The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 73 – Sunrise

Two men in a boat, nothing to see here. Oh no.
Next week I should have some exciting – exciting for me, anyway – news about the print and ebook editions. Until then, have great weekends, and enjoy.

Chapter 73 – Sunrise

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

Troy knew he was lying on his back but he couldn’t remember where. Either the sky was moving or he was. It had to be him, shifting from side to side, rising up and down.

Salt water splashed across his face.

It all came back in a rush: The struggle to launch the boat, frantic and inexpert he had rowed away from Sea Cucumber as she slid beneath the waves. Then the fight against the sucking vortex of descending water while Koponen frantically baled water and roared with terror.

Jarglebaum jerked upright. Tim was out there, he’d seen him across the tilted deck as he and Koponen launched the lifeboat. He worked one oar and turned the boat, an open craft about twenty feet long, and pulled back to where the ship had foundered. He rowed into a white ocean, the surface covered far and wide by sodden ruined seeds. A flotsam of splintered wood, rope, plastic bottles, empty lifebelts floated among them.

Pain tore at his shoulder, back, legs and arms from Imelda’s punches kicks and bites. He refused to give up, Tim was still out there. A grey tunnel slowly closed around the edges of his vision. He drifted until his sight cleared, then rowed again, circled, drifted, rowed again. All the time looking, refusing to give up. Never would he give up.

He searched for a time he couldn’t measure. It could have been minutes, it could have been years.

One of the oars was wet, it slipped from his grip. He sat looking at his hand, unable to understand why his whole arm ran red.

‘Troy.’ Koponen gently took the oars from him and laid them inboard.

The boat rocked and pitched, adrift on the waves.

‘Tim,’ Jarglebaum’s voice creaked like a rusty hinge. ‘Foxy.’

‘They’re gone, Troy. We can’t help them.’ Koponen looked into nowhere. ‘You did your best.’

Sunrise was some time off though the sky was lightening. Waves of pain and dizziness came and Jarglebaum passed out.

‘Stay still.’ Koponen held something cold to his forehead. A rag pad soaked in seawater. ‘You’ve lost a bit of blood.’

‘A bit?’

Koponen smiled thinly. ‘Some.’

Troy’s head lay towards the stern. Koponen sat behind him with his hand on the tiller.

‘I don’t remember…’ Troy’s head swam and he slumped back with a groan. How had he even got into the boat?

Koponen put a water bottle into his hand. ‘Drink this.’

Troy gulped the water down, suddenly terribly thirsty. Everything swirled, his stomach surged and he had just enough time to get his head over the side before he vomited.

Jesus, I’m a mess, Troy thought as he watched his puke swirl away into the sea. The bite on his shoulder burned like it was on fire, so did the one on his arm. Gingerly he pulled up his shirt sleeve and winced at the state of his forearm. He’d seen human bite marks and they were nasty, bestial things. This one didn’t look like that. Each black and purple puncture still wept dark blood, the outline of the bite a wide triple-row of wounds.

He felt himself sliding away again and fought it. He needed a real drink. He wanted to tell himself his memories of the last hours on the ship were part hallucination, that Imelda, Electra and Dolores hadn’t done the things they had done. That they hadn’t changed into weird monstrous walking fish and dived into the sea. That they hadn’t killed so many men.

Christ, he felt rough. He wondered if the bites were poisoned or if it was simply because Imelda had beaten him flatter than hammered shit.

Koponen lashed the tiller into position. ‘There’s bandages and disinfectant in the locker. Take your shirt off and I’ll clean you up. These lifeboats have radio distress beacons. I’ve turned ours on.’ He looked haunted. ’We’ll be OK.’

‘Sure thing. Down but not out, that’s us.’ Troy winced as he shrugged out of his ripped shirt. After your first cracked rib you learned to recognise the pain.

Koponen cleaned Troy’s wounds. ‘These are nasty but the bleeding has nearly stopped. Your arm is going to be stiff as hell but I don’t–’

Something bumped against the underside of the hull. Both men froze.

The sound came again: quiet, testing.

Koponen carefully pushed himself to his feet and hefted one of the oars. He stood astride the beam of the boat, balanced, watching, waiting. Not this boat too, his whole attitude said. Not today.

