“Battered, broken, bruised, bitten and bloody, Troy Jarglebaum was in no fit state to stand up, let alone think. He was still alive, everyone else had fucked off. That was good enough for him.”
Things are not going well for our middle-aged cop in this week’s chapter of ‘The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms”. He’s not dead though, not yet, not quite.
Chapter 70 – Brave
Dolores straddled the rail. ‘Let’s go.’
‘I want to kill Jarglebaum,’ Imelda said.
Electra slid free of her own costume. ‘Do them both. I want to watch.’
Jarglebaum and Koponen backed away. Five meters behind the two men the deck was awash. Trapped air gouted from submerged portholes as Sea Cucumber lurched downwards.
Imelda kicked off her boots and paced towards Jarglebaum. Jarglebaum moved in front of Koponen and raised his fists, a brawler’s pose.
Electra laughed and slowly clapped her hands. ‘There’s nothing wrong with your arm.’
Jarglebaum rolled his shoulders. ‘Never give an old sod an even chance.’
‘Now I’ll break them both,’ Imelda said.
Jarglebaum considered his big, meaty fists. ‘I’ve never punched a woman before. I can tell from your dress code you aren’t ladies so I’ll make an exception.’
Imelda bounced on the balls of her feet. ‘Are you through with the macho posturing?’
‘Pretty much.’ Jarglebaum grinned. ‘Oh yeah, you’re under arrest.’
He settled into a wide-legged static stance. Imelda danced forwards and slammed her bare foot into his groin. She yelped and hopped back clutching her toes.
‘Right on schedule,’ Jarglebaum laughed. ‘Copper’s best friend, the cricket box. Added the spikes myself.’
His uppercut to Imelda’s jaw lifted her clear into the air and stretched her out on the deck. Jarglebaum swore and shook his fist. Flecks of blood glistened on his knuckles, Imelda’s skin was like sandpaper. ‘Christ, lady, you need to shave.’
Imelda rolled to her feet. She dug around in her mouth with her forefinger and extracted a tooth. Glaring at Jarglebaum she threw it at him. ‘You want a piece of me? Have this.’
Jarglebaum snatched it out the air. The thin, triangular object didn’t look much like a tooth to him. He tossed it aside. ‘Hope you’ve got dental insurance.’
‘They grow back, fucker.’
‘Now I know you’re not a lady.’
Imelda flexed her shoulders.
‘Let’s go, fat man.’
They went at it hard. Troy came off worst.
Concealed behind the base of the forward crane, Tim pulled open the control panel cover. He looked down at a complicated bank of yellow-painted levers, toggle switches, three joysticks, a large green button, a larger red one, and an amber light. The light was bad and the labels on the control panel were either badly worn or missing entirely. He pushed the green button. The amber light glowed, flickered, glowed brighter, then died.
‘Wait.’ Foxy put her hands on the steel deck. ‘Come on, dear Sea Cucumber. Remember that humans built you and put their trust in you. I know you’re hurt, I know you’re struggling, but there are people still on board who need your help to stay alive.’
Foxy nodded to Tim. He pressed the green button again. This time the light stayed on.
‘What now?’ Foxy said.
Given time he knew he could work out which control did what. Once the crane started moving it would be obvious someone was operating it, and where they were. Electra and Dolores would not sit idly by.
Down at the stern Jarglebaum and Imelda exchanged a flurry of blows that left Jarglebaum down on one knee. Behind him Koponen sloshed through ankle deep water. Imelda bounced back energetically. Obviously in pain Jarglebaum pushed himself to his feet.
There was not time. Tim knew what he had to do.
He grasped Asklepios’ pendant in one hand and put his other on the crane’s control panel.
‘Grant me understanding,’ he said.
The last diamond crumbled to black powder.
In one grand sweeping moment Tim saw the entire ship. He was the ship.
The hull was breached in three places. Down in the engine room the great marine diesels had failed, starved of fuel from ruptured lines and suffocated by sea water in the air intakes. Six emergency pumps were distributed through the ship, four still worked. Designed to operate under water, those four were at full capacity. It wasn’t enough. It never could be. The last explosion had broken Sea Cucumber’s back and the Atlantic ocean was coming in.
So much knowing dazzled him. If Sea Cucumber could have sailed he could have sailed her. If she could have been saved he’d have known how. Compared to that, what he needed to know was such a small thing. His hands went confidently onto the crane’s controls. He knew exactly what to do.
Jarglebaum spat blood. One of his eyes was closing up and there was a nasty bite on his shoulder. There was a worse one on his forearm and he’d sworn he’d felt teeth on bone when Imelda bit him there. He was losing blood, losing the fight, and he knew she was better than him.
Imelda moved like an eel, weaving, striking, unpredictable. Despite his wounds Jarglebaum wasn’t finished yet. He kept telling himself he just needed to land one decent punch.
Electra and Dolores sat on the rail, fish-slender, brine-drenched and alien. They kicked their legs and laughed wildly as the waves broke against the foundering ship.
Koponen knew the Sea Cucumber was finished. On the rail a naked Dolores held out her arms and beckoned him. He was very frightened. Life had been reduced to a single unpleasant choice: how did he wish to die?
A few feet away Jarglebaum lurched and staggered. Head down, fists up, he came back to Imelda for more.
Koponen backed into deeper water. It was easy, the bows lifted higher, the slope on the deck almost encouraging. Jarglebaum went down again. Dolores and Electra applauded from the rail. Then, overhead, in the wind-racked sky, Koponen sensed unexpected movement.
