Endeavour’s Fall #8: Shanghaied and HigherJan 8, 2017
I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.
-Lord Isaac Newton, PBUH
“Hey Jack. My name is Sam.”
Jack looked him up and down.
Uncomfortable, Sam said: “I’m looking for a doctor. He lives over on Arbor Hill. Do you know where that is?”
“Oh, a doctor. What for? A girl or something? You look a bit young for that.” Jack said the word “something” like “sumfing.”
“No.” Sam said. “What makes you think it has to do with a girl? My Pa got hurt. He was struck by lightning.”
“Oh! That’s horrible, mate. I saw a boy struck by lightning once. He was there, working next to me. He got too close to a copper wire, then splat! He was gone.”
Jack seemed unusually calm about the death of a friend, thought Sam. “So, do you know where Doctor McCallister lives?” he asked.
“I suppose we could take a look.” Jack spun around and gestured over his shoulder. “Come on then.”
Jack kept up a steady chatter as they walked along the narrow cobblestone lane.
Sam noticed that a couple of men had entered the side street behind them. He was glad Jack was with him so he wasn’t walking these streets alone.
“Are you a miner? Not a lot of lightning strikes down mine shafts, far as I can tell.” He eyed Sam’s clothes.
“Sort of. We work a claim up in the hills.”
“Oh, a tramp steamer. Grubbing around in the dirt for a bit to eat?”
“Actually, I’m pretty good with a steamshovel,” Sam said defensively.
“A steamshovel, eh? Well, there aren’t any of those around here. No, not hardly any shovels at all.”
The boys left the narrow alley and found themselves in a broad market street lined with nice shops and cafes. They walked along chatting slowly, when Sam stopped with a start.
“Why, that’s the Doctor there!”
Sam would never forget the round bespectacled face of the Doctor that had amputated his leg and attached a clockwork replacement. The Doctor had just walked out of a shop, followed by a servant loaded down with boxes.
“How could…” started Jack.
“Doctor! Doctor McCallister!” Sam yelled out and ran across the street.
The doctor squinted, “Hello there, young master Mack!” My, you are certainly getting around handily on that now.”
“Thank you Doctor, I have worked on it myself. It’s better than ever.”
Doctor McCallister chuckled. “Well, good thing I’m no patent agent then. Certainly you are not having any other troubles with your health? You look hearty enough, if a bit dirty.”
“No, it is Pa. He’s hurt.”
“I see. Where is he now?”
“He’s back up the line past Switch,” said Sam. “I can take you there!”
“I see.” The doctor sighed. “Tell you what, take my card from Gerard here. If you come by tonight, say, at seven, I will have time to clear my appointments for tomorrow. With any luck, we can still take the late night express together up to Switch. I hear there was some trouble on that line, but I’m sure it will be cleared up by tonight.”
The doctor’s servant, Gerard, shuffled his balanced packages to stiffly hand Sam a fancy printed card with Doctor McCallister’s name and address inscribed in a swirling calligraphy.
“Thank you so much, Doctor!” said Sam, watching the two walk off.
“So it looks like you found your doctor after all,” said Jack, who kept his distance until the Doctor left.
“It looks like it.” The weight and stress of the prior day and night crashed onto Sam’s shoulders all at once. He gasped for air and looked up into the sky.
Sam noticed that, although they’d walked a few blocks, they were still in the shadow of the airship moored directly over the Fort.
“Easy there, you look like you’re about to fall over, Sam.” Jack put a firm hand on Sam’s shoulder. He sighed. “Lookie Sam, why don’t we go have a sit. We can get some food or something.”
“That sounds nice,” agreed Sam.
Jack steered Sam by the shoulder down another narrow road. A slophouse sat across the way, the kind where you can buy something to eat for a few pennies. The diners had spilled out into the street, and a few sat at tables enjoying greasy fried potatoes out of day-old newspaper.
Jack sighed, once again, and then smiled sadly at Sam. Jack walked up to a large bald man sitting uncomfortably in chair at a small table.
This bald man did not look like he was enjoying himself at all. His face was too hard, too disciplined. His back was straight as a rail. His head was shaved bald. There was a metal plate on one side, perhaps a war wound. There was something stern in his face. The man was eyeing a greasy bag of fried potatoes with mild disgust.
“ ‘ere you go, Sir. I found another one. You won’t even have to drop a line into the Rift for this one.”
The bald man stood and looked Sam up and down.
“This is good, Jack. It will have to be enough. Captain has ordered us to board, so we have no more time for this,” the bald man said, pointing at the signal flags flying from the airship overhead.
Then he turned to Sam. “Boy, welcome to the Royal Airship Navy.”
Before Sam could move, a coarse sack dropped over his head and strong hands pinned his arms to his sides.
Sam thrashed back and forth until he was pushed onto his back. He turned blindly, expecting to crash onto cobblestone, but found himself lying on a web of rope. Boots and legs crashed into him, and bottles clinked together as the web swept him upward.
The net swung like a hammock, almost like the swinging of the train back home, but there was no comforting clickety-clack, no jolting, nothing. Sam could only feel the cold wind around him and a gentle swinging of the ropes.
Sam tried to wiggle his arms free, but only got a sharp kick in the ribs for his efforts.
“Oy, easy does it. You don’t wanna be falling off jus’ yet.”
That was the boy, the liar. Jack. A few deep voices meant other men were nearby as well. Maybe they were on the netting as well? There was nothing Sam could do. So Sam tried to clear his head and think. At least he did not get kicked any more.
Doctor McCallister still lives on Arbor Hill in Albany, in a nice well-lit neighborhood far from the bustling, hustling Rift. That night the Doctor cancelled his appointments for the following day and had a quiet dinner at home, uninterrupted by mine disasters or late-night labor pains. When Sam did not arrive by seven o’clock, he decided he had better see to his father. It had been a while since he’d left town.
While cleaning the Doctor’s dishes, his servant, Gerard, looked out of the windows. Highlighted by dark red sunlight against black eastern skies, a military airship cast off from its mast and floated off. Briefly Gerard wondered if a life in the military would have really been as bad as he imagined.
© J. O. Evans 2017. All Rights Reserved.