Full speed ahead! - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

“Salvator’s coming tomorrow. My fever’s kept me away just when there was a lot for us to talk about,” Cristo was saying to Baltasar in his shop. “Cock your ears, brother, and don’t interrupt me, so’s I won’t forget anything.”

Still weak after the fever Cristo paused, marshalling his thoughts, then continued:

“We’ve done a hell of a lot for Zurita, brother. He’s more brass than both of us but he’s out to get still more. He wants to catch the ‘sea-devil’-” Baltasar made to speak.

“Hold it, brother, else I forget something. Zurita wants the ‘sea-devil’ to slave for him. And d’you know what the ‘sea-devil’ is? A regular treasure. Untold riches. The ‘sea-devil’ can pick pearls from the sea-bottom-any amount of ‘em. But that’s not all. On the sea-bottom there’s plenty of sunken treasure. He can get it for us. I say, ‘us’, not Zurita, and I mean it. D’you know, brother, that Ichthyander’s in love with Gutierrez?”

Baltasar wanted to say something but Cristo didn’t let him.

“Keep quiet and listen, will you. I can’t speak when people interrupt me. Yes, Ichthyander’s in love with Gutierrez. There isn’t much gets past me. When I twigged that I told myself, ‘Not a bad thing that,’ I said. Let him fall in love with her good and proper. Hell make a better husband-and son-in-law — than Zurita. And Gutierrez too loves Ichthyander. I’ve shadowed them, not interfering with Ichthyander in any way. Let them meet as often as they wish, I thought.”

Baltasar sighed but did not try to say anything.

“And that’s not all, brother. Listen further. I’d like to recall to your memory things that happened many, many years ago. About twenty years back it was, you 11 remember, I was accompanying your wife home from a visit to her people. We’d been to the mountains to bury her mother. On the way your wife died, giving birth to a dead child. At that time I didn’t tell you everything. Wanted to spare your feelings. Here’s the whole story. Your wife did die on the way here, that’s true, but the clild was born alive, though very weak. It was in a small Indian village it all happened. And an old woman told me that a great miracle-worker, God Salvator, lived not far away…”

Baltasar became all ears.

“She advised me to carry the child to Salvator, saying he’d cure it. I did as she told. Salvator took the boy — for a boy it was-shook his head and said, ‘It’s very difficult to save him.’ But still he took him in. I waited there till nightfall. When it grew dark a Black came out and told me the child was dead. Then I went away…

“So”, Cristo went on, after a pause, “Salvator told me through the Black that the child was dead. Now I had noticed a birthmark on the newly-bom. Somehow I remembered it, shape and all.”

There was another pause, then Cristo took up his story again.

“Not long ago Ichthyander came home, wounded in the neck. When I was bandaging him, I lifted the collar of his mail and saw a birthmark, exactly like your son’s.”

Opening eyes wide with excitement Baltasar asked:

“You think Ichthyander’s my son?”

“Keep quiet, brother, and listen. Yes, that’s exactly what I do think. Salvator lied to me. Your son did not die, Salvator made a ‘sea-devil’ out

of him.”

“Oh! “ Baltasar cried, beside himself. “How dare he do it! Ill kill him withmy own hands! “

“Keep quiet. Salvator’s stronger’n you. And then I might’ve made a mistake. It’s twenty years. Somebody else might have a birthmark exactly on the same spot. Ichthyander might be your son and again he might not. You must play your hand careful like. You go to Salvator and tell him that Ichthyander’s your son. I’ll be your witness. You will demand your son be returned to you. Failing that you will say you will sue him for maiming children. Thatll give Mm a proper scare. If he’s obstinate you will go to court. If we can’t pull it off in the courts Ichthyander II just marry Gutierrez and that’s that. After all she’s only your adopted daughter…”

Baltasar had jumped up from hisstool and started pacing up and down the shop, all but treading on the crabs and shells on the floor. “My son! My son! Oh, what a misfortune! “ “Why a misfortune?” asked Cristo, surprised.

“I’ve listened to you, now you listen to me. While you were laid up with your fever Gutierrez was married to Pedro Zurita.” The news made Cristo stagger.

“And Ichthyander, my poor son,” Baltasar said, hanging his head, “is in Zurita’s hands.”

“Impossible, “said Cristo.

“Yes. Ichthyander’s on board the Jellyfish. This morning Zurita was here to see me. He laughed and swore at us. He said we’d been cheating him. Just think, he caught Ichthyander all on his own, without any help from us. He won’t pay us anything. But I wouldn’t have taken anything from him anyway. I’m not selling my own son.”

