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Fic: Not a Hollywood Movie

A sequel to On Patrol

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count: 6,320
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Characters borrowed from BBC strictly for playing with, not profit. No offence intended. This is purely a work of fiction.
Summary: Hartenstein is assigned the difficult task of rescuing the crew of a US navy vessel
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: This is a direct sequel to "On Patrol"



Having assumed her regular duties, U-156 was now escorting the liner Titanic on her patrol of the South Atlantic. However, it was now early winter and the seas were far rougher than previously. With her strengthened hull and other improvements the U-boat could easily withstand a force nine gale though the ride was rough for all aboard as she bounced from wave to wave, the seas constantly breaking over her deck. In the conning tower her crew were soaked with spray. Below decks they were holding on.

The Admiralty had given them the task of rescuing the crew of an American destroyer which had been sunk in the South Atlantic in the Third Realm and with more than four hundred of her officers and crew making the transition with her. Admiral Strong had told Captain Hartenstein that he now considered him experienced enough to deal with the situation. However, he did remind the U-boat commander that Americans were inclined to be trigger happy and shoot at first sight.

In the U-boat's wake the liner Titanic made much easier going of the rough seas. After her encounter with a mine she had been repaired to her commanding officer's exacting standards and, much to the disgruntlement of the Admiralty and praise from the general public, had once more put to sea on rescue missions, carrying the friends and family of those she would be rescuing who had already made the transition to the Fourth Realm.

The day before their departure the board of the White Star Line had invited Hartenstein and Mortimer as well as members of the Admiralty aboard for the official relaunch ceremony during which they inspected her repaired hull and witnessed a test of her watertight doors. Fortunately, all had gone smoothly and the two U-boat officers had returned to the boat as Mortimer needed to check on the provisioning. Later, Hartenstein had received a telephone call from Captain Andrews inviting them to dinner.

In the captain's quarters Mortimer inquired if they had to change back into dress uniform once more.

"Nein, it's just the three of us in his quarters."

"Are you sure? I always feel like I have to wear dress just to board that ship."

Hartenstein, in the midst of putting on some cologne, had chuckled. "It's only dinner in the captain's quarters. The passengers don't board 'til morning."

As they left the U-boat once more they were struck by the wintery conditions. Outside it was already long dark with an icy wind blowing from the east as they walked briskly along the dock wearing their overcoats, gloves and mufflers. Although their clothes kept them warm enough they were grateful to board the huge liner and get in out of the cold.

The three men had enjoyed a leisurely dinner together, later relaxing over cigars and cognac. Andrews had an endless supply of tales of wayward passengers.

"Then there was the one who imbibed far too much one night so his equally inebriated friends stripped him, tied a rope around him and tossed him overboard from the stern, telling him he could surf his way to Naples in the wake. Then they abandoned him. Fortunately an alert officer spotted the rope tied around the stern railing and raised the alarm. By the time he was hauled back aboard poor beggar was half drowned and had to be taken to the sick bay suffering from hypothermia. He was damn lucky he didn't get ripped apart by the screws. And did I tell you about the lady acrobat - she was actually a circus performer - who decided to climb the radio mast and swing from it? Broke the damn mast and clean knocked the radio out of commission. Lucky the radio operators were able to improvise."

Mortimer, too, had tales to tell from his former life in the merchant navy and they had passed a pleasant time together. Finally Andrews muttered, "Oh, lord, is that the time? I'm keeping you two up far too late. I forget I need less sleep. All provisioned for tomorrow?"

"Indeed," Hartenstein answered.

The three men rose to their feet and Andrews lifted his glass. "Gentlemen, here's to a successful mission."

The other two smiled. "To a successful mission," they said.

"And here's to Titanic," Hartenstein added. "Long may she sail the seven seas in peace."

Andrews beamed.

They had bid their host a pleasant goodnight and ventured outside once more to discover that it was far colder now and the wind, far from dying down, seemed to have got worse. They ended up running along the docks back to their own vessel, grateful for its warmth and the comfort of their bed to which they promptly undressed and fell into.

