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Endeavour’s Fall #20: Pot Stirring

Apr 2, 2017

 

 

 

 

Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
-Tom S. Eliot

 

Even with a band of Iroquois braves to lend a hand, the handful of rebels now running the Endeavour was barely big enough for a skeleton crew. It was most obvious at mealtime. There were no shifts at the mess. There was no cook to speak of. Sam sat by Jack. The two of them were assigned to clean up after meals.

“You really can get around more quickly with that contraption on your leg,” said Jack.

“Who knew that the Captain, er, well Lockhart, had it stashed on the bridge the whole time?” said Sam. He fiddled with the straps a bit. He had grown during his time aboard the Endeavour.

Jack just shrugged. “Did you ever see what happened to the Captain?” he asked.

Sam shook his head. “Adams won’t say.”

“I think he got away. That’s why the native chief was so angry.”

“It’s more likely he went down shooting,” said Sam.

“There was a lot of blood to clean up in the bridge,” agreed Jack.

Their new captain, Norris, and Airman Adams sat at opposite ends of the same long table. Sam was happy to see that they were not speaking tonight. Adams never had time to talk to Sam anymore except when she was quarreling with Norris.

A few days back, Norris had proposed renaming the airship the Endeavor, based on some revolutionary pamphlet about the imperialism of extra vowels. Adams and the other crew had shot the idea down, and he was still sulking that the idea had not caught on.

The mess was empty except for the four of them. The rest of the rebels were on post. This crew had been running hard for weeks. The Iroquois were keeping to themselves, as usual.

“I thought pirates would have better food than the Navy,” Jack muttered to Sam between bites.

“I see it didn’t stop you from topping your bowl off,” Sam replied. “Besides, we’re not pirates. We’re privateers.”

“The only difference I see is that we have a lot less loot around than pirates do. We still sneak up and sink ships in the dark.”

Jack’s muttering finally caught Norris’s attention. “Easy now, young patriots! We are only sinking the ships of robbers and plunderers.”

“We don’t have to drown them all!” Jack said. Norris ignored Jack, but Sam shoved him with an elbow.

Adams chimed in from across the table. “Perhaps the captain of this egalitarian crew should learn how to run a ship and silence insubordination.”

Norris rolled his eyes. “I never asked to be a captain. Someone please explain to our loyal spy that we are freedom fighters. It would not do any good to replace one dictator with another.”

Now, Adams shook her head. “Freedom of speech is for parliaments, not sailors.”

Sam ducked his head and kept eating. He had his own complaints, but was not going to say anything about it, especially not here. He still hoped to get home soon. He had not seen his family now for months, and knew he probably wouldn’t any time soon. Sam figured his best chance to get home would be to prove himself to Norris and Adams. But they were proving hard to impress.

When the conversation between Norris and Adams died down, Sam turned to Jack. He pitched his voice so that nobody would overhear him. “Come on Jack, you know we can’t haul an airship full of prisoners around. We barely can keep this airship flying as it is, with no prisoners to guard.”

“Or perhaps, just one or two prisoners,” Jack said quietly.

Letting sailors drown had been worrying Sam as well. At first he had reassured himself by watching as they left each ships’ lifeboats intact. Now that he’d watch ship after ship sink with all hands aboard, he knew that most sailors died in their sleep or trying to save their ship from flames. Only a few were struck down by the Iroquois braves that Sam lowered to their deck in the dark of night.

“It’s not about sinking the ships,” Jack continued, “we just don’t fight fair, is all. Sneaking up on them, flying false colors and all that. We’d be hung as pirates, sure as spitting.”

“Well, what would you do differently, Jack?”

“It’s not for me to say. I follow orders, is all I do. I never signed up for the Navy either, you know.”

“At least nobody tied you up and hauled you aboard!”

“You mean, besides your new Indian friends?”

Sam didn’t know what to say to that. He supposed there wasn’t much difference between how he’d been conscripted in Albany and Jack’s capture in the Iroquois camp.

Sam finished up his food, cleaned some pots and bowls, and left the mess. He did not have a destination in mind when he started walking. He was still not used to the freedom he was now allowed aboard. He checked the lines down the spine of the ship and doubled back to the mainspring.

The mainspring was damaged in the battle at the village. Although the main gears were near the ship’s center of gravity and protected by the bulk of the airship, many gears connected to driveshafts and belts that stretched across the hollow hull. These had bent and snapped when the Endeavour was dragged to earth.

The surviving crew did not include any mechanics, so Sam had been allowed some freedom in trying to repair it.

