Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hellstrom Voyage Chapter 4: The Chase

Hellstrom Voyage: Chapter 4, The Chase

Captain Hellstrom arrived back on deck quickly. He had taken a chance by relaying the orders below deck himself. With the First Officer gone, there was no one on deck to give an order.

He inhaled deeply. Tasting the wind. Feeling the thrum of the deck beneath his feet. The sensation was exhilarating and he was totally unashamed in his enjoyment of it. He now knew all he needed to know about this captured Mandelieu vessel. She cut through the water straight and strong, despite the hole he knew had been punctured in her hull.

“Mr. Sawyer, turn on my mark. Miss Theodorra, after the helmsman has completed his turn, strengthen the wind. Drive those ships away from us,” looking up, he saw Major Broughton had moved even higher in the rigging, all the better to snipe anyone foolish enough to openly give an order on the enemy ship.

He signaled Mr. Sawyer with his hand, enjoying the feel of the wind in his face as the ship turned. Suddenly the wind grew stronger as the Windsman spoke her words. The ship rocked sharply as the cannons fired, shredding the sails of one ship. This caused her to pick up less speed from the wind, and the port ship, still reeling from an unexpected encounter with a leviathan, made no attempt to slow down to stay with her comrade vessel. The stronger wind thus began to separate the two ships, leaving this one to Constant’s tender mercies.

In a moment they would have her.

In the distance, he saw the leviathan, his First Officer, speed toward the enemy privateer again. The ship had finally recovered from the shock and fired her cannons full into the water. Several of the brass balls struck the creature, drawing a wince from Captain Hellstrom he hoped none of his crewmen noticed.

Her momentum still carried her full force into the vessel and this time the damage was terminal. The vessel split with a terrible noise and began sinking at a rate that would see most of her officers and crew dragged down to Davy Jones’ Locker. But the animal had now taken full hold of Miss Medeirra. With an almost human cry of pain, blood filling the water, she swam away from the vessel at a high rate of speed.

Captain Hellstrom watched for a moment, looking at the scene in front of him. He could either finish off the wounded privateer, perhaps even capture her. This would not only greatly increase their chances of completing their mission but also, if he was able to bring her home again, would actually provide a bounty for him and his crew to share from the proceeds of selling the vessel to the Her Majesty’s Fleet.

In fact this was his plan all along. It would be an almost incalculable benefit to the morale of his largely conscripted crew. And of course, the law of the sea said he should stay and help the men being dragged under by the weight of their ship, now sinking in at least two sections in the frothing ocean.

In the end, his decision was made for him.

He reached into his jacket and took out the finest spyglass anyone on board was ever likely to see. Enchanted, it had a tremendous clarity and range. He handed the glass to Mr. Ansell, the youngest of the three midshipmen under his command.

“Mr. Ansell, take this up to the crow’s nest. You will help us keep track of Miss Medeirra. She doesn’t need the wind and it may be some time before we find her,” he watched for moment as the young man tucked the glass into his jacket and made his way up before calling “And if you drop my glass, Mr. Ansell, just jump.”

He paused at the entranceway to the lower decks, “Miss Theodorra, will you accompany me to the Ship’s Surgeon please.”

“But I’m not- yes, yes Captain, of course,” she picked up her crystals and her chalk, tucking them into a small bag the Captain hoped was calfskin and hurried below decks after him.

Along the way they encountered Mr. Star, the second of the ship’s midshipmen in seniority, aged 13, only a year older than Mr. Ansell and at sea for his third year. He was struggling to carry his half of the weight of the unconscious Lt. Castor along with the last of the three midshipmen, Mr. Patton, who was 15 years old, at sea for 6 years and studying for his examinations to become a Lieutenant in his own right.

The Captain moved in and picked up Lt. Castor, looking at the two young midshipmen, their faces black from the powdersmoke of manning their cannons, “I’ll take him to the surgeon. You two get up on deck. Mr. Patton, you have command while I am with the surgeon. We are to follow Miss Medeirra, who is a leviathan at our best possible speed. Mr. Star, you are to find Mr. Crittendon and have him report to me at the ship’s surgeon.”

He watched with satisfaction as Mr. Patton ran up toward the deck as if he’d told him it was raining gold coins. Mr. Star took off in the other direction, deeper into the ship, looking for the ship’s carpenter. The ship had taken several hits from a cannon, at least one below the waterline. First principles. Make sure they weren’t sinking, make sure none of the crew were killed, then proceed with the mission.

He sank heavily into an open cot in the sick bay, looking around to see who was injured, grateful that most of the injuries seemed minor, he waved the Doctor away irritably as he started toward his face, which he was sure looked much worse than it really was, peppered with splinters and covered in blood from his nose.

