Letterstime - Return of the Flying Dutchman 

Part 1 - Concerning A Slight Error

Flying Dutchman --- June 1, course changing, speed variable, 2500 hours1

The evening stars danced above the sails in the mild spring air. Captain Vanderdecken stood upon the wooden deck of his venerable ship and listened to the soft rush and roar of the power source that sent the Flying Dutchman skimming over the waves faster than any mortal sailing ship could hope to go. He spoke to the steersman. "Steady as she goes, Mr. Suffolk. We're almost done for the night, I believe. I've heard no guns for hours."

"Aye, sir." The man held the wheel gently, guiding the ship over the North Sea, calmer now that the storms of war had at last died away. "Did it seem to ye, sir, that we've picked up more this day than many?"

"Yes, Mr. Suffolk. It is not your imagination." The captain looked out at the horizon, his brow wrinkled a little in thought. "Many a disaster and war at sea you and I have seen, but never have I encountered such a battle as this, with so many good sailors in sudden need of our transport." Vanderdecken was silent for a minute, as if listening to some commands only he could hear. He nodded. "Come about, Mr. Suffolk. Let's head for home."

"Aye-aye. Coming about. I know sir, that the ship can hold as many as she needs to, but I'm hoping they won't be making a habit of this." Suffolk turned the wheel several points, correcting their course, watching intently for a certain signpost. Ahead, a star grew slowly brighter, its beams creating a silver path on the water. He turned the ship again, settling onto the new heading with the familiarity of someone who has made many such trips. Vanderdecken nodded his approval. Above, the wind sang in the sails, pushing the ship onward at a pace that produced curls of foam at her prow.the Flying Dutchman

On the main deck below, Lt. Reinhard Sadler, late of the U-20, helped a crewman serve hot tea to the few men still on deck. He'd come aboard early in the evening, and had recovered quickly, to the point that he was both willing and able to help the regular crew with the continual influx of men. "How long have you worked on this ship, Chiang?" he asked as they finished serving the tea to all who wanted it.

"A long time, friend Reinhard, a long time. The ships of my own Chuugoku2 no longer look anything like the great five-masted junk I once sailed." He shrugged. "It matters not. This ship sails outside such concerns as Time." The oriental sailor looked forward, over the prow of the merchantman. "Ah, I see we are going home!" He smiled and nodded cheerfully at the prospect.

"The Flying Dutchman has a home?" Sadler was quite surprised. Not as surprised as when he'd woken up to find himself aboard the ancient sailing ship rather than his submarine, but surprised nonetheless.

"Certainly she does." Chiang checked the few men on deck. All seemed comfortable and that was good. Once they had recovered enough to stand, he and Sadler would escort them to berths below decks.

"But, I always had heard that she was … well, cursed, you know. Doomed to sail forever?" He asked carefully, not at all sure it was polite to ask such a question.

Chiang smiled at that. "Some curses are blessings in disguise. This vessel sails a round trip between the seas of this world and that of her home port. We who serve as crew do so willingly. When we tire of this work, we can leave, as do most all of the people we rescue from the sea." He gave the German a friendly look. "If you like the seafaring life, you are welcome to join the crew."

"Really?" Sadler looked up at the sails, ahead at the shining sea. "I could get to like this, actually. I joined the Navy for the adventure, and sailing on the U-20 certainly was exciting, but there was nothing to see, when we were submerged. And the noise and smell were awful." He paused to breathe in the salty air. "This is so much better, out in the open air."

"If you still feel that way when we reach home, ask the Captain. We've always room for another good sailor." The crewman gestured at the few people sitting up on the deck. "Well, they're looking better. Let's get them below to rest."

"Certainly. But…" Sadler pointed at one man. "Shouldn't we do something about this one who is bleeding?"

"What?! Bleeding? Impossible. Who? Where?" Chiang stared at the man Sadler indicated and then swore in Mandarin at the sight of the blood staining the sleeve and shoulder of the man laying on the deck. His eyes widened in horror "Don't touch him! Captain!" The sailor ran to the quarterdeck ladder and called up urgently.

Vanderdecken slid down the ladder to the main deck, striding rapidly over to the U-20's XO. Chiang moved in his wake, wringing his hands in distress.

