A chorus of ‘aye, ayes’ came over the speakers. Longtayle leaned over to watch the depth meter with the helmsrat, who kept calling out the depth anyway.
‘She’s levelling off,’ reported the helmsrat. ‘Level at sixty-seven fathoms.’
‘How deep can we go?’ asked Arthur.
‘Deeper than this,’ said Longtayle. ‘The danger is that a very small movement for Drowned Wednesday might take us down too far. We counted on her just cruising along the surface like she normally does.’
‘I bet she saw something to eat,’ said Arthur. ‘But we’re okay for now, aren’t we?’
‘We have to get out of this hole in the plate,’ said Longtayle. ‘Once we have freedom to move within her, we’ll be fine. But we’re too deep to send divers out now, to chop away the obstruction. Perhaps, Doctor Scamandros, you might have some sorcerous solution?’
Scamandros cleared his throat.
‘Hmmph, can’t say anything springs to mind, sadly. Most of my practical knowledge is for wind and wave, on top of the sea, not underneath it.’
‘We’ll try to shake ourselves out then —’ ‘She’s diving again, Captain.’
‘Seventy-two fathoms and getting deeper. Eighty-two fathoms. Eighty-seven fathoms. Ninety fathoms. Ninety-five fathoms.’
The helmrat’s impassive voice was suddenly drowned by a horrible, metallic booming that sounded like someone hitting an enormous bell. It was so loud it completely drowned out all other noise. Then it slowly eased into a host of different booms and squeals, none of them as loud, but all of them very frightening.
‘We can go deeper,’ said Longtayle. He sounded confident, but Arthur saw that the Rat’s tail had gone completely white.
‘One hundred fathoms. One hundred and two fathoms.’
‘Send a bottle message,’ ordered Longtayle suddenly into the voice-pipe. ‘Test depth reached. DW still diving.’
‘Aye, aye,’ came the disembodied response.
‘Doctor Scamandros!’ Arthur turned to the sorcerer. ‘What about communicating with Drowned Wednesday? Is there anything you can do to. . . to, I don’t know. . . cast a light in the sky so she’ll look up at it?’
Scamandros was mopping his forehead with his yellow silk handkerchief. He put this away and started hunting through the numerous inside pockets of his coat. In fact, he seemed to have more pockets than it was possible to have inside a coat.
‘No, no, that won’t do . . . won’t work from down here . . . never quite mastered that one . . . perhaps, no, used that up . . . have to be able to see the target . . .’
‘How about you bung an illusion of a big hunk of roast beef on top,’ suggested Suzy. ‘I reckon she’d go for that.’
‘I can make the illusion,’ said Scamandros peevishly. ‘But I can’t get it outside!’
‘One hundred and six fathoms,’ reported the helmsrat. He turned to look at the Captain and said, without a tremor in his voice, ‘Estimated crush depth is one hundred and ten fathoms.’
Arthur didn’t need to ask what the crush depth was. It was obvious from the horrible booming and screeching sounds coming from all around them. He jumped as a new sound started, and turned to see water spraying up from the floor.
‘One hundred and eight fathoms.’
‘Can Drowned Wednesday hear underwater?’ asked Suzy.
‘Crush depth exceeded,’ reported the helmsrat. ‘One hundred and eleven fathoms. . . and getting deeper.’
As if in answer to his voice, all the lights suddenly went out. Arthur stared into the darkness, expecting any moment to hear the hull completely buckle . . . followed immediately by the cold shock of tons of water and almost instantaneous death. At least it would be quick . . .
Everyone else seemed to be expecting the same thing. They were totally silent for about ten seconds, then Longtayle spoke.
‘Switch to circuit B!’
The helmsrat moved. Through the constant booming and whistling, Arthur heard a switch click and the Rat swear under his breath. Then there was a glimmering of light in the filaments as the bulbs heated up, gradually brightening to cast a strange red glow over the submariners.
Once again the passengers held their breath. Surely they couldn’t still be going down, or they would already be crushed.
