The Captain and His Iron Dog
Previously, the boy follows Mister Cooper across the wilderness of Antaria. Though he is loathe to go any further with the airman, he doesn’t see much choice now. Until they stumble upon an iron ship hanging over a little mountain lake…
The launch was lifted by cables rather than ropes. Through an open door, they came in through a riveted iron hull; and there was a man with white hair and smooth skin standing on the threshold, peering at them intently through his spectacles. He clutched an iron cane with one hand, and the other was on his revolver. “Cooper,” he said, for he knew the airman: his voice was like a song, a lullaby that belies the need for caution. “I thought you’d gone for good,” he said, his stolid eyes burning holes through the airman. “Though lost or discovered, I didn’t know. You should’ve stayed where you were.”
“I was neither,” answered Mister Cooper stubbornly. “I’ve just been trying to get my flyer back, and you wouldn’t help me, so I took matters into my own hands.”
The other man laughed, great rolling laughter that shook his body, though his eyes were unchanged: the eyes of a tiger that is soon to pounce. “That little tin can you came here in is wrecked beyond repair: you’re wasting your time. The Farlong would never give it to you, anyway,” he said. “You traitored, Cooper, you sold us to Colder, and I lost twenty men that night. That’s blood on yourhands.”
The airman shrugged. “You’re the one that tried to run your ship down the canyon,” he answered, his voice as cold as the captain’s eyes. “Colder only had to wait till you had nowhere to go before putting all his guns on you. It hurt, didn’t it? Being so helpless.”
For a moment the other man just glared at Cooper; then he said: “Put the traitor in irons and lock him in the brig.”
The boy watched as they took Mister Cooper away, but he felt no sympathy for the despondent airman. It was relief, simple and sweet.
“And now, who’s the boy?” asked the white-headed man when they were gone.
“He was with Cooper, Captain,” answered one of the men before the boy could speak.
The captain studied the boy curiously over the rims of his spectacles. “But whoare you?” he asked again.
“Just a boy,” answered the boy, who had no wish to give up anything he needn’t.
The captain frowned. “A native, or one of Colder’s powder monkeys? Maybe both.”
“I came here on my own,” said the boy. “I don’t know you.”
“Well, I’m Captain Ryan Joyce of Liverpool,” answered the captain. “This is my mate, Ivar Gundersen, and this is my ship. We call her The Iron Dog.”
The boy, who had never seen an ironclad warship, thought it something from a dream, something alien and strange. He never imagined it might’ve come from his own world, for it was such a queer thing. But he was no longer surprised by the wariness with which Captain Colder regarded Joyce and his vessel: the iron plates could’ve withstood a tremendous beating, and while it might be a slow thing under sail, it could make up for it in warfare; and its double lines of guns were a battery unmatched by any sailing ship such as the little vessel the other captain had commanded.
“It’s very nice,” said the boy, though he really thought it was quite impressive.
“It’s American,” answered the captain. “We took it off the coast of Virginia. Those fools let us take it right out from under their noses, and we had nothing to do but stoke the fires and sail up the coast. We were trying to get home through the arctic sea when the storm hit—but we ended up here, wherever here is.”
He looked at the Mate, but Mister Gundersen only said, “Master Van Horn’s still trying to get his equipment to work properly, Sir. He says it’s something to do with the magnets.”
“Ah,” sighed the captain. “Yes, our compass has been turning constantly ever since we arrived; and if we trust to the sextant we’re nowhere at all.”
The boy remembered now that Mister Cooper had with him a strange compass that gave headings in Antaria, but he said nothing of it, not to Captain Joyce.
“Where are you going now then?” asked the boy.
“To the Rift,” answered the captain. “It’s the only way home we know of. We know it is because we watched Colder bring his ship through it some months ago. How he did it we don’t know: we tried to sail that way but it was like steaming into a waterfall.”
The boy noticed the captain was shaking as he spoke, and for the first time he wondered if the man actually needed the iron cane he was leaning on.
“But the Farlong have promised to help us find a way,” he finished, steadying himself and peering at the boy through the lenses of his spectacles.
“Please, Sir, who are they?” begged the boy.
“You really must have just arrived here to be so ignorant,” laughed the captain. “Those great lizards are the ones in charge here, don’t ya know it. They rule all the native tribes, though somewhat indirectly; and they certainly could crush the Starlights or the Minith at any time if they wanted to. They’ve a vast city on the Ridgeland, and they worry little about these far places at the edge of their world.”
“Bloody things give me the creeps!” said the Mate quite suddenly. “All lithe and skittering, like something unnatural. If there was anything in our world like them, and of the same size, we’d be hunting them all to extinction with machine guns!”
The captain cut his mate a hard look, and the boy wondered what it meant. Doubtless the two men had very different views of the overlord reptiles, and perhaps it could be of use. Anything to draw a divide between them could be.
“But howdid you come here?” the captain asked again.
The boy thought for a moment; then he said, “In an aeroplane, Sir.” There seemed no reason to lie.
The captain and the mate frowned together this time, and the Mate said, “Maybe he’s the one the mad man was raving about.A man and a boy and a plane and a lake.”
“Get the man,” returned the captain abruptly. “And bring him to my cabin.”
