The Kraken and The Dark Sea, Chapter 75-76

Captain Brownlow discovers that his ship’s readiness wasn’t what he was told it was. Progress arrives at Eribelle. Bill and Sudyral decide to leave the citadel and horse around.

Chapter 75.

RNS Progress

Still stinging from the rebuke given him from the captian, Bertie was grabbing a quick smoke from the stern when he heard pounding below. Going forward and back, he discovered Lieutenant Greinder with some machinist’s mates, the ship’s carpenter and the two people from Beinan’s reworking a scupper near the stern. He looked at them and said, “What is going on here, lieutenant?”
“We are installing the towed hydrophone array, sir.”
“Who authorized something like that and did not notify me, Lieutenant?”
“The captain okayed it sir.”

“Does this have authorization from BuShips, lieutenant?”
“Sir, it hadn’t arrived by the time we were to leave the Hidden City.”
“Then the installation can wait until the authorization catches up with us.”
“Sir, the captain wants this equipment operational as soon as possible.”

“He did not tell me that. Get this stowed away until the authorization arrives.”

“Sir, the captain said that he wants this equipment operational by the end of the day, if possible. You can ask him about that, but I have my instructions. I need to return to work, sir, so if you will excuse me.”

Greinder turned to the work party and they returned to the work. Ironforge watched them for a time and then stalked off. Folas and Balthasar watched him and after he was gone, turned to Greinder. Balthasar said, “Has he always been like that?”
“Yes. Fitting out was hell.”
“We had a feeling that was the case. We joined Diligent in Chatsrey and knew that Progress was supposed to finish her refit before we arrived. She was still on the dock after we left. We haven’t checked the RDR installations. Are the all operational?”
Greinder frowned. “Most of them are. Checking them out would be good thing, since you are here anyway.”
“We will do that. Enterprise probably didn’t have the equipment to track the sub. This ship is supposed to have an operational Mark IV RDR.”

“Was the captain like this when he was on Diligent?

“No, because he got along with Captain Seachaser just fine.”

“Do you think it is because he was promoted so fast?”
“I think that the reason just left the space. Trying to get you to act against the captain’s orders is not a good thing.”

Checklist in hand, Vince walked into the RDR room. The various crew jumped up and saluted. Vince looked around and said, “As you were. Chief, I am checking the RDR. Is the Mark I operational?”

“Yes sir!”
“The Mark II?”
“Yes sir!”
“The Mark III?”
“The forward set is operational, the aft set has issues.”

“The Mark IV?”
“The aft set is operational. We haven’t been able to make the forward set work right. We were expecting to deal with that in the Hidden City.”

“How is the spares situation?”
“Sir, we are short.”
“How did that happen?”
“The requisitions were tied up and they were not complete when we were supposed to depart.”

“Thank you gentlemen. Carry on.”
The captain went to the signals lieutenant, Strom Steeler and knocked on his door. “This is the captain.”

 “Come in captain.”

Vince went into the cabin, held up the checklist and said, “How many requisitions from your department are still outstanding?”
“I’m not sure, exactly, sir. Between twenty and twenty five, some of which are duplicates. Supply never seemed to get back to us after I handed them to Commander Ironforge for his signature.”

“Do you have copies?”

“Yes sir.”

“Bring the copies to my office. I will sign all of them and then, when we reach Eribelle, you will port to Ishendell and hand them to supply. Anything you cannot get, bring to me or try Beinan’s Fayspire, if not the House.

“I do not have a portal key.”
“That will be corrected when we reach Eribelle. Let’s meet in a twentieth with the requisitions. One last thing, do you have a sextant?”

The lieutenant looked at him and said, “Should I?”

“If you stand watches on the bridge, you should have navigating instruments and be skilled in their use. Yes, you should.”
“A sextant issued to me, directly? There is one on the bridge.”

“One issued to you directly. The ship cannot rely on one instrument, an instrument that may break or be inaccurate. That isn’t your problem. It will be Lieutenant Deepdiver’s problem.”

Deepdiver had another pile of requisitions. The sextants and other spare instruments had been locked away and not issued unless the first officer had signed off on it. That was just the first case that the captain found. By the time the captain had gone through the various departments the pile of unfilled requisitions was over a hundred and the ship was short in just about every department. Vince knocked on Ironforge’s door and said, “Commander, I want every requisition on your desk signed and ready to go when we reach Eribelle. Then, you and the various department heads are to port to Ishendell and wherever else you need to go to get all of them filled.”
“I won’t have time to do all that, captain. At least not properly.”
“NO EXCUSES, MR. IRONFORGE. NO EXCUSES. This ship was left unprepared, heading into possible combat with key equipment not operational and spares short in just about every department. This ship had an extra moon in refit. I should not have seen the stack of requisitions and the general lack of readiness that I discovered. That amount of slacking is going to get people killed, Mr. Ironforge. The casualties may even include you. So you and the other officers are going to correct the problems, hopefully before they kill us all.”

The captain left while Ironforge fumed. He had been working on the requisitions, but along with everything else, there simply hadn’t been time to make sure that they were right and correct. Glumly, he looked at the stack of unfinished requisitions and sighed. The worst part was that the captain had put the ship under radio silence and he could not send a message home. Fuming, he pulled the top requisition off the stack and started to work on it. Looking at it, he decided that if the captain wanted them done and did not are about them being correct, it was no skin off of Ironforge’s back. He signed the requisition and put it on the done stack. When the problems started, and Ironforge would make sure that they did, the problems would fall on the captain’s back and not his.

