“This book is to record the history of The Empress, The largest container ship ever built, on which nearly five hundred survivors of the worldwide phenomenon known as The Bug have taken refuge.”– History of The Empress: Book One
After they’d been on land a month, they finally had all the plants they needed on the boat. It had been hard work, and they were all exhausted, but thanks to Arthur’s preaching the crew was still full of spirit. Obadiah ordered them to return, so they went to work packing up the camp.
Denise approached Arthur and said, “You sure you want to come back, I don’t think Obadiah is going to try out your plan, even if he wanted to, and don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think you can make the swim back to shore.”
Arthur responded, “I think if I can make my case the people will agree. This is bigger than just what I want.”
“I hope you’re right. The ship’s a powder keg right now, and I don’t want to be the one that sets it off.”
They loaded their supplies onto the lifeboats. Arthur left his chest in the woods where it would stay sheltered and safe. He would be back for it. Arthur took a paddle again this time, and was able to make it the whole way back to the ship without switching out.
A crowd was waiting for them as they were hoisted back into the ship. Obadiah was front and center and led a cheer as they stepped back onto the deck. Arthur waited while Obadiah congratulated everyone and shook their hand.
Obadiah approached Arthur last. “Very good job Arthur, it looks like you were right.”
“Right, I wanted to talk to you about that, can we walk together?” Asked Arthur.
“Oh, of course, let me clear a path.” Obadiah walked Arthur through the crowd, smiling and waving at people as they waded through. Arthur had several people shake his hand as they went through.”
“I wasn’t expecting quite a crowd after hearing about all the quarreling aboard.” Remarked Arthur once they had walked a ways.
“Yes, well there were many furious people not in attendance today. This mission really split the ship, some are ecstatic that we saved everyone, while the others are angry we ever attempted it. I’m just glad the ordeal is over with and we can go back to business as usual.”
“Well I don’t think it should be over Lieut…Captain. We know the land is safe now, I think it’s time humanity returned to land.”
Obadiah didn’t talk for a while. “I hear what you’re saying Arthur, but with what’s been going on, I think it would be pushing things too far.”
“This has to happen sometime, doesn’t it? The ship isn’t going to last forever, it’s already a miracle we’ve kept it afloat for as long as we have.”
“I agree with you, I do. But it’s not gonna happen. I can’t imagine a scenario where I announce a move to land that doesn’t end in violence.”
“Look, we don’t have to make the whole move at once. Half the ship is glad we came here right? We hold a town hall, the exploration team talks about how it’s safe, and we get volunteers to start a settlement. After that goes well, everyone else should follow. We don’t have to force anyone who’s unwilling.”
“Everyone on the exploration team really wants to stay?” Asked Obadiah.
“Absolutely, and anyone else we can get on shore will fall in love it. This is where we belong.” Said Arthur.
Obadiah thought that over for a bit longer then said. “Alright. I’m sure I’ll regret this but we’ll try it. We’ll hold a town hall tonight, and you can lay it all out.”
“Thank you so much sir.” Arthur went off to tell his crew and prepare.
That night Arthur and the exploration crew stood on stage before the whole ship. Obadiah introduced the crew and then had Arthur come forward to speak.
Arthur walked forward and spoke, “We would like to share with you what our time on shore was like.” Then, with Arthur going first, and then each other crew member going after, they talked about their time on land. They shared stories, what they had done and all the things they had seen, and most importantly, that they were all still alive. When they were done, Obadiah walked back to the front, so that Arthur and him stood side by side. Arthur could tell Obadiah was nervous, which didn’t even show through when they first announced they were going to land.
“Now that you’ve heard about life on land, we will be asking for volunteers to start a colony.” Obadiah told the crowd. There was a moment of dead silence, and then the crowd erupted like Arthur had never seen before. Some were yelling, some were cheering, but Arthur couldn’t make out anything intelligible. Obadiah tried to calm the crowd, but nothing helped.
Arthur tried to help and barked out a “QUIET”, louder and more commanding than he thought he was capable of, and it worked. They all fell silent and stood looking at him. He rode his momentum and continued on. “Look, we’ve been here a month, and no one has dropped dead. You’re all alive, and we’re all fine. I feel better than I ever have. We’re not forcing anyone to volunteer, so can we stop bickering and just give this a go?” Everyone stayed quiet, aside from a few grunts and murmurs. Arthur went on. “Alright, this is how we’re going to do this. Everyone who doesn’t want to volunteer, leave now and go back to your homes. We’ll count everyone remaining and brief them on the plan.” People started to filter out, and they counted up around five hundred volunteers remaining. Obadiah and Arthur explained the plan.
