BestMan's Pirate Territory Tour

One might assume that the motivational speaker, BestMan, seeking to reach the maximum possible audience membership, would have planned for his tour to set up on the beach and address people there. Not so: rather, he'd pitched a number of tents on what amounted to a slightly larger than normal sandbar, just barely out of the water's grasp. It looked like it could be taken underwater by a large wave at any moment. Luckily (perhaps unluckily for BestMan, if he was hoping to draw a crowd), there was essentially no one around. Although a large number of tents had been set up, most of them were empty, with neither navi nor decor occupying them. Even BestMan's own tent was empty, as the navi in question walked around the perimeter with his arms folded behind his back, smiling away from the sunset.

A large man, BestMan had tough, almost leathery tan skin, a broad back, and large hands, the kind of thing that might make him look like a laborer to one who didn't know better. His eyes were crinkled at each corner from excessive smiling, as were the edges of his cheeks. Even now, a large grin spread across his face, although there was no one around to appreciate it. He might look like a madman or a castaway, more so than a laborer, even... This assumption would only be aided by his glistening gold armor, the helmet of which made his head look like a giant trophy cup, with the goblet bowl on top and handle rings extending out on each side, encircling his ear pieces. Blue ribbons were pinned to his armor at various spots, including one that created a two-tailed cape upon his back.

"Any time now... I think the tide's picking up," he chuckled to himself, turning to face towards the sunlight and staring into it. "I can sense a good fortune coming my way. Like always!" At this point, he'd probably seem crazy to anyone watching him, whether they thought him motivation speaker, laborer, or castaway.

Hopefully Torrent was not averse to her element, as it appeared she'd be surrounded by it today.
A subtle bubbling began to foam the shoreline at BestMan's feet. Gradually, the froth developed into a rapid smattering of bubbles, rapidly escalating into a cascading eruption.

A sea-green, one-piece bathing suit-clad woman rose out of the ocean, spraying water over the nearby area. Pipe-like dreadlocks emerged from her crown to slot into a green, glass bubble on her back, all churning with liquid electricity. A deep-blue swimming vest sat tight upon her shoulders and chest. Her legs were bare, save for thick, green boots with a glass bubble on the back of each, similar to the ones on her long, green gloves. She panted, the exertion of her journey obvious, as she crawled one hand at a time out of the surf, spitting out seawater and curses.

"Who makes... *pant*...a jack-in port... *cough* ...come out... *wheeze* ...under the friggin' ocean!?"

Finally making her way to dry land, Torrent rose to a kneeling position, resting her backside on her heels.

<<Wow, Torry! That was, like, the fastest swimming I've ever seen!>> an excitedly girly voice peeped in the air around her, <<I bet SuperBestyMan is nearby! Why don't you have a look around?>>

"Just... give me a minute... alright?" Torrent took a moment to catch her breath, oblivious to the tall, armoured man standing right beside her.
The trophy-clad man stopped grinning senselessly at the sun and craned his head, now grinning senselessly at the girl who'd just clawed her way up onto the beach. He pursed his lips contemplatively, not speaking, as the navi and his operator briefly exchanged and set to rest concerns about the way the navi had jacked in just now. Torrent would not get a chance to catch her breath like she'd asked, as the navi knelt down and pressed one large hand onto her head, right atop the tubes. "Yooo!" he announced, adopting his big grin again. "A fast swimmer, huh? I'd like to put that to the test! The Best Test! But unfortunately, the two of us don't have time for that right now." At this point, Torrent would probably try to get away from him, ask him to remove his hand, or something of that sort, all of which he'd allow, crossing his arms back behind his back and puffing out his chest after standing back up. "You heard correctly. I'm BestMan!"

She'd probably want to introduce herself, which he'd again smile along with and exchange pleasantries. What he wouldn't allow, however, were any of the inevitable questions she'd probably ask as to why they'd jacked in on a rapidly disappearing sandbar, seemingly devoid of any other navis. "You've probably got some questions and that's fine, of course. But allow me to get the important stuff out of the way first, since, as you'll understand, we've got a little 'time-budgeting' issue to work through," he explained, making air quotes with his fingers to downplay the seriousness of the situation. "However! Understanding this story at all is going to require you to understand my ways. The Best Way! So listen carefully..." He paused for a moment, not seeming to yield to his own concern for time sensitivity. "As BestMan, I strive to be the best at everything. I want to break and create world records across the globe! That's just the way I am. There are records I hold," he continued, pausing to shine the armor on his chest, as if polishing a trophy, "and there are records I'm close to holding. There are also records that I haven't tried my hand at yet and records waiting to be established. That's the great thing about records! You can be the best at anything and, as a navi, you have all the time in the world to try," he chuckled. "I'm going to hold the most world records of anybody, though. That's the BestMan Promise."

Having given this speech, he crossed his arms and looked back out over the ocean, smiling in a self-content way. "So anyway, I'm also a motivational speaker, as you know. That helps me pass along my knowledge to others and, more importantly, pays the bills; you see, sometimes, breaking world records isn't the lucrative business you'd expect it to be. People just aren't willing to pay me to prove my savvy at being the fastest assembler and consumer of a foot-tall double-flavor swirled ice cream on waffle cone, insane though it sounds! I put a lot of time and effort into that! You'd think they'd, I don't know, have some sponsorship opportunities, maybe from B & C Creamery or Gelata's chain or something!" he ranted, losing his smile as he went on a tangent. He sounded pretty upset that his skills didn't often translate into money. "Whatever! I don't let it get me down. In fact, I let the harsh injustices of life push me forward on my path to greatness. That's the BestMan Propulsion System," he chuckled, waving off his concern. "Another key part of my BestMan Propulsion System: the Best Girls. There are thirty Best Girls across the globe, whom I pay to offer me inspiration to be the best! They have no specific jobs, although they help me set up on my tours some times, do some PR stuff, occasionally handle meals and gatherings, have some clerical responsibilities, you know, all of that stuff I really don't have time to do with my busy schedule as a world-recognized trend-setter. I outsource those kinds of responsibilities to those on my payroll! That's the BestMan Division of Labor."

"Alright, so, I mentioned I was having a tour today. Setting up here was a cheap, cheap rate: namely, entirely free, minus my own setup costs. More importantly, here, out in the ocean, we have a completely unexploited market: pirates!" He paused for a moment, to let Torrent soak in his genius. "They're an unruly bunch, though, not really the kinds to open up their minds and listen. Further more, they're not really the type to donate... and furthermore, they're the kind to steal the donations left by others in my donation box. But whatever! It's just a matter of understanding the market. This is new business and there's bound to be some bumps in the road. Some kinks to work out of the system! I just look at it as another challenge," he joked, although it sounded like a pretty serious matter. "Anyways, worst of all, they're the kind to kidnap people and hold them for ransom, or at least, I assumed that's why they kidnapped one of my Best Girls. I haven't seen a ransom note yet, but I guess that's probably what they're doing. Of course, the Best Girls are resilient; they'll hold out, unflinching in their loyalty, until I go through the proper channels to rescue them: communicating the NetPolice and beach authorities, setting up a search and rescue team, all of that. The problem is, I don't really have time for all of that, ahem, nor er... the funds for a ransom," he murmured, not wanting to admit the latter part. "You see, I set an important Best Challenge for myself a few months ago. Listen carefully..."

He opened his palm to Torrent; on its surface, a small bottle slowly materialized. The only noteworthy thing about the bottle, although that one detail was alarming enough on its own, was a skull and crossbones symbol on the front. "You know how great people in the past used to consume small doses of poison to build up their tolerance against poisons? Well, I'm doing one better: every day, I take a dose of deadly, deadly poison. If left untended, I'll be deleted, dead and gone within 24 hours. I consumed some of the poison about six hours ago, at the start of the meeting, then put in the GNA request for you about two hours ago once I realized my Best Girl had been kidnapped. I mean, it's a fool-proof system: I take a little poison, give my motivational speaking session, that gives a little time for the poison to settle in right in my stomach and start burning... a good burn, like exercise! That's how you know it's working. Anyway, it started like that about two hours ago and now it's- hrrrrrgh!" he murmured, suddenly hunching over and clutching his gut. "Aaah, there it is!" he guffawed, as if he wasn't being killed by slow-acting navi poison. "Well, Antidote is supposed to give me a specially concocted antidote right about now to ensure that I'm not killed, but they kidnapped her. I'm in a pickle! I need someone to, I don't know, either explain to those pirates that I really need her back ASAP or otherwise steal her back in a feat of daring-do. Whatever seems like the best option. I haven't scoped out the pirates too much lately so you'll need to act on your own judgment," he shrugged. "Ordinarily I'd be right in the combat zone with you, but you know how it is: debilitating poison and all."

"You won't be alone though! One of my Best Girls, who just happens to be in the area and not occupied with other important Best Business, is heading over now to assist you. Her name's Hundred and I employ her as a Best Girl because she's too deep. Like, my God, just listen to the stuff she says! Damn inspirational, is what it is. Really makes you think about life, death, all of that stuff. You're going to love her," he reassured Torrent. "She's one of the best of the Best Girls. That's the Best Best Best Girl Promise." Finally, after what felt like an hour of rambling, he held out one hand to Torrent. "I'm sure you have some questions now, right? Go ahead! And maybe tell me about yourself as well. If you're really such a great swimmer, maybe I'll make you an Honorary Best Girl! Of course, the honorary position is sort of like an internship, or, uh... 'wage exempt' is the term my accountant likes to use."

