Read The Great Galloon and the Pirate Queen Online
Authors: Tom Banks
âThe Squeaking Tube!' she cried, dramatically, and leaned down to listen, a hand cupped round one ear.
A tiny voice began to speak from the box. With the cracking and hissing that came with it, and the noise of the storm all around, Cloudier could make out only a few words, but they were enough.
ââ¦ ssssss â¦ kkkk â¦ all hands, attention all hands â¦ well, ears, I suppose â¦ fffffftttffft Captain speaking from the observatory â¦ have spotted my dastardly brother â¦ heading west nor'west by starboard, forty degrees at twelve o'clock, occasionally poor, growing fine later â¦ Ms Huntley, you have the bridge â¦ kkttthhfffffsst â¦ turn this damn thing off â¦'
The wind in Cloudier's face blew even harder as the Galloon picked up speed. She knew that, down in the bowels of the great vessel, the Brunt would be shovelling coal into the furnace, to give the Galloon as much power as possible. The lines around Cloudier hummed and whistled as the Galloon raced along. She looked through the telescope again, and saw that many of the flying craft that had been searching the seas were now in formation, gathered around the prow of the enormous ship. Although they were hundreds of metres away, with the telescope she could see the gyrocopter flitting around, the Seagle Fishbane diving and swooping, She could just make out the stripy jumper of Clamdigger, who was piloting the old steam-powered airbus known as the charabanc, and for a moment she allowed herself a daydream of sitting next to him, and tootling off into the wide blue yonder. But she found even the daydream embarrassing, and snapped back to reality as the charabanc dived out of sight. She grabbed the Squeaking Tube and spoke into it as clearly as possible.
âCloudier to Captain, over. Can you give me an update on the status of Mr Clamdigger, over. I've lost visual contact, over.'
âErm, Cloudier,' said a small voice that wasn't the Captain's. âYou don't say “over” 'til you've finished what you want to say. Over.'
Cloudier knew this was Stanley. She waited to see if he was going to say anything else.
âThat is, you only say “over” when you're not going to say anything else. Over.'
âOh, right,' she said. âI thought it was just the thing you said when talking into a contraption like this.'
âOver,' she added.
âNo â it just means it's the other person's turn to talk. Over,' said Stanley.
âI see. So it's a way of making sure we don't talk over â¦'
âYes,' said Stanley.
ââ¦ each other. Over,' she finished.
âErm. Yes,' said Stanley, his voice sounding like a little lost mouse once it had negotiated the miles and miles of tubing that now snaked its way all around the Galloon. Clamdigger had realised, during the affair of the Kraken's Lair, that a way of communicating all around the ship would be very useful, and so he had spent every spare minute since installing this network of pipes, which had quickly become known as the âSqueaking Tubes'. It was indeed very useful, but it was taking some getting used to.
âIs the Captain there? Can you see Clamdigger, over?' she said.
âThe Captain's gone back to the wheelhouse to help Ms Huntley,' said Stanley. âBut between you and me we should be able to see most of the outflyers. Yes â I can see Clamdigger. My, he's really flying that old bus! He's being thrown around a bit but it looks like he's trying to bring it low over the Sumbaroon. Yes, he's aiming straight for it, but the wind is trying to throw him off course! He's wrestling with the controls â¦'
âGo on, Clamdigger!' shouted Cloudier, unable to stop herself. Then, realising she was in danger of losing her cool: âOr don't, you know. Whevs.'
But she held the Squeaking Tube to her ear nonetheless as Stanley's commentary continued.
âThe Sumbaroon â it's dipped below the surface â and now â¦ and now â¦'
âNow whaaaat?!' squealed Cloudier.
âThe Sumbaroon is leaping like a dolphin! And again! It seems to be surfing along on the crests of the waves, and then leaping high, and falling back into the sea! Clamdigger seems determined to stay with it! But â¦ it's leaping again! It's jumped right over â¦!'
âYou can't stop there!' screamed Cloudier, entirely forgetting to be insouciant, nonchalant, or any of those other things she would never admit to being.
