The Argonauta’s Prey: Reclaimed
“Jacksy, you stay put.”
“Why? Cuz I’m a livin’?”
“No, cuz you’re thirteen!”
Jacksy followed at Assy’s skirts anyway, like a babe after his nanny. It wasn’t until Pike put his hand on the lad’s chest that he stopped. The pistons on his metal leg whirred with anticipation as the sound of groaning kept echoing through the ship’s halls. It shuddered as the Argonauta pulled against it.
Pike wanted scream – he could only imagine what damage was being done to his ship’s engines trying to pull on things that ought not be pulled.
“Burn the clanky bastard’s body,” Pike said, pressing one of Legs’s illuminators into Jacksy’s thin, care-worn hands. “Then jump ship.”
“Will it hurt him?” Jacksy asked.
“Nah, but he’s messin’ with my ship so now I wanna wreck something he loves,” Pike said.
“Aye Cap’n,” Jacksy replied, scrambling to obey.
Pike and Assy climbed out the window they’d used to enter the ship. Pike had to help Assy – her skirts got caught on the glass and he might have pushed a little harder than necessary, but he was in a hurry. She didn’t even squawk when the sound of tearing made them both flinch.
“That’s your descendant, I’ll bet,” Pike said as he climbed out onto the railing to join her.
“A distant cousin, maybe!” Assy snapped. “And for all ya know he’s a cabin boy.”
“Cabin boys don’t steal ships!” Pike replied. “Captains do.”
Captain James Winston Eustace Emeritus, Lord of Winchester. He’d put hard cash on the odds of that stinkin’ rat with the fancy name being responsible for this little bit of thievery.
Across the way, still at the helm of the Argonauta like a flea on a dog’s collar, was the clanky dead’un who’d taken hold of her.
They braced themselves on the side of the ship, staring across the abyss as the wind picked up and the rain lashed harder against their faces. Below, on another deck, Pike could see Legs and the Not-Twins thrusting their hands in their gauntlets, preparing to make the jump.
Pike couldn’t even bring himself to enjoy the feeling when he finally leapt into the air. Not with some slimey little shit putting his grimy fingers all over his beloved Argonauta. The only thing in Pike’s life – and after life – that had never let him down.
He landed hard on her hull, wasting no time in punching through the steel with his gauntlet while the wind battered him from all sides. He used the gauntlets to scale the wall, wincing at every scar he left behind and promising himself that he would fix her up good as new when he was done ridding her of this infestation. Pike heard the thud of Assy landing. When he looked down, he saw that she was using the holes his gauntlets had left behind, saving her from more damage. Three thuds from further down told him that the rest of the dead’uns on his crew had landed as well.
Pulling himself up, Pike finally made it over the railing. Then he was face-to-face with the man standing just beneath the Argonauta’s balloon with a smug look on his pointed face. He had his fingers clasped on the polished metal wheel, turning her with jerky movements, trying to buck off the other ship.
“You are in violation of her Majesty’s sky treaties,” he shouted over the wind, in a pompous little voice that only made Pike want to punch him more. “I am commandeering your vessel, and sentencing you and your crew to death by drowning.”
“Shut ya face, you rusty little twerp,” Pike shouted back. “And get your filthy hands off my ship!”
Before the newly dead’un could reply, Pike launched himself at him, catching him around the chest so that they tumbled away from the wheel. With no one to hold it, it turned back. Dangerously quickly, towards the ship it had been pulling away from.
“Assy!” Pike shouted over his shoulder, before a hand shot out and gripped his face. Captain Emeritus – Pike was convinced of it now, only livin captains could muster that level of pomposity – was trying to push Pike off him.
Assy leapt over the edge of the railing and threw herself at the wheel, her hands slipping on rainwater before she got a grip on it. She grunted and turned with all her strength, barely just saving the ships from colliding.
Pike tried to hang onto Captain Emeritus, but he was a slippery son of a dog.
