goblin search

Alexander White and the Pirates (and Goblins)

Chapter 5


Goblin stories by Zsolt Kerekes

Meanwhile, outside the ship, a shaft of sunlight burst through the magical mist surrounding the Iron Lady. In the visitors cabin, above the waterline, it hit the salt caked streaky porthole, as a pencil tight ray. Then diffused through the glass as a wide beam which gently came to rest on Captain Feary's black leather eye-patch. As the patch warmed up, a little black flea crept out from under the pirate captain's wig to do a bit of sunbathing, and then hopped back again quickly before it could be seen, by his other (good) eye which now opened and began sneakily scanning around the room. This eye was the only part of the pirate now moving. Apart from his rotating eyeball, Captain Feary looked just like he did a few seconds earlier when he was still fast asleep.

"I'll get that flea one of these days" Feary vowed to himself. But generations of pirate fleas had evolved to be one hop ahead of the pirate hand, so actually there was little point in trying to catch them. You just ended up just slapping yourself all over, and then they started biting, and then you started itching, and then you had to start scratching. And then they started hopping about again to get out of the way. The result could quickly deteriorate into a dance known as the pirate jig. (In the early 18th century one old English pirate, who had retired to Bavaria to avoid jail, modified the pirate jig into a local folk dance, which was done in leather shorts to increase the odds of slapping a few fleas.)

He recognised the snoring symphony of his shipmates and could tell from the angle of the light that it was probably a little past dawn. But his head seemed to be strangely disconnected from the rest of his body. And everything seemed blurry and ghostlike, as if he was dead and seeing this through the eyes of the spirit world. So, nervously, he crept his hand up to feel his neck. Good! It was there. And apart from his beard there were no other bumps or knots. That meant he was not yet hung, merely hung over. Which explained the terrible splitting headache. But he knew the cure for that... Not aspirin, nor paracetomol (those hadn't been invented when he'd been frozen in the iceberg). The traditional cure was to start the day with a nice cup of pirate tea, also known to landlubbers as "hair of the dog". He sat up sharply and slapped his snoring companions out of their slumbering dreams.

"Time to wake up milads! We're not dead yet, even though we have been most royally entertained by His Majesty's navy. We need to make a plan for how to get off this iron tub before they realise we're wanted men. But first of all..."

Shivermitimbers anticipated his captain's line of thinking.

"Shivermitimbers! We needs to find out where they stows the rum so's we can make a nice cup of tea. Right Cap'n?"

"Right milad. You and Sharkey go and explore the galley. But be polite and gentle lads. No cutting throats or other pleasantries. The crew on this ship don't know we're wanted men yet. They probably think we're a pleasure boat, taking Alexander and his goblins on a sea cruise. And that suits us just fine, so long as it stops us from getting hung. So creep along quietly lads and speak sweetly. And then after breakfast we'll round up the boy and his pals and be on our way before the navy captain is any the wiser."

Speaking of "navy captains"... Before retiring to his bunk, Captain Smith had a mind to do some research on the world wide web, concerning pirate ships and suchlike. He thought he should find some mention of this reconstructed pirate ship quite easily. But not a trace on the BBC web site or anywhere else. After half an hour or so he got annoyed with himself for wasting so much time and decided to search a bit deeper. As a serving naval captain he knew the password to get into the admiralty's secret intranet archives which went back hundreds of years. So he went to www.royal-navy.mod.uk and typed in the secret password to get into the archive...

"B_E_L_L_B_O_T_T_O_M_S" - which spells? - "Bellbottoms."

He didn't understand how it was possible, but within a few minutes of searching the archives for "Feary" and "Sharkey" and "Shivermitimbers" he thought he now had a pretty good idea who his guests really might be.

"Well, well... A notorious pirate from the 18th century, a guest on my ship? No. That's ridiculous! Have to cut down on the old port. Have a bit of a sleep first and then things will look clearer."

But he was quite wrong about that, as you will see.

