A few days later I was asked to go and see the Captain personally by delivering his evening meal.
When the food rolled out on one of the old trolleys I eyed the silver foil with interest, but didn’t look inside. I was already running late so I hurried towards the lift and found Christopher waiting within, looking at me with faint dislike. At first I was taken aback at first but composed myself enough to give him a nod. We waited in awkward silence for a while until I relented and had a go at some small talk.
“So what do you do onboard?” I asked, not meaning to be nosey. He didn’t seem too interested in talking but I had to say something.
“I’m part of the communications team,” he said. I didn’t know much about that but I thought it was something to do with keeping in touch with home. “Only we’re having some trouble getting a good connection and the Captain insists we keep ourselves to ourselves for all the time that we’re on land.”
“Do you think we’ll keep it secret?” I asked. His eyes bored into mine and I saw how bloodshot they were. He didn’t look well at all.
“Nothing can be kept under wraps forever,” he said. Before I had any more time to think we reached the top floor and moved into the hallway that led to the cabin. Christopher mumbled goodbye and headed off into one of the side rooms, leaving me to push along the trolley. For a moment I put him out of my thoughts and took an interest in the Captain’s quarters.
At first when I entered his cabin he was too engrossed in his work to look up and take notice. It seemed foolish to knock as he was already in plain view with the door left ajar, so I crept in like a mouse and slowly rolled the trolley towards his desk.
Although I’d seen him on and off I’d never really gotten up close before. He looked older than I thought; his lined face weathered and rough, his long grey locks trailing down to his shoulders. He was scribbling with his head bowed when suddenly he scowled, looking up and motioning for me to take a seat.
“You have been busy lately, haven’t you?” the Captain said. I looked at him and saw that he was smiling. For a moment the years seemed to run off his face – his eyes sparkling brightly, his mouth curved into a wry smile – before reverting back to his worn and tired expression. “There aren’t many here who get to move about as much as you do, I’ll say. I heard you went for drinks with my crew?”
“Well I-I did go for a drink but that was all.” I said defensively. He made no reply and tucked into his food. After a long and drawn out silence he picked up the conversation again.
“By all means it’s good to be inquisitive and broaden your social network,” the Captain said conversationally. “That’s how I started out all those years ago. When I give people work on this ship I never tell them that they aren’t allowed to stretch themselves. Every man needs to think for himself, don’t you think, Jack?”
“Well it can’t hurt!” I said. Then I regretted it right away but the Captain’s face didn’t seem to show any offence.
“So when I hear that you’re mixing with the older boys I take this drink here and I raise my glass to you,” he grabbed the wine and took more than just a few mouthfuls. “Only when I stopped to think about it I had to consider a number of scenarios because when boys come together they can talk an awful lot can’t they? And so I know you left that room quite a bit more educated than you had been before, didn’t you? What do you think I felt about that, then?”
“Well maybe you think I’m getting above my station a bit, Captain?” I tensed a bit and a part of me wished I could just swap places with someone else who wasn’t called Jack and maybe lived thousands of miles away.
“Nonsense!” he said jovially. Only I didn’t see him in his eyes looking as happy and I wasn’t too convinced. “If I didn’t want you to use your head more I wouldn’t have had you learn how to read and write. I’ve always watched your progress with a keen eye, Jack. Like I say I know inquisitive when I see it and I remember when you used to read all the time like a good student. I used to say that boy has a thirst for knowledge, alright, even if he doesn’t always talk so clever!”
“But lately I have to say I haven’t been sleeping as well in my bed what with the changes in the plan and everything,” his eyes peeled into me intensely which made me feel nervous. I had never really spoke with the Captain before and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do it again. “You may not realise the potential risks but choosing to land is not something I’ve been ordered to do, do you understand? I am going against my job description because as you have found out for yourself, sometimes we aren’t just what we do for a living, are we? Sometimes we have to make our own decisions.”
“Only there is something else I need you to know, Jack, now that you’ve taken it upon yourself to start thinking big. When you start moving outside of your comfort zone you also begin to learn the meaning of responsibility. And that means there is no going back, do you know what I’m saying?” I looked at him straight in the eye and I told him that I saw all too well. He took another mouthful of wine and stared at me darkly. “That’s good. Because now you know we’re taking a risk and that we’re landing of our own accord. And maybe you’re even beginning to have some speculations about my own identity…ain’t that so, Jack?”
“I don’t know what you mean, sir,” I said.
