It was late, and dark. Everyone else was sleeping, leaving Knuckles on deck as their night guard. Rouge was in Tails' cabin, keeping watch on their course.
"Well, this is it," she said, keeping her voice low. "This is meant to be the workshop."
"Looks like everyone was right."
"Should we break the bad news to him?"
"Let them sleep. A few hours won't make a difference." Knuckles was silent for a few moments, then, "You too. You could do with it."
"I can get by," she objected. "I'm used to short sleep."
"You need some sleep, Rouge. I can tell. I can handle things, don't worry."
"Maybe you're not as bone-headed as you look," she teased, leaving.
"True love," someone said behind him. "A rare thing."
Knuckles turned, seeing a human who bore a similar look to Jack.
"You're a pirate."
"Was. I don't do it anymore. I've got other duties."
"A pirate with duties?"
"You'd be surprised. Don't worry. I'm here to help you. You've heard of me."
"Aye. Captain of the Flying Dutchman?"
"Jack mentioned you. Ferrying souls to the next world."
"And guiding the lost back to safe ports. You're not meant to be in these waters."
"Tell Tails that. He's the one who knows how to sail this thing."
"All you need is to drop sail and follow the wind."
"And what do I tell him when he wakes up?"
"Whatever you like. I'll be watching. Don't take any side trips until you're in familiar waters."
He waved a hand, and caught a rope swung to him, jumping up and swinging back to the shadow of another ship not far away. It had no running lights on it, leaving it a shadow as it seemed to sink down into the waters.
Knuckles considered this, and what he knew of this captain from Sparrow, then climbed the mast and dropped the sails. They bellied out with the wind, but not fully, leaving him to use the ship's wheel to head into the wind.
"Why are the sails down, Knuckles?"
"They're getting us home."
"Generally, sails work by wind blowing into them," he replied blithely. Tails stared him down. "I had some advice from a visitor during the night."
"From who, the Flying Dutchman?"
"How did you know?"
"You mean it really was the Flying Dutchman?"
"I assume so. The guy who came over said he was it's captain."
"You let him on board?"
"He came aboard by himself, and left right after. I think I can get his attention if you want to see him."
"Go ahead. Vector can take the wheel."
"Why me?" Vector asked.
"You're the first mate," Tails shrugged. "Keep us facing the same way as the wind."
Tails followed Knuckles to the rail, where the Echidna shouted out to sea, "Hey, Captain Turner! You told me you were watching, so come on out and..." he trailed off, "... prove it." The waters nearby erupted, another sailing ship bursting forth from the depths. It's sail seemed almost like it was made from seaweed.
Aboard were just two people. Knuckles recognised one of them, who took a rope and swung over.
"You don't need to shout," he told Knuckles, then turned to Tails. "Captain," he nodded.
"Is it true?" Tails asked him without preamble.
"That depends on what you mean. Am I the captain of the Flying Dutchman? Yes, that's true."
"How about what you told Knuckles?"
"That's also true. You're not there yet, but you're on the way. Just keep following the wind."
"If it holds."
"It'll hold. I guarantee it."
"You can control the weather?"
"Something like that. Keep following it, and it'll guide you back."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"What do you plan to do?"
"Make sure you get back where you're meant to be, then go back to the duty. If you'll excuse me captain, I'm going to return to my ship." He paused, catching a rope thrown to him. "There's another ship coming incidentally. The Royal Navy's Interceptor. She's a bit faster than your ship with the wind."
"What do they want?"
"You'll have to ask them that," Turner told them, swinging back. The Dutchman sank back into the seas yet again.
Tails went up to the back of the ship, pulled out a telescope of his own and looked. Sure enough, there was another sailing ship headed for them in bright yellow and blue. She had white sails, and flew an unfamiliar flag.
"Trouble?" Vector asked.
"Another ship. Coming fast."
"Should we turn on the engines?"
"No. We don't know if it'll affect our getting home." He turned, looked at the sails, and thought. "I don't think I can get anything more out of the sails. I know a few tricks, but nothing that'll improve our speed by much."
"What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking we have two options. Hope they're friendly, let them come aside and find out what they want..."
"Or?" Vector prompted.
"Or we fight."
"Better to be prepared for both cases."
"I know. We don't have a flag to fly though, and if they see us running without a flag, they might mistake our own intentions."
"There is a flag, actually. While Jack was aboard, he and Rouge fashioned a skull and crossbones one."
