Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Rum goings on aboard the Mary/Marie Celeste

Marie Celeste had never been her real name. The 'Marie' bit was invented by one of the many science fiction writers, or conspiracy theorists, who have sought to offer quasi-plausible explanations as to the fate that befell the ship's missing crew and passengers, before she had been found drifting unmanned roughly half-way between the Azores and the Portuguese coast on the 5th December 1872. She started life as The Amazon; but by the time she set forth from New York, bound for Genoa with her cargo of over 1000 barrels of raw alcohol, her name had long since been changed to Mary Celeste.

Putting science fictioneers and conspiracy theory bods aside for a moment, any time-traveller who has visited the Mary Celeste on that fateful day of 26th November 1872 will tell the same story. They will tell of the hatches being opened, and of the overpowering smell of the escaping fumes from the leaking barrels of alcohol. They will tell of the ensuing explosion; Captain Briggs giving out the order to abandon ship; and the lifeboat containing the passengers and crew being hastily lowered onto the ocean. They will tell of the halyard snapping, causing the ship and lifeboat to drift apart. And the more observant of them will tell of how amidst the panic and confusion a man appeared in the lifeboat and snatched up two year-old Sophie Briggs in his arms - and of how, an instant later, they had both disappeared.

The above is a true account of the events of that day, the visitors witnessed all that happened with their very own eyes. But what those same visitors did not see was the two strange characters who also were on board the ship that day; the man and woman who not only caused the explosion which subsequently led to the death of my great great great grandparents, but also sent the Mary Celeste down to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean – and replaced her with the vessel that is now referred to as the Marie Celeste.
But, I'm racing ahead of myself. It's just that the experience has unnerved me somewhat, and I'm writing this entry in an attempt to get a one-step removed view of the incident, and to figure out what relevance it may have to any future time-travelling I do at the behest of The Dog.

It was to have been a milk run – and why not? I'd been there a few weeks earlier, when I'd rescued little Sophie Briggs, and delivered her into the good hands of my dear friend Suzannah Michalas at her home in Boston, Massachusetts. But in that instance I had had no choice in the matter: I would have had to go there sooner or later, Sophie Briggs was my great great grandmother, according to The Dog.
As every time-traveller knows, every time you visit the past you are in fact re-visiting it, because have you already been there when the past was the present - that is why everything you do when visiting the past is pre-determined. A difficult concept to grasp, I'll grant you; but, like coming to grips with the inevitability of one's own death, time-travellers soon accustom themselves to the idea of grabbing the moment and going with the flow.

The Dog asked me to return to the Mary Celeste. He wanted me to bring him back an old ship's log from Captain Briggs' cabin, and told me exactly where I would find it.
'For why?' I asked him. 'And how do you know this old log is where you say it is?'
But he didn't answer my questions; he just told me to trust him - and I could tell by his evasiveness that there was another brainwave occurring in that canny canine head of his.

The Dog worked out the co-ordinates that would enable me to arrive aboard ship after the last of the visitors had departed.

