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Endeavour’s Fall #1: Sacrifice at Sea

Nov 13, 2016

Law I:  Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.

-Lord Isaac Newton, PBUH

Airman Adams balanced on a small crow’s nest high on the mainmast of His Imperial Majesty’s Airship Endeavour. For three weeks the Endeavour had stalked a pirate steamer from the coast of Greenland across the North Atlantic to Haudenosaunee shores just north of the Colonies.    

Fog hugged the North Atlantic, so that Adams could not see the scattered icebergs she knew lay below. Gray clouds swirled around the airship and above it.  From Adams’ post high on the mainmast she could not even see the forward rigging.  

It was good weather for the Endeavour to hide in. It was perfect weather for an ambush.  Adams adjusted the lenses on her lookout’s cap to magnify a curious cloud floating nearby. As it approached it seemed to have a darker shadow than it ought to. She waited as long as she dared. This was what she’d been waiting for.  

Adams yelled into the speaking tube: “Airship Ho! Airship Ho! Contact in the clouds at five o’clock high!”  

Unlike Endeavour’s taut, bullet-shaped hull, drawn tight by ropes, and punctuated cleanly by spars, masts, and airscrews, the enemy ship’s patchwork envelope bulged promiscuously with burlap and leather. Adams could see what looked like a small fishing ship converted to a cabin below the stitched-up jumble. The hull’s lines were broken up by motley patches and strips of color.  

Adams spun and lashed herself to the crow’s nest in one smooth movement. She took aim and fired into the bow of the blimp.  

“Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack!” Her shots broke the misty silence. They would be heard all over the Endeavour, but would have little effect on the rough hull of the pirate ship.

Adams could hear orders echoing out from the bridge. The call to stations rang out through the Endeavour.  

As the pirate ship drew closer, Adams could see dark shapes crawling across its forward rigging, preparing to board. It looked like native braves were taking the lead. She magnified one and looked him over carefully.  

“Nasty brute,” she said to herself, and took aim.  

“Bang!” Her rifle rang out and the brave tumbled from the rigging.  

“Bang!” A second brave slumped in the nets.

As she reloaded, Adams watched nimble figures scramble across the Endeavour’s starboard booms below her. When the hands loosened and dropped wedge-shaped sails into the wind, the airship rocked gently. The pirate ship loomed closer, but held its fire.  

The enemy was too high for the Captain to bring any of Endeavour’s guns into this fight. The heavy cannon were stowed down on the gun deck below the hull. Still, it surprised Adams when she felt the tell-tale lurching of the airship.  

The Captain must have ordered the cannons dropped. The Endeavour had never done that before. Adams grabbed onto the rigging as the Endeavour lurched upwards, relieved of the heavy iron. Surely the Captain didn’t think they could escape?

Then Adams heard the mainspring squeal. Large airscrews whirred to life. The Endeavour’s screws could not spin long, and were rarely used except when docking. But now, the lightened Endeavour lurched forward. Her newly-deployed sails snapped as they became an airbrake to the airscrews’ forward drive. The Endeavour keeled over sharply. Endeavour’s spruce skeleton groaned loudly in protest.

An airman screamed as she lost her grip on the boom’s ratlines and was catapulted from the end of a spar. A jet of seawater shot from the Endeavour’s ballast bilge, and the Endeavour careened over and up, tilting wildly across the path of the pirate.

Seawater spray drenched Adams as the pirates also began dumping their ballast, but it was too late now.  

The Endeavour stabbed a naked starboard spar directly up through the inflated nose of the pirate’s incoming hull. The pirate ship’s momentum did the rest, impaling one and then a second gas-filled bladder onto the sharp wooden beam. Gas and steam burst out of the pirate ship’s prow.

The Endeavour’s mainmast snapped loudly. Adams and the entire crow’s nest were thrown free. The two airships bounced apart.

Adams fell down into the gray clouds. Her safety line snapped and kicked Adams in the gut. For long seconds, she struggled to convince her lungs to fill with air again. Wreckage and bodies fell around her. The pirate ship fluttered down into the sea in a cloud of broken wood and debris.  

When she caught her breath, Adams looked up at the tattered Endeavour. The airship had righted herself, and Adams hung below the sleek cockpit in a tangle of lines and masts. She was wet and cold. Her rifle was tangled by its strap. She slung it over her shoulder. No reason to lose a good gun.  

“He did it,” Adam said, to no one in particular. “The bastard really did it.”

Adams grabbed onto the inverted mast. She slashed her tangled safety line and pulled herself up the rigging. She did not want to be cut loose with the wreckage.  

Adams clambered across broken wood and tangled ropes towards the main hatch. Captain Lockhart himself stood at the opening. He gestured to First Mate Boulanger to pull her in, and then returned his attention to a small figure being raised out of the fog.  

“What was the last bearing of that pirate sloop?” the Captain yelled down.

“West by northwest, last I saw them,” shouted a shrill young voice from below. One of the junior hands was suspended on a long look-out’s cord in the clouds below the airship. Adams did not miss that duty at all.

“Get back down there and see if they changed course!” ordered the Captain loudly.  He signaled to the winch operator. As Adams climbed through the opening, relieved to be on solid deck again, the lookout’s line whined back out again.

Adams hugged her cold hands under her arms and watched cautiously as the Captain took reports from the crew. What would they do now?  Could he really think to pursue the sloop while so short-handed? With only part of a mainmast?

“It’s a shame about your mast crews, Boulanger,” the Captain stated flatly to his large first mate.  

“The topside rigging, she is torn to hell. Otherwise, the hull is holding, for now. Of course, we lost the starboard mill, and the mainmast and crow’s nest. Nearly all hands posted outside the hull were lost when we collided.” His eyes coldly took in Adams. “With small exceptions.”  

Adams returned the Frenchman’s glare.  

The Captain nodded. “Set a course for land. We need rigging. We will commandeer some guns as well. We will need to be ship-shape and fully crewed if I am to have my way with those pirates.”

 

© J. O. Evans 2016. All Rights Reserved.