Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. There are rambunctious supervillains, a moderate injury that heals fast, messy medical details, Steel having somewhat-muffled flashbacks, oblique reference to his past tragedies, and other challenges. But mostly it's just a fun romp on the waves. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"A Boat to Go Chasing the Whales"
Aquariana wondered again
how she had gotten roped into
organizing a private ocean tour
for a world-famous supervillain.
Alicia Martins looked like a little girl,
but apparently she'd looked that way
for about seven hundred years.
Right now she wore a beach wrap
striped in black and white topped by
a floppy black hat with a jolly roger.
She had a yacht, quite a splendid one --
the Redwing was rigged in crimson
above smart black and white decks,
with classic wood and brass interiors.
"Tell me again why we have a draft horse
riding on a boat with us?" Seth said.
"Wanna meet the whales," Judd said.
Seth stared at him. "He can talk?"
"Nobody told you?" said Alicia.
"Judd is a person. He can talk.
It's just kind of hard for him."
"Okay," Seth said, and
then started humming
the theme from Mr. Ed.
Judd nodded his head
and began singing along.
Alicia laughed. "That's
his favorite television show."
"Don't worry, I think he'll
get along fine with the whales,"
Aquariana said. "He and Steel
have some things in common."
"And Moderato?" Seth said.
"They're different as night and day."
"He likes everyone," Aquariana said.
"Oh, this ought to be interesting,"
Alicia said, bouncing on her toes.
Captain Delmar da Cunha strode over
the softly bobbing deck. On his shoulder
rode a beautiful blue and gold macaw.
"What a pretty bird," Aquariana said.
"What's his name? Can he talk?"
"Roger that! Jolly Roger!
Roger your mother!"
the bird screamed.
"His name is Roger,"
said Captain da Cunha.
"We're not actually sure which
of those phrases he's named for."
Roger grummeled something else,
then walked down the captain's arm
and fluttered over to perch on one of
the wicker chairs that lined the deck.
"I didn't catch that last part,"
Aquariana said, watching him.
"Nobody's been able to identify it,"
Alicia said. "Roger speaks most of
the old nautical languages, but also
several mysterious ones like that."
"It's probably rude, though --
most of his conversation is either
practicalities like food, or curses."
said Captain da Cunha. "Do we have
a heading toward the whales yet?"
"Yes," Aquariana said, and gave him
directions to the planned meeting point.
"Can we go watch the trip from
the bow of the boat?" Alicia asked.
"Of course," said Cheval, her bodyguard.
Then he turned to the others. "You are
welcome to join us on the fore deck."
Seth and Aquariana followed them.
Judd was so tall that he simply put his chin
on the fore deck after they climbed up.
Alicia chattered in several different languages,
much like the macaw, rambling over descriptions
of the ship and the port they had just left and
surprisingly accurate observations about what
the weather meant for fishing and sailing.
"Are you in school?" Aquariana asked.
"I wasn't sure if that would ... fit you."
"No, but I'm always learning," Alicia said.
"Right now, I'm updating my medical degrees
to Maldivian standards and brushing up
on modern ships and their handling."
Medical degrees. Plural.
Aquariana blinked, and
tried not to stare at Alicia,
who was also Doctor Infanta.
Apparently her cape name
was not the affectation that
most people assumed it was.
The ocean was beautiful, though,
and the day pleasant even with
the company of odd passengers.
Alicia swung her heels and sang sweetly,
"Carpenter, bring out your hammers and nails.
Hammers and nails, hammers and nails,
Build me a boat to go chasing the whales."
After she finished singing, Seth replied,
"We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!
Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me."
Then Aquariana picked up with,
"I must down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by ..."
When they got tired of singing,
Cheval brought out a message board
and a box of crayons so everyone
could practice their Dhivehi.
Even Judd tried to follow along,
although he had to turn his head
sideways to read the words and
his Dhivehi pronunciation was
even worse than his English.
It was fun to learn the color words,
though, and after everyone had
the hang of them, Cheval took out
a set of flashcards to play with.
Then they took turns pointing at
different things and naming the colors,
like Aquariana's skin (noo) and
the wicker chairs (mushi).