Slumped against the side wall Troy looked up at the slightly built older man. Imelda ripped me apart, he thought bleakly, what chance do you have?

Not even sure he could stand, let alone wield something as heavy as an oar, Troy decided to stay where he was.

The bump came again, heavier, actually shifting the boat. A stealthy scratching, scraping sound moved towards the stern.

Troy’s hands were shaking. There was a cubby hole in the prow packed with survival equipment. He rummaged through it looking for a weapon. No way was he going out without a fight.

Markus raised the oar over his head. ‘Here they come.’ He sounded very calm.

Metal glinted. Troy snatched it up and turned just as Markus sighed with relief and lowered the oar. ‘It’s just wreckage.’

Drenched in sweat, Troy looked at what he held in his fist. Koponen dropped down beside him and drew up his knees.

‘This was all I could find,’ Jarglebaum said.

Koponen looked at what he held and chuckled. ‘A pair of tweezers.’ His laughter grew and grew, then turned to racking sobs.

Troy put his good arm round Koponen’s shoulders and held him close. ‘It’s OK, Markus. It’s OK.’

Koponen fell quiet. They sat together looking across the grey, rolling sea. A thin layer of mist hung a few feet above the water. The sun rose. It was beautiful.

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms – Chapter 72, Deep Magic

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

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017

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.

‘Brighton.’

‘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…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 71 – Good Thinking

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

‘I think we should go,’ the Hand said.

Persistent Smith flicked on his torch and checked his watch. It was about an hour before dawn. ‘Far too early,’ he said curtly.

‘All right.’

Smith felt a little sorry for being so abrupt. ‘Well, we could take a look.’

He had spent much of the time in the boot of the Imperial in whispered conversations with the Hand.

‘You’re always popping up when I don’t need you.’

‘That’s not fair. I’ve been helpful.’

Smith had to admit this was true.

‘We’ve had fun together, adventures,’ the Hand said.

Despite himself, Smith had to agree with that as well.

‘Hand, when I was talking to Heidi you made me feel really embarrassed.’

‘She thought I was funny.’

‘I wanted to be with her on my own.’

A long silence followed during which Smith did some thinking of a type he’d done very little of before.

‘Hand?’

‘Yes?’

‘I know you’re really just me. You’re not a separate thing. I made you up one day and you hung around.’

‘I know. We’re the same person. You needed a way to share things. You needed a friend.’

Smith thought about that for a while.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘You’re right. Or rather, I’m right.’

‘We’re right?’ the Hand suggested.

‘No,’ Smith said firmly. ‘We’re both me, so it’s still me who’s right.’

‘Yes. Good Thinking,’ the Hand said with approval.

Smith knew he had changed from the person who had invented the Hand. He no longer needed another voice to help him make his mind up. The realisation felt very good. In that newly empowered frame of mind, though he couldn’t put a name to the concept, he knew he should be gracious.

‘Hand, you are fun to have around, but you can’t just keep appearing when you want to. I don’t want you to go away and, seeing as you’re me, I can’t really do that. Just don’t forget I’m the one who wears the hat in this relationship.’

Somehow the Hand contrived to look deadpan. ‘You’d have to be. I don’t have a head.’

Smith’s laughter boomed through the car. ‘Yes. I’m the one with the head, which means I get to do the thinking. Perhaps I should get a white hat like Markus Koponen. After all, we are the good guys.’

He checked his watch again. ‘OK, let’s get out of the car.’

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 70 – Brave

“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

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

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.’

‘My pleasure.’

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.

‘Damn it.’

‘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…

Science for Fiction 2019

The amazing Science for Fiction is back for another year at Imperial College, London. Once again it is organised and curated by Dr. David Clements.

As usual the event will take place in the Physics Department of Imperial College, London. This year it on 3-4 July, starting on the afternoon of 3rd, then all day on the 4th.

As David says: “For those who don’t know, Science for Fiction is a chance for writers to meet, hear talks from and to discuss ideas with some of the UK’s leading scientists in all areas from maths and physics to biology and geology. Past talks have included quantum computing, epigenetics, cosmology and the Mars rovers

The cost will be £30, which also covers refreshments, and lunch on the 4th. As someone who has been before I can tell you this is an absolute bargain. It is also one of the highlights of my genre events year.

