the Avid Horizon
In the northern reaches of the Underzee, near Void’s Approach (where the ocean narrows to its vanishing point), a ship struggles through the curiously thick snowstorms. A contretemps is taking place on its tiny bridge: one of a fairly common nature around these parts.
“We should eat the Anonymous Crewmember,” the Captain says. “Tradition and all that. Probably very good with a little salt and pepper.”
“I vote for the Unsettling Student over there,” comes a slightly muffled response; the Crewmember is swabbing under the table, a position from which they might be extracted only with considerable difficulty. “He was the one who got us into this mess, remember? We could all be on the Port Carnelian coffee run in tropical waters, but no, he has to come along and bribe us poor common zailors into this stupid voyage North.”
“My vote’s for the Cynical Herald,” the Student says, not bothering to look up from his prized copy of A Most Excellent Pamphlete Detailing Wayzz and Meanzz of Dizzecting Known Zee-Creaturez, with Delineated Diagramz. “Every hour she’s out on deck shouting ‘Doom! Doom! Doom!’ like some sort of perverted Surface cuckoo, need I remind you? Does anyone on this ship need reminding about that?”
The Cynical Herald, who has just come back from performing this very task and is stamping snow off her boots, shrugs. “Are we debating who gets eaten first? I want the engineer to go first. Our stupid, pointless engineer who can’t get the ship to go past half-speed, just because we have a bit of Storm’s attention out there.”
Their engineer takes the comment in good part, as usual. There’s a reason that he’s been given “the Innocent” as a handle. (Short for the Innocent Spy, in fact, though where the latter part of the cognomen came from is rather more involved.)
“Yeah, I think I’ve fixed that. Or not fixed, exactly, but something better. You know how overloading the engine will speed her up, if you don’t mind the odd explosion here or there?”
“So? Any mechanic worth his weight in coal can manage that trick.”
“Sure, but have any of them tried adding dynamite?”
Four voices have just enough time for the first syllable of “What?”
The Spy throws a bright fuchsia lever and the Clipper goes into overdrive. Everyone is thrown across the room by the abrupt blast; elderly engines scream as though all of Mount Palmerston and its devils power their forward motion. The Anonymous Crewmember deploys the table as a shield from flying debris, while the Captain flails towards the ship’s wheel, grasping uselessly at floorboards that dance up and down like frivolous drunken parrots.
The Innocent, who has neatly manoeuvred his fall so as barely to catch their ship’s wheel, frenetically struggles with its crazy revolutions, his voice barely audible above the wind and fire. “See, I told you I’d get it working! All we have to do is -“
He makes a grab for the hand brake, only to look slightly contrite as the whole mechanism screams out of its socket and smashes through a port hole. The much desired harbour is almost upon them, rather more quickly than anyone aboard expected or indeed now wants.
“Cut the engines!” the Student roars.
“Gods preserve us!” the Herald screams.
The Crewmember says nothing and simply throws the table at the auxiliary brake. The ship crashes to a -
“ -stop. Sorry, everyone.”
The Clipper bobs languidly. Nothing else moves; they have reached the still point.
The Unsettling Student staggers upwards and gazes dazedly through the shattered fragments of sapphire glass. “The Avid Horizon. I don’t know that this is much of an improvement…although it has certain curious features in the way of focality. Might be worth a paper or so.”
“Which is what we’re out here for, isn’t it?” the Captain booms. “Travel! Knowledge, enigmas! Who’s for a expedition? Might even be some supplies out there!”
“Might as well go looking for the Gant Pole while we’re at it,” the Herald mutters.
As it happens, she’s proven wrong - a bare few minutes finds them all with minor frostbite, but also a cache of supplies, enough to get back to civilisation if they’re careful. A little treasure to boot: sapphires for the ship’s hold. A skull, which has the odd property of making the carrier forget they’re holding it and consequently gets dropped a lot until the Innocent Spy stuffs it in a carryall (mainly on the pleading of the Student, who insists that Summerset College will love it). An empty mirror-catch box, which the Captain presents his engineer as a reward for quick thinking.
“You deserve this, really,” the Innocent Spy tells the Crewmember. “I might have gotten us here, but you’re the one who stopped us crashing.”
“That’s the sort of thing that officers keep,” the Crewmember says, smiling. “Us poor innocent zailors aren’t responsible for the sunlight smuggling racket, you know.”
“I still don’t understand how that’s illegal,” the Innocent says, stopping abruptly - those aren't the faint Neath false-lights, but pale distant stars, the kind he remembers from back home. “Tell me, is there anything down here that makes any sense? Any sense at all?”
“Cannibalism,” the Student says cheerfully, munching on one of their newly-found hardtack biscuits. “In matters of the Neath, always look…” He is interrupted by the Cynical Herald, or more precisely by the Herald’s accurately aimed snowball. “Oi!”
The Innocent Spy’s question is quickly forgotten. It’s not every day in the Neath that sacred ground can be used for an embittered four-way snowball fight (the Captain’s mild exhortations to come in and get warm notwithstanding).
Every third day, maybe.