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on a knife's edge

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You don’t know how they buy the lie that the man known as Cornelius Hickey has now grown a beard, and that’s why he looks so strange and nearly unrecognizable. How the lieutenant that meets you doesn’t question how an accomplished caulker suddenly doesn’t know his way around a ship (at least of this size, an excuse which sounds weak even to your ears) is even more unbelievable. You cannot bring yourself to care about such trivial matters, however, nor shed a tear for the man they undoubtedly once knew, now reduced to a rotting corpse bobbing somewhere in Regent’s Canal. If they cannot discern that you are not in fact the man they assume you to be, it is because of their own failings, not yours. You know from experience that men of power, those with utmost authority in life, tend not to look much farther than the ends of their own noses at the best of times. Pompous braggarts, the lot of them, who have paid you no mind since the beginning. Why should this instance be any different?

Regardless, you manage to worm your way onto the ship and become a part of its crew, with no one being any the wiser as to the depths of your deception. Lying and manipulation has become your craft over the years, and you wield the knowledge these practices have given you like a weapon now, spinning your tales until your presence on the ship is unquestionable by anyone. It certainly helps that the original Hickey spilled so many of his secrets to you when given the right motivation, chirping like a canary at your side as he told you of his family, his struggles, his home life. It is amazing what will slip out of a man should you coax enough cheap gin into his system- the same gin that had made him too sloppy to avoid the slashes of your knife in the dark alleyway, not long after.

The days blend together as you steadily head farther and farther north. You strike up an easy kind of comradery with a few of the men, mainly the Marines on board, and you fall into a deeper relationship with Gibson, a wiry fellow with an uneasy smile. When he kisses you, it’s hesitant, like he believes you to be a porcelain doll that will crumble into pieces at even the slightest touch. Sex with him is somehow even more underwhelming. But it is still sex, and you have gone such a long time without the touch of another human being, be it man or woman. Part of you is so desperate for intimacy that you allow his unique way of showing affection, allow him to fuck you so slowly that you nearly fall asleep from the monotony of it all. You content yourself with the fact that you can always dispose of him later once you find a newer, shinier plaything. You will let him think you answer to him, that you truly want him, when all along he was just another chess piece upon the board.

Even when the ships become frozen in the wastes, you do not panic as the other men do. The ice will melt and allow passage to the Sandwich Islands that you have been dreaming of ever since you stepped on board, and even if it doesn’t, you will make this barren land work to your advantage. You do not care if the men grow to hate you because of the decisions you make, for any attention is attention you will bask in. No longer will you be overlooked. No longer will you be forced to scrounge through rubbish heaps to find your next meal, huddling on the cold streets while the higher-ups of the city thumb their noses at you. No longer will you be E.C., unwanted and overlooked, seen as powerless and sniveling and pathetic.

You are Cornelius Hickey now. And by the end of all of this, you will ensure that everyone remembers it.