Sam started stripping one of the broken drives and soon lost himself in the gears. He worked here most nights when he was off duty. Tinkering with the complex workings reminded him of home. The clockwork’s problems were simple compared to the complications that seemed to surround him.

“I see you have made some progress here.”

Sam had not heard the Captain enter. Out of habit, he started to free his hands from the gears to salute.

“No, no, carry on. I don’t believe in letting tradition interfere with progress, you know.” Norris walked slowly around the large works.

“I pulled all the gears off and started over,” Sam explained, “that way we can add attachments as needed to the hull or screws as we repair them.”

“I see.” Norris looked casually around the cluttered space. “I am not much of an engineer myself, but I am glad to see the progress you have made. Adams tells me you are working wonders here.”

“We don’t have much choice. Not without Jones,” said Sam.

Norris peered down at him. “That was a bloody night,” he said. “Was Jones a friend of yours?”

“No, I didn’t like him at all,” said Sam. “But I never thought I would see a man killed like that.”

Norris sighed and took a seat next to Sam on the deck. Norris no longer looked like a pirate, and had shaved his chin. Sam thought he looked much younger now, perhaps only a few years older than Adams.

“I know that we are asking you all to do difficult things,” Norris said. “Nice work on those lines last night. You were spot on every time.”

“Thank you. I guess.” Sam muttered.

“What is on your mind, Sam?” Norris watched his face.

Sam put down a greasy spanner. “It’s this privateering business. I don’t understand why you—I mean, why we—have to be so underhanded all the time.”

“Privateering has a long and honorable tradition. We finally have a way to make the Empire sit up and take notice. Although, I am still not sure we are doing enough.”

“I know, I know. But sometimes it seems like we are killing just to kill. What did the crew of that coal ship ever do to anyone?”

“Listen Sam, it’s important that you understand this. I need your help to fly this ship, but I want you to understand and believe in us too. If a boy born and raised in the colonies can’t believe in us, I don’t know if anyone will.”

Sam took a deep breath. “Then explain why we are not just as bad as Indians raiding train lines along the borders. We sneak around and kill and burn.”

“Yes, in some ways we are much like the Iroquois. Like them, we face a much more powerful and advanced enemy. We have to use every advantage that we can.”

“Like trickery?” asked Sam.

“Deceit has been a part of war since Cain crept up on and killed Abel. That is just the nature of the thing.”

“Are we even at war?”

“What do you think, Sam? The Empire kills our people, either with bullets, or through starvation and taxes. The Empire is bleeding the strength out of our land. Look at your leg there. It is a fancy bit of equipment, but is there any part of it that you could not have built yourself, if you were allowed to?”

“Of course not.” Sam replied.

“I figure there are a lot more people like you, here in the colonies, Sam. Bright, smart people who could be doing great things if they were allowed to. We have less rights than any English do, or even the French or Irish, for that matter. If we do not stand up for ourselves, the Empire will chew up our coal and our iron and throw us to the side of the road like an apple core.”

“And then what? Will we have new masters? The Huns or the Indians don’t seem like a better choice to me.” Sam shuddered, remembering how silently the braves had slipped across the coal steamer and back to his waiting line. He had watched as a lone crew member on the bridge fell with her throat slit before she could even cry out.

“No. Then we have independence. Liberty. The colonies can hold their own, if we stick together.”

“I was never very good at history, but that sounds a lot like heresy. Hasn’t that failed over and over again?”

“Heresy!” Norris laughed. “The Academy calls anything a heresy that it doesn’t like.”

“That might be true. But in this case, it seems as if some kind of divine providence has defeated independence every time,” said Sam.

“I don’t think it was providence,” said Norris coldly. “Just airships and cannon.”

Sam sighed. “Did I ever tell you what the Empire did to my family’s train? They called it a trial by lightning, but now I think it was just electricity they generated in their locomotive somehow.”

“Emily told me about your family. I don’t know what to make of it,” said Norris.

It always took Sam by surprise when he called Adams that.

“I suppose that could just be another weapon they have developed,” said Sam.

Norris perked up. “Do you? I wonder… is there some way we could use it ourselves? It would certainly have an impact if we could use lightning against imperial shipping.”

“I am not sure we could. The locomotive they attacked us with wrecked just outside of Albany.” Sam allowed himself a glimmer of hope. Could this get him near home?

“I could show you where they crashed, just up the hill from town,” he said.

“How long has it been now? Surely the Academy will not let a weapon like that sit unattended for months,” said Norris.

“I suppose you are right.”

“We are headed towards Boston. I have a contact near there that might be able to help us. I’ll have to talk to Emily about him, I guess.” Captain Norris gave Sam a tired smile and left the room.

© J. O. Evans 2017. All Rights Reserved.