Fish Stocks Limited
The City didn't have a name; there was no need, for nothing else like it existed on
the face of Expiscor. The mist made it invisible from anything more than a ship's
length away, meaning that only a skilled navigator could find it. Here houses are built
on layers of history, memories of vice and disease, slovenliness and enterprise, fire
and flood, all stratified carelessly under the living, bustling crust. The streets are
awash with flower- girls and sewage, the inns with merriment and vice, all fuelled by
cheap beer and negotiable affections. It is a true cliché to say that the City never
sleeps, for it is alive and awake and aware all day and all night. First you can smell it,
then you can hear it, then you can see it. The mist is kept at bay by huge dykes which
surround the inner sanctum of unsanctity, keeping the unsavoury air relatively clear of
fog. Visibility is still not great, but you can see down a whole street on a good day.
How pure the rot, how unadulterated the scum, how soft the fabric of sin laid hard and
bare for all to see. Yes, the dykes brought clarity, the very latest, most modern, urban
clarity. And this civilisation made animal its civilians until they died and their bones
became lost in another stratum of decay.
“Home,” said Jerry as the gates to the City loomed into view. “Real air at last, air
“Har, har.” said Mungo.
Ambrosius stood in a brooding silence. He saw his mood mapped into physicality
as the gates opened slowly, the mist rolling through them in great swathes ; through
that threshold lay depravity and baseness, the two things which a man will seek as
anodyne for a broken heart. The ship crawled through the opening and the gates
closed astern with a resonant thud. The docks were little more than a stone wharf with
warehouses behind and a few cranes busy unloading barrels of stock and crates of fish
off the incumbent ships.
“It stinks,” said Ambrosius.
“Odour is in the nose of the beholder,” said Jerry. “Come on Mungo, lets get
moored up, then we can hit the Cannery Arms for a cheeky ten pints and a good kip in
a bed that doesn't rock.”
“Unless you slip the Madame a silver sixpence, that is, har, har!” chuckled
Jerry laughed heartily, then, deftly handling the creeking wheel that steered the
ship, skilfully piloted them until their starboard side was lined up perfectly with the
wharf. The two shipmates made quick work of tying the ship off, then laid down a
“Land, sweet land,” said Jerry, grinning from ear to ear. “I'll trample you until my
feet get restless and my belly calls for the rocking of the mist, then I'll leave you like a
two-penny girl, promising I'll be back again. I'm sorry our love-affair is so fickle.”
“They're the best kind o' love affairs,” said Mungo. “Come on, y'big barnacle's
“You can come along if you want,” said Jerry to Ambrosius. “No pressure, like.”
“I've got nowhere else to go,” said Ambrosius.
“Very well then, the Cannery it is.”
They walked through street that led out of the docks, past the run-down
warehouses, past the chandlers and sail- makers and various traders who gathered
round the newly docked boats and tried to sell fresh fruit and savoury snacks to fill the
long-deprived bellies of the sailors. They walked down a street full of houses with