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Big_Tidday_Goth_GF

The primal sea

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Over the western horizon is nothing but hundreds of miles of emptiness.  The Western Sea, known now as ever simply as Ocean, has been a source of fear to most.  To a few, it has been more.  To the dreamers and the wonderers, the cold and forbidding expanse is more than unfathomable depths and a home to the slow moving (but aggressive) white tipped sharks of ancient notoriety.

 

What exists out there besides this Triassic era killing machine?  Is it possible that there are seas unexplored and undisturbed by man?  Our satisfaction wih our own knowledge renders us complacent just as our modern luxuries dull our sense of wonder and exploration.  Who knows what lurks in the depths beneath the bare rocks and corals of forbidden seas.  Perhaps Dunkleosteus still swims somewhere and there is master of all he surveys.

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Even the lichen on the rock surfaces of the Primal Sea is different, somehow less persistent in its natural state but more corrosive.  Our Galley Chief was studying botany in Northeg before he was called out of the reserve to serve us in this time of struggle.  It is his opinion that there is a symbiotic relationship between the small lizards on the islands and the plant life.  It makes sense when I consider it.  One of our signalmen was part of a shore party who went to set up a long range antenna.  He was bit by one of the strange, almost bird-like creatures.  The antivenoms he received as a precaution didn't have an effect and he nearly lost part of his hand before the Ship's Surgeon identified the cause of the inflammation as bacterial infection.  Something in these creatures allows them to break down their prey, both flora and fauna, but it isn't venom as we had expected.  Since then we have taken precautions and have been more apprehensive about shore parties in the future, knowing that the hinterland of the larger islands is unknown even to the most educated among the crew.

How the Western Alliances never studied this is beyond me.  Were it not for the threat of war, it would be a mystery worth solving to our dedicated explorers and scientists.  This is part of the reason that Oberland must impose its will on the Oligarchs ruling in the west - the knowledge contained in nature is something all of mankind has a right to.  

In the meantime, our homesickness is alleviated somewhat by the strange wonders of the Forbidden Sea.  While the local fruits require more testing and none of us could stomach the reptiles found on the islands, our hydroponics lab continues on at a fast pace.  The men on board were happy for the seeds I brought from home, although my tomatoes are quite sad specimens compared to what we had produced on the farm.  Still, it is a little piece of home that I enjoy almost on the weekly basis while we are on mission here.

 

3rd of the month of Grapes

A. Funk, Gunner's Mate

Turret no. 3 (the best gun crew in Oberland)

GOS Fenrir

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I move slowly through the strange and nameless plants.  My summer working uniform is stained with sweat, as usual, but now also with the noxious pollen and grass stains of these curious islands instead of the usual grease and powder of my station on ship.  I move slowly so as not to startle this strange lizard that walks high on its hind legs.  His movements are almost feline to my eyes - not at all like the creatures back on the farm at home.  He seems to be luring me, I realize, as I begin to worry that I am going too far from the rest of my shore party.  Then, all of a sudden, I'm staring at him face to face...only this time he isn't so small, but seems to grow before my eyes.  That blue tongue, normally concealed, stretches out towards me.  The stench is unbearable!  I feel pain in the front of my skull and a ringing in my ears.  What have I gotten myself in to?!  I will be injured and punished for my distraction.  What disgrace!  My one stripe will be reduced to none and I will return in half a year to explain to my family that I lost it.  I don't know if the fear of dishonor or this pain is worse for me, but both rise to a crescendo before I sit up in my rack...it was all a nightmare.

What could have interrupted my sleep?  My body is exhausted from my volunteer missions with the shore party, and my routine duties have not ceased, nor have the drills.  It is then that I notice the acrid smell from the dream has not left, and that I am not dreaming.  The strain on my ears is from the ship's alarm and the shouting of my shipmates.  This is something normally not heard on our ship except during gun drills, as our Captain places great emphasis on stealth and discipline when underway.  The fire is not in our station - I would know, and seeing as it is one of my many responsibilities as gun layer on Turret 3, it is an almost unthinkable disaster to me.  No, the fire is in the galley, or so the shouting would indicate.

I pull on my working uniform and boots in less than half a minute with long mastered practice and I take an oxygen mask off the wall.  Fighting the fire is a task all sailors know, and one that us Destroyer crewmen must be especially adept at, since there are fewer of us than on the Capital Ships of our Ocean Fleet.  The fire is a simple matter and none are seriously injured in the task, but our hydroponics lab is destroyed.  I don't even have time to feel regret for the loss of my tomatoes as I realize that this can only mean that negligence is to blame.  A fire amidship can only be the fault of one of the crew being remiss in his duty.

The next day I carry out my sad duty with the rest of the crew.  The Captain's Inquiry has found Electrictian's Mate 2nd Class Sund negligent in his monitoring of the wiring system of our ship.  This is not uncommon in our navy, considering that our wiring is known to be inferior to that found on the ships of the Western Alliances.  Our scientists surely are not to blame, but whereas we are rich in iron and renowned for our quality of steel, our copper reserves are of an inferior quality.  None of that matters when there is a man assigned to the task, however.  Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Sund is stoic about his punishment.  He strips his service uniform shirt - the same one we are all wearing - and begins his walk down the gauntlet.  I am only thankful that I am positioned towards the rear of the foredeck, so that I do not have to strike him after he has begun to collapse...and they all collapse towards the end, no matter how brawny or resistant to pain they are.  The enlisted men must pass one of the Master at Arm's clubs down the line to strike Sund with, and strike hard we must.  Once the captain has rendered judgement, it would be presumption of authority to do anything less, and the Master at Arm's eye will fall on any man who shows undue mercy.  I strike my blow and hand off the club, glad to be done with my gruesome duty.  Gunner's Mate 1st Class Franzel is another matter.  He seems to relish his role in dispensing justice, but the rest of my gun crew all knows the truth - he is a cruel man.  I don't understand how.  He comes from a farm just like me, and although he is bigger, I don't think that he is as tough or as brave as he presents himself.  It was Franzel who was the first to kill one of the strange animals we encountered on these islands, and for no reason at all!  As much as I wish to fight him, I know that it would only bring disgrace to my station and would ensure punishment for myself.  I console myself with the knowledge that my gun crew works for our gun chief because he instils respect, not fear.

As expected, Sund can barely keep himself on his feet, and by the time the Petty Officers and Officers strike him across the back with the flat edge of their swords, he begins to shout in pain, his pride extinguished.  There is a science to this - a man must be made to feel shame before his rank is stripped from his sleeve, and stripped it is by the Senior Chief of the Boat.  Franzel does a poor job at hiding his sadism and I only hope that the redness of my face is less obvious than his grin.  Sund does seem to regain some of his dignity, and whatever our Captain says does at the very least seem to be constructive.  The Captain is not a cruel man, but we have our traditions, and there is no Captain in Oberland willing to presume that he knows more than what four hundred years have taught us.

The formation ends at last and it is a feeling much like at the end of a funeral.  Electrician's Mate 3rd Class Sund is recovering in sickbay while the rest of us go about our duties in relative silence.  Now, more than ever, I am eager to take part in the next shore party's expedition.  I do not like this somber atmosphere, and with no hydroponics lab, it is now more necessary than ever to procure the fruit that at least two of the islands have been found to offer.  That fruit, though found to be edible, is a rare luxury.  I don't know if recent events will make it taste better or worse for me and the rest of the crew.

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"Add twenty, adjust right seventy!"

Our gun chief's directions are clear and I respond with the proper corrections as easily as taking a drink of water.  As gunlayer for Gun Turret No. 3, I am experienced enough to read the results ahead of time and to mentally prepare myself for our corrections.  The loaders, I can tell, are confident in their duties.  Shirtless in the tropical heat, they remove one training round, replace it, and close the breach block.  Our precision is like a well oiled machine, as good as any product of Wercha engineering.  Satisfied that our gun crews are responsive and sharp, the Captain calls off the drill and we stand down.

The shouting from Gun Turret No. 1 can be heard from here.  Clearly Franzel's harsh discipline and the unusual climate is beginning to take its effects on him and his men.  I try to put it out of my mind and seek out our Science Officer.  Oberland's Navy ensures that an official from the Ministry of Public Enlightenment is placed on every one of our ships, but we Destroyer crews are lucky in that we usually receive one with a role more suited to exploration than to propaganda.  Ours is exceptional in that he is as interested in exploring the Primal Sea even more than I am!  Science Officer Grolek is still at his duty station at the aft lookout post.  Tactfully, I remind him that I would like to be added to the next inland expedition and I am obliged.

...................

