DOUGS SHOUTED AND WENT SCRAMBLING. Ann cursed
something incredibly vile relating to what comes out of the business end of a seagull.
“Damn fine shooting,” Laggart muttered. “Hit us first shot? They’ve got quite the cannonmaster.”
Crow shoved aside a few Dougs, then calmly raised her weapon. It looked…sleeker than the older muskets the Dougs carried, and had a different sight.
Though the Crow’s Song had shortened the distance to the other ship, Tress was still amazed as the captain trained her musket toward the enemy, closed one eye, and fired. A man on the distant ship—the one holding the water firing stick as his assistants reloaded the cannon—dropped in a spray of blood.
“Well,” Laggart said, “I guess they had a damn fine cannonmaster.” “Carpenter and sprouter,” the captain said loudly as she lowered her
musket and began to reload, dropping a small pouch of zephyr spores down the muzzle. “We’ve been hit. When the seethe comes again, we’ll scoop up
half the sea—and everyone on this ship will find out what spores taste like. Perhaps you’d like to do your jobs and prevent that.”
“Right, Cap’n!” Ann said, raising her pistol. “Let me just get off one shot before—”
At least a half dozen Dougs grabbed her arm, wrestling for the pistol. The captain ignored them, sighting once again, then dropped the sailor who had been hefting a cannonball to load into the enemy’s cannon.
It was the best shooting Tress had ever seen. It was the only shooting, granted. Nevertheless, I’ll admit Crow was one of the best shots I’d ever seen. And considering that primitive muskets handle like a snake being electrocuted, that is saying something.
“To work, Ann,” the captain said, calm—yet somehow threatening, ice crusting her voice. “Or my next shot won’t have to travel to another ship.”
“Moonshadows,” Ann said, stumbling over to Tress. “Those Dougs really wanted a chance to use my pistol, eh? Well, let’s be on with the cap’n’s order. Stop delaying, Tress!” She scrambled belowdecks, Tress following.
“You have your tools?” Ann asked as they reached the middle deck. “What tools?” Tress asked. “Ann, I only became ship’s sprouter this
morning! I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Right, right,” Ann said, wiping her brow. Above, a cannon shot sounded from their ship. “We need rose spores. There should be a whole bunch of them in Weev’s room.”
Tress nodded. She led Ann to the room, though the carpenter hesitated at the threshold. Tress continued inside, then pried off the top of a small barrel full of rose spores.
“Get some of those,” Ann said, “and put them in one of the metal boxes.
The kind you can transport spores in? Yeah, that. Um…I saw Weev use some other equipment too. I don’t really know a lot about this, kid.”
Tress finished filling the metal box with spores. Then she pulled open the closet, revealing an array of metal tools hanging from pegs on the inside of the door. She didn’t see anything like the box the sprouter had used on the other ship. Weev, it should be noted, was a purist. He preferred the classical tools of the trade, not the modern ones.
“Any of these look right?” Tress asked.
“Oh!” Ann said. “That one with the flat side, like a plate. And that trowel.
The second tool did indeed look like a small shovel, but the first one looked less like a plate to Tress and more like a shield. A little round shield
—flat on the front, with a handle on the back to hold it.
The tools had clips on them for hanging from a belt, but there wasn’t time for that. Tress gathered them up, along with the spores and an eyedropper bottle of water, then stumbled out to meet Ann—who backed away, hands up.
“Righty-o,” Ann said. “Normally, I’d let the sprouter handle the initial patch while I gathered lumber, but I think maybe you could use a little help, eh?”
“Thanks,” Tress said, letting Ann lead the way down to the hold. Bright
sunlight bathed the normally dim confines, shining in through a hole near the ceiling. The hold was taller than the other decks, putting the hole some nine feet up in the air.
“I’ll get a ladder,” Ann said. “So, what you need to do is grow some
spores in that hole. It don’t have to be pretty—I’ll do the pretty part with
wood over the next few days. We just need that hole filled. Roseite is good at resisting silver, and can last quite a while once in place. So it makes a great plug, assuming you…ya know…don’t kill yourself first.”
“Any advice on avoiding that last part?” Tress asked, her voice growing more shrill.
“Wish I did, kid. Those are the right two tools, but I stayed real far away whenever Weev broke out the spores. That guy was nuttier than squirrel droppings. No offense.”
Ann set up the ladder, then backed away. She didn’t offer any further help, but Tress was thankful nonetheless. She climbed to the top of the ladder and looked out at the ocean of spores.