Shivermitimbers had been shown how to use the vending machine by a helpful RN (crew member). The drinks were free and didn't need coins or a credit card. But unfortunately Shivermitimbers had been expelled from school before fully learning how to read. (Something to do with starting a fire in the library, one cold winter's night when he had got locked in by mistake.) So when he was left on his own, the labels on the vending machine were not very helpful. Luckily, every time he pressed a button, another drink came out. So, by a process of trial and error, and tasting what came out, he had reached two important conclusions.

  • One:- the ship had run out of rum.
  • Two:- the only thing worth drinking, was the hot chocoloate.

"Shivermitimbers! The sooner we get off this ship, the better" he thought. "Before we all die of thirst."

He knew that Captain Feary would be displeased, and get into a foul temper if he went back with nothing at all. But he had an idea for how to make the best of this salvage operation....

...About twenty minutes later...

He was ready. And his finger tip was sore from pressing the buttons so many times. It took about fifty of those useless little paper cups from the vending machine to fill a whole fire bucket. And the machine ran out of hot chocolate after one and a half buckets, no matter how hard he poked the buttons, which eventually got stuck. But one and a half buckets was better than nothing.

"This chocolate drink bain't bad at all" said Feary, after swigging down the first bucket, and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "Maybe we should find another one of them chocolate drink machines and take it back to our ship when we go. Sharky here's got a handy way with mechanical gadgets. Maybe he can fix it up so it also serves rum. Think how much time that would save if you only had to press a button to get hot rum first thing in the morning."

Shivermitimbers thought that to avoid disappointment, he'd better explain to the captain that the vending machine spat out the drinks in mean little paper cups, and not in convenient dollops like a bucket load.

"That be no problem" said Feary. "Sharkey can modify that too, so it comes out in proper pirate sized portions. Remember how small those sharks were when he started keeping pet sharks as his hobby? No more than tiddlers. But before you knew it, they were bigger than a ship."

Shivermitimbers did remember that some of the original pirate crew (those who liked to keep clean by having the occasional dip in the sea) had mysteriously disappeared, presumed drowned, before the true scale of Sharkey's pet shark project had been properly appreciated. Even then he had tried to cover it up, when accused, by showing Captain Feary the giant shark through the wrong end of his telescope and trying to pretend it was much smaller than it really was. But just as the captain realised his mistake, there had been a sneak attack by the Royal Navy. Then the shark showed its true value by towing the pirate ship at high speed, into the wind, and rescuing them all from the navy and the gallows. After that, the eaten pirates were just put down in the accounts book as necessary development costs. But the air on the pirate ship got a bit more fruity after that, because no-one wanted to have a bath in the sea any more. At least, not until after the shark had eaten (preferably someone else).

Since the giant shark episode, Captain Feary had adopted a more positive attitude to trying modern methods. That's how it came to be that an hour or so later, having spied out all the quieter passageways, Captain Feary, cutlass in hand, could be seen to be supervising Sharkey and Shivermitimbers in the loading of a fully loaded hot chocolate vending machine onto a lifeboat on a quieter part of the middle deck.

"Easy does it milads. Don't drop her. Now all we've got to do is find Alexander and his goblins, and we can be on our way."

Suddenly the deck in both directions was filled with marines, armed with rifles at the ready! A metallic sounding voice boomed out of a bull horn loud speaker.

"Captain Feary! Shivermitimbers and Sharkey! I arrest you in the name of Her Majesty's Navy for piracy on the high seas. Put down your weapons and come quietly, or we'll have to take you by force."

Feary looked around him. They were surrounded.. He looked up at the next deck and could see more marines up there as well. He looked below. There was no escape route that way either. His starched collar started to feel tight around his neck. The sergeant of these marines, a big ugly fellow called Lockemup, had been told to take no chances . There were several guns levelled at each pirate, cocked and ready to fire. Lockemup stared coolly at Feary, daring him to move, and Feary calmly stared back for what seemed like ages, until at last the marine sergeant was forced to blink. Then Feary smiled, and turned around to face his own men.

"So it's come to this at last" he said. "Well milads, it looks like our privateering days are finally over. Let's put down our swords and go quietly, and maybe we'll have one last supper at the captain's table afore we goes swinging our last jig from the yard arm."

Slowly and solemnly, he unbuckled his silver studded leather sword belt and handed it to the marine sergeant. That would be worth a lot in an antique shop, thought the sergeant.

