keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 8: Kondor 44
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 7: Hastings 46
Doctor Evan was pleased with the help; Kondor got the grand tour of the medical section and the kitchen, and was immediately helping with dinner (since of course the doctor on such a ship is the cook). There were already three assistants working with medicine and meals, but they all welcomed the extra hand.
A fresh hammock was strung for him, and he got a tour of the ship. The kitchen was filthy, and the medical bay considerably less sanitary than he would have liked. He began cleaning everything, drawing buckets of sea water and boiling them down to concentrate the salts, and then mixing soap into it for an antibacterial cleaning solution. With this he scrubbed down both rooms. Evan said they could get the deck hands to clean, but Kondor replied that he didn't mind doing it himself to assure it was done right.
Soon he was into the routine. He volunteered to be part of the breakfast crew, as he didn't mind rising before daybreak to organize food for the crew, as long as he didn't have to stay up late cleaning the dinner dishes. Although medical wasn't manned around the clock as it had been on the spaceship, there were only a few hours between the end of cleanup sometime after midnight and the start of breakfast before dawn. By volunteering to be first up, a job no one wanted, he was never left as last man at night, and so maintained a regular schedule. Still, the days were long. He was always working from before the sun rose until after it set, but for a few breaks to feed himself. Actual medical treatment of crew members was rare, usually amounting to the occasional rope burn for a deck hand or cuts and bruises earned by the shipwrights making repairs.
However, he hadn't been on board long enough to meet everyone before the daily routine was disrupted.
He was in the midst of washing tables following the end of lunch when someone suddenly came to the doorway and shouted, "All hands on deck! It's a whirlpool!"
Kondor didn't see that whether he was above deck or below made any difference facing a whirlpool. If the ship went down, he would go with it; he had no talents to keep it afloat or steer it away. If the captain thought it would be better to have extra hands on deck, though, he would see what he could do. Besides, that man who just called him–well, he was more muscled, and he had a scar on his left cheek, but otherwise he looked exactly like Walters, the best friend Kondor had when he was on that other Mary Piper floating in space. If this man was some alternate world version of that man, he wanted to meet him. He dropped his washrag into the bucket, and rushed toward the hatch.
The top deck was bustling with activity. Pilots, navigators, and engineers were all working with the deck hands to man the sails, while the Chief Pilot held the rudder control and shouted orders. Somewhere above the masts another voice called from the crow's nest, and different flags extended from arms indicating the direction of the center of the hole in the water and the recommended course correction.
At this moment, pointing toward the whirlpool seemed a bit redundant. You could see it from the rail; you could certainly see it from the wheelhouse on the aftcastle. It was a great hole in the surface of the water, sucking foam and debris into itself. Despite every muscle straining and every brow sweating on a score of men, they were arcing toward it ever so slowly. Mercifully there was a strong wind, and the ship was both square and lateen rigged so they could take full advantage of it. They were off course, certainly, but long before they reached the edge of the hole they would be past it, like a satellite in orbit. If they could get enough speed when the wind was behind them they could, in theory, pull away. Stanis was a brilliant pilot; if it could be done, he could do it.
Someone threw Kondor the end of a rope and yelled, "Pull," so he pulled. The sails were adjusted as the heavy rope lengthened in his hands. The mainsails now had the wind behind them, and were pushing them forward faster. They were out of it.
There was a shout from the bow. "Man overboard!" Kondor saw someone in the water, coming up fast. There was no time to think. He threw the end of the rope around his chest and made a stab at tying a bowline, then leapt from the side barely in time to catch the man as the ship sailed forward. He tried to remember his lifesaving skills, all the swimming lessons he had taken at the Y, the summers as a lifeguard saving money for the college he never attended, and got his arm across the unconscious man's chest. Abruptly his line ran out, and the rope jerked painfully under his arms; but he held his man.
He was being dragged along by the ship, banging into the sides at the water line; he got several mouthfuls of water. But suddenly he realized that the rope was lifting up. He was being pulled out of the water. He tightened his grip on the drowning victim, and soon they were dangling in the air, rising swiftly toward the rail above. A dozen hands reached over and took his burden from him, and then several more helped him over the rail. He collapsed onto his hands and knees, coughing and sputtering; the other was lying motionless on his back a few feet away. Several people were congratulating him, others calling him an idiot. In the midst of it all he heard someone say, "It's Walter!"
Another voice added, "He's dead!"
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #74: Another Novel. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: