Captain of the Ship
Standing on the docks of Neopia Central, Jall stared out
at the ocean. The blue Kacheek's eyes were filled with longing as he looked: the
rippled light on the water, the waves swelling over one another, racing to get
to shore first.
The Kacheek started and turned quickly. Reflexes
were important for people like Jall: the runaways, the outcasts. Those who lived
back in an alley in a box, not in a grand Neohome like everyone else.
The pirate Lupe addressing him was tall, verging
on a giant's height to the small Kacheek. His clothes were nothing special--what
most shipmates working out of Neopia Central's docks wore--but they looked like
cloth of golden silk. "Do you want work?"
Jall stared, wide-eyed, at the Lupe. "I... yes,
sir! Yes!" he said quickly, nodding.
A grin formed on the Lupe's face. "Don't you
want to hear what sort of work, first, young master?" he asked, with more than
a hint of amusement in his voice.
The Kacheek shrugged, and the Lupe's grin widened.
"The S.S. Eithne's Flame finds herself in dire
need of a ship's boy," the Lupe said, turning to look out across the docks.
"See? She's--there," he said, and pointed.
The ship was nothing special, nor were the letters
of the name in peeling gold paint, but it was beauty to Jall. A ship! Work on
The Lupe turned back. "So! Do you want it?"
Jall nodded again. "Yes! Yes, sir!"
Shaking his head, the Lupe chuckled. "All right,
then. You've got it. But"--he put out a paw to stop Jall from dashing over straightaway--"mark
you this well: our captain's a bit of a recluse, so you might not see him in
all your time. And also," he added, "stop calling me sir. My name's Claren."
"Yes, sir--that is, Claren," Jall said, and
stuck his paws behind his back, mortified. "Sorry, Claren. I'll try to remember."
Smiling, Claren nodded. "You do that." He turned
away, and then back again. "Any possessions, family you need to notify?"
Jall shook his head, fear growing in his stomach.
Would Claren fire him because he didn't have parents?
"Well, then. I suppose that means you can start
right away," the Lupe said, and smiled. "What's your name, boy?"
"J-jall," the Kacheek said, and lifted his gaze
to look at Claren.
"Well, then, Jall," Claren said, stooping down
to place a heavy paw on Jall's shoulder, "welcome aboard the SS Eithne's Flame."
Jall straightened up from mopping the deck and
shaded his eyes with his hand, looking far across the waves. Turning, he squinted
up into the crow's nest.
"You sure about that, Kella?" he shouted up.
The red Nimmo stuck her tongue out at him. "Just
you wait, Jall."
Glancing back, Jall shrugged. A dim mass of
land was barely visible on the horizon: Neopia Central.
"Well, you've won this time," he called back
up to Kella, but his thoughts weren't on the Nimmo. Propping his mop up, he
leaned on it, staring at that small line of darkness. For seven years they'd
sailed the lands of Neopia, and not once come back to Neopia Central. Most of
the work had been ferrying loads of rock from Tyrannia to Mystery Island--where
it would be carved and set out in souvenir shops as genuine Islander statuettes--it
The Kacheek had loved every minute of it: just
the thrill of being on a boat kept him going sometimes. Storms, rain, hail,
sleet that threatened to freeze their sails and keep them stationary--no matter
what the conditions, Jall put all of his being into sailing. Even chores such
as swabbing he did with a ready, and singing, heart.
And now they returned to Neopia Central, simply
to take on a small load of Petpets to deliver to Krawk Island. Jall dreaded
it, though. Something deep within him associated it with his childhood, which
seemed all the worse in retrospect: no boats! What if they were going back merely
to dump him off, just the stray they'd taken on for one run? What if--
An odd slithering sound attracted his attention,
and he glanced around to see Kella sliding down from the crow's nest on one
of the loose ropes. She landed on the deck with a thump and straightened up.
"Still brooding on that shore?" she asked, grinning.
