There are many fine and hospitable beaches across BeachNet where one wish to jack in for a nice vacation or a warm day of lounging. The spot where Jolly and the other pirates had chosen to dock was nothing of the sort. For starters, there was no dock; indeed, the terrain was inhospitable on three fronts: a dense, muggy jungle, leading into a gray beach known for virus infestation, leading into waters known for virus infestation AND rocky coral beds that made the waters dangerous to navigate. This was the only place empty enough of tourism and local authority to serve as a meeting between great pirates.

Four large ships loom in the background. The first and largest, sporting black sails with an all too cliche skull and crossbones printed on, was probably that of Jolly. The next was an open-topped, shallow vessel, tied very close to the shore and far away from Jolly's. Beside that was another large ship, a three-mast clipper with stark white sails. Near the back and almost as large as Jolly's was some sort of metallic future-ship, complete with a lightning rod atop its mast. Nitro might feel fortunate he wasn't boarding that one, although the sky was pretty and clear.

In front of all of this grandeur, camped nearby and providing an amusing contrast, sat TriangleMan, huddled near a fire that didn't seem altogether necessary given the heat. If Nitro was looking forward to sexy pirate captains upon arrival, this may be a disappointment for him.
Nitro and Tina trudged along the beach as they jacked in, the given coordinates putting them about seventy feet away from their intended destination.

"Pretty sure I joined the Teksqp to blow stuff up," Nitro complained. "Not play frickin' diplomat and spy for them. Why do we keep getting stuck with these lame recon missions?"

"Remember Gala's party?" Tina said. "Remember the Bowl 'n' Bones? You've seen the other people in our family; along with Jailbird, we're probably the sanest, most normal looking programs in the Teksqp."

"So we were doomed to play emissary for the crazies since we joined?" Nitro said.

"Sounds about right," Chris said.

Nitro kicked the sand a bit. "Should've joined the Bloodhounds or something. Maybe I'd see a bit of action then."

"Come on, Nitro, we've met some good people," Tina said.

"We've met Jail and Melissa, everyone else is either crazy or someone we were helping have their homes broken into." He sighed a bit, and looked up to see the fire a little ways away. "Whatever, let's just go see Jail. Least we can hang out with her again. I wanna see if she likes that GMO we got her."

"Uh... we're not working with Jail this time," Chris said.

"Great," Nitro groaned. "Is it someone we know, or is it some random whack-job?"

"It's, uh... TriangleMan."

"Seriously?" Both programs said in unison.

"Swell, now we have to deal with his pointy, pompous ass too, and that triangle obsession he's got." Nitro lamented.

"Hopefully he doesn't know too much about what the party was really about," Tina noted.

"Well, just play it cool," Chris said. "There's a lot of money riding on this."

The two nodded, and they approached the fire, and the Navi waiting beside it.

"Hey, TriangleMan," Nitro said with a wave. "Good to see you again." Not...
TriangleMan looked up, presumably staring, but it was hard to tell with his blank, triangular "face" as all one had to go by. "Triangulating... it must be good to see me again, I imagine. Is Jailbird with you?" he asked, tilting his head to look at Tina. "No? Well, good riddance. She'd just get in the way of us two geniuses."

The big navi stood up to his full height and crossed his arms. "That's right; we received the report that Shok was the mastermind behind Mime's framing... the one who killed my predecessor in the name of science! Now, Kismet didn't say as much, but given your actions that day and those of your operator, it's clear to me that you were the key player in determining her guilt. While we thought we were attending an ordinary party, you were masterminding some plan to convict one of us... Phyra and I were both intrigued. I am sorry I underestimated you. And also, that skill makes you perfect for the mission I've thought up."

"The Teksqp are still twisting in the wind... no one is certain how to best utilize our capabilities. I theorize that our unpredictability is actually our greatest weapon; you and I are well suited to work like this because no one knows our agenda. I approached Boss Oni about the possibility of negotiating an alliance with these pirate groups... or at least one of them. He wanted to make certain his own interests were also served, of course, but that's just something we must think of as the fee for his sponsorship of this mission. We couldn't pursue this course without someone to sign off on it," he explained, although past events and the glowing red triangle on his chest plate indicated that he didn't particularly mind the stipulations. "So I thought: who is more perfect for this mission than you, who extracted information while convincing everyone to take off their clothes? That's why I told Oni I needed a partner. I knew you'd be the one to accept. We're both geniuses, after all."

"A woman named Cutlass, Jolly's first mate, will be down for us shortly, so let's go over as much as we can. There are four pirate captains, each with her own ship and specialty. Jolly is an aqua navi who controls waves and currents. Power is an electric navi who controls storms and harnesses their energy. Clipper is a wood navi who specializes in crafting ships. Bomba is a fire navi... she's best at sinking other ships. Their relationship is as such: Jolly hates Power, Power hates Clipper, Clipper hates Bomba, and Bomba hates Jolly. You may notice a pattern there. Fortunately, our goal is not to solve the parley or find a peaceful resolution. Our goal is to use the parlay and our supposed alliance with Jolly to figure out who best serves the needs of Teksqp."

