It’s a case of found and lost as our undead air pirates attempt to pillage their prey.
The Argonauta’s Prey: Stolen
Dimble-Damble and Dimber-Damber weren’t twins, but they liked to pretend they were. They turned their heads in unison, staring around the ship’s engine room as Legs muttered and grunted with her head buried among the pipes. Pike watched it all from his vantage point near the doorway, squinting at the pool of blood drifting towards Legs’s wispy skirts, the spike in the wall still dripping with it though the corpse had long since been removed.
“Rusty barkin’ newfangled nonsense,” Legs said. “If it ain’t broke why fix it? That’s what I wanna know.”
“You’re right, Legs,” Dimble-Damble said. He’s still trying to make up for the dead parrot incident. Pike thinks he should have apologised weeks ago but he had let the opportunity pass and now there was no salvaging it. Legs was known for her temper and stubbornly holding grudges – and dead’uns know grudges. It’s how they got so good at hauntin’.
Dimble-Damble had died with his skull carved in two. There was a great, gaping split right down the middle of his brain like a block of cheese pulled apart at the top.
“Hand me tha’ spanner, Dimber-Damber,” Legs said, ignoring Dimble-Dimble entirely.
Dimber-Damber handed her the spanner. “Here ya go, Legs.” His own head was intact, but his hands were missing all but two and a half fingers and there was a long chunk of neck gone between his right ear and his collarbone.
She took it with a grunt of thanks.
Groaning from upstairs had Pike perking his ears up. He turned his head slightly, straining for the source of the sound, but it didn’t come again. He couldn’t decide if it was the groan of a mast in the wind, the groan of thunder over the rain, or the groan of some new dead’un stubbing his toe. Pike crossed his arms and whistled for Dimble-Damble and Dimber-Damber’s attention.
The two burly men turned in unison and Pike stifled a shudder. Hundreds of years running the skies, meeting every awful thing a livin could conjure in their wildest nightmares, and those two were still the creepiest things that Pike had ever laid eyeballs on.
“Keep an eye on Legs,” he said, “and have ya peepers peeled for dead’uns lurking about.”
“They’ll’ve come out to play by now, surely?” Dimber-Damber said.
Pike shrugged. “They’re not all sunshine and jellyfish pops like we are.”
Legs snorted. Her skirts wiggled with it.
Dimber-Damber and Dimble-Damble waved at Pike as he left with all of the bland acceptance that Pike had learned to associate with them. He turned away from the engine room, and the stink of blood still lingering in the air. That was the worst thing about finding a fresh kill: the blood. The smell of it, the sight of it, the taste of it in the back of Pike’s throat for days afterwards. What was the point of being a dead’un if he had to keep dealing with blood?
He stomped his way upstairs because he wanted any dead’uns about to know he was coming. Like snakes on hard land, the new dead’uns tended to get startled when they felt like they were being snuck up on. Best to broadcast as aggressively as possible.
Through one of the circular windows, he caught a glimpse of the Argonauta and had to pause. The rain lashing against the glass nearly obscured the sight of her, but Pike knew her shape by heart. She looked lovely floating out there, her rope lines attached to their prey ship and her rusty hull glinting when the lightning flashed through the dark clouds. He sent the old girl a kiss before passing the window. He brushed his fingertips against the metal walls and felt the warmth drifting through his ghostly skin.
Upstairs, in the navigation room, Jacksy and Assy were on their knees sewing the dead man’s body into a canvas hammock.
“Cap’n,” Jacksy said, nodding respectfully when he saw Pike enter the room.
Assy ignored him, which was her way when she was cross. Pike could think of a number of things that she could be cross about, not least the fact that she was sitting on her knees with a sewing needle and a green livin who’s never seen death before. Now that he took a good look, Pike thought that Jacksy looked a bit green around the gills.
“Any movement from him?” Pike asked, ignoring Assy’s attitude.
“Dead as a strung cat in a bag,” replied Jacksy. He poked the corpse’s cheek to illustrate his point. The cheek jiggled and Jacksy flinched.
Assy rolled her eyes. “Keep ya hands to yaself, Cabin Boy.”
“Did ya hear tha’ groanin’?” Pike asked.
Assy shrugged but Jacksy nodded eagerly. “Aye, Cap’n. Thought it was a dead’un for a sec.”
Pike pursed his lips and gazed around the room. There were wide windows and he could see the Argonauta off to the side, blanketed in rain. The rest of the room was a mess of papers, parchment and standard reams of crisp white stuff for a printer, all mixed together in a cacophony of nonsense on the tables and metal floor.
“I ordered ya to find the logbooks not start a barkin’ hurricane,” Pike said.
Assy raised her hackles at him and pointed wordlessly at the leather-bound books on the table. She had a look on her face like she’d swallowed a salty shot of vodka from one of the northern countries. Pike picked up the nearest book and thumbed through to the first page. He felt a shot of recognition pierce his dead veins at the sight of the first page.
The private journals of Captain James Winston Eustace Emeritus, Lord of Winchester, Esq.
Pike glanced over at Assy and saw her squinting at the leather cover as though it had offended her. He wanted to point out to her that Emeritus, while not a common name, is certainly not unique. But Assy wouldn’t care. That name would haunt Assy as long as she lingered on the mortal coil.
Before Pike could speak, another groan shattered the air around them – louder and more violent than any that had come before it.
Pike felt that groan rattling through his bones. He dropped the journal in surprise and it fell open to a pencil sketch that looked suspiciously like Assy back when she was livin.
“What the bloody barking drums was that?” Jacksy said, pushing himself off of his knees. His metal leg creaked in protest at the sudden movement. He had his own pistol in his fist, waving it around and getting dangerously close to pointing it in Pike’s direction.
“Watch where ya pointin’ that thing, Cabin Boy!” Assy snapped. She glared around the room with her own hand resting on her pistol.
The groaning thundered through the air, filling their dead heads with echoing, vibrating noise, coinciding with an awful flash of lightning that burst through the wide windows. It wasn’t until the floor started shuddering that Pike reached for his own pistol. He flicked it out of the holster and cranked the hammer into the ready position. Beneath his feet, he could hear shouting from the engine room.
“Captain!” Legs’s voice came drifting through the still-open door, echoing back and forth against the metal walls. “The Argonauta!”
If Pike still had blood in his veins, it would have frozen. He spun around, nearly dropping his pistol at the sight that greeted him through the windows.
His ship – his Argonauta – was waving its billowing sails like the wings of an angry swan. The ship was pulling hard against the ropes attaching it to the prey ship, straining like a dog on its leash, while its propellers worked so hard that smoke was starting to flutter out of them and disappear into the grey sky behind it.
Assy rushed forward and pressed her cheek against the glass. It wasn’t until his own cheek felt cold that Pike realised he had followed her.
“Son of a dog!” Assy swore.
There was a man on the Argonauta’s deck, just visible, with his hair dripping wet. Pike craned his neck around to stare at the corpse still laying on the metal floor behind him. It was the same man. The corpse was a dead’un after all.
And the bastard was stealing Pike’s Argonauta!