Ship of the Damned, part fourteen
by Sue N.

By the end of breakfast, all aboard Resolute knew that Willie Dudley
would be flogged for a crime he did not commit, and the knowledge did
nothing to soothe the spirits of an already sullen, fearful crew.
Aware of the deepening unrest, Hale and his mates were a more visible
presence than ever, all too ready with their starters and
heavy-handed in their application, lashing out whenever the urge took
them, determined to keep the men in their places.

Thorne, however, seemed oblivious to the dark, foul mood overtaking
Resolute, and stood upon the quarter-deck like a reigning king,
overseeing his domain with an arrogant disregard for anyone but
himself. The midshipmen took their cues from him, and paraded about
with a sneering insolence, barking orders and snarling out
reprimands, frequently calling the bosun or bosun's mate's attention
to some laggardly crewman and watching with smug satisfaction as the
lash landed hard.

Young Mr. George was by far the worst of the lot, and drove his
division without mercy, threatening to have them all at the gratings
with Willie Dudley if they did not watch themselves. His wrath fell
most frequently upon Styles, whom he was certain was determined to
thwart him at every turn. The man had no notion of how things were
done in Resolute, and showed no inclination to learn. He questioned
orders, dared make suggestions, and more than once had been seen to
shake his head and mutter under his breath about some command given
him. George despised the man already, and would see him at the
gratings or die trying.

He simply would not tolerate such insolence from a common seaman...

On the gundeck, Archie could clearly sense the dark tide rising, and
was chilled to his soul by it. He could hear the men muttering as
they worked and tried to listen without being obvious about it,
needing to know exactly what was happening. But he had only to glance
at the men or make some move for the talking to cease, and he
realized that no officer, whatever his intentions, would ever be
trusted by this crew.

Nonetheless, he treated them as he would his men aboard the Indy,
working them hard but not unreasonably so, and, despite Thorne's
earlier fury, lending a hand whenever he deemed it necessary. He
tried to learn their names, gauged their strengths and weaknesses and
gave them tasks based on such, complimented good work and corrected
mistakes, and asked them questions about the guns. Each individual
piece, he knew, was different, had its own quirks, almost its own
personality, and he wanted to know as much as he could about each in
case they should have to use them.

Still, it was long, slow, dirty and tedious work, for every gun, it
seemed, needed some manner of repair or attention. By ten o'clock,
they had only two guns in good order, and number three still waited.
She needed a complete new carriage, and her port could not be closed.

"Mr. Rogers," he asked tiredly, rubbing a hand over his eyes, "who is
ship's carpenter?"

Rogers swallowed hard and glanced nervously about, then cleared his
throat and looked at the lieutenant. "Ah, beggin' yer pardon, sir,"
he answered hesitantly, well familiar with explosions of temper from
frustrated officers, "but we-- we ain't got no carpenter. Well, ol'
Sam Halliwell, 'e was carpenter, but 'e's dead now, sir."

"Of course, he is," Archie sighed, "why wouldn't he be?" God, his
head still hurt! "All right, then, any carpenter's mates?" When
Rogers shifted uneasily on his feet and cleared his throat again,
Archie stared at him in disbelief. "Good God, man, they can't ALL be
dead!" he cried in horror.

"Oh, n-- no, sir, not all dead, sir, no, sir!" Rogers stammered
hastily, starting to sweat. "B-- but, well, we ain't never 'ad more'n
two, and them two, well, sir, they's likely in Gibraltar by now. Wi'
Mr. Jessup an' that frigate." He tensed, waiting for the explosion.

But it never came. Instead, Archie merely sighed heavily and bowed
his head, closing his eyes tightly against the pain hammering behind
them and trying desperately to think. God in heaven, how did this
ship stay afloat?

"Sir? Mr. Kennedy, sir?" Rogers called softly, anxiously, "Sir, ye
don't look too well. Mebbe ye oughtta sit down, sir."

Archie shook his head, and immediately regretted it. "No, I-- I am
fine. A headache-- Damn!" he swore softly, gazing about the gundeck
with troubled blue eyes. "We need a carpenter, Mr. Rogers! We have
three ports to fix, two carriages to build-- Roberts!" he said
sharply.

"Sir?" answered a gunner's mate nearby.

Archie laughed softly and shook his head, though more carefully this
time. "No, not you. One of the men from Indefatigable, Roberts, is a
carpenter's mate. I don't whose division he is in now-- Well, I shall
have to find out. We need him, or we shall never get done here." He
nodded at the gunner. "Mr. Rogers, you take over here. Have the men
do what they can, while I try to secure us a carpenter."

"Aye aye, sir," Rogers answered, saluting. "An'-- good luck, sir.
Some o' the mids-- well, they don't much like givin' up their men--"

"Oh, don't they, now?" Archie asked coldly, lifting his chin and
arching two fair brows. "Well, we shall see about that. Carry on."

Rogers saluted again, then turned to get the men back to work. And
all the while he marvelled at how good it felt to be treated like a
man again, and how long it had been since he had felt easy about
working under any officer.