The Citadel
Bill had been called in for another interrogation, by Blackfire, this time. He sat down and Blackfire said, “The Republic seems to use RDR more than the other blasted lands do. Do you know why?”
“The Fellowship wouldn’t pay for their own RDR research program from the company, so the company didn’t give them a deal. Admiral Harper had paid the company for the program and the Republic could buy gadgets more easily. Of course, Admiral Harper and Admiral Ironbender made a trade and the Fellowship can buy RDR.”

“What did the Republic get in trade?”
“I’m not sure exactly. I was just involved in the RDR because they had some issues while I was in the Empire.”

“What issues were those?”
“Nothing really important, but that was why they had me there when the drone was taken.”

“How was that done?”
“I was in the tent watching the screen and didn’t actually see how Miss Beinan did it. So I don’t know the details.”

“Why did she go after the drones?”
“She was behind in the caper race and it was a good one.”

“The caper race?”
“Ten Beinan ladies had weddings coming up last year. They needed to have capers that would attract the family’s attention, so they all pulled big things off, using the things that the Beinans had. Stealing the drone was part of that. Of course the Beinans wanted it for other reasons.”

“Desert Howl didn’t?”
“One of the drones ran into Tolly Beinan when he was flying his airplane and they both crashed. Republic Air picked the pieces of the drone up and the boss at Republic Air put us boys on it to see what we could do. So far, it’s surfboards and a boat that I was supposed to work on.”

“Why weren’t you?”
 “Because dad wanted me out of town. Hopefully, I will have some time to work on it before the power boat races.”

“How did you get the money to go to the Empire the first time?”
“This has to do with a downside to using vacuum tubes and other things in electronics. The things dump noise in your devices. I noticed that you can reduce noise if you have a circuit in parallax with your amplifier circuit. I have a patent on the circuit and Beinan’s pays me to use it.”

“So you know a lot about RDR?”
“I suppose I do. That got me in trouble when I went up to the Empire the first time. I’m in real trouble now.”
“Why?”
“When I get home, the first thing out of mother’s mouth will be, “How could you let yourself be taken like that!” My brother and cousin were both on the ship and my cousin has already gone home. So Aunt Readel will get everything from my cousin and tell mother all about it. Of course, it will be my fault for not ducking fast enough.”

Blackfire laughed. “I think that we have spoken long enough and I have other tasks, so you can return to your cell. Let me get an escort.”

As Bill was being escorted back, a door that had been closed on his previous trips was open and Dúhael was bellowing at some techs working over a Scourge suppressor. Bill stopped and said, “I know what’s wrong with that.”
Dúhael turned on him and said, “How do you know that?”
“I’ve worked in the Scourge suppressor factory. We made over a hundred before I left. There are also some that we pulled from places and repaired in Desert Howl. So I have some experience with them. Let me take a look.”

The gratified slaves watched as Bill showed how to deal with the issues and then powered the Scourge suppressor back up, with everything showing green. Bill turned to Dúhael and said, “See. It wasn’t that difficult.”

Dúhael stalked off and the older slave said, “I am Geral. Could you help us with some other things? We have been struggling and milord is not happy.”
“What do you need? I don’t know very much about a lot of things, but I can see what we can do.”

“Thank you, milord.”
“I am wearing a collar, just like you are, so no titles. Just Bill is fine.”

For the next two twentieths, Bill and his escort were taken to various things that had failed as he was introduced to various technical slaves and more broken and failed devises. Somewhere in middle of the first twentieth, the escort had complained of other duties and Geral had promised to take Bill to his cell. That was after a long and entertaining evening meal as Bill regaled his new friends with the story of Moonshine chasing him. When he finally was returned to the cell, Sudyral looked at him and said, “You had a good time.”

“The cat lady was going over you again, wasn’t she?”
 “Yes. Have you felt any compulsions?”
“No, but they would not work very well anyway. That was part of the training. Have you?”
“I think so. I think that the cat lady tried to put strong compulsions on me, but they just tickle a bit and give me a slight headache at times.”

“Would you like to break out tomorrow?”
Sudyral grinned. “What did you do?”
“I was fixing things. Most of them are fixed, but we didn’t touch the operating suppressor and it will have issues. At least they think it will. I also know where the door to the stable is.”

“You can ride? Most people in the Republic can’t.”
“Moonshine insisted that I learn while the others in the course learned to drive. I don’t ride very well, but I can. We won’t be riding anyway.”
“We are going to be horses, aren’t we?”

“Maybe.”

“What about our collars?”
“Let me deal with those now.”

“The doors are locked.”
Bill held up a bent piece of metal. “I have a key.”

“How did you get that in here?”
“I was naked and couldn’t be hiding anything, could I? I mentioned that the collar was a good thing. Nobody pays any attention to them. They were so worried about microportals that they didn’t think about what else I may have slipped in.”

“I’m going to talk to dad about that class.”  
 
 Blackfire joined the major in the tower and the major said, “She is back again.”
“The dancer?”
“Yes. We have tried to chase her, but she is very good at evasion and glamor.”

“She also could be a distraction for someone else.”

“Yes. If there is someone else, they are very good.”