âNo! This isn't that kind of “over”, this is just me saying “It's leapt right
him!” He's been doused with spray! He's wobbling! The Sumbaroon has gone â it's dived out of sight! I think the charabanc has water in its engines! It's spluttering! He's clipped a wave!'
âCome on, Jack Clamdigger!' hissed Cloudier.
âHe's ditched! He's in the sea!' cried Stanley. âThe Sumbaroon is diving out of sight!'
Cloudier literally put her fist in her mouth as she listened in.
âStanley to wheelhouse! Ms Huntley! Clamdigger's in the sea, and he's in danger! It's too rough for the 'copter too! We'll have to stop and rescue him! Stanley to wheelhouse, do you read me? Over.'
âAll hands, full stop, please!' came Ms Huntley's voice.
As soon as Ms Huntley had said the words, Cloudier heard movement in the rigging, and a great bell began to clang. The shout of âFull stop!' rang out around the Galloon, and she immediately felt the loss of speed. In fact, it came close to tipping her out of the crow's nest. She grabbed the Squeaking Tube to steady herself, and heard the Captain's voice, slightly out of breath.
âWhat the â¦?' he boomed. âThe Sumbaroon! Ms Huntley, the Sumbaroon must not get away!'
âNo, Captain,' said her mother's voice, gentler but no less firm. âClamdigger is in danger. We must save him. I have called for a full stop.'
The Galloon bucked like a mule, albeit a mule the size of a market town, and came to a stop. The wind still howled, the rain still battered Cloudier from all sides, but they were no longer racing before the storm.
The Captain, too, seemed to have become calmer.
âYes, Harissa,' he said using Ms Huntley's first name. âYou are right as always. Ask Mr Abel to make the chairlift ready â I will see to Mr Clamdigger myself, and only then will we continue the search for the Grand Sumbaroon.'
âAye aye, Captain,' said Ms Huntley. âAnd Cloudier â you can stop listening now.'
âYes, Mum!' said Cloudier, taken by surprise. âI mean, aye aye, Ms Huntley!'
She put the Squeaking Tube back into its holder. If Clamdigger was going to be rescued, she was going to make sure she just happened to be coincidentally nearby when he came back onboard.
Three days later, the Galloon was in the Dumps. Not just figuratively â though there was a certain pall over everything, since they had lost sight of the Sumbaroon â but also literally. The Dumps was an area in the Wide Blue Ocean where the winds did not blow. The storm that had brought them here had died down as suddenly as it had begun. By the time Clamdigger had been plucked from the hull of the charabanc, which sadly sunk without trace soon after, the Galloon was drifting around in a dull grey sky. Its sails were hung out to dry, and crewmembers were clambering all over the deck, flogging the water off with rags and towels. Even the main balloon itself was undergoing some much-needed repair, with teams of harnessed Gallooniers scouring it for rips and tears.
Stanley and Rasmussen did not get involved in this stuff, of course â although they were always willing to help out in a crisis, they did not like to get too distracted from their main business, which was seeking adventure. Stanley had wanted to start a club called the Adventure-Seekers, but Rasmussen had said that was unnecessarily exclusive, and that they should just remain a loose collective of adventure seekers. So that's what they were. Over the years they had been friends, they had come close to adventure a few times â Stanley had once seen a flying object that he could not identify, but Rasmussen had soon revealed it simply to be a UFO. Rasmussen once thought she'd found a âsecret door' map, but owing to a spelling error it had turned out to be a âsecret doormat', which wasn't nearly as exciting. They had wiped their feet on it anyway, but there the adventure had ended. Other than that, they had spent most of their time together just battling monster moths, discovering robot stowaways, and abseiling through a snowstorm onto a live volcano. Rasmussen for one was getting sick of it.
âAll I ask for is an adventure!' she moaned.
âThere was that time you fell off the Galloon, and the Captain had to rescue you with a boat hook,' said Stanley.
âYes, while people were firing cannonballs at us,' said Rasmussen, âbut I mean proper adventure, with derring-do, and ne'er-do-wells all over the place!'
âWhat are those things?' asked Stanley.
