Just Use a Gun
There was little argument when the company of misfits and their makeshift captain landed on the seventh border isle, only wordless agreement. Chireke and Inyande departed to do their part while Tig and his companions hid behind a massive toppled log to do theirs. It had been hour since then and still, nothing. Inyande said to wait for the signal. But she never said what the signal would be.Not even the slightest commotion alerted them.
Tig made a point by facing the crouching Gemjo. She shrugged, level to him and he turned to the Professor who was slumped against the log. Strangely, he seemed whiter than usual to Tig. Really white, as if the bronze on his face had turned to tin. More so, his nose had gone pointed and cone shaped, poking ahead of him.
“What?” asked the metamorphic man, willing his goggle eyes lazily to Tig.
“Nothing, you just look different.”
“As do you. No, never mind, you look exactly the same. You done comparing, mate?”
Gemjo tipped her head at him and loudly hushed so the Professor could hear her, “He gets prissy when he’s sober. Might be something he’s remembering I think.”
“Oi, you suggesting I’m a problem drinker? I am not a problem drinker.”
“No, you just drink your problems away,” said the girl.
“Exactly! Wait. That’s the same thing.”
“So you’re a problem drinker?” asked Franco, peaking passed Tig’s shoulders.
“Most definitely,” agreed a grinning Gemjo.
The Professor made a frown at the girl, “I am offended. Truly. Do you know, mate, I’m starting to think you detest me.”
“Me? Detest you? But your permanent alcoholic aroma is simply divine.”
The Professor tapped his chest and eyed Tig, “Oi, mate. She’s going to get me killed.”
“In all fairness, the original plan was to abandon you,” said Tig.
Franco nodded, “I would have done the same.”
“Hours.” Cursed the Professor. “Just when did the world start hating me? Or perhaps it always has. Must be that I think. I was merely blissfully unaware before. But now? Hours! I can’t handle this… this clarity! How do you lot do it. Wretched thing soberness, sight’s all focussed, mind’s not buzzing. Hours damn it all I need a drink.”
“Problem drinker,” affirmed Gemjo.
The tall and practically tin man stood up, “I’m going.”
Tig pulled him down with a snatch of his coat, “No you’re not. Signal remember?”
Franco tapped him on the shoulder. “What is the signal?” he asked before plainly grunting. “I take it you don’t know. Well, assuming it’s something unmistakable we should hear it soon, why it’s been an hour already.”
“What then?’ said Gemjo. “Say we get a signal, what do we do?”
“We run to the cages,” answered the boy.
“And where are the cages?” she asked back.
He smiled dumbly.
“Right we don’t know,” she sighed before pausing abruptly. She took a sniff of the air and quieted, “There’s a witch doctor close by.”
Franco attempted to stand up before Gemjo tackled him down.
“Don’t look.” She snapped, holding him down with her weight. “He’s close, just know that.”
Tig gulped and glanced away. Admittedly, he had taken her command in a separate angle. Her tail flicked by and he felt the distinct urge to touch it, but shook his head shortly after summoning all his willpower to control himself. Fluffy may it be, that tail was a mine waiting to erupt.
She sat on her heels, the tail lowered. “We capture the guard,” she continued. “Then we question him to give us the location. After, we head there, quiet as larks, and steal away the prisoners.”
“Question,” said Franco, raising a hand, “What if they’ve used locks or iron manacles?”
“Witch doctors don’t use iron manacles.”
“But if these ones did?” pressed Franco.
“I know witch doctors,” she said. “There are two rules amongst them: one, you cannot trust them, and two, they hate iron.”
“Bronze manacles then? Lead? Any metal really.”
She shook her head, “They won’t, just trust me.”
Tig nodded as she glanced his way, “Ok, so wait for signal, rush in, knock out that guard and question him till he gives up his answer?”
Franco spoke up before she could answer, “The distraction’s going to need to be awful big for this plan to work. Who’s to say a dozen witch doctors won’t rush to the poor fellow’s aid once we jump him?”
“And should he be strong?” added Tig. “I mean this entire plan revolves around us taking him out.”
“He has a point.” Said Franco.
Gemjo pushed her arms apart between them, “Quiet! Both of you. We got no plan ’cept mine, don’t think any of you’ve thought of anything brighter.”
“If Ita was here, she’d think of something,” said the Professor this time.
