A type of powerful Greek warship used during and around the classical period, most famously in the Peloponnesian War. Had three levels of oars, hence the name, which literally translates to “three-rower”.
Trireme used to float around the Mediterranean feeling smug about himself, always bullying Bireme, but that all changed when Quadrireme came by. Everything was good for awhile after that, but then we all met Quinquereme, who was an even bigger jerk, and Hexareme, who was somehow worse than that. People thought that Septireme or Octeres or Enneres might help, but they didn’t either, fine with continuing the status quo.
We burned Deceres to a crisp as soon as he tried entering our waters, not wanting to risk it. It was the right choice. What kind of self-righteous prick needs ten fucking levels of oars?
“I don’t want to wait,” I said, Bell having guided me to my seat. “Let’s go to the buffet, if you have to do this.”
“So you really weren’t kidding when you said that you didn’t do any research, huh? There’s no self-service aboard the Paphnutius. You want that, you go on a commoner ship.”
That wasn’t what I’d said. I did some research before coming, yeah, but about what my job entailed, not the inner workings of the ship. I didn’t give a shit about the restaurants, the workers, the size of the pools. According to the lawyers who I hired to dig through the contract they put in front of me, I was being paid X amount of money for Y amount of work, and there were no hidden clauses set up to fuck me over later.
That was the only “research” I cared about. If the ship sucked, if it was great, whatever. I could live through nine months of anything. I wasn’t treating it like a vacation, because it wasn’t one.
Bell seemed to rake the opposite approach. Learn everything possible about the ship, the passengers. She got a kick out of it, annoyingly enough.
Worse yet, she got a kick out of telling me about it. A second Led.
“What, they’re too sick to get their own food?”
“Too rich, more like. But don’t worry, if it’s an impatience thing. I had breakfast here this morning; they work fast. You’ve got to be, serving the types of people they’ll be serving.”
She had brought me up to the main lido deck, the eleventh, to one of the poolside restaurants, the warmth of the sun and a cool breeze serving as confirmation that we were outside.
Not the lido deck, sorry. The Poseidon Deck. Prior to us sitting down, Bell had started giving me the lecture about the construction of the ship, explaining how most of the major floors were named after one of the major Greek deities, the twelve Olympians. After we ordered, she continued on, running through all the layers in detail.
Tartarus. Deck zero, the storage deck. Not accessible to anyone but the crew, it held food, supplies, and most importantly, the possessions of the passengers. An important ceremony aboard the Paphnutius was the Trade, where they took objects of great value owned by the deceased and publicly immolated them in a giant steel cauldron at the back of the ship on the day following their deaths. The passengers would bring along jewelry, statues, priceless works of art and cultural significance, anything, all to have it destroyed.
Tartarus was where they kept it all. As space was limited, it cost a premium to bring more than a small amount of cargo with you, but that only made it more appealing. Some people had brought cars with them, and in at least one case during the last cruise, an entire World War One biplane. I hadn’t heard about it, but several years ago it apparently became a big topic in the news, a Dutch COO who had privately purchased the Leningrad Codex deciding to use it for the ceremony.
It was a final fuck you to the world, Bell explained. A symbol of ultimate, godly wealth.
“These people are fucked in the head, you should understand. ‘I’m so rich, I can have the peons incinerate a bucket of diamonds in my name.’ You’d think that when the bite it, that’d be when they might think about getting a little generous, but no. They don’t care about passing this shit onto their offspring, even. They just want to demonstrate that they had more points than anyone else, that they won. It’s almost beautiful, in a way, the lengths they go to inspire hatred in others.”
Hades. Deck one. Another crew-only deck, it had more food and supplies, with the notable distinction of being the place where they kept the bodies. While a small percentage of the passengers opted for cremation, burial-at-sea, or whatever other unorthodox method of disposal, the majority went with self-preservation until burial, large fancy plots of dirt and pre-carved gravestones waiting for them back on land.
Still, even on the hospice cruise, not everyone was ready to accept the end.
“They’ll ice you, if you want. They’re in league with one of the big names in cryonics, and they got a long row of big glass jars down there, ready to go. They usually just freeze the head, I hear, but they’ll stick in the whole body for the right price.”
“What a fucking waste of money,” I said.
“You wouldn’t do it? Like, I see ninety-nine percent of what these people spend money on as insane and pointless, but that’s the one thing I totally get. With what they’re giving me, I’m thinking about looking into myself, once I’m back on land. Even if there’s, say, a one-percent chance of it actually ending up with you getting revived one day, makes sense to try it. I’d drop one-hundred grand on those odds. Who wouldn’t want immortality?”
“Twenty years of this crap and I already want to stick a fork in a toaster. Trying to make it last longer is bad enough, but you want it to go on forever?”
“You’re a riot, Hallie.”
“…And there’s the other thing I get them spending boatloads on. Food.”
