Helkey 27 — Into the North Sea’s Jagged Teeth

The zodiac’s motor whirs. A gust flings spray off the Brons — splashing Beatrice’s face. Smoke stench from the fires fades as they speed toward flooded marshlands. Swells grow. The zodiac bobs and rolls. She huddles close to her companions — Mori, Sadie, dour Ivan, a surprisingly chipper Finn — in the bobbing boat. Above and ahead are towering masses of cloud. Fingers of lightning flicker at their dark bases. She can’t yet make out the North Sea. It’s blocked by low islands covered in grasses and scrubby trees. The marsh churns in chop and foam.

A wave bumps her face into her hand as the boat skips into the marsh. The soft scent of horse upon her skin — a momentary comfort. Ivan thought her calming the gentle creatures was curse magic. Only the craft of long years spent observing, learning their subtle gestures, how to cant her body and voice to project compassion. To earn their trust. It came easy. For she loved them in all their beauty and innocence. She had decades and decades more experience at it than any human. A practice in empathy. No curses required.

The zodiac plows into the marsh, lifting and dipping through swells and chop. It handles rough water surprisingly well, lifted up on a wave formed by its forward motion. Nonetheless, spray splashes in. Soon they’re all wet. Mori has a mad grin on his face. It makes her laugh. She’s pretty sure he’s trying to bleed off tension.

Finn points to an outlet emerging before them. The water broadens. It roils with chop and rising waves. A tumultuous confluence opening to an angry North Sea. Out there, massive rollers drop tails of white spray as they tumble before the storm. Jagged gray and white teeth pointing toward an angry cloud deck above. “There she is!” he shouts into the rising gale. “Our good Sun Shepherd.”

Beatrice follows the line of his finger. Tossed about in the confluence is a vessel about 100 feet long and covered from stem-to-stern in glistening solar panels.

Mori turns to her. Excitement flicks across his wet face. He’s such a geek for these things. “Badass! It’s one of those new electric boats. Skateboard battery laid through the keel. Super-efficient motors. Covered in solar panels, it’s got a practically unlimited range.” She grins back at him. His excitement is infectious.

“Wonderful! Can it handle the storm?” Beatrice asks as the zodiac flies over a large swell, catches air for a moment, then slams down into the trough. Spray flies everywhere. They’re all double-drenched now. The little craft is powering out through the choppy confluence. Her teeth clack together as they slam into another swell. Her hands, white-knuckled cling to a rope looped along the gunnel. Beatrice feels like she’s riding a child’s toy boat getting tossed around in a bathtub by a capricious toddler. Sadie’s holding on, gritting her teeth, closing her eyes against the spray. Ivan’s curled up in the zodiac’s bottom. His face taking on an unhealthy, green tint.

“Our little Sun Shepherd’s a fast one,” Finn says in answer. He’s stooped down on his knees. One hand on the motor handle, another gripping a cleat. “Her top speed’s a hundred and twenty! She won’t be so fast in this mess. But she’ll get us to Wind-Sun Isle in about a couple hours.” He points out toward a dark base of cloud rushing toward them. “We should miss the worst of it. Though I think we’ll take that gust-front head-on.”

The zodiac flies through the air, lands, then pitches. A breaker barrels over the little craft, flooding it in about four inches of water. Pumps kick in — spitting spray out behind the small boat as it barrels toward a majestic Sun Shepherd. Coming up alongside it, Beatrice takes stock of its size. At twenty-two feet wide and a hundred feet long, she dwarfs their zodiac. Massive waves, looming like hills behind, made her look surprisingly vulnerable as the larger vessel turns to shelter them from the onslaught churning out of the North Sea. Two crewmen toss lines overboard. Mori catches one. They haul the boat in, then swing a boom over the side to fasten the craft. Finn points to a ladder. One-by-one they clamber up — emerging onto a pitching deck with all the dignity of soaked cats. Beatrice times the swell, springs, shoots past the ladder and lands gracefully on the deck amidst a rain of spray. She blows her wet hair aside, relieved to be free of the tiny zodiac.

“Show-off,” Mori quips as he staggers up beside her, clutching his briefcase in one hand, gripping a hand-hold with the other. Every surface on the sleek vessel except for a narrow wooden walkway is covered in solar panels or solar film. It makes Beatrice think of a great black whale. Ivan is leaning over the railing, making foul noises. Sadie sways as she clenches a crew member’s offered hand. Finn scampers down to the first well deck at the vessel’s rear, he motions for them to follow. Beatrice lets a crewman — Karl — guide her companions back to the well as she assists another crew member — Franz — in attaching the zodiac to a pair of ropes, then hoisting it up using metal booms. With her help, it takes only a minute.

