Clean and loaded once more, it is time to make the next journey. It has been a while since I said anything last, and my crew has remained exceptionally deaf to my speech. However, there is one who seems to be trying to learn how to understand what I say. Sometimes, when he is alone in the boiler room, he will knock gently on one of the pipes with something hard. If I can, I groan back. From time to time we can carry on almost a conversation. There must be some pattern to his taps, though I have not yet managed to figure it out.
I miss my old wooden body, the one I had when I was a pirate ship. That one, I could hear and understand what my crew said, though it was difficult. In this one, I cannot seem to master that skill. Each trip we take, I try, and so far each trip there has been something that has prevented it. Either because of the noise made by my boiler room, or because of a storm. I am growing frustrated that so few of my crew are even trying to listen to me. I am growing even more frustrated, as I am sure my tapper is, that I have such difficulty responding to him. When the seas are calm and following, I can make narry a sound, no matter how hard I try. And, he keeps tinking and tapping on the pipes.
Over several days of calm seas, and my paddle wheels turning, my tinker came up with a brilliant idea. He hung one of his hard objects so that it could swing and hit the pipe under it. Now, I could roll just a tiny bit, and produce a sound to alert him. Though he seemed to be the only one willing to listen, it made me very happy that I could talk with someone, even if it was in a rudimentary way.
With painstaking care, we worked out a few basic signals for each other. Each necessitated by something else going wrong in the boiler room. Either the stacks were too hot, or the boiler too cool, the flames burning low, or the paddle wheels clogged with kelp. I learned if I could force a roll to starboard, he would investigate everything on that side of my body. At first, he would go alone, and not take any way for me to give him warning, which meant he would spend hours more than necessary finding what was wrong to fix it. After several such warnings, he began to take the striker we used for me with him.
He would enter a compartment, find some place to hang my striker where it could reach a wall, or some other place to create a sound, and then begin to investigate the rest of the compartment. It took a few times for us to understand eachother, even with this simple method. At first, I did not understand that I could indicate if the compartment was the source of the trouble just by which way my striker swung, and my tinker had trouble realizing that I had never before had anyone realize I was alive, and so explain “yes” and “no” to me.
Once we had worked out these simple signals, it was not long before we were working out even more complicated ones. Though the route to our destination was one I had been over many times, I did not notice the passage of time, and I do not think my tinker did either. Because of our conversations, he kept my parts running and all in order. As our ability to converse grew, he began telling me about the captain, and how the crew were treated. He also explained the reason why he was alone in the boiler room so often, and why he had been able to listen to me though it took a while to understand I was trying to speak. The crew thought of him as bad luck.
Through our tinks and ticks, clinks and clunks, we exchanged our histories. I told him about my previous body, and he told me about his previous berths. We came to an agreement as well. Even if the crew were to be transferred to some other ship, he would do what he could to remain aboard, and continue to work as my boiler room attendant. Despite the fact that I was a ship, he a man, we had found our first real friendship.