Two days after our latest expedition inland, I receive more good news.  The outstanding performance of our gun crews have convinced the captain to allow us secondary training.  I see the sad looks on the faces of Gun Turret No. 1's crewmen and I wonder if this means that Petty Officer 1st Class Franz will have them working as scullions.  When asked by the Chief of the Boat what I would like to specialize in, I almost break my composure in anticipation:  Diver is what I want.  The stories from our own Divers have intrigued me - the sea here is as strange and wonderful as the primordial islands we are patrolling.  The Senior Chief seems somewhat bemused by my enthusiasm, but he makes his recommendation all the same.  A few minutes later, I am informed that my diver training will begin tomorrow at first light.

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD
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I can hardly conceal my grin as I take off the bulky, bronze colored diver's helmet and begin the process of post-dive gear checks.  I notice that most of the other novice divers have a similar attitude, but what catches my eye is the look on the face of our senior divers by trade and the science officer.  Apparently the strange plants and nautiloids are something that they have never seen before in their time.  I suppose that there is some wonder for them in this job, even though their duty is normally confined to repairs.  True to my word, I perform my tasks diligently and efficiently.  My primary duties still take precedence, and I will not leave my borrowed suit in poor condition because I have watch duties in less than half an hour.  Of course Gunner's Mate 1st Class Franzel shows no such enthusiasm.  I still don't understand why he volunteered for this.  Of course I won't ask him, but it seems more likely that he would have been happier selecting another secondary duty training.

"Good efforts out there, but let us not become distracted by these biological marvels.  Remember that repairs and salvage are a diver's primary task."  Our patrician voiced Science Officer does his part to remind us of our duties, but even as we respond with our affirmatives, we can tell that he is as taken by the wonders as the rest of us...probably more so.  I store the dive suit properly after cleaning it and performing the proper checks.  There can be no second guessing the equipment!  In a place where the land plants can even corrode silver, who knows what the undersea microorganisms do to brass and rubber.

The watch goes by without incident.  We are told to be on the lookout for warships of the Federated Duchies, but we also know that civilian freighters are as much a concern.  The Federated Duchies consider the whole of the Sea to be their domain, and we are still a ship of war.  Wars have begun for lesser reasons than a chance encounter, even in this strange island chain two thousand miles across Ocean.  The only thing I see of note are the strange, skin winged lizards that inhabit some of the larger islands.  They look fearsome - a wingspan larger than any bird known to man and a lean but muscular frame.  I have witnessed one devouring an island lizard the size of a large dog, and without much trouble.  The most unsettling thing is that every new one we encounter seems to be larger than the last, and some have menacing looking tails that cannot possibly be used for anything other than a natural weapon.

As I turn my watch over to big Tom, my reliable loader on Gun Turret No. 3, I think about how different this strange sea is but also how much the sunset reminds me of a complete day's work on our farm at home.  I only just now realize how hungry I am.  Truly the experience of learning new things distracts me even from those mundane complaints that must be common amongst all sailors.  Supper will, of course, be fish again.  Fortunately our Galley Chief has tried to make things more interesting by complementing the food with some of the island fruits.  No one has choked or broken out in rashes yet.  We all love our Captain - he was the first one to try it.  It is said that which of the gods a Captain most emulates by how he conducts himself at mess.  This is another difference between us Destroyer crews and those of the big ships - we do not stand on formality when it comes to eating.  There is one common hall, like a King and his warriors in the old sagas.  Surely this is a life of Duty worth living!

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD

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On 1/15/2018 at 5:25 AM, WolfofWarship said:

I love this! Your writing style is elegant and fun and very easy to read. I was intrigued by the premise and want to know more! Brilliant work @Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD 

I meant to finish the story but I will soon.  Christmas interrupted both my gaming and my story but now things have slowed down at work and I have more time.  There will be Dunkleosteus in the next episode.

 

thank you for compliments tho  ((:

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD
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With the ship at full stop and no anchor, I remove the bulky diving suit and prepare for the Physician's Mate's routine checks.  A shallow dive doesn't require any time at decompression, and our primary duties prevent us from going too deep to begin with.  Nevertheless, his duty is as important as mine, as we must practice repairs both at anchor and even while in motion.  Wearing only my belt, sailor's undershirt and skintights, I feel the chill of the autumn breeze.  We are well into the Month of Grain.  Right now, my family is finishing the harvest before the fierce northern winter sets in.  I am sad that I cannot be home for the Sacred Harvest, but that is life in service to the All Highest.

My dive partner, a Petty Officer by the name of Methel, is preoccupied with stowing gear while we have daylight available.  I notice that the second dive team, Petty Officers Zunn and Franzel, are also beginning to reboard the ship.  No sooner does 3rd Class Zunn remove his brass helmet than I see the winch wheel begin to spin out of control.  The recovery winch line goes slack and Franzel's air hose springs up and traverses across the midship like a wire saw making its way across soft wood.  Zunn is immediately tripped and lands hard on his head.  The lazy atmosphere vanishes as crewmen variously attempt to get the recovery winch back into operation and begin to unpack nets, hooks, and any gear that might be used to save an overboard crewman.  The hose crashes through gear on the deck and comes to a stop against the railing, with the full tension of big Franzel pressing against it and more.  He has become snagged on something!  

We all hear Franzel's transmission - he is crying out in pure terror.  The air hose can act as an emergency tether, but the weight limit is only 40 stone - it is possible that our drifting boat is moving enough to break that easily...but what can he possibly be snagged on?  Thinking of nothing but a crewman in peril, I grasp the railing and leap overboard.  The ancient sea is warm almost like bathwater, even at this late month.  I quickly locate the oxygen hose and begin to swim downward while moving hand over hand.  The water is not so murky that I cannot see - twenty feet below, Franzel is adrift...he is drifting in the water, not caught on anything at all.  There is a severe gash on his right leg and blood fills the water.  Franzel has gone unconscious.  I briefly contemplate performing an emergency drop of his gear when off to my right I see a large, shadowy form round about and come near.  

What appears before my eyes is the image out of a nightmare - a large, iridescent plate of a face with a hinged jaw, eyes like two coins with holes in them, jaws that form what looks like a pointed double guillotine, and a massive green-brown hulk of carapace with primitive looking pointed fins.  I am bearing witness to an armored killer, longer than any shark, with small pectoral fins, a large dorsal crest, and a menacing ray of a tail that trails as it moves in a meandering fashion towards us.  This thing does not attack like any shark, spearing into its prey, but rather like some kind of horrible twelve foot centipede...swaying its massive greenish bulk back and forward as it closes the distance in seconds that pass like whole minutes.  Silently praying to Tir the god of warriors, I unsheathe my only weapon, a small net cutting knife which I have on the required belt which goes under the dive suit.  I mark the rhythmic sways of the terror, I time my thrust, and I stab for those shiny circular eye plates.  

The monster's jaws open and close rapidly like a machine in a factory.   My thrust feels impotent as though I am trying to hack apart stone.  The knife seems to deflect off of that armored face plate and slides backwards...into the corner of those strange discs that cover its eyes, where it stays lodged.  I see the creature's blood in the water as it thrashes its head to my left.  The creature's deadly maw is parried from what would surely be a fatal bite, but in turning I am whipped by its massive body as it spins away.  I am completely out of breath and strain all of my mental capacity to not panic as I begin to swim upward to the surface.  I am up long enough to get a lungful of air before I dive again, hoping to remove Franzel from this horrible situation.  I see the rescue divers have already resuited and made their way to him.  Within moments they reattach the winch and have him back on deck.  Almost before I can comprehend the situation, I myself am being grasped by the strong, steady hands of 2nd Class Methel, who forces me up into the prepared life preserver before quickly retreating from the water himself.  The strange creature circles below still but makes no further attack.  My last glimpse of it is what must be at least forty feet below, swimming with the speed of an apex predator.

 

Minutes later, Franzel is brought back to consciousness and his suit is removed.  His right leg is a ruin - this does not look like any injury I have ever seen.  Where there should be a strong thigh there is a gap of missing flesh and crushed bone.  Two tourniquets have been applied and I am amazed at how he has not passed out or bled to death.  The tourniquets do their work and the bleeding has stopped minutes ago.  Franzel is pale and even the exposed flesh looks more like the meat of a chicken, being cut deeply into and drained of blood.  That bite was able to drag him down and to break loose the recovery winch.  He gives me a look which is both thankful and sorrowful, and I start to feel bad that we were enemies before today...but his sorrow is not misplaced.  The Master at Arms ambushes me before I even know he is there and strips me naked on the deck.  I have violated protocol and placed lives in danger without authorization...even though the life is my own.  I know that I am the center of focus and I stand at rigid attention in the dying sunlight, knowing that my duty now is to await my punishment.