“You do ship work?” Franz asks in halting English, not aware she has omnis scientia drifting close by for translation.

“Yes. Back home,” Beatrice says simply. What she doesn’t say is her home world, Merrin, is almost entirely covered by water. Ships there are far different from those plying Earth’s own increasingly dangerous seas. Some principles of seacraft, though, are universal.

Franz makes a sound that could be an impressed grunt as they fasten the zodiac to a berth on Sun Shepherd’s roof. The noise is drowned out by the roaring sea. He pops a panel, then motions for her to help him fold a hard shell over the boat. She works with him to pull the sections out, fighting gusts as Sun Shepherd turns her nose into the waves. The shell comes in three parts. Each is covered with solar film. They snap sections together, attach electrical plugs to some internal wiring, and then are drenched by spray as the bow cleaves through what must be a fifteen foot wave. The wave’s force momentarily hurls them into the air. Beatrice turns instinctively, grabs a cleat, then with her trailing hand snags Franz by the hood of his rain slicker. They slam back down onto the deck. Franz scrambles up. Blinks at her in surprise and gratitude. Then gives a matter of fact nod. “Good!” He shouts. “Now best get below!” The roar of waves and wind nearly drowns out his voice.

Beatrice smiles at his affirmation. She nods toward the well, indicating he should go first. Franz curses something about how he should be helping her. She flicks his prideful outburst away with a glance, then watches on protectively as he struggles to reach the well across a pitching deck. She comes to her feet. In little bounds, she springs behind, riding the deck like a surfboard. Franz doesn’t look back. But Beatrice can see Mori keeping eyes on her through the bridge’s glass. He, Sadie, and a young woman are watching her escort Franz back to the well. The young woman — she must be Glenda Goodfuture — is staring with naked awe as the harsh elements force the large and muscled Franz to lurch and stagger even as Beatrice rides through it all with the grace of dancer.

At last, they reach the well. Franz lunges toward the door as Sun Shepherd pitches through a massive roller. Walls of foam surge on either side. He lurches through, nearly falling, still managing to hold the door open for her. She waits for the wave to pitch the stern upward, then uses its momentum to leap through, flying past him. Her boots squishing on a dry cockpit floor — the only sound she makes.

She’s greeted immediately by a beaming Glenda Goodfuture. “Bravo! Excellent!” she exclaims as she claps, then hands her a towel. “I was scared for you. But you make fighting through a storm look like body art.” She puts out her hand. “I’m Glenda.”

Now it’s Beatrice’s turn to be impressed. Here before her was the pint-sized climate activist who’d taken the world by storm — forcing so many to reconsider their place on Earth and what they were doing to protect it for future generations. She nods a gracious thank you for the towel, then extends her hand. “Honored to finally meet you,” she says.

Glenda takes her hand, pumping it with a surprisingly firm grip for one so small. Beatrice at 5′ 4″ looks down at 5′ tall Glenda. She’s thin, early twenties, long sandy-blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail. Her T-shirt reads the now widespread youth climate message — #ClimateStrike #FridaysForFuture. A tiny form for quite a force. “Given your outfit, I figured you must be Erroll Flynn’s girlfriend. But he says you’re married.” She gives Mori, who looks every part the drowned crow, a disapproving frown.

Mori staggers forward, propelled back and forth by the Shepherd pitching as it struggles through the seas, hugs Beatrice, clears his throat awkwardly. “I definitely got the better end of that bargain.”

“Yee-ah,” Glenda says with an eye roll, then turns toward her father, her mouth scrunched up into a pensive frown. Ivan’s finally recovered. He looks green. His expression hang-dog. The bruises on his head are turning into ugly shiners. His burned hand is wrapped up in a gauze someone must’ve scrounged up while Beatrice was on deck securing the zodiac.

“Valyria, should’ve never left,” Ivan says to her in Russian. Omnis scientia, trailing behind Beatrice and patterned with interpretor, dutifully translates. “Your home was forsaken.”

Glenda drops Beatrice’s hand, giving it a pat as she releases it, then turns in anger toward her father. “Nonsense! I had to!” Glenda shouts in English, her brows lowered in sudden fury. “You! You left! You! Too selfish to do what’s right! You tried to force me! To be like you!” Glenda’s face is red at her brief but intense outburst. “I did what I must! What you wouldn’t!”