“Well maybe you do and maybe you don’t. But I wouldn’t be a very good guardian if I didn’t make it crystal clear what I want you to do next. You may do a lot of reading on this ship and you may get talking to your superiors but you ain’t ever taken so much as a foot off this ship, have you? Well let me tell you now that it’s a whole lot different to just acting smart. And I just wanted to be clear with you that if you value your life in any way, you will not even think about moving off this ship when we next land. Do you know what I’m saying?”
“Of course!” I said, not knowing what else to say. I didn’t question it or think about why he didn’t want me to leave with the others. Instead, I just looked at him and vowed not to leave.
“There’s a good boy, now,” he said, suddenly relaxed. “Because you know I’m telling you all this for your own good and that’s why I’ve made a special effort to have this little talk with you. In fact, I’d like you to try and not think too much about this whole landing business. We’re just making a brief venture out of the normal schedule, and then we’ll be back on our way. So no need to go snooping into things we don’t understand, am I right?”
There was nothing left to do except try and keep control of my nerves. Trying to read the Captain’s expression was impossible, so I thanked him again and moved along with the trolley.
“Close the door for me, there’s a good lad.” He asked as I reached the room’s end. I gently clicked it shut and started to walk towards the lift when suddenly I heard the Captain talking in a hushed voice. It sounded secretive but still loud enough to overhear, and against my better instincts I decided to listen in closely.
Minutes passed and I still hadn’t moved an inch. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. It sounded as if the Captain was planning for an emergency, which unnerved me no end. Soon after he put the phone down and I quickly scuttled out, wondering whether I should tell the others about the conversation.
I remember I was scrubbing the oven when we landed. Whenever I saw Aiden he looked worried about it all, as if we weren’t ever going to reach the dock. We did get there two weeks later and I knew all the crew were looking forward to getting some time on land.
The next few days went slowly and I could tell everything had calmed down because I had too much time on my hands to think. There were a lot less mouths to feed so the head chef and I took care of most of the preparation. A few times I caught sight of Aiden and the others but they were so busy and excited I didn’t get too much time to talk.
I didn’t see the captain again after our conversation. I was real relieved about that because his eyes had turned when he’d spoken about leaving the ship and I didn’t feel good about being singled out. At first I wasn’t so interested about going on land anyway as I had so much to do onboard so I just kept myself busy. After a few days, though, I started to see others coming and going and by then I really did feel alone.
Aiden came to see me one night when I felt especially down and I confided in him over my conversation with the captain. He showed concern and offered to stay, which I thought was very friendly. We sat in my room and I told him more about it while he listened with diligence. He looked deep in thought and didn't interrupt once. By this time I had gotten used to his mannerisms because whenever he had an idea he would sometimes fiddle with his hands by way of distraction. Then, after I had let him turn over something in his mind, his eyes lit up excitedly.
“There must be a reason why the Captain wants you to remain onboard while everyone else is allowed some time off!” he said. “I don’t think he’s worried you’d think of running away or anything like that, Jack. There aren’t many here who can talk French for starters, And it’s not like people on this ship are being treated like slaves is it? So it must be something to do with you specifically. I just can’t think what!”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I can’t think of any reason at all why the Captain would be interested in me. You know I think he just doesn’t want me mixing with the crew and he was giving me a polite warning.”
“Never think it!” Aiden said in protest. I wasn’t surprised by his reaction because he thought so much of the captain. “He’s a man with integrity, you know. He wants you to think for yourself. I have a feeling he likes you for your smarts! I think it’s something deeper than that. He won’t be keeping you onboard to keep you under control. I have a feeling he’s keeping you here for your own well-being, Jack…”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. His eyes seemed to glaze over and appear distant, somehow. “But I think we’ll both find out sooner or later. You must listen to him, though. I know it must hurt you and I don’t think it’s fair but if it’s for your own good…all I can tell you is that the captain is never wrong. I’ll come and visit you every night and tell you everything I see, just like you’d read about in the books, okay?”
I nodded and appreciated everything he was doing for me but I couldn’t take my mind away from the Captain. There was no reason at all to keep me locked away on the ship unless there was something bigger behind it and I didn’t like that idea much. Did going for a drink with your betters really cause such a fuss? A part of me even wished I’d just kept my head down the whole time but then I thought I would’ve never met Aiden or Ollie and the others. So even though I felt hard done by I took another perspective on it and considered it all part of becoming a man. Sometimes I had to accept that you just couldn’t always get what you wanted…
The next night I looked out of my window to see if I could get a better view of the outside. After having worked in the kitchens all day I had very little to see and with the restaurant being at the rim of the ship the whole land was on the blind side so I couldn’t see a thing.
