He spent most of his life (which was yet very short), without departing a considerable distance from his native docks. The son of a ship engineer and a Norwegian shipyard, he only set sail to return to the port soon with a fresh fish cargo aboard. There were still transportations of people or freightage sometimes, but they didn’t happen very often. His regular everyday life proceeded aside from any surprises, but this was not what the young fishing vessel would really want.
Resting after a regular voyage, he quietly swayed at the pier and had vivid dreams about his distant mighty ancestors, warlike dragon ships, whose boards were niftily decorated with dark-red shields. They swiftly cut through the waves, carrying away the distant ancestors of his sailors and captain. The desired image was appealing and beckoning, but the horns of large ships, the cries of seagulls or human chatter destroyed this shaky fantasy over and over again.
The port was always throbbing with life, but even amid all this bustle, the Norwegian ship felt all the sadness of solitude and acute loneliness. Yes, of course, there were a lot of other vessels and other objects around, but he had nothing to do with the vast majority of them. They were different. Soulless. Dead. No more than lifeless shells, driven by the crew.
Once, when the Reliable (as captain Sigurdsson had named him) was still a greenhorn who sailed from the maternal womb of the shipyard for the first time, he believed that all other vessels could think and realize themselves as he did. But soon he experienced dismay mixed with frustration. In response to any attempts to communicate, ships only silently swayed on the waves, indifferent and distant, like stars in the sky. Now he perceived them with cold disinterest and a touch of irritation.
There were some pleasant exceptions, of course. For example, the good old lighthouse, snow-white colossus, who towered above the fuss of the port world. Over the years, a lot of keepers had been replacing each other within his walls, leaving the particles of their souls to this high sentinel. And the lighthouse could speak about any keeper for hours, as if they were his own children, recalling the happy moments they had spent together. Following his guiding lights, the Reliable learned something new not just once, while the lighthouse winked at him conspiratorially and continued to tell the old man’s tales to the young ship.
The city museum was the abode of the oldest ship in these places, who even managed to catch the Age of Discovery. Of course, he wasn’t the same proud vessel as before: he didn’t break apart into pieces only through the efforts of people and continually indulged in nostalgia for the times when he was young and beautiful. Then he raced to the horizon, breathing more wind into his mighty sails, and the orderly rows of his cannons and culverins glinted in the sun. The Rapid spoke with a quaint Spanish accent, accompanied by the planks creaking, and despite his venerable age he grudgingly admitted that he regretted only one thing — that he would never lower his stern into the water again, not to mention the ocean crossing.
Sometimes, a light seaplane flew over the port. He was of a superior kind (not in terms of flight characteristics, but in terms of his character and behaviour) and liked caustically teasing everyone unlucky enough to meet him. The ships had heard a lot of sarcastic regrets about the fact that the wondrous world of the air elements was closed to them and (alas and alack!) they unlikely would have a chance to admire a bird’s-eye view of the city or their own harbour at least. At the same time, a local helicopter and a pair of passenger planes must listen to his reproaching remarks that they would never understand what drifting on the sea surface felt like. And he also called names to the poor city tram, addressing him as “a shore loafer who goes round in circles.”
The seasoned cruiser, an old smoker with a huge sooty funnel, used to announce to everyone about his arrival in a rolling bass tone of his metallic voice. He claimed that he was a veteran of both World Wars. A warrior to the core, now he assisted the coast guard in the suppression of smuggling. In his spare time, which, we must say, he didn’t have very often, the cruiser eagerly told everybody about how he had been meeting in mortal combat with German submarines and warships.
In general, it was the whole circle of contacts for the Reliable, except for those with whom he only exchanged short greetings like “hello” and “goodbye” and new ships, who sailed to the port from afar from time to time.
Each cog of every living ship, land vehicle, building, or aircraft had its own story and perhaps, would like to tell it to someone. Both the modest street lamp and the lighthouse, towering over the port as a multi-ton enormous beacon, experienced joy and pain in their lives. But in this cluster of lonely beings, everyone seemed to live in his tiny microcosm, and only a few had not yet learned from bitter experience or had seen so much in their life that they finally hardened. They were the only ones who opened their hearts to others willingly or troubled them with questions.
This possibility for communication was a kind of safety valve for the Reliable, but still, it wasn’t enough for him. When he was constructed and set afloat, he already had a certain amount of knowledge received from his mother shipyard and the artisans who had worked hard on his creation. Therefore, he immediately began to ask himself the eternal questions in an attempt to realize his place in the world, his goals, the purpose of his existence, and find out as much as possible about the world around. While humans repeatedly reminded him of who he was, by whom he was conceived in the first place and designed, and then brought to life, people themselves and existence in general caused much more questions. For what purpose and why were they created? By whom? And who, in turn, had created the entity that created them? Did everyone, both men and ships, have the Primal Cause at the beginning of time?
Perhaps, people had some quite specific purpose of their creation as the Reliable had, and like him, they once considered that purpose imposed from the outside, and then they wished to resist it. Anyway, he didn’t know for sure. And it must be said that people who understood the ships’ speech were even rarer than the speaking ships. Moreover — such people were either too young and therefore unable to answer his questions, or lived in a building that for some reason was called a funny farm, although it looked sad and apparently had nothing to do with agriculture. There were also those who only found their gift of understanding after a strong dose of fuel called “alcohol”; however, they lost this ability after a deep slumber.
The books stored in the captain’s cabin didn’t provide much clarity in these matters either, but led to the assumption that at least some types of microorganisms inhabited the human body could be considered as its “crew.” But when the Reliable shared his thoughts with port’s residents, the seaplane choked with laughter and laughed so hard that his unfortunate pilot couldn’t start the engine for a long time after, trying to understand what was the cause of the breakdown. And it was pure luck that the incident didn’t happen during the flight.
But in any case, the ship had high regard and genuine interest in Captain Sigurdsson, and not because this man was his skipper.
The captain knew his business well and could be, so to speak, in great demand among the female half of the port city, but there was one circumstance that gained him the reputation as a local madman, though harmless and sociable. Leif Sigurdsson was a very inquisitive person and also superstitious to the extreme, with a great love for everything strange and unusual, multiplied by an intense craving for compulsive communication. At the same time, he had an outstanding analytical mind and was well versed in many practical and applied issues, had a fresh, unconventional look at things, a specific charm and erudition that was rare for a person of his profession and residence. A versatile owner of numerous talents, he could perform on stage, publish newspaper essays, get a degree or a swimming champion cup, but instead, he chose to be independent of everything and everyone. He didn’t pretend to be anything and didn’t strive to prove anything to people. He lived and slept in the cabin of his ship, going ashore only out of great necessity and with extreme reluctance. However, there was a time when he wrote letters to outstanding persons who lived at least a century ago. Back then, he travelled around the world, leaving his messages at their graves and cenotaphs. When he was all alone, he played violin music of his composition, and even the most eminent Scandinavian composers, like Grieg, Kjerulf, or Svendsen wouldn’t be ashamed to have such works included in their legacy. Every day, naturally and without any effort, he brushed his teeth, he composed and wrote at least one rhopalic verse in his notebook which already contained a great many of them. He drew pictures on subjects congenial to his spirit, making canvases, frames and mixing paints with his own hands. After the work was finished, he let the paints dry and then burned it soon enough.
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