‘One hundred . . . one hundred and thirteen fathoms! And steady!’
‘What did you say, Suzy?’ asked Arthur.
‘I said, “Can Drowned Wednesday hear underwater?”’
‘I bet she can,’ said Arthur quickly. ‘Whales have sonar! They sing to one another! If we can make a really high-pitched loud noise, then she’ll. . . she’ll know there’s someone stuck in her jaw . . . That’s probably not going to help, is it?’
‘Why not?’ asked Suzy.
‘Well, she might just dive even deeper to get rid of whatever’s making the annoying noise.’
‘One hundred and fourteen fathoms!’ reported the helmsrat. ‘She’s diving again!’
‘It’s not going to make things worse, is it?’
‘Do whatever you can,’ ordered Longtayle. ‘The crush depth is an estimate, but —’ His voice was cut off as several jets of water burst out of the walls at the same time, accompanied by a terrible, deep groan from the hull.
‘Doctor!’ yelled Arthur. ‘Can you make a really long, really high-pitched squeal?’
Scamandros was already unscrewing the parrot head of his walking stick. He nodded as he reached inside the head and made some adjustments.
‘Block your ears!’
Arthur just had time to put his fingers in his ears as the parrot head suddenly shone with a bright light and its beak opened, emitting an incredibly piercing shriek that went on for several seconds, completely cutting through the groans and bellows of the distressed submarine. Scamandros worked the parrot head like it was a puppet, pulling on little levers, and its shriek began to go up and down to a regular rhythm.
The helmsrat was trying to shout something but Arthur couldn’t hear him. The parrot shriek was so loud and so high-pitched that it actually hurt. He could feel it making his cheekbones ache.
Water touched Arthur’s feet. He yelped and pulled his legs up. There was at least a foot of water in the compartment and it looked like it was rising. So it hadn’t worked, and they were all going to be crushed and drowned — The screech stopped. Hesitantly, Arthur pulled one finger out of his ear, just enough to hear a confused babble of voices that included the helmsrat shrieking, all calm gone.
‘One hundred fathoms and rising! She’s going up! She’s going up!’
Whether it was in response to the parrot shriek or not, Drowned Wednesday rose up far faster than she’d sunk. Not that either motion had been very significant for her, Arthur thought. A bit like him bobbing his head down an inch.
‘Ten fathoms and shallowing! Six fathoms! Sea level! We’re out of the water. We’re right out of the water.’
Everyone stared at the crystal globe. All the water was running out of the hole they were in, to reveal the obstruction as a barnacle-encrusted wall of copper-sheathed timber.
‘She must be lifting her head up,’ said Longtayle. ‘That’ll make things easier.’
He lifted the voice-pipe.
‘Cox’n, prepare a diving party for outside work. Four rats with axes. Damage control, get all pumps going.’
Arthur was watching the crystal globe carefully, so he was the first to notice the water streaming back from inside the whale. At the same time the submersible shook and tilted down at the stern, the water still in the bridge sloshing around everyone’s ankles.
‘We’re in the sea again. Nine fathoms!’ called the helmsrat. ‘But the current has reversed. It’s coming out of her now, at six knots.’
‘Belay that diving party!’ called Longtayle. ‘Full back both engines!’
The vibration of the engines had just begun when there was suddenly a much bigger and more dramatic vibration, a shock wave that shook the whole submersible with a sound like a china cabinet falling over. Arthur held his hands against his ears as he felt his stomach flip-flop and the blood rush to his head.
‘What was that?’
‘Jaw clash,’ said Longtayle. ‘Guess she really didn’t like that parrot noise. It might help us get free.’
‘Or shake us to bits,’ said Suzy cheerfully.
The shock wave came three more times, each more violently than the last. Arthur was very glad to be sitting down and belted in, as even so he was thrown about in his chair. The teapot and cups were long since smashed to pieces and they combined with various other bits and pieces to fly dangerously around the bridge. Arthur was cut slightly across the cheek before he covered his face with his arms.
