A Tall Ship Tale #90: The Final Voyage

The epic conclusion of Paul DeAnguera’s punishing tale.

As the H.M.S. Legume plowed across the Atlantic rollers, Captain Quid worked feverishly at the chart pinned to his star board. He took a sighting with his sextant, and marked an X on his chart. With a grimace, he reached for a secondary sextant; same thing. But the wizened old sea captain did not give up so easily. He grabbed another sextant, and kept at it until he got a “Maximum of 249 sextants allocated” error. Then he stopped and sadly considered the position he had plotted. The 249 X’s formed a normally-distributed clump southeast of Lisbon. “The plot thickens,” he muttered.

For, at this very moment, the Legume was crossing its own course from Chapter 1. Years ago in Callahan’s Cross-Time Saloon, Tree-Cow had accepted a challenge to go around the world in 80 puns. And now, around the world they had gone. That could only mean that this chapter was the story of the ship’s final voyage.

“Actually, he overshot by ten puns,” the First Mate pointed out when the Captain informed him of their position.

“Nine puns,” Science Officer Peabody corrected him. “There is no Chapter 30. At least, not as far as we know.”

The ship’s officers gathered on the quarter-deck to argue the point. Some chapters ended in two puns. A few chapters did not end in any. Some of the puns were worse than others, and some were much worse. Some chapters had been contributed by other Callahan’s patrons; it wasn’t clear whether these puns were to Tree-Cow’s account. Still, when they looked at the chart they could not dispute the fact that the Legume had circumnavigated the planet; so there must have been a sufficiency of puns.

“We can’t let this be the end of the story,” the First Mate declared. “What we need are complications — lots of them, right now!” Suddenly an armed dirigible swung out of the eastern clouds. “It’s Kirk O’Field, the Scottish privateer! A Pict sure’s worth a thousand words,” Owen Anatu said hopefully. Suddenly a huge, slimy hand appeared on the rail and an Egyptian monster from Stargate clambered aboard. “What have you done with the Sphinx’s nose?” he demanded, advancing on the company. “Don’t be afraid,” Professor Marvel advised them. “Ghouls just wanna have fun!” Suddenly, …

But it was all no good. For, 150 million years ago on a shore of the Tethys Sea, a heavenly hand reached down to tap a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the shoulder. When the monster looked over his shoulder, the hand crooked a finger and beckoned him. Obediently he lumbered into the shallow water to a certain place, where the Legume’s time-anchor lay. Now the hand pointed down, and the forefinger made a flicking motion. The monster shifted one foot backward for a mighty kick, and…

The deck tilted <> and crewmen stumbled about. “Red alert! Shields up!” While the Bosun searched for Communists, the First Mate led an emergency party to the hold to look for Viking shields to hang on the ship’s rails. But Peabody called them over to the chronomotor. “Something is terribly wrong here! The hands are all moving!” Indeed, even the hand of the dreaded kalpa dial, each of whose markings indicates a day and night in the life of the Lord Brahma, was crawling perceptibly forward. Hastily the men took their places at the capstan. But as they marched around it the cable came in limply from the void inside the chronomotor. They hurried to the little trap-door and yanked the cable in by hand. A groan arose when they reached its broken end. The Legume was adrift in time!

Propelled by current events, the flying square-rigger lurched into the future. The sun became a solid glowing bar across the sky, mountains heaved out of the sea and subsided again, and all around them waves crashed and thunder rolled deliriously <>. Finally the ocean drained away, for a forest of tall, slender, sensuously-curved green stalks had taken its place. The hull creaked as the frigate settled into their rubbery embrace. A golden light suffused the scene, and a steady snow of fluffy particles drifted across the main deck.

Emma Talligeist climbed the main mast for the final time. At the crow’s nest she paused and looked around, but could see only undulating green stalks receding into the distance on all sides. So she continued to the very tip of the main mast and peered upward. High overhead, the undersides of immense golden blossoms swayed against the sky.

“Dandelions,” the First Mate concluded when she reported back to him. “It’s the end of the world, then!” Captain Quid sent for Ian Vilcorus the blacksmith to strike off the chain from Sir Hillary’s leg. Then he addressed the crew:

“It has been an honor to serve with you all! Together we have sailed from Constantinople to Istanbul, from the Falkland Islands to the Malvinas, from New York to New Amsterdam — and now from the beginning of time to time’s end. We’ve battled monsters of flesh and bone and monstrous machines. We’ve befriended the King of Raw Canned Roe, broken the prime directive, changed history and provoked the gods. We’ve …”

“NOW I’VE GOTCHA, YOU S.O.B.’S!” bellowed a voice from the sky. An immense, glowing celestial hand reached down through the dandelions for the wooden ship.

“Quick! To the chronomotor!” cried Peabody. In a thrice the main hatch was off and the crew was diving into the hold. Peabody threw open the trap door in the base of the chronomotor and, some alone and others holding hands, the Legumers leaped into the void within.

Their fates were various. Emma Talligeist returned to her native Transylvania, became a vocalist and joined a band in Romanian Rap City. Professor Peabody acquired a pet boy and took up an unnatural relationship with a moose and a flying squirrel. The First Mate found himself in the Library of Alexandria, pondering the “Name:” blank on a library card application. Almo Sather became a restroom attendant in a Kowloon hotel. But Captain Quid turned away from the trap door and searched quickly through the ship’s stores. He soon found an REI down parka, slipped it on and drew the zipper closed.

“Captain!” called Sir Hillary, coming up behind him. “Everyone else has gone. What are you doing?”

“A captain always goosedown with his ship!”

“Please, sir, you mustn’t give up,” the former prisoner urged, drawing him toward the little open door beyond which the void spiraled dizzily. “There are other ships and other stories. You’re an intelligent man. Think about it and you’ll realize that…

“…A void, to the wise, is sufficient!”

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