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|BARBERMONGER - a one on one roleplay search forum > FANTASY > the devil and the deep blue sea [18+]|
|Posted by: bird Jul 11 2017, 02:45 PM|
― Werner Herzog
Eight bells find Jack testing the unsteady earth beneath his feet and the port of Carriden sinking into dusk - first rose, then purple, then finally blue and apple-green between nimbus clouds fattening with monsoon rain. The sea is warm and still, glowing faintly where it laps at the docks and the red hulls of the tugs and fishing scows, and one by one, the electric lamps flick on and light the windows of the little red-brick rowhouses along the harbour and the spires of the cathedral beyond. Even restless Bellerophon settles for the night, the men sharing languid cigarettes along her stark white gunwales, the bosun's voice now a sullen murmur as the last of the ship's provisions are hauled up and stowed away.
And it is his, all his; this glittering sea and the massive white gleaming cutter sitting on it like a sleeping bird, the tropical sky sprawled out from horizon to horizon. Jack is twenty-seven and barely a breath away from command and the immensity of it all staggers him - the lieutenant commander's bars on his shoulders are weeks old now, but in home waters they only ever seemed ceremonial. They are real to him now, looking out at this ship, his ship, shining under the light of foreign constellations. One good tour and then his own command -- maybe the Bellerophon herself – He straightens his hat and grins into the dark like a madman, heart swelling in his chest.
Up on the cobbles, a group of junior officers prepares for the night’s troublemaking in their crisp service whites.
"Velasco! Where the fuck are you?”
Jack catches up with them in a few bounding strides, a lean, bright-eyed young man with a boyish grin and dark, wavy hair kept as vainly long as regulation will allow. He careens headlong into the mass of them, sun-browned arms draping expansively over their shoulders.
“What,” he laughs, feet still catching on the ground, “were you going to leave without me?”
Trouble takes them up through the Bowhead and out of the Cloak and Dagger, down cobble streets no one knows the name of and into establishments of increasingly ill repute, until the hand of luck collects them all and brings them home to roost like raucous seagulls at some sedate alehouse by the shore. Mulaney nearly knocks over the carved bowsprit by the door when he stumbles in and Kartick’s half-open shirt reveals a new mermaid on it in a state of similar undress, and Jack’s black-brimmed hat sits askew on the head of some local girl whose name he can’t quite recall but who danced an enthusiastic quickstep with him at some point all the same.
Mulaney, pouring out a line of some foul-smelling local spirit, is running out of toasts:
"To wives and sweethearts! May they never fuckin' meet."
|Posted by: Lar Jul 27 2017, 04:23 PM|
| The University of Carridan sits some three blocks from the sea, her cluster of townhomes-turned-dormitories white with salt spray and black with soot. The granite blocks of their stoops are swept, each etched with the name of some department or another: here the School of Law, there the Historians' Building; the Academy for the Arts two doors down and gaudily painted. The only thing unifying them seems to be the great white face of the university clock tower, hanging above the rabble like a wayward moon. Behind it, the bell chimes eight.
In the time since semester's end, the University has grown quiet. Hardly a soul passes on the old cobbled streets, and the windows look forlornly upon the setting sun, the flutter of life gone behind the curtains. The few who remain roost in silence, drafting up lesson plans and research in anticipation of Autumn to come.
Mid-block, a door swings open, the bell on it ringing out into the quiet of the avenue. 'School of Oceanography', professes the brass plaque beside the door, punctuated by an etched cephalopod. The man who emerges is slight, wiry, bespectacled, with a mop of sandy-brown curls all but falling into his eyes. Tucked beneath his arm is a sheaf of papers, and he closes the door with care behind him and slides his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Not a minute later he is gone, as if he wasn't there at all, and the University quiets into summer slumber.
The Crooked Anchor is quiet even on the best of days, distant as it is from the port. At times the University lads will take it over, filling the air with philosophy and cologne and the scent of musty books, but even then the drink flows slowly on a student's budget. Tonight, the alehouse is dead.
In one of the booths along the wall, Henry sits with his papers spread across the breadth of the table, his hands smudged with newsprint and blotted with ink. A leatherbound journal sits by his right elbow, and he periodically flips through the pages of curling script, dog-earing a page here and there. It's quiet work, and the barkeep pays him no mind; the Hopkins boy is in here no less than twice a week, and though he scarcely touches his ale he tips well enough to keep his welcome warm.