"When Cutlass takes us up, we will meet with Jolly... she's relying on us to organize the Parlay so that means we are free to set the terms. Just remember that our goal is to evaluate the captains and retrieve the photos. The parlay is only a means to that end for us," he concluded. Of course, it may occur to Nitro, Tina, Chris, or all three of them that cutting out in the middle of the unsuccessful parlay might not leave them any options for picking their favorite, or even with any pirates that didn't hate the Teksqp.
Nitro, Chris, and Tina both stood by and listened to TriangleMan's explanation, though the latter two were having a bit of difficulty wrapping their heads around the fact that he had called Nitro a genius. If he thought Nitro was a genius, that would certainly say a lot about TriangleMan's alleged genius.

As they listened to his explanation of the various captains, they did indeed pick up on the pattern laid out. "So, they each hate their elemental 'superior'?" Tina inquired. "Tell me if I'm correct."

"Makes sense," Nitro replied. "If I were a pirate, I wouldn't want to hang around the one that could blow me out of the water." Speaking of blowing things out of the water, given Bomba's name, element, and talent, he had a feeling he'd be able to strike a chord with her. The others, on the other hand, especially Clipper, might be a challenge. "Does the whole 'hate circle' run the other way, too?" Nitro asked. "Like, Jolly hates Bomba hates Clipper hates Power hates Jolly?"

As they discussed the captains further, Chris was trying to work out how they were supposed to organize a parley. Especially considering that they had absolutely no experience in piracy to speak of. He rubbed his temples a bit, groaning. This was going to be a tough one. It wasn't as if they could just get them playing a game of Strip Poker...

"Hey, TriangleMan, I have a question," Chris said, popping up on a video screen. "These pirates... do any of them like to gamble?"
TriangleMan's gems lit up red, possibly out of genuine enthusiasm but most likely simply out of smug satisfaction that the two were playing along with his speaking gimmick. "Triangulating... Yes, that is correct," he answered, folding his metallic, pointed fingers together. "Triangulating... Jolly spoke little of Bomba or Clipper, but had many harsh words for Power. Therefore, my guess is that they must be on otherwise decent terms, besides the elemental aversion."

TriangleMan tilted his flat face upwards, then stood up to his full height and crossed one arm atop the other. "Triangulating... gambling? I have a very hard time imagining that women who make their living performing trades and risking danger would be adverse to gambling. Why? Are we... playing Strip Bowling again?" he asked, his voice feigning passive disinterest, as usual.

In the distance behind Nitro and Tina could see a woman approaching the shore in a small rowboat bearing the Jolly Roger. She looked to be dressed in yellow armor, but it was hard to make out many details from such a range... what was easy to make out, however, was the pair of crossed sabers sheathed at her hips. There was a good chance that she was the aforementioned Cutlass, coming to bring them onboard.
"Strip Bowling?" Chris said. "Do you see a bowling alley? No, I mean, maybe a game of poker or something would be a good means to talk things over. Things would probably be more relaxed if it were in a more casual setting rather than a stiff, official meeting. Maybe even toss a few drinks around, and just maybe they might start betting their boots and tricornes, so to speak. Just so long as they're relaxed. Things might go smoother for us that way too. They might be too wrapped up in the game to notice that we're snapping a few pictures." Eight sentences. Chris figured that TriangleMan would be itching to fill in that last one to make the ninth. A triangle of triangles would likely be too good for him to ignore.

As Chris and TriangleMan talked and Tina listened attentively, Nitro peered past his fellow "genius" and caught a glimpse of the Navi approaching. He saw the sun glinting off the handles of the blades, and figured that she was Jolly's first mate. Realizing that their time for private conversation was short, Nitro turned back to TriangleMan. "So, one last thing before Cutlass gets here," he asked. "Are you providing us with a camera at all, or is that something we're meant to handle ourselves?"
TriangleMan waited, seeming to exude an aura of impatience and looking a little like a children's amusement park robot between shows, before finally understanding what Nitro was doing. "Triangulating... Perhaps. That certainly sounds agreeable to me. On the other hand, we have new limitations that weren't present under your original guise... for instance, the surprising wealth of Mundwoon and her navi SellSoul is not at our disposal. This means that what we can do will be limited by what we can procure, although I would be surprised if they don't have a pack of cards and a table... and even more surprised if they don't have alcohol. Secondly, it may be difficult to maneuver them into playing a game when they cane here to parley, but, well, with my genius added to your demonstrated prowess at manipulation, they will be putty in our hands."

"Triangulating... As for the camera... I assumed you might have one built in. You don't have any pictures of Jailbird from our earlier evening then, I take it? What a waste," he sighed with his usual disagreeable attitude of unwarranted entitlement. "Don't worry. I will manage the photographs."

Cutlass was almost upon them now. He shut up and turned around, blankly facing their new acquaintance and saying nothing.

