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Authors: Lian Tanner

Icebreaker (20 page)

BOOK: Icebreaker
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“But
would
you?”

“I spose so,” said Petrel. “I won't let anything stop me waking the sleeping captain, not anything or anyone. Gotta look after shipfolk, even if they don't look after me. Is that what you mean?”

Fin sighed and did not answer.

Before Petrel opened the hatch, they pulled on their gloves and ice masks. Then they stepped out onto the afterdeck.

Despite the cold, it was a relief to get out of the smoky ship. Petrel drew the freezing air into her lungs and squinted nor'east. The day was almost over, and the light was failing. She could see no sign of the other ship.

“They ain't after us yet,” she whispered to Fin.

Men and women in outdoor clothes were scattered around the
Oyster
's rail, watching for the bergs that rose above the water, and for the more deadly ones that lurked below. They took no notice of the two bratlings until Petrel tapped an Officer woman on the arm.

“What is it?” said the woman, without taking her eyes off the water.

“There's a ship nor'east of us,” said Petrel. “You can't see it right now, but it's there.”

The woman turned and peered at her in astonishment. But then her face changed and she said to her neighbor, “It's the Nothing girl.”

“What does she want?”

“How would I know? Some witless game she's playing.”

“'Tisn't a game,” said Petrel. “We saw a ship! It's coming after us, and—”

“Times like this, they should lock her up,” said the woman, talking right over the top of Petrel as if she wasn't there. “Keep her out of the way.” And she went back to her vigil.

Petrel turned to the woman's neighbor. But before she could utter a word, the neighbor said, “Times like
this
? What are you talking about? When was there ever a fire, before the stranger came on board? When did we ever lose steering?”

“Never,” growled the first woman, still watching the sea. “The stranger was bad luck from the beginning. Orca said so—”

Petrel and Fin faded back toward the hatch. “You were right,” whispered Petrel. “We should've gone straight to the sleeping captain. They're not gunna listen to anything
I
say.”

As she opened the hatch, she heard the Officer woman mutter, “At least the bergs won't be a problem for much longer. Look at that pack ice. We'll be icebound before we know it.”

With the engines dead, it was already colder inside the ship. Petrel and Fin climbed back down the Commons ladderway with pipe messages rattling nonstop around them.

CREW KEEP TO INNER DECKS WHERE POSSIBLE, TO CONSERVE HEAT.

DAMAGE ON STORES DECK WORSE THAN FIRST THOUGHT. ESTIMATE SEVERAL DAYS' REPAIR TIME.

LOOKOUTS REPORTING. PACK ICE ALL AROUND SHIP.

Petrel wished she knew where Mister Smoke and Missus Slink were. Had they been hurt in the fire? Or were they secretly helping to mend the lectrics, scurrying back and forth with bits of wire, and joining them together with quick twists of their clever paws?

SHIP ICEBOUND. FOG CLOSING IN.

GET A MOVE ON, ALBIE.

DOING WHAT I CAN.

ABANDON BERG WATCH. PRIORITY OFFICER INSPECTION OF ALL DECKS, I REPEAT, ALL DECKS.

GET THOSE HAND PUMPS WORKING FASTER.

The crew members that Fin and Petrel passed were piling on their outdoor clothes and everything else they owned, until they were twice as wide as normal, and almost unrecognizable. Babies were being carried to the very middle of the ship, where they would be placed in a huddle, like penguins sheltering from a blizzard, with adults all around them for warmth.

Petrel knew it was no use stopping anyone, no use trying to warn them. No one had time or energy to listen to a Nothing girl, especially when she was talking about something as far-fetched, something as
ridiculous
as a strange ship.

“Sleeping captain's our only hope,” she said to Fin. “Do you reckon
he'll
listen?”

Fin didn't answer. He seemed to have withdrawn into a world of his own—not the distant, superior world that Petrel hated, but a place of confusion and anger, overlain with a desperate determination.

Petrel thought he was probably remembering the cruel men, and bracing himself for the nasty task of fighting them, so she left him alone and answered her own question. “Don't know, do we? But we have to try.”

