Maelstrom, page 1
Table of Contents
Published by New American Library, a division of
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First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, February 2009
Copyright © Taylor Anderson, 2009
All rights reserved
Photo of the author taken on the Battleship Texas (BB-35) State Historic Site—3527 Battleground Rd.,
La Porte, Texas 77571, with the permission of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Lledged the sacrifices of the Asiatic Fleet before, but Alan Levine recently reminded me that it’s high time I recognized the sad ordeal of a few ships and crews in particular. Unlike Walker and Mahan, USS Pope was actually there at the end when Exeter and Encounter met their fates. Pope was destroyed as well, but the torment her survivors suffered at the hands of her Japanese “rescuers” must never be forgotten. Nobody really knew what happened to USS Edsall until after the war, when grainy pictures of Japanese capital ships using her for target practice came to light. Apparently, a couple of her crew were “rescued,” but they didn’t survive internment. A similar fate likely befell USS Pillsbury and the gunboats USS Asheville and HMAS Yarra, but we will likely never know for sure. God bless and keep them.
There was a new rumbling sound below, but it went unnoticed by the eight-year-old girl swaying in the sailcloth hammock. Her slumber was already filled with the incessant rumbling and groaning of the working hull, and the endless, hissing blows of the pounding sea. Then came another rumble, and another, each more insistent than the last. Still, she didn’t stir from her dream. In it she’d been swallowed by a leviathan, just as she’d dreaded since before the strange voyage ever began. Every night, as soon as the lids closed over her large, jade-colored eyes, the same terrible dream came again. She was in the very bowels of a leviathan, and the rumbling, hissing roar was the sound of its belly digesting the ship. The voices came—there were always voices—excited, urgent voices in a tone entirely appropriate. Of course there would be dreadful voices in a dreadful dream. She knew what would happen next. . .
She was facedown on the thundering deck, and only her tangled bedding protected her delicate nose from the fall. Her eyes flew open, but she could barely see. The only light in the stateroom came from the meager glow of a gimbaled lantern on the far bulkhead. Slowly emerging from the dark nightmare of a moment before, she began to understand she’d entered another. The deck felt wrong, its motion contradicting what she’d come to perceive as normal. She still heard the voices, and although the words were muffled, they were louder and shrill with alarm. One word she clearly understood sent a spasm of primal terror through her heart: “Leviathan!”
The rumbling groan intensified, and the deck heeled sharply beneath her. She had the impression the ship was rising up, much of the noise coming from the mighty timbers of its very bones, stressed beyond endurance. With a screech of agony and a splintering crash, the stress fell away like a broken spring, and she tumbled against the aft bulkhead that had suddenly become the floor. With a sickening, wallowing lurch, the stateroom righted itself, but then quickly tilted toward the bow. She hugged her knees to her chest and sobbed.
The door crashed open and her heart leaped with relief to see the wispy form of her tutor, Master Kearley, stumble into the room.
“My lady!” he cried, over the rising pandemonium in the sta He even paused to straighten the lapels of his frock coat. “Come along quickly—no, do not hesitate to dress! A simple shawl will do.”
She was accustomed to following his orders, and she did so now without thought, snatching her shawl from the hook by the door and draping it around her shoulders.
“And your bonnet too, I suppose,” he instructed. Obediently, she took the bonnet from its place beside the shawl and pulled it down over her long, golden locks.
“What has happened?” she asked tremulously.
“Come,” he said. “I will tell you what I know as we go, but we must hurry.”
The darkened passageway swirled with kaleidoscopic scenes of shadowy panic. Shrieks of terror rent the air, and bustling shapes surged aft against the increasing cant of the deck. An indignant roar rose above the turmoil, and the girl thought she recognized the voice of Director Hanes. Even his exalted status couldn’t protect him from the animalistic instinct of the throng. The metallic sheeng! of a sword leaving its scabbard quickly silenced the dignitary.
“Hurry!” Kearley prompted as they wove, hand in hand, toward a companionway. “We have struck a leviathan—or it has struck us. It makes no difference. The ship will quickly founder. Her back is broken.” The girl sobbed again, and her terror threatened to overcome her. The nightmare was true after all.
“Make way, there!” Kearley shouted at the broad back of a man blocking the ladder. “Are you unmanned? Don’t you know who this is?”