Captain Joyce’s ship looked more like a U-boat than the sailing ships the boy had seen. Even the steamer that crossed to Norward was nothing like this. Its sides were all plated in iron armour, and its screws were driven by four great steam engines deep in its hold. Its canons were bigger than Colder’s. It might’ve been a fierce-enough thing to meet on the high seas of the Atlantic, but in this strange world where ships could sail above the sea as easily as on it, it was a terrifying fortress. And the boy felt lost in its dark depths.
He was led by the captain to a cabin in the stern, and there, by the light of an oil lamp, the captain made him sit and offered him a fruit that was red and foreign to him. He ate it, anyhow; and as Joyce wrote logs in a journal with the long handed strokes of a pen, the boy said nothing but planned his escape from that place – no easy feat it would be with the ship so high above the mountain pass.
When the mate returned he was not alone; and when his new partner stepped through the door, the boy cried out, and the warmth of finding his friend spread down to his heart: for the man who flew from Norward City had stepped into the cabin. It was plain that the captain and mate could see as clearly as any that the two knew one another.
“I thought you were dead!” cried the man. “That reptile as wanted to eat me, I thought it’d got you first.”
“I never saw it,” answered the boy. “A girl – a Starlight, I think – took me to a hill where I awoke with the flowers against my face.”
“Then you’ve given me a chase for nothing!” cried the man with a laugh. “And to be sold by those heathens, and to find there are white men like us here after all! Now how did you come to be here, son?”
“I fell in with a crashed pilot named Cooper,” said the boy, his words spilling out all at once. He was very much aware that the captain and his mate were eagerly listening to the exchange, and so thought it prudent to skip every detail that included Captain Colder: he doubted if there would be any privacy at all while they were onboard the dreadnought.
“Oh yes, I’ve heard much of James Cooper since I came here,” answered the man.
“Cooper’s locked up in the brig now,” said the mate. “And that’s all he’s good for. See you don’t join him.” His words a warning, he glanced at the man, and the boy perceived the meaning.
“Yet he may be our only chance of getting home,” countered the man. “If he’s still the only one you can name who knows how to survive in this world.” He laughed, and the boy was alarmed to hear in it no merriment or joviality. “What is it you people call it?”
The mate and the captain answered nearly together: “The first Englishman, that dead guy Heimlark that Colder found wrecked here, he said the natives called it Askaosa,” said Mister Gundersen. “But no one could really say that properly, so we just call it hell.”
“It’s called Antaria by the Farlong,” said the captain. “And that’s what Cooper called it, too. Damn those brown savages, anyhow.”
The man grunted, and the boy noticed his lips were moving but he said nothing.
“So you are the boy,” said the captain at last. “You were on the aeroplane that came through the Rift a week ago.
“I was,” the boy agreed. “And I would like very much to go home with my friend.”
“All in good time,” answered the captain. “When we’ve wrecked Colder’s little yacht we’ll allbe sailing the Rift; and I trust you’ll remember who it was set you back on the shores of your beautiful England.”
The man scoffed, and the boy was surprised by his disregard for whatever brutality Captain Joyce might inflict upon him. “Have you so quickly forgotten that your heavy Flying Fortress couldn’t climb the river? Or that Captain Colder nearly wrecked you at its headwaters?” he asked derisively.
The captain scowled, but if he had any designs on retaliation he didn’t show it. “You’re the voice of that prophet, old man,” he said. “That’s the only reason I didn’t kill you myself.”
“And you should remember that before you speak, Sir!” retorted the man. More wordless mutterings. “I know you still have fear for the dragons.”
For a moment the boy thought the captain would murder the man there in the cabin. He took a knife from his belt and brandished it in the man’s face, and the greed in Joyce’s eyes was so malevolent the boy shuddered to see it. It was his own knife, he also realized, the one he’d taken from the plane and lost to the bronze men of the forest, and he wanted it back.
“I dare you, man!” cried the American. “I dare you to run that thing through my throat and see what happens!”
But the captain put the dirk on the table and turned away. Whatever secret was keeping the man alive, the captain knew it well, and that, thought the boy, maybe was the only chance they had.
“Lock him in the brig with that sinner, Cooper,” said Captain Joyce. And as they took the man away he refused to look at him; when they were gone he said to the mate, “We never should’ve let those mud-skinned devils talk us into going to the lizard city. No good has come of it; and now that idiot holds it over us like the damned pope’s sceptre.”
“Do you really fear the lizards?” asked the mate.
But the captain laughed a mirthless cackle.
“We better take care of the boy,” continued the mate then, for he no doubt regretted his query.
The captain shook his head, as if he’d only just awakened. “I’d forgotten,” he said, and he looked at the boy where he still stood in the corner of the room, watching and listening. “What are we to do with you, son? You’ve given no allegiance, and yet you’re from my own country. Could I abandon a mere boy of the English crown in this horrid place?” He looked thoughtfully at his mate, then back at the boy. “Can you load a gun?” he asked.
The boy nodded, though he had no intention of loading a single of Captain Joyce’s canons.
“Then you can haul powder till we make Liverpool.” The captain grinned and slapped the boy on the shoulder. To a scoundrel, he’d just done a wondrous thing for a countryman; but inside the boy was in turmoil, unsure of what to believe. He needed a moment alone with his friend. And he wanted his knife back, to run it into the hearts of Captain Joyce and Mister Cooper.
This work is written by AD Bane and published by adbane.com. It is solely the property of ADBane.com and may not be reproduced in part or in whole for any reason except at the exclusive permission of the author. © 2018 ADBane.com