"I'll keep it safe" he said.

"Make sure you do" said Feary.

Underneath where his belt had been, in a wide line running diagnally from his right shoulder down to his left hand waist was a pale white band, showing the original colour of his frock coat.

Unlike their captain, Sharkey and Shivermitimbers didn't have fancy leather sword belts. They were poor honest pirates, who usually worked and slept in the same old clothes until they fell apart, or until they could steal something newer. Their scabbards had been tied on with strings months before they had been frozen in the iceberg, and that was hundreds of years ago. Knives would have been quicker, of course, but you don't suddenly reach for your knife when you've got half a dozen carbines pointed at you. So they struggled for a few minutes to untangle the greasy knots. And then... their trousers fell down. And like all traditional pirates, they weren't wearing anything underneath! Luckily their shirts were quite long and covered up their embarrassment. The marines standing closest, made sure they didn't look up as they stooped down to gather up the fallen knives and cutlasses. Then thoughtfully, they handed back the strings afterwards, and motioned to the two pirates to tie up their trousers again.

"This way gentlemen, if you please" said the smiling marine sergeant, waving for them to follow. Not that they had any real choice. Surrounded on all sides in a tight press, they were escorted to the brig, which was down lots of stairs and well below the waterline. By that time, most of the marines were wriggling in their uniforms, unable to scratch themselves properly while holding their rifles.

"All together now please" waved the sergeant. So into the brig walked Feary, Sharkey and Shivermitimbers, defeated but still standing proud. Then with a great clang, the steel door was slammed shut from the outside. Feary looked around. The brig was similar in size to their old guest cabin. But with marines on constant guard outside, and no portholes there was no way they could escape now.

Meanwhile in the war room... After seeing the first cloud letter from Joanna, Alexander, Lt. Nimbus and Number Two stood staring at the weather monitor to see if any more messages would appear. When nothing happened for a long time, Alexander got bored and tired, and said he would like to go to sleep now! But he was also worried that he might miss something. So Lt. Nimbus promised that if there were any more messages then he would instantly send a runner to Alexander's cabin.

As a military man, Nimbus was trained to be suspicious. He didn't really believe the message had been written in the clouds. And he doubted if the sender really was Alexander's mum. Although sky writing using vapour trails had been done by advertisers (using planes) since the 1920's, and normally it would be easy to just look out the window, the problem was that there was still a dense sea fog all around the destroyer. So eyeball confirmation of the sky writing was not possible. And the letters on the weather radar were already starting to disolve… removing the evidence. No, he thought it was more likely that someone had got a worm or virus into the weather systems computer and was using that to send the message to the display. Whether that "someone" was Alexander's mum, another member of the crew playing a prank, or a hacker from a hostile agency needed to be determined fast. He started up the anti virus software on this system, and would switch over to the backup weather system while the cleanup was in progress. Unfortunately due to budget cuts, it had been decided to skip the need for a fast boot option on the backup weather system, so he would have to wait about twenty minutes for the software to configure and test itself.

The admiral in charge of buying computer systems had said "If you're in the middle of a naval battle and the weather forecast computer gets knocked out, it's hardly a priority to know if it's going to be sunny again tomorrow, is it?"

And with that, he crossed out the order requisition for fast boot backup thereby saving the taxpayers one hundred thousand pounds in the process. But he didn't know about wizards and cloud writing did he? The next time, Dear Reader, one of these options came up again, it would definitely be marked as a "must have priority" and not an "optional extra".

Alexander had been napping in a quiet cabin set aside for visiting VIP's when Eatsalot shook him awake.

"We've got to get away quickly! They're hanging the pirates! We're next!"

Alexander groaned and rubbed his eyes. Sleepsalot and Buvalot were still asleep on the lower bunk. Eatsalot pulled them unceremoniously onto the floor to wake them up.

"They're hanging the pirates! We're next!"

