Imaginary Explorations

5 Mar

Captain Yon Pregye always insisted on keeping the size of his crews as small as possible.

Six was the highest number of sailing personnel that he could tolerate, but his aim was to attempt voyages into the Icy Sea of the South of his planet with an average number of only five.

He wanted men experienced in weathering the hard winds and frigid temperatures of those unexplored and unmapped latitudes far beyond normal human habitation. His purpose was to find and describe the unknown and unforeseen for the population of the warmer, equatorial realms of his world.

Yon did not dream of or expect to uncover riches or resources of any sort.

His personal aim was to build himself a reputation among his contemporaries and a place or mention in the history of exploration of Planet Poenia.

Funded by the Geographic Society, Yon purchased what was termed a brig-sloop, a large square-rigged sloop with two masts. The vessel was fore and aft rigged. It also possessed a bowsprit and a jib-headed mainsail with a gaff topsail. A skilled group of sailors was needed to contend with the dangers of the Icy Sea.

Yon, tall and lean with a snowy white beard, Jon interviewed potential crew members in a harbor tavern in Poenport. The most impressive candidate for chief officer under himself was a short, grizzled sea pilot named Egdi Tlux.

“I know the Icy Sea from years of painful experience,” claimed the sailing veteran. “Fishing ships were the ones I learning my piloting on. I became very familiar with drifts and currents down in those forsaken regions. Once I had to scurry away on a dinghy after a disastrous shipwreck caused by a terrible storm. We happened to have been hit by a murderous mound of broken ice.”

“I believe that I can use you as my second-in-command, as well as navigator, Mr. Tlux,” announced the Captain to the man seeking to be enrolled on the crew of the brig-sloop.

It took Jon only another day of interviews to enlist three ordinary deckhands before everything was ready for the start of the exploratory voyage.

In the early morning of launch day, the Captain assembled all four crew-members in a chamber of the inn where he had been staying to tell them the nature of his plans.

“We are not sailing for any commercial purpose, but only to find out what lies on the ice shelf and the many islands in the southernmost zone of the Icy Sea. Our task is to map out and describe all that we observe that has possible interest for our fellow citizens. Nothing beyond that.

“I need not speak to you of the risks involved while sailing in those dangerous, frigid waters. All of you have had direct experience of the many perils that might appear at any time. No one can say with any accuracy what we could have to contend with in that unfriendly realm of ice and wind.

“We shall have to trust and help each other as brotherly companions, for that is the only way that our mission can hope to succeed.

“Should any of you confront a problem or difficulty of any sort, do not forget that I am available at all times to listen and to advise. Let us go down to the dock, then, and board the brig-sloop that is going to take us deeply into the Icy Sea.”

The ship moved out of Poenport Bay, heading on a straight path toward the south.

Yon slept in his own small cabin while the others occupied a large crew-room across from it.

The only individual allowed into the Captain’s quarters was Egdi Tlux, who entered there to receive commands and make reports. The two superiors fell into the habit of holding long talks on general matters beyond the immediate, daily concerns connected to the voyage.

“I do not understand what the particular purpose of what we are engaged in is,” confessed the navigator one evening after a day of sailing in clear, pleasant weather. “There must be something to be won or obtained in this effort of ours, but I don’t have the slightest notion what it might be.”

The Captain, sitting across from him, focused his azure eyes on the face of Egdi. “It is not good for a person to be as suspicious as you seem to be, my good man. The wisest way to live is to take things like this voyage of ours at face value. We are going south in order to find out whether the shelf and the islands are as empty of human settlement of any sort as our scholars have always maintained. Our task is to prove as best we can that no one of our species lives in the Far South of the Icy Sea. When we return home with that information, we will receive our reward in terms of useable cash.

“All this adventure of ours can be reduced to that simple proposition.”

“Is that the way you see what we are doing?” dreamily inquired the veteran pilot.

