I originally was going to send this story out only to the people who bought my book as a way of saying thank you, and if you bought it I’d like you to know how much I appreciate it. This was meant to be a free gift, a Golden Ticket… but then I realised that in my world, everyone deserves a Golden Ticket. So without any further ado, let’s get on with it and thank you for your support.
- Rick Austin
A Life Insurance of the Gods Bonus Feature!
Captain Anathema and the Golden Ticket
By Rick Austin
The waves crashed against the prow of The Bloody Anarchist and completely failed to bother with collision insurance.
It wasn’t the mother of all storms, but was certainly related. In family terms, it raged like an angry third cousin who had shown up drunk to a reunion, crashed their horse into the barn, tipped over the punch bowl and then made a mess of the bathroom by stuffing the toilet roll into the lavatory.
Captain Anathema stared out into the distance as he pulled the wheel hard to port.
“Are you really sure about this, Captain?”
He glanced back at his first officer, a bearded young man called Parker. He gave him a harsh stare. If there was one thing that he hated, it was back-seat captains. “Are you trying to tell me how to do my job, Number I? Don’t make me demote you all the way down to VIth officer in charge of stores.”
Parker swallowed nervously. Captain Anathema was a hard man, and he hadn’t acquired the reputation as the most ruthless pirate to hold twelve university degrees for nothing. If he threatened to transfer you to the requisitions and purchases department, he meant it. It was a cruel fate from which few emerged, and those who did would usually babble insanely about depreciation of custom goods.
Anathema’s ship, The Bloody Anarchist, lurched its way through the choppy seas. The harsh rain hit the decks as lightning crashed through the sky overhead, briefly illuminating the way forward. On the side of the vessel, several barnacles wondered if they had made the right choice in attaching themselves to the boat in the first place, and wondered why they hadn’t chosen somewhere more pleasant to live.
“I’m sorry sir,” Parker apologised. “I’m just worried that we may not make it through the storm. Briggs the meteorologist has predicted that this weather may continue all night, with eighty percent chance of the wind hitting 50 knots. It’s a hell of a blow, sir.”
Anathema laughed and replied, “A good breaking wind is what we need, Number I! The sails can take it, and speed is of the essence.”
“But the storm—“
“The storm be damned!” Captain Anathema yelled back. “This ship is the mightiest vessel on all the seas, and we mustn’t be deterred by our fears. I know it looks bleak out there, but I have faith in my ship and her crew. Remember Hartchen’s third law of mathematical philosophy, man!”
His first officer quickly tried to recall the lectures that he had taken on the subject, long before Anathema had recruited him to the crew of gifted intellectuals. “The biggest factor of absolute chaos is how we choose to respond to it,” he said, quoting his old professor. “But the crew and I, we’re still a little uncertain as to our destination sir.”
Anathema reached down to the base of the ship’s wheel and pulled on a lever, activating the steering clamp and setting the ship on autopilot. He walked up to his first officer and reached into his long Normanskin coat’s inside pocket. He pulled out a parchment and unfurled it with a flourish. He held it up to Parker’s face.
“Here!” he said dramatically.
“Um… sir, I can’t really see what it says. There’s not enough light…”
Suddenly lightning flashed across the sky again, lighting up the parchment clearly. “Here!” Anathema repeated quickly, trying to take advantage of the timing.
Parker stared at the map and his eyes went wide.
Pirates are fascinating individuals.
They live in hope, self-denial and, usually, very nice ships. Despite this, there are some pirates who choose to live in houses further inland. However, these individuals are not well-respected in the pirate fraternity and are often referred to as landlubbers. The term is an ancient one, and simply translates from nautical dialect into a pirate who lubs the land, often sharply and with great vigour.
In the best-selling instructional manual The Do-It-Yourself Guide To Becoming A Pirate there are many references to land-lubbing and the hazards that this action brings. The usual symptoms of lubbing the land on a regular basis can range from pollen allergies to leaking bodily fluids that smell of broccoli even if they appear to be a deep orange colour.
