A. Don't own John Porter or the Strike back - verse, not making any money off this, and have severe doubts anyone could.
B. This story was written as a great conceit. I believe strongly in the rule of fanfic that reads: "No one gives a crap about your Mary Sue." But we were presented with a challenge on the IMDB Richard Armitage board: "You'll Never Guess Who I Ran Into…" in which "we can imagine what it would be like to bump into one of RA's characters and what occurs." So I came up with this story and a couple others, and have decided to move them here so they do not get lost. I beg forgiveness, and hope that readers can use my Mary Sue as a lens through which to get to know these characters better.
C. The final chapters of this have some moments of explicit sexuality. If that makes you uncomfortable, I have also posted a less explicit version (along with the Alec Track and Ricky Deming stories, as well as a couple original pieces) on Wattpad under the same sign on: "KiplingKat".
Happy coincidences in life are few and far between and one should grab hold of them when one can. So it was I found myself in Freeport, Grand Bahama, weaving my way through the folks loading cargo up the gangplank to my old ship, sturdy white-hulled 135 foot brigantine with plenty of mileage on her and plenty of love in her. Everything was where I remembered, only it newly painted and polished with fresher ropes and, hopefully, a couple new sails. Even the dark teak deck has been sanded and newly stained and sealed. The SSV John Paul Jones just had a complete overhaul, and before she went home for another year cruising college students up and down the eastern seaboard and Caribbean, one of my Greenwich instructors was doing a bit of foreign exchange by taking her on a trial cruise (and the a little free advertisement) with the Tall Ship Challenge around the Caribbean. As part of a good will tour, various ships in the fleet are also carrying supplies to Haiti.
I weave my way around the pallets and firemen lines of loaders. I'm about to stick my head in the Doghouse where the radar, GPS, radio, and other equipment are housed to report to someone when a hand covers my eyes.
"No pin diagram. Name the braces in order from aft."
"Course, Top sail." But I'm all grins, "Hey Kev!"
"Hey K-Dawg" as the tall skinny younger man envelops me in a spider-like hug. "You look great!'
"And so do you, clean shaven. How will I cope?" I reach up to rub the stubble covered head a that usually sports untamable brown curls.
"Give it a week."
Kevin and I catch up as he walks me to my berth forward, threading our way around another fire line stowing supplies in the focs'l cargo hatch in the floor of the sleeping quarters. "…And of course, you remember the zero gravity chamber." Referring to the sometimes rough ride in the focs'l of the ship that can result in brief moments of free fall.
"Honestly, it's better than being in the main cabin with all the traffic. Oh hey! I get the top bunk this time! Yay!" I toss my gear in the bunk.
"Yeah, Lauren is the steward, so she's bunking by the galley."
"Seriously? Oh this will be a blast." I say, hopping up on the ledge in front of my bunk, "This is better, I get a direct shot across the ladder at you. I can just chuck something at you to wake you up."
"Actually, I'm second mate this trip so I'm bunking aft."
"You made second? That's awesome!" I hop down to give him a big hug.
"Thanks, but you can be wake up buddies with your watch mate. She's probably on deck with everyone else loading cargo."
"Speaking of which I should pitch in a hand. Which watch am I on?" I ask as we ascend the ladder to the foredeck.
"Mine. Behave yourself."
"They stuck you with me again? Your poor soul."
"I remember last time, you're good crew."
"You're sweet. I'll try not to lean on you too much while I relearn the ropes."
"Just don't release the mainstays'l outhauls without checking the tension first"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." But I blush at remembering almost taking the captain's head off on my first cruise because I released them too quickly. With the sails deployed, lines on a ship can be under hundreds to thousands of pounds of tension. Untying them quickly without checking to see if they are under tension can result in rope burns or worse.
My watch is stowing boxes of medical supplies amidships, starting with the empty bunks lining the main cabin where meals are served and the working our way upward to the wetlab, which for the most part of this trip will be in repose beyond a couple test runs of the new equipment. I'm also pleased to see in addition to Lauren and Kevin, another of my old classmates is on board: Rene, a tiny dark haired waif of poise and literary knowledge who is on my watch. The other members of B-Watch are the bean pole William, a very interesting and swell classmate of mine at Greenwich, Gary, a short stocky recent graduate of the program, and Alex, a slender somewhat sulky blonde teen in jeans, a tank top emblazoned with a band logo, and too much make up (which on ship is any). It turns out Alex is also English, which I do not realize for a couple hours until she finally opens her mouth to say more than two words.
