The Pirate Apprentice, Chapter 22: The master project

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For the next year there was a lot or work and a lot of learning and plenty of getting my hands dirty. I started giving the four troublemakers who had scuffed my uniform fighting lessons. They’d been so busy studying books, they had never even learned to throw a punch. They didn’t want to at first, but I insisted. After all, it had been such an unfair fight. In six months, they were calling me “boss” as a joke and using their new found intimidation skills to keep the peace instead of pushing people around … most of the time.

Mom had gotten tired of living in a tropical paradise pretty quick and gotten a job working in the cafeteria at the shop. People who knew me claimed that the food started tasting better that week, but really, Ares had professional cooks with years of training working for them; she was learning a lot more than she was contributing.

The crew of the Black Dragon eventually had to leave with their ship, which was repaired, refurbished, and back in perfect shape, though Maid stayed to keep an eye on me, and Dr. Pac stayed on for reasons he never explained.

Izako and I grew closer. A lot closer. When I asked Maid about Izako, I mean, I couldn’t ask my mom, she laughed and said, “Don’t let my choices dictate yours, but if you want my opinion, you’re still way too young.” Okay, I didn’t really ask her, I only got as close as bringing his name up in a sentence I couldn’t put together right, but she understood more than I wanted her to.

Izako and I still got in trouble once or twice, getting caught in what we thought were forgotten rooms in the maze under the dock, but we were always at least still kind of dressed at the time. It was never something anyone bothered to turn me over to my mom about. And any progress in that direction slowed down real fast on the day of the following year’s ceremony. Not that anything bad happened, I just suddenly found myself busy with other things. We still made time to go to the beach together on days off and stuff.

There were plenty of tears the morning of my second ceremony. Birch was the only one of the three pirates from the fourth year staying on. The other two were signing up as hired hands on a pirate ship to try to make a name for themselves.

As the party was winding down and we were getting things cleaned up and put away, I heard Rimares shouting, “Hey kid, get over here.” There were plenty of kids, but most people knew his voice and who he was calling kid. He was standing off to the side of the space we were cleaning up. I handed my broom to another apprentice who looked like they were looking for something to do and got over there.

When I got over to him, I realized he was smiling. Rimares didn’t smile much. Like his granddad, it usually meant he just had a crazy idea that was going to get someone in trouble.

“Let’s go for a walk,” he said.

He liked to say that when he had something to explain to me. I think he needed his feet to be moving to say more than a few words. It was usually a slow stroll around the shop floor, but this time he took off at a pace faster than the first day I met him, up a few flights of stairs and toward the nearest door that led out on to the dock.

“Finally found something worthy of a master project.”

When he didn’t say anything for a while after that, I hazarded a “What?”

“You’ll see.” And then was quiet for a while. After a few minutes, he added, “Didn’t want to waste shop space on it, so rented a warehouse.”

Master projects were usually either taking some known machine and making a better version of it, or setting new standards in perfection or decoration. There were people in the shop working on more efficient engines, stronger masts, recipes to make lighter blackmetal, discovering the function of old forgotten tools and technologies, and new wyrd spells to help ships heal themselves from everyday wear and tear. It was mostly about whether you could do things that were way above average. I couldn’t figure out what would need its own warehouse, unless he was afraid of it exploding or something.

We walked outward on the dock, covered in a gray day that didn’t quiet look like rain, in mostly silence. Rimares was not really big on words. Over a year, I had learned to respect that and be quiet around him unless he wanted to talk. At first I thought it was because he was always thinking. Later I realized it was because he was always paying attention, to everything. He could tell whether I was handing him the right wrench just by the sound it made clinking against the other tools in the toolbox, or whether a weld was solid with a quick glance.

Later, I realized it wasn’t that the project needed its own space, but because he didn’t want to be distracted. So many people relied on him to make sure things were perfect that he needed a place where he could focus.

The warehouse was really just a big open space under the dock with space to pull up a ship to load and unload things into it. It was protected by giant folding doors made out of sheets of blackmetal. When I looked at the doors funny, Rimares said, “Defective batches. Had to do something with them.”

He unlocked the doors and pushed one of them aside. Inside was darkness that showed nothing but a giant lump taking up most of the space. “Wait,” he said, and disappeared into the gloom. I waited just inside the door, just in case there was something in there that needed running away from.

The sound of a switch being thrown echoed through the space and it suddenly and brightly lit with glow disks on the ceiling and walls. It was so bright you could’ve dried paint in there.

In the middle of the room, or more sort of in all of the room, was a giant, rusted lump of metal that slowly resolved itself into a huge land transport. You probably could have put the my bungalow inside its cargo hold with some room to spare. It was ancient and looked it. A giant sort-of oval with four huge engine pods and a small cockpit nosing out of the front, it looked like the corpse of a long dead monster turtle, its shell bashed in from some titanic battle. The rust and dirt did a good job of adding to the effect, looking like so much dried blood.

I stared at it, trying to take it in, all of it, its size, its age, the feeling that it was now good for nothing but being a prize winning entry in the world’s biggest paperweight contest. “Where did you get this thing?” It was all I could think of to say.

“It was rescued from a scrap yard on the mainland. Someone found it in an old ruins and thought it might be worth something. They hauled it all the way back to find the answer was, yeah, scrap metal. They were happy to get rid of it for cheap.”

He was smiling even more now. Rimares didn’t usually show off how proud he was of something, but right then he was dripping with it.

“Hell, at least half of the equipment in there is so old that we don’t even know what it does anymore.”

“And you want to find out?” I asked cautiously, still a little worried about the dead monster before me.

“More than that, kid. We are going to get this beauty running again and drive it right out of here with every inch of it figured out and working perfectly.”

