When a boy is discovered on a frozen iceberg, the crew is immediately on alert. Petrel hides him on board, hoping he'll be her friend. What she doesn't know is that the ship guards a secret, held down deep in its belly, and the boy has been sent to seek and destroy it.
Icebreaker by Lian Tanner is a lush fantasy and thrilling adventure story, with an unforgettable friendship at its heart.
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By Lian Tanner
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2013 Lian Tanner
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Petrel was asleep when they came after her. She'd made a nest of rags in the narrow space around the shaft of the wind turbines, and for once she was warm and almost happy. The familiar sound of the icebreaker's engines rumbled through her dreams like a lullaby, and she smiled, and snuggled down deeper into the rags.
The Officer bratlings might've caught her there if they'd had more sense. But they were so sure of themselves — so certain that this time they had her trapped — that they didn't even try to be quiet. Petrel woke to the sound of eager voices coming at her from two directions, and the smell of hot tar.
"This way! This way!"
"We've got her!"
There were ten of them, mostly girls, with Dolph grinning in anticipation at the front. Petrel saw them out of the corner of her eye as she sprang from her nest and leaped for the iron ladder above her head.
Dolph screamed, "There she goes! Quick, grab her!"
But by then Petrel was halfway through the rusty hatch that led to the next deck, and running for her life.
As she tore desperately along the passageways she could hear the bratlings a little way behind her, laughing and shrieking, "Rat hunt! Rat hunt! Catch the rat!"
"I found her paws," cried one of girls. "Look, I've got her nasty little paws."
Which was when Petrel realized she had left her gloves behind.
Furious with herself, she snarled over her shoulder as if she really were one of the ship's rats. Then she ducked into a cabin, scrambled under a hammock full of wailing babies, dived through a rusty hole in the bulkhead and threw herself beneath the first berth she came to, with no idea whether it was occupied or not.
The footsteps pounded past. As soon as they were gone, faded into the distance along with the ugly clank of the tar bucket, Petrel scrambled out from under the berth. An old man peered up at her from his pillow. She made a clumsy curtsy to him and crawled back the way she had come.
The babies had quieted now, soothed by their mothers, a trio of women with Officer stripes tattooed on their muscular arms. As Petrel tiptoed past, hunching her shoulders and making her eyes blank and stupid, the Officer women whispered to each other.
"She's a strange one."
"Not Officer nor Cook nor Engineer. Imagine not having a tribe!"
"Well, you remember what her parents did."
Petrel goggled witlessly at them.
"What are you doing in Braid, Nothing Girl?" one of the women asked loudly.
Petrel didn't answer. Silence was one of the few weapons she had against the crew that had rejected her. Silence, stubbornness and the knowledge that she was not who they thought she was.
"It's no use talking to her," said a second woman. "She's as thick as winter ice. You might as well chat to a toothyfish." She made a shooing gesture. "Go away, Nothing Girl. We don't want you here."
Petrel crept down the passageway and through the hatch, hoping that her pursuers might have dropped her gloves in the excitement of the chase. But there was no sign of them, no sign of anything except for the dollops of tar all over her nest.
She sighed. "Can't stay here now," she muttered in her hoarse voice. "Dolph'll be watching for me, sure as blizzards. Better keep away from Braid for a while; find somewhere safer to sleep ..."
The trouble was, nowhere was really safe, not for Petrel.
During the Oyster's long voyage, the ship had accumulated centuries of rust, and a hull as battered as an iceberg. But that wasn't the worst of it. Roughly two hundred years ago, a midwinter disagreement between crew members had flared up into three months of violent warfare. Nearly half the crew died in that war, and precious books and papers were burned, among them the ship's log, with all its history and instructions.
In the bitter aftermath, with everyone blaming everyone else, the Oyster had been divided into three territories, each of them jealously guarded. The bottommost part of the ship, with its engines and batteries, was called Grease Alley — that was where the Engineer tribe lived and worked. The middle decks, which included the kitchens and storerooms, was Dufftown. That was Cook territory. And the upper decks, Braid, belonged to the Officers.