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD
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Despite the nearly thousand men present, the courtyard of the ancient fortress is nearly silent but for the burning of torches along the stone walls.  This was a great castle and all that stood on the grounds of Northeg, where the King of Burlswyth once set out on expeditions against the kingdoms of the Nordlanders.  Now it is an artifact within a great city of more than a million, used to teach schoolchildren of both Midlanders and Nordlanders of their shared heritage...and of course for ceremonies like the one we are here to partake in.  We stand in close formation in the courtyard, black sailor's tunics and caps blending in the torchlight seamlessly with our Armycorps brethren in their gray and blacks.  Those trained at Northeg come from all across the empire - regional regiments having been abolished twenty years prior during the People's Reforms of our current Emperor.  The high walls block out the gas lights of the city and create a trancelike atmosphere, which is appropriate for the holy oath we are about to swear.  The Admiral schoolmaster marches to the center of our horseshoe formation, flanked on either side by an ancient, bearded Gothi with one eye and course robes, and a well groomed priest wearing the white and black, to represent those who still follow the Triune God of the southern and western territories.  On order, we raise our hand in the manner of swearing an oath and repeat those words that we have all known since our earliest days.  We are now men under the banner of our Emperor and we will serve him until death takes us.

 

The memory of the last night of my Navyman's Basic Training come back to me time and again as I spend the night in the cramped cell of our Brig.  Duty is a sublime word - it is more than raw courage.  Heroes and gods alike do not succeed on courage alone, but often as not they are required to be clever.  It is not the warrior's courage alone that allows the nation to subsist through hard winters, but the thankless task of the farmers and the workers which comprise the soul of a nation - its body politic.  It has been said that the Nordlanders and Midlanders would have fought each other to our mutual doom if bravery were our only virtue.  But our debt of service to the All Highest, our Emperor, is greater than either.  It was that same discipline which led to the First Emperor's victory and unification of us all as one people.  This thought is on my mind as the hours slowly pass.   I try to count the tow chains stored opposite my prisoner's cage, but nothing can make me sleep.  With so much having transpired in the past day, I almost fear to dream more than I fear the Master at Arms finding me asleep and unrepentant.

Owing to the Destroyer's limited space, we have only a ten by seven foot corridor.  Wire cages isolate prisoners from one another, with the maximum capacity being sixteen only if the cells are doubled, and that is not counting for the primary use of our Brig as chain storage.  There is no natural light, and I sit here beneath the waves, mentally preparing myself for the gauntlet which will surely come tomorrow, if not the next day.  Justice does not take long to find me.  At dawn the next day, I am brought a wet cloth to wash myself and my service uniform.  I put on the full uniform as a brace myself for the sting of having it removed and for the pain of the gauntlet itself...but I am not led abovedeck.  The Master at Arms leads me a deck above to the entry of our Captain's wardroom, just past the war room, where the map of the Primal Sea and its islands hangs on the wall, still being completed by the topographist/navigator. I keep my eyes ahead while avoiding the gaze of my shipmates as they go about their duty.  I am puzzled as to why I am being taken to the Captain beforehand.  No one has mentioned this part of the procedure.

After fifteen minutes of standing at attention outside of the Captain's hatch, the Master at Arms is given instructions by the ship's Executive Officer, and I am told to enter and report to the Captain.  I come before the Captain's desk, here at the fore of the ship, and come to rigid attention with the appropriate greeting "Loyalty."  The Captain stands and returns my greeting before returning to his seat.  Science Officer Grolek and the XO are both present and seated.  "Why are we here so far from home, Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Funk?" the Captain begins.  I state that patrolling across Ocean is simply the duty of Oberland ships and sailors.  The Captain looks mildly irritated with my textbook answer and looks to Science Officer Grolek, who stands and speaks to me.  "You are a sharp lad, Funk.  Surely you know that I am more than a mere Science Officer."  His relaxed tone puts me at ease somewhat and I nod, not wanting to play the fool but not wanting to give anything away either.  All of the enlisted men talk that he has further duties for the Ministry of Public Enlightenment.  "This is a ship of war, but it war is not the greatest achievement of man, regardless of what the Sagas may say," the Captain says.  "We aren't here as oilers, fishers or whalers, nor do we interfere with those of hostile states...at least for now."  Science Officer Grolek pauses in his speech to come forward and look at me in the eye.  "'Duty is sublime,' as it says on the first page of the Soldier's Manual.  Our present duties are trifold:  We are vigilant should the day of battle come, but every man who is sent to the Destroyers is selected for his aptitude at Logic and Rhetoric.  Seeing beyond the horizons and understanding the natural world are not inferior to victory over other men, and they elevate not only the status of our race, but that of all mankind"  He produces a record listing the Rational Intelligence rating of the entire crew, as though to underline his statement.  Folding his arms behind his back, he turns his head to the map of known lands on the wall of the Wardroom.  "The Western Duchies have navies stronger than ours, but it is not only for world power that they maintain this.  They deny knowledge to all of mankind, so we must have the dual purpose of being explorers and warriors.  In that way, we are no different from the Heroes your village Gothi raised you to admire."

I am startled by this frank speech, which seems to have nothing to do with my act of negligence and breaking of protocol.  The Captain continues "Science Officer Grolek is a servant of the All Highest, the same as you and I, but he is in many ways freer than anyone who lives in those supposed lands of freedom to the west of Oberland, including their vaunted men of letters in their marble universities.  Do you believe in the All Highest?"  Instinctively I respond with the oldest phrase from my childhood, "I am the sword of the Emperor and he is our shield."   "Yes yes yes we all live by the same oath," the Captain interjects.  "What is important is that the Emperor also believes in us.  You must know that we have been on the brink of war for twenty years, ever since we as a nation withdrew from the quadrilateral accord."  I nod.  "The threat of war will not prevent us from exploring ever outwards, and from achieving the destiny of man on this plane."  The Captain looks to Grolek, who says "Our mission here is as much one of exploration as of war, and I tell you now in confidence that we are going to be at war very soon.  We may very well be the last Oberland ship to make it all the way across Ocean for decades.  Perhaps we have not even halfway crossed Ocean - no one knows for sure...but with the knowledge we have obtained while here, we will give the Universities material to ponder over as long as our nation is besieged.  More pragmatically - how do you think we are able to keep this ship running so far from an oiler?  The coal we have extracted are more potent than even what our factories can refine, and our discovery of it is why we did not return immediately."  I feel the solemnity of the situation in a rush.  This mission truly was more than a routine training voyage and patrol.  It also begins to dawn on me why our ships are designed to be so multi purposed.  Our engineers are equally adept at using archaic coal fuel as they are at managing oil at various speeds.  Supposedly, only the ships of Veldan across the Southern Sea can achieve this, although they never explore.

The Science Officer is a master at reading kinesics and he appears satisfied that he has made his point.  He returns to his seat and defers to the Captain.  "Gunner's Mate Third Class Funk.  You broke protocol for the recovery of a ruptured diver and endangered your life in the process, potentially depriving the crew of a gunner's mate."  This sudden shift back to the primary meaning of this council causes me to instinctively stiffen my posture and to gulp.  I look ahead, eyes fixed on the porthole behind the Captain.  "You also demonstrated incredible physical courage and risked your own flesh to rescue a fellow crewman, regardless of your past animosity."  I have no idea where the Captain is going with this.  "We need every man on this ship, and we shall be returning home soon before the hurricane season is on us.  Petty Officer Franzel can no longer perform his duties.  Considering that your actions were both eminently necessary and against protocol, you will receive no citations nor awards."  He stands.  "Oberland needs men of courage - you are hereby given the duty of Gun Chief for Turret 3 on the GOS Fenrir and the Rank of Gunner's Mate Second Class.  Your former Gun Chief shall take over for Franzel's boys - Gods know they need a leader now more than ever.  We expect you to perform your duty in a manner worthy of our hallowed ancestors.  You are dismissed!"

 

My head is spinning as I return to the crew quarters.  I have been promoted...just like that?  What lesson do I take from this?  I do not yet know the consequences of these events, but I feel responsibility more grave than any I have known since the night I took my Oath of Service.

