Fish Stocks Limited by Michael Summers - HTML preview

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Chapter 15 – The History of Fish Stocks Limited

Unthinkably, the City did not exist back then. The ground dwellers were spread in small tribes amongst the jungle, and had to put up with wild snarlgrüber attacks and the persistent, biting insects that buzzed through the mist, spreading mist fever and the dreaded jitters. Fish were hunted with spears, which was extremely difficult owing to their lightning quick reflexes and keen eyes. People had just too little to eat for most of the time, and they were thin and hollow-eyed with hunger. But they were pious. In a world where God's whim could mean the difference between eating a big fat bass or starving for another week, people valued their God. A priesthood arose, the fish hunters supporting them with a fifth of their catch. Hundreds of years passed, and the priesthood gradually accumulated books full of arcane knowledge. The world was understood in terms of the great pitched battle between good and evil, a battle that could explain all the glories and hardships that befell the ground dwellers. Demons and angels abounded, men were vessels for greater powers and the great interplay between fish and fisher was held holy, as it still is in the treetops to this day.

Then a man was born who would change everything. His name was Tempura Lanomaly. Tempura joined the priesthood when he was sixteen and studied hard. He had always had a great ability to build things with his hands – like Ambrosius he was a carver, but also a metal worker and mechanic. First he started on small decorative pieces, carvings of men and fish and everything in between. Once he had filled his room with such contrivances he sought new ground. His fascination turned to cogs and wheels, and his fertile mind and dexterous hands gave birth to the first machines. They did many things; pumped water, played music, washed clothes, printed books. But one day Tempura discovered something that would make his previous discoveries pale to insignificance. He presented this new contraption proudly before the king of the land, who he had previously impressed with his ingenious inventions. With a flourish he whipped off the covering from the machine, which he had assembled on the king's lawn. Metal sparkled.

“What does it do?” asked the king.

Tempura bowed low. “If it pleases my lord, I will demonstrate.”

“Very well,” said the king.

First Tempura turned a crank on the side of the machine to start the motor, which ran off fish oil. Then he went over to a control panel and carefully adjusted a few dials. When he was satisfied that the machine was perfectly calibrated he nodded to his assistant, a small, nervous looking youth of about fifteen with a pimply, pale face and squinting, rat-like eyes.

“Bring me the fish,” said Tempura. The skivvy hurried over to the cart which had transported the machine and from under the awning plucked a cage, inside which thrashed an infinity fish. There was terror in those fathomless, animal eyes, and desperation in those thrashings.

“Attach the cage,” said Tempura.

The servant attached the cage to a fitting at one end of the great, gleaming machine.

“Release the fish,” ordered tempura.

The servant took a nervous, sidelong glance at Tempura.

“Release the fish, boy!” bellowed Tempura.

Gulping down his revulsion, the servant pulled up a flap that separated the caged fish from the input bay of the machine. The fish, with freedom on its mind, rushed for this new opening.

It is a small mercy that nobody could see what went on inside that machine, but the clanking, booming, chuntering noises were highly suggestive. Within one minute, a flap opened at the other end of the machine and out of it a bottle appeared. On the label it said “Poppa Lanomaly's Traditional, Organic Fish Stock.”

“Is that it?” asked the king. “I'm not impressed.”

“If my lord is willing, would it please him to taste the product?”

The king harrumphed. “I have already had my breakfast.”

“But, my lord, one sip will be enough.”

“Very well,” grunted the king. “But this better be good.”

The servant boy rushed over and brought the bottle of stock to his master. He popped the top off with a knife and passed the open bottle to the king.

The king put the bottle to his mouth and, tentatively, sipped.

“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 up with the name of Fish Stocks Limited and had it blazoned on the side of her fishing boat, which she painted a distinctive yellow. She made sure her crew got up an hour earlier so that they could be the first to the catch. She bought a fish process ing machine and was the first to have it fitted inside her boat, so that she could carry more stock. These could all be passed off as harmless innovations. Then she invented the practice of stock-piling. This is were a more successful fishing company save their stock until just before a smaller company, who are struggling to keep in business, get in with their catch. The more successful company – Fish Stocks Limited – then floods the market with cheap stock just before the smaller company hits land, meaning that they can only sell their stock at a pittance. The smaller company quickly goes out of business, and the bigger company buys up their boat and equipment at a rock-bottom price. With such brutal tactics Sylkie acquired a whole fleet of boats, which she painted her characteristic yellow and franchised out to prospective captains. She chose those skippers with knowledge of fishing, it is true, but she also selected those with a mind only for the money and the present. They would dredge an area dry of fish, not even leaving the tiddlers behind to grow into the next generation of fish. Why bother when someone else might catch them? In such a way Fish Stocks Limited grew bloated with money and eventually took pride of place as the name everyone thought of when they thought of fish. The king is dead, long live the Company.