The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 11
Roger, Jennifer, Annabelle and Wilber watched as workmen with poles levered the newly modified barge onto greased wooden rails and slid it down into the river. It was thirty feet long with a flat area for the first twenty-two feet and an eight foot long, ten foot wide cabin in the back. The front had a liftable ramp that could carry Pucorl and was how he would drive onto and off the barge. The cabin in the back was eight feet tall with a slightly curved roof, so that rain would poor off. It had two eyes, one to either side, and there were a matching pair below the waterline, so that Joe Kraken could see the bottom of the river. Behind the eyes and in the back were the tentacles, eight thirty feet long, and two forty-five feet long. And they writhed as Joe was slid down the rails to the river.
A tentacle grabbed a bush and pulled it out of the ground, then tossed it away. Jennifer shuddered.
Once in the water, the tentacles were mostly hidden. The bases of the upper ones could be seen, but they quickly bent down into the water and the water roiled with their movement. Kraken Joe twisted about, using his tentacles to shift the barge back and forth, then pushed out into the middle of the river, scooted over to the far bank, and turned back. A tentacle came out of the water and grabbed a tree, then flexed, pushing the barge quickly down the river. Then the barge turned and crossed the river again. Back on this side, a tentacle grabbed a rock for purchase, and they could almost see that it was doing the same thing underwater.
Jennifer shuddered again. “Creepy.”
The next day, Joe Kraken was still learning his body configuration. Jennifer and Roger were aboard, sitting on the roof of the cabin. Jennifer was there to examine how her design was working. Roger was there in case someone wanted to take the barge away from Jennifer. The Danube was not the safe, policed river of the twenty-first century.
They were two miles downriver from Donauworth when one of the two longer tentacle came up out of the water and grabbed a cow. The cow was pulled against, which moved the barge, then was picked up and pulled beneath the river. Its subsequent fate was unclear because of the muddy water but almost certainly not good.
“Oh, that’s really creepy,” said Jennifer. She glared at Roger, standing next to her. “How do you know that . . . that thing won’t use one of us for a snack next time?”
“It’s not mine.” Roger was wondering the same thing himself. “Hey, Joe. You’re not supposed to eat the wildlife.”
Joe didn’t answer.
“Joe Kraken, answer me.” They knew that the kraken could hear them. It had microphones and speakers in the cabin and outside it, as well. The silence made him nervous. He didn’t want to be on a sea monster that had gone rogue.
He reached up and grabbed Themis. “Excuse me. Could we get a little help here?”
Whenever the titan wasn’t present in person, she could talk to Roger through the sword — and on those occasions she was something of a mind-reader.
<You needn’t worry. The kraken’s not all that smart, but he’s smart enough to know the difference between a person and an animal. He won’t harm anyone unless he is ordered to.>
“Ordered by who?”
<By the owner of its vehicle. Haven’t you been paying attention for the last almost a year? In this case, Pucorl owns his vehicle, so Pucorl is his master. I have some authority, since I created him with the help of my nephew, Poseidon.>
Roger was still not satisfied. “But that cow belonged to somebody. We’re not going to make ourselves real popular if our demon-possessed river barge is lunching on livestock and pets as we go along.”
<He won’t bother any animal clearly attached to a human. By a tether, a leash, whatever. If the animal’s not attached, you’ll have to instruct him not to eat it. And now, I’m busy. This is not important.>
And she was gone.
After Roger explained the gist of the conversation, Jennifer shook her head. “It’s still creepy. You’d better give the thing its instructions now, though, before we run across any more domestic munchies.”
“It’s not listening to me.”
“Then call Pucorl.”
“Why me?” He was practically whining by now.
“Never mind.” She called Pucorl. “Pucorl, you need to talk to your barge. It’s ignoring us. And it’s eating the local livestock.”
“Do I have to?” complained a deep fog horn of a voice through the external speakers, clearly in response to Pucorl’s instructions. But at least it was speaking though the
“Kraken,” said Roger. Then, in the vague hope that personalizing the creature might be of help, he asked, “Joe?
“Joe,” the speaker agreed.
“Don’t eat any more cows, Joe. Or a horse. Or a sheep. Or a pig. Or a goat. Or a dog.” Each was accompanied by a mental image. “Or . . . I guess that’s enough.”
“You didn’t tell him to stay away from cats and chickens,” said Jennifer.
“Who cares about chickens? And I don’t like cats.”
“Well, we have a cat with us. And if Joe eats Leona, much less Kitten, there’s going to be hell to pay.”
“Then you tell him.”
Jennifer did, but she wasn’t entirely sure that she was getting through, so she called Wilber.
Wilber called Joe by way of his built-in crystal set. And to clarify, he sent it a list of animals with their images. Then he called Jennifer back. She put her phone on speaker so Roger could hear.
“Squid brains are really different from human brains. They don’t have voices at all, and they barely have ears. They communicate with colored patterns on their skin. It a language and a way of thinking that’s so strange it gives me fits, in spite of my magic.
“But we put in speakers and microphones, and it does talk.”
“Yes, but I’m not so sure how much it understands. That’s why the pictures.”
Jennifer had to be satisfied with that.
Location: North Bank of the Danube at Donauworth, Germany
Time: Dawn, September 19, 1372
One last time they brought Joe Kraken up onto the shore and repaired the pentagram. The pentagram was made of river plants and fish parts from the Danube, ground into a paste and blessed by Monsignor Savona and the local priests. The latter based on the notion that a kraken in the Danube would be a bit safer if the priests of Donauworth were involved. Joe Kraken, the boat, was a complex combination of magic, twenty-firster technology, and courtesy. Joe Kraken, the demon, was contacted by the twenty-firsters before they reached Donauworth. When it became clear that the twenty-firsters would have to have a specialized boat built to spec, Joe was asked what he would like in his new body. As it turned out he could communicate with them through their cell phones, and communicate reasonably well with Pucorl.
Sort of. It was a bit like talking to a three year old. His calling name was discussed too. Kraken because he was a sea monster, and Joe after Joe Louis, because he was a fighter. Especially now that he had tentacles to punch with.
Joe Kraken wanted four eyes, two permanently fixed on the boat’s pilot house. That way he could see without having to constantly heave himself above the surface, and two more painted on the sides below the waterline. Happily, the pilot house eyes didn’t need to be the size of Joe’s own eyes. That would have been beyond the skill of the local glassmakers.
In front of the pilot house was a long and wide flat surface that Pucorl would ride on, and inside the body of the boat was a leather sack that had openings in the bow and stern. That was an experiment to see if Joe Kraken was able to use it like a squid’s bladder to propel itself through the water. Not use the bladder itself — it was much too small — but somehow make it work as a surrogate.
Roger didn’t ask too many questions. The less he had to contemplate what was happening at the barge’s bottom, the better. Jennifer was right. It was really creepy.
But it worked.