The lost warship, p.1
The Lost Warship,
Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
The Lost Warship
by ROBERT MOORE WILLIAMS
[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January1943. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.copyright on this publication was renewed.]
[Sidenote: Jap bombs rained down, there was a tremendous blast--and aweird thing happened to the _Idaho_]
The sun came up over a glassy, motionless sea. In the life-boat, Craigarranged the piece of sail to protect them from the sun. He hoisted itto the top of the improvised mast, spreading it so that it threw ashadow on the boat. There was no wind. There had been no wind for threedays.
Craig stood up and swept his eyes around the circle of the sea. Thehorizon was unbroken. As he sat down he was aware that the girl, MargySharp, who had been sleeping at his feet, had awakened.
"See anything, pal?" she whispered.
He shook his head.
Her pinched face seemed to become more pinched at his gesture. She satup. Her eyes went involuntarily to the keg of water beside Craig. Shelicked her parched, cracked lips.
"How's for a drink, pal?" she asked.
"A quarter of a cup is all we get today," Craig said. "Do you want yourshare now or will you wait and take it later?"
"I'm terribly thirsty," the girl said. She glanced quickly back at theothers in the boat. They were still sleeping.
"How about slipping me a whole cup?" she asked, her bold blue eyes fixedintently on Craig's face.
Craig looked at the sea.
"They're asleep," the girl said quickly. "They won't ever know."
Craig said nothing.
"Please," the girl begged.
Craig sat in silence. He was a big man with a great thatch of black hairand hard gray eyes. He was clad in a pair of torn duck trousers. Rolledbottoms revealed bare feet. He wore no shirt. Holstered on his belt wasa heavy pistol.
"Look, big boy," the girl cajoled. "Me and you could get along allright."
"What makes you think so?" Craig questioned.
This was apparently not the answer she had expected. She seemed to bestartled. For a moment her eyes measured the man.
"You've been looking for something that you wanted very badly," shesaid. "You haven't found it. Because you haven't found it, you havebecome bitter."
Her words made Craig uncomfortable. They came too close to the truth. Heshifted his position on the seat.
"So what?" he said.
"So nothing," the girl answered. "Except that we are two of a kind."
"And because we are two of a kind, we can get along?" he questioned.
"Yes," she answered. She made no effort to hide the longing in her eyes."Look, Craig, me and you, we're tough." She gestured contemptuously atthe others in the boat. "_They_ aren't tough."
"No." The words came faster now, as if she had made up her mind to saywhat she had to say and be damned with the consequences. "They're goingto die. Oh, you needn't shake your head. You haven't fooled me for aminute with your pretending there will be a ship along to pick us up.There won't be a ship. Our only hope is that we may drift ashore on anisland. It may be days before we find an island. There isn't enoughwater to keep us all alive that long. So--"
She couldn't quite finish what she had to say. Craig watched her, hiseyes cold and unrevealing. Her gaze dropped.
"So why don't you and I split the water and let the others die of thirstbecause we are tough and they aren't? Is that what you mean?" he asked.
"No--" She faltered. "N--no." Defiance hardened her face. "Yes!" shesnapped. "That's what I mean. Why should we take care of them? We don'towe them anything. Why should we die with them? What have they--oranybody else--ever done for us? I'll tell you the answer. Nothing.Nothing! _Nothing!_"
"Because they have done nothing for us and because we are the stronger,we let them die. Is that what you mean?"
* * * * *
Craig sat in silence for a moment. Dark thoughts were in his mind buthis face showed nothing. "I have a gun," he said, "the only gun in theboat. That makes me the boss. Why don't I keep all the water for myselfand let the rest of you die of thirst?"
"Oh, you wouldn't do that!" Fright showed on her face.
"Why wouldn't I?" Craig challenged.
"What have you got to offer me that is worth a cup of water?" hedemanded.
"What have I got that you want?" she answered. Her eyes were fixedhungrily on Craig's face.
"What have you got that I want! Oh, damn it, girl--" The big man twisteduncomfortably. He avoided her gaze, looking instead at the glassy sea.
"Is it time to wake up?" a new voice asked. It was the voice of Mrs.Miller, who had been lying in the middle of the boat. She raised herselfto her knees, looked around at the glassy sea. "I thought--" shewhispered. "For a moment I thought I was home again. I guess I must havebeen--dreaming." She pressed her hands against her eyes to shut out thesight of the sea.
"Is it time to have a drink?" she said, looking at Craig.
"No," he said.
"But we always have a drink in the morning," Mrs. Miller protested.
"Not this morning," Craig said.
"May I ask why? Are we--are we out of water?"
"We still have water," Craig answered woodenly.
