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Novella: Smoke on Water Part 3 of 4

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex and adult situations
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count this section: 2,290
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters, some violence
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Characters borrowed from BBC strictly for playing with, not profit. No offence intended. This is purely a work of fiction.
Summary: The U-boat officers have one of the strangest encounters they've ever had.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: This is a sequel to "The Lone Freighter". If you haven't yet read that fic then you really need to go back and read it first as this won't make a lot of sense otherwise.



The U-boat's chronometer revealed the lateness of the hour as Hartenstein dozed, Mortimer in his arms. However, he was woken when his lover began to toss and turn, moaning softly. Calling his name softly seemed to have no effect, but then Mortimer sat bolt upright in bed.

"No! No, she's going to hit it!" he shouted.

Hartenstein sat up beside him. "Mortimer! What? Hit what? Do you mean Titanic will be hit?"

Mortimer seemed to be in the grip of a nightmare. "She's going to hit it!"

"Mortimer, she's already hit the iceberg. She is all right, meine liebe. She is undamaged and following right behind us."

"No, no! She's going to hit it and she won't survive!"

"Shh. This is nonsense, meine liebe," Hartenstein soothed, rubbing his back. "You know she is like an ice breaker now. She can survive anything."

"No," Mortimer was almost sobbing. "She's going down. They're all going down."

Hartenstein turned him to gaze into his troubled eyes. "Listen to me, meine liebe. You know how strong she is now. Andrews says even if she was broken in two the two halves would still float. Besides, you know that ships cannot really be sunk in this realm. You know this. What has brought this on?"

Mortimer was still gasping for breath. "I don't know, I don't know. Oh, God! What can we do?"

"We will keep an extra watch on Titanic if it will make you happy. Do you want to see for yourself that she's safe?" Mortimer nodded. "I can see we're not going to get any more sleep. Come then."

In the conning tower Mannesmann was surprised to see them. The captain told him to take a break and send up some coffee.

Mortimer's gaze was fixed on their stern where Titanic's huge bow was ploughing through the water at top speed. To either side of her were the other two U-boats assigned to protect her. Logically, he knew she was well. He knew she was in good hands and he tried to tell himself that. There simply was nothing amiss. So why did he have this dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach that wouldn't go away?

"Captain! There's fog, sir," the helmsman reported.

Captain and first officer turned to see thick fog, a large patch of it. Not only was it directly in their path but stretching to either side as far as they could see. Now where had that come from? Both men could have sworn that it wasn't there before.

"That's odd. The forecast didn't mention fog," Mortimer muttered.

"No, it didn't," Hartenstein agreed. He called down to the radar operator who reported that it didn't show at all on the radar, which was even more odd. Coupled with Mortimer's feeling of foreboding he decided to act, ordering Titanic to cease all forward motion immediately, the U-boats flanking her also slowing down to stay beside her. Her engines were thrown hard into reverse but even so all four vessels were almost on top of the fog bank before she finally stopped her forward motion. Hartenstein ordered her to reverse until she was a good five hundred metres from the fog, her officer of the watch inquiring why they should not enter the fog. After all, it was only fog, was it not?

"There is something about this fog that is not natural. On no account are you to penetrate it," Hartenstein ordered. "That is an order. You will stay well away from it. The other two U-boats will remain with you for your protection. In the meantime we will proceed and make sure it's safe."

The officer acknowledged the order and U-156 proceeded slowly into the fog bank. Hartenstein had ordered the spotlights be brought on deck and even though they were shining brightly they could not penetrate the thick blanket of grey mist that completely surrounded them. Sound, too, was muffled and they were enveloped in silence with only the occasional ripple to mark the quietness of the U-boat's progress.

Then, as suddenly as they were deep in the fog they were out of it with nothing before them but an empty ocean. Hartenstein breathed a sigh of relief that all appeared to be clear sailing ahead. He smiled at Mortimer, clapping an arm around him. To their stern the thick wall of mist spread far and wide.