“Watch for the boy to make an escape attempt.”
“How soon?”
“Soon.”

“You don’t seem to be too upset about that.”
“If the vault had been unopened and the risk low, the boy would be an asset. Since the boy has admitted that the vault was opened, we can expect that it will be empty by the time we could get to the vault. We also do not know what could be on that island and there are dangerous things at Desert Howl. It will be better if we do not try to open the vault at all at this point. Convincing my brother of that hasn’t worked. If the boy is gone, then there will be no point in the attempt.”
“What about the Harald crystal?”
“The boy said that it was in the vault. That means that the real one is not in the vault and the boy probably does not know where it is.”

“What about the other boy?”
“My sister believes that the compulsions will hold. I think that the boy was never compelled in the first place. The suppressor is keeping him from just Jumping away and he is waiting for my sister to make a mistake. If we see another dancer, it will be time to be wary.”

Mórsairon looked at the package that Dúgirhael had sent through the small portal and sighed. Picking it up, he found Blackfire and Dúhael in the castle and said, “Dúgirhael sent some bad news.”
“What is it this time,” Dúhael snarled.

“The Republic apparently realized where the Machinery was and decided to strike. Major Tollings raided the location, the slaves told him that they all wanted to go home and the Republic sent ships and people to take everyone and everything. That was why we haven’t seen any activity from Major Tollings lately.”
“They took everything?”
“According to Dúgirhael, they took everything but some farm machinery, the remnents of the guards and Protectors and some staff.”

“We had no hint of any of this.” Blackfire said. “Did Seriellia have anything about this?”
“If she did, she did not mention it to me,” Mórsairon said. “On the other hand, we were focused on the Timberlands.”

“How did they even find the Machinery,” Dúhael whined.

“We could ask the boy,” Blackfire replied.

“We don’t have to,” Mórsairon said. “He already told us that Tad was looking for for frames from the eyes that were duplicated and that included the Machinery. Diligent had shown up there and was driven off, by Protectors. So the major went down there and looked into things. We didn’t tell Dúgirhael about the major and he wasn’t prepared. Then the slaves wanted to go home and the navy arranged it, along with taking everything else.”

“Prepare a Scourge devise, Blackfire,” Dúhael snarled. “We can Scourge Cleadsgate.”
Blackfire looked at him and said, “That will not work, brother. Cleadsgate has already been Scourged. The damage will be fairly minimal and would be a waste of a Primary. In any case, we do not have very many cans at present.”

Seriellia came in and said, “Father, you told me to tell you if I found Lady Virstina. She has returned to Diligent.”
“How did you know?”
“The Empress had a thing for her, gifted her with things that would be good to have at sea and then Lady Virstina said that she thanked the Empress and she was returning to her sea voyage for a time. There was a piece in the paper about it.”

Blackfire looked at the other and said, “They could be baiting us again.”

“Thank you Seriellia,” Mórsairon said. “We can discuss this later.”
Seriellia left and Mórsairon said, “We can send Kraken out to look. I don’t think that we should try a retrieval at present. On the other hand, we can use that to our advantage.”

“How so, brother?” Blackfire asked.

“For the first time in centuries, Harald’s work will be visible. Bill has said what he wants to do with the devise. He and his friends want to make it work. We know know that there is more than one devise and one that does work, more than likely. We can take advantage of that and find it. Then if necessary, we retrieve Bill again, along with Harald. Right now, we have Bill, who is useless to us here, but not Harald or the devise, which we need.”

“He is the key to the vault,” Dúhael said.

“An empty vault on an island that is defended in dangerous waters filled with seafolk that will be hostile and guarded by people who are not phased by Scourge devises very much. Sending Kraken down there with the boy is a pointless exercise at this point.”
“There is another issue,” Blackfire said. “Bill’s bonded has been dancing in the village at night for the last five day. She knows that Bill is here.”
“Just dancing?” Dúhael asked.

“So far, but that could be a distraction for someone else. There was that infiltrator at the Hideaway, remember.”

“Do you think that Bill will try something?” Mórsairon asked.

“Soon. He spent all day today repairing things.”

“You let him?”
“Dúhael, you were there when he started?”

“He repaired the Scourge suppessor. Apparently he had worked on them in Ishendell.”
“Then he moved on to other things. He impressed the staff. We now have a portal scanner, three Animators and two suppressors that function correctly for the most part.”   
“For the most part?”

“I imagine that he has arranged malfunctions in some things at an appropriate time. He knows Lord Umevan and I suspect that he knows him better than he has admitted. He also said that he and the Harald seeming put together large pranks. We can expect something along those lines.”

When Moonshine entered the camp, there was another girl waiting. “I am Galaxa. Are you Moonshine?”

“Yes.”

“We have a similar problem. Our bondeds were both brought here.”

“Who is your bonded?”

“Sudyral Shahana.”
“Then you came a long way.”
“I felt that I had to. I came up in an airplane with Lord Shahana’s brother anyway. He and some others are thinking about a hunt up here.”

“Hawk is on his way in. We can discuss that.”

“So what is going on here?”
“Dúhael and the others used a submarine to take Bill, my bonded, who was on the Diligent. They brought him here. Hawk is a marshall that is hunting Dúhael. There is an Upstairs and a Downstairs here like there was at Lain Othrond. We haven’t found the entrances yet.”

