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Authors: J.A. Sutherland

Mutineer

BOOK: Mutineer
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MUTINEER

Alexis Carew #2

 

by J.A. Sutherland

 

Copyright 2015, Sutherland. All rights reserved.

 

Cover Art by Steven J. Catizone

(
https://www.facebook.com/StevenJamesCatizone
)

 

Planetary / Solar Lagrangian Point graphic is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

For Ash,

 

Love you, Boo.

 

 

 

And to the memory of the crew of HMS
Hermione
(1782) and the events of September 1797.

 

CHAPTER ONE

H.M.S. Hermione’s
masthead shook and spun in dizzying circles as the forces of the
darkspace
winds struck her sails and hull. Alexis had her legs wrapped tightly around the yard, her muscles aching as she tried not to be shaken loose. Sweat rolled down her face in steady rivulets and her breath echoed inside her vacsuit’s helmet. Her stomach rebelled at the violent motion, the sway and arc of each movement amplified by her height above the ship’s hull — fully sixty meters, as Captain Neals had left the masts, all the way to the royals, extended, even while bringing in most of the sail to ride out the storm.

Just for me, so I’d get the full effect of his … lesson.

The effect was to place Alexis so far from the hull and sails that the small amount of gallenium embedded in the thin royal mast and yard wasn’t enough to offset the full effects of
darkspace
, especially with a storm raging over the ship. Tendrils of blackness flowed past her like mist, and she could feel her thoughts and movements become slowed and dull. Not as badly as she’d heard described by spacers who’d been fully outside of a ship’s field, but quite disturbing nonetheless.

It was enough to make her grateful that she’d had so little to eat the last day or more. Save for brief returns to the sail locker to charge her air and refill her water reservoir, sometimes wolf down a bit of ship’s biscuit if it were available, she’d been at the masthead for nearly twenty hours by her estimate.

Her eyes burned with fatigue and her fingers cramped from gripping the safety lines on the yard. The storm had arrived some ten hours before, and she’d been sure that Captain Neals would send for her, but it didn’t happen. Instead a spacer had climbed the mast at the change of each watch to tell her it was time for air and water, then, with no word of a reprieve, she returned to her place.

A swirl of
darkspace
energy struck the hull, knocking
Hermione
keelward, and Alexis yelped as the ship dropped away from her. Her grip held, but she felt her stomach flip-flop and her vision sparked as her helmet cracked into the yard. Far below she saw suited figures start up the mast, she assumed to take in another reef or two in the already well-furled topsail. The ship was carrying so little sail that the azure glow of their charged wire mesh barely cast any light at all.

One them came higher, though, pulling his way up the topgallant mast and waving an arm to get Alexis’ attention, as the vacsuits’ radios, nor any electronics, wouldn’t function in
darkspace
. She winced as she unclenched one of her hands, knuckles popping and painful as she released the line for the first time in hours. She raised her own hand in acknowledgment. The spacer stopped climbing toward her and signaled again, this time for her to come down.

Has it been a full watch again already?

In the starless black of
darkspace
, with the only light coming from the azure glow of the ship’s sails, and that only from the bit of topsail currently let loose, she couldn’t tell who the spacer was. She waved acknowledgment and flexed her fingers, trying to work some smoothness into their motion before she moved her safety lines from the masthead to the masts guidewires to make her way down. The figure below her signaled again, making the sign for
Lively Now
in an attempt to get her to move faster.

Aye, and I’ve some gestures for you, too, and I get my fingers uncramped!

It would have to be an officer or another midshipman, then, to dare make that gesture to her, or one of the senior warrants. No common spacer would act so peremptorily toward a midshipman, even one so clearly out of favor with the captain as she was.

With an effort and pain that brought tears to her eyes, Alexis managed to uncramp her hands and clip her lines to the mast’s guidewires. She swung her legs off the yard and wrapped them around the mast, pulling herself down toward the hull hand over hand. She’d normally just let her legs dangle and trail behind her, relishing in the sensation of gliding along the mast in zero gravity, but not with the storm.

