The Captain’s curse (story and critique)

The Captain’s iron locks of beard swung loosely tracing the movements of the rudder. The ship sailed through the endless void of uncharted space. The Captain’s steely gaze focused on the monitor portraying the route outlined by the thin blue curves. They just got out of a tough place, so the image shivered in a broken signal. The whole system glitched out of proportion, enough to cause seizures to the unsuspecting crewman. The Captain grinned, briefly showed his rusty biters, and the iron trap snapped shut. His body suffered errors in the backup programs, a piece of his cheek got bent in the raid, and the pressure on the wires made it throw sparks.

Someone hummed the song, but it couldn’t be any man on board, their lips were welded together. The song, it came within the ship. The Captain’s attention was reserved for the voyage, so he remained collected. The solar storm caused lights to flicker on the deck where sailors held for the cords, suffered the motion sickness. These men, a bunch of opportunists that changed too many parts to be deemed proper androids, represented a walking scrap yard. Their bad shape was visible on the mechanical hands that once belonged to working robots and the plating which was salvaged from the fallen war droids. Their parts had a story to tell, some spoke of the battles, or a necessity to survive.

The same could not be said about one man on the ship, a man of a gentle appeal and hands able to assemble anything. A sound of his metal steps was pacing left to right dominate the silent deck, cybernetics technician was being restless. His waistcoat, well worn, it disobeyed to follow its bearer to the letter, so it fluttered alongside his heavy feet.

Dubiously, this cyborg looked along the deck. Gunports were barred shut, port side was twitching in a red glow – its compartments construction integrity was failing. The structure was holding on, a few holes in it meant nothing while the protective barrier remained intact. The cybernetics Doctor gasped seeing they traveled at minimum speed. They were lucky to escape from the Royal Navy a few light-years away. The Captain’s swift decision to keep the vortex open for a second longer, it brought them to this part of the galaxy, well away from the sub-space where the creatures dwell. Doctor’s steps rang faster as he approached the cargo shaft and leaned over. He spotted a Master Engine Foreman circling about the reactor, like a shaman of a foreign nebula he banged on a series of cogs spinning in opposite directions. It rumbled in the hollows, it seemed some form of magic made it operate.

The beast shone green, that awful color unpleasant to the eyes.

„Why is it taking so long?!“ The Doctor shouted, the buzz below was not vociferous, so Foreman heard him well and raised his fractured old face.

„It is older than me, lad. You can’t make it run faster, not after the fight. Time… It needs time.“ The Foreman waved his finger in a gesture and proceeded with his duties.

The Doctor snorted and slammed the shaft wall. A dull ring echoed the platform below the quarter-deck where Captain stood with pride, governed the ship while throwing gaze over his men.

The Captain saw Doctor strolling nervously, but said nothing. If it wasn’t for that hum in the background, the whole ship would be dead silent. A droid rolled out the dark, a bad configuration of both of his rollers positioned backward. The Doctor had nothing else to give it, so he made it work as it is. The whole crew stood a testament to his repairman skills. The Captain smirked at the little one and got back at watching the stars in the void.

„Raise the solar sail!“ The Captain shouted and the computer registered the command.

Above their heads, crepitating noise consumed the ship, walls reverberated from the contraption movement, a screech shortly echoed. Soon a long golden panel elevated, stretched, and took an inclination to receive the photon particles. The Captain made a grimace at the damn thing, grunted and got back to his usual. He adjusted the course to optimize energy collection. He thought this would be enough to calm down the fine Doctor, it should’ve gone without saying, but Doctor had another thing on his mind.

„Do you want the Royal Navy to find us?“ The Doctor snarled at the Captain’s emotionless expression. „Because they will, find us.“ He pointed at the twinkling sail and the Captain briefly looked at it.

„Ay, they are able to spot us, but this is how we get to 300 knots. The reactor must be patched up before we engage the jump.“ The Captain proclaimed.

„The Navy has trackers sent for us in the quadrant. They’ll see us half a galaxy away.“ The Doctor spelled the words while looking at the Captain dead in the eye.

„Correct. You should’ve known this when you embarked a pirate ship, good Doctor.“ He replied and carelessly looked over the cyborg’s shoulder.

„You are just asking for trouble.“ The Doctor replied and turned, but the Captain had his say.

„Trouble will always find you, no matter where you go, friend. The conflict is inevitable. This ship has a lucky charm onboard. We shall see no harm come to us. Respect the ship.“ It sounded posh when he said it and it made Doctor stop in tracks, but dare not question the authority.

Hours passed, the crew dispersed to their posts, got busy fixing the ship. An army of robotic spiders crawled up the hull, used their tiny legs to weave metal shredding nested in them and plug the holes. The newest member in a bunch connected itself to the ship’s system and started running the diagnostics. His friend helped repair the main console. The second team was checking the rivets in the keel, added reinforcements where it was needed and anchored the cargo floating in zero gravity.