She growled at him, “She gave us her genius plan. ‘Wait for the signal’ that was it. Hours, had you not made me question myself we would have gone with my original plan.” Her eyes darted to the towering masts some minutes away. “We would have been on the sea by now.”
Tig forgot about her swishing, fluffy tail for a moment, “Hold on, by plan did you mean to steal a ship?”
She formed a line with her mouth, “And if I said yes?”
“Don’t give me that look. I’ve thought this through, Take a ship, sail away and sleep. Only I’d do the sleeping ofcourse-- I’d deserve it after the thinking I did. You lot would handle the other duties.”
Tig’s eye twitched. He had thought for a while now on the subject of sailing with his disreputable companions. One slept all the time, the other became immobile near water and the last bumbled about idiotically with a penchant for passing out when it mattered most. Had they not immediately wrecked ever ship they’ve gained, all of the less than spectacular but necessary duties of sailing a ship would fall onto Tig.
Tig spoke with a long drawn breath, “We’re not stealing a ship.”
There was a tired growl to her voice, as if she had expected him to say that, but loathed hearing it all the same.
She asked the inevitable question, drew it out as long as she could to, “Why?”
The answer was abrupt and loud, a low crackling boom. Then another and another. Tig covered his face as winds slapped him wickedly. He steadied to a rise, spurred by something bright and blistering. He lowered his hands when he realised what it was.
Fires kissed the still rising sky. Smokes misplaced the once towering masts and the air rippled in heat.
“The signal,” hushed Tig.
“The ships…” trailed Gemjo.
The Professor patted her on the shoulder and leapt over the log, scarcely looking back as he voiced the words, “Told you.”
Franco mirrored the man’s jump as did Tig who nearly tripped over the mossy thing. A flat beach melded into golden grasses where a witch doctor, black hat and all, stood numbly watching the fire show, heedless to their approach.
As Tig’s steps drew him closer, he noted how the guard had metal bones and limbs and body in place of artificial muscles and sinew. That was the trademark of witch doctors, creatures that pushed the boundaries of their mechanical carapaces.
Most witch doctors seemed to be mechanized variants of half to full skeletal things. Oft dressed in ragged black coats and soot stained bandages. This man, though notably shorter than what he expected, was the spitting image of the bone men.
“Stop.” Urged Franco.
The witch doctor’s eyes were upon them. His slight-agape mouth told Tig their surprise approach had worked, however idiotic it happened to be. Tig sighed, rolling up his sleeves. Well, it could not get worse.
“Surrender fiend! We’ve come to capture you!” roared his shirtless companion.
Tig caught his forehead with his palm. Franco had a habit of being loud and he made no attempt in hiding that. Even if their plan required discretion.
The Witch doctor flung his arm and Franco went skidding across the sand. Bright turquoise lights swirled around the witchdoctors bony hands when Tig relapsed to him.
“Terrible plan,” moaned the down Franco.
“Help!” bellowed the witch doctor. “Dere be intrudahs! Help!”
Seconds passed and nothing came of the cry. Another boom echoed from the ships, and Tig faced Gemjo with a nod, “So at least one of our claims were wrong.”
“Well, then, go fight him,” gestured the girl.
“What me? You go fight him. You can turn into a wolf now, can’t you?”
“What kind of wolf fights that thing?”
The Professor lumbered besides them, “A moderately sized skeleton, mate?”
“Not the point. I can’t do it.”
“But you said you truly cared about learning it,” said Tig.
“In two days? Be realistic chitik. Yes I’ve had success, I’ve even changed before.” Her tail swished and she glanced away. “But I can’t hold it.”
“Now’s your chance! You don’t need to hold it, just charge.” He readied his book. “So long as we don’t injure him, I’ll even help. So change into a wolf and--”
Tig sighed, whirling to the man, “Would you shut up!”
“No. You shut up,” yelled back the witch doctor. “How long ya been fightin eh? First rule, dun talk about what ya going ta do.”
The witch doctor swished a hand and Tig’s book zipped out of his grip.
“Mates, I’ll hold him off!”
Their opponent swung his arm at the running Professor and as quick as he did so, the Professor jumped out the way. A tumble of sand and yellow grasses dusted up behind him.
“He dodged it,” gasped Tig. “It can be dodged.”
