A ship wreck changes a sailor. Forever. The lone survivor, he lives in the deep sea...until a girl wrangles him five centuries later. #pitprom
Dear Royal Advisors,
The tragic wreck of the Fleetwood in 1879 claims Marion O’Reilly’s eyes and legs, but leaves him with a gift: the ability to breathe underwater. Doomed to swim the seas forever, he comes to love the silence of his new world...until Kharat Stockinhem bursts it while on her mission from the Department of Oceanic Threats to wrangle an elusive sea monster, the Phantom. Suddenly, Marion’s being dragged from the ocean by a machine he can’t see or out-swim. And when he makes contact with Kharat, he learns his accident happened five hundred years ago.
Kharat doesn’t know humans can live underwater until she accidentally wrangles Marion. Now, she’s not so sure the DOT has it right. Marion O’Reilly seems harmless. And if he’s harmless, what are the other sea “monsters” like? It takes some doing, but she convinces her father and grandfather to help her find out. Maybe Marion—and the Phantom—aren’t what the DOT claim they are.
WRANGLED is a 78,000-word YA oceanpunk novel about sea monsters, sabotage and what it means to take a stand. It meets Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan and S.E. Grove’s The Glass Sentence in the Atlantic, where submergers and stun guns and fearless teens are as common as water. The first 10 pages of WRANGLED are pasted here for your review.
I’m a journalist by day and novelist by night. I’ve written hundreds of news articles, book reviews and a children’s story (published in Highlights December 2018), but this is my first novel. Grab a pint of Pirate’s Pitch and gather ‘round. This be a whale of a tale.
FIRST TEN PAGES:
1879 on the ATLANTIC
“Damn,” the captain growled, watching as a violent wave crashed over the ship’s starboard side. Crew members screamed, rushing to grab onto rigging.
The storm had not surprised the crew, but its intensity had. Its eye was still miles off, and the Ironclad Fleetwood rested now in the fiercest rings of the storm wall. It was set for Halifax Harbor from Norfolk. Or it was, until the storm’s winds forced the captain to turn west to Boston when Halifax was a few hundred miles off. The first mate had objected, but only as far as his station allowed. With furnaces burning twice the coal to fight the storm wind and a miscalculated re-direction that lengthened the journey by a third, the captain’s incompetency broadened with the mile.
“Damn, damn, damn,” the man cursed. He scanned the deck for the first mate. “Mr. Morgan! How’s she holding?”
The stout first mate’s eyes stared ahead, firm and resilient and sure of the crew’s capabilities. “Boilers ’re fightin’ the pressure, sir. But the men ’re feedin’ her fast as they can.”
In a split second, the captain made a decision. He snapped at the sailor standing anxiously by the door and stomped from the bridge. His crew followed as he disappeared down steps leading to the belly of the Ironclad. His next decision hinged on that status of the boilers, and he needed to see them himself.
Around the boilers, the men worked with a passion never before seen. The pounding of the storm reverberated through the ship’s iron walls. The grated flooring rattled with each crashing wave. Heat wafting from the large, copper boilers beat upon the crews’ efforts relentlessly. The dim glows of coal fires sufficed for the work they did.
The youngest of the black gang grumbled to each other about the demands of their job. When they first signed on for the crew, they knew the labor would be difficult. They didn’t know about the orlop deck. The veterans remained silent, their minds turned in prayer to God, fate, or other deities. Years of working with the boilers had taught them that the more the metal works demanded, the more faith they needed to operate. Complaining only carried a man so far.
In one corner, a teenaged boy worked silently, shoveling coal into a large iron cart. Unlike his mates of similar age, he remained silent and focused on the tasks expected of him. Sweat glistened on his face, shoulders and arms, running down his torso and soaking his pants. His shirt, long-since removed, hung from his waistband in a grimy, blackened clump. He reached for it to clear his eyes. The curses and pleas of frustrated men filled his ears. There were few jests. Those had evaporated from the lower levels like breaths of clean air.
As the boy bent to scoop a shovelful of coal, he heard a cry go up among the men.
“Captain, sir!” shouted a crew mate.
The sighting sounded up and down the deck. The boy had never seen the commanding officer descend to the lower levels. He had never clapped eyes on the man at all. The position of captain did not leave much room for bumping into a sweat worker.
He continued shoveling. The captain would not see him.
He worked uninterrupted until the boiler manager appeared before him.
“At attention, O’Reilly!” the big, thick-shouldered man hollered.
