The Ship – Flash Fiction Piece
This is a story I wrote for a no-prizes flash-fic contest. The topic was “the old wooden ship.” I am rubbish at titles.
1000 words exactly.
Triumph. A four-rigged, square-mast English galleon built in 1562, she’d been the pride of the fleet during the battle of the Spanish Armada. Condemned in 1618, Triumph had been dragged ashore and stripped of her planking, and there she had lain for centuries, her skeleton exposed to the animals and the elements. Seagulls nested in the remains of her keel, and what was left of her barnacle-covered hull had been colonised by crabs, limpets and urchins.
When Captain Thomas O’Malley had seen her scarred shell lying in the salty tide-pools, he’d fallen in love immediately. He didn’t just see her as she was now, broken and moss-covered, painted grey by centuries of seagull droppings; he saw her as she had been, tall and proud at the head of the English fleet, her square-rigged sales open to the wind’s kiss. And at that moment, he’d formulated The Plan.
There had been doubters, of course. When he’d spoken to other captains, they’d laughed openly at him. You’re crazy! they said. What’s left of that ship isn’t worth salvaging! Her rotten bones will crumble to tinder the moment you try to move her! But O’Malley had proven them wrong. He’d saved what little of the wood he could, and built around it. At her heart, Triumph was the remains of the old warship she’d been during the prime of her life. But the flesh surrounding that ancient heart was new; Triumph had been reborn.
Fine English oak, hard and durable, had been used for her keel. Pine, imported from Norway and purposed specifically for her, became her masts and yards. For the hull and decking, teak had been brought over from India, a fine hardwood ideal for boat construction. The interior of the ship had been decorated with mahogany and cherry, chosen for their warm, rich colours, which contrasted wonderfully against the silver-foil ornamentation. Truly, Triumph was a multinational vessel.
The other captains had laughed at her construction materials, and O’Malley’s desire to keep her authentic. A wooden ship! they’d scoffed. It will leak. You and your crew will be killed five minutes after you unfurl the sails. And where are you going to put all the navigational equipment? Everything will be too unbalanced; the moment you hit turbulence, or an eddy, you’ll go spinning out of control.
Again, O’Malley had shown just what a determined mind was capable of. A small cargo-hold just below the aftcastle had provided an excellent place to locate the navigational equipment—out of sight and easy to protect during storms. Two dozen of his crewmembers took time to familiarise themselves with the old style equipment, learning how to use the ship’s wheel to steer, how to man the rudder, how to unfurl the sails—though the latter action, O’Malley decided, would be automated, to provide faster response times.
Once she’d been built in the dry-dock, and given a thorough look-over, the captain and his crew had taken her on her first shake-down. He’d felt a little awkward at first, not unlike a young man courting his first woman, each of them unsure of the other, each exploring their own limits, dancing around each other with coy smiles. It had taken two or three short journeys for both O’Malley and his crew to become accustomed to Triumph’s motion—the pitch and list of her body, the way her sails reacted to the winds, how she handled in the currents detected by the navigation computer—but they finally worked out the kinks and had her running as smooth as any modern ship.
Now she stood tall and proud once more, moored to the dock, ready for her maiden voyage. She had something modern ships did not; personality. No cold, clinical metal hull for her, no iron steps and railings, no name painted in harsh black lettering above the keel. She alone amongst the ships at dock was a beautiful gem against the backdrop of the stars which twinkled from their own blanket of black velvet space. Her name was emblazoned in white paint and fancy lettering at the back of her aftcastle, and observers watching from the dock pointed and stared at the novelty of the ancient wooden ship.
Standing on the deck, just fore of the wheel, Captain O’Malley watched as the last of his guests climbed aboard, smiling at the traditional wooden gangplank. Some of the women were fearful, grasping at the hands of their husbands as if they feared the ship might list just as they prepared to board, but Triumph behaved as beautifully as a well-mannered filly, holding steady and true.
The moment arrived. His passengers were aboard and some had taken up observation positions where the cannons would formerly have been mounted, so eager to begin their cruise. O’Malley glanced over to his first-mate, and smiled.
“Signal the harbour master. Anchors aweigh.”
The moorings were released. As soon as Triumph was freed her shackles, she began to dance gently, and the small tug-vessel at the front of the ship took up the slack, pulling her away from the dock before she could dance her way back towards it. Finally, when the ship was clear, the tug released its tow-line and Triumph was truly free.
“Easy does it,” O’Malley said calmly to his helmsman. “Navigation, how are we looking?” he asked into his lapel communicator.
“Detecting a current on our port-side, Captain,” the navigator reported. “Transferring information to helm.”
“Very good. All hands… prepare to enter slip-stream. Unfurl the solar-sails. Maintain power to the atmospheric shields.”
There was a soft rocking motion as the sails came down and caught the solar-winds, then another as the ship entered the river of solar energy. The Earth became a blur as Triumph sped away from it, dancing in the solar-current.
“Slip-stream entry successful, Captain,” helm reported with a grin.
“I told them we’d do it. Well done, old girl!” He patted the ship’s rail and smiled. “Now, helm… set our destination co-ordinates. They’re waiting to welcome us on Jupiter.”