Out a day early! Go pick yourself up a copy!
Out a day early! Go pick yourself up a copy!
To Slip the Surly Bonds has gone live on Amazon.
This was a long time coming, but all the hard work has paid off. There’s an exclusive Taylor Anderson short story in here, a whole bunch of award-winning authors, a story from your humble narrator involving P-38s on Guadalcanal…yeah, it’s worth the price of admission.
Sometimes old videos make a person look at things in different ways:
While I haven’t gotten there yet, this video does make me think differently about jet combat in the Usurper’s War universe. Without giving away spoilers, there will be a pseudo-Cold War in the aftermath of the in universe World War II. Technology and how it works will play a key part in what characters live and die.
Where Sarah Hoyt discusses the difficulty of putting a cover on alternate history works. Go on and take a gander…
This one is difficult, because you have to convey three things: alternate time line, where it deviated from ours, and what in general the reader can expect from the book. You know: funny, serious or adventure.
The easiest ones are the ones that are sf or Fantasy and obviously so. For instance, my dragon-shifter-red-baron will eventually when finished and ready to go have a dragon with the paint to match Richthofen’s plane, flying over the trenches. Title and subtitle will help, and I’ll come up with something.
Alternate history that is “just” alternate history is more difficult, and you sometimes have to “represent things that aren’t in the book to represent something that is in the book.”
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So last week was pretty wild. I attended Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE), a writer’s symposium based in Provo, UT. Longer discussion coming soon, once I have a chance to collect all my thoughts and note from the weekend. Suffice to say I had a blast, got to see lots of old friends and make new ones, plus network. Highly recommend, especially if it’s a trip that won’t require a hotel stay.
While I was at LTUE, Those In Peril, the alternate history anthology I edited with Chris Kennedy, dropped. To be clear, when I say “dropped,” I’m meaning out the bottom of a B-san on an unsuspecting civilian city. Not only did Peril rocket to the top of the alternate history charts, at one point is was #513 on Amazon’s charts period. As in, there were only 512 books that sold more copies than Those In Peril did on 15 February. I remain totally blown away, and hope everyone reading this decides to go grab a copy.
For all the LTUE folks who were at my panels, feel free to poke around. As I mentioned, I talk about cover art here, also here, and finally here. History-wise, I have entire categories dedicated to air warfare and naval history. Feel free to poke around a little bit, and I’ll probably be putting another short piece together again in the coming weeks. Thanks for stopping by!
Anthology drops on the 15th! Links to follow when they go hot!
So I’ve just gone over 400 audiobook sales. While I’m sure there are some folks who pull this off in an afternoon, I’m super stoked at this milestone. Next month I’ll be running a couple of promos, plus a promotion service just let me know they’re getting ready to start an audiobook-specific email list. So, hey, maybe Aries’ Red Sky won’t be the only book I try to simultaneously release across print-ebook-audio in the first 30 days.
In other news, I am officially putting together an alternative history anthology for Chris Kennedy Publishing. The working title is Those In Peril…, and it will be a naval-themed series of stories. There are several authors in flux, but confirmed folks include 2018 Dragon Award Winner for Alternative History Sarah Hoyt and 2018 Best Military and Adventure Winner Kacey Ezell. Not bad for an effort that got started like this:
Me: “So Chris, when are you doing an alternative history anthology.”
Chris: “When you organize it.”
Me: “Hold my beer.” (I think it was something more pithy than that, but you get the idea…) Needless to say, I don’t think Chris will ever write me a blank check again. If he does, I’ve got this great idea for an aerial warfare oriented sequel entitled To Slip the Surly Bonds…
So if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the HMS Conqueror did not sink the General Belgrano (thus putting the fear of Davy Jones in the Argentinean Navy), what it’d be like to have psychics aboard search and rescue sea planes during World War II, or what an amphibious assault on Norway during World War III would look like, have we got a deal for you in the 1st QTR of 2019.
Last but not least, I’ll be at the Great Plains Renaissance Festival in the Author’s Tent at the end of the month. If you’re in the area, feel free to swing by and catch a great festival plus buy some books from myself and several other great KS authors. The next convention I will be at will be Archon in Collinsville, IL from 12-14 October, followed by Air Capital in Wichita, KS in November.