The other two goblins started to feel their necks and huddled together in a panic. Alexander groaned at their antics. He sometimes wondered if he should have a word with the goblin king, Gunnar, and swap his nervous goblin minders for some others who might be a bit more heroic. But he knew that Gunnar was a tough businessman who thought nothing of testing his goblin hammers on the heads of young goblins. He dreaded to think what would happen to a failed goblin minder. No. That wouldn't be fair. Alexander had gotten fond of this lot, even if they were sometimes a bit useless. Then he remembered about Buvalot volunteering to throw himself at the shark, and he felt embarassed. Maybe they weren't so cowardly, all the time. Maybe being nervous was a good survival tactic if you were a small goblin.

"Calm down" said Alexander taking charge. "Just tell me slowly."

"I was hungry" said Eatsalot, who had joined the huddle "and looking for a snack when I overheard some of the navy men talking about the pirates."

"But last night the navy captain thought the pirate story was a joke" said Alexander. "He thinks it's one of those historical projects like they have on the Discovery channel."

"He knows they're pirates now" Eatsalot said firmly. "The navy captain sent armed marines to arrest them. And he's thrown the pirates into the brig. It was quite dramatic, the sailors said. So I went to the brig to visit them. Captain Feary said the navy were going to hang them all by the yard arm. He said he was very sorry now that he made you a prentice pirate, in case that would count against you. And he said I should warn you straight away, before they got you."

"But why would they be hung?" asked Alex, wondering if it should really be "hanged?" His father had once explained the difference. Pheasants are hung, to give them flavour but highwaymen are hanged to set an example. When Alex had asked why it was different, his father had replied mysteriously "Hanged if I know?"

"They've done a lot of very wicked things" said Eatsalot. "I talked to them from inside the air conditioning vent. The pirates admit they deserve to be hung, and they said to tell you they're very sorry they won't be able to train you to be a prentice pirate any more. They thought you showed promise. And if you get asked by the navy about being a prentice pirate, just deny it and say you were just pretending. Say that really you were their prisoner and they forced you."

Just then there was a knock on the door. The goblins tried to pull Alexander under the bed. He resisted them and called out in an imperious tone.

"Enter." (He'd seen Captain Jean Luc Picard do that in Star Trek, Next Generation.)

A seaman came in carring a white envelope on a silver tray. Was this how you got invited to a hanging on a navy destroyer? Alexander wondered. The goblins were still under the bed, but their feet were sticking out. Alex kicked one foot, and they were all sharply pulled in . The seaman pretended not to notice that anything unusual was going on.

"Sorry to disturb you sir." Alexander looked around, and then realised that the seaman was referring to him. "Lt. Nimbus sends his compliments."

There was a giggle under the bed at that, and a foot shot out. Alexander kicked it, and it retracted quickly out of sight. But he was relieved at being called "Sir." That meant they didn't know yet how far he'd got in his training as a prentice pirate.

"…Compliments, of Lt. Nimbus and 'er" the seaman paused as if he had forgotten for a moment why he was here. Alexander looked up at him with an innocent expression, as if goblin feet were always appearing and disappearing from under his bed and it was nothing unusual.

" There's been another message for you and Lt. Nimbus said to bring it to you sharpish. So here it is." Long delay as another foot popped out from under the bed wiggled around and withdrew again. "Yes, well... So here it is sir. With the lieutenant's compliments."

More giggling from under the bed. Alexander wasn't sure if he should take the envelope or the tray. He decided to take the tray, which the surprised seaman let go after a little tug of war.

"Thank you" said Alexander, feeling in his pockets and not sure if he was supposed to give a tip. He found an old coin from his last holiday to Saint Malo. It was a three franc piece he'd got as change from a sweet stall at the goblin street market. But the seaman declined the proffered coin with a wave and a smile.

"It's all part of the service, sir."

Then he saluted, stepped back, turned around at the door, shut it without a backward glance and marched briskly down the corridor, judging by the clatter of his footsteps while whistling a jolly tune.

When they were sure that he was gone the goblin minders crawled out sheepishly from under the bed.

"Fat lot of good you are at hiding" said Alexander, as he tore open the envelope which was addressed to "Master A. Whoyte, guest of HMS Iron Lady."

Eatsalot was looking under the tray for hallamrks. "Not even silver plated." He whispered in disgust, not realising that on board a ship at sea the last thing you want is things that tarnish and need a lot of polishing.