At the moment they were calm, flat, stable. But the instant the seethe
started, the ship would move forward—and the verdant spores would come flooding through the gap. Even if the hold had a silver lining, the ship would quickly take on too much weight and stop floating.
Tress didn’t hear any more shots from above. She pretended that was a good sign as she set her equipment on a nearby shelf for sacks. Last of all,
she opened the aluminum box of spores. They looked like grains of pink salt. Trembling, she tipped the box until a few of them dribbled out onto the edge of the broken wood.
Unfortunately, by the time she had the dropper open and the water ready to squirt, the spores had turned a dark grey. Dead from the silver in the deck just above. Feeling stupid, she closed the box—but not before a number of those inside had died also.
She took a few deep breaths. Then, forcing herself to keep trying, she put some water on the wood first—then opened the box. Leaning back and
shielding her face, she sprinkled a few spores onto the water.
It was a commendable execution of a terrible plan.
The rose spores burst into thick roseite crystals—like big chunks of quartz. While they weren’t sharp, some broke up into the ceiling and another shot diagonally past Tress’s head—nearly smashing her in the face.
It didn’t plug the hole—the crystals left far too much space between them, and their weight caused them to rip off the wood and tumble down: half out into the sea, half down to the bottom of the hold. Tress gasped, belatedly.
“Tress!” Ann said. “Be careful!”
Moonshadows…what was she doing? The entire ship was depending on her, but she knew as much about this as she did about weaponized vexillology. (Watch out for the solid-colored flags. They’ll getcha.)
You saw that sprouter on the Oot’s Dream, she reminded herself. He
sealed the hole. The tools were different, but you know what the patch is supposed to look like.
As she fumbled with the tools, she noticed something. The roseite was
still growing. When the large crystals had broken free, they’d left small bits attached to the hull—and those, touching water, were expanding slowly.
Like a creeping mold.
Did the same thing happen with verdant spores? Did the vines keep growing if you added more water? She didn’t know. But she added some
water to the growing roseite spores. And yes, although the growth was slow, they did continue to expand.
Far too slowly to fill the hole, she thought. Still, like the proverbial politician in a dumpster, it was a good start.
She took the tool that resembled a shield and pressed it to the roseite. The crystals responded immediately, pulling toward the metal, which (from the slate grey color) seemed to be simple iron. The other tool, the trowel, made the crystals grow away from it. It was of polished silvery metal. (Steel, for those who compulsively track these things.)
Right, so each tool influenced the growth of the spores. That made sense.
A low, rumbling noise came from outside the hull. A reverberating horror.
The sound of spores churning. The seethe was beginning again. “Tress!” Ann shouted.
No time for contemplation. If those spores flooded in, Tress would be the first to go. She took the shield-tool in her left hand and pressed it to the hole. With her other hand, she grabbed a tiny pinch of two or three spores—no time to worry if her hands were dry enough—and dropped them in the water on the rim of the broken wood.
They exploded, but were pulled to the shield—and it prevented them from going in unexpected directions. The force of it did nearly shove her off the ladder. Ann cried out and grabbed the base of it to steady her, which helped.
As roseite crystals began to grow around the edges of the shield, Tress grabbed the trowel and pushed them away. She was able to angle them to grow toward the sides of the hole, like using mortar that grew as she directed.
Wind in the sails made the ship rock backward, lifting the prow. Tress barely got the crystals to seal the final edge of the hole as the ship crashed forward. Her plug shook and cracked. There had been water on the other
edge, but the vines that grew because of it didn’t break through—and there wasn’t enough water for them to grow big enough to trap the ship.
The moment stretched, pulled taut with anxiety, trembling and holding its breath.
The patch held.
“Oh, moons,” Ann said. “You actually did it. Can you…maybe put another layer on, or…”
“Let’s not tempt fate,” Tress said, trying to pull her shield tool free. It was overgrown with the roseite and affixed in place. “I’ll probably need a silver knife to cut this off. Maybe we should try that when we’re docked
“Yeah, all right,” Ann said, holding the ladder as Tress climbed down.
“I’m just glad you were here. Until you took the job, it would have been my duty to patch that. I would’ve used wood, and that pause in the seethe was
short enough that I wouldn’t have had nearly enough time.” Another crack sounded above. Gunfire.
“This isn’t over yet,” Ann said. “Merciful moons, I hope that patch holds.