The Professor happily proved his assumption as the newly tin shaded man hopped the various blows.
“I’ll do it.”
Tig blinked at her, “I’m sorry, you’re going?”
“Hours,” She sighed, begrudgingly, “If it can be dodged then I can take him. Don’t say I didn’t try.”
He was sure something must have happened on the previous island. This was not Gemjo. Not the same lazy, half heart seawolf who had unwillingly been a part of his journey. She yawned as he thought that and squashed all his doubts.
She had lowered to a starting position, her hands spread far apart upon the ground with one knee dropped and the other risen slightly ahead of it.
“We can’t run,” she said, facing forwards. “We can’t steal a ship and we certainly can’t hide. This is our only option,” she took a breath. “You got this, Jo. You can do this, ’Jo.”
Gemjo erupted into a dash. With dirt flinging recklessly in her wake, she decimated the distance and nimbly shifted forms into that of a silver wolf.
Lithe, magnificent and glistening in hues of sunrise, that form became a sight that stole his breath away.
The witch doctor turned, but too late. She’d be upon him, teeth into bone. Or so Tig thought. A second before the wolf leapt on the witch doctor, it shifted into a startled girl who tripped and landed with her rump to the air. The Witch doctor swatted her away with his magic and Tig watched her tumble a stone’s throw to his left.
Tig ran to her as the Professor engaged the witch doctor in a renewed melee, bottle against bone. Unlike Franco, Gemjo made no sound nor movement. Tig feared the worst.
He shook her when he reached her, adamant to disprove the worst possible scenario. She had been sprawled on her side with her head away from him. He remembered the Hungering city. A wash of dread stuttered his movements. He had to be sure.
“Gemjo.” He started. “Are you… you dead?”
“Shh.” She whispered back. “Dead people don’t speak.”
“I’m acting dead. Play along. I may just get out of it this way.”
“You can’t be serious. The others need our help.”
“You do it to.”
Tig stood up, shaking his head, “No, even now the Professor is fighting for us. Franco is fighting, Inyande is fighting for us, Chireke is--”
“I get it,” said the dead girl. “We’ve got people fighting for us.”
“But who are we fighting for?”
The distant tussles of sand and steps faded in his mind. He did not want to fight. In fact injuring others was paradoxical to his calling. Doctors threw no punches, fired no guns, nor manifested any death spells, they healed. Yet had he done nothing it would be the same as committing the act. Anu was right in that regard. And perhaps Inyande to. Though she hadn’t said it, she wanted him to fight. Her attempts at awakening spirit magic had attested to that. Yet more than anything, he realised his own uselessness. He was just a boy who jumped on a ship, just a boy who wanted to be a doctor. He had not saved anyone yet. But he could now.
“I don’t want to fight.” He said, practically choking on the words. His eyes raised over Gemjo’s scattered form. “But if I have to defend you, I will.” He turned and saw the witch doctor now staring him. The Professor seemed thoroughly beat besides the guard with the shattered remnants of the bottle’s top remaining in his tin hand.
The witch doctor grunted at him, “Ya dun seem strong.”
Tig laughed nervously to that, “I’m not. Can hardly fight.”
“I see,” said the witch doctor with a nod.
Tig swallowed hard. He expected his defeat due shortly. A moment of bravery and he be kicked aside as the others were who were far stronger than he. Tig prepared for it, recalling just how the Professor dodged the other attacks and, if not that, then how he’d best brace the fall.
The witch doctor shuffled, Tig tensed and, instead of his inevitable clash, his menacing opponent cupped his hands and shouted, “Intrudahs! Intrudahs!”
Moments passed as he repeated the lines and Tig realised he had be deemed a non-threat. In some ways he was offended, but otherwise relieved by the momentary reprieve. . He decided to employ the break to his advantage. His eyes rolled away from the witch doctor and he found the book on the beach. It was too far. Any movement would alert the witch doctor and he’d be done after a single spell.
He considered his options. A melee seemed unlikely. The man had easily dispatched a bottle swinging Professor. Written magic, his only other course, was now lying on the shore, too far from his grasp. He balled his fists. There was nothing he could do, nothing he could…
Something stirred on the sands. The witch doctor had not noticed and Tig tried his best to pretend he had not either, instead keeping his eyes level on his opponent. Franco. He was still able, and knowing Franco, that meant he would come, but however strong Franco was, Tig knew his shirtless companion would never reach their foe. He had the strength surely, but not the speed of Gemjo in her wolf form, nor the Proffesor’s inexplicable nimbleness.
