Undistress (3)

IMS Sukórya’s Joy; and
IS Esseldár’s Champion, Cerulean Ocean, 1340 Gradakhmath 4

The rendezvous went smoothly. We cleared the watchers back from the bow – the foc’s’le was already clear, but there was no sense in risking the passengers any more than absolutely necessary – while the black hump in the water that was Champion circled around and came alongside to starboard, only a hundred yards off, matching our slow south-east progress with easy competence.

A puff of smoke from their “bridge”, I suppose we’d call it, marked the discharge of a line-shooting gun, and seconds later a rope – plain rope, I saw myself later, nothing as strange as we were expecting – came falling across our bow. Captain Ollávé gave me the deck, and went down to supervise the operation personally; keeping station with Champion was a routine operation, and I believe he wanted to be first to welcome our guest from the mystery ship aboard. The breeches buoy would allow only one man at a time to cross, so the risk was minimal – at least, discounting what the submarine could do – but I noticed the distinct outline of a clockbow in his pocket as he left the bridge.

He’d had me call down to the master-at-arms and have her break out a couple of pistols, too. Of such limited use as they were, being intended for keeping order on a liner.

But that was not my problem to deal with; mine was keeping Joy moving on a parallel course while they walked the line down to the flying bridge and made it secure there – Champion rode low enough in the water that a high belay was needed at our end, so the crosser wasn’t dipped in the ocean – and keeping a weather eye out for anything unexpected Champion might do, so I paid no heed to the thumps and bangs drifting down from above, or the steady chug of a steam winch that followed them.

Until I turned at the sound of voices behind me, and found myself staring at the man standing next to Captain Ollávé, wearing the white dress uniform of the Line with commodore’s pips at his throat.

“Well,” I heard him say, “as I said, Captain, I believe this should establish my bona fides.”

– Kairin Teresu, first officer

Undistress (2)

IMS Sukórya’s Joy, Cerulean Ocean, 1340 Gradakhmath 4

At first, we thought it was a whale.

Looking back, you may not understand our mistake. We did have submarines in our time, after all; indeed, Joy had passed a pair leaving Kanatai Bay, at dock in the port of Sukórya. But those early submarines still looked like ships; lean, low-slung ships with a cut-down superstructure, but still ships, with bridges, deck guns, and the slashing shapes of their dazzle paintwork.

Joy was moving slowly south and east in the dawn light, under just enough power to keep steerage way. After the message we had received, the whole crew were on shift for the rendezvous in anticipation of whatever might happen next, and the passengers – from Sybarite to steerage – were lining the rails. (Passengers were not to be informed of our change in course, so naturally the entire ship had figured out something was going on over esklav and pastries.) And then she came, broaching about eight hundred yards off our port bow. A long dark shape in the mist, black and rubbery skin glistening, still awash but for its humped back.

It was big, bigger than any whale we’d seen or dreamed, but what else could it have been? Not the promised support, that was for certain.

Until I stepped out on the bridge wing and trained my glasses on the whale, only to spy men scrambling out of the “hump”. I confess it took me a few moments to realize that one of them was carrying a signal lamp.

…message repeats – esseldár’s champion to sukórya’s joy, mariatis, maintain course and speed and prepare to receive breeches buoy, commodore teresu will provide details in person…

Commodore Teresu?

– Tanis Ophris, second officer