Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 31
The harpoon head expanded like an opening parachute. The power reel went into reverse, hauling in the cable until it twanged taut. The pilot increased power and the turbofans screamed. By brute force the vehicle pulled the head of the monster around to point towards the shore.
The spirotrich dived and the reel spun out more cable to prevent the car being dragged under. When the monster broached the cable ran back in to take up the slack. The pilot played the beast like a fish on the end of a rod and line. All the time he fought to keep the spirotrich moving towards the edge of the ice sheet.
The crisis came when the spirotrich tried to dive under the ice. The pilot gave the rotors all the power he had to keep the beast’s head up. The cable twanged under the strain, shaking off water which fell towards the sea in a fine spray. The beast crashed head first onto the ice sheet which submerged and split under the impact. The monster twisted left and right, trying to roll back into the sea.
The car lurched without warning. Allenson was thrown against the side. The gunner crashed into his back, flipping him clean out of the compartment.
Allenson hung one handed from the rail. He clawed desperately with the other to find something, anything, to grab hold of. The gunner stared down at him, frozen, not attempting to help. The moment of time lasted ten thousand years. Todd hauled the gunner out of the way and reached down to Allenson.
The car gave another lurch and Allenson’s hand slipped. He had one quick glimpse of Todd’s horrified expression before he fell backwards into empty space.
He hit the cable with his shoulders and bounced off. He made a wild grab that missed but managed to get one arm around the line then the other. Initially he fell freely, the cable sliding easily through his hug. Increasingly as he dropped the cable curved, wrenching at his arms. He went into the water feet first. The shock of the chill liquid against his unprotected face made him gasp and nearly inhale but the sudden slack gave him a chance to get his hands firmly on the cable.
Allenson clutched the cable with all his strength when it dragged him under. He held his breath until the line tightened, pulling him up towards the light. He shot right out of the sea like a rabbit out of a burrow as the car fought against the weight of the spirotrich. The cable hurled him into the air until it twanged straight. He lost his grip, fired like an arrow from a bow.
Sky and sea rotated in an orange blue blur until he fell with a squelch into something mushy. He struggled in a sticky mix of goo and fibres, spitting foul-tasting muck out of his mouth. He just about managed to stand upright buried to his waist when the spirotrich lurched. He lost his footing and got another protoplasmic ducking. It was like trying to wade through blancmange. He partly crawled, partly slid, and partly swam. Another heave and he was out of the monster, rolling and falling. He hit something hard that knocked the breath from his body.
Allenson tried to stand but slipped onto his bottom. He discovered that spirotrich goo on ice gave an almost frictionless surface. The spirotrich rolled away from him. Allenson scooted inland as fast as he could in case the creature reversed its roll. He slid on his bum until he reached a place where the ice had broken and refrozen giving some purchase for his feet on the roughened surface.
The car swooped over him. The downdraft from its rotors became a howling gale that bowled him over once again. God he was going to have some spectacular bruises by morning. The car sank down and landed. Todd was over the side before the rotors stopped turning.
“Uncle Allen, are you okay.”
Allenson sat up and spat again, trying to clean the oily taste of spirotrich blubber from his mouth.
He started shaking.
“Water got in my suit,” Allenson replied defensively.
Actually the water inside the insulated survival suit was warm, heated by his body. He shook with shock, not cold.
Todd assisted Allenson to his feet and helped him back to the car.
“Right, let’s get you back to the station.”
Allenson noticed he had drawn his ion pistol, which seemed a strange thing to do under the circumstances.
“It’s all right, nephew, I’m not a complete invalid,” Allenson snapped as Todd tried to help him up the steps.
“Of course not, uncle,” Todd replied, hovering close as Allenson climbed.
Todd followed him into the larger rear compartment of the car and addressed the hunt captain.
“Get this thing back to the station immediately so we can get the general checked over.”
“But we haven’t cut our way into the spirotrich to check for ambrein yet,” said the hunt master.
Todd pointed the pistol at the master.
“Fine, if any of you feckers want to get out on the ice that’s up to you but this car is heading back right now. Am I making myself clear?”
Allenson’s injuries turned out to be superficial and were soon fixed by the paramedic. The station had a decent medical facility as accidents were not uncommon given the crews’ line of work. He valued the hot shower after treatment rather more than the medical aid. After he had dressed in clean clothes Todd insisted that they go out onto the landing pad to look over the barge. Redley and Buller remained in the bar.
Boswell sat stoically on the barge in a survival suit watching the Icecube riggers charge their cells.
“Everything in order, Boswell?” Todd asked.
“Yes, sar,” the unflappable servant replied. “We’ll be finished within an hour or two.”
Todd steered Allenson past the barge to where they could not be overheard.
“Something bothering you?” Allenson asked, mildly, although he was a little irritated at being treated like cargo.
“Yes, something’s bothering me. Those bastards tried to kill you back there.”
“Oh come on,” Allenson replied. “Surely it was an accident. Why would these people have designs on my life?”
“Because you’re about to upset the order of things and they’ve a nice little business here provided matters stay as they are. If the revolutionaries get in power they could all be out of a job.”
Allenson thought for a moment and then shook his head.
“No one could have set up an assassination plot. No one knew we would come here. Hell, I didn’t know myself until a few hours before we arrived.”
“Oh, I agree. This wasn’t a conspiracy, just a bit of freelance initiative on the part of the local Icecube management.”
“You’re beginning to sound like Hawthorn.”
“Colonel Hawthorn talks a deal of sense. If I hadn’t been there what do you bet you’d have never got off that ice sheet alive? They didn’t turn to pick you up until I pulled my pistol.”
Allenson stared at him unable to grasp that anyone would think that him important enough to assassinate. The suggestion was preposterous but then he remembered the car’s crewman looking down at him impassively while he hung by one hand.
Maybe Hawthorn had a point.