"Greetings, Teqskp. My name is Cutlass and I'm charmed to meet you," the woman called out from a fair distance away. Closer now, Nitro realized her only armor was a gold breasplate/shoulder ensemble, as well as a metallic rim to her wide-brimed hat. Her gloves and boots were a light brown color while her pants were vibrantly yellow; the pants fit fairly tight, showing off sharply legs that made it seem like she wouldn't be a terrible candidate to inform Oni about herself. In addition to these items, she wore a darker brown undersuit beneath, which buttoned at the neck, just beneath her chin. Her hair, an unrealistically light orange color, was worn in a braid, which sat fashionably over her right shoulder. Two oversized cutlasses hung from the black belt around her narrow waist. Her eyes were light blue and pretty, but her face looked stoic and possibly unenthused.

"Triangulating... Greetings. I am TriangleMan and this is my associate, Nitro. The girl is Tina. We would like to meet with Jolly now."

"Indeed; Jolly has invited you to join her in her quarters for a toast. I trust you two are ready to come aboard?" she continued. Her accent and her speaking both seemed sort of formal and military compared to what one might expect of a pirate.

"Triangulating... yes."

"Very good. Right this way," she finished, leading them back to the boat. Once they were all four on the boat (it was somewhat small for that purpose, especially given the height of both TriangleMan and their rather tall guide), the chit chat promptly ended... She didn't seem to be much of a talker and TriangleMan refused to speak unless spoken too.


The group of four made it up onto deck, where a full crew of navis was hard at work doing all manner of the difficult-to-name procedures involved in the upkeep of a sea vessel. All of them were dressed in black, full body suits with helmets designed like full, white skulls. Each sported the emblem of a Jolly Roger on his chest in white. It didn't look terribly comfortable, given the heat, but nobody was complaining.

"I will wait outside while you three meet with the captain," she finished, stepping out of the way and allowing them a pathway towards a door, built into the cabin. The door was unassuming and brown, but a close look revealed a doorknob in the shape of a grinning skull. TriangleMan nodded and entered in without announcing himself.

The captain's voice was audible before they entered; a woman, singing a spirited but lyricless song of appropriate syllables. When they stepped inside, she was instantly recognizable by her exaggerated black tricorn, which Nitro had correctly supposed she would wear. From beneath it spilled a wave of lightly curled, randomly braided hair, a dark brown color approaching black. All throughout it, black ribbons were tied. The outfit included a short cape, black on the outside and gold inside, which stopped around her elbows. Golden pauldrons in the shape of skulls sat upon her shoulders and she wore knee-height black boots, although no gloves. She wore a black belt similar to that of Cutlass, although hers held a saber and pistol rather than two crossed scabbards, and they hung from the sides rather than the back. What she didn't wear was pants; her major garment was a black leotard, allowing him to see her swimsuit figure clearly enough, insert pirate-related hindquarters joke here. Finally, a golden, skull-shaped breastplate sat upon her chest, bound there by a holster composed of red ribbons encircling her back.

The aforementioned swimsuit figure was notable for two reasons: it was curvy in a way that was sure to please a lecherous samurai-turned-oni, but more interestingly, it was not rough, scarred, muscled, or even particularly tan. Captain Jolly looked more like a college girl at a pirate themed co-ed party than she did an actual pirate.

The room itself was definitely designed for the pirate image... various flags mounted upon the wall along with marked up maps, weapons in lock boxes, books and scrolls. She seemed like a very diligent pirate... especially considering that was apparently what she'd literally been studying. A book lay open upon her desk and upside down, entitled "Net Piracy Handbook- Volume 22: 'Interacting with Peers and Rivals'."

She turned around to greet the three, carrying two giant brown mugs of frothing beer. "Ahoy! Who cares for a drink?" she inquired, putting on a big grin. She didn't seem to have any trouble doing that, which meant her name fit pretty well. "We'd best steel our nerves full before we go to confront the other soul-suckers, eh?"

"Triangulating... Thanks," TriangleMan responded, accepting the drink and starting immediately.

"Now, before we get down to business, I want to raise a toast to the fruitful relationship between my Jolly Pirates and your Techs-Keep organization! Partners in drink, partners in crime!" she announced, raising a mug. The level of camaraderie she was already feeling made it hard to imagine choosing another pirate behind her back. "But I also want to know my toasting buddies! I can tell you all about me, later. Let's talk about you!" When TriangleMan refused to answer due to his petty verbal gimmick, she turned her smiling, yellow-green eyes fixated on Nitro. "What's a Techs-Keep do? And who are you?" She motioned to three deep, red arm-chairs against the wall.
Nitro and Tina each took their mugs with a polite smile and nod, the former having no reservations about having a somewhat generous swig almost immediately. Tina, by contrast, elected to keep her mug lowered. They both raised their mugs to Jolly's toast, and each took a seat in the armchairs as they were motioned to.

"Well, to start with the second question," Nitro said, before taking a quick drink, "I'm Nitro, and this is my partner and SP, TNT, and my colleague, TriangleMan." He motioned to each with his free hand. "Let's see... TNT and I are demolitions experts. We wreck things... professionally." He paused for a moment. "At least, that's ehat we signed onto the Teksqp for."