"You enjoyed yourself," Hartenstein remarked as they covered themselves up and snuggled together for warmth.

Mortimer smiled. "There are always tales to tell when you carry passengers."

"Indeed. You never know who you might meet."

Their eyes met and Hartenstein winked at his companion.

"Not to mention it might prove hazardous to your health," Mortimer teased as they leaned closer and kissed.

"Mm, your lips are cold," they both said and chuckled.

Hartenstein reached out to stroke his companion's cheeks. "And so are your cheeks."

Mortimer felt the other's bearded cheeks. "And so are yours."

They snuggled closer together.

"Mm, early departure," Hartenstein reminded.

"Shame that." Mortimer sounded regretful as they kissed some more.

"Everything stowed away?" Hartenstein inquired as they bestowed kisses on each other's faces. "The sea will be rough."

"Shipshape in Bristol fashion, sir," Mortimer answered, lips wandering over closed eyes as Hartenstein's hands roamed over his back.

"Mm, can never get enough of you," Hartenstein murmured.

"Didn't we have enough sex in the past week including in the conning tower at 0200?" Mortimer retorted as a bearded face nuzzled his neck.

"When in port a good fog must be used to advantage."

"A chilly fog," Mortimer reminded.

"But we were hot, meine lieber."

Mortimer giggled, enjoying the feel of kisses that travelled ever lower. "Evil German. You'll have us thrown out of the service for gross indecency."

"You British and your never-ending reserve," Hartenstein accused, Mortimer's hands running through his hair.

"Can I help it if you're outrageous?" Bearded cheeks were rubbing his belly delightfully and he couldn't stop smiling. Hartenstein loved to do this to him all the while describing how the flesh would jump in nervous, little tics - but then a bearded chin would bump into something lower that rose to meet it.

"Oh, God, you know what that does to me!" Mortimer moaned.

"But I always love to drive you mad," Hartenstein whispered huskily, using his beard gently on his lover's yearning erection and his hands lower still fondling the lovely balls.

"Oh, God, stop, stop!" Mortimer groaned. "Turn around. Let me taste you."

Time was against them so they didn't prolong it that night, nonetheless enjoying themselves thoroughly.

Later, as they curled up in their favourite sleeping position there were smiles of satisfaction on their faces.

"Meine liebe," Hartenstein whispered, lips brushing his lover's forehead. Faintly, on the edge of sleep he heard, "My captain."

*

Hartenstein, in the conning tower, was brought back to the present by a report from the radar operator. There was something showing some ten nautical miles dead ahead.

As U-156 proceeded on course all binoculars were trained forward. Soon enough an object came into view. It appeared to be a burnt and badly damaged naval vessel and a large one. As they drew closer they could see that it was riding low in the water and flying a tattered stars and stripes.

"Let us see," Hartenstein muttered, examining it with the binoculars. He could see one forward gun that appeared undamaged, the rest appearing out of action or just plain missing.

"Looks as though it's been in a mammoth battle," Mortimer remarked.

"And now we have the verbal jousting," Hartenstein concluded.

Sure enough as they drew closer the one forward gun that appeared to be working was now swivelled in their direction. Just as Hartenstein ordered the white flag hoisted there was a single shot across their bow causing everyone aboard to jump.

On the American cruiser they, too, were employing binoculars.

"We may be wounded but that'll teach the damn krauts to come any closer. What the hell's that flag?" the commanding officer demanded.

"No idea, sir. I've gone through the book and it's not listed."

"Well if it looks like a damn kraut sub and it behaves like a damn kraut sub then it's gotta be a damn kraut sub even if it's pretending to be something else. What the hell?"

"Sir, they've hoisted a white flag."

"Yes, Ensign, I can see it."

"And it appears they're coming alongside, sir."

"Yes, Ensign, damn it, I can see that too!"

"They're signalling, sir. They say they are... U-156 International Admiralty on a rescue mission."

