Chapter Forty-Four: A Kiss And Some CoffeeCaptured French warship Effrayant, site of up-time Poste de Flacq, Mauritius
The kiss ended delicately, its initial passion consumed and resolved into a lingering sweetness as their lips reluctantly broke contact. Pam blinked at Torbjörn's smiling eyes. She was trembling, excited, happy, and half-frightened out of her wits. Did I do it right? It's been so long! Her mind raced, feeling an echo of youthful panic. He held her a moment longer to give her a reassuring squeeze, an unspoken "Yes, that was a good kiss. I wanted it, too." Pam started a garbled apology for being so forward, but Torbjörn gently shushed her.
"Don't fret, lovely Pam, don't question this moment. We have much to talk about, and there will be time. For now I know we all have a great deal of work to do, much of it sad. Go lead your people, they need you. I will be here with the bosun, at your service when you want me. " He looked at her, checking to see if she was really going to be all right.
She laughed shyly and nodded, grateful for his tender encouragement.
"All right then, my captain! See you later." His smile was bright, stunning.
Pam squeezed him back before releasing him, and then laughed, a happy sound in the morning breeze.
"All right, then. I'll see you later. Count on it." She favored him with a very big smile, a stunner she saved only for special occasions, and the stopping power of it made him laugh, too.
"I shall be counting the minutes." The tall Swedish captain of lost Redbird, recently resurrected from the roll-call of the dead, bowed and strode over to the far side of the warship to join the bosun, who, once the kissing had started, had found some critical flaw in the warship's rigging that needed his utmost attention.
Pam grinned as she watched them for a moment, then walked back down the gangplank to the dock. She would have skipped if she hadn't been afraid it would lead to a nasty fall. There were still bloodstains on the rough planks and she was reminded of the mayhem they had created just the day before. It already seemed as if a century had passed, as if it had all happened to someone else a long time ago, or maybe she had just read it in a book. It wasn't the first time that Pam had felt this way, and she doubted it would be the last. Was that really Pamela Grace Miller, failed housewife, obsessive bird-watcher, and dorky scientist, now out sailing around the Indian Ocean, kissing Swedish sea captains, ordering cannons fired, and sending men (and women, alas!) to their deaths?
She closed her eyes tightly and opened them again. Apparently it was, as she stared at the convincing bulk of the formerly French warship, Effrayant looming beside her, a powerful enemy ship that she had, she felt quite cleverly, engineered the capture of. If not for her crazy plans there would have been a much greater loss of life, and that comforted her somewhat. Still, too many friends had died. Another part of it was just dumb luck, she had since learned that the Effrayant had not been carrying a full complement of soldiers, and she intended to find out why. She took a long look at the vessel, admiring its majestic size and shark-like beauty. It was a killing machine, one of the deadliest this century had. It was by no means the largest kind of warship extant in the day, but this light frigate was well-armed, fast and deadly, more than a match for merchants and able to give the average enemy warship a good drubbing.
Pam had since learned that the name Effrayant meant "Fearsome," and it fit the beast. It had downed pretty Redbird without breaking a sweat and had beat poor Muskijl nearly to a pulp. She thought the appellation "Fearsome" probably applied to her too. It fit her well, in fact. "All in a bloody day's work for Captain Pam, she-devil of the southern seas," she mumbled, shaking her head in wonder at what strange fortunes had brought her to be at the center of events such as these. "Time travel," she muttered darkly. "Not recommended for the faint of heart. Check your expectations at the portal, and hang on to your sanity." Pam stalked off down the dock toward the flag ship of her growing fleet, the gaily painted Chinese junk they had dubbed Second Chance Bird, in search of that sure-fire slice of sanity only a good breakfast could provide.
The decks of her ship were quiet, her men still sleeping off their hurts, both physical and mental. Still, there were signs of activity. As could be expected she found Dore in her galley. Her tireless friend was busy pulling out all the stops as she prepared a particularly mighty breakfast of the kind that could satisfy a hungry band of heroes who had more than earned that pleasure.
She smiled as Pam came in, and silently handed her a cup of coffee. Pam nodded her thanks, and sat down in an out of the way corner on an ornately carved Chinese kitchen stool, painted in crimson lacquer.
Pam took a few sips of the hot, bitter brew. She herself had harvested the purple and yellow beans from the slopes of a mountain in the island's south. They grew wild there, presumably a native species. It was good coffee, with a rich, bitter flavor that would give any Columbia grown variety a run for its money. While it cooled, she inhaled its dark aroma, oxygen to a Himalayan climber. As she finished the cup, Dore arrived with a refill, her timing impeccable as always. Reality began to come back into focus as Dore's familiar movements and the delicious cooking smoke of the galley worked with the caffeine to clear her head.