*cough cough* Man, it’s kind of dusty in here. You’d almost think someone hasn’t been in this place for like weeks. Oh, wait…
Welcome to another edition of Warship Wednesday. Today, rather than talking about a particular class of vessel, we’re going to talk about something near and dear to ship to ship fights: damage control.
According to Luttwak and Koehl’s The Dictionary of Modern War, damage control is “[m]easures meant to limit or counteract the effects of battle damage. Naval damage control measures include firefighting, counterflooding to reduce listing, the shoring up of damaged bulkheads or hull frames, and ad hoc repairs. The effectiveness of such measures depends on crew training, as well as on design features, such as compartmentalization, duplication of key facilities, the number and location of fire mains, emergency electrical generators, and pumps; such provisions account for a significant portion of warship costs.”
Sounds like some complicated stuff, right? Well, that’s because it is and it isn’t depending on what era you want to talk about. Age of galleys? Damage control was basically, “Oh f*ck, we just got rammed and…dammit, dammit, that’s it, the rowing slaves are screaming, the ship is sinking, and I’m sitting here in a suit of full metal armor getting pointed and laughed at by the asshats who put a hole in the ship.” I mean, this is simplifying it somewhat, but both because the source material is kind of thin on the ground and the art of shipbuilding wasn’t all that and a bag of chips, if someone let Mr. Sea in, Mr. Fish and Mr. Crab were getting fed.
Oh and fire? Yeah… about that. Basically if you had the misfortune of fighting crazy bastards who were not only comfortable with having incendiaries on their vessels but lighting and launching from a pitching ship, you may have chosen enemies poorly. Because if those lunatics hit you and got a good blaze going, especially with something that adhered well to the hull? Well, suddenly that guaranteed trip to to the bottom didn’t seem like such an inconvenience. Something about “Drowning sure beats being the long pork at Mr. Arsonist’s Luau on the Sea…”
It was during the Age of Sail that things both got better and worse as far as damage control went. On the plus side, sturdier ships and actual compartmentalization meant that there was a fighting chance to repair the vessel. Cannons, relatively extended ranges, and improvements in the ability to maneuver (albeit depending on wind) also meant that there was increased time to effect damage control in many cases. Best of all, damage control could “make the magic happen” with your basic carpentry kit and the supplies most sailing vessels kept on hand. Mainsail get carried away because your opponent likes to aim high? That’s cool, the repair process is the same as if you got Neptune’s pimp hand from a storm. Since everyone knew Neptune was gonna want his money sooner or later, repairing / removing masts or filling holes with patches were drills that the crew performed on a regular basis anyway.
On the flip side–gunpowder. As in, things like this could happen:
That’s the French vessel L’Orient going sky high at the Battle of the Nile because of a moderate fire that got out of control. That’s right–you bring gunpowder to a gunfight, suddenly Mr. Fire becomes even more of a jerk about sinking your ship. Given the rudimentary pumps of the day, a fire getting out of control wasn’t all that uncommon. In many cases, the only thing that kept this from happening a lot more often was Mr. Sea won the “How Can We Make a Crew Homeless?”-contest by a few minutes.
Eventually the Age of Sail gave way to the Age of Iron. That, in turn, became the Age of Steel. Since I’m not Avalon Hill and trying to sell you wargames, I’m gonna lump the last two together. (“Just how many ages are there?” “Shhh, shhh…we’re not going to go to the Age of Missiles”) Without getting into a treatise on weapons’ advancement during this time, suffice to say things kind of got to be the suck for damage control during this era. Various nations perfected the means to reliably detonate explosives underwater. At first, this was only possible via fixed means, i.e. what were initially torpedoes (yes, as in “Damn the torpedoes!”) but now are known as mines. Then some genius (often attributed to one Mr. Whitehead, but there are others), figured out how to add propulsion–and thus the modern torpedo was born.
