Dimensional Conversion - Jamie on the Wheel - Autumn'06 Crit Run

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A shop front

First Watch, two bells. Jamison Douglass, a 5'7" humanoid with pale, freckled skin, blue eyes, and bright red hair, enters the engine room of the CSS Mariposa. As he does every day when he works in the engine room, Jamie salutes Lieutenant Jenkins, the chief of engineering, a brusque little Welshman whose gruff exterior does not conceal a heart of gold, takes off his half-Wellington boots, Napoleonic-era round military jacket and state-of-the-art Starfleet comlink, and climbs into the Wheel, the strange apparatus that permits Jamie to complete the energy circuits that keep this unorthodox starship running.

For the humans aboard this warp-drive starship are unevolved - not regular Starfleet – and therefore cannot process energy the normal way.

Not the normal Starfleet way, at any rate.

To enable the ship to function in spite of this energy deficit, Starfleet has come up with a solution involving an astral engineer (a Gael tom), a revolving wheel, and a dilithium crystal.

It works – barely. Jamie, whose energy signature the ship will accept, revolves through all the nodal points between the dilithium crystal and the energy signature of the biosphere of the humans, and makes and unmakes connections through his own etheric body.

This process is time-consuming, and hard on the tom, but Jamie is usually sanguine about it.

He usually just hopes Lt Jenkins lets him have a tea break after about 4 hours of this.

Today, however, Jamie mounts the wheel in a different spirit. As they strap him in – wrists and ankles, waist, neck and forehead – his emotional state, which has gone in the preceding watch from despair to resignation, has now reached the point where he simply doesn’t care what happens to him any longer.

Jamie – labeled a service animal by Starfleet – has now decided that, if he is to be a beast of burden, he will be one.

Jamie turns off his feelings, as if with a switch.

As the wheel begins to turn slowly, Jamie goes through his usual sequence to shut down outside thoughts, and clear his mind for the task of reading the energy quanta as patterns to be realigned.

Today, he finds shutting down his thoughts remarkably easy.

Because he has none to shut down.

As Jamie turns in the wheel, he begins to become lightheaded. His mind, focused only on the energy patterns before him, loses touch with his body. He forgets the aching muscles from the two previous days’ worth of 15-hour sessions on the wheel. He forgets the sweat pouring from him, and he becomes the energy signal.

And that is his undoing.

For Jamie gets lost in the pattern – and dimensionally converts.


Lieutenant Jenkins looks up, startled. The tom on the wheel is fading, in and out. And then totally disappears.

And yet – the wheel is still turning. The energy readings on his console are still going through their sequence, as if the astral engineer were still there.

Oddly, the straps which hold the engineer in place – and make sure he doesn’t snap his neck, when it goes too fast – are still taut, as if a living being were being held in place there – even though none is visible.

Jenkins – good chapelgoer though he is – curses, and calls the bridge.


Jamie is floating, out of space/time. It is peaceful there. He has no desire to leave this comforting place.

But he wonders…why, if he has no body, can he still feel the straps around his wrists?

The straps are cutting into his wrists, which is uncomfortable. But, just as he thinks to ask Lt Jenkins to loosen them a bit, he experiences other sensations, much stronger ones.

There is a bright, hot light – which he suddenly realizes is the sun. The unsteady, hard surface beneath his feet turns out to be the deck of a sailing ship. The unpleasant taste in his mouth turns out to be a worn leather pad on which he is biting.

And the burning sensation on his bare back turns out to be – the lash, followed by a searing pain, as a bucket of salt water is poured over his wounds.

Jamie passes out.


Jamie comes to in a much darker place – and much smellier. He is lying on his stomach in a berth belowdecks, the gloom only slightly dispelled by a safety lantern. A thin man, stooped, balding, offers Jamie a dipperful of water.

’Here, lad, drink this. It’s all I have to offer ye, I’m afraid. But I did manage to save yer bread ration for ye.’

Jamie, in pain, but with a growing sense of being where he is – if not exactly belonging there – looks up into the kind, careworn face and asks: ‘Whaur…whaur am I? And who are you?’

’Ye’re aboard the Gloria, bound for America. Alisdair MacIntyre’s my name, and what’s yours?’

Jamie manages a smile. ‘I’m Jamie…Jamie Weir.’

And he realizes that this is true.


The journey by ship to America takes twelve weeks. With Alisdair’s help, Jamie recovers from the flogging, although the ‘passengers’ – in reality, prisoners, all of them forced onto the ship by one means or another, kidnapping, trumped-up criminal charges, debt – are never allowed abovedecks. Every two weeks, they are given a bread ration, and that and a little salt meat are practically all that they have to eat.

In the cramped hold, Jamie encourages the others to tell their stories, and gradually he pieces together a tale of misery in Scotland that staggers the imagination.

He learns that ships like this make a tidy sum selling indentured servants to America, and that Scottish merchants looking for profit, Scottish landowners looking to lose excess population, and labour-hungry Americans are doing very well for themselves from the sufferings of such as his companions on the Gloria.

Alisdair MacIntyre himself is an ‘Egyptian’ – a travelling man, not really Romany – who was arrested as a vagabond and shipped off. Jamie himself appears to be an unlucky crofter who was simply spirited aboard when he unwisely visited Glasgow for the day.

Gaels sometimes find themselves on these DC journeys. At first, the memory of who they are struggles within them, but eventually they forget where they came from – although they constantly experience quirky thoughts, mental non-sequiturs that they usually attribute to the fact that they are different from their neighbours.