Under no circumstances, the manual advises, should land-lubbing be attempted by untrained pirates. Only fully-qualified professional pirates should consider it if they want to lead an alternative lifestyle.
The author of this insightful volume, Borjan Crunkle, also points out that there are many misconceptions regarding those who operate within the piracy trade.
One of these misconceptions is that pirates appreciate the value of a good song-and-dance routine, usually performed with great gusto. It is true that many of them have a fair amount of gusto, although using it to perform musical interludes is rare. The gusto is usually kept in reserve for any potential battles they may face, or for issuing forth loud screams after being forced to walk the plank before plunging into shark-infested waters. In circumstances like those no amount of singing or dancing is necessary, especially the latter where the offender is too busy worrying about why they’re suddenly missing various limbs.
Another misconception is that they bury their treasure. They are, by their very nature, greedy scoundrels of the highest order. After the successful looting of an enemy ship the first thing that professional pirates would do would be to simply set off to the nearest port, where they would use their newfound wealth to re-supply their own ship and enjoy the spoils of their victory. The simple fact is that they had no need to bury their treasure; they would instead divide it amongst themselves and then spend it as quickly as they could. They lived for the moment and had no retirement plans.
There is no such thing as buried treasure.
Assuming, of course, if you meant treasure in the traditional sense.
Borjan Crunkle understood this, and his manual has become required reading for anyone who has ever entertained the thought of illegal enterprises on the high seas as a possible career. The author, who wasn’t a pirate himself but did considerable in-depth research on the subject, achieved a level of honour, fame and wealth for his informative work.
This just goes to prove that those who can’t do, teach.
Captain Anathema stared up at his Xth officer up in the crow’s nest with disdain. He’d explained to his crew exactly what their destination was, and hated to hear it mispronounced, especially since the storm had subsided in the night and it was now a stunningly nice day.
“I told you before, it’s pronounced HoLand!” he yelled up to his Xth officer furiously. He’d become increasingly frustrated with the man, whose name was LePrelle, and had demoted him several times. Anathema had placed him in the crow’s nest mainly as a way to get the man as far away from him as possible. He’d considered keel-hauling him on several occasions, but had decided that poor grammar and pronounciation of words deserved something far more ironic.
“Just… tell me what else you see,” he added, shouting with annoyance.
There was an uncertain pause, and then LePrelle shouted back, “Captain! We’ve got a problem! The island’s been surrounded by mynes!”
Anathema suddenly leapt into action and raced to the front of The Bloody Anarchist, pulling out his spyglass. He scanned the horizon, searching for the foul creatures that had excited his Xth officer. He stared at the coastline of HoLand and adjusted the focus of the lens. The sight that he spotted made him shudder.
Further ahead lay the creatures, their angular shells poking out of the water and looking like a formation of sharp rocks. Anathema knew that over the years these creatures had been the downfall of many unsuspecting sailors, but he and his men had learned to spot the signs and knew to see beyond the intelligent camouflage that the creatures had developed. What was revealed on the surface was nothing compared to what lay below.
Underneath the lightly-lapping waves, the creatures were dormant. Technically, the creatures were always dormant, even when they weren’t. They were slow, sluggish sea-beasts, larger in size than an ox-cart and marginally lower in intelligence. They floated in the water, occasionally using their giant muscles to change course, not so much swimming as limping.
“Limpet-mynes,” Anathema said quietly and cursed under his breath. The creatures may have been slow, but the moment they would become attached to the side of a vessel they would drag it down, pulling it to the ocean depths forever.
The captain turned to Parker and barked his command. “Activate the SONAR, Number I. It’s the only way we’ll be able to navigate the ship close enough to the island, and we can’t send the shoreboats. The mynes would easily take them down.”
