The Sinking of the HMS Moa
It had been a long time since Edmond had “abruptly” left Portland, and it had been even longer since he had seen New England. Heading west at the instructions of his boss Mr. Smith, Edmond was expected to do two things. First was to collect orders for fruit trees from the well-to-do of San Francisco, the second was to collect interesting seeds for Mr. Smith’s nursery. Edmond had failed at both tasks. At first he had sent seeds back, cones from the giant Sequoia, seeds from the Salmon Berry, and others. He had even collected enough orders to fill the gardens of the city’s mansions.
The problems all started when he decided to celebrate his success. Stumbling back from the club, attempting to navigate to his hotel, a knife suddenly against his throat, and his money, Mr. Smith’s money was gone. Abruptly saddled with a debt that would take decades to repay, Edmond found the need to leave San Francisco. Paying his way onto a packet ship without bothering to learn the destination Edmond began his journey. This would lead him through despair, through his death, and finally to his salvation.
Edmond found himself in Portland, getting soaked by the type of constant rain typical of that area. Stepping into a saloon to dry out, and after being prompted by the barkeep to “buy something or leave,” Edmond spent some of his few remaining coins and sat down to drown his sorrows. A man sat next to him and offered him another drink as the first ran dry. They talked as men at saloons do, about sorrow, mistakes, and women. By his third pint Edmond began to feel strange, his new friend offered him a place to stay. Walking out of the bar, then dragged to an ally, and thrown down the trap door, Edmond entered blackness.
Awaking to the smell of sweat and sickness Edmond groaned.
“Oh good. Wakey wakey time to shake off those knock out drops!” A friendly and very British voice chimed in Edmond’s ear.
Slowly opening his eyes, Edmond saw a dark, out of focus place. He blinked to clear his vision, “Dear god”, Edmond whispered as the scene came into focus. “Where am I?”
“Ah, a difficult question indeed. Hard to say really, but what we are in is made of English Oak, which is quite fortunate all things considered,” answered the very British man whom Edmond could see was walking over to him in the cramped space.
Looking at the ceiling only a couple feet above his face, Edmond absentmindedly commented
“English Oak? This looks more like conifer wood to me.”
Thrusting the back of his head uncomfortably close to Edmond's face, the very British man examined the ceiling. “Indeed it is!” He exclaimed. “Very observant! A fellow Botanist perhaps?” Asked the very British man now looking at Edmond.
“Something like that I guess.” Replied Edmond
“Delightful, absolutely delightful!” Said the very British man clapping his hands. “David Nelson at your service!” He said in an exaggerated bow.
“Edmond Fox, pleased to meet you.” Edmond said with a wave. “Can you tell me what on earth is going on?”
“Yes, I think we are still on Earth” said Nelson looking around quizzically. “The other sure thing is that we are on a ship called the Moa, she is captained by Sir Charles Phipher of the Royal Para-Scientific Museum,” elaborated Nelson in the most mocking of faux posh accents. “Although for our purposes we may call them The Jailors” he added with a wink.
“We are still close to land” thought Edmond as he stood on the pitching deck of the HMS Moa. “Whenever you see gulls you are close to land.”
In the harsh sunlight of a clear Pacific day, Edmond got to see his new prison for the first time. The Moa was a 175 foot long Brigantine with a black painted hull and a figurehead that Edmond could never quite remember or describe. Along with his new friend David Nelson, Edmond stood in a somewhat sizable crowd of haggard-looking bleary-eyed men. On the bridge deck stood a man in a deep purple sea captains jacket adorned with unfamiliar medals. He stepped forward to address the crowd. “Gentlemen”, he said, raising his hand. “I am Sir Charles Phipher, captain of Her Majesty’s Ship the Moa, and curator for The Royal Para-Scientific Museum”. Edmond cracked a small smile; Nelson’s impression was dead on. Listening to the crowd mummer, Edmond noticed that a large number of the crew were Irish, some Chinese, and a few people who looked like the illustrations of Amazonian savages.
Raising a hand to silence the crowd, the captain spoke again; “Some of you have just joined our company, and some of you have been with us since we left the British Isles. You are all very brave for volunteering to the service of the crown. Her Majesty the Queen and the whole of the British Empire thank you.”