"What does it say?" asked Buvalot.

The note read simply.

"Second cloud message contents…

Dear Alexander,

Return to pirate ship, ASAP, GIS, RN.

Love Mum"

"ASAP", as you all know, is short for "As Soon As Possible". But GIS was part a secret code used by Alexander and his mum when she was being accosted by boring people she wanted to get away from at the supermarket, or after school. It stood for "Go In Secret" I'll meet up with you later. You know where. ..And make sure nobody unwelcome sees you or knows what you're up to. After a few minutes his mum would then say to the person she was trying to get away from, "Where's Alex disappeared to? Sorry, I must dash and find him." It was a useful tactic, and this time he knew the code meant the unwelcome people were the Royal Navy.

"Listen up goblins!" exclaimed Alex. "My mum, Mrs. Whoyte, says we've got to go back to the pirate ship. And to do that, we've got to rescue the pirates. So, any ideas?"

To Alexander's goblin minions, orders from his mum came third only to commands from Gunnar the goblin king kinself, and "she who must be obeyed", Darla, his wife. And so that's how Alexander found himself standing outside the locked door of the pirate's cell with two marine guards sleeping on the floor.

Alexander was just about going to say, "Shouldn't we search their pockets for the key?" when Buvalot picked the lock and pulled the heavy door wide open.

"I'll have to more careful where I hide my chocolates" Alexander thought to himself. It always seemed like the bars of half nibbled chocolate which he locked away in the toy chest, were a bit smaller than he remembered. Now, he thought, he guessed the reason. But this wasn't the time to speculate on shrinking chocolate bars.

The pirates were just finishing off a hearty fried breakfast of bacon, eggs and devilled kidneys and didn't look up from their plates when the door swung open. So they were very surprised indeed when they noticed Alex and his goblins. Captain Feary stood up and stared at them.

"Are they arresting the young'uns too?" he asked sorrowfully. "Sit down lads and have some grub. There's plenty left."

"My mum says we've got to go back to your ship" he explained. "We're escaping."

It was only then that Captain Feary noticed that the young'uns did not appear to any guards in tow, and through the doorway he could see the boots of the marines lying asleep on the floor. He smiled at that, and patted Alexander's shoulder. As they stepped out of the cell they heard a clattering sound coming towards them.

"Don't worry" said Alex. "It's only Sleepsalot."

Sleepsalot had found the locker in which the pirate's ironmongery had been stored. The load was too heavy for a small goblin to carry so he had wrapped everything up in a canvas sheet, which he dragged behind him. The bundle slid smoothly along on the polished floors. But the clattering was because some of the blades, which were all sharp, had cut through the bottom of the sheet and were starting to fall out. The pirates rushed up to reclaim their swords and knives, and then Captain Feary carefully unsheathed his cutlass as if to check that it was still sound.

"Before we go any further. Kneel down Alexander."

"Oh dear" thought Alex. "This is where I get my head chopped off." He did as he was told, but he wasn't nervous. The goblins gathered round him and hissed. But Captain Feary and the other pirates looked friendly and were smiling. So the goblins backed away. Feary then lightly tapped Alexander on each shoulder with the flat of the blade.

"Usually it takes years to become a fully fledged pirate. But needs must. And you've shown your true colours. So, Prentice Pirate Alexander, I dub thee full pirate third class. You've earned your skull and crossbones. Arise Pirate Whoyte."

The pirates clapped and cheered. But luckily there was no one awake to hear them. Feary pulled out a little penknife which was hidden in his hat.

"Every pirate needs a good blade. Use this one, which I had from a navy admiral."

Alexander looked at the ivory handle which was indented by the unmistakable bite pattern of shark teeth. "

"The admiral don't need it no more" said Feary by way of explanation. "Now then Alexander, milad, can I borrow your good goblins for a few minutes. I have some tasks which are well suited to pirates of the goblin kind. So I need to make them temporary goblin pirates."

The goblins pleaded for Alex to agree.

"What sort of tasks?" he asked. "Not killing people?"

"Sneaky stuff" said Feary. "The sort of things that goblins are good at."

