A Wrenching Problem
written by Barnacle (intro by Tabby)

Dr. Malcolm Shane was sitting in his underwater cell, pondering his position. He wasn't free like he should be—free to take over the world and to seek revenge on those miserable ponies that had meddled in his affairs! He would not let them go unpunished. He had to get past the sea ponies.

Suddenly, he saw a change in his cell door. There was no explanation—one second the main beam making up the door had been strong and sturdy as it always had been; and the next second it became a gnarled, twisted board that hardly fit in with the construction of the rest of the door.

Puzzled by this odd occurrence, Shane swam over closer to the entrance. He pulled slightly on the changed piece of wood, and it gave way under the pressure. With that plank removed, the entire door simply began falling apart. In no time, there were only remnants left of the one barrier before Shane and freedom.

Smiling smugly and seeing no Sea Ponies around the deeply-submerged jail cells, he slipped away into the ocean. Now... now... now there was nothing to stop him!

* * *

After Barnacle and his group made it out of the mountains and all the troubles they'd had there with Bouldiers, and Warlords, and caves, and Dakytins, and mazes, and all the rest, they figured it was time for a little break. With that in mind, they stayed in Dream Valley for a few weeks just reveling in the normalness of the place. But for a pirate, normal can quickly change to boring, so it wasn't very long at all before they moved along to their final destination and their home, Calimidad Island.

But that was about a year ago...

* * *

Barnacle awoke to the sound of a pounding hammer somewhere far below him. He cracked one eye open just a bit and could see right away that it was already getting quite late in the morning. He groaned and rolled over, but the hammer kept up its constant pounding. Finally, the pirate captain jumped out of his hammock and leapt at the railing that circled the platform on which he had been sleeping.

Several of the trees on that side of the clearing had platforms built on them at different heights, and most of these were connected by rope bridges and bamboo walkways. Each of the platforms served as a different room and thus all of them together formed a house of sorts. This was Barnacle's dwelling.

From his vantage point up in the top of a mighty tree, Barnacle could see the entire forest clearing below him that acted as his home's courtyard. Running through the middle of this clearing was a wide and deep stream that emptied into the ocean just a bit farther down. At the far end, where the trees gave way to a sandy beach, there was a massive bunk of timbers and planks that were slowly taking the shape of a sailing ship.

"ARR, what ya think y're doin' down there!?" Barnacle cried down at the construction site.

From somewhere below decks, Barnacle's first mate, Kracken, popped his head up and shouted back, "I'm doing what I've been doing every day since we got here!"

"But do ya have ta be doin' it so loud?" Barnacle replied.

"I gotta work when the inspiration strikes!" Kraken said with a smile.

"ARR, I think I'd like ta do a little striking a' mine own right now..." Barnacle muttered as he turned his back to his over-zealous first mate.

"Huh, did you say something?" Kracken asked, but Barnacle had already disappeared from his "room" and was making his way down a rope ladder to the kitchen platform. Shrugging, Kracken went back to his hammering.

Grinding his teeth, Barnacle set about finding something to eat. He wished there was some other way to finish his new ship, but he knew there wasn't. At the very least, he wished that there was some faster way or one that didn't involve so much noise. As it was, Kracken and Pierre had been working on it almost nonstop since they had started. Barnacle found it a little unsettling that the two of them were so caught up in the work that they hardly even took time out to eat and sleep. But that got the pirate captain thinking. "ARR, Kracken, where's yer partner?"

Pausing in his work but not turning around, Kracken said, "Who? Pierre? He had to go into Port Scurvy to get some more nails."

"ARR," Barnacle replied. Now that he thought about it, the place was actually rather quiet for this time of day. Davey and Jones were probably still sleeping in their Bushwoolie holes out on the beach. And without Pierre, the early morning portion of the work was cut in half; but that still didn't account for Protius and Malteeze.

