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View images from Rising Tides by Taylor Anderson.
When Walker sounded her "drowning goose" general quarters alarm for predawn battle stations, Matt was surprised to hear the thunder of drums on the ships nearby, sending their own crews to action stations. He remembered that Jenks had expressed interest in the practice several times. Evidently, Matt's explanation that they did it because dawn was a dangerous time of day when enemy ships—and in their "old" war, submarines in particular—might see their silhouette before they saw the enemy, had made eminent sense to the Imperial commodore. It looked like Jenks was beginning to institute the practice among all the ships of his command. That was certainly for the good—if they all became true allies someday. Matt realized, however, that he might have given away a serious advantage if the Empire and Alliance ever found themselves on opposite sides. Oh, well, it couldn't be helped. Right now, they had the same cause and they needed their friends to be prepared
That morning, instead of standing down into a morning routine, Matt gave the order to "make all preparations for getting underway." Sparks began to rise from nearby stacks, and black and gray smoke curled into the air as Walker and the "squadron," consisting of Achilles, Icarus, and Ulysses, raised steam and prepared to pull their hooks. Their immediate destination was an old Imperial outpost—probably the first. Jenks said the island, called Respite, was the first hospitable place his ancestors had encountered on their voyage to the East, and it was there they'd rested, victualed, and taken on fresh water before continuing in search of the most remote place they could find. Some few had stayed, tired of the seemingly endless journey, and Respite had been almost constantly inhabited ever since. Over time, it became the regional capital of all the surrounding islands and until recently, the western frontier of the Empire. It had been to one of the newer, slightly more northwestern outposts under Respite's jurisdiction that Rebecca's one-armed protector, Sean O'Casey, had been fleeing the Imperial hangman after an unsuccessful rebellion against Company usurpation of Imperial authority. It had been only wild coincidence that Princess Rebecca Anne McDonald had been dispatched aboard the same doomed ship by her father, the Governor-Emperor himself. In his effort to provide for her safety from increasingly dark Company machinations, he'd set the wheels in motion that left her marooned and presumed dead these two long years. In the end, the Company had snatched her anyway.
The best thing, from the perspectives of Matt and Jenks, was that Respite's inhabitants had become increasingly dissatisfied with the arbitrary policies enacted by the distant Imperial government—particularly as the Courts of Directors and Proprietors fell increasingly into the hands of the Company. The "Respitans" had always been a self-sufficient, individualistic lot, and Jenks suspected they would have supported O'Casey's rebellion if they'd caught wind of it in time. He was sure that when USS Walker and her consorts arrived with news of the fight that Walker and Achilles had had with Company and pressed Imperial warships bent on murdering the princess, they would find themselves among a sympathetic population and territorial governor. A perfect place for the Allied supply ships and tankers to head for.
Icarus flew her Imperial flag once more, and Matt noticed with interest that Ulysses' new Imperial flag flew above her old Company flag. He wondered what the next Company ship or official they encountered would think of that. Bosun's pipes twittered similar or familiar calls on every ship, and the special sea and anchor detail on Walker's fo'c'sle sprayed the anchor chain with hoses as the steam capstan sent it dripping and clattering into the locker below. Finally, the anchor was aweigh and the little crane forward hoisted it into its cut-out storage space forward. Matt watched while the other ships' anchors were raised and secured, and was struck by how primitive his own ship was in many ways. The stocks on Imperial anchors were wood and Walker's was iron, but the overall shape was virtually identical. His ship was probably the last class in the U.S. Navy to use the old-style anchors, a design completely unchanged for a hundred years, but the Imperial model was even older.
He shook his head and strode from the bridgewing to the chart table. No one aboard was really sure where they were headed anymore. Somewhere in what they remembered as the Carolines, he supposed. It seemed the farther east they steamed, the less relevant their charts of the "old world" became. Courtney Bradford took the disparity between their charts and the actual locations of the various islands of the "Eastern Sea" as a matter of course. He still insisted that the larger, exposed surface area of the atolls was consistent with his Ice Age theory, and Matt had to agree there might be something to that. The fact that, according to the charts Jenks had loaned them, these Carolines were larger and more substantial than Matt remembered, or the old charts indicated, seemed to follow. What didn't make any sense to Matt and many others was why the atolls, or actual islands, had been so shifted around. They'd discovered quite a few islands in—call them the Marshalls for lack of anything better—where there shouldn't be anything at all. The island where they'd made their emergency repairs was one example. According to Jenks's charts, other substantial atolls such as Kwajalein didn't even exist. Bradford maintained that it was all perfectly understandable. Matt only wished Courtney would find some way to make it just as easily explainable. In the meantime, and for the foreseeable future, he would have to trust Imperial charts of the region.