I could only see the ocean for miles and miles with its endless blue weaving off into the unknown. Later I returned to my room, feeling deflated, before trying to get a closer look at the island. All I could see through the thin, blinded windows was the docking bay. There was nothing else but the dark, misty sky and the moon that glistened onto the water with its enticing reflection. Moments later I was drawn out of my thoughts after a loud hammering at the door. I knew that sound from anywhere.
Aiden rushed into the room with excitable exclamations about the evening. He was laughing and almost giddy, with rosy cheeks from the cold night etched across his features. His joviality was so infectious that I started to laugh without even knowing why.
“You will never believe it, Jack! He’s been doing his demonstrations. This evening was the first one. He’s doing another later tonight, too! You should’ve been there, honestly.”
It wasn’t very often I ever spoke out of turn but I told Aiden he had to get a grip else I was never going to hear what he had to say. I quickly poured a glass of water from the tap and ordered him to take a drink because I feared he might burst then I told him to take a deep breath and calm down. It took a while to sink in but eventually Aiden returned to normal colour a little – though he still looked like he’d been running for miles.
“He’s not pulling any punches, now!” he said excitedly. “The Captain went into one of those public bars – you know the platforms you can speak on – and told them all about being a descendant. He’s one of the Eleven, Jack! It isn’t just a myth. He really is Sagittarius! We don’t even know who the others are, that’s what’s incredible. And what’s more, he said we’re heading into a new age and it has already begun. He said his demonstration marked the coming together of all the Eleven to bring about the Aquarian age! Do you know what this means?”
“I don’t know all that much about the legends. What’s all this about Aquarius?”
“No, Jack, Aquarian!” he said with the impatience of an old scholar. At that moment I felt like a bewildered student myself. “This isn’t just the turning of any old century. There have only been seven ages in human history and we are right at the start of a new cycle. It’s been a long time, maybe even a hundred years, but all of the descendants are returning,” for a moment he paused to let this sink in before adding: “He said that there are people out there who don’t want the truth to get out. Some fear that the Aquarian age will bring revolution and destruction but the captain did away with all that scaremongering!”
“Making it public and revealing his real identity has changed everything. He’s now making it clear where he stands and what’s more, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing the rest of the Eleven, too! We have never seen a time when they have gathered in the same place, do you see?”
“What happens next?” I asked, without meaning to sound too flustered. It was just too much to take in at once and Aiden still had so much energy. His usual composure was replaced by his boyish admiration for the captain.
“I can’t tell you yet. Only I know he’s having another talk in the later hours and I’m guessing it’ll be made clear to us all what he intends to do with the ship. It wouldn’t surprise me if his plan is to go to different towns, countries even, to spread the news. He’s turning this into a campaign Jack. He knows people won’t believe the press. They won’t listen to word of mouth alone. They need to see it with their own eyes!”
“But what about the other mariners and the government? When I spoke with the captain he didn’t sound like he was following orders, and I don’t think they’re going to just let him run the ship for his own reasons…” That seemed to dampen his spirits a bit at that because his expression fell flat and I saw in his eyes something other than enthusiasm. They seemed to alight with fear.
“You’re right, Jack. I don’t know what to tell you,” he said sadly, looking suddenly lost. “He’s taking a big risk making all of this public but I don’t think he has a choice. Maybe it was always inevitable. He’s already proved his identity but that doesn’t mean they will keep him on as a Captain. We may have to change ships, I guess. It will be sad but we will have to do it and we’ll find a way to fund it, somehow. And when the Captain was speaking I don’t think he cared too much about his own expedition. The way he was talking I think he meant to tell us that the wheels of change are already in motion. It’s going to happen no matter what.”
For a long while we just sat there considering the whole thing and knowing that everything was going to change. If he truly was one of the Eleven then it was likely he’d find it very difficult to keep a low profile, so I couldn’t see a whole lot of sense in his actions.
Another problem I saw in his plan was proving his identity. I didn’t know what he planned to do but even I knew it wasn’t something you could claim and expect people to believe. The Eleven were legends that had existed many years ago – was it even possible that they had returned?
I didn’t know where I stood on it all but what I did know was the government weren’t going to take kindly to a potential threat. So suddenly I didn’t feel all that safe sharing the same ship and yet I knew I had little choice. Aiden was right. There was nothing for me on land.
“So what happens now?” I asked.
“We’ll support the Captain in every possible way, Jack!” Aiden said passionately.
“Do you mean to say that we’re going to go against the government?”
He paused and thought about it for a while as if turning over the possibilities in his head. Finally he said: “I don’t mean to put it like that. We’re not doing anything illegal. I mean, we’re just informing the public about the truth and we’re making some special trips to do it.”
