A Tall Ship Tale #29: Strangers In The Night

This is Tale No. 29, with at least as many to go of these tales by Paul de Anguera.

The U.S.S. Groundpea made its way through the Nile river delta to Giza — only to find the H.M.S. Legume, which they’d thought was far behind them, already there. Unless this was another ship just like it; perhaps they had stumbled upon a new class of British warship? Captain Blight paid a courtesy call as an excuse to look around. Quid received him in the Legume’s great stern cabin.

“I’ve come in search of proof that aliens or gods built the pyramids,” he announced to Captain Quid and the First Mate as they settled into the hagia sofa, a souvenir of Constantinople. “I wonder whether you’re on a similar quest?”

Quid shrugged and said “Just refueling!”

“But this is a sailing ship,” Blight pointed out. Suddenly Quid leaped to his feet, stared out the stern window and shouted “Look over there!” The others hurried over to the window and looked out too. But they saw nothing special. When they turned around, Captain Quid was gone.

“So, what are you going to do first?” the First Mate asked the American.

“I’ve ordered the crew to take it easy for the rest of the day,” Blight told him. “There’s no need to rush things, and the men need a rest. First thing tomorrow, we’ll explore the Great Pyramid of Cheops.”

Armed with this intelligence, the British decided to steal a march on the Yankee frigate. As soon as it was dark, a singing contest was begun on the Legume’s quarter-deck. Under its cover, Boatswain Anatu and a team of cohorts dressed in black silently lowered a boat on the side of the ship facing away from the Americans, and rowed ashore with oarlocks muffled in cloth. These precautions proved unnecessary; on the brightly-lit main deck of the Groundpea, a noisy party was in progress. Soon they were walking through the City of the Dead, swinging the beams of their lanterns about in a random search for alien gods. One sailor pointed his light at the camera to dazzle the television viewers so they would feel like they were searching too.

Suddenly a jangling racket shattered the night. All the crickets stopped chirping. “What was that?” Owen Anatu whispered fiercely.

“Sorry, sir,” answered Almo Sather. “It’s a pile of empty metal drums!” In the light of their lanterns these proved to resemble beer cans, only they were much bigger. Owen made a note to pick one up on the way back, in case they were artifacts left by gods. As they moved forward he caught a whiff of something odd in the air. It was a sour, musty and very unpleasant smell, and the closer they approached the Pyramid of Cheops the stronger it became. Suddenly a hollow clattering noise broke out. All the crickets stopped chirping again.

“What was that?” Owen Anatu snarled, forgetting to whisper at all.

“Me again,” Almo confessed. “I knocked over a stack of boxes.” Their lantern beams showed these to be square, shallow boxes not unlike pizza cartons, only much bigger. Owen shuddered at the thought that leftover alien pizza might be inside some of them; but he resolved to take one back to the ship with him for analysis. It might be the proof they were looking for; you never knew!

The ground ahead was covered with ashes, and the awful stale smell hung low over them. Now they had almost reached the base of the pyramid. But their progress was slowed by the need to pick their way around a lot of large cylindrical objects that were strewn about singly and in heaps. These proved to be composed of leafy vegetable matter that was partially burned. Owen gritted his teeth, leaned close, and sniffed one of them. He staggered back, retching and coughing. The men caught him as he collapsed, and lowered him anxiously to the ground.

“W w w w what are they, sir?” Almo sputtered. Owen drew a shaky breath and rasped:

“Cheroots — of the gods!”

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