What Do You Do With A Problem Like Maria?

 

Deep beneath the waters of the South Atlantic, at the center of a maze of underwater trenches, lies a para-steel dome...built in pieces over a decade, the dome is the home of a nightmare...a nightmare about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world... whispers have begun to be heard...a fishing trawler found drifting, empty of life, only a few blood splashes remaining...a missing yacht...a Nicaraguan patrol boat lost, during a mild storm...

StacyStorm, daughter of the famous female private investigator Honey West, both lives on and runs Stormy Weather Investigations from her sea-worthy yacht Minx.

Finally, a registered letter appears in the PO Box of Stacy Storm, containing the address of a Fortune City high-rise office suite, a certified check for fifty thousand dollars, and a calling card from one Darius Fortune. Founded by the Fortunes, Fortune City vaguely resembles, and replaces, a city something like Miami.

StacyStorm decides to answer the letter, taking her yacht south, docking in the Fortune City harbor and making her way to the offices of this Darius Fortune. Where there is a fifty thousand dollar retainer there may be a very big job.

The adventuress is swiftly passed through several layers of security and bureaucracy, till she is ushered into the large, sunlit office of Darius Fortune, great-grandson of the man who is said to have built the oldest part of Fortune City. He is a man in the 50’s, in excellent shape, his wall has pictures of a younger him in Special Forces uniform, in Europe and SE Asia. He walks with a pronounced limp, and a cane, as he rises, and comes to meet her. "Miss Storm. I appreciate your courtesy in coming to meet me here."

“Hello, Mr. Fortune, a pleasure to meet you... obviously I received your letter...” StacyStorm extends a hand.

The man takes the hand in his own, large, calloused to an amazing degree for an aging executive. "I'm pleased that you did. You come highly recommended. May I offer you something to drink?"

StacyStorm nods. "Certainly, a pina colada perhaps..." She smiles, giving her straight blond hair a toss over a bare shoulder.

He nods, and goes to the well-stocked bar, making her drink, and a light rum and coke for himself, balancing a small tray easily as he makes his way to his desk. "Please, come be comfortable. I wish my Elena could be here to meet you, she was a friend of your mother's. But, she is in Hawaii, caring for my grandchildren." He sets the tray down, several chairs in front of the desk, then goes and sits himself.

StacyStorm moves to take a seat, glimpses of well-muscled thigh visible through the slit that runs up the left side of her long purple dress almost to the waist. She sits down and takes her drink. "Your Elena? Your wife knows my mother?" She smiles and slips off her fashionable flip-flops.

"Indeed. I believe they met in college. My Elena has followed your activities with great interest." He glances at a picture of a large yacht on the wall, and frowns. "I apologize for being uncivil, but I'd like you to make an investigation for me."

StacyStorm shakes her head. "No need to apologize... I came here hoping you had a job for me... I didn't realize you knew the family... I can't wait to ask mom about Elena... so what's up? Maybe Stormy Weather Investigations can help you..." She sips her cold drink...

He sits back, and takes a thick file from his desk, sliding it towards her. In a plastic case atop it is a DVD, both file and DVD are marked Maria. The file looks new, but its literally stuffed full. "Two weeks ago, my youngest daughter Maria, and her second husband, Nicolo, took my yacht, the Fortune's Lady, on an anniversary cruise in the Caribbean Isles. Two days after leaving St. Kitts, they vanished. No radio, no satellite locator, no debris, no... well… no bodies."

StacyStorm has a look of genuine concern move across her face, nodding as she sets down the drink and begins to look through the file. "I see... so can I assume you're wanting me to see what I can find... since it's probably out of the jurisdiction of any local government?"

"It's outside all but San Columbo Island jurisdiction, and they refused US Coast Guard assistance, when I arranged for it to be offered. The police there say it’s simple piracy. But none of the signs of such a thing are there. I want my daughter back, Miss Storm. Do that, and you'll have five hundred thousand dollars, plus your legitimate expenses."

StacyStorm stands, gathering up the file. "Let me waste no time then... may I take the file to study on the way to San Columbo? I'll sail there on my yacht and start an investigation immediately. It was nice to meet you, Mr. Fortune. I'll get you answers... and hopefully your daughter... no kidnap demands I take it?"

"Nothing. I hate to jog a professional's elbow, Miss Storm, but you have two weeks. If there is no progress by then, I'll move to the next step."

“That's your prerogative at any time, Mr. Fortune... though any expenses incurred would still be charged... let's hope I've returned her to you before then...” Stacy Storm smiles and takes the file, leaving her drink half finished.

"It's not a matter of cost, Miss Storm. I've been lucky with money, and I inherited a lot. But if you fail, I will burn that island to bedrock, to find my daughter, or if that's not possible, deal with her killers."

StacyStorm raises a brow. "Well thanks for the warning... I don't know that more bloodshed will bring you your daughter... but let's see what I find..." And with that she strides out the door in long dress and flip-flops, long hair streaming behind her. She is at sea in less than an hour.

******

The Minx anchors in San Marco harbor, the center of San Columbo, and its only city, a medium sized town taking up about a quarter of the island. The rest is all sugar cane and coffee plantations.

StacyStorm reads the files and gets some sleep before going into San Marco early the next day. She dons a pink sundress and sandals, making her way to the office of the local authorities that seem no more interested in helping than they seem capable of it. She begins to ask questions around the town, the answers all leading her to one place.