At this point, Tina jumped in. "Please, call me Tina. And of course, the Teksqp is a veritable melting pot of skillsets," she began. "We get all sorts in our family, demolitions experts like myself and Nitro, cunning strategists like TriangleMan here, phsyciatrists, jailkeepers, morticians, forensic investigators, you'd likely be hard-pressed to find a field that at least one Teksqp navi wasn't involved in... of course, demolitions isn't mine and Nitro's primary area of expertise." She said. "This isn't our first time being sent to represent our family in the interest of forming a partnership with another organisation. We certainly hope all goes well between our family and your crew today and in the future." As a bit of an afterthought, she took a small sip of her drink, so as not to seem rude.

Meanwhile, Nitro gestured to his fellow Teksqp navi. "What about you, TriangleMan? Why don't you tell about yourself?"
"Well, the good news is that if the parley goes south, I may need people suited to blowing things up rather immediately!" Jolly chuckled. "So you guys have done something like this before? With who? Can you tell, or is it a secret?" she asked, opening her eyes wide with curiosity. She drank from her own mug thirstily, turning her head slightly to keep eye contact past the giant cup.

TriangleMan jumped in once Nitro gave him a suitable introduction. "Triangulating... Yes, I am a genius. This qualifies me for all sorts of Teksqp roles, just like Nitro here," he agreed. "My specialties are calculations and geometry."

"You might get along with Clipper then. She's always drawing up something," Jolly replied although her puzzled smile addressed the elephant in the room: what do you use those things for, normally? Still, she thought it better not to ask.

"Triangulating... perhaps. Can you tell us about the others?" he responded, not seeming to notice her expression. His pride likely would have been upset if he had.

"Sure thing! First off, I mentioned Clipper; she's an intellectual and loves designing ships. She dresses fancy and has some friends in high places, I hear... you can tell from the way she acts that she's above it all somehow. There's rumors she can pull of a run in NP territory and not a single cop gets on her. Weird stuff... anyways, she fancies herself a noble pirate, because she's in it for the sport rather than the goods. She doesn't let you see when she's angry, though."

"Bomba is next. She always wraps herself up so nobody knows what she looks like, and she lights the wraps on fire and lets them burn! Some people call her the Ghost of Yumland, but I think she looks like a big, goofy candle personally!" Jolly laughed, as if her own outfit had no silliness one could associate with it. "Anyways, she's an angry one too but she's a lot more up front about it. She's probably attacked all of us at one point or another.... See, she steals to feed some kind of large family or home, I hear, so her stakes are bigger. Her specialty is firebombing, though, and it's almost unfair how fast she sinks a ship..."

"Last is Power. She acts tough, but really, she's just a pipsqueak! She developed some special armor for herself and her ship that makes them power up during lightning storms... She charges it far off the shores of BeachNet where the bad weather is frequent and then trolls us. She's been trying to pick a fight with me a lot lately since... well, it's some political stuff. You guys don't need to know about it," she sighed. "Her whole crew is robots too, probably because she doesn't have any friends. I think she steals things just to use them as funding for her inventions."

The captain put back on her happy face and stood up. "Last, there's me! My Jolly Pirates do things by the book: pillars and plunder to line our own pockets! There's no truer way to be a pirate, right? And you know a bit about me already, I'm sure," she finished. "Now let's get down to business. I've read... that is, my experience is that pirates parley to "grow the pie," so to speak... no use acting individually when we make more money working together. I need you two geniuses to tell me how to do this in a way that doesn't end me up electrocuted, burnt, and possibly keelhauled. Even if they all recognize that I've got two on one against them with Teksqp help, they will probably resent me... and it could become 3 on 2! What do we do to make sure it doesn't escalate?" She finished by looking at TriangleMan, who, of course, wouldn't talk. After a few awkward seconds of silence, she looked to Nitro and Tina instead.
"Well," Nitro said. "I've never been expressly told not to share this with others, and I've kind of made it my business to let people know about these guys... They're known as the Right of Operation Templars, they're a pretty radical group. Basically the whole meeting was a set-up, they had no interest in partnering with us from the word Go, and they intended to attack one of our operatives through the meet-up. Of course, it blew up in there face, quite literally considering I was involved." While Nitro trusted Jolly, his words had a bit of a warning to them, whether intentional or not, that he wouldn't stand for any double-crossing on her part.

Tina, meanwhile addressed Jolly's concerns regarding the parley. "I'd just tell them what you've told us, that you stand to make more money working together than you do as enemies. Each one of you has resources and abilities that, when put together, form quite a formidable team. And if they're upset with your working with us, just remind them that if they work with you, then they all stand to benefit from the Teksqp's partnership as well."

"TNT's right," Nitro said. "I also think that the atmosphere could help things along. If everone's relaxed, they're more agreeable and open to hear you out, right? I say we get some drinks passed around, maybe play some cards, and we're set!" Nitro took a swig of his own drink to punctuate his belief.
"Ah. Nothing worse than an ingenuous ally, I agree! Just because we're criminals and pirates doesn't mean we can't be honest with each other every now and again, huh?" Jolly laughed along, unaware of the hidden mission they'd been given by Boss Oni. "Cards and booze sounds like a good time. I hope none of them are averse to having a good time~"

"Triangulating... I estimate the odds of any one lashing out to be fairly low. I would suggest a betting card game, like poker... although, if any of you loses too much money, it could jeapordize the outcome of the parley. Perhaps there's something else you could wager?"