âI don't know!' shouted Rasmussen. âI've never met a derring-do, or been involved in a ne'er-do-well of any sort!'
âWell, we'll just have to keep an eye out,' said Stanley.
They were sitting in Stanley's little room, on a lower deck of the Galloon. They had pushed the furniture to the sides of the room, and copied out a map of the Wide Blue Ocean in chalk on the floorboards. They were trying to work out where the Grand Sumbaroon of Zebediah Anstruther would have got to by now. The Captain himself had gone into full cursing and glowering mode, stomping around the Galloon, calling meetings with Ms Huntley, Skyman Abel and the other senior people onboard, but barely speaking to anyone else. He could be seen once a day sweeping into the mess to grab a lunch tray, but then he would storm off to his cabin to eat in peace.
âLook,' said Rasmussen, idly swinging her foot towards the spot on their impromptu map marked âThe Dumps'. âWe lost him here, right?'
âYeees,' said Stanley, rolling his eyes at the idea of Rasmussen going through all this for the nine hundredth time that morning.
âAnd he was heading this way, right? Towards Long-night Island?'
âYou know he was,' said Stanley, pouring himself another cup of tea.
âBut he was underwater, and by the time the storm had lifted, we couldn't see him. Even Fishbane had lost the trail.'
âYes â but the Grand Sumbaroon is still damaged from its run-in with the great whale. It can't stay below for more than an hour. If he'd doubled back, we would have seen him. So, as the Captain has people in every harbour on Havnabruck, and there's nowhere to the south for Zebediah to go, he must be at Long-night. But we can't follow him, because we're stuck in the Dumps, with no wind. We just have to wait.' Stanley slurped his tea, and picked a book off the shelf.
âWho says he can't go south?' said Rasmussen, scratching a mark through the chalk with her mother's cane.
âHave you never paid attention in a Geography lesson!?' said Stanley.
âI've never been to a Geography lesson. But look at the map.'
Stanley looked at it. Especially at the new scratch that Rasmussen had made. A deep, long scratch through the green of the Baroco rainforest, to the south of the ocean.
âI'm looking, said Stanley. âAnd all I can see is the impregnable forest and enormous cliffs along the whole of the Baroco coast. All the way down to â¦ to â¦'
âTo the Great Brown Greasy Rococo River,' said Rasmussen, pointing to where her newly scratched river met the sea on the map.
âBut â¦ the Sumbaroon couldn't swim up a river, could it?' said Stanley. And even if it could, why would it? We'd have it cornered, there'd be nowhere for it to go except deeper into the forest. What would be the point of that? What could they possibly find there?'
âI can only think of one thing that you can find in the heart of the darkest forest, with ancient trees and mysterious civilisations all around,' said Rasmussen, staring at the map.
Stanley stared at it too. He slurped his tea.
âYup,' he said.
Rasmussen ground her teeth.
âAsk me then,' she said.
âBut I know,' said Stanley.
âJust ask me!' hissed Rasmussen.
âOkay!' said Stanley. âWhat's the only thing you can find in the heart of the darkest forest, with ancient trees and mysterious civilisations all around?'
âAdventure!' said Rasmussen, with a grin.
âOh right!' said Stanley with a smile. âI was thinking “creepy crawlies”. But adventure is much better. Well done.'
As they stood up to leave, a crackling noise made Stanley stop in his tracks.
âThe Examinator!' he said.
âNo time!' said Rasmussen. âWe've got to tell the Captain that we've worked out where the Sumbaroon is going.'
âBut we don't know â¦ we just suspect. We don't even know if the Sumbaroon can go up a river! Anyway, why is the Examinator crackling? It's not lesson time.'
The Examinator was a large box on a desk in Stanley's room. It had two aerials poking out of the top, and a glass valve on the side that got hot. In front was a shell-shaped object with âSpeak Here' written on it. Stanley used it to communicate with his parents, who were also its inventors. They were back in his home village of Mirrorwater. His mother was a teacher, so he also had lessons over the Examinator every day. But it had never spontaneously crackled into life before. At least, not when he'd been in the room. A light flashed, and a needle in a little dial moved from âNobody There' to âWho's This?'.