The Orphaner Dualscar was known in the Imperial fleet for being as cold and unforgiving as the ocean; an unstoppable force of nature which could not be reasoned with. Much like the ocean, he had a reputation for swallowing the lives of trolls who didn’t show him proper deference, and it was rumored his moods changed tack as swift as the wind and current. Those rumors were loud in the back of the oliveblood’s pan as he approached the door of Dualscar’s quarters and raised his fist to knock.
He was green metaphorically as well– only ten sweeps old and freshly molted when he received the conscription summons by courier drone, directing him to report to his local wharf. The duty assigned to him was to serve on the fleet’s flagship, Vodnar. For weeks he’d stumbled and stuttered his way through the tasks he was given, unsure why he’d been assigned to a sea-ship of all places. For most of his wigglerhood, his passions had lain with accounting.
But in spite of this, he gained his sea legs quickly, and was pleased to have not been seasick even once. Just last perigee he’d weathered a storm without so much as a bruise or rolled ankle, and for that he’d been especially smug– right up until he caught the attention of one of the ship’s officers.
(Oh. No, don’t get the wrong idea, dear reader, it was a purely platonic interest.)
“Crewman Bennie Focsle,” the officer had barked suddenly by his left shoulder, causing the young troll to let out a startled eep before he could formulate a more proper reply.
“Yes, sir– I mean yes, that’s me, sir, how can I, er. Can I help you, sir?”
“Focsle. I’ve been reviewing your records,” the officer informed him. Bennie swallowed.
“You have? I mean, yes. Is... Are they in order, sir?”
“Quite. Says you’ve been specializing in bruteaucracy. Is that accurate, crewman?”
Startled by the question, he was unsure at first how to reply. He didn’t imagine it was a good thing for a superior to be reviewing your records, but Bennie had always been a particularly shit liar, so fibbing now would be hardly beneficial. “Yes sir. Specifically accounting and tax forms, sir.”
“I see. And you’ve been adjusting quite well to the ship.”
“Well, I suppose so,” he replied, careful to hedge his earlier smugness, lest his ego offend a superior.
The officer nodded. “And you’re registered under an olive caste mark. Is that correct?”
“Yes sir. Olive as they come, sir.”
“All very good, crewman. Hmm, shame about the horns, but we can probably overlook it. Follow me.” And the officer turned round crisply on the ball of his boot without a glance backward, leaving Bennie no choice but to follow, sputtering at the last comment.
As they walked, the officer explained that the ship desperately needed someone with his particular background. The Orphaner, he said, notoriously detested paperwork, which was unfortunate for just about everyone below him, because the fleet ran on paperwork. Everything from stipends to stores needed accurate accounting– forms filed out triplicate and filed with the correct branches of oversight, all signed off on by the Orphaner himself– if the navy was expected to do its job, and as it turned out, they had not lately been able to do their job very well at all.
The Orphaner’s personal assistant had retired after decades of dedicated service, and with him had gone experience and intimate knowledge of the inner workings and convolutions of the fleet, leaving the bulk of the work in the Orphaner’s lap, and he was having none of it. The rest of the crew had been attempting to fill in, but the job needed specialization, and they all had other duties to attend.
“His assistant didn’t train a replacement before he left?” Bennie asked, and the officer sighed.
“Tried. Several times. He didn’t judge any of them fit. But now we’re getting to the end of our rope, and you’re the best option to come up since he left.”
“But why didn’t the Orphaner select someone to his liking, if that was the case?”
The officer slowed his brisk pace and glanced around, almost conspiratorially. Then he hooked Bennie’s elbow and pulled him in close “Crewman, I am going to tell you the secret our ship has kept for nearly three hundred sweeps. The Orphaner can not tell trolls below blue apart. Matter of fact, all the seatrolls and at least a few purples have difficulty with it to some degree. It’s a condition of their lifespans, you see. You low bloods just die too fast for them to bother remembering. But the Orphaner, he once took a shine to one of his assistants many sweeps ago, an olive by the name of Kettos Siglah. Said he was the only one of us bumfucks who ever did the job right. Well, one day the bastard up and died of old age and left us all in the lurch, and by evening Dualscar was about fit to combust being as he wasn’t at his post, so we picked the best one out of the bunch of olives on board and passed him off as the guy.”
