Dead Land, Capt. Thorne,
Capt. Thorne: A Whole New World
By Richard Cunningham III
Copyright ©2011 Richard Cunningham III
- Capt. Thorne -
A Whole New World
A sulfur smell accompanied the bay of moaning docks in the overcrowded trading-town of Genoa. Her citizens barely recognized it, but foreign merchants, drifters and the like went to great lengths in order to avoid the rotten-egg odor so potent on her breath. The illustrious harbor docks, constructed of strengthened synthetic and manufactured wood, created a boastful forum, a hub of commerce amid the general despair of the modern world. Off the coast, clouds like pillars stood in the sky and stretched out to a far horizon. The sea was again brewing up a tempest to wreak havoc on the souls of men in her misbegotten trust. Directly overhead the sky shook and stirred, already a violet haze shifting in the air and a great yellow disk above that, piercing through the layers of flimsy ozone to overwhelm man and nature alike in its once-sweet sunlight. A few skyscrapers of old-Boston jutted out of the ocean’s surface, rusty jagged reef threatening the vessels that navigated the popular harbor day and night. The seas encroached on this ancient metropolis at some point in the late nineties and entombed it by the year 2150. That was the lore of the times anyway. No one in the Dead Land knew much about its history. An education in the “Bomb Parades”, or the “Great Fire of old-Los Angeles” had become irrelevant next to surviving the abundantly hostile world they now tread. Still, there was no denying the impact of its absence, a chip borne on the shoulder of an entire species of bastards, left to a bizarre and unwelcoming land.
Standing on the dock, Captain Thorne was a giant among common men, but in the high noon even more obvious of the Captain was his prosthetic arms: reflective metal-alloy limbs, constructed by a scientist who had a proficient understanding of bionic technology, common once in the old-world, but now a rarity among a number of mechanical debacles pedaled by two-bit quacks.
Under messy strands of hair, Thorne’s cold blue eyes squinted out toward the outpost, unsure for a moment about leaving the wilderness for the noise and the stench of civilization. Powered Zinc coated his cheeks and forehead, offering some protection against sun disease out on the wide revealing sea. He wiped a flood of sweat from his brown, staining the arm of his coat white, and then went back to checking out near-by vessels and their owners, for the discovery of either friend or foe. His crew went up and down the boat, carrying crates and barrels, yelling and spitting and tossing ropes around as they tethered the boat to the posts lining the platform. The men had spent much of the past year afloat and now they were finally unloading their profiteering boat to make trade with the land settlements that dotted the largely barren landscape of the east. The ship, after all, was a wreck, torn apart by recent blood battles waged at sea. These skirmishes were fortunate, ultimately, for the captain and his crew, who were already hopelessly stranded and conceding to die of thirst on the open waters. The victories were also fortunate personally for Thorne, who barely avoided outright mutiny and had, through good fortune or sheer chance, acquired a stolen relic cross in the violence, owned prior by the New Salvation Army.
The relic was no doubt of high value and the NSA would be after it, so Thorne was eager to cash in on the score; but it was far too risky to try pawning off hot NSA goods in Genoa, the trail too obvious, when it was only off the port town’s coast where Captain Thorne encountered the transport ship; the same that he ultimately sank to the depths of the ocean. Thorne had approached the ship under the pretense of trade for fresh water and directions—though he had in fact secretly desired a contest with the other ship’s captain. The ensuing conflict produced Thorne this hidden treasure, and guaranteed an inflated price on the Captain’s head.
The artifact itself was quite large, almost three feet in length, with ascending cross-pieces made of stone. Thorne had disguised the shape in a cloth and tucked it under his tattered leather trench coat. He had already resorted to hiding the relic even before reaching shore, as some of his crew was convinced the chunk of rock had actually saved them from imminent death. Thorne didn’t see himself as a very superstitious man, nor was he religious. He did, however, consider himself an entrepreneur, trying to get by in an ugly cut-throat business, and this rare find was the closest thing he might get to a meal ticket.
Cooke, the only to rival the Captain’s size on-board, or likewise the immediate vicinity, approached his long-time friend. Cooke was a grizzly piece of work, gnarly patches of hair covering his slightly misshapen head and face; missing a right eye and his left hand, which he had happily replaced with a crude meat hook.
“How much ya say we could make off that thing?” Cooke asked.
Thorne looked at him with suspicion, deserved suspicion. Cooke was a good blunt weapon in a pinch, but he was all brute and no brains, easily manipulated, often by his own runt-brother, Goose, who had tried to kill Thorne before and was probably the orchestrator of the most recent mutiny attempt.
“You just worry about selling off those crates for a good price.”
“Booze, whores, and killing’s on my agenda, Captain.”
“That’s well and good, just make sure you get around to business. They got some hospitals around here that’d pay decent money for those Menthols, probably would take those PMS packs off our hands, too.”