"Something else?" Jolly repeated; her eyes darted over to the book Nitro had noticed earlier, as if she was trying to think back to any necessity of parley she might have forgotten. "Like what?" she asked, unable to come up with anything.

"Triangulating... Well, we certainly don't want you to bet anything of any major worth; we don't need that kind of power struggle going on in the midst of the parley. I'm sure that the four of you have something of lesser value you could put up for wager... something that all four of you are going to have. A common bargaining token?"

Jolly lowered her eyes to the floorboards and paced thoughtfully. "Boats? I don't have a whole fleet," Jolly answered uncertainly.

"Triangulating... No, I wasn't thinking along those lines."

"... Alcohol? I do have quite a reserve of alcohol, but I'm not certain I've ever heard of any such ridiculous game of poker before."

"Triangulating... No."

She crossed her arms and tensed her eyebrows. Suddenly, her face went red, making her look girlish and not at all like a seasoned pirate. "C-Clothes! You're asking me to bet my clothes!"

"Triangulating... Yes. I think that under such circumstances, and inebriated in addition, the girls will find it impossible to focus on any sort of power disputes," TriangleMan offered.

"Yeah but... I don't want to take off my clothes in front of everyone," Jolly sighed, squirming a little. It seemed a little silly considering she was already wearing a close-fitting swimsuit. TriangleMan said nothing. "Well?"

Of course, now that his conditions were satisfied, he answered. "Triangulating... I have another genius plan. With the aid of myself, Nitro, Tina, and your first mate, it should be easy enough to spy on the hands of our enemies and use covert signals to manipulate the game into our favor. That way, you will only do what you're comfortable with."

"Cheating? Well I'm not against it, but... if we're found out, it's going to be awful," she reminded TriangleMan.

"Triangulating... Don't worry. My partners here have ample experience in deceiving others while feigning innocent camaraderie. I have seen it myself and it is a wonder to contemplate in hindsight."

"Captain!" a voice came from outside; Nitro and Tina recognized the voice as that of Cutlass, the first mate. "Two of the other crew have hailed us. It appears to be Bomba and Clipper. Permission to bring them here using the go-between?"

"Permission granted! Thank you, Ca- er, Cutlass," Jolly responded, seeming as if she was slipping up on a name from lack of practice. "You'll have to forgive me, she hasn't been my first mate for very long and I'm still getting adjusted. I'm going to get some of my men to bring up some supplies for the party. Please ride out with Cutlass and meet our guests, if you will. I've got a few more last minute preparations to make on my side."


Cutlass prepared the same small rowboat they'd used to get over, intending to use it to bring over their guests. TriangleMan looked it over warily. "Oh, now that I consider it... this is a little crowded with just the four of us. With the addition of two, it will be overpacked. Master TriangleMan, please stay aboard this vessel." He didn't complain, but Nitro got a feeling he might want to. Amusingly, there were ways to use his two-line response rule as insurance against his saying something stupid as well.

After taking Nitro and his SP onto the boat, Cutlass decided to elaborate further. "Power wouldn't let me row her over, I'm sure. The two of us hate each other," she sighed. She hadn't said much, but it almost sounded like she had just as much or more of a legitimate beef with Power than her captain did. "She will likely come aboard in some unpredictable way of her own accord."

The ship came aside Clipper's traditionally designed ship first; a figure appeared, staring down at them over the side. At first she was a vision entirely of white and spring green, dressed in a frilled, high-fashion dress with a parasol and bonnet. The only part that upset this initial impression was her extremely dark skin and cold, judgmental eyes. She carried a notepad in one gloved hand- the right, which was not holding an umbrella. "What a pain this is," she murmured, fluttering her long eyelashes briefly before grabbing the parasol in her teeth. As she started over, Nitro glimpsed that beneath the long bell of her skirt, she wore black tights and green high heels. Her hair was done into a tight, dark brown bun. She looked more like a dandy than a pirate.

She made her way down into the ship, then took a seat on the very opposite side of the ship from the other three and lit her parasol above herself again. "If you have not been informed, my name is Clipper. It's good to meet you, Teksqp representatives," she addressed them. "And you again, Ms. Cutlass."

"How did you know they were Teksqp?" Cutlass inquired with no pleasantry.

"Call it intuition?" Clipper responded with a smile, leaning her head upon her fist. Her effortless lie made it apparent that she had given this meeting a lot of forward consideration already.


Shortly after picking up Clipper (neither she nor Cutlass were terribly talkative), the ship rowed over to Bomba's ship. The deck was so low that the woman they were looking for was able to hop right over the side to meet them. She was dressed just as described: her garb was white, although so spattered with brown dirt and grime that she looked utterly out of place next to Clipper, whom she'd landed next to. Her skin indicated she might be an Electopian-ethnicity navi, but most of her features were hidden, besides her fierce brown eyes. Her garb was indeed lit on fire, but it was only the hood; she seemed to have rightly realized that keeping the tails on fire would only alarm everyone on the ship. "Hello," she answered simply, closing her eyes and taking a seat in front of Clipper, who backed away with a distasteful expression, either because of the dirtiness or because of an intrinsic hatred of fire.

