Second Captain’s report: While delivering medicine in Oritish, a Gegmun assassin snuck aboard and stabbed Captain Joseph Baxtor through the chest while he was sleeping in his quarters. Although it’s through his heart and he seems to be in great discomfort, he’s still alive, although unconscious. The assassin has been thrown in the brig and refuses to talk other than to say, ‘Let this be an example to all who would cross the Gegmun.’
“By any reasonable standard, he should be long since dead. I can’t explain it, except that there’s obviously something very strange about the dagger in his chest,” said Sinclair Foran, standing next to the captain’s body and addressing the assembled officers. The captain’s bed clothes had been ripped away from his upper body and the dagger embedded in him flickered in and out of existence.
The captain had stopped tossing and lay still, breathing shallowly.
“Can we try to get any additional information from the assassin?” asked Sinclair.
“He’s quite tight-lipped,” said Frank Ward, looking at the Captain in concern. “Gegmun assassins view it as a mark of honor to deliver a message after their kill, then to resist torture.”
Radiance moved closer to the Captain. “Similar to when we confronted the Gegmun ship, I’m getting a vague sense of what is happening,” he said. Placing his hand on the Captain’s chest, next to the knife, he continued. “His thoughts are moving backward in time. I feel that he just re-lived his experiences when we investigated the dead world adjacent to Swivox. He felt great remorse over the lost men and injuries the landing party sustained.”
“That wasn’t his fault,” said Henry Cook.
“Quiet,” ordered Frank Ward. “Continue, Radiance.”
“I feel him approaching another point in his life. I’m going to try to join him in the experience and help him navigate it,” said the ship’s elementalist.
“No, you aren’t,” said Frank Ward. “Tell me what to do and I’ll try to help him. You’re more use to us here trying to figure out what’s happening.”
“Hold his hand and focus your thoughts on your time with him,” instructed Radiance.
Standing next to the Captain, trying to follow Radiance’s instructions, Frank Ward suddenly found himself back in an earlier time.
* * *
Frank Ward saw Joseph Baxtor and himself standing on a plain, in front of a group of eighteen marines. The men looked around, suspiciously. Frank remembered their visit to Arkus, where they were tricked into a meeting that Joseph Baxtor cautioned against, which turned out to be an ambush.
“Watch out,” shouted the younger Frank Ward, as he jumped in front of then second captain Baxtor, drawing his rapier. A hail of arrows fell on the group and Ward whipped his rapier around him, faster than could be seen with the naked eye. Deflected arrows flicked away from the two men, until the attack ended.
“That was incredible, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Joseph Baxtor, staring at, then third captain, Frank Ward in awe.
“I imagine our men are less impressed,” said Frank Ward, nodding at the eighteen bodies surrounding them. A howl was heard and a group of thirty men on horseback, with bows slung over the shoulders, came over a ridge and rode hard towards the two men.
“I think we’re about to be captured and tortured Mr Ward, perhaps it would be best to prepare yourself for that,” said Joseph Baxtor.
Handing the future captain a purple sash, Frank Ward said, “Put this on. I’m going to lose myself in what I’m about to do and I may attack you unless you’re wearing this.” After handing over the sash, the younger Frank Ward slipped into the nearby underbrush, moving towards the approaching riders.
The scene shifted around him and Frank Ward looked across the familiar deck on the Pegasus. Second Captain Joseph Baxtor and Third Captain Frank Ward were talking to Captain Jackson. The older Ward walked over and examined his younger self.
“You were late for another shift, Ward,” said Captain Jackson. “And your uniform isn’t being properly maintained. You’re good at some parts of the job, I’m not denying that, but you make a real dog’s breakfast of other parts. That’s the truth. I need you to pull up your socks.”
“I’m sorry sir, it won’t happen again,” said the younger Ward, knowing it wasn’t true. The older Ward put his hand out to touch his younger self and his hand passed through his shoulder.
“The next step is going to be a dishonorable discharge,” continued Captain Jackson, “so you might want to get ready for that.” The Captain looked at Frank Ward with disappointment and said, “Dismissed.”