The ship jerked again, flinging her away from the mast to the limit of her arms and then back, knocking her breath from her. She clung to it tightly for a moment, gasping harshly, then started down again.

When she reached the suited figure, she recognized him as Ledyard, the junior midshipman aboard and just twelve-years old, but taking on the airs and actions that permeated the other officers-in-training. They touched helmets carefully, trying to keep them in contact on the jerking mast.

“Can’t you move faster than that, Carew? Change of watch!” Ledyard shouted, his high-pitched voice echoing inside her helmet. “Lieutenant Dorsett says you’re to come in!”

In and then back out? Or finally in?

Alexis didn’t ask, she’d find out soon enough. Better, perhaps, not to know until she’d reached the airlock to the quarterdeck. Until then, she could at least imagine that this nightmare was over and she’d be allowed back inside the ship — a chance to eat, clean up, and even sleep. She wasn’t entirely sure she could take another watch Outside at the masthead. This last one, she’d been afraid she’d fall asleep, unable to stay awake even with the storm, and wake to find herself flung off the mast and her safety line snapped, left to drift behind the ship as it carried on.

Sure and they’d never stop for me. Neals’d dance a jig while he watched me fall away.

Ledyard started to back down the mast, but Alexis reached out and grabbed his suit, stopping him and keeping his helmet in contact with hers. He tilted his head toward her and she could see his face, his eyes narrowed angrily, through their suit visors where they met.

“Ledyard,” she said. “There’s a question you should ask yourself when delivering these messages — which angers Captain Neals more, the officer you’re speaking to or insubordination from a junior? Do you take my meaning?” Likely it would be the former, she knew, and Neals would take no note of whatever the other midshipmen did to her, but the possibility of the captain’s displeasure was not something anyone aboard
Hermione
took lightly. It wouldn’t help her in the gunroom when they were off-duty, but on-watch she was still senior and could demand at least some respect.

Alexis saw his throat work as he swallowed, but his glare didn’t lessen. “Aye, sir.”

She released him and he started down the mast. She followed, groaning with the pains that shot through her limbs with each movement. She made her own way down the mast to
Hermione’s
cylindrical hull and clipped her safety line to one of the wires that ran back toward the stern. Unlike her first ship, the smaller, and much happier, sloop
Merlin
,
Hermione
was a full-size frigate. With three masts arrayed equidistant around her bow and a proper quarterdeck sitting atop the hull at the ship’s stern.

She set her feet on the hull and felt the sharp
clicks
as the magnetic soles of her boots latched on to the gallenium embedded in the ship’s thermoplastic hull. It was over thirty meters back along the hull to the quarterdeck’s airlock, each of the long, sliding steps that kept one foot always firmly on the ship’s hull sending daggers of pain through her cramped legs. She felt
Hermione
shudder beneath her as another wave of
darkspace
energy washed over her. She glanced up at the mast and saw the slight roll of the hull magnified in the swaying dip of the mast.

Please let it be over
.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

“Welcome back, Mister Carew.”

“Lieutenant Dorsett, sir,” Alexis said, standing as straight as she could. Even the dry, stale air of the quarterdeck was a relief after the old-sweat scent permeating her vacsuit, though she could still sense the odor wafting out of her suit’s neck. Ledyard passed her, carrying his own suit, which he’d removed in the quarterdeck lock. It irked Alexis that he, at twelve, was slightly taller than she. Unfortunately, she wasn’t likely to grow much more than the bit over one and a half meters that she’d achieved.

“You may rejoin the regular watch schedule now,” Dorsett said. “I trust your experience was educational.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” She started for the hatch to the companionway down into the ship.

“Mister Carew.”

Alexis stopped. “Sir?”

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“I … sir? To the gunroom, sir?”

“The watch schedule, I said, Mister Carew,” Dorsett said.

