A Ship of Heaven?
by Patrick G Cox
Our gun was loaded, run up and ready. Mister Heron, our Midshipman, and the Powder Monkey Danny stood beside me. Mister Heron was bending to look out through the gun port and gauge the best moment to give the order to fire when there was a strange high pitched noise unlike any I had heard before. It came at the exact moment that Mister Heron gave the order.
I saw the lanyard jerk taut, saw the flintlock snap, saw the spark strike the pan – then darkness engulfed me! A brief moment of light and I was tumbling into a vast open and well lit space. Then came the impact with the deck and pain as my arm broke, and a split second later, the senses knocked from me as two more bodies landed upon me. I was dead, oh I knew it, yet my body was shot through with pain and the weight of someone lying across me. I prayed in pain, ‘Oh Jesus have mercy upon my soul! I have not confessed, have pity on a youth who has done his best, let my stay in purgatory be brief!’
I must have fainted for I next remember the ministrations of two strangers, a man and a woman, who took the pain from my arm with some miraculous infusion. Angels ministering to me! ‘Oh thank you Lord Jesus, but spare my friends Master Harry and little Danny, they too are good and not deserving of damnation.’ I drifted away again into darkness, praying, ‘Let me be among my friends, oh Sacred Jesus, in heaven or in purgatory!’
As the darkness closed in on me again, I heard Master Harry’s voice arguing with some other person out of my sight and by his tone I could hear he was standing on our defense. The darkness closed about me.
I know not how long it was before I came once more to my senses, but now I was imprisoned in some coffin-like device. That I was no longer on the Spartan was all too plain, since nowhere below her decks was there such light as this, nor yet such sweet air! Even my head was fixed by the enclosure so that all I could see was the deckhead above me, but almost immediately when I opened my eyes a man’s face entered my view.
“Steady youngster,” he said in a strangely accented English. “You’re in a Med Unit and you’ll be fine. Don’t fight it, just relax and let it do its job.”
“Sir,” I protested, “I know not what it is that you do to me, or what this medunit is that you speak of. Only let me out sir and let my officer speak for me!” I caste my eyes about as much as this all too intimate prison permitted. Clearly I must be taken for dead and my body prepared for burial, but the man’s next speech checked my racing thoughts.
“He’s with the Captain at the moment, but you will definitely see him and talk to him when he gets back. Now then, you seem to be fully recovered so we can get you up and dressed.” He moved aside adding with a smile, “And while I get you disconnected, you can talk to your shipmate here!”
“’Ere Ferghal,” the voice of young Danny preceded his face as he peered into mine. “I’m right glad you’re awake again. Mister Her’n said I was to look out for ye, but what could I do? These Frenchies had you tight in this…”—he searched for a word—“chest an’ I couldn’t even see whut they was up to!”
“Easy Danny,” came the voice of the man again from near my feet, “you’ll see him out in a minute.”
I grinned up at Danny’s anxious visage, relieved to see a face I knew, and said softly, “Easy Danny, easy. Where are we? I knew not the French had such ships as this!”
“Them as are with us says it be a ship, but it is naught like any ship I’ve seen,” whispered Danny. “But Mister Her’n says we are to await his return and do as they tells us for now.” He frowned, “Mind, they made me shower and scrub all over, near on drownded me too!”
The man laughed, returning to my line of sight. “And you made sure that I got as much of the water as you did you little devil,” he exclaimed.
“Please sir,” I asked puzzled, for although his speech was familiar to my ears, it sounded strangely and some of his words were not of the familiar English as I was used to speak it, “where are we? Is this place Purgatory?”
“Purgatory?” the man frowned, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a place. Is that a new planet colony somewhere?” He shook his head, and continued, “Never mind, you’re aboard the NECS Vanguard, outbound for Pangaea, though how you chaps got aboard at all is a mystery. You dropped into our hangar decks and landed rather badly.” He smiled again, “Unfortunately for you, the others landed on you, so you took all the punishment and they got the soft landing.”
“I understand you not sir,” I said slowly. “You say this is a ship and not Purgatory. So we are alive? And how is it that we,” I hesitated, then used his phrase, ”’dropped into’ a sword deck?”
“Sword deck? You landed in our hangar decks, you know, where we stow our interceptors when they aren’t being flown. As for your being alive, of course you are – or we have a serious malfunction in the Med Unit because it says you’re as alive as you can be. Your arm will take a little while to fully recover though, you broke it in two places when you arrived and although the bones are now nicely rejoined, it will take a few more weeks for them to be fully recovered.” He looked at me with a strange expression, “Now, I’m going to release the lid of the Med Unit, don’t try to get out on your own, I’ll lower it a bit and tilt it so that Danny can help you to get up and then you can have a shower and get dressed in the clothes we have for you.”