If you are interested, email Dr Clements at davecl (at) mac (dot) com.

See you there!

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 69 – It’s Over

All may not quite be revealed here but a significant amount is, including a good amount of skin. Goodness.

Chapter 69 – It’s Over

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017

The explosion lifted Sea Cucumber’s stern clear of the water. The ship smashed down, torrents of shattered seawater flew high into the air, plunged down and gushed across the deck. Up near the bows Foxy and Tim had just climbed from the hold. Knocked from their feet, the water washed them across the deck and they fetched up bruisingly hard against the base of the forward cargo crane.

High in the rear superstructure Troy Jarglebaum and Markus Koponen raced down a companionway to the main deck. Jarglebaum’s feet went out from under him, his elbow slammed against an edge and he swore like the world was ending.

‘Sabotage,’ Koponen gasped. ‘Murder and destruction.’

What else could it be? Jarglebaum hauled Koponen to his feet, wincing with the pain from his elbow. ‘Keep moving, Markus.’

Koponen’s hat had gone, his thinning blond hair smeared across his face by wind and sea. ‘Who did this?’ he shouted and clutched the air. ‘Oil? Governments? Why? How? Nobody knew my plans.’

Sea Cucumber’s bows slowly came up, shedding tonnes of water. With ponderous inevitability the stern sank back and she began to settle again. Clouds covered the stars, the wind was rising, a heavy swell pounded the ship’s side with steady, ominous booms. Behind them rolling waves broke across the aft deck. Jarglebaum looked around with a hysterical calmness he knew was a prelude to panic.

‘The hell with this,’ Jarglebaum bawled. ‘Where are the boats?’

Koponen clutched Jarglebaum’s jacket. ‘We must save the ship. The seeds, my work–’

‘No way, José. You pay me to take care of you, and that’s what I’m doing. We’re out of here.’

‘Please!’

A huge burst of freezing spray drenched them. Jarglebaum hauled Koponen round to face the stern. ‘Look at her. She’s sinking, it’s too late.’

Koponen’s shoulders sagged. ‘Yes, I see.’

‘Where are the damned lifeboats?’

Koponen pointed up the canting deck. ‘Midships.’

As they slipped and scrambled towards the bow three figures emerged out of the dark.

‘Dolores!’ Koponen cried. ‘Thank God, you’re all safe.’

‘Come with us. Now,’ Jarglebaum bellowed.

Imelda blocked their way.

‘Get a move on!’ Head down against the wind, Jarglebaum pushed forward.

Imelda stepped aside, grabbed his arm and forced it behind his back.

‘Christ, what are you doing?’ Jarglebaum was on tip toe, his slabby cheeks quivered with pain.

Wind driven spume burst across the deck. Electra’s platinum hair broke free of its bonds, lifted by the rising gale into a writhing, silver-white plume above her head. She pulled back her hand and gave Markus Koponen a stinging slap across his face.

#

Crouched behind the crane Foxy and Tim peered at the five figures through the spray drenched night.

‘Can you see what they’re doing?’ Tim said.

‘They’re arguing, fighting.’

‘Hardly surprising, all things considered.’

Foxy pulled Tim down. ‘Keep out of sight.’

‘We’ve got to get off the ship.’

‘Don’t worry, we will,’ Foxy said. She narrowed her eyes. Something about the fit of the women’s clothing bothered her badly.

#

Imelda pushed up under Jarglebaum’s elbow. ‘This is too easy. I could lift your arm right out of its socket.’

‘Stop, I’m begging you,’ Jarglebaum gasped. ‘Have pity, I’m an old man.’

‘You’re pathetic.’ Imelda shoved Jarglebaum back into Koponen and both men crashed down on the wet deck. Jarglebaum cried out as he fell and clutched his elbow when he hit the deck but his eyes were triumphant, sly.

Imelda hauled Koponen to his feet. She too slapped him hard.