"I should have known." He thought some more, then joined Espio. "Keep an eye on that ship," he told the chameleon. "I want to know what their intentions are before they get too close."
"How close is too close?"
"Weapons range. Will you need this?" he showed the telescope.
"No. I've got sharp eyes. What are you planning to do?"
"If they're peaceful, I'll talk. If they show hostility, I'm going to raise our pirate flag and send them to the depths."
"We have a pirate flag?"
"Jack made it."
"Why am I not surprised?"
"Because it's Jack we're talking about. Keep watch."
It was early afternoon when Charmy came down to Tails.
"Espio says they've got guns sticking out, and men with guns along the deck."
"How long until they reach us?" Vector asked, still manning the wheel.
"Probably not long."
"Find me something white," Tails said. "Quickly."
"What are you planning?"
"If there's one thing I've learned from Jack, is that's negotiating out of things works well. I'm going to go over on a flag of truce and parley."
"They're not pirates, Tails. You can't guarantee they'll honour the code."
"We're not pirates either, Vector. If they don't honour parley, they'll at least honour the truce."
"Stop being depressing," he told Vector, taking a bit of sailcloth. "Not perfect but it'll do. Tell Espio to be ready. He knows what for."
Tails took off, making sure the cloth was in clear view as he approached the Interceptor. Weapons were pointed his way as he landed on the main deck, but none were fired.
"Parley," he stated firmly as he landed.
"I said parley. Where's your captain?"
"I'm in command of this vessel," a tall man in blue said. "And you are?"
"Captain Prower of the Hunter. The ship you're coming after. I want to know what you want."
"You and your crew. You aided known pirates and committed an act of piracy. We watched you and the Black Pearl open fire and board another vessel."
"Are you aware that piracy is a crime?"
"You know, I do believe you're right. The ship in question would have fired on both the Hunter and the Pearl if we hadn't worked together on it."
"That does not justify piracy. You have an appointment with the hangman's noose."
"I see. I trust you'll honour this so I can inform my crew?" he asked, holding up the cloth.
"And what will you... inform them."
"That we're being detained pending a fair trial for acts of piracy, and to stand down to allow you to commandeer our vessel," he answered, telling a blatant lie without giving it away. "You'll know we're done when we raise our flag."
"Done then. We'll be seeing you shortly, Captain Prower."
"So it seems," Tails answered with a bright grin, then headed back to his own ship.
"Well?" Vector asked as he landed.
"We're going to be boarded, arrested and taken to be hung for being and aiding pirates. Naturally, I don't intend to let it happen." He took to the rail in front of the wheel and called up to Espio, "Hoist the colours!" and then to the others, "Man the guns. Load them and prepare to open fire."
There was a mass of clanking as their own gun ports were opened and cannons pushed out. Espio watched from the Crow's Nest, then when it was clear preparations were made he hoisted their pirate flag. Naturally, it was black with the white skull and crossbones.
Tails turned back to the pursuing Interceptor and looked through the telescope again. The consternation on the captain's face was clear. He hadn't expected to be crossed.
"Hard to port!" he ordered. "We'll teach them not to cross pirates lightly!"
"I thought we weren't pirates," Vector murmured, swinging the wheel around.
"We weren't before. Now we are. We'll be home before long, and it'd be a shame not to indulge ourselves just a little, wouldn't you say?"
"Aye, captain," Vector agreed with a nasty grin.
Against the wind they slowed considerably, but Tails showed some unexpected tricks with the sails that kept them going at only a slight cost to their speed.
The Interceptor dropped some sail, intending to draw alongside. Tails had other ideas.
"Get ready to pull away from them," he told Vector. "As soon as our first shots are away, we'll swing around and hit their other side."
"That's a fair curve to get around," Vector warned.
"I've every confidence in your navigational skills," Tails replied, jumping down to the hatch for belowdecks. He stayed near the rail for as long as he dared, then took cover, guessed how long and gave the order to fire.
The effect was devastating on the Interceptor. It had not been built with Tails' ship in mind, and the more modern cannons tore through the ship, sending splinters and cannons flying. A cacophony of clanging was evidence of their shots fired at them.
Vector ducked down behind the wheel, taking as much cover as possible as the crew of the Interceptor – those still able to – opened fire.
The ship heaved as they swung back the other way. Tails joined the others in manning the guns on the other side, making them ready.
The second volley wreaked even more carnage, crippling the ship badly. It was deemed unnecessary to continue, and the sails were reset, allowing them to return to their original course following the wind.