After the younger Ward left, Second Captain Baxtor said, “Might that have been a little harder than you need to be, sir?” said Joseph Baxtor. “We want to push the men, not break them. I think, with a few accommodations, Frank Ward could be the best officer you’ve ever had to serve under you.”
Chuckling, the Pegasus’s captain said, “You’re the best officer I’ve ever had serve under me, Joseph. And you’re the only reason Ward is still here. I don’t for the life of me understand why you keep sticking up for him. He’s a good fighter, I’ll give him that, but that’s not what you need in an officer. He might make a better marine.”
“If you’d just let me pick him up before shifts and make a few other accommodations…,” began Baxtor.
“Absolutely not,” said Captain Jackson. “We’ve been through this before. If he needs to be coddled to that degree, he doesn’t belong here.”
The setting shifted around Frank Ward and he found himself in his old cabin on the Pegasus. His younger version was talking to Joseph Baxtor.
“You’re a damn good officer, Frank, but you seem so unhappy here. Would you be better off outside the service?” said Joseph.
“I tried living outside the service after Sildir died. I ended up just sleeping all day and burned through all the money and friends I had. I’d cobble together a little bit, then sink into melancholy and lose it all. I was on the verge of being a vagrant,” said Ward.
“You miss Sildir so much?” Baxtor asked.
“That’s not even it. As part of the sacred guard for him, we functioned at the limits of human potential. We were smarter, stronger, faster, and better than those around us. But we were his very capable attack dogs. I was worse than a slave because I couldn’t even contemplate my enslavement,” said the younger Frank Ward.
The third captain continued, “It was a relief, as soon as I could let myself feel that after he died. There aren’t many of his sacred guards left. All of us fell into fits of darkness and our heightened abilities seem to come and go, they aren’t consistent like they were when we served him.”
“I’m just so tired. Every day is a fight to get through. The details to work through, the people’s demands. The captain is right to be angry with me, but at times I just can’t bring myself to care. I don’t know if I could show up on time for every shift if he told me he’d throw me overboard if I was late. That might encourage me to be late.”
“Get some rest, my friend,” said Joseph. “We’ll figure this out together.
“There was nothing you could have done,” said the older Frank Ward as Joseph Baxtor headed for the cabin door. “If you’d stopped me here, it would have happened some other time. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Joseph Baxtor walked away, not hearing anything.
The scene shifted again and Frank Ward found himself in the Pegasus’s infirmary. His younger self lay sleeping on a cot, the bandages on his arms soaked red with blood.
“I don’t need some unhinged nutcase cutting himself like a jilted debutante at a ball,” said Captain Jackson angrily to Joseph Baxtor. “He’s done here, I’m relieving him of duty, and dumping him off at the next port.”
“Sir,” said Joseph Baxtor. “I’ve refused the last two promotions because you didn’t want to break in a new second captain.”
“Yes,” acknowledged Captain Jackson.
“Put me in for a promotion and let me take Frank Ward with me as my second captain,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“So, I lose you on top of all the drama he’s caused, no,” said the Pegasus’s captain. “Absolutely not.”
“You told me you’d owe me one when I delayed my promotion. This is what I’m calling it in for. The Phoenix is almost finished construction, they’ll be selecting a captain for her. Put my name in and let me take Ward with me.”
“We can get you a better ship than the Phoenix, Joseph,” said Captain Jackson. “Why are you throwing your career away for this screwup?”
“That’s just not how I see it, Captain,” said Joseph Baxtor. “So, we’re agreed?”
* * *
In the Phoenix’s infirmary, Frank Ward collapsed next to the Captain’s cot. Albert Reeves and Henry Cook moved him to a nearby cot. Along with the second captain’s collapse, Captain Baxtor started gasping for breath.
“Ward wasn’t able to help the captain through the experience,” said Radiance. “He’s slipping further back in time. He needs someone to help him step outside himself and make a different choice. By himself, he’s doomed to repeat the pivotal moments of his life that he regrets. That dagger is torturing him and then it will kill him once he reaches the beginning of his life. I can sort this out.” He took Captain Baxtor’s hand.
“Belay that,” said Albert Reeves. “I’m helping him.” He took the captain’s hand from Radiance and suddenly found himself back in an earlier time.