At this point, Torrent probably had a lot of questions, ranging from things such as the practical, "can you tell me about the pirates in this area?" to the more original, "is there any other doctor you can see given that you're going to die from poison in less than 24 hours?"
With quiet incredulity, Torrent dried herself as the golden-clad navi exhausted his lengthy spiel, only starting in alarm as BestMan's self-inflicted debilitation took hold. She could hardly believe what she was being told. Through a mildly complex series of unrelated (and idiotic) events, she was now placed in the precarious position of having someone's life be entirely dependant on her ability to rescue a kidnapping victim from the clutches of a possibly deranged and/or motley crew of pirates. And all because of a poorly conceived marketing scheme and a world record attempt. A single thought raced through Torrent's mind and inflated every aspect of her conscious being.

Is everyone on the internet freaking inSANE?

Torrent felt her already substandard confidence slowly evaporating like the seawater on her clothes. Why though? This was her chance at being the hero, the star! A perfect set up, just for her. But the old trembles and shakes bubbled to the surface at the thought of putting herself in more danger. Her inner mind saw bloody swords and exploding body parts in the near future, and she almost turned and ran right there. With age-old practice, though, Torrent shunted and buried the fear beneath the flimsy facade of bravado she carried around like a cardigan. She'd gotten herself in this deep. And there was no way she was going to reveal how utterly terrified she was to BestMan.

"No need to worry your poisoned heart, sir!" she said, rocketing to her feet and thumping a fist against her chest. "You stand before the mighty Torrent! Hero of the downtrodden! Slayer of vicious fiends! And the BEST candidate for your rescue mission!"

She didn't really want to ask about the 'pandering to pirates' business, deciding not to delve into the insanity that lead to someone poisoning themselves for fun. Then, perhaps, BestMan might not enquire into Torrent's entirely-fictional persona for evidence of past heroics.

<<That's the spirit, Torry! For a minute there you looked ready to bolt->> The excited chatter cut off as Torrent mentally hit the mute button, grinning awkwardly at BestMan.

"O-okay... so..." Torrent coughed, her demeanour slipping somewhat, "You're... ah... needing me to head off with your... employee, right?" If there was any hope for this mission, it'd probably lie with BestMan's other agent on the scene.

"If you point m-me in the right direction, I'll make sure th-that your friend and your a-antidote are returned in tip-top shape!" Torrent gave an awkward swing of her fist, "Th-that's the... er... best Torrent promise!"
"Excellent! Stress isn't good for me right now. Upsets the poison, you know; makes it hungry, tells it to eat faster! Right now I just need to breath deep... and exhale... and trust the BestMan way! Your way is now the BestMan way; you've exuded that level of confidence and, more importantly, you've been hired by me and given a full, detailed briefing! That means you've inherited my fighting spirit. For the duration of this mission, I dub you Bes-grrrrgh!" the big man rambled on again, before being interrupted by another fit of stomach pain. "O-Okay, I think that was the big guy in the sky saying that he likes your name as it is. So you'll keep being Torrent, for now."

Another figure beamed down nearby, approaching quickly to get their feet out of the shallow water they'd plopped down in. The figure was a woman with a sort of a goth look, with mopey eyes, dark-painted lips, and a black hood and cape pulled over her body. The cape included a metal mantle around the neck and shoulders, which kept the whole thing fitted close around her body; in its surface was engraved a bold-typed number one-hundred. "Everything is present- nothing is left to arrive," she introduced herself cryptically, turning her sad eyes upon Torrent. "All of me is Hundred- no one is left to introduce."

"Hate to interrupt you, Hundred, but that's not quite true. Torrent is left to introduce! This is your partner for the mission, Torrent. She's a swimming expert, as I understand it," BestMan introduced his GNA-provided assistant, slapping her on the back in a friendly but uncomfortable gesture.

"Every talent will be useful- no talent will be overlooked," Hundred nodded. "Everything is water- nothing is land."

"She's saying that being a good swimmer will be handy here," BestMan translated. If one needed this much assistance understanding Hundred, it was seriously questionable as to how their communication was going to go from here on out. "Oh! I haven't mentioned the other big problem. See, there's four pirate groups around this area and I really have no idea which of them would be interested in taking Antidote. I guess you'll just have to take a quick look at all of them and try to decide if any of them seem like the type that'd nab her, or maybe listen in to their conversations? I can tell you a little about the pirates, anyways... If you head... that-a-way," he began, pointing towards the south, "you'll encounter the Jolly Pirates. They're sort of pirate traditionalists, do basically what you'd expect pirates to do. They're led by Jolly now, although Cutlass used to be their leader. Word has it they've softened up a bit since Jolly took over, which is good; soft pirates are ones you can negotiate with!"

"If you head over there," he continued, pointing towards the west, "you'll encounter Bomba's gang. She's a hothead and is the type to burn things more than worry about her own profit... like, she burns a ship, then once it's ashes, takes anything leftover that's valuable. Worries a lot about vengeance and respect and her own territory which shouldn't be intruded upon, and so forth. Not the kind of pirate I'd want to deal with if I didn't have to... But maybe the type to take Antidote as a way of getting back at me for stepping into her territory a bit. If you do go over there, be very, very careful."

"Over theeere," he murmured, pointing out north, "you've got Clipper's pirates. They're a big, fancy gang with huge, extravegant ships. My kind of pirates! Their leader is a real dandy who, word has it, has a penchant for the ladies. Why, you two cuties could use that to your advantage! Except... I hear she's also sharp as a tack! She might be interested in Antidote, given that Antidote is as much an antidote on the eyes as she is anything else. On the other hand, I hear that they don't pull a lot of small-scale operations, so taking one hostage from an admittedly outstanding motivational speaking tour group might be a little beneath them."

"Finally, over that-a-way," he finished, shielding his eyes and pointing east, "is Power's group. Power is a half-pint who uses electricity to power her own crew of robots, as well as to grow herself a foot or so, like some sort of self-modifying Frankenstein! I think that's how that book went. Anyway, she's got a big ego, but I have zero idea why she'd want to steal Antidote... as far as I know, she only does things that will help her in her own research. Then again, Antidote is awfully smart, maybe one of the brainiest Best Girls I have on payroll! I just don't see what curative drinks would offer her, is all."

"All are suspicious- none are free from scrutiny," Hundred nodded along, lowering her head with a thoughtful frown. "Everything is Torrent's decision- nothing can be left to Hundred." No matter how "deep" that sounded, it definitely sounded lazy.

"Of course, I don't plan for you girls to swim! Hop on... the Best Boat!" BestMan encouraged the girls, producing what was essentially a tiny motor-boat with just enough space for two people. The motor on back had a trophy cup motif to it, including one handle that pulled out to form a rip-cord. "Eh... It's not really the 'best boat,' but it is the Best Boat. That's the BestMan Budget, I'm afraid!" he guffawed, slapping the top of the motor boisterously. "Well, the trip over will give you girls time to get acquainted!"

"All would be awkward social situations. No one should feel overly compelled to try to make conversation with me," Hundred warned BestMan, but he laughed it off again. "All is ready. Nothing is reason to hesitate." With those wise words, Hundred climbed onto the boat, then clutched her arms around her knees as she sat, to take up as little space as possible at the front of the boat. Evidently, pulling the cord would also be a task for Torrent. It appeared that the motor would be steered using the more solid of the two cup handles, which also included a button close to the resting spot of the thumb, which could be pushed to give the boat speed and released to slow down. It seemed like it would be interesting and possibly dangerous trying to drive a motor boat this way.

"Don't worry! If you girls get into trouble, Hundred there will break out her secret weapon and show you why she's called 'Hundred.' There's no danger at all!" BestMan chuckled, attempting to reassure Torrent. It would probably be nice to see, as right now, Hundred appeared to be nothing more than a free-loader in a cloak.
Torrent couldn't help feeling a tad disappointed. The new arrival wasn't half the mighty warrior she had silently begged for. The dour women seemed about as threatening as a damp towel, with the same personality to boot. She hoped that Hundred had more than skinny arms and hardcore words of wisdom hidden beneath her cloak.

Still, she had appearances to keep. Torrent tripped vaulted gracefully into the little boat, standing proud by the vessel's best-shaped engine. In the excitement, she could almost quash the mind-shattering terror that was buried in a mental closet in the back of her mind.

"Hello, Hundred! Since this is a boat, I'll be the captain! You can be first mate! Sound good? Great!" Rambling helped distract her from the severed heads and bloody swords her mind so helpfully conjured.

Torrent turned to the shore, saluting. "Fear not, your... your Best-ness!" The motion almost gave away the trembles prickling across her body, but she grit her grinning teeth and held firm. "I will make the pirate rounds and find out what's what! You wait and see! Torrent delivers!"

She wondered who she was trying to convince more. BestMan? Or herself?

