The Captain had just stepped onto his platform. This was Clementine’s second most hated object. If Clementine had not come up to speak with the captain, the clueless idiot would have called one of the crew away from a valuable job, probably under the pretense of winding in the kite, which was bad enough, but inevitably he could then become nothing but extra weight, required to allow the captains lifting platform to drop to the main deck. The platform was a simple device counterbalanced by a heavy stone. The weight of two men would allow it to drop where it would be locked in place. When Wellshorn wished to ascend the mass of the stone alone was enough to lift him back to his deck and his ridiculous seat.
Clementine stepped onto the platform and pulled a lever. He was now stood next to his most jaw grinding, gut rotting hate, the Captain.
“Clementine, tell me, how is the feeling among the men?”
They had stepped from the platform and were immediately among the milling crew.
“Not too bad sir. The committee has had more appeals against the current workshop allocation than is usual. Maybe the crew are a little restless”
“I’m sure that recent victory will bolster their spirits, don’t you agree Clementine?”
Clementine looked away, trying to hide any emotion that would rise from that comment. The Native’s ship may have left the port to make a stand, a gesture of resistance if attacked, more likely just to show a presence as the ‘foundry’ passed, but equally it could have been the transport vessel for an emissary. Wellshorn had destroyed them in order to show off. Clementine knew this; however the crew was less inclined to think that way. For Clementine it was a situation which, had he been Captain, he would have handled so very differently. For the Crew it was the chance to fire guns and salvage metal. They were not political thinkers, and neither was the Captain.
Wellshorn broke into Clementine’s thoughts in the way only he could.
“I will talk to one of them” he stopped walking. They stood near the door that led down to the senior chambers at the stern of the ship. Both Clementine’s and Wellshorn’s cabins were located within its confines but when the weather was good Clementine was known, much to the Captain’s distaste, to sleep on deck among the rigging.
A pair of crewmen were gutting fish nearby. A trolley of filleted meat stood to one side and three others were filled with as near as possible selected pieces of what was left over. Some fish bones were usable for immensely fine trigger mechanisms or other intricate parts of the Foundry’s more delicate mechanical equipment. Oils extracted from the waste had numerous uses once refined. Other fatty pieces made fine bait or feed.
“You, man” called the Captain.
There was no response. An embarrassing silence settled between the two senior men as the crewmen continued to split flesh and chat about their new designs.
“……it was only an idea Jack, don’t bite me head off, I’m not suggesting we all wear them. They’d be useful is all I thought”
“Yeah, useful for looking like a tit” the other sneered.
“Hey, Grahams” Clementine barked.
The first speaker, a man with grimy hands, holding a hook shaped knife spun on the spot. “Yessir” he looked directly at Clementine.
A hardly discernible sideways nod from the second in command directed Grahams’ attention to the Captain.
“Oh” He turned a few degrees and snapped into a more formal pose. “Yessir”
A wry smile passed over Clementine’s mouth.
Wellshorn spoke, but as always in these situations his strong belief in his right to command barely disguised his discomfort at person to person interactions. “Man, err, Grahams was it? Well how are things? Hmmm?” the captain had stuck his chest out like he always did.
“Fine cappin.” The fish gutter stuck his chest out too. “Good fish sir, very oily.” he reached behind and grabbed one and proceeded to wave it around in front of Wellshorn. “Only the guts are real stubborn in these, and they taste like puke. Me and jack was saying last week, ‘god these taste like puke’, ‘I bet them in the back aren’t eating this shit’ I said, ‘bet they ‘ave some nice stuff saved’ I said. Didn’t I Jack” he looked back to Jack who was looking a bit grim knowing that Grahams was doing his usual insensitive rant. He could say anything at this point. It mattered nothing that it was the Captain he was speaking to. “Got the shits real bad after eating these” An audible groan came from behind Grahams who continued unabashed, “still they’re good and oily” He took the fish in his left hand and held his right hand up to prove the point
“Grahams!” growled Clementine
“yessir.” He said, accepting the ticking off.