* * *
Albert Reeves found himself in a pub on Main Street near the harbor in Mytertown. A younger Joseph Baxtor without a beard sat at a table, with a pint of beer, reviewing reports and paper. A dirty man with a disheveled young boy approached him.
“Begging your pardon, sir, but I was told you might be hiring deckhands,” said the dirty man.
“I am, but we’ve had quite a bit of interest. What’s your background? What ships have you served on?” asked the young Joseph Baxtor.
“I’ve done just about everything you can think of, sir, on land or on sea. I can do it all,” said the man.
“We really need experienced men,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“I promise you, give me a chance and I’ll be the best man serving under you,” said the dirty man. “I really need this, I have a wife and family at home. If you hire me, you can have my son here as a cabin boy for free.”
“We wouldn’t make anyone work for free, especially a fine young man like this,” said Baxtor, smiling down at the boy. “I like your attitude. What’s your name?”
“Samuel Cook, sir,” said the man.
The scene shifted around him and Albert Reeves looked across the main deck on the Drake and saw the younger, clean-shaven Joseph Baxtor talking to a deckhand.
“Samuel,” said Baxtor, “we can’t keep going over this. You made a mess out of the rigging you replaced, I had to redo it myself.”
“Sorry, sir,” said Samuel.
“Sorries are all well and fine, but you make a mess of every task I give you if I’m not standing over you watching,” said Joseph.
“I’ll sort it out, sir,” said Samuel. “There’s just so much to remember and I have trouble getting it all right. I’ll try harder, sir, just you wait and see.”
Sighing, Joseph asked, “How’s your boy Henry like life on the high seas?”
“I imagine he likes it just fine,” said Samuel Cook, confused by the question. “Has he been doing his work ok? You tell me if he isn’t and I’ll give him a good thrashing.”
“No, no, nothing like that,” said Joseph Baxtor. “He’s a fine lad and he’s doing a good job as a cabin boy.”
The scene shifted again, and Albert Reeves saw a young Joseph Baxtor, now sporting a one-inch beard. The captain was giving him a dressing down over a snapped line on a sail.
“I’m sorry captain, it’s my fault and I’ll make sure it never happens again,” promised Joseph Baxtor.
“It never should have happened this time, Mr. Baxtor,” said the Captain. “You do good work, you wouldn’t be the boatswain on the Drake if you didn’t. The only explanation I can come up with is that you’re getting lazy and careless and I won’t stand for that.”
“No, sir, you shouldn’t. I promise you’ll never think this about me again, sir,” said Joseph Baxtor.
The scene shifted, and Joseph was talking to Samuel Cook over dinner. “I got chewed out because of your sloppy work on the sail, Samuel,” said Joseph.
“I’m sorry, sir, I’m sure that I did my work properly,” said Samuel.
“This guy needs to go,” said Albert Reeves. Joseph Baxtor paused and glanced around the mess. A seven-year-old Henry Cook came to their table and dropped off some bread. “Leftovers from the officers,” he said with a grin. Samuel cuffed the boy and said, “Don’t be stealing from those officers. You’ll get us put off of the Drake and where will your mother and sisters be without my pay.”
Tears in his eyes, the boy said, “I didn’t steal it, the cook gave it to me as leftovers and I brought it for you and Mr. Baxtor.”
“Well, you probably had a smack coming for something else,” said his father dismissively.
Joseph Baxtor ruffled the boy’s hair and, smiling down at him, said, “Thanks for the bread. You’re a good lad.”
Albert Reeves found the scene shifted again. Joseph Baxtor’s beard was bushier, approaching its current length. The future captain knelt in front of a young Henry Cook.
“We all feel so terribly for you and your family, Henry,” said Baxtor. “The cargo shifted onto your father. It’s a terrible thing to happen.”
“Why was he in with the cargo, Mr. Baxtor?” asked Henry.
“He had trouble with the rigging, so I moved him to manage the cargo,” said Joseph Baxtor.
“But, why did it fall on him?” asked young Cook.
“It wasn’t stowed evenly,” said the future captain.
“Whose fault was that, sir?” asked Henry.