Those two weren't officially members of Barnacle's crew, but they had continued to travel with the pirates since they had first met back in the Kingdom of the Bouldiers. Frankly, Barnacle didn't mind all that much since Malteeze was a hard worker once he got started on something, and Protius had quite a head on his feathered shoulders. However, they would often wander out into the jungle and disappear for days at a time and finally return with little to no explanation as to were they had been. The pirates expected a certain degree of strangeness from the three-foot-tall enlightened parrot and his powerful feline student; but sitting under a waterfall meditating for a day and a half seemed excessive by any standards. At first Barnacle had questioned them as to the benefits of these exercises, but the cryptic answers he got from the philosophic shaman were usually stranger than not knowing at all. After a while, he had just stopped asking entirely.

On a sunny day like this, Barnacle thought, they're probably out swimming with sharks or something equally strange.

And speaking of strange...

Barnacle was busy digging through a cabinet when he happened to glance down at the stream, and to his surprise he saw a large grayish shape walking out of the water. As he continued to watch, the thing walked all the way up onto shore and then stopped to have a look around. At that point, Barnacle had a chance to get a good look at the person standing in his front yard. He looked vaguely human, but his skin was a slick grayish-blue and his head had the massive bulbous shape of a whale's.

Instantly, the pirate was wary of this stranger. Perhaps it was because during his last adventure, Barnacle's entire house had been looted by the other pirates living on Calimidad. This was nothing strange for an island inhabited entirely by pirates and beach bums, and Barnacle might have even been upset if not for the fact that he had nothing worth stealing. In fact, this act of pilfering from one's neighbors while they were out on adventures was kind of like a Calimidad tradition; but all it really succeeded in doing was periodically cycling everyone's possessions around the island.

But no, Barnacle was not wary of this whale-man because of that. There was something else. Maybe it was the small pair of eyeglasses perched on the tip of his nose that made him appear smarter than the average pirate. However, Barnacle was quick to remind himself that there was no such thing as an average pirate.

Apparently, the intruder felt confidant that no one was around and began to walk toward the ship looking intently for something. However, if he had taken the time to look up into the trees he would have seen Barnacle observing his every move. And until Barnacle knew for sure what the whale-man was up to, that was all he was going to do. As the whale-man began to circle around the hull of the ship, he finally caught site of a tool box and went right for it. After a quick inspection of the contents, he picked it up and hurried back toward the water casting a backwards glance over his shoulder.

It was then that Barnacle cried out, "ARR, you there, ya best be puttin' those back were ya found 'em if ya want to live to try it again!"

The stranger stopped dead in his tracks and looked up to where the voice had come from. An irritated expression spread across his face as he caught sight of Barnacle amidst the branches.

"My apologies," the whale-man said. "I did not know that these belonged to you. I believed that they had been abandoned here in the jungle."

"ARR, abandoned right next ta a construction site?" Barnacle said.

The stranger ground his teeth, obviously bothered, and then sat the tool box down on the ground. "As I said before, my apologies. You see, my name is Dr. Malcolm Shane and I simply needed to borrow a few of your wrenches to finish a little project I'm working on."

"ARR, I don't care who ya are or what you're doin'," Barnacle replied. "If ya had really wanted ta borrow 'em ya would've asked and not snuck in like a thief!"

"Then perhaps we could come to some understanding," Shane suggested.

Maybe it was the eyeglasses and maybe it wasn't; but the longer Barnacle talked to this Malcolm Shane, the more he didn't like him. "ARR, perhaps you should just crawl back into that river and go back were you came from."

Shane started to plead his case again, but Barnacle cut him off and pointed to the stream. With an exasperated toothy grin, Shane said, "Very well," and then slunk back into the water and disappeared somewhere up stream. Barnacle continued to keep an eye on the stream for a while before he was sure Shane was gone, and then he returned to his breakfast.

After he was finished with his small meal, Barnacle crossed over to a different platform that was more isolated from the rest. This was his office were he did most of his planning. Currently the room was strewn with drawings and schematics of the new ship they were building down below. Unfolding one of the papers, Barnacle took a moment to admire the design.

