Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain (3 page)

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
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Suddenly, the water seemed frightening, like a live thing pulling at him. The waves surged over his head again and the current tugged at his feet, yanking him off balance. He felt panic welling up inside him.

“Hamish!” A woman's voice cried out from somewhere behind him on the sand. “Don't go out too far!” He tried to turn and look but a wave crashed over him and he fell.

He flailed about, desperately, looking for the sandy bottom so that he could push himself upright, but his feet couldn't find it. By chance, his head broke the surface and he gasped for breath.

“Hamish! Hamish!” The woman's voice was filled with terror but he couldn't see her. Another wave crashed over him and he was pressed down into the darkness.

The darkness was full of thunder and cold. It was like a dream, but somehow Hamish X knew it wasn't really a dream. It was a memory. He wasn't going to wake up.

Chapter 2

The storm pelted the broad windows of the bridge with rain and hail. Lightning flashed, briefly illuminating the tense faces of Parveen, Mimi, and Mr. Kipling as they fought to keep the airship aloft. For several hours, relieved only by occasional cups of tea and sandwiches from Mrs. Francis, they battled the elements. The
Orphan Queen
was a noble craft and responded to the worst the storm could offer.

At long last the winds lessened, the rain slackened off, and the trio was able to relax a bit. When the clouds began to tear apart to reveal the moon, a silver crescent in the black sky, it cast a calm, glimmering light over the sea below. The waves were all crested with silver, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Parveen wearily wiped his glasses on his shirt and then pushed them back onto his nose. He bent over the radar display. “We are over Hudson's Strait. We've been blown several hundred kilometres.”

Mimi's arms quivered with exhaustion as she ran her hands through her hair. “I ain't never been so tired.”

Mr. Kipling stood with great care. He reached out and touched her cheek, then ruffled Parveen's hair. “No one could ask for a finer crew. We can put the ship on autopilot now. We just have to set a course.”

“That in itself is a problem. Where are we going to go?” No one answered. Parveen went to the helm and locked the wheel. “For now, we'll continue to head due east. That will take us out over the North Atlantic. One
good thing about the storm: it will foil any pursuit for a while.”

“Let's go check on Hamish X,” Mimi suggested. Mr. Kipling and the two children put aside their exhaustion for the moment, ducking through the hatchway and down the corridor through the ship to the common room. From there, they headed down the passage that held the crew's quarters.

The children from Windcity had been assigned to bunks in the crew cabins. Mimi, Mr. Kipling, and Parveen passed the darkened rooms where the orphans slept in bunks stacked against the walls like sardines in cans. Here and there, a child whimpered at a bad dream or snored in a deep sleep.

Hamish X had a cabin to himself. It had been the Captain's cabin before Cheesebeard's untimely demise. No amount of scrubbing could erase the faint stench of rancid cheese that clung to the very woodwork. Still, it had the largest, most comfortable bed, and that is where Hamish X now lay under a warm blanket attended by Mrs. Francis. A shaded light cast a soft glow over his sleeping face. His boots, once lustrous and shiny, looked inert and dull as they stuck out from under the covers. He lay there completely still, eyes closed, his breathing slow and deep. He hadn't moved or spoken since they rescued him from the helicopter. Mrs. Francis knelt beside him, lovingly pushing a strand of unruly hair from his pale brow.

“What's wrong with him?” she asked.

Parveen moved closer and looked down at Hamish. “I believe he was affected by the EMP. If he were a person like you or me, I would say he is in a coma.”

“Whaddya mean, a person like you or me?” Mimi demanded.

Parveen thought for a moment, his brow furrowed. “I have a theory. I believe Hamish X is not completely human.”

Mimi's mouth dropped open. “What?”

“I believe he is a machine, but an organic one.”


“Organic! Not orgamic.”

“Whatever. A machine? What, like them things back in the helicopter?”

“Similar but not exactly the same. The electronic pulse has, in effect, shorted him out.”

Mimi looked at Hamish X lying on the bunk and shook her head. Her face darkened and her fists clenched.

“A machine? Uh-uh. No way. He's our friend, not some bag o' nuts and bolts!”

“Mimi, there's no need to shout. I'm telling you what I believe to be true. I'll have to study him more to be sure but I think I'm right. The way he behaved when he arrived: his lack of memory, his uncanny
abilities, the fact that according to what we know of his exploits he should
be much older than he is. And the book …” Parveen pointed to the green tome sitting on the small bedside table. “It all supports my theory.”

Mimi crossed her arms and scowled. “Which is?”

Parveen sat on the edge of the bunk and looked at Hamish X's sleeping face. “The ODA have some sinister plot in mind of which Hamish X is an essential part. All this talk of Mother? I believe Hamish X is crucial to their plans. We can't let them have him.”

“But what the heck are thur plans? How can we foil them if we ain't got an idea what they are?”

“Knowing the ODA, the plan would be evil.
It's enough right now for us to keep Hamish X from falling into their hands.”

Mrs. Francis bit her lip. “But they are so powerful. They can find us anywhere we go.”

Parveen nodded. “We need help.”

“And where are we gonna git it?” Mimi waved a hand to encompass the whole ship. “We got a hundred kids, an old beat-up blimp. They got mechanical monsters and who knows what else? Who we gonna go to fer help?”

Parveen looked slightly hurt. “First of all, it's a zeppelin, not a blimp. Secondly, I have not been idle these last few weeks. I've made a number of modifications to the
Orphan Queen:
the engines are in perfect working order, the fuel
efficiency is at optimum levels, and I've improved the stealth capabilities. We can run and we can hide.”