“Is Downstairs like Castle Hill Park?”

“Probably bigger than that. The submarine is not small and there are probably facilities for things they no longer have. Things are probably set up more or less like Lain Othrond was. They have not let Bill or your bonded outside as yet. Bill, at least, knows exactly where he is and the local area, since he was part of the survey that Diligent just completed. What skills do you have?”

“I am a very good cat. I’ve also been learning to dance. I am not very good as yet. I grew up in the community at the Sanctum, so I am very good at hiding.”

“We can work with that. Here is Hawk.”

RNS Diligent.

The GQ alarm howled, and Roger dropped out of his bunk, grabbed a pair of uniform trousers and rammed them on, followed by a shirt as Gord groaned, “You had to start people doing that.”

Roger laughed as he raced to the bridge. Stop watch in hand, Lieutenant Aqua said as stations reported, “One hundred twelve thousandths. You win. I’m buying the beer tomorrow when we port.”

“The captain is going to be easier than I was.”

“You were a bit of a prig. Surprisingly no one in your crew asked to switch navies.”
“They don’t like losing anymore than I do.”
“Who does? Could you give me an invite to House Umevan?”
Roger grinned. “I’m not sure that you want to go there. For that matter, I haven’t been there either. I only actually met Jorge during Luggergate.”

“You haven’t said that you were there. Was it bad?”
“Very. Captain Bronzerock had pulled some of us out of the academy because as college student types, we would be anonymous. We found four of the Primaries that we knew that the Stewards had stashed and were looking for the last one that we knew was someplace in Luggergate. The problem was that while we boys could get in an out, the ordnance people couldn’t and the FSA boss had a grudge against Captain Bronzerock. We had some things happen that messed us up, but the big problem was that every time we tried to get back on course, there was the FSA clown messing things up again. Right at the end, the FSA bomb squad chief essentially had the thing defused and the idiot dropped a jack that was restraining an antitamper devise and set the thing off. We had a phone hookup and the last thing we heard was, “You idiot! You have killed the city!” Things went boom right after that.”

Eribelle

Progress was slipped onto the pier behind Enterprise. A smiling Captain McRodden was waiting as Vince walked down the gangway. “Am I glad to see you, captain. We’ve been hanging on for a moon waiting for our relief and then things got hot here. Where is Captain Clarington?”

“He had an accident just before departure. I was his replacement.”

“That was fast. What was your last command?”

“I was executive officer on Diligent. I’m Vince Brownlow.”

“Why didn’t they pull you back when Diligent’s captain and first officer were injured? Diligent has been in the middle of things. I’m Borug McRodden, by the way. I see that you have some old friends. Hello Balthasar.”

“Hello captain,” Balthasar said as he joined them.

“Captain, I would like to stay and chat, but I need to get my people portal keys and them chasing down requisitions,” Vince said.

Brownlow led the line of officers toward the gate and the portal. Borug turned to Balthasar and asked, “What’s going on?”
“If you look, the officer of the day is Progress’s first officer, one Commander Bertald ‘Bertie’ Ironforge. I sincerely hope that he is never inflicted upon you.”

“How did you get involved.”
“Folas and I managed to lose our boss’s son to some crazy pirates. Since losing the boss’s son is considered a bad thing, we talked to the people at Beinan Fayspire about another towed array like the one that our boss had gifted Diligent with and put together a quick proposal to install it on Progress for test. We have not been able to conduct a test on the array because we have been forced to get the half of the RDR that was not operational to somewhat of an operational state with the spares on board, as well as doing the same thing with most of the ship’s radio and communication equipment.”

“Is the signals officer incompetent?”

“Like most of the crew, the signals officer has had to deal with trying to work with Commander Ironforge, who is very detail oriented. The signals officer spends so much time tied up in details that the rest of the work doesn’t get done and if he tries to expedite, there is the commander looking for authorizations and other things.”

“That explains why the ship is a moon late.”
“Yes. Captain Brownlow was enjoying his survey voyage, pirate submarines notwithstanding when the admiralty needed him to fill a hole when Captain Clarington suddenly had a car accident.”

“The Admiralty did not want to promote Commander Ironforge into command.”

“Apparently not, as Captain Brownlow had been Lieutenant Commander Brownlow when Diligent sailed into the Sanctum’s harbor.”

Borug looked at Balthasar with a shocked expression and said, “Somebody REALLY did not want Ironforge in the captain’s seat.”

Balthasar looked up at Progress’s deck and said, “Folas and I need to check in at Beinan’s in Fayspire and get some things squared away. Why don’t we meet for lunch?”

“We can do that at the admiralty here.”

“We’ll do that.”

Vince led the four nervous lieutenants to the Portal Service booth and said, “These gentlemen are going to need keys for here and Ishendell. I don’t think that they will need Imperial keys as yet.”

The perky fae lady behind the counter said, “No problem, captain. Are you the new cruiser on station?”
“Yes, but things were rushed and I don’t know how we are going to square things away. So, for the time being, I want keys limited to Ishendell and here. We will not be porting very long and things need to get done.”

“Let me set the keys up then. You did not ask for one for you.”

“I have one already.”

The keys ready, the officers ported out and Vince turned to return to the ship. He barely took a step when the portal activated and Captain Flamespitter emerged. Grinning, he said, “This is lucky. I caught you, captain.”