“Anyway sir, sirs.” He said nodding to Clementine, “I had this idea for a new whatsit thingy”, he was gesturing around his middle. Jack groaned again. This time Grahams name was just recognizable from within the guttural sound. Grahams took no notice. “Could be very useful I reckon. I got the plans here.” He reached his hand into his jerkin but then withdrew it, realizing his hands were in no fit state to be in there. “Anyway like I was saying…”
“Grahams, save it for the committee.” Clementine added kindly, “The captain was wondering how you felt the battle went”
“Very slick sir, and we got some good metals an’ stuff. Good job we finished them so quick sir.” He looked back to the Captain “Else they may have been real trouble, yessir, a right nasty looking bunch, big spears and stuff.”
Clementine smiled, he liked this Grahams and he wasn’t too dim, a surprise. The Captain wouldn’t have caught his sarcasm.
* * *
A wail rose above the noise on deck. A voice called from above. “Ship ahoy.” It was natural, yet entirely senseless that most people looked upwards towards the voice where their chances of seeing said ship were minimal at best. Nevertheless it didn’t take long for the crew’s eyes to begin to seek more sensible directions in which to gaze. The Captain had done neither. He had simply turned on his heels and walked back to his deck. Clementine had an excuse to use the stairs instead of the lifting platform this time. It would only lift one person.
They were back near Wellshorn’s chair and only a little sun showed above the horizon to their right. “Captain?” Clementine turned to Wellshorn who was flipping his Seewell MK2 in front of his eyes. “One second Clementine.”
It was now a few hours since they had met, and destroyed the native’s vessel. They had encountered a span of water between two pieces of land. They didn’t know if it was a river or just two landmasses but they were slowing down to assess the situation. There was a heavy boiling fog that had shielded the waterway and they hadn’t wanted to get beached within enemy territory. Clementine drew out a standard retractable telescope and also looked foreword to the approaching ship.
“My god, it’s as big as us” the captain exclaimed looking to Clementine.
He ran to his speaking tube. “Bring me side on and come to a halt, immediately. Keep the rigging poised, bring all starboard weapons to bear, all remaining crew man the rigging and hold position.”
The ship did exactly that, the sails dropped and the rigging loosened. “Sir” a voice piped from the speaking tube “the other ship has done the same, we’re keeping look out”.
This was one situation where Clementine could happily watch the captain work. He was a fast thinker in a tactical situation and seemed to have a knack for warfare. If this ship belonged to the Natives they were in for a fight. However that would only be necessary because the captain’s shoddy politics had made that the inevitable outcome.
The only clue to the opposing ships size came from the tips of the masts that stuck above the fog and an occasional vague suggestion of shape when the screen of thick mist momentarily thinned.
“What are they doing?”
“They appear to be blocking our passage sir, protecting something maybe?”
“Hmmm, I don’t like waiting games! But it would be foolish to rush into that fog; they may be hiding more vessels behind.”
“I agree Captain, but we also can’t remain battle ready all night, the boat will drift unless we drop anchor, and keeping the whole team alert till morning will leave them useless to fight”
“Agreed Clementine, but I need a little time to think, the crew will stay as ordered for now. Order a salinity test of the water, I want to know if that’s a river or not.” Wellshorn sat on his throne and stroked his chin pensively.
Clementine had walked to the front of the ship where some steps led up to the prow. He was leaning on the railing feeling uneasy. The sun had set but in doing so it had made him feel that something was very wrong. It had taken a long while to fathom it out but he had eventually decided that it was due to the light. Somehow it disturbed him. He had painted as a youth and knew about light and how shadows formed. Here the shadows and the sky didn’t seem to match. He turned one hundred and eighty degrees and saw the moon had risen further above the horizon, and then turned further so he looked down the boat, then back to where the occasional deck light and cabin glimmered from the other vessel through the shifting fog. His skin chilled even as the realization was forming in his mind. No, it couldn’t be right. It was impossible. He sprinted back towards the captain’s deck. He passed a basilica team, two men waiting by their large weapon, like an overgrown crossbow, all menacing shadows and taught energy, its thick, fiercely tipped five-foot arrow waiting to fly.
“Prepare a flare and stand by, now” he raced onwards reaching the steps up to the Captain and jumping them 4 at a time.