It wouldn't be nearly as large or grand as his old ship, the Lucas, but it would be a serviceable craft that would allow him and his crew to have some adventures again. After awhile, he went over to his desk and busied himself the rest of the morning making minor changes to the plans and tweaking details. His original scheme for the new ship was to use it just long enough until he could afford something bigger and better. But after spending all this time building it, he wasn't so sure he'd be able to get rid of it that easily. The ship didn't even have a name yet, but he and his mates were all growing attached to it.

Barnacle was finally stirred from his musings by Kracken calling his name from somewhere down on the ground.

"ARR, what is it?" Barnacle asked as he made his way to a bridge that led down to the ship. Kracken, however, was no longer working there but standing below him.

"Have you seen the 5/8 inch wrench?" Kracken asked.

"ARR, it's in the tool box over by the river," Barnacle replied. "Some slimy sea urchin tried ta make off with it earlier."

"Are you sure he didn't succeed?" Kracken asked. "I don't see it anywhere."

"Hold on," Barnacle said as he made his way down to the ground. "It's right over there..." he was saying as he walked over to Kracken; but to his surprise, the toolbox was not where Shane had left it.

"See what I mean?" Kracken replied.

"ARR, I don't be likin' this," Barnacle said, his eyes narrowing. "I don't be likin' this one bit."

"Ya think the guy might have come back for it?" Kracken asked.

"ARR, maybe," Barnacle said as he looked into the trees and thought. "I'm gonna go check something out."

"Do you want me to come along?" his first mate asked.

As Barnacle strapped on his sword belt he said, "No, it's probably nothing; but if it is, I think I can handle it. Why don't you see if you can get the rudder working?"

"The rudder," Kracken said as he took a look at the ship. "Yeah, I've been wanting to get around to that for awhile." And then, as quickly as that, the tools were forgotten and Kracken was back to work.

With one last glance around the area to make sure they hadn't missed the toolbox, Barnacle set out into the jungle, following the stream inland. He had not gone too far at all when he caught sight of a path on the opposite bank and what looked like tracks coming out of the water. After a short swim, he arrived on the far shore and began to examine the tracks there in the soft mud. At first they looked human, but a closer inspection revealed that they were much too flat and smooth for a human's foot. They looked more like a flipper.

This was likely where Shane had come out of the water, Barnacle concluded. Since the tracks were still quite fresh and heading further inland, Barnacle decided to follow them. From the edge of the water they took off down a narrow path through the dense jungle and quickly disappeared altogether as the forest floor turned more solid. Barnacle continued to follow the trail, though, because that seemed like the only way to go at the moment.

After following the path for a rather long time, Barnacle came to a short rocky ridge that rose up in front of him. It was a simple matter to climb this ledge since it was no higher than his head, but it meant that he was now starting up the side of the mountain that stood in the center of Calimidad Island. Some people claimed that it had been a volcano at some point but that it was now extinct. Barnacle had never seen Mount Calimidad erupt, but every once in a great while a small tremor would ripple through the island to remind everyone that they had chosen to live on the back of a volcano. And extinct or not, that is something that everyone should never forget.

But today, Barnacle just hoped that he wouldn't have to climb all the way to the summit. He'd been there on several occasions and knew that it was quite a walk, and especially so just to recover a few tools which might not even be there. But he'd come this far already and had found nothing, so he figured he might as well keep going-- at least for a little while.

The path picked up again on the top of the small ridge and the pirate once again followed it. Only this time, the slope was definitely angling up at the mountain and getting steeper the farther he went. This was beginning to slow Barnacle down considerably when the path suddenly cut to the left along the slope of the mountain. But after not more than a hundred feet, the path turned back up again.

When Barnacle saw this, he was about to take a break at the turn and rethink his plan when he caught sight of a structure of some kind just a little farther up the old volcano. Moving closer, he could now see that there was indeed something built right in the path that looked like a large round building of some kind that curved back into the jungle on both sides. It was apparent immediately that it was very old. The massive stone blocks from which it was built were rough and pitted. Vines and other jungle plants climbed up the sides hoping it would take them into the sun above the massive trees that formed the nearly impenetrable canopy high overhead.