The evening is deepening when the door eases open, sending a breeze curling across the table and knocking papers askew. On its back comes a rabble of sailors, all between tipsy and drunk; Henry spares them a dirty look over the top of his glasses before straightening his research. The bartender straightens and lumbers over to them, and it's not long before they have a beer apiece and a black-glass bottle of liquor spread on the bar before them. There are a couple local girls among the lot of them, perched daintily on barstools and giggling as appropriate, leaning into the warmth of the seamen when they can.
At first Henry drowns sourly in his paperwork, drawing at his ale with more enthusiasm than before as the toasts get stupider—until at last his glass is empty and the words on the page seem to blur before his eyes. He slides from the booth, stretching the cramps from his legs, and sidles up to the mass of sailors obstructing the bar. By now they're on the next bottle of liquor and the barkeep is eagerly sunk into conversation with one of the men, and Henry goes hopelessly unnoticed as he tries to push his way to the front.
"Excuse me," he tries tartly.
|Posted by: bird Jul 27 2017, 06:03 PM|
| It’s Kartick that notices the intruder first – the biggest out of the group, he takes one look at the weedy little landsman elbowing his way up beside his barstool and snorts into his beer. Then Mulaney catches his eye and grins, but a pretty girl is tracing her red-varnished finger around the shell of his ear and nothing else seems quite as interesting. Only Jack’s beer remains almost untouched, engrossed as he is in conversation with the bartender, a former merchant-mariner in the middle of some twenty-year old anecdote that looks to be boring the girl wearing his hat to tears. She perches on her stool, fixing her lipstick in a little silver compact mirror in a way that makes Jack feel a little sorry for her. A smear of the same red still clings stubbornly to his cheek.
“Jack,” she says, abruptly, tipping her chin.
“Hmm? Oh,” Jack says, and turns to see what all the fuss is all about: a bookish young man with fingerprints on the lenses of his glasses, trying to push past. By now all the liquor in his stomach has cast an optimistic golden haze over everything – a freight train, much less the elbow digging into his ribs, wouldn’t upend his good mood now. His face splits into a broad, impossibly easy grin. "Can I help you?”
Behind him, Mulaney sputters into his drink.
|Posted by: Lar Jul 27 2017, 06:47 PM|
| Henry's cheeks go ruddy beneath his smattering of freckles—he knows full well they've seen him, dense though they may be, and his hands tighten at his sides. Surely there are bars closer to port, warmer and cheaper and livelier. The Crooked Anchor is beneath their station.
"A drink, please," he says, his eyes skittering off Jack's gleaming face to settle on the barkeep's souring expression. The man ducks his head and slides down the bar to pull a pint of their cheapest swill, his beady little eyes still on Henry. Funny how a man forgets his regulars the moment men stumble in with their crisp white uniforms, Henry thinks, and he nearly says as much too. In that moment he draws himself up to what height he's been given, and rounds on Jack with a haughty little tip of his chin.
"You all seem a bit far from the water," he remarks snidely, rolling his eyes. "Best be careful, or your blowholes might close up." It's an oft-exchanged insult closer to port, where the university boys rub up against salty sailors all too often, but it sounds small coming from Henry. The bartender drags himself back over, ale in hand, while the insult hangs in the air like the smell of fish.
|Posted by: bird Jul 27 2017, 07:43 PM|
| It’s not much of an insult, but it hangs longer in that just-about empty alehouse, a long, slow moment where Jack’s beaming grin doesn’t so much as waver and all of them collectively become become acutely aware of the emptiness in the room. Eventually Kartick breaks the silence by cracking the stiff joints in his neck. “The fuck he just say?”
“Oh, shit, Jack, watch out,” Mulaney says, now wheezing helplessly, “I think his balls just dropped.”
But it isn’t worth starting anything over, or even worth squaring up for. Jack slides off his stool but only raises his hands, palms-out. “Look, buddy, we’re just here to drink, same as you,” he says. "Let's not make anything out of this, yeah?"
|Posted by: Lar Jul 27 2017, 11:41 PM|
| Kartick moves first, his freshly-inked mermaid moving behind the curtain of his shirt. Mulaney's wheezing laughter is not far behind; Henry stiffens. The tips of his ears go red.