"Ah, Lieutnant Sadler, good to see you up and about." He halted, looked down at the wounded man. "Ach. This complicates matters. I am glad you found him now, rather than later, Lieutnant."

"What's wrong? Everyone we've picked up was… well… hmm…" Sadler paused in confusion as he realized that no one he'd seen tonight had borne an obvious wound or injury, himself included. He knew that he'd been injured somehow and had fallen overboard from the conning tower of U-20, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what had happened. "That's odd, you'd think everyone would be wounded?" he wondered aloud.

"In truth, you are in the process of healing and living," Vanderdecken said, placing a hand upon Sadler's shoulder. It had weight and warmth, that hand. "While this man is in the process of dying, however slowly. Someday we could carry him, but for now he belongs to the Earth, whereas we do not."

"I'm not sure I understand, sir."

"In time you will. At this point, I will tell you that to get to our home port, we cannot carry him. His mortal body would weigh this ship down like a stone. So the question becomes, what is to be done with him?"

Chiang made a discreet 'over the side' gesture. The captain shook his head sternly. "No, that won't do. That is for mortals, not for us." He smiled a little. "And besides, our contract forbids taking on crew in such a direct way."

"Send him back?" asked Sadler, thinking out loud. "He must be German, we picked him up in the same place as all the men from one of our torpedo boats, and I know we passed the First Scouting Group not more than an hour ago."

"So we did. That's the flotilla with the impressive steel ship we saw early this evening - Derfflinger, wasn't she? And that ship had a captain willing to speak to us. Hmm… Yes, yes, that might work, it might indeed! Helm, due South by this world's compass, make all speed, we've a ship to catch!"

Part II - The Chase

2510 hours, bridge of Derfflinger - course homeward, speed 20 knots

The battlecruiser steamed along through the calm spring air, darkness concealing her wounds. The ship kept a course designed partly to seek out any British cripples and partly to find any shipwrecked survivors of either navy. At this late hour, neither were in evidence. Flagcaptain Theodor stifled a yawn, looking blearily out over the ocean. He could have placed his XO in charge and gone to some well-earned rest, but even weary as he was he lingered, enjoying the temporary peacefulness. Derfflinger ran well, even with torpedo damage to her hull, keeping up a steady 20 knots.

Now that the adrenaline of battle had faded, the bone-deep tiredness of the aftermath had settled into him. He yawned again, unable to catch it in time. The Baron paced by, stretching. If I'm tired, how does he feel? He's not a youngster anymore. Surely he could take some rest now that the battle is done? Theodor checked his pocket watch. Midnight. It had been a very long day.

Wilhemshaven. We should be there by morning, afternoon at the latest, depending upon how long the Baron wishes to sweep the seas in the wake of our returning ships. He was painfully aware of the reduced speed caused by the torpedo damage and yearned to get his ship repaired as quickly as possible. He drew in a deep breath and released it in a long sigh. Relax, our ship will be fine. The battle is done for now. Some stubborn part of his mind refused to relax, pacing about the interior of his brain like a nervous horse, immune to his reassurances.

"Flagcaptain?" The voice of the Baron shook Theodor from his brown study. The Admiral stood at the starboard railing, squinting at the dark sea.

"Sir?" Theodor moved to the Baron's side. "Did you wish a course correction?"

"No, not at all. But I would like to know, what do you see, there, just off the horizon?" He pointed outward, directly to starboard.

Theodor followed the Baron's gesture, stared for a moment. "Vas...?" then raised his binoculars to his eyes. "Gott in Himmel!" Desperately he adjusted the lenses, hoping the thing coming into view was somehow the product of poor focus.

"Ah, you do see it too, then." The Baron nodded with only a slight frown to indicate his inner unease.

"I see something." Theodor handed his glasses to the Admiral. "Please tell me it is not what I think it is."

Letters took the offered binoculars and peered through them, whistling softly through his teeth. "I regret to say there is nothing wrong with your eyes. Or mine. Our friend the Flying Dutchman is on an intercept course, and closing rapidly."

"I didn't think we'd encounter him again so soon." Theodor kept his voice light. "Do you want us to turn away and go to flank?"

"Run from a geistshiff?3" The Baron smiled wryly. "To where?" He shook his head and continued in a dry tone. "Besides, Derfflinger already has a hole in her hull, let's not add further water-pressure to her woes. Go to half till she catches up with us, and let's see what she wants."

