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The sunken ship - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

They had no way of knowing what had happened on board the Jellyfishthat morning.

All through the night the crew had put their heads together and by the morninga plot had been formed to attack and kill Zurita at the first opportunity and take possession of ship and diver.

Zurita was up and on the bridge with first light. The wind had let up and the Jellyfish slowly proceeded downwind at a couple of knots.

Then Zurita spotted a dim something ahead. Through his binoculars that something turned into the radiomasts of a sunken ship.

Presently Zurita noticed a life-buoy floating on the surface.

He ordered a boat on the water to pick it up.

When it was brought up to Zurita he saw, to his astonishment, the word Mafalda block-lettered on it.

“Mafalda sunk?” whistled Zurita. He knew that big American express liner.

There must be lots of valuable things on a ship like that, he thought. Suppose I send Ichthyander to get them. But will the chain be long enough? Hardly. On the other hand Ichthyander won’t come back if let away without it.

Zurita’s mind resembled a battle-ground where avarice and caution were struggling for the upper hand.

Slowly the Jellyfish was drawing nearer to the masts sticking out of the water.

The crew crowded at the rail. The wind dropped dead. The schooner came to a standstill.

“I once had my berth on the Mafalda,” said one of the sailors. “A good ship she was. Big as a town. Rich Americans used to cruise on her.”

The Mafalda must have sunk without having radioed her SOS, Zurita was thinking. Perhaps her WT was out of order. Otherwise the place would have been lousy with launches, speedboats, yachts from all the neighbouring ports loaded with officials, reporters, cameramen, salvage crews and what not. He couldn’t throw away a chance like that, could he. He’d have to risk letting Ichthyander go without the chain. There was no other way. But how could he make Ichthyander come back? And if he must take a risk, why not take it sending Ichthyander for his ransom, his pile of pearls? But was it really all that valuable? Was Ichthyander not laying it on thick?

Of course he must get both treasures. The pile of pearls would stay where it was. Nobody could find it without Ichthyander’s help, and that made it safe as i long as Ichthyander was in his hands. As to the treasures on board the Mafalda,[ they would be beyond his reach in a matter of days, perhaps even hours.

And Zurita resolved to begin with the Mafalda. He ordered the anchor to be cast. Then he went below to his cabin, where he wrote a note and, with it in his hand, went across to the cabin occupied by Ichthyander.

“Can you read, Ichthyander? Here’s a note for you from Gutierrez”. Ichthyander quickly opened the note and read the following;

“Ichthyander, please do what I’m going to ask you. There’s a sunken ship near the Jellyfish. Go down and bring back everything valuable you can find there. Zurita will let you go without your chain but you must come back to the Jellyfish. Do this for me, Ichthyander, and you will soon regain your freedom. Gutierrez.”

Ichthyander had never before received any letters from Gutierrez, so he did not know her handwriting. For a moment he was happy to have received thenote but then it suddenly entered his head that it might be another trick of Zurita’s.

“Why doesn’t she ask for it in person?” Ichthyander said.

“She’s not quite well,” Zurita replied, “but you’ll see her as soon as you’re back.”

“What does she want with all those valuable things?” Ichthyander asked, still unconvinced.

“You wouldn’t have asked that if you had been a real man. Is there a woman who does not want to wear beautiful clothes and expensive jewellery? But that costs money. And there’s plenty of it in the sunken ship. It’s nobody’s now, why not get it for Gutierrez? What you must do first is find the gold pieces. Look for leather mail bags. Besides, the passengers might wear articles of gold, rings-”

“Do you imagine I’m going to search corpses?” Ichthyander said indignantly. “And then I don’t believe you. Gutierrez is not greedy, she could not have asked me to do a thing like that.”

“Carramba! “ Zurita exploded. He could see his scheme was about to fall through unless he tried some other tack. So he collected himself.

“You’re nobody’s fool, I can see,” he said with a good-humoured laugh. “Well, I’ll be frank with you. Here it is. It isn’t Gutierrez who wants the gold from the Mafalda but me. Can you believe that?”

Ichthyander couldn’t help smiling.


“Fine. You’re beginning to believe me, that means we’re coming to an understanding. Yes, I need that gold. And if you bring me as much gold from the Mafalda as your pearls’re worth I’ll let you go. The trouble is you don’t quite trust me, neither do I trust you. I’m afraid to let you go without your chain, for down you go and-If I give you my word to come back I’ll keep it.”

“So far I’ve had no chance to test that. You’re not exactly fond of me and I’d not be surprised if you didn’t keep your word. But you’re fond of Gutierrez and you’d do anything she asked you. Right? So I spoke to her and she was quick to see the point. Of course she wants me to let you go. That’s why she wrote the note and gave it to me, wishing to help you on the road to freedom. Is everything clear to you now?”