The sound of plates being placed in front of us, Bell thanking the waiter, the waiter telling us to enjoy before walking away.
I got a turkey croissant sandwich. Some foods had become nightmares to eat since losing my sight, but sandwiches were easy. Anything using hands was better, as a rule. In theory, I should have been practicing with soups and harder to eat foods in order to get used to it again, but it was always easier to go back to the default and tell myself that I would relearn later. If I delayed it for long enough, maybe I’d get to the point where they could fix my eyes and I wouldn’t have to waste the effort.
No surprise that it was delicious. Like she said, the rich spent shitloads on food. It had to be good.
The freshness and quality, as unworldly as it was, couldn’t keep her quiet for long. The lecture continued, my suffering neverending.
Polis. Deck two, and the last of the crew-only decks. It was where they slept.
“On some ships, they’ll give the higher-level crew members sleeping quarters in the lower-level passenger areas, but not here. Somebody like that entertainment director — Nate, I think it was — on a typical ship, he might get a nicer room than the guy who just dropped off your sandwich, but not here. Status-wise, for the most part, every single member of the crew gets the same treatment.”
“…Seriously, how do you know all this crap?”
“Been lurking around the unofficial message boards for this place for about a year. Nobody who ever posted enough there is rich and famous enough to have gotten to come aboard, but people scavenge information from what’s available, what they can dig up. A place like this is ripe for conspiracy theories.”
“But why you do care?”
“I like when things make sense, Hallie. When I find something about something that doesn’t logically fit together with what would seem to make sense, that bothers me. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“Maybe, if it affects me.”
“…Yeah, sure. Come on, nothing about this place makes you at least somewhat curious, knowing as little as you do? How about… okay, how about this. How do you explain the death rates? Every time they run this cruise, less than a half-a-dozen passengers come back alive, if any at all. Regular hospice survival rates are way better than that, and they don’t have billionaire-level medical tech. Why so few survivors?”
“They kill themselves before the end of the trip?”
“Close! When they close in on the last two months, the crew goes around to whoever’s left, gives a final medical checkup, and asks if they want to ‘confirm their departure’. For those who say yes — almost always close to all of them — they get a guy to go and finish the job.”
“They have an assassin?”
“Mhmm. Secret rando, among the passengers. He bumps off the ones who hold on too long, slowly and randomly, timing it so that the last of them croak right before the ship pulls into harbor. If anybody lives through their illness and decides that they don’t want the assassin to do it anyway, they get to walk off the ship, but that doesn’t happen with considerable frequency. It’s a psychological thing; you sign up to die, you’re probably going to end up doing it, one way or another.”
Apollo. Deck three, the first of the twelve gods, and the floor Led and I were stationed in, at Room 360. All main decks from three upwards had passenger rooms, which increased in size and complexity as you went further up. Most decks had something to differentiate themselves from the others, with Apollo being especially crowded, being home to the main medical center, customer service lobby, and the floor section to the ship’s largest indoor theater, where I would be giving my evening performances.
Hermes. Deck four. The main hub for shopping aboard the ship, as well as the casino. Shopping was apparently just as big of a moneymaker as it was with groups of passengers who weren’t about to fucking die, which I was less surprised to learn than I should’ve been. There were always gifts to be bought and sent away to relatives not on death’s door, and in absence of that, it was more shit to throw in the Trade Cauldron. Why not, right? Not like anybody was doing anything with all that cash after the fact. It was duty-free, once we left port.
Tup’s room was there; I remembered him mentioning having asked for and gotten a room on the floor with the casino.
Demeter. Deck five. Home to the Bronze Fields, which was the main dining hall. Capable of feeding everyone on the ship at once without issue, operating continuously twenty-four hours a day. They would cook anything one chose to request, a full deck of expensive and exotic ingredients ready to go. The waiters would have nightly recommendations, but there were no traditional menus; you told them what you wanted, and they worked to accommodate.
“Just about. Some of these types can be… weird, when it comes to food. Don’t worry about it.”
Hephaestus, Ares, Hestia. Decks six, seven, and eight. A smattering of various rooms and activities spread throughout these three, including smaller restaurants, a large game room, and an ice-skating rink.
“You can’t get perfect theming with everything,” she said, wistfully.
Deck nine. Athena. Contained an impressive library, and, Bell couldn’t help but boast, the room that she and her boyfriend were staying at.
“They don’t like giving rooms that high up to entertainers, but I’m a good negotiator. Only cost me an extra… three million off my final salary? That’s a good deal.”
“You paid seven figures to get a room with a nicer view? Fuck, you’re just as crazy as them.”
I could almost hear her smile.
“…It’s a little more than that.”
“Because it was the god you wanted?”
“…Hey, don’t shit on my girl Athena; she’ll turn you into something fierce. But no, that’s not the real reason.”
Aphrodite. Deck ten. Spas and gyms and pain-management centers. Massages and needle treatments and any kind of opioid or plant a dying rich bastard could want for.