"Aye, sir." As Captain Theodor relayed the command to reduce speed, his mind chattered excitedly, See, I told you it was too soon to relax! See? See?

Flying Dutchman --- June 1, course changing, speed 30 knots, 2515 hours

"Lieutnant Reinhard Sadler," Vanderdecken addressed the young officer with a smile.

"Yes, sir?"

"Your work this day is done. Go below and take your rest for now. I'll have the watch wake you when we continue our homeward course."

"Oh." Sadler looked a little disappointed. "I'm not that tired, sir. I was rather hoping to see Derfflinger up close."

Vanderdecken sighed softly. "Yes, I understand. But the people aboard that ship are not yet ready to see you. Once you've made the round trip, you can look at her or any ship as you please, that I guarantee you." He gazed at the sailor, seeing with that peculiar double vision his own abilities gave him: the whole, uninjured man that did exist and would exist once again, and the horribly injured body that the mortals would see if they came into range. It was not simply for expediency that his crew had taken the collected casualties below. A mortal mind could not absorb the sight without damage and neither the living nor the dead needed such punishment.

"Aye-aye sir." Sadler said, not quite understanding, but willing to obey. He saluted and followed Chiang belowdecks.

The Chinese crewman soon returned. "Captain, all of our passengers are safely below, except for him." He nodded at the injured sailor lying on the deck.

"Excellent." Vanderdecken faced into the wind with a smile.

2520 hours, bridge of Derfflinger - course homeward, speed 15 knots

The two officers waited, watching in silence as the ghostly galleon bore in on them, then turned gracefully to match their course. Her sails were filled with a contrary wind, and she maneuvered without tacking, the wind of this world having nothing to do with her movement. Theodor swallowed tightly. It looked wrong. The foam rolling from her prow shone soft phosphorescent blue-white and the entire ship, her wood, rigging, and sails, all radiated an inner pearlescent glow. At 15 knots, the small Dutchman matched paces with Derfflinger, keeping station barely 30 yards away. The wake generated by the battlecruiser did not jostle the galleon, which held its parallel track easily.

Theodor stole a glance at his Admiral. The Baron looked - frankly delighted! His eyes drank in the sight of the ancient ship, preserved in all her pristine glory, with a sort of reverence.

"Isn't she a thing of beauty?" he sighed.

Theodor blinked in surprise. "I suppose so, but isn't she also a harbinger of bad tidings?" The captain didn't want to admit to being superstitious, but encountering the Flying Dutchman not once, but twice in one day had to top the list of fell omens. Ghosts were supposed to vanish with the sunrise. He glanced again at his watch. Midnight. Still midnight?! His skin prickled and he shoved the watch into his pocket where he could no longer see it. A story for my grandchildren, he thought, should there ever be any.

A lantern flashed on the galleon, winking a message through the darkness. The Baron watched intently, then looked at the signals officer, who translated at once:

"Heave to."

"Heave to?!" Theodor sputtered. He banished visions of ghostly pirates out of his mind and tried to attend to the mundane business of running his ship. It was difficult when the borders of madness spilled over into reality in this way.

"Very well. Order all stop." The Baron's voice was calm and firm.

"Sir." Theodor fought down several good objections and relayed the command. Derfflinger slowly coasted to a halt. As she did so, the Dutchman sailed even closer, so close those aboard could see down onto her wooden decks easily. The crew of the galleon looked up at the battlecruiser with open curiousity, peering at her steel plating and massive guns. On the quarterdeck, her captain paced into view, a strong-looking man of middle years with black hair and neatly-trimmed black beard.

"Ahoy Derfflinger." The captain's voice reached their ears easily without benefit of megaphone. It didn't even sound as if he were shouting. "Thank you for stopping. We've an urgent matter to discuss." His German was Dutch-accented and quaintly old-fashioned, but understandable.

"Ahoy Flying Dutchman." The Baron called in reply. "What can we do for you?"

Theodor tried not to wince at that courteous question, his imagination supplying far too many dire fairy tale-type consequences.

"Reclaim one of your own."

"Reclaim?" The Baron looked a little puzzled. He glanced at his flagcaptain, who shrugged slightly, equally mystified.