“Horse shit!” yelled a large bearded man, wild-eyed. “I aint volunteered for nuthin, best to take me back to shore before I start tearing this tub up by the boards!” Just then a dark skinned man in a deep blue jacket and turban, wearing a whistle on a braided rope rammed the end of a short black club into the shouting man’s stomach collapsing him to the floor. Uninterrupted the captain continued; “and may I introduce Sergeant Gupta, who will be liaison between the crew and officers, any concerns you have, you may take them up with the him” he said gesturing to the turbaned man with the club. “The purpose of our expedition is to collect artifacts and creatures that are outside the realm of scientific explanation, and by doing so preserving the integrity of the British Empire from all Para-Scientific threats.” Finishing his speech Captain Phipher turned to a tall, tan skinned man sporting eye-black and wearing an officers uniform. “Now Mr. Salam if you please, time is wasting” said the Captain in a slight annoyed voice.
The man called Mr. Salam nodded to the captain and then turned to the crowd, and in an accent Edmond could not quite place, the man began barking orders; “Full foresail and jib! Two reefs in the fore and main topsails! Full mainsail and staysail and set for a close haul!”
In the center of the crowd, Edmond saw Sergeant Gupta raise the silver whistle to his lips, hearing a complex tattoo of chirps and blasts Edmond found himself climbing the rigging before he realized what he was doing, shimming along a log near the top of the mast, he began undoing the ropes that held the massive sail closed. The work continued at a frenetic pace through the day, the bow of the Moa slamming into the swells as the crew tacked against the wind. Later, as the light of day faded the wind followed suit. Tired, blistered, sunburned, and dumb Edmond went below, and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep on the hard damp boards.
Sore and groggy Edmond slowly picked himself up off the deck. As he got to his feet Edmond heard Nelson’s perpetually cheerful voice say “good news my boy! You and I are on the same watch.” Edmond turned his head in the direction of the voice and saw Nelson sitting on a hammock, dangling his feet over the edge of the sail-cloth.
“How can I get one of those?” said Edmond looking in Nelson's direction.
“Naturally you make your own!” Nelson replied hopping down onto the deck. “To the hold!” said Nelson gesturing forward like a general as Edmond followed Nelson further down into the ship. In the dark cramped hold where Edmond had awoke his first day on the Moa, Nelson led them through piles of unremarkable crates with labels such as "flour" and "preserving alcohol". Speckled throughout the piles however, were empty iron cages and crates prominently marked ‘Property of the Royal Para-Scientific Museum' followed by a label reading 'Specimen' and a series of digits, and towards the back of the hold there was one crate covered in an unidentifiable language that gave Edmond an uneasy feeling when he looked at it. After Nelson and Edmond had brought up the needed materials they sat on the deck and set to their task.
“How did you come to this ship?” asked Edmond as he began joining two pieces of sailcloth together with a large needle and string.
“Kidnapped just as you were” replied Nelson beginning to trail off. “I suppose it is not much of a surprise everything considered. Those fellows were rather upset after I told them my secret was foxglove and hemlock. The damn fools should have known better than to drink it.”
“Foxglove and hemlock?” asked Edmond quizzically.
“A secret family recipe” replied Nelson with a wink. “What about yourself ? You must have gotten under someone’s skin to wind up here.” continued Nelson as he began attaching rope to one end of the hammock. “The rats that run this ship prefer to purchase their crew. You may have gathered that from the number of our co-workers from; ‘that shite hole Spike Isle’” Nelson added employing an exaggerated Irish brogue.
“I am not really sure” began Edmond, thinking on the circumstances that led him to that Portland saloon. “I had just lost a sizable sum of my boss’ money” Edmond concluded.
“In that case, I would suspect that our dear Captain Phipher is not unfamiliar with your former employer”, Nelson responded as he began to get up from the floor. “Sadly there is no time to dwell on that now old boy, it appears to be our turn on deck, the wind is behind us and it is a beautiful day,” Nelson said cheerfully as Edmond followed him above deck. Looking behind him as he ascended the stairs Edmond noted that the deck below was indeed made of English oak, save for a sizable round area near the center of the deck that had been repaired with Sequoia. Once above Edmond noted a similar area of repair in directly above the first one. Just then Sgt. Gupta's whistle sounded and Edmond began the routine of working and sleeping that would continue uninterrupted for the next several days.