I’m sorry I wasn’t able to post chapters the past two weeks. I’ve been madly busy with the launch of my SF novel Shopocalypse, copy-editing for an anthology I am curating, and a short story commission, and other things. Something had to give, and this was it. I’m back on track and here is the next chapter, which is one of the focuses of the whole story.
Chapter 72, Deep Magic
Foxy swam steadily away from the ship with powerful beats of her tail. Tim looked around filled with transcendent awe. Violet-grey sea light faded into shadowed distance. Below lay a dark void, above their heads the surface shimmered liquid silver.
Foxy really was a mermaid. He was still alive. He really was here.
The sea was filled with sound. Creaks, thuds and metallic booms came from the broken ship, elsewhere sharp clicks and trills came from unknown sources. Deep and swooping, a near subsonic oscillation vibrated through Tim’s body. Knowledge came from Foxy along with her delight: whale song. She held steady in the water and they looked back.
A quarter of a mile behind them, her amber lights still glowing from portholes and masthead, Sea Cucumber sank stern down into the abyss. An enormous smoky plume trailed behind her from a long, ragged tear in her hull.
Not smoke, seeds, Tim thought sadly. Markus Koponen’s great, brave, mad and madly expensive plan to save the world, destroyed by people he loved and trusted.
Three shapes darted around the wreck and surged into the hold: Imelda, Electra and Dolores fully transformed. They erupted back into open water, came together, circled twice, and set off in pursuit. Tim shuddered. Despite the distance, he felt their fury.
Foxy flexed her back and surged away. Tim’s shoes were a dragging weight. He kicked them off and watched them jig and twirl in her wake. Away in the distance Sea Cucumber descended into the depths. Her last lights faded from sight and she was gone.
Now Foxy dove deeper, down into a layer of colder, denser water. They descended past a school of mackerel at rest on the thermocline, shimmering like a blanket of silver scales.
The shark-women followed, gaining fast. They burst through the shoal, scattering the fish in a whirl of panic.
Tim knew Foxy was strong but she was pulling his weight. On her own she would be able to escape.
‘Don’t even think about it.’ Foxy’s voice moved across his mind. ‘If you let go you’ll break my spell and drown.’
‘They’ll catch us.’ Tim tried speaking with his mouth closed, with no idea if Foxy could even hear him, let alone understand.
Foxy swam deeper still. ‘I’m going to ask for help.’
This deep the light was almost gone. Above and behind them the black silhouettes of the shark-women closed in through watery twilight. Far below Tim saw a titanic shape, shadowy and indistinct in the lower depths. Then he saw another, and another.
Tim felt the tireless energy of Foxy’s body beneath him, a tirelessness he knew would not, on its own, be enough. The huge shapes loomed closer. He looked on in awe as they resolved into a pod of humpback whales. Young and old, male and female, the bulls thrumming their life-songs as they cruised the watery night.
Foxy’s thoughts came again. ‘I’m going to sing to them.’
Her music was so beautiful he nearly let go, transported by reefs of octaves, an archipelago of chords. The whales answered in subsonic rumbles that shivered his whole body and lifted his heart in high soaring cries. This was a language that was felt as much as heard, experienced as much as understood. Listening to it he was at once lost and found. Here was the real ocean, the source of Deep Magic and Foxy’s true home.
She firmed his grip on her waist. ‘The whales have agreed to help.’
Beneath them the entire pod began to circle and rise. Up above the shark-women hesitated then swam to one side. The whales moved beneath them then ascended in a great spiral. All at once every whale exhaled and enormous billows of gigantic flat bubbles rushed upwards.
Still rising the whales herded the confused shark women towards the surface in a net of bubbles.
Foxy swam hard and stayed deep for several more minutes. At long last she slowed and began to rise towards the light.
‘Where are we going?’ Tim thought.
‘No! Smith is locked in the Chrysler’s boot!’
Foxy looked back at him with luminous green eyes. Locks of her hair slowly wreathed about her pale face. ‘No need to shout. I know the way.’
The passage of time lacked conventional meaning in this eternal place. Tim slipped into a different state of mind, aware but unthinking, seeing and accepting, surrounded by wonders.
They passed among a million jellyfish, ten million. Disturbed by their wake algae shimmered with organic light as they rose with the sunrise to feed and bask. Shoals of fish cruised, and once there were real sharks, quick and grey, black-eyed and impressive. There were sounds too, the clicks, buzzes and strange whoops of sea creatures, the chush-chush of a ship’s propellers. Ethereal in the far distance, whale song again.
Foxy swam steadily on.
To be continued…