"Hello, Bomba," Cutlass replied. "Now we're set to return."

The ship was now fairly packed as Cutlass rowed them back to the main vessel. Bomba sat hunched with bad posture directly in somewhat uncomfortable proximity of Nitro; Tina sat next to Nitro (the fit was somewhat tight) and Cutlass behind the two of them. Clipper sat behind Bomba and did not look at all appreciative of the seating arrangement, constantly glaring at Bomba's hood fire. None of them were really jumping on starting a conversation; if Nitro couldn't think up anything, the first topic of conversation would probably be Cutlass asking that they throw Bomba overboard.
Nitro and Tina both looked up as they heard Cutlass call out from outside. Tina, however, glanced back as Jolly flubbed the name of her first mate. She tried not to dwell on it as they all got up to leave, but she had a sneaking suspicion that the Teksqp weren't the only ones that had had a hidden agenda. She resolved to keep an eye on Cutlass and Jolly as the day went on.


As they came to Clipper's ship, Nitro and Tina were a bit surprised with the captain's appearance. She seemed a bit more high-class than the typical image of a pirate.

They were surprised yet further as she guessed their faction. Had they met before? Tina searched her memory, trying to figure out if she was familiar.

"It's nice to meet you, Clipper," Nitro said. "I'm Nitro, and this is TNT." He sat back as much as the boat would allow, and looked toward the next ship as they ventured over, the one belonging to Bomba.


After Bomba came aboard and they began to head back to Jolly's ship, Nitro was starting to feel the tension building between the passengers on the boat. He figured he'd take it upon himself to start a conversation.

"So, you're Bomba?" Nitro said, addressing the burning navi. "Nice to meet you, I'm Nitro, this is TNT. So, I'm told you have a talent for firebombing. I've actually got something of a passion for explosives and the like, so I'm really interested to hear more about that."

Tina, meanwhile, decided to talk with Cutlass. "So, Cutlass, Jolly mentioned that you only recently became her first mate. Why don't you tell us how you came to be employed by her."
"Firebombing sparks your interest? I wonder if Jolly has the right partner after all then," Bomba laughed, seeming to become spirited quickly as the subject was a favorite of hers. "Explosives are good too, but I like aslow burn myself. It's outdated and sentimental, but nothing makes me happier than a fire at sea... A flame surviving amongst the impossible odds of the ocean, if only for a little while..." she sighed happily. "Even with the power of fire, I'm the underdog out on the sea. But you know, there's not as much to being a firebomb expert as you might think. Most of the ships you encounter on the net are novelties, ill suited for protecting themselves in the case of fire on deck-"

"Novelties! Ha. Anybody can win a swordfight if they bring a gun. Have a little respect for the privateer business and stop relying on underhanded tactics. Your ships would be crushed in an instant if you ever bothered to engage in real naval combat," Clipper complained; firearms could easily be her least favorite subject. "Besides, even if my ships don't appreciate fire in deck, at least we don't cower at the thought of water on our sea vessels."

"Cower? Nonsense! I just have a healthy interest in keeping my weapon stockpiles at the ready, and wet firebombs aren't any use to anyone!" Bomba retorted turning around and leaning her face into Clipper's personal space. It must be pretty amusing watching these rock paper scissors naval battles unfold if they were as immediate and vigorous as the eruption of rivalry between captains.

Cutlass ignored the two; apparently this wasn't news to her. "I didn't want to bother you with the story," she answered, although it looked more like she didn't care to tell it, judging by her unenthused frown.

"Then allow me. I don't mind a bit of gossip," Clipper butted in with a smile, dismissing her argument with Bomba. "Cutlass here used to be CAPTAIN Cutlass!"

"Yes... I recently handed over the position to my first mate, Jolly." After that, she simply stopped talking, as is that was all they needed to hear about that story.

"A most unwise decision! Jolly is an ignorant novice in the ways of pirating. You were the only one to ever match my attack at sea!" Bomba interjected.

"There comes a time where one needs to make way for new minds, even amongst us navis. Regardless of how we age or don't age, old leadership stagnates," she replied. "Besides, all of the business of Captain had become so... tiresome."

"What?! You're bored of matching wits with me?! Impossible!" Bomba scoffed in genuine disbelief, looking sort of upset in a scorned lover way. Cutlass just shrugged. Clipper said nothing, but eyed Cutlass in a way that showed she didn't buy that excuse.

"We have arrived. Everyone, please disembark and use the ladder one at a time. I would recommend you go first, Nitro,"Cutlass suggested. After some thinking, he would likely deduce that her reason for that request was so he wouldn't be looking up the robes of Bomba or skirt of Clipper.


Back on board, Jolly was already greeting a new guest: a little girl with bright blond hair in two big, messy pigtails was arguing with her. Her clothes included an oversized gray cap that made her look like a breakfast cereal mascot, along with an equally oversized admiral's coat of the same color. To each side, she was flanked by silver robots with tall bolts sticking out of their shoulders and flat heads. They had few distinguishing features otherwise, besides their great size. The girl was also lacking some features, in that she was too young looking to have any curves. It looked like she was making some demands of Jolly.

