We built the ship with ebony and marble and pillars of diamond. We built the ship and they came in their hundreds. Down to the dock where it towered like some primeval thing.
It had taken three generations to construct. I was born on the ship’s bow under the salt sun and christened in the bay water just as my father had been. Three generations, and by the time I started at work there wasn’t much left of the thing to build. It still claimed twenty three years of my life, mind you.
I don’t remember who it was that laid the final panel or fixed the final door. My own belief is that it was a simple moment of clarity through which we were all connected — regardless of our whereabouts on the ship — in the instinctive knowledge that the deed was done.
At the time of its completion I, personally, had been scrubbing a portion of the crystalline deck along with two men, Slane and Christobel, and it was in complete unison that we had each placed our cloths down and raised our heads to one another.
‘Is it finished, do you think?’ said Slane.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘What do you make of that sound?’
Really, there had been no sound to speak of, it was just that I couldn’t endorse the implications of Slane’s question.
But then, of course, the bell rang; we all knew what that meant.
Slane and Christobel got up. Slane threw his cloth over the side of the deck and took a cigar from his pocket — I believe his grandfather had purchased that cigar some years earlier; Slane had later confessed to me that he certainly did not expect to be the one who would smoke it.
The ship was built for something, but for exactly what was pure speculation. There was talk among some of the builders of a large-scale migration. But I had been working on the passenger accommodation and steerage, and I can surely say that not a single inch of the place was in the slightest bit functional. Aesthetic, they had said to me. It is all for the aesthetic. I couldn’t say how many others had been told the same. But for me, at least, I was quite aware that the ship had not a nautical mile in it.
Certainly it was the largest ship in existence. We all knew as much. And it could be nothing other than the most beautiful vessel ever sculpted. The colours of it, like some mythical deep sea wonder reeled from the ocean floor. Almost reflective, it was, but with a certain softness to the surface that alluded to the sheerness of its quality.
Once the curtains had dropped — three days after the ringing of the bell — the public began to arrive, and people started touching, which made me a little nervous at first.
They swarmed, like ants, I would say — ants bundling around some vast floating carrion. Me, Slane and Christobel stood back, gathering our legs, for we had never before stepped foot off the ship. In truth I had never once seen it in full sight and I found myself feeling inspired. We had built it.
In the end it went down, pregnant with civilian children and their mothers. We had not been around at the time, but if we had I would have endeavoured to explain that — as I mentioned before — the ship was not built with functionality in mind.
‘How many?’ said Slane, looking out over the bay with its myriad of damp roses bobbing in the morning current.
I didn’t answer. Though I may have known the number, or at the very least been able to hazard a guess.
‘Did you know?’ I said. ‘Did you know that it wouldn’t sail?’
Christobel looked at Slane, who in turn looked at me with strange eyes. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Maybe we had an idea. The materials were impractical.’ He spat into the water. ‘Did you?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I think I was told in fewer words. But our job was only to build the thing, wasn’t it?’
Neither of them responded; I didn’t pursue an answer.
Three generations and the thing sank within a month of completion, but its construction was all we knew, so when they told us to build another, that’s just what we did.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Declan Wilk is currently studying for a Masters degree in creative writing at Newcastle University, with a strong interest in contemporary and fantasy short fiction. At present he is working on his first short story collection, which focuses on modern day society and the people within it. He hopes, in future, to go on to publication so that he may further contribute to the creative culture that resides within the city of Newcastle.