Koponen’s head rocked back. Blood smeared his lower lip. He looked at Imelda with incomprehension, his voice a broken whisper. ‘You did this. Why?’

Somewhere deep inside Dolores felt unhappy. Koponen had been good to her; now he was going to die. She flung her arms around him and kissed his cheek. ‘So long, baby. Nothing lasts forever. We had some good times but now it’s over.’

‘Dolores.’ Koponen blinked in disbelief. ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too, sweetie, but there’s someone else.’

Koponen’s gesture took in the sinking ship wallowing in the heaving sea. ‘That’s what this is all about? You have a new boyfriend?’

‘It’s not what you think.’

‘Of course not. It never is.’

Jarglebaum lurched to his feet, one arm hung by his side. ‘You’ve done what you came for. Let us get to the boats.’

Imelda smiled a wide, wide smile. ‘Sorry. This is where it ends.’

Jarglebaum hung his head, exhausted, defeated. ‘I told you, Markus. I tried to warn you.’

Something had happened to Dolores’ skin. Every time she moved she tore her costume. For some reason the fit was all wrong. Now she had finally accepted she had finished with Koponen she realised her relationship with her wardrobe would also have to change.

It hardly mattered. The heaving, frigid water was enticing, almost sexual. What she was wore was now little more than a collection of rags, an encumbrance. She shrugged free of her jacket, stepped out of her skirt, and kicked off her shoes to stand proudly nude except for her laddered stockings and suspender belt. Her spray-drenched skin glistened under the faltering ship’s lights.

Red shoes, no knickers, Jarglebaum thought wildly. It really is true.

‘My God,’ Koponen gasped. ‘What’s happened to you?’

Dolores looked down. Although her stomach was a pleasingly flat slab of rippled muscle, the same was now also true of her chest. She considered her once magnificent bosom with a lack of concern that surprised even herself. The extra rows of teeth in her mouth and the wonderful sinuosity of her body more than compensated. The two men did look so very, very edible.

#

Foxy gripped Tim’s arm as Dolores stood revealed. ‘Shark-women! Those men are in big trouble.’

Despite the dark and the breaking waves Tim could tell there was something wrong with Dolores just from the strange litheness in the way she moved. Her chest was deep, her flanks sleek with unnaturally straight and waistless hips. She turned and under the faltering neon of the ship’s lights Tim saw a saw-tooth row of triangular fins running the length of her spine.

Foxy’s voice was hoarse with shock. ‘Deep Magic, twisted and gone bad. Someone – something has done this to them.’ She looked at Tim from eyes filled with anger and fear. ‘It can’t be… they were supposed to have all died an age ago.’

‘Who?’

‘Not human, not mer. Not people.’

‘Tuoni. That was the name Imelda said down in the hold.’ Tim shuddered with the memory of her weird ecstatic dance and words. ‘They want you to be his–’

She pressed her fingers against his lips. ‘Don’t say it. Please. Right now we have to help those men.’

‘How? I can’t fight Imelda.’

‘If we don’t, they are going to die.’

Tim thought fast, he needed something unexpected, from the left-field. He’d met some strange and unusual people in his time, Mrs Woosencraft, Asklepios. What would they do? It felt like it came to him out of nowhere, a gift. Asklepios. He looked up at the crane and the heavy cargo net hanging from the boom high overhead. ‘Do you know how to work this thing?’

‘No. Do you?’

He clutched the diamond pendant through his shirt. ‘Maybe.’

To be continued…


The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms – Chapter 68 – The Contingency Plan

‘What does it take to sink this damned ship?’ Imelda scowled as she retracted and extended the aerial of the remote detonator in her blood-soaked hand.

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

Beneath her feet, the deck sloped gently down towards the stern where a towering pillar of black smoke formed a blot of solid darkness against the starry sky.

Electra leaned on the rail. ‘It is sinking, you can feel it.’ Like Imelda, Electra appeared to be wearing elbow-length blood-red gloves. Gloves that dripped onto the deck.

‘I thought it would be more dramatic.’

‘Never mind. The crew were fun.’

Dolores leaned on the rail and looked out over the rolling grey-green Atlantic. ‘It’s those secondary pumps.’

