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Fish Stocks Limited

“Good heavens,” he said, looking with astonishment at the bottle as though he had
seen it for the first time. “This stuff is the best stock I have ever tasted!”
“Yes, my lord, and my patent machine can produce stock of this quality
consistently twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.”
“You shall be a knight,” said the king, “and you shall have a thousand servants at
your disposal. You will provide stock to the whole of the kingdom. It shall be a law
that all the fish must be processed in your machine, and I shall levy a tax on its use.”
So the people brought their meagre catches and fed them into the machine, and
they were supplied with the most incredible stock they had ever tasted. The people
could not resent the king for the tax imposed on them because the stock was so good,
and it would be ungrateful to complain. Now there was only one machine to start
with, so people had to come from miles around to process their stock. People
abandoned their ancestral lands and moved nearer the machine. Gradually the City
arose.
But the story does not stop there. Now that so many people were concentrated in
one place, knowledge spread fast, like a nuclear reaction. New and inventive ways of
fishing quickly evolved, ways that no one person could have thought of but that many
people acting in concert could all contribute their little spark of inspiration to. Great
mechanical monsters were born, things without soul but made animate by man's
ingenuity. No more did people venture out with crude spears, instead they built
vessels of steel that could float through the mist by virtue of the super-buoyant swim-
bladders they stole off their fishy friends. From these boats they trailed vast nets and
dredged all the life out of the mist as they we nt whilst the fishers watched from the
deck. When they got back to the City the machine guzzled their catch, the stock
flowed, and soon they became rich. Eventually people could afford their own
machines, and gradually the king's power was superseded by the power of companies.
It was peculiar; the companies started to act like they were individuals with
personalities. Some were slipshod and lazy; these quickly withered and died. Some
were diligent and thorough; these prospered. Then a new breed of company came
along, one that, though hard-working, was ruthless and took risks. Most of these
companies came a cropper pretty sharpish, but some hit the jackpot and became
unstoppable giants. One of these companies was called Fish Stocks Limited.
Fish Stocks Limited was started by one Wrasse T. Fishbone. He grew up in the
slums of the residential quarter and from his childhood longed to escape the grinding
poverty that broke people's backs along with their minds. Wrasse was a good man,
honest and hard working. He started off with a single fishing boat bought with money
that he and his close friends had scrimped and saved from working horrendous hours
in the local factory, rendering fish bones into glue. Wrasse made a science of fishing,
reading copiously about the behavioural ecology of the fish, shoal dispersal models,
mist currents, feeding patterns and just about everything fish-related. He passed this
know-how on to his crew, and they all worked together to bring in a goodly catch.
Things went well, but nothing lasts forever - good men included. Wrasse had breathed
noxious fumes in the glue factory for nigh on twenty years, and as he hit fifty his
health began to fail. He taught everything he knew to his daughter, Sylkie, then died
with great dignity in the local hospital.
If Wrasse was a wizard with fish, Sylkie was a witch. She captained the fishing
boat just as well as her father, keeping the crew focused and the catch bumper. But
she had something hard and sharp in her character that her father never had. She came
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