“But wait a second–I thought large warships had compartmentalization just to keep a single underwater hit from doing it in?” Yeaaaaahhh, about that. In theory, yes. But funny thing about mines and torpedoes–they seldom seem to hit just one compartment. For example, the British battleship H.M.S. Audacious, barely a year old and with the most advanced compartmentalization of the time, took a mine hit that opened up multiple compartments at once. This, in turn, led to “progressive flooding,” which is basically water finding all those passageways that have to left open for a warship to be able to function even at General Quarters. Even with good compartmentalization, a vessel that has three or four major spaces open to the sea will be swiftly in danger of capsizing. Throw in the secondary effects of a torpedo hit (e.g., fires, power disruption, bulkhead distortion, etc.), and its easy to see where things get hairy.
Modern gunfire also posed a much larger problem as far as damage potential went. Outside of the “Golden BB” of a shell going into the magazine (think L’Orient, but instantaneous), there was also the problem of shells passing through the ship’s armored belt or deck and hitting major systems. What do I mean by major systems? Oh, little things like flooding oil tanks, hitting the electrical generators, or sending the central communications box to Kingdom Come. These were all things that could and did happen in the midst of chaotic naval fights, and it was often a life or death matter for the crew to do so. After all, everyone likes a simple gunnery solution, and if the rudder wasn’t working that made things easy peasy for everyone shooting at one’s ship. (The crew of the K.M.S. Bismarck are all nodding sadly at this.)
So how did crews save themselves and their ships? Well, as in the Age of Sail, in both World War I and II most vessels had a kit put together with things like “collision mats,” dimensional lumber. This was buttressed by improvised stopping materials like crew hammocks or mattresses shoved into a hole. By the end of World War I, ship builders began to add things like multiple pumping stations to aid in getting water out of the vessel, followed by making some of these stations multi-functional in order to help get water into the vessel in order to fight fires. Although the Battle of Jutland was the only major fleet engagement, there was more than enough data from that incident to provide ship builders with thoughts on what went well (“Jolly good, the magazine flooding worked well on Lion…”) versus what went poorly (“Bloody hell, we really need to figure out better flash doors…”).
At the beginning of World War II, ship design had made another evolutionary lurch forward based on the threat of modern aircraft and submarines. Unfortunately, as became quickly apparent, damage control was still very hit or miss. The British lost the carrier Ark Royal to a single submarine torpedo despite being fairly close to their base at Gibraltar, and had several other vessels succumb to levels of damage their sister ships would later survive. The Italians, while not quite as incompetent as some sources like to portray them, seemed positively fatalistic when it came to what mitigating actions should be performed. The Japanese Navy’s relative indifference to damage control (with a few exceptions–see IJNS Shokaku‘s longevity) meant that their fleet units were knocked out longer when hit or, in all too many cases, had major damage become mortal due to officer incompetence (see IJNS Taiho). In short, damage control success / failure for most navies became as much a matter of how seriously the captain and executive officer took things prior to the hit as said strike’s location.
The massive exception to this was the United States Navy. This is not to say that the USN was inherently better from start to finish. Indeed, this was inherently not the case. Given that the USN started the war after its major ally (the RN) had been taking knocks for over two years and sharing the information about said beatdowns, the Navy’s early war performance was shockingly abysmal. Pearl Harbor (surprise attacks are always bad) and the Asiatic Fleet (overwhelming force) can be eliminated from the narrative. However, from Coral Sea through the end of the Guadalcanal campaign, the Pacific Fleet lost at least four major combatants (Lexington, Yorktown, Astoria, and Northampton) due to damage control miscues when all four vessels could have been potentially saved. Other vessels were saved more through good fortune than necessarily excellent damage control work. In short, the IJN took the USN behind the School of Hard Knocks and proceeded to take their lunch money, their glasses, and their dignity.
The difference between the USN and most of its contemporaries is that the USN learned. The Department of the Navy collated all of the loss and damage reports and proceeded to distribute them regularly to the fleet. It forced officers and ratings to attend damage control schools and training until every member of the regular crew had at least been exposed to some degree of what to do when the ship got hit. It leveraged the United States’ incredible industrial advantage to produce literally thousands of portable pumps, breathing apparatus, hoses, and fire fighting equipment to issue to its ships. Finally, ship designs were changed while on the ways to improve fire main survivability, add sprinklers, and otherwise make it easier for a vessel to survive when hit by a torpedo or bomb.