"All right" agreed Alex. "And they can do one more sneaky thing for me, if they can find me a pen and some paper. "

For the next few hours the Iron Lady drifted quietly. More like a cruise liner with a hangover than a destroyer on patrol. Even the russian sub captain, Ivan Sinkasubovitch, commented on this phenomenom when he got the report from his sonar operator.

"This Iron Lady crew is being very quiet. I don't like it."

"Maybe they are all asleep?" suggested his ex KGB security advisor, who was feeling a bit tired himself after drinking a bottle of vodka at breakfast.

"I think they practise sneaky manoeuvre" said the captain. "They go quiet. We get in a little closer, and before you can say 'Maggie Thatcher' Boom! They got us on their screens and we spend next three weeks trying to hide again. Maintain our present distance but tell me the instant there is any change in their noise level."

"Da" said the sonar operator, who saluted and went back to his station.

"I see now why they make you captain" said the ex KGB man. "Superb tactical thinking."

"Yes, and my uncle had good connections which helped me pass exams at submarine school. He was admiral under Brezhnev."

He plugged his noise cancelling earphones back in and resumed listening to the classic heavy metal group Black Sabbath on his MP3 player. It was to be another four hours or so before he got the call that things on the Iron Lady had returned to normal. He noted this unusual quiet event in his captain's log, and it would later be analysed and discussed by russian submariner strategists for many years. But he would never discover the true cause... a goblin sleep spell.

When the royal navy captain, Smith, woke up he was surprised to see a note pinned to his pillow by a six inch carpentry nail. He started reading.

"Dear Captain Smith", it began. "Thanks for the supper and guided tour."

The next bit of the note was messy. "Sorry I had to help the pirates escape" it began, and continued "but I didn't want to see them..." At this point the word "hung" had been written first, then crossed out, and replaced by the word "hanged". Then the whole sentence had been crossed out, and rewritten in a bolder style. "Sorry I had to help the pirates escape, but I didn't want to see them hung nor hanged neither. I'll watch out for your next schools open day when you get back to Portsmouth, and tell my friends what a cool destroyer you've got, and that they should all come along. Yours sincerely, Alexander Whoyte (Pirate 3rd class).

A PS followed. "PS - the pirates say you should look in your shower before switching it on. They left you a present."

In a funny kind of way Smith felt reassured by the letter. Even while he had been sleeping a voice in his head had been saying that the whole pirate episode was just a dream. He pricked himself with the point of the nail just to make sure he was really awake.

"Ouch." A little pin prick of blood appeared.

His attention was diverted by an insistent knocking at the door.

One loud slow. Two quick and quieter. That would be sergeant Lockemup, with his daily security report.

"Enter." (Smith had also watched Star Trek, although he was much younger than Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and didn't drink Earl Grey tea.)

"Daily report Cap'n." Lockemup saluted with his right hand and proffered the security report with his left. Smith returned the salute and took the report.

"At ease sergeant."

Lockemup stiffened even more into attention, as Smith knew he would while the report was being digested. Lockemup's style was short sharp handwritten bullet points.

Security report:- list of suspicious things for twenty four hours ending today's date, noon, dot dot dot.

(1) - Lifeboat on starboard lower middle deck missing. Presumed nicked by pirates in (2).

(2) - Three pirates locked in brig missing. Presumed escaped in lifeboat (1) with confiscated weapons.

(3) - Jolly pirate ship (previously under tow) vanished without trace.

(4) - Giant shark (or shoal of sardines in the shape of giant shark) missing. Assumed with pirate ship (3) above.

(5) - Visiting boy, Alexander Whoyte, and three green pets (or ugly companions) missing. Assumed gone with pirates (2) in lifeboat (1).

(6) - Vending machine at foot of number seven stairwell missing. Also three sacks of powdered chocolate, and six sacks of sugar missing from galley. Assume pirates have a sweet tooth.

(7) - Three fire buckets missing from top, middle and bottom of of number seven stairwell. Sand emptied on floor. Not sure why they would want these.

(8) - Suspicious sleeping for four hours by everyone supposed to be awake and on duty including marines guarding brig. Causes not known. Do Russians have a secret nerve gas which can knock people out without leaving a trace?