Keeping busy, Torrent bent over the trophy-shaped gizmo at the back of her ship. A few pulls of the ripcord produced little more than a grizzly sputter, which sounded suspiciously like laughter. Blushing, Torrent rooted her feet and gave her best yank yet, which resulted in her toppling face-first onto the boat's flooring. Fortunately, the engine grumbled begrudgingly to life, and she scrambled to grip the trophy-like handle, feeling as though she had just won first place in a "Dealing With Stubborn Machines" competition.

The little boat puttered about a little until Torrent had it facing in the right direction. The direction being south, A.K.A. towards the pirate group that sounded the least likely to start cutting throats or whatever vile deeds pirates did to nosy navis nowadays. What even was a "keelhaul"...?

Torrent shook her head, distracting herself from debilitating thoughts by examining the engine's controls.

"Alright then... this button makes it go faster, riiiIIGHYOOOOOAHAHAHAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaa....."
"Everything is-" Hundred started, raising one glove to respond as Torrent named her first mate, but Torrent's rambling had no time to slow for speed bumps.

"Ho ho! I like your moxy!" BestMan congratulated Torrent. "Maybe I should make you my new Best Girl, officially in charge of go-gettitude!" he chortled, crossing his arms and nodding his head as though in serious thought. "That's the right attitude! The best attitude."

"All are potentially empty promises. Nothing is yet proven," Hundred reminded her boss, putting a reign on both his and Torrent's parades. The little girl stayed huddled into a small ball as Torrent attempted to get the Best Boat running, a task that proved more difficult (and slapstick) than anyone had anticipated. "Everything is under control. Nothing is cause for worr-eeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" The Best Girl's last words to BestMan were cut short as Torrent found the accelerate button, causing the ship to rocket forward towards their mutual destination.

No longer concerned with clutching her knees, the girl spread her arms and legs to keep herself braced against the ship so that she was not jettisoned into the sea beneath them. "EVERYTHING IS TOO FAST! NOTHING IS MOVING AT A MANAGEABLE RATE OF SPEED!" she cried out, apparently dedicated enough to her craft (or otherwise thus programmed) to maintain her speech pattern under excruciating turbulence. The good side effect of their blasting forward, however, was that the first wave of pirate ships quickly came into sight. Any chance of sneaking up on the pirates was quickly blown out of the water (although Torrent probably didn't want to think of anything getting blown out of the water right now), given the tremendous noise produced by the boat and the fact that its surface was entirely coated in bright gold paint. Noticing that they would surely be seen, Hundred flattened herself against the deck in a cowardly way, so that the enemies would only spot Torrent. "All are watching you. None are expecting me, so if I keep hidden, I can back you up from the shadows," she reassured her captain, although that sounded a lot like an excuse to stay out of the action again.

Thankfully, it didn't look like any of the pirates planned to attack. Several small boats were positioned alongside a far larger one with tremendous, black sails, bearing the image of a laughing skull in an effective display of stereotypical pirate branding. The small boats each contained male navis in black jumpsuits, wearing helmets like white skulls over their heads. Most of them were currently holding oars, with a few others either sleeping, eating, using handheld telescopes, or other such things. They'd all turned their dark, sunken eyes onto Torrent now, though, and were watching her with interest as she approached the main ship. They must know she was with BestMan, given her boat, but they didn't seem to consider him or his companions much of a threat, as they allowed Torrent and her small boat to approach unimpeded.

When they got close enough to the ship (hopefully, they'd decelerated plenty by this point), they'd find only one way up: a long rope ladder hanging over the side. If there were other ways aboard, they were currently hidden. Another of the skull-headed navis pressed one hand to the side of his mouth and began to bellow loudly. "Cap'n! Two'a them Best Girls is 'ere! Let'um aboard, arrr?!" he called out in the most archetypical pirate voice possible.

"Sure, sure! I'm always open to parley!" a young girl's voice called from above. Torrent would have to think whether there was some reason Jolly would think that they'd come to parley or whether, perhaps, the pirate captain just liked saying parley because it was a stereotypical pirate thing to say. "Or are you two offering to be new hostages for us? Hehehehe!"

Hundred, with her hood still down against the floor, hiding her face, seemed to have frozen up once she realized the other pirates had already spotted her. The swell of her butt beneath her cape just cleared the side of the ship, such that they'd see it sticking up. Hesitantly, she began speaking in a whisper. "... Everything will be made clear to you: nothing can defeat my power. All tremble before my ability to multiply into one-hundred of myself. None can remain quiet upon seeing my fantastic army of duplicates." That said, she didn't seem overly eager to start multiplying or even to get out of the ship. Torrent would probably have to lead the way and hopefully give herself a nice introduction, maybe explaining why she'd come.
The harrowing journey drifted to a stop once Torrent managed to pry her fear-frozen fingers from the golden boat's accelerator. The vessel slowed to a halt, bumping against a much more classically designed ship, overflowing with piratey designs, piratey trinkets, piratey charisma and, most numerous of all, pirates.

Torrent all but gawped at the unsuspecting navi huddled in the little boat. Splitting yourself into a hundred copies? That sounded like a real pain on your brain to keep track of. Would probably make it easier to run away from things though.

"W-well, uh, how about a codeword so th-that you know when to do it?" Torrent suggested. "We'll make it... uh..." Her blank mind flailed for a suitable phrase, something secretively witty with a flair of style...


Torrent's sense of good taste gaped despondently at her brain, which essayed a mental shrug and busied itself with not thinking about its terrible suggestion.

Dismayed, Torrent reached out to grip a rung of the rope ladder and begin her fateful ascent, but paused when Hundred made no move to join her.

"Oooooh no!" Torrent hissed quietly at her companion. She moved behind the prostrate navi and pushed her towards the ladder, forcing her to climb in front of her. "You're n-not letting me face a bunch of crooks and fiends on m-my own!"

Bullying Hundred up the ladder, Torrent followed, each rung taking more effort and perseverance than the last. She wasn't looking forward to meeting with these cutthroats, who may sooner leave her dead than give her the time of day. As she climbed, she felt the stares of pirates on the surrounding boats. They had kept their distance, but who knew when the ruffians might launch an attack? To spite her cowardice, she grit her teeth and harried Hundred to hurry. They had traipsed right into the middle of a den of feckless shenaniganry, a spotlight surrounded by sharp grins and sharper daggers.

But Torrent knew. She knew that when you're in the spotlight, there's only one way to get out of it with your hide intact: Perform.

"Ahoy! Er, mateys...?" Torrent burst onto the deck, barely giving Hundred time to get on solid footing before knocking her forward. She clamped her shaking, fear-wracked body in mental restraints and flashed what she hoped was a winning smile at the band of grinning pirates with their shiny... sharp... is that dried blood on those swords? Oh come on!

"My... er, 'me' name's Torrent, and this is me first mate, Hundred! I'm captain of the... uh..." She glanced down at the shiny, golden, trophy-clad boat. 'Best-Boat' didn't sound quite piratey enough. "The... V-'Victory'! We're here to p-'parley' on BestMan's behalf!"

Torrent essayed a sauntering swagger as she approached the one called Jolly, though it came off more as a stumbling strut. The ever-present trembling threatened to break loose from her mental shackles, but even as visions of bloody cutlasses swung through her mind she desperately held firm to her composure during those few footsteps. Failure would be death.

Not helping, brain!

"We're looking for one of our own, a Best Girl named Antidote." Torrent stopped before the pirate captain. Defying her urge to turn tail and leap off the deck in abject terror, she folded her arms and turned sideways, facing her body away from Jolly but maintaining eye-contact. Though she had made note of the fact that Jolly currently had or was in the market for hostages, she thought it best to keep her focus on Antidote. "She recently went missin' in these parts. Ye and yer boys seen her around?"
"... All of the logic is sound. No one will say 'pancakes' for any other reason than the codeword," Hundred agreed, although she sounded like she was holding back her criticism for the sake of getting Torrent off the boat. Torrent didn't go along with that, and Hundred attempted to brace herself against the boat as Torrent pushed her butt towards the rope ladder, creating an amusing scene that was causing several of the aptly named Jolly Pirates to burst into hearty laughter. Losing her grip, Hundred hurtled forward and ran face-first into the side of the ship, stopping herself from falling out of the Best Boat and into the water only by grabbing the rope ladder at the last second. "E-Everything is a simple misunderstanding. No part of me wanted you to face this challenge alone. All of my clones number one-hundred. No sense could be found in with-holding that advantage for myself," Hundred played it off, slowly climbing the rope-ladder with her short legs.

Once the two made it painstakingly onto the ship, the trek proving a decent workout in and of itself, they would find many more skull-headed navis awaiting, busily cleaning the deck and performing other simple ship maintenance procedures. They were mostly leaving Hundred and Torrent alone, but one navi was not: a young girl with a black tri-corner hat bounded up to them, helping Torrent off the ladder with a perhaps unwanted jerk of her arm. Besides her hat, the girl also wore a set of small black pauldrons, held on by a harness, over a blue, one-piece swimsuit. Her gloves were short and white while her boots were long and black. A short cape adorned her shoulders, black on the outside and red inside, whipping in the wind behind her. She didn't appear to be armed, in any visible way, though navis had a habit of pulling weapons from nowhere. Her eyes were big and blue, and her grin was bigger, making her look younger than the eighteen-year-old she was designed to portray. Her hair was long, tangled, curly, and black, fluttering in the strong wind along with her cape. The gloved hand that was not currently assisting Torrent was currently placed upon her white-feathered hat, to keep it from blowing away, possibly.

