Ship of the Damned, part nineteen
by Sue N.

Matthews jerked upright in his hammock, awakened by some indefinable
sound that he knew at once to be wrong. Without a word, he slid
silently from his bed, clutching dagger and pistol, and hurried
forward to find Styles. But his mate -- indeed, all the lads from
Indefatigable -- were already awake, already armed. Without a word
between them, they slipped into the shadows, concealing themselves in
the darkness.

And not a moment too soon. The mutineers burst into the berth with
furious shouts, swinging cutlasses into hammocks only just evacuated,
their murderous rampage begun. Finding themselves cheated of victims,
they loosed howls of rage and fanned out in search of the
Indefatigables, determined that none should escape their vengeance.

Matthews and his men had no choice but to fight, for their lives
depended upon it. Pushing through the mutineers in a desperate
escape, they returned blow for blow, slashing, hacking, cutting their
way through the Resolutes, fighting madly for their lives in the dim
light, knowing they somehow had to fight their way free and get to
Kennedy.

But it would not be easy. Resolutes, it seemed, were everywhere,
armed and intent upon repaying blood with blood. They surged through
the spaces belowdecks in knots, in packs, in waves, unhinged and
driven to unspeakable violence. Matthews' blade was red with blood,
English blood, and though the thought sickened him, he dared not
cease fighting, for he knew the moment he did, he would die.

Styles reached the skylight, the means of emergency access to the
deck above, first, and pulled a table beneath it. Grabbing Oldroyd,
he heaved him onto the table and shouted for him to go through, then
turned to defend his mate. Matthews, Roberts and Brown hurried to
join him, and while they fought to hold back the Resolutes, their
mates sought to make their way up onto the table and through the
skylight. Lewis, bleeding from a deep gash sliced across his left
shoulder, was helped up first, followed by West, Hoskins and Casey.
Before Connor could mount the table, however, he was shot down, dead
before he hit the deck. With a foul curse, Styles pulled his own
pistol and felled his shipmate's killer, then jammed the firearm back
into his waitsband and went back to fending off Resolutes with wildly
slashing cutlass.

At last, all the Indefatigables were able to climb through the
skylight and onto the deck. Pausing only long enough to catch their
breath, the lads looked to Matthews for leadership, which he was
quick to give.

"Right, then," he said curtly, his clothing stained with blood,
"let's find Mr. Kennedy!"
**********

Archie was already awake and fighting desperately for his life.
Awakened by shouts and the rush of feet against the deck, he had
lunged from his cot, instantly awake, and grabbed his weapons,
thrusting pistols into his belt and gripping his sword firmly.
Knowing what he would find, he yanked open his cabin door and raced
out into the melee.

And it was, truly, as if hell had erupted, disgorging a seething mass
of bodies onto the deck. Hands grabbed at him, at his sword, while
harsh voices demanded his surrender. Bitterly, he cursed them and
refused, twisting out of one grasp and slashing his blade downward
toward another, rewarded by the bite of steel into flesh and a howl
of pain. Turning again, still unable to decipher faces in the
dimness, he felt another body coming toward him and lashed out with a
foot, thrusting away his unseen assailant.

"Stewart!" he shouted into the fray. "Stewart, God damn you, where
are you?"

He fought his way forward, inch by inch, hardly knowing what he was
doing. Vaguely, his mind registered shots, cries of pain, an odd,
cold sting at his left temple, his right forearm. But none of it
meant anything; none of it seemed real. He knew only that he had to
get to the quarter-deck, that, whatever else happened, his place was
there.

"STEWART!"

He should be concerned about Adams, about George, he knew that,
reason told him that. But Stewart was the only one who mattered, the
only one he could raise an ounce of concern for. Perhaps because
Stewart alone had shown any trace of humanity...

And there he was, across the deck, fighting with all the wild fury of
his Scottish blood, his red hair glinting in the muted light. A
fierce Highland cry tore from him and he dived down, slashing at legs
and laying waste to the mutineers who did not fall back.

"To me!" Archie shouted across the tumult. "Stewart, and any others
who would remain loyal, TO ME! We must get to the quarter-deck!"