“It’s my fault,” said Baxtor. “I showed your father what to do multiple times, but he kept struggling with it. I should have removed him from his position months ago. He wasn’t able to do the job we had him doing. I’ll never forgive myself.”
“If you’d removed him from his job, my mother and sisters would have starved,” said Henry. “He should have learned his tasks properly.”
Rubbing the tears off of the boy’s face, Joseph Baxtor said, “Don’t be angry at your father, Henry. Anger at the dead doesn’t accomplish anything.”
“I’m always going to be good at my job, whatever I do,” promised Henry Cook, looking up at his future Captain. “I’m going to grow up to be like you, not my father.”
* * *
In the Phoenix’s infirmary, Captain Baxtor let out a moan. Albert Reeves fell to the ground, passed out beside him.
“That doesn’t seem to have helped him,” said Sinclair Foran.
“No, it didn’t,” said Radiance, picking up the third captain and placing him unconscious on another cot. He turned to the three men who remained awake and said, “We’re getting through to him. It’s just a matter of keeping it up on our end. He hasn’t been able to avert the traumatic incidents of his past, but I’m going to get him through this one.”
Taking the captain’s hand, Radiance suddenly found himself in the past.
* * *
An older Radiance saw a very young version of himself giving a very young version of Joseph Baxtor the stink eye.
“I don’t need a babysitter,” said the young Radiance.
“I don’t see any babies here to sit,” said the young Joseph Baxtor. “I’ve been assigned to ‘keep you out of trouble’. You seem like a level-headed fellow, so I’m hoping this is the easiest assignment I’ve ever had.”
“Are you a priest? I curse Mytar to all the hells there are, if you are. That would drive off the other priests who’ve been assigned to me,” said Radiance.
With a chuckle, Joseph Baxtor said, “I’m not a priest. Curse Mytar all you want. I imagine it’ll do you as much good as cursing the sun on a hot day, but knock yourself out.”
“You’re a tough man to get a rise out of,” said Radiance. “Are you some goody two-shoes who always does the right thing?”
Wistfully, Joseph Baxtor said, “Alas no, although I wish I was. As amusing as this is, it might be more amusing over a pint. Are you a drinking man, Radiance?”
The scene shifted around the older Radiance and he saw himself months later, hanging out in Joseph Baxtor’s small apartment in Mytertown. His younger self was stretched out lying on the floor. “It’s just not fair. Everyone has more options than I do.”
“Yes, it’s very sad,” said the young Joseph. “We should go tell some of those starving beggars we passed earlier how hard you have it.”
“Heh, you really knocked that one beggar into the puddle,” said Radiance.
“I wish I hadn’t done that,” said the future captain. “He shouldn’t have grabbed me like that, but I could have handled it better.”
“It’s just that I can’t do anything. I’m not allowed to get married or have children. I’m being pressed into a priesthood for a god that I despise. I can’t get rid of you,” complained the six-foot orange giant.
“Heh, you’d think I invited you over on my night off, the way you’re talking,” said Joseph.
Chuckling the giant continued, “Everyone has more options in their life than I do.”
“You have more options than you think,” said Joseph. “You can’t get married or have children, but you can still spend time with any ladies who catch your fancy. There’s all sorts of things you can do with a woman that don’t lead to marriage or children.”
Grinning mischievously, Radiance asked, “Like what?”
“I’ll see if I can find you a book,” answered Baxtor dryly. “In terms of a job, what would you do if you weren’t Mytar’s son?”
Thinking it over, Radiance said, “I think I’d study the elements. Become an elementalist. Can you imagine how much that would piss off the priesthood? Mytar’s son as an elementalist.”
“Is that the only reason you’d do it? To annoy the priests?” asked Joseph.
“No,” said Radiance thoughtfully. “It would honestly be interesting to me.”
“Than why not study the elements? You can afford it,” said Baxtor.
The older Radiance said, “There’s nothing here to regret. These were some of the most helpful conversations I ever had. It changed the direction of my life.” The young Joseph Baxtor looked questioningly in the direction of the older Radiance, then the scene shifted again.
