The Last Tale of Cap’n McGowan
With a troubled brow, Cap’n McGowan once again set sail to sea. He figured on making an epic spread of admiralty report runs, chugging up to Vanderbight and then Whither, before reaching out to Codex and the along the Northern shores to further ports afar away. Then, he would turn around and head for home along familiar soundings.
Things were looking up. He had installed a nice new cannon that could sink a pirate pinnace in two shots. He had a searing secret close to his chest. And his young child had begun to show increased fascination with the sea. He was indeed feeling happier - dangerously cheerful in fact. One evening on the final leg home, making merry with the crew and with empty bottles of mushroom wine scattered across the deck - nightmares briefly forgotten - he and his shipmates revelled in the sport of lighting up giant crabs with the ship’s lamp before blasting them into smithereens with the powerful new deck cannon.
But in the fug of theirwine soaked merriment, none of them thought to investigate the perilously low running fuel…
It was in approaching the mouth of London harbour that he first saw that something was wrong. An ashen faced engineer, red eyed from the previous night’s celebrating, clambered up the stairs. "We’re finished," she simply said. It was as the wan green and yellow lights of Fallen London came into view, that the engine finally sputtered and stopped. They began to drift, slowly on the ebb tide back out to sea.
Recriminations were useless. It was all their necks, and all had shared in the folly born of their overweening overconfidence. Hope seemed lost.
But then, out from one of the flickering lights casting its sickly moon-pool of light upon the bay, came a tug. A sly, mirthful voice called out, "Need a tow, mister?"
"Yes!" Cried Cap’n McGowan. "And may the Zee Gods bless you for your kindness!"
"Oh now, hold on, matey," replied the voice in the darkness. "I’ll need a trade first!" And as he said this his little one man tug hove into view.
"What do you desire?" asked Cap’n McGowan tautly. He knew it wasn’t going to be good.
"Why now, I’ll keep it simple. A fair swap. Honest business. Your ship, for my tug."
"Never you will, not never! Not this!" he cried, grasping the side of the ship as if to hold her close. For a moment he wondered at swinging the gun around, demanding by force the fuel needed. But tugboat captain had his ship square in a searchlight, and Cap’n McGowan knew the harbour patrols would be watching through their spyglasses.
"The ebb tide is on the flow. You don’t have a choice," chuckled the man.
And what else could he do? He did the trade. It had happened before, to other captains, but scarce could he have imagined the crimson burning shame scorching his cheeks, the agony of a great potential fortune undone. The sole concession he managed to wrest from the man was to be able to save a little face by being allowed to sail back into harbour on his own ship. The tug boat owner measured out the barest fuel sufficient to return to port and tossed the barrel over.
That night, after turning his reports in to the admiralty, he told his child and sweetheart more tales of far off shores. Though his sweetheart had fallen deeper in love with him, and though she put on an expression of rapt wonder, secretly she feared at these exploits and the monsters he described living out there in the great black. But on this, she had kept silent. For his part that evening, he mentioned nothing of the shame that had befallen him. He wanted one more perfect night unblemished by fears for the future. But for the morning, he dreaded telling his sweetheart the truth… that he had lost his vessel, and with it their dreams of fortune.
As he finished his story and their child was put to bed, she asked, hesitantly, "Darling… I was wondering… with our child getting older, should you not be spending more time at home and not sailing out these long, lonely, endless weeks, only to return to a single night’s pleasure? Could you not… perhaps…" and here she paused, for fear of offending. For Zee Captains were notoriously touchy at anything that concerned their freedom to roam.
"Yes, m’dear?" he asked, a little gruffly.
"… could you not perhaps spend a little time closer inshore. Just a few little admiralty runs close to home. The delivery of mail to Shepard Isles, Mutton Island and The Abbey… at the furthest? Such a run would take but two days… and pay enough to keep our table full."
He rubbed his bristling jaw, trying not to hint at the emotion of strange relief flowing through him. "And would that be enough for ye? You who had dreamed of dancing the Fallen Ball in that fine blue dress, that one of finest calico and muslin?"
"Yes, a dress of blue, darling. But all I can think of, with you out there sailing the deeps, is a long, lonely future in a dress of black."
And there they hugged, and weeping, he told her that he would sell the boat and purchase a little tug, and spend his future running a modest delivery service… enough to stay afloat.
The following day he let go his crew. It was strange, but shorn of all worries of mutiny and starvation and the dangerous elusiveness of uncharted lands, and instead shored up with the bankable certainties (or as certain as the Unterzee could allow) of charted shoals and known currents, of predictable crab hunting grounds and pirate patrols, the terror slowly left him and he began to find that he could accept the quiet satisfaction of a regular run around those three small islands and a lightship. Of course, there were moments of fierce terror as a monstrous crab strayed dangerously close… for his tug had but an eggshell of a hull and in places he could poke his six-inch penknife through the planking on the bottom. But in all things were indeed a lot less fearful. Let someone else brave the horrors of strange islands and deep ocean monsters!
But the main thing that kept him going was the knowledge that with each return trip, the tales told to his child were slowly winning a heart and mind increasingly yearning and intrigued by the zee. Let his progeny master the ocean and make the fortune the McGowan family so deserved! And one night, after a damned near-run thing with two giant crabs moving in to block an escape, and a quick risky burst of engine speed to make it to home, he told the last great Zee Story that captured the child’s heart, made them his Scion, and promised a sea-faring dynasty. The will bequested the child all he had. But the only thing of value he still possessed were the secrets within his mind… one of them a harsh, searing thing that made the aggressively sensitive and fearsomely curious madam/master antiquarian positively salivate with desire.
That made half the value of the boat. But the other half, the other thousand… he knew could only be garnered one way. Locked up in life insurance. If he perished, if he let the zee claim him, then his child could come into their own, could sail the seas in such a fine ship as he once had… perhaps even buy back his old true and trusty vessel.
But for now he watched the child grow and enjoyed the days. At night, sometimes, the nightmares came still… but ah, the days!
But it would not be long before the child craved the sea and came of age and then… and then… it would be time for his final journey…
This was written to finish the tale of Cap’n McGowan, a fellow who has no future but through his child. I’m down to a tug and 126 Echoes and a Searing Secret worth 1,000 and somehow, I cannot face doing ten hours of tootling around to buy back that ship. So, I think it’s going to be a heroic demise for Cap’n McGowan who will sail out guns blazing from his 1/1 deck. Hope you don’t mind the big chunk of waffle above. It’s my way of letting go! Blub Still, not bad for… woah - 14 hours? Blimey! Yeah, this game is pretty great, despite the odd flaws.
I’ll let you know how his Scion gets along!
edited by Nervous Pete on 2/10/2015