"I have to have my lightning rod! If I don't get it, I'm not parleying, no way!" she complained.

"And no way am I letting you near me with that thing! What if I get blown to smithareens by a huge lightning burst!?" Jolly protested.

"Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing!" the little girl laughed. "But that's not why I need it!"

"Everyone knows why you need it! You should try drinking some milk instead!" Jolly responded, sticking out her tongue childishly and posing to show off her own bosom, raising her arms above her head... although the story how boobs were related to electric power was still a mystery.

"I'll milk you!" the girl pouted, running forward before being blocked by two crossbone pirates.

Cutlass frowned, showing more of her characteristic weariness. "Ahem!" she called out in an authoritative voice. When that didn't work, she removed one of her blades from her belt and held it into the air,producing a metallic scraping noise as she released it. "Ahem!" That got everyone's attention. "We've called you talk here for two reasons: the first being to acknowledge the cooperation of the Teksqp with our own Jolly pirates. The second is to conduct parley in an open format. We will have refreshments and a spot of gambling as well. At this time, perhaps Nitro and Tina would like to give us a few words about today's arrangement?"

The two noticed that a circular wooden table with four chairs had been set up nearby, along with cards and a large variety of booze.... what he didn't see was TriangleMan.
Nitro was a bit surprised to see the diminutive captain as he came up over the side of the boat. From the nature of their true assignment, he would've figured that all the captains would be modelled after a more adult frame. However, from the sound of things, it seemed that she wasn't always so childlike. At any rate, though, it seemed that any pictures they got of her wouldn't be worth much to Boss Oni... unless he liked that sort of thing.

As Cutlass got everyone's attention, Tina was still mulling over her self-demotion to first mate. It seemed to her that there was more to it than what she let on. She figured it'd be worth getting to the bottom of, but she'd hold off on questioning her for now.

When the two Teksqp operatives were given the floor, Nitro stepped forward, giving a quick glance around for Triangleman. He decided it wasn't worth calling attention to, and there must've been a good reason for his absence. With that in mind, he began speaking.

"Okay, so, first off, I'd just like to say again that, on behalf of the Teksqp, we're happy to have the opportunity to with the Jolly pirates," he said with a grin. "Here's hoping for a mutually fruitful partnership for today, tomorrow, and the forseeable future.

"Secondly, I'd like to say that it's a pleasure to meet the three of you as well; Bomba, Clipper, and I'm guessing you're Power," Nitro nodded to the shorter captain in greeting. "Here's hoping today goes well for all parties involved, and we all come out of it in one piece!" Nitro chuckled a bit to show he was joking, but with the way everyone was at each other already, it was certainly a legitimate concern. He hoped the alcohol didn't exacerbate things.
"Thank you for that, vaguely ominous though it be," Cutlass responded. "For tonight's festivities, we have planned a game of poker, along with bountiful food and drink Specifically, tonight's game is strip poker," she informed all of the pirates, who reacted with various displays of surprise. "You can feel free to opt out if you are uncomfortable with that arrangement."

Bomba stomped one foot on the deck angrily; one had to hope that physical force wasn't also part of her ship destruction repertoire. "What the blazes are you talking about, saying something so stupid?! Why would any of us play strip poker?!" she demanded; the little bit of her face that Nitro could see looked red.

"If you're chicken, you don't have to play," Clipper reminded Bomba, smiling as she held her clipboard to her chin. Her smile made her look both wily and excited. "She said you can opt out."

"As if I would refuse a challenge!" Bomba retorted, leaning towards her adversary with a scowl in her eyes.

"Strip Poker? Ha! Hope you're all okay flashing those big boobs! I've got a poker playing proficiency of- calculation, please," Power began boasting, then stopped, crossing her arms and turning her head to one of the robots.

"THREE-HUNDRED AND FORTY-NINE PERCENT COMPARED TO THE DEMONSTRATED ABILITY OF A RECENTLY SURVEYED ELECTOWN POKER COMPETITOR," the robot buzzed; a low, electric crackle came from inside it and Power smiled with satisfaction.

"Poker's all about luck,and what's luckier than one's own ship? I'm going to be the winner tonight!" Jolly exclaimed proudly... but everyone ignored her and looked back to Cutlass.

"You're not playing?" Clipper asked, looking cold again.

"No... the captain will play. The parley was her idea after all," Cutlass responded. "Please, every captain should take her seat. Refreshments will be out shortly." Power bounded over to her seat first; the rest followed up at average pace and got seated around the table. "I will be the dealer tonight. If anyone has any objections, give them now," the first mate suggested.

"You've always been a fair opponent," Clipper responded, frowning passively. "I'm certain you haven't planned anything underhanded."

Jolly continued smiling, but sunk into her seat in an admission of guilt. Luckily, nobody was watching. Next, TriangleMan reappeared on the scene, bringing in a cart of booze and snacks. Nitro was likely not surprised to see that the food was a large number of triangle shaped calzones, arranged into groups of four to create further triangles. "My genius also extends to the culinary arts," he assured each of them. "Now, what would everyone like to drink?"