A sailor hobbled up to the quarter-deck. He was shy and reluctant to look at his commander. Young lad grasped his cap, revealing his bald head. Eyes pointed at his feet, he tried to find words. It didn’t know where to keep his hands, or how to correct posture, only watched at his legs, one of them being a plain pipe screwed up his knee.

„Speak.“ The Captain ordered the skinny guy who wiped his skin tainted by machine oil.

„We need parts, Sir. The reactor’s dexterity is compromised. I beg of you, Sir, we need parts.“ The cyborg pleaded.

„What parts?!“ The Captain growled, his beard clanking a bit.

„We… We need a… master chip, Sir. The old got fractured in the latest attack. The system is overheating. I fear, it will catch on fire and then… The whole ship will go out in flames.“ The metal head bowed, the Captain gasped pondering about a new course.

„Will the dead suffice? Will the men I lost be enough to get us going?“ The Captain asked in a dreaded tone and the boy shivered.

„We will try, Sir. It may be what we need. And if the dead are not enough, we may have to… Sacrifice one of the living.“ The fright in the sailor spoke of a protocol breach, something no Captain was easily inclined to do.

„Bah, you insolent cur!” The Captain rolled the rudder port side. “Will it last until the next spaceport if we leave it be? Ah, I may recruit a bum from the scavengers barge and use him for the patch.“ A worry came out the Captain’s voice, but it shifted. „Do you know how much I’ve spent on those combat androids?! I’ve given a small fortune to keep you operating and fed! And now, you are telling me, I need to scrap them off for the ship?! Horrendous proposal!“ He lashed out, kicked the sailor who wouldn’t move, but then he made peace with it and gasped seeing there’s not much he could do. „You can only dismantle two. The weakest ones! Now, go!“ The Captain snarled, the sailor gratefully nodded and ran off.

From where the Captain was, he could see his men carrying the parts, cyborgs gliding up and down from the cargo bay, fearful eyes sporadically passing his post. As if they’ve committed a crime, the sailors kept their muzzles locked, communicating in whispers if needed. The Captain pretended to be distant, his gaze losing among the stars showing him the path. He listened to the ship, that delicate song coming from the deep, a tune which warned him about Navy coming.

The repair crew paid attention not to cause noise. Every bolt, every weld has been done with the utmost care. To some extent, this was an homage to their brethren who fell for the well being of the ship. They held no eulogy, but this was a way to commemorate them. And now, their ghosts and souls shall live on as the part of the ship, as the program in the system, a being operating in the background.

The Captain designated his first mate to take over, while he recharges. Walking past the sailors occupied with the patchwork, he held his hands at the back and nodded in a sign of approval. He observed the process with excellent posture, combed his metal beard, rarely giving compliments. No sound was made during Captain’s stroll to his chambers.

The Doctor was busy with the droid when he saw Captain closing the door. Foreman barged in Doctor’s shop and smiled at the droid before he took a seat. Tired by the extensive work, he panted and corrected his robe. His old coupling caught rust, the squeak made Doctor and Foreman look at each other in an odd manner. Few teeth he had in his skull weren’t enough to perform a smile for a Doctor who scoffed at the old fellow.

„What do you want?“ The Doctor grunted at the Foreman.

„Ah, I was hoping you have oil to spare for an old cyborg. Do ya’, do ya’ have some?“ Long rusty eyebrows complemented the banged-up face of a Foreman covered in patina, like rings on a stomp, showing the age of the expiring machine.

„The Captain will question me about it. I have none to waste on you.“ The Doctor replied without looking.

„Oh, all right then. I’ll manage somehow.“ Foreman said and got up to leave when the Doctor tightened the screw and halted the man.

„Hey. He won’t notice a few drops. Sit down. Here.“ He reached the shelf and provided a container to the cyborg who immediately smiled at the Doctor. The young man gasped, seeing how much of a struggle it was for the Engine Foreman to apply the liquid, so it gave him the hand. „We almost died because of him.“ The Doctor proclaimed while the Foreman laid back to rest and let the lad finish the checkup.

„We always almost do, kind Doctor. But we always get out of it. See, our Captain is a very good one, the space sailor, that is. He cares…“ Instead of understanding, Foreman got a smirk from the Doctor.

„He doesn’t care. He lifted a sail. It’s a matter of time the Navy will find us.“ He kept smirking, doubting in the shrewdness of his superior.

„But he does care. You just don’t know him as well as I do. His whole family is part of this ship. Thousands of cyborgs make a hive mind with the Captain’s wife as the main protocol running in the background. You just didn’t know.“ The old man tapped the Doctor who couldn’t close his jaw in disbelief.

