“I dunno, Cap’n. I just don’t like ‘im.”
Ordinarily, the master of the Cecilia would have had no time for such talk. But the day was bright and clear, and the waters calm — and the subject of their conversation, the Italian nobleman who had commissioned their present voyage, was out of earshot at the prow. He stood gazing out to sea as if he owned it, his chest puffed out to show the coat of arms embroidered on his jacket.
Capt. Marlow grunted. “As long as he pays us to haul his wine, that hardly matters.”
“Maybe,” the first mate said. “But there’s whispers. They say he had a rival, back in Italy, but no one’s seen —”
“Ship hard to starboard!” came the fearful scream from the crow’s nest. The crew to that side began a fearful murmur.
“Ridiculous,” Marlow said. “We would have had some… warning…”
He trailed off into silence. There was indeed a vessel coming alongside his, rising like a giant monster from the depths — an impression accentuated by the giant steel tentacles that even now were making her fast to the Cecilia.
There was no mistaking the vessel, or her captain — the large Sikh emerging from a hatch in the side.
“For the love of God,” Marlow breathed, his eyes wide with fear. “Nemo…“
There was a whirring of gears as a gangplank extended from Nautilus to Cecilia. On the submersible’s deck, crewmen were pointing large, swivel-mounted weapons at the sailing ship, and as Nemo boarded he was flanked by bodyguards with guns as fantastic-looking as they were unquestionably deadly.
The Sikh surveyed the Cecilia’s crew. “I am looking for a man named Montresor,” he finally said.
The Italian stepped forward, his chest even more puffed out in defiance. “I am Montresor,” he said. “What is the meaning of this outrage?”
Nemo looked at him for a long moment — then struck him, hard, in the face, and wordlessly returned to the Nautilus with the bodyguards.
The first mate moved to help Montresor up from where he had fallen, but he angrily waved the man away, his eyes fixed on Nemo’s back with a burning mixture of terror and impotent rage.
He rubbed his cheek where the blow had opened a cut. Blood fell onto the coat of arms — onto the foot, and the serpent’s head, dribbling down toward the words: Nemo me impune lacessit.