Sinking of the SSS Dungong
Power is a very silly thing to crave. There are much nicer things to want, like love, or water (rare enough to be wanted here), or good salted fish.
Really, there can't be any reason to want power other than simply to have it: it doesn't tickle any primal mammalian desires, unless you count the desire to have control over other people. Controlling others means you yourself are not being controlled by them, but if it's freedom you're searching for, why not put your energy into simply wanting that?
No, all power gets you is more work and harder work. Naturally, of all the crew and officers on the SSS Dungong, the captain with all his power has the most difficult work of all — at the moment, he is performing the work of going down with his ship.
And I am looking down at the iron deck of the Dungong some twenty meters below, and the sands some twenty-five, frothing with moisture where there should only be a desert plain. Yes, Captain Ichigo is doing his job very well under a decently thick layer of quicksand, now. He and his passionate crew remained, trying to keep the Dungong above ground, while all those already below decks - my companion and I - who couldn't give a damn surged up, like the vermin we're meant to be keeping down, to take refuge in the rigging. Certainly, some Tsijese tried to follow, but the solidarity of the powerless is not to be underestimated: three perforated bodies — one fallen from her mast, in the skirmish, poor thing — lies mangled on the main deck, waiting to be swallowed up by the freshly hydrated desert.
That is, if you'll allow me to philosophize further, the most tragic thing of all. The Dungong is — was — a watership: she transported water. When I was sold to Captain Ichigo, the whole thing was as silly to me as building trees; water was plentiful in my home pre-slavery, the Minwan Basin far away from here. In this part of the world, however, plainly obvious as it is now, there is not much water, so water has to be imported. Therein lies the peril of the oekinel who live in it.
So for me, there is no love lost at all for the Tsijese sailors and Captain Ichigo who are all well and asphyxiated now because, as I see it, they attempted to take water where it oughtn't go. It's just common sense. If water was meant to be in the desert, then it would rain. I am more concerned about the fact that, along with water, there were two other things that were being taken somewhere they do not belong, and like the spilling water paying the price for it: myself, straddling this uncomfortable iron beam, and Jewel.
Jewel is lovely: a lithe, well-proportioned body covered in wonderful light brown fur which she somehow managed to keep groomed even in the bilge where I met her, woefully wrapped in misshapen burlap clothing. And the little gold ring in her ear, of course, matching the one in mine. Matching her fur. Matching her eyes. Her fingers wind into mine for any number of kinds of reassurance.
"Tsaiko?" she asks, using a pet name.
"Yes?" I reply in the language we share. It's the only one we know; Tsijese and all the other languages of these flat-nosed people in barren climes are impossible to make heads or tails of — especially considering they don't have tails, and as I hope I have implied well enough, hardly have heads.
"Nothing," she says. "I just wanted to hear the tone of your voice to see if you're afraid." Jewel, herself, does not sound afraid at all. But she never does. "Say something else."
"Um," I say, which probably doesn't count. "I don't know what else to say. How do you feel about the barrelman?"
Jewel looks up at the crow's nest, where the barrelman was, and then down at the deck, where the barrelman is now up to her temples and buttocks in quicksand. "I’d never met her," is all Jewel has to say.
"Me neither. But if you think about it, she did save us."
"If I think about it?"
"She shot that one trying to come up here. He would have thrown us off, for sure."
Jewel snorts through her nose. She makes it seem like the most attractive sound ever. "She was going to throw us off, too."
"How do you know?"
"She was trying to climb over to the foremast. Didn't you notice?"
I shrug heavily, then wish I didn't and grip Jewel's paw more tightly. The wind really should be more courteous than it is about nautical disasters. Jewel just smirks nervously.
"I was busy watching all the other pink ones get swallowed up," I protest weakly, trying to indicate with my voice that if I had a spare arm I would be gesturing downwards.
"We were lucky she fell. I don't feel bad at all."
"She fell?" I ask, feeling blood fill my ears. I must not have been paying attention. "So who shot those two?"
"I did, before we came up. You really didn't see?"
I shake my head, completely at a loss at this point. Jewel makes a noise of mixed frustration and amusement, as if she had a cold that lacked motivation.
"Where did you get the gun?" I ask.
"I took it," Jewel replies helpfully.
"That Meid that we stepped over on the stairs."
"Let me guess, you killed him too?"
Jewel gives me a look. I suck my cheek.
"So, where's the gun now?" I ask further, looking her over for it. Even in the clothes we're given when we're forcibly employed, there aren't many places to conceal a firearm.
"I threw it."
"I threw it at her. Why do you think she fell?"
I groan. "It was a gun!"
"You threw it?"
"It was out of bullets!"
"It was still a gun!" I sit my elbow on my knee and my chin in my palm that isn't occupied with Jewel's, watching the sand slowly swallow up everything that isn't in the masts. Everyone that isn't us. And probably, somewhere, our only possible defence against a world that we can't comprehend and in turn refuses to acknowledge our existence.
"We're going to die anyway," Jewel states. I imagine a hint of genuine emotion in her voice.
"It's slowing down. We might be able to get away on the rigging." I look around: there are ropes everywhere. Sails. Yards.
Jewel scoffs. "To where?"
Oekins. Sand. A whole desert of sand. "Right."
"Maybe there will be another ship," Jewel suggests, answering her own question. "At least we have some water."
"Not enough to swim in."
"I would rather swim in that than go back to Marinia."
The swirling sands below, bubbling slower and slower like time before you drift off the sleep, are hypnotic. I don't know what happened with Jewel in the City of Faults. I know a little, I mean, but no more than that, and I don't much want to. "We won't," I reassure her.
"Swim in quicksand?"
"We are going to die, though."
I exhale dry air. "We'll die together, I suppose." That really seems to be the nicest thing I can say at this point. But after the lives we've had, together and apart, it may be one of the nicest things I ever have said. Jewel agrees, it seems, without words: she reaches behind herself to pull her tail out of its prison, the poorly fitting pants she's forced to wear, and shuffles closer to me along the hot iron yard.
"Thanks," she murmurs in my ear, then rests her jaw by it, in the crook of my neck. I put an arm around her to take her other paw. If our old tribesmen could see us now, embracing the taboo of twining fingers while sitting atop the highest point as far as the eye can see, a slowly sinking metal spire under the merciless sun, they would think...well. I don't know what they would think.
I think about what they would think, what exactly they would say upon seeing my wife and I wrapped in this open embrace over sunken corpses, the crew of the SSS Dungong, our owners, until we cease being the highest two creatures above the merciless quicksand...
Because turbines materialize, in the distance, through the hot haze.