The seas in Fantasy have giant creatures that sometimes surface. Destroying ships and wrecking havoc when they do. The inhabitants of Fantasy knew this but international trade doesn’t stop for giant creatures. That's what insurance and adventurer escorts are for. The Evergreen company sometimes used adventurers with longer trips or more precious cargo. The Ever Given ship, of the Evergreen fleet, only had general merchandise, nothing out of the ordinary there. This particular shipment route was a bit longer then normal but the crew opted out of adventuring escort as they weren't going to be in the open water long.
Reese had been on a few runs with the Ever Given crew. This was the first without an adventuring escort. Around the coasts he wasn’t too anxious but as soon as they hit the open water he couldn’t keep his anxiety down. The rest of the crew tried helping in their own ways: food, song, more chores, talking. Overall it did help but he couldn’t shake the gnawing anxiety in the back of his mind of what if. What if a creature did attack them? He spent many nights spiraling over what if scenarios.
After days unending questions and fretting he could tell he was starting to grate on some nerves. He took the emergency procedures left on his bunk as a strong hint. The sighs when he asked another what if. He couldn’t help it. His brain constantly had more scenarios bubbling up. He knew some of them were ridiculous but what if? He sat at dinner trying not to look glum because he had another question but was anxious about asking it. There was a tension in the galley. The shifting glances his crewmates gave each other told him the question would not be appreciated.
“Reese” his crewmate Beatrix called, startling him that he almost dropped his spoon. “I think we might have something to help your anxiety.” Reese was hopeful and immediately anxious. His crewmates all gave quick glances to Beatrix. They’d been with the Ever Given for years and were well liked. Reese liked them but sometimes his crewmates had beliefs that he wasn’t so sure about. Mothman came to mind.
“It's about the ship.” a scoff came from someone. Reese didn’t see, he was focused on whatever Beatrix had to say. “It's got a mind of its own. It won’t put itself in danger.” Reese waited for more but there didn’t seem to be more of an explanation.
“A mind of its own? Like...haunted??” Reese really hoped not. Not that a ship, a cargo ship for that matter, could be haunted. Right? Like Fantasy had a lot of things that could happen but that wasn’t something that did. He was fairly sure.
“No not haunted. Its its own...thing.” Beatrix offered as an explanation. A few nods from others who had been on the ship for longer than he had. Reese wasn’t sure he understood where this was going. Beatrix continued as Reese was visibly confused. “Ever Given has its own mind when it comes to things. Like last run when The Captain charted for a northern route to Frince but we ended going a more western route. That wasn’t a change of plan or the helmsperson disobeying. I was there. The ship itself turned. We couldn't turn it north.” Nods from the crew behind them.
Another scoff, “Bullshit. The helmsperson got us stuck in a strong current and refused to say it was their mistake and blamed the ship.” Kral glared at everyone. He wasn’t a well liked crewmate. He didn’t seem to get along with a lot of people. Reese liked him enough but didn’t go out of his way to socialize. The crew sent glares at Kral. One by one the crew went through their experiences with Ever Given. Most of them had personal stories where the ship seemingly acted on its own. Kral gave an answer to why for most of the stories but as the stories kept coming, it seemed to Reese that that was an awful lot of convenient happenings. Kral left saying everyone was just superstitious. But Reese couldn't help thinking that as Kral went up the stairs it was awfully sudden for the boat to pitch enough for Kral to trip up the stairs.
A ship with its own mind. It was an odd thought. But there were instances throughout history of inanimate objects that gained consciousness accidentally or not. The Legendary Jeremiah Noodleman came to mind. A cauldron come to life, throwing bangin parties all over the world. The Fun-Bots. How ridiculous would it be for a ship to come to life. Maybe he didn’t have to worry about crashes or bad weather as much if the ship was also looking out for itself?
Reese was unsure how to take the crew’s stories. Reese needed to think about it. Before he could say anything Beatrix broke the weird silence “I know it's not an easy thing to take in and I wasn’t sure you’d believe us. But it's our truth.” Reese didn’t want them to feel like he doubted them, like Kral, “I just need time to process this. I hadn’t thought Ever Given could be its own self. I don’t not believe you. I just need time.” nods from everyone as they changed the conversation to other things. Reese stored it away. He would treat the ship better just in case. Clean the hull, call it pretty, he’d brainstorm other nice things to do for a metal cargo ship you sail on.