(9) - Suspicious cloud writing in weather computer. Virus check revealed nothing. Eyeball verification not possible due to sea fog.

Summary:- everything looks very fishy.

"Excellent report sergeant Lockemup. This must go down as the highest number of suspicious security events noted in a single day since we found those stowaway reporters from the Sun newspaper who claimed to be hitchikers from the planet Beetlejuice, but turned out to be writing a restaurant guide to Ministry of Defence facilities."

Author's note:- the Sun journalists liked the galley food so much that they enlisted in the navy. "Don't send us back to Aldershot for God's sake" one of them was heard to cry. Anyway, when the HM Secret Restaurant Guide was eventually completed the Iron Lady was rated seven gold spoons. But the guide was promptly banned under the official secrets act, and never came into public purview. Samistat photocopies of the guide are still seen sometimes in Number 11 Downing Street when the MOD are planning a wine and dine the Chancellor of the Exchequor tour before budgets are irrevocably fixed.

"Shall we start an air sea search for the pirates cap'n?" asked Lockemup, when he saw that Smith had finished reading his report.

"Just wait a minute Sergeant. I need to check something first."

And saying this, Captain Smith opened the sliding door to his own personal shower room, also known as the head. Inside were piled six casks. Three dark oak coloured wooden barrels with the word "Rum" written in chalk between the black metal bands. These were stacked on top of three white plastic casks with some writing in green felt tip which said "Organic Potato Juice brewed and distilled in Warrington for Rainbow Warrior XXX. Danger! No smoking!"

Ignoring the plastic cup in the shower room which had his tooth brush and toothpaste standing in it, he went back into his cabin and took out a cut glass decanter from the surprise drinks cupboard built into his desk. The plastic casks in the shower room had little taps built into the side like those barrels of beer you sometimes see at parties. Taking care not to spill anything, he trickled a few drops of the "potato juice" into his glass. He then stepped back into his cabin and held the glass upto the light. The liquid was colourless. He sniffed it. But there was almost no smell, except for a hint of potato.

"Shouldn't we get it analysed Cap'n? Could be poison." Suggested Lockemup.

"I'll have to take that risk to save time Lockemup. Down the hatch."

With more energy per fluid ounce than rocket fuel, the triple distilled potato juice didn't taste of anything at first and seemed to bypass Smith's tongue, which turned black, and slid straight down his throat which glowed red, and then a warm whoosh of numbness spread through his body.

"Vodka" I think. Whispered the captain. "Stronger than that evil stuff we got from Sinkasubovitch at the last international rights of the sea and fishing conference. Very good stuff."

With his clearer vision, he now noticed there was another note for him, on the top of the wooden barrels. This was written in a different hand from the one on his pillow which had been written by Alexander. This note was more flowing and flowery. It was harder to read because the letter "s" seemed to be written as a lower case "f" like in old books, and the spelling was idosyncratic. But this is what it said.

Dear Captain Smith

thanks very much for your generous hospitality. But we didn't want to hang around too long and overstretch our welcome (or anything else).

We couldn't help noticing that your ship is running a bit dry, and have pleasure in leaving you these here casks as a token of our esteem and appreciation for a mighty fine supper.

Yours etc
Captain Feary (Pirate)

PS - We borrowed one of your excellent drinks machines and will be happy to send you plans for an improved model, when Sharkey has worked out the modifications required to plumb in the rum.

PPS - Alexander's mum, who is a Mistress of Buccaneer Administration (MBA) has suggested to us another way of making a living, so we won't be needing to capture or sink any more ships (unless they fire on us first).

PPPS - Alexander's mum says you might want to check your stores for supplies of flea powder.

Captain Smith had been idly scratching himself while reading this, and then he saw a small black thing hopping on his desk.

"Will that be all Cap'n?" asked Lockemup, who was dying to know what was said in the letter on the barrel.

"It seems that our guests may have left some guests of their own among us." He pointed to the flea which had just been joined by another.

"Shall I add that to my report?" Lockemup extracted another copy from his pocket, and got out a pencil. "I can make that - Item 10 - Two black fleas suspiciously hopping about."