Grease Alley was nowhere near as busy as Dufftown, but there were folk there all the same, hurrying through the passages with lanterns in their hands and serious looks on their faces. Some of them carried babies and small bratlings. Others checked panels and switches to see if the fire damage had come this far. There was water everywhere, spilling down from the galley and being forced out of the ship as fast as the hand pumps could work.

The usual separation of tribes had broken down completely. Petrel saw Duff helping Grease, and Grease helping Braid. She and Fin walked into their lantern light and out of it, over and over again, and no one recognized them or tried to stop them.

“Not much farther,” she whispered to Fin. “Down another deck and then aft a bit. Remember the last time I brought you this way? The toothies were running and your arm was bleeding.”

It seemed like weeks ago. Everything was different now.

Everything's worse,
Petrel told herself.
Ship's icebound, no engines, no steering, and the cruel men of Fin's are coming after the
Oyster
like sharks after a wounded whale. AND no one'll listen to me!

But being ignored was nothing new. “At least there's two of us,” she whispered to Fin. “It's better than being alone.”

Still Fin said nothing.

As they reached the top of the next ladderway, with a lantern coming towards them along the passage, Petrel thought she saw a gray shadow dive into a cabin.

“Mister Smoke,” she hissed. “Is that you? We're going to find the sleeping captain. We have to wake him—”

And then the folk with the lantern were upon them. They were Braid, Petrel thought, though they were so rugged up that it was hard to be sure. One of them, farther from the lantern light than the others, stared at the children as they passed. Petrel urged Fin down the ladderway. They must not be stopped now. They must find the sleeping captain and tell him—

“That's them,” came a familiar voice from above.

It was Dolph.

Petrel didn't even turn around. “Run!” she hissed, and she grabbed hold of Fin and dragged him into the darkness.

 

CHAPTER 21

WE HAVE CAUGHT THE MURDERER

If Petrel had been alone, she could have evaded her pursuers easily. She had been running from Dolph all her life, and this was no different. But Fin slowed her down.

He tried not to. He ran as fast as he could, but he didn't know the ship the way Petrel did. He didn't know where to dive into a side passage, where to climb, where to duck under a railing.

Petrel thought of leaving him. As she hauled him around corner after dark corner, with the lanterns flickering behind them and their shadows leaping in front, she told herself that she should let go of his hand. Let Braid have him.
She'd
be all right. If the cruel men came, she'd hide, as she had always done. They'd never find
her.
And once they were beaten off, as they surely would be, she'd go back to her old life, lurking around the edges of the tribes, grabbing food and warmth where she could.

And being alone.

Footsteps pounded behind them, closer and closer. “Grab them! I want both of them,” cried a man.

“Through here,” hissed Petrel, and she dragged Fin through a hatch and slammed it behind them. It flew open again almost immediately.

“There they are,” shouted Dolph.

Petrel could hear her own breath rasping in her throat, so loud that it almost drowned out the endless rattle of pipe messages. She pulled Fin around one corner and pushed him around another. She thought of loneliness and friendship. She put on a last desperate burst of speed, and Fin ran beside her, blindly into the darkness, trusting her to save him—

The lanterns caught them. Feet rushed up behind them, and rough hands grabbed them and spun them around, shouting, “We've got 'em!”

“Leave us alone,” cried Petrel, as she struggled and kicked. “We ain't done nothing!”

Beside her, Fin was fighting too, but there were three men holding him, and they would not let go.

Someone trod hard and deliberately on Petrel's foot. She bit back a cry of pain, but didn't stop struggling until her arms were held so tightly that she could not move.

“Got you now, Nothing Girl,” murmured Dolph in her ear. “Got you for good.”

Petrel didn't answer. Her eyes were fixed on another lantern, which was approaching more sedately.

“So,” said First Officer Crab, coming to a halt in front of Fin. He was panting a little, but his eyes were as trim and cold as ever. “We have caught the murderer.”

“The murderers,” said Dolph. “It was both of 'em.”

