A new story in my Flash Fiction Project, where Tomas unexpectedly finds himself promoted. Read more in the Gbahn and Archipelago novels, coming soon.
A Gbahn and Archipelago story
Tomas watched Lieutenant Janson fall. He stood at the top of the ladder down into the hold and watched him. “Ha! That’s a funny – that’s a funny…” Janson was never good at finishing a sentence when he had liquor in him. Captain Goodhart had stopped inviting his first lieutenant to dinner, and Tomas was sure it was to keep the man away from the captain’s wine.
But the cook in the galley and the foremast hands in the mess didn’t have the authority to keep Janson away from their grog, and so the lieutenant was drunk. “You remember that, don’t you, Daybreak?” he babbled as he stumbled backward out of the galley. “That funny thing with the dog. Wasn’t it? Something about dog watch. Four in the afternoon. You hear me, Daybreak? Lieutenant Tomas Daybreak. How did you make lieutenant again? Did that mother of yours bed an admiral?”
Tomas tried not to let the color come up in his face. He had no idea how he’d made lieutenant, how he’d passed the examination, how he’d even been called to take it in the first place. When his humors were high it didn’t matter – he could laugh at anyone who called him Lieutenant Whore’s-son and promise to best him in any fight. When his humors were low he was convinced the world had made a terrible error and only throwing himself over the gunwale and into the sea would rectify it. At the moment he wasn’t sure where his humors were. He only knew that he had to keep Janson from getting into trouble.
He couldn’t say why, though. Tomas would think back to that moment, just before Janson fell through the hatch, and wonder why he’d been there at all. Had he thought that saving the man from doing something foolish, breaking into the captain’s cabin with a drunken rant or getting into a fight and earning himself a court-martial, would finally prove Tomas worthy of his rank? Something like that must have been in his mind. Something must have distracted him so he didn’t notice the open hatch or Janson’s foot stumbling right into it. The only alternative – that he did see the hatch and willfully failed to warn Janson in time, in hopes of his own promotion – was too terrible to consider even in the depths of his melancholy.
Janson’s shout roused the men from the mess and the other officers from the gunroom, but they weren’t there in time to see Janson’s face break suddenly from a coarse laugh to a surprised blankness, or his arms fly out in no sensible direction, seeking purchase from nothing. They didn’t see Tomas hesitate too long to even try to lunge and catch the first lieutenant. All they saw was Tomas, belatedly raising his arms in the direction of the open hatch, his face white and horrified.
Someone edged toward the hatch and peered down, let out a thin laugh. “Well, that’s good riddance, isn’t it?” he murmured, too low to be clearly heard and thereby accused of insubordination. Then the man raised his voice and looked at Tomas. “Looks like you’ve got a promotion, Lieutenant Daybreak. You’re our new first.”
Sometime later, after the surgeon summoned a few men and a lot of rope to haul Janson out of the hold where he fell, and Tomas reported the matter to Captain Goodhart, he would feel the rise of his humors, the delirious passion that always came when he swung upward. He would be acting first lieutenant, second only to the captain himself, and he would imagine countless ways that he might take the great man’s place and sail into victory. But as he stepped back from the hatch, back from the men who came to see what had happened, back into the shadows, he knew differently. He knew his imagination was a liar, and that joy would never last.
© 2013 Michelle M. Welch