The local police mostly have seemed useful only for leering at the beautiful blond, vaguely speaking of pirates, and rich tourists with big boats, no sense, and drugs. The only clue that has come to light, in her three days a shore, is that a big bar named Carny's is a known hangout for the smugglers and part time pirates that swarm the waters in this part of the Caribbean.

StacyStorm enters Carny's in a pink sheath dress and heels, a flower in her hair. The dress is short and sleeveless, showing off her athletic legs and balls of bare shoulder. The high neck hides her bosom from view, but the curves are still plain to see.

Every eye in the place goes to the blond in pink when she enters, the clientele mostly locals, but with a generous sprinkling of foreigners, mostly men who look like they would rather kill then eat. The man behind the bar actually looks like he should be leading a pirate horde, not tending bar. His dark eyes linger on the lovely newcomer, then he turns to serve two big Russians their drinks.

StacyStorm smiles as she slides onto one of the raised stools at the bar. "Good evening, barman... I'd like a daiquiri please..." She tries to off-handedly take a look at the faces behind the eyes that seem to feast on her body. She is not above using distraction to get what she wants. "So, do you get a lot of tourists?"

The beefy, muscular, bartender chuckles. "One daiquiri." He gets the drink, and puts it down in front of her, on a coaster, then shrugs. "We get all kinds in here." A slight twinkle in those eyes indicates that he didn't say what immediately occurred to him.

StacyStorm laughs as her eyes scan the room. "Well I can see that... though it appears to tend toward the unkind from what I'm seeing..." She winks and slides a couple bills over the countertop. "I'm looking for information relating to the disappearance of a couple of tourists just recently..."

Out of the corner of her eyes, she sees two heads come up, one a huge mulatto, built like a blockhouse, with silver rings in scarred ears. The other looking more like a ballet dancer, dark and dangerous, both dressed in local shirts, and old jeans, the smaller man with a machete conspicuously at hand. The bartender nods, the bills disappearing. "A lot of folks go missing around here. You mean the Fortune girl, I guess. Nobody else could afford to send Stacy Storm out here."

“You would seem to have me at a disadvantage... you wouldn't be the proprietor of this place would you?” Stacy Storm sips her drink, realizing by now on an island as small as this everybody knows who she is and why she is here.

"Something like that. She was here, and asking questions. You paid for that much." He moves away, for a minute, called over by the blockhead, who whispers urgently to him. The bartender shrugs, dispensing two beers before returning.

StacyStorm watches the two locals out of the corner of her eye, wondering if the barkeep might be connected to them. She works on her drink and ignores the many eyes staring at her. She fidgets and crosses her legs the other way, causing one nearby man to spill his beer down his front.

The bartender chuckles, and then glances at the two Russians, both crewcut, muscular sorts, with Russian naval shirts and tattoos. They walk over to the beautiful blond, and one of them says, "You good looking...lets fuck."

StacyStorm looks up as she finishes her drink. She raises a brow. "Oh thanks! What a compliment! My self-esteem just shot way up! Read my lips! No." She turns back to the bar. "May I have another, tender?"

The bartender laughs outright, and goes to make the drink. Several others gathered around laugh too, though more uneasily. The Russian who spoke blinks, then a meaty hand wraps around her arm. "You make fun."

StacyStorm sighs. "Perhaps... and for that I am sorry my big friend... but the answer is still no." This guy is huge. He must weigh almost twice what she does. And she really didn't come in here to start a fight with drunken Russian sailors.

The bartender watches the situation, but doesn't do anything. He notices one local reach a small vial under the ledge of the bar and drip a few drops into the daiquiri, as the big Russian yanks her off her stool, by sheer mass and strength. "Come on. We pay."

StacyStorm slips out of her sandals as easily as she slips off the stool, going to her knees and directing the big drunks momentum over her head in an effort to flip him to his back. "I... AM... NOT... FOR... SALE!"

The Russian's sodden mass doesn't exactly flip, but he does stumble, ramming her into the bar, in passing, before tripping and falling on his face. His friend blinks, watching, and laughs. "Ivan...you should ask nicely...we aren't in Helsinki." He spreads his arms, and steps away from her, as his partner shakes his bleary head on the floor.

StacyStorm shakes her head and rubs the back of her neck as she sits there propped against the bar, her legs askew, her short dress hiked way up on her thighs, enough bare bottom hanging out for the patrons to see that her panties are black. She reaches for the countertop to pull her self up.

The bartender's hand, as large as her head, wraps around her wrist, and lifts her like she weighed nothing, till she is standing...in the process, his elbow knocks over the doped daiquiri. Looking at the spilled liquid, he notes that both the locals are gone, then looks back at her. "You might want to check Ortega's Cove...you'll need either a small boat or scuba gear." He looks levelly around the bar, and twenty odd pair of eyes that were literally peeling away her soft panties with the intensity and heat of their gaze look elsewhere.

StacyStorm nods and tips him with two more bills from her purse. "That's on the north side of the island is it not?" She smoothes down her hiked dress, hiding the short show of black cotton. "And thank you... did you say it was Carny?"

He nods, the two bills following the first two into some netherworld known only to seedy bartenders. "Carny'll do. Yeah, on the north side...watch your back...some strange stories up that way."

