Anomaly #0091 continued

"Christ Almighty! Charon! Did you know this? Did you know this was an actual f*cking ship?! And I guess the black-bearded bastard I'm about to meet is real too!" Zero yelled, his headset mic open.

"Uh Chief, that would be a f*ckin'-A right that everything is real. You may have noticed the sound of heavy gunfire. Would you mind getting your ass up here?! Now!!!"

Zero grabbed the rope ladder that Spartan had tossed over the side of the mighty Queen Anne's Revenge, M-16 slung over his shoulder, 1911 on his right hip.

"Boss, let me go with you!" Lyons shouted through the commotion.

"Negative. Charon's not an operator. Stay with him and stay on the f*cking radio. Whatever happens, it's gonna happen quick."

Zero shot up the rope ladder, combat rolled over the railing and ducked behind some barrels opposite Spartan.

"Whaddya got?" Zero shouted as a heavy musket ball hit the railing between the two men.

"It's all real boss. Every f*ckin' bit of it!"

Zero cracked off a couple of rounds in the direction the musket ball had come from, unsure if he had hit anything as much of the deck was obscured by the smoke grenade Spartan had fired.

"What do you wanna do?!" Zero yelled to his teammate.

"Well, I'm gonna go ahead and say that negotiation is off the table," Spartan shouted back.

"Alright. We can die right here. F*ck!" Zero shouted, noticing movement in the crow's nest. One well placed round center mass dropped the man who was about to fire at him with a flint-lock pistol. In a scene right out of the best action movies, the man tumbled over the railing, crashing to the deck with a sickening thud.

"As I was saying..."

"Boss," Spartan said, motioning for quiet.

Suddenly everything was eerily quiet. Too quiet. Both Zero and Spartan knew that sudden quiet in the middle of a firefight was hardly ever good news.

After straining to hear any sound for 30 seconds or so, Zero spoke up.

"You know as well as I do there were a helluva lot more men on this ship than what we've seen so far."

"No friggin' doubt. What do you think?"

Suddenly the air was pierced by the sound of heavy boot steps coming up the stairs from below deck.

"You don't think..." Zero's eyes shined through the holes in his mask. "You don't think we're really going to meet Blackbeard do you?"

"Hell no," Spartan laughed, trying to play it off. "I figure we'll both meet Davy Jones before that happens.

The boot steps seemed to stop directly across the deck from Zero, maybe 15 yards away.

"Stay down," Zero said, looking over at has friend and teammate. Spartan nodded.

Zero quickly rose to his feet, his M-16 pointed in the direction the sound came from. Then he heard the bang.

It was as if time stood still. Zero couldn't believe he'd made such a ridiculous tactical error. In his anxiousness to confront one of history's most infamous pirates, he'd given up his cover for no good reason.

Everything moved so slowly that Zero was able to watch the ball fired from the flintlock pistol. As the smoke cleared from around the gun that fired it, the round hit Zero center mass. He closed his eyes, the images of all the men he'd fought against and fought for passing in front of him. He waited. And he waited. And he waited some more.

When he opened his eyes, he turned and looked behind him. Sure enough, a huge chunk of the wooden railing had been splintered off. The ball had apparently passed through him, causing no harm whatsoever.

He lowered his weapon. He was staring at Blackbeard.

"No. No. This isn't possible."

"Chief. What the f*ck, over," Spartan called out.

Zero looked down at him, then placed his M-16 on the deck, sliding it across to his teammate. He did the same with his 1911.

"What the f*ck are you doing?!" Spartan demanded. It seemed like his boss was on a suicide mission, but somehow more serene than he'd ever seen before.

"Captain Teach!" Zero called to the man who had just tried to kill him. "Tis an honor to set foot upon the deck of the great Queen Anne's Revenge, and more so to stand in the presence of her captain."

"Come here, boy," Blackbeard said sternly.

"It's OK. Stay here," Zero whispered to Spartan as he walked slowly toward the legendary pirate.

As Zero moved slowly across the deck, he immediately noted that there was not a single body, weapon, or trace of the crew, including the man who had been shot out of the crow's nest.

Spartan couldn't resist, and stood to watch the encounter between Zero and Blackbeard.

"I guess you just doubled your money, boss," he whispered to himself as the two met.

"State ye name and ye business, boy," Blackbeard demanded.

It took Zero a moment to answer. He was still processing the fact that he was standing eye-to-eye with such a legendary figure.

"The name's John Shaughnessy, captain. Irish privateteer lookin' for work on the great Queen Anne's Revenge. Me old flagship were sunk in a wee skirmish with the Brits. Seein' as piratin' is all I know, I'm here in search o' work."