“I see. So, er. If the situation is so serious, why did you wait this long to give me the assignment?” It’s not that Bennie minded so much being a deckhand– except that yes, he did. Who was he kidding? He’d imagined he should have been enjoying some cushy and very not exciting filing job by now. Nothing so rough as stumbling about on a ship deck whilst swinging a mop.
“Had to make sure you had the chops for fleet life,” the officer replied somewhat more jauntily than Bennie found tasteful. “The last replacement prospect... well, let’s say he’s taking a permanent water nap right now.”
“Ah.” Bennie couldn’t call that a vote of confidence. If the officer noticed his disappointment, he didn’t say a word. Instead, he led Bennie down into the lower decks of the ship, past the crew’s bunks and through the galley until they reached the stores. Once there, the officer fetched out a small but apparently heavy trunk from behind casks of preserved fish.
“These are the instructional documents passed down to each successor,” the officer explained as he opened the trunk. Then he grunted as he hefted out bundles of loose bound paper, nearly as thick as Bennie’s calf was wide, and offered it to him. “You’ll find your predecessors have all added their own sense to it. I suggest you brush up as quickly as possible. The Orphaner’s patience is wearing thin.”
“H-how quickly is that, again?” Bennie asks as the weight of the book– practically a tome, really– threw him off-balance.
“I’ll fetch you in a fortnight. Good ‘morrow, crewman Focsle. Or should I say, Mr. Siglah.”
“Good– good ‘morrow, sir.” Bennie felt the solid lump of his evening’s breakfast rising in his throat as he waited on the officer to exit, then slumped to the floor once he was sure he was truly alone. The book already seemed heavier than it had only moments before; he set it in his lap, and turned open the first page with shaking hands.
And here he stood, exactly a fortnight later, before the door to Dualscar’s chambers, wearing a posh uniform that fit him disturbingly well for never having been tailored to him. The book was back in its trunk, and the trunk was placed carefully behind the barrels of preserved fish for safekeeping, far away from where the Orphaner might discover it, but handy for later reference. Instead he held a silver platter balanced on one forearm, bearing a delicate tea set. He cleared his throat and knocked.
"This had better be fuckin' dire, or I'm skinnin' ya for a new sail," a baritone voice thundered from the other side of the heavy door. The hinges rattled with the force.
He closed his eyes, steeled his nerves with a deep breath, then entered the private chambers of the Orphaner Dualscar.
"Well, from the state of things," he said through a smile he hoped didn't look as fake as it felt, "I'd say it's a right dire situation indeed."
Dualscar stood suddenly, and Ben- Kettos instantly felt like a wiggler about to be scolded by his lusus. So tall was the Orphaner that the tips of his jagged horns nearly scraped the overhead beams. He wore his casual uniform rather than his famous battle armor, but the cut was still sharp, and the lines clean, giving him an angular silhouette. He loomed without even trying, and between that and the scars, the young olive find himself hard-pressed not to step back when the Orphaner swept forward.
"Siglah, holy shit, am I glad to see that shining face!" Dualscar's laugh boomed, and by some miracle Kettos didn't jump when two massive hands engulfed his shoulders. "And what a face! I see your little holiday has added back some youthful vigor."
'Oh god,' he thought, 'he's noticed. He knows I'm an imposter, and I'm going to hang.' But Dualscar kept right on grinning
"I hope your wanderlust is sated for now, my friend, because this whole fleet is turning into a right flamin' wreck."
"Quite sated, sir. Now, I must insist you take your tea before it goes cold."
"Right, of course. You know those devils tried to feed me tea from the crew supplies while you were away, Siglah?"
Dualscar returned to his desk as Kettos set down the tray, placed the exact amount of sugar cubes just so, then poured the tea. "Scandalous, sir. How absolutely dreadful." He topped it off with a splash of cream acquired fresh from the dockside market that evening, and passed it to the Orphaner for inspection. As he watched, Dualscar took a slow sip, and some of the tension in his shoulders melted away.
"Ahhh. Marvelous. Oh, the stack on the corner to your right there. I've been having a bear of a time trying to sort them, do you think you could–"
"They will be completed and back on your desk before second rise, sir."
"Splendid! Oh, Siglah, it really was awful without you here. Not that I mind you having a bit of a kip now n' then, but I sure hope it’ll be a few turns 'fore the next one."
"Oh, don't worry, sir," he assured him, "I plan to stick around for a long, long time." After all, Kettos reasoned. Who really gave a shit about names anyway?