StacyStorm nods and heads for the door, giving the retreating Russians a look. "Time for me to be leaving. Have fun, boys." Minutes after returning to her yacht it has set sail. And before first light she zips up the front of her sleeveless purple wetsuit top and slips over the side into the dark water. She swims toward the cove on the surface under a full moon.

Ortega Cove has a narrow neck, one that would threaten the Minx' hull, if the ship tried to enter. The island's coast is cliff in this area so the only real access is by sea or mountain climbing. The waters are warm, dark, under the silvery moon, almost enchanting.

StacyStorm looks back as she enters the cove, losing sight of the lights on her vessel. BJ has orders to wait a full twelve hours before he or Lynn come looking for her. She clears her mask, flips on her flashlight, and dives into the dark water, kicking with casual power.

It takes four hours of searching, even a small cove has a lot of bottom...the good news is its a clean bottom, which makes the glint of metal in her flashlight beam all the more noticeable, against the dark volcanic sand.

StacyStorm kicks closer as her light reflects off of something metallic. A piece of boat? Jewelry? She can't quite tell even as she gets close enough to reach out and touch it. She lifts the object, shaking the silt from it as her hair swirls about her.

The item, once the silt swirls away, is a silver belt buckle, her flashlight picking out the etched words "SS Fortune's Lady, 10 years faithful service."

StacyStorm stares at the buckle as bubbles rise from her mouth like thought balloons. Did it possibly belong to one of the crew? She tries to run through the file in her mind. Did Maria or Nicolo either one have such a buckle? She places it in the sack that dangles from her belt and continues her search of the immediate area.

Neither Maria or Nicolo had a belt buckle, but Elmo Wagner, the engine mate, had just gotten a promotion, a raise, and the buckle the week before the Lady sailed. Her search is almost immediately rewarded by the finding of a skull, picked clean...and a tiny scrap of pink lycra… perhaps part of a bikini.

StacyStorm adds the piece of lycra to her sack and examines the skull for a moment, floating in place, trying to determine if the skull belonged to man or woman. Then she moves on, making a careful search. Might Fortune's Lady have tried to enter the cove? Unlikely. There was no wreckage at the cove entrance.

The Lady was an old ship, though rebuilt to modern standards, a tiny bit bigger then the Minx, though laid out as a pleasure cruiser, not a floating base and working boat. It could no more have sailed in than the Minx could have. The skull appears to be a man's just based on size and shape. As she examines it, a long, thick, dark tentacle wraps around her legs, tugging with inhuman strength, as something bulks out of the darkness.

StacyStorm lets a little cloud of excess bubbles escape her lips as she reaches for the spear gun on her right thigh, trying to make out what this thing is, even as the grip of the tentacle locks her ankles together, drawing her down. She raises light and gun as one.

The light illuminates an octopus, but a huge one...not the kraken of legend and film, but an animal easily nine feet across the body, and with tentacles a dozen feet long…other tentacles whipping towards her, as the first one pulls her towards the mass of the thing.

StacyStorm tries to remain calm even though this is easily the largest octopus she has ever seen in these waters. She must be sure of the shot despite the rather violent jerking motion of the tentacle and having not a second to waste. She aims for the eye and hopefully the brain beyond, the spear hissing forward as she pulls the trigger.

Just as she fires, the tentacle gives another tug, the spear hissing out, missing the eye, lodging in the thick skin of the thing's rubbery body, blood coming from the wound, but its not fatal. Another tentacle wraps around her waist, and she is drawn closer to the thing...its beak looking rather large and deadly, in the unsteady light of her flash.

StacyStorm struggles to reach the knife on her left calf, trying to wrench it from beneath the tentacle that clinches her ankles together, facing a horrifyingly terrible death as she is drawn toward the beak. She jerks the knife free, slicing the tentacle there in the process, flailing as the rest seem to engulf her.

The tough tentacle parts, more blood in the water, the beak snapping at her, getting a good hold on her top, tearing the tough neoprene like tissue...only two tentacles really able to reach her this close, but both tightly wrapped, one around her ankles, the other her waist.

StacyStorm stabs wildly as the beak rends her wetsuit open, realizing her now bared breasts will be next, and then the rest of her will be torn to pieces. In a last ditch effort to free herself she twists to throw light in the creatures eye and thrusts her blade into it.

The huge thing convulses as she buries her fist, and blade, to the wrist in a large eye...the tentacles tightening brutally...then going limp around her...her light crushed by a spastically flailing tentacle.

StacyStorm is shaken violently as the creature dies, a cloud of bubbles mixing with a cloud of ink obscuring her vision, then everything going completely black as her light goes out. She kicks free of the creature, quickly clearing her mask and heading slowly toward the surface, trying to calm her heart and lungs, thankful to be in one piece.

The calm, peaceful surface of the Cove belies the violence that just occurred beneath the waves, the moonlight gentle, air fragrant with flowers, and warm, a soft breeze...and the sound of an outboard motor.

StacyStorm pushes her mask back on her head and tries to hone in on the sound of the motor, turning as she treads water to see the small boat, as her bare breasts bob in the waves like buoys. Could the crewman whose belt she found been fed to that creature? Could the approaching boat contain the perpetrators? She watches silently.