"The what?"

"They say they are..."

"Yes, damnit, Ensign, I heard you the first time! International Admiralty? What's this bulldust? That's a kraut sub if ever I saw one."

"Sir, they say they are here to assist us and they are inviting you to come aboard."

"Are they indeed."

"They say that your safety is guaranteed, sir. It could be a trap, sir."

Captain Howard Lydecker, U.S. Navy, sighed, thoroughly disinclined to trust an enemy sub. However, their situation was dire including the engine room which was flooded making the engine inoperable, batteries failing, radio and radar dead and, basically, they were a sitting duck. He had hoped and prayed for rescue from an Allied vessel and they had put out distress calls before the radio went dead. However, far from an Allied vessel it appeared they had been found in this helpless condition by, of all the unwanted things, a kraut sub which had no doubt come to finish them off.

"Goddamn kraut sub. There's probably a whole wolfpack of them!" he complained.

Both men had noticed the liner which had hove to some distance away.

"Ensign, what the hell's that ship out there? She's old and a damn big one."

Both men now trained their binoculars on the distant liner.

"Can't make her out, sir, but she does look old. Four stacks. Good God!"

"Good God, what, Ensign?"

"I... For a moment, sir, I thought I saw... No, it can't be... Yes, there it is again. Do you see it, sir, on the stern?"

"See what?"

"Her colours, sir. Red and white. It's the White Star Line, sir!"

"What! Are you sure? Next you'll be telling me it's the damn Titanic."

The young officer stood dead still, his binoculars trained on the distant vessel.

"Sir, I've read a lot about Titanic and if that's not Titanic it's her doppelganger. I mean her size alone. She's huge. Must be 40,000 tons."

"Oh, for crying out loud! We both know - hell, the whole damn world knows - the damn Titanic is at the bottom of the ocean and has been for thirty years. So I don't wanna hear another word about it. Now let's see what the goddamn krauts want. In the meantime man the forward gun and if I'm not back in an hour start firing. Oh, and Ensign, find me a boat that's not holed. I don't wanna sink in front of the damned enemy. That'd be the final humiliation."

The captain waited while a boat was prepared. "Goddamn krauts. No doubt they want us to surrender," he muttered.

"Are we going to surrender, sir?"

"With only one working gun, no torpedoes and no depth charges what the hell choice do I have? Goddamn krauts. Wish to hell I had the firepower to blow them right out of the water!"

"Yes, sir. May I ask, sir, are you going over there armed?"

"Now, Ensign, is the Pope a catholic? Do you think for one minute I'd go into a nest of vipers unarmed?"

"Well, no, sir."

"You can bet your sweet ass I'm gonna be armed!"

"Sir, I've been wondering. I mean that vessel appears to be British, but what would a British vessel be doing in the vicinity of a kraut sub? I mean you'd think her captain would be afraid the sub would sink her."

"Been wonderin' 'bout that myself, Ensign. Well time to go get some answers."

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, for cryin' out loud, what the hell's that they've got?"

A young officer approached. "Sorry, sir, but the lifeboats are all smashed. A dinghy is all we could find."

"God damnit! Well I suppose there's nothing for it. A dinghy it is. Well go ahead and lower the damn thing."

In the conning tower of U-156 Hartenstein and Mortimer watched as a dinghy was lowered, apparently with some difficulty, from the damaged destroyer into the rough water, and the captain and a crewman climbed down to it. Shortly it was rowed over to the U-boat though not before being tossed around like a matchstick in the rough water. On the deck they greeted the United States commander with salutes as he was helped aboard.

After the customary introductions Captain Lydecker of the USS Abraham Lincoln found himself staring at the unfamiliar uniforms and the equally unfamiliar Admiralty ensign.

"Captain, you will forgive me, but I cannot allow you to board my vessel if you are armed. Therefore I must ask you to stand still while you are searched."

"What the hell? You gonna search me?"

"I am, Captain - with or without your consent. Do you consent?"

