Ship of the Damned, part seventeen
by Sue N.

When the time came Archie trudged up to the quarter-deck to begin his
watch. Midshipman Adams was there, and momentary surprise flared in
his eyes as he saw the lieutenant.

"Sir, I-- I thought Stewart was my relief--"

"No," Archie said stoically, "I am. I have been put on watch and
watch."

"I see," Adams said, quickly smothering any further show of emotion.
"Well, the wind is holding steady from the sou'-sou'west, two points
on the larboard quarter, and she's making right at five knots. Sea is
fair, and the glass is quiet. And not an enemy ship in sight."

"Thank you, Mr. Adams," Archie said. "Any signals from Indefatigable?
Or orders from Mr. Thorne?"

"No signals, sir. And Captain--" Adams caught himself quickly, and
amended his words, "Mr. Thorne says he is not to be disturbed unless
the stuation changes."

Archie nodded, relieved. At least he wouldn't be seeing Thorne...

"Thank you. You are relieved."

Adams nodded and saluted, then turned away. After but a few steps,
however, he stopped, hesitated, and turned again, then went back to
Kennedy. His face showed that he seemed to be at war with himself,
confused, but not anxious to break his habitual reticence simply to
have that confusion allayed. For long, uncomfortable moments he
stared at Kennedy, studied him, his bewilderment deepening all the
while.

"Yes, Mr. Adams?" Archie asked quietly, acutely aware of the man's
scrutiny but refusing to allow it to perturb him.

"Sir--" Adams stopped, cleared his throat and clasped his hands
tightly behind his back, clearly uncomfortable.

"You have something to say?"

Adams swallowed tightly, his dark eyes fixed upon the younger,
smaller man. "Sir, I-- Why?" he asked at last, the word escaping him
before he could stop it. "Why do-- what you did? That man-- he was
nothing to you, just another crewman in a ship that is not even
yours! Why risk yourself, your career, for-- well, for a dead man?"

Archie sighed, then turned more fully to face Adams. "First of all,
Mr. Adams," he began quietly, calmly, without a trace of rancor or
bitterness, "I do not believe my commission limits my concern only to
the men of Indefatigable. I am an officer in His Majesty's Navy.
Therefore, my commission compels me to have concern for the men of
that Navy. All men, not just the ones I know or can name. If it were
not so, I should never have come aboard Resolute in the first place.
And second--" He sighed and frowned, wondering how he could possibly
explain what should never have to be explained at all. "There is
right, and there is wrong, Mr. Adams. I held what happened down there
to be wrong, and I could not in conscience remain silent in the face
of it, for then I should have been complicit in it. I can live
without a career in the Navy, Mr. Adams," he said softly, pointedly,
staring up at the man. "But I cannot live without a conscience. And,
at the time, I reckoned I owed more allegiance to it than to my
career."

Adams, who craved a commission and a career above all else, simply
could not understand. "But he is still dead, and now you are here,"
he said. "You accomplished nothing, except to raise Mr. Thorne's ire.
You did what you did for nothing!"

Archie sighed and his blue eyes clouded with sorrow. "You truly
believe that, don't you?" he breathed. "So you will no doubt be
shocked when I say I would do it all again. My only regret, Mr.
Adams, is that I could not get a burial for that man. And if standing
watch and watch is the price I must pay for trying, well, then, so be
it. I would rather endure this, knowing I failed, than bear with the
shame of knowing I had just stood there, moored in silence, and done
nothing at all."

Adams shook his head slowly, unable to grasp such concepts. He could
not imagine risking himself and all he desired for a dead man, could
not imagine pitting himself against Thorne for no better reason than
the disposition of a common seaman's body. Like so many others in
Resolute, he had abandoned his conscience long ago.