"Drink quietly then," he retorts, though he can't quite keep eye contact with Jack. Instead his gaze slides over to his ale, sitting there in the mitt of the barkeep who can't keep the mirth out of his eyes. Henry pushes past Jack to the bar and clutches at his drink, rummaging in the pocket of his slacks with his other hand before dropping a few coins on the counter.
He brushes past the lot of them and slinks back to his paper-strewn booth, but not without muttering, just audibly:
"I'm sure your ship is so proud."
|Posted by: bird Jul 28 2017, 03:48 PM|
| This just draws another gasping laugh from Mulaney, and an indistinct murmured chorus of oh what the fuck and what even was that and stifled laughter. Kartick is the most charitable, sinking back around his drink with a shake of his big head. “Some guts on that one.”
Jack just blinks and stares at Henry's retreating back, at the notebooks waiting for him on the other side of the pub. “Friend of yours?"
“Some kid from the university,” the bartender says. "You fellas want another?”
Morning comes clear and blue as anyone could dream, and Bellerophon comes alive with a belch of black smoke under it. Her crew scrambles with final preparations for weighing anchor, her engine purring impatiently beneath their scuffling feet; the sun gleaming off her deck and between the wings of the wheeling gulls, incandescent.
Up on the bridge, Lieutenant Avram has the deck; below, the skipper makes his informal rounds, stopping to smoke in the long shadow cast by the main turret and talk a bit of ship’s business with his first officer. A midshipman startles them both, clattering up the ladder into the sun.
“Wire from the Admiralty, sir. Another two ships confirmed -- Artemisia and the freighter Rosalie.” His outstretched palm offers up a coiled sheet of yellow paper to the captain. “No hands surviving.”
“Thank you, Mr. Schafer,” the captain says. A broad, solemn man with a fleshy face permanently ruddied by decades under equatorial sun, there are more bars cluttering his chest than combined between the two fresh-faced young men standing with him. He has three fingers on his left hand. The midshipman, overeager to impress, is a little awed. Jack can’t quite blame him, can't say he doesn't harbour some of that awe himself. There aren’t many old men left in the Empire’s Navy.
The news makes him whistle low under his breath. There is a map in the wardroom below - red markers for wreckage, black for last known locations. Blue for survivors, but no blue on the map yet. Two more makes five ships down in the last month alone.
“Artemisia’s patrol ran just two hundred klicks southeast out of here,” Jack says, once the midshipman clambers back down into the Bellerophon’s cramped belly to go about his business. Three cups of acrid ship’s coffee have chased off most of his hangover, though the blinding sun still has him squinting half an hour before standing watch. “Do we pursue?”
“In the Admiralty’s infinite wisdom, we have other business to attend to,” the captain says, smoke streaming out of his mouth on his heavy sigh. “The Duchess will intercept.”
It’s politics, always politics: the Admiralty’s new heads looking to justify the Duchess’s expense, to test her new guns, to make a show of force along trade routes pillaged by the colonies, and shitcan assignments for the rest of the southern fleet -- at least, that’s how Conrad tells it. Jack has a feeling that it’s a little more than that, listening to the old man on the horn sometimes – that maybe the good captain pissed off someone a little too far up the line – but it isn’t as though he disagrees. Bellerophon might be pushing twenty years now, but she could still go toe-to-toe with almost any ship of the line, and the indignities of being passed over in favour of convoy mission after convoy mission have worn everyone's patience thin.
Conrad meets his eyes, a telltale look that Jack knows to be half sympathy, half those motherfuckers. The moment is fleeting; the old man collects himself around his cigarette.
“Oh – before I forget – we've got some civilian analyst sailing with us. If he turns up, anyway." He pauses. "As far as any of us are concerned, the man is a fungus. You know what that means?”
“Aye, sir.” Jack says. “Feed ‘em shit and keep ‘em in the dark.”
“Good man,” the captain says, tossing his cigarette into the sea.
|Posted by: Lar Jul 28 2017, 11:05 PM|
| The port proper is alien to Henry, whose romantic notions about the sea have gone untested by anything but novels. The smell of salt and fish is everpresent, but here something else colors the air: the waft of men hard at work, and the reek of engines rumbling out in the harbor. He hoists himself off the streetcar at the roundabout, and squints at the Bellerophon stirring in her berth.