He needed either speed or evasion and both were unlikely considering how he’d be recovering from the first blow. Tig lowered his chin and clutched it in his hands. Speed or evasion, he thought again, or, as Tig considered cleverly: discretion.
“If only I could hide him,” he hushed the words, “but how?”
Again, he peaked at his book. A simple invisibility spell would do. He still had his pen, but the parchment alluded him. If only he could write on something else, let something that wasn’t paper flicker away as payment for his spell. The witch doctor balanced in his sights and a gear clicked in his head.
He rolled up the sleeve on his right arm and found a patch of iron flesh that had been bruised from his confrontations with Anu. He winced as his pen pinched the exposed iron. Franco was fast rising. The witch would notice at any moment.
Tig repeated the words as he drew the symbols. “Minor invisibility. Minor invisibility. Minor invisi—”
A sharp pain shot through him. His arm burned, and the finger width of flesh vanished from his arm, revealing the inner gear work of his arm. Then, his body and that of Franco’s vanished at once.
The witch doctor paused mid ‘Intrudah’ and glanced about frantically. If he hadn’t noticed Franco before, he surely discerned the lack of him.
But Tig saw it all the moment he cast the spell. He scooped up his book in that moment’s silent and watched as the trail of footsteps grew urgently towards their shared opponent. The spell had made their movements silent.
But even then, the witch doctor was formidable foe. His pearly eyes rimmed with brass irises snapped to the last of a dozen steps. His bony hand raised. Tig flinched.
Franco would not make it.
Tig flipped open his book and scribbled a line. The bone hand lowered. The book shut.
As if his feet were tied just he attempted a counter attack, the witch doctor fell forwards and met something unseen and heavy that interrupted his fall. There was a gasp, a crunch, and a rustle of dirt. The illusion vanished and Tig saw Franco with his fist planted in the man’s bony gut.
Seconds after withdrawing his hand, Franco laughed heartily and planted his arms on his hips, “Hours! Invisibility. Good thinking, Tij. How did you like my Fourth palm by the way? That was Compress? Compress to Impress, I say! Hah!”
Tig smiled weakly as he held the book with one hand and covered the hole in his arm with the other, “You’ve outdone yourself, Franco.”
Tig saw Franco prodding the squirming witch doctor and decided to approach him. The Professor did the same with a grunt and sad glance thrown at his shattered weapon.
And Gemjo merely turned half-heartedly and frowned at Tig in particular.
“You used their magic,” she said plainly. “Just now, you used witch doctor magic.”
Tig scarcely met her eye, “I wrote something on my arm. I hardly call that magic.”
“You casted greater invisibility,” she said as her ears twitched. “You went both invisible and silent.”
“When did you learn that, Tib?” asked Franco as he held down their captive and tied his arms with his red sash.
The pain in his arm dulled and he stopped ahead of the crouching Franco.
“Just thought I try using my skin as parchment, I never though--”
“Don’t do it again,” warned Gemjo. She stretched as she made to her feet.
“I don’t see why not. It just saved us didn’t it?”
“Lift your hand,” she said with a nudge of her head.
The approaching Gemjo blurred in his sights as he revealed the gaping wound.
Franco peered at it, “She’s right, on both accounts. You’ve cast your flesh, that’s witch doctor magic. Tig, as much as I am impressed I’m also concerned. As you’re captin ofcourse.”
Tig covered the wound with his coat sleeve, “Enough about me, what of the man?”
“We question him,” said Gemjo, crouching low to meet his bony face. “Oi, hand-dancer, pray tell where we might find your prisoners?”
“Ya be seein it soon enough, mon. Just wait. When me bruddahs get here, you be sorry ya tink ta mess wit ol’ Kenki.”
Franco cracked his shoulders and readied his fist, “I’m punching him.”
“Wait,” said Gemjo. “You said they were your brothers? Then maybe they’d consider a trade.”
“What? With you? Two prisonahs fa me. Nah nah, I dun tink so, mon.”
Tig met Gemjo with an equally quizzical look she gave him, “Two?” they spoke at once.
Sand dusted up and several footsteps crunched the grasses.
“Hah! Dey be here!”