"This ship is nothing new to me," Archie told him. "I have seen this
indifference, this blindness, this cruelty before. I have seen men
bullied and tortured for sport, and I have known what it is to live
in utter, unrelenting terror without the smallest hope that any
relief, any help, should ever come." His light voice hardened and his
blue eyes grew accusing. "As a midshipman, I was abandoned to the
darkness of hell by officers who could not be troubled to take a
stand for what was right. I have seen good men suffer and die because
those in positions of authority CHOSE not to see the evil about them.
And I swore to myself that if I survived, and if ever I should earn a
commission, I would never, NEVER join the ranks of the blind." He
drew himself up to his full height and fixed an unforgiving stare
upon the midshipman. "You were wrong, Mr. Adams, when you said that
poor man was nothing to me. That poor man WAS me!"
**********

As part of his watch, Archie made his rounds throughout Resolute as
he would in Indefatigable, calling attention to work that needed to
be done, noting conditions in the ship, and paying particular
attention to the men. Their attitude troubled him deeply. There were
knots of them throughout the ship, talking in low voices, falling
silent when he approached, following him with hard, appraising eyes.
He could feel their stares on his back, and the whispers that swelled
in his wake lifted the hair on the back of his neck and raised a knot
of dread in his stomach. He also noted that rum, the friend and enemy
of the British seaman, seemed far too much in evidence.

At last, four hours later, he gratefully handed the deck over to Mr.
Stewart and retired to his cabin. He knew he should rest, but was
determined first to enter the day's horrific events -- and their
aftermath -- into his log. Steeling himself, trying to separate
himself from his emotions and failing utterly, he sat down at the
small table and began to write.

"At fifteen minutes after eight bells in the afternoon, all hands
were called to witness punishment. Three men to be flogged: Ordinary
Seaman John Jacobs, for insubordination, seventy-two lashes; Able
Seaman Henry Carter, for insubordination, seventy-two lashes; and
Able Seaman Willie Dudley, for stealing rum, seventy-two lashes.
Seaman Dudley, the first at the gratings, did not survive..."

He had intended it to be an impersonal, colourless depiction of
events, but found he could not stop his feelings from pouring through
the end of his pen. In all its ghastly detail he described the scene:
Dudley's already torn back, still unhealed, further lacerated; the
cries that became screams, then gave way to sobs, then moans, then
silence... the blood... the surgeon pronouncing Dudley dead...

"He was cut down," he wrote, his hand shaking uncontrollably and
further marring his already lamentable penmanship, "and First
Lieutenant Thorne, acting as captain since Captain Sidney's
indisposition--" he scratched that last out and resumed, "descent
into madness, ordered--" Here he had to steady his right hand with
his left, and still the shaking would not subside. Tears ran down his
face and fell onto the page, where he let them stand, blurring the
words written there. "Mr. Thorne ordered Seaman Dudley cut down and
his body cast overboard, with no Office for the Burial of the Dead at
Sea to be read over him. I protested, and Mr. Thorne threatened to
have me placed under arrest. Again, he ordered the bosun to dispose
of Dudley's body with the words--" they came back to him now,
unbidden, unwanted, hideously clear-- "'Mr. Hale, pitch me that scum
overboard. I'll not have a thief befouling the deck of my ship.' I
could not watch, but heard the splash..."

With heart, mind and soul aching unbearably and hand shaking
uncontrollably he went on, recording in minute, excruciating detail
all he had seen and heard since, recounting Thorne's fury afterward,
his venomous description of the men and the punishment he had
ordered. He also added -- just why, he could not say, except that it
seemed important -- his conversation with Adams upon the
quarter-deck, the man's failure to understand and his own attempts to
explain.

And with exhaustion fast overcoming him, he concluded:

"I do not know what I am to do; I am lost; I have no compass. What is
my duty? I cannot see it clear. In Resolute, all is shrouded in
shadows and fog. Am I to follow orders when I know them to be wrong?
Am I to keep silent in the face of wrong and thus save myself, or do
I speak out, knowing the next word might land me in chains or see me
shot? If I remain silent, I am complicit in the wrong; yet if I speak
out, and am punished, of what use will I be to the men? Who decides
the victor when conscience and duty are at war? I do not know anymore
where duty lies, and there is no one in this ship who can help me
find it! I fear I must prove a disappointment to Captain Pellew, who
showed such faith in me, for I cannot live up to that faith...