The time passed quickly,
and soon they reached
open water away from
other boat traffic.
A humpback whale
Hello, new friends!
Steel rumbled. Why
do landers say that
when most of them
seem to hate mornings?
"Maybe we just want
to cheer ourselves up."
After that, she introduced
people to each other, and told
the whales the name of the yacht --
Redwing -- so they'd recognize it.
"Hi!" said Judd, hanging
his head over the rail
to look at the whales.
Steel surfaced, closer to
the ship than usual for him,
and rolled onto his side
to look up at the horse.
Judd stood like a statue,
a sea breeze making his tail
fan out in a black banner.
Steel looked like a rock
in the water, until he blinked.
Aquariana caught just the edge
of the conversation that rippled
between the two of them, slow
and rich and utterly nonhuman.
Judd nodded, then pulled his head
back and turned to look at Alicia.
"Can I go swimming now?"
she asked, bouncing again.
"That's a question to ask
our hosts," Aquariana said,
waving at the whales.
Moderato had moved to
the other side of their yacht,
showing off for the shrieking macaw,
but Steel was still right in front of them.
"May I come swim with you?"
Alicia said, dropping her robe
to reveal a piratical swimsuit.
Swim, Steel agreed, but
be careful. The water here
is deep for human calves.
Alicia pealed with laughter
and vaulted over the side.
"She's been swimming for
centuries, and she has plenty
of endurance," Cheval said.
"If anything does go wrong,
the whales can lift her out of
the water -- they've done it
before," Aquariana replied.
"I just wanted to make sure
that they didn't mind company."
"I don't think they mind,"
Cheval said, watching
as the whales glided
She was as sleek and
agile as a seal in the sea.
She even caught a ride,
holding Moderato's fin while
he towed her through the waves.
Then a few minutes later, Alicia
reappeared sitting on Steel's back.
Suddenly Steel lofted her
through the air and deposited her
firmly back on the deck.
"I told you I'll be fine!"
she protested, but Steel
didn't let go until Cheval
had ahold of her.
That's when Aquariana
saw the blood running down
the insides of Alicia's legs.
"What happened?" Cheval said.
"I forgot how sharp barnacles
can be," Alicia said sheepishly.
"I'll be fine in a few minutes,
so don't make a fuss."
"We have a rule about
tending injuries," Seth said
in a firm tone as he set
the first aid kit on a chair.
"Who do you want to help
you clean up those cuts?"
"Oh, let Cheval do it,"
Alicia grumbled. "They're
just scratches, really."
"Well, those 'scratches'
look like they would mean
several dozen stitches for
an ordinary person," Seth said.
"I can regenerate, you big ninny,"
Alicia said. "It's not the same for me."
"That doesn't mean that we like
to see you hurt, miss," said Cheval.
He took a squirt bottle of antiseptic and
used it to rinse the blood off her legs.
Will the human calf be all right?
Steel's voice was tight with worry
and something else Aquariana
couldn't quite pin down.
"She will be fine soon,"
Aquariana said. "Alicia has
special powers to help her heal."
Indeed, the long gouges were
already pulling together, and
the blood had slowed from
a brisk flow to a trickle.
The human calf is very small,
Steel sent, still worried. There
is much blood in the water.
Another ripple of emotion,
cold and foreboding, spilled
itself over Aquariana's mind.
Meanwhile, Alicia was still whining.
"Stop it," Aquariana said. "You're
scaring Steel. I hear that you don't care
about injuries, but he does. If you saw
the whaling trial on television, and
think about it, you'll realize why."
Alicia's eyes went wide. "Oh.
I didn't think about ... what
happened to his family."
"Families," Aquariana said.
Then she turned to the captain.
"Could you move the ship away
from here, please? Just far enough
that if sharks show up, Steel won't be
tempted to ram them. Or eat them."
Captain da Cunha called out orders
to the crew, who all went to work
on the sails, and soon shifted
the yacht into cleaner waters.
"What do you want me
to do?" Alicia asked.
"I don't want Steel to be
scared, or mad at me."