"Ahoy and welcome aboard! You're a captain too, huh? I know we captains don't have a lot of free time, so thanks a'plenty for taking time out of your schedule to come visit!" she chuckled, moving her hand from the wrist to the back in a series of healthy slaps. "Victory? A fine name for a larger vessel, perhaps! No trophies just for showing up, especially in the world of pirates!" the pirate captain joked; annoyingly, all of her other pirates laughed along with her in unison. Once she finally backed up to rejoin the other girl, seemingly the only Jolly Pirate who wasn't going to laugh, Torrent put on a look of bravado and swaggered forth to relay her question. "Just a minute! You haven't met my first mate yet, have you? Say hello, Cutlass!"

If Torrent had started to settle in, a prolonged stare at Cutlass would easily undo whatever confidence she'd now built up that she was not in danger of physical harm. The first mate was a tall, well-built, much more mature woman with long, orange-blond hair in a french-braid, resting over one shoulder, and piercing, steel-gray eyes. Her mouth was held in a stern, immovable frown, and she was clad from legs to neck in a gold-and-brown leather ensemble, including a chest protector, gloves, boots, and belt. The tight fit of her outfit showed that she was probably the most mature woman on the ship by another important metric as well. The most noteworthy pieces of her costume, however, were the two over-sized cutlasses hanging from the back of her belt, crossed behind her in sheaths. Each had an ornate, guarded grip, glistening gold in the strong sunlight. "A pleasure," she answered simply, with a surprisingly refined voice unsuited either to her menacing expression or the company she kept. All in all, it was hard to believe Jolly was the captain and not her.

"So! The booty you two are after is another Best Girl, Antidote, is that right?" Jolly asked, smiling and moving in front of Cutlass, as if trying to win back attention. The crew began to laugh, this time without Jolly leading; this caused the pirate captain to become a bit red in the face, fixing them all with an exaggerated gesture, craning her neck around to look at all of them in turn. "You guys don't have to laugh every time I say booty! Sheesh!"

"But it was quite some booty!" one of them spoke up, fist-bumping the nearest pirate. This time, Cutlass gave a glare, causing both of them to drop their fists slowly back to their sides, as if their arms were going limp.

"Contrary to what my men are saying, we are not in possession of said booty!" Jolly finished, moving back over to Torrent and throwing an arm around her shoulder in an overly familiar way, not at all unlike how BestMan had earlier (although considerably less heavy this time). "Still, if you're a captain- though I'm not totally sure you are- then I will not be ungracious! Let me tell you who I think took that booty, personally..." She closed her eyes for a moment, hunching her shoulders as if deep in thought and unintentionally dragging Torrent down with her a bit. Finally, she took a deep breath, then exclaimed: "Power! If anyone's going to do anything scummy like kidnap a motivational speaker's personal assistant, it'd be her!" The other pirates raised their fists, giving a bellow of agreement.

Cutlass shook her head slowly, causing their arms to again seemingly deflate. "Permission to speak, Captain?" she inquired. Jolly quickly- dumbly- nodded her head. "Power doesn't seemingly have much of a motivation to kidnap Antidote. She's only interested in furthering the cause of her own research, or anything that gives her an obvious edge over the rest of us pirates... That is, she has no immediate interest in antidotes, which I'm assuming are the specialty of this navi, based on her name," Cutlass reasoned.

The smallish captain returned a look of shock, then nodded again, holding her cap again to prevent it from falling off. "Of course! A red herring! So who would?"

"The way I see it, you have a few options. First off, Bomba: she is the kind who would see even a motivational speaker invading in pirate territory as a great offense and try to retaliate. If she's taken your hostage, I pray she's in a good mood... otherwise, Antidote had best rely on her advantages as an aqua navi- again, assumed- to save herself from a fiery death. Secondly, it is possible Clipper took her. Clipper... fancies women, as you may have heard. Besides that, it also occasionally appears as though Clipper has access to a trader's market that we cannot locate ourselves... it's possible she'd sell Antidote directly to them, rather than worry about ransoming. Third, there is, of course, the very real possibility that we have Antidote here on the ship, in our brig. There's not much we can do to disprove that, short of showing you the empty brig... and- correct me if I'm wrong, Captain- we aren't planning to allow you below deck, unless it's in manacles."

"Aye! Right, manacles!... Manacles..." Jolly exclaimed, jumping away from Torrent and raising her fists into the airs excitedly... she then fell quiet, looking contemplative.

"Handcuffs," Cutlass offered.

"Right, those! So you'd better take me at my word, Cap'n Torrent!" she encouraged her new friend.

Hundred still stood close to Torrent, now moving in to take cover behind her, since Jolly had released her. She whispered quietly into Torrent's ear. "Everything is simple... Nothing is difficult. All you need do is say the word: pancakes. Nothing else is required," she reminded Torrent. Of course, it was up to Torrent to decide whether that advisement made any sense, given the current situation.

Jolly posed with her hands on her hips, smiling up into the sun, almost as though she was imitating BestMan's earlier pose (although she couldn't stare openly into it like he could). "I'd leave and start with Bomba if I were you! Bomba's so easy to manipulate! She's suuuper dumb, tee hee hee har!" she guffawed, snorting a bit at the end in spite of herself. "All she knows how to do is burn things and she's so afraid of getting wet, why, she almost wets herself!" Another big hurrah and guffaw from the crowd followed the captain's joke, which clearly pleased her.
((Again, apologies for the delay.))

Torrent's swagger faltered when Cutlass stepped into view. Clearly there was something more going on here if this woman took orders from the comparatively unintimidating Jolly. The imposing first-mate's glare bore into her, and Torrent practically withered like a Halloween pumpkin in January.

Despite her somewhat preoccupied mind fantasising about her awful, bloody end, Torrent didn't fail to hear the verbal slip from one of the crewmen. 'Quite some booty' eh? That means they at least had to have seen Antidote at some point... Right?

While the master and commander nattered on about their neighbours, Torrent pondered. These were pirates who had managed to survive on the same ocean as explosive buccaneers, black market privateers and violent marauders. They could be, and probably were, lying through their blackened, scurvy-ridden teeth. The only way she might get to the truth was either if they told her outright... or she went snooping.

Rallying her ragged confidence, she wondered why Hippie was being so quiet all of a sudden. It was unlike her not to comment on such a piratical spectacle. Torrent held a fist over her mouth and whispered: "Psst! Hippie! I need some ideas!"

There was silence from the other end. Torrent worried frantically for a moment, frightened that something had happened to her human friend. Paying closer attention, she realised with an embarrassed groan that Hippie was still muted from earlier. She mentally flicked the mute off and-

<<-took forever to find enough gnomes! Mr Randal really wanted them for his kitchen or garden or moon base or something, but his favourite was this one with a hook for a hand and an eye-patch and a parrot on its shoulder, but I dropped it on the way over and chipped its beak off! I told him it was like that when I found it but->>

Torrent blinked dumbly at the verbal onslaught, then shook her head. "Hey, Hippie! I need some help!"

Hippie's diatribe trailed off at the interruption, soon to be replaced with jovial amusement. <<You do? I thought you were handling it pretty well!>>

Torrent glanced at the surrounding pirates, who occasionally looked up from their tasks to leer at them.

"I c-could be doing a whole lot better!" she hissed. "I have to find out what's going on around here!"

<<Well, obviously, you need to get them to loosen up! Then you might be able to get some more info out of them!>> Torrent could almost hear the sparkle in Hippie's eyes. <<You should dance with them!>>

Torrent's face lost its hold on the scrabble bag that held her expressions, tiles of emotion scattering around her brain. Her face grabbed the first tile it could find, that being the wildcard blank. "What."

<<These pirates look like party animals to me! I bet they'll take any excuse to turn it up and get down!>>

Not for the first time in her life, Torrent cursed her human partner's name. But lacking any alternatives, Torrent had to concede to Hippie's judgement. The girl's insight was sometimes uncannily shrewd. She turned her head slightly and, beneath her covering fist, filled in the slim navi cowering behind her.

"Hey, Hundred. You know how to dance, right? Make your duplicates or whatever and start partying with those pirates." She could feel the withering look searing into the back of her head. "You heard them when we were coming on board. They were very interested in our... Um." Torrent blushed as she subtly gestured to her and Hundred's lower regions. "Just... try to look sexy."

The high-spirited pirate crew were raucously laughing at something Jolly had said. The pose she was holding reminded her of BestMan, and Torrent's rictus grin softened a fraction. She forced herself to laugh along with the pirate crew, the slightest shrill of hysteria slipping out.

The Jolly pirates were no doubt dangerous, and would have no qualms about running her through if she mucked this up. On the other hand, she wasn't being decapitated or fed to sharks at the moment. Perhaps she could work with whatever goodwill Jolly was willing to give her. And who knows? An ally who knew the territory would be a valuable asset. She took a step forward.

"I appreciate ye for yer help, Cap'n Jolly. World's a brighter place with buckos like ye." Torrent visibly scrutinised the still chortling pirate crew toiling away on the ship. "I couldn't help but notice what a... rambunctious crew ye have and I wonder what is it ye do for fun around here?"