"I am in hell, I know that now. God does not abide in Resolute; He
was banished long ago. We are not sailors, but lost souls, captive to
an evil we cannot resist. All light, all hope, has been torn from us,
and Resolute has become nothing more than a ship of the damned."
**********

Though not on watch, Matthews made his way to the gundeck to find
Styles, desperately in need of his old mate's company. His heart
weighed like a stone in his breast, and his mind was dark with worry.
He had left Oldroyd below, told him to keep listening without being
obvious about it, and prayed the lad could manage it. Yet even
Oldroyd now had an understanding of what was happening, and had
pledged solemnly to do his best.

He found Styles hard at work, furiously at work, in fact, taking out
all his frustrations, his rage, his helplessness, on the gun carriage
taking shape beneath his punishing hands. Matthews read the grimness
in that hard, scarred face, in those dark eyes, and knew he must look
much the same.

"Oy," he greeted quietly, stopping at his mate's side, "'ow's it
goin'?"

Styles never looked up, never paused in his work. He needed to be
doing something. "You tell me," he rasped, hammering with a
vengeance. Sweat dripped from his nose and off the ends of his hair,
drenched his shirt and glistened on his powerful forearms. He was not
working so much as exorcising demons.

Matthews nodded, understanding, and glanced about. "Where's Mr.
Kennedy?"

Styles swung the hammer with a particular fury at that, driving in
the spike and shattering the wood into uselessness. "Shit!" he swore
hoarsely, pounding viciously at the ruined carriage.

"Easy, lad, easy!" Matthews soothed, reaching out to grab Styles' arm
as it descended again and holding tightly to it. "Belay that!" He
could feel the quivering of Styles' taut, powerful body, could feel
the dangerous rage coursing through him, but refused to release his
hold. He sought the man's gaze with his own, caught it, held it fast,
imposing his will upon Styles. "It's all right," he said quietly,
gently. "It's all right, now. Ye can't tear apart this 'ole ship."

Styles exhaled sharply, unsteadily at that and bowed his head, the
tension leaving him in a rush. Dropping his hammer, he sank wearily
onto the dack and leaned against the massive gun, closing his eyes
and shaking his head slowly. "Thorne's got 'im on watch an' watch,"
he said bitterly. "For speakin' out like 'e done." He opened his eyes
and lifted his head, again seeking Matthews' blue-grey gaze. "'E got
me away from that bastard 'Ale," he said tiredly. "Told that bloody
idiot Mr. George I was a carpenter's mate. 'E lied to 'im just so's I
could come down 'ere an' work, an' then 'e ran off 'Ale when the
bugger came down 'ere t' find me. An' now 'e's worried about us. 'E
damn near got 'imself arrested or shot, 'e's on watch an' watch, an'
'e's worried WE might do something stupid!"

Matthews nodded slightly and settled himself beside his mate, resting
against the gun, grateful for its solid strength. "I reckon 'e knows
what it is t' be pushed to yer limit," he reflected, remembering the
desperately fragile boy battling his demons in Justinian. "'E's jus'
tryin' t' take care of us."

"I know," Styles sighed. "But who's takin' care of 'im? 'E's near
breakin', ëimself. Cor, you shoulda seen 'im, Matty! 'E come down
'ere ta talk t' me, t' caution me, an' 'e looked brittle as glass!
An'-- an' 'e's afraid--" He broke off and glanced about, then stared
pointedly at Matthews, "Well, I think ye can guess what 'e fears."

Understanding sank through Matthews in a cold wave, and he nodded
slowly, somberly, his face grave. "Aye," he breathed, "I can guess."