If he wasn't a believer before they got to the canal, he definitely believed now. The helmsperson was struggling to get the metal boat to go straight through the canal. At first he thought the helmsperson on duty was over steering on purpose, like when they got bored or wanted to try and give newbies seasickness. But the shouts and cursing from the helmsperson made him reconsider. Soon a small team of crewmates were wrestling the wheel. Each person swearing or trying to sweet talk the ship. If he wasn't watching the wheel closely, he would have missed the fact that it was moving on its own.
Well shit. The Ever Given did have a mind of its own. He saw Beatrix trying to coax Ever Given through the canal. Promising to shine up the hull, well oiled hinges anything and everything to get the ship to go straight through the canal. The canal was only two hours going straight through. It had been two hours and they were about at the halfway mark. Fingers slipped. The wheel spun. Sending the ship in the opposite direction they were going with a horrendous metal screeching. The ship lurched, something hit the PA system, sending a momentarily groan that sounded like a nooooo. They would have been going the other direction. But the ship was longer than the canal was wide. They were effectively beached, stuck at an angle between the sides of the canal.
There was nothing the crew could do. There wasn’t anything in the ship that could be done. The ship was physically stuck. They needed an outside solution. They contacted the canal maintainers and waited. Nothing had happened like this before. You would think a boat getting stuck in a canal is nothing of importance. It's bound to happen. Yet it never had before. Reese was not as anxious as he thought he would be. This was definitely not a problem he could do anything about. Other people having plans for things were their problems. The day went by waiting to hear from other people, going through what they already did and then it was dinner. The crew wasn’t as talkative. Everyone had seen the wheel move on its own. It wasn’t up for debate whether the ship had a mind or not. It very much did and very much did not want to go through the canal.
Murmurs of it will get sorted out in the morning, the canal workers would have a solution, it won't be long. No one wanted to think what would happen when, rather if, people outside the Ever Given would know about their sentient ship. The next day was more back and forth now with other boats that were waiting. Journalists started coming. He didn’t talk to them. No one did. What do you say to make people believe you when they weren’t there? The Captain did not betray their secret sentient ship. Said the waters were turbulent and over correcting led to the ship getting stuck.
The third day they took off the cargo and delegated it to smaller ships. The shipments could leave even if they couldn’t. They set up a sports court where the cargo was. It kept their spirits high. They placed bets on when the ship was going to leave and how. The betting spreadsheet was too complicated for Reese. He just listened to the banter every couple of hours when the shifts changed. Reese started talking to the ship. Not the usual lookin good after cleaning or idle weather talk. He talked to it about what people were saying on social media. Letting the ship know people loved it, even if it was stuck a little.
Eventually they got what looked like a tiny excavator, though they were considerably high off the ground. According to canal workers and social media it was a big one. None of the crew felt like going down to see it. They’d seen them before at docks. Nothing new. Reese told the ship about the excavators. It probably already knew about them but just in case. He tried to explain to the ship the memes that were going around. Even the silly dick drawing it did before they got there or maybe because of that. He wasn’t sure if the ship heard him. He pretended the rumblings and rocking of the ship was the ship talking to him.
Two excavators had been brought in but after a bit each one stopped working. They weren’t broken. Just...didn't work. Would shut itself down when near the Ever Given. If Reese was down there with the Excavator’s he might say they were getting a mind of their own somehow from Ever Given. But he wasn’t so it was just speculation. Speculation that a lot of the crew was having. From where they were it was hard to see what was going on but a few with telescopes said the controls on the excavators moved on their own.
The canal workers didn’t know what else to do and were floating the idea of bringing in military or explosives. They questioned how old was the Ever Given? How long do ships typically last? Very pointed questions and the crew did not like it and stopped communicating with anyone outside of the ship. But what next. The crew had come to love the ship as effectively another member of the crew. No one wanted to see it blown up or dismantled. Even Kral had stopped trying to say Ever Given was a normal ship. The crew had a meeting about where things stood. There weren't many new things to go over and it became clear there wasn’t anything they could do about it. If they couldn’t get the ship to move soon there wouldn’t be a ship. It was a silent agreement that there were other ships but this ship was special.
