97. Man and Woman

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For a moment, I was frozen. Which was ironic, in a way. I had always thought of Mr Ambrose as cold and immobile, but now I was the one who couldn't move. He marched over to me and grabbed me by the arm.

'Get up, I said, Mr Linton! Now!'

Half running, half dragged by Mr Ambrose, I stumbled out of the cabin and onto the deck. The deck? No. This didn't look like the deck I remembered. This looked more like pandemonium. All I saw, before a wall of water hit me in the face, was a strange still life in black and white, with men, women and children arranged around the ship like living corpses, waiting to die again, their faces thrown into stark contrast by the flash of a lightning bolt.

Then, the wave was on me, and the light was gone. My lungs filled with saltwater, and I was thrown back against the outer cabin wall. Only the hand that still clasped mine held me upright. The hand of Mr Ambrose.

'Steady. It's all right. I've got you.'

Spluttering and coughing, I emptied a mouthful of saltwater onto the deck, and a goodly piece of half-digested goose liver, too. I hardly noticed the stench over the strange and unfamiliar scents wafting over the Urania. Dark scents. Cold scents. Scents of the deep sea rising.

'Please, ladies and gentlemen! Please, there is no need for concern! Calm down, please!' An officer was striding towards us, down from the bridge, his hands raised in an attempt to calm the frightened crowd. Even if he had ten arms, I doubt it would have worked. 'We are doing everything we can to get the situation under control. Please, ladies and gentle–'

'And how,' Mr Ambrose cut him off, cold steel in his voice, 'do you plan to get a storm under control? Are you St Peter? Can you close the sluice gates of heaven and stop lightning from striking us down?'

The officer opened his mouth, but no sound came out. His frightened eyes flickered from Mr Ambrose, to the rest of the terrified crowd gathered on the deck, to the roiling sea around us.

'How many lifeboats are on this miserable wreck?' Mr Ambrose's voice was still deadly cold.

'Please, Sir, you have to stay calm. The captain–'

'The captain obviously isn't worthy of scrubbing the deck of a ship, because it was he who got us into this situation in the first place. Now – how many lifeboats are on this vessel?'

The officer hung his head. 'Not enough for everybody.' His voice was mere whisper. It didn't matter. Everybody heard him. And a moment later, he could have yelled himself hoarse, and nobody would have understood a word. The crowd exploded into panic, everyone demanding that they would get on a lifeboat first, screeching insults, pressing to see the captain. As if that would help.

Mr Ambrose didn't yell. The moment he heard the officer's words he squeezed my hand even tighter, and began to drag me along the slippery deck, away from my cabin. I didn't protest, or try to stop him. I felt numb. Somewhere, deep inside, the realization had already settled: I was going to die tonight. I had fulfilled my dream, gotten my own job, lived through all those adventures and dangers, and now I would die tonight, on this measly little boat, far, far away from home.

At least Mr Ambrose was with me. That made me feel a little better, though also sad, for some reason.

Why?

Yes, that was the reason: I didn't want him to die. The realization came as a surprise to me. Most of the time during our short acquaintance, I had felt like strangling him myself. But now that the sea was about to choke him for me, I didn't want it to happen. And yet, I was glad that I wasn't alone. Strange. Very strange.

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