Pulling her senses back into the physical world, Acahya frowned and clicked on her commlink. “Whatever’s resting on the sea floor beneath that wreck is big and magically active, but doesn’t seem to be aware of us—yet.”

“This ship has a giant hole punched into it,” one of the divers reported back. “Like it was hit by a torpedo, but there’s no burn damage.”

“Just get the goods and let’s jet before whatever that thing is decides we’re bothering it,” Opal answered, easing the salvage balloons that would help bring the waterlogged cargo to the surface into the calm waters of the Pacific.

Acahya reached out with her senses and her mind found the playful spirit she had summoned frolicking in some nearby kelp. With reverence and respect, she asked the spirit to watch over the divers, and to let her know if any other magically-active entity neared the dive site. The spirit, obligated to serve but appreciative of her demeanor, spun through the mana currents of the astral plane as easily as if it were a sailfish in the physical sea, circling the wreck in a large arc.

“First balloon away!” a diver reported, after manhandling an oversized crate to the hold doors and attaching the salvage gear. Internal air tanks slowly inflated the large bladder and the lumbering crate began to surface, after banging heavily against a bulkhead.

Acahya couldn’t see what was happening underwater, and honestly had little interest in the mechanics of retrieving shipwrecked cargo. The rebel faction fighting against Aztechnology had requested their help recovering the sunken goods and she was happy to oblige. She had almost never been far enough from land that it vanished over the horizon, and communing with nature of the open ocean was a new experience for her. She was much more at home in the desert scrublands of central Aztlan, but ultimately decided that she appreciated the change in scenery, the opportunity to experience and connect with new and unique environs.

A tearing, rending sound broke her musings, roiling up from the depths as her underwater teammates all yelled at once in her earpiece. “We woke it up!” one screeched.

Flipping her commlink over to the team’s video feed she saw what they meant: a huge claw, larger than a metahuman, was ripping through the side of the sunken ship like a combat knife through paper. An enormous, complex eye could be seen just outside, reflecting all the colors of the rainbow.

“Pistol shrimp!” Ryba—their underwater specialist and part-time oceanographer—identified. Acahya mentally kicked herself; she had asked her spirit to notify her of any other creatures approaching, omitting any which were already present.

The divers dropped what they were working on—namely the positioning of the next crates—and sped away from the ship’s hold as quickly as they could swim. A titanic boom from far below rocked Acahya’s speedboat and sent her crew spiraling in all directions; the pistol shrimp’s massive claw had snapped shut, cavitating the ocean in a flash, setting off an all-natural depth charge designed to stun or kill its prey. The video feeds from her team all cut out in the pressure wave; she didn’t know if they were even alive.

What she did know was she was as good as dead if the beast decided to look upward. Reaching out to her patrolling spirit—luckily one attuned to the metaplane of Beasts—she changed her request. If it could drive off the shrimp, she would release all other services and send the spirit back home. She felt more than heard dolphin-like clicks of agreement.

Unable to see into the depths, and unwilling to extend her senses for fear that the shrimp could attack her through the astral plane, she was left to bob on the ocean surface next to her team’s drone pilot Prince, seemingly unconscious in a seat next to her. She knew better though—he was seeing the world through his machines’ eyes, controlling them at the speed of thought and providing high-altitude overwatch, even as his physical body lay helpless in the small speedboat. It wasn’t too different from Acahya’s longer forays into the mana streams which pervaded the world, her mind and spirit leaving her physical body far behind. Except her gifts were natural and not devised by people in white coats in a laboratory, she snorted, her deep disdain for technology momentarily rising to the fore while she had nothing else to focus on.

After long minutes Ryba surfaced, blinking to get the saltwater out of his eyes. “It left!” he exclaimed. “The damn thing turned and scuttled off!”

“What can I say, I’m good with people and beasts,” she bragged, voice dripping with self-assured bravado, buffing dirty fingernails against her tactical vest. She inwardly whispered a sincere thanks to her spirit—she wasn’t sure it would have been able to affect the monstrosity in the first place.

“That thing made a mess of the cargo hold,” Jewels’ voice came over the comms, another diver. “The big crates are busted open and not all the contents were waterproof.”

Wheeljax—their pilot and driver—chipped in over the radio. Ryba may have been an expert in all things aquatic but ‘Jax was in charge when it came to keeping the mission on-track. “Get as much as we can into the boat. With any luck the goods we’re after survived the attack. Haul it up by hand if you need to. I saw something special down there I’m going to bring up myself. Send me a salvage balloon.”

And thus the operation continued, though communications continued to glitch out and drop signal in the pistol shrimp’s aftermath. More crates were loaded into the speedboat, many pouring out saltwater as they were lifted onto the deck. Cases of medical supplies, military gear, data drives, and more were all added to the growing stack when a facsimile of Prince’s voice burst through the radio static. “We have incoming!” A beat as his high-flying drones repositioned for a better view. “Two corporate waverunners, four goons total. They’re armed.”

“Aztechnology,” Acahya growled. She had spent much of their time asea cleansing the waters of the pollution and corruption their unregulated shipping barges left in their wake. Of course they would send people after a downed smuggler’s ship, particularly one that had drawn the attention of the rebel army—something onboard would definitely tip the balance of their smoldering civil war.