Did it work? Yes. One need look no further than comparing the damage that put paid to the Yorktown at Midway versus the utter mauling suffered by the U.S.S. Franklin (newsreel footage here as well) and Bunker Hill. To their horror, the Japanese found themselves facing the nautical equivalent of Jason Vorhees, as ships they were certain they’d sunk just kept coming back…and back…and back again. Meanwhile, especially after the USN got its torpedoes to work, their vessels were getting sunk or knocked out of the war by one or two major hits due to their failure to propagate lessons.
So how does this all translate into writing? The obvious is that if you’re writing historical fiction and placing your character aboard a vessel, do a quick Wiki sweep to see what happened. If you’re doing alternate history, feel free to extrapolate actual ship damage in a notional battle that is analogous to what happened to a sister ship or similar size combatant in that navy. For science fiction, read through some of the war reports and get a sense of how vessels die, then realize that vacuum and advanced systems add “special sauce” to what you can do to place your characters in peril. Being an author means one gets to play a deity…and we all know deities aren’t always benevolent.
So, as noted by The Prolific Trek, your humble narrator went to go see Star Trek: Beyond (Note: Spoilers) with the better half and a group of friends as a break from his *censored* dissertation. It was a needed break–I feel the urge to be snarky in response to some differing points fading to a dull roar. Editing–it’s not for the faint of heart.
What struck me as I was watching the movie was the writer/writers’ name choices for vessels in the film. Besides the titular Enterprise, there was the space station Yorktown and a U.S.S. Franklin. The historically astute will note that, in order, these names are the most decorated carrier in World War II, the lead vessel of the USN’s famous carrier class (of which Enterprise was part), and the most damaged USN carrier of the entire war. Suffice to say, in the case of the Franklin, the name choice was apt.
This got me to thinking about sci-fi vessel name choices in general. Some are pretty much oddball acronyms–see SDF-1 from Robotech / Macross and the TARDIS. Others appear to have simply been chosen out of a hat (e.g., Galactica or Millenium Falcon) or are clear references to mythology (Pegasus, Prometheus). In any case, it would be interesting to have a round table or panel at a con where folks discuss what ship names and why.
As for myself, starting this week there will be “Warship Wednesday” in which I explain my own naming conventions for the Confederation Fleet and Spartan Republic, discuss various ship classes, and otherwise unpack the Vergassy Universe a little bit. Every few Wednesdays (no I’m not committing to a regular schedule), I will intersperse historical warships from the Usurper’s War universe as well.
Acts of War just passed 60 pre-orders. In celebration, Pandora’s Memories will be free from 7-12 November.
Here’s a quick snippet from Acts of War. Just a reminder, it goes live on 11 November. Tell your friends, your friends’ friends, and anyone you just happen to be acquainted with!
0900 Local (0400 Eastern)
23 August 1942
London was burning.
Somehow I doubt that this is quite how anyone expected Adolf Hitler’s death to turn out, Adam Haynes thought bitterly as he regarded the burning capital’s skyline. The wind, thankfully, was blowing away from where he and his girlfriend stood at the bow of the Accalon. Adam had the awful feeling that if it had been blowing toward the 40-foot pleasure yacht, there would have been many, many smells he would have preferred to forget filtering their way.
Like Guernica, only…he started to think.
With a roar, a Junkers 52 swept low over the Accalon’s deck, its passage so close that the aircraft’s slipstream fluttered the white flag hanging from the yacht’s antennae mast. An intense, white-hot rage sprung from within him as he watched the canary yellow German transport.
I hope you crash, you bastard, Adam thought, blood rushing into his ears.
“Adam, my hand!” A woman’s voice broke through his fury.
With a start, Adam realized that he was well on the way to breaking his companion’s hand. Although such an act was always unconscionably bad form, it was doubly so when its possessor was the cousin, albeit distant, of England’s king.
“God, Clarine, I’m…” Adam started, opening his hand as if suddenly realizing it held a hot brick. His face colored to the roots of his thinning brown hair, making his blue eyes all that more intense. At a shade under six feet, with shoulders broad enough to fit on a man six inches taller, Adam looked very much like a bear wearing an RAF uniform. Unfortunately, when enraged, he had the strength to match.