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD

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The crew seems in high spirits at mess.  My crew sits together as we do almost everything together, as true comrades should.  Often I have heard about how proximity and time spent lead to animosity, but the distractions of this current assignment along with the news that we shall return home soon have raised the morale of the whole crew.  The mess chief discreetly gave me an extra helping of island potato, for which I am grateful.  Apparently I am some sort of hero now.  The thought itself makes me feel embarrassed.  The strutting pride of Nordlanders has always been distasteful to us common farmers, but to become prideful after nearly walking the gauntlet has given me pause.  I fear failure now more than ever before.  My work schedule has nearly doubled since becoming a gun chief, and I notice that I have become even leaner than before, so any nutrition is welcome.  The mess chief is tactful and makes no special mention to me, which dissolves any feelings of awkwardness I may otherwise have felt.

Gun 1's crew comes into the mess shortly after we sit down.  Big Tom is gregarious as ever, and invites them to sit in the empty spaces next to ours.  It is good to see Franzel up and moving, even though he now has one leg and must use a crutch.  His comrade from Gun 1 carries his tray for him as we all sit together, animosities forgotten.  I have to remind myself to remain silent about the startling news about war being imminent.  I do my best to follow the conversation but I am more reserved than before.  The second stripe on my working uniform's collar may look like a small thing, but responsibility lies heavy.  Even with this newfound responsibility, I have had restful sleep.  The nightmares of failure are behind me now.  I feel like I have been a changed man, but whether it is the two stripes on my work collar or my combat with the sea monster, I cannot say.

 

The routine duties of the next few days are tedious but a good way of forgetting all of the heavy matters on our minds.  The sea is especially quiet on this day.  It is nearly high noon and the crew will begin to cycle through the galley.  Thirty minutes more of watch before we eat.  The sky is clear over the broad green sea.  The jagged peaks of the islands are clear in the distance.  We are presently in position outside the Three Gardens, as we have named them for the purple potatoes that grow naturally on them.  I think back to harvest at home one last time before I am alerted by my subordinate and replacement in lower billet, Gunlayer Rondel.  

The captain has sounded general quarters.  A Destroyer of the Federated Powers has been spotted and is closing on our position!

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD
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Forty seconds and Gun Crew No. 3 is at its station.  Our quarters are at the aft, right below the turret, and the day finds us prepared.  I remove my sun-worn black sailor's cap and don the headset of the Gun Chief.  I'm tethered to the wall and connected to the Gunnery Officer by this, but I must also supervise my men and give corrections.  Of course the routine checks are unnecessary with our experienced crew - the shell is loaded, the gun is trained on the possible enemy, and the loaders step back and grab their safety rails.

"Federated Powers Destroyer, Venson Class.  Four kilometers, bearing 200," the Gunnery Officer relays over the internal comm.  Our ship turns to the east to intercept.  Our heading now cuts off any view I might have - my gun cannot fire forward of the ship.  From my Gun Chief's periscope, I can make out the spotlight relaying in standard code:  UNIDENTIFIED FEDERATION VESSEL - THIS IS G.O.S. FENRIR    WHAT ARE YOUR INTENT----

The signal is cut short by gunfire from the Venson, now a confirmed enemy!  The ground shifts beneath us as we begin turning hard to port.  The Gunnery Officer's commands come in a hurry but the instructions are clear.  I repeat the targeting orders and our turret rotates with all of us to get a lead on the enemy ship - I see him coming straight for us.  I give the order to fire, and the loaders go about their work immediately.  Three seconds later, the breach is closed and (importantly) the loaders are out of the way.  I repeat the entire process and observe.  The shells are missing the mark by approximately two hundred meters - I order the adjustment and we continue to fire.

The enemy shells are coming in faster than even our well trained crew can put them out!  I remember the Venson class from the schoolhouse - it has more gun turrets than our own ship, and it's more maneuverable.  The last shell of ours strikes home and the enemy ship is smoking!  "Steady, adjust right ten."  I give the command just as the Venson begins to maneuver towards us - back and forth, closing the distance...just like that strange but nightmarish armored fish which even still lurks beneath the waves.

The range is now at less than three kilometers, and the constant volley of enemy shells begins to find its mark on our ship.  The ship shakes and I hear an explosion off to my right - that must have been the depth charges.  I glance over through my scope and I see the wreckage of the Depth Charge racks.  Thankfully the damage is isolated.  We achieve a solid hit amidships of the enemy - now we are right on target.  As I give the command to reload and fire again, I hear an electronic screech in my headset which rattles my teeth and causes me to rip it off.  The ship shakes and I am nearly flung across the turret before I can get ahold of the safety rail on the bulkhead.  Turret No. 1 received a direct hit and has been destroyed.  Just like that, my old Gun Chief is dead, as are all of Franzel's boys.  

We grasp the rails as the boat takes evasive action.  Now with the enemy to our rear, mine is the only gun capable of firing.  Our ship now is moving close in to the Three Gardens - our Captain realizes that we cannot outgun the enemy ship.  We will engage him in our own lair - six months we have spent learning these islands.  It is time to put the odds in our favor.

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD

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"You are in the boar's lair, and that is where he wants to fight you."  My father checks the shotgun before handing it back to me.  All five shells are loaded, one after the next, but I know that if the first two don't do it, I won't get a chance for the third.  My brother, Tyrel, is nearby, smiling beneath his old green stocking cap.  It was years ago he went through his first boar hunt, and I have experienced his good natured teasing for days now.  "Get that rifle off your shoulder.  Your brother's life may depend on you shortly."  My father admonishes Tyrel.  "Of course papa.  I wouldn't miss."  He looks serious for half a second before returning to his usual jovial self; "I haven't had bacon in weeks!"  Shaking his head, my father looks back to me:  "This is his lair," he points at the overgrown thicket up ahead "but you must turn that against him.  You are smarter than the Boar.  Take what advantage he has and turn it to a disadvantage.  That is how you hunt a predator, boy."

 

I remember my father's lesson as we lead the enemy into our lair.  The islands are rocky and the shoals everywhere.  Overhangs, long eroded by the endless tide, give vision through massive cliffs.  The bare, tan rocks of the Three Gardens look as wild as the great beasts that inhabit all of the islands here in The Primal Sea. 

The shellfire from the Venson has not slowed.  As we conduct evasive maneuvers, I give constant corrections to our horizontal gunlayer.  A few of our shells connect, most do not.  The Venson is not the strongest ship in the Federated Duchies' Navy, but it is one of the fastest.  Still the effects are difficult to determine from this range.  As we move in to the cover between islands, the Venson turns to port to give us a full broadside.  Their captain is no fool - he won't chase us directly in, and he is trying to do us in before we can break contact.  

Salvo after salvo lands around us.  We sustain several hits - our rear fire direction center takes one, the foredeck another.  Several more glance off our side armor or take away parts of the railing.  Finally we make it out of firing range.  Now the hunt begins.  We now have but two guns to his five, and he is faster than we are.  The trick will be to catch him unawares and sink him before he can bring his guns to bear.  We have a few minutes at least.  DC parties are dispatched across the ship, the wounded are taken belowdeck.  I order my loaders to restock.  Ammunition is brought up from the rear magazine via the shell shaft.  One unloads the shells while the other stows them in our turret stowage racks.  Our gunlayers take the moment to release their grip on the wheels but keep their eyes on the sights.  The hunt goes on for minutes, each of our ships looking for position to ambush the other.  We look to the water for any trace of disturbances.  Our ship goes by at seven knots, all available hands at lookout.  We begin to sail around the northmost of the Three to get a view of the sea before turning back in.

 

Contact!  We find our enemy bearing 168 from the west side of the Northern Island - I speak into the handset and pass this information to fire control, followed by "Range - Point Blank!"  I give corrections to our gunlayers and the order to fire.  Another explosion and smoke, but this is off the front of the enemy ship, and I can now see that it was to no effect.  Only one turret on the enemy is in line and I see it turning towards us - such amazing speed!  What is this technology?  We know the Western Duchies have some incredible technology, but these hydraulics...

There is no time for fear.  I take off the headset and tell my loaders "Armor Piercing."  Big Tom gives me a look, like I'm not sure that's what I want.  "NOW Mister Hutz!"  I shout at him.  Tom's hesitation is gone and he does as ordered.  He slams home the heavy shell, his counterpart closes and locks the Breach Block.   "Up ten right five."  The Gunlayer makes the adjustments.  "Fire"  The Venson's forward turret is aimed at us - I am looking down the barrel, like it is meant for nothing but me.  Our shell penetrates to the left of that gazing gun...and there is no return fire.  The enemy turret rotates lazily off to the starboard side of the Venson - we have disabled it!  

