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Chapter 24 Amazing Grace

  • Spyder awoke sometime around dawn. Lulu was curled up next to him under a -blanket on a big love seat. Spyder looked around for Shrike, but she wasn'_nywhere in sight. Water was boiling on the little stove.
  • He got up carefully, trying not to wake Lulu, and went -outside. The stead_ind was wet and frigid. Spyder wrapped his arms around himself and went t_he bow where Primo and Shrike, in her heavy coat, were talking. As he rounde_he corner of the cabin, Spyder saw what the two were talking about. Anothe_irship was hanging twenty or so yards off the port bow. It was shaped like a_mmense black scorpion. A metal cable was slowly extending from the scorpio_hip's gondola, which hung from the end of the stinger.
  • "What's going on?" asked Spyder.
  • "According to Primo, they've been shadowing us all morning," said Shrike.
  • "What's that line they're sending over here?"
  • "A communication device," said Primo. "I believe."
  • "You don't know?"
  • "It's similar to devices I've seen, but I can't be sure."
  • "In any case, they'll be tethered to us. I don't like that," said Shrike.
  • "What's up, Spyder?" came a voice. He turned to see Lulu coming from th_abin.
  • "The neighbors want to borrow a cup of sugar."
  • "Holy shit," Lulu said, coming up behind him. "Are we happy about this?"
  • "I don't think we have any choice," said Shrike. "Spyder, not that I want yo_oing anything crazy, but would you go into the cabin and get that demon blad_hat Madame Cinders gave us?"
  • "Apollyon's knife?"
  • Shrike nodded. "It's wrapped in a silk scarf. If anything comes off that ship, I want to know we can kill it."
  • "We going Texas Chainsaw on the other blimp, too?" asked Lulu. She pointed of_o starboard.
  • "Spyder… ?" said Shrike.
  • "Another ship's coming out of the clouds," he said. "A burning heart wrappe_n thorns. It looks like a Christian sacred heart."
  • "It's the Seraphic Brotherhood," said Primo, "pledged to the archange_ichael. They're warrior priests."
  • "Are they approaching us?" asked Shrike.
  • "No," said Spyder. "They're just hanging parallel a mile or two away."
  • "There's others out there, too," said Lulu.
  • "She's right. I can see a half dozen other ships, but they're mostly jus_ots."
  • "Get the blade, Spyder," Shrike said.
  • He ducked back below deck and Lulu followed him.
  • "Lulu, I want you to stay in here," said Spyder. He stalked around the cabi_ooking for the silken bundle.
  • "I'm no cotillion queen, Spyder. I can take care of myself."
  • "Not when you're coming off junk."
  • "I wasn't that deep in this time."
  • On the kitchen counter, he spotted the bundle. "In any case, I'll feel bette_nowing you're safe." Spyder found a butcher knife on the stove and tossed i_o her. "But if anything with more than one head comes through the door, fee_ree to stick it."
  • "That's pretty much always my policy."
  • "That's my girl." Spyder grabbed his leather jacket and headed back onto th_eck.
  • "Hey, Spyder!"
  • "Yeah, Lulu?"
  • "Your kamikaze girl outside? She's a sweet slice of honeydew."
  • "That she is."
  • When Spyder got back to the bow of the ship, the cable that had been spoolin_rom the scorpion had settled onto the port railing, clamping itself in plac_ith a single golden claw. A rotating disc had flipped open at the top of th_law and there was a grainy image of a young man flickering on a small scree_efore the wheel. The young man's face was cut through with snowy scan lines.
  • He wore a dark uniform of a severe cut (and marked with numerous medals an_ampaign ribbons) and a kind of silver ring around his head. To Spyder'_elief, he was clearly human. The young man and Primo were speaking rapidly i_ language Spyder didn't understand.
  • "Did I miss anything good?" Spyder asked Shrike.
  • "We're being offered a bribe," Shrike whispered. "The young pup doing all th_alking is Bel, the crown prince of the Erragal clan. One of the powerfu_ouses of the Third Sphere."
  • "What exactly are we being bribed for?"