"That sure smells good!" she told Dore, now that she had paused from her fix long enough to have gotten a whiff of the delights breakfast was destined to hold.
"The French ship had bacon, eggs and bread! Real bread, baked only yesterday! Please ask your French doctor to identify their cook. I can make use of his talents if he will behave properly and work for me. I have more mouths to feed now; he would be useful."
"I'll make that happen." Pam marveled briefly that along her bizarre and convoluted way, she had become someone who could say that and mean it. Neither of them mentioned that Dore's last assistant cook had been killed in action. It would be a day of funerals, but for now the two friends both needed to simply exist in the comfort and warmth of a civilized kitchen, forgetting for a while that they were on the bottom side of the world, and that it was spinning faster than they might have preferred. If Pam closed her eyes she could picture her little red and white tiled kitchen in her little pink house in Grantville, back home in Germany. She laughed aloud at that last thought. Germany is home now? Dore looked over to see what was so funny, but Pam just waved her mug and asked for more coffee.
Chapter Forty-Five: Therapy Session
Pam finished her fourth cup of coffee and felt remarkably better despite the sleepless night. There was no doubt she would either need to go take a nap around noon or be found passed out in her tracks somewhere. The exhaustion of the day before would exact its toll one way or the other. For now she felt buzzed and bright-eyed and needed something to do. The door to Pers' sickroom was just down the hall and she heard voices coming from within, so she hurried over to see what was going on. She found the bosun and the doctor standing over the poor boy's bed, quietly discussing his condition in English, the language the two of them shared. They both nodded politely to Pam as she joined them.
"How's he doing today?" Pam asked Doctor Durand as she put her hand gently on Pers' forehead. His skin felt cool, and she thought she could see a bit more color on his cheeks than the day before, but his expression was still slack, the face of one deep in dream.
The doctor took Pers by the wrist to feel his pulse. He allowed a small smile to curl between his fancily mustachioed lip and pointy brown beard. Streaks of gray could be seen in both, as well as in his long sideburns. Pam found him handsome in a weird kind of way, but pushed that thought aside quickly.
"A little better, perhaps, Capitaine Pam. You can see his color is returning, and his pulse is a bit stronger. He moved his legs around some earlier, which is a good sign. We must simply wait and see."
The French doctor kept his expression positive, but Pam could still see the doubt in the man's gentle, perhaps perpetually dark-circled brown eyes.
"I've heard that it helps to talk to a patient in a coma, to tell them to wake up and come back to us," Pam said, tentatively. The doctor only raised his eyebrows but the bosun, whose face was amazingly long for one so round and ruddy as his, brightened a little.
"Here, let me try," the bosun said, his voice trembling a little. He plainly feared greatly for the boy who had been injured while following orders he himself had issued, a boy he quietly doted on even as he frogmarched him around the deck from one duty to the next. "Pers! Pers, it's the bosun. I'm sorry you're not feeling good, but you need to wake up now." There was no sign from Pers' slack face that he had heard. The bosun looked over to Pam pleadingly.
Pam had an idea. "You're doing it wrong. Talk to him like you would when he's awake. You know, order him around a bit! Give him a good shout!"
The bosun looked somewhat taken aback at the surprising suggestion, but then smiled at what he considered must be his captain's great wisdom. Shouting was one of his strong suits. Doctor Durand had an alarmed look on his face, he was just about to say something when the bosun charged ahead with the new plan.
"Right!" he said and flashed her a dark yellow, but still shiny grin. He bent down over the unconscious youth's dreaming face and let loose in a voice like thunder: "You! Boy! Get your lazy ass out of the sack Pers, and get to work! We haven't got all day, so move it! I want you on deck NOW!"
The resounding shout in the cabin's close quarters made everybody jump, and Pam was certain she had detected a jerk in Per's lanky frame, a sign that he had at least sensed the bosun's voice on some level.
"Good!" Pam clapped the bosun on the back, "I saw him twitch!"
"As he should, I run a clean deck and everyone does their share!" He looked down at Pers with hope in his eyes. "I hope he heard me. I really hope he did. Wake up, my boy, wake up!"
Doctor Durand stood staring at them as if they were both utterly mad.
