The Pirate Apprentice, Chapter 1: A story is attempted

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Let me tell you a story—

“Not now!” shouted a voice through the hatch. Rather gruffly, I might add.

That would be Ornery. Ornery is very good at being gruff. But calling him Gruffly would just be weird.

Sometimes I call him Gruffly anyway.

“Why not?” I shouted back.

“We’re under attack!” shouted Ornery, more loudly, or at least more gruffly.

“So … ?”

This is the sort of thing you have to deal with when you’re a pirate. Other pirates attacking you. Or the Imperial Navy attacking you. Or the Hongon Battle Fleet attacking you. Or other people you’ve never met before attacking you. All because it’s what people think you are supposed to do with pirates. Attacking you even when you’re a polite and well-mannered pirate who just likes to go around shouting “Yarrr!” and not the sort to attack other people at all. Even when you’re sitting around doing nothing more horrible than trying to tell a story.

Just because you have to deal with it doesn’t mean you want to. Running away has my vote over fighting back any day.

An explosion somewhere nearby rocked my little pirate ship. It made me think that maybe I should listen to Ornery and take some sort of action.

Not that it’s much of a pirate ship. It’s just a creaky, clunky, mostly still kind-of-working, armored rust bucket built to carry cargo overland during some long forgotten war or another. The only really impressive thing anyone could say about it is that it’s so old no one knows how half of the stuff in it even works anymore. Most of the rest of the stuff just plain out doesn’t work.

It looks like a dented and demented mechanical tortoise—it is a dented and demented mechanical tortoise. Especially the demented part. Fixed it up myself. Well … I helped Engineer Rimares fix it up. He’s much better at the fixing part than I am.

But the thing can’t even fly. I don’t see how Ornery and Rimares can insist it’s a real pirate ship when it can’t even fly. I mean, it can hover, but running around so close to the ground that you could clip the ears off a jerebi, if not solidly bop it in the nose with a dangling piece of something that probably shouldn’t be dangling when it popped its head out of its nest to find out what the ruckus was, does not count as flying. It usually runs so low to the ground that it deals with big rocks mostly by shattering them on impact. It makes for a bumpy ride. Blowing it up might be good for it … but if I’m in it at the time, maybe not so good.

On the other hand, it can survive running into the side of a cliff at a speed somewhere past way too fast. Don’t ask how I know that. Don’t ask how long it took to dig it out again either.

It does have name. That’s always important in a pirate ship. Hard to be notorious if no one can even remember the name your ship. Just imagine: “When suddenly, fear seized the entire crew as they spotted, cresting the horizon, the dread Pirate Queen and her infamous ship … ummm … Hey, anyone remember what her ship was called?” It just wouldn’t work.

My ship is named the Catalyst. I named it myself. It is the secret alchemical ingredient that’s going to turn me into a pirate. Ornery says that a pirate is defined by the ship they command. I suppose by that definition, I’m not a very good pirate.


With an annoyed sigh, I closed my journal, tightly stoppered the ink bottle, and tapped the small glow disk that was the only light in my tiny captain’s cabin, making it dark. I think it used to be a smuggling hold hidden under the cockpit. We found it down a small hatch and hidden behind a wall of fake cockpit stuff.

That is what Rimares called it when I asked: cockpit stuff. I think the exact words were, “I dunno, cockpit stuff.” I once asked him how the ship worked without all the cockpit stuff that was supposed to be there. “Don’t ask,” he said. So I asked again. He ignored me.

I don’t know how I’m ever supposed to be as good an engineer as Rimares if he only ever tells me how the easy things work. Besides, he owes me for all the times I helped him figure out how to put this ship back together with wild guesses and dumb luck. The cramped, little smuggling hold was just my size, so I claimed it as my cabin. It’s almost tall enough for the tiny person that is me to stand up in, with plenty of room for a bed roll and a small desk covered with old, out-of-date maps. No one else is interested in crawling around in it and so people leave me alone when I want to be left alone.

I scooted over to the dim sliver of light sneaking through a crack in the not fully closed hatch and climbed up into the cockpit. The hatch doesn’t really close all the way anymore. It once had a hidden latch to open it, and closed so tightly that it was almost totally invisible, or would have been if it weren’t for the faded words “DANGER! sensitive electronics” stamped on it in what was probably once red. Now it’s warped and the broken latch is pretty obvious. I’ve tripped over it more than once. Engineer Rimares likes to point out that it’s something I fixed.