"Come to the rail and
show him you're okay now,"
Aquariana said. "An apology
would be appropriate, and I'd say
that you owe him a favor, too."
Alicia leaned against the rail,
propping her tiny elbows on it.
"I'm sorry I messed up, Steel.
I didn't mean to scare you.
My legs are all healed now."
Steel surfaced slowly.
You were not careful.
"I just forgot that barnacles
could be that sharp!" she said.
"I didn't do it on purpose."
You were NOT CAREFUL,
Steel said in a ringing voice.
Telling the pot not to call
the kettle black wouldn't
be diplomatic, or helpful.
"Well, sometimes people with
certain powers forget that it's
important to watch out for things
that could hurt them," Aquariana said.
"Some giants, tough guys, and people
with regeneration find it hard to remember.
Maybe the two of you can help each other
practice taking better care of yourselves."
"I will if you will," Alicia offered.
Steel snorted, but fortunately not
hard enough to hose them.
I will consider this.
"Thanks for being patient,
Steel," said Aquariana.
"Alicia, let's get something
to eat. You need to refuel."
Alicia gave her an odd look,
then said, "Food would be good."
For lunch they had gulha,
pastry balls stuffed with
tasty bits of smoked fish.
The fruit salad included
mango, papaya, and bananas
with a delicately sweet dressing.
A large cooler dispensed
a refreshing piña colada drink,
just the thing for quenching thirst
after spending time on the ocean.
Of course, as soon as Alicia
finished eating, she wanted
to go back in the water.
"Not yet, miss," said Cheval.
She rolled her eyes at him.
"It's not like I'll get sick."
"The rule is that everyone
waits an hour after eating
before they go swimming,"
Seth said. "Then it's fair."
Alicia huffed at him, but
she couldn't refute his logic.
Seth decided that now
was a good time to review
safety rules for ships.
After that, though,
he brought out a ball
sturdy enough to play
catch with the whales.
They were strong enough
to knock it clean over the boat,
and precise enough to avoid
ever hitting the sails with it.
Now and then, they allowed
the humans to catch the ball.
Judd was amazingly adept
at knocking the ball around,
not to mention agile even in
the limited space of the yacht.
"Impressive," Aquariana said.
"Oh, you should see him with
a herding ball," Alicia said.
So the humans moved
to the ends of the ship, giving
Judd free rein of the middle deck.
Eventually Cheval said,
"One hour, miss."
Alicia leaned over
the rail and said, "Steel?
I thought of a good favor,
but I need to get back
in the water with you."
Come in, Steel said.
This time I will make sure
that you are careful.
It took a while for Alicia
to talk him into letting her
sit on his back again, and
Aquariana could see that
the little girl was actually
floating just above him.
A sudden burst of surprise and
delight rippled out from the whales.
She can remove barnacles!
Steel exclaimed, spouting.
Alicia squealed at the shower
of whale snot and water.
Steel's mental voice
turned more contrite.
Sorry about that.
"You want Alicia
to remove barnacles?"
Not my shark-killers,
but the ones on my back,
yes, Steel replied.
They itch, Moderato said.
Alicia worked for quite a while,
smoothing away barnacles
from Steel and Moderato.
She was nowhere near done
when Steel finally lifted
her into the yacht.
Thank you, he said.
We will have to finish
this another time.
"Whales are big!"
Alicia said admiringly.
"They sure are,"
"I'm glad you got along."
"Steel and I have
a lot in common,"
Alicia said quietly.
Then Judd licked her hair,
making her squeal and
push his face away.
"Eww, horse spit!"
"Salt lick," Judd said,
and did it again.
It was strange to see
supervillains goofing off
like that -- and Steel had been
the next best thing to one for
years -- but Aquariana was
glad they had something
that made them happy.
If that was the result of
boarding a boat to go
chasing the whales,
then she was all for it.
* * *
Captain Delmar da Cunha -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short curly black hair with a beard and mustache. He speaks Arabic, Dutch, English, Esperanto, French, German, Greek, Italian, and Portuguese. Delmar serves as the day captain on Dr. Infanta's yacht, Redwing, and his wife Ridley is the night captain. He has an ancient and very lewd blue and gold macaw, Roger the Pirate. Delmar's skills make him well suited to life asea, but he fares poorly in landlocked areas.