Jall shrugged, glancing back and away toward
Neopia Central. "A bit." His eyes fell on the captain's cabin. "Kella, who is
the captain, really?"
"Well," the Nimmo said, "it's rumored that he's
really a giant Bearog."
Jall, not really listening, nodded absently.
Abruptly he straightened up and turned around. "Kell!"
She grinned wickedly. "Well, that's what they
say!" she said innocently, though her broad smile betrayed her.
"Sure, sure." The Kacheek made a face at her.
"But... really, Kella. Why does he never come out, at all? I mean, I know that
Claren brings food in for him, but..."
"It's possible he doesn't exist at all," Kella
said, serious for once. "That Claren just brings the food and eats it himself,
or dumps it in the water."
"Maybe," Jall said. "Or..."
He glanced around quickly, making sure no one
but them was in the area. "Kella... what if I went in there? What would happen?"
The Nimmo shook her head. "I think that's a
bad idea, Jall. I don't think you should try it."
"Yes, well..." The Kacheek shifted impatiently.
If he knew who the captain was, or why he stayed in there... if he knew the
secret... Claren could never let him go. He'd have to let Jall stay on the SS
Eithne's Flame forever.
"I'm going in," Jall said, and started forward.
He was at the door to the captain's quarters
before Kella could react, or do anything other than cry out.
No one came, though there were at least ten
other crew members of the Eithne's Flame aboard.
Jall put his paw on the latch, and lifted it.
Well, that was easy, was his first thought,
as he pushed the door open wide. He walked inside, his anger and determination
keeping his stride stiff.
The room was empty, save a small table. The
only thing on the rough table was a tray--the one Claren brought in every morning,
noon, and night, Jall noticed--with a few scraps of food on it.
Across the room stood a door.
The Kacheek crossed the room quickly and tried
that one. It was open, too, but he paused at the sight inside.
A yellow Wocky stood with his back to the door,
his paws on the ship's wheel, steering the SS Eithne's Flame. He made no motion
when Jall came in; he seemed to be deep in some sort of a trance, only his paws
moving as he shifted the wheel back and forth by small increments.
Jall stepped forward to place a paw on the captain's
shoulder. He still didn't react.
The word seemed to echo a lot longer than it
"Um, sir?" the Kacheek asked, circling the captain
The Wocky's eyes were wide, shifting back and
forth in--terror? dread?--while the rest of him remained frozen in place.
Jall's own eyes widened in response. The captain
still steered the ship, with the smallest motions of his paws necessary, and
no response to the intruder.
"Sir," he said, and put his paw on the nearest
peg of the ship's wheel.
As soon as he touched it, the Wocky staggered
free, as if released from some enchantment. At the same moment, Jall found that
his paw was stuck to the peg. He yanked at it to free it, but his feet were
moving against his will, taking up precisely the stance the Wocky had been in.
His other paw swung up jerkily as the Kacheek tried to resist, pulling it back
down one inch for every two it moved up.
When both his paws were touching the ship's
wheel, they slid around to clasp the pegs, and he was frozen except for the
He could hear, distantly, the sound of the Wocky's
frantic footsteps as he fled from the captain's quarters, and the gurgle of
water as it slid beneath the ship.
And then, more distinctly: the slower, more
deliberate pawsteps of a Lupe.
Claren circled Jall, who tried to speak. Nothing
came out; he could barely move his lips. To his gratitude, however, his nose
wasn't blocked up, and he could breathe. And he could move his eyes...
The Lupe nodded at Jall, standing in front of
"I always knew you were a good one," he said,
and went out, carefully shutting the door behind him.
Two hours later, when they put into port in
Neopia Central, Jall stood woodenly at the wheel and watched Claren stride briskly
off the ship and onto the wharves. The Lupe, whose fur hadn't grown more grey
over the past seven years, hailed a small Quiggle who had been standing at the
edge of the docks, looking out at the ocean.
"You, there, boy! Do you want some work?"