What Zurita had told Ichthyander seemed to him not only possible but virtually bearing the stamp of truth. The condition about the gold on the Mafalda being worth his pearls had escaped him.

Now to compare their worths, calculated Zurita, hell have to bring-and I’ll insist on it-his pile on board my ship. Then I’ll have the Mafalda gold, the pile and Ichthyander himself all in my hands.

But Ichthyander had no way of knowing what was passing in Zurita’s mind. Zurita’s seeming frankness had won him over and Ichthyander, after a minute’s thought, agreed.

Zurita heaved a sigh of relief.

He won’t cheat me, he thought.

“Let’s go, quick! “

They both hurried up on deck and Ichthyander jumped straight overboard.

The crew, seeing Ichthyander jump overboard unchained, immediately realized he had gone for the Mafalda riches. The idea that Zurita was going to grab it all for himself goaded them into action.
Just as the sailors attacked Zurita, Ichthyander reached the upper deck of the wrecked ship.

Through a huge hatch and down a companion ladder that looked like the staircase of a big building, Ichthyander glided into a spacious alleyway. There it was dark. The only spots of faint light were some open doors along it.

Ichthyander swam through one of these doors and found himself in a lounge. The big port-holes illumined dimly the huge hall, which could accommodate a few hundred people at a time. Ichthyander perched on the sumptuous centre chandelier and had a good look round. It was an eerie sight. All round him against the ceiling swayed chairs and small tables. A grand piano, its lid raised, stood on the small stage, cut into the expanse of soft-carpeted floor. Along one of the walls wainscotted in mahogany that was already warped in places, tubbed palms stretched in a row.

Ichthyander pushed off the chandelier and swam towards the palms. Suddenly he stopped dead: a man was swimming towards him, stopping short as Ichthyander did. A mirror, guessed the amphibian. The huge wall-to-wall mirror duplicated the hall in its dim reflection.

There were no treasures to be found here. Ichthyander swam out into the alleyway, went a deck lower and found himself in a hall, as well-appointed and big as the one above, apparently the restaurant. Scattered on the bar counters and near them were wine bottles, tins, cartons. Most bottles had the corks pushed in by the pressure of the water while some of the tins were almost flattened. Places were laid on the tables but most of the cutlery lay pell-mell on the floor.

Ichthyander headed for the cabins.

Swimming in and out he visited cabins that looked the last word in American comfort. They were all empty. Only in one cabin on the third deck he saw a swollen body, gently rocking near the ceiling.

The passengers must have had time to cast off in boats, he thought.

But down in Third Class, a terrible sight awaited him. The place was cluttered up with bodies of children and adults, men and women, white, Chinese, Blacks, Indians.

Obviously the ship’s crew had rushed to the rescue of the First-Class passengers, leaving the rest to fend for themselves. In the resulting stampede, people had pressed round the few exits, crushing each other to death, blocking the way up and to life for others. The doors of some of the cabins were blocked by corpses so that Ichthyander could not manage a look inside.

The water, coming through the open portholes into the long alleyway, gently rocked the bloated corpses. Ichthyander felt frightened and hurried out away from this underwater graveyard.

Surely Gutierrez didn’t know where she was sending me, thought Ichthyander. Surely she couldn’t possibly want me to pick the dead men’s pockets and rifle their trunks. Of course not. That meant he had again fallen into a trap of Zurita’s. So he resolved to come up and demand that Gutierrez come on deck and confirm her request.

Quick as a fish the young man went up through deck after deck until he was dear of the ship’s hull.

He surfaced and swam towards the Jellyfish.

“Ahoy, Zurita,” he called. “Gutierrez! “

There was no reply. The silent Jellyfish rocked on the waves.

Where have they all gone to? thought the amphibian. What’s Zurita up to now? Cautiously, Ichthyander swam towards the schooner and scrambled aboard.

“Hey, Gutierrez! “ he called again.

“Here we are,” he heard Zurita’s voice that barely reached him from offshore. Ichthyander looked round and saw Zurita, peeping from behind some bushes on the shore.

“Gutierrez’s taken ill. Swim over here, Ichthyander! “ he shouted. She was ill and he would see her. Ichthyander jumped overboard and swam quickly shorewards.

Ichthyander was already clear of the water when he heard Gutierrez’s muffled cry:

“He’s lying! Run, Ichthyander! “

The amphibian turned, dived and swam away underwater. When he had put quite a distance between himself and the shore he broke water and looked back. He could just make out something white fluttering on the shore.

Perhaps it was Gutierrez bidding him farewell. Would he ever see her again?

Quickly Ichthyander swam for the open sea, deserted but for a small vessel, low on the water, heading due south. She churned water open with her sharp bows, leaving behind a foamy wake.

Humans are best left to themselves, thought Ichthyander, and diving steeply, was lost in the sea.

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