And those are, "You don't have to hover over me! I'm 17 for chrissakes."
There a deep rumbling voice that follows, but it pitched low so I can't decipher it.
"I was just taking a breather! Is that all that matters, that I don't embarrass you in front of your friend!"
"That not what I meant..." the baritone growl picks up volume as it picks up exasperation.
"That's what you said!"
"Hey! The argument is holding up stowing more than she was!" I shout from inside the lab. As I lash down the first stack of boxes, the door is filled briefly by someone very tall who I assume glares at me and then vanishes. "Alex, get in here and help me with these. Here," I toss her a roll of duct tape, "Tape that stack together while I tie these down."
There is nothing but the sound of ripping duct tape for a while.
"I knew this was a stupid idea. Wanker." she mutters.
Oh boy. Here we go. "Your Dad?" I respond neutrally.
"The loser isn't around when I am growing up, isn't around when Mum dies, and now all of a sudden he wants to spend time with me." she says sarcastically, "Only instead of fun trip to Jamaica, he's ordering me around like I'm one of his fucking soldiers….Sorry."
"We're going to sea, you think I have a problem with salty language? I would watch it in front of the Captain, however."
"D'you reckon?" Was I made of that much snark at that age? Probably.
"I'm sorry to hear about your mother. How long ago was it?"
"March." Still freshly grieving.
"Cancer, she went into have a tumor removed and there were complications." The reply is automatic, she answered this question so many times that gateway to her grief has become smooth and polished.
"Your Dad is in the military?"
"Uh...Was. Army, yeah." she replies vaguely.
"Well, my Dad was in the Navy. And it may be that since your Dad has not spent much time with you up until now, is not used to you, he's falling back on comfortable patterns, how he relates to other people. Not saying it's right and I'm not saying that is what he is doing, just throwing it out there for consideration. I don't know the situation with your family, but what I do is that my father died before he and I had chance to settle things out." That seems to strike a chord, probably because of her mother. "And people taking this kind of time to be with their family? Even if it is a day late and dollar short, it's better than nothing. Plus, you are not going to be able to get further than 135 feet from him for a week at a time, so my suggestion is you both cut each other some slack or this trip is really going to be hell." For everyone around you especially.
"Seems that way already." She grumbles, ripping off another length of duct tape.
"So you got roped into drudge work, just wait 'till field day and you're scrubbing the floors."
"The floors? Fuck! Is there *anything* fun about this?"
I stop and lean over the lab counter. "Loads. You are about to do things you have not before and see things you have not before, and that's all before you get to the Islands. Have they talked about your duties yet?"
Alex and I talk about what I have experienced and what she is about to. After a few minutes, she sounds a little less sulky and a little more intrigued. *whew*
After we finish stowing the cargo, our watch is off until the evening. Alex darts onshore with couple other shipmates to make last minute phone calls and Facebook entries at the nearby internet cafe before we cast off.
"ALEX! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?" I hear her father roar from the quarter deck. Oh jeezus. I'm thinking about pulling Dr. Randall aside to point out that people did not sign up for this trip to play family counselor and could he please have a word with his friend, when I see my instructor has beaten me to the punch.
The silver haired former Royal Navy captain, slowly yielding to the stoutness of age, has pulled aside a younger, tall, dark-haired man who would be considered lanky if not for the significant breadth of muscular shoulder and back beneath the ratty black T-shirt and dark blue cargo pants. A quick murmured conference has Alex' father nodding in acknowledgment a few times. He pats Dr. Randall on the arm as he turns to enter the doghouse and we catch each other's eyes. Or I think we do. Since he is wearing a pair of sunglasses I have only the slight pause as he looks my way to go by. Not only does he look nothing like his daughter beyond both being tall and leaning toward slenderness, he is younger than I expected. Certainly no older than I in my late 30's. His straight dark brown hair is fairly short, what length there is on top swept back simply. The sharp features carved out of the soft length of his face give him an inherently penetrating look, like a hawk. An impression that is compounded by an intensity in his physicality. Despite his loose and easy movement there is something deliberate and tautly coiled in him so that instead of a glance that slides over me as he ducks into the doghouse, I am left with the feeling that I have been recorded and cataloged for future reference.
I greet Dr. Randall, now Captain once again, with a handshake and discuss the paradox of his commanding a vessel called the John Paul Jones and how he is finding her. The ship was built specifically to be a teaching vessel, so rather than a sleek thoroughbred she's a workhorse, but she can still get a decent 13 knots out of the two raked masts on a good day and sometimes can skip lively through the swell. With her hull freshly cleaned of weed and barnacles, the Captain and I are very interested to see how she performs.