At a gesture of understanding from Stewart, he turned and fought his
way toward the companion ladder, battling with a tightly controlled
fury, cursing savagely the men forcing him to kill them. Again, hands
grabbed him, held him, but he fought desperately against them,
refusing to be taken. There were flashes of red now among the
seething, formless crowd -- Marines, finally, thank God! -- and more
shots. His own pistols were empty, but worked well as clubs. He felt
something hot and sharp bite deeply into his left shoulder, but gave
it no thought. There was no time for thought.

The acrid smell of gunpowder filled the deck and stung his nose,
bringing tears to his eyes. Half-blinded, he reached the ladder and
was halfway up it when strong hands grabbed his ankles and pulled him
roughly down. His head collided heavily with a step, and awareness
departed him in a sickening rush.

God, how good it would feel to sleep...

"Ye bastards!"

Stewart saw the lieutenant go down amid a jumble of bodies and rushed
headlong into the fray. But he was not alone, for Rogers and his
mates raced in to help, and the gunner fired his pistol into the back
of one man holding Kennedy, while Stewart all but beheaded another.
Working together, they managed to free the dazed, limp Kennedy and
drag him up the ladder into the open air of the maindeck.

"Bloody Christ!" Styles spat as, crouching in the shadow of one of
the boats, he saw his lieutenant hauled up onto the deck and dropped
like a sack upon it. Without a thought, he lurched to his feet and
raced forward, his gaze fixed upon that unmoving figure.

"Styles!" Matthews shouted. "Damned fool--" Cursing and swinging his
cutlass, he rose and followed his mate, doing what he could to cover
him.

At the sound of someone rushing toward him, Stewart rose and spun in
a single, fluid gesture, lashing out with his blade. But in a flash,
he recognized the big seaman as one of Kennedy's own, and knew he
would be safe.

"The bastards knocked him out!" he rasped, his chest heaving as he
panted, his young face wearing an expression of fierce exultation.
"We've got to get him to safety!"

Without a word, Styles reached down and slung Kennedy into his arms,
then rose and turn, retreating back toward the boat. Matthews, the
Indefatigables, Stewart, Rogers and the gunner's mates all followed
at a run.

Once more in the shadows, Styles lowered Kennedy to the deck and, for
the first time, saw in the moonlight the blood streaking his face and
darkening his jacket at the shoulder. "God damn you, sir!" he spat,
gripping Archie's chin and shaking his head roughly, then slapping
one cheek. "God damn you, don't you die!" He dealt Kennedy another
stinging blow, then saw the fair head move slightly on its own, and
heard a breathless groan. "'At's it, sir!" he called as relief rushed
over him in a surging wave. "'At's it! Wake up, sir!" he pleaded
through clenched teeth. "God damn it, sir, ye've got to wake up!"

"Styles," Archie murmured as the voice reached him across a very
great distance. "What--" He struggled to open eyes that felt heavy as
lead, then worked to bring them into focus. "Please, stop hitting
me," he breathed. "My head hurts like hell as it is!"

"Oh, thank God!" Matthews whispered, running a shaking hand over his
whiskered face.

"Can ye sit up, sir?" Styles asked quietly, slipping an arm beneath
Kennedy to help him. "Careful now," he urged, "you're 'urt--"

"Oh!" Archie gasped sharply as the simple task of sitting up sent hot
waves of pain shooting through his shoulder. "God--"

"I told ye, ye're 'urt!" Styles chided harshly. "Damned officers! Ye
never listen!"

"Belay that!" Archie rasped, clutching at Styles with his good hand
and hauling himself upright. "Where are we?"

"On deck, about midships, under the boat," Matthews reported. "Lord,
sir, it's a fine mess we're in!"

"Yes, thank you, Matthews," he gasped, still holding tightly to
Styles and reeling against him as waves of pain and dizziness swamped
him. "We have to get to the quarter-deck. Help me up."

Styles grimaced and shook his head. Kennedy was paler than the moon,
his eyes almost black. "Sir--"

"Where is Thorne?" Archie asked, trying to look about.

"In hell, if there's any justice," Rogers muttered.

"And the captain?" God, if only his head would stop swimming...

Several faces gaped blankly at him. "The captain, sir?" Matthews
asked softly, worried that Kennedy thought himself aboard
Indefatigable.