"Like hell I do. This, sir, is an outrage!" Lydecker bluffed.

Hartenstein merely turned to two of the crew and nodded to them.

"Goddamnit!" Lydecker protested as he was held firmly and thoroughly searched.

"Your protest has been noted, Captain Lydecker."

Mannesmann and Weber shortly handed over three knives and two small pistols. "Well, well, Captain, were you planning on single-handedly commandeering my vessel?" Hartenstein inquired with some amusement.

Lydecker stood silently, fuming that his well-concealed weapons had been found.

"And now that you are relieved of your weapons, Captain Lydecker, allow me to show you some hospitality."

Lydecker appeared thoroughly distrusting. "German hospitality? On a damned sub? You have to be kidding."

"I think you will find us very hospitable. If you would accompany me below we will make you comfortable and I think it would do us all good to get out of this wind, don't you?"

Since the wind was whipping at all of them and endeavouring to blow them overboard Lydecker couldn't very well disagree. He found himself acquiescing somewhat reluctantly but before they went below he had a question.

"Captain, what the hell's that ship out there? My ensign, now he reckons it's the damn Titanic but I reckon he's got a few screws loose."

"Well, Captain, I have to tell you that your ensign is quite correct. That ship is the famous Titanic of the White Star Line."

Lydecker stopped dead in his tracks almost causing Mortimer, who was walking behind him, to collide with him. "What? Now you're joshing me, Captain. Did some loon build some kinda replica?"

"No, it's the original."

Lydecker found himself staring at the ship. "What the hell! She's at the bottom of the ocean and everybody knows it."

"Not here, Captain," Hartenstein answered mildly. "Here, she is resurrected and she voyages to rescue those such as yourself and your men. I have the honour to escort and protect her. Now, before we go below, is it safe for her to come alongside and rescue your crew? I should add that she is unarmed and I cannot allow any harm to befall her."

Lydecker seemed totally flummoxed. "I... What? You want me to get on a... a goddamn ghost ship?"

"I can assure you, Captain, she is as real as the deck you're standing on. She is far stronger than she once was and as luxurious as ever. Simply to board her is a privilege, as you will soon see."

Lydecker shook his head. "What the hell," he muttered. "Any icebergs around here?"

"None that I'm aware of," Hartenstein replied rather drily.

Lydecker shook his head. "Oh, what the hell. Sure, tell that... ship... she can come on over, but better signal my crew not to fire on it. They might think it was a kraut ship in disguise... Uh, I mean a German ship in disguise."

Hartenstein's lips turned up at the corners at this small victory, his eyes meeting Mortimer's as the latter gave the appropriate orders and the three men proceeded below, Hartenstein making his guest comfortable in his quarters.

Lydecker had to admit that at least the U-boat was warm even if it was being tossed around by the waves and he was pleased to get out of the icy gale. He gazed around the small room. His own quarters had far more furnishings than this, but then they were four times the size. His eyes fell on the bed's deep red drapes thinking them out of place in so spartan an environment.

"Well, Captain Hartenstein," Lydecker began, "You plannin' on sinkin' the pride of the US navy?"

"Far from it, Captain, I plan to rescue you and your crew," Hartenstein answered with a hint of inner amusement.

At that point they were interrupted by the arrival of coffee and donuts.

"Our cook has made donuts to welcome you aboard, Captain," Hartenstein began. "I should add this is his first time making donuts so shall we see what they're like?"

"They certainly look good," Mortimer remarked.

Lydecker waited as captain and first officer each took a bite of donut.

"Mmm," Mortimer managed, sugar clinging to his lips.

"I must compliment Dengler," Hartenstein agreed, swallowing a mouthful. "He has even put jam in them."

"And they're still warm," Mortimer praised, taking a second bite.

Lydecker decided maybe he was not going to be poisoned after all and took a tentative bite.

"God damn! That's a damn fine donut," he praised. He sniffed the coffee and frowned. "Brandy?" He took a mouthful. "You put brandy in your coffee?"