The younger Radiance was in Joseph Baxtor’s apartment again. He drew the curtains closed. “Are you sure you’re not under surveillance here? No one is listening in on you?”
“I’ve never seen any indication of that,” Baxtor said. “Calm down man, what’s the matter with you?”
“I’m in real trouble Joseph,” said the younger Radiance. “The worst trouble of my life.”
Pouring them each a whiskey, Baxtor handed the young elementalist one. “Start at the beginning and let’s sort it out together.”
“I’ve been spending time with a… friend. Margaret,” said the young Radiance. “She told me today that she’s with child. And that I’m the only possible father. What am I going to do? If the child comes out with any of my features, they’ll know that it’s an unauthorized descendant of Mytar. What was I thinking? This was the one thing they’ve told me my whole life can never happen.”
“Calm down, calm down,” said Joseph Baxtor. “I guess you didn’t read that book I got you as closely as you’ve been studying the elements.”
Radiance chuckled and rolled his eyes, before taking a gulp of whiskey.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” said Baxtor. “I’ll take your lady friend out to the Horsset Isles, I have some family there. They’ll take care of her and, I’ll return when she’s due. If the child can pass as a human, we’ll give her some money, tell her the trouble we can all get into if the child’s origin is discovered, and set her up as a young ‘widow’ somewhere pleasant. If the child can’t pass, I’ll give her the money to establish the life she wants to live and I’ll take the baby somewhere where it will be safe. I won’t even tell you.”
“Will that work?” asked Radiance hopefully.
“It’ll work, trust me,” said Joseph Baxtor. “Let’s never put ourselves through this again though, agreed?”
“Agreed,” said Radiance.
“That was the greatest thing anyone has ever done for me. How can this be a regret?” asked the older Radiance. The past Joseph Baxtor made eye contact with him as the scene shifted again.
Waving at Margaret’s ship as she departed, Joseph Baxtor hiked back to the cottage she had been staying in. The birth had gone smoothly and they hadn’t needed a midwife. The infant was swaddled and lay in a basket on the table. His skin was a light, golden color, clearly unnatural.
The older Radiance hovered over the baby. A smile was on his face as he saw his offspring for the first time. He tried to touch it, but his hand went through the baby. Behind him Joseph Baxtor took a basin out to the water pump and filled it up.
Radiance studied his son, as Joseph Baxtor unwrapped the baby and put him in the basin. Tears streamed down Baxtor’s face as he pushed the newborn under the surface and held him there.
“What are you doing?” asked Radiance horrified. “You were suppose to take him away somewhere safe.”
“There’s no where safe for him,” sobbed Joseph Baxtor. “It’s obviously Mytar’s grandchild. If he was anywhere in Pantheon territory, someone would eventually realize what he is. Outside of Pantheon territory, he’d likely be discovered and used against us. And you. It’s the only option.”
Tears fell down Radiances face. “Over the years, I’ve had my suspicions, but it was better not to know for sure. Oh gods!” the giant howled. “You killed my son!”
“I’m so sorry,” said Joseph Baxtor as he took the limp body out of the basin. “I’m sorry and I’m damned to hell.”
* * *
In the Phoenix’s infirmary, Radiance collapsed to the ground and Captain Baxtor moaned. The dagger was flickering in and out of reality faster. Henry Cook and Adam Hudson moved the elementalist’s enormous body to a cot.
“This isn’t good,” said Sinclair Foran. “If I’m not able to help him navigate this experience, I don’t want either of you to risk yourselves. Mr. Hudson, send a message back to the Pantheon and explain what’s happened here. Mr. Cook, take command of the ship and set course back to Mytertown.”
“Wish me luck,” the healer said, as he grasped the captain’s hand and found himself in the past.
* * *
Sinclair Foran looked across at a young Joseph Baxtor who was getting out of his hammock on the berth deck. The young man looked back at him and said, “I don’t think we’ve formally met. I’m Joseph Baxtor.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Baxtor,” said Sinclair Foran. “I’m Sinclair Foran, ship’s healer.”
“I thought healer Morgan was the ship’s healer,” asked Joseph Baxtor.
“Technically…he’s my assistant,” said healer Foran.