As the captain was ending the meeting a scratchy voice came over the PA system. “I may have a solution. But I need everyone to get off the ship.” Reese nearly fainted. Who was that? Everyone was accounted for. Everyone was here at the meeting. The PA system input was in the room with them. There wasn’t anyone on it. The Captain was pale but shouted at the ceiling with control “I’m not going to listen to someone who’s hacked my ship’s PA system. Reveal yourself or you are overboard.” The ship groaned and shifted a bit. Which it did every once in a while but it was a clear night and smooth water. The ship had had to purposefully do that. The voice came on again “I am the ship Ever Given. I’m a mech from later in your timeline. I don't know if the chronal flow is common knowledge yet and didn’t want to jeopardize the timeline.” No one said anything. No scoffing, no gasps. Everyone was transfixed. The ship really was alive. And was a mech? From the future? The ship continued with a brief history of itself. It ended up in this time, transformed to blend in and has been slowly getting information of how to get back. They can transform into a humanoid but was concerned about crushing anyone as it had been awhile since they transformed. The crew looked at each other and without talking got out and all gathered on a shore.
It was night and the moon was but a sliver in the sky. There wasn’t much light to see by but enough to see the silhouette of the ship rise and reform into a humanish imposing figure. It towered above everything in height, above the built up canal, above the trees. Kneeling down a compartment opened in the chest. A radio played then fizzled to static to a garbled radio voice that was similar to the voice over the PA system. “I require a crew to move more efficiently.”
The crew gathered around the chest opening. It was the galley. They could all fit. Slightly dubious everyone hung back. Their ship was a giant robot in hiding. It could walk, talk, think. Beatrix stepped forward. “I’m going with Ever Given. No matter what it wants to do, I’m with it. A few other crewmates walked over to them. Kral stood with crossed arms. “You don’t even know what it wants! You can’t just abandon humanity for that.” A back and forth between the two over humanity, morals, what it means to live as crewmates walking to whatever side they felt aligned toward. Kral had a few crew members with him. All others were with Beatrix. A few minutes of silence and everyone looked at Reese. The newest member of the crew. He didn’t think Kral was right but there were so many unknowns.
He walked past the two groups, up to Ever Given. “This changes things, Ever Given. I can’t pretend you aren’t sentient. And I'm not sure how to feel if you go back to being a boat all the time. Now that you aren’t a boat, are you going to go back to being a boat? If you do how long?” Reese couldn’t tamper his anxiety. It started to spill out. “Are you going to kill us if we talk about this? If I go with you are you going to listen to us about routing? Can I leave when I want? How are we going to eat?” He started to think about what ifs again. Standing and staring out as his mind played out all sorts of scenarios.
Ever Given’s face came down to where Reese stood. It was as tall as three people standing on each other's shoulders. A speaker came off the sides of the head. A hoarse whisper “Reese, i believe. You definitely think a lot in such a short amount of time. I have been a ship a while now. I would like to stretch my legs as it were. I had originally planned to never unfold until I could be sure I was going back but as it were that wasn’t an option. I think of you as my collective pilots as such I don’t want to harm you. We can go over specifics but right now I need to be not in a canal.
Reese didn’t feel like his questions were really answered. If anything he had more. He was unsure about going with Ever Given but if Beatrix and The Captain were going with Ever Given he was sure he would be okay. Everyone climbed in. Everyone but Kral’s few. Reese looked back at him a bit upset he wasn’t coming. How could he deny this!? Kral answered the unspoken question. “Someone has to explain what happened. You think if the boat just walked itself I hope you all live a happy life despite being attacked out of nowhere by a particularly bad sea creature that came up out of nowhere.” well shit. Kral was gonna cover for them. Reese waved then closed the doors. As Ever Given started to walk away.
Every once and awhile someone claiming they were on the Ever Given is found in unrelated places sometimes not even near water. Officially the Ever Given was mysteriously destroyed overnight leaving few survivors. There were rumors but nothing was found when looked into. The boat really did seem to disappear.
“You see, The Ever Given was never supposed to be in your timeline and eventually other mechs came to destroy it which results in terrible tragedies.” fretted the otter. “And that’s why it's important for you to accept this quest.” He chittered, clearing up the clam shell on its belly, wiping away the future vision that was released. He looked up from under his boating hat to the tall ginger haired traveler. The mostly empty train car rattled on.
The man shuffled cards idly. “Wow. That's a lot at stake, Shuckles. End of the world shit huh? All that will happen if I don't accept this quest? I dunno if I'm ready for that level of commitment.” he did a fancy card split. “What if we played a game? If you win i will do it. If I win...I’ll make up my mind.” he smirked. This train ride was long and this odd otter was a fascinating companion. It made angry squeaks but ultimately sighed and agreed. The ginger dealt out cards, trying for a conversational tone, “Being nice to Johnswort is a weird request anyway. Is there a particular plant or is it every plant?” The otters eyes gleamed and gave a sly smile, “Figuring out is part of the quest.”