Qualities: Master (+6) Dutiful, Expert (+4) Captain, Expert (+4) Visual-Spatial Intelligence, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Storyteller, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Being Landlocked
Roger the Pirate -- He is a blue and gold macaw. He is at least several hundred years old, dating back as far as the Golden Age of Piracy if not more. He speaks Arabic, Dutch, English, French, Hindu, Spanish, Welsh, Yoruban, and several others that nobody has managed to identify. His speech consists primarily of practical topics such as food, and obscenities. Among his favorite phrases are "Jolly Roger," "Roger that," and "Roger your mother." Nobody is sure which of those inspired his name. Roger dislikes dry land and is actively afraid of trees. He doesn't mind masts, though, and enjoys riding on people's shoulders. Currently he lives with Captain Delmar da Cunha who runs Dr. Infanta's yacht Redwing.
Qualities: Master (+6) Parrot, Master (+6) Pirate, Expert (+4) Languages,
Poor (-2) Afraid of Trees
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Intellect, Average (0) Extended Lifespan, Average (0) Regeneration
Blue and gold macaws make popular pets, if you don't mind their noise and you have lots of room.
* * *
Needles and pins,
Needles and pins,
Sew me a sail to catch me the wind.
Sew me a sail strong as the gale,
Carpenter, bring out your hammers and nails.
Hammers and nails, hammers and nails,
Build me a boat to go chasing the whales.
Chasing the whales, sailing the blue
Find me a captain and sign me a crew.
Captain and crew, captain and crew,
Take me, oh take me to anywhere new.
-- Shel Silverstein
Dr. Infanta has a yacht, the Redwing. See a cross-section, deck plan, and cabin plan. This collage shows the fore deck, and there is also an observation deck at the stern. Brown wicker chairs provide seating along the sides of the ship. Here is the coach house.
This is Dr. Infanta's swimsuit coverup. Her swimsuit and hat come from Sea Shepherd, which in Terramagne is a group of activist pirates.
"A Pirate's Life for Me" is a traditional song. Read the lyrics.
"Sea-Fever" by John Masefield is a famous poem about the ocean.
There used to be message boards for wet areas that came with wax crayons for writing. I couldn't find any, but it turns out that whiteboards work the same way. You can buy washable dry-erase crayons, or just use regular ones and rub harder.
If you want to learn Dhivehi, some lessons are available online. This site has lots of resources, including colors.
The ocean around the Maldives goes down to about 4,000 meters (13,123.36 feet). Outside of the atolls, the reefs fall off steeply and the water gets quite deep. Inside the atolls, the water is mostly calm and much shallower, with an average of only 50 meters (164.04 feet).
Killer whales are known to eat sharks. It is possible that other toothed whales also do this. Sperm whales eat giant squid, and wear the battle scars as proof. Steel just seems like the kind of guy crazy enough to eat sharks. When you solve a lot of problems with your teeth, well, every problem starts to look like a possible meal ...
The Maldives offers a charming array of food and beverages. For lunch, folks are having gulha: pastry balls stuffed with smoked fish. There is also a tropical fruit salad.
Much advice about vacation drinking is bad. Let's be blunt: if you go to a tropical country and drink like this, you will probably faceplant into the picturesque beach. You need avoid dehydrating yourself, and you need to replenish salt and trace minerals. In Terramagne, people do a much better job of furnishing suitable beverages, mostly fruit drinks with a dash of sea salt. (You don't need a lot of salt under most circumstances, just a little. If the drink tastes salty, that's probably too much.) Many of these are inspired by homemade sport drinks or electrolyte drinks. Of course, HydraTe is especially popular.
The Ying Yang Ball is one of many toys offered for marine mammals.
Many horses enjoy a herding ball. See one in action.
Whale barnacles can be used as weapons. This is documented with humpbacks, but others may do it too. Steel would logically use whatever weapons he has, and he has barnacles. He also has a humpback partner to give him a hint if he didn't figure it out on his own.