"Then why can't I have some? I--well, I guess I don't need to tell youwhy I need a drink."
The reason she needed water was obvious. Worse than anyone else in theboat, Mrs. Miller needed a drink.
"Sorry," Craig shook his head.
"Well, if you must know," Craig said uncomfortably. "Margy and I havedecided to keep all the water for ourselves."
"Damn you, Craig!" Margy Sharp said quickly.
"You two have decided--to keep all the--water?" Mrs. Miller said slowly,as if she was trying to understand the meaning of the words. "Butwhat--what about the rest of us?"
"It's too bad for the rest of you," Craig said. He was aware that MargySharp was gazing frantically at him but he ignored her. Picking up a tincup, he held it under the faucet in the side of the keg. A thin streamof water trickled out. He filled the cup half full, and handed it toMargy Sharp.
"Drink up," he said. "Double rations for you and me."
* * * * *
The girl took the cup. She looked at Craig, then glanced quickly at Mrs.Miller. Her parched lips were working but no sound came forth. Shelooked at the water and Craig could see the movement of her throat asshe tried to swallow.
Mrs. Miller said nothing. She stared at Craig and the girl as if she didnot understand what she was seeing.
"Damn you, Craig," Margy Sharp said.
"Go on and drink," the big man answered. "That's what you wanted, isn'tit?"
"Oh, damn you--" Tears were in the girl's eyes. While Craig watchedwoodenly, she turned and crawled back to where Mrs. Miller was sitting.
"Craig was only teasing," she said gently. "He's a great teaser. Hemeant for you to have the water all the time. Here, Mrs. Miller, this isfor you."
"Thank you, dear; thank you ever so much." Mrs. Miller drank the waterslowly, in little sips. Margy Sharp watched her. Craig could see thegirl trembling. When the last drop was gone, she brought the cup back toCraig--and flung it in his face.
"I could kill you!" she gasped.
"I gave you what you wanted," he said. His voice was impersonal but thehardness had gone from hi
Sobbing, Margy Sharp collapsed in the bottom of the boat. She hid herface in her hands.
"Here," Craig said.
She looked up. He had drawn a fourth of a cup of water and was holdingit toward her.
"I--I gave my share to Mrs. Miller," she whispered.
"I know you did," Craig answered. "This is my share."
"Water would only rust my stomach," he said. "Take it."
The girl drank. She looked at Craig. There were stars in her eyes.
He leaned forward and patted her on the shoulder. "You'll do, Margy," hesaid. "You'll do."
* * * * *
The boat floated in the glassy sea. The long ground swell of thePacific, marching aimlessly toward some unknown shore, lifted itsteadily up and down, giving the boat the appearance of moving. An emptytin can, thrown overboard three days previously, floated beside theboat. A school of flying fish, fleeing from some pursuing maw beneaththe surface, skipped from wave to wave.
Besides Craig, Margy Sharp, and Mrs. Miller, there were three otherpersons in the boat, all men. They were: English, a blond youth;Michaelson, a little bird of a man who seemed not yet to havecomprehended what had happened to them, or to care; and Voronoff, whosechief distinguishing characteristic was a pair of furtive eyes. Englishhad been wounded. He sat up and looked over the side of the boat.Pointing, he suddenly cried out:
"Look! Look! There's a dragon! A flying dragon!"
"Easy, old man," Craig said gently. For two days English had beendelirious. The infection that had developed in his wound was quitebeyond the curative powers of the simple medicines carried among theemergency stores of the life boat.
"It's a dragon!" the youth shouted. "It's going to get us."
He stared at something that he could see coming through the air.
Craig drew his pistol. "If it comes after us, I'll shoot it," he said,displaying the gun. "See this pistol."
"That won't stop _this_ dragon," English insisted. "Oh--oh--" His eyeswidened with fright as he watched something coming through the sky. Heducked down in the bottom of the boat, hid his face in his hands. Men,caught unprotected in the open by a bombing raid, threw themselves tothe ground like that, while they waited for the bombs to fall. A fewminutes later, English looked up. Relief showed on his face.
"It's gone away," he said. "It flew over and didn't see us."
"There was no danger," Craig said gently. "It wouldn't have harmed us.It was a tame dragon."
"There aren't any tame dragons!" the youth said scornfully. He waslooking again at the sea. "There's a snake!" he yelled. "A huge snake!It's got its head out of the water--"
"Poor kid," Margy Sharp whispered. "Can't we do something for him?"
"I'm afraid not," Craig answered. "But you might take him some water."He poured a generous share into the cup, watched the girl take it to theyouth, who drank it eagerly.