Indeed, the zeppelin's native stealth capabilities were formidable. The secret was in the gasbag, made as it was from the skin of the endangered Chameleon whale.
Parveen had added a transparent sleeve of radar-repellent material that he called a “sneaky sheet” to cover the entire coiled gasbag like a sausage casing. A third precaution was the chameleon paint on the ship's hull. The pirates had devised it to imitate the effect of the Chameleon whale. The overall result was a giant airship that was incredibly difficult to pick out with human or electronic eyes.

“Run where? Hide where? We ain't got nowhere to go! They'll find us agin, just like they did b'fore!”

The little group fell silent, Mrs. Francis nervously wringing her apron and looking at the inert boy in the bed. They all felt helpless, lost in the middle of the sky with nowhere safe to go. Who could they turn to in their darkest hour? In dire times like these one would usually call upon family to help, but they had no one. Mr. Kipling's daughter was gone, drowned years before in a shipwreck that nearly took his life as well. Mrs. Francis's husband was dead from a rabid owl attack. She was alone save for her newfound love, Mr. Kipling, and the children she cared for. Mimi had
her Aunt Jean but she would never return to that nasty, sour woman who had sold her to the ODA after the death of her father and mother. And Parveen? He had sisters and brothers somewhere but he didn't know if they were alive or dead. Truly, they had no one in the world. The cabin was a hopeless place, sad and silent.

Which is a good thing, because otherwise they would never have heard the buzzing.

Parveen was the first to notice the strange sound, so subtle that the drone of the engines almost masked it. “What is that?” He cocked his head to one side and listened intently.

“I don't hear nuthin'.”

“Close your mouth and open your ears, Mimi!” Parveen ignored Mimi's smouldering look and leaned closer to Hamish.

Then they all heard it: a faint buzzing, like a bumblebee trapped between panes of glass.

“It's coming from there,” Parveen said, pointing at Hamish X's black boots where they stuck out from under the blanket. The buzzing emanated from inside the one on Hamish X's right foot.

The beeping and buzzing grew louder before stopping altogether. Parveen waited a few tense seconds before leaning forward, hand outstretched towards the boot.

“Be careful,” Mrs. Francis fretted.

“I can see something moving … yah!” Parveen's hand jerked back in shock.

Over the boot top emerged a slender, silvery strand like the questing antenna of an insect. A few centimetres long and mere millimetres thick, it swung back and forth in the air, stopping to look at each of the baffled faces in turn. Finally, the antenna swung to Hamish X's sleeping face and stopped.

Out of the boot came the owner of the antenna: small and crablike, it had a shiny red body with a silver cross on its back. The thing had a number of strange legs—strange because no two legs were the same. Some were long and pointy. One was a curling spiral of metal. One actually looked like a pair of scissors, the blades splayed out like toes. The bizarre little creature skittered up to Hamish X's knee and stopped there.

“It's the knife,” Parveen whispered excitedly.

“Knife?” said Mrs. Francis, bewildered.

“The King o' Switzerland's knife …” Mimi said. “Hamish X had it hidden in his boot when he come to Windcity. He said the King o' Switzerland gave it to 'im.”

“I hate to correct you, dear Mimi, but Switzerland is a republic,” Mr. Kipling snorted. “It doesn't have a king.”

The knife stood still for a long moment, its antenna twitching. Suddenly, the antenna went rigid, pointing directly at the sleeping face of Hamish X. The knife darted up the blanket and stopped on the sleeping boy's chest, gently rising and falling with the rhythm of his slow breathing. The antenna waved over Hamish X's face, passing back and forth repeatedly.

“Shouldn't we do something?” Mrs. Francis whispered, wringing her apron even more fiercely. “I mean, what if it tries to hurt him?”

“Wait a second.” Parveen waved a hand impatiently, his attention fixed on the little mechanical creature.

A whirring sound filled the cabin. Before the spectators could move, the antenna suddenly darted up Hamish X's nose, snaking up his left nostril then farther and farther.

“Stop it! Stop it!” Mrs. Francis gasped in horror.

Mimi reached over to grab the knife but snatched her hand back. “The little critter bit me!” She held up her thumb to show a drop of blood beading on the tip. She stuffed it into her mouth as she looked around for something to smash the knife creature with.

“Wait!” Parveen urged. “Watch!”

The little cross on the knife began to glow with a pale red, softly pulsing luminescence. The antenna was now firmly inserted in Hamish X's nostril. That was strange enough, but things got even stranger when Hamish X suddenly began to speak, and what he said was very strange indeed.

“North fifty-six. East eight. North fifty-six. East eight. North fifty-six. East eight …”

“He's talking?” gasped Mrs. Francis.

“Yeah, but what's he sayin'?” Mimi demanded.

“North fifty-six. East eight. North fifty-six. East eight. North fifty-six. East eight …”

Hamish X's golden eyes opened. He stared at the ceiling and repeated the weird numbers again. “North fifty-six. East eight. North fifty-six. East eight. North fifty-six. East eight …”

Hamish X's mouth moved and the words coming out sounded like him, but there was something about the cadence of his speech that was alien and machinelike.

A beam of blue light shot out of the knife, stabbing directly upwards in an inverted cone shape. Where the light hit the ceiling, a map appeared. The projection showed a map of Europe outlined in blue with a flashing blue speck in the centre of some very steep-looking mountains.

“It's showing us where we must go,” Parveen said in awe.

The antenna withdrew from Hamish X's nose and back into the device. With a loud click, the knife's appendages all suddenly popped back into the knife and it fell, inert, on Hamish X's chest.

“What the heck!” Mimi shouted.

They all stood looking at the knife, waiting for it to do something else, but nothing happened. Hamish X's eyes were closed. He had returned to his sleeping state, unscathed by and apparently oblivious to the intrusion of the antenna. When Parveen was certain the knife wasn't going to do anything more, he picked it up and held it in his palm.

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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