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Fic: A Perilous Passage

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex, violence and death of OCs
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count: 4,680
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters, some violence including death of OCs
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Characters borrowed from BBC strictly for playing with, not profit. No offence intended. This is purely a work of fiction.
Summary: On the return crossing U-156 comes across a newly arrived U-boat which poses a deadly threat.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: This is a direct sequel to “Deadly Cargo” and follows the eventful return voyage.



Aboard U-156 its officers were off duty. Beyond the confines of the metal hull the wind and sea had risen and they were sailing straight into a low pressure system. Though she was buffeted by each succeeding wave, the vessel's slim hull cut through them at speed as she escorted Titanic across the Atlantic.

In the captain's quarters two men shared a cognac.

“Sea is rising,” Mortimer observed quietly.

Both men's gaze turned to the barometer on the bulkhead to observe that it had fallen another two points.

“The radio reports said it should get no worse,” Hartenstein replied. “We are about in the centre of it now.”

“It won't bother Titanic.”

“Nothing short of a tidal wave would bother Titanic,” his commanding officer responded, draining the last of his drink. “Will you go to bed now?”

His companion nodded. “I think I'll shower first.”

Both men rose to their feet, Hartenstein to check the bridge and conning tower, Mortimer to undress. This was their regular routine. The captain would take his time touring the vessel and talking to the men even if he had already spoken to them earlier. He would check with the radar and radio operators and, especially in inclement weather, the latest weather report. After that he would climb to the conning tower and observe their course. It was not that he did not trust his crew – in fact he did – but he considered it a captain's duty to check everything. After all, as the Americans would say, the buck stopped with him.

As Werner Hartenstein opened the hatch to the conning tower he was showered with cold water. Wiping the water from his face, he ascended the steps, immediately closing the hatch behind him just as the bow plunged into another large wave which swept up the deck and crashed into the conning tower, splashing water onto all three occupants. The captain had not bothered donning wet weather gear and was wearing only his leather jacket to keep warm. However, the ice cold water trickled down inside the front of it causing him to shiver. Noting that all was as well as could be expected he informed the two very wet crewmen that he would send coffee. He would see to it that, for the duration of this weather, they would get a break every hour.

When he returned to his quarters, cold and somewhat wet, it was to find Mortimer under a steaming, hot shower. Quickly, he stripped himself of his wet garments and joined him, shivering some more as the hot water hit his chilled flesh.

“God but you're cold!” his companion exclaimed, wrapping warm arms around him in welcome.

“Ahhh, sehr gutt,” he murmured, enjoying the warmth of the hot water and his lover's intimate embrace as he was rubbed all over his back to warm him.

Mortimer pulled back to gaze into his eyes. “Better now?” An mm of approval was the only response he got so he began to soap his commanding officer, loving the feel of the naked, slippery body against him and their gradual arousal.

They were out of the shower and towelling themselves dry when the deck unexpectedly tilted and the vibration of the motor changed. As both men paused in some alarm there was a knock at the door. Both grabbed for their robes as Mannesmann was bade enter.

“Sir, urgent message from Titanic. She's hit something. I've ordered a change of course to bring us alongside her.”

“Sheisse!”

Both men dressed hurriedly.

“How the hell did she manage to hit something we didn't?” Mortimer wondered, hastily buttoning his shirt.

“Deeper draft? In any case we shall soon find out,” Hartenstein answered, throwing his jacket on and heading for the door, Mortimer following.

On the bridge the radar operator reported that there was something just below the surface now but swore that previously there had been no objects showing at all other than distant shipping. Also, the updated radar was designed to issue an alarm if any large object was directly in their path.

In the conning tower the change of course meant that the sea was no longer breaking over the bow as they neared the huge liner. Her giant screws had been thrown into reverse so that her forward motion had now slowed considerably.

Titanic was calling on the radio. They still did not know what they had hit, only that the impact had caused somewhat of a crunch and scraping. Her engineers were still checking, however, thanks to her reinforced bow there seemed to be no internal seepage.