Yon rose from his chair and slowly stepped forward toward the other before he whispered one simple word: “Indeed”.

The Captain kept concealed in his private chest a few books that he read during idle hours when he seemed to be resting in his cabin. These were old books he had acquired in seaports all around Poenia. Typical titles were “Principles of Mesmerism” and “Teach Yourself Basic Hypnosis”. This was the subject that Jon tended to concentrate his mind upon.

It was nearly two weeks after leaving Poenport that a crewman sighted the first iceberg. It was an obvious indicator of having reached the southern cold belt of the Icy Sea.

Jon began to spend more time on the bow of the vessel, surveying the waters that now contained large and small chunks of evidence of their location in dangerous waters. The commander of the expedition now focused his attention upon the purpose of their expedition: finding out about the shelf of permanent ice that they were fast approaching. He now appeared with pen and notebook, writing down observations he was making about the condition of the frigid region of sea.

Late one afternoon, the Captain summoned the crew to speak to them about what was coming.

“Since we are approaching the Ice Shelf and shall soon be in sight of it, we must have a night watcher on duty in case it presents itself during the hours of night. You can understand the reason this is necessary. Therefore, I have set up a rotating order by which each of you will have only three hours on duty here on the deck each night, looking toward the south. We will begin this routine tonight for the first time.”

Jon called out the assignments in order and the watch for the Great Ice Shelf commenced.

The Captain maintained a personal, secret diary that no one else aboard had any knowledge of, writing notes in his cabin during his time of sleep and rest.

-Today I set up and ordered my schedule of nightly watches. I and the crew will know when the Ice Shelf comes into view.

-I have completed talking personally to all four men under my command. They have all come under my sway and power, no doubt about that. We are ready for what my plans now entail.

-The long-awaited first sighting occurred near dawn. Everyone is excited once I announced this in the light of early morning. The shape of the solid frozen mass is visible on the southern horizon. We shall now proceed directly toward the shelf.

-Using my magnifying spy-glass, I called out to the assembled crew that I could make out what appeared to be a port city of some sort on the coast of the Ice Shelf. I described what appeared to be boats and small vessels inside the harbor of this strange habitation, located where no one until now had expected to see any sign of human beings.

-The crew is in a frenzy of anticipation. None of them knows what to make of what is visible to their eyes. They go about their specific duties as if stunned and in a daze. All of my men look to me to furnish them some meaningful explanation of the fantastic sight in front of them. No one is able to stay calm. The Ice Shelf obviously is not an uninhabited vacuum, and empty desert of some kind. But who is it that dwells upon it? That is the question in every single mind. I have announced that we must dock in the port of ice and attempt to communicate with anyone we find there. A thrilling adventure lies ahead for all of us, I proclaimed to my four listeners.

-As we neared the wharf that was ahead of us, a crowd of people in heavy coats gathered on the snow-covered shore. It soon became evident to my crew that they were shouting in an ancient form of our own native language. I ordered two of my sailors to tie up our sloop to a pole attached to the dock. I told the crew that I would take Egdi ashore with me to confer with the inhabitants and have a look around. The two of us discovered that the people on the Ice Shelf were peaceful and unafraid of us. We held brief discussions with a pair of their local leaders and were informed that they avoided all contact with the rest of Poenia, never venturing into the middle latitudes of the planet. They desired to avoid warfare through perfect isolation from all other lands. Trade with anyone else was undesirable to them. They only wished to be left alone to live as they wished. Their ancestors had migrated southward onto the Shelf ages before and had cut off all contact with the rest of humanity. There were a number of similar hermit communities elsewhere in this frigid zone of ice and snow. Their lives were hard and poor, but they had the freedom that they prized. Egdi and I returned to our ship and told the crew what the situation was.

-I have filled a notebook with the facts that I learned about the culture and the social system of these Ice Shelf people. They resemble those of us from the middle of Poenia, but over time they have developed new institutions and artefacts as well. For instance, their system of marriage is based on polygamy and polyandry. Both males and females are permitted to have multiple spouses. I have found that Pilot Egdi Tlux is very interested in the description of the way of life that we see about us here on the Shelf.

