Previously: “Heading north on the HMS Inquisitor, we found ourselves tailed by a mysterious sonar contact. Ahead of us lay the Smogton bridge and our route to EON-1.”
Part 23: Beneath the Bridge
It was difficult to find a good place to lounge on the deck of the Inquisitor. The railing was rusted through and not to be trusted with your weight, while the walls shed flakes of paint on anyone or anything that got too close.
So mostly, when I felt the urge to gaze into the distance, I did so from the bridge, or through the porthole in Lady Una's cabin. The view I saw unfolding, however, was not one conducive to good humour.
A gentle voice interrupted my reverie. “Humbling isn't it?”
I turned with a start to see EON-4 entering the bridge.
“Quite,” I answered. “One wonders what they could possible be doing.”
With the clicking of hundreds of tiny gears, EON-4 walked up beside me to look through the grimy window. Together we peered out at the thin, grey slither of land on the horizon, and the thick black cloud that hung over it, flickering with red flashes that resembled silent, unearthly lightning.
“Something profound,” EON-4 said. “Something on a scale so grand we probably couldn't begin to understand it. Perhaps factually, in some vague sense. But not in the sense of truly grasping... well, why.”
I mulled over his words for a while, before he spoke again. “We pass under Smogton bridge soon, I believe?”
I pointed to the thin line in the mist ahead of the ship.
EON-4's single eye clicked into focus. “Ah yes, I see it now.”
He turned to the glass circle of the ultrasound machine. “The Commander wondered if I might be able to make some sense of this thing. I can't say that I've ever seen one before, however.”
“You understand the principle?”
“Yes. Quite devious, I think. One wonders how they came up with it.”
“The same way humans come up with anything,” I said. “Necessity. Perceived necessity, anyway. In this case it was a hoax.”
“Mostly a hoax, anyway. In the Danegeld War, the Danes supposedly developed an unbeatable sub-marine ship. It threw all our lot into a panic, and they came up with this echolocation instrument. In the end it turned out the Dane's ship couldn't go a full mile before the electrical engines shorted out, but it was still a nice piece of propaganda on their part.”
EON-4 focused on me. “You're not thinking that this is such a craft, are you? Whether human or otherwise?”
“Well, that or a giant creature of some sort from the Twisted Forests. It seems unlikely to me, but Lady Una would know better than me about that. If only she'd come out of her damn cabin.”
He looked down at the green display. “The third option is of course that this is a flaw in the system. That would also explain why this 'object' seems to be keeping a constant distance from us.”
“I think it's better to overreact than to fail to act at all.”
“If it's a Sky Spider vessel, there would be nothing we could do anyway.”
“I'm not so certain. And we seem to have a fair few human enemies for some reason.”
“It still seems most likely to be an erroneous detection,” EON-4 said. “And if it was truly something dangerous, why aren't we already dead? There are more solid threats ahead that we should be worrying about.”
I turned back to the bridge ahead. “Perhaps. We've never had trouble passing beneath it before, but you don't wander so close to them without a little apprehension. Although if things were that bad, someone would have hit the button and taken the bridge out by now.”
“Assuming there's anyone left.”
“Assuming that, yes. The Commander wants to stay as far east as we can, but if they're on the island that will probably turn out to be a mistake. I suppose you have to take risks to get anything done, though.”
“By the way,” EON-4 stated calmly. “I can see movement on the bridge.”
I thought about it for a few seconds. “Then there's no-one left on the island, the Sky Spiders have crossed the bridge, and we're sailing right into mortal danger in a leaky bathtub with a half-functional gun.”
“We have to turn back,” EON-4 said. “We can go find EON-2 by looping around the island.”
“We'll have to talk to the others about it,” I said. “But I think we should keep going just as we are.”
“As we are?” EON-4 asked, almost without intonation. “Straight to the bottom of the ocean you mean?”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: Our heroes pass beneath the Smogton bridge - and find themselves facing danger from every side! Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!