Baltasar, distraught, dashed about the shop. Cristo eyed him disapprovingly. It was a case of all hands to the pump. But Baltasar could sooner ruin things, taking on like that. Himself, Cristo did not believe much in Baltasar’s fatherhood. True he had seen that birthmark on the newly-born. But was that enough to build a whole case on? Seeing a similar birth mark on Ichthyander’s neck he had decided to cash in on it. How could he have known Baltasar would carry on like a madman. And then the news he had learned from Baltasar had given him quite a scare.

“No time for tears now. We’ve got to act. Salvator’s coming tomorrow at dawn. Brace up and listen. You will wait for me at dawn on the breakwater. We’ve got to save Ichthyander. But, mind now, don’t go and tell Salvator you’re Ichthyan-der’s father. Where’s Zurita bound for?”

“He didn’t say but I think it’s north. He made up his mind long ago to go up to the coast of Panama.” Cristo nodded.

“So remember, you’re to be up and on the breakwater by first light. And stick around there even if you have to wait till nightfall.”

Cristo hurried home. All that night he thought of the meeting with Salvator. There was no way out. He had to face it and have a good story ready. Salvator arrived at dawn. As he was greeting his master, Cristo’s face wore an expression ofdistressed loyalty.

“We’ve had a misfortune,” he said, “I warned Ichthyander not to swim out into the gulf…”

“What’s happened to him?” Salvator asked impatiently.

“He was captured and taken on board a schooner. I-”

Salvator had gripped Cristo’s shoulders and was peering closely into his eyes. Short as it lasted, Cristo could not help changing colour under that searching glance. Then Salvator knitted his brows, muttered something and unclenched his hands.

“You will tell me about it in detail later.”

Then he called a Black, said a few words to him in a language Cristo did not know and again turned to the Indian.

“Follow me! “ Salvator ordered.

Without resting from the journey or even changing his travelling clothes, Salvator strode out of the house and across the garden. Cristo could hardly keep up with him. At the third wall two Blacks caught up with them.

“I watched over Ichthyander day and night, like a dog,” Cristo was saying, panting. “I never left his side…” But Salvator would not listen to him. Standing at the pool he was tapping his foot impatiently as he watched the water gush out through the yawning hatches.

“Follow me,” Salvator ordered again and hurried down the steps that led underground. Cristo and the two Blacks followed the doctor into the darkness. Salvator ran down the steps, taking two at a time, apparently quite at home in the maze of subterranean passages.

On the bottom landing Salvator did not turn on the light as once before but, after a moment’s feeling about with his hand, opened a door to Ms right and strode on along a dark corridor. There were no steps there and, despite complete darkness, Salvator was going very quick now.

I hope to God there are no man-traps here, Cristo was thinking, hurrying after Salvator. They had been going quite a long time when Cristo felt the floor begin to slope down gently. He thought he could hear a faint splash of water. Then their journey was over. Salvator who was well ahead of them had stopped and switched on the light. Cristo found himself in a large cave, standing on a piece of stone flooring set into the big oblong of water that converged with the sloping ceiling at the far end. On the water, at the edge of the flooring Cristo saw a midget submarine. The little party went on board the boat. Salvator switched on the light in the cabin, while one Black was battening down the upper hatch and the other revving the engine. Cristo felt the boat shudder, slowly turn round, submerge and as slowly move forward. After two minutes or so they surfaced. Salvator and Cristo came out on deck. Cristo had never been on board a submarine before and looked round with interest.

“Where are Ichthyander’s captors heading?”

“Up north, along the coast,” said Cristo. “I hope you will forgive my boldness, master, if I suggest you take my brother along. He’s been warned and is waiting on the shore.”

“Whatever for?”

“Ichthyander was captured by the pearl trader Zurita-”

“How do you know all this?” Salvator took him up short.

“I described the schooner to my brother and he was sure it was Pedro Zurita’s Jellyfish. My guess is Zurita wants to use Ichthyander for pearl-diving. And Baltasar-that’s my brother-knows all there is to know about the pearling grounds round here. Youll find him useful.”

Salvator pondered.

“Good. We’ll take your brother along.”

The boat veered shorewards where Baltasar could already be seen waiting to be picked up. From the breakwater Baltasar looked, frowningly, at the man who had stolen and mutilated his son. However, when the submarine came nearer inshore, he bowed politely to Salvator, before wading aboard.
“Full speed ahead! “ ordered Salvator.

He stayed on deck, planted firmly, peering into the wide ocean.