Petrel, who had no tribe, was the only one who could move freely between the three groups. But that freedom came with a high price. None of the tribes turned her away at the border, it was true. But none of them welcomed her, either, or fed her, or protected her against cruelty.
As she stood there, thinking, she thought she heard the clank of a bucket. Dolph, she thought, and she rose on tiptoe, as alert as a gull. The clanking sound came again, and Petrel ran.
Braid, where the Officers lived, was a maze of cabins. Most of them were floored with iron, but in others the original deck had rusted away long ago, and been replaced with driftwood or netting, or bones scavenged from ancient whaling stations.
There were folk everywhere on the Braid decks — bratlings hopping from one whale rib to another in a game of chasings, babies tied to their hammocks with seal gut, grown men and women rubbing their eyes as they woke, and calling greetings to their neighbors.
Petrel shuffled between them, eyes lowered. Most folk ignored her; they were too busy with their own lives to bother themselves over a witless girl.
Which suits me, thought Petrel. Safety lies in being ignored.
She trotted along the passages until she came to one of the Commons ladderways, where fighting between the ship's three tribes was forbidden. Her nerves were still jangling, and she had a sudden overwhelming desire for sunlight and salty air.
She glanced around to make sure the Braid border guards weren't watching, then fumbled behind the ladderway for her ancient and very ragged sealskin jacket.
"You're getting old, you are," she muttered to the jacket as she wriggled into it.
As if in answer, there was a dull tearing sound and several gray scraps fluttered to the deck.
Still, the jacket was better than nothing. Petrel fastened the strings, then scurried up the ladderway to the hatch that led to the Oyster's foredeck.
There must have been a time, centuries ago, when the hatch had been weather tight. But now the damp and the cold seeped through it like sea fog. Petrel drew the tattered hood of her jacket over her head, then she turned the clamp, pushed the hatch open and stepped out onto the deck.
The cold air hit her like a bucket of water.
"Oof!" she yelped, then jammed her lips shut and scuttled away from the hatch in case someone had heard her.
The sea was dotted with icebergs. The morning sky was yellow. Petrel ran for'ard across the snowy deck as quickly as she dared to where an ancient crane loomed, and the wind fiddles sang their endless song.
There was a sheltered area there, beneath the body of the crane, and she tucked herself into it, out of the wind. Spring was on its way to the frozen south, and the song of the wind fiddles was luring penguins, seals, whales and every other speck of life back to their summer haunts.
But the air was still cold.
"Ice cold," mumbled Petrel. "Bone cold!" And she stuck her hands into her armpits and wondered whether Dolph would think to look for her out here.
Probably not. The fishing shift would start soon, and men and women from the Oyster's three warring tribes would have to work together to feed the ship. Like the Commons ladderways, the open decks were neutral territory where knives, poison and pipe wrenches were forbidden. Even hot tar would be seen as a weapon on the foredeck.
Which meant that the only real danger for Petrel — apart from the cold — was that someone might creep up behind her and push her overboard.
"Trouble is," she muttered, "if I stay out here for much longer my nose'll fall off. I'll have to take my chances inside."
With a grumble, she stepped out into the wind. On the horizon, something flashed white ... and was gone. Petrel squinted after it.
"Must've been a berg. Though I've never before seen one so neat and square."
The next moment she had completely forgotten that odd glimpse. Because the ship was sailing past another berg, and this one had an ice cave near its summit.
Petrel never tired of watching ice caves. Some of them were so blue and so beautiful that they made her heart ache. She leaned on the rail, stamping her feet for warmth. The berg came closer.
That's when she saw him. A boy, laid out on the ice like a dead fish, with a scattering of snow almost covering his face. A boy, where there should have been nothing but the memory of winter.
A frozen boy.CHAPTER 2
THE FROZEN BOY
Petrel was so stunned at the sight that her wits almost deserted her.
"A — a — a stranger!" she whispered.
She had to dredge the word up from the depths of her memory. She'd never had need of it before. In all the hundreds of years that the Oyster had been trudging around the southern ice cap, there had been no strangers. Not a single one.
There were stories, of course. There were always stories, especially in the long winter dark when there was nothing much else to do but mend clothes and fishing lines, plot against the other tribes, and listen to the blizzards thrashing about the ancient iron hull.