Making his way around to the side of the structure, Barnacle wasn't long in coming to an opening in the wall. A high arched gate stood hanging open which allowed the pirate to take a look inside. The structure appeared to be a large circular wall that was thick enough to contain a few rooms. On the inside of the wall he found a short cobblestoned court yard and at the very center of the complex stood a short, round, tower-like building. Everywhere he looked Barnacle saw vines and plants growing. Obviously, the place had not been used for quite some time.

But across on the other side of the yard, a door leading into the tower was also hanging open; and as the pirate looked, he thought he caught sight of movement inside. Loosening his sword in its sheath, Barnacle cautiously started out across the courtyard. The wide open space between the outer wall and the tower looked like the perfect place to catch someone off-guard and Barnacle had no intention of that someone being him. He crept forward, constantly scanning the rooftop of the ancient structure for any sign of movement.

Just as he made it a little farther than halfway across the yard, a loud hissing noise sounded off to his right. Quickly he drew his sword and spun to face whatever might challenge him; but to his relief, all he saw was a jet of steam shooting out of an old tarnished copper fitting in the ground. After a moment the steam stopped and everything seemed to return to the way it had been.

Continuing in his advance, Barnacle made it the rest of the way to the tower without incident. Careful not to made too much noise, the pirate stepped through the open door into the tower. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting; but when they finally did, his eyes opened wide in surprise.

Standing before him in the middle of the room was a massive device that stood well over a story tall. At first glance, the design was beyond him; and even as he stood and persisted to look, he only became more mystified. Whatever this thing was, it consisted primarily of three large pillars of machinery and other complex gadgets that connected a platform below to a tangled mass of more intricate devices above. Suddenly, Barnacle tore his eyes from the strange contraption standing before him and shook his head in disbelief. For whatever purpose it had been built, he sensed that it could not be good.

But as he looked around the rest of the room, he suddenly caught sight of a smaller and infinitively simpler object sitting on the floor not far in front of him. It was the tool box that he had come in search of. However, no sooner did he see this than he did also see movement from the direction of the towering machine. Quickly he raised his sword, and the whale-man from earlier stepped out from between the pillars. It was Dr. Malcolm Shane.

Holding up a small wrench, Shane said, "Sorry about the tools, but I really needed to finish my Whale Machine."

Barnacle didn't know whether to laugh out loud or just attack. Instead, he simply asked, "Whale Machine?"

"This wonderful device you see standing before you, of course!" Shane exclaimed quite proudly. "Well, in all honesty, the term 'Whale Machine' may not be entirely true anymore. You see, the original was designed by the great Atlantean Nur-Ab-Fin to turn men into the most powerful creatures on the planet... whales!" Gesturing to himself, he continued, "As you can see, it worked rather well. However, Nur-Ab-Fin later abandoned his plan and instead decided to concentrate his efforts on the controlling of minds; and thus he incorporated that capacity into the device as well. From my intimate knowledge of the original, I have assembled this replica. I have refined the design so it only controls minds and no longer turns people into whales!"

Again Barnacle didn't know what to say. He stood there for a moment thinking all this over before he replied, "ARR, so why did ya need ta steal my tools if ya had all this?"

"In my rush to order the proper components needed, I neglected to remember a 5/8 inch wrench." Holding up the wrench again for Barnacle to see, he added, "I was not about to let my bid for world domination come to a premature end simply because I lacked a 5/8 inch wrench!"

"ARR, world domination?" Barnacle asked. "Ya think that thing is gonna give you the world?"

Shane chuckled to himself. "Yes," he said. "Not only did I modify the design to remove the Whale Metamorphosis Matrix, but I also boosted the power of the Mind Controlling Assembly! With just a few more parts, I will be able to control the minds of everyone in Ponyland!"

Boldly taking a step forward, Barnacle said, "ARR, I think not."

"You think you can stop me?" Shane gloated. "You can try but you will fail, I guarantee you that!"