Pulling together his gear, Joseph Baxtor asked, “Are you coming ashore with us?”
“I believe I am,” said Sinclair Foran, walking along with Joseph Baxtor as the landing party prepared to leave their ship the Medusa.
As they rowed into shore, Joseph Baxtor seemed unperturbed by Sinclair Foran passing through the other men in the expedition and no one else seeing him. As a deckhand, Joseph Baxtor was assigned to carry provisions for the landing party. Unloading the gear, the landing party settled into the shelters at the landing site.
“So, what are we doing here?” Sinclair Foran asked Joseph Baxtor.
“This culture has been reluctant to accept Mytar. The priests have been working here for a year, but the devotion isn’t where they expect it to be. We’re here to encourage the faith,” said the very young Joseph Baxtor.
“What does ‘encourage the faith’ mean?” asked Healer Foran, with concern.
“They didn’t tell me, but I’m expecting that it will be testimonials, telling the locals how much Mytar means to us, how happy we are to live in a community devoted to him, that sort of thing,” said deckhand Baxtor.
“Really?” said Sinclair doubtfully. “Listen, I want to remind you that you’re not a deckhand. You’re Joseph Baxtor, captain of the Phoenix. A cowardly Gegmun assassin attacked you and you’re falling backwards in time, through the moments of regret in your life. We need to avert the regret we’re approaching to release you from the ‘time dagger’ that’s in your chest in the infirmary. I’ll help you, but when we find that we’re approaching the moment of crisis, you need to listen to me and don’t follow your instincts.”
Looking at the healer, Joseph Baxtor chuckled and waved him away. “Whatever you brought to drink is stronger than the grog! Don’t let the third captain catch you this drunk.”
The scene shifted around them, and they were in a village square. A member of the team of priests who had been working on conversions in the area was preaching, in the local language, in the square. A number of locals were heckling the priest. Although they were speaking another language, their meaning and demeanor were clear.
Looking at the landing party, the priest nodded to the agitators. “Let’s go men,” ordered the third captain.
Spreading out, the marines drew thin metal clubs instead of their rapiers. The hecklers were focused on the priest and only a few of them noticed the approaching marines. As the ones who had noticed tried to get the attention of the others, the Pantheon marines fell onto the locals and began beating them.
“This isn’t right,” said Sinclair Foran. Looking around him, the other locals began shouting and crying. The priest raised his voice and continued with the sermon, as the marines moved through the crowd administering beatings indiscriminately.
“This should put them in the mood to pay attention, lads,” said the third captain. “Keep it up!”
Horrified, Sinclair Foran saw one marine club a 12-year-old boy in the head. The youngster fell over, unconscious.
“You have to stop this,” he said to Joseph Baxtor.
“Stop it?” asked the future captain. “How could I possibly do that?”
The scene shifts to a few days later. The crowd listened attentively, nursing injuries. Most members of the crowd had visible bruises or black eyes and the marines oversaw the proceedings, ready to intervene. As the priest finished up, the locals began to quietly disperse.
Approaching the men, the priest announced, “Very well done, I can feel improvement in the progress we’re making already. I’m buying all of you some drinks at the pub.”
The assembled men gave a cheer. The priest clarified, “Well, I’ll encourage the bar owner to provide you drinks on the house. I don’t see him refusing.”
The scene shifted to a crowd in another village listening to another priest before receiving a beating, then another crowd in another village, then another, and another, and another.
Sinclair Foran stood with Joseph Baxtor watching what was becoming a familiar scene. A priest was delivering a sermon and some locals were shouting back at him. The third captain approached the deckhand.
“Joseph, son. I’ve been impressed with your ship knowledge and how hard you’ve worked after we made landfall. I’m going to rate you acceptable in the next crew evaluation. The lads here have gone above and beyond advancing Mytar’s glory. I’m going to give all of them a special commendation for being willing to get their hands dirty and do what needs to be done.”
“Yes, sir,” said Joseph, looking at the third captain uncertainly.
“I’ve seen the look on your face during these proceedings and I’m not sure if you’re the kind of man who is willing to get their hands dirty and do what needs to be done,” said the third captain. He handed the young deckhand a club.