"Yes, we have picked up one of your people by mistake and wish to return him."

The Baron blinked at that. "Ah. Yes. Thank you. I'll have the crew run down a ladder..."

"Harr Admiral, neither I nor my crew can come aboard your fine vessel. Someone from your ship must board the Dutchman and carry away your injured. Please send someone over, and I shall explain in greater detail." Vanderdecken's voice was polite.

"Very well." After a long moment's pause, the Baron turned to his captain."Prepare the longboat for me, will you?"

"What?!" Theodor did not try to supress the horror he felt. "You aren't thinking of actually setting foot on that ship yourself, are you?" He tried to keep his voice down, but he wasn't at all sure the captain of the Dutchman couldn't hear him anyway. Cold sweat bathed his body at the thought of his Admiral aboard the ghost ship. What if it vanished into the mist? What if the ghosts took him away? What if...

"And who else shall I send? I can't command someone to walk where I am afraid to walk, can I?" He smiled grimly. "How could I lead, then?"

He looked calmly at Theodor, who glared back in dismay. Finally the captain looked away first, lowering his head in defeat at the simple logic of the Baron's arguement. "Very well, sir. But -- you aren't going alone!"

The Baron sighed and nodded. "Ja. It would be unfair of me to leave you out at this point. Come along, let's go over."

Theodor smiled tightly. "Sehr gut." He turned smartly and led the way down through the bridge and out onto the main deck, where the puzzled crew were lowering the ship's longboat, which had miraculously survived the battle unscathed. His smile faded as the realization dawned on him what sort of adventure he'd managed to volunteer himself for. My brain is going to kill me, he thought ruefully as he climbed down into the boat with the Admiral and the small crew.

The trip across the tiny channel that separated the two ships took far too little time in Theodor's opinion. Soon the german sailors were catching hold of lines tossed down to them by the crew of the Dutchman. A rope ladder followed in short order, and then there was nothing to do but follow the Baron upward.

Part III - Recovery

The deck feels real enough, Theodor thought, staring down at the hull as he pulled himself over the rail so smartly he nearly bumped into the Baron, who was standing in place and scanning the ship with great care and attention. They stood at last upon the wooden planks of the Flying Dutchman. Above his head, a soft sussuration stirred the canvas sails and sent a cool breeze through his navy coat. Theodor scrubbed at his forearms in a vain attempt to settle the gooseflesh. The air smelled of sea salt and pine tar, the scent of a true sailing ship. It smells real. His mind did a sort of double-take. What would a ghost-ship smell like, anyway?

The few crewmembers who were on deck looked at their visitors with polite curiousity. Some saluted, some bowed. They were an eclectic lot, dressed in what appeared to be a sampling of mariner's clothing across the ages. Ghosts. All wearing the clothes of the era in which they died. Theodor swallowed in a throat gone suddenly dry. The Baron meanwhile was running his hand gently over the rigging of the mainsail, an abstracted smile on his face.

"Welcome aboard, Baron Vice-Admiral Letters, and Flagcaptain Theodor von Engle. I am Vanderdecken, master of the Flying Dutchman." The speaker approached them with a smile, and Theodor forgot about the crew, staring instead at the legendary "lost soul". The Dutchman saluted the Baron, who returned the gesture at once.

"Thank you for your hospitality, Captain Vanderdecken. I gather this is... somewhat unusual circumstances for you and your ship?" the Baron asked, trying not to sound as if he were prying. His eyes were alight with interest.

"It is indeed. Normally, your first sight of us would have been, well, your first and only, so to speak. But, the day has gone somewhat contrary to the normal order of things." Vanderdecken paused. "Actually, this day has been quite remarkable, so perhaps I should not be so surprised as to the course it has taken."

"I have found it so, as well," the Baron murmured in agreement. "What would have been normal for you, Captain?"

"Usually, we pick up those lost at sea, then make our homeward run before sunrise."

"Home?" Theodor blurted before he could stop, then found himself with the full attention of both the Baron and the keen-eyed master of the Dutch East Indiaman. Vanderdecken smiled at him.

"Yes, young Captain, home. We ply a route between the waters of this world and the next, ferrying our passengers in safety. I've never lost a man yet." He looked quite proud of the fact.

