WE’VE CROSSED under the Pier at the Hieron-Taman Gateway, having helped the slaves settle onto it and setting them up. The medfrig was already waiting.
We are now in the Senecum Ocean.
It is day 108 of the Revolution.
I’d like to tell the story about how our warship came to be named Failure.
It was 1993. Josias Bodley was First Mate on the Aowdwen, a Saeire Insu cargo transport. I was serving on it as well. We were hauling Antarctic Cottonwood back from that continent when a storm hit, which is quite common in those latitudes. We were maybe a thousand miles out to sea.
It wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle or hadn’t seen many times before. The seas were rough, and it was freezing cold. The Neptonians among us laughed with contempt at it all. They brought the morale of the ship up. One of them was a weathered beast by the name of Rice Lampson, who had captained a Neptonian warship against the Gyssians during the Day of Fire and Ice. He stood at Aowdwen’s helm. Bodley stood next to him. Men scrambled to and fro as we rode up and down purple-gray swells.
I remember helping secure a forward shroud when, just behind me, the ship’s entire front starboard quarter caved in. It was like we had struck a huge, invisible rock. Whatever it was cleaved the entire front of the Aowdwen from the rest of the vessel. I was thrown into a bow mast and suffered a broken leg and two broken ribs. Despite my injuries, I flashed and began a frantic hunt for survivors, and to find out what had struck us.
We found out a moment later when another of our cargo ships materialized out of thin air. It was the Dynarius! They too had suffered serious damage. Most of their front end was burning, high, twisting flames warring with the wind and rain. Soon we too were burning. Men and women on both boats were screaming. Hundreds of bodies floated in the churning sea.
Though still not knowing how to Transform, Josias Bodley somehow got aboard the ship and took control of its helm. As he barked orders, we pulled the boat off and away from the Aowdwen with an assist from the crashing sea.
Both captains were unconscious. The Dynarius’ captain died soon after. Bodley went to help those below decks, saving another thirteen, and then swam back to the Aowdwen, which was just moments from sinking.
How he managed to do that is the subject of fierce speculation, given the tempest we were in. He said he jumped in and was miraculously carried to it by the current, where he dragged the unconscious Lampson off the quarterdeck into the water. They were spotted soon after and hauled aboard
I was already on one of the seven surviving lifeboats and being tended to by a Healer. I couldn’t even stand by that point.
The death toll was staggering. The surviving Dreamcatchers, all seriously injured, had sent a Soul Trace back to the Saeire Insu. They assured us that the SI Nihucci, some three hundred miles north, had been ordered to rescue us. None of the Dreamcatchers survived.
Seven lifeboats. One hundred six survivors. The Dynarius’ crew had numbered over twelve hundred. The Aowdwen’s was just over eight hundred. Almost ninety-five percent of us had died.
Captain Lampson had suffered a concussion and remained unconscious. The lone Healer saw to him when she could, but she was too busy trying to save so many others. Daily one or more died despite her care, and we’d be forced to dump them overboard. By day three we were down to twenty-nine.
About a dozen of us could still Transform. Those who could did when the weather allowed them to, with the promise that they would return with help. The rest of us were stuck in those boats, too injured to Transform, or unable to, being nontons (non-Transforms).
A new storm was brewing. That night we were doing everything to keep from capsizing. The lifeboats got pulled apart despite our best efforts. It seemed that the South Pacific wanted to claim us all.
We found ourselves floating alone in the morning. The other lifeboats were gone. I was with Bodley and eight others. The wind had died down to a biting breeze, and the skies were occasionally clear above us. We were covered in an inch of hard frost.
The Nihucci appeared several hours later. They got us on board, then went on a hunt for the other lifeboats.
The sea had claimed them all, and the Transforms.
It was an ordeal that left permanent scars upon my spirit—and my person. But something else was etched deeply into me too, and that was the leadership and courage of Josias Bodley, who added the new surname Tiderider shortly after being rescued. During those five days he was a true … well I don’t want to use the word inspiration, though he certainly was one. No, I think the better word is bastard. He was uncompromising in his optimism and insistence that we maintain ours as well. He put us to work doing meaningless things to get our minds off the doom surely coming for us. I remember he had a particularly frightened sailor counting aloud to ten thousand by three, four, and five as fast as he could. Whenever he stopped, Bodley would bellow at him to continue. Others he ordered to give regular reports, some on the sky, some on the sea, some on the seagulls circling hungrily above us. He wanted detail, by God, and if he didn’t get it, he’d bark at us to do our jobs better.
He saw to the injured and dying. He helped the Healer amputate the grossly infected leg of a sailor, who ended up making it to the Nihucci and home alive. At night he had us tell stories or teach everyone songs. I remember trying to sing but was so cold I couldn’t get the shaking out of my voice. It was the same with all of us. We sounded so pathetic it was funny, and we’d laugh. That sounded pathetic as well, and we’d laugh more.
The Captain showed his true colors those horrible days. We saw them come to the fore. We wondered aloud how the British Navy could be so blind. When we got home, and after spending two weeks recovering, the Council of the Ten honored him in a ceremony that followed one for the dead. It was the worst disaster we as a people had suffered since the Day of Fire and Ice.