* * * * *
Michaelson and Voronoff, awakened by the hysterical cries of the youth,were sitting up. Michaelson stared incuriously around him, like a birdthat finds itself in a strange forest and wonders how he got there. Thenhe pulled a small black notebook out of his pocket and began studyingit. Ever since he had been in the life boat he had been studying thecontents of the notebook, ignoring everything else.
"What's the idea of wasting water on _him_?" Voronoff said sullenly,nodding his head toward English. Margy Sharp was holding the cup to theyouth's lips.
"What?" Craig was startled.
"He's done for," Voronoff asserted. He seemed to consider the statementsufficient. He did not attempt to explain it.
A cold glitter appeared in Craig's eyes. "So why waste water on him?" hequestioned. "Is that what you mean?"
"That's exactly what I mean," Voronoff answered. "Why waste water on adead man? We don't have any too much water anyhow."
"Go to hell!" Craig said contemptuously.
"You can say that because you've got the gun," Voronoff said.
Craig's face turned gray with anger but he controlled his temper. "Ifyou think you can taunt me into throwing the gun away, you aremistaken," he said. "In the meantime, I have issued water to everyoneelse and I assume you and Michaelson will want your shares. If you willcome aft, one at a time, I will see that you get it."
"Water?" said Michaelson vaguely. He had paid no attention to theargument. When he heard his name mentioned, he looked up and smiled."Water? Oh, yes, I believe I would like some." He came aft and Craigheld the tin cup under the faucet in the keg. The water rilled out veryslowly. Craig stared at it in perplexity. The stream dried to a trickle,then stopped running.
Horror tightened a band around his heart. He lifted the keg, shook it,then set it down.
Michaelson gazed at the few drops of water in the cup. "What is thematter?" he asked. "Is this all I get?"
"The keg is almost empty!" Craig choked out the words.
"Empty?" Michaelson said dazedly. "But yesterday you said it was aquarter full!"
"That was yesterday," Craig said. "Today there isn't over two cups ofwater left in the keg."
Silence settled over the boat as he spoke. He was aware that four setsof eyes were gazing steadily at him. He picked up the keg, examined itto see if it were leaking. It wasn't. When he set it down, the eyes werestill staring at him. There was accusation in them now.
"_You_ were the self-appointed guardian of the water supply," Voronoffspat out the words.
Craig didn't answer.
"Last night, when we were asleep, did you help yourself to the water?"Voronoff demanded.
"I did not!" Craig said hotly. "Damn you--"
Voronoff kept silent. Craig looked around the boat. "I don't know whathappened to the water," he said. "I didn't drink it, that's certain--"
"Then what became of it?" Michaelson spoke.
He seemed to voice the question in the minds of all the others. If Craighad not taken the water, then what had happened to it? It was gone, thekeg didn't leak, and he had been guarding it.
"And here I thought you were a good guy," Margy Sharp said, moving aft.
"Honestly, I didn't drink the water," Craig answered.
"_Honestly?_" she mocked him. "No wonder you were so generous aboutgiving me your share this morning. You had already had all you wanted todrink."
Her voice was bitter and hard.
"If you want to think that, I can't stop you," Craig said.
"I hope you feel good while you stay alive and watch the rest of us dieof thirst," the girl said.
"I won't shut up. I'll talk all I want to. You won't stop me either. Doyou hear that? You won't stop me!"
She was on the verge of hysteria. Craig let her scream. There wasnothing he could do to stop her, short of using force. He sat silent andimpassive on the seat. Hot fires smouldered behind his eyes. In his mindwas a single thought: What had happened to the water?
* * * * *
The boat drifted on the sullen sea. Michaelson, after trying tocomprehend what had happened, and failing in the effort, went back tostudying the figures in the notebook. Voronoff furtively watched Craig.English had lapsed into a coma. Mrs. Miller huddled in the middle of theboat. She watched the horizon, seeking a sail, a plume of smoke, thesight of a low-lying shore. Margy Sharp had collapsed at Craig's feet.She did not move. Now and then her shoulders jerked as a sob shook herbody.
"Well," thought Craig, "I guess this is it. I guess this is the end ofthe line. I guess this is where we get off. What happens to you afteryou're dead, I wonder?"
He shrugged. Never in his life had he worried about what would happenafter he died and it was too late to begin now.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he did not hear the plane until ithad swooped low over them. The roar of its motor jerked his head to thesky. It was an American naval plane, the markings on its wings revealed.
Against the far horizon the superstructure of a warship was visible. Itwas coming closer. Craig put his fingers to his nose, wiggled them atthe sea.
"Damn you, we beat you," he said.
He knew they hadn't beaten the sea. Luck and nothing else had broughtthat warship near them. Luck had a way of running good for a time. Thenit ran bad.
by Robert Moore Williams / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on35 votes