“What can I do for you, captain?”
“I wanted to give you an update about our friends to the north. You probably know about Diligent’s encounter with them.”

“I do. I do wonder about the maneuvering to leave an ensign in command, but that was not my decision and I understand it perfectly now.”

“That bad?”
“Captain, I just sent my heads of departments for signals, navigation, supply and ordnance off to chase down requisitions, some of which had been sitting on the first officer’s desk for a moon. That is just part of the issues.”

“A detail oriented type.”
“As well as being a Plateau prig who resents the the fact that he was thrown over for promotion and is not setting the kind of example that a first officer needs to for the other officers and crew.”
“Do you think that you may have an accident?”
“Out here, no. He may be thinking along those lines, but he doesn’t know the territory here in the Empire yet. When we return to the Republic in six moons, I will have to watch my step.”

“Did you give him the conversation?”
“When we reached the Hidden City. I hadn’t started to look into things like the requisitions and checking stations for readiness until after we departed the Hidden City.”
“That isn’t your job.”
Vince sighed. “I know. I also knew that if I didn’t run down a check, there was good chance that a nasty surprise could get us killed. I asked for issues and other than the sailing officer not having a spare suit of sails, no one mentioned any. I didn’t have time to dig deeper in Cleadsgate and we had a departure set. I was hoping for a five day at the Hidden City, but my sailing instructions were misread and we were delayed by three days.”

“Why don’t I take you to the admiralty and lunch while I update you on things here?”

Two elves were entering as they were and the elf in an admiral’s tunic said, Captains would you join us for lunch?”
“Certainly, admiral,” Greldug said. “Captain, this is Admiral Aerendyl Shanelis and Commodore Illianaro Shanelis. Admiral, this is Captain Vince Brownlow of the Progress.

“The officer who was suddenly promoted rather quickly, I understand,” Aerendyl said. “I will not pry about the reason for that.”

“Think about the worst kind of the Ravathyra in one of your ships, admiral,” Vince said.

“Some former pirates did very well in the navy and I would love to have had Paeris as well as his brother under my command.”

“Not that kind of Ravathyra, as nasty as the Republic thinks they are. The kind that inhabit the Cloud City and Imperial palace, using a ship as stepping stone to bigger things.”
“I think I understand. You are stuck with one of those creatures. They do not only exist in the Ravathyra, unfortunately.”

“Yes.”

“How did he get to where he is?”
“By being politically connected, detail oriented, serving on battleships and shoreside until he was promoted to commander as a result of some pushing from the Plateau. I asked for his file in Cleadsgate and got it before we left the Hidden City as part of my packet. The current situation was created by political necessity on his family’s part and his being in over his head at his current job.”
“What do you mean?”
“One thing a first officer has to learn is to delegate tasks. A cruiser is a rather large first posting as a first officer and he wouldn’t be the first to fall on his face at the job.”
“That sounds as if it is coming from personal experience.”

“It is, somewhat. Of course the Admiralty’s solution, after some shoreside duty was to throw me into the deep end and hand me Kraken, the fleet flagship at the time.  It didn’t help that the captain and I despised each other and his performance review at the end of the commission was interesting, especially since he could not say anything about the state of the ship’s readiness. I was demoted and sent to the survey ships, met my wife, was dragged under, did a turn in one of the old cruisers and then Diligent where I would have been happy to finish my career. Somebody, and Captain Flamespitter knows who I am talking about, had other ideas.”

“I see some other familiar faces,” Illinaro said, “Captain McRodden and our two Beinan contractors.”

Illianaro waved them over and said, “So what are you discussing?”
“The recent voyage on Diligent,” McRodden said. “At least I’m hoping that Folas and Balthasar will share.”

Illianaro waved and an additional table was added as if my magic or fast petty officers. “Sit and join us. We hadn’t gotten to the voyage as yet. We were discussing a certain officer. Captain, you explained about the falling flat on his face, what was the political necessity.”

“Commodore, have you spent time in the Republic?”
“Yes I have.”

“You will, probably in editorials, in some newspapers and some other circles, hear the capital of the Republic referred to as the termite mound. The reason for that is that the Senate has, for the last fifty years or so, been restricted to a small group of families. One of those is the Ironforges, who hold one of the seats for the state of  the Ironlands, including Ironton. The current Senator is Jarrel Ironforge. Recently he had a heart attack, publically, on the Senate floor. That means that the Ironforges have to find a replacement for the next election or potentially lose the seat. The seemingly best candidate was the Senator’s son, Tommy Ironforge, but he was too publically involved in the sorts of places that they have in the Lower City. He conveniently, was a spider’s meal recently. While it is unlikely that the family would have a viable candidate for the election this year, they certainly would like to have a viable candidate for election after that in six years. There are two possibilities, my current first officer and Leonid Ironforge, the botanist, who is looking to be a professor at Beltain University. In order for Commander Bertald ‘Bertie’ Ironforge to have the sort of status that a Senator requires, it would be better if he was Post Captain Ironforge before heading off to Congress in two years, doing two terms in Congress and then running for the Senate at the next election. So Commander Ironforge needed to be promoted to Post captain and now, rather than in the future. The current captain of the Progress had an accident and with the other cruisers all out or ending commissions, the commander would be the logical choice to take command with Congress confirming it.”