“If it’s a drug that exists and someone asks for it, they’ll give it to them. That includes pretty much anything from Motrin to Cyanide. Pot, hard opioids, viagra. Whatever.”
“No prescr… no, wait. Stupid question. Nevermind.”
Poseidon. Deck eleven. The place where Bell and I were having lunch. The first significantly open-air deck, slathered with pools, jacuzzis, bars, and restaurants.
“We can’t access it, but at the front of this deck is the lowest section of the bridge, which is where the captain works and lives.”
“I thought you said all the crew members sleep down in the Polis.”
“Except for the captain. His officers, yeah, but not him. Although I shouldn’t use that pronoun.”
“…And the captain? Who’s that, Ms. Encyclopedia?”
“Captain Frame. One of the few big mysteries of the ship. Nobody knows who they are, man or woman; not even their first name’s available. They don’t go out for dinner, talk to any passengers, anything. Total recluse. The same person has piloted every cruise, without exception or incident.”
“Is that legal? Wouldn’t the ship like, have to tell people who’s at the helm?”
“You’re on an open-water cruise funded by dying billionaires where people have unlimited access to schedule one controlled substances. Whatever laws you think you know do not apply here.”
“Wonderful. Maybe they’ll murder us, then.”
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up. With the captain though, general consensus on the message boards was that there is no captain. No human captain, anyway. The biggest theories are a complex narrow artificial intelligence or, more likely, a group controlling it remotely. Captain Frame, Captain Mainframe, get it? Like a computer.”
“Fuck, that’s awful. No puns, please. I’m not looking to go deaf too.”
Hera. Deck twelve. More pools and jacuzzis and bars, along with a running track, for whatever tiny fraction of the passengers could use it. There was a mini-golf course, another movie theater, now outdoors. The rooms began to get insanely fancy and bloated at Hera, five-room mega-suites the standard.
“This is a classy establishment, Hallie. Get with it.”
Zeus. Deck fourteen. Pretty much the same general build as the last two decks, with the addition of the Trade Cauldron, all the way in the back. In front, a helipad.
“You skipped thirteen.”
“They did, not me. Most cruise ships that go high enough don’t have a thirteenth floor. Same as with hotels.”
“Superstition. Don’t take it with me, if you think it’s stupid. I hate it too.”
“…Didn’t say I hated it.”
“You should. I do. People who feel the need to hide from a number are stupid. Not including thirteen is stupid.”
Artemis. Deck fifteen. Nothing worth mentioning aside from a final running track, the mega-mega-mega-suites, and the famous gravestone-shaped smokestack. There were only ten passenger rooms on the final main deck, and they were humongous, reserved for those with names worth remembering and wallets to match.
“Wait, no. I don’t know squat about mythology, but isn’t Zeus the head honcho? Why not put him on top? What the hell is Artemis the god of?”
“They all have a few areas they’re said to control, but hunting, mainly. Also… chastity, I think? Archery, something else… it’s not that big of a topic on the boards. There’s no official explanation from the Final Voyages people as to why Artemis is above Zeus, so people mostly just chalked it up to a quirk on the part of the designer.”
The largest room aboard the Artemis deck (and the ship as a whole) never officially went up for sale; it could only be obtained by winning a contest.
“You um, probably don’t know about this, but there’s always a single piece of art that has hundreds replicas plastered all over this ship, printed on canvas, banners, posters. They hold a contest every year, searching for a painting to ‘represent’ the next voyage, and they make a bunch of copies of the winning print and stick them all over the ship. The winner gets to come on the trip for free; obviously, as with us, no dying necessary.”
“What’s this year’s winner? The painting, I mean. I don’t really give a shit about the artist.”
“…Just a poster of a ship.”
The whale-watching room. Deck sixteen. The last numbered deck, and not a real one. Just a tall thin tower with a spiral staircase, leading up to a small indoor waiting room.
“They have a room to watch whales from? Seriously?”
“No. It’s the Wales Watching Room. A name, W-A-L-E-S. Like the country.”
There was a country called Wales?
“Who is it named after?”
“Just the rich asshole whose donation paid for the place. Looks very pretty from the outside, I will admit. They used a bluer shade of white than they did with the rest of the ship, and it works well, tonally. It’s the highest point you can get to here, both as a passenger and in general. It’s the only place on the ship that isn’t wheelchair accessible, so I’m guessing it won’t be that crowded. Might use it as a hideout, if that ends up being the case. Haven’t been inside yet, but I bet the view’s nice.”
“Can’t imagine it looking nicer than the vantage point we’re at now.”
She let out an awkward cough.
“Hey, by the way, Hallie. You’d call us friends by this point, right?”
“I’d call us friends. And you know, friends, they don’t mind doing each other tiny favors, from time to time. My boyfriend, you know, he’s what you might call a fan…”