Swamped – 05Carter’s expression had began as ‘suspicious’ when Siff started to explain her plan, then changed to incredulous as she watched. Eventually he settled on a blank stare as she finished. Siff waited for him to process everything, and she kicked her legs back and forth idly in the air.
They were still treed by the swamp monster, with Siff sitting on a thick branch, hands resting on the rough bark in case she lost balance. She wouldn’t, but the way the day had been going, Siff wasn’t about to take that risk. Carter sat on a branch slightly below hers, one of his hands on the tree’s trunk. Siff was trying very hard not to notice how certain abdominal muscles were flexed to hold his balance. His shirt was still down on the ground somewhere.
“So let me get this straight,” Carter said eventually. One of his eyebrows arched and Siff could tell he wasn’t sure she could pull her end off. Of the plan, not of…her… uh. No, focus, Siff. Focus. Focus on the plan, not on his abs, damnit.
“You want to swim down into the ship that’s crashed,” funny how he didn’t say ‘my ship’, Siff noticed.
“Where the monster thing is, that tried to drown you,” he continued.
“Get gear that might not have survived the crash,”
“Mhm.” Siff had started to jiggle a foot. The wet clothes sticking to her were chilly up in the breeze.
“Which also might be waterlogged and useless-”
“It’ll work, with a bit of elbow grease,” Siff countered.
“Then set off an explosion on the ship, which is mostly underwater,”
“Well, a series of explosions-” Siff corrected.
“–Without dying.” Carter said. The eyebrow had been inching higher with each statement.
“That ‘not dying’ part’s important, yes,” she said with a nod. “At least to me. I don’t really feel like dying.”
“And you say this will help us get off-planet…somehow.”
Ah, he’d either not understood the last part of the plan or she’d not explained it right. Probably a bit of both. Probably mostly her not explaining it right, actually. It made perfect sense in her mind, but finding the words to convey the diagram and acceptable probabilities in her head to someone who was outside her head was difficult.
“Okay,” she said, taking a deep breath. Talk slow, she reminded herself. Use simple words. Not everyone likes science. “So. We are in a swamp.“
The arched brow fell into a scowl.
“Yes, I am keenly aware of that,” Carter said dryly.
“And swamps are full of decaying partic- er, rotting stuff. Like leaves.” Siff waited a beat, watching Carter. When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “Rotting stuff creates a gas called methane-”
“I know-” Carter said, then stopped. He stared at her, eyes going slightly wide. “You want to set the whole skrogging swamp on fire.”
“Well,” Siff said shyly. “Not all of it. Just enough to bring in a few ships to put out the fire before it spreads to the local methane plants. Like, the factory kind of power plants, not actual…vegetation.”
“That,” Carter said, expression of bewildered horror unchanged “Is insane.”
Siff shrugged. She’d been called worse by better people. ‘Sculag’ was a particularly familiar term from back home. It meant weak-minded, though it was usually used by Chiss who were a bit more traditionally minded.
“Okay,” she said easily. Leaning her elbow on a knee, she propped her chin up on her fist and batted her dark blue eyelashes at the human. “Tell me your plan to get out of here then. I’m listening.”
“This is insane,” Carter muttered for the fifth time. Siff stood on the tree limb, balanced on the balls of her feet. She’d peeled off the extra layers of clothing, hanging them carefully over a nearby branch. Wearing a tank and leggings, Siff eyed the water below. It seemed calm, aside from the odd ‘blorp’ of methane bubbles that broke the surface near the wing of the downed ship.
“You’re insane,” he said again.
“Insane is not doing anything and expecting to get magically saved,” Siff muttered, climbing down the tree. “You aren’t very good at improvising when things go wrong, are you?”
“And you’re not a very good assassin,” he countered. She could hear him following her down branch by branch.
“Yeah,” Siff said with a small sigh. “But should you really be complaining that I didn’t kill you? Shouldn’t you be happy about that?”
She hopped down the last few feet, landing on a patch of marsh grass. Looking up, she watched him jump off the tree, landing next to her.