I looked at him and kept my opinions to myself but I think we both knew that what we were doing was against the law. Maybe not the speaking part, exactly. But we were treating a government ship as a campaign and that was no small issue. At the very least I suspected the captain would be stripped of all his rights.
“You have to remember once people know who the Captain is they aren’t just going to let him be taken prisoner or anything like that,” Aiden said, as if reading my mind. “He’s one of the Eleven, for Christ sake! And we don’t know when the others are going to show their faces. Once they do, they will have too much power to be overthrown by anyone!”
“Well I don’t know what to say about it all,” I said. It was the truth. Of course I would stay loyal to my friend but I wasn’t so sure I even liked the captain.
Aiden seemed to sense my concern because he didn’t say much about it for the rest of the time and just made small talk. We made conversation about the places he’d seen and how exciting it all was although I knew he felt bad about my situation. After a while he grabbed his coat and said he’d tell me everything about the next demonstration tomorrow evening. I thanked him and watched him leave – staring blankly into the hallway for a while, not knowing what to do next. Then, before I could register what I’d seen, I saw a man with a black overcoat trailing after him.
The man was hardly making a sound and seemed intent on catching up with Aiden unawares. It had come across as so deliberate that he must’ve been following him for reasons I didn’t understand. It was late at night and I didn’t want to go against orders but I couldn’t just ignore what I’d seen so I quickly hurried down the corridor and followed.
Eventually I caught sight of them both heading past the function rooms and towards the main site of the entrance where they would access the outside of the ship. The man was behind just enough for Aiden not to notice, silently stalking him from a distance.
I quickened my pace and headed towards the staircase ascending to the upper decks. It unnerved me so much I broke into a run and to my horror saw the man take a knife from his jacket. By this time he was gaining on Aiden and I was still trying to make up the distance. In response I moved faster than I ever had in my life – the blood pumping in my ears and the adrenaline rushing through me as I hurried along.
They were heading to the docking point after I’d caught up with them outside and feared that I would never reach them in time. We were in an open space but I doubted there was anyone else around because it was so dark and bitter. I was gaining on them when I saw the man was too close so I screamed – not knowing what else to do – I screamed at the top of my lungs for my only friend in the world. Then it all happened in an instant and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The knife was just coming down on Aiden when he reacted in the most unexpected way. There was a loud gunshot and then a loud thud as the hooded man fell to the ground without stirring once. I looked at Aiden with bewilderment as he tucked his pistol back into his jeans.
“What are you doing?” Aiden said, looking terrified. I was still stunned but I made myself walk towards him while questions flooded my brain.
“I saw him following you and I got suspicious!” I said, explaining that I had been in the hallway for some time before the man had popped out thinking everything was clear.
“Now we really are in a position,” he said, still shook up by it all. I didn’t blame him but I had to know why he had been carrying a weapon. “You aren’t going to be safe here on your own after what you’ve seen.”
“Aiden, why did that man want to kill you?” I thought I’d ask the obvious question first. He moved over towards me and clapped his hand on my shoulder. Our eyes met, both alight and afraid, until eventually he spoke up.
“I didn’t expect anything like this to happen. I was warned by the Captain that after we landed there might be trouble and so he gave me a pistol. He said that I would likely be a target because I was such a close associate. I didn’t even know he was following me at first but he waited too long to try and kill me. He was being a little too cautious…”
There were so many questions I had and I didn’t know where to begin. All I remember was feeling outraged with the Captain that he had put his followers in such trouble. I wanted to tell Aiden not to come back to the ship, to run far away and not come back, but I knew he wouldn’t listen. We were both stuck here no matter what and now our lives were at real risk.
“It’s different for me, Jack. I chose to be the Captain’s ally, but you didn’t. And now you’re in danger. They might not know you were following him but I can’t take that risk. And someone might notice that you are the only one not going onto land. I can’t just leave you to fend for yourself here. You’re going to have to come with me.”
“Won’t that get you into trouble?” I said.
“We’re in trouble however you look at it,” Aiden said. “But I think the safest place you can be is at the demonstration with the Captain. He’s wanted you right under his nose for a while. We’ll watch what he has to say and then we’ll talk with him in private, okay?”
My eyes darted over towards the dead body and I couldn’t say there was anything okay about the situation. All I did know was that I didn’t want to end up the same.
“I’m sorry to ask you to do this Jack but I’m going to need a hand here.” Aiden nodded towards the body and I sighed, wishing I was somewhere else and knowing there was no other way.