The boat moves past her at an angle, a flashlight in the front flashing...a light answering from what looks like a sheer black basalt wall.

StacyStorm reloads her spear gun, then breaststrokes slowly in pursuit, her eyes up, watching as the boat heads toward rock wall. This could be the break she needs to solve the mystery if she can avoid being exposed.

The boat quickly outstrips her, disappearing from her sight, but not her hearing, around a jutting promontory of rock, a faint mechanical rasping heard, the warm waters of the cove caressing her bobbing breasts as she cleaves through the water.

StacyStorm replaces her mask and follows at a quick clip, her strong legs beating fins just beneath the surface as she makes her way straight for the point of the outcropping.

The rasping sound grows louder as she swims, and as she reaches the point of the promontory, she hears a sound like struggling, and a fist hitting bone, and flesh...then a splash.

StacyStorm pauses at this point after hearing the splash, hiding in the shadow of the rocks as she pokes her head out of the water to see what can be seen.

The boat is pulling into the side of a cliff, under a framework of steel rods, supporting a thin layer of stone and thermal material. A human shape is sliding under the water, and a male figure, dressed in dark fatigues, slumps in the boat, looking lifeless, as the boat moves inside. Three more shapes in fatigues are in the boat.

StacyStorm blinks and tries to make out who is operating the boat. There appear to be three uniformed men in control. One down. And one in the water. Oddly all dressed alike. She slips under the waves to check out the body in the water.

The body in the water is simply floating, dead man style...though slowly sinking, a group of weights poorly secured, as if the job was half done...the hilt of a knife protrudes from the figure's side.

StacyStorm is still confused as she tries to interpret what she has seen. Perhaps a dissention among the ranks? She follows the boat under the camouflage rock wall to see what lies beyond. Perhaps some sort of elaborate human trafficking operation? She knows Maria and her husband were not the first to disappear in these waters.

As she swims past, the figure in the water starts to move, turning, rolling in the water, slowly, weakly, trying to remove the weights.

StacyStorm stops in midstroke as she senses movement behind her. She turns. The man she thought was dead is in fact alive and struggling. She swims nearer, taking her knife in hand to help remove the weights.

The figure makes a few random movements, maybe to fight her, maybe to help, but she ends up doing most of the work, the weights falling away, leaving her with a dead weight that outweighs her by a hundred pounds... the figure breathing shallowly, face terribly battered, one eye swollen shut, nose smashed.

StacyStorm looks him in the eyes and tries to make him understand she means him no harm. She offers him her air hose and prepares to remove the knife from his back. He must've double-crossed his cohorts she realizes. Perhaps she can use him for info before he does the same to her.

The man takes a long breath from her hose...then gives it back...moving slowly, deliberately. The faux wall of the cliff closes with a dull thump, leaving the cliff featureless, to the eye. Now that she is close, she can see the fatigues he wears are a light gray, though they appear dark, soaked with blood, and wet, as they are.

StacyStorm wraps an arm about his chest and hug him close to her bare chest in a lifesaving position. She drags him aside to the rocks, assisting him to hold on there as they surface. She puts a finger to her lips and hands him the knife from his back even as his eyes look down.

The man grunts, and as the moonlight washes over his face, the ruined features are those, barely recognizably, of Nicolo "Nicky" Lorenz...former soldier, former pro boxer, lawyer, and second husband to Maria Fortune.

StacyStorm is more than a little taken aback by this discovery. It becomes clearer and clearer that this situation is pretty complicated. She whispers, "Hello, Mr. Fortune... I've come looking for you and Maria... can you tell me where she is?"

The man blinks, looking at her, obviously unfocussed..."Maria...help...Maria...crabs..." His head lolls back...as blood loss finally brings him into unconsciousness.

StacyStorm doesn't like the sound of a mix of Maria and crabs. She looks about for someplace on the rocks where she could possibly leave Nicolo while she checks inside for Maria, though not recalling any females in the boat she saw.

There is a hollow on the promontory where he could barely fit, he's not a small man, though he looks less robust then his photos would indicate.

StacyStorm strains to drag the dead weight of his body into the hollow, scrunching her breasts together between her straining arms as she does so. But she manages somehow and is quickly back in the water, looking for a way past the wall, finally slipping beneath it.

The basalt scrapes at her bared torso, there being barely enough room to pass her small frame, the tanks impossible to pass, as she pushes past a flexible dark screen, meant to keep light from escaping from inside the cave, which she sees is well, if a bit sparsely, lit.

StacyStorm slips off her tanks and makes a mental note of where she is leaving them. She takes a final breath and turns off the airflow as she drags them in after her, leaving them in the rocks at the left side of the cave door.

The water only extends twenty feet past the door, two zodiac rafts bobbing there, powerful outboards ready. Each has a mounted machine gun at the front. A concrete dock lines the water, with a lit, glassed in office, and a steel door beside it. One man sits in the office.

StacyStorm sees only the man in the office as she surfaces between the boats and looks around, realizing the other men must have gone somewhere. Her eyes scan the area for doors to others areas even as she slicks back her long hair.

The place is obviously designed to be defended, and secure, the only door out apparently controlled by the office, and a slit for a machine gun in the steel door itself.