The captain didn't reply at first, and instead went back to his shower and topped us his glass with some more potato juice. He took a proper swig at it and coughed.

"Forget about the fleas and the pirates for now. I want you to break out of stores a spare vending machine and send me up a chippy (carpenter), a sparky (electrician) and a drippy (plumber) for a top secret project concerning my ready room. Dismissed."

Map of Privett etc

"Aye aye sir" saluted Lockemup, while making a mental note that he could add that to his report as - Item 11 - Secret vending machine project.

When the chippy, the sparky and the drippy arrived, a few minutes later, Captain Smith had already started dictating his own report about the "Alexander Woyte and the Pirates" incident using the security report from Lockemup to jog his memory. He explained to the work party what he wanted and signed a padful of blank requisition forms to speed thing up. He left them banging and clattering noisily with instructions to call him as soon as they were done. Meanwhile he retired to the comparative peace and quiet of strolling round the deck talking into his dictating machine. By the time he'd done eight circuits he had finished the main part of his report and was now adding some footnotes.

"Important lessons have been learned from this incident, which make us better prepared to meet future contingencies. For example the failure of the Hawkeye sonar system to detect a shark of unusually large size, has been noted and dealt with by a software patch / eye-patch which we will be sending back to Amiralty HQ in an email attachment for use by other vessels using this system. However, contact with the pirates has also suggested some other improvements. As a result we will soon be testing some new hardware which may have a significant impact on the design of future warships."

He was hailed on the tannoy. Sounded like the fitters had finished. He would go and inspect their work immediately, and send off his report to be transcribed later. He was looking forward to this. As his report would later conclude... You can't have a two hundred year old jolly pirate ship kitted out with better equipment than a 21st century naval destroyer. It just wouldn't do. In future these special machines might even be named "Captain Smiths" in tribute to his original idea. Well, they couldn't be called "Captain Feary's."

It wasn't long before long the Captain, the sparky, the chippy and the drippy were rolling around singing "What shall we do with a drunken pirate?" before they'd even managed to test all the simple combinations like whisky and ice.

"Should we have a code for adding little plastic umbrellas?" asked the Captain when they started to test the cocktails.

"Wassamatter?" asked the drippy. "You think it's going to rain?" In fact there was a small spray coming out the side of the vending machine, which he now noticed. He extracted some special plumber's tape from his toolbag and stuck a strip on the source of the spray which stopped it. But a few seconds later, another fine mist appeared on the other side of the machine. He taped that up too, and then an intermittent fountain appeared out of the top. His shoes were starting to squelch a bit as a puddle started to collect on the floor. He realised that he would soon run out of tape if things carried on like this because he'd already used hundreds of feet of tape inside the vending machine. He didn't want to look silly in front of the Captain, and he thought back to an old war film about submarines. The next time the fountain appeared he bashed it hard with a hammer, and the leak stopped. "Teething problems. That's all," said the drippy. "Once it's settled in, won't need no umbrellas."

"I can put a nice solid oak veneer on it later" said the chippy admiring his cabinet making skills "to help it blend in better with the ambiance of your ready room. Although if we keep getting these drips, we might have to make it something waterproof like formica instead.

"What drips?" asked the drippy, wiping the front of the vending machine with a towel which he wrung out over the floor. "It's as dry as a bone."

The Captain was oblivious to these minor imperfections and determined not to lose count. So he checked off the next item on the list and selected a rum and coke with ice. At that point there was a spark and all the lights went out.

"Teething problems, that's all" said the sparky getting out his torch. "Probably a software bug in the drink selection processor." He unscrewed a panel and inserted his screwdriver. There was a flash of lightning followed by a howling scraping noise from the ship's main engines. The ship went quiet.

"Do you think that was us?" asked the chippy.

"Oh bugger!" said the Captain.

"'S'all right" coughed the sparky aiming his torch into the smoky space. He still held his screwdriver in the other hand which was melted down to the handle. "I think I can fix it. Anyone got a 13 giga-amp fuse?"

The rest of what happened, dear reader may easily be imagined. So I will now get back to the main part of my story.

click here to see chapter 6 of this story

click here to see the first story

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