He was promoted at that ceremony to full captain and given not only the boat of his choice, but the freedom to name her and the assignment of his choice, honors no one had ever received before.
The collision occurred, it was discovered soon after, because of a conflict between what were known as Progenitor Sprigs of Antarctic Cottonwood. They sometimes caused conflicts between cloaks, meaning we aboard the Aowdwen, and those on the Dynarius, couldn’t see each other. We were using different Progenitor Sprigs. When the collision occurred we both quickly decloaked, but of course by then the disaster was in full swing.
We have since, of course, solved that problem. All Antarctic Cottonwood sprigs are now under the ultimate aecxal control of a single Progenitor Sprig, which is with the king and his commanders. There are no more conflicting cloaks in the Saeire Insu. I’m sure it’s all very confusing, but please allow me to move on. I will revisit these issues later. For now, the key takeaway is this: we can all see each other!
We have been very busy. In the past ten days we have sunk eleven Imperials, most of them patrolling east of the Sankyan Wilderness. We received word last night that we were the class of the fleet, four ahead of number two, the Galeni Rogue destroyer Genumy, which was currently on the hunt south of August in the Verisimilius Ocean.
Lorasys is on that boat, and so is Yaeko’s boyfriend, Ruing Chalcôn.
Good ol’ Lorasys. She’s five-feet-one, weighs all of ninety pounds, and can kick your hulking Tracluse ass twenty-five ways before you take your spiritless morning piss.
The king sent an Arrowsparrow. The Captain shared it with the crew. It read:
Satèlemark! All hail
the mighty Failure!
Number one in any Quarternia! CKFBI
When the Captain read it, we roared in celebration.
Back to my story. For Josias Bodley Tiderider, the label “failure,” beyond the phonetically equivalent Zephri word, was a direct and personal challenge. He told me all he ever wanted to do with his life was be a captain for the Royal Navy. That was all that ever mattered to him. When they washed him out, he fell into a state of deep depression and despair. For a long time, he wanted to die. He felt his life was over.
It was during that period that he forged a new bond with his faith. He’s Catholic, but was never devout. “Women and drink took up me time, not bowin’ me head and standing’ up and sittin’ down and mumblin’ verses. Never saw the point in it.”
To get out of his depression, he visited his local church. He knew the priest (he had grown up with him), and they talked.
“It wasn’t anything special. He just suggested that I start showin’ up Sundays and, in his words, ‘Start a conversation with the Lord.’ So I did.”
Over time, his depression lifted. Still, the words of the Rear Admiral who gave him the boot ate at him: “You’re a piss ant, Bodley. A piss ant. A lamentable and ludicrous failure. Maybe you should be a night manager at a fast-food restaurant, because you’re sure as shit not fit to captain a warship.”
According to him, I’m the only one he’s ever told that to. I haven’t forgotten it.
And now you know how our intrepid rogue warship became the Failure.
Another Imperial gone. We attacked this one in early-morning fog. The Captain, as he always did, gave the Tracluse captain the choice to surrender peacefully. If he did, which no Imperial captain ever has, we’d give them back their lifeboats after we rescued any surviving slaves and sunk their ship. If they didn’t, the longboats were sunk with the warship.
Typical bloody Tracluse. We got the slaves off, used our Peacemaker, and sailed away.
Our Peacemaker cannons are a mix of modern Gaian (Earth) technology and raw aecxal power. We’ve got four of them, one port, one starboard, one stern, and one below the bow. They fire cannonballs made of a composite of steel and a core of aecxally bound sulfur. Sulfur on Aquanus becomes aecxal and inert when there is too little of it, which is why there are no guns here. Gunpowder only works when there is enough of it—say, to fire a cannonball.
The aecxally bound sulfur used in a Peacemaker is, as I understand it, phased with the Tangent energies which separate Earth from Aquanus. When so phased, it acquires a terrible potential energy that we learned to contain (don’t ask me how). When fired, that energy is released as the sulfur disperses and becomes violently inert. The explosions are impressive.
An explosive sidenote: the farther away we are from the Tangent, the more powerful Peacemaker ammo becomes as the Tangent energies become more and more stressed with distance.
Each Peacemaker cannonball contains only a few milligrams of phased sulfur. They glow slightly.
Our Peacemaker cannonry is all we employ. We carry no other “conventional” weapons save our swords, bows and arrows, and our bad attitudes. As a Rogue, our mission is simple: to clear a path to Aquanicentra. We aren’t in the business of half-measures.
The Captain, as I mentioned earlier, is very close to his family. He misses them. Sometimes it shows.
They don’t know where he is, and he can’t contact them. On his last visit home, he told them that he was going on a long trip to a very remote location, and that he wouldn’t be able to contact them. He promised he would come back to them.
They urged him to move back to Ireland after his “trip.” He promised that when he got back, he would.
He told us of that promise, and told us he would do everything to get us back to our loved ones as well.
For now, on we sail, the Rogue warship Failure, on the hunt for Imperials.
All hail Failure!