Obadiah entered Thomas’ cell with a tray of food. Thomas didn’t bother to greet him. “I just wanted to let you know what’s going on.” Said Obadiah. “We’ll be sending people to shore to start a colony over the next few days. We’re going back to land.” To his surprise Thomas stayed quiet, just looked up and glared at him. “I think this’ll be good for us Captain, you’ll see.” Obadiah left the tray in the room and left the cell.
Once Obadiah had cleared the floor, Thomas walked up to the door and spoke to the guard. “He’s putting the whole ship on land now, still think you’ve chosen the right side?”
The guard stayed quiet for a moment then looked back at Thomas and asked, “What do we do Captain?”
Arthur and Obadiah spent the next few days preparing the colony. They pulled tools from storage for construction. None of their lifeboats were especially large, so they had to make trips non-stop the next few days bringing supplies and people over to the beach. They started clearing trees, making room for buildings and lumber to build them with. Life on the ship had instilled a strong work ethic in everyone, and buildings were being put up incredibly quickly.
Arthur and Denise were standing by the railing of the ship admiring the progress they were making.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?” Asked Arthur.
“It really is.” Replied Denise. “You’ve done really well here Arthur.”
“I haven’t really done that much. The crew’s done all the work.”
“Don’t downplay yourself. You’ve grown into a really good leader. You’re basically the new lieutenant.”
“Maybe, I don’t really care to be in charge though.” He gestured out to the settlement. “I’m just glad I could help this come to exist.”
“That’s why you’re a good leader.” She said. “You’ve really changed the ship for the better. Obadiah’s glad for it too, you could always tell he didn’t care for the old laws. We don’t have to be so strict anymore.”
“Thanks Denise.” He stared out at the settlement a while longer and said proudly, “Yeah, this is home.”
Two weeks into the experiment and they had already gotten the five hundred volunteers set up on land. Buildings were still going up, ruins were being scavenged for supplies. They just broke ground on a field for a farm.
Obadiah walked down to the brig to tell Thomas the colony was progressing well. Soon they should have the whole ship’s support and transfer everyone ashore. He would be glad to finally let the hard dissenters out. This time of strife could finally end. As he approached Thomas’ cell he noticed the guards all seemed to be eyeing him. A lot of people were still angry with him, including some in security, but they would come around soon. The guard quickly opened the cell door, and Obadiah was surprised to see Thomas smiling at him as he stepped in.
Thomas nodded, and Obadiah felt a sharp pain in the back of his head. The guard had whacked him with his baton, and he felt a hand on each shoulder force him to kneel. The smile faded from Thomas’ face as he stood up and approached him. “You’ve done enough damage to this ship Lieutenant. It’s time we returned to order.”
Obadiah, still dazed, tried to stand and fight out of the guards’ grip. One of them kicked the back of his shin, and he collapsed back onto his knees. Obadiah groaned and said. “Stop, you’re making a mistake captain.”
“My mistake was choosing you to follow in my footsteps.” He shot back. “I’ve paid the price for that, now it’s your turn to pay for what you’ve done.” He stepped closer to his lieutenant, and held out his hand. A guard handed him a blade.
“Captain please, it doesn’t have to be this way anymore.” Obadiah begged. “Don’t do this.”
The captain ignored his pleas. “Obadiah, you have been found guilty of treason against the ship; leading a mutiny and sending crew to land. You are hereby sentenced to death.”
“Captain, stop!” Cried Obadiah. He tried once more to break free but was beaten down to the ground again. A guard grabbed his hair and pulled back, exposing his neck. Thomas slit his throat, and the guards released him, allowing his body to slump to the floor
“Alright, we’ve got work to do.” Stated Thomas. He pointed at one of the guards who had held down Obadiah. “You. Pick up this body.” He stepped over the corpse, already producing a sizable pool of blood, and entered the hallway. He saw one guard running at the end of the hallway and head into the stairwell. “Looks like we have to hurry. Guards, release these prisoners!” He barked at the other guards in the brig.
They quickly unlocked the cells and released those who had stayed loyal to Thomas. “To the deck, it’s time to bring back order!” He shouted. Everyone gave a hurrah and marched towards the upper decks.
Arthur was on deck talking to a storage worker. They needed more tools for construction projects. Arthur heard his name shouted and turned around to a frantic guard running up to him.
As soon as the guard reached Arthur he exclaimed, “Arthur, Thomas is trying to take back the ship. He’ll be letting everyone out of the brig as we speak.”