"So...who was that?" I segue artlessly, gesturing toward the doghouse.
"John? An old friend. When I came up shy an engineer I called him. He's brilliant with anything mechanical, but this is his first time working the engine on a ship, so any assistance anyone can give the lad would be helpful."
"Uhm, sure." Changing the fuel filter on my car is the height of my mechanical skill. "I'm surprised you couldn't find someone with more experience. But I suppose they're all busy between this and the Tall Ship Races in the Med."
Randall pauses a moment, "Well…Not to go beyond the deck here. I didn't look very hard. Coming out of maintenance, I didn't expect any serious trouble and John's had a rough time of it lately. With his daughter leaving home I thought it was best if he got away from work and had some time to spend with her. You've met Alexandra, yes? She's on your watch, bunking forward with you."
I nod with a sinking feeling as to what is coming.
"You remember what it is like at that age, if you could keep an eye on her…"
Oh, for the love of…"Sure." This happened last time, the automatic assumption that because I was older I was the responsible one. Oi vey.
Well, I remember exactly what it was like to be that age and at that point I resolve beyond helping Alex learn how to sail a ship without setting it on fire or getting herself killed, I'm not going to watch over her in the slightest. Learning to sail is going to take up most of her time and energy at first and she already proven she, like any teen, resents hovering. If there is one thing that girl does not need it is someone trying to take one parent's place while she is busy being resentful against the other parent. That is one sticky mess I do not want to get involved in.
The first watch handles casting off so Rene and I chat in the bow while we watch the emerald stretch of coast line slip by and behind us in the breeze. Two other ships in the fleet have cast off as well, and we follow them out into the harbor making Aubrey - Maturin jokes about taking prizes. Rene is brilliant. The only person on board last time I could sit down and really hash out literature with and learn something from, and on my best day I will never be able to match her easy going poise and inherent "cool".
After we get out to sea, I duck below to check in with the galley to see if they need any help. My cast iron stomach can handle being in a confined space below deck as people with motion sickness are getting their sea legs and tossing their cookies over the side, so I usually end up spending a lot of time there the first day or so. But the member of A-Watch assigned to the galley that day seems to be holding out and Lauren has him well in hand, so with promises to catch up with her later I walk back through the main cabin to the aft ladder up to the dog house. As I reach it, I literally bump into John in the narrow corridor as he leaves the engine room.
After mumbling apologies, there is an awkward pause. Complimenting the sharply defined nose and narrow, delicately chiseled lips, his eyes are pale, deep set, and almond shaped. With start I realize I am trying to figure out exactly what color they are in the sunlight shafting down the ladder, so I decide to push things along by sticking my hand out.
"John." He takes my hand briefly, long fingers wrapping around my palm.
His mouth begins to tilt to one side, "After you."
I'm half way up before I realize what the smirk meant and look over my shoulder to find John standing at the foot of the ladder, clearly enjoying the view. You have *got* to be kidding me.
"Buddy, not even on your best day." I say, before racing up the last steps into the doghouse.
He didn't even look slightly abashed.
The next couple days are spent getting back into the rhythm of things, becoming one with our shoulder safety harness (which one wears constantly when on duty), baseball caps, and sun block as well as the various duties on watch. Each member of the on-deck watch takes the turn at the wheel for an hour, or goes on an hourly inspection of the ship recording the temperature and pressure gauges in the engine room and galley to make sure we are not quietly on fire somewhere and the food stays unharmed. They then record this information with our heading, speed, and weather conditions in the hourly log. One person each watch is assigned to the galley for the entire shift to assist with meals or clean up.
At night, there are also hour long shifts as bow and stern lookouts, keeping an eye on other ship traffic so as not to run afoul of anyone else. Given that we are in the middle of the Tall Ship fleet in the middle of the cruise-popular Caribbean, it is not uncommon to see the lone lights like small bobbing stars on the tops of the masts of one of our sister ships, or the small floating cities of a cruise ship at a distance in the dark. More rare are big ghosts of lights outlining the huge shapes of container ships and tankers. As is cautionary and customary, ships give each other a wide berth of at least a mile. But the amount of traffic in the area means we are frequently checking the radar and on the radio making passing arrangements with other ships in the wide, deep night. In order to keep our night vision, the deck is unlit save for the interior lights of the doghouse and the focs'l, which are red.