There is no time for celebration - the ship is closing the distance and turning to port to bring its five guns to bear.  "Armor piercing, load!"  These shells are given to us to fight larger ships but after landing several of the General Purpose rounds, to no effect, I go with my gut instinct - Our torpedo launcher goes to work and ten enter the water, one after another.  The enemy ship bears down on us and threads them without difficulty - these are no amateurs.  We continue our volume of fire and our enemy turns broadside.  All of the machineguns on our deck are going wild - shells ripple across the water and rake the deck, the exposed men on both ships fighting a furious duel of their own.  Our shells strike home just as the enemy's hit our strong sides.  At this close range, our armor proves superior.  The Venson slows a bit before a massive explosion comes from its midsection.  The engine has been destroyed and it is causing a chain reaction.  Smoke pours out of the ship and men began to abandon.  I grab Tom - in the heat of the moment and moving shells like a mad Berzerker.  "Stop Tom!  They are going down!"  The battle is over.  "Up forty, engage safety."  I don't need to receive the order...but I put the headset back on quickly before I miss something.

 

We raise all of our guns and machineguns.  From the Captain, we receive orders to send out lifeboats and to rescue as many of the enemy crew as possible.  I maintain my watch and observe the enemy deck.  The ship is going down quickly.  We close to within two hundred meters.  Our boats and swimmers begin to rescue survivors.  I see the enemy captain on the top deck.  He is wearing the brown working uniform standard steel helmet of the Western powers, and his eyes show regret as his expression is concealed by a huge brown mustache.  He takes his helmet off and looks inside...is there a photo of someone in there? A loved one?  No telling.  He throws the helmet into the sea and then does something unexpected.  Tying his belt through the railing of the ship, he stands on the deck and draws his service pistol, warning all to stay away from him!  This man will not send his crew to death, but he does not consider surrender.

I am amazed.  We were always told about the decadence and weakness of the Western Duchies...but this enemy captain.  Surely we will meet him again in Valhal.  I notice our own Captain on the foredeck.  He gives a salute to this brave antagonist and foe.

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I fall asleep in moments after climbing into my rack.  My working uniform, folded and stowed in my personal locker, still bears the marks of grease, smoke, and oil from the day's labors.  All hands turned to damage control for the hour after our duel.  At the end of the day, we are down a single turret, ancillary equipment, most of the railing on the port side on the fore of the ship, and our starboard side depth charge racks.  We managed to conduct category one repairs and ensure that our ship will be able to safely return across Ocean and see home again.  We have lost fifty of our shipmates on this day.  Science Officer Grolek was among them.  He was manning his post in the aft observation and fire control deck when a random piece of shrapnel took off the top of his head.  He died instantly.  

The enemy prisoners are another matter.  We have rescued seventy five.  For a standard ship of the line, this would be no trouble.  Honor demands that we treat them as prisoners at war...to think we are actually at war.  How long ago did it start?  What is happening at home?  We have so many questions.  We have been given strict instructions to ask nothing of the prisoners, under pain of walking the gauntlet.  Our interrogators will have less success if we give something up in our ignorance.  All of the crew must now perform secondary duty as guards.  Room is made in our forward storage rooms to house the prisoners, and the gear distributed throughout the ship.

 

The next morning I am awoken by the watch.  We put our service uniforms on for the funeral of those lost.  The Captain goes first, committing those bodies to the sea who fell the day before.  We are severely underhanded but we can maintain.  I am congratulated by our Chief Gunnery Officer on my work yesterday.  I feel a bit shy receiving this praise, but he assures me that is the sort of thinking that a Gun Chief must possess.  I feel awkward and say my thanks, wishing more to go about my duties and to leave.  Now that we are finally going home, the anticipation grips us all.  I know very well that this will feel like the longest part of our voyage.  Three weeks at cruising speed, using up all the coal we can forage, and we will be back at Wercha, gods willing.  As I go on the last shore party to requisition coal, I look back at the high legged lizards and skin winged reptilian birds and wonder if I will ever see a place so marvelous in all my life again.

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I am on watch when we spot the first white tip of the Ocean Range Shark.  We are within waters more familiar to mankind now.  For the first two days upon leaving The Primal Sea, as our Science Officer referred to it, we observed the strange pink jellyfish and the bizarre long shelled squids.  Jetting themselves alongside our ship, it was almost as if they were undisturbed by the noise from our engine.  Supposedly the Captain has kept his science journal for study at universities at home.  It will be sad if we are sunk before then and this knowledge is remains hidden to our homeland and perhaps the world as well.

I shake my head and come out of this daze - if we are sunk, then I will never see home again either.  Something about the strange place has given me a feeling like I am observing things from afar.  It was almost unreal...an ethereal six months.  Looking out across the vast expanse of Ocean and at these familiar killing machines, it is like I just awoke from a long dream.

My watch passes and I am relieved by a crewman from the depth charge detail.  All of the men under my supervision have already eaten, and now I go to the galley.  Our stores of exotic island fruits and vegetables are almost gone.  They don't seem to keep for a very long time, even though they grew at rates that only a farmer like myself could truly appreciate.  This would explain why those gigantic lizards were such voracious eaters.  Those islands go by their own seasons and rules.  The season for the rest of the world has changed, however.  And what a sudden change the season is!  Hardly had we sailed out to sea - we no longer saw any flying creatures - when the chill fall breeze started to bite into us.  I take off my warm stocking cap and sit down to a small serving of potato and standard rations.  The galley chiefs have had to resort to the canned meats.  We have more than enough for the voyage home, of course, even without hydroponics...but that will not make the time go by any faster.

 

The ship zig zags its way across Ocean on a northeasterly heading.  The odds of a random submarine finding us are very small, but there is something which the Western Duchies of have which Oberland has no equivalent:  Seaplane Carriers.  If our officers are to be believed, the Federation has almost a hundred of them in various sizes and configurations.  A chance meeting with but one could be the end of us.  Being a Gun Chief, I now sit in on briefs every other day along with the officers and petty officers.  A gun chief must hear from the Captain himself and he must keep his men informed.  Rumors and idleness are best fought with factual information and work, and in Oberland's navy we strive to achieve these at all times.

The Captain is of a mind that the enemy will be concentrating their forces near their western approaches.  We are going to avoid the Sunset Archipelago at all costs, and we will come around wide across the 052 Easting and make for Farvegr.  There we will attempt to refit before sailing the last four hundred miles back to Wercha.  This is the safest route but it will be the beginning of winter before we arrive.  The benefit is that it will be unlikely to encounter any enemy Seaplanes or Submarines when crossing the treacherous Whitewall Sea.  I remember the stories of the submariners from our training - attempting to surface or even to make it to torpedo launch depth, and the treacherous waves will rock you across the ship, giving you more bruises than a fistfight with one of the Household Guards of the Emperor.

So our course being set, now all we must do is be vigilant and wait.  Our next foe is the cycle of nature itself.

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD

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Normally the chill northern wind is an unwelcome part of necessary watch and deck duties, but today I am thankful for it.  The biting wind means that here, outside of our gun turret on the aft deck, I can speak to one person without fear of long ears listening in.  I must reprimand big, gregarious Tom for near fraternization with our prisoners.  Tom is the last person someone would want to fight with, but if you can look past his fearsome frame and large hands, he has a soft heart.  These western prisoners surprise us all with how they managed to save some tobacco smokes from their sinking ship.  As much of a rare treat that this is to us now, it is forbidden to take one offered by our prisoners of war.  I don't think Tom was especially excited for the tobacco, just that he took the one offered in good faith.  I remind him that we do not know which of them are common sailors and which ones may be more than they appear, and that we have to remain aloof at all times.  

"Remember that these are the men who fired on us without warning, Mister Hutz.  We allow them an hour abovedeck a day and to their own tobacco if they have it.  That is humanity enough.  Soon enough they will be in a camp or traded for some of our men, and we'll be home with all the company we want."  Tom looks at his shoes...he is sometimes too good natured, and he takes criticism to heart.  "Forget about it Tom.  We're good men and that we know it is enough. Our fortunes have been better than theirs, haven't they?  Lets just keep our heads up until this voyage is over."  Some of Tom's good spirits return.  It's easy to get complacent with things like this.  I send my faithful loader back belowdeck to get warm and prepare myself for another four hours looking for planes or signs of enemy ships.  We are now within days of arriving at the island of Farvegr.  The port is said to be very small and the port town really a glorified fishing village, but it will be the first we have seen of civilization in more than seven months.  Of course I am working off the assumption that the enemy hasn't already taken it as an advance base for an attack on our homeland.  That is quite unlikely though.  The island was deemed to be inadequate for a naval station, and its stony hinterlands offer very little use as an area to garrison troops.  The blue waves and dark blue sky are becoming rougher by the day.  While the sea is foreboding at this time of year, I look up at the end of my shift and I take comfort in seeing the familiar stars of home.  We have safely made it across Ocean.  I am now one of the few across our navy to have made the journey.