“That is quite alright,” Clarine Windsor replied lightly, doing her best to smile as she worked her hand. A small, wiry woman who stood several inches shorter than Alex in the black flats that came with her Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) uniform, Clarine was far from weak. Still, her pale face was scrunched up in obvious pain.
Holy shit, I hope I didn’t hurt her, Adam thought guiltily. Seeing his worry, Clarine brought up her left hand and brushed back a stray blonde hair, her brown eyes meeting Adam’s as she smiled.
“You were just having the same thought I had: wishing you could shoot the bastard,” she said simply. “It’s understandable, given what has happened these last few days.”
Still no reason to try and convert your hand to paste, Adam thought. You didn’t drop the bomb that killed Hitler.
“Understandable, but most unfortunate,” her father, Awarnach Windsor, stated as he joined them at the yacht’s bow. “Especially as his escorts would probably blow the Accalon out of the water.”
Looking up and back toward the vessel’s stern, Adam mentally kicked himself for not noticing the eight Me-410s circling roughly four thousand feet above their heads. The gray fighters were hard to see in the haze of smoke roiling off London, but that was no excuse. Smoke had been a fact of life for Fighter Command over the last two weeks, and failing to see an opponent hiding in it was just as fatal as if the assault came from more naturally formed clouds.
“While I am sure you wish you had a Spitfire right now,” Awarnach observed flatly, “I doubt your efforts would be any more successful than they were previously.”
You bastard, Adam thought, fighting to keep his emotions off his face. The tone of Awarnach’s voice had far too much “told you so” in it.
“Well father, at least someone was attempting to defend our nation,” Clarine observed coolly. “Since many of those who were born to it could not raise themselves from their slumber.”
Awarnach turned his baleful gaze from Adam to his daughter.
“Those of us who were ‘slumbering’, as you put it, merely believed we should have continued to enjoy the peace we had hammered out rather than meddle in affairs on the continent,” Awarnach replied. “Instead, that idiot Churchil has now managed to make us forget his idiocy at Gallipoli.”
“This is hardly the same as…”
“No?!” Awarnach snapped. He turned and pointed off their port bow, to where London’s East End was starting to come into view. “Tell me that is not more terrible than some idiotic frontal assault on the Ottomans.”
The “that” in question was the furious blaze that roared unchecked almost as far as the eye could see. The low rumble of the fire was a constant sound beating upon their senses, but Adam had managed to suppress it by concentrating on the river itself. Now, as if Awarnach had ripped open a shade, the magnitude of Fighter Command’s defeat lay before them. It was like looking into a corner of Hell, and Adam was once more glad that the wind was blowing so strongly from their back.
Once you’ve smelled burning flesh, you have no desire to enjoy that particular sensation again, Adam thought.
“You can’t negotiate with the Germans,” Adam said lowly, feeling the rage starting to creep back again.
“Oh? Well then, I am certainly glad that you have pointed this out for me, my American friend. Unfortunately, it would appear that your President and Congress feel very, very differently.”
“No, please, I would like to hear this fine young man explain to me why we should not negotiate with the Germans when his countrymen cannot be bothered to even help us,” Awarnach raged, his own face starting to color to match Adam’s.
“It wasn’t our President that chose to accept the armistice with Himmler after Bomber Command killed Hitler,” Adam snapped.
“Oh? And what would you have had us do? Were we somehow going to invade France by ourselves? Perhaps build a massive bomber fleet like that idiot Portal wanted to and bomb the Reich’s cities into rubble? Would that have satisfied your need for bloodlust? There was nothing more that could be done!”
“Yes, well, perhaps the people in that,” Adam said, gesturing toward the burning city in front of them, “would have preferred you not giving the Germans over a year to perfect their bombing techniques.”
“Perhaps, gentlemen,” Clarine said crisply, her hand pointing, “we should be more concerned about that patrol boat’s intentions.”
Adam followed the point and saw the craft she was speaking of. One of the Royal Navy’s MTB-class boats, the vessel was moving away from where it had been standing off the docks and turning toward the Accalon. As they watched, the craft began accelerating, signal light blinking furiously.