“Release me, you mutinous buccaneer!” he shouted. His hand tried to cover Pike’s jaw, so Pike turned his head and bit him. He howled. Most livins thought dead’uns couldn’t feel pain, but that was wishful thinking.
They skirmished together. Assy couldn’t help – she was holding the wheel and fighting gale-force winds to keep control of the Argonauta – and the rest of the crew were probably still scaling the hull.
Captain Emeritus couldn’t have known about the strength that fills a man’s bones when he’s been shuffled off the mortal coil. But he didn’t need to know to use it. He wrapped his legs around Pike’s hips and turned them both so that Pike was on his back.
“Captain!” Assy shouted. But she didn’t let go of the ship.
Pike’s head lolled back as he tried to get his bearings. He felt fingers around his neck and recoiled. Dead’uns don’t need to breathe, but they like to. But the fingers kept coming, slow and frigid, until they had a firm grip on his neck.
Captain Emeritus climbed off of Pike, using Pike’s throat to hoist him into the air, his legs dangling. Pike finally caught a glimpse of Captain Emeritus’s eyes. Of the manic rage and fire burning behind them.
He carried Pike over to the railing, spitting out a raging monologue as he went: “My mutinous crew left me in the engine-room to die, but they paid in the end. And now you, good sir, shall pay for your insolence.”
Nothin’ worse than a crazy livin captain. No wonder the ship had been deserted when Pike and his crew boarded it.
Pike kicked his legs out, hyperaware of the tight grip that Captain Emeritus had on his windpipe. He pulled and scratched at the man’s fingers, but the other captain wasn’t letting go. When Pike belatedly tried to pull his pistol out of his pocket it was knocked out of his hand by Captain Emeritus’s free one.
Pike suddenly found himself hanging over the railing, his feet dangling in no-man’s air with nothing but Captain Emeritus’s fingers to keep him aloft and the storm-tossed sea leagues beneath him to break his fall.
He could die today. The thought hit him like a tidal wave. It was one thing to die and come back as a dead’un. It was another thing for his body to be obliterated by a fall, then eaten by critters. He wasn’t ready for that.
“Captain!” Assy shouted again, and even through the hard wind and rain Pike could see her over Captain Emeritus’s shoulder, dithering, her hands still clutching the wheel but her eyes focused entirely on Pike.
Captain Emeritus turned towards the sound of her voice and a heavy thunk hit the air. An iron pole sprouted from the captain’s chest, making him stumble backwards so that he and Pike toppled back onto the deck. Pike scrambled off of the dead’un captain just in time to see the Not-Twins’ hands come out of nowhere, grab the man by his shoulders, and hoist him up.
Pike realised that the iron pole wasn’t a pole at all. It was a harpoon. He spun around and squinted into the rain. There, on the other ship’s deck, standing behind a pristine new harpoon gun with a wild grin on his face and his metal leg kicked up with glee, was Little Jacksy.
Pike felt a rush of affection for the lad even as Captain Emeritus screamed and cursed and squirmed in Dimble-Damble and Dimber-Damber’s arms, the harpoon waving dangerously in his chest but doing nothing to slow him down. Behind him, Legs stood hip to hip with Assy, helping her hold the wheel steady.
“Throw him overboard,” Pike ordered the Not-Twins. “Then fetch the cabin boy from the other ship. Let’s put this barkin’ piece of no-man’s air behind us.”
The Not-Twins did as ordered, tossing Captain Emeritus over the railing with little ceremony. His howls grow fainter as he falls, until they are lost in the howls of the wind.
Pike sauntered over to the women, who looked relived though they were trying not to show it. “Legs, check the engines will ya?” Legs nodded and scurried off, leaving Pike to help Assy hold the wheel in her absence. “You were right,” he muttered to her as the adrenaline from the last few minutes finally began to ebb away. “We should have just gone to Brighton today.”
Assy threw her head back and laughed.