Our captain offers her body to the crew at a rate of one hundred pounds per hour. It is a service limited to once a month, and a service no one neglects.
I was orphaned at six and taken aboard at fourteen. If I hadn't been bought I doubt I'd have reached adulthood. Initially I was assigned menial jobs such as cooking and cleaning the decks, but eventually I progressed to the oars where the incentive became available.
The frequency of our reward depends on how hard we work and how little we eat. A good balance between the two is important since each encounter with her is also a physical inspection. Those deemed too fat or thin to do their job are given another month. If their situation has not improved by then they are thrown to the ocean.
My first time was with the captain. When we finished she had to force me from her bed with a pistol. I was spared only on account of my youth, but faced an agonising nine month ban. When this expired I went to her like an animal. Afterwards, I thanked the captain and left.
There is a cry and a splash and I turn from my post. The sea is black like oil, and in its distance glows a trembling disc. I scan for the fallen man but in the darkness there is nothing. Eventually I can no longer hear him. The sea is unforgiving of carelessness;Welfare waits for no one. As we continue on, the amber of Edinburgh makes itself apparent.
We have a high standard of discipline on Welfare. Falling in love with the captain is punishable by death. Fledglings face a choice between allowing their emotions to overwhelm them, or learning the value of moderation. I have seen men thrown from the deck for using what the captain calls unprofessional language: words such as beautiful, radiant, sublime, alluring, marriage or love.
Sometimes we come across another ship when low on supplies, and we are forced to board and fight. None of us are afraid to give our lives for the captain. Fledglings find themselves strengthened through experience, or are replaced at the next port town. I have seen so many fall I struggle to sympathise.
The first mate’s wages are higher than average. His work is domestic as well as nautical, and thus a high degree of objectivity is expected of him. His predecessor was caught stealing the captain’s underwear, so we left him hanging in England and hired the queer.
I push her cabin door and there is that tinkle. She is already in bed. She finished the page she is on and closes the book.
I can get her to cry my name, just not as often. My body isn’t quite what it used to be. Each month the target is harder to achieve, every week the sea harder to bear. I ask God only for a few more years. That, or perhaps to know the reason why our captain never seems to age.
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