Mortimer, who had been searching the nearby area for anything in the water, spotted something off Titanic's starboard quarter.

“There, sir!” he called out as everyone turned to gaze in the indicated direction.

Hartenstein grabbed a pair of binoculars as a conning tower slowly emerged from the surrounding water. On checking her markings he decided, “She's Third Realm.” He glanced at Mortimer who gave a small smile. They had dealt with this kind of situation now on so many occasions that they were practically old hands at it.

Hartenstein ordered a change of position so that U-156 would be between the newcomer and Titanic before calling Titanic. He also ordered divers to inspect the liner's bow.

Captain Andrews answered.

“Andrews, on your starboard you will find a U-boat from the Third.”

“Indeed, old boy. We're watching her now.”

“We are manoeuvring to intercept her. As we pass under your bow the divers will go overboard.”

“Understood and thank you.”

Information from the Admiralty on the newly arrived vessel was zero – par for the course with all new arrivals, Hartenstein thought.

Crewmen from the giant liner were now at the ship's bow as the divers went overboard and U-156 proceeded towards the intruder. So far, no one was to be seen on her, however, all aboard the International Admiralty vessel knew that looks could be deceiving and such newly arrived vessels could pose a considerable danger to the Fourth Realm. She was riding low in the water and listing somewhat indicating that either her ballast tanks were malfunctioning or, more than likely, she was partly flooded.

As a party from U-156 boarded the vessel, the boat itself returned to Titanic to pick up the divers.

The forward hatch opened on U-217 and men began to climb out of it.

The commanding officer was one Dieter Wechler and the man seemed relieved to be greeted by a friendly German commander. Wechler was young, his face pale and his eyes haunted.

“Forgive me, Captain Hartenstein, for my lack of hospitality but my vessel is half flooded. We were lucky to surface at all. I confess I thought we were done for.”

“What has happened to you?” Hartenstein inquired gently.

“I was about to attack a convoy when I, myself, was attacked by two British convoy escorts. I'm afraid damage is severe.” He scratched his tousled brown hair in puzzlement. “Can't understand how we're floating at all.”

As he gazed around him his eyes caught Titanic's name on her bow.

“Meine Gott! It can't be!”

Hartenstein smiled. “It is, meine colleague, it is.”

Wechler stared at Hartenstein like the man had suddenly grown a second head.

“This is impossible. It cannot be. She is at the bottom of the sea since... since...”

“1912,” Mortimer supplied with a smile.

Wechler glanced at Mortimer before once more turning his attention to Hartenstein.

“Is this some kind of Allied illusion?”

Hartenstein laughed. “It might seem that way but I'm sure you felt the impact when she hit you.”

“Then she is real? But how can this be?”

“All in good time, meine colleague. For the present, after my divers have finished checking her for damage I will also have them check your vessel.”

Wechler shook his head. “I... I don't understand. If... If we were hit by Titanic, surely we should have been cut in two...”

“Allow me to show you some hospitality, meine colleague, and we will explain much.”

U-156 returned with the divers once more aboard. They reported that there was some damage to Titanic's bow but insufficient to cause seepage even at full speed. Hartenstein sent them down to check on the condition of U-217. Shortly, they reported back that there was extensive damage to the hull including a breach where she had been almost cut in two by Titanic's bow. Hartenstein realized that the only thing that had saved her was the fact that she was underwater at the time and the impact had largely shunted her violently aside as the huge ship passed over.

“Come, meine colleague, there is much I must explain to you before you and your men are transferred. Bring your first officer.”

“He's assisting with the repairs and... surely you don't mean transfer to... that ship? They would take us prisoner.”

“Come!”

Aboard U-156 Wechler went below where he was allowed to change into clean, dry clothes. In Hartenstein's quarters he savoured a cognac with the boat's officers.

“Feeling better now?” Hartenstein inquired solicitously.

Wechler nodded, savouring his drink. “Much better thank you, meine colleague. If you will forgive me your vessel seems remarkably clean.”