“Conroy, come about!” Awarnach shouted back towards the wheel house. Adam felt the Accalon’s engines stop, the helmsman turning her broadside to the oncoming MTB.
Holy shit, Adam thought, translating the other vessel’s Morse code. He was about to say something when Awarnach spoke first.
“My God,” Awarnach said, his face paling. “Gas?!”
“Obviously you’ve never read Douhet,” Adam observed dryly.
“Who?” Clarine asked.
“The Italian Trenchard,” Adam continued smoothly. “He recommended using gas in addition to incendiaries on enemy population centers. Explains the no-confidence vote a little better, I think.”
The patrol boat began slowing, its own helmsman swinging the vessel wide so that he could put it alongside the Accalon. Three men crowded the bow and, with a start, Adam realized they were wearing full hoods and rubber gloves. Seeing that no one aboard the Accalon was in the bulky protective suits, the man standing in the center reached up and pulled the hooded apparatus off of his head.
Well now, small world, isn’t it? Adam thought, feeling a smile cross his face as he regarded Lieutenant Commander Reginald Slade, Royal Navy. Tall, almost gaunt, with a face whose left side was thoroughly scarred from the explosion of a German shell, Slade wore his blonde hair closely cropped.
“You seem to be a fair distance from the North Atlantic, Mr. Haynes,” Slade shouted as the patrol boat drew smoothly alongside the Accalon, his face breaking in a wry grin that reached his eyes. Reaching up, the RN officer scratched the area around his left eyepatch. The motion drew attention to the damaged side of his face, and Adam heard Awarnach inhale sharply.
“Sorry, I have been wanting to do that for hours,” Slade said, ignoring the man’s gasp.
“Yeah, I can see how that might be the case,” Adam replied with a small smile.
“I do hope you folks aren’t planning on going any further down the Thames,” Slade continued. “By King’s decrees the East End is off limits to anyone not on official business.”
“I’m trying to find one of my mate’s wife, mother, and child. He’s in the hospital or else he’d be down here himself,” Adam said.
Slade grimaced at Adam’s words.
“Where did he say they were living?” the naval officer asked, his tone brusque.
“His mum’s apartment is in Poplar,” Adam replied, raising an eyebrow at the other man’s coldness.
Adam had seen the look that briefly crossed Slade’s face enough times to know what was coming next. The man paused for a moment, obviously choosing his words carefully.
“Unless they were extraordinarily lucky, I wouldn’t hold out much hope, I’m afraid. The Germans dropped some sort of gas that got all the way through the area, and then followed it up with incendiaries. Without anyone to put out the fires…”
The officer’s trailing off said all that needed to be said. In the last couple of days, Adam had heard a word for the phenomenon that some were calling the Second Great London Fire: Firestorm. The East End had become one huge flame pit, and the Luftwaffe had returned for three solid days to help things spread.
“Thanks Commander Slade,” Adam spoke after a few moments more of quiet. Sighing at the heavy burden that now lay upon him, he looked up again at the smoke-filled sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of the big Ju-52 again.
“Looking for that arse who came tearing through here about ten minutes ago?” Slade asked.
“Yes, actually,” Adam replied ruefully.
“I think that was Himmler arriving to negotiate terms with Lord Halifax.”
The disgust in Slade’s tone at the latter name almost matched the venom reserved for the first.
“Who knew there was a bigger bastard than Hitler in the Nazi Party?” Adam observed grimly.
“Certainly not that bunch of flyboys who killed him,” Slade shot back. “Stupid pilots, always mucking things up.”
Clarine chuckled behind Adam. Looking at Slade, Adam was unable to tell if the man was serious or not.
“Heard the poor bombardier blew his brains out yesterday,” Adam replied. “Not his fault any of this,” he continued, gesturing towards the burning city, “happened.”
“No, it’s not, but that’s what happens when you drop your bombs over a capital city. Sometimes you hit things you don’t intend to,” Slade retorted bitterly.