-This morning, one of the native hunters took Egdi and me on a trek over the interior ice, on the trail of a pack of wild ice-wolves. These animals provide the inhabitants with both meat and fur for their clothing. I picked up a large amount of information about their material culture that the Geographic Society will have deep interest in.

-An unanticipated problem has risen. One of my crewmen, One of the sailors, Kebe Sem, has suddenly spoken out against what we are engaged in with the native Shelfers. He criticized my friendly cooperation with the inhabitants, saying that we should be taking power over them and confiscating all the valuables we can find in the port. I am insulted and humiliated by this shameful rebel on my ship.

The confrontation with Kebe Sen and his two comrades was sharp and bitter. The Captain was thrown off balance by the insolent verbal attack from a subordinate.

“We have had enough of this lolling around with these locals,” said the big bruin of a seaman. “I can see loot with market value all the way from our deck. Why should we leave it here with these frozen dummies, I ask you? Can’t we take some marketable items along with us? I see that our just reward for having sailed all the way down to this icebound zone where everything looks frozen. Even some of those ice-wolf pelts would bring us some well-deserved profit for all our efforts.”

Yon decided it would be useless to argue or try to exercise his executive authority over the headstrong would-be brigand. He had never considered the possibility of a taste for piracy breaking out aboard a vessel under his command.

He stared at the strong, muscle-bound rebel, wondering how his uneducated mind had escaped the hypnotic enchantment that he and his two mates had escaped. What could be done at this point? wondered the bewildered Captain. He doubted whether a trance could be re-established over the three mutineers who had fled beyond his mental domination.

Yon groped for a solution to the dilemma he found himself in.

“Do not let greed conquer your souls, men,” he argued in a moderate, conciliatory tone. “It would do none of us any good were we to act out of selfish motives. I myself would never participate in what in reality would be naked thievery and robbery.”

“Do not try to rise too high above us, Captain Pregye. We are, all of us, travelers over the Icy Sea, and nothing extra beyond that. We should not think of ourselves as higher beings than we actually are.”

Yon looked separately at each of the three mutineers, then turned to Pilot Egdi and asked him a stark question.

“What do you think is the wisest thing to do under the circumstances? My options are limited ones, I have to conclude. It appears, therefore, that I have to submit to the wish of my crew. I shall be forces by the situation we are in to allow your three crewmates to go ashore and do what they want to. There is in reality no way for me to prevent them from satisfying their avarice for spoils.”

“I shall not take part in any criminal pillage, sir,” boldly asserted the navigator. “I, at least, know what my duty is.”

Jon stared directly into the ugly, wrinkled face of Kebe Sem.

“Your trio may go on shore and do as you will there,” he said in a muffled tone. “I shall stay here on the sloop.”

“So will I,” whispered Egdi.

It took only a few seconds for Kebe and his associates to move to the stern of the vessel and leap up onto what they saw and took to be the docking of the ice-shield harbor.

When the three were gone out of sight, Jon turned to Egdi and softly spoke to him.

“I appreciate that you did not go with those fools. They are thinking and walking in a dream. They believe that they climbed onto a dock, but there is nothing there but the icy shore. They are going to enter a port that does not exist outside their imagination.

“There are no native inhabitants they can rob, there is no treasure for them to appropriate. It is nothing beyond an illusion of which I myself am creator and sustainer.

“When the trance ends for them, so will the town and the people they plan to despoil.”

“I don’t understand, sir,” murmured the navigator. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Jon grinned slyly. “I will explain all of this to you once we get away from here. The first thing for us two to do, right now, is to raise our anchor, set the sails, and go out to sea again, before those three dreamers try to return and climb aboard with their imagined loot.

“We will leave them here on the Shelf and find our way back over the Icy Sea.”

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