The big, dark-skinned man whirled and made a fist, preparing to strike the frail scholar. His eyes were wide and white with fear, his huge, disheveled black mustache almost covering his entire mouth. Before he released the panicked blow, however, he recognized the small form below him.
“Yer pardon, young miss!” he almost squealed with contrition. “Clap onto me back, and I’ll plow us a road!”
Kearley grabbed a handful of belt with one hand and took the girl’s wrist with the other. Together they fought their way up the choked companionway to the tilting quarterdeck. Once there, to the girl’s surprise, the big man stooped and swept her off her feet.
“We must put her in a boat this instant!” he cried. His voice had returned to what was surely a more normal growl.
“My thanks, good sir,” Kearley replied. “I appreciate your assistance.” The man spared him an incredulous glance. Now that he recognized the girl, there was no question he would die to save her.
The girl was oblivious to the exchange. Around her in the darkness, there was no longer any doubt: her terrible dream had come to life. Helpless canvas flailed and snapped, and the once fascinating scientific intricacy of the rigging was a hopeless mare’s nest of tangled lines. A constant, deadly hail of blocks
Then, past the bow, coal dark against the starry horizon, she saw a monstrous form. It was clearly the great leviathan that destroyed the ship—possibly entirely by accident. It may have simply risen from the depths, unknowing and unconcerned, to inhale a cavernous lungful of air. Perhaps only then did it discover the water bug on its back. No matter, it noticed it now. Even as the girl watched with unspeakable dread, the island-size creature completed its leisurely turn and came back to inspect the wounded morsel in its wake. The big man saw it too.
“Into a boat!” he bellowed, carrying her to the larboard rail, where a dozen men frantically tore at the quarter-boat tackle. “Make way, damn ye! Can ye not see who I bear?” A wide-eyed young officer motioned them through the gathering throng that regarded the boat with frantic, greedy eyes.
“Are you a sailor?” the officer demanded of the big man. “You’re not one of the crew.”
“I was a sailor once,” he admitted. “And a soldier. I’m a shipwright now, bound for the yard at the company factory.”
The officer considered. “Right. Take her aboard under your protection. As soon as you launch, you must hold the boat close so we may put more people aboard.” He cast an appraising glance. “You do look strong enough.”
Before the girl could form a protest, she was hoisted over the rail by the man’s powerful arms and deposited into the boat. Quick as a goat, he followed her and turned to accept the bundles hastily passed to him. A sailor jumped aboard too, encumbered by a double armful of muskets, which he quickly stowed.
The girl found her voice. “Master Kearley!” she wailed. “Master Kearley, you must come too!”
“I will, my dear,” came a muted cry beyond the desperate mass.
The boat dropped swiftly to the water, and struck with a resounding smack.
“Fend off, you lubbers!” came the cry from above. “Hold her steady, now! I’ll send them down two at a time on the falls!” The big man looped a rope around his powerful forearm and pulled with all his might, while the seaman pushed against the hull with an oar.
“Let ’em come!”
The girl gave voice to such a sudden, piercing, gut-wrenching shriek of terror that for an instant, in spite of their own fear, everyone froze to look. A massive cavern had opened before them, wide enough to swallow half the ship. Amid a chorus of muted screams it clamped down on the settling bow with a thunderous, rending crash. The mainmast toppled forward and fell against the darkened mass. More screams came when the mizzenmast also thundered down upon the horrified humanity on the quarterdeck.
With a terrible grinding, crunching sound, the titanic jaws gaped open, then closed once more on the pulvernt>
“Master Kearley!” shrieked the girl with a desolate, perfect anguish, while the rest of the ship was shattered by the impossible strength of the beast. The boiler burst with a thunderclap roar and a swirling, scalding gout of steam. Further enraged by the discomfort this might have caused, the leviathan redoubled its attack. Terrible screams and splintering timbers filled the night, but soon all that remained was the surging sound of the agitated sea.
The seaman who brought the muskets had gone over the side, so there was no hope for him. The girl collapsed into the bottom of the boat and wept with disconsolate abandon. For a while the big man could do nothing except stare into the empty, endless night. Occasionally, his gaze fell upon the ragged, pulsing stump of his left arm. The rest of it had been snatched away so suddenly, and with such force, all he remembered feeling was a tug and a pop. Now his life was coursing into the sea, and he already felt the loss. Shaking himself, he snatched his belt from his waist and wound it tightly around the stump. Shortly the cascade reduced to a trickle, but, light-headed, he sat heavily in the boat and looked down at the sobbing girl.