"Yes, the captain," he repeated. "Damn it, Styles, help me up!" he
snapped. "Captain Sidney. Where is he-- Oh!" Even as he reached his
feet, he groaned sickly and fell heavily against Styles as the deck
seemed to disappear beneath him. "God--"

Styles held tightly to him, refusing to let him fall. He had to
admire Kennedy's courage, if not his sense. But then again, he was an
officer...

"We must reach the captain," Archie murmured, closing his eyes and
swallowing against a sudden surge of nausea. "If-- if we can-- bring
him to the quarter-deck, perhaps the sight of him will calm the men--
Merciful God, my head hurts," he announced calmly.

"I don't doubt it," Styles answered. "Ye've got a gash in it the size
of my finger-- Bloody 'ell, sir, ye can't be serious!" he cried as
Kennedy pushed himself away and turned to get his bearings. "The
captain's mad, everyone knows that--"

"He is still captain-- Why is the deck rolling so?" Archie asked with
a detached curiosity. "I thought the sea was calm--" He squinted up
at Styles, still trying to bring his gaze into focus. "I know you
don't like it, but you don't have to. We need the captain if we have
any hope of saving this ship!"

"Well, I don't like it!" Styles said sharply. "Let the damned ship
go! We should just take one o' these boats and get back to the Indy--
Oh, God, sir, what are you doin'?" he moaned as he watched Kennedy
trying to load a pistol. "Christ, gimme that!" he snarled, snatching
the pistol away and loading it himself. "Ye need two 'ands for that!"
He thrust it back toward Kennedy. "Now, sir, give me the other and
let me load it before ye shoot yourself or me with it!"

Matthews watched the two and shook his head in utter amazement. He
never would have believed Kennedy could impose his will upon Styles,
never would have believed his mate would be so protective of the
lieutenant. He began to wonder if maybe he had been shot in the head,
himself.

Archie took the newly loaded pistol in his good hand and stared
calmly at the men before him, reeling slightly from blood loss but
wholly unconcerned about his own condition. "I am going for the
captain," he said softly. "Styles, you may remain here--"

"No, I can't," the big man sighed, silently damning his own
stupidity. "Ye'll need someone t' watch over ye, t' keep ye from
gettin' yerself killed! Bloody damned officers and their bloody
damned ideas!"

Archie smiled slightly. "Thank you. All right, then, Stewart--" He
winced and groaned softly; his shoulder hurt like bloody hell! "You
have to reach the quarter-deck." He sought the midshipman with his
gaze and focused all his attention on that young face. "You must
reach it," he said softly, urgently, "and you must hold it. If they
take it, we are lost. Matthews," he turned to the sailor, "go with
him. Help him. If need be, take the helm yourself, and surrender it
to no man! The mutineers may have the rest of the ship, but we make
our stand there. We must hold it at all costs."

Matthews nodded slowly, understanding perfectly what Kennedy was
telling him, and knowing the lieutenant did as well. "Aye aye, sir,"
he answered gravely. "They'll not take it from us."

Archie wanted desperately to sit down, to lie down, to pass out, but
by sheer force of will kept to his feet. "Rogers, you are with Styles
and me. The captain knows you. Maybe--" He felt a strong hand clamp
tightly about his good arm, and nodded his thanks to Styles. "The
rest of you are with Mr. Stewart." He gazed about at the earnest,
anxious faces and saw the determination in them. "You are good men,"
he said firmly, his words slurring only slightly. "You are the King's
men. And I charge you to hold this ship for him."

Stewart drew himself up to his full height and calmly returned
Kennedy's gaze. "For the King," he said solemnly, rsiaing his pistol
and cocking it. "God save him, and God be with us!"
**********

Kennedy, Styles and Rogers kept to the shadows as much as they could,
determined to avoid the fighting which was now spilling onto the
maindeck from below. Their only hope, Archie knew, lay in getting to
the captain, and praying he still had influence enough -- and sanity
enough -- to get the mutineers to surrender.

If, that is, he weren't already dead...

Styles, for his part, could not have cared less about some mad
captain, but was desperately concerned about Kennedy. The lieutenant
was stumbling more often, growing weaker from loss of blood. He had a
pistol ball in his shoulder, and, to Styles, it was a marvel he was
able to stand at all.