"Work, eh? I might have a job or two. I..." Blackbeard's voice trailed off.

"Captain?"

"Mercy on my soul, I've...I've lost my entire crew."

"Captain, you say 'lost.'"

"Yes lost, ye hearty. Every last miserable scallawag."

"Captain, were they aboard when you set sail?"

"Of course they were, Shaughnessy. It's as if they just vanished. Mind ye, I didn't hire a single man who would desert."

"Aye, Captain. Ye run the tightest ship on the Seven Seas."

"Get Charon up here," Zero quickly whispered into his mic. "Spartan, come forward."

"Captain, I got another strong lad I've known for sometime. Sheamus, greet the Captain."

Spartan stepped forward, but when he attempted to shake Blackbeard's hand, it passed right through his own.

"He doesn't know he's dead," Spartan said softly to no one in particular.

Spartan, though trained as a warrior, had a heart of pure gold. More pure than any yellow metal Blackbeard had ever plundered. He'd held men as they died. He'd sent more than a few to "let God sort them out," but in this moment, he actually choked back a tear.

"Mightily honored, Captain. Tis a privilege to make your acquaintance."

"Do you have a surname, Sheamus?"

"I do, Captain, but um," Spartan's mind raced. "But the Brits want my head on a pike. Laying low is me new job."

"I see," the Captain said, stroking his beard as he thought.

"Well, seeing as I've lost all me other crew, tis well if I welcome ye both aboard.

Just then, Charon climbed over the railing and onto the deck. Zero looked back and motioned for him to approach the Captain. Both Zero and Spartan took a few paces backward.

"Pray tell, who is this?" Blackbeard asked, groaning a little, as yet another unknown soul approached.

"Good Captain, my name is Charon. I am honored to have this opportunity to address such a mighty man."

"Aye, thank ye lad. You seek privateer work as well?"

"With all respect, sir, I do not. Captain, can you tell me what today's date is?"

"Aye. Today is June 6 in the year of Our Lord 1718."

The team members shot knowing glances to each other.

"That it is," Charon said fully aware now of what he was dealing with.

"And where are you headed, Captain?"

"To the Americas there, not far in the distance."

"Captain, I have just arrived from the shore, and I can tell you there is a mighty storm raging just ahead. If I may be so bold as to make a small suggestion."

"Say it, boy," the pirate said, his attention fully on Charon.

"You have a compass, yes?"

"Aye."

"For the safety of the crew and the Queen Anne's Revenge, Captain, adjust your heading two degrees to the north. Once you're clear of the storm, you should be able to resume your current heading."

The Captain hesitated as he processed the information he'd just received.

"Two degrees, eh? And why should I trust ye? How do I know you ain't privateerin' and tryin' to beat me to the punch?"

"I'm not a privateer by trade, sir. I'm a watch maker. And Captain...I'd like for you to have this."

Charon reached into his pocket and pulled out a pristine pocket watch from the early 1700s. He offered it to the Captain. Zero and Spartan were both stunned when the Captain was able to hold the watch in his hands. He hadn't seemed to consist of any solid matter before.

"A fine piece for sure," the Captain said looking it over. "Your work is splendid."

"I'm honored a man of such fine taste would approve of my work. Now, adjust your heading as quickly as possible. Two degrees and you'll be safe."

"Aye, two degrees."

"We must take our leave now," Charon said matter of factly.

"We? These swabbies are the only crew I have. Ye cannot take them."

"Captain, may I reassure you that where you are going to sail you won't need a crew."

The Captain dropped his head a little. Maybe even sniffed back a tear or two.

"Charon...Am I going home?"

Charon grinned at his spirit friend.

"Yes sir. You've seen your last stormy sea."

"Aye, tis been a long time, lad, but I'm coming to understand."

"I knew you would, sir. Permission to speak freely?"

"Tis granted."

"Captain Teach, your legend is already cemented on the waters and off. In the era we're from, they'd call you a badass."

"And this is a good thing?"

"Very much so. Fare thee well, Captain."

"Aye, and strong winds at your backs, mateys."

The members of The Storm Syndicate backed away from the Captain a few paces out of respect, then turned and walked to the rope ladder.

One by one they climbed down, rejoining Lyons in the Zodiac.

"Long live Blackbeard!" Spartan shouted raising a fist in the air. "Long live the Queen Anne's Revenge."

The Zodiac then sped off, all four men looking back toward the mighty ship. It slowly faded until it was gone.

"That sh*t just happened," Spartan said, still looking back even though the ship had vanished.

"How does that compare to your other rodeos, my friend?" Zero asked, grinning behind his mask.

"Bro, that was insane."

"Welcome to your new normal, Spartan. And welcome, officially, to The Storm Syndicate.

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