However, it was at that point that Hartenstein, too, began to feel unsettled. Something was different. Somehow the night seemed darker. He remembered that, before they had entered the mist, a waning moon had been riding high in the sky. Now...

"Where is the moon?" he asked of no one in particular.

Mortimer looked. Everyone in the conning tower searched the night sky which was clear of cloud and displaying myriad constellations, yet no moon was to be seen.

"This is impossible. Where is the moon?" Hartenstein muttered.

"Oh, god, I've got that feeling again," Mortimer whispered. In truth it had never gone away but now it seemed to be ten times stronger.

In some alarm Hartenstein grabbed his hands. "What is it? Tell me, Mortimer, what is it?"

It was the helmsman who first spotted it. "Look, sirs. It's Titanic."

"What! I ordered her not to enter the fog." Hartenstein was clearly angry, ordering Weber to contact her.

"Captain, the radio's not working," he reported. "I can't raise Titanic, or the Admiralty. I tried the other two U-boats. Nothing. It's dead, sir. Not a peep."

Worse was to come with a report from the radar operator that the radar, too, appeared to be dead.

"What next?" Hartenstein muttered, shaking his head. "So be it. We'll signal her."

When the lamp was brought on deck he ordered Weber to send to her to reverse course immediately.

All in the conning tower waited but there was no response and the ship was clearly going full speed.

"Captain, she's headed straight for us!" Mortimer exclaimed.

"Sheisse! Get us out of here," he ordered the helmsman.

However, at that moment the engine cut out. Hartenstein ordered it restarted.

"The engine won't start, sir!" the helmsman reported. "I can't start it!"

"Let me see." Hartenstein pushed the man aside and tried himself before jumping down the hatch and running for the engine room shouting for the on duty engineer.

The young man was busy. "It won't start, sir. There's nothing wrong with it but it seems to be dead."

"Sheisse! Get Rostau out of bed."

"Yes, sir!"

Hartenstein ran back to the bridge. Still no radar working and he scrambled up to the conning tower to find the giant ship almost upon them and Weber still trying to signal, and still with no response.

"I don't understand it, sir. It's like they can't see us," he said.

"Hold on!" Hartenstein shouted as the large vessel passed within a whisker of them, the wind of her passage blowing in their faces and her large bow wave rocking and turning the much smaller vessel as she passed, her officers and crew apparently oblivious to their presence.

"Sheisse, that was close!" Hartenstein exclaimed as her stern glided by with the noise of her triple screws propelling her along at a fast pace accompanied by the muffled rumble of her engines.

"Where are the U-boats?" Mortimer queried anxiously. "They should be with her."

"Meine Gott!" Hartenstein moaned. "Look! Look at her smoke! There is smoke from her stacks!"

Even as he said it the smoke blew downward in her wake to lie close to the sea surface and they could all smell it - the pungent odour of burning coal. It got up their nostrils and irritated their throats. This would never happen with the Titanic they knew which was like all other vessels in the Fourth Realm and used the renewable fuel which produced no smoke or exhaust of any kind. All that normally came from her stacks was a few wisps of steam, not this choking blackness which made them all cough.

"Oh, god! Oh, no," Mortimer moaned softly. He turned stricken eyes to his captain. "They're doomed," he whispered. "I can feel it."

Hartenstein turned to the helmsman ordering him to try the engine again. Much to everyone's relief it started once more.

"Take us back through the fog," he ordered.

As the boat turned and they headed back into the fog bank he turned to take one last look at the huge ship as she sailed into history at full speed, three of her four stacks belching smoke which lay like a spreading mist on the churned up water of her long, long wake. He took out his watch. She had less than three hours left in this realm, and so did most of the souls she was carrying. This was the belated thirtieth anniversary of the night she had first encountered an iceberg; a brand new vessel on her maiden voyage with a radical safety design. Thomas Andrews had done everything he could to make her safe, yet a quirk of nature had sent her precipitously to the Fourth Realm, her life in the Third cut drastically short and forever associated with the blackest night in shipping.