“Little miss,” he croaked, and the girl slowly raised her sodden eyes. “Yer Ladyship . . . I truly hate to impose, but if ye could see clear to bind me a bit better, I might be of more use to ye.”
Seeing his terrible wound, the girl recoiled for an instant, but then scrambled lightly across the seats to his side.
“I will do what I may,” she assured him bravely through her tears, “but I’m no surgeon.”
“That’s a fact,” he agreed with a wan smile, “but I’ve no doubt ye could be if ye wished.” As gently as she could, the girl tightened the tourniquet, then rummaged for something to use as a bandage. She finally settled for the sleeve on his other arm.
“They will search for us, won’t they?” she asked while she worked.
“Of course, lass.”
“Will they find us?”
The big man’s smile faded completely, and he gazed out at the dark, endless swells. They’d lost contact with their consorts some nights back, but that happened all the time. The other two ships wouldn’t grow concerned until several days after they reached the factory dock and the doomed ship and her important cargo still had not arrived. They’d traveled only half the distance to their destination, so it would be weeks before they were considered overdue. Months before the news reached home and a search was mounted. The wind and current would drive them quickly westward, far beyond the lanes traveled by men.
He blinked, then looked down into the huge, trusting eyes that seemed to pierce his callous soul.
“Of course they will, Your Highness.”
There were a few scattered cheers, and Matt had to admit Nakja-Mur was becoming a skilled orator. It was also clear he’d decided to concentrate on the positive—even to the point of glossing over a few blatant facts, like the tragedy that made those forces available. He supposed there was no harm in that. Everyone knew the story already, and those who remained were committed to the fight. They had no choice. All the mighty seagoing Homes that meant to leave were already gone, either fled or acting as giant freighters for goods and raw materials from the Fil-pin lands. Once again he was struck by the similarity of their current situation to that the Americans had faced nearly a year before, when the Japanese swept the Asiatic Fleet from the Philippines and Dutch East Indies. The irony was, this time the Philippines were the distant haven, instead of the first place they got kicked out of.
Nakja-Mur continued: “Safir Maraan, Queen Protector of the island of B’mbaado, has come with her personal guard of six hundred warriors, as well as the majority of her entire defense force of almost two thousand seasoned warriors!” Nakja-Mur didn’t mention that over a thousand of B’mbaado’s best troops had been lost with Neracca. Neracca was the final Home to evacuate, and was intercepted by the enemy. Reddy’s old Asiatic Fleet “four-stacker” destroyer, USS Walker (DD-163), was escorting her to safety, and even tried to tow the much larger Home from the enemy’s clutches, all to no avail. Amagi, slowed by damage she received once before at the hands of the Americans, was still unimaginably powerful. She cruelly smote Neracca from what seemed to the Lemurians an impossible distance with her massive ten-inch guns. Walker saved as many as she could, becoming dangerously unstable with close to a thousand aboard, but in the end, the uncounted thousands remaining on Neracca were doomed.
Tassat-Ay-Arracca, her High Chief, sent his daughter, Tassana, in the final gri-kakka boat to cut the cable herself. Matt could only imagine the weight of grief bearing upon the child’s heart. In a fit of rage, or perhaps genius, he used the darkness, and the glare of the burning Home, to maneuver his damaged, overloaded ship into a position to fire his last remaining, fully functional torpedoes at the mighty ship. One exploded, damaging Amagi even further. Not enough to sink her, unfortunately, but enough to cause the Grik to postpone thei
“Lord Muln-Rolak, Protector of Aryaal, has joined us with a trained force almost as large. Together with the majority of the civilian populations of both great cities upon which we can draw a levy, we stand prepared to face the enemy with over sixteen thousands able to bear arms!” There was a larger cheer, even though everyone must have realized how small that force was, compared to what was coming.
Nakja-Mur motioned Matt to join him.
“Cap-i-taan Reddy was acclaimed commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and he is the architect of its victories. The AEF has ended now, and with it the mandate of command. I propose he now be acclaimed Supreme Commander of the Allied defense of Baalkpan!” There were hoots and cheers, and the floor of the hall thundered with stamping feet. Matt just stood and watched until the tumult died away. “Then by acclamation, it is done! Cap-i-taan Reddy will assume
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