‘Koponen’s so damned thorough, so effective, so very clever with his fall-back positions and contingency plans. I worry about what he might do next,’ Imelda grumbled.

‘Soon you won’t have to.’

‘What do you mean?’ Dolores came off the rail. ‘We agreed we wouldn’t hurt him.’

‘And we won’t.’ Electra’s mouth drew back in a cool feral smile. ‘He’s on board a ship sinking in the middle of the Atlantic. He’ll have to take his chances like the rest of us.’

‘I want him punished,’ Imelda said. ‘If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t be here.’

Electra stretched, a lithe, liquid movement. ‘I like what happened. I want to be what we shall soon become.’

‘I liked being the woman I once was.’

Dolores studied her fingernails and scratched experimentally at her arm. She brushed her leg with the back of her hand and ripped her stocking open with her knuckles.

‘It’s happening,’ she said breathlessly. ‘It’s already started. I laddered my own stocking. We’re over water and it’s happening. I’m going first.’

Imelda looked at the dark, heaving sea. ‘I’m not ready. I need more time…’

‘We changed once when we were growing up, now we’re changing again.’ Dolores rolled her shoulders. ‘It itches, all down my spine.’ She bent and flexed and her bolero jacket split open down the back, cut by a row of bone-white triangular ridges running down her spine.

Nervous, Electra rubbed her own arm. Moving her hand from wrist to elbow it felt as smooth as ever. In the other direction it rasped like sandpaper.

She had known this was coming, the first of Tuoni’s gifts, but now it actually was happening her heart was in her throat and her mouth was too dry to swallow. People called her cold but she knew how to feel, she had emotions. She just had something they didn’t, self-control.

Even before college the three of them had sought adventure, looking for lost mysteries, new discoveries and shared thrills in the wide, wild world. Now, right here, right now, was the start of something far beyond their dreams. Beyond imagination. Beyond sanity.

The entity that believed itself to be Tuoni had found them dying. In pillaging their memories it had found a semblance of identity. In saving them it remade them to share that world. Lust and terror bound them to him, a kind of madness that let them revel in what they could do, and weep at what they would become.

Imelda and Dolores’ eyes were bright as the conflicting thrills of anticipation and fear surged through them. They held each other’s hands tight. To make this journey alone was too awful to contemplate. Together they would survive.

Dolores laughed in alarm as her elbow split her sleeve. Imelda ran her tongue over newly-aching gums and felt a second row of teeth. She wanted to bite and chew and taste blood. She too laughed wildly though her eyes sought Electra’s for comfort.

Can this really be happening, Electra thought as she felt the changes in her own body, the new flexibility of her spine, the three slits opening under each ear. Could this ever happen to a human being? Would she still be–? She cried out at the loss of what she was leaving behind. Then a colder, steadier state of mind rose up, and her fear died away.

The deck canted under their feet as Sea Cucumber sank lower in the water. Tuoni rose up like a new tide within them.

‘Kipu-Tytto. She doesn’t know how lucky she is,’ Electra said.

They all knew what she meant. Birthing Tuoni’s spawn was a transcendent agony they all craved.

Dolores looked down at the sea with longing. ‘She’s under the water already. I want to swim.’

Imelda keyed in a short sequence of numbers on the detonator and flipped open the guard on the large, red button. ‘Koponen said you should always have a contingency plan. Here’s mine’ She pressed the button.

To be continued…

Writing as Drawing

We all have our ways of doing things. When I’m plotting out a novel or a longer story I always start with pen and paper. I like to use my favourite fountain pen, and quartered sheets of A4.  I do something similar with a short story too, though I’ll probably just write down a few key things that anchor it. I’ll always use pen and paper.

There’s something about the process that works well for me, though I don’t know why. All I can say is there’s a connection between mind and eye and hand so they feel like three parts of one thing. Pen and paper stimulates and focusses my imagination and lets the ideas flow ­– though not in any order. I’ll brainstorm everything in a few sessions, one plot point, or scene, or character, or piece of dialogue per piece of paper.  I’ve found this much more useful than using a notebook because later on I can arrange and re-arrange the bits of paper into groups and piles – a structure starts to emerge.