"Sake," Bomba started. "Nothing beats sake... although with these strange appetizers..."

"Wine," Clipper answered briefly.

"Beer~" Jolly followed with a big smile.

"I'll have ale, and nothing watered down! My alcohol tolerance is-calculations!" Power cheered.


"You're a minor, aren't you? How about some juice?" Clipper suggested, smiling in her direction.

"Rrrgh! Okay... Juice is better anyway," she sighed. "It charges my electrical power!"

TriangleMan prepared the drinks, along with beers for Nitro and Tina. As he got away from the crowd, he addressed them privately. "Remember our roles in this. I will watch Power's hand. Nitro,you watch Bomba's. Tina, you watch Clipper's. If you see they have a good hand,give some kind of signal... I don't know what,something unusual. If they don't have a good hand, just act normal. If no signal is given, Jolly will know to place a bet... That is what Jolly came up with anyway. In the context of our real mission... well, let's just say Captain Jolly can afford to miss a few hands."

"You three, please, join us around the table!" Jolly encouraged her allies with a big grin. "Once we get through the festivities, we'll leave you alone during the parley! But now is the time to drink, eat, and gamble!"

TriangleMan gave them one last secret nod, then took his place discreetly behind Power at the drinks table. Tina would be against the balcony overlooking the lower deck, and Nitro would be at the makeshift calzone station. TriangleMan hadn't mentioned it, but it would be surprising if the other pirates didn't have tricks of their own... and it was also crucial for the greater context of the mission that they get to know the practical benefits of each of the captains so that they could give an evaluation to Boss Oni.
Nitro and Tina both took their drinks (the former immediately drinking from his rather heartily, it seemed he was acquiring a taste for it), and nodded as they recieved their instructions.

"It would probably be less suspicious if we let her lose a few hands anyway," Tina said quietly. "Constant victories would probably hint at some dishonesty."

"Yeah, what she said," Nitro replied. He nodded to Jolly as she beckoned them over, lifting his drink to her. "We'll be right over!" The two took their respective positions, Nitro helping himself to a calzone at his, and waited for the game to proceed.
As it turned out, the calzone was plenty flavorful; the aroma was just as appetizing as the taste. Really, preparing those calzones seemed to be the most genius action TriangleMan had taken since Nitro and Tina had come to know him. "We're all betting our waistlines, I see," Clipper joked regardless, still able to find some. room for criticism. She did spare a glance backward at Tina, who hadn't chosen to grab one. "Are you watching your figure? Good for you," she smirked, then turned back to her cards. It somehow felt like the pirate captain was making fun of her... or maybe that was just the way Clipper seemed to everyone.

"Alright, let's get going! C'mon, I'm going to win everything you guys have and then play dressup with my toys!" Power cackled.

Nodding, Cutlass began to deal the cards. As Nitro and Tina watched, it was obvious that every pirate captain was on their guard for any sign of cheating. Luckily,either because she was trustworthy or because she was very cunning, the former captain betrayed no trickery or even emotion. "Everyone, please view your cards. We will" Cutlass encouraged the table. "After everyone has viewed their hand, we will start first round bets. Because we are using clothes to bet, clearly the process is somewhat different. We will each wager one article to form a pot... then go around the table. You may either call to match the current bet, fold to lose your wager to the pot and forfeit the hand, or raise another article, only one at a time. To wager an item, place it at the center of the table. Once everyone has given their bet, you may choose to redraw your hand, up to three cards and all cards at once. Then we circle bets again and read our cards, revealing hand by hand. Of course, you may not choose to forfeit your seat until you are in your bottom layer or otherwise are the victor of the contest."

"Hey, kinda unfair when you consider how much crap Clipper and Bomba are wearing," the electric captain complained. Nitro and Tina noticed that, even more so than Power, their own would-be captain was wearing very little to bet.

"I'm... actually wearing less than it looks like I am," Bomba admitted from beneath her swirling cloak.

"Not me. That's what you girls get for being immodest," Clipper laughed, smiling as she viewed her cards.

Jolly's smile was so big and unwavering that it was impossible to tell whether she had a good or bad hand. TriangleMan was keeping very quiet; Power looked like she was holding her breath. Clipper continued smirking , but Tina could see quite clearly that her hand consisted of a red three, a red four, a black seven, a black nine, and a black king. Bomba's expression was hard to tell from a distance... but Nitro could see her leg moving under the table excitedly. She had three queens in her hand already, along with a two and a four.

Jolly allowed her eyes to dart briefly up to the mafia navis, looking for any hint of danger. Each player was placing an article in the center of the table now, but Jolly would have the opening bet, so she needed swift information. Into the center of the table fell one of Power's gloves and something like a foot wrap from Bomba (it looked a little sweaty, which was mildly offputting). Clipper offered her hat,apparently unwilling to lose the gloves unless she had to. Jolly placed her own right glove quickly down amongst them, squashing the dome of Power's hat and causing her to scowl.