"I told 'im we'd watch out fer 'im," Styles said, "so I expect you
an' the others t' do it when ye're on watch. If-- if 'e feels-- IT--
'appenin', 'e's to try t' get to one of us, and we're to do what we
can to 'elp 'im. I give 'im me word."

Matthews nodded again. "That goes for me, then," he agreed. He was
silent a moment, then said softly, "I got somethin' ye should know.
The lads-- They're plannin'. I got Oldroyd down there now, listenin'.
It won't be much longer."

Styles sighed wearily and closed his eyes, resting his head against
the gun. "I know. I been 'earin' it, too. Finney's one o' the
leaders."

"Showell's another. As soon as we know more, we've got ta warn Mr.
Kennedy."

Styles opened his eyes and turned his head slowly, fixing a dark,
exhausted gaze upon his mate. "Mebbe we should let 'em go--"

"You don't mean that!" Matthews said sharply, horrified. "By the
Holy, you know what mutiny is, as sure as I! We both seen it--
There'll be a bloodbath! No one will be safe! Not even Mr. Kennedy!"

"They got nothin' against 'im--"

"'E's an officer, ain't 'e?" Matthews' eyes blazed, and his face was
white with fury. "You know as well as I that once it starts, they
won't make no distinctions! All they'll see is an officer, an'
they'll cut 'im down! And us, too, because they know we'll stand with
'im!"

"They got a true grievance--"

"Aye, they do. But that don't justify murder! And answer me this." He
leaned closer and grabbed Styles' arm, his face mere inches from his
mate's. "Indefatigable is right over there. What d'ye think Captain
Pellew will do once 'e knows a mutiny's on?"

Styles laughed mirthlessly. "'E'll come haulin' over an' blow 'em all
t' hell."

Matthews nodded and sat back. "Aye, that's right. Wi' you an' me an'
all the lads an' Mr. Kennedy still 'ere. 'E'll turn those big
twenty-fours on little Resolute an' send every man-jack of us t' the
bottom, then 'ang them what floats back t' the top! Styles, listen t'
me," he pleaded softly, gently. "We ain't like them, not no more.
Mebbe we was once, but not no more. We can't let ourselves go back."

Styles grinned slightly, studying his friend. "You never was like
them, Matty," he said gruffly. "But me--"

"Not you," Matthews insisted. "Not no more." He searched his mind for
some convincing argument, and found it. "Before we left the Indy, Mr.
'Ornblower gave us a charge, remember? 'E told us t' look after Mr.
Kennedy, said we was all 'e 'ad. Well, 'e was right, again. They'll
kill him, Styles, sure as I'm sittin' 'ere, you know it as well as
I." He narrowed his eyes. "'Ow're you gonna explain t' Mr. 'Ornblower
'ow we stood by and let these bastards kill 'is best friend?"

"Jesus, Matty!" Styles breathed, closing his eyes tightly. "That
ain't fair!"

"An' lettin' these dogs butcher Mr. Kennedy would be?" He jabbed a
finger into Styles' broad chest. "'E stood up fer a dead man, stood
up all alone, wi' Marines all about, an' argued for a dead man. 'E
lied for you, faced down the bosun for you. Now, you tell me again
these bastards 'ave a right t' kill 'im!"

Styles bowed his head and rubbed his face with both hands. He could
hear Matthews' voice, his words, but all he could see was a white
face, lined with exhaustion, and strained blue eyes pleading with him
to be careful.

"They'll kill us all if we stand against 'em," he murmured wearily.

"They might," Matthews agreed. "Lord knows, they got us outnumbered."

"'E'll never let 'em take the ship," he breathed, seeing again a
solitary figure facing Thorne and certain punishment for the sake of
a dead man. "'E'll die first."

"Then it's our job t' keep 'im alive," Matthews told him.

Styles turned his head and smiled slightly, crookedly. "You left
Oldroyd, eh? 'E's probably joined them by now!"