But no one took those stories seriously. So what if there were other folk in the world? They were of no interest to the Oyster and its crew. The ship was what mattered. The ship was a world in itself, it was life and shelter, birth and death, love and hatred and protection against the elements. It was all any of them had ever known or wanted.
Until now ...
Petrel pinched herself. The Oyster was already more than halfway past the berg, and if she didn't act quickly it would retreat into the distance and she would never find out who this — this stranger was, and where he had come from.
She dived through the hatch, pulling it shut behind her and taking a stub of iron from her pocket. There was a pipe running along the base of the bulkhead. Petrel banged a message on it in Engineer code.
TO CHIEF ENGINEER ALBIE. STRANGER ON BERG. STARBOARD BOW. ORCA SAYS DON'T STOP.
She didn't sign it; no one would take any notice of a message signed Petrel. She just sent it on its way with an anonymous tap tap tap, so that it could have come from anyone. The echoes rattled through the pipe, all the way down to the engine rooms. Petrel pictured her uncle, the Chief Engineer, cocking his head to listen. She imagined his lips curving in a humorless smile.
The lack of other messages in the pipes told her that she was the only one who had seen the boy. The Officers on the bridge should have seen him, but maybe they had been looking the other way, or had mistaken him for a seal. Whatever the reason, it meant that First Officer Orca, who was Dolph's mam, could not possibly have said, "Don't stop."
But it was the best way that Petrel knew of making the Chief Engineer do exactly the opposite.
She went back out to the foredeck and waited, shivering, until she heard a change in the constant grumble of the engines. It was only a minute or two, but it seemed like forever. The boy on the berg, slowly retreating into the distance, didn't move.
"Maybe he's dead," whispered Petrel.
But she would not let herself believe it. She wanted to know who this stranger was, and how he had come to be on a berg in the Oyster's path. She wanted it more than anything — except perhaps a good feed and a warm safe bed.
As soon as the ship stopped, Petrel slipped back inside the hatch and tucked herself into a corner where no one would notice her. The pipes were rattling again — this time in general ship code. Furious messages raced between the bridge and the engine room, and Petrel automatically translated them.
TO CHIEF ENGINEER ALBIE. WHY HAVE WE STOPPED? SIGNED, ORCA.
TO FIRST OFFICER ORCA. NUMBER TWO ENGINE OVERHEATING. SAFETY ISSUE. SIGNED, ALBIE.
TO CHIEF ENGINEER ALBIE. RUBBISH. GET UNDER WAY IMMEDIATELY. SIGNED, ORCA.
TO FIRST OFFICER ORCA. CAN'T. SIGNED, ALBIE.
Petrel could hear a score of feet pounding up the Commons ladderway. She felt the blast of cold air as the hatch was dragged open, and heard the footsteps race towards the only seaworthy lifeboat. Then the hatch slammed shut again, and she was left chewing her nails, with no way of knowing what was happening outside.
She closed her eyes and tried to picture it. The berg would be well past the Oyster's stern by now. Perhaps the Engineers would decide it was too late. Perhaps they would think the boy dead, and not worth rescuing.
"Or maybe the Maw's out there waiting," she whispered, "and they won't dare set the lifeboat into the water, stranger or no stranger."
Petrel shivered and pulled her ragged coat tighter. The monstrous fish known as the Maw had been following the icebreaker for as long as anyone could remember. Sometimes it wasn't seen for weeks, or even months. But as soon as someone died, and occasionally even before they died, it roared up from beneath the waters with its massive jaws agape, waiting for the corpse to be thrown overboard.
The Maw frightened Petrel more than anything in the world. More than Orca. More even than Uncle Albie. According to Dolph — the information shouted across the afterdeck two years ago — shipfolk had argued long and hard over Petrel when she was a baby. Many of them had wanted to throw her to the Maw, along with her parents.
"A traitor, your da was," Dolph had shouted, "and your mam was mad. Shipfolk killed 'em and chucked 'em overboard, and good riddance. Pity you didn't go with 'em. Reckon the Maw thinks so too. Reckon it feels cheated. Reckon it's down there waiting, and one day it's going to get you!"