"Excellent!" he proclaimed abruptly. "What a wonderful new therapy! We must write a treatise on its wondrous effects for all the physicians of Europe to share! Now, if you will both please leave, I will attend to my patient in restful silence!" The good doctor's deep voice rang with that special tone that only the best doctors, teachers and chefs seemed able to produce, a tone that made even the bosun jump quickly to his order. "Out!" he added, just to be sure he had been understood, but no further urging was necessary.
Pam couldn't help but laugh as she and the bosun tried to squeeze out of the narrow cabin door at the same time in their effort to remove themselves from the doctor's way. Once they got that sorted out, Pam closed the door quickly on what she was sure was a stream of muttered French curses emanating from the good doctor. They fled to the upper deck, still very worried about their young friend, but also feeling a bit more hopeful for his recovery than they had before.
Chapter Forty-Six: A Private Consultation
Earlier that morning, the remains of the African slavers had been gathered up and burned without ceremony on the beach, as far down the shore from the settlement as they could get. Around nine in the morning when the tide was right, and with Pam's permission, the French fallen were taken out to the open waters beyond the bay aboard the Annalise, to be buried at sea in the style of their country. Those proceedings were overseen by Doctor Durand and his small group of French parolees, under the respectful, but careful, watch of Swedish sailors and marines. When he returned, Pam was waiting for him.
"Doctor Durand, I'd like to have a word with you, if you please."
"With pleasure, Capitaine Pam," he replied with a polite bow.
"In my quarters if you please. It's cooler there." She turned to the four Swedish marines from the Muskijl assigned to accompany the small contingent of French parolees. She would have to learn all their names at some point, for now she smiled and gestured to them for attention, which they gave with military snap. Choosing the fellow she was pretty sure ranked highest, she gave her orders. "Korpral, is it?"
"Yes, Kapten Pam." The man was still thin from his captivity but now well armed and eager to please. Pam was glad to see confidence returning to the freed captives already.
"Good man. Korpral, please take your men down to the galley and ask Frau Dore to provide them with lunch for yourselves and the Frenchmen in your charge. Once you have all eaten, give our French guests the liberty of the Second Chance Bird's main deck to stretch out in. I shall be up in my cabin conferring with Doctor Durand."
The korpral nodded, but looked concerned. "Would you like one of us to accompany you and stand guard?"
"Thank you, but that won't be necessary. Doctor Durand has proven himself a gentleman so far, and if he should prove otherwise I will shoot his brains out." She pointed her chin toward the now notorious Smith and Wesson.38 caliber holstered on her belt; everyone was well aware that she had killed eight men with it, and were suitably impressed. The doctor gulped and looked a bit pale, but maintained his composure. "So, don't worry," Pam assured him, "I'll be fine. Have a good lunch and get some rest."
"Yes, ma'am!" The korpral saluted her along with his men, and led his group toward the galley.
"Right this way, Doctor." She motioned toward the ladder to the castle decks. He seemed to hesitate at going before a lady, but must have recalled that his situation was still a bit tenuous, and thinking of Pam's pistol, he went first, not making any sudden moves.
The doctor was quite impressed by the eastern opulence of Pam's quarters. "I see the wealth of the Orient is not exaggerated. You say this ship likely belonged to a merchant, but this suite is appointed like that of a prince!"
"It's pretty swanky, yes." She wasn't sure he knew what "swanky" meant but the doctor nodded in polite agreement anyway. "Here, have a seat, you must be as tired as I am." They both settled into comfortably stuffed chairs at the broad, mahogany table she used as her desk. The doctor was visibly pleased as he settled into the satin cushions.
"Ahh, such luxury. Thank you for your kind hospitality."
"It is I who owe you thanks, Doctor Durand. Without your help, a lot more of my people would have died last night. You will be remembered as a hero by this colony, not as an enemy."
"That is good to hear. I hope they will not judge all the French by the gross injustices perpetrated by Leonce Toulon de Aquitane and his bandits. I was as much a slave as the Swedes were, although I didn't suffer nearly so awfully. Still, I am glad to have my freedom again, or at least what freedom you can grant until I completely earn your trust, Capitaine." He smiled at her then, a sincere smile full of understanding and patience.
Pam couldn't help but like the man, and really had to admit that he was kind of sexy. If hunky Torbjörn hadn't made his miraculous appearance when he did, this guy might have been in trouble . . . . The thought made her blush and she laughed softly to cover it. "I trust you, Durand, but I have to give the Swedes some more time before I let you and your trustees loose. You understand, I hope?"
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