Fic: A Shipworm Named Bob

This was written a while back, in response to a challenge in Muse magazine, which was to write a story involving Captain Hornblower, Captain Kidd, Napoleon Bonaparte, shipworms, and a piece of duct tape. Here is my offering, which I spiffed up a little before posting here. I suppose it would technically be a fanfic, as the character of Hornblower belongs to C.S. Forester, not me. Actually, none of the characters belong to me--even the piece of duct tape isn't really mine. I do claim Bob, though. Bob the shipworm in all his dubious glory belongs to me.


Captain Hornblower stood at the prow of his ship, gazing moodily out to sea, the sunset spread out before him. He was beginning to worry about how events were working out. The mission was (aside from a few minor details) unfolding according to his superiors’ plans, but he couldn’t help but doubt its eventual success. Things simply didn’t seem to be going as predicted.

The idea behind the mission was simple: stop Napoleon. Of course, any Englishman worth his salt (and quite a few who weren’t) could figure that out–indeed, half of them had done so many months in advance of the Admiralty. But at that point, the problem wasn’t Napoleon. No, the problem was what the Admiralty had come up as a solution to the original problem. Their wanted to smuggle someone into France with a roll of duct tape, to be used to tape Napoleon’s mouth shut.

Hornblower had no problem with the concept–indeed, he thought it sounded very neat and ingenious on paper, with the advantage of being something the French would never think to guard against. However, a few minor details worried him. For instance, the person chosen to carry out the mission was one Captain Kidd, the notorious privateer-supposedly-turned-pirate. The Admiralty claimed he had been rehabilitated, and Hornblower couldn’t very well have questioned the judgment of his superiors, as he had only just met the man. But he’d had his doubts. Not about the rehabilitation–no, if the Admiralty declared Kidd rehabilitated, he was rehabilitated. Hornblower’s doubts had been about the man himself. From what he’d heard, the man was, well, unpredictable, to say the least.

And now Hornblower knew he had been right. No question about it, the captain was down right strange. Not only did he insist that no one be allowed into his cabin, he had also brought along a little pet: a shipworm, which he insisted on calling ‘Bob’. That alone had made Hornblower want to march right up to the Admiralty and tell them that they were out of their collective minds. Fortunately (or unfortunately–he hadn’t yet decided), by the time he found out about Bob they had already been an hour out to sea, effectively stopping Hornblower from marching anywhere but around the ship.

That was simply the first indication that things might be going wrong. A few hours into the voyage, Kidd had somehow ‘lost’ all but a very small section of his gigantic roll of duct tape. It was just large enough to fulfill the mission, but only just, and if something happened to that piece as well, the mission would have to be called off. French duct tape wouldn’t hold up to the strain of Napoleon attempting to talk. Only the lowest grade tape from London was sticky enough to permanently damage whatever it was stuck to. The idea was that if it hurt too badly, maybe Napoleon wouldn’t try to get it off. At least, not until things got really messed up.

However, they’d had to keep going, as the Admiralty had made it quite clear that no one aboard the ship was to set foot on England until the mission was completed–or hopelessly bungled. Hornblower had the feeling that the whole thing had been bungled from the very get-go, but he would never admit it. Things were bad enough without adding charges of insubordination to the mix.

A rather large bang sounded from somewhere behind Hornblower, but he ignored it. Similar noises had been going on for the last twenty minutes or so. He also ignored the screaming sailor who flew over the rail next to him. The first time it had happened, it had been interesting, but by the sixth repetition it had lost all novelty. Sparks flew as a burning mast almost crushed him as it fell, but even that was not enough to distract him from his moody staring. He was fairly certain that the ship was sinking, and he couldn’t decide who was to blame–Bob the shipworm or Napoleon Bonaparte. At the moment he favored Bob, as Napoleon seemed more interested in burning the ship than sinking it.

Now, that had been unexpected. When Napoleon’s ship had overtaken Hornblower’s, and the crew had seen who was captaining their foe, every single man had said, "Wot’s ’e doing ’ere?" Well, there had been some variations on that, but Hornblower didn’t hold with repeating such language. Not that it mattered, as the water was already lapping around his ankles. The ship would either sink or burn in the next two minutes, and then it wouldn’t matter whose fault it was. Ah, well. Such was life, and in the end the blame came down to only one man: himself. He never should have the Admiralty know he was over that cold in the first place.