‘We’re backing free!’
Arthur stared at the crystal globe. The wooden wall was receding as the submersible backed out. All the bits of flotsam were still flowing back out of Drowned Wednesday, rather more slowly than they’d streamed in, so it seemed she had stopped moving and lowered her mouth.
The view changed to show the open sea behind them.
‘If she’ll just stay still long enough for us to back right out and go through another hole. . .’ muttered Longtayle. ‘All we need is a minute. One minute . . .’
No one spoke as they all watched the tail-eye view. It slowly changed, the debris floating more freely and the white walls of bone being left behind.
The globe flashed and there was the immense wall of white bone ahead of them, riddled with holes.
‘Do you want to pick a hole, Lord Arthur?’ asked Longtayle as they continued to back through the sea.
‘No! Just aim for one!’
‘Port thirty and take her up,’ ordered Longtayle.
The submarine rattled and groaned as the engines returned to forward thrust. Ever so slowly the Balaena began to move towards a new hole. Then there was a strange rush of speed, and both white walls and dark hole rushed towards the submersible.
‘She’s moving forward again!’
‘Steady helm, straight at that hole!’
‘Let’s hope this one’s not bunged up,’ said Suzy.
‘The currents would clean them out,’ said Arthur distractedly. He was trying to watch the crystal globe. They were lined up okay for the new tunnel, but it would only take a slight shift for them to miss it. ‘It must have been a big ship to get stuck. We were just unlucky to hit that one.’
‘But very fortunate to come back out again,’ said Doctor Scamandros nervously.
‘Here we go!’ cried Suzy. ‘Straight as an arrow!’
THERE WAS NO obstruction in the new tunnel. The Balaena passed through it at a steady pace, helped along by the steadily increasing current. Drowned Wednesday was on the move again and seawater, food, and debris were once more rushing into her gullet.
The tunnel through the plate was only a hundred yards long. As they emerged from the far end, Arthur found that he had been holding his breath. He let it out, but didn’t gain any real feeling of relief. There were bound to be so many troubles and obstacles ahead. And even if they did manage to get the Will, they’d still have to come back out.
Which is going to be difficult, Arthur thought. I guess we can go faster forward, but if the current is too strong, the Balaena won’t be able to get out unless Drowned Wednesday stops for long enough …
Once through the straining plate, the Balaena followed the current into the broad lake that was the inside of Drowned Wednesday’s mouth. They crossed that in twenty minutes, the engines straining to maintain steerage way as the current grew swifter, the food-laden waters gathering to pass into Drowned Wednesday’s throat.
But this was almost routine work for the submersible, like navigating a tidal estuary. The throat was very wide, and though there was a lot of material being carried along, there was nothing that posed a threat to the Balaena. Much of it was fish and sea creatures of all kinds, mixed in with salvage.
Arthur had even started to relax a little as the pumps cleared the bridge of water and both Longtayle and the helmsrat resumed their usual calm dialogue of orders and information.
Then, about two miles down the throat, without any warning, the Balaena was suddenly picked up and flipped over in a complete somersault. Arthur nearly slid out of his straps, and once again was struck by flying debris, including the lid of the teapot, which gave the ring of pure silver as it hit him on the head.
At the same time, a strange electric tingle passed through Arthur’s body and the ends of his fingers burst into smoky green flames that disappeared a moment later, just as he cried out and started shaking his hands.
The whole thing happened so quickly that no one had time to react. It was like being on an unfamiliar fairground ride that had suddenly whipped around and no one was sure whether it was going to do it again.
‘We’ve passed through a sorcerous membrane of some kind,’ wheezed Doctor Scamandros. His greatcoat had ridden up around his throat and got tangled, and he was having difficulty pulling it back into place.
‘Pressure gauges have all reset,’ reported the helmsrat. ‘According to this, we’re only five fathoms down, and there’s air above us. No current to speak of either. Still water, or near enough.’
Longtayle scratched his ear.
‘Guess we went through some kind of valve. Take us up to top-eye depth.’