Spoken like someone who’s never had to jettison something in order to make the fuel equation work out, Adam thought. He’d been a pilot since his seventeenth birthday, and non-flyers’ superiority complexes never ceased to amaze him.
“Still. Berlin’s a big city,” Adam allowed. “No way they could’ve known they’d drop a bomb that would kill ol’ Adolf.”
Slade uttered a sound that made his disagreement quite clear on that one.
“Yes, and a 500-lb. bomb makes a big mess. No matter, that bastard is dead now, Himmler took over, and our betters were dumb enough to believe that tripe the Germans were spouting about the Fuhrer’s loss making them recognize the error of their ways.”
“Excuse me, Lieutenant Commander, but as one of those betters,” Awarnach snapped, “maybe a better explanation was that we did not want to continue losing men such as yourself in a war that we quite clearly were not in position to win.”
Slade turned and looked at Awarnach, the contempt in his gaze almost physically palpable.
“So, in order to save my life, you buggered the French, spat on the rest of the Continent, pissed off the Americans, and gave Himmler breathing room,” Slade retorted, his voice cold as ice. “During which time he hanged Goering, blew some industrialists’ heads out at a meeting, and thus apparently motivated them to build a bloody great lot of planes, bombs, gas, and submarines.”
Adam watched as Awarnach’s face began to color while Slade continued, obviously taking a great relish in venting his spleen.
“Of course, the bloody Krauts then proceeded to kill a whole lot more of my countrymen. Capital work, your Lordship, just capital, please do not go into anything of importance.”
Awarnach’s mouth worked in shock. Before he could reply, one of the sailors stuck his head out of the patrol boat’s bridge.
“Lieutenant Commander, we have been ordered to a new location,” the man called.
Slade continued locking his gaze with Awarnach. It was the older man whose stare broke.
“Would hate to keep you, Lieutenant Commander,” Awarnach said, his voice strained. “I’ll go back to the bridge and con us out of your path.”
“Well, guess we will be about it then,” Slade replied, watching the man walk stiffly away.
“So what’s going to happen to you next?” Adam asked. “If that is Himmler negotiating the peace treaty.”
Slade gave a sideways glance to Clarine.
“I do not share my father’s views,” Clarine muttered quietly. “Indeed, I think he and the rest of the House of Lords were, and remain, a bunch of fools.”
“In that case, understand that this war will not end here,” Slade said lowly. “As Churchill said before the no confidence vote, there is an entire Commonwealth that will sustain the candle attempting to hold the darkness at bay.”
“You mean you’re going to flee to Australia or somewhere?” Adam asked, genuinely curious.
“You’d best do the same,” he replied. “Rumor has it that Himmler intends to ask for all foreign fighters to be turned over as part of the peace treaty.”
“Well, can’t have a bunch of Poles, Danes, Norwegians, and Frenchmen hanging around and possibly doing something subversive, can you? Especially not after they killed Milch while there was allegedly an armistice between Great Britain and Germany,” Sloan replied grimly.
With a cold feeling in his stomach, Adam could see the government being formed by Lord Halifax agreeing to such madness. Even worse, he knew what the Nazis would likely do with the men.
“I’m flying with a Polish squadron,” Adam said quickly, his tone urgent. “How do I get them the hell out of here.”
Again Slade gave Clarine a look, then held up his hand before Adam could say something.
“It is not that I mistrust her,” Slade said. “However, you of all people know the Nazis as well as I do. Have you heard the stories of how their Gestapo broke several of the Resistance cells in France during the last year?”
Clarine paled, looking almost physically ill.
The thought of being strapped to a metal mattress and electrocuted for hours on end doesn’t appeal to most people, Adam thought. Especially given where those bastards were placing the electrodes.
“I will go speak with my father,” she said simply. “Please hurry—I do not think he would be opposed to making you swim for it.”
Taking Adam’s hand and squeezing it, Clarine turned and departed.
“Get the whole bloody lot of your men to Portsmouth,” Slade said as soon as she was out of earshot. He pulled out a piece of paper and a grease pen from under his rubber top. Scribbling something quickly, he handed it over to Adam.