The marines were fanning out and beginning their standard attack, starting with the agitators, then moving on to the rest of the villagers. The third captain nodded at the assembled crowd.
“Don’t do it, sir,” said Sinclair Foran. “This isn’t right. You’re not the kind of man who would do this.”
With a shrug to the healer, Joseph Baxtor advanced one of the villagers who was hanging back from the crowd, watching what was happening with a lack of comprehension. As he saw Baxtor advancing on him, he began backing away, holding his hands up and pleading in the local language.
He cringed away from the deckhand as Joseph Baxtor’s club came down on the man, knocking him to the ground, then beating him where he fell, tightened into a ball to try to protect himself.
On the Phoenix, Sinclair Foran collapsed to the ground unconscious. A look of mute horror twisted the captain’s face.
“What do we do?” Adam Hudson asked.
“You tell me, you’re the elementalist,” answered Henry Cook.
“We were supposed to take command of the ship and return to homeport,” said Adam Hudson.
“Well, forget that,” said Henry Cook, taking the captain’s hand.
“Let’s try to finish this with both of us,” said Adam Hudson, taking the captain’s other hand.
The two young men found themselves in the past.
* * *
Henry and Adam stood on a street that was recognizable as Mytertown. An eight-year-old boy played with a ball on the cobblestone. Looking at the two young men, he said, “My name’s Joe. Will either of you play kickball with me?”
Looking at one another, Henry said “Sure, Joe. My name is Henry and this is Adam. Let’s play kickball.” Joseph kicked the ball to Henry and it passed through his incorporeal foot as he tried to kick it.
Looking at the pair strangely, young Joe Baxtor asked, “How’d you do that, mister?”
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you, kid,” said Adam Hudson.
“Maybe he would,” said Henry Cook. “Joe. In the future you become Captain Joseph Baxtor, a Pantheon naval officer and Captain of the Phoenix, the finest ship in the fleet.”
“Gee,” said Joe.
“Gee, indeed,” agreed Henry. “After you defeated the Gegmun, a bunch of bad guys, they sent an assassin to kill you and they stuck you in the chest with a magic dagger. It’s in your heart right now, and it’s sending you back through your life to your moments of greatest regret. Each time, you have a chance to avoid your greatest regret and save your life, but your experience and personality draw you into the same mistake each time. We’re your crew and we’ve been trying to help you make better decisions, but each time we’ve failed to help you. You’re close to the beginning of your life now and all of us have gotten swept into the reverse time with you and we’re falling unconscious in the future. This is our last chance to save you.”
“What’s a regret?” asked the boy.
“This is hopeless,” said Adam.
“It isn’t hopeless,” said Henry. “A regret is something you did, that you wish you’d done differently. I never realized that Captain Baxtor regretted anything, but it turns out you have more regrets than I realized.”
“So, why don’t you two just stay with me and stop me from doing whatever I’m going to regret? Then we’ll save the whole ship in the future,” said Joe. “You two can be my guardian angels.”
“Well, technically it’s just the captain and the officers, not really the whole…” Adam started to say.
Cutting him off, Henry said, “That sounds like an excellent idea.”
The scene shifted and Joseph was being taught by his mother. She was quizzing him. Adam Hudson started feeding the boy the answers.
“I don’t think we’re here to help him cheat on his lessons,” said Henry dryly.
“Maybe his great regret is not impressing his mother with his academic diligence. Now shush, you’re distracting him from the lesson,” said Adam.
After the lesson finished up, Henry got up to go outside and was followed by the two young men. “I wish you two could kick a ball,” Joe said as he began playing with his balls on the street again.
Looking down the street, Joe said, “Uh oh”. Five older boys approached.
“Hey Joe, let’s play ball!” said the largest.
“Ok, Tommy,” said Joe. He kicked the ball to the larger boy, who bent down and picked it up.
“Thanks, sucker,” said Tommy.
“Please don’t steal my ball,” said Joe.
“Law of the jungle, pipsqueak. The lion takes what he wants and the monkey cries about it after he leaves,” said Tommy. The other boys laughed.
“Want to earn it back?” asked Tommy.