Daft, in fact.

And so Jamie shrugs off his feelings of not belonging – since when did he ever belong anywhere? – and gets on with the business of surviving.


When the ship finally pulls into port in Philadelphia, in the Year of Our Lord 1793, it sits in the harbour while local property owners come in to look over the crop of potential indentured servants. Questions are asked – Do you speak English? Can you read and write? What trade have you learned? Alisdair, who turns out have experience in metalworking, is taken by a tinsmith. Jamie is sorry to see him go, although it will turn out that Alisdair isn’t too far away, as the tinsmith’s shop is behind Headhouse Square.

Jamie himself is picked up by a chairmaker – not as an apprentice, but simply to fetch and carry. A set of articles is thrust in front of him, and he signs – he has no choice, although the appearance of voluntary contract must be preserved. Jamie now owes the chairmaker, Mr Ackerley, for his passage. For the price of a ticket – about 15 pounds – Jamie must now work without pay, receiving only room, board, and clothing, for seven years.

And so Jamie follows his new master off the ship, into a city of 30,000 people of nearly all nations and creeds – about two-thirds of them indentured servants like himself.

This leg of his journey is not long, it being but two blocks from the harbour to Elfreth’s Alley, where his new home is, at Number 124.


The days are long and hard. Jamie rises from his bed in the back shed at dawn, lights the fires, stokes the Franklin stove in the cooking shed, and goes down the alley to Bladen’s Court for water for the household. After a few trips for water, he sweeps the stoop, and, when the household is up and stirring, goes into the bedrooms to fetch the chamber pots, with which he returns to Bladen’s Court to dump in the communal privy (located, unfortunately, about 10 yards from the water pump).

The rest of the day is an endless round of errands and chores, fetching wood from the supplier – both firewood and wood for the shop, which is also the family’s downstairs room – accompanying the mistress of the house on her errands to the High Street, protecting her from rowdies and carrying her parcels, feeding the chickens that run free in the alley, chopping kindling…the list goes on.

On Sundays, work eases up. There are many churches in tolerant Philadelphia, and Ackerley, not himself much of a churchgoer, leaves the choice up to Jamie, who usually slips into the back of the Quaker meeting house at 4th and Arch Streets. Jamie is well aware of the failings of the wealthy, somewhat smug Quakers, but he enjoys the peace of the Meetings, which are held in silence. During the hour, he often seems to hear echoes of another world, and wonders if the others hear it, too. But he never speaks, although theoretically anyone can.

The meetings never ‘speak to his condition’, but the silences are welcome, and healing.

Jamie falls into the routine quickly, and soon finds Philadelphia an interesting and bustling place, certainly more cosmopolitan than a Scots crofter would have been used to. And the world comes to Elfreth’s Alley, sooner or later. Why, didn’t they tell him that the great Ben Franklin himself used to visit the house next door, for meetings of the famous Junto, that early think-tank responsible for so many innovative social changes?

Jamie is often sent on errands around the city, and, because he is a pleasant-enough young man, is usually welcome to the people who, looking into their busybodies from the upstairs window, and seeing him at the door, come down to find out his business, and have a quick chat, there being no trade entrances to most of these rowhouses.

The yellow fever epidemic of the year 1794 takes its toll on the city, killing ten percent of the populace within only a few months. Jamie is sad about the death of the pleasant woman who lived next door at Number 126, and even sadder to lose his friend Alisdair MacIntyre.


The years pass, and Jamie, now a familiar figure in and around the alley, and a true Philadelphian, is beginning to hope that his indenture will pass, and that he will be allowed to do what he cannot as yet – find a job that pays, make his own home, and, eventually, marry. As an indentured servant, he can do none of these things. But Ackerley has not been an unkind master. He has not resorted to any of the usual shabby tricks for extending Jamie’s indenture – finding fault with his work, pretending that Jamie has stolen something, claiming that he’s got a servant girl with child – all of which would add to his time. Jamie is confident of his freedom dues, and hoping to make a fresh start, perhaps in Philadelphia, although he’s heard there are opportunities for a likely fellow in faraway Pittsburgh – though it’s said to be a pretty rough place.


But one day, as Jamie is taking advantage of his half-holiday to walk along the waterfront, looking at the ships at anchor, and wondering what poor souls are in there, waiting for someone to come and redeem them out of the hold, he hears an odd sound.

A sort of mechanical whirring, like the turning of a lathe, distant, half-familiar. He looks around, but sees nothing.

Suddenly the bright sky overheard seems dimmer. A rushing sound fills his ears. He can no longer hear the noises of the horses and carts along Front Street, nor the cries of the street vendors.

Wondering what has come over him, Jamie tries to step aside from the flow of foot traffic, perhaps look for a place to sit down. But he is rooted to the spot.

And then it is as if he were back on the ship again, that terrible day when the captain, tired of Jamie’s protests that he’d been kidnapped, he shouldn’t be on the ship, he hadn’t volunteered for this, had had him flogged.

Jamie’s hands are jerked upwards, and he feels the leather thongs around his wrists. His feet are splayed, and he jerks at the remembered pain.

And then he hears a voice, as if of someone shouting down a tunnel.

’Williams! Get damp towels, water, and smelling salts. I’m slowing down the wheel.’

’Get ready to take the tom off as soon as it stops.’


Lieutenant Jenkins stares at Jamie in disbelief.

’Where the smeg did he get those clothes from? That outfit’s worse than the Mariposa uniform.’

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