Read Phoenix Rising Online

Authors: Bryony Pearce

Phoenix Rising (3 page)

Toby hit the boiler-room door like a tornado, already pulling his goggles over his eyes. As soon as his heart stopped pounding, his ears caught a strange sound.

“Something’s changed.” Toby pulled his screwdriver from his tool belt and stalked around the boiler.

The captain’s voice echoed from the speaking tube. “Why aren’t we reversing?”

Toby hesitated, his eyes narrowed. Over the whine of the turbines, he made out a gentle hissing, like a trapped snake.

“Toby, what is it?” asked Polly.

He spun back to the boiler and tapped the water-level gauge. “Water’s adequate and operational pressure is fine. When did I test the feed water for impurities?”

“Twenty-six hours ago.” Polly’s claws clicked on the floor as she followed him. “You injected the chemicals, it should still be balanced.”

Toby scrubbed furiously at the salt drying on his cheeks.
“I can’t see anything wrong. Can you?”

Polly flew to her roost. “Nothing appears out of order.”

“Something’s not right; I can hear it hissing. Ashes, we haven’t got time for this.”

“Toby, we’re going to lose the salvage.” The captain’s tone was urgent.

“We’re not losing that plane, not after everything.” Shoving his worries to the back of his mind, Toby closed his ears to the distressing sound and reached for the lever that would send the paddles into reverse.

Polly bobbed up and down. “If you say there’s something wrong with the boiler, then there’s something wrong with it.”

“It’ll have to wait.” Toby closed his hand around the warm metal and moved the lever one notch. Immediately he heard the whistle of four-hundred-degree steam rushing along delivery lines that were usually only opened when manoeuvring the
into dock.

He licked his lips. He hadn’t pinned down the source of the hissing, but the boiler seemed to be running with no problems. The
bumped in the water as the paddles came back online and then, torturously slowly, she began to reverse.

Toby fidgeted as he timed her, thirty seconds … forty.

Then the captain’s voice came back over the speaker.
“That’s enough, now.”

Immediately Toby slammed the lever back into position, returned the paddles to null and diverted all power back to the pump room.

was once again in position to salvage the plane. Toby paced around the boiler room, listening. The hissing had quieted.

Polly hopped on to his shoulder. “Go and see your plane come in. If there is a problem, you can work on it later.”

Toby hesitated, torn. Then he nodded. “You’re right, it can wait.” He gave the attemperator a tap and dragged the goggles off his head. “But I’ll be back.”

Toby anchored himself into a rope at the prow, never tired of the sight of the
closing up and shutting out the hungry sea. He could hear the bellows of the men driving the windlasses over the water’s roar as the doors got closer to sealing. Finally the sea pushed against the pressure of the determined
one last time and lost.

The clang as the doors locked rang out over the waves and Toby placed his palms on deck. Beneath him he could feel the pumps hammering as the last of the water rushed from the outlets.

For a moment the
was quiet as she bobbed in
the water alongside the junk. Then the hatch in the prow cracked and the pirates from the pump room began to file on to the deck. Soon the pirates were all around Toby, rowdy with adrenaline. The captain jumped from the bridge.

“I’m going to check on Dobbs and his team in the wreck room. Raise the rigging, get those sails up. Then everyone have a rest.” He glanced at his son. “You too, Toby. If the furnace has enough fuel, you can leave the boiler room for a bit.”

Instinctively Toby looked behind him, tracking the storm.

Barnaby followed his gaze. “We have a few hours yet and the sails will give us some headway. Have some time with the crew, I’ll tell you when we need to get the paddles moving.” He pulled his glasses from his pocket and put them on. “I’m going to check on that plane.”

Toby opened his mouth.

“No, you cannot come, Toby. The salvage team don’t need you underfoot.” Barnaby smiled to soften his words. “I know it’s ‘your’ salvage, son. I’ll tell you if it’s any good.” He addressed the rest of the crew. “Sails up.”

“Perudo?” Dee appeared at Toby’s shoulder.

Toby’s legs moved in a restless jiggle as he considered. He should go and work out what was wrong with the
boiler, but his captain had told him to take some time out. Besides, he wanted to be on deck when the verdict on the salvage was delivered.

His eyes went behind Dee to where Uma waited with Marcus and Rahul. If he went below, he’d be missing a good game. Finally Toby nodded and Dee led the group to a quiet spot among coils of rope and out of the wind.

“Lay your bets, pirates.” She settled herself comfortably.

bet the boy has never kissed a girl in his life.” The voice that came from behind Toby’s back sounded like the rust of old hinges and ended with a low, satisfied snigger.

“Crocker.” Dee acknowledged the pirate, and Toby clenched his fists.

“I’ve got some bets to lay if you’ll ’ave me play.” Crocker wormed his way into the gap between Toby and Uma before anyone could object. His bow legs curved into the space and forced Toby to edge away to avoid pressing against him. Despite himself, Toby glanced sideways.

Crocker patted his hooked nose. “Doncha worry,
, it’ll ’appen one day.” Then he sniggered again. “Oh, wait, there aren’t any girls on board, are there? An’ you aren’t allowed off ship, are you? So maybe it won’t ’appen after all. Might as well cut ’em off.” He gave a snort that sprayed over the box of dice.

“Say that again, you—”

“What have you got to bet?” snapped Dee, silencing Toby. She wiped the box with the sleeve of her windcheater.

“I got information,” Crocker grinned. “I know where the captain’s been taking us this last week.”

“If the captain’s been taking us somewhere and hasn’t shared it with the rest of the crew, then he has a good reason. You shouldn’t be spreading rumours.”