“She is like most U-boats in the fleet, my friend. She has been reinforced and her engine modified to take the renewable fuel.”

“Renew...? Did you say renewable fuel? What is this? Some new invention of the Reich? I have not heard of this.”

Hartenstein sent for Rostau.

“Rostau, be so kind as to give Captain Wechler a tour of your engine room.” Hartenstein turned to Wechler once more. “Captain, if you would accompany my chief engineer I can guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by what you see.”

The two men left leaving Hartenstein and Mortimer alone in the captain's quarters.

“He's young,” Hartenstein remarked. “He will adapt more easily than those who are set in the ways of the reich.”

“You adapted easily, didn't you?” Mortimer asked. “But then you were never set in the ways of the reich. Your boat was never covered in Nazi propaganda.”

“True. I was regular navy. I thought I was defending my country, but her politics changed drastically while I... sank Allied vessels and turned a blind eye.”

Mortimer reached for his hand on the table to cover it with his own. “You were not responsible for the actions of your country's leaders, and you had your duty to perform.”
His words produced the smallest of wry smiles.

“Always you defend me.”

“You're were a good man then as you are now. You believed in your country and you were caught up in a war none of us wanted.”

Shortly, they heard the sounds of voices as Wechler was escorted back to the captain's quarters. However, the man seemed to be in a quiet state of shock as he sat down once more and Mortimer poured him a scotch. Wechler downed it somewhat too rapidly and coughed.

“Forgive me,” he wheezed, “but I cannot believe what I just saw. Your chief engineer has informed me that the engine is far beyond anything invented by the reich. I... I cannot believe it. It... It is incredible how it works so efficiently that you never run out of fuel.”

“And all vessels in this realm are equipped with the same type of engine so all use the clean, renewable fuel. No more coal, or even diesel,” Mortimer informed him.

“This 'realm'?”

“The Fourth Realm. It is one of peace, my friend,” Hartenstein said gently. “There is no war here. People are free to live their lives as they wish. I know it seems hard to believe, especially coming from the Third Realm, but it's true.”

“Strange but true,” Mortimer continued, “In time your boat will be drydocked and they will go to work on her. The engineers here can work miracles and she will be modified to use the renewable fuel. If you should desire it you will be able to do the same kind of work we do, but only if it's what you want. You will be free to do whatever you wish, as will your crew.”

Wechler's eyes grew larger. “And your work?”

“In this realm, U-boats, far from sinking ships, escort and protect them,” Hartenstein explained.. “My own assignment is to escort Titanic who presents a most tempting and unique target to newly arrived vessels of the reich who do not realize that they are now in a realm of peace and may still have live ammunition aboard.”

“Meine Gott,” Wechler shook his head.

Weber knocked. “Captain, Lusitania is approaching, U-187 and U-459 escorting. U-187, commanding officer Anne Freeman, is inquiring if we need assistance.”

Mortimer noticed Wechler mouth the ship's name in puzzlement.

“Tell Commander Freeman that I thank her for the offer but all is well and we will shortly be under way.”

Wechler was staring from one man to the other.

“Surely that cannot be a... a female U-boat commander?”

Hartenstein nodded. “That particular boat’s commander in the Third Realm has been promoted so she has a new one.”

If his expression was anything to go by Wechler remained perplexed.

“And may I ask is that the same Lusitania that... that we sank in the last war?”
“The same, and I am pleased to see that you know your naval history.”

“This is impossible. What kind of place is this that... that ships that sank are... not sunk?”

Hartenstein smiled. “The kind of place where I can have a Britischer for my first.”

Wechler stared at Mortimer. “I thought your accent odd, and your name, but... but I never dreamt that you could really be British. But will you not be punished for this?”

Both men smiled and shook their heads. “In this realm people of all nationalities serve on U-boats and, as you can see, women too. Come, let us go and greet Lusitania.”