“Those are light little jet skis; they wouldn’t be out here on their own—” Prince paused. “Got ‘em! A cruiser-class ship is ten clicks off. They haven’t seen us yet, but those scouts are going to report in any second.”

“On it!” volunteered Ryba, diving back underwater with all the fluidity of a mackerel. Whatever augmentations he had, be they technological or magical, he was one with the ocean and some of the crew even thought he was more at home beneath the waves than on land. Suddenly one of the two craft, just coming into sight through the morning fog, stopped abruptly, flinging its two passengers high into the air and crashing them bodily into the waves below. Smoke started to pour from the disabled craft—whatever Ryba had done, it had worked.

Sensing danger, the second craft pitched sharply downward, underwater. Neither the pilot nor passenger had time to don rebreathers, but it was obvious they hoped their evasive maneuver would buy them time to devise a plan.

They didn’t count on facing a—relatively—organized team who had both general and individual desires to see the the corporate thugs stopped. Acahya stretched out her hands, weaving strands of mana between her fingers, targeting the half-visible mass making its way toward her. As she snapped her fists closed something fell off the back of the jet ski, something seeming to struggle against an invisible force. Something that desperately wanted to get to the surface but couldn’t. Something that had been on the corporate payroll. Something that wouldn’t be returning to the cruiser. A sinister and sadistic grin spread across Acahya’s face as she felt the man struggle against the tightening bonds of her spell.

“Stop, you’re killing him!” called out Opal as they surfaced with another waterlogged package.

“Not yet I’m not,” she snarled, loosing her captive’s mystic bonds enough that he could—with agonizing slowness and lungs burning for air—fight his way to the surface.

The two men who had been flung from their craft had gotten their bearings and brought their automatic weapons to bear on Acahya and the speedboat, a difficult task while treading water. Before they could fire however, the water between them and their target frothed as a salvage balloon surfaced … with Wheeljax standing atop it, rising from the depths like a mad Captain Ahab returned from the briney deep, holding the machine gun formerly affixed to the bow of the smuggler’s sunken ship. One bout of suppressive fire from the massive weapon convinced them that they were far outmatched. Tossing their rifles aside they struggled to stay afloat as they raised their hands out of the water in surrender.

Acahya hadn’t paid any attention to the goons who almost filled her with lead—her gaze was trained on the man she still held in her magical grasp, choking for breath at the water’s surface, unable to fill his lungs beyond a gasp before being dragged down, again and again.

Ryba and the other divers dispatched the fourth assailant with little fanfare, returning to the task of recovering as much cargo from the sunken wreck as possible before they had to flee the Aztechnology ship waiting for its scouts to report in. They weren’t happy about having to kill, but sometimes it’s a reality when doing clandestine work.

By contrast, Acahya was taking her time, torturing her victim. “You killed my parents!” she screamed at the drowning man as she let him surface. “You raped my country!” Down he sank, then back up once more. “You poison everything you touch!” she hissed through clenched teeth, her eyes flashing amber with the mystic energies she channeled as she continued to abuse the nameless corporate agent.

Loading the last of the packages, the rest of her team looked to one another. They knew she had a strong anti-corporate stance, and was very quick to volunteer their services to the local rebels fighting against Aztechnology, but the depths of cruelty on display were far greater than they could have expected. She was shrieking at the man—likely no older than twenty—as if he were the sole personification of the entire corp and its every bad deed for the past fifty years.

She listed off a litany of crimes from memory, ranging from polluting a local river to an attempt on her life when she was working alongside a group of guerrilla fighters trying to protect their family farms. When Opal put a gentle hand on her shoulder, Acahya snapped her head to fix her companion with a feral, maddened stare, her eyes more akin to those of a coyote or raven than human. Her face was twisted in a snarl of unadulterated, murderous rage.

“Acky, we have to go,” Opal managed, recoiling.

With a sharp, snarling exhale, Acahya grunted her reluctant understanding. “Fine.”

She let the magic slip from her control, letting it fade back into the world’s natural background. Her victim sputtered and gagged as he broke the surface, coughing up water. “‘Jax, how many are left?”

He looked at the two still trying to appear harmless. “Looks like three goons in all, though your boy’s not doing too well.”

“Far better than he deserves,” she thought aloud, before pausing with a sudden idea.

Her grin sent chills down Opal’s spine—it wasn’t the bestial expression born of all-consuming hatred she had worn just moments before. No, this smile was meticulous, cold, and calculated. It was so much worse.

“Let’s go home,” she suggested, gesturing to the captain’s chair as she sat heavily in a padded seat against the boat’s edge. She closed her eyes for a moment, almost seeming dead to the world, before opening them again as the wind and salt spray began, kicked up as the team put as much distance between themselves and the Aztechnology warship as possible.

Acahya sang softly to herself, in a language none of the others knew. She seemed tranquil, like she had found some measure of peace—either in spite of or, more worryingly, due to the violence levied against the goons.

Behind them, where the three men treaded water and waited for rescue, a pair of complex, rainbow-colored eyes broke the surface, followed by an enormous claw.

This story continues the adventures of Acahya and her shadowrunning crew, beginning with Team Dynamics, expanded on in ¡Viva Aztlán!, triumphing in The Seeds of Revolution, recovering in A Piece of the Dream Americana, and reliving the past in Smoke Under Water.

Header image by Aneta Foubíková from Pixabay