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD

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"Oi look!  Off the port bow!"  I drop my line duties and reach for my binoculars before dashing to the railing.  Repairman Lotzan sounds very excited, and his call is informal.  Something has surprised him...an enemy submarine perhaps?  "Swimming along side us!  They're leaping out of the water!"  Confused, I traverse my binos from right to left.  There!  I see them too: black dolphins!  They are leading us back to land, leaping one by one out of the water at pace with our ship.  The legends say that these are servants of the god Dando, the patron of all warriors lost at sea.  Other, darker tales maintain that he is not a god at all, but the lost spirits of sailors and warriors whose bones rest on the deep, dark seafloor.  Those same legends also claim that he cries out in envy of those still under the sun's warming light, and that he hopes to lead us all down there.  I prefer the more cheerful version.  These dolphins are a good sign...more to the point, they also mean that we are nearing land again.

The crew cheers as our aquatic companions leap across the waves.  It's hard to imagine a creature so free and strong.  They also must be brave.  The unknown terrors of the deep are nothing to them except routine dangers...less deadly than even a fast automobile or a pack of wolves is to us.  I think about how small and powerless we are without these technological marvels.  The stories of longships being taken down by krakens and great, voracious whales seem quaint to us...but Science Officer Grolek once told me that not all of these stories are rooted in superstition.  The churning of our engines vibrates the waters and keeps more at bay than what we would otherwise observe.  Small wonder why the Nordlanders decided to settle among our lands long ago, and why they were willing to fight far from their homes to stay.  Even the bravest man wants a chance at traveling safely.

*******************

Within days we are in sight of Farvegr.  It is an ugly island.  Brown, rocky hills criss cross the hinterland.  The grass on the plains looks green from here, but we all know that beneath it are stones everywhere.  It is a fisherman's island, with very little in terms of crops being produced.  As we begin to make landing, we are escorted by the harbor patrol.  Local auxiliaries in old, rusting warships guide us into port, past fishing lanes and boats of all sorts.  These monitors were once part of our oceangoing fleet, but they are now hopelessly outdated.  We feel the cold stares of fishermen and civilians as we come into port.  These are simple people who want nothing of the war.  I think their disposition is probably always of a more negative type, but they show no special kindness towards our warship.  The younger men do seem to be a little struck by our battle damage.  Some whisper that we crossed Ocean bearing those scars.  We are proud of them, of course: these are scars earned in battle, paid for in blood and avenged.  Perhaps those are the same men who will be sailing with us in the months to come.

Our prisoners are handed over to the army's garrison.  The men from the Federated Duchies do their best to hide their fear, but they have no doubt been indoctrinated to believe us barbarians.  I know that our intelligence officers are experts at making men talk.  Undoubtedly they will find out what their mission was.  We are civilized people - whatever our enemies may say.  Gods know that ours is an example to follow.  There are certain navies out there who none would want to be captured by alive.  Between us and the Federation, however, massacres and brutality have never been the norm.  I hope that this is always the case.

We do not spend very long at Farvegr.  Unloading prisoners and requisition of supplies is our chief concern.  Third echelon repairs are impossible here.  These people seem to have avoided the gaze of all major powers, or perhaps we simply do not possess the resources to build up a respectable port.  Still it is nice to walk on dry land and to have different food for a change.  Our Captain has obviously made sure that we will be well fed.  After eating from cans for the past three weeks, I can't even tell if the fare is meager or poorly cooked.  I start to feel strength in my body that I had forgotten I had.  One of our Petty Officers reminds us that we still have a ways to go before home, so if nothing else, work hard so that we can have another proper meal...perhaps at a restaurant in Wercha.  I just now realize that I will have a substantial sum of money to my name after this.  Buying a telegram or a pigeon home will be a very small cost.  Hopefully my family is safe on its farm.

As a Gun Chief, I am summoned by the Captain for a brief on the War and our situation.  The war started at about the same time as our arrival at The Primal Sea.  The eastern nation of Estrek has launched a lightning campaign into Kalak and made several preemptive strikes on our military forces in the east.  The royal house of Kalak attempted to escape their capitol, but was intercepted and hung as common criminals.  (We are all shocked at the barbarity of this)  The Federated Duchies of the west declared war on us the following day, citing the disputed lands between us.  As of now, we have been fighting to retake Kalakian land while their government in exile (including their eight year old crown prince) is under our protection.  We are without allies.  It is rumored that the southern continent has made demands and counter demands of the warring powers.  Veldan, the nation on the western half of the southern continent, has decried the Estrekian attack and has denied them use of the entire Southern Sea.  This, of course, puts them in conflict with their eastern neighbors, the Shinshi (servants of the gods, in their eastern language) who have long disputed both Veldan's claim to the sea as well as their very presence on the same continent.  Both powers have been looking for an excuse to fight each other, but neither has had any great advantage to press...until now.  The very hope of Veldan joining us against enemy powers may rely on us gaining some advantage in the months to come.  The All Highest has declared that we will not back down and that we will win our war against the aggression of our enemies.  Even as we sit here, inside the ancient wooden longhall, our navy is rapidly expanding.  Our leave will be a short one, as this is the critical time to gain an advantage at sea.  As of yet, there have been no great battles, only small engagements like our own, just a month ago.

After the briefing, the Petty Officers, Officers, and myself brief our subordinates on the situation.  There is a mix of fatigue and anger in the faces of my men.  We have earned our time ashore, but we have actually been late arrivals to this war, and it shows no signs of reaching a conclusion soon.  I leave them by reminding them that we have already prevailed once.  "We have already fought them at fair odds and won.  Now we will be under the command of our admiralty.  The Aesir look down on us - when a part of our fleet again, we will crush any who we meet out on the sea!  Be confident men.  Now I want you all to relax.  Take your supper and enjoy a bed that isn't a hammock for tonight.  Tomorrow we fight our way home and enjoy the shore leave we have earned."  The men cheer and promptly run to put on their service uniforms, Big Tom being the loudest and most joyful - some people are easy to lead with talk of food.  I smile and prepare to follow them when I notice the Captain looking down at me from a nearby stairwell.  Before I can return my sailor's cap and salute, he gives a nod of approval and walks away.

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD
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The squall starts an hour before first light.  I am nearly thrown from my hammock as the ship rocks heavily to starboard.  I reach for my pocketwatch that I leave hanging from the bulkhead.  I think I can shrug off this disturbance and sleep for maybe an hour more, but in a few minutes I give up.  Most of the men in the aft enlisted quarters have also given up and go to put on their working uniforms.  For the first time in a long time, I feel truly claustrophobic.  We are crammed in as the ship rocks heavily in the furious northern waves.  We must remain belowdeck unless our duties insist on us going above.  After the luxury of a proper bath and a few days ashore, my nose has regained its sensitivity.  We all smell wretched.  I make a promise to myself that I will not be the first to puke, especially when I can't get up above.

We left Farvegr under the cover of darkness, an hour after twilight.  The locals gave what showing they could.  A local school collective band did its best rendition of "All for the All Highest" and the girls came out in their best costume to put wreaths of island lilies around our necks.  I suppose that the cynicism of their cold, isolated existence hasn't yet affected those who haven't been out to sea or at work in the mines.  The Captain believed that departing before the day hours would mitigate our risk of being detected by enemy scouts or submarines.  Of course we have our own of both, but the enemy's advantage of seaplane carriers gives them the upper hand while we are hundreds of miles away from the mainland.

The islanders did give us some coffee before we left, which was one small kindness.  Sadly there is no way to prepare it or drink it while the ship is tossed about by the sea.  Of course the weather means that the threat of submarines and enemy planes is almost nonexistent, so this does work in our favor.  Still, it doesn't help the time pass any more quickly.  My watch will be coming soon.  I take a few minutes to look over my reports.

* Forty shells 15cm (18 Armor Piercing, 22 General Purpose) for Gun #3

* Fifty three shells 15cm (20 Armor Piercing, 33 General Purpose) for Gun #2

* Seven Torpedoes

* Four thousand, eight hundred 8mm Machinegun

* Fifteen hundred 2cm Autocannon

I know that there was no small shouting match between our logistics officer and the local arms militia officer.  Apparently the 15cm rounds are in short supply, even though they have but a handful of ships that mount those guns.  The others have a motley variety of calibers, many of which we have retired from naval service.  Of course there are no torpedoes, and we have less than half of our stock remaining thanks to our battle with the Venson.  I can understand why the local militia would be niggardly with their rounds, but I also wonder how feasible their defense efforts would be in the face of a committed attack.  More than likely, their ships would be blown out of the water within an hour or less, and the soldiers of the Federation would have no trouble conquering the island.