StacyStorm ponders trying to take out the man in the office, but if she can't then open the door, or if she is discovered, well then her exploration would be over. She sighs. What other option does she have? She puts her knife between her teeth and pulls herself out of the water, barefeet padding across the dock to the glass office, taking knife in hand as she rushes forward.

The man looks up as she charges, momentarily frozen between hitting the alarm button, and kicking closed the office door in her face, while simultaneously eyeing her bouncing breasts, and reaching for the holstered handgun at his side.

StacyStorm rushes him in an immodestly brazen fashion, her wet glistening charms on full display, hopefully giving her the little edge she needs to slash his throat before he can react. She dives forward, slashing.

The man falls against the console, gurgling in his own blood, gun clattering to the floor, as he drops to his knees, before collapsing.

StacyStorm returns her knife to its sheath, standing over the fallen man, dripping wet in nothing but purple bikini bottom ad belt, panting for air. She snatches up his gun, checking it, then sticking it in her belt. She looks for an operational control for the door, wanting of course to open it and look for Maria.

The door control is pretty simple, though it looks from the setup that it can be overridden from the other side of the door, and would have been useless, had he hit the alarm button. Still, the three ton steel door opens soundlessly, revealing brightly lit stairs going down.

A light machine gun, complete with belted ammo and bipod, is locked into a rack on the inside of the door.

StacyStorm raises a brow, thankful she didn't face that weapon, but realizing there could be more. She pads down the stairs, keeping to one side, listening carefully as well as watching, making her way into some sort of underwater instillation.

The steps stop at another steel door, this one open, another slot, another machinegun ready to deploy. The room beyond is large, that much she can tell from echoes... the room is also both damp, and chilly.

StacyStorm listens to the echoing sounds of dripping water as she peers through the slit to see what lies beyond the partially open door.

The room is breath taking...fully a football field long, brightly lit...a long quay taking up half of it, what looks like a Russian built Akula attack sub sitting there...on the fin, a red kraken painted. The same symbol is painted on the concrete installations built into the opposite walls. Her doors open onto a catwalk that crosses above the chamber, before entering the installation opposite.

StacyStorm blinks, looks again, then flattens back against the wall, trying to think. So that's where those Russian sailors came from she realizes. Who would have thought Russia could finance something like this... unless... perhaps these are renegades in league with some major criminal cartel. But what could they have possibly wanted with Maria? She looks again to plan a strategy.

There are several figures moving around below, most near the submarine. At least two of the men in black fatigues stand at the sub's gangplank, holding assault rifles. Another pair face the foredeck. The other figures are loading eight-foot long, silver capsules into the subs loading doors on the aft deck. At first they look like torpedoes, but then four more are rolled out from the bottom level of the installation opposite, and she can look down, seeing the faint outline of a human figure inside.

StacyStorm realizes suddenly that what she thought were torpedoes are actually coffin-like carriers for human cargo. Could it be that this is the fate of those who disappear in these waters? Could Maria be among them? She looks for a way to get down there unseen, pressing her back to the wall as she slips past the door into the shadow of a stalagmite.

The upper doors of the concrete building are apparently unguarded, but there is a long, open path across the catwalk to negotiate to get there.

StacyStorm realizes she needs a uniform and as she ponders returning to the office to get the dead man's it occurs to her to wonder why Nicolo was wearing one.

As she considers, she realizes that his was very different then the ones worn by the guards...his had been a light gray, at least initially, while they wore black fatigues and web gear. As she realizes this, she hears voices on the steps she just exited, and an alarm bell starts to ring.

StacyStorm is left with few to no options now, flattening herself to the wall before the approaching steps are upon her, realizing the guard's body has been discovered, trying to hide in the shadows, hoping the jut of her heaving breasts does not give her away.

She almost gets away with it. The two locals from the bar, the hulking brute, and the dancer, come down the steps, and start to cross the span...then the dancer looks down, seeing the spotted blood, and then his eyes rise to the half naked adventuress, a smirk crossing his dark, even features.

StacyStorm grimaces as she is spotted, getting a terrible sinking feeling, but does not hesitate, lunging for the machinegun by the door.

The machete comes up, and then falls, the heavy steel pommel aimed at the back of her head.

StacyStorm grunts as her fingers grasp the machinegun, then slide away as she flops to the wet stone in a heap, landing with a smack on her bare breasts, lying still as the leering pair loom over her.

The dancer nods at his large friend...the big man looming even larger as he crouches over her, rolling her over, sliding the knife, and pistol, away from her.

StacyStorm flops over limply, her near perfect breasts jostling side to side, nipples upright as little stalagmites. The pistol is taken from her belt, the knife from the sheath on her ankle, and she is left in her purple bikini, the spear gun strapped to her thigh.

The dancer kicks the giant, and points to the spear gun. The giant shrugs massively, and the spear gun too is taken away, then he grins stupidly as his big hands slosh those perfect breasts a bit more.

StacyStorm is thankfully out cold and does not know the humiliation of being pawed by the huge man. Nor for that matter does she feel or respond the sharp kick the dancer delivers to the pout of her sex to make sure she's not playing possum.

The giant grins, and lifts the limp investigator, slinging her roughly over his shoulder, her arms dangling limply behind him, her hair hanging down, her legs draped down his front.

StacyStorm flops over the man's shoulder like a roll of wet rug, unaware as she is carried away with a huge hand on the purple bikini bottoms.