“Tend to Lt. Castor first. He has a crushed foot and has lost quite a bit of blood.”

The Captain winced as the Doctor cut the boot off. The foot was a crumpled mess. Doctor Argonis seemed almost unconcerned, as he took the foot and placed it in a bucket, which began to hiss and sputter and smell of sulphur.

“What is that, Doctor,” the Captain remarked uncertainly. As he looked around he realized he had not been in Sick Bay since the doctor had moved in. The place looked like a witch doctor’s hut more than the Sick Bay of one Her Majesty’s finest vessels.

The Doctor gave him a look he recognized, the same one he’d given Miss Theodorra for questioning his orders on deck earlier, “Alchemy, sir. It will staunch the blood flow and draw the bones together in their proper alignment. If we’re lucky, I might even be able to save it. If you approve of my methods, that is.”

“No, no, as you will, Doctor, just make sure he has a soul when you’re done please,” this brought a gale of sarcastic laughter from the Doctor, who seemed to find superstition, even in jest, hilarious.

“That will take awhile to set it, now let me see this face of yours. Not that it could get much uglier, but I take it you’d like to breathe normally?” He was already picking at the splinters, carefully pulling them from the skin with tweezers.

“Yes, Doctor, that would be preferable,” he turned to the Winsdman, motioning for her to sit.

“You’re new to the service, so I’ll be brief. Don’t ever question my orders again when the ship is under fire. If I assign a crewman a task, it’s because it will serve the greater good for the entire ship,” he looked at her, wondering just how young she was suddenly.

“Even if it means their death?” She shot back, almost accusingly. He knew she was Medeirra’s friend but her reaction made him wonder if she was suited to a military life.

“Especially then. Miss Medeirra might die but whether she lives or dies, her actions saved many lives. Without her contribution to this most recent action, there’s a strong possibility none of us would be having this conversation right now.”

She opened her mouth as if to speak again, but a look from the Captain silenced her, “We have a long way yet to travel, in fact we’ve just barely begun. Soon enough in our journey to turn back and request another Windsman. No one will think less of you if you decide this isn’t the life for you.”

The young woman looked as stunned as if he’d slapped her in the face, but the comment had its desired effect, “No, no Sir, I understand. It won’t happen again. May I return to my station on deck? We’ll need to keep the wind.”

The Captain nodded, watching as she hurried out of the Sick Bay. He frowned as the Doctor washed the blood off his face, their faces almost touching as he inspected the ruined mass that was his nose.

“I’m going to need to pack this so it heals right,” he moved away, collecting God knew what from an old withered looking footlocker held against the wall from the movement of the ship by netting.

“I need the Lieutenant awake as soon as possible, Doctor,” he called after him, looking over at the young unconscious man. He deeply regretted what would have to come next. A questioning, possibly a hearing, a demotion, at the very least a flogging in front of the men.

The Doctor muttered something he couldn’t hear as Mr. Mandel, the ship’s navigator stepped into the Sick Bay, his hat in his hands, looking nervous. The Captain smiled comfortingly. Despite serving with him for decades, Mandel was always nervous in his presence, as if the old man felt the slightest mistake would get him cashiered from the service.

“Mr. Mandel, I expected you would be up on deck hovering, what with an infant being in command and all.”

“Begging your pardon, Sir, but this seemed the time to talk to you, before things got, well, before things progressed,” he shot a look at Lt. Castor before stepping in closer, almost whispering.

“Mr. Sawyer and I were on deck earlier, Captain. The lad was not derelict in his duty on my mother’s grave, Sir. They approached in the right fashion, flashing this month’s call sign and they had all the proper flags. There was no way to tell they weren’t one of ours, Sir. Which means-”
Captain Hellstrom threw his hand up, looking around sharply, “Understood, Mr. Mandel. I would ask you to go back up on deck and assist Mr. Patton. I would also ask you to discretely take Mr. Sawyer aside and give him an order from me not to speak of this again to anyone, even you. That applies to you as well. Understood, Mr. Mandel?”

The man nodded quickly, “Oh yes, Captain. Understood completely. I just wanted, well I’ve seen these things get ugly and I wanted you to know the lad did his duty.”

Captain Hellstrom leaned back in the bunk, ignoring the Doctor’s conversation as he packed his nose with some vile-smelling sulphurous compound, literally rebuilding his nose from the inside to its proper shape.

Despite a slight dizziness, though thankfully accompanied by a complete loss of pain, his mind raced at what the Navigator had just told him. The ships were in a perfect position to intercept Constant. They knew all the proper call signs, as well. It could mean only one thing: there was a Mandelieu spy on board his vessel.

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