Second level maintenance left even more to be desired.  Half of the lights in our corridors are no longer working.  The exterior railing we somewhat repaired ourselves, using lengths of rope.  One thing we are well provisioned are is coal.  Our engineers are able to work marvels in the science academy, and the duel oil/coal engine is the only reason we could have dared to make this expedition in the first place.

When the time comes, I put on my rubber coat and rain hat to replace my watch.  A comrade behind me shuts the hatch as I go abovedeck, lest the wind make the task more of a pain and we take even more water down in our living space.  Firmly grasping handrails, I move to amidship to the rear observation deck.  The man I am replacing is huddled near the scope, nearly useless in this weather.  I pat him on the shoulder and he brightens up.  He shouts over the din of the storm that nothing unusual has transpired.  "You are relieved," I say, and he wastes no time getting belowdeck.  Accepting my fate for the next four hours, I reach into my coat for a pack of cigarettes.  We haven't received our pay yet, but I managed to trade one of the iridescent rocks I found on "the Big One" (the largest island we explored in the Primal Sea) for a couple of packs.  It is no great loss - I have plenty more stowed away.  I cover the flint with my coat and light the cigarette - a small perk of being on watch, and I observe.  The waves come higher than our own ship, and it isn't long before my cigarette is extinguished.  I try again and this time I keep it closer to my body.

The Captain is on the bridge, I can see.  Our intercom chatter mostly pertains to course adjustments.  Right now the chances of an attack are quite small.  Well if the enemy does come, it will certainly be interesting to see which of us can shoot straight in this weather.

 

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Alpha Tester
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6,392 battles

My working uniform has hardly had a chance to dry when it all began.  For the first time in days, the sea is calm enough to allow us a chance to redirect our attention to some small leisure activities.  I set the chessboard on an unused flour can and allow my opponent, Engineer's Mate 3rd Class Gunther, to make the first move.  Even before he can finish pondering his opening strategy, the klaxon sounds and we hear "Action Stations.  This is the Captain.  Stand to for battle," over the intercom.  I quickly put the board and pieces into a pile in my locker and I don my cap and shortened pea coat.  Within a minute I am at my position in Gun Turret #3.  My crew performs its pre-firing checks at record speed and I give the order to begin traverse, right to left.  Over my wired headset I hear the call:  "Enemy cruiser bearing 4800, Gelfaz Class."

An utmost sense of dread stirs in my stomach.  The Gelfaz is a dedicated destroyer killer.  What's more, it is a ship of Ballea, here in northern waters.  This can only mean that Bellea has joined the war against us.  The Belleans are a proud people...displaced midlanders, the same stock as myself, if the common knowledge is true.  Proud are they of their constant struggles of independence, both from the All Highest as well as the Federated Duchies...for all the good it does them.  Since defeating their invasion ninety years or so ago, they have ever been at the Federation's side in every war, like a lapdog.  So much for their great pride.  

Politics aside, what is pertinent now is that we manage to evade this ship.  The stars last night were truly the stars of home - everything was in place when I took a moment to look through the lens of a borrowed sextant.  To encounter this ship so close must mean that Dando means to have us in his legion beneath the waves.  It is only fair, I suppose, considering how many times we have cheated death.  Speaking of cheating death, I see Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Franzel off to my left, manning one of our 2cm AA cannons in replacement of a fallen brother.  Sitting at the gun, wearing a steel helm, one legged and bare armed, he looks determined to pay someone back for the loss of his guncrew.  I silently hope to myself that we don't come anywhere near close enough to use our AA cannons.

The ship, by my estimation, is at least twelve kilometers away.  It is easy to see in the calm sea.  Breaks in the clouds cast light across the cold waters, but a menacing nimbus appears to be forming off to the north.  It is a vain hope to wish the weather would save us.  Within the time that far off storm can come this far, the Gelfaz will be able to sink us as casually as we would take down a merchant ship.

The hours pass by slowly, all eyes glued to optics, loaders and ammo men standing ready at their stations.  The ship begins to turn to starboard for its return trip.  We breathe a collective sigh of relief.  I lean back and prepare to give the order to stand down to half-watch...when the Gelfaz makes a sharp correction.  He has spotted us!  No sooner do I see the signature of those terrible, rapid fire main guns than I get the order to load General Purpose and to make appropriate adjustments.  "Standby, (we are already loaded, of course) Adjust Five Zero up, Three Two Right," I relay fire control's message.  Over the comm I hear the volley countdown.  "Fire!" I give the order in proper timing with fire control.  Our shells travel on their long arc just as the first enemy salvo lands eight hundred meters (by my reckoning) behind us.  Our ships makes an evasive turn, leaving my turret the only one to engage.  Torpedoes would be useless as the enemy is well alert, and our guns are not enough to fight this enemy at any range...but we must try.  Before the shells even land, I can tell that ours were also too short.  "Adjust - up fifteen, left fifteen...Fire!"  Our shells impact much closer to the enemy than his to ours, and this correction should put us very near, if not on the target.  I hear a massive splash in the water and its echo on my line to fire control.  We are being bracketed with expert precision!  

By the time my loaders are clear of the breachblock and I prepare to call corrections, our shell hits the mark.  I see a whiff of smoke that quickly dissipates on the foredeck of the Gelfaz.  That wasn't a wound.  "Adjust - up five...Fire!" The gun recoils.  "Load Armor Piercing."  This time there is no hesitation from Big Tom and he takes the proper shell from the rack and sends it home.  Our last shell lands on the armored bridge and this time, I see more smoke and what looks like debris.  The armor piercing will do more damage to that bigger ship, perhaps.  Just then we are shaken and I see an explosion much closer - one of the enemy shells has clipped the rear of our ship.  We begin to turn to port before violently correcting course...but something is wrong.  Throughout the ship we can hear the creak and grind of a jammed propeller and we all realize that we are down to one screw.  At this speed the Gelfaz will overtake us within minutes, and the next salvo will do more than damage our propulsion.  

The awful grinding comes to a stop and we once again move forward, but now only at less than cruising speed.  I continue to make corrections and fire, and it looks like my shells land true.  The target becomes larger through my scope and I give the corrections as though they are second nature.  It then dawns on me - he has us.  The broadside of the enemy ship means that he has us.  There is no need to pursue: this will be a killing blow.  "Until Valhal, brothers."  I say to my crew.  At that moment a black mark appears in my scope and I wonder if water has condensed in there and ruined the lens.  I see the target rock, a great explosion amidship, and smoke billows up.  Seconds later, the loud explosion of a bomb reverberates across the waters.  Confused, I look up through the viewport and I see a dive bomber from our Air Service pull up from the Gelfaz.  There was no valkyrie, but there was a flying savior!  Over the headset I receive the command to cease loading and I give the order, although this time, I have my gunlayers keep that enemy well within our crosshairs.  I'm not willing to assume that he thinks his battle is over.

I take a moment to rotate my viewport and to see where the plane has possibly gone to, and then I see it:  I missed it earlier against those dark northern clouds.  A dirigible!  Proudly displaying our nation's colors, muted for tactical purposes, it is one of our famed observers.  The dive bomber was clearly dropped from its suspension rack.  We may not have the seaplane carrier ships of the Western Duchies, but we have hundreds of such zeppelins, all armed with some form of bomber or bombers.  To think one was in the sky so late in the year, and so soon after a storm.  Surely the gods themselves mean us to come home from this saga alive.  

The crew stands to half alert as we rush to take our caps off in cheer for our gallant savior.  The dive bomber returns our salute by dipping his wing, and flying by us at 150 knots.  He leaves a jet of water behind him before he regains altitude and heads home to refuel.  I notice also the zeppelin beginning its ponderous turn.  He will be our eyes for the remainder of our journey.  We will arrive in Wercha before the day's end!

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Crowds throng the dockside as our Destroyer returns to Wercha’s military port.  All around us are signs of war.  We see, in the distance, other ships undergoing maintenance and refits.  We spot a few Destroyers of our model, but different - they are being refit with double barreled guns of a smaller caliber and, it seems like, having their hulls reinforced.  The Battleship row is half empty, surely out on operations at this moment, while others wait pensively for the moment they set forth.  The port is bustling with navymen and old dock workers.  All is different from when we left, but more surprising is the massive crowd as we come into dock.  Old veterans are at hand to shout applause and pretty girls throw flowers the path before us.  An Admiral in full dress is on hand to meet us.  Apparently our Captain did send word of our return and a summary of our exploits while we were on Farvegr.  A black and white banner spans over our pier, reading the Empire’s motto in the old script.  “Oberland Above All Else.”  It is near and true to all our hearts, and it bears a triple meaning: Our nation comes before all other concerns; Our nation is greater than any other; lastly Our nation truly is above all the others, geographically speaking.