Torrent turned away from Jolly and Cutlass, breathing deeply to calm her rapidly beating core. "If ye work everyday, it can wear down on ye faster than... a... v-volley of cannonballs!"

She put her hands on her hips, closing one eye and awkwardly winking to her left at the pirate crew wrestling with a large hoop of rope. "Sometimes, ye gotta unwind."

She winked at the deck scrubbers to her right, gauging their reactions, hoping against hope for a positive sign. "Sometimes, ye gotta let loose!"

She spun on one foot, crossing her legs and raising her hands upwards as she turned back to face the captain and her first-mate. Musical data flooded through her system and into the digital world as Hippie uploaded one of her dance tunes into her navi, a manic grin on her face.

"Sometimes, ye gotta have a party!"

She brought her hands together in sync with Hippie slamming her finger onto her PET's play button.

If Torrent's face was blank and dumbfounded at hearing her operator's suggestion for how to get a handle on the pirate situation, Hundred's was just as much so upon having the directions passed down to her. "Dancing is all? Nothing makes sense," Hundred droned, squinting hard. "Every direction BestMan gives is the worst... but none are as ludicrous as this order," she reiterated, sounding as though she was in disbelief. Thankfully, her fear of pirates seemed to be getting the best of her, so she nodded and readied herself... although, there was every likelihood she was readying herself to disappear in the resulting confusion as well. "All of the Best Girls are trained in the art of dance... None are permitted to slack in our training. Each of the Best Girls is possessed of a natural grace and beauty... None are lacking in womanly charms. Everything is in hand; nothing will-"

"Enough whispering, you two! Have a little manners when you're on somebody else's boat, huh?!" Jolly yelled, but her grin showed that she was probably just joking. That said, she was going straight to talking, rather than letting Hundred get more words in. Perhaps she was the type who became offended when they were left out? She continued her conversation with Torrent at a rapid clip. "Oh, you know it! We Jolly Pirates are the rowdiest bunch you'll meet!" she boasted, prompting a hearty cheer from her crew, who just loved to talk about how rough-and-tumble they were, apparently. "Don't you think that we Jolly Pirates, of all Pirates, know how to cut loose? There's our card-playin' night, our karaok- er, pirate shanties, our Saturday Night stand-up comedy show-"

As Torrent continued speaking, in a desperate battle to get a word in against the chatty pirate, the crew, with their keen pirate senses, began to pick up on the beginnings of a pirate jig. "Jig..." one of the pirates murmured. Another picked up the thought as Torrent winked at him. "Jig...? Jig... Jig! Jig! JIG!" he announced, rattling his saber loudly. The other pirates let out a wail of excitement. "JIIIIIG!"

"Uh, normally, I'm supposed to call the Official Jolly Pirate Jigs, but it's okay this once," Jolly laughed awkwardly, while Cutlass shook her head and clutched her face with one hand, apparently not one for jigs. "You there, go get the beer! You get the rum! You get my jiggin' shoes! And you get the pancakes!" she commanded various pirates, pointing towards the passage to the lower deck as each of her followers saluted in turn. The last one held his hand, not seeming to understand the command. "Our guest said she wants pancakes, so uh... wait, we don't have those," Jolly thought out loud, seeming suddenly lost.

After hearing the word repeated for a second time, Hundred finally picked up on the queue. Wordlessly, she began to duplicate herself... a process that seemed to take about ten seconds... and then one extra Hundred appeared. The crowd was so excited about the jig now, dancing and flailing their arms and legs to whatever-the-heck music Torrent had picked, that none of them even noticed. Hundred continued with her next multiplication... slowly, another began to inch out. "Everyone is in awe. No one can confront me, given the awesomeness of my power," Hundred whispered to Torrent, but it was almost impossible to hear. Realizing that, she tried again. "EVERYONE IS IN AWE! NO ONE CAN CONFRONT-!"

Jolly pushed in, apparently still not hearing Hundred even as the quiet girl tried to raise her voice to get the words out a third time. "Alright, Cap'n Torrent! If you initiated this jig on my ship, I hope you know that I'm forced to interpret a jig-off! Audience's judgment will stand! If you win, I'll give you unrestricted access to my ship!" she offered, again pointing towards the lower deck entrance. "If I win then you... hm..." She turned to Cutlass, hoping for a suggested follow-up, but Cutlass seemed to have decided she didn't have much to offer here; she'd gone below deck already. "Then you... surrender the Victory to me! What do you say?" the little pirate captain chortled, crossing her arms confidently. She was already beginning to tap dance a little; it seemed the jig was imminent. In this sort of atmosphere, it would be hard to refuse her. "Go ahead! You're ready to jig, aren't you?!"

"JIG! JIG! JIG!" the pirates demanded.

"Everything is going as planned... Nothing will prohibit me from creating my distraction," Hundred announced, now up to six of herself. Each Hundred copy had a different number on its mantle, counting down from one-hundred.
It amazed Torrent that the pirate crew's whooping and chanting could drown out the deafening beat of her frantic core. Sweet, salty terabytes! A dance competition? With pirates?! And with lives on the line?!? Torrent's knees almost collapsed then and there. She looked up to the sky, holding back tears. This is all your fault, you nutty fruitcake!

Hippie's manic laughter filtered through Torrent's speaker, echoing not just in her mind but across the ship's deck as well.

<<Bilge-rats and buccaneers! Bite your sabres and uncork the rum! It's time for a swashbuckling-ly scurvy jig-ooooooffff!!!>>

The pirates looked quite content with Hippie's choice of music, the clash of drums and jaunty piccolo somewhat matching the hectic atmosphere. Torrent felt the thumping beat try to get under her skin, but her core was dancing to it's own terrified tune.

Wondering why Hundred hadn't followed through with their codeword, she turned, then lost her jaw as she gaped at Hundred's performance. The way she had described her powers earlier, Torrent had imagined a small army popping out of nowhere. This was... anti-climactic. Almost excruciatingly slow. A number of belittlements and responses marched their way from her processor to her mouth, but all of them got lost in the journey due to the sheer lucridity. Instead, Torrent hung her head in acceptance and returned her attention to the captain.

While Jolly's proposition had the air of a scam about it, Torrent was left with little choice but to accept. Despite all her uneasy instincts telling her to quit, jump ship and swim home, she buried those thoughts beneath an avalanche of guilt. BestMan, and possibly Antidote too, were relying on her. If she gave out now, they would likely die. And what kind of hero would she be then?

"Y-yarr. Yarr! Y-ye got a deal, bucko! A... jig-off it is!"

Something flew towards her. Torrent instinctively cowered, holding out a hand to protect herself from the projectile. The object slammed into her palm and reflexive fingers grasped it. Recovering from her panic, Torrent found a slightly dusty bottle of... well, the label said 'grog' but it could be anything in there. Looking up, she saw a friendly pirate waving to her with a drink in one hand and a hefty stack of bottles in the crook of his arms.

The bottle felt surprisingly light and welcoming, despite its possibly nefarious origins. She glanced around at the carousing corsairs, the slowly-multiplying Hundred and the endlessly jabbering Jolly. She smiled a weak grin at her 'fellow captain', uncorked the bottle and, eyes shut, swigged a mouthful.

The liquid was spicy and sweet and stung her throat, leaving a tangy, coconutty aftertaste in her mouth. Though initially unpleasant, Torrent found herself having a second taste, and a third. A fiery sensation pooled in her gut, her limbs lost some of their frightened rigidity and her core's constant pounding lessened. A long sigh escaped her. This felt good. This felt nice. The fear slowly morphed into nervous excitement and she opened her eyes, latching onto Jolly's with a slightly buzzed gaze.

Torrent took another drink of the pirate grog before thrusting the half-full container into the grasp of a Hundred clone. She stepped forward with legs that were hardly wobbly what are you talking about? The war between caution, elation, exasperation and thrill battled inside her belly. The digital beverage mixed with her electrical fluids, small bubbles of lightning fizz seeping out of Torrent's nozzles.

She took her place before Jolly, centre deck. She rolled her head, attempted to crack her knuckles and stood in her best pre-jig pose, legs wide, hands on hips.

Hippie's dance track finished in a crescendo of bagpipes and techno-accordions. Time was up. The jig was about to begin. Then a terribly cold wave of realisation crashed down through her spine.

"Hippie," she squeaked, switching to a private channel, "I don't know how to dance a pirate jig!"

<<Don't worry about that, silly!>> Her initial song finished, Hippie relented to allow the pirate's own source of music to fill in. <<I got you covered. Just follow my lead! And don't forget to have fun!>>

Despite the calming influence of the grog, Torrent's emotional turmoil, trepidation, responsibilities and terror meant that fun was the last thing on her mind.

She wished she hadn't given the bottle away.
"Yeah, sabres and booze at the ready, buck-os! No scurvy, though! I am firmly against the scurvy!" Jolly laughed along with Hippie, signalling for the pirates to bring over some run for them. "Hey, I'm the pirate here! Only I say 'buck-os!' You just stick to non-pirate words!" the captain scolded her guest. "Just because you're a captain doesn't mean you're a pirate! After all, a pirate's gotta jig, and you know what? I don't think you've got it in you! I don't think you've got the sea legs for jiggin'!" she trash-talked, crossing her arms confidently. The crew all oooooooo'd along like she'd made a wickedly sick burn.