In the conning tower dawn was fast approaching, rays of sunlight streaking gold across the clouds. Approaching was a very large liner with two U-boat escorts.

“She has two escorts?” Wechler inquired.

“Her hull is not as strong as Titanic's but I hear she's scheduled for drydocking.”

As the large vessel approached she gave one long blast of her deep horn in greeting which Titanic acknowledged in kind. The two U-boats also tooted their horns which U-156 promptly answered. Shortly thereafter the three vessels swept majestically past, the first rays of the rising sun shining brightly on the liner's superstructure as a few early-rising passengers waved.

Wechler had watched keenly. He had recognized the numbers of the two escorting U-boats.

“They went missing,” he muttered. “I remember. Both of them. They were reported missing in action... months ago.”

“All of the U-boats here went 'missing' in the Third Realm including my own,” Hartenstein replied gently.

Wechler turned to gaze curiously at Hartenstein. “That... that is where I know your name from! Your boat... It was missing, presumed lost. And your name... I seem to have heard it somewhere.”

“It is not important, my friend, but you must know that your own vessel will now be among the missing.”

Wechler shook his head somewhat mournfully. “I... I don’t suppose there’s any way back.”

In silence the two Admiralty officers shook their heads.

“So I’ll be reported lost too.”

The young commander closed his eyes, his head slowly shaking. In his heart he somehow knew Hartenstein was right for there seemed to be gaps in his memory. “I can't... I can't seem to remember how... how...” He shook his head helplessly.

“It’s the same for all of us,” Hartenstein responded to the young man's plight, grasping his shoulder. “It will be all right, my friend. In time all your questions will be answered. For the present, you and your crew will be transferred to Titanic where I can guarantee a thoroughly pleasurable voyage.”

Wechler mouthed the ship’s name, a worried expression on his face. “Is... Is she safe? I mean she won’t hit an iceberg, will she?” To Wechler’s consternation both men seemed highly amused.

“She is perfectly safe,” Hartenstein assured the anxious man. “Her hull is reinforced and she has plenty of lifeboats.”

“She’s practically unsinkable,” Mortimer added.

“Practically speaking,” Hartenstein added with a wink.

“Cheer up,” Mortimer said. “This is a new realm and a new beginning. You will find much to admire here.”

“A realm where sunken ships are not sunk...” Wechler murmured in disbelief.

“They're very much alive,” Mortimer said cheerfully. “And you will no doubt meet up with friends and family too.”

Wechler's eyes widened as he stared from one to the other.

“Welcome to the Fourth Realm, my friend,” a grinning Hartenstein declared, thumping him on the shoulder.

“Captain, U-217 is drifting closer to Titanic.”

Hartenstein turned to see. Indeed, while they had been occupied with the passage of the other vessels the currents had turned the disabled craft and her bow had drifted around so that it was much closer to the stationary liner.

“I wouldn't worry about it, Mannesmann. Neither craft is in any danger.”

“Yes, sir. I just thought...”

A sudden shiver went through Mortimer as Hartenstein discovered that he had a prickle at the back of his neck. Both men turned to each other before turning back to the other U-boat. However, they could see nothing amiss except that the crew all seemed to be below deck.

“Wechler, why are all your crew below when your boat is half flooded?” Hartenstein inquired.

Wechler looked over to his battered vessel.

“They are making repairs.”

“How many torpedoes have you?” Hartenstein demanded.

“Only two but they can't be launched. The bow is too damaged.”

Mortimer gazed at Hartenstein in some alarm as the vessel continued to slowly drift closer to Titanic, its bow now pointed directly at the large ship's starboard bow.

Hartenstein made up his mind. If there was a threat here; if the crew had somehow jury-rigged the remaining torpedoes so they could be launched, then he had to act. He called down to the radio operator to call Titanic and put it through to the conning tower.

“Titanic. Bridge. First Officer,” came the crisp reply.

“Hartenstein. Full speed ahead. We will rejoin you shortly. That is a direct order. Do it now!”

“Aye, aye, sir. Full speed ahead. Titanic out.”

