck.”
“It's not all just for fun.” he said, walking past her to look out over the ocean. “There's something more to it. I feel like we're only scratching the surface of something much greater...”
“Well, we can trade any time you like. I'll be the one plotting ambushes and dodging enemy fire, and you can ride horses and have a picnic. Maybe you'd find something great about it.”
“You know we have no control over who goes where.” Corsair said, not turning around.
“You could at least sympathize with those who aren't as lucky as you”. Her voice revealed just a hint of tenderness behind her brash demeanour. She turned and started to walk away.
Corsair's thoughts returned to the stranger. He wasn't just a part of the battlefield, he had emotions and a story to tell, just like they did. Somehow, the strangers didn't seem so different from himself anymore. He reached over and picked something up from the wall beside him.
“Do you want to go a round?” he asked, tossing a wooden sword to her and assuming a fighting stance. “We haven't done this in a while.”
“You know I'll win.” Sabre smirked, as she turned around, caught the sword, and lunged at him in one smooth motion.

Corsair parried her blow and struck back at her, but she dodged to the side and came at him again. She was amazingly quick, it was all he could do to defend himself against her attacks. She slashed at his head, which he quickly ducked under, and he almost thought he had her until she brought her sword down to block in time, never letting up the assault.

She slashed low, and he narrowly hopped out of the way, but his back foot caught on the board behind him and he fell backwards, dropping his sword as he scrambled to break his fall. She was on him immediately, holding her sword to his throat. “You see?” she said, her tail flicking back and forth. “I win again.”
With a single quick motion, Corsair kicked out with his right leg, knocking her off balance, and batted her sword away. She fell forward on top of him, grabbing at his arms. They wrestled around on the ground, until finally she succeeded at pinning down his arms and legs, with his back flat on the deck. “You're still too slow”, she chided him fondly, leaning towards his face. He snarled playfully at her.

“I hope I'm not interrupting anything” a familiar haughty voice remarked derisively.
“You're not”, Sabre replied. “I've already won.” She got off him and let Corsair get to his feet. Lay stood there, puffing her cheek disapprovingly: “I didn't know you liked to play rough”. Sabre collected up the swords and scurried off.
“What do you want?” Corsair dusted himself off.
“I've come to discuss our progress towards finding Steven”.
Corsair's ears picked up. “Have you found anything?”
“No, and not for lack of trying. My crew found a couple strangers named Steven, but none who understood the message, and the reward for giving it was almost always wet fur.” She folded her arms. “What about you?”
“I haven't really found anything either.” He hadn't really thought much about it, he had just been enjoying asking the strangers questions and hearing what they had to say. “Do you suppose we're running out of time?”
“I don't know”, she shrugged, “but I don't think we're ever going to find him like this. I think we're going about this completely the wrong way.”
“Do you have any other ideas?”
“No”, she sighed, “I was hoping you would. I've tried everything I can think of.”
“Don't ask me. Maybe we should ask Sister, she was the one who met Steven and Michelle”. He wouldn't mind the chance to hear what Sister had learned from the strangers, either.

“You know”, Lay said, looking up at the stars, “you never told me how you found her. Did you just sail around until you found her ship, or was it something else?”
“It was the Black Ship, actually” Corsair said, an idea forming in his mind. “When I went back to where she had been, I saw it in the distance, and I chased after it. Something bizarre happened that morning, but the next evening she was there.”
“You chased the Black Ship?!” Lay asked incredulously, her smug expression momentarily broken by shock. “But everyone knows that terrible things happen when the Black Ship is near!”
“All sorts of terrible things have been happening lately. Perhaps the Black Ship is the source of all our problems.” Corsair clenched his paw. “I'm going to go after it again.”
She regained her composure, and actually, she seemed to be looking at him a bit more warmly now. “Maybe it is, but how would you ever find it? No one knows where the Black Ship sails, it appears from out of the darkness and disappears just the same.”
“I chased it once”, he said, “it sails the waves like any other ship. If we haven't seen it lately, it must be hiding where we haven't been. Trust me, I've found it twice, I can do it again, and I'll make whomever sails it tell me where Steven is.”
“So brave”, she chuckled under her breath, staring at him through lidded eyes and puffing her cheek. “I'd better come along to make sure nothing happens to you.”
“Do what you want”, Corsair told her, looking away, “but don't slow me down. We set sail immediately.”
“Aye aye, Captain”, she said teasingly, wrapping her arms around him and giving him a quick tap on the cheek with her lips. He was surprised by that, but he wasn't as frustrated by her as he usually was. She walked back towards her ship, swishing her tail back and forth the way she always did, but she glanced back a couple times to see if he was watching.

And so two ships sailed out towards the gradually rising sun. Corsair stood at the mast of his ship with his paws on the railings, eagerly anticipating the light's warm embrace. He had scarcely felt so exhilarated. Suddenly, someone punched his arm. He turned to look at her.
“Thanks”, she said, stepping forward to stand beside him. “It almost made up for the horses.”
He put his arm around her as they watched the sun rise together. “I think you'll see some action soon, Sabre. We're headed for something big, I can feel it.”

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