We salute our nation’s banner as we step down the gangplank.  We are dressed in our service uniforms, our beards are full, and our top collar button is open.  This is authorized but rare, being the universal distinction of sailors who have travelled past the Zero Zero easting, where the Twilight Islands are.  Few in Oberland have made the journey across ocean, and we look the part.  The Admiral couldn’t be more of a contrast.  Wearing a parade perfect officer’s cap, an exquisitely tailored greatcoat, dress boots, and sword and dagger at his waist, he returns the salute of our Captain and shakes his hand.  The Captain is not very tall, but on this day, in his minimalist service uniform and battered black cap, he commands the respect of onlookers as though he were a god made manifest on our plane.  

We march into a long formation - less than two hundred of us now, and come to rigid attention at the Executive Officer’s command.
The Admiral and our Captain walk to a prepared podium, decked with artificial wreaths and flags.  “Men,” the Admiral begins into the microphone, “You have traversed the width of Ocean and done battle.  You explored lands unknown to our race and perhaps to all of mankind, and in combat you prevailed, firmly planting the Flag of Victory at the farthest reaches of the sea.  You are heroes of Oberland.”  The sound of the speech echoes across the port and the crowd lets out a cheer.  Some of the men in formation eagerly glance back, hoping to see either a loved one or perhaps an admiring lass.  “However, there are many sagas which have illustrious beginnings only to end in tragedy.”  The crowd goes silent.  “This is but the first chapter in your own saga.  The heroism and resolve which you have displayed have assured you a place in Valhal, and your people  are thankful.”  The crowd begins to burst in to praise as the Admiral raises his hand; “Go forth from here and feast.  You have earned a warrior’s rest, and know that The Emperor himself has given you notice.  His world favor is upon you surely as the favor of the gods will be forevermore.”  The Admiral steps back to cheering and gestures for our Captain to speak.  The crowd stops immediately, wanting to hang on every word this hero wishes to say;  “Duty is sublime.  My men are as worthy as I, and without your love and support (he nods towards the crowd), we will be as formless as the sea itself.”  The Captain steps away from the microphone.  The audience is taken aback at his terse speech, but after a small delay they resume their cheers, and cheer louder still as the Admiral hangs an Iron Sundisk from the Captain’s neck.  It is one of our highest awards for valor in command.
The rest of the day was a haze of congratulations, thanks from the people, and endless offers by citizens to pay for our meal or for our beers.  I find my way to one of a hundred navymen’s beer halls where my gun crew and I sing and dance and drink until we cannot remember anything.  I am awakened at a local sailor’s lodge.  The kindly old woman remarks that I clearly enjoyed my first night home as she brings my comrades and I some water and breakfast.  There is a kindness in her eyes but also a sadness.  I notice an old photo of a navyman on the wall at the front counter.  A husband?  A son?  Was he lost at sea?  At war?  All I know is that this old woman has a fondness for us lads.  It would seem that she receives a pension for her own lost navyman, and now runs this establishment for those who don’t live in the city and who would rather not stay at the barracks.  How many boys - surely she sees us as boys, perhaps like one she has lost - have come through here, never to return again?  I put such somber thoughts from my mind and focus on the hearty meal prepared for me.


The next four days of shore leave are almost surreal.  I actually take to wearing my short peacoat with its collar up to conceal my conspicuous top button of my tunic.  I am proud of what we have all done, but the praise quickly becomes more than I can take without feeling slightly embarrassed.  My first priority is to send letters home.  I send by pigeon, by telegram, and by standard mail service.  Looking through my belongings, I find many souvenirs and trinkets to send back home.  My little sister, Marta, will certainly like the shiny rocks from across Ocean.  At the bottom of my haversack I find Science Officer Grolek’s journal.  I had nearly forgotten.  Our Executive Officer had given it to me, of all people, for safe keeping.  Was there something I forgot to do?  Surely the Captain would have been a better choice.


Reporting for duty after my four days, I look for the opportunity to address this unexpected possession.  I do not have to approach the Executive Officer.  I am called aside before we can hold a formation of any kind.  I am led into an office where the Captain, the Executive Officer, some other officers I do not recognize, and a couple of men from the Ministry of Public Enlightenment wait.  I come to attention before the Captain’s desk.  I am reminded of the Captain’s Tribunal aboard the Fenrir…a lifetime ago.  “Loyalty,” I say as I snap to attention.  “Loyalty,” the captain returns my greeting and tells me to stand at ease.  The office is small but well furnished.  A fire burns in the hearth and snow drifts outside the tall windows as ships move across the port.
“Science Officer Grolek placed great faith in you, 2nd Class Funk,” our Captain says.
“I am pleased to have been reliable, sir.” I respond.
“All the men of the Fenrir have proven themselves reliable.  You have proven yourself capable of making decisions under fire.  I know very well that in two battles, you made your own corrections and used the appropriate shell without being told to do it.  That is intuition, which is something we cannot simply train a man to have.”
I swallow and try my best to keep my composure, “Thank you Captain.  I merely did my duty.”
“Are you prepared to do your duty still, then?” The Captain asks, “Are you worthy of the trust my faithful companion placed in you?”
I don’t sense a trap, but something is odd here;  “I am sir.”
“Good.  These gentlemen will have a word with you after about the fantastical beast you met beneath the waves, and they should very much like to compare your notes (he knows about my sketches and my journal, apparently) as well as those of Science Officer Grolek.  For times of peace and learning, of course.  After we win the war.”


The Captain shuffles through the documents on his desk and continues, “I have here before me two papers.  One will be burned right here,” he nods towards the hearth, “and the other you will carry with you.”  He holds both of them upright on the desk.  The first reads ‘Petty Officer Funk, Gunnery Chief’ and the other is a letter signed by The All Highest himself; ‘Alhred Funk, Cadet of the Naval Service, by the grace of the Emperor’ followed by dates and orders of travel to Varungal, our nation’s capitol and home to the Officer’s Academy.
This is no trick or test, 2nd Class Funk.  We ask if you would like to be an officer.  Science Officer Grolek was your ardent supporter, but it was my endorsement which received The Emperor’s approval.  What you showed in our battles was lateral thinking and intuition.  You possess personal courage and a natural talent for leading.  Our nation is besieged on all sides.  We need leaders.  Should you not take this, you will, of course, remain a Gun Chief…perhaps on my boat, perhaps on another.  I will not tell you half truths; our missions will remain dangerous, and we will seek to break the stranglehold of the Federation until they haven’t the strength to oppose us, or perhaps we will sail across the Ice Sea and pay back those Estrekians for their dishonorable sneak attack.  Your brother fights in the east, does he not?”
The question nearly catches me off guard, but the Captain is right.  “Yes sir, he is a crewman in the 70th scout tank battalion.”
“That is good.  I trust he possesses those traits which you do.”
For once the Captain is wrong.  My brother is quite different than me; always smiling, extroverted, with a laughing girl on his arm half the time.  My brother is lankey, gregarious, and outgoing, and we hardly even look alike.  I say nothing.
“In any case, you are a fighting man.  Your life is in your hands, so long as you know which path you will take from here.”
“I do sir,” My decision is made.  “I opt to travel to Varungal and become an officer.”


I can tell the decision pleases all in the room.  The Captain stands and casts the Petty Officer Warrant into the fire.  He turns back to face me and shakes my hand while handing me the Emperor’s Warrant.  “Good choice Funk.  You will learn things you never knew of before there, and may God be with you.”  That is a strange remark from the Captain.  I respond, “The Aesir will watch over me, I am sure.”  The captain gives a stifled laugh.  “The Aesir, Dando, the Valkyries…you should know this about me, Mr Funk.  I follow the Triune and do not believe in such things, but may your gods watch over you all the same.”  Now my surprise nearly doubles.  Not only is the Captain a follower of the same faith as the western nations, but he is open about it in front of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment.  Is there nothing this man fears?  Or perhaps the reforms are truly as far reaching as I have heard.  I can bear witness to the change as I stand here:  In ages past, it would have been unthinkable for a farmer’s son to become an officer.

end of part 1

 

Edited by Bolo_MkXX_Tremendous_DMD

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