Four more witch doctors paced to the grasses, having cleared the forests. One stood in front of the other three.
“Kenki!” he called. “Who be messing wit ya, little bruddah.”
“Weaklings, Big Bruddah. Dough, be warned of da short, he be knowing our magic.”
Tig stood up, book in hand. His fast thinking had won them their victory. He could do the same here. He smiled to himself, felt something new and heated rushing through his system, as if he could take on the world. Marici was right. Written magic was his first line of defence.
He flipped open the book, willing all four witch doctors to the sight of his all-powerful pages.
“That’s right,” taunted Tig, “And if you don’t release your prisoners I’ll do the same t-to you.”
The head witch doctor sighed and flicked his hand. Tig’s book was flying a moment later. His shoulder slumped as he followed the book’s ascent.
“We’re doomed.” Said the boy.
A pistol clicked. “Plan two,” said Gemjo.
Three of the witch doctors backed as she levelled her gun.
“Really?” said Tig. “You think nothing of my magic but you back to a gun?”
“Oi, dat ting be dangerous, Niss,” said one of the back three witch doctor’s.
“Yeah, drop it ok, befa ya hurt someone.”
The head witch doctor tipped his black hat forwards and grumbled a laugh, “Relax, I bet she dun even know how ta aim da ting.”
The others joined his laughter, stepping forwards even. They howled and hooted, chuckled and snorted. Even Kenki joined in, spawning a myriad of nerves upon Gemjo’s brow.
Then the pistol fired and the laughter stopped, the last being Kenki’s own awkward chuckle. The witch doctor’s hat tumbled behind him, revealing his smooth silver skull top.
“Oh you’re right,” said Gemjo as she pressed the still smoking gun barrel against her cheek and posed. “My aim is absolutely terrible, why I swear I had been targeting your head just then.”
The newly enbaldened man frowned. He held up a skeletal hand, and masses of gold and silver chains danged from it.
“Stay back.” He instructed the others. “I be handling dis.”
The other three became cheer doctors.
“Ya get her, boss.”
“Pistols be cheats!”
Gemjo slid back. “I should have stayed dead,” she said.
The witch doctor vanished and reappeared before them, he knocked down Franco with a punch and the Professor with another. Tig tried for his pen, but he faltered as he saw the man grip Gemjo by her collar, punch the air out of her, and toss her aside.
Sand bit up into the air as a sliding Franco caught Gemjo. He place her down gently and Tig glimpsed Carter fall off her unconscious grip.
“You’ve an awful lot of confidence to think you could beat me that easily.” Started Franco. “Oi Tif, move away will you?”
Tig nodded as he backed from the witch doctor. With just the curl of a finger, the new opponent freed his younger brother and bid him away from the fight
The witch doctor laughed humorlessly, “I tought noting of it, heretic. I acted, you responded. But it’s good ya didn’t fall ta dat.”
Franco took up a stance, curious one to, he began taunting the witch doctor to move forwards with a circling palm.
“Do you even know who I am?” began the man.
The witch doctor cocked his head, “What is dis?”
Franco thumped his chest with his thumb before reassuming his stance, “Franco Cantinio, and don’t forget it. I’m the man who’ll topple the navy.”
The witch doctors snickered from behind.
“Oho, da Navy ya say? Da admirals to?”
Franco nodded, “All four yes.”
For a moment the witch doctor lowered his arms, “Had dis been a different set of circumstances, we would have been allies. But wit our ships burning and you da most likely suspects, I must reconsidah. Sa know dis, Cantinio, if ya can’t be besting me, ya be hopeless against da admirals. Dey be strong.”
“So I’ll be stronger.”
The witch doctor puffed and raised his fists, “Sa be it.”
They met in a field of sandy grass where morning lights splashed their metals and the smoke poisoned the air. A wispy smog rolled into their conflict and each movement thereafter ripped the misty cover, spawning momentary outlines of every attack.
Tig could do nothing but watch. The first few throes were swings and dodges and a dance of footwork, Then the battle began in earnest. While Franco followed with several quick swings to the man’s gut and sides, the witch doctor focussed on mighty blows that disturbed the very air as he acted.
Franco’s movements became the contrast, sharp and calculated, and scarcely bothering the surrounding. But it was not enough. The witch doctor connected a blow. It was a centered hit, one that forced Franco a few steps back and covering his gut carefully. The man pressed his advantage, lurching to Franco even as he held his gut in utter pain.