And having delivered that terrible opinion, Dolph had linked arms with her friends and strolled away laughing.
Today however the Maw must have been elsewhere. Petrel sat bolt upright as the pipes rattled out a new message.
TO CHIEF ENGINEER ALBIE. LIFEBOAT FOUR LAUNCHED WITHOUT PERMISSION. EXPLAIN. SIGNED, ORCA.
TO FIRST OFFICER ORCA. NOPE. SIGNED, ALBIE.
The next thirty minutes passed so slowly that Petrel felt as if the world had come to a standstill. There were no more messages in the pipes, but Orca's anger seemed to filter through every part of the ship, so that even the gurgle of the ballast system and the crack of ice against the hull took on a furious note.
The Braid border guards were doubled, then tripled. As Petrel watched, a dozen of them positioned themselves on the Commons ladderway, arms folded, so that no one could pass.
They're going to fight, thought Petrel, pressing farther back into her corner. Except they can't, not on the Commons. It's not allowed!
At last something thumped against the hatch. Petrel heard voices, then the hatch flew open and one of the Engineers hurried through it, with ice in his beard and the boy over his shoulder. His fellows were right behind him.
When they saw the Officers blocking the ladderway, the Engineers quickly closed ranks around the first man, so that he and his burden were hidden. Then they moved forward in a solid block, men and women together. The scars on their cheeks, that marked them as belonging to Grease Alley, twitched with unconcealed hostility.
"Out of our way, Braid!" snapped one of the women.
The Officers stood their ground. "What's that you've got?" demanded a man with a square face. "What've you brought onto the ship?" The woman narrowed her eyes. "None of your business. Let us pass."
"You can pass whenever you want, Grease," sneered the square-faced man. "No one's stopping you."
Except they were — everyone could see that, including Petrel.
If this had happened at any other time of year, it would probably have ended with nothing more than a bruise or two and a promise of revenge. The rules against fighting on the Commons were strict and seldom broken.
But the winter just gone had been a long, hungry one, and folk were strung as tight as a stay line. As Petrel watched, the Engineers growled deep in their throats. The Officers flexed their tattoos and grinned nastily. Hands slid into pockets and came out holding pipe wrenches and knives ...
Petrel held her breath. But before the first blow could be struck, a voice came bawling up the ladderway, full of iron and authority. "No fighting on the Commons! Let 'em pass or I'll chuck the lot of yez overboard."
It was Chief Engineer Albie.
Every single person in Braid hated the Chief Engineer, but they respected him too, in a reluctant sort of way. He was ferocious and clever, and only a fool would turn their back on him. More importantly, he knew the Oyster's ancient engines better than anyone; knew how to bully them through yet another winter; knew how to patch the unpatchable and mend the unmendable. Sometimes it seemed to Petrel that her uncle was the ship's engines, and that without him they would give up the struggle and die.
The Officers blocking the Commons swore, and for a second or two their knives wove ugly patterns in the air. But then they moved aside, and the Engineers clattered down the ladderway, jeering at their enemies as they passed.
Excerpted from Icebreaker by Lian Tanner. Copyright © 2013 Lian Tanner. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Nothing Girl,
Chapter 2: The Frozen Boy,
Chapter 3: A Stranger on the Ship,
Chapter 4: As Harmless as a Seal Pup,
Chapter 5: Secrets ...,
Chapter 6: Lies ...,
Chapter 7: Escape!,
Chapter 8: The Fishing Shift,
Chapter 9: Murder!,
Chapter 10: That Is Not My Name,
Chapter 11: Fever,
Chapter 12: The Funeral,
Chapter 13: His Treacherous Memory,
Chapter 14: Your Da Was a Traitor ...,
Chapter 15: Some May Call Us Cruel,
Chapter 16: Half a Truth,
Chapter 17: A Patch of White,
Chapter 18: Fin's Ship,
Chapter 19: Fire on Board!,
Chapter 20: Icebound,
Chapter 21: We Have Caught the Murderer,
Chapter 22: An Army of Men,
Chapter 23: The Maw,
Chapter 24: The Sleeping Captain,
Chapter 25: Brother Thrawn,
Chapter 26: North,
About the Author,