Matthews chuckled quietly. "No, I told 'im if 'e did, 'e'd 'ave t'
face you. That sobered 'im right up."

"Well," Styles sighed and rose slowly to his feet, "guess we'd best
go see what 'e's learned. And 'ope it's more than just where they
keep their rum!"
**********

An hour into the first watch, with the ship blanketed by darkness and
sunk into a sullen quiet, Archie walked the quarter-deck with weary
steps, little caring any longer what happened. Trent was there, but
the sailing master, too, was silent, no longer comfortable in the
young man's presence. He had been showed up for the coward he was,
had been caught in his weakness, and was ashamed that a mere boy half
his age had proved a better man than he.

In the distance, Archie saw Indefatigable's lights, and nearly wept
at the sight. "Out of Purgatory and into Paradise," he had quipped
when he and Horatio had transferred into her from Justinian. And now
he had gone from Paradise into Hell. He wished one of the two ships
would sink, so he would no longer be able to gaze upon her.

"A lovely night."

The quiet, unfamiliar voice at his back made him jump, and he whirled
about with a sharp oath, confronted by a face he did not know. He
stared hard, his heart pounding, his mind racing, and suddenly
recognized gold braid.

A captain? But Resolute had no captain--

Yes, she did. Only he was mad...

He had to be mad, for he was smiling. Standing at the center of hell,
he was smiling. "I do so love these tropic nights," he breathed. "So
warm, and soft... One can almost smell the islands."

Archie shook his head to clear it. They weren't in the tropics, they
were in the Med. He thought. God, he no longer knew. "Yes, sir," he
answered uncertainly.

Sidney squinted into the darkness and stepped closer, studying
intently the face before him. "Oh, yes, you must be the new one. How
are you finding Resolute?"

Archie wanted desperately to sit down, to pass out, to have a fit,
anything to remove him from this deck, this man. "She is-- quite-- a
ship, sir," he stammered, feeling as if he were sinking into madness
himself. He suspected Sidney was not here at all, that in its
exhausted and over-wrought state his mind was simply conjuring up
visions. He glanced at Trent, who was studiously looking away.

God, now he was talking to himself...

"A lovely little ship," Sidney mused, wholly oblivious to the torment
of the young man before him. "Such a sweet sailor! And her crew...
They are the best men to be found," he said with certainty. "Hard
workers to a man, loyal and true-- You'll notice gunnery practice
went splendidly today. Hit their mark every time!"

Archie preferred not to think about what would happen if ever
Resolute's guns were fired. On the other hand, it might prove a
blessing...

"Mark my words, young man," Sidney said, still with that distant,
mindless smile, "if you take care of your men and your guns, they
will take care of you! Treat your ship like a lady, and she will
always bring you home."

"Yes, sir," he breathed.

Sidney frowned suddenly, and peered closer still at Kennedy. "Do I
know you, sir?" he asked sharply.

Archie's mind reeled at the abrupt change. "I am-- the new
lieutenant," he answered weakly.

"Where is Mr. Thorne?" Sidney demanded harshly.

Archie reached abruptly for the railing, needing to steady himself.
"He is--" Where? In the day cabin he has made his own because you,
sir, have gone mad?

"Well, speak up, sir!" Sidney demanded impatiently.

Archie clung tightly, desperately to the railing. "He is below, sir,
in his cabin."

"I should like to speak to him. When is his next watch?"

Archie swallowed. "I do not know, sir. He-- did not say."

Sidney stood straight and scowled. "Did he not? The arrogant villain!
I have told him I do not approve of his ways! Because of him, we lost
more men than we should have to that frigate! How far out of
Gibraltar are we?"

Archie's head was spinning. He had thought they were in the Indies,
smelling the islands... "Uh, I-- Three weeks, sir." Good Lord, he was
going to be sick!

"I should like the guns practiced in one hour. The Dons are all
about, and I want to be ready."

In one hour? In one hour it would be ten o'clock at night... Wouldn't
the Indy be surprised!