Alexis furrowed her brow, confused, then the speakers on the quarterdeck began to sound with the soft
ding-ding
that marked the ship’s time — four times the double tone sounded.

“Eight bells, Mister Carew. Start of the Middle Watch … which is yours, if I’m not mistaken.”

Alexis closed her eyes and her shoulders slumped at the prospect of a full watch, four hours, standing on the quarterdeck before she’d have the opportunity to eat, bathe, or sleep. And the threat of a much worse punishment if she fell asleep on watch. She opened her eyes and swallowed.

“Aye, sir.”

“Very well, then.” Dorsett nodded to her and stepped to the hatchway. “You’ll be relieved at the start of the Morning Watch. The captain wishes to be informed of any sail changes, instanter.”

“Aye, sir.”

Dorsett left the quarterdeck and she took her place at the navigation plot. Inside the ship, under the influence of the inertial compensators and artificial gravity, the effects of the storm were barely noticeable. There was an occasional feeling that the ship had rolled or jerked to the side, but it was more a psychological effect of knowing the storm still blew around them and the images on the monitors than any real motion.

Alexis checked the helm to ensure they were on the expected course, but the helmsman, Batchelder, was a good lad and experienced. She noted that the log had not been thrown since seven bells, so that duty fell to her, and turned to the signals console.

“Please tell the sail watch that I’d admire that they threw the log, Hache,” she said.

“Aye sir,” the spacer said and began sliding his fingers over his console. Out on the hull, a display of fiber optic lights would relay the order to the men Outside. One of them would go to the keel and cast a heavy, weighted bag attached to a line away from the ship. Once away from the field generated by
Hermione’s
gallenium-laced hull, the bag would stop moving. Never mind that they were in space, in vacuum, with no force to act on it — this was
darkspace
, and things behaved … differently. Away from the ship’s field, things just stopped. The bag would stick in the morass of
darkspace,
an effect of the dark matter that made up most of the universe, and be left behind, all the while trailing meter after meter of line as
Hermione
continued on her way.

The quarterdeck hatch slid open and a spacer, vacsuit helmet in hand, stepped through.

“Six knots, sir,” he said. “Drift’s four points t’leeward an’ three down.”

“Thank you, Cager,” Alexis said. The force of the storm, the drift and how much
Hermione
was being driven from her preferred course, was not too great. She slid her fingers over the surface of the navigation plot to enter the information. The computer would calculate the ship’s position, but Alexis began the task manually, as all of the officers did. There were even paper plots to the side of the quarterdeck, so that they would be able to navigate even if the computer and plot were damaged — or if they took an enemy ship as a prize and were unable to unlock its plot.

Six knots in the archaic usage of the Navy — ‘traditional’ as Lieutenant Caruthers, back on her first ship,
Merlin
, had been fond of calling it — gave her the ship’s speed over the last half hour, or one bell as they measured the watches. Given that speed, their course, and the reported drift of four points to leeward, forty-five degrees directly away from the
darkspace
winds, and a touch over thirty-three degrees down …

She entered her calculations for the ship’s position and allowed the computer to update the plot with its own.

“Damn!” she said aloud as she saw the computer’s calculated position diverge from her own. Flushing, she glanced around the quarterdeck, but the spacers kept their heads studiously trained on their consoles. She flushed more, but for a different reason. On
Merlin
, there’d have been some laughter at her outburst, perhaps even a good-natured quip or word of encouragement from the hands. Midshipman, and a very junior one at that, was not so exalted a rank … at least, not on a happy ship.
Such is not the case on
Hermione
, though.

No, on
Hermione
the hands would never joke or josh with an officer, not even a midshipman. Not even a midshipman who allowed it and treated them with courtesy, for if one of the
other
midshipmen heard it … well, then that hand would likely find himself at the gratings next Captain’s Mast, reported for insolence and his back laid bloody by the bosun’s cat.

BOOK: Mutineer
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