At some point I’ll read through the stack of notes and off I’ll go again with more ideas, more bits of paper, and at least one recharge of the pen with fresh ink.

Last summer we were on what turned out to be a brilliant, happy, productive and relaxing two weeks in Cornwall. We’d hired a 1-bed beach cottage and our days became ones of early morning writing, beach walks and ice-cream, writing, pasties for lunch or supper, sea-swims, and conversations in the evening over a bottle of wine.

Someone had left a book in the cottage:  Between the Lines, Ba (Hons) Drawing, 2018, Falmouth University. It was fascinating to see pictures of the students’ work and read the comments each of them had written about their art and inspiration, and the connections some of them found between the paper and the pencil or brush in their hand with the concepts in their mind.

There were some suggested exercises in the back of the book. One of them was titled Automatic Writing is Drawing Too.  The instructions were simple: ‘Start Writing. Don’t think about the words until you’ve filled every bit of empty space.’

It was a good exercise but the concept startled me. Writing is drawing?  I pushed against the idea then realised they were right. Drawing is a way to communicate and express ideas on paper, and what is writing if not that? Writing with pen and paper really is a kind of drawing. It was obvious, I’d just never thought about it that way.

It made me wonder if that productive link between mind and hand and pen is really because when I do it I’m not writing or drawing, I’m doing both.

~


This blog was originally published on the Milford SF web site in October, 2018.

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms – Chapter 67 – Breathe

Author’s Note: Sometimes you have an idea so wild and perfect it makes you laugh out loud. The one I had while writing The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms is in this week’s chapter. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe spot that idea that still makes me smile.

Chapter 67 – Breathe

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017

Imelda knew her knots. She had tied Tim and Foxy securely but not so tight blood could not circulate. She wanted their attention focused on each other’s suffering, not their own.

Tim strained against Foxy. The ropes dug into his wrists, burning his skin as he twisted his hands struggling to touch her backside. His damaged shoulder burned with jagged inner fire.

‘Wait,’ Foxy gasped, ‘you’re not getting down far enough. We need to loosen the ropes.’

Tim leaned his weight against the rope running through the eyelets and held steady while Foxy twisted and writhed behind him. Despite being ankle deep in freezing water in the hold of a sinking ship Tim was amazed to find an erotic element to the situation.

My God, he thought. Is everything women say is wrong about men actually true?

Then Foxy slipped, her full weight went against him and the pain in his shoulder became his universe.

Foxy’s voice came from a long way away. ‘Tim? Tim?’

Someone was making wounded animal noises through clenched teeth. Tim realised it was him and stopped. The pain receded by moments. ‘Oh Gods, that hurt.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Foxy gasped, breathing hard.

Somehow she had been holding him up. The water was up to their knees.

‘Forget it. Let’s try again.’ He reached down, yelped and immediately stopped. There was no point trying if he was going to pass out. He twisted round to use his left arm. Foxy pushed up. They stretched, they arched their backs. Tim’s fingertip slid past her waistband.

‘There, can you feel it. My pocket.’

Tim touched the pocket’s top seam. ‘Got it.’

‘Try and get my comb.’

‘Good idea. Saw through the ropes.’

Freezing sea water surged around their thighs. Deep in the ship the pumps kept up their steady beat. Tim slid two fingers into Foxy’s pocket. The seam was tight, he couldn’t push down any further. He moved his fingers from side to side, his fingertips touched the comb and it slipped away from him.

‘Nearly–’

Foxy strained upwards. ‘This could almost be fun. In different circumstances.’

‘Don’t make me laugh.’

They tried again as chill salt water surged around their waists. Tim hands were submerged, getting cold, growing stiff. He growled through gritted teeth. ‘Come on you bastard fat fingers.’

He touched the top of the comb again. His attention narrowed to his fingertips, the texture of the sodden fabric of Foxy’s skirt, the spot on his finger where the seam rubbed his skin raw. The water softened the fabric, loosening the weave a fraction. Water that was now chest deep.

‘Push up now. Hard as you can.’ Tim said.

When Foxy moved he let his knees drop.

His fingers slipped into the pocket. First and second fingers brushed the comb.