Despite easily outclassing Jarglebaum Imelda was frustrated. The man simply wouldn’t stay down. A canny fighter, he hung back and refused to close in the desperate hope she might make a mistake. That wasn’t going to happen. Jarglebaum was old and slow but had weight and power. She had absolutely no intention of letting him use either. He’d caught her once, respect for that. It was the only chance he was going to get.
Every time she hit him he slowed. She feinted left, kicked him hard in the thigh and dodged back. Jarglebaum’s riposte cut the breeze way too late.
‘You can soak it up, I’ll give you that,’ Imelda said conversationally. He was going down soon, she could smell his sweat and fear, and over it all, his blood, a heady and appetising reek. ‘How long do you think you can keep going?’
‘Come here and find out,’ Jarglebaum growled. Inside he knew he was beat. Probably. All he could do was hang on and stay frosty. It was never over until it was over.
Behind him Koponen stood shin deep in cold foaming water and watched the sky.
Imelda gave a savage peal of laughter. ‘Stay there, old man. You’re next.’
Overhead, something huge swept by.
Startled, Imelda looked up.
Jarglebaum saw his last best chance. He pulled his back fist and rushed in. ‘Gotcha!’
Imelda vanished in a roar of wind.
Jarglebaum flailed wildly, desperate to connect just once before she tore him to pieces. Her counter-attack never came. He dropped into his brawler’s crouch and turned a slow full circle. Imelda had vanished.
Electra and Dolores looked out to sea in utter astonishment.
A hundred feet over the far rail, fifty feet above the rolling swell, the crane’s cargo net reached the end of its swing. Swept from the deck Imelda hung spread-eagled for a split second then tumbled down into the heaving water.
The crane turned, the trolley raced along the jib. The net hurtled straight towards Electra and Dolores on the port rail.
Dolores yelped, rolled backwards into the sea and was gone. Electra ran for the starboard rail. The crane juddered, the net swished past with the sound of rushing wind. Electric motors raced at maximum load, cable sang on the drum, the trolley raced out along the jib. Electra dodged left, then right, and the crane kept pace. Metal banged on metal, steel cable unspooled. The full weight of the cargo net dropped onto Electra’s racing form and slammed her face first onto the deck.
Battered, broken, bruised, bitten and bloody, Troy Jarglebaum was in no fit state to stand up, let alone think. He was still alive, everyone else had fucked off. That was good enough for him.
The deck lilted towards his face.
I’m falling over, I’m passing out, Jarglebaum thought serenely as the steel plating floated up. A heavy bolt was set in the decking right where he was going to hit.
Oh boy, this was going to leave a mark.
Then a slighter figure was by him, staggering with Jarglebaum’s weight. Troy found himself pushed back onto his feet.
‘The boats,’ Markus Koponen gasped. ‘We have to get to the boats.’
Foxy and Tim exchanged a look of satisfaction. They had done all they could. Things had gone a lot better than either had hoped.
She laid her hands on the deck one last time. ‘Thank you, dear, brave ship.’
Tim felt the ship like an enormous living thing. Wounded beyond salvation Sea Cucumber was on the edge of failing but she still fought on. Foxy was right, the ship had immense spirit but now it was nearly over.
The stern half of the ship was awash, the rear superstructure still ablaze, a flaming steel island assaulted on all sides by green oceanic waves.
Air and salt spume geysered from hatches and portholes as she began her descent beneath the waves.
He saw Koponen and Jarglebaum staggering towards one of the boats and started after them. ‘Come on.’
Foxy held him back. ‘I won’t be safe in one of those little things with shark-women in the water.’
‘We can’t stay here!’
The bows rose higher. Heavy chains slithered down the deck like dangerous iron snakes. A steel drum bounded past them, tumbling end over end into the waves.
Foxy’s eyes were wide and clear, and steady as the moon. ‘I can protect you better in the sea than any boat. The ocean is my world and they are the newcomers.’
Across the deck Koponen and Jarglebaum hauled one of the boats out onto the davits, lowering it the few remaining feet into the water. Beyond them glassy black waves heaved and tossed, a rising wind snatched spindrift from their foaming crests.
Tim hesitated. What was she asking? Ocean stretched to the horizon. ‘I’m not that good a swimmer.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Just trust me. Hold tight and trust me.’
Still Tim hesitated.
‘Foxy took hold of his hands. ‘You know what I am, and I know that all your life you’ve wanted to feel the touch of strange. Here it is. Here I am. Go to the boat or come with me. You need to choose and it has to be now.’
The two men had the boat in the water and struggled to free the ropes from the davits. There was still time to reach them.
Foxy stood at the rail, her hair a mane of pale golden fire against a storm-tinged backdrop of surging waves and dark sky. Tim had his doubts and fears but he also knew what he wanted. ‘I’m with you.’
Foxy tilted her chin. ‘Then kiss me. Kiss me and put your arms around my waist.’
Chastely, Tim kissed her.
Foxy grabbed his face in both hands and kissed him open-mouthed. ‘My breath is your breath, your life is bonded to mine by the ancient compacts of Deep Magic. Your kiss, my breath, our touch. Put your hands around me and never, ever, let me go.’
At that exact moment Sea Cucumber died. It was if she had been holding on, striving beyond her own endurance until her last crew were ready to go. Now, finally, she could rest.
Down she went and Foxy and Tim went with her. Water boiled up around them. Tim took a long last breath, scared now, really scared, and really trying to believe.
‘Hold on,’ Foxy cried.
The vortex of the ship’s descent pulled them irresistibly down, down…
To be continued…