The pair takes her down the steps, the dancer laughing as they walk. "The Old One will be very pleased with her. Very pleased indeed."

******

The silvery tube, one of dozens, some open, some closed, slowly hisses open. Inside, the beautiful blonde investigator lies, her wrists locked behind her in silver restraints, which happen to match the silver bandeau top she now wears, and the silver microskirt that looks more like a dishtowel around her hips then a covering. Two guards in black fatigues look down at her, both carrying heavy duty cattle prods, their eyes drinking in her beauty, even in their jobs, moving dozens of near naked women around, she's something special.

StacyStorm swallows hard as she looks up at the prods and realizes her wrists are locked behind her, her back arched over them. She realizes she has been redressed in something silver, but to what purpose she can only wonder as she feels the guards’ eyes upon her.

"Time to get up, 312. That's you, by the way." A black prod presses her bared abdomen, sparks and pain radiating from it. "Now move."

StacyStorm yelps as she is prodded with electric shock. She struggles to her knees, wondering how much time has passed since she was knocked unconscious, and if BJ or Lynn found Nicolo or the installation. She looks around to determine her location as she moves away in the silver uniform, arms cuffed behind.

She's definitely not where she was...this chamber is much larger...a vast array of structural ribs and catwalks above, supporting a vast silvery dome. It's big enough that the far reaches are lost in distance haze.

StacyStorm looks all around as she is led through a chamber the likes of which she finds it hard to imagine outside of a shipyard or airplane hangar. She has obviously stumbled onto something much larger than she ever anticipated.

The guards take her down a row of the silver tubes, most empty, a few still occupied...and then onto a wide silver conveyer belt, which takes them towards a large white building, the red kraken symbol prominent. "312, you are about to have a rare treat, for a handmaid. The Old Master will grant you an audience."

StacyStorm shrugs at the guard as the belt whisks them along. "And who is this old master of whom you speak?" She runs back through the info in the file for anything relating to this red symbol that keeps appearing.

The file had nothing to say about it, not a word. The conveyor takes them to the building entrance, where she is moved off, the guards simply zapping her when they want her to move. "The Master of the Kraken will soon rule all men, and the seas of the world. Rule the seas, and all men will bend to your divine will."

StacyStorm grunts, flinching and jumping forward each time she is shocked, doing her best to anticipate the prods and move where directed. She can only assume this empire is run by some megalomaniac who fancies himself a modern day Nemo, lord of the sea, or some such. She nods and waits at the entrance.

The doors open, and she is prodded into a large audience hall, all done in silver and white. Women, dressed in the silver nothings...kneel along the sides of the room. None of them are Maria...but she recognizes one of them, kneeling near the far end, as Ellen Winthrow, one of the college age deckhands.

StacyStorm tries to fathom how any man could get away with living like this, honestly awed by the splendor that surrounds her as she is prodded forward, stumbling along in bare feet, in a skirt so short it doesn't even cover all of her bottom when she stumbles, in a top held in place only by its tightness above and below her breasts. She winks at Miss Winthrow.

Ellen Winthrow barely looks up, and her eyes drop instantly when one of the guards looks at her. "Eyes front, 312" The command accompanied by yet another prod, as the silver doors at the end flash red, the symbol of the Kraken, then begin to open slowly.

StacyStorm jerks as the shock hits her, stumbling forward toward the opening doors. Her eyes do focus to the front anxious to see what this old master looks like. She struts forward athletically.

The figure rolling forward is dressed in a crimson mandarin robe, high collared, his ancient, wizened features exuding an aura of evil, and oddly, mastery, that fills the room. * StacyStorm is puzzled as she senses the hold this man has over every person in the room. She notes the assurance in his economy of movement, as he almost seems to float across the room. She nods, then shakes back her hair.

The Master smiles, looking at her, almost benignly, then he makes a tiny gesture with a long-fingered hand, and shock prods slam into the backs of her knees, with savage force. "A handmaid always kneels in the presence of the Master, 312"

StacyStorm collapses to her knees as the prods strike her, wincing as she struggles not to simply fall on her face. She gathers herself and snaps her head up, her jaw quivering.

The prods rise, but the Master waves, and they lower again. He glides forward, and a long, leathery hand cups her chin, raising her eyes to his. "My children, this creature has come, in a foredoomed attempt to stand between we of the Kraken, and our destiny." His voice is hypnotic, almost mesmerizing, and fills the room.

StacyStorm is given a start as the leathery hand touches her, shaking her head to fight off the sense of suggestion in that touch, having never listened to her parents or anyone else for that matter, and not about to start now. She looks up. "You're kracked alright... do you worship a sea monster or something?"

His laugh is infectious, even some of the handmaids joining in. "No, young handmaid...it is you who serve the Kraken...it is I who rule it."

StacyStorm looks around at the laughing people, wondering if Fu Manchu here has drugged them. "But the Kraken is a myth... and if you rule a myth... oh my... you have a god complex don't you?"

He smiles benignly, and turns away from her. "Soon, the entire world will feel the power of the Kraken...the seas will run with the blood of those who dare to sail it without my leave...the cities will starve… the faithless will fall..." He turns slowly back towards her and his smile sears the soul. "And I, the Red Kraken, will be avenged on the get of Captain Fortune, my foe of old."

