“What nexus? I don’t understand…. How can I be in the Nexus?” Nathaniel mumbled in his sleep. “I was going to Bremerhaven to find… No, that can’t be right… Ophelia???” Nathaniel clawed out of sleep, thrashing around, then blinked and stared at the underside of the decking blankly. “What the…?” he exclaimed. His eyes darted around, taking in the familiar sights of his cabin. The gentle motion of the ship and the creaks of the woodwork and rigging reassured him. “I must have been dreaming,” he said, swinging his legs over the side of the hammock. “But why Ophelia? I hardly knew her… Or Naia, come to that. At least, not well.” He stood up and stretched, then looked down at his body, slightly puzzled about his jacket and trousers. “I’m sure I undressed last night,” he grumbled. “At least, I thought I did. Get a grip Nate, you’re losing it. Good job we make harbour tonight, otherwise you’ll be talking to yourself for real.” Taking a lantern, he opened the hatch and went out on deck to light the riding lamps and to get ready for departure.
Out on deck, he looked to the west, where the sky was still showing some colour of the sunset. The Eastern Frisian Islands, in whose lee he had decided to heave to for the day, were just a darker smudge against the grey of the water. He took a couple of quick compass bearings and a sighting on the few stars that were showing and nodded in satisfaction. “A couple of hours should see me in Bremerhaven,” he muttered.
As he prepared the sails, he noticed a dark shape in one of the coils of rope. “Bloody seabirds,” he muttered, taking the lantern over for a closer look. As he approached, the shape moved, revealing itself to be a large black cat. Nathaniel jumped back, startled, “What the blinding blue blazes…?” The cat stretched luxuriously and fixed with a rather disconcertingly intelligent gaze from its one good eye. Nathaniel approached cautiously. “Well, hello there. Where the hell did you spring from? Have you been on board since I left port? And if so, what have you been eating?” The cat stared up at him smugly, and then started washing itself, licking its paws and dragging them over its head. Nathaniel crouched down and offered his fingers towards the cat, which looked at them disdainfully and continued its toilet. “Well, if you have been here since I left London, I don’t know how you’ve stayed out of sight so long. But, never mind. Welcome to the crew of the Bold Admiral. Please help yourself to any rats or gulls you can catch, but I don’t think there are many of the former, what with me not having normal food on board.” The cat stopped cleaning itself and looked up at Nathaniel with an expression that seemed to convey the thought of “Are you kidding me?” It stretched again, and then turned around for a moment, digging its face into the rope coils. It turned back to Nathaniel, but this time with a small roll of paper in its jaws. It trotted forward a few steps and dropped it by Nathaniel’s feet, then sat down and looked at him expectantly. Nathaniel stared. “You’re not just an ordinary cat, are you?” He picked up the roll of paper and unfurled it, standing closer to the lantern to see it better.
A few moments later, he burst out laughing, kissing the paper, and hugging it to his chest. He looked down at the cat and laughed some more. “Definitely no ordinary cat! Well, any friend of Val’s is a friend of mine, so welcome friend, and if you are some kind of shapeshifter, feel free to change.” The cat just stared at him, “Guess not.” He reached down and this time, the cat deigned to be scratched behind the ears. “OK, friend. If you can stick around for a couple of hours, I’ll be in port soon, and then you can have the freshest fish I can find.” The cat looked up at him and seemed to nod. It wound its way round Nathaniel’s legs once, and then trotted down the companionway into the cabin. Nathaniel followed it and laughed as it jumped up and made itself comfortable in the hammock. “Ok, make yourself at home, but I’m afraid I’m not much good at warming the bed.” He sat down and pulled a sheet of paper out of the desk drawer, picked up a pen and began to write. “Oh, my dearest, sweetest friend. I should know better than to underestimate the ways of the feline…” A few minutes later, he secured the note with a paperweight and then went out on deck, whistling happily, and prepared to sail for Bremerhaven.