Endeavour’s Fall #17: GroundedMar 12, 2017
Despite the difficulties facing the Conventions of Hague and Geneva, a few rules have been settled. For instance, military barracks and equipment are usually not situated in the middle of cities. In return, civilian areas in cities are not typically considered military targets. Of course, factories remain open game, mostly because it is impossible to tell whether they are making weapons or not. They are also hard to miss, with their large smoking stacks.
One would think that nonindustrial aboriginal villages, whether in the Americas or Africa or the Pacific, would therefore be the safest place of all.
They have no smoking factories to attract enemy eyes, no barracks, and, for the most part, no threatening weapons. One would be wrong to think so.
-W. Spencer Churchill, The World at War
Jack, Sam, and Adams were bound to a deck by leg irons in the narrow space between two ballast bladders full of seawater. It was cold and damp, and they could barely move. Jack glared at Adams in the dim morning light.
None of them said a word until the shrill call to battle stations rang out.
“Here we go,” said Adams softly.
At first the Endeavour‘s battle maneuvers were barely noticeable to the prisoners. A slight dip, a burst of speed: nothing unusual. Then, when Running Bear’s rockets fired, the prisoners had no idea what had happened.
Loud shrieks screamed outside the hull. Desperate orders rang over the speaking tubes. The airship lurched violently to one side, then the other.
The prisoners were all thrown against the bulkhead. The deck began to splinter where their irons were anchored to a single binding ring.
“Come on then,” said Jack, as he pulled on the leg irons. “There’s not much holding these down now.”
The three of them pulled at their restraints. The airship rocked violently again, twisting and turning the narrow brig. There was another loud crash as the airship cabin crashed into the ground.
The three prisoner tumbled, limbs akimbo, across the confined space.
Adams was the first to scramble free. “There,” she said. “It’s loose!”
She pried the heavy ring from the deck and pulled clear the chain fastening their leg irons. Sam slipped his iron open and off and rubbed his sore ankle. Jack immediately began prying the splintered deck apart. One of the ballast bladders was punctured, and sprayed them with a cold, salty, mist while he worked.
“Look,” Jack said, “we can get out through here!”
The wooden deck was shattered and splintered enough that Jack could slide through. The hull was deflated and slack, and he pushed his way out through the billowing loose canvas until he found a large eyelet and pulled himself free. Sam and Adams struggled to follow him.
The Endeavour lay on the ground, largely intact but nearly completely deflated. She blanketed the palisaded native village and the forest beyond like a heavy snow. The airship’s gun ports faced helplessly up into the sky
At the far end of the village, part of the Endeavour’s hull had dropped into a firepit, and was starting to burn. The flames occasionally flared a bright blue as they found pockets of gas. Native women and children ran from the fighting.
A large crowd of braves surrounded the capsized cockpit and gun deck in a loose circle. The glass that lined the cockpit’s hull was shattered, but survivors had taken cover behind bits of the ship’s deck and the heavier bridge equipment. Jack could hear rifle fire as some airmen put up a fight.
Jack started towards the besieged survivors, but immediately began to have second thoughts. He was small, wet and behind enemy lines. He was just as likely to be shot by his crew as native. Then he heard a groan from the roof of a small structure nearby.
He quickly scaled the building and crawled across the timbers and rough evergreen thatch to a crumpled-up shape lying in the sticks and needles.
It was Jones. His scraggly muttonchop beard was plastered to the side of his face by blood and spit. His eyes rolled wildly towards Jack as he approached, but he did not seem to have the strength to move. His voice was strained.
“Jones. Let me help you down.”
“Yes, help me to the mainspring. The Captain will be needing me there. I can’t seem to get moving this morning.”
Jack realized that he had little chance of explaining to the dazed Jones what had happened. He also had no choice but to help. Quickly he unfastened Jones’ belts, strapped them to his own, and looped both under Jones’ arms. He pulled Jones to the edge of the roof, then used the straps to slow Jones’ limp fall to the earth below.
The belts were not quite long enough, so Jack had to drop Jones the last feet to the ground. Jones’ legs hit first, but they might as well have been rubber. Jones keeled over and onto his face. He did not seem to feel anything. Jack nimbly dropped to a knee beside him.
“Hold on there, Jonesy. I’ll get you out of here.”
Jack dragged the moaning airman through a narrow alley along the inside of the tall palisade wall. When he reached the end of a longhouse, he peered around the corner. A loud war cry rang out from the airship, and the shooting died down. Iroquois braves were now working their way through the village, finishing off the wounded crew by hand. From time to time a chorus of shrieks and war whoops rang out.
Jack backed up and started the other way. He needed to find a way through the palisade. Jones was too heavy to lift over the tall smooth walls. Perhaps he could circle around and find a gate.
“Ya sure are heavy for such a mean skinny bastard,” Jack muttered as he strained to drag Jones through the mud.
“Psst! Jack!” Sam was balanced high above, where a large pine grew against the inside of the wall. Adams looked down briefly as well, then dropped over to the other side.
Sam watched her go, then turned back to Jack. “Is that Jones?”
“Yeah. He’s wounded, but I think he can make it.”
Sam looked down over the tall wall. “We’ll get you out. Just let me find something to pull you up with.” Sam rolled over the palisade wall after Adams and disappeared.
Jack tried to catch his breath as he waited for Sam to return. He heard the cries of braves circling through the alley and longhouses. They would find him any moment.
Jack grabbed the strap connected to Jones in one hand and pulled him up against the wall so he’d have as much slack as possible. Then he stepped on Jones’ shoulder and reached for the first branch of the pine tree. He pulled himself up, but the straps stopped him short. He couldn’t pull himself onto the branch without letting go of the straps. He wasn’t strong enough to pull them both up.
Jones groaned loudly in pain. An excited voice shouted out in alarm. They’d been discovered! Jack fell back and hit the ground hard. When he found his footing and pulled himself up, Jack was looking into the bearded face of a young pirate.
© J. O. Evans 2017. All Rights Reserved.