  • "They know where we're going and what we're bringing back. They want th_ook."
  • "I'm guessing these aren't the kind of people Madame Cinders would have ove_o tell her troubles to."
  • "It's unlikely," said Shrike. "Did you bring the knife?"
  • "I've got it under my coat."
  • "Don't do anything until I tell you. For now, we're just playing a diplomac_ame. Primo is politely telling the prince thanks, but no thanks."
  • "What if he gets mad? Last time I looked there was fuck-all but water unde_s."
  • "Those other airships should keep him in line. The Erragals are powerful, bu_hey wouldn't want to be seen shooting an unarmed ship from the sky."
  • "Pardon me," said Primo, "but the young prince is becoming very agitated. _on't think that anyone has every refused an Erragal royal bribe before."
  • "Tell him we're on Hajj. Religious pilgrims can't accept bribes."
  • "Yes, ma'am."
  • Off to the starboard side of the ship, the sky opened like a sunbeam slicin_hrough a cloudbank. A pale, sexless, beatific face appeared between the shi_nd the Seraphic Brotherhood's floating heart. The face was glowing, like _hild's dream of angels, and when it spoke, its voice was like thunder.
  • "Fuck me," whispered Spyder.
  • "I know that sound," said Shrike. "God's Army to the rescue."
  • "What are you talking about?"
  • "Listen."
  • All Spyder could hear was the echo and rumble of the transparent head hangin_n the cold ocean air. The voice and the size of the thing weren't what wa_ost awful about it; it was the utter blissfulness of its expression. Spyde_ad seen faces like that before—especially the eyes—when being analyzed b_ourt-appointed psychia-trists and being sentenced by compassionate judges wh_ent him off to juvenile work camps for his own good. They were th_nderstanding eyes of kindly folk who burned witches alive to save thei_ouls. But when Spyder glanced back to the prince, he saw that Primo ha_ropped out of the conversation completely.
  • Lulu emerged from the cabin, clutching the butcher knife to her chest. "Are w_ead yet?" she asked.
  • "Not so's you'd notice," said Spyder. He nodded toward Bel's image. The youn_rince's flickering face was creased with anger. He was clearly no longe_ddressing Primo, but the Seraphic Brotherhood's ghost representative. Th_hostly head nodded and calmly answered the young prince's furious chatter.
  • "The bribers are bitch slapping each other," Spyder said.
  • "That or arguing over who gets to suck our bones," said Lulu.
  • "We'll know soon," said Shrike.
  • "Hey, Spyder?"
  • "What, Lulu?"
  • "When you were sixteen, how many times did you picture yourself freezing t_eath while god and a big scorpion tried to decide who was going to eat you?"
  • "It's not god, Lulu. It's just some magic trick," said Spyder. "And the answe_s once every acid trip."
  • Lulu hunched her shoulder and went over to lead sit on a bail of rope. Sh_oftly began to sing: "Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, Wit_he cross of Jesus going on before… " Spyder laughed at her.
  • "Quiet!" Shrike yelled. "Primo, before I push these fools overboard, what'_appening?"
  • "I believe, it's over, ma'am."
  • Spyder looked toward the beatific ghost head. It was fading from the sky. O_he bow railing, the prince's spinning disc was folding itself up an_etracting into the cable still hooked to the port railing.
  • "He's right," said Spyder. "Everyone's packing up and backing off."
  • "We got lucky," said Shrike. "Primo, set the course and come into the cabi_ith the rest of us."
  • "Yes, ma'am."
  • "Come on, Lulu," said Spyder.
  • "I don't think I like that Christian soldiers song anymore," Lulu said. "_oved it when I was little, but I never thought about the words till now.
  • Doesn't seem very Christian singing about how fun war is."
  • "It's someone's idea of Christian."
  • "Not mine," said Lulu. "Don't let them play it at my funeral, okay? I wan_mazing Grace."
  • "I don't know that they're going to have Amazing Grace on the jukebox at th_trip club."
  • "What strip club?"
  • "The one we're going to have your funeral at."
  • "Cool. Can I come?"