Titanic was fast disappearing in the distance as U-156 re-entered the fog bank.

It was with considerable relief that they emerged to see the Titanic they knew, a few wisps of steam coming from her stacks, sitting peacefully on the quiet ocean, the two U-boats guarding her like sentinels.

"Look," Hartenstein whispered to Mortimer as he gazed upward. Above them the moon was gliding through the sky, her silvery light illuminating the darkness of the night.

"Thank god," Mortimer replied.

Hartenstein tooted the horn three times in quick succession to signal their return. The radio operator now reported that the radio was now working as was the radar.

Something else was happening too; the fog was dissipating fast and within minutes it was as if the thick mass of it had never been and there was nothing but clear ocean ahead.

The men on the U-boat drank in the sight of the giant vessel, her decks covered in banners and bunting and her myriad lights reflecting brightly on the water accompanied by the sound of the band playing.

Mortimer smiled, tears running down his cheeks. "Thank god," he whispered fervently. "Thank god she's in this realm and she's all right."

Hartenstein squeezed his arm and put through a call to her. The officer of the watch answered and promptly put Andrews on.

"Hartenstein! Thank god! What on earth is going on?" he demanded. "At this rate we'll be meeting the fleet on their return voyage while we're still trying to get to New York," he complained.

Hartenstein was so relieved to hear the Irishman's voice that he laughed aloud. "Calm down, my friend. I will explain all in good time - well at least I hope I can explain it."

"Listen here, my man, what are you talking about? Explain what? And can we please get under way?"

Hartenstein grinned. "Of course. Let us proceed. God speed, my friend."

As the call ended Andrews muttered, "Damn German is getting stranger by the day."

All four vessels proceeded on their way, the U-boats slowly increasing their speed in line with the ship they were escorting; the vessel known affectionately as the queen of the seas but also as the great icebreaker for not only was she famous for smashing the odd iceberg but also for thawing frosty relations between humans who would not otherwise be on speaking terms, especially those coming from opposing sides of the war in the Third Realm.

On U-156 the captain and first officer simply went back to bed, Mortimer in particular feeling emotionally exhausted. However, they lay quietly not speaking until Hartenstein turned to his companion. "Do you wish to speak of it?"

Mortimer shook his head. "I don't know if I could. It was like... like lead. Like a feeling of lead around my heart. I knew what it felt like to be condemned to die. I... I've never felt so depressed." He shook his head. "Thank god our Titanic is all right."

"You know she is," Hartenstein assured, "and you know that Andrews would never let anything happen to her. He loves her like a child." Mortimer nodded. "Come, meine liebe, let us sleep now. It's been a long day - and a longer night."

He wrapped his arms around his British lover and they settled down comfortably, Mortimer kissing his cheek.

"Thank god you were with me," he whispered. "I needed you tonight."

"Shh. My German arms will always keep you safe."

Mortimer smiled as they drifted off.


By the time they passed the Statue of Liberty they were a full three hours behind the last vessel and a good five hours behind the line honours and points winner Oronsay which had beaten the Laconia by five minutes and two extra survivors. Nonetheless Titanic received an enthusiastic welcome, the New York crowds coming out in force to cheer her. Due to the war in the Third and its inherent dangers for the Fourth Realm it was more than eighteen months since her last visit and she was always immensely popular there. Andrews had requested their presence aboard as he welcomed the mayor and other dignitaries onto the famous ship. In fact, much to Mortimer's disappointment, they hardly got any time to themselves and saw very little beyond the port facilities. Instead their time was taken up with dealing with the Port Authority and official functions as all the U-boat officers attended a large banquet in their honour during which they were thanked for all the work they did guarding the ships.

*