I was determined not to show my unease at this speech since I had no knowledge of the places or things he had spoken of, nor yet could I understand the manner of this strange ship, its bulkheads gleaming softly in even light from the deckhead which appeared to be a smoked glass. The air too was different, no trace of the stench of animals or men, instead a perfume I could not identify seemed to fill my nose now that I was paying attention again to my surroundings. Strange devices sat against the bulkheads and the strangest of all was the one that held me. Lights – or to my eyes red, yellow, blue and green stars flickered across strange machines unlike any I had ever seen, all this coming into my view as the device slowly sank lower and then tilted towards my feet. It stopped, apparently on the command of the stranger who now caused the top of the device to swing up and clear away from me.
Danny eagerly reached to help me out of the strange machine as I first sat up and then tried to swing my legs clear of the side. To my surprise and embarrassment I found I was completely naked and that it was not easy to rise from this prison, although my body showed no bruises and even some of the small hurts I had suffered before this strange displacement had now healed. Once clear of it, I could take stock of my surroundings and they were even more disquieting now that I could see all. No wonder Danny was so agitated and pleased to see me awake, but I saw too that he was now very smartly turned out in new white trousers, stockings, shoes with silver buckles, a striped shirt with a blue jacket over it and a black necktie knotted around his neck. Before I could ask about this new start the man interrupted us.
“Right youngster,” the grinning man came round the machine and now I could see that he wore a uniform unlike any I knew, but he held out a large fleece-like cloth to me and several flasks, saying, “this way and you can have a decent shower and clean up. Then we can get you properly rigged up before your Midshipman gets back.”
“You’ll not be going to drowned Ferghal mister,” shot Danny, jumping between me and the advancing man.
“No I’m not,” laughed the man, “I haven’t got another clean uniform to change into at the moment, so you can show him how it all works kid.”
“Easy Danny,” I pulled him aside and took the offered cloth. To the man I said, “If there is a deck pump I can wash readily enough at that and Danny can swing the handle for me if you will but show me its location sir.”
“Deck pump?” the man looked surprised. “You don’t need that! Here you can use the ablution unit through there and take a decent shower. Come on Danny, show your friend the way please and how to work all the equipment. You can do that can’t you? Or were you too busy fighting me to see?”
Danny flushed scarlet and said, “I doesn’t know how it is done Ferghal, but I’ll show you whut ‘e done to make it work.”
I caught the man’s wink over Danny’s head and felt easier, so I said to Danny, “Then show me this shower Danny and let me be doing with it.”
Reluctantly Danny led me to a door set in the bulkhead, approaching with some caution and jumped aside with a squeak when it suddenly slid open as we neared it. The opening revealed a small chamber that seemed, like that in which we stood, to be windowless and lined with some metal. It contained a commode, a small basin of some sort fixed to the bulkhead and a further screen that Danny identified as the shower. Excitedly, and apparently forgetful of his fear, Danny showed me how to obtain water in the basin and the wonders of the commode which cleared itself. Then he showed me the shower. I made use of the commode, but having no provision for a wet rope tail with which to wipe myself, I had to be satisfied with attempting to use the papers provided by a small aperture in the bulkhead. I marveled at the device as it cleaned itself, clearing all in the process and turned my attention to the ‘shower’ aware that it seemed to be expected that I should use it.
“Show me again, how this shower is made to work,” I asked Danny while standing within the chamber as he had told me I must.
“You have to say to the bulkhead the magic words,” said Danny seriously. “You say ‘Computer, water on’ to start it and then ‘Computer, water off’ to make it cease.”
As he said the ‘magic’ words, the water came on, pleasantly warm and sprayed over me, and at the second command, ceased as suddenly! I recovered from my surprise and said, “Thank you Danny, stand from under now so I can take this shower properly.” I gave the command and the water sluiced over me. I do not know when I have ever had so pleasant a sensation; the water was soft, sweet and warm. The tiny streams seemed to make my skin glow with pleasure and I applied the washing lotion over my head, shoulders and body generously. When finally I commanded the water to cease and stepped from the shower it felt as if I had been completely reborn.
“Good show,” the waiting man said as soon as I emerged from the ablution chamber. “The Surgeon Commander said to get you dressed in these. He and your Mid are on their way back from the Captain and will be here soon.”
I accepted the neatly folded pile of clothes he handed to me, aware that it was now some time since I had last eaten, and asked carefully, “Sir, are we prisoners aboard your ship?”
“Prisoners?” the man looked shocked. “No, no. Not that I am aware of anyway.” He gave me a strange look and, noticing that I was uncertain of the clothes, asked, “Is everything all right with the clothes. Did we get the sizes right?”