Hartenstein smiled. "I thought you would appreciate it, Captain."

"I do, sir, I do. That's damn fine coffee," Lydecker enthused, beginning to relax in their presence.

For a short while there was a satisfied silence around the table as all three men enjoyed their sugary treats after which Lydecker turned to Mortimer.

"You're not German," he began.

"I'm English," Mortimer replied.

'But you serve on a German sub?"

"So I do, and I'm honoured to serve under Captain Hartenstein."

"What the hell. You a collaborator?"

"Captain, my first officer is not a collaborator. Far from it, he remained loyal to his country."

"You talk in the past tense."

"That is because for us the war is long over. Here, there is no war and never was."

"'Here'? What's this 'here' you're talkin' about?"

"Here, in the Fourth Realm."

Lydecker stared from one to the other. "What?"

"You, your men and your vessel have made the transition to the Fourth Realm, Captain," Hartenstein began. "This is a realm of peace. There is no war here. All people live in peace."

"What the hell!" Lydecker shook his head, staring from one man to the other.

"Captain, what do you remember of the battle?"

Lydecker seemed somewhat bewildered. "I... I... We were attacked by two kraut subs. One torpedoed us starboard then surfaced. We were on fire and sinking but we were still firing and they were firing back when a second damn sub hit us to port." The man was clearly distressed at the memories. "I... I had to give the order to abandon ship but most of the lifeboats got shot to hell. The couple boats we managed to launch were holed and my men went down with them and were left swimming in the water. I remember seeing life rafts being launched from the kraut subs and they were picking up the men, but then the ship was going down and... and..." He shook his head. "I thought I was a goner - you know, captain's supposed to go down with the ship - and I was so... so sorry that I couldn't save all the men below decks."

There were tears in the man's eyes as Mortimer rose and fetched a bottle of Kentucky bourbon and poured some. The American officer accepted it gratefully and took two large gulps, coughing somewhat afterward.

"Whoo, I'd forgotten how strong that stuff is," he wheezed. "Liquid courage. Now what was I sayin'?" He shook his head, remembering. "I was sure it was the end, but then, somehow... somehow it wasn't. Can't seem to remember how but the ship, by some miracle, was still floating. The men were still alive, well most of 'em, and so was I. I couldn't believe it! What's more the enemy subs had gone. Just... disappeared like magic. We were alone. All alone. It was like one minute we were surrounded by enemy subs and sinking and the next we were still afloat but all by our lonesome. No sign of the men in the water either." He shook his head again. "I... I can't understand it. How could we still be floating when we had two dirty great holes in the hull? It was impossible, yet there we were, still afloat. So we've been trying to effect repairs and later you came along."

Hartenstein and Mortimer exchanged knowing looks.

Composing himself, Lydecker examined the bourbon bottle. "1925 Kentucky bourbon? Life must be better on a kraut... uh German sub than I thought."

"Captain," Hartenstein began, his voice gentle, "allow me to explain. You said that you thought it was the end and your ship was sinking. In a way it was an end. It was not the end of your life, merely the end of your life in the Third Realm."

Lydecker stared from one to the other and took another mouthful of bourbon, this time swallowing it slowly. "What... What the hell are you saying?"

"What the captain is saying is that in the Third Realm your ship and all still aboard it sank," Mortimer explained.

"You mean... You mean that... that we're... that we're..."

"I'm afraid so," Hartenstein answered.

"Impossible! I'm alive and this sure as hell doesn't look like heaven - and if it's hell, well it sure ain't bad - well so far," he added.

"Captain, in the Third Realm your ship lies on the bottom of the ocean," Hartenstein said.

"It is not! It's right out... there," Lydecker protested somewhat uncertainly.

"Captain, how do you think your ship is floating when she is badly holed?"

"Well I... Tell the truth I don't rightly know. Maybe she's just lucky. Maybe they lined her with cork."

Hartenstein gazed intently into the man's troubled eyes. "No ship is that lucky, Captain, as you well know."