“Hell, I ain’t gonna do any of that stuff,” Cooke said, lighting up a Menthol. “That’s what I got Goose for. He’s the one with the brains.”
“Not if he disappears with the ship’s score, he won’t be. I’m making you responsible for him. Remember that.”
“Don’t worry. He’ll fetch you a decent price.”
“Sure I will, Captain,” said Goose, a skinny bookworm in round spectacles and an old wool suit, appearing from behind his massive brother, like it was a parlor trick. “Anyway, we all know the real money is with that relic there that come off the boat. So where are you going, Captain, with that prize of yours?”
“Like I’d answer to you, you wet little rat. You’ll have plenty of killers hunting you down should you get greedy with those crates. Just think about that kind of violence coming down on you, if you’re looking for restraint.”
“Captain, Captain, don’t you worry. I know a guy who’ll pay good money to get his hands on bona-fide Salvation Army PMS meals.”
Thorne grunted and passed by them both, climbing back up the ramp and into the boat he had inherited years back. So much time on the sea had transformed it into yet another home, perhaps the only one he understood not by name alone. Arriving in Genoa, his realities were finally clashing, however.
No one was aware he had spent a chapter of his childhood there; moreover, no one knew Thorne had himself a wife and child waiting for him in Drum City. To him, trust only introduced risk, and with his family, Thorne took no risk. Also, the duality was easier on his mind. He took a different form all-together out on sea. It was a bloody way to make a living, a lifestyle capable of whittling a man’s soul down to the primordial core, that primitive beast exposed to the light of day. Maybe that’s just what I’ve become on my own, he thought. He still had splinters embedded in his face from a water battle not a week past. There was gore and filth in his hair and mixed into his rusted beard, and a sour smell about him commonly associated with animals or hobos.
Below deck, in his cramped quarters, Thorne took up a shiny cutlass in his hand and fit a broad-rimmed fedora over his greasy head, throwing shadows over his eyes. He collected an empty flask from a shelf, then this and that of his belongings, and finally an old photograph of his wife and kid. Not thirty minutes on land and he was already soft, with ancient memories of joy now haunting the brutal calculating leader that the h
Thorne climbed out of the wooden belly and up to the ship’s deck to an overwhelming blinding light and that foul smell that clogged the senses, but to which he had already acclimated. Three of his crew saw him and they threw themselves on the floor before his feet.
“Please, Captain, please let us get a look at that there relic one more time! We trust you taking it with you, we just wanna ask it for some stuff is all.”
“I’m asking it fer a goat. I’ve always wanted to be able to make my own milk, maybe even learn me to make goat cheese. You ever eat some real goat cheese, Captain?” another crew-member said.
“You bring a goat on this boat and I’m making a stew out of it,” Mr. Crumbs said. He was the ship’s cook and another of the relic worshipers.
“What do you think: this chunk of rock caused that boat-robot to explode out there?” Thorne said. “It was a fluke. Just a fluke. You better wise up before you go hitting the poker tables and prostitutes tonight. They’re always looking for fools, you know.”
“We saw what we saw, Captain,” Mr. Crumbs said, with teeth mostly absent from his white sun-chapped grin.
“Right, that’s some kind of Doomsday cross, I tell ya,” another offered.
“I don’t like any of you enough to entertain this. And don’t let anyone on my ship while I’m gone, or there’ll be hell to pay, I promise,” Thorne said, returning to the swaying docks, that immediate illusion of solid ground that he was finding hard to shake.
He crossed over into his old stomping grounds, familiar sites and faces returning. Warrington was the dock’s keep and an old friend to Thorne. The two had served together as teens in the same unit of the local militia. He had the type of job now that was good at getting gifted men ruddy and fat from excess. Everyone was willing to throw the dock keep a little extra for safe harbor, and Warrington was very good at securing ships when properly motivated, often hinting to his partiality of pricey booze and cheap whores.
“Hey, Thorne! How the hell’s it been?”
“Bleak at best. You?”
“Oh, fine, fine. Life’s all shit and roses. Can’t complain, don’t imagine people’d listen if I did,” Warrington said jovially, and then pointed at Thorne’s boat with his swollen bejeweled finger. “She looks pretty beat up. How long you keeping her docked?’
“A month for repairs and the like,” Thorne said and handed Warrington a satchel.
The dock keep’s face lit up like a bulb at the sight, and as Thorne handed over the coin, he caught the wonder of a child in the fat man’s big round eyes. The dock keep poured out the satchel and made a quick count of the money.
“Thorne, you’re a good friend.”
“Just look after her, alright?”
“Of course, Captain, of course, like a baby,” he said and patted Thorne on the shoulder.
“That old geezer still got a leather shop on Broadway?”
“Old man Dylan, yeah, why?”