Marcus tucked his long red hair under the clashing scarlet scarf wrapped around his throat. “How would
know, anyway?” he sneered.

“I know because I delivered him his mornin’ brew and saw the map he’s usin’. You recall that garbled information we traded the spare sextant for at the last port? Well, he’s worked it all out and plotted a course. We’re on our way to something that’ll make this salvage look petty.”

“It won’t be petty.” Toby ground his teeth. “And he’ll tell us when he’s ready.”

Crocker shrugged but his leg muscles tensed against Toby’s. The pirate wasn’t as relaxed as he seemed. “Well, then, how about some of the spicy sausage we robbed off that farmer in Almeria? Chorizo, they called it. I got some of that off of Peel. And three pickled eggs left from Scilly.”

“All right,” Dee nodded. “You’re in. Marcus?”

Marcus scratched his head. “Got some free time on rotation tomorrow, I can offer that.”

“Works for me. Rahul?”

“Vitamin tabs.” He patted the top pocket of his windcheater. “Ds. Half a pack.”

Uma leaned back. “I’ll do an extra laundry duty.”

Dee scratched a note with her penknife on the side of the bridge as the sails creaked and groaned overhead. “I’ve been making a short sword from a propeller I pulled on hook duty a few weeks ago,” she said finally.

“A sword?” Toby sat up. “Serious? No way food and free time is worth a sword.”

Uma and Marcus agreed, while Crocker rubbed his hands together. “Could do with a sword, me.”

“Up your offer, then,” Toby snapped.

Dee shook her head. “I’m happy to bet. I don’t reckon I’ll lose and then I’ll have a sword, all that food
some free time to eat it.”

“Yeah, but…”

bet, boy?” Crocker leaned closer, his sour smoke-and-garlic breath told Toby that the chorizo was smaller than it had been.

Toby frowned, trying to think of something he could offer that was worth the same as a whole sword. “I-I’m not sure.” His feet tapped on the deck. “My tool belt. I’ve got that.”

“Your tool belt?” Uma frowned as she spoke to him for the first time. “You need that.”

“Not my tools.” Toby shook his head. “Just the belt.”

“Not much use then, is it?” Crocker smirked.

“Well…” Toby paused. “I’ve been working on some clockwork. I’ve got a little engine that goes—”

Crocker guffawed. “A toy! What’re we going to do with a toy? There ain’t no kids on this ship, in case you ’aven’t noticed, Toby. You’re the only one who wants to play with toys.”

“It’s not a toy, it’s a prototype.”

Dee and Uma glowered, but it was Rahul who spoke. Scratching his bad leg he tilted his head thoughtfully. “I would like a toy, Toby. It’s a good bet.”

“Pah,” Crocker spat. “What’ll you do with a clockwork engine? Trade it in the next port?”

“Could do,” Rahul nodded sagely. “See, so it is a good bet for all of us.” But he wasn’t looking at Crocker when he spoke. Toby followed his gaze to a rowdy card game run by Oats on the prow.

“You and Nisha?” he gasped. “You’re together?”

Rahul blushed. “So, you see – a clockwork engine would not be so bad.”

Quiet dropped over the group. Finally Dee slapped the box of dice into Rahul’s hand. It rattled like bones. “We’ll miss you, Rahul: both you and Nish.”

“Yes, we wish that we could be together
remain on
board. It will still be some time before we have to leave – weeks yet before she even starts to show. We’ll take our time and find somewhere to settle next time we are sailing in the waters off Bangladesh State.”

“Nish isn’t wanted any more? Has she been pardoned?” Dee frowned.

“That was the news we received in the port before last – why Nisha has been so happy. A regime change. The Minister had to escape with his family in the night. They were caught heading into Bhutanabad and hanged. No more hiding for Nisha, she can go home.”

“And you?” Toby swallowed. “What about you?”

“They won’t be looking for me in Bangladesh State, especially with such big changes to consider. We will blend in, hide away and raise our children in sight of the sea.”

Uma put her arm around him. “I’ll congratulate Nisha later.”

Rahul showed bright white teeth. “Not yet, Uma, wait till she shows. She’s superstitious.”

Marcus laughed. “We’re pirates, Rahul, we’re all superstitious.”

“Enough of this.” Crocker’s hand banged on the deck in the centre of the ring. “Toby’s bet stands. Are we playing or not?”

Rahul shook the dice into his hand and divvied them out, three to each of the six players.

“Toby starts, he’s the youngest,” Uma said. Then, as Polly squawked, she looked up sharply, understanding that she hadn’t thought her words through.

Toby tensed, sensing Crocker’s mirth. “Fine,” he gritted, looking at the dice hidden between his knees. “Four sixes.”

“Five sixes,” Crocker replied.

“Six twos.” Marcus rubbed his forehead and Dee grinned at him.

She leaned back, as she gave her response. “Six threes.”

“Six sixes.” Rahul rubbed his hands.

“Seven … threes.” Uma licked her lips. “Back to you, Toby.”

Toby ground his teeth. Were there likely to be seven threes showing among the group? He calculated swiftly. Eighteen dice and ones were wild. Crocker seemed to like sixes, the others had bet twos and threes. So were there likely to be more than seven threes and ones together showing in eighteen dice? His brain said no, that Uma had made a mistake. But she might have a handful of threes; it was possible. If she did, then among fifteen dice she only had to find four ones and threes. And Dee had also bet threes. Toby pressed his lips together and his feet jiggled wildly. If he didn’t challenge, he had to up the bet. But
that meant he thought there was more of another number. Did he?

“Seven … fives.”

On Toby’s shoulder, Polly stiffened. “Polly want a cracker,” she muttered.

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