But the lad would ne'er last here...
**********

As Archie emerged on deck, the men were being piped to divisions for
inspection, and he made a mental note to search among them for
Roberts. At the same time, he caught Thorne's eye and saw the man
gesturing him to the quarter-deck. Sighing dejectedly, in no mood for
the lieutenant's ill temper, he turned and grudgingly mounted the
ladder, steeling himself for still more unpleasantness.

Moncoutant's villagers must have felt much this same way when
mounting the guillotine...

"Well, Mr. Kennedy," Thorne greeted coldly, sweeping an appraising
glance over the young man's figure, "I see you have taken my words to
heart. Now you look like an officer."

"Thank you, sir," Archie answered with a graciousness that Horatio
would have recognized as mockery. "I am gratified that you approve."

Thorne narrowed his eyes at that, not at all certain what to make of
the reply. The words were certainly innocuous enough, and the tone
entirely pleasant, yet even so... The blue eyes gazing back at him
were wide and innocent, though something in them, some faint glimmer,
hinted at a subtle defiance.

And he had thought this one broken...

"God God, what a sorry lot!" he murmured, turning his gaze back to
the men assembled below. They shambled to their places, forming
sloppy lines, and almost to a man stood stoop-shouldered, heads
bowed, their gazes riveted to the deck. Uttering a hiss, Thorne
leaned over the railing and gestured to Hale, sending the bosun and
his mates among the men to lash them into submission.

Archie stiffened and inhaled sharply at that, appalled by such
unrelenting cruelty. Instinctively, he stepped forward, then was
startled by a restraining hand on his arm. Turning, he found himself
looking into the grave face of the sailing master, who shook his head
slightly, warningly. Anger boiled up hotly, strongly within him at
his own helplessness, at the indifference of those about him, and he
jerked his arm free, his eyes ablaze in his white face. He noted
bitterly that Trent at least had the grace to look ashamed before
turning away.

Thorne also saw the young man's reaction and pounced upon it.
"Something here troubles you, Mr. Kennedy?" he asked loudly enough to
be overheard by all on the quarter-deck.

Archie drew himself up to his full height and met that frosty gaze
easily, bolstered by his own anger. He knew well what it could cost
him, but simply could not remain silent. "I do not enjoy seeing men
beaten for no purpose, sir," he answered in a clear tone, little
caring who overheard.

Thorne arched a dark brow and smiled slightly, cruelly. "Oh? And who
are you, sir, to judge what has purpose and what does not? You do not
know these men--"

"I do not have to know men, sir, to be concerned for them," he
answered. "This ship cannot function without them, and if they are
treated as brutes--"

"But they are brutes, Lieutenant," Thorne replied callously.
"Unthinking, unfeeling, ignorant brutes. They have been pressed into
a service they do not love, and must be made to work at duties they
do not comprehend. Most of them, sir, are not fit for the prisons,
and certainly not for service aboard one of His Majesty's ships of
war!" He stepped closer to Kennedy and stared maliciously at the
young man. "Have a care, sir," he warned harshly, "lest your tender
heart lead you into insubordination!" His mood again changed
abruptly, and his anger faded as if it had never been. "How comes the
work on your guns?"

This time, however, Archie was not caught off guard by the change,
had anticipated it and was prepared. Perhaps having Charles as a
brother had proven helpful, after all...

"It goes slowly, sir," he answered coolly, calmly, seeing plainly
Thorne's irritation at his reaction. "Three of the ports are damaged
and will not close, and we have one or two carriages to build. I fear
we have need of a carpenter."

Thorne scowled, infuriated by the young man's refusal to be cowed.
"Then I fear, Mr. Kennedy, that you are to be disappointed," he
rasped, glad he could at least hinder him in some small way. "We have
neither a carpenter nor carpenter's mates in Resolute. You shall have
to make do--"

"But there is a carpenter's mate, sir," Archie corrected, again
seeing the anger kindling in those pale eyes. "One of the men I
brought aboard, Roberts, is a carpenter's mate. I believe he is in,"
he glanced down at the assembled crew and picked out his man,
"Midshipman George's division. Yes, I see him. Might I have him for a
while, sir?"

Thorne seethed silently. If he denied Kennedy, it would be plain to
all he was doing it out of sheer vindictiveness. On the other hand,
he did not like this young man, did not trust him, and certainly did
not appreciate his interference. And he knew George would not
willingly give up one of his men...

"Well, you must, of course, ask Mr. George," he answered at last. "If
he has no need of the man, you may have him. But should Mr. George
prove unable to spare him, well," he smiled thinly, "we are all
short-handed, Mr. Kennedy, and we must all make do."

"Then I shall rely upon Mr. George's generosity, sir," Archie
answered with his former mocking graciousness, bowing his blond head
with an equally scornful flourish. He could sense the shock and
disapproval of those about him, but was beyond caring. Someone in
this damned ship had to take a stand, and if it fell to him, so be
it.

