The captain

“Can you give me any more speed, George?”

Isaac Williamson, Zak to his friends, was owner and captain of the fishing vessel Golden Maid. She had left harbour on the west coast of the island six days previously, headed for the rich fishing grounds to the southwest. The fishing had been good. Better than good, in fact. A normal trip, if the word normal can ever be used in relation to deep-sea fishing expeditions, involved two days out, three days’ fishing and two back. This time, the holds were full after only two days on the nets. Having been able to cut the trip short, Zak was keen to get back as quickly as they could manage – he had received a message on the ship-to-shore that Ellie, his wife of nine years, had safely delivered their first baby whilst he was at sea. Mother and baby were doing well, the message said, but it was important that he return as soon as he could. No reason or explanation was given, just that Ellie and the child were under observation in the hospital’s maternity ward and that his presence was urgently required. Naturally, Zak’s emotions were all over the place: elated that, after years of trying, he and his wife finally had the child they so wanted but worried sick as to the nature of the problem that called for his speedy return.

“I’m doing what I can, Zak,” engineer George Hanson replied over the ship’s comm system, “but if I push her any harder the old problem might come back.”

Zak didn’t need to be reminded what happened last time he made George push the Golden Maid too far. It had started with a minor misfire on one of the cylinders – just a gentle cough every so often – but, in the end, a couple of core-plugs blew and they needed to be towed to the nearest port for a major engine refit. That repair, coupled with the cost of the tow and the loss of a complete catch, had cost Zak a lot more than he could afford and set his plans back by a year or more.

“Just do what you can, George, eh?”

“Will do, Captain.”

The rest of the crew were on deck sorting and cleaning the catch and loading the landing baskets in preparation for offloading. This was always their favourite part of the trip. It was a job they’d done so often it was pretty well automatic. They didn’t need to concentrate on what they were doing, so it became a time for chatting, exchanging stories and jokes, and occasionally singing. Sea shanties? Hardly. This was a group of hard-working young men and women, not old-time sailors. Their songs were whatever was current. One or two would even leave their work and perform some rap numbers. Zak never complained about that, just as long as the work was completed before reaching port. There was something romantic about coming home under a setting sun, too. Somehow it always resulted in an amount of light flirting amongst some of the crew. Again, as long as it didn’t interfere with the ship’s readiness at port, Zak never objected to this although George, as the senior man and something of a father-figure to the crew, made sure that it never developed beyond flirting. What had to be avoided at all costs, was anything that could impact on the smooth running of the trip, so if ever George saw anything that veered towards romance or sexual tension he stamped on it swiftly and decisively. The crew knew this and respected the restriction.

“Can we get his done quickly?” Zak asked George when the Golden Maid was secured to the quayside bollards.

“You go do your thing, Zak,” George replied, “I’ll see to this.”

“Thanks, George. You have control.”

“I have control, Zak. Now GO!”

Zak left his ship in George’s capable hands, hailed a ride and asked the driver to make best speed to the hospital. The driver took him literally and, despite more than two decades at sea, Zak was feeling a little queasy when he arrived at the hospital. He made his way to the maternity suite and asked the duty nurse where his wife and child were. She pointed to the half-obscured door at the end of the public ward. “In the private ward,” she said, “good luck.”

I wonder why she said that, Zak thought as he approached the door.

He pushed down on the handle. Nothing. It was locked. He knocked on the door. “Who’s there?” a man’s voice said from behind the door.

“Isaac Williamson. Is my wife in there with my child?” The click told Zak that whoever was inside had unlocked it. He opened the door and stepped in. Ellie was propped up in the hospital bed.

“You look tired, Lover,” Zak said. Ellie started to weep. “Whatever’s up?” he asked, “You okay?”

Ellie took a few deep breaths As calmly as she could, she said, “Did you ever find anything out about your birth parents, Zak?”

“Well, no. You know I didn’t. The adoption people always said the records were lost or incomplete or something.”

“So you don’t really know who… or what you are?”

“What do you mean, what I am?”

The doctor left the room and came back, carrying their baby.

“Look at it, Zak. Just look at it,” Ellie said, weeping again. The doctor uncovered the baby’s face. Zak looked at his child and blanched.

“My God,” he exclaimed, “What is it?”

I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 197, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.

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