“I’m not sure, it feels like you’re going to get me killed with this plan, and I’d rather die by bullet than exploding marsh gas,” Carter said, brushing bits of tree bark from his hands. Siff got distracted by the way the motion bunched and flexed his biceps, and awkwardly cleared her throat. He was //awfully/ well fit for a smuggler. And clean.
“Actually this is a swamp, not a marsh. Marshes don’t have trees…”
Carter gave her a look that informed Siff he was not interested in the semantics of wetland classifications. She held up her hands, and rolled her eyes. Fine. If he ever got into trouble over not knowing the difference later on, that was his problem.
“Just keep smacking the water on the other side with a branch to keep Mister Grabby distracted, okay?” Siff muttered, and stepped into the water. Her toes immediately sank into slimy muck, and she made a face. Ugh. Gross.
Wading in, Siff took a deep breath as she neared the downed smuggling ship and ducked under the water. Too murky to see, she kept her eyes closed and felt along the ship for the escape hatch on the side that they had swam through earlier. Let’s see, it was a Light Freighter class. XS model, refurbished but still factory-compliant. Siff’s fingers found the door frame, and she grabbed hold of it, pulling herself through and into the ship proper.
Feeling her way down the corridor, Siff made her way to where she’d stashed her kit before everything went to hell. Pulling the bag by it’s strap onto her shoulder, she turned around carefully. Lungs starting to burn, she reminded herself to stay calm until she could get another lungful of air.
Hand over hand, she counted the distance back to the exit hatch, and pulled herself through. For a moment, the bag on her shoulder caught, and Siff swallowed instinctive panic. She was trained better than to let a little thing like being stuck make her lose focus, she reminded herself. Reaching behind her, she guided the bag through the small hatch and kicked hard for the surface.
The rotting and putrid stench of the swamp might as well have been the clearest mountain air for all that Siff cared. It was air and it was breathable. Gulping down lungfuls, she glanced over to where Carter was facing off with a stabbed tentacle. He had a branch at his feet, and the knife she’d given him earlier in his hand, ready to slash at the fleshy-pink thing that was waving in his direction. In other words, he was fine, and she had time to get out of the water.
Staggering in the slippery muck, Siff hurried onto the bank of grass and tree roots, dropping her bag at the base of the tree that still held her clothes. It was dusk now, but there was enough ambient light for her to see, and soon there’d be two to three times that.
“Carter,” she shouted, “Time to take cover.” Unzipping the bag she pulled out the still-dry detonator for the remaining insurance she’d taken out on Carter’s ship. You couldn’t trust smugglers not to space you, so even though she’d joined his ship there were a few blinking items pressed up to the fuel core, even underwater.
Ducking behind the large trunk of the clothes-tree, Siff peeked around to see Carter running over. She scooted down to make room for him… and then flipped the switch.
For a moment nothing happened. Two, four, six heartbeats, and Siff wondered if the explosives had fallen from where she’d mounted-
They felt the boom first. It shook the tree and the muddy grass under the pair. Even through her hands, the boom was deafening. It was followed by a second, then a series of smaller hissing cracks that cut through the air. The swamp around them lit up orange and yellow as the ship’s wreckage burned. Water rained down on them, displaced from the force of the explosion. Siff was pretty sure she saw a few fish and at least one detached tentacle fly by.
Only when the explosions stopped did Siff poke her head around the tree to see how her plan had worked.
The remains of the ship were cracked apart, sitting much deeper in the water now, which had caught fire.
“Siff,” Carter said carefully, peering over her head. “The water is on fire.”
“High methane content,” she said softly, eyes wide. “A really, really, high methane content. I’ve never set water on fire before.” She looked up at him then back to the water that yes, was very much on fire. Little jets of flame puffed up where methane was richest, though a low orange flame had spread to cover most of the water. Siff let out a soft whistle. It was almost pretty.
“You… are not an assassin, are you?” Carter said, watching the swamp burn.
“And you’re not a smuggler, but I won’t tell if you don’t,” Siff countered, looking up at him.