"Your ship exists only in this realm, Captain - the Fourth Realm - as do you," Mortimer said. "You made the transition to the Fourth Realm - the here and now."

For long moments there was silence as Lydecker absorbed their words. "Then we all... died?" he inquired quietly.

Both men nodded at him.

"My God..." he said softly. "But how... how did this happen?"

"All I can tell you is that a great many souls make the transition to this realm at the end of their existence in the Third. They come here to live peaceful lives and many then go on to other realms," Hartenstein responded, his voice gentle.

"Mind my asking was it this way with you?" Lydecker inquired tentatively.

"My boat was bombed and sunk. Mortimer was a prisoner of war and made the transition from there."

"Captain Hartenstein speaks the truth," Mortimer added. "When he took me prisoner we became friends. Now I am privileged to serve under him. He's an honourable man and he rescued many during the war in the Third. That is why he was chosen for this role."

Lydecker witnessed the look of affection that lit up the eyes of the bearded German commander and the small smile of the British first officer as their eyes met.

"So you started off as enemies?" he inquired. Again, both men nodded. Perhaps there was hope, he thought, but... "But what of heaven and hell?" he inquired.

"Indeed many consider this realm heaven because of the peace that is to be found here," Hartenstein concluded.

"And hell?" Lydecker inquired.

"You won't find it around here," Mortimer answered.

"And that ship out there really is... the original Titanic?"

Again, both men nodded.

"Then I'm in a Hollywood movie and you're Gregory Peck with a German accent and you're Cary Grant and the rest is Hollywood movie magic."

Both men laughed, their manner so easy and relaxed that the American commander for the first time relaxed in their presence and joined in.

"I suppose..." He took a deep breath, a glimmer of hope permeating his being. "I suppose I have no choice but to believe you, but what of my wife? What of my sons? Am I never to see them again?"

"Not for the present," Hartenstein answered.

"It's a reality we all have to face," Mortimer added.

Hartenstein rose to his feet, the other two following. "Captain, I can guarantee that you and your men will live good lives here and Titanic carries your friends and family who have already made the transition."

Lydecker's eyes almost leapt out of his skull. "Family? Family, you say?"

Mortimer grinned. "Most people already have friends and relatives here. There are over four hundred already aboard Titanic waiting to greet you and your men."

"My God," Lydecker whispered, his voice awed. "Is this really true?"

Again, both men nodded.

"So let us go and greet Titanic," Hartenstein urged, popping the cork back into the bourbon bottle.

"What of my ship, wreck though she is?"

"Your vessel's co-ordinates have already been sent to an ocean-going salvage vessel which is on its way. It will be towed to port so you need not worry."

For the first time Lydecker managed a small smile. However, he still had one small query.

"My missing crew members?"

"Are no doubt still alive in the Third Realm," Hartenstein answered.

In silence Lydecker nodded. He was going to have to accept it. "Time I was back on my ship. I gave orders to fire on you if I wasn't back in an hour."

Behind Lydecker's back captain and first officer exchanged a look that plainly said 'typical American' as Hartenstein handed the bottle of bourbon to the American commander.

"I can see that you're a man who appreciates a good bourbon, Captain. It would please me if you would accept it. Welcome to the Fourth Realm, Captain Lydecker."

The American naval commander was suitably grateful and, on deck once more in the icy wind, he found himself thanking his hosts for their hospitality before saluting them. The dinghy was waiting alongside and as he was rowed back to his ship he found himself looking up at the enormous liner now approaching. She dwarfed all in her presence and her sheer magnificence made him a believer in miracles. To think that he would soon be boarding it and might even see members of his family, well even Hollywood couldn't dream up that one!

*

Dusk arrived prematurely and the wind had died down somewhat. However, the sky, which had been overcast and leaden most of the day, was now heavy with thick, black clouds. In the distance lightning could be seen, its streaks illuminating the peaks of the waves while distant thunder rumbled across the empty ocean. The U-boat crew were at dinner and, as had become their custom, captain and first officer manned the conning tower together, Mortimer at the helm as U-156 made her way through the roiling ocean, her sharp bow plunging into the oncoming waves.