"But now you wish us to take away one of your passengers?" The Baron returned them to the original topic of conversation.

"Indeed. My regular crew were overwhelmed for some time pulling in the many people cast away during the great battle, and those newcomers who were well enough to assist helped take up the slack. But being new, they didn't understand all the rules, and so in the rush to help, they took aboard someone whom we cannot carry to our home port."

"Um... he's been that bad?" asked Theodor delicately.

Vanderdecken raised an eyebrow at that. "Not at all. It's just that he is still what this world would consider alive and breathing."

"Oh." He had known they were ghosts, but to have it said so very plainly! Theodor resolved firmly not to ask any more questions for which he would be sorry to have answers.

"We will be happy to take him, of course, but," the Baron looked about at the very-solid ship, "why could you not just take him with you, whether he was ready to go or not?"

"Hmf. A matter of power and right, Harr Admiral. Without special arrangements this ship would have had the utmost difficulty making the passage while carrying a mortal. Although one could use the argument that we have the power to do so, we have not the right, and that is one lesson I have finally learned. All things happen in their own time." He smiled with self-depreciating humor. "And besides, our power source might object."

Power source? Letters raised his eyes to the sails, belled out full even though the ship was not moving. His eyes widened. Theodor followed the direction of his gaze, but the only things he saw were the sails, masts, and rigging, limned against the starry night sky, shining faintly like the rest of the ship.

"This way, gentlemen, please." Vanderdecken chuckled as he walked across the main deck, leading the two Germans past the mainmast, around the hatches, to a place where a somewhat crumpled-looking sailor lay on his back, covered with a blanket against the cool spring air. "Here he is. Lieutnant Sadler assured me he belonged among you, which is why we have flagged you down, and not one of your English compatriots."

"Very good, Captain, my thanks for your courtesy. I did not expect to be recovering one of our people in such a way." The Baron knelt by the sailor, who was indeed still breathing. Given the strange lighting and the man's lack of coat or hat, the Admiral could not tell if the he was a common seaman or an officer. The Baron looked at the blood-spattered shirt the man was wearing and frowned. "Flagcaptain, your handkerchief, please." As he made this request, Letters removed his own unused handkerchief and folded it into a tight pad, which he pressed firmly over the wound in the front of the sailor's shoulder. Theodor caught his intent at once, and surrendered his own bit of clean cloth for additional packing, then followed it with a strip of his underblouse to bind the dressing in place.

As Theodor tore up his shirt, the Baron spoke to Vanderdecken. "You could not tend his wounds? It is lucky he didn't bleed to death."

"No. None of us dared to touch him beyond the initial contact needed to pull him from the sea." Vanderdecken watched the Baron patiently. "It was not through any ill-will, you understand. We mean no harm but we are no longer of this world, and our touch is... well... not always good for the living." He glanced at his hands, turning them over to look at the palms, then shrugged. "It depends upon the person. That we could pull him from the ocean's grasp without killing him on the spot was a sign that it was not yet his time. But I didn't want to push his luck by handling him further."

"I understand, I think, Captain. Again, our thanks." He nodded to Theodor. "Between the two of us we can carry him gently to the railing."

"Yes, sir. And our crew in the longboat can help us transfer him." Theodor knelt beside the sailor and got a firm grip on his legs, while the Baron grasped him carefully under the shoulders, taking pains not to flex or press on the man's injury. It was an easy if somewhat clumsy hike to the railing. Once there, Vanderdecken's crew provided a rope-sling which greatly facilitated getting the man over the side and lowered down into the longboat.

While the small boat's crew settled the sailor in the bow, the Baron turned to Vanderdecken. "Thank you. I am sorry you had to go out of your way."

"Not at all. This has been a most interesting interlude," the Captain's voice was warm and he smiled at Letters and Theodor. "It was nice to visit, however briefly, with people who appreciate fine ships."

As Theodor stepped over the railing and prepared to climb down to the longboat, he saw the Baron hold out his hand to Vanderdecken. They shook hands firmly, then parted. The Baron likewise made the descent into the longboat. To the sound of the bosun's pipes playing a soft air, they pulled away from the ancient ship.

"Are you all right? You shook hands with him!" Theodor asked in a low voice as the sailors rowed briskly for Derfflinger's solid and comforting bulk.