Though God alone knew how much longer he would be able to...

Now aft of the mainmast, they saw they no longer had any choice but
to fight for it. A savage battle was on just below the quarter-deck,
near the ladderway they would have to take to reach the captain's
suite of cabins. Weak, winded and dizzy, his shoulder in searing
agony, Archie swallowed hard, gripped his sword as tightly as he
could and lurched to his feet, nodding at Styles and Rogers.

"All right, then," he rasped, his head throbbing in time to the
beating of his heart, "let's go."

Styles opened his mouth to urge the lieutenant to stay behind, but,
before he could utter a word, Kennedy had started forward. "Shit!" he
hissed, running after the young man and cursing Kennedy, himself,
Resolute and the world in general as he did so.

With a harsh, wordless cry, Archie charged into the fray, swinging
his sword at any who stood in his way and managing even to raise and
fire his pistol with his left hand. The rush of adrenalin swept from
him all knowledge of the pain of his wounds and lent him new
strength. And with the adrenalin came a fury of an intensity he had
never known. He had been on boarding parties before, but this was
different. The men he was fighting -- killing -- now were not
enemies, or should not have been, but were his countrymen, English
sailors, men sprung from the same soil as he and sworn to defend that
soil. Yet now English blood was flowing over the decks of an English
ship, and the King's men were killing each other.

A figure loomed before him and he flung his empty pistol into the
broad face, then slashed out with his sword. A hand gripped him and
swung him about, and a huge knife flashed before him. Before it could
complete its killing arc, however, a pistol cracked, a cry rang out,
and the man fell face forward to the deck. Archie saw Rogers and
nodded his thanks, then saw a big man -- Finney -- turning toward
him. Before he could warn the gunner, however, Finney fired his
pistol into his back, and Rogers went down at once.

"Oh, God!" he cried in horror, starting toward the fallen gunner.

"'E's gone, sir!" Styles shouted, grabbing Kennedy's injured arm --
the only one he could reach -- and pulling the lieutenant roughly
after him. "Let 'im go, sir! There's nowt ye can do!" Kennedy
resisted, and Styles tightened his grip. "Come on!"

With a last heave, they were through the press of bodies and at the
ladderway. Styles felt Kennedy fall heavily against him, and wondered
how much longer the young man could last. "Sir, ye don't--"

"Yes, I do," Archie rasped weakly, forcing himself to stand once more
upon his own feet. His jacket and shirt were sodden with blood, but
there was no help for that. He had to see his duty through. "Let's
go."

They descended the ladderway to the half-deck -- Archie more nearly
falling down it -- and found four Marines guarding the captain's
cabin with muskets and bayonets at the ready. Three bodies lay on
deck, and the stench of death hung heavy in the close air.

"We must get Captain Sidney to the quarter-deck!" Archie gasped,
reaching for Styles to steady himself. "He may yet be able to halt
this!"

The Marines, privates all, not an officer among them, exchanged
confused, panicked glances. They recognized Kennedy, and were
grateful to have an officer -- any officer -- to do their thinking
for them.

"'E's in there, sir," a private said, jerking his head toward the
door. "We ain't lettin' the bastards through."

"And Mr. Thorne?" Archie asked, wondering if the true danger to
Sidney lay there.

The private shrugged. "Don't know, sir. Ain't seen 'im. But 'e ain't
in there." As the lieutenant started forward, the private said, "Beg
pardon, sir, but the door's locked from within. 'E won't open it for
nobody."

"Bloody Christ!" Archie breathed tiredly. "Styles, break it in."

"Come on, lads," Styles growled, going to the door, "lend a hand
'ere!"

Within a few moments, the men smashed in the door, then stood aside
to let Kennedy enter. Archie braced himself, half-expecting to be
shot, but went in nonetheless. To his surprise, Sidney was standing
calmly in the center of the cabin, clad in his dress uniform, a
splendid figure of gold braid, brocade, silk and lace, with shining
sword at his side.

Archie stopped abruptly, his mouth falling open, his blue eyes wide
in his blood-streaked face. "Sir?" he breathed dazedly.