The boy stuck his shovel into the coal pile and stood straight. He hoped it was enough. Proper procedure was not followed rigorously on the orlop deck, mostly because the captain rarely visited. Etiquette had no place in these stinking, grueling depths.
A man in blue wool and brass buttons moved into his line of vision. How the captain could stand in full regalia in hellish heat, the boy didn’t know. “What’s your name, lad?”
“O’Reilly, sir.” He stood at stiff attention while wondering if the captain had not just heard the boiler manager. Marion O’Reilly, he wanted to say, but thought he better not.
“Right, O’Reilly. What’s the coal status? Have we enough to ride her through?”
Marion looked into his captain’s eyes. As someone who handled the fuel, Marion certainly was the person to ask. But his heart couldn’t help pounding in the face of his superior’s demand.
He cleared his throat. “There’s a few tons left, sir. We’re using more than we planned, what with fighting the storm winds. And turning around. If we could just break through the storm wall—”
“A few tons?” raged the captain, his face reddening to the roots of his beard. “The storm’s ten miles thick, man! That’s not enough!”
Marion clamped his mouth shut.
“Blast!” the captain roared before turning on his heel and storming away. An entourage of silent seamen trailed him.
Unsure what to do, Marion resumed his post, shoveling calmly and steadily. When the cart had reached a heaping height, he hauled it over to the great iron furnace on the Fleetwood’s port side. Others moved aside, respecting the importance of the cart.
A deafening blast roared at the far end of the boiler level, causing everyone to jump as the great crate shuddered and moaned.
“What in bleedin’ ‘ell was that?” someone cried.
“I don’t know!” Marion hollered back. His head swiveled, trying to look over the men suddenly crushing each other on the main walk. Damn, he couldn’t see.
“Help me!” he shouted to the men closest to him, throwing his weight against the cart. Four of them were able to overturn it, coal spilling across the iron plate floor as Marion leapt atop the carrier.
His heart tripped.
Fire licked its way outside one of the furnaces.
Men screamed as they ran back and forth, shouting for water and cursing the man who threw the shovelful of coal that lit the flame. An explosion inside the structure caused the fire to rage. Smoke billowed from the furnace mouth, choking men and turning the stale air to smut.
Marion hopped down from the cart. Everyone knew what was happening. The screams of dying workers informed their senses. There was only one course of action when a vessel of the sea caught fire. Fight it.
Marion hoisted the empty cart upright and ran toward the large water hold, fighting against the anxiety rising in his chest. He tempered his lungs, calming himself by refusing them more air than was necessary. He would not die here, trapped like a ship rat in the hull of an iron crate. He would not.
The black gang formed a line, dumping coal buckets to fill instead with water. Marion rushed past them, heading for the front.
“Water, lad!” the boiler manager shouted at him, hardly taking time to look up.
“I’ll fill the cart!” Marion hollered as he ran past. Thunder boomed outside. Or was it the ship cracking?
He was passing a boiler when it happened. At first, he thought the fire had engulfed the thing and caused it to explode. But a strange white light appeared suddenly in his eyes—a blinding, hot light—and he knew it came from no boiler. As soon as he saw the flash, fire coursed through him in a wave of pain. He screamed, but heard no noise. His senses fled.
A second light appeared, and he watched helplessly as it jumped from the boiler to his cart. It flowed into his hands, up his arms and through his heart in one enormous, searing wave. He tried to release the cart, but his fingers wouldn’t let go. When the current washed over him a third time, he felt the heat in his legs and head. It seemed everywhere at once, singeing the deepest parts of him while burning his skin. He would die, he thought, from the heat alone.
He couldn’t see when the men of the orlop deck collapsed. He didn’t hear when the captain thundered as his ship cracked beneath the waterline. He didn’t feel the desperation of the crew, the fear of the boiler manager or the regret of the first mate. After the brightness of the lightning that destroyed his body, Marion’s world was left dark.
There was one thing he thought he felt in the moment he was thrust into the ocean. Something large and soft. A body, perhaps, caressing Marion before drawing close to the sinking ship.
He thought he felt it. But he couldn’t see it. So he slipped into the secrets of the ocean without a sound.
2379 off the COAST OF SCARBOROUGH
“Boggles!” Kharat Stockinhem grumbled as the Grecian octopus yanked against the submerger’s capturing arms. She seized the sub’s communicator and flicked it on. “Who said wrangling this monster would be easy, Dad?”
