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Endeavour’s Fall #12: Moonlighting

Feb 5, 2017




A Vulgar Mechanick can practice what he has been taught or seen done, but if he is in an error he knows not how to find it out and correct it, and if you put him out of his road he is at a stand. Whereas he that is able to reason nimbly and judiciously about figure, force, and motion, is never at rest till he gets over every rub.
-Lord Isaac Newton, PBUH

Sam was dead tired for his first few weeks aboard the Endeavour. It wasn’t that the work was harder than at home—it wasn’t—but it was all new. The extra effort of getting around without his leg wore him down. He also was not used to the constant oversight and correction everywhere he went. As a result, for weeks his sleep was dark and dreamless.

One night not long after his first battle aboard, Sam found that his sleepiness had lightened. Despite long hours and a difficult watch change, he tossed and turned restlessly in his berth: a hammock not unlike the net that had brought him aboard.

Sam’s worn knee ached. It always ached these days. His mind raced as he thought of home, his Pa, and how he might escape. He couldn’t help thinking about Emma and wondering what had happened to her, or if she had betrayed him to the Star Chamber.

Pa had told him once that lying in bed worrying was no way to solve a problem, just to waste a good night’s sleep. Sam took a few deep breaths. He said a quiet prayer and waited. It was no good. He wasn’t going to be able to sleep.

Sam scanned the quarters. A bunkroom had been carved out of the space between the taught canvas hull and a billowing gas bladder. It was night, and the moon glowed blue on the hull. Rolled-up hammocks lined the side. A few off-shift airmen slept in the shadows further down the long narrow corridor. Long nets were spaced along the wall at intervals, and they curved up into the darkness.

Many of the younger hands slept in this space, grouped together for mutual protection. Sam lay quietly in his hammock, listening. The other airmen snored along the corridor.

Sam rolled quietly out of his hammock to the floor. A low berth was the one consideration given him aboard, after the crew tired of laughing at his long struggle to climb to a higher hammock on his first night. Sam’s wooden peg was propped against a sack of sand where he’d left it. Sam rolled over and gently placed the sandbag in his hammock, and covered it with his rough blanket. At least the hammock looked occupied from a distance.

Sam wormed his way along the deck. He couldn’t risk the sound of his footsteps waking anyone. He crawled down the edge of the hard deck to a rope net called a “shroud” because it attached to the mast. Sam pulled himself aloft.

Climbing netting with one foot is not easy, but Sam had been practicing for weeks now. He got full use of his knees and carefully climbed, higher and higher into the rigging.

After a while, the shroud narrowed and finally joined the mizzenmast. The thick wooden boom ran the full width of the airship, extending out on both sides of the hull. Icy air snapped at Sam through the open canvas hatch that glowed with blue moonlight.

Sam crawled on his hands and knees inward along the boom until it intersected the rigging and shrouds in the center of the ship. Unlike a sailing ship, the Endeavour had no need of a large vertical mast. Instead, her masts ran straight out to the side, and were suspended from the large gas ballonets that held her afloat.

Directly below Sam, in the center of the airship, the mainspring was coiled silently. Belts from external windmills looped in to it between ballonets and rigging. Oiled drive shafts led back to propellers and forward to the winch. Sam had not been allowed near the mainspring yet, although it had been piquing his curiosity ever since Jack had first explained it.

Sam lowered himself down the maintenance rigging. He was able to see the deck below the mainspring, and, from this height, most of the flywheels and gears that made up its inner workings. The deck was deserted, so Sam took his time to study the mainspring. Some of the wheels and springs looked very similar to those inside Sam’s clockwork leg.

Even in the dark and shadows, Sam could intuitively understand how the spinning of windmills or the winding of the windlass on the deck below could tighten the coil of the mainspring up. Simple gears permitted this energy to be directed to the propellers or winch, as needed.

Sam took his time. Not only was he curious, but he hoped that a better understanding of how the airship worked might help him escape. He studied the gears and wheels and coils. While interesting, Sam could not see how this might help him get home. He would have to look elsewhere.

A rustling on the deck below made Sam realize that he had lost track of the time. It was Airman Jones. Sam held his breath. Jones had already smacked Sam around for being too slow on duty. If he caught Sam by the mainspring, there would be hell to pay.

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