We are also relearning the ropes. Literally. Even on a ship as small as the Jones, it takes experience to learn which lines to grab when putting up which sails. Which ropes should be hung up or tied off when a sail is not in use, which should be coiled on deck when sail is out. The first couple days Will, Alex, Rene, and I spend a lot of time with the pin diagram, a map of the various lines and sheets, in our hands while Kevin and Nathan patiently point out to us and re-point out to us what we should be hauling on as the dark blue waves roll under us. By the third day, Rene and I have completely re-mastered the rigging with Will, who had sailed on other student vessels, picking things up quickly.
"SET THE MAIN STAYSIL!" Despite making second mate, Kevin has still not developed an authoritative "sail handling voice", his calls coming out in panicked-seeming tearing cry like the world is coming to an end. In a girl it would be a shriek. I love Kevin like a brother, but whenever he calls sail, I can't help but wince away from him.
"I can help you with that." I say from the wheel.
"I know you can. Shut up." But he smiles.
The Captain's reaction to Kevin is interesting to watch. The Captain coming from military discipline and Kevin coming from kid summer camps. Kevin leads his watch with a extremely light touch, encouraging team work through laughter, competitive pride, and example. And though I can see Dr. Randall opening his mouth a few times, he doesn't actually say anything because he sees that it works.
Alex is struggling, though with surprising patience for an angsty teen which earns her more respect than she realizes. After her first 01:00 am watch call she has given up the mascara. The mandatory three days between fresh water showers has forced her hair into bandannas and baseball caps, revealing a fresh faced young girl on the cusp of womanhood, but only just. She honestly is trying, but she is at a disadvantage not only from her complete lack of experience but from the lack of classroom knowledge that the rest of us first walked onto a ship with. The physics of sailing, the forces on the hull, the aerodynamics of the sails, center of force, not to mention weather conditions, and mapping. So in the meantime she is merely doing what she is told to do and has to slowly pick up the "why" piecemeal as the rest of the watch has time to explain to her. But she seems to soldier through, her adolescence only cracking though occasionally. Once when the regulation hourly tour of inspection she was sent on lasted 40 minutes while she was chatting with a rather attractive young man on C Watch, and of course every time she has to deal with her father.
John has clearly timed his sleep schedule to our watch but with freshly tuned engines and good breezes, he has more time on his hands than he knows what to do with. So it becomes common to start hauling away on a rope only to find a large pair of hands reaching above yours to yank downward with surprising strength.
Yeah, you try not noticing man's chest and biceps when they are under rhythmic strain not six inches from your nose.
After one smug leer from his sky blue eyes, I convince myself I would have noticed the Pope's biceps under those conditions.
But that only happens once with Alex during the first early morning watch before there is another shouting match forward. The sound is akin to a bear and a wild cat going at it and Kevin freezes. Sailing in squalls? No problem. Getting into the middle of a family squabble? Even the doughiest salts shall pale. Fortunately, I'm too stupid to know better and catapult myself forward in the pitch black, calling on my own sail handling voice.
When I use that voice to tell my dog to "SIT!", grown men within earshot sit down.
It works, and after quietly haranguing them about the people sleeping beneath their feet, I send Alex forward to relieve Rene at the bow lookout. I would tell John to get lost, but his tall shape has already vanished silently in the dark.
As Rene and I walk back to the quarterdeck, I ask what happened since she was the only one forward.
"I don't know. It went from, "I can do it myself" to "do you really think this will make up for not being there..." screaming and just loads of Le Drama." I can practically hear her eyes rolling in the dark.
I sigh. I respect the captain as a gentleman and a scholar and adore him like a father, so I refrain from voicing the "what the hell was he thinking?" sentiment out loud. "You know usually the nice thing about being at sea is getting away from all that."
"Yeah, but it's always waiting for you when you get home isn't it?" she rejoins, "They just brought it with them. So did you, remember?"
I wince accordingly. "Yeah I did. But I did not turn the ship into a steel cage death match."
"Thanks Kip." Kevin says as we report in on the quarter deck.
"De nada." I shrug it off.
"Did you get to see if the fisherman halyard was coiled on deck? That's what I sent Alex forward to do."
I head forward again to the bow where I find a rope half coiled on the deck, but it's the wrong rope. There is another hanging loosely, which is also the wrong rope.
The source of the fight being neither one of them knows what the hell they are doing.