“Maybe this is the situation you regret and you shouldn’t go,” suggested Henry.
“Or maybe you have to go to encounter the situation and handle it differently,” said Adam.
Joe looked helplessly at the two men.
“Well, cockroach, do you want to get your ball back or not?” asked Tommy. The group of boys started walking away.
“Yeah,” said Joe, making a decision. “I’ll come.”
“See, the thing is, vermin, you have to learn who your betters are and accept that,” Tommy said, starting a lecture as they walked. “The only reason you’re upset is that you don’t realize that I deserve to take anything I want from you. Once you accept that, your life will go much smoother.”
“Maybe he’s supposed to stand up to them and fight the bullies?” suggested Adam.
“All five of them?” asked Henry.
Joe looked wildly around at the group of larger boys in a panic, then shook his head at the two men.
“Why are you shaking your head like that, twitchy?” asked Tommy.
Walking along, the five boys spread out and surrounded Joe. They guided him into an alley and brought him towards the back, where a cat was strung up with twine. It growled, hissed, then helpless swatted at the approaching boys.
Handing Joe a knife, Tommy said, “Why don’t you cut off it’s tail and we’ll see how it likes that.” The five boys laughed. “I’ve got some kerosene,” said Tommy. “After we see how it likes losing its tail we can light it up and let it loose.”
Holding the knife tightly as he approached the cat, Joe whispered to Adam and Henry, “I don’t want to hurt the cat, but if I don’t they’re going to beat me up.”
“This is it,” said Adam. “This is the moment of regret. Captain Baxtor cut off the cat’s tail and he’s regretted it ever since.”
“They’re going to kill the cat anyways, regardless of what I do. It doesn’t make a difference,” said Joe.
“What we do always makes a difference,” said Henry. “You taught me that!”
“Why are you muttering to yourself, you little nutter,” said Tommy. “Get on with it before we put a boot up your ass.”
“Here’s what you do,” said Henry, thinking quickly. “Slash the twine with the knife. If the cat has any brains, it’ll make a hasty retreat once it’s free. Then turn around, scream at the boys and charge at them with the knife. They’re bullies, which means they’re cowards. I suspect they’ll get out of the way when you’re running at them, then just keep going. Throw the knife into the gutter when you’re out of the alley.”
Nodding, Joe slashed the twine and cut a few of the strands. The cat howled.
“Ha, you missed it,” said Tommy in amusement.
Gritting his teeth, Joe took another swipe with the knife, severing the twine and freeing the cat. Turning, he raised the knife in a stabbing motion towards the boys and ran at them screaming.
“He is a nutter,” said a horrified Tommy as the group fell back and away from Joe. Joe charged through their center, then kept running towards the street. Behind him, he heard Tommy shout, “Get him!”
Running out of the alley, Joe tossed the knife into the gutter and started tearing towards home. Adam and Henry kept pace with him.
“Move it, move it, if you slow down you’re going to get your ass kicked,” said Adam encouragingly.
“Run!” shouted Henry, as he held onto Captain Baxtor’s hand in the infirmary and looked down at his prone body. The Gegmun dagger pushed out of the Captain ‘s chest and clattered to the ground. Adam Hudson looked around as Joseph Baxtor and the other officers regained consciousness.
Looking around him, Joseph Baxtor met the eyes of each of his men in turn and smiled in thanks. When he reached Radiance and received a hard, cold look back from the elementalist, the captain nodded his acknowledgment that they had a tough conversation coming.
* * *
Looking at the two young men gravely while seated at the head of the table in the captain’s mess, Joseph Baxtor said, “You know what I think of junior officers who don’t follow orders?”
“No, sir,” said Henry and Adam. Adam looked back at the Captain uncertainly, while Henry had a small grin and knew where this was going.
“Senior officer material when they make the right call,” said the Captain. “I’m ashamed you saw that side of me, but having had a chance to confront the mistakes of my past has given me a new perspective on them.”
“What can I offer the two of you to drink?”
This is the conclusion of Endless Seas: Never Meet Your Idols. If you’re enjoying these posts, all 11 stories are available now on Amazon. Comments or emails about what you thought of the stories are greatly appreciated.