"Ja, I'm fine." Letters uttered a deep sigh, then smiled. "I offered my hand without thinking; the good Baroness my mother would be proud of my politeness."

"Was it cold, then?"

"No." Letters gazed at his right hand, flexing the fingers thoughtfully. "More like - electric. As if he is so full of life he can hardly contain it. I feel quite dull, in comparison."

"It has been a long day sir. We could all do with some rest." Me especially, Theodor thought, feeling his heartbeat start to settle down at last.

"And a little less excitement?" the Baron asked with a sudden flash of humor.

"Yes, Gottwillen4!" Theodor exclaimed fervently. The return trip to Derfflinger passed without incident. By the time they had made their way up to the deck with their new acquisition, the Flying Dutchman had turned away. As they watched, the ship gathered speed. Soon she had vanished into the moonlight sparkling on the water, fading away with the last strains of sweet pipe music.

Part IV - Purgatory (or Another Slight Error)

"I'm very glad you have returned safely," said Commander Jurgen Olbrecht, Derfflinger's physician, as the adventurers once again stood upon the deck of their own ship. Having been occupied below decks for the day, the physician had missed the most recent exciting developments. "You might have given me fair warning you were off playing pirates," he grumped, frowning in mock-severity at the men. "And who is this you've brought me?" He moved to the side of the injured sailor, taking his wrist to count his pulse and examining the crude field dressing with a practiced eye.

"I wouldn't call the Dutchman a 'pirate', exactly." Theodor opined, looking quickly out to sea to be sure the ghostly ship wasn't returning to argue about the terminology.

"Indeed, although 'passenger liner' doesn't sound quite right, either," the Baron said dryly, then added for the doctor's benefit, "this man is a sailor the Dutchman picked up by accident during the course of today's battle."

"Only this one?" The doctor frowned. "What Dutchman? I thought our fleet and the British were the only ships out here?"

"Herr Doktor, the Flying Dutchman does not usually pick up the living, you understand..."

"What?!" The doctor's horrified exclamation woke the sailor, who blinked up at them in great confusion as they milled around over his prostrate form. He sat up abruptly, clutched his shoulder with a wince.

"Ow! Here now, who're you lot?" he asked in English. The accent made it plain that he had never been part of the Kaiser's navy. "What ship am I on?" He squinted at them in the gloom as if trying to bring them into focus.

"He's British?" Theodor's voice reflected his dismay.

"Tch. It seems some errors multiply, and even the great powers aren't immune," the Baron observed, then addressed their newest passenger directly in English. "We might ask the same of you, but since you have asked first; you are aboard the Kaiser's ship Derfflinger, and I am Vice-Admiral Letters. This is my Flagcaptain, Theodor von Engle, and our ship's doctor, Herr Olbrecht, who will look after your wounds."

"I've been picked up by the Huns? Oh ruddy hell." The man groaned in disgust. "That does put a perfect end to a fine day. We got shot up, I fell off my ship, and now I've been fished out of the water by the Germans." He coughed, sagged back onto the deck, cleared his throat, then threw the officers a wobbly left-handed salute from his prone position. "Excuse me for not standing, I seem to be a bit off, right now. I'm Hawksley, Commodore of the 11th Flotilla, however much is left of it." He grinned shakily, face pale in the moonlight.

"Welcome aboard, Commodore, you'll be taken to sick bay now, where our doctor can attend you. We can deal with other matters once you have recovered your strength." Letters spoke quietly to the man, as if soothing a sick child.

"Right. Thank you, Admiral." The commodore closed his eyes and seemed to either sleep or faint. He was placed on a stretcher and borne off by a group of sailors, exhorted by the doctor to walk gently. They soon vanished within the ship's superstructure.

"He must be nearly tired to death, he didn't ask about the British fleet, or his ship," the Baron observed as he and Theodore walked slowly back to the bridge. Derfflinger had regained her steady cruising speed, once again heading for Wilhelmshaven and safety.

"Yes." Theodor glanced sidelong at his commander. "I also noticed you didn't tell him who had pulled him out of the water first."

"Hum. Yes, well... I didn't feel that it would be a good thing, with him so weak already. Perhaps later, when he is feeling better."