When I came out of the wormhole on to the foredeck of the Mary Celeste, I was immediately confronted by a man and woman, standing six foot apart, ten foot or so in front of me. They were dressed in 1980s, Thatcher reich, mode: the woman was wearing a calf-length, sapphire-blue dress; the man, a grey business suit. The woman looked rather attractive; tall and slim with shoulder-length blonde hair; she would have been quite fanciable in different circumstances. The man was a different kettle of fish; he looked anything but fanciable; he was staring threateningly at me, his blue eyes as cold as steel.
'If you're here for the show, you're too late, it's over,' says the man.
'That's all right,' says I. 'I've seen it before.'
They looked across at each other, (I could tell that they were
communicating by telepathy, like The Dog and I do), before looking back at me.
'Then,' says the man. 'you have no business being here now.'
'The captain of this ship is an ancestor of mine,' says I. 'I've every right to be here at any time I choose - and more right than you two, I would venture.'
'Who are you working for?' says he.
'I don't work for anyone,' says I. 'I work with The Dog, we're an independent outfit.'
'He's a scavenger,' says the woman. 'They use animals as their travel medium.'
'Time bandit, if you don't mind Ma'am,' says I. 'I might purloin the odd thing or two, but I don't scavenge!'
'Well, Mister Time Bandit,' says the man. 'I would suggest that you get back in your wormhole, and do your purloining somewhere else.'
'I'll do just that,' says I, 'when I've got what I came here for.'
'He's come for the log!' says the woman.
A chill ran through my body as I realised that she could read my mind – other than when we're telepathing, even The Dog can't do that, thank goodness! It was then that the thought suddenly struck me that the pair of them were not of this world – and the woman winked at me in acknowledgement.
'I'll ask you again,' says the man. 'Who are you working for?'
'I told you before,' says I. 'We don't work for anyone, it's just me and The Dog.'
'He's telling the truth,' says the woman.
'Why do you want the log?' says the man.
'I don't want it,' says I. 'The Dog sent me for it, I don't know why he wants it.'
'You can go back and tell your dog that it's not going to get the log,' says he, 'because it's going down with the ship.'
'Down?' says I. 'Down where?'
'To the bottom of the ocean,' says he. 'We were in the process of sinking it in when you so rudely interrupted us.'
'You've got to be joking,' says I. 'You can't sink her!'
'Can't I?' says he – and the look in his eyes told me that he most certainly could. 'Who do you think caused the explosion in the cargo hold?'
'But, you can't sink the Mary Celeste,' says I. 'You can't change history, no one can alter the past!'
'Look at it this way,' says he. 'If we don't sink the ship, there will be no more history for you or your precious dog.'
'I'd better explain,' says the woman to the man.
'If you must,' says the man.
'Well,' says the woman, 'it's more expedient than you freezing him and throwing him back into the wormhole.'
I don't mind admitting, I didn't like the sound of that.
'The captain of this ship, who you claim to be your ancestor,' says the woman, addressing me, 'is a collector of nautical curios, one of which is the ship's log your dog is trying to get his paws on. Unfortunately, the log has an erroneous entry in it, rendering it dangerously out of date. The erroneous entry has been wearing away at the fabric of time, and will soon cause a rupture if it is not kept in check - and my colleague and I have been assigned here to do just that.'
'And the most effective way for us to bring our assignment to a successful conclusion is to sink the ship, with the log in it,' says the man.
'Look,' says I. 'I don't care what you do with the log - I didn't really want to come here for it in the first place. But surely you don't have to sink the ship? It is of the utmost importance that she is found drifting unmanned off the Portuguese coast. The Marie Celeste, as she will come to be known, will have a whole factual and fictional industry built around her a hundred years from now.'
'You've no need to worry about that, we've provided a replica,' says he, pointing out to sea.
I looked in the direction in which he was pointing, and saw a ship rising out of the ocean some fifty yards or so off the starboard bow - a ship that when fully risen looked exactly the same as the one we were on.
'Beggar me!' says I, thinking these two really are here on serious business.
'So now you know everything you need to know,' says the man, 'we would be obliged if you would step back into your wormhole and leave us to proceed with our assignment.'
'Yes, of course,' says I, turning towards my way out of there.
'And in future, it would serve you well to keep a sharp eye on that dog of yours,' says the man. 'It could get you into a lot of trouble.'
Too true! I thought to myself, as I stepped into the wormhole.

When I arrived back home, I told The Dog most of what had transpired during my visit. In return he told me that although he had never actually met the man and woman I had described to him, he had heard quite a lot about them - apparently they are part of a group of operatives, working for some sort of entity outside the Corridor of Time.
When I again pressed him as to the reason why he wanted the ship's log, he went all moody on me. He told me that he was no longer interested in the log; and went on to tell me that if the man and woman had spoken ill of his intentions, they were obviously just trying to drive a wedge between us because they were jealous of our independent status; and he accused me in no uncertain terms of not trusting him by my pursuing the matter.