Merk Stockinhem chuckled. “Your granddad, I think, when the Department assigned us.”
“Figures that he’s not here to enjoy the fun.” Kharat swiveled in her seat and navigated the Octopular Trident around the octopus. The sub rocked as the creature jerked against it. “Come portside, Dad. His eye’s out, he can’t see you.”
“Right,” Merk answered from the second sub.
Kharat’s breath held as she watched her father navigate the sleek Olympis 2300. When it slipped into place, she decreased the throttle and dropped the arms. Sensing release, the octopus tensed and exploded upward. The propulsion was powerful, the thrust initiated by the sudden inward pull of its arms, preceding an inward collapse of its body. For a handful of seconds, its freedom was secured. But before its arms flared for a second contraction, the beast found them clasped by the herbosynthetic fibers of a wrangling net.
“Got him!” Kharat cried as the net tightened and the octopus took on a new level of struggle.
Kharat loaded a ray-venom canister into the launcher of her sub. With careful aim, the projectile hurled through the sea and pricked the monster. A fury of bubbles erupted as the thing shuddered briefly before wilting. The only natural defense against Grecians was stingray venom, which arrested the barbs hidden in the beast’s suction cups. The octopus’s reaction to the venom impeded the beating of its six hearts and promptly relaxed the nervous system. The brief stopping of six blood pumps was crucial. Death was a breath short of instantaneous.
Once the Grecian ceased its last twitches, Kharat began collecting it with brisk movements of the extraction arms.
“Okay?” Merk asked.
Kharat nodded, intent on maneuvering the contraption manually.
“Okay!” she declared over the transmission.
The Olympis remained stationary as Kharat snaked each of the three arms around the octopus. When it was fully wrapped, she reined in. The arms drew the monster toward the belly of the Trident and tucked it into its hold. Kharat watched the cargo monitor intently, adjusting the arms when they drew too near the sub walls. A fierce beeping alerted her to the catch’s complete entry. It took her seconds to close the iron belly panels and reach for the mouthpiece.
“All set, Dad,” she stated with a look toward the Olympis. “I’ll follow you up.”
The Olympis began its ascent with tapered speed to match the Trident’s. Nearly five times the size and half as fast as her father’s sub, Kharat’s vessel captured and carried large loads. It could be fast, when needed. But a calmer pace resulted in better navigation.
Kharat matched the speed and path Merk made. As the subs climbed out of the twilight zone, the water lightened and Kharat saw farther through the sub shield. The transition from 2,000 feet to 600 was dramatic. The middle ocean was not barren—the Grecian was evidence of that—but the top waters teemed with the colors of sea life. Kharat watched a school of silver-bellied fish flutter past and wished she had time to capture them with the Trident’s sea scope. She’d add their picture to her navigation books.
But there was no time now. She’d have to take that photo later. For good measure, she shot a glance at her coordinates: 70.229̊N, 4.501̊E. Somewhere in the Norwegian Sea. Grecians this far north were uncommon. But sea life had been traveling farther from home waters lately. She’d record this in Scarborough.
Their home port came into view thirty minutes later. As Merk negotiated the Olympis into the bay, Kharat headed for Dock Spot Number 170. The Trident’s function placed it among other large submergers used for various duties such as official ministerial obligations and merchant shipping. Or in the case of the Stockinhems, sea wrangling. The largest vessels docked in the finest spots. From here, unloading was no hassle and shipping out was easy.
The best advantage, of course, was the label “Official Sea Wrangler” stamped on Kharat’s porting license. Slaying sea beasts was as natural to the Stockinhems as swimming a sub. On her fourteenth birthday, Kharat was proud to become part of a legacy centuries old. For years, her family was the downfall of murderous sharks, monstrous octopuses, haunting jellies and giant squid across the globe. The Kraken fell to an uncle in the 23rd century. Lusca became the mount of a third cousin. Morgawr was trapped and disappeared from the Cornish coast after Ebenzer Stockinhem, Kharat’s own grandfather, pursued it. The Stockinhems were among the few who stalked monsters stalking humanity. By dictation of her birthright, Kharat’s blood ran thick with salt water.
The Trident docked, Kharat powered down the sub and removed her navigation goggles. Fresh air filled the cabin when she opened the hatch. Tossing her wrangler’s kit out, she followed, her boots hiking the hatch ladder and thudding against the sub roof as she climbed on top. Merk stood waiting for her on the wharf, a sea breeze tossing his long dark locks back from his face. At his side, a Scottish collie waved her tail like a flag.