“Do you mean a spider’s meal figuratively or literally, as in he was eaten by the likes of the Lady Flingladui?” Aerendyl asked.

“He had his guts sucked out after being wrapped in a cocoon. His body was dropped from his penthouse by the spider.”

“A rather splashy way to deal with the problem,” Borug said. “On the other hand the killing can’t be connected to the Ironforges. That puts you in a bad spot. The Ironforges will be pushing to deny you your promotion.”

‘The Commander is already trying to play games. The problem is that he doesn’t know that you have to do things differently out in the wilds where the old cruisers and the survey ships go than you do on a cruiser at the dock in Cleadsgate. Thus the issue with requisitions and stores.”
“I’m just heading to the barn. I can loan you things to make up your shortfalls.”
“I may take that, Captain. Thank you. On the other hand, don’t short yourself.  This is my problem and I don’t want you caught up in this and hauled up in front of the grill.”

“Borug, if things get dicey, we can port things up from Ishendell,” Greldug said. “Since there isn’t much we can do about your problem, captain, why don’t you and these other gentlemen tell us about the recent voyage of the good ship Diligent?”

Vince, Folas and Balthasar did, with laughter over the things that the various younger members of the crew got up to. As lunch was ending, Illianaro noticed another arrival, the ship under discussion. He turned to the rest and said, “Would you look who just arrived.”

Commodore Marlinhunter was waiting with a GP as Alb and Steve, supported somewhat by a pair of medical ratings, emerged from the portal. He looked at them and said, “Get in.”

They did and the driver drove them down to the Admiralty dock where Diligent could be seen approaching the dock. Alb asked, “How is Roger doing in the hot seat?”
“According to Chief Mattinger, who has been sending me reports, it has been interesting, with a lot of General Quarters drills.”
“The crew isn’t used to that.”
“According to the chief, they put up with it because they all knew that they had been caught with their pants down. Then Roger said that any one could initiate a drill up to four times a day.”

“So they could catch Roger in a drill as well. That takes the sting out of it.”

“There were also perks if the crew was at station in a much better time than the last. Lieutenant Aqua had a bet going with Roger that the ship couldn’t get the time below the time that the sub opened fire. Lieutenant Aqua is buying the crew the beer.”

“Captain, we should have stayed aboard,” Steve said.

Marlinhunter looked at them and said, “I think that another two five days in the drink is called for.”

“Leaving Roger in command?”

“My concern is that you and Steve would relapse or collapse under the strain and Roger would be right back where he is. So far, drills notwithstanding and he did take the sting out of them, he has been doing an ok job.”

“Vince and I should have conducted some drills” Alb said. “We were used to the fact that we could handle things, right up until we didn’t.”

“Vince is here, with Progress. The scuttlebutt I have been hearing is that he is not getting along with his first officer.”
“A first officer would have to be very bad for Vince to not try to make it work.”

“It isn’t my command, so I am not going to say.”

Roger must have seen the GP, as he was at the top of the Gangway with the sideboys. “Welcome back, Captain. Am I relieved?”
“We were discussing that,” Marlinhunter said. “What is left in the survey?”
“That stretch between Eryding and Feleth Alari that we were forced to skip after we were hit by the sub. Chief Mattinger also wants a closer look at that stretch near the Sanctum where all those wrecks are, with some Swimming if we can. He thinks that some of the wrecks will be interesting.”

“So you can stay in the area of the Sanctum for another two five days without any problems after leaving here.”
“Yes sir. We are off our original program in any case.”

“What if the sub shows up?”
Rgoer grinned. “I put a GQ alarm trip in the towed array’s receiving room and it is manned at all times by two people. If they hear the sub, the alarm goes off. We won the beer, you are invited to our little party in the Cloud City Ravathyra tavern and if the alarm does go off, the sub should be receiving the first armor piercing round as it surfaces.”

“Where did you get those for that antique gun?”
“We switched guns in Ishedell with one of the antiaircraft guns that were modified for anti TAV service during the Ishendell siege. I only requested high explosive because I didn’t consider that I would be shooting at a hard target. I have corrected that mistake and I think that this time, I will get a nice hole in their pressure hull.”

Alb laughed. “Getting vicious, Roger?”

“Not hardly. After all, I haven’t talked to Jorge and asked him for his favorite surprises and the boys took their expensive toys with them.”

“What toys were those?” Marlinhunter asked.

“Our future marine cadets came aboard with cased Ironaxe SR5s for both boys, a cased RS2 for Jimmy and a cased SC4 for Jonny. Mrs. Tollings provide all the boys with full kit for Winterfaire.”

“That was a generous gift.”

“Yes it was. Of course if the sub had tried to assault the ship a few hundredths earlier, they would have had their boarding party shot to pieces. The boys were conducting shooting practice with the other adjuncts and they finished just before the sub appeared.”

“It sounds as if you are taking reasonable precautions against the sub.”

“I hope so, sir. That was almost as embarrassing as having Jorge Umevan meddle in the bladder ball games.”

“Lieutenant, why don’t I take you and Lieutenant Deppel to lunch here at the Admiralty with these two gentlemen and make up an itinerary?”

When they arrived at the Admiralty, Admiral Shanelis, Commodore Shanelis, Captain McRodden, Captain Brownlow and the two Beinan contractors were waiting at a table for them. Alb took a look at Vince and said, “You look worse than I do, Vince. Are things on Progress that bad?”