Even after I've written this entry in full unexpurgated form, I'm still experiencing the odd doubt about The Dog's motivations. I need a holiday away from him. I'd like to re-spend some time with Suzannah Michalas; but that would entail me having to leave The Dog in the hands of a pet-minding service for a week or so - and with the mood he's in at the moment, I seriously doubt that he would be of a mind for working out the co-ordinates for me to get there.

Anyways, enough of my probs. I'm sure, dear reader, you have enough problems of your own to deal with.

Catch you cats later,
Caio for now.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007


I've just got back from Vienna, February 1867. Went to the first public airing of Johann Strauss the Younger's "On The Beautiful Blue Danube" at the Vienna Men's Choral Association.

Young Strauss's musical career was going nowhere fast at the time, so The Dog sent me over there to give him a nudge in the right direction.

The great composer was none too pleased with the evening's performance; his grief weighed heavy upon his shoulders. He was in an inconsolable mood with friends and family; so I escorted him to a nearby tavern, where he could drown his sorrows with a few beers.
He was still in morose mode after putting a couple of steins of the amber nectar down his throat.
'Look,' says I, 'all this brooding is doing you no good. You should be looking at the positives of the performance.'
'There were no positives,' says he.
'O.K., so the coda was a bit duff,' says I, 'and the choral stuff didn't really work, but the waltz you've got in there has mega-hit written all over it.'
'The Devil take the waltz!' says he.
I got another round in, and set about steering him away from such negative thinking.
'Look,' says I. 'Your real problem is that you want to be known as a better composer than your old man, and at the moment you're not making too good a fist of it, right?'
'You have a very blunt manner about you sir!' says he.
'Blunt or not,' says I. 'What I'm trying to tell you is that if you want to be top dog on the music scene, you are going to have to change your attitude towards the waltz.'
'Pah!' says he.
'You can poo-pah all you like, but the fact is that the choral stuff is well past its sell-by date, the punters aren't buying it anymore.'
'So, I should give it up - and pursue a career in merchant banking?' says he.
'There you go, grabbing the wrong end of the stick again,' says I. 'What I'm trying to get into that thick head of yours is that your claim to immortal fame will not be brought about by the number of bums your music puts on seats, it'll be determined by the number of feet that it gets on the dancefloors.'
'Pray continue,' says he.
'Believe me, you've got the basis of a classic dance number in that "Blue Danube" piece of yours. If you were to drop the choral stuff and fine-tune the waltz aspect, I'll guarantee that it'll get more bods up on the floor than "Dancing Queen" on a Saturday night. It'll be a sure fire dancefloor filler - and that's what will keep your name to the forefront of the punters' minds.'
'Well, I must admit,' says he, 'what you say does have a ring of sense to it.'
'And it's good commercial sense too!' says I. 'It'll put plenty coinage in your pocket, as well as putting your name up in lights throughout the civilised world for years to come.'
'I'm getting rather peckish now,' says he. 'Perhaps we could continue our conversation over a little supper?'

We dined on oysters and lobster, with cheese pancakes for dessert. By the time our meal was over, I had successfully talked him into having a good think about my suggestion.
Mission accomplished! But as you are no doubt aware, time-travelling on a full stomach is a big no-no, it plays havoc with the digestive system; so I had to stay in Vienna overnight.

When I got back, The Dog was fair starving. To make it up to him, I promised to take him back to Crufts 1971, where there's a lady cocker spaniel on show, on whom he wants to work his magic again. I'll fit it in sometime over the weekend.
I've got a very heavy schedule this week: Sydney Street, London 1911; The Dog wants me to get his old comrade Peter the Painter out of a spot of bother. Then I've a bit of business to do on the Marie Celeste, mid-Atlantic 1872. Plus The Dog wants me to re-visit Roswell 1947; he reckons he's devised a way of getting me into Area 51 this time.
I've had a lot of mail on the last one. Latest update for you: I spent quite a bit of time hanging out in the local bars, ear-wigging the gossip. The local wiseheads reckon it's just another cock-up on the part of the military. But The Dog thinks otherwise.

Catch you cats later
Caio for now