StacyStorm has her mind sent racing by this last comment, suddenly realizing she has been caught up in a struggle generations old, between families, between two titans, or what some now refer to as metas. "And exactly how do you plan to do that, Red Kraken... uhm... Master... Red... Kraken..."

The madman smiles...and points upwards to where, suspended in a crystal cube, Maria Fortune hangs above the floor of the audience hall. "His son's most beloved child shall be the first to feed the minions of the Kraken..."

StacyStorm gapes at the sight of the pretty girl trapped in a crystal cube, clad only in a brief silver string bikini. "Minions... can I assume that's not short for minced onions?"

The eyes, glinting with madness, come to rest on her. "You dare to mock me. Perhaps you will join her before your time." He points at a man in a lab coat, who touches a control...a rumbling sound, the floor under Maria slowly opening...revealing, below...a tumbling sea of what look like nothing less then twelve foot long, land crabs...thickly armored, with claws that look capable of shredding steel. "Behold my minions, apostate whore!"

StacyStorm has found the girl she was sent to find, but is faced with defeating giant crabs, a gaggle of devoted followers, and escape from a huge underground grotto whose location she doesn't even know. She can't help but lean away from the crabs. “They're terrible!”

"They are my finest creation...no ship can withstand their claws...no bullet pierce their shells...the perfect engine of destruction on the seas." He looks at the guards, and waves..."Place her in the chambers of the handmaids...and enter her in the lottery for the guardian's reward."

StacyStorm cannot mask the look of disgust on her face as she looks at the crabs, wondering if they are the product of some sort of antediluvian genetic engineering that only some descendent of Atlantis might have uncovered. She nods to Maria as she is prodded to move away by the guards.

Maria looks down at the crabs, and then at her rescuer, and hope seems far away. The guards lead Stacy to a vast room, all white silks, beds, silver dividers, looking like a high tech harem...and perhaps it is, as handmaids lounge about, some dressed in even less then the uniform provided.

StacyStorm raises a brow at some of these women as they lounge around topless. It is obvious they have been chosen for their looks. All are quite attractive. Stacy does as directed by the guards and finds herself chained to the silver rail of a metal headboard in one harem cubicle.

As she hangs, helpless, several of the girls watch her, none approaching, though she hears two of them whispering her name, when the patrolling guards aren't close.

StacyStorm perks up her ears and whispers back... "How do you know my name?"

One of the girls comes closer, and whispers..."I saw you on TV...and I was telling Ilyana who you are."

“You get television here? Or do you mean before you came here?”

"Before." The girl leans closer to Ilyana, who while a white Siberian beauty, is in her late 30s, older then most. The younger girl looks at Stacy, and says, "You know what the guards will do to you?"

StacyStorm shakes her head. "Not a clue... you two don't seem quite as... well... brainwashed as the others..."

Ilyana finally speaks..."They will rape you, until you are dead. And maybe after."

StacyStorm swallows hard. "I take it you've seen this punishment executed before?"

"Yes...on my mother...." She swallows, and looks at her younger friend...the two falling silent, as the guards pass, then she speaks again..."It is hard...to be brave, especially when the Master is near."

StacyStorm nods. "I think he is a meta... which is to say he has some abilities beyond those of an ordinary human... I was captured while looking for the girl he now holds to sacrifice... do you know when that is scheduled to happen?"

They look at each other, then the younger girl says, "One of the technicians said the first batch of crabs is ready...and that the Master would want to celebrate tomorrow."

StacyStorm stares at the two of them. "I've got to stop that from happening. Either of you know how to get this collar and chain off of me... or these cuffs off my wrists?"

Ilyana looks at Stacy, and then looks down. "It is death." The younger girl looks ready to cry, then says, "Once you are free, what will you do? You are one woman...alone…unarmed... against a hundred guardians, and the master and his crabs..."

StacyStorm looks at them. "I don't know... but I'm not going to just lay back on this bed and wait to be raped to death... I'd rather die trying to get free..."

Another voice speaks, this one a little less tremulous. "I'll let you go, if you promise to get Maria free...her husband broke free and tried, and they killed him." Fingers work the collar, a rasping sound as the soft metal is cut by harder.

StacyStorm looks around to see who is helping her, cutting the collar from around her neck. “Thank you... how do you know they killed him?”

Ellen starts to work on the manacles, picking the locks. "Well...the guards caught him in the throne room, and they beat him, a dozen of them, and dragged him off. You mean he's not dead?"

StacyStorm shakes her head. "I don't think so... you worked on their yacht didn't you, Ellen? I'm going to try to rescue Maria and find a way out of here. Want to come with me?”

"Yes...but this place is evil..."

“All the more reason to escape...”

She gets the cuffs off, and says, "The Master lives in the Audience Hall. He'll know once we go in. That's how they caught Nicky."

StacyStorm rubs her wrists. "Are you saying he can sense our presence when we get close enough?" She looks skeptical.

She shrugs..."Maybe its cameras, but I've never seen them." The tread of heavy boots announces the arrival of the guard patrol.

StacyStorm motions everyone to be quiet until they pass.

The two guards make their way past, clutching their shock prods, and pass from sight. "We'll need to steal a guard sub."

StacyStorm narrows her eyes. "We need to steal a what?"