"Oy," someone says, all but plowing him over, and Henry drags himself—leather-wrapped suitcase in hand, garment bag thrown over his shoulder—off the cobbles and onto the flat of the wharf. His stomach flips. In the pocket of his sport coat is a letter from the School of Oceanography, authorizing his presence and ensuring his safe passage and right to research and so on. The creases are well-worn, folded and folded again in the month past, and the ink of the Navy seal has begun to smudge. Henry holds it in his hand like a talisman as he climbs the gangplank, wavering with each step out over the glimmering water.
"Hold," says the man on the deck—a white-bearded fellow whose bare arms show years of sunblurred ink. Henry straightens nervously as he passes the paper over, his eyes wandering the patterns of waves and tentacles tattooed on the man's arm.
With a grunt and and oily smile, the sailor waves him aboard, and Henry tucks the letter away uneasily.
"Who do I—" he begins, before the man raises his arm to hail the lieutenant.
"Jack!" the seaman hollers, voice cracking. "Got a special guest."
|Posted by: bird Jul 29 2017, 06:39 PM|
| Nobody pays much mind to Henry other than that bearded crewman, frantic as the pace on deck is -- the gunnery chief barging past to finish his munitions checks, the quartermaster deep in argument with the boatswain, a few hungover, half-hearted goodbyes waved off to the shore. Jack himself barely notices until the crewman waves him over and presses the permit into his hand.
He barely looks at it. His jaw works as he processes, staring Henry down without blinking -- trying to place the mop of curls, the baleful eyes behind the glasses -- and when he realizes he has to look away to keep from laughing, incredulous, and make a show of reading the permit papers. Civilian analyst. Some kid from the university.
Under the sprawling arms of the Admiralty Board and the Naval Intelligence Commission, the letter begins: To the commanding officers of the Imperial State Ship Bellerophon ---
"Henry Hopkins?" He hands the papers back politely enough and puts out a hand. A knotted rope loops around his forearm in faded black ink. "Lieutenant Commander Jack Velasco." It's impossible to keep the mirth out of his face when he meets Henry's eyes this time, but it isn't unkind. The corners of his mouth twist like a man about to launch a conspiracy.
|Posted by: Lar Aug 21 2017, 08:45 PM|
| Henry, for his part, barely takes a moment to recognize the handsome young sailor from last night, though this time he isn't surrounded by cronies—and, in fact, his hat is perched properly atop his head this time, too. Henry scowls.
"Glad you made it back last night, Lieutenant," he remarks, taking a sudden interest in something over Jack's left shoulder. His cheeks color faintly as he tucks the letter back into his pocket. For a moment, Henry opens his mouth to mutter something else cutting, before he reconsiders and simply shakes the lieutenant's hand. His hand is limp like a fish, and clammy too.
"My trunk should have arrived last night. They'll have put in in my room, I'm sure. I'd like to make sure they didn't drop it—there are valuable texts in there." Henry looks at Jack expectantly as the bearded man starts to push the gangplank away from deck.
|Posted by: bird Aug 25 2017, 04:31 PM|
| "--Commander," he says, just to be an ass about it, but he's still smiling when he lets go of Henry's dead fish of a hand. "Seriously, though, Jack's fine."
Henry's accomodations are certainly not his problem -- not right now, anyway, with the organized mob around them hauling in lines and tying down cargo nets and the bow winch groaning under the weight of the anchor pulling up. "Quartermaster'll have taken care of your things; I wouldn't worry --" Jack starts, but then he doubles back around onto the word room and changes tack, his forehead creasing in sympathy. "But hey, I've got a few minutes. Might as well give you the nickel tour."
At the midship hatchway he pauses, nodding for Henry to go first.
"So," he says, and can't keep from grinning, "First whale-watching cruise, is it?"
|Posted by: Lar Sep 6 2017, 06:11 PM|
| "Jack, then," he agrees briskly. Everything moves like clockwork on deck, and Henry is careful of his steps across the salt-sprayed boards. Coils of rope whip and wend, handled by rough-palmed men, and the Bellerophon moves underfoot as if eager to leave Carriden. He dares not look at the little city nestled in her cove; instead he turns his attention to the hatch. The narrow stairs sink quickly into darkness, and Henry has to rearrange his load to grasp the handrail before he descends.
He grunts noncommittally.
"I expect we won't see anything for a while," he mutters, but the grin creeps into Jack's voice and he reflects it back wanly. "But sure, call it what you like."