Cerberus (novel excerpts)


Ari Bauer, '24

Ch. 2

Waves crashed against the hull of the ship. “Reef the sails, Benill,” Captain Mebla shouted, “You’re  going to have to climb up the rigging and tie them back – the lines have broken loose.” 

“Of course!” Benill said. She was in the midst of dragging the scattered piles of crates that had  accumulated on the deck into the captain’s quarters. She was assisted by Grenillvan, a small, wiry  man who appeared half the size of Benill’s muscled frame.  

The moment the storm had struck, Mebla gave the order to drag the exposed boxes of  supplies and maps across into her living space under the quarterdeck, the waterlogged crates soaking  her cabin in the process. As Benill moved to execute the captain’s new order, she attempted to grab  one of the remaining and particularly large containers to deliver it to the relative safety of the  captain’s quarters. Her hands found purchase along the depressed edges of the bin as she struggled to  pick it up. It lifted a few inches off the ground but her quivering muscles protested. The display was impressive, but the results were fruitless. Unable to move the box another inch, she set it back down  with a thud.  

Grenillvan grumbled to her, saying, “Wait. You’re leaving? You promised that you would  help me with the rest of these crates.” Rolling his eyes, Gren continued, “If you couldn’t move that  last box then I suppose you weren’t much help after all. That’s why we keep you around on this boat,  to handle the heavy things so the rest of us don’t get hurt lifting them ourselves. I’m sure your  brother could have carried that box.”  

Benill’s face turned red. She was accustomed to Grenillvan’s repeated insults, but the  comparison to her brother struck a nerve. And deep down, it made Benill wonder if he was right.  Trudging across the deck to reach the rigging, Benill contemplated, as she had so many times before,  whether it should have been her brother on this boat instead of her. 

“Blast it!” she exclaimed, pushing her doubts aside to make room for the task at hand. She  had reached the lattice of ropes leading up to the sails, and there was work to do. Climbing up the  netting one handhold at a time, Benill struggled to keep her grip, the lines slick from the sea spray  and rain now coming down in heavy drops. Buffeted by a strong gust of wind, Benill’s right foot  slipped free, and she nearly lost her handhold on the ropes as well. Stubborn tenacity won out as she  continued her climb, so high now that Mebla’s shouting had become muffled by the distance and  sheets of rain between them.  

When she had first arrived on the ship, Mebla had been the only one to see Benill for Benill, not just a stand in for her brother. She had immediately gravitated towards Mebla. The captain of the  Dunville II was an outspoken and determined woman who had single-mindedly managed to carve out  a path for herself as the leader of this ship’s crew — composed mostly of men.  

Distracted by her musings, Benill was taken off guard as another gust of wind slammed her  body, knocking her free from the rigging. She felt as though her heart had dropped out of her chest.  One moment she was part of the ship, clinging to the rope lattice leading to the sails, then she was  adrift and holding nothing as she fell through empty air. She flailed, grasping for something to grab  onto. After a terrible second that felt much longer, the ends of her fingers hooked onto the ropes with  a jolt that nearly pulled them out their sockets, sending a searing pain into her hand and forearm. She  swung, fastened to the ship only by her aching hand, buffeted as the flimsy structure of ropes she had climbed danced in the wind. She saw Grenillvan and the others moving across the deck below. If  they had seen her fall, or saw her now floundering on that rope, none of them looked up. She  considered letting go. None of them would miss her.  

They had wanted her brother and they had gotten her. To them she was just another bruiser, a  second-class bruiser at that. Maybe Grenillvan had been right, she wasn’t as good as her brother, she  wasn’t even the crew’s first choice. It was painfully obvious to her that the crew didn’t want or need

her. Her hand throbbed with pain. If she fell no-one would miss her. And then she heard Mebla,  barking orders from below, and her insecurities were pushed aside as quickly as they came. Mebla,  who was never afraid to speak out when she thought someone on the crew, especially Benill, was  being mistreated. Mebla, who was always kind to her. And, most importantly, Benill knew Mebla  genuinely cared about her more than anyone else on the ship. The others might not mourn if she was  gone, but Mebla would. Her fear and uncertainty slipped away. She kept climbing.    

[next excerpt]

Back home it had always felt like everyone had everything figured out. Like they knew everything  they wanted to be, where they wanted their life to go before they could walk and already well on  their way to their goals by the time they got out of primary school. Of course, there had been outliers.  As a child of nobility, Grenillvan’s parents had imagine him to ultimately take a position in one of  the many esteemed Ministries of Government. Grenillvan imagined something different. He made no  secret that he would rather be an artisan, a painter, or a writer. He would rather make his living  seeking the patronage of the richest nobles. He could take a bit of coin from those swindling  assholes, whose rich brats could pursue their advance studies at the kind of finishing schools that  Grenillvan detested, the kind of places where stuck-up little children became even more stuck-up  bureaucrats. Grenillvan had told his parents since he was young that he wanted no part of training to  be jerk, no matter how noble that jerk might be.  

 An auxiliary member of Dunville expedition, a venture carried out by a crew of 15,  Grenillvan was a reluctant sailor. When he set out on the expedition he assured those that cared about him that he would only be gone for a year, maybe two, long enough to scout out Dunville’s potential  landing zone for future colonists and the area surrounding it and return home. Other members of the  expedition were hired for their particular skills, be it navigation, cartography, or the lifting of heavy 

things. Grenill’s responsibility was to create a written account describing the continent and detailing  the plants and animals of this new land in in a grander fashion than the scraps and pieces that were so  poorly written but so eagerly devoured when the first expedition had returned. The only catch was  that this time they did not want an honest account, they wanted a propaganda piece to get new  colonists to come to the continent and build new towns and extract the wealth from this ‘discovered  land’. The Bureau had made themselves clear when it came to expectations: “Don’t forget to  embellish the good and pull your punches when it comes to the bad. Remember what you’re doing  this for, not for yourself, not for your family, not because you have something you are trying to  prove. You are doing this because of your responsible to this country and its people. Don’t forget that  Grenillvan”.