Hartenstein turned to face the stern, running his eyes over the gigantic bow following in their wake. Titanic's myriad lights lit up the blackness of the water on either side as her bow rose and fell with the swell, mountains of spray flying up as each succeeding wave hit her. He couldn't help but think of her officers, warm and dry on the bridge while he and Mortimer were being tossed around and drenched with spray. The lot of a U-boat commander in rough seas, he thought. He turned back to look at his British first, contemplating him closely.

Mortimer, whom he would share his bed and his dreams with later; Mortimer, who had saved his life from the very beginning; Mortimer, his dearest friend whom he would always guard with his life. Unbidden, he remembered a night not long after he had, with the assistance of Lady Brunhilde, managed to rescue him and bring him to the Fourth Realm. He had undressed him slowly, undoing his tie and opening the neck of his shirt. Unable to resist, his mouth had fallen on the tender flesh where neck met shoulder kissing it repeatedly. In response, Mortimer, arms around him, had sighed with pleasure and murmured, "Your beard." "You don't like it?" "No, not that. It's... It's kind of... sexy. Never thought I'd find a beard sexy but I like the feel of it on my skin." He had been proud that his lover had liked his beard and ever since that night he'd made sure to use it in all sorts of ways to please him.

He was brought back to reality by a particularly large wave which drenched both of them with spray. They were both very cold now and he put his arms around Mortimer to share body warmth. In turn, Mortimer, hands on the wheel, used his forearms to press the gloved hands even closer against him. They remained that way for the next hour, Hartenstein rubbing his companion's body in an effort to keep them both warm as the boat was constantly buffeted this way and that by the wind and seas and Mortimer kept their course steady.

When relief came it felt wonderful to climb down the ladder into the light and warmth of the U-boat's interior and the two dripping wet men headed for the captain's quarters for a change of clothing and some hot tea before enjoying the evening meal together.

As they ate companionably Mortimer appeared to be in a philosophical mood.

"One day, when the war in the Third is over, what do you suppose will happen to all the U-boats? I mean they won't be needed, will they? So what will they do with them all?"

"Scrap metal?" Hartenstein suggested.

"But they have healing powers," Mortimer reminded. "They're not just hunks of metal."

"True enough. I never cease to find it strange that such a thing as a U-boat, a vessel built specifically to wage war on the enemy, is used in this realm only for defensive purposes." He shook his head. "Stranger still for it to have healing powers. Perhaps they can use them for research. They have a lot of scientific research vessels here and I would not want to see her thrown on the scrap heap."

Mortimer nodded in assent.

It was as they were finishing their meal that the telephone rang, Hartenstein placing the receiver between them as they leaned close to hear the words of Captain Andrews.

"I say you two should be here. You wouldn't believe how these Americans celebrate. There's bunting and streamers everywhere. It's party time on Titanic. I've requested one of the officers to film it so you two will get to see it."

The two U-boat officers chuckled.

"And how is Captain Lydecker?" Hartenstein inquired.

"I have to report that Captain Lydecker is a happy man. He's been reunited with his younger brother, Bob, who he tells me bit the dust at Pearl Harbour, and his grandparents, a favourite aunt and, as he put it, a couple of buddies. You should meet the aunt; Betsy her name is. Literally dragged me onto the dance floor and crowed to everyone 'I bagged me a captain!'." Hartenstein and Mortimer burst out laughing. "The band is playing non-stop. My but these yanks sure know how to boogie. It's everything from swing to jazz to ragtime to I don't know what. The band will be worn out. Captain Lydecker has requested to book the ship for an annual cruise so they can do it all over again. Mind you, I'm not sure the old girl will survive. You wouldn't believe what they've got my crew doing. Apparently, a tennis court isn't good enough for them. They demanded to know why, on a ship this size, there wasn't a bowling alley. I tried to explain that she's as she was when she was launched. Long story short they've taken over the children's room and they're building a bowling alley in there. God help me but they're going to use beer bottles for pins saying the bottles will survive if they're on rubber. I had to tell them baseball was out of the question; I can't have crystal and stained glass smashed. And never mind what they want to eat. Excellent White Star cuisine isn't good enough; they want things like a hot dog and..."