As if in response, Torrent took a fearless swig of pirate swill and prepared to dance her finest dance... before realizing she wasn't exactly clear what sort of dance was fine by pirate standards. "The music's over? You want to jig to our song? You got a lotta brine in your bilgewater, Captain Torrent!" Jolly commended(?) her dancing rival. "The Jolly Pirates will be happy to accommodate! Boys... give her a cord!" As requested, various pirates produced instruments and began playing; the mix of pipe-y, whistly flute and galley drums was a pretty far cry from the dance-core track Hippie had found. Still, the pirates seemed to like it and all began jiggin' as advertised. One of them, on the upper deck nearest the navigation wheel, cleared his throat and began singing in baritone. Torrent would have a difficult time dancing along to his words without knowing which ones were coming up.

"A pirate's flag be a pirate's skull and a pirate's skull be a pirate's head

Wheeen yer a Jolly Pirate, yer jolly and yer dead

Ha ha ha - hee hee hee ho - HA ha ha ha - he he he HO!

A skull don't frown and a pirate don't wed

A pirate don't care 'bout who he takes to bed!

Riddle diddle diddle la ha ha hee heee!"

In a cocky display, Jolly jigged expertly along with the song, not content to let Torrent have the floor alone. Her rapid tapdance kept up with the words easily, even the long peels of laughter. She grinned back at Torrent menacingly.

"A pirate don't work but a pirate gets paid

A pirate don't love but a pirate gets a maid

Ho ho ho ha heee he ha! He ho ho he ha ha HA!

Pirate eats what he want cause a pirate ain't afraid

But the sea eats the pirate and the sea gets faid!

Riddle riddle ho diddle HA ha hee!"

The crowd burst into laughter, indicating that the horrible mispronunciation rhyme was a joke that hadn't lost its charm to them yet. Jolly laughed hardest of all, indicating she may have written the song herself. Sweat had begun to form on Jolly's brow and trace down her hair and neck at the exertion of her rapid leg movements. Hundred was up to about nineteen of herself; most were watching while one drank grog and another threw up over the side of the ship.

"Pirate's got muscle and a pirate's got heart

Pirate's got guts-but-no-intestines so you don't hear him fart

Ha ha ha HA ho ho ho HEE! Riddle diddle diddle hee hee hee HEE!

Pirate don't have no fat and he don't got no wart

But a pirate likes some booty, 'at's his favorite part!

Ha ha ha riddle diddle diddle dee! A pirate likes some boot-ee-EE!"

Amazingly, this line was the one that the song's writer had seen fit to end off with. The pirates were in a state of uproar now, whooping and hollering, clacking cups together raucously. "Everything is unfathomable. No one could have seen that the pirates would all be.... ass men," Hundred murmured quietly as Torrent finished her part of the jig.

How well Torrent's jig went off would determine how the pirates reacted from there on, but Jolly was a sportswoman all the same. "Alright... that's good...!" she huffed, seeming completely out of breath after the dance she'd just done along with Torrent. "Now... play another tune... Captain Torrent... and I'll show you how it's done..." she gasped, wiping at her forehead with her cape, pulled over one shoulder. The pirates each looked to the pirate (or Hundred) next to them while whispering quietly as the sun beat down from overhead.
As the pirate shanty came to a close, Torrent held her knees and caught her breath. She had tried her hardest to 'jig', but her unfamiliarity with the pirate's music and dancing as a whole meant that she'd just sort of flailed around haphazardly in an attempt to poorly mimic Jolly's steps. Now it was Torrent's turn, and she was relying on Hippie to get her through this.

<<Hey, Torry, what rhymes with 'whale'?>>


<<Ooh, nevermind, I got it!>>

Trying not to think about whatever Hippie was up to, Torrent glanced behind her. Her partner had almost two-dozen clones milling around and they were starting to collect stares from the more observant pirates. She'd better hurry up and get on the pirate's good side before they started to feel threatened.

Suddenly, a jaunty piano began to play. The simple, light-hearted tune was easy for everyone to follow along with and the crowd began to clap or stomp to the beat. The atmosphere turned from menacing to invigorating, and Torrent felt a little more at ease as the audience's energy spurred her to begin.

<<Here, Torry, lyrics for your eyes only!>> Hippie chirped. Torrent sensed a dangerously cheeky undertone within her chipper tune, causing ice-cold water to pour down her back. <<Just sing what you read and everything will be alright! Trust me!>>

That Hippie had asked for her trust only gave rise to more concern. Torrent hoped whatever song Hippie had pulled together would be safe to sing and not trod all over someone's toes. Giant, pink words appeared in her vision and Torrent began an awkward shuffle in time to the piano tune as she sang aloud what she read:

"M-my name is Captain Torrent,
I like to roam the sea!
But nothing makes me happier,
Than finding great boo-ty!"

"The bigger the haul, the better!
I weigh it by the hip!
But the biggest booty I found belonged,
To the captain of this ship!"

Torrent flushed scarlet, her embarrassment offset by the sudden roar of raucous laughter from the crowd. She could barely look at Jolly as she caroused with flailing arms and kicking legs, not just because she didn't dare see if the pirate captain was upset by her remark, but also because there were more pink words in her eyes and the next verse was coming up and oh god, make it stop!

"If I showed it to a professional,
They'd say it was worth a lot!
They'd try to keep their collar cool,
But their pants are boiling hot!"

"They'd give it a good appraisal,
They'd say that hers was fine!
But then they'd turn to me and say,
It wasn't as big as- mine!?!"

If Torrent's face was red before, now it practically exploded with colour. While the whooping laughter soared around the deck, Torrent vowed that she'd get back at Hippie for this. She continued her jig, but now that her limbs were loose from grog and her apprehension had been all but castrated by the raunchy lyrics, she found herself really getting into the groove.

"The captains went and had a duel,
To see who's hoard was best,
We dressed up in our stockings, put
Our booties to the test!"

"So then we're set up, side-by-side,
Each knew that we'd prevail,
The judge decreed both fortunes' greed,
Was bigger than a whale!"

Bright faced and tipsy, she couldn't help but giggle at the absurdity of the song and the situation. The plinky piano came around for it's final verse and Torrent found herself belting it out as loudly and brazenly as she could.

"But still we like to sail around,
And sample all the sights!
We party hard and make our mark,
And sing and loot and fight!"

"Though nights will end and suns will set,
We say goodbye with cheers!
And all remember the awesome sight,
Of these captains' giant rears!"

The song wound up to a crescendo, and the crowd joined in on the final refrain.

"Of these caaaaap-taaains giiiiiii-aaaaant reeeeeeeeeeeeeeears!"

<< >;'D >>
The pirates were began clapping along with Torrent's music, being the surprisingly friendly crew that they were, and despite the crew's misgivings, Jolly appeared to be ready to dance, placing her hands on her hips and moving her legs confidently. It wasn't really a tap dance at first, because knowing the beat would be impossible, but she soon understood the basic rhythm and modified her movements to keep up. Only, about a fifth into the song, Jolly seemed to understand that the song was talking about her, causing her to raise her eyebrows and grow a little red herself. "Hey! My booty's not that big!" she responded, although almost too quietly to hear over the sound of the music.

"Naw, she's got you there, boss. Ye've got a bit of a bubble bum," one of the pirates nearby corrected her.

"No I don't!" she protested. "I'm more of the slender type!"

"Honest, I always thought the reason ye wore a swimsuit was because ye wanted to show off yer butt," the pirate contested, watching her bum even as he spoke, now that everybody was. The whole crowd had begun to chant "BOOT-TEE!" partially because it was appropriate and partially because the situation seemed to call for some kind of chant.

"F-Fine! I'm still winning the contest, though!" the captain announced, raising her hands above her head and planting her feet. She planted her hands onto the tall pillar forming the base of the crow's nest and began discreet movements of her hips and knees, accenting her butt with finesse and ease that made her seem like a professional. Her short cape flapped just above the main attraction but never hid it. The crowd loved this and began to chant louder. So much effort was she putting in that she became indignant when Torrent's song implied that the singer had the better hips of the two. Almost as though she was acting out her role in the song, Jolly became offended. "Oh, yours is so great, huh?! I don't know about that!" she responded, twerking harder. This couldn't have been how Torrent had expected this ship boarding to go.

The pirates were all guffawing, chanting, drinking, clapping, recording with discrete video devices, and other logical trains of reaction, while Hundred looked on in stupefaction (all 24 of them). Hearing the cries of BOO-TEE, Jolly clenched her teeth and gyrated as hard as she could; her swimsuit seemed especially immodest at this angle and with this context, as the captain worked hard to "make her booty go" for the booty-thirsty crowd. When the song ended, she slapped her butt with one hand, huffing hard from exertion, and looked behind herself and grinned. "There! Ha... Ha... Haha! Mine's the best!" she announced, turning around and raising a double peace sign into the air.

"I dunno, I think Torrent's is better! You can't really tell cause she ain't usin' it, though," a nearby pirate contested.

"No, dumbass, the contest wasn't about who has the best butt!" a nearby pirate corrected him. "It was about who has the best dance! If ya think about it that way, Jolly was mile's ahead the whole time!"

"No, bonehead, it wasn't about the dance! It was about the song! If ye think about it that way, the visitor wins; her song's an instant classic!" another argued, raising his saber like he intended to fight about it. "I want them to sing it at me funeral!"

