Endeavour’s Fall #14: Night WatchFeb 19, 2017
A man may imagine things that are false, but he can only understand things that are true, for if the things be false, the apprehension of them is not understanding.
-Lord Isaac Newton, PBUH
Sam froze, because he couldn’t do anything else, even if he had wanted to. Jones, who wore his hair in greying muttonchops under a greasy skullcap, muttered, peering and squinting into the dark corners of the deck below. Jones was second mate, and commanded the mainspring and lower decks strictly. Last time Sam worked the mainspring, Jones had whipped a rattan switch across his arms: twice! “Too slow,” he barked. Sam avoided Jones whenever he could.
Now, Jones was making some kind of inspection, and he would not be pleased to find Sam off post, especially near the critical mainspring in the middle of the night.
Jones poked and prodded at the mechanism and the deck below, but did not look up above the mainspring where Sam hung in the rigging. Finally, he gingerly climbed a ladder up to the boom.
Sam balanced in the narrow dark passage and breathed deeply. The ropes dug into his elbows and knee. He would not be able to return to his quarters along the boom. When the panic passed, Sam lowered himself slowly to the deck. He left the mainspring behind and crept forward along the dark wooden passageway. It grew darker and darker. Sam walked slowly so that his wooden peg would not click too loudly.
Finally, Sam saw a faint blue glow ahead. The passageway opened up into the main loading bay. Blue moonlight shone from below, reflected off of clouds. The hatch was open. An airman stood against the hatch, silhouetted against the sky.
Sam moved slowly through the shadows towards the winch controls. He was familiar with this part of the ship. The winch controls reminded him a lot of his steamshovel controls back home. Maybe he could use the winch now. He would have to wait for the other airman to leave, though.
Sam looked over and recognized Adams in profile. She huddled over a dark bundle near the hatch. Suddenly sparks ignited and an orange flame lit the bay. Adams held a bottle with a long strip of canvas tied to the end. The tip of rag burned brightly.
Sam realized that the canvas would slow the bottle’s fall, and that a flame could be seen, and found, from far away on a night as dark as this night was. He wondered how much canvas he would need to slow his own fall if he were to follow that bottle out into the night.
Adams quickly dropped the lit bottle through her fingers. Then she spun on her heel and slammed the hatch shut. Darkness filled the room.
Sam was startled. He jumped back and bumped loudly against the winch levers. The winch was not engaged, but the sound of the clacking levers rang out in the black silence.
Faster than he thought possible in the darkness, Adams crossed the bay and grabbed Sam’s shoulder. He felt a sharp point against his chest.
“It’s me!” he whispered. “Sam Mack.”
“I should really just kill you,” whispered Adams coldly.
In that moment, Sam knew that she could.
“I didn’t see anything,” Sam said lamely. He regretted it immediately.
For a long moment, Adams pinned him against the controls.
“I had hopes for you, Sam,” she said. “Let’s talk. I’ve been meaning to tell you to stay away from this winch anyway.”
“The winch?” asked Sam.
“Yeah, the winch,” said Adams. “Don’t think you’re the first to think to lower himself out of here.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” said Sam.
“That’s good,” said Adams. “Even if you weren’t caught, it can be dangerous.”
Adams’ tone was friendly, but she firmly steered Sam back towards the hatch as they spoke. The knife still pricked his back. She made it clear that Sam should open the hatch, so he did. The cold wind blew up through the opening.
“Sam, do you think it is right how the Empire treats the Colonies?”
Sam was not sure how to answer. Was this some kind of test? “It is what it is. The laws of the universe always favor the body with a greater mass,” said Sam.
“I think of government as more of a force than a mass. A force to be controlled. Like fire,” said Adams.
Sam’s mind was racing, but he was out of his depth. Although he’d studied Newton he had not read much about politics.
“You are young, Sam, but you could start paying attention to these things. Where did you say you are from, Albany?”
“A claim outside of Albany. It’s closer to a town called Switch, actually,” said Sam.
“Switch?” Adams asked, “that’s an odd coincidence…”
Sam did not have time to ask about the coincidence, because at that precise moment, a door on the other side of the bay swung open loudly. Adams quickly spun Sam around in front of her, the point of her knife still firmly in his back.
“Oy, what’s this then?”
Sam had never been so glad to hear Jack’s voice. Although Jack was tough on Sam and the other hands, he also kept an eye on the younger ones.
“Listen, Sam” Adams hissed in his ear, “at least trust me to explain later. It will be safer for you if you do.”
“Hey, Peg Leg, what are you doing here? Adams, is that you?” Jack demanded.
“This airman was helping me with the winch here, Jack.”
As Jack approached, Sam realized he was fingering the knife in his belt. He’d seen Jack use it to cut lines. He knew he kept it sharp.
“I keep an eye on the younger hands, you know,” Jack said. “If anyone is paying them too much attention, well…”
“Easy there, Jack,” said Adams. “You know me better than that.”
“I know you,” said Jack. “But I don’t trust you.” He paused, and Sam waited, unsure what to say.
“This is a bit unusual. Sam is supposed to be in his bunk,” said Jack.
Sam cleared his throat. “It’s like she said, Jack, I was helping her with the winch. I cleared the lines.”
“In the dark?” asked Jack.
“With the hatch open, the moonlight, it isn’t that bad…” Sam started to explain.
Sam did not have time to explain the hatch and the moonlight to Jack, because just then they were interrupted.
“What’s all this then?” It was Jones. He sounded cross. As usual. “Three crew off station in the middle the night, and the hatch is open? Start talking, then. I am sure this is going to interesting.”
“Second Mate,” said Adams. “Forgive me. I needed a hand to finish some winch duties, and these two volunteered to help.”
“You?” said Jones. “Figures that a scrawny colonial like you can’t cut it without some help. And from one of your colonial friends, no less.”
“That’s right,” said Sam. “We were just finishing, weren’t we?”
“Of course,” said Adams. “Off you go.”
Jones looked back and forth at the three. “Hold right there! Adams isn’t on duty here tonight.”
© J. O. Evans 2017. All Rights Reserved.