"We'll see," Barnacle replied; and then, holding his sword forward, he charged the diabolical fiend. However, before he even got close, from out of nowhere sprang a rather large crab that swatted Barnacle's sword aside with its massive claws.

"Keep him busy while I finish with the Whale Machine," Shane told the crab and then ducked behind the machine to finish installing the last few components.

Meanwhile, Barnacle dove across the floor to recover his sword. Just as he got it in hoof, he rolled over onto his back to block a crushing blow from the crab. Parrying that, he then rolled to the side and jumped to his hooves; but the crab was right in front of him, blocking his path to the Whale Machine and Malcolm Shane.

With a heavy snap, the crab swiped its pincer just mere inches from Barnacle's face, thus forcing the pirate to fall back. There was nothing he could do. His opponent was too heavily armored, and its lethal claws were much too quick and powerful. Yet, he had to stop Shane somehow or else the whole of Ponyland would become nothing more than his slaves.

Suddenly a loud hissing sound sprang up from his side. Both Barnacle and the crab stared in surprise. Another fitting like the one from outside was mounted in the floor here as well. This one, however, was connected to a heavy length of hose that fed into a whirling turbine of some sort. This in turn appeared as though it provided power for the Whale Machine itself.

But just as Barnacle saw this, he heard Shane laughing evilly from the far side of the room. "Now, victory is mine!" he cackled as he snapped the last piece into place.

Without a second thought, Barnacle leapt sideways past the crab and sliced through the steam hose with his sword. A moment later, the Whale Machine went dead and Shane's troubled howl rose from it's midst. "NOOOO!!!! I was so close!!!"

The crab, though, was not about to stop its attack just because the power had been cut. It charged Barnacle at full speed with both its pincers snapping wildly in front of it. Rolling quickly forward, Barnacle snatched up the severed end of the steam hose and directed it at the enraged crustacean. A cloud of scalding steam poured out of the end and fully enveloped the crab for a split second before the creature turned and fled from the tower in fear.

"ARR, the only good crab is a steamed one, I always say," Barnacle declared as he picked himself up off the floor. Turning to Shane he said, "Now what? Can I be havin' me tools back now?"

Shane looked up at the pirate, fuming and with fire in his eyes. "You've ruined everything! I was so close! All those months spent in Atlantis, studying old maps, discovering the perfect place to set up my operations, all of it for nothing! Nothing!!!"

"ARR, Atlantis, sure," Barnacle said. "Why don't we go down and see the authorities in Port Scurvy so they can be lockin' ya up."

"This time, I think not!" Shane replied and made a dash for the door. "Better to cut my losses and regroup for another day than to rot in prison."

Barnacle jumped in front of the charging whale-man but it was no use; Shane's massive size easily pushed the pirate out of the way. By the time he got back to his hooves, the doctor was nowhere to be found.

Returning to the tower building, Barnacle looked over the Whale Machine but could make neither heads nor tails of it. In the end, he figured it would be safest to destroy the whole thing in case Shane decided to return and fix it. A few well-placed slashes with his blade and suddenly the entire device started to shudder violently and long cracks began to split down the lengths of the seems. As hot steam began to spray out, Barnacle ran for the exit. He reached the courtyard not a moment too soon as the Whale Machine exploded behind him, taking the entire tower with it.

As Barnacle got to his hooves and turned to look at the smoldering crater that used to be an Atlantean outpost, he considered the whole situation that had just transpired. A mad scientist building a Whale Machine in the middle of a jungle island to take over everyone's minds– the concept seemed more than a little strange, and Barnacle found it hard to believe any of what Shane had said.

Picking up the toolbox, Barnacle started back down the mountain side. Unfortunately, Shane had made off with Barnacle's 5/8 inch wrench in the chaos; even though he had won, he still didn't get what he had come for. Shaking his head, a smile crossed Barnacle's lips as he chuckled to himself, "A mind controlling Whale Machine?" Rolling his eyes he added, "ARR, I'm sure."

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