I just gawked at it. Only Rimares would pick a master project that involved building an entire ship, and this looked like it was going to a lot harder than just starting form scratch.

***

It turned out I wasn’t going to be the only one helping. Birch had been volunteered to help too. She was hoping to learn more under Rimares. I was pretty sure she meant the under bit pretty literally, but that was her own business. And, unlike the shop floor, Rimares let Officer Puppy come visit me in the warehouse. Officer Puppy would come sit in an out of the way corner and make sure the giant, dead turtle didn’t try anything funny.

The work kept us busy and out of the Ares shop floor. After moving most of Ramires’ equipment into the warehouse, we only ever went back there for lunch and for using machines that were too big to leave the shop. Mom would bring our lunches over for us half the time, and, since I wasn’t allowed to use any of the big machines yet, I was almost never back in the shop. We worked hard, and late, and sometimes straight through all seven days of the week.

By a vote of three to zero, Officer Puppy abstaining, we decided the first thing we were going to get working again was the toilet and water filtration systems. It was almost two to one for a bit, but Rimares thought better of it. It was a long walk back to the shop.

One day, early on, it hit me that this was a really expensive project to be working on for a master project. After all, a journeyman is supposed to pay their way on their project. Rimares just said that he had a sponsor and left it at that. Benefits of having your granddad own the company I guess.

After learning all about plumbing and water filtration systems, I got to learn how to weld things. I was given scrap metal to practice on. When Rimares thought I had one type of weld or another down, he would let me work on welding together non-essential parts. There were plenty of non-essential parts that became scrap metal for practicing on that way.

I learned how to disassemble an engine, though I wasn’t very good at putting one back together again. When we got one of them running, I learned how to tune them so they ran well. I even helped figure out what some of the mysterious equipment did, though Rimares and Birch were both better at that than me. Most of my discoveries involved making some dumb joke that turned out to be the missing piece of information they needed. Birch liked to say that my secret pirate skill was dumb luck.

We all quickly learned it was a smuggler’s ship, with plenty of hidden compartments, including a big one under the cockpit. This drove Rimares crazy for a bit until he figured out where the builders had hidden all the pieces of equipment were supposed to be crammed into those spaces. It turned out the answer was all over. Important bits of the ship were scattered all over the insides, in weird, unexpected places, usually copied over with backup systems in some other place.

“Whoever designed this was a madman or a genius,” Rimares would say. “I just wish I could shake his hand.”

The design was so complicated that we sometimes had other mechanics and even some famous ship builders crawling over it to learn from it. Between the distribution of all the equipment and all the backup systems, about the only way to stop it was to reduce the entire thing to scrap metal, or take the easy route and make sure there was no one left alive to drive it. There was even space for six self-contained power cells. The power cells had been scavenged long ago, as had many other useful parts, and they were too big to be made by anything on the island, but one day the Evangelista showed up with a large crate containing replacements.

As beautiful a ship as the Evangelista was, I was sad to find no Ornery on it, and maybe a little sadder that Maid said her farewells and rejoined her crew. I didn’t know until that day that she was second in command. No one ever talked about it, including her.

It took me a while to realize what a big project I was involved in. I mean, to me it was a rusty wreck that was here to teach me to be a better mechanic. But the senior Rimares showed up one day to congratulate us on making them whole tons of money from a few of the pieces we had gotten working. He called the old rust bucket a catalyst for discovery. All his grandson said was, “Told you.”

Rimares, Sr. pretty much ordered us to take a week off to celebrate our ongoing successes. His grandson negotiated that down to three days. Birch and I whined a little about that, but we were having fun, so it wasn’t too bad.

Ares had claimed rights to all the discoveries from the land crawler and the company was busy licensing those rights to other companies. It caused a small rush of those other companies sending exploration teams out into more ruins to look for more abandoned technology. Only about half of them ever made it back alive, most of them empty handed. Those abandoned places kept their secrets well.

Still, people had long ago assumed all the known ruins had been picked clean and their wasn’t anything to find in them. Who knows how many salvage and recovery teams had walked past this very rusty cargo bucket and ignored it in favor of finding some real technology that could be useful for understanding how those old technologies worked.

***

It took nearly a full year, but eventually we had the old land crawler mostly working. We still didn’t understand half of it, but everything that could be repaired was repaired, everything that could be replaced was replaced, and enough of it was working to declare the entire thing to be sort of, almost working.

On the 26th day of the First Planting, Rimares announced it was time to take it for a test drive. We were going out the next day. I had asked early on how we were supposed to get a land crawler off an island. Well, it could float, and if it didn’t, there was a reason he wanted to take sure all the hatches were properly sealed. He had already carried it out of the warehouse with a raft of cargo floaters a few times to see how it did in the water. The first time involved plenty of welding and drying out or replacing the things that had gotten wet.

Birch got to do the honors of easing it out of the warehouse while Rimares and I stood behind her, crammed into the small cockpit. She lifted it a few feet off the decking and, through the creaks of the old ship, you could hear the structure it was standing on groaning in protest over this total failure to listen to gravity. She turned it so it was faced straight out the doors and eased it out.

Rimares harrumphed. I had tried giving him harrumphing lessons, but they didn’t stick. It sounded like he was politely clearing his throat. “Afraid we’re going to flip over the edge or something?” he asked. “Gun it.”

“Gun it?” Birch asked.

“That’s what I said.”

With a war cry from Birch, the two of us tumbled against the bulkhead behind us as the crawler shot out of the warehouse like a bullet, totally ignored the shallow ramp in front of it. It landed in the water with a huge splash. Birch had let go of the throttle mid-jump, so it just glided to a stop, spinning lazily on top of the water.


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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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