487. The Cost of Empire 2

This is the second of four posts from The Cost of Empire. Click here for post 1.

Submarine wasn’t entirely a proper term for the American craft. It had started as an improvement on their Hunley types, using the new engine devised by Rudolph Diesel, but because the engine had a hunger for air, they rarely submerged. The British called them sharks, because the only part anyone ever saw was the narrow fin that stuck above the water. The whole British Navy knew from direct experience was that they were fast while on the surface — faster than any ship in the British fleet.

Her Majesty’s Navy hated that.

America was not an enemy nation — technically. They had taken neither side in the German War. British-Americans and German-Americans had each lobbied Washington, but America had opted for neutrality. Actually, they acted more than a little holy about that.

That didn’t stop American sharks from harrying British convoys. There was no reason for it. It was just another game in which America flaunted her independence and self-righteousness. And any game that the British enter, they have to win. For Queen and Country. And just to prove that they are the best — especially Sub-Lieutenants.

Daniel tossed his canary to David and went down the starboard ladder in the unapproved manner, hands and feet outside the rungs, using friction to keep his descent just short of free fall. He hit the lower catwalk at a run and sprinted forward, past the last gas bag and up a sharply slanting ladder to the Eye of the ship. That was his battle station in this week’s rotation.

The tillerman was already there, of course. When not at battle stations, he stood his watch alone, translating the Commander’s orders into vertical and horizontal movements of the control surfaces. It was no easy task, and the ratings who qualified for the duty were uniformly big men, with bulging thighs and massive deltoids. Daniel slapped the tillerman on the shoulder to squeeze past him. He was a rating whom Daniel knew only as Jons, since his Welsh first name was unpronounceable. Jons nodded and eased aside. There was barely room for the two of them.

The Eye was in the foremost part of the ship, a tiny platform studded with ratcheted levers designed to allow one man’s unassisted strength to move the great rudders and elevators back at the rear of the craft.

Daniel struggled into the half-helmet and fastened the strap beneath his chin. Now his left eye was covered by a powerful monocular and his right eye was free. He could shift from detail to panorama by changing eyes. It took some getting used to, since opening both eyes at once caused a visual blackout. An hour in the half-helmet meant a headache that would last the rest of the day.

“Sub-Lieutenant James reporting, Sir,” he said into the speaking tube at his chin.

Commander Dane’s voice echoed in his ears, calm as always, “Daniel or David?”

“Daniel, Sir. Sorry.”

Jons pointed off the starboard bow, keeping him from a second embarrassment. Daniel managed to focus on the shark by the time the Commander asked, and was able to answer instantly, “I have it in sight, Sir. Bearings follow.”

He reached overhead and pulled down a head cage of silver, brass and mirrors. He slipped his half-helmet into the cavity and magnets snapped it into place. David looked at the ten foot red band on the flagmast of the nearest cargo vessel, set his verniers, chose another ship further back and to his left and repeated, then focused on the moving fin and pressed a button to finalize. The cage had monitored his head movements with great accuracy. Now the hundreds of gears in the babbage spun and sent the result down to the repeater in the control car. more next Tuesday. To jump straight there click here.


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