“Alb, as long as I have known you, I have never, combined, created as much of a mess as my first officer has inflicted on me. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Bertie was resting in his quarters, enjoying as much as he could the quiet as most of the ship’s crew was onshore when there was a knock on the door. “I said that I was not to be disturbed unless it was an emergency.”
“This is your captain, Mr. Ironforge, wondering why you are not at the officer of the day’s station.”

Bertie raced to the door and opened it. “I delegated the officer of the day to Lieutenant Gonders, Sir.”

“That is what the lieutenant said. I assigned that duty to you, Commander. Are the regulations concerning that not clear? I suggest you read them. In any case, I want you to show the ship to Admiral Shanelis and the others here.”

Bertie looked into the hall, and there was an admiral in Imperial uniform, a commodore in Imperial uniform, a Republican commodore, two Republican Navy captains and two Republican navy lieutenants, one bizzarely out of uniform wearing a captain’s cover with a lieutenant’s insignia on it and some other Imperial officers. Gulping, Bertie started the tour taking the officers through the ship after introductions were made. The various officers peppered him with question after question while he took them through the ship and after two twentieths, the thing was over.

After the tour, the various lieutenants returned, with crates and boxes sent through the portal and stacked up beside the ship as Bertie was forced to resolve conflicts and get the stores aboard. It was well into the night before everything was stowed, at least of the shipments that had arrived. Exhausted, Bertie headed to his quarters. He was sure that he would be chewed out in the morning.

Chapter 76.

The Citadel.

Having picked the locks twentieths before, Bill opened his cell, went across the hall and woke Sudyral. Then Bill led Sudyral to a door that he opened, went in, pulled some things and some jugs, two of which he handed to Sudyral, as they walked toward the door, Bill poured the contents of first one jug and then the other on the floor. Then he waved to Sudyral, who handed him his two jugs, which Bill also proceeded to pour onto the floor. When they reached the door to the stables, Bill carefully worked at the lock, put a stick between the door and the frame to hold it open slightly and unrolled a string as they headed toward the stables. When they entered the stables, Bill and Sudyral opened the stable doors before opening the door to the outside.  Bill removed Sudyral’s collar and his own,and pulling some rope off a hook made two lariats with loops that would not tighten and attached the collars to them before putting the lariats around two horses’s necks  That done he said, “It’s time to undress and transform, except we need one last thing.”

He looked around and there, at one end of the stables, was the farrier’s shop, with a small portable forge, a stack of horseshoes and a damped fire. Bill grinned and said, “Perfect.”

He took the shovel there for the purpose, piled some charcoal on the fire and pumped the bellows to bring the fire to life. Then he made yet another lariat and tieing a loop through the other end, he wrapped the rope in and around various things and then put the other loop over his head. Putting the string from the door in his mouth, he said, ‘Let’s go.’

They transformed and started slowly out of the stables. The rope connecting to the door became taught, pulling the stick out and allowing the door to close. An alarm started to go off and when the rope attached to the parts of the farrier’s shop tightened things fell with a crash and a small fire started. The horses woke up and with loud neighs and screams, charged out of the stable. Bill and Sudyral joined the horses running away from the stable as the stable hands charged out of their quarters trying to figure out what just happened. They realized that there was a fire in the stables and calling for help, started a bucket brigade.

As the alarm went off, various guard raced into the hall only to slip on the soap all over the floor. Walking slowly to avoid falling, they tried to make sense of what was going on. Blackfire emerged from his quarters from the chaos as a guard walked slowly over and said, “The cell doors are open and the prisoners are gone.”

“Check the stables!”

 They tried to open the door, only to find a fire on the other side. Rapidly closing the door, the guard turned to Blackfire and said, “The stables are burning.”

“Use the other doors and create a cordon. I will go upstairs and deploy more troops.”

Dúhael and Mórsairon joined Blackfire as he headed to the elevator and Mórsairon asked, “What is going on?”
“The boys escaped.”

“They escaped?!” Dúhael bellowed.

“I warned you not to let Bill near tools. This was better crafted than I expected. They left through the stables and set them on fire.”

“That was well crafted?”
“They also poured soap all over the floor and tripped the alarm, deliberately.”

“You must retrieve them!”

“We will try, but if they can get outside the suppressor’s control, they will be gone.”

Cantgúl joined them and Dúhael snarled, “Why did they not have compulsions?!”
“What is going on?” Cantgúl asked.

“The boys have escaped,” Blackfire said.

“I will trace their collars.”

“Then I will meet you outside.” Blackfire turned to Dúhael and said, “You stay here, brother.”
“Why?”
“They know that you are here, and this is an opportunity.”
“There are no enemies outside.”

“Very well brother.”

Herdir watched the horses not behaving like horses, moving rather more purposively than a typical horse was wont to do unless it had a rider. Ergo, they were not horses. Herdir stepped out in front of the pair and before they could run, said, “Hello, boys.”

The horse on the right said, “You caught us. What do you want?”
“To slip this around your neck to you can give it to some friends, Bill.”

“Why do you want to do that?”
“I have my reasons.” Herdir slipped a satchel over Bill’s neck.” Now get going before they catch you.”

“How did you know that we were planning to escape.”
“Not all the various microportals were destroyed and I have found them useful, especially when my relatives are trying to leave me behind. Get on now. You should act a bit more like nervous horses next time. This was nicely done.”