As I re-hang the jib sheet and the course halyard and coil the fisherman halyard on the deck so that it runs freely when we take the sail in, I decide that despite my best intentions to not be a mentor, someone has to take Alex in hand.
At least as far as sailing goes.
The slender shape leaning against the forestay moves, but does not answer.
"…Everyone on board is going to know about that aren't they?"
"Yup." She just curses again so I continue. "Look, Alex, that can't happen again. Period. When it stops you from doing your work it potentially puts the entire ship at risk. If we hit heavy weather and we have to take these sails in an instant, no one is going to have time to deal with your personal drama with your Dad. If off shift you guys want to go in the engine room and shut the door and scream at each other, go for it. But not up here."
"…He just needs to stay out of my space." She says sulkily.
"He's been in Rene's space, he's been in Nathan's space. This is a 135 foot ship. Everyone is in everyone's space. You've seen me and Kevin help out other watches when we're just hanging out on deck. Maybe this isn't so much about you but the fact that A. Everyone pitches in to help where it is needed and B. Your Dad is bored."
That just makes her more sulky. "Figures."
"What's that?" I point to a set of red lights on the horizon to port.
"Yeah, you see why you can't let personal crap interfere with what you are doing? Go run back and tell the quarter deck. I'll take your place."
As I clip my harness into the forestay, out of the corner of my eye I catch a sight of John slipping from behind one of the life rafts cases into the light from the foc'sl hatch as he goes below.
After that night B Watch is not on again until the following evening, so the next morning I climb out onto the head rig and enjoy the ride. The head rig is where all the stays and netting attach to the bowsprit. It is my favorite part of the ship, hanging out over the water as the motion of the swell smoothly tosses you up and down and about with the hull. You can really get a sense of the boat and the life in her. As I said, John Paul Jones is a workhorse, but she's a lively one that enjoys a good steady gallop. The best place to really feel it is riding the bowsprit itself, the long mast jutting forward horizontally from the bow. From that vantage point there is nothing in front of you or if you look back, the slight curvature of the deck means you can see the entire ship back to the quarterdeck.
Of course, to really enjoy it you have to ignore the sexual imagery inherent in a woman straddling a big long pole which most of the time you can do…unless someone is ogling you in amusement from the foremast.
Like John is.
I'm getting my retort ready for whatever salacious comment he is about to make when Alex comes forward from the opposite side and looks over bow at the netting. John's smirk completely collapses as I advise Alex how to climb out onto the netting and up on the bowsprit.
Somehow I manage not to fall off laughing as he stomps aft.
"What? What so funny?" Alex asks, having missed her father's presence entirely.
"Nothing, nothing." I manage to bring myself under control. "O.K. so looking back on the ship, you see the angle of the deck to the water? That is her "Heel", how much the wind is acting on the sails sideways…"
Over the next few days, Alex gets a crash course in the physics of sailing and to my pleasant surprise, she is a quick learner. Despite her teenage angst, there is a core of common sense in her that when presented with a "Why", the puzzle of "How" falls into place. So much so that within a week, she is making reasonable guesses which sails would be best to use to catch the current wind. I belatedly realize how much understanding the world she has been thrust into helps her relax and enjoy it more.
What also helps is John has backed off completely, his time taken up in the engine room nursing a cantankerous water desalinization system. At least that is what I divine from the one time I entered the engine room to an extremely imaginative string of growled profanity from the engine compartment below. Or so I think he has completely backed off until a couple nights later as Alex is taking her first unsupervised spell at the wheel. As I go to the compass to record the heading I glance down the open skylight into the captain's cabin to see John looking up at me in the red light. He places a finger to his lips.
"Alex, mark your heading." I say.
"Dead on the money. Awesome," I say down at "my clipboard". I'm rewarded with a proud smile before I go on my way.
Mealtimes are still a bit tense. John sticks close to the Captain at one table shoveling food in and talking about the ship, old comrades, old actions, new equipment, and the military's role in the geopolitical scheme of things, how so-and-so screwed up in thus-and-such a place and who should be stationed where. Alex sits at the other table talking with shipmates closer to her own age about movies and music, and political philosophy diametrically opposed to her father's. Particularly the use of military force, one time flogging the civilian casualty rate in Afghanistan to the point she drove John from the table.
But that moment was not so bad the one that came every meal time when John would watch her sit on the opposite side of the room. The moment was fleeting, just a flash of expression in the eyes as if he is watching someone on the opposite side of the Grand Canyon with no way across.