All of them continued arguing fruitlessly while Jolly attempted to remind them that no, what are you talking about, it was about the dance and nothing else. Finally, the baritone-voiced, loud skull-headed pirate standing near the wheel gave a loud "AHEM" to quiet them all down. "We should judge them on three factors! The best two out of three wins! First off, the dance... I think we can all agree our captain had a dance that will be remembered for all time! In fact, whoever captured the best angle of it should distribute it around to the rest of the crew so we can all make copies."

The crowd gave a hearty cheer; Jolly grinned over at Torrent victoriously. "Har har! Your plan backfired! I knew all along that I'd win if I- wait, what was that about copies?" she asked, turning her attention back upward.

"Next: song. Never when Captain Torrent of the maiden vessel, Victory, showed up did we expect that she'd give us such a fine, well-developed, and supple set of lyrics! I think it's safe to say it'll be a mainstay of our jigs from here forward, with our captain of course reprising her role in the dance. That song made Torrent the clear winner in that respect," the speaker announced.

Most of the Hundreds clapped and cheered, while the one nearest Torrent gave her a smirk and a thumbs up, with a crafty smile that said "I knew we could do it together" despite her not contributing at all.

"Finally: the bum! We've all seen abundant evidence of our captain's noteworthy bum now, but we've yet to compare Torrent's! The only way to solve this is for each of them to 'put on their stockings' and 'set them up side by side!'" the deep-voiced crew member finished, raising his hands afterward to signal a cheer from the crowd, who all agreed that, of course, that was the only way to resolve the dispute between captains.

"Uh... like... we just press up next to each other?" Jolly asked; it had seemed intuitive in the song but just felt weird to do in real (net) life. She stood next to Torrent and threw her arm around her fellow captain's waist to hold her in place. "Now what?"

"I'll judge!" announced a nearby crew-mate. "But first, I gotta know: what'd ye mean by 'put on yer stockings?' Neither of ye is wearing stockings right now, are ye?" he asked, while staring at butts (or trying to circle around to do so if Torrent instead tried to face him, creating an amusing sequence of Torrent spinning and him running in circles). Apparently, Hippie's song would go down in history not only as a favorite of the Jolly Pirates, but also as an instructional guide for them.
<<Torry! Guess what!>> Hippie exclaimed with devious glee. <<Your video's already got a hundred likes!>>

"V-video!?" Torrent's emotions reeled within her. Embarrassment of strangers ogling her rear raged against her desires for fame and notoriety. "You posted that on the internet!?"

<<Oh yeah! And I was first, too! Not like those no-good, dirty, pirate re-posters...>>

Torrent made a strangling motion toward the heavens, so incensed she was lost for words. If Hippie didn't literally hold her life in her hands...

The deep voiced pirate announced the final match in Torrent and Jolly's duel, a... butt battle...

Colour swamped her already scarlet cheeks. How could this get any worse?

She tried to keep a reasonable distance from Jolly, but the nature of the competition had their backsides pressed up beside each other. She glanced at the pirate captain. Upon seeing a twinge of red on Jolly's face, a shock of cheek and confidence burst through Torrent's mind. She grinned at the captain, comrades in their shared discomfort.

<<What!?>> Hippie shrieked with disbelief over Torrent's speaker. <<You're pirates! Don't tell me you know nothing about the power of stockings! About Absolute Territory!>>

Torrent sputtered in Jolly's grasp. "Hippie! What-"

<<Stockings make butts super sexy!>> Hippie continued her tirade. <<The higher up the stockings go while still revealing skin, the sexier!>>

"We don't have stockings, though." Torrent whispered.

<<Oh. Right. Hmm.>>

Looking over the captain, Torrent appreciated the soft yet tight curves of her opponent's derriere. She became increasingly flustered. Not only were a band of devious, randy pirates ogling her, she was being overcome with competitiveness, and jealous that she might lose to Jolly.

<<I got it! We can win with quantity over quality!>> Hippie intervened.

"Quantity? ...Oh! But... Wouldn't that be cheating?"

Torrent could feel the sardonic stare Hippie was giving her. <<They're pirates, Torry.>>

"Oh. Right."

Torrent turned slowly, like a viper sensing its next meal. She looked at the cheering crowd of Hundreds, a gleam in her eye and a manic, panicked smile. "Hey, Hundred...s? If you want to save BestMan..."

She waited until she had most of their attention.

"Show them your buns."
"Don't get cheeky!" Jolly warned Torrent as the invader put on her best game face, garnering another blast of laughter from the pirate crew. "That wasn't supposed to be a joke!" she ranted at her crew, who kept haranguing her regardless.

All of them shut up briefly as Hippie interjected, showing remarkable prowess related to the field of butt-based showmanship. The boney pirates began murmuring to each other, before the deep-voiced one finally responded on behalf of all of them, "You make a good point, lass. I wager to say you've helped us all learn to deepen our appreciation of a subject already much beloved in our hearts. We'll all heartily encourage our captain to stop going bare-legged and begin wearing tight, sheer stockings."

"I'm not wearing stockings with my swimsuit!" Jolly protested, beginning to seem increasingly less like the captain and more like the servant in the formula.

"Now, the stockings!" the one who'd volunteered to compare the butts rallied, raising cheers from the other pirates, who, to be fair, were not hard to raise a reaction out of. At this point, Torrent and Hippie took a brief aside to decide how to continue without the much-lauded stockings to buffer the act. She decided that her next plan would need to hinge on the resource which seemed most resistant to being utilized in any meaningful fashion, that being her partner, Hundred. Indicative of the problem, the thirty Hundreds were all currently mimicking whatever the other pirates did, so as to blend in more effectively.

The one she'd caught the attention of put on a serious face, but her reluctance was immediately evident once she'd heard the plan... still, she'd been curling up into herself to avoid conflict all day, and this was actually not the most threatening thing she'd been asked to do today, given that the pirates actually seemed pretty harmless, at least considering they were pirates. "All is understood... but nothing is going to be easy," she murmured, shaking out her cloak almost experimentally. It didn't have a play, given the metallic mantle she wore (this one was engraved with the number 97, so she was at least close to the original). Her pale face gained some color as she pouted, sticking out her dark-painted lower lip. "All will have to come off... None will be able to see my booty otherwise." That sounded a little ominous, but it didn't sound like she was quite backing out either. That was a good thing, as the pirates seemed to be slowly noticing that no-one's thighs and buns were accented by newly equipped stockings just yet.

"Well? Have you made up your mind yet?" Jolly asked the judge, straightening up her back again.

"Everything is a farce!" Hundred #97 (or was it more like #3?) shouted, raising her arms to get everyone's attention. "Nothing can be decided yet! Everything is a sham, so long as I have yet to present! No one has been presented all of the options until you see the booty I have to offer!" she announced, a look of determination on her face, although her eyes were always sort of lazily half-open regardless. Perhaps duplicating oneself... or perhaps just preparing to duplicate oneself... took a lot of energy. Not to keep the audience in suspense, each of the Hundreds each found the tallest thing available in the environment to stand upon (a challenge, given that the pirates were all trying to get a better view themselves), then quickly removed their cloaks and mantles. Torrent might notice that it would now be impossible to tell which was the original, not that it really mattered, as one Hundred seemed very like another.

Beneath the black mantle, each of them wore a white undersuit, relatively plain, with black gloves and boots. As suspected, each Hundred was very short. Each sported two-tone hair, with one half black and one half white, but cut into an unfashionable bob-cut, short at the nape of the neck. The most important factor, however, was fairly in-tact: the snugness of her navisuit revealed she had some booty to speak of, though it didn't quite pop in the same way Torrent or Jolly's did.

Still, the pirates seemed to be ecstatic to realize that they were, in fact, surrounded by additional booties. They began cheering loudly as each of the Hundreds reluctantly began pulling off boots or gloves or fiddling with their bodysuits, having no synchronization in how they chose to try to strip down. "All gathered here are fortunate! None has had the privilege to witness my hundred heavenly bodies in their full splendor before!" #97 shouted above the din, closing her eyes tight and struggling to get a glove off as a nearby pirate cheered directly into her ear. One of the Hundreds stepped into two, making it thirty-one, but nobody seemed to notice.

While Hundred was getting out of her suit, Torrent would have a good opportunity to come up with her next game plan. Jolly was desperately trying to get attention back onto herself; she'd come too far not to get a resolution to the contest now. As a result, she was no longer pressed up against Jolly, freeing up her movement. The pirates were thoroughly distracted. The only question now was whether there was anything mission pertinent left on the ship... and also, perhaps, where the more imposing first mate, Cutlass, had disappeared to. It could also be a great time to get out of dodge, if Torrent were so inclined, though it would mean leaving behind Hundred, unless she could find the right one to bring with her. Of course, Torrent could also stay here and oblige the pirates. They'd happily take whatever Hundred was offering and then get back to the contest, lining up Jolly, Torrent, and all thirty-one Hundreds to judge the worth of their booties, if Torrent let them.
<<Yes!>> Hippie whooped in Torrent's ear. <<With this many butts, we'll win surer than sugar!>>

Torrent wondered about the shy Hundred. She'd been pretty reluctant about this whole pirate affair from the start, but then again so had Torrent. Hundred was definitely loyal to BestMan and would probably follow along with Torrent's plans just because BestMan had told her to. Nevertheless, she seemed pretty determined to remove her clothes if it meant completing the mission. She pondered if this was the sort of situation that BestMan often imposed upon his "girls".