He would not be cowed again!
**********

George wasted no time in tearing into his men for their shameful
showing at inspection.

"Bloody disgraces, the lot of you!" he shouted, stalking up and down
the deck before his division with a visible fury, his eyes hard, his
face dark red, his mouth twisted into a savage scowl. "You're not fit
to be sailors in the King's Navy, and you befoul this deck by your
presence! I should have the lot of you flogged! And you!" He stopped
before Styles and stared in that scarred face, into those burnings
eyes, seeing plainly the rage coming dangerously near erupting.
"Don't think I don't know that you are one of the worst! No doubt
your captain sent you here to be rid of you! You're no better than
these other sods," he spat, "and I shall have you at the gratings--"

"A word, Mr. George," Archie called, unable to bear witnessing any
more of the boy's display of venom. Forcing himself to appear calm,
he made his way forward, praying he could keep from striking the
stupid youth.

Infuriated by the interruption, George whirled about. "What--" At the
sight of the lieutenant, however, he hastily swallowed his anger and
gave a hurried salute. "Sir! Forgive me, sir, I didn't hear--"

"It is difficult to hear when one is shouting," Archie said quietly,
winning an appreciative grin from the men. "I have a favour to ask of
you."

George blinked stupidly. "Sir?"

Archie sighed, wondering when all wit had fled this ship. "A favour,
Mr. George. You do understand that, do you not?"

George coloured deeply. "Yes, sir," he muttered. "Of course, sir."

"Good." Archie turned and stared at the men for long moments, finding
Roberts and nodding. Then, however, his gaze went to Styles, and
stayed there. The man, he could see, was in danger of cracking, of
losing all control over himself and his visible rage. At the same
time, as his eyes met Kennedy's, he seemed almost to plead for some
help, some relief, some reprieve. He knew he was on the edge, and
wanted someone to pull him back. It was, Archie thought, a feeling he
understood only too well.

Making his decision quickly, Archie cast a slight smile at Styles,
then turned back to George. "I have need of two of your men," he said
firmly, "Roberts and Styles there, to help with the guns. We need
carpenters, and as Resolute seems to have lost all of hers, then I
fear I must take the ones I brought."

George gaped. "You mean, these bastards--" At Kennedy's glare, he
cleared his throat and amended his words. "You mean, sir, that
these-- men-- are carpenters?"

"Mates, actually," Archie lied smoothly, amazed at how little it
pained his conscience. "Both very skilled at it, as well. May I take
them?"

George frowned instantly and shook his head. "Sir, I need all mmy
men! We've work to do, and losing them would leave me short--"

"We are all short-handed, Mr. George," Archie interrupted, using
Thorne's words from earlier, but to an entirely different purpose.
"And we must all make do."

"Sir--"

"Lt me explain something, Mr. George," Archie said quietly, stepping
closer to the obnoxious young man and smiling brightly. "Two of our
guns need new carriages, or they cannot be run out. And those two, I
believe, are the ones right under our very feet." He frowned
suddenly. "Tell me, Mr. George, where is your station when we beat to
quarters?"

George swallowed. "Here, sir. The f-- the foc'sle."

"Hm," Archie breathed, frowning deeply. "Pity. Here you would be, at
your station with guns right beneath you that cannot be fired." He
fixed wide blue eyes upon the midshipman. "That would leave you
well-nigh undefended, would it not, sir?" he asked with deepest
concern. "And, well, should the Dons see that we have guns in this
quarter that cannot fire, why, they would have no compunction about
targeting it! Tell me, Mr. George, have you ever seen what can happen
to a quarter of a ship left defenseless?" He wrinkled his nose in
elegant distaste. "Not a pretty sight! And the Dons really are quite
good shots. But no doubt Mr. Thorne would write a glowing letter to
your family about your brave sacrifice for King and country." He
sighed and shrugged. "Still, if you cannot spare them, you cannot
spare them. Good day." And he turned away.

"Wait!" George called, reaching desperately for the lieutenant's arm
and turning him sharply back. "I-- I spoke in haste, sir," he said
quickly, swallowing hard. "Of course, I can make do! Your need is by
far the greater-- Well, what good is a frigate without guns?"

"Hm, yes, exactly," Archie agreed soberly. "Well, if you are
certain--"

"Dead certain, sir," George answered, regretting the words
immediately. "Please, sir, take them. And with my compliments."

Archie smiled and bowed his head. "Very generous of you, Mr. George!
Thank you." He turned to the men. "Styles, Roberts, you're with me. I
am in dire need of carpenter's mates!" As the two came forward, he
turned back to George. "Your generosity does you credit, sir. I shall
remember it in future." He returned the midshipman's salute, then
turned and walked away, with Styles and Roberts close at hand.

When at last they were out of ear-shot, Styles leaned forward and
hissed, "But, sir, I ain't no bloody carpenter's mate--"

"You are now, Styles," Archie answered calmly, feeling better than he
had since leaving the Indy. "You are now!"


**********