"All ahead one-third," Matt said. "Make your course one, one, five."
"Ahead one-third," Staas-Fin, or "Finny," replied. "One, one, five, ay!" The blower rumbled contentedly and Walker gathered way. Juan arrived with his battered carafe and a tray of cups and Matt accepted one with thanks. Juan's coffee was terrible, even using the ersatz beans of this world, but it was coffee of a sort and that's all that matters sometimes.
"Thanks, Juan," Captain Reddy murmured as he brought the green foam-rimmed brew to his lips.
"My pleasure, Cap-tan! Would you like breakfast? A haircut perhaps? A hot towel and a shave would do wonders for you," he hinted. Matt's razor had about given up the ghost, and he'd finally relented and begun growing a beard like the rest of the men under his command. "I traded a case of rusty cans of 'scum weenies' for a new Imperial razor!" he declared in triumph. "It is quite sharp!"
Matt scratched his itchy chin and winced. He'd love a shave—but he had never let Juan shave him despite the Filipino's incessant attempts. Now… he had the only razor. Matt was convinced that if he ever relented, Juan would be shaving him for the rest of his life. On the other hand, he'd always believed that keeping himself well-groomed was important. It was just his little way of showing defiance in the face of the odds against them. "No matter how bad it gets, the Skipper always shaves." Something like that.
He sighed. "Well, can we do it right here? I mean, can I just sit here in my chair?"
Juan beamed. "Of course, Cap-tan! In fact, it would be best, I believe. The chair is just the right height! I will return in a moment!" With that, Juan darted away and Matt looked around the bridge. Finny was trying to suppress a grin and the lookouts diligently studied the horizon. Norman Kutas glanced at the chart and stepped around the chart house—probably so Matt wouldn't see him crack up. True to his word, Juan returned quickly. He had two 'Cat mess attendants in tow, one with a basin of hot water, the other holding some damp, steaming towels. Juan immediately removed Matt's hat and draped a towel over his face.
"Oh, for God's sake, Juan! I thought you were just going to shave me!" he muttered under the towel. "I can't conn the ship like this!"
The shipwide comm suddenly blared. "Now hear this!" It was Chief Bosun's Mate Fitzhugh Gray's voice. He was in on it too! Gray was around sixty, barely shorter than his captain, but the man who'd once grown flabby and jaded on the China station of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet had transformed into a lean, powerful pillar of moral authority within the Alliance. He was no longer a "mere" chief bosun's mate; there were plenty of those in the rapidly expanding American Navy. He'd become something much more, still ill-defined. Officially, he commanded Matt's personal security detail, the "Captain's Guard," and was "chief armsman of the supreme Allied Commander." Unofficially, he was often referred to as "The S.B." (Super Bosun), but most, even Chief Bosun's Mate Bashear, still just called him "the Bosun." To Matt, and probably Matt alone, he was still just "Boats."
"Now hear this!" Gray repeated. "Lieutenant Steele to the bridge! The exec will take the conn while the captain endures his mornin' toy-letty!" A roar of laughter echoed through the ship, amid the stamping of Lemurian feet.
"Oh my God, Boats!" Matt groaned, but he couldn't help laughing. "Put yourself on report! And… whoever else is responsible for this stunt!"
"Aye, aye, Skipper," Gray said, "but beggin' the Skipper's pardon, your beard is startin' to look a little scruffy." He lowered his voice. "That, and with all the stuff that's been goin' on, the fight, the chase for the girls… me and a few of the fellas figured you could use a laugh. Besides, you've always stayed shaved through a lot worse scrapes than this. Don't want the fellas to think you're lett...