The smoke blew around the witch doctor and Franco drew apart his hands.
“Fifth Palm: Pull.”
Having run too fast to stop, the witch doctor tumbled into Franco’s ploy. His palm had pulled the man’s body into an all too ready knee. The impact was jarring, the man’s reflexive gag worse.
Franco began bouncing from foot to foot as the man faltered back.
“We’re even,” declared Franco.
The man spat out oil, “We be seeing about dat.”
Blue lights flickered around his hands. Tig knew it instantly. Spirit magic. The smoke around them seemed to move unnaturally. He spread his arms and the smoke formed a ring a rowboat in width.
“Ya be a worty opponent. Dat be an important distinction when it comes ta our magic.”
Tig winced as he saw black smoke rise from the witch doctor’s informal collar. Sparks danced one his bony fingertips and from it came fire. The flames flickered and grew over his hands before he slowly drew a circle with the seething stuff.
Franco shifted, arriving at the same conclusion as Tig. This was no time to think. He lunged at his foe as the circle vanished and connected a blow, palm against chest.
More smoke simmered into the air and Tig stared on in horror as he realized that smoke came from Franco unmechanized flesh.
Franco’s painful cries followed as he stumbled some steps back. Though it was strange. While fire clearly swayed behind the man, his flesh remained unscathed by it.
“How ya like dat, eh?” began the stomach clenching witch doctor. “Dat be da curse of Tangata, da eva burning willow. Most turns become immobilised in tree minutes. I wondah how long ya be lasting.”
Franco coughed up some unknowable liquid. “Long enough,” he said wiping his mouth.
“Oho. Well den dis will be interesting.” The witch doctor traded his stance for another. Now he had one palm out while he held the other near his chin and chest. His knees bent and he kept his legs far apart, “Second form.”
Crystal waters spiralled around his arms and fingers, it turned white in the places of turbulence and spat mist carelessly.
Franco quivered to the sight of it, “That sound.”
“Aye, dis be da sea. Now my attacks be imbued wit it, be ready.”
“The sea?” said Franco, struggling to the word. He fell to a knee, weakened by its mere mention. Tig knew that was it for his brash companion. The Witch doctor had picked at the scab that was his fear and Franco would be defeated by it.
Gemjo’s voice echoed behind him, “Hours what ha—”
A hollow thud drew his attention. His journal had bounded off the sea wolf’s skull, having finally fallen. His eyes trailed the once more unconscious Gemjo and found the gun. That was it.
Marici was wrong after all.
The witch doctor had nearly completed the spell when Tig slid to the gun and picked it up. He fumbled at the workings of Carter. This was his chance, his redemption and his mistake. The rushing waves he though readied for Franco shifted. He glanced and caught the brunt of it, floundering far long passed the grasses and striking the trunk of a nearby tree, back first. Just as the fire had not burned Franco, the waves did not wet him, instead he felt the weight of water upon him and he anguished as invisible waters stuffed his lungs.
For seconds as long as hours he convulsed there. The cold of the tree his only comfort. He became numb to everything else. He scarcely recalled the steps as they pounded towards him, barely made out the lines of the witch doctor soon before him. All of it became as blurry as the waves until an all too real grasp hoisted him up, collar first. Passed the blur, he could see the fine details in the bone that made the man’s face. It was a peachy ceramic embedded with golden inlays. Eyes of black marked only by yellow circles fixed on the boy.
His deep melancholic voice made that face a frightening one, “Ya wanted ta see da prisonahs? I be granting dat wish.”
He held Tig high until the tightened collar began to choke him. Countless, voiceless words sputtered out the boy’s mouth. They were cries of help that no one could hear.
“Oi boss, da shirtless one’s moving.”
The head doctor tilted his head, “He be meanin’ ta fight?”
“Unhand Tij.” Muffled a distant Franco.
Tig reached to the voice and faltered as the witch doctor carelessly dropped him. Sights and sound melded into nothingness and he fell into a wanting sleep. Yet then, even in the throes of darkness, he swore he saw Franco charging his way. He smiled if only in his thoughts and made a prayer no hour could hear. It was meant for the man he knew would never let some skeleton have his way.
The man he knew who would one day topple the navy.