“Yes sir,” I responded, “but these are very fine – I cannot pay the Purser for them and I cannot call upon Mister Heron to do so. Can I not have my own clothes?”
“But these are yours.” Again the man seemed surprised by my concern. “And you don’t have to pay for them, they’re drawn from our stores on your issue card.”
“Are we then to be part of your ship’s crew sir?”
“I haven’t the faintest youngster, but I do know that if the Surgeon Commander says I get you togged up in those, then I do it!” He laughed. “Better get cracking though, because he’ll be here any minute now.”
Reluctantly I dressed in these fine new clothes, uncertain of the import of being so smartly attired. Surely I could not already be chosen to man the Captain’s gig on this strange ship whose very hull moved not at all to the motion of the seas she rode. Ship they called this vessel, yet beyond the faintest sensation in the deck beneath my bare feet, there was neither pitch nor roll, nor yet any sound from without this chamber. No opening gave view of sea or sky, yet the light was as good as that on a soft morning in County Down with the sun bright upon the hillsides. And the air remained sweet – no noisome smell of the bilges, or of the beasts carried, doubtless, in her mangers somewhere. No scent of tobacco, or of rum, no smell of the galley fire either. What manner of ship this could be I could not envisage.
Perhaps she was indeed a ship of the damned and we rode upon some submarine sea in which neither motion or sight beyond the ship could be experienced. But, I reflected, if Master Harry were here as well we would at least experience this together and find our way out of this or any other trouble. I joined Danny on a seat against the bulkhead and watched as the man busied himself in the task of returning the ‘medunit’ as he termed it to a state of readiness for future use.
I felt a great surge of relief when the door opened and an officer in the same strange uniform entered with Master Harry, now very smartly attired, as if new from the tailors, and sprang to my feet, the wide brimmed straw hat clutched in my hands before me. I hauled Danny to his feet as well, he being overawed by our surroundings enough to forget his manners. Knowing Master Harry as I did, I saw that his smile told of his relief to see us.
“Well Ferghal,” grinned Harry, “I see you are already promoted? The Captain did not mention his appointing you to his gig crew, so I must surmise that this is something in recognition of your talents!”
I returned his smile, saying in response, “Aye Master Harry, they have done similar for you I think – or should! If my Da’ could but see me now, he’d be bursting with pride I’m thinking!”
“And so he should,” grinned Harry. “You’ll make Admiral before we know it.”
“Please sor,” Danny piped at Harry, “be I in the Captain’s gig wit’ Ferghal?”
“I know not Danny, but if opportunity serves, I shall ask!” Harry laughed and in my mind came the image of the small boy perched on a thwart and handling a long oar – and the consequences! Many years later I would learn that Master Harry had had the same thought.
Master Harry turned to the newcomer and asked, “Surgeon Commander Myers, I believe you already know Ferghal O’Connor and Daniel Gun, but perhaps not yet formally?”
“Thanks Mister Heron,” drawled the man he had addressed with a smile. “I am very glad to make their acquaintance properly.” He stood back and watched while Master Harry told us of his discussions with the Captain and the surprising information that this ship’s commander was a relative of his, but finally he interrupted to say, “Now then lads, I expect you are hungry and possibly tired, I know that I am. Come with me and we’ll get some food. Then I’ll show you to your bunks so you can settle down and get some sleep – tomorrow there will be a lot of people who want to talk to you and you’ll need to be rested I think. You’re all still my patients for now, so let’s go!”
“Thank you sir,” smiled Harry, “I am certainly looking forward to some dinner, and I’m sure Ferghal and Danny will need some as well.”
A truer word he could not have said, not even in jest! This ship held many surprises yet in store for us, but with a full stomach a man may face anything, and especially if he is with his shipmates and trusted one’s at that. The future seemed suddenly a less worrisome prospect.
© 2007 Patrick G. Cox
This story originally posted as "Displaced In Time" at Dodgeblogium on May 7, 2007.
Reprinted with permission.
Patrick G. Cox spent thirty-six years in the fire and emergency services, reaching a senior position and rank. He has published a book on Marine fire protection, several technical papers, and speaks at conferences on Fire and Explosion Investigation. He lives in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, UK, is divorced and has three grown children. He writes fiction for fun but would like to focus more attention on it now that he has more time to do so. Patrick blogs under the pseudonym The Gray Monk.
If you would like to know the full story of Harry and his friend Ferghal O’Connor, then read Cox's "Out of Time" (BlogCritics review by Marty Dodge), sample chapters can be found here. And watch for their subsequent adventures in the sequel "The Enemy is Within" which is currently being considered by a publisher.
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