Parker nodded with understanding and activated the SOund ‘N’ Audio-Reading system, or SONAR for short. From the bottom of the ship a long crystal tube emerged, while a small bell descended into the water from the front of the ship’s prow.
“I love this thing, don’t you?” Anathema asked with a smile. He looked at his first officer and added, “I did a thesis on the study of soundwaves back in my glory days at university. It’s a fascinating subject. You can ring a bell underwater, and the sound echoes throughout the water, rebounding when it hits something solid. The returning sounds are picked up by the tube, the crystal being perfectly attuned to the rebounding resonance frequency.”
“I’m sorry Captain,” Parker said. “I never took Communications, although I understand the principal behind it.”
Anathema considered this and winced at his first officer’s under-developed education. “All we do,” he said, “is listen to the sound coming through this end of the tube.”
He pointed at it, poking up through the deck. As if on cue, it chimed a ping noise as it received the signal from under the water. “The faster the pings get, the nearer an object is. I suggest we travel carefully, and it should tell us if any limpet-mynes are drifting towards us under the surface. Just pay close attention to the signal as I steer the ship, Number I.”
The approach to HoLand was slow and methodical, with Captain Anathema steadily steering The Bloody Anrachist and making minor course corrections whenever Parker informed him of trouble. They weaved their way between the limpet-mynes carefully, avoiding the hazardous beasts that lay in wait.
When they neared the shore, the crew dropped anchor and quickly set about departing the ship, heading up the beach and inland.
As islands went, HoLand was relatively small. However, the comparison of landmasses is always hard to judge. Some islands are large enough to be considered a country, whilst others are so small that they have little in the way of scenery other than a small patch of sand and a single palm tree. In terms of size, the best term that could be used to describe it was modest.
“There’s some prime real estate here sir,” LePrelle said as he looked around. “With some good advertising, we could easily sell summer homes in this location.”
What about the limpet-mynes, who seem to have made the surrounding waters their home?” Anathema asked him coldly. “Wouldn’t that put potential investors off?”
LePrelle thought about this for a moment. “Not at all, Captain,” he finally said. “We merely explain that the island comes complete with its own hydro-nautical protection system designed to discourage the criminal element,”
Anathema sighed and regretted that he had ever brought his Number X along with the landing party, and wondered if he’d made a mistake in recruiting someone with a bachelor’s degree in marketing in the first place.
Checking the map regularly, the captain led them further inland, following the directions it provided. After half an hour’s trek through the lush paradise, they finally reached a clearing. Anathema checked the map again, working out the scale of it against the location they were in. he did the mental calculations.
“This is it,” he said boldly. “We dig. The treasure we seek is here.”
“Um, where exactly?” LePrelle asked, waving his arms about wildly trying to indicate how large the clearing was.
Suddenly Anathema pulled his pistol from his holster and pulled the trigger. The crack of the gunshot rang out, startling several flocks of brightly-coloured birds that flew out from the trees.
LePrelle dropped to the floor, dead.
Captain Anathema stared at his former Number X coldly, and replaced his pistol. He glanced at the rest of his men, who were staring at him with disbelief. “What?!” he exclaimed. “I’m a pirate! This is what we do! Oh, come on… it’s not like any of you liked him either. I’ve read those polls you take.”
“So… where do we dig, Captain?” Parker asked nervously.
“Right there,” Anathema said, pointing to where his dead officer lay. “Ten marks the spot. Now then lads, let’s get to it.”
The crew of The Bloody Anarchist dug the soft soil. In fact, they were enjoying the whole experience.
It was a fine day to be working, at least in terms of the weather being mild as they set about their task. They were given shade as a cloud drifted overhead lazily, and had then decided to hang in front of the sun for a while since it had little better to do with its day.
They worked hard except for LePrelle, whose body had been tossed to one side casually. It lay near the mound of dirt that the crew had dug up so far, and if it weren’t the fact that he was dead he possibly would have commented on what a wonderful opportunity it was to improve his tan. Anathema urged his men on, digging as fast as he could and inspiring them to continue.
After an hour, the crew heard a dull thump as their shovels hit something solid. They cleared away the dirt from around the long, oblong surface to reveal the lid of the buried treasure chest. Eagerly they quickly dug around it, revealing the handles on the side. Once they’d uncovered enough of it, they lifted it out and hauled it to the flat ground above.
The men circled around the chest, staring at it intently. Their captain stepped forwards and pulled his pistol out again. In the blink of an eye he shot the large padlock off. It was a barbaric means of getting the job done, Anathema thought, but only an idiot would have wasted time travelling the world trying to locate the key first.
He strode over and lifted the lid that bore the initials BC, Borjan Crunkle. Crunkle had never been a pirate; he had been little more than a writer, transcribing the interviews that pirates had given him, and had never learned the lessons that he had taught others in his manual. He had succumbed to the cliché of burying his most valued possessions.
Anathema leaned inside the chest, obscuring the view of its contents from his men. He rummaged around for a moment, studying its contents, and then spun around to face his crew with a large smile. He held some of the treasure aloft for them all to see. It was exactly what his ruthless band of intellectual pirates enjoyed the most.
“Honorary doctorates!” he exclaimed, waving several rolls of parchments on the air. “Honorary doctorates for everyone!”
By his estimation, there were enough doctorates in the chest to provide each of his shipmates with at least two additional titles after their names, more acronyms of qualifications to add to the ones they had already earned. The titles may have been honorary, but since there was little chance of them ever returning to the halls of academia, they would take them where they could get them.
He tossed the diplomas out to his crew, who scrambled to lay claim to them. He reached in and took more, laughing heartily as he threw them into the air. His men cheered with enthusiasm and slowly checked them, trading them with each other as they determined which were more suited to their personal tastes.
“This is an amazing gift, sir!” Parker said cheerfully. “Thank you, it’s wonderful!”
“I expect the best from my men, Number I” Captain Anathema replied with a smile, “and I give the best in turn.”
Parker looked at the dead body of LePrelle, who had turned a golden brown by now. “But… what do you get out of this, sir? You have enough degrees and doctorates already.”
“Hmm,” Anathema hmmed, pondering the question. “Poetic irony, perhaps? Stick Number X’s body in the hole we’ve just dug and bury him. It’s pointless wasting a perfectly good hole. Oh, and bring the chest with us. I’m sure we can sell it at the Bay of E, even if it is slightly used. I’ll see you back at The Bloody Anarchist.”
With that the captain turned and headed back to the beach, leaving his men to do the dirty work.
Once he was sure that he was out of range of them, he reached inside his jacket and produced the other treasure that Borjan Crunkle had left inside his chest.
It was a large volume of parchments, bound by several overlapping thin strips of leather. Anathema studied it carefully, leafing through the edges as best he could. He was looking forward to speed-reading this back in his cabin later. He looked at the title and read it with a thin smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
The Do-It-Yourself Guide To Becoming A Pirate: Volume II
There had always been rumours of a follow-up to the highly-successful book that had made Crunkle a wealthy – and honorarily-titled – man. Yet when the writer had died none of his papers were found. The manuscript was worth a small fortune, or would be when finally published. Whoever owned it would become vastly wealthy.
Captain Anathema shoved it back inside his jacket, and decided that he would lock it away for a while. Perhaps he would pirate for a few more years, he considered, and then finally retire. He would publish it, and then live out the rest of his days in a luxury retirement community where he could terrorise the other inhabitants and use his intellect to beat them at card games.
This was his Golden Ticket. Something he would save for his golden years…
The novel Life Insurance Of The Gods is available in paperback on Lulu.com at http://www.lulu.com/shop/rick-austin/life-insurance-of-the-gods/paperback/product-21271344.html
And is available as an e-book, kindle-y kind of thing on Amazon.com