"To get away. A six man armed sub..." She looks at her, perplexed. "What?"

StacyStorm nods. "Well yes, but first I have a problem called Maria... do you know where the subs are located, Ellen?"

Ellen nods. "Yes...but...I can get there...but I don't know how to drive one. None of us do."

“I can operate the sub if when we get that far... let's go... you can wait for me outside the audience hall... if I don't get out with Maria you can just come back here...”

Ellen nods, and starts leading the way, not down the main concourse, but through seemingly endless service corridors... till finally they stand in sight of the audience chamber, two guards in front of the doors, two deep voices bellowing in drunken Russian around the corner. "What do you do with a drunken sailor" in Russian sounds very odd.

StacyStorm motions Ellen to stay out of sight as she decides to take the direct approach and just walk straight up to the guards in her little silver uniform, smiling and playing with her hair.

These guards actually carry guns, unlike most of the guards in the dome. They look at her, quizzically. "What are you doing here, handmaid?"

StacyStorm steps up to the cuter of the two, going on tiptoe as she presses close as if to kiss him. "I was all lonesome..."

The guard's eyebrow raises, but he pulls her close, and leans down to kiss her...favors from handmaids aren't all that rare.

StacyStorm drives her knee up into his crotch as hard as she possibly can, wrestling for the gun between them, trying to swing the butt around to hit him in the head.

The guard sags, but he holds onto the gun...his weight hampering her...the other guard raising his own weapon...till a half full bottle of vodka smashes into his head. The first guard, his body wracked with pain, goes down in the next instant, felled by a shot from his own weapon, in the struggle.

StacyStorm takes the gun from the falling man as she looks to the wielder of vodka bottles. "Ivan? What a throw..."

Ivan looks at her, and grins..."Hello, pretty lady with the mean kung-fu."

"Very nice throw indeed... but why are you helping me? No matter... get the gun... I'm going after the girl in the crystal prison."

Ivan turns to his friend. "Come Sergei, we are saving..." He turns and looks at Stacy. "Who are we saving? Oh, never mind, come, Sergei!" Sergei produces a small pistol of his own, as they enter the audience hall of evil.

StacyStorm dashes inside, hiding behind a column, looking up at the ceiling to confirm that Maria is there, then to the spot from which the controls were worked earlier.

The guards inside open fire immediately, alerted by the shot outside. Maria is indeed in place, the technician at the controls looking around wildly. The two Russians take cover and return fire, with remarkable skill for a pair of drunken, brawling sailors...of course white shirts with blue stripes have multiple meanings in Russia.

StacyStorm makes a mad dash to the next column, firing at the technician as she runs.

The technician flies backwards, staining the white wall with red...as the doors to the Master's chambers start to open...the guards are falling, one by one, as the Russians leapfrog forward from post to post. Even Ellen is popping away, ineptly but with great enthusiasm.

StacyStorm dives behind the control panel in a flash of silver and flesh, attempting to work the controls and lower Maria even as an occasional burst of gunfire sparks off the machinery around her. The crystal cube begins to lower to the floor.

The Red Kraken enters, and sees the cube lowering. "No, I will not be denied!" Ignoring the gun battle, he glides towards Stacy, and the controls...his hand glowing with white energy..."You will burn, western witch!"

StacyStorm swings her gun around to fire at the Red Kraken as he enters the hall, squeezing the trigger even as her eyes widen at the sight of his glowing hand. "What in the world... he can fly?"

The bullets sleet off something before striking the madman, and he reaches for her, the white light searing her flesh, growing more intense...yet, she notices...as the white light grows stronger...a faint shimmering in the air, like a shield around him...fades away.

StacyStorm gasps, backing away from the reaching hand and the burning heat that it emits, cursing as the gun clicks and the clip ejects. She swings the butt around at the master's head in desperation as she ducks his hand, rolling away, accidentally hitting another lever, the floor beneath Maria beginning to open slowly.

The Master is a mental titan...master of telekinesis, and his vast presence can humble the weak minded...his scientific genius is legendary...and physics still sends him tumbling away from the strike, screaming...as he tumbles through the opening in the floor...and gives his newly mature minions their first meal... of course...they will be hungry again in half an hour...but such is life.

StacyStorm screams, "Ivan, get the girl!" She exhales as she sees that the huge Russian has already indeed done so. Sporadic fire continues as they all flee toward the docks where the subs can be found, making their way through a scene of general chaos.

And indeed, it is chaos...the Red Kraken lived for vengeance, and the moment his mind ceased functioning, a certain machine ceased sending out a certain signal...and explosive charges, built into the very frame of the dome, start to explode...water rushing in, to reclaim the kingdom long denied it by the meta psi.

StacyStorm widens her eyes as deep and blue as the ocean itself as she slides behind the controls of the sub as Ivan closes the hatch. She dives into the underwater passage, fighting the controls as she guides the little craft through the falling rock and boiling water until they suddenly burst out into the calm of the mid-Atlantic.

(roll credits...epilogue scenes)

Ivan kisses Stacy, and gets slapped.

Sergei and Ellen kiss, a lot longer, and more passionately.

Maria and Nicolos are re-united in his hospital room.

Stacy gets lots of cash and a medal from the Russian government, for helping them find a stolen nuclear sub.

 

(May 2006)