Ivan’s face flushes. Her use of English in front of everyone is like a slap in the face. “Valyria…” Ivan starts, his mouth working. “To be an adult…” he continues in Russian.

“Is not easy?” she interrupts in English. “You always say that. I did the harder thing. I took responsibility. That makes me the adult!”

Ivan clamps his mouth shut. His eyes cut side-to-side. Everyone on the bridge is silent. Mori’s stupid grin is back. Outside the waves rage higher. The wind howls. Lightning strikes a wave-top about a half mile away. “I missed you…” He says lamely through the roaring thunder.

“And I you. Ever since you went to work for that stupid bank. Ever since age 12 when I lost my father!” Glenda shouts, her face red, she hops on her toes, tears of rage fall from her eyes. “This!” She points at the mages, at the raging storm, at the Sun Shepherd. “This is the result! Devils! Terrorists! You’re a fucking shapechanger!” She glances at Sadie, but does not relent. “A devil’s fish hook’s in your heart! This is my intervention. Your last fucking chance to be a fucking human!”

On the bridge consul, a red light begins to flash and an alarm sounds. Finn, who’d taken the helm as soon as he entered the bridge picks up a hand mike, keys the tab. “Attention! Crew and passengers! Brace! Brace! Brace! Large wave inbound!”

Beatrice, spins, flicks omnis scientia out the front window. Ahead, a massive blue and white wall rises — easily towering forty feet above the sea surface. Its top rolls. She grabs hold of a handle. The others scramble to brace themselves. Glenda is caught unawares. Ivan freezes. Finn guns the engine — pushing Sun Shepherd up the wave face and toward its axe-shaped peak. Beatrice makes a decision. “Hit the deck!” she shouts, then jumps from her place of safety, grabbing both Glenda and Ivan, she pushes them to the floor. The wave crashes. The outer deck roils under a wall of whitewater. It slams over the window. For a moment, the bridge is submerged. Blue water swirls around omnis scientia where it hovers just over the deck. Behind them, windows reveal a maelstrom of white. Beatrice, Ivan and Glenda are lifted bodily, then flung in a tangle onto a nearby couch. The Sea Shepherd gathers itself beneath the wave, powerful electric engines making a space-ship sound. Then, with a rush and an explosion of spray, the vessel bursts through the wave’s back — resurfacing like a submarine.

Sea Shepherd bobs for a few seconds behind the wave, rights itself, then swiftly plows onward. Electric drives pushing a tail of water behind. Finn turns around. “Everyone OK? Thumbs up! Let me see them.” he shouts over the roaring wind and sea. They managed to brace. All except Beatrice, Glenda and Ivan who’re busy untangling themselves. Everyone gives the thumbs up. “Good!” Finn says. “Now, better buckle in. This monster storm has quite the bite!”

Beatrice helps Glenda fasten a seatbelt in the couch, then makes sure Ivan’s buckled in beside her. Whatever else she may think of Ivan, he’s still Glenda’s father. Despite everything, Glenda clearly still loves him. Beatrice, at last satisfied both he and Glenda are safe, begins to snap her own buckle.

“Not you,” Finn says back to her. “You’ve got the best sea legs I’ve ever seen. And Sadie told me… Well, I know about your talent. You have your special sight active?”

“It’s called omnis scientia. And yes. It’s floating just above the deck near the prow.”

“I may need you to use it to help navigate this mess. Up here!” He pats a co-pilot’s seat next to him. Beatrice springs up to it. In one smooth motion, she buckles in. She scans the array of indicators and screens. Depth finders, wave height measures, level of battery charge (eighty three percent), various outside cameras mostly blurred out by rain and waves, lidar and radar, the red collision warning light that just blinked out.

She turns and gives a little two-figured salute to Finn. “Aye, captain!” she replies, then flicks omnis scientia on ahead. It lifts off the prow, flits over raging wave-tops. “I’ve moved omnis scientia out to 300 feet in front of the vessel.”

“Good! Let me know if there’s another large wave coming. Something about double the size of regular swells.” He hesitates, takes in the raging sea-state. “Or larger… Describe it to me. That –” he points to the red collision warning indicator, now dim, “is just a dummy light.”

Beatrice gives the thumbs up.

“The rest of you, pipe down,” Finn continues. “We’re in for a rough ride out to Wind-Sun. You can settle your differences when you get there. Let’s make sure you do!”

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

(Enjoying the story? Want to help support the continuance of this tale? Please like, share and subscribe.)

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  1. Helkey Table of Contents | Scribbler’s Fantastical Workshop

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