In my defense, it was broken when I started.

Standing astride the hatch opening in what I am pretty sure was the sort of stance a pirate captain takes in these situations, I crossed my arms and glared at the back of Ornery’s head with my best reasonably inconvenienced glare. Not that it did any good. He doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head. At least I don’t think he does. He usually has a beat-up, old leather aviator’s cap on with the goggles down over his eyes. Though there are only goggles on the front.

I don’t know why he needs the goggles, the cockpit has perfectly good windows—strong ones guaranteed to prevent a repeat of what happened last time the cockpit nosed into a cliff. And really, if he’s hooked into the nav he’s probably not using his eyes much anyway. I think he just likes them because not being able to see his eyes makes him look more ornery.

He always insists I wear a proper leather aviator’s cap too, for all that I get to fly. He says it’s to keep the dust out of my eyes and hair. I think getting all sweaty in the thing does more to mess up my hair than any dirt could ever do. But it’s his self-appointed duty to take care of me, and there was only so much nagging I could stand before I decided it was easier to just leave the thing on. Besides, the goggles are really amazing at cutting through glare.

Wearing the cap does mean I have to wear my hair short, so it will fit neatly under the cap, and so I can clean it again and get it to be not so messed up after running around in the cap all day. Sometimes it’s so short that people mistake me for a boy. I don’t argue with them, though sometimes I stare straight down my front at my wiggling toes and wish it was more obvious. Still, boys get away with more stuff and don’t get dragged home by their ears to their mothers for being out after dark. Okay, maybe the dirt-smeared face and clothes helped too. But wearing fancy brocade and lace from my ears to my ankles with an aviator’s cap would just be silly.

Ornery made me the cap himself, which is another reason I wear it. It was funny seeing him hunched over the little cap, needle in hand, sewing, and cursing a lot because he refused to wear a thimble while trying to push a needle through leather. He said thimbles were for girls. Even if the seams were almost perfect, the leather was probably cured in his plenty of his blood.

Ornery says he made the goggles from a pair my dad had. He got a local lens maker to grind them down to my size and everything. I never knew my dad. It’s not something Ornery will talk about, and my mom just says I should ask Ornery.

So it’s important to recognize his hard work and self-inflicted valor and wear the cap. Besides, the rich, dark brown leather of the cap, with its polished brass hooks and rings and gold-tinted lenses, looks much more interesting and exciting than the mousey brown hair and hazel eyes that I share with my mom hidden underneath. She is a wonderful mom, but couldn’t she have had better taste in hair color?

Someday I’ll pay a wyrd to color it something exciting. Pirates are supposed to come in exciting colors. The pirate queen is distinctively purple, with deep lavender eyes and hair so dark it seems jet black until the sun catches it. Those would be cool colors. On the other hand, Ornery is pretty much just Ornery colored, so I guess exciting colors aren’t an actual requirement for being a pirate.

I think the cap looks much better on me than on Ornery. His is worn, graying, and Ornery-looking. He always wears his like it’s some great penance for crimes past. As a retired pirate I am sure he has many crimes past. I also take better care of mine. I keep the leather well oiled, the brass shiny, and the lenses clean—so clean you can see your reflection in them.

So, if he’s a retired pirate, why is Ornery my pilot? I mean, why me, a nobody from the wrong side of the canal? Well, you didn’t think he was going to let me go out all by myself did you? How else could he spend most of his time trying to talk me out of becoming a pirate? He’s always on about how I would be happier in frilly finery and learning how to sew. Then I punch him in the nose and he laughs. Okay, more sort of bop him in the nose. I can’t throw a punch that high without finding something to stand on.

A blast from something outside shook my ship hard enough to almost drop me back down the hatch to my cabin. I recovered, kicked the hatch shut, put my foot decisively on its warped, wobbly top, and finally got around to asking, “What we got?” I tried to fill those words with the poise and grace of having just not fallen into a hole and a good dose of being put off and really slightly disgruntled.

Ornery harrumphed, one of his more impressive talents. It meant he wasn’t buying it. He added to the harrumph with, “We got the pirate Pirate on our tail,” colored with not so subtle shades of disparagement. Pirates are very good at being not so subtle, especially when it comes to disparaging other pirates they don’t get along with.