“Ah.” Crab inclined his head. “Perhaps you are right. The boy could not have done it without—”

“'Twasn't us,” interrupted Petrel. “'Twasn't either of us. Dolph, tell him about the other ship.”

“Be quiet,” said Crab.

“Tell him!”

“It was a lie,” said Dolph, glaring at Petrel. “
I
didn't see anything but bergs. It was a trick to get away from me.” Her expression changed to one of satisfaction. “But you didn't. Not in the end.”


Think,
Dolph,” said Petrel desperately. “Fin had to have got on that berg somehow—”

“A whale brought him,” said Dolph.

“Don't be stupid,” said Petrel. “'Twas a ship. And we didn't kill your mam, I
swear
it, on the head of the sleeping captain—”

No one on the
Oyster
swore lightly on the head of the sleeping captain, not even those who didn't believe in him. Petrel thought she saw a flicker of doubt in Dolph's eyes, and she pressed on, “—which means someone else must have killed her. It might've been anyone. It might've been Crab—”

She said it wildly, grasping at the first name that came to her. But as the words left her lips, the memory that had been tickling at her for days came into focus, bright and clear, showing her what she had seen but not understood.

Crab on the deserted afterdeck, washing his hands in the snow. Washing them over and over again, as if he could not get them clean …

Petrel gasped. “'
Twas
Cra—”

A gag was thrust into her mouth, silencing her. She wriggled, but it was hopeless. Someone gagged Fin too, and any hope they might have had of talking their way out of this was gone.

Petrel should have been afraid, but instead she was furious. Why did no one
listen
to her? Why couldn't they see what she could see?

Crab peered down at her as if she were something dug out of a fish's innards. “I have no idea why Orca tolerated you for as long as she did.”

“Mam didn't
tolerate
her,” snapped Dolph. Her dislike of Crab was obvious, but her dislike of Petrel and Fin was greater. “Orca just—just ignored her.” She gestured back along the passage. “What are we waiting for? You want the two of 'em off the ship, don't you? Everything'll right itself once the stranger is gone.”

“It will indeed,” said Crab. He turned to the woman by his side and said, “Find a rope. A long one.”

The woman hurried away. Crab nodded at the men who held Petrel and Fin captive and they began to move.

Now Petrel
was
afraid. She dug in her heels, and was dragged along the passage, her feet catching on the rivets. When they came to the ladders, her captor did not loosen his grip, but lifted her body and carried her upward.

Petrel tried to think. Who would help them? Squid, surely, or Krill, if she could only get a message to them. Who else? No one. There was not a single other person on the ship who cared about her.

Except Mister Smoke and Missus Slink.

Was
it one of the rats she had seen earlier? Perhaps they already knew what had happened. But even if they did, how could they save Petrel and Fin from being thrown overboard? How could they stop Crab? What could they do against a ship full of cruel men?

They're servants of the sleeping captain,
thought Petrel.
That's what Mr. Smoke said when he made me an honorary rat. Maybe THEY can wake him!

She had no idea if it was possible. But she must tell them about the ship, and about Crab, before it was too late.

And so, as she and Fin were carried up the Commons ladderway, she set to work on her gag. She could not use her hands—they were held firmly against her side. But the lanterns were far enough ahead that no one could see her face, so she grimaced and chewed at the gag, trying to loosen it. She screwed her face up, and rubbed the edge of the gag against her captor's arm, as if jolted by the climbing.

No one spoke to her. Even Dolph had fallen silent. They climbed past other crew members several times, and Crab announced, “We have caught the stranger, who is the cause of all our misfortune. Soon things will turn around.”

And the folk they passed nodded and said, “The sooner the better.”

At last Petrel felt the gag loosen. They were past Dufftown by then, with no sign of Squid or Krill.
Only good thing about this is the pack ice,
thought Petrel.
At least Crab can't throw us to the Maw. At least we won't get chomped up by those great big teeth.

It was a comfort, for someone who had always believed the Maw would get her in the end. But not much of one. Petrel worked her jaw frantically, trying to get the gag out of her mouth.

BOOK: Icebreaker
9.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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