The Captain took off his coat, left his tricorne on the hanger, stretched his arms and with heavy steps came to his dormitory station. The cables found the sockets and hissed making a connection. What was making the reactor going; it fueled Captain with energy too. He leaned in his chair and crossed his feet. Instantly, the pictures started reappearing before the Captain’s eyes, his wife and sons on them, a happy family it seemed.

„Honey, I’m home.“ He said and his pupils shifted. „I’ve heard your warnings and your song. You sing it to my heart… Yes, they listen to me. I am trying to be more compassionate, but it gets harder when you are not around to guide me. How are the boys? I see they keep a tight shift, not letting a reactor going down…“ The conversation went on, as this was the only port connected to the main hub of the AI living on the ship.

Uncharted space, a ship glided in it with its golden sails hoisted, a dim song emitting in the nebula. The crevasses began glowing green, brighter and brighter, the ship’s propulsion blinked and the whole thing jumped in deep space.

The critique

This is a commercial piece of writing. At first, I was building a context, letting you get familiar with the characters and their surroundings. We instantly see the setting based on a space ship. We meet the Captain and his features. I implemented the known stereotypes about pirates, but merged this adventure genre with futuristic robots, cyborgs and machines, explained the propulsion drive letting the ship afloat.

To make this believable, I had to get informed on the terms used in sailing like parts of the ship and pirate attire. Also, I borrowed the concept technology of solar sails to create this fictitious world of robotic pirates. If you read closely, you will find that I mentioned lots of grounded images about pirate’s life, that Captain is a rough man, that there is a song in a form of whisper and that this song is coming from the ship, making it a haunted place. These are commonly seen things in pirate based novels and stories and I didn’t want to explore too much. Why? I thought it will be a lot easier to read if I stuck with the clichés for this one. I counted on the fact that we have seen enough content to know this in one way or the other. My intentions were to alter these clichés and pack them on another genre and in that manor build a new world.

The first half is just ways for a reader to memorize who are the characters and how do they correlate to each other. So, we have a Captain who is the authority on the ship and the only person able to hear a song. Then, we have a Doctor, a cybernetics engineer who is responsible to keep everyone running. And lastly, we have a Foreman who is tasked to control the reactor below the deck. These three people, if I can call them that way, are all the key elements of the ship and it is clear on where these characters fit in. Their jobs, even they are dependent on some sort of joined efforts to run the ship, they do not spill into other’s territory. They have their jobs and they don’t let anyone jeopardize the good work they do.

The second segment of the story is reserved to show the characters even more. The Captain is rough, yet smart and knows the value of sacrifice, while quarrelsome Doctor rejects the authority and keeps being selfishly concerned about his own wellbeing. Foreman is an old robot with his own story. I made his empathic, but not because he is old, but because he has seen a lot of battles and problems which made him a seasoned sailor. He provides his wisdom to the crew and in a way, he may understand the Doctor because the Foreman spent his whole life maintaining the reactor. If the Doctor is the one who keeps the crew bolted, screwed and in shape, the Foreman could be the one who is patching and fixing the crew’s mental problems offering them comfort and a rigid, but warm smile. In a way, the Doctor here is a substitute for the Foreman. I left that unsaid because I wanted the reader to figure that out in the narrative. It’s not for nothing that Foreman is being calm and nice to the Doctor. Perhaps, the Captain and the Foreman know that final tick is coming for a relic that dwells below the deck. This should be a heartfelt thing, this unspoken correlation between the Captain and his longtime friend.

To show the Captain in a different light, I gave you the final scene of him going to his private chambers. Knowing the adventure genre stereotypes, Captain’s quarters is to remain closed for visitors. This said I wanted you to acknowledge this and witness his personal gallery he comes to when he goes for a ‘recharge’. In the deeper meaning, the whole story is a bit dark, depressive and an emotional void. Every person on deck is doomed to solitude even they are in a company of sailors. These robots, just like the three main characters are all busy with their post with little attempts to form a bond with other people. In such a climate, one must take time for himself; dedicate its conscience to contemplate about purpose and life. The Captain in this story has a bit more privilege because he has his song to come to when he is in a bad place. The same can’t be said about the crew members. That’s why they have Foreman to be their healer and a friendly face to talk to.

As I said in the beginning, this is a highly commercialized piece and I think you missed a few things in there. I haven’t given everything to you on a silver platter, and of course, that wasn’t my intention. With every story I make, I always try to interest you in the analysis of the story, so there is always something you can find on your own. This is how I try to give without actually giving. I hope you liked this story and gave it a spin, meaning that you tried to find something hidden in it. Let me know what you think.

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