“Hullo, Taffety!” Kharat called and jumped down.
The dog rushed toward her with eager licks and yaps.
Kharat knelt to greet her.
“She was waiting for us,” Merk said. “Granddad must be in the village.”
“Expect he’s at the depot,” Kharat replied between Taffety’s kisses.
“The depot or the tavern,” her father agreed. “Shall we try both?”
“I’ll take the tav,” Kharat said and started into town. “Meet you on the wharf. Here Taffety!” The dog raced after her.
As she wove between merchant stalls and sidestepped other Scarborough folk, Kharat kept an eye on Taffety. The dog possessed the uncanny ability to sneak snacks from the butcher and baker and still beg off the fishmonger.
“Hey!” Kharat snapped the warning when the collie’s muzzle grazed a thick coil of tentacle sausages. The dog immediately backed away.
Kharat opened the heavy door when they reached Lud’s Tap. Taffety obediently sat on her heels. But she whined when Kharat moved to leave her.
“Come on, you blighter,” Kharat said. She followed the collie in.
The tavern’s lack of windows created a covert darkness weakened by a few oil bulbs. Kharat struggled to see a few feet beyond herself. She found her grandfather by the sound of his riotous laughter. Knowing the place well, she headed toward the bar. Taffety headed toward the kitchen.
“There she be!” Ebenzer Stockinhem cried when his granddaughter’s face came into focus. “The lass who’s taken me place in the wranglin’ business.” He turned to the old sailors gathered at the counter. “Can’t say I’m s’prised, always had a good ‘ead on ‘er. Puts uppa fight, too.”
“Granddad,” Kharat interrupted. “You’re slurring.”
“Slurrin’, she says! As if I couln’t hold me liquor. ‘M I slurrin’ to you?” he asked the man beside him.
“I can ‘ear ya fine!” the stranger replied with a wink at Kharat. Both men laughed outrageously.
“Right, Granddad,” Kharat said.
She took the pint from his hand and hooked her arm through his. With a great heave, she had him on his feet and stumbling toward the door. She looked over her shoulder at the greasy-clothed bartender. “I’ll get you later, Rogger.”
“Don’t you worry, Kharat. I’ve seen the beasts you’ve been hauling in. I know you’re good for it.” The big man thunked down a tray of glasses. “Make sure you get his slicker on the way out.”
She nodded and pulled the jacket from the other coats on the coat peg.
“Taffety!” she called and opened the tavern door. The collie dashed from the kitchen and into the street.
The trio traveled down to the wharf where Merk stood waiting for them with spread legs and crossed arms. He’d controlled his mane with a thick piece of cord, but his black eyes were just a tad wild.
“He was in the tav,” Kharat offered, still supporting Ebenzer.
“That I can see.” Merk took hold of Ebenzer’s other arm. “One would have thought you took interest in the success of your granddaughter, Dad. She came in with a three-tonner.”
Kharat’s ears perked. “That large?”
“Aye. They want you down in the depot for the recording. Go on, then. I’ll take Granddad home.”
“Get the kettle on,” Kharat replied. “Taff can come with me.”
The depot was Scarborough’s headquarters for the Ministry of Aquatic Defense, which oversaw protection from and for the sea. Wranglers answered to a small, significant portion of the institution, the Department of Oceanic Threats. Registered wranglers brought kills to the DOT control centers in all major ports along the coast for registration and appraisal. While the MAD’s primary responsibility was balancing oceanic and terrestrial lives, the DOT safeguarded against all aquatic threats. Disposal of amphibious monsters was the mission of each wrangler under its direction.
Kharat kept her registration book tucked behind the sea knife sheathed to her thigh. She retrieved it in the depot’s reception and handed it to the secretary, studying the wrangler’s motto on the wall as she waited. Si vis pacem, disicere bestia. If you want peace, kill the beast. The black letters remained the depot’s only decoration.
The bespectacled secretary stamped Kharat’s registration with the DOT seal and returned it. She thanked the man and headed for the stairs, toward the exhibition room. This was where extractors retrieved catches and recorders took measurements.
“Just a minute,” the secretary called. “Don’t go down there!”
“I’m here with a catch,” Kharat told the man.
“The director wants to see you. Fifth floor.”
Kharat asked why, but the man ignored her. Taffety trotted behind her as she headed toward the lifts.