Sidney regarded the disshevelled, bloodied figure before him with
calm eyes. "You are the new lieutenant, are you not?"

Archie's heart sank at that placid, floating tone; it was the voice
of madness. "Sir, please, the men have mutinied, Resolute is a
battleground-- You must come up and stop it!"

Sidney blinked, then smiled. "Young sir, have you no better uniform
than that--"

"GOD DAMN IT!" Archie shouted, all his pain and frustration exploding
from him. "The men are mutinying! Does that mean nothing to you? How
God damned mad can you be?" He lunged forward and grabbed Sidney's
jacket with both hands, hauling the visibly shocked captain to him.
"Look at me!" he spat through clenched teeth. "Look at me! This is
BLOOD, do you not see it? The men have risen up and are killing each
other! Your ship is awash with blood!"

Sidney stared at the young man for long, long moments through wide,
unblinking eyes, his face slowly losing colour. And all at once, the
shutters of his mind swung open, again admitting reality.

"My God!" he breathed strickenly, raising a shaking hand to the young
lieutenant's face. "My God, what have they done to you?"

Archie released Sidney at that. "Sir, please, you must come up," he
pleaded softly. "They may listen to you-- You are our only hope!"

"Am I?" Sidney whispered. "Then, my God, how low you have sunk--" He
turned away and bowed his head. "You were right, that night," he
murmured. "I did abandon them. And to him, no less. This is all my
fault--"

"Sir, please, we have not the time--"

"I abandoned them, and have disgraced myself," Sidney went on, moving
slowly toward his desk. "I should never have left them-- No true
captain would have. Their blood, and yours, is on my hands."

Archie reached for something on which to support himself, but found
nothing. Before his knees could buckle entirely, however, Styles was
there, holding him, and holding him up. God, he was thirsty!

Sidney stopped at his desk and opened a drawer, staring into it. "You
should never have come here, Lieutenant," he said softly, musingly.
"You and your men should have remained in Indefatigable, where you
were safe."

"A bit late for that, sir," Styles retorted harshly.

"Aye," Sidney sighed, reaching into the drawer. "Too late. Too late
for us all. Where is Thorne, I wonder?" he mused, lifting his hand.

Styles saw what the man held, and swore foully. Archie looked up,
then stiffened. "Sir--"

Sidney turned, holding a beautiful pistol with a careless ease. "For
what I have done to you, young man," he said saidly, gently, "I beg
your pardon. But I fear I cannot help you. I cannot help anyone. I am
not fit to wear the King's uniform. I have abandoned my men and
disgraced myself. And there is no pardon for that."

"No!" Archie cried, tearing himself from Styles' grip and lunging
forward. "God--"

But he was too weak, too slow. With a tragic, beatific smile, Sidney
raised the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger, freeing
himself forever from madness.

"NO!" Archie wailed, falling to his knees as Sidney dropped lifeless
to the deck. "No! Merciful God, no!"

Styles and the Marines stood frozen in place by shock and horror,
their blood gone cold. Unable to think, to breathe, they stared at
the wreckage of Sidney's body, at the hideous mess splattered across
the deck and furnishings, at the bloodied young man slumped and
sobbing beside the corpse.

It was the sight of Kennedy, and the sound of his sobs, that roused
Styles from his stupor and returned the power of thought and movement
to him. On shaking legs he made his way forward and knelt at
Kennedy's side, slipping a strong arm about the young man's bowed and
shaking shoulders and trying not to look at what remained of Sidney.

"Come on, sir," he urged gently, "there's nowt we can do 'ere. We'd
best go above, to the quarter-deck. Likely they'll be needin' us
there."

"We're lost!" Archie whispered weakly. "He was our only hope-- There
is no one else!"

"I don't know about that, sir," Styles said quietly, carefully
helping Kennedy to his feet. "We've one more officer t' look to, an'
'e ain't let us down yet."

Archie raised his head slowly and squinted up, trying to focus his
gaze on Styles, trying to clear his confusion. "You can't mean
Thorne?" he breathed dazedly.

Styles laughed. "No, sir, not 'im," he answered. "But don't you worry
about it, sir. It'll come to ye in a bit!"
**********