Arthur was astonished, he had been sure that the possibility of another mutiny was gone. “We need to get Obadiah right away.”
The guard became uncomfortable and stammered, “Obadiah, he…Thomas executed him.” Arthur gasped. “I’m sorry Arthur, I watched it happen. I had agreed to help Thomas but I couldn’t go along with it. Over half of security is backing him. What do we do?”
Arthur racked his brain. It wouldn’t take long for Thomas to launch his attack, but for now they were all holed up below deck. He spoke to the guard. “Okay, you know who in security is loyal to us, round up whoever is stationed nearby and barricade the bridge castle. We’ll try and keep them inside long enough to rally up a defense.” He turned to the storage worker. “Are there weapons in storage we can use?”
The storage worker was flustered and stammered out, “Um, we wouldn’t be able get to anything that’s an actual weapon in time.” He mumbled for a second while he thought and then said, “There’s a stash of pipes close by.”
“That’ll have to do, show me.” Ordered Arthur. He took him down a level into the container area and opened it up. They both grabbed as many pipes as they could and hauled them back up to the main deck. The storage worker told Arthur, “I support you Arthur, but I don’t think I can fight my crewmates.”
“I won’t make you.” Arthur replied. “Go somewhere safe.” Arthur didn’t want to fight either, but he didn’t know what other choice they had at the moment. Arthur surveyed the deck, security had barricaded the doors best they could, and he could hear pounding from the inside. Some non-security people had arrived to help. Arthur passed out pipes and told everyone to get prepared for a fight.
They were able to keep the doors closed off and after several minutes the pounding stopped. Arthur tried to think of their next move. Should they just wait? Do they go inside and try to subdue them? A crowd formed lining the sides of the ship.
Then Arthur heard a voice above him. “Mutineers, this is your chance to drop your weapons and spare yourself judgement.” He looked up and saw Thomas standing on the second story balcony with his band of security and prisoners. He hadn’t even thought about them going up a level. They were armed not just with security’s batons but also with knives and swords. They had sure locked up a lot of people. “This is your fate if you continue this futile resistance.” He held up Obadiah’s blood-soaked body for all to see, then flung him over the railing to flop onto the deck.
Arthur gripped his pipe tighter and yelled out, “Stand your ground.” But he looked back and saw
several people had already retreated. The rest of their militia were realizing their odds, and one by one
they dropped their weapons to surrender.
Thomas and the rest of his crew dropped down onto the deck. Arthur realized there was nothing he could do with force, and dropped his pipe as well. Thomas walked up to Arthur and pushed his finger into Arthur’s chest. “You. You don’t get off scot free. You engineered this whole scenario.” He pulled out the knife he had used on Obadiah.
Shouting started coming from the crowd. “Don’t kill him!” “Let him go!”
Arthur didn’t flinch. “Hear me out captain.” He asked.
Thomas looked out at the crowd and turned back to Arthur. “Go ahead, say your piece.”
“Let those of us who want to stay on land stay on land. Anyone who wants to stay is a traitor right? And living on land is a death sentence, so you’re just carrying out proper justice.” Explained Arthur.
Thomas narrowed his eyes. He looked back at the agitated crowd as he thought over the options. “So be it.” He snarled at Arthur. He sheathed his knife and turned back to the people. “I hereby sentence Arthur, and anyone who supports him, to exile on shore.” Arthur sighed in relief, they wouldn’t die today at least.
Thomas started shipping people to the beach the same day. He didn’t allow anyone to take any supplies or belongings with them, just ran the rowboats non-stop to get the traitors off the ship. He made sure he didn’t let Arthur out of his sight until he got him off the ship, but Arthur managed to slip a message to Denise before he was forced off. Denise got some of her guys to smuggle books Arthur thought they would need back to the settlement.
It took two days before everyone who chose to go was on land, twenty-five hundred in total including everyone who had originally volunteered for the colony. Arthur held a proper funeral for Obadiah, the first body to be buried in the ground in centuries. Arthur and Denise stood on the beach together while they watched the ship get smaller and smaller on the horizon.
“There goes our home.” Remarked Denise.
“Not anymore. This is our home now.” Replied Arthur. After they couldn’t see the ship anymore Arthur turned to Denise. “Follow me, I want to show you something.” He grabbed her hand and led her into the settlement, into the town hall building they had built. There on a desk was a book titled ‘History of Humanity: Book One’. He opened the first page, still blank, and said to Denise. “Let’s write history shall we?”