“You have less than twenty hours,” Slade said, meeting Adam’s eyes. “After that, you best leave that pretty lass without any idea how to find you and disappear, as I get the distinct feeling that some of my former countrymen will be quite happy to ‘help’ run down foreign mercenaries.”
“Thanks Slade,” Adam replied, extending his hand. The Lieutenant Commander took it with both of his.
“No, thank you,” Slade said, his voice raw with emotion. “You and the others like you tried to save us, even when we have done little to deserve it. Now only you remain.”
“I’m sorry we couldn’t do more.”
“Well, maybe you’ll have more opportunity one of these days. Hopefully your President can make people see reason soon, or else it will be too late.”
“I think this,” Adam said, gesturing towards the burning docks behind Slade, “will help.”
“Yes, yes it will. Now get out of here, and see to your men.”
With that, Slade drew himself up to attention and saluted. Adam returned the salute, then watched as the man nimbly sprang back to the patrol boat. The small craft backed away under low power, then ponderously turned its bow around. Adam sighed as he heard Clarine’s soft footsteps behind him.
“Father is furious,” she said softly. “Strangely, I don’t give a damn.”
“You know that I have to go almost as soon as we get back,” Adam said. Turning, he saw Clarine’s eyes were moist already.
“Yes, yes I know,” she said softly. “And there’s no chance father will let me out of his sight until you do so.”
Adam could hear the deep tone of bitterness in her voice.
“Life becomes very lonely when you hate your parents,” he said chidingly.
“I have half a mind to come with you,” Clarine replied fiercely. “That would bloody well serve him right.”
“Well, wouldn’t be the first scandal an American has caused in this country,” he said musingly, rubbing his chin theatrically.
“I am serious, Adam,” Clarine retorted.
“I may not even be alive in a fortnight, Clarine,” Adam said somberly. “Think about that. Do you really want to throw away your future, inheritance, and family name for some vagabond American mercenary?”
Clarine searched his face.
“Is that really how you think I see you?”
“No, but it’s how your father and the rest of your social circle see me. Yes, I come from the right circles and know which fork to start with at dinner, but at the end of the day I am like some exotic animal that is best petted and left alone.”
“Adam, I love you.”
“And I you,” Adam said, fighting the urge to sweep Clarine into his arms. “So much that I will not let you ruin the rest of your life to flee with me.”
“What about what I want?” Clarine asked as the Accalon came around. “Don’t I get to decide the rest of my life, or is that solely the province of my male betters?”
Strong women will be the death of me, he thought with a deep sense of melancholy.
“Why don’t you tell the truth, Adam?” Clarine continued. “You’re scared of what will happen to me if I try to escape with you.”
“Yes, the thought of you drowning or freezing to death in the Atlantic does strike me with some trepidation.”
Clarine snarled in exasperation.
“Not every event in life ends the worst way possible, Adam!” she breathed lowly through clenched teeth.
Adam turned and looked behind him at the burning London, then back to Clarine.
“Perhaps now is not the time to try and convince me of this. More importantly, Clarine, I have to look after my men.”
Clarine opened her mouth to argue, then stopped.
“Then when this boat docks will be the last time we see each other,” she replied coolly.
Adam felt as if someone had stomach punched him. He started to reach for Clarine, but she held up her hand to stop him.
“You seem determined to leave Adam,” she said. “You are even more determined to make sure I do not leave with you in some misguided attempt to ‘save’ me. Perhaps it is best then, that I acknowledge you have greater experience in dealing with disastrous circumstances such as these.”
The words were delivered with cold precision, and they found their mark with the same brutal finality of a knife thrust.
“I do not want us to end this way, Clarine,” Adam bit out, feeling his stomach sinking to his feet.
“If you had stopped after the seventh word of that sentence,” Clarine said, her voice quavering, “I might have been inclined to reconsider. Instead, I believe that I am feeling rather nauseous from the smoke and will go below. Have a safe journey, Adam.”
With that, Clarine turned and began walking back towards the deckway hatch, moving quickly as she wiped at her face. Adam watched her go, his stomach in knots.
Well, at least it’s an improvement from last time I went through this, he thought. Fighting the urge to curse loudly, he slowly rotated back towards the Accalon’s bow, and then walked forward to where only the Thames could see his tears.