Torrent shook herself. Despite the terrifying circumstances (which had been growing marginally less dire and much more ridiculous by the minute) she still had a job to do. If Antidote wasn't on this ship, then one of the other pirate crews had her. And Torrent suspected she'd become slightly drawn and quartered if she tangled with them without an advantage. She needed more help. She needed a plan. She needed someone who had roamed the area for far longer than herself.

She needed Jolly.

Torrent glanced at the pirate captain currently arguing with her crewmembers. She didn't look all that dangerous, but these pirates followed her for a reason, which meant she probably had little compunction or inability to split Torrent in two. That made her dangerous. A detriment to her enemies, but... a boon to her allies.

<<C'mon Torry! Get that keister wiggling!>>

Torrent took a deep breath. With Hundred's help, they might be able to pull off a win against Jolly's exceptional ass. With a victory, they'd get to investigate the ship, and also not give up their only means of retreat. Whatever came after that would happen. Just like... this... "butt-off" happened.

<<Uuuuse the buuuuuutt...>> Hippie whispered in her ear.

Torrent slapped her head. This whole escapade was weird enough without Hippie being... Oh!

Torrent spun on the heel of her boot, facing away from the majority of the pirates. She spread her legs and swayed her hips to the side, her green, one piece swimsuit riding up into her behind. She held her elbows close to her body and shrugged her arms to her sides. Her blue swimming jacket fell from her shoulders and rested on the crux of her elbows, though it still clung to the green glass bulb on her back. Turning her head, Torrent peered over her shoulder at the pirate judges, her face flush. She forced a smile and even essayed a wink.

Leaning over slightly, she presented what her maker gave her to the crowd. Hippie had shown her this pose from one of her sketchbooks. With her arms and legs outwardly pointing towards her rear, she couldn't help but laugh.

"X marks the spot, right boys?"
Like most on Jolly's boat, Torrent found herself thinking about butts, as the word "BOOTY" sprang forth from most of the ship's occupants. She came to the decision that she ought not abandon her plan thus far, that riding it out to its fruition might result in the aid of the pirates, which could be pivotal in ensuring she wasn't later dashed upon the cutlasses of other pirates (or perhaps even these same ones). For their part, the Hundreds were dragging their many feet; the gloves, boots, belts, and mantles had come off quickly enough, but the skinsuits appeared to be lingering. Luckily, the pirates appeared to think they were being teased rather than denied and continued to hoot and holler.

Torrent had a plan to kick the party up to the next level: another sexy, flattering pose with a little dash of pirate euphemism for good measure. It worked, judging by the audience reaction... actually, it worked a little too well. What had been cheers suddenly became growls as various pirates elbowed and pushed each other, trying to stake their claim on Torrent's treasure and bury their shovels, so to speak. In hindsight, her invitation may have been a bit too direct.

"Enough!" a deep voice boomed over the others, as the skull-headed baritone asserted his authority as self-proclaimed judge. "With her jaunty song, her ample buttocks, and her talent for weaving in our favorite seaman's terminology into saucy banter, the maid has opened the sails of my heart and raised the mast of my loins." The audience boomed approval for the decision.

At the same time, Captain Jolly adjusted her short cape self-consciously, then flexed her fingers through the back of her swimsuit to remove a wedge, yet more self-consciously. "Fine, fine! She wins. I didn't want to win a stupid butt contest anyway... I'm slender, and that's a good thing!" she informed everyone, though nobody really seemed to be paying attention to their leader.

All of the Hundreds, who had just shed their skinsuits down to their knees, quickly scampered back into their suits and began redressing. Torrent had just enough time to see their pale, girlish bodies clad in gray-black sports bras and matching boy-shorts, each adorned with their respective number on the front in white, before it was all covered back up, so quickly that the pirates didn't seem to realize they were being denied the show. "Everything is well in-hand," the closest spoke to her, still adjusting the neckline of her suit back up around her chin. "Nothing stands between us and the pirates' cooperation now," she smirked, giving Torrent a look that showed she was happy to have been such an integral part of the plan, the kind that said "no thanks are necessary."

"Unrestricted access it is!" Jolly offered, throwing up her hands for a moment, before dragging one arm across the sweaty, black curls matted at her brow. "Although, most of what there is, you're looking at," she sighed, gesturing again around the ship. "I'm sure the crew would be happy to show you whatever you like and some more. Anyways, though, since you're going to see it anyways... We don't have your captive on the ship! That was just big talk and nothin' else, really... But uh, why don't you just take me at my word, hm? So um... we don't have to go downstairs and tell Cutlass I just lost to you and have to give you unrestricted access to the ship! Sound fair?" she asked, giving a big smile and extending one hand for a shake.

"All is not square; no deal will be completed on those terms," Hundred added, two of them closing in and shaking their heads simultaneously. "Every part of the ship would be considered 'free reign of the ship,' correct? Nothing is out of bounds," she further posited, crossing her arms beneath her reapplied mantle. "Everything includes the navigation wheel... nothing, therefore, is to stop us from taking this ship to our next destination, rather than the Victory."

"That's stupid, I didn't agree to that! I mean, I like you guys, but my ship goes where I command," Jolly disagreed. "And we pirates stick to our own territory, mostly. Listen, I don't know who took um... ButtsMan... know, BestMan, that was it! I don't know who took his girl. So there's really nowhere for us to go, unless you want to go hail all three of the pirates and ask them nicely!"

Hundred turned to Torrent again, smiling knowingly. "All is prepared, Torrent. Nothing can Jolly do, as you are now capable of throwing her crew into full fledged mutiny! All is evident! Nothing is out of reach."

"Well, about that..." Jolly started, seeming like she wanted to correct that statement, maybe like she actually could, but something was holding her back. "O-Okay, just stay above deck! The truth is... Bomba's not too far from here. And my pirates are the best equipped on the seas for dealing with them. I guess we could pull a drive-by on them... although, her little ships are so silly and flat, I don't know where she'd hide anybody there! Har har har!" The joke seemed to have improved her mood again; she didn't stay worried long. "Aw, what the hell! Let's just keep it down so my first mate stays asleep... we'll approach nice and easy, and maybe we'll get a peek at Bomba's bum before she knows we're looking at it!"

"Bums!" a nearby pirate cheered, not really understanding what he was cheering about.

The Hundreds, satisfied now, smiled to Torrent beneath the dark of her hood, waiting to see if they were on the same page. Torrent would have to make her way through newly handsy pirates who were stoked about her buried treasure if she wanted to make her way to the front of the ship, where Jolly was about to head. On the other hand... she might want to find a way to slip below deck and see if Jolly was really telling the truth about having nothing worth seeing.
With a great sigh of relief, Torrent nearly deflated into a green and blue puddle. She'd done it. She'd beaten Jolly, won over the hearts of her crew and hadn't been cut to ribbons in the process. She couldn't help feeling a little bit of pride that her butt was the most desired. Her heart could rest easy now that the competition was over and done.

An armada of hungry stares soon snapped her hopeless heart back into overworked action.

<<Damn, Torry. You even got me a little toasty.>> A cheerful, if slightly flustered sounding Hippie congratulated her. <<Grats on the win!>>

"Couldn't have done it without you, Hippie." Torrent smiled shakily, turning and giving the nearest Hundred a fistbump and a wink. "You too, Hundred. Quality stripping, there."

While Jolly floundered to regain her confidence, Torrent could see the distress evident in the captain's mannerisms. There was definitely something off with her relationship with her first mate. Still, there was a hint of desperate earnestness that lent her credibility.

"I like you, Captain." Torrent smiled at Jolly, swatting a few eager hands away from her derriere. "You've got a good thing going on here, and I respect a girl who can get what she wants. If you say you don't have Antidote, then who am I to barter away the word of a ship's master?"

She smirked internally. That definitely sounded just as good out loud as it did in her head. If Torrent was being perfectly honest, she'd just about had enough pirate scares for one day. And to be reminded that Cutlass was lurking downstairs... She shuddered. Her heart was a shriveled mess from dealing with the rambunctious crew. Another visit from that steel-eyed swashbuckler and she'd most likely abandon ship at the first opportunity. There was no way she was heading below deck.

She considered the milling band of Hundred clones. Perhaps she could send one of them down in her stead? Nah. That seemed like a cruel and unwarranted punishment.

As Jolly moved away, Torrent panicked. They last thing she needed was to be stuck alone in a throng of licentious treasure seekers. She grabbed Hundred's arm and chased after the captain, hoping that a third booty would distract from Torrent's own.

Jolly explained her idea, which sent ice through Torrent's veins like an icebreaker crashing through a glacier. Naturally, if Jolly didn't have Antidote, one of the others did. And Jolly seemed to have a target in mind.

"Y-yeah! Sure! Bomba! Totally!" Torrent gibbered, fumbling for a reply. "So... as Captain, do you have some plan of attack?"

Torrent fervently wished there was. She didn't know if she was ready for Pirate Crew 2: Electric Boogaloo.