Herdir disappeared, the boys looked at each other and continued on toward the Virstina estate, nipping at grass from time to time and jumping a bit. Moonshine and another fae girl emerged from glamor and Moonshine said to Bill, “You took your time getting out.”
“Not that much. Get on and we can get out of here.”

“Galaxa and I will show you the way and guard you, somewhat.”

In the chaos, Dúhael had gotten separated from the others and was charging down a lane in the village when he was suddenly caught in a glamor trap. A voice said, “Well, well, well, look what I caught. Why don’t you get off that horse, milord and make things easy.”

Dúhael spurred his horse and the horse balked, thinking that there was a hazard in front of it. The horse bucked, throwing Dúhael off and then turned and ran. A rather tough looking man appeared, collar in hand and said, “We can make this easy, and we can make it hard, milord. Either way works for me.”

A pike suddenly struck the wall of a cottage, dispelling the trap. Blackfire and some soldiers charged down the lane, the man said, “Another time, milord,” and disappeared. Dúhael screamed, Find him!” but they found no trace of whoever it was.”

Riding bareback on Bill and Sudyral, the girls guided them to the camp. The girls dismounted and Bill said, “Find Sudyral and me some clothes, Moonshine.”
“Why. I think it might be fun to play being horses for a while.”

“Herdir gave me some things and I think that some people will want to see them.”

A man became visible and said, “The major, for instance? I’m Marshall Hawk Greenleaf. That was an excellent escape and other than Herdir, I don’t think that any of them realized that you were horses. Where did you learn to transform?”

“I’m not sure that I can talk about that, Marshall. It was a very old fae who wishes to remain private.”

“That is understandable, since if the Council of King heard that a fae was spreading certain things around, they may become annoyed.”

“I doubt it, Hawk,” Moonshine said, “considering who Bill bonded with.”

“I doubt that the young man here was the only one taught some things. I think that we should move on from here and be a bit far away from these people for a while. Boys, you can help haul stuff out, since you are horses at present.”

After it was apparent that the boys were gone and the chaos dealt with, Dúhael went to his office, opened the cabinet, took Usanaar and Haciathra out and activated both of them. “Milord, milady, things are pressing again and we have had setbacks.”

“What were they?” Usanaar asked.
“We retrieved the boy that was the key to the Well in the Republic and the boy that was key to the vault in the south. They both escaped somehow together.”

“Do you know how?”
“Through the stables, apparently, but they did not seem to have walked away, they did not ride away on a horse and they did not leave tracks exiting the stable. They did remove their collars and attach them to horses, but the horses were found later.”

“What about the lady?”

“She disappeared from the ship she was on. We attempted to recover her and retrieved the boy that was key to the vault instead.”

“What can you tell us about the boy?”
“Blackfire and Mórsairon interviewed the boy. I can play back the interviews. My sister worked with the other boy, but her compulsions did not hold. Here are the interviews.”
Dúhael played the interviews at high speed and Usanaar said, “He seems quite capable. Do you think that he did indeed make multiple fake copies of the Harald seeming?”
“Mórsairon and Blackfire are certain that either Bill or someone else has. They are also certain that the vault is now empty and that attempting to open it is pointless.”

“Did they say where they think the contents are?” haciathra asked.

“They think that the contents of the vault are out and more or less accessible with Bill placing them in various Beinan locations and Lord Umevan having the rest.”

“If they are guarding the boy, perhaps you should search for Lady Virstina.”
“Milady, that seems like the sensible course to follow at present.”

“Are there any other setbacks” Usanaar asked.”

“Dúgirhael sent that the Machinery was raided. The Republic apparently realized where the Machinery was and decided to strike. Major Tollings raided the location, the slaves told him that they all wanted to go home and the Republic sent ships and people to take everyone and everything. That was why we haven’t seen any activity from Major Tollings recently.”

“That sounds like a hard blow.”
“We lost a lot of resources when the blow fell. Even worse is that we do not know how the Machinery was discovered and what else may be at risk.”

“I think that I must think on this. I will give you thoughts the next time I am activated. Haciathra may be right about another attempt to retrieve the lady.”

Before shutting down completely, Usanaar poked the distant contact and said, “Mistress, I have news.”

Usanaar blipped the conversation to the distant contact. Dúhael is concerned.”

“That was a mess. Apparently, even  though they were able to take the boys, they could not keep them for very long. That is troublesome. The efforts to retrieve the girl were thwarted apparently. Our adversaries are being more sutble than I expected.”

La-11(Vigilant)

Looking through his binoculars, Commander Brownlow could see the shape of the bay in the moonlight. The lighthouses on the ends of the points were dark and there was little activity in the town or castle and no lights. He turned to his first officer and Swim leader, Lieutenant Dolphin Seafisher and said, “It’s a good thing that we have Swimmers and not dragons, Dolph. Get your people ready for a drop with some surprises.”

“We’ll keep an eye out for the boat and let people know it’s coming, sir.”

“At least you will be camping when it’s warm.”

“Not all that warm, sir. We will live.”

“Get going and good hunting.”

Seafisher saluted and headed aft. Brownlow tripped the intercom and said, “Sparks, any trace of RDR signals?”
“Not a whisper, captain, right across the band. They are shutdown if they have anything.”

“Go for drop, then.”

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