"Yes, sir. One hour."

"Where is Mr. North?"

"Mr. North?" Why, he is dead, sir, which is why I am here, because
all your officers are dead or gone or turned butcher. "He is-- below.
Sleeping." Would a mad captain notice if he had a fit?

"Is he ill?"

"No, sir." Merely dead...

"Hm." Sidney nodded, and walked away.

Archie's knees gave way, and he would have fallen but for his
desperate grip on the railing. To his surprise, Trent rushed over and
helped him to stand, holding strongly to him until the weakness
should pass.

"It's all right, sir," the master murmured, "'e does this from time
to time, pops on deck for a stroll and a bit o' conversation."

Archie raised a white and shaking hand to his forehead, wishing his
mind would clear. "Mr. Thorne said he never leaves his cabin--"

"'E don't, not when Mr. Thorne's on watch. It's like 'e knows. Mebbe
'e does. God knows what goes on in 'is mind."

"You there!"

At Sidney's shout, Trent released Kennedy and walked away. As the
captain approached, Archie struggled to stand on his own, but dared
not release the railing.

"Yes, sir?"

"You are the new lieutenant?"

Well, at least that was constant. "Yes, sir." When his chest began to
hurt, he realized he had forgotten to breathe, and made himself do
so.

Sidney strode up to him and stood very close, peering intently into
his face. And, all at once, with a sickening lurch of his stomach,
Archie realized those eyes, those sad, tragic eyes, were perfectly
clear, and the mind behind them lucid.

"What has he done to my ship?" Sidney whispered, his voice filled
with heartbreak. "What has that bastard done?"

Archie's breath escaped in an unsteady gasp, and he shook his fair
head slowly. "Sir--"

"Who are you?" Sidney asked.

"I am-- Lieutenant Archie Kennedy, of Indefatigable, sir. She is--
just there." He turned and pointed. "Captain Pellew sent me-- and a
few of his men-- into Resolute to h-- to help--"

"Help?" Sidney asked dully. "Help how? We are beyond help, surely you
can see that. Surely you can see what we have become." He turned and
glanced about the quiet ship, seeing plainly, sanely, her wretched
state. "She was a beauty, once," he murmured softly, sadly. "A little
jewel. But now-- You must leave, lad!" he insisted suddenly, sharply.
"You must leave, get off, get back to your ship, or he will destroy
you as he has this ship! He is a monster!"

"Then why didn't you stop him?" Archie cried harshly, his frustration
and exhaustion shattering his self-control. "You were the only one
who could! The men had no one else, only you--" Tears blurred his
eyes and slid down his cheeks, but he was too tired to care. "How
could you let him do this?" Merciful God, now he was shouting at a
madman!

"Because it was easier than fighting him," Sidney admitted softly,
sadly. "You've fought him, haven't you?"

He wiped angrily at his tears and grimaced. "I've tried! But I have
nothing to fight him with, and nothing to fight him for! You
abandoned your ship, sir!" he accused angrily in a shaking voice.
"You abandoned your ship and your men to that monster, and now he is
killing them all!"

Sidney bowed his head at that and shuddered violently. "I know. God
forgive me, I know."

"Will God forgive you when the men are dead?" Archie demanded
furiously. "Will God forgive you when they rise up and murder us all
in our beds? For they will, you know. They are planning it even now!
Tell me, sir, will God forgive you when, because of you, my captain
is forced to turn his guns upon your ship and blow her and the poor
bastards in her all to hell?"

Sidney was silent for long, long moments, silent and utterly still.
Then, slowly, he raised his head and peered into the tear-streaked
face before him. "You are the new lieutenant, aren't you?" he asked
calmly, serenly. "Such a lovely night. One can almost smell the
islands!" With that, he turned and left the quarter-deck, shuttered
safely once more within his madness.

And when he had gone, Archie sank slowly, helplessly to his knees and
buried his face in his hands, trying to hold his sobs in check.
**********