‘Got it,’ Tim said, then lost it again. He shifted his shoulders, fought the surging fire-burn agony there, and actually had the comb pinched between his fingertips. Then he blacked out.

It was only for a fraction of a second but it was enough. The water was over his chest now, almost at is shoulders. Not long now. He knew had perhaps one more effort in him.

‘Again, Tim,’ Foxy said calmly.

‘In a bit.’

‘No, now.’

‘I can’t do it, Foxy. I need to let the water numb my shoulder.’ He doubted it would be enough. He could barely feel his fingers as it was.

The water touched his chin. He tipped his head back and it went into his ears, the corners of his eyes. His shoulder was a cold dead lump. He blinked and gasped, sucking in lungs-full of air, hyperventilating for that long last breath.

Water brimmed around his mouth.

‘Now,’ Tim spluttered.

There was desperate urgency in her voice. ‘Tim, I never said–’

He sank underwater and reached down as hard and as far as he could. All the sweet hells how much it hurt. Black grinding iron agony, pain that had a shape and form, a thing that had an existence of itself. He let it have the part of his body it wanted. Tendrils of pain spread out and he pushed back, pushed himself right out of his own body. For a moment he hung in the dark water and watched himself drown.

His fingers slid into Foxy’s pocket. He pinched the comb between his fingers and lifted it free.

Everything was black. He tried to surface but the surface was far over his head. Dark and cold. An irresistible urge grew in his chest, soon he would have to breathe. There was not enough time to cut the ropes.

He felt Foxy’s fingers against his. She tugged gently on the comb and he let go. Too late. They had tried, together. At least they had tried. Perhaps she…

Everything was black.

Behind him Foxy stroked the comb across the knots binding their wrists. At its touch they unravelled.

She ducked down and freed their feet. She pulled away the rope around their waists. She put her arm around Tim and lifted him to the surface.

He choked and coughed, then took one solid glorious breath after the other.

Foxy held her comb triumphantly aloft. ‘My comb, my mermaid’s comb. It untangles my hair when the salt and surf have been at it. These ropes were no contest.’

Rope that were now nothing but loosely spreading fibres.

All Tim could do was nod and breathe and tread water. Around them the stacks of seed drums ponderously toppled into the rising water.

Foxy took his hand. ‘Come on, Ace. Let’s get the hell out of here.’

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 66 – A Kind of Beauty

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

Koponen was being violently sick, the acid stench of his vomit nauseating over the bitter reek of blood in the radio room. Jarglebaum had been a cop all his life. He’d seen things, bad things. He didn’t like what he was seeing now but he could cope. Nevertheless, there was a claw of fear in his gut, gripping, twisting.

The radio was wrecked. It didn’t take a detective to work out it had been wrecked by the radio operator or that he’d had an accomplice. That was because the radio had been destroyed by systematically pounding the operator’s face against it.

When he was young Jarglebaum had taken firearms training with the Sussex Constabulary. For three years he’d been on call, attended armed robberies, sieges, and gang fights all without firing a single shot. Then he’d got the promotion he’d been angling for all along and never touched a gun again. There was no glamour, no cachet attached to weapons in Jarglebaum’s mind. They were tools. The furthest he’d go was to admit there was a kind of beauty to their uncompromising design. Like anybody who knew guns he had an intense respect for them. Guns were good for one thing and one thing only.

How he wished he had one now.

Jarglebaum put his hand on Koponen’s heaving shoulder. ‘Come away, Markus. There’s nothing we can do here.’

He helped Koponen down a sloping corridor. The dip to stern had increased even in the few minutes it had taken them to reach the radio room.

Sea Cucumber began to roll in the swell as she lost way. As they passed the crew’s mess the door swung open. It was dark inside, the open door felt like a gaping maw.

Just through the door Jarglebaum saw a single overturned chair. He knew what he should do: he should step inside that dark and ominously silent room and take a look. He didn’t want to. He could smell that sickly metallic blood-reek again. He knew what he would see.

Jarglebaum’s knees were shaking, he could taste bile in his mouth. He told himself he had seen enough, that there was nothing he could do. It was more important to get Koponen safely away.

To be continued…