"A hot dog?" Mortimer inquired.

"Best not ask, old boy!" Andrews responded. "And then there's the hamburgers."

"Hamburgers?" Hartenstein inquired.

"Sort of a bun with meat, cheese, tomato and of course tomato sauce and a piece of lettuce. Did I mention the tomato sauce - or tomaatoh as they say? You can serve them the finest cuisine but they just lather it with the stuff. The chefs are crying into their stuffed pheasants and ham and say they're already sick of making hamburgers and french fries. That's good old chips to you and me, Mortimer," he added by way of explanation.

Hartenstein and Mortimer were laughing.

"Well you can laugh. Don’t even mention the cornpone and some awful thing called grits. The old girl may never be the same!" He sighed. "Oh, well. Duty calls. Have to put in another appearance."

"And will you dance with the aunt again?" Hartenstein inquired, a distinct twinkle in his eye.

"Don't mention it, old boy. Woman makes me quake in my boots! Wish you were here; then she'd have another captain to dance with."

"No chance! He's mine!" Mortimer retorted, a big grin on his face as his companion leaned back in his chair, grinned and shook his head.

At that moment a much larger wave struck the U-boat and the room tilted alarmingly, its two occupants desperately holding on to the bolted-down table and trying not to let the contents slide off.

"Big wave coming up, Captain," Hartenstein warned Andrews as the room righted itself once more.

"Better hold on," Mortimer added.

As they waited for the wave to hit Titanic some one hundred yards to stern they overheard Andrews announce a general warning to hold on. Finally, he came back to the telephone.

"That was a beauty - even for Titanic! They'll be picking themselves up off the dance floor. Better go."

Hartenstein decided to check on the men in the conning tower.

"I'll go," Mortimer said. "I'm first officer. It's my responsibility."

"I'll go. I'm captain and I outrank you. You... can get into bed and warm it for us."

Mortimer shook his head and sighed as Hartenstein ducked out the door. However, when the latter got to the bridge the two men who had been manning the conning tower had already descended, drenched to the skin, and two more had been sent aloft. Hartenstein informed the soaking wet men that Dengler had prepared some beef broth for them. He then went up top to see if there was any damage. The storm, if anything, seemed to have got worse, sheets of lightning brightening the dark ocean with their savagery accompanied by drenching rain. How bad was this going to get? he wondered. He checked on Titanic and she was on course to their stern. At least he could still make out her lights through the rain. Now as long as she could make out theirs... He ordered the men to keep a close eye on her and make doubly sure both vessels stayed on course.

Descending once more he checked on the latest weather report, swearing softly when he read it. They weren't even in the worst of it which had higher winds. He came to a decision, ordering a change of course to north-east for two hours to take them around the worst of the weather system. Titanic was promptly informed and acknowledged the order.

The men on the bridge looked to him.

"One day when this war in the Third is over we will not have to put to sea in winter storms. We will sail only in sunny waters, but right now we are needed and our work is important."

The men smiled and nodded. It was the acknowledgement that they had needed to hear.

When he returned to this quarters he found Mortimer already in bed asleep.

Smiling, he closed the door for the night and undressed. Mortimer, as was his wont, was spread out all over the bed and he was forced to move him before he could get under the covers and close the drapes.

On realizing that his lover was with him Mortimer half woke up and gave a sigh of pleasure as Hartenstein slipped an arm around him. Legs entwined, Hartenstein whispered "Yes, I am yours," as Mortimer made a sound of contentment and promptly fell asleep again.

Smiling, Hartenstein pressed his lips to a warm cheek and closed his eyes to follow his lover into a favourite dream.

* * *