Perhaps never, if I interpret that tone correctly. Theodore's mind supplied its own conclusion, but he held his peace until another thought intruded.

"Oh! His people have counted him as lost, already, along with his ship. The confusion. The paperwork!" He grimaced at the thought of the wheels of bureacracy grinding ponderously through the whole muddled affair.

The Baron's mouth twitched as well, then he laid a hand on his flagcaptain's shoulder. "That, my good Theodor, is why God invented junior officers. To deal with the purgatory of paperwork." He smiled. "Call it an indulgence."

"Amen to that," was the fervent reply.

Part V - Power Sources

Dawn over the ocean, the sea sparkling in shades of gold and coral through layers of thickening clouds. Theodor checked his pocket watch carefully. Six o'clock. Not midnight, six. He smiled in relief. Already the events of last night were beginning to fade away, eclipsed by the memories of fire and battle. Life had returned to normal; at least, as normal as life could be with a damaged ship. A few hours of sleep, coffee, and something like breakfast had helped to improve his alertness and temper. Better yet, not a British ship in sight; that fact raised his spirits even more.

According to the doctor, the unsinkable Commodore Hawksley had survived the night and looked as if he would pull through despite his misadventures in the sea and elsewhere. Theodor felt rather glad about that bit of news as well. It would have been a dirty trick to go through all that trouble only to have him die on us, he thought as he surveyed the forward turrets absently. Then again, to whom would we complain if he had died? He shivered for a moment, then suppressed the motion. Don't think about it. We are all alive, at least, and that is what is important.

"Good morning, Flagcaptain," the Baron's voice sounded from Theodor's right as the Vice-Admiral strolled onto the bridge. "Did you rest well?" He looked still a little weary, but cheerful.

"I did, sir, quite well, all things considered. And yourself?"

"I slept like the dead." He paused and smiled at Theodor's expression. "No pun intended."

"I'm... very glad." In more normal tones, he continued. "We're making good time, sir. We should reach Wilhelmshaven by four o'clock. The sea has been quiet - not even a merchanter out this morning. Derfflinger is running well, damage control is as caught up as they can be, outside of port."

"Very good. And our new passenger, the Commodore?"

"Doktor Olbrecht says he will live, and I quote, 'assuming we don't all sink enroute and get eaten by sharks'."

"A stickler for accuracy, our doctor." The Baron chuckled. As he turned to pace over to the port wing of the bridge, something flashed on the lapel of his coat, gleaming metallic in a stray ray of sunlight. Theodor walked after him, trying to get a better look. Whatever it was glittered again as Letters half-turned to get a good view of the stern and then the port bow of the ship.

"Hold still a moment, sir. I think you've a shell-splinter stuck in your coat." Theodore caught up with him and reached to gently pluck the object free from the navy blue worsted. "Eh?" He stared at the thing he held, which shone in shades of silver and platinum and electric blue, sparkling like an exotic jewel. "A feather?!" Bright iridescences chased themselves off the edges of the eight-inch long plume. "Where did this come from? It looks like something off a bird of paradise."

The Baron looked at it and raised his eyebrows in surprise. "It must have fallen on me while we were aboard the Flying Dutchman." Letters took the feather from Theodor, turning it over to examine it more closely.

"How could that be? There weren't any birds aboard the ship that I could see - certainly none perching in the rigging, with that wind roaring in the sails. They'd have to be big, anyway, to drop a feather like that - a parrot would have been too small. A sea eagle or an albatross perhaps. I should think I would have noticed such a large bird."

"Hmm. True, but..." The Baron gently smoothed the feather, opened his coat and tucked it carefully into an inside pocket. He smiled at Theodor. "I never said it came from a bird."


1. geistschiff "ghost ship" - there are German terms for "haunted", but those who know the language tell me the implications are horrific, which would lend the wrong meaning to the Baron's statement. On the other hand, when the entire ship is a ghost, lock, stock, and crew, ghost ship seems the best description and the Baron is nothing if not accurate in his terminology.
2. Chuugoku The "Middle Kingdom", the traditional name for China.
3. 2500 hours This is NOT a typo - it's the military-time equivalent of 13 o'clock, with all the attendant strangeness that goes with it. Literally, the "witching hour".
4. Gottwillen "God willing"

by Colleen - Bluefox@owt.com