“The pirate Pirate? You interrupted my writing for the pirate Pirate?” I let out a disappointed sigh, trying to let him feel the weight of my having been disturbed about something involving the pirate Pirate. “You haven’t gone soft on me have you?” “He ain’t alone, girl.”

That stopped me. There was not a single smug response to a statement like that. Mostly because I was sassing him and he didn’t push back, which meant he was being very serious. But also because, well … the pirate Pirate.

The pirate Pirate is not well loved. Okay, plain out nobody likes him. In the dictionary under whining, sniveling, manipulative, cowardly, double-crossing bastard is his picture. Dictionaries are normally one word at a time, but they added that entry just for him, and it’s cross-listed under every other appropriate word. I like the version with the pop-up paper dagger stuck in it. If you move the little lever on the side of the page, it goes stabbity, stabbity, stabbity.

It probably doesn’t help that he looks like the bloated corpse of a dead rat lovingly wrapped in silks stolen from a cheap brothel and peacock feathers still attached to the bird’s butt. And I would rather spend my time with the dead rat. You can at least poke a dead rat without it whining about being poked. His nickname among pirates is “target practice.” Too bad, as with all proper pirates, he’s so notoriously hard to kill.

The best way to start a fight with a pirate is to compare them to the pirate Pirate. Even his name’s a joke. He insists his proper name is the pirate Munificence, at least he did last I heard. Nobody calls him that. I don’t even know what munificence means, but if it’s a word he is using to describe himself, it probably means something totally wrong for him. I mean, unless it’s a fancy term for dog poop or something.

“Since when did he have any friends?”

“Good question,” Ornery harrumphed.

I already told you he was good at harrumphing, didn’t I? There are some who might call him the best harrumpher in the world—not many, but some. Probably only those few who pay attention to that sort of thing. I’m sure there’s a Secret Order of Harrumpher’s somewhere and he’s their honorary king. Each day they sit in their secret harrumphing chambers full of precious mementos of harrumphers past, practicing their own harrumphs and waiting for word of his latest, greatest, distinctively Ornery harrumph.

I leaned forward over Ornery to look out the front window. Well, more sort of climbed over him. He may be tall and gangly, like an under-stuffed scarecrow, but the pilot’s seat is half recessed into cockpit floor, and it pretty much is the entire front of the cockpit. There was not much room beyond the bit Ornery was taking up. I still don’t know how he gets in and out of that seat, and I watched him do it plenty of times.

There was nothing out there. Just the vast, barrenness of the Great Wastes that as a pirate I would come to call home. I really need to get Engineer Rimares to install rear view mirrors. There’s not much fun in looking at little colored blips on tracking panels when you can actually look at the something those blips are about. He’d probably just hand me some tools and tell me to do it myself. He’s like that.

I slid back onto the deck behind the pilot’s seat, nearly falling over as one foot slid off the edge of the broken hatch to my cabin. I made a point of looking properly vexed about it all. Mostly because I now had to go up top to be able to look behind us. I could hook into the nav, but Ornery was busy using it, and he doesn’t like sharing the feeds. He claims it makes him feel like he has scrambled brains so he can’t be sure which one is his. The vexed look was aimed at him, but he was too busy driving and avoiding things to see it.

I climbed the ladder going topside to stick my head out and have a look. With a carefully balanced heave, I flung the hatch open and was greeted with a brightly colored, face-warming explosion that caught me off balance and sent me sprawling back down to the cockpit deck.

“Serves ya right for dawdling” cackled Ornery. Cackling is another thing he does very well. He’s a man who most certainly will die happy as long as he can do it laughing at someone else’s misfortune.

Not that he’s a mean person. The only time he ever hits me is if I call him “uncle” in public. Not hard, just a quick shut-up cuff to the back of my head. I mean, he is my uncle. At least I think he’s my uncle. It’s what my mom calls him. It’s another thing he refuses to talk about. He just doesn’t like people connecting me with him, even if everyone knows he’s my uncle already.

And did I mention we’re pirates? Yep, we’re pirates. And we’re being chased by some other pirates. It happens. I’m the pirate Mouse. Pleased to meet you.

Okay, so I’m not really a mouse, and not officially a pirate yet either, and the pirate Mouse isn’t really all that good a pirate name anyway. I didn’t pick it, it just sort of stuck. My name is really Peri and someday I’m going the best pirate ever. Honest.

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Creative Commons License The Pirate Apprentice by Mootly Obviate is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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