Hartenstein turned to the helmsman. “Weber, move us to intercept. We must protect Titanic.” He turned to Wechler and handed him a megaphone.

Wechler appeared puzzled at Hartenstein's order to Titanic. “Captain Hartenstein, what...?”

“Come, come, meine colleague. Your boat is drifting too close to Titanic.”

Wechler's eyes widened. “You suspect an attempt on behalf of my crew to... to attack the liner?”

“It's been tried before,” Mortimer replied.

“Wechler, order your men to abandon ship now. They must not use torpedoes! If, as you say, your bow is damaged, they will only destroy themselves.”

Even as Mortimer handed Wechler a megaphone and he gave the order, the empty deck of the listing U-boat erupted in a huge explosion close to the bow that ripped the already-damaged vessel apart, flaming pieces of debris scattering over the water, hitting the slow-moving Titanic's hull and causing the men in the conning tower of U-156 to duck as the reinforced vessel absorbed the brunt of the blast, debris crashing down on the deck.

On the bow of U-156, Waldemar, who had been watching the other boat, was blown into the water by the sheer concussion of the blast. Mortimer, who was nearest to the steps, shouted the man's name as he quickly jumped down to the deck and ran for the bow. The body in the water was face down and unmoving as he quickly threw off cap and jacket.

“Mortimer!” Hartenstein called out, also jumping down from the conning tower, but his first officer was already in the freezing water, followed shortly by his captain.

Weber and Mannesmann watched anxiously as the men in the water, dodging debris, swam to the unmoving Waldemar and grasped him, slowly manoeuvring him to the boat where Weber and other crew members hauled the young crewman aboard along with their shivering captain and first officer. Blankets were produced and Weber went to work on Waldemar. After what seemed an eternity to those watching and waiting he suddenly began to cough, the sea water filling his lungs draining from him in great, choking gasps much to everyone's relief.

On the ocean, where once there had been a damaged U-boat, there was now only some floating debris and the sad remains of what had once been her crew, now no more than blackened body parts. Her shocked and devastated commanding officer looked on forlornly, his eyes seeking any signs of life.

The half-drowned Waldemar was quickly taken below to be cared for. The shivering officers also headed below to help each other out of wet clothing and into a hot shower. After that it was warm pyjamas, robes and hot soup but not before a scolding Hartenstein had hugged his lover.

“Always you frighten me. You have no regard for your own safety.”

“You would never forgive me if I didn't try to save Waldemar.”

“There was too much debris in the water. You could have been injured yourself.”

“But I'm all right. You saw to that.”

“Foolish Britischer! What am I to do with you!” the German commander complained, lips covering the other's cheeks.

“Mm, more,” Mortimer encouraged, fingers stroking bearded cheeks.

“Later. Drink your soup.”

Both men turned to the table where two hot mugs of steaming soup sat waiting.

“Ah, sehr gutt,” Hartenstein muttered, enjoying his soup.

“Mm,” was the reply as Mortimer took a another mouthful. “Dengler makes very good soup.”

“Why did they have to do that?” Mortimer inquired despondently. “Oh, I know, I know. I suppose there was nothing we could have done about it, but...”

“I blame myself. I should have insisted the first officer also come aboard.”

Mortimer shook his head. “Even if you had there’s no guarantee that the outcome would have been different though I’m sure they didn’t mean to blow themselves up, just Titanic.”

“Just Titanic,” Hartenstein agreed. He sighed. “I can see why the Admiralty resisted allowing her to take part in rescue missions even though I understand she was volunteered early on.”

“White Star took a big risk by volunteering her,” Mortimer remarked.

“Yet another incident. The Admiralty will not be happy about this.”

Mortimer smiled. “You and Captain Andrews will handle it.”

Rostau arrived to report that the radio was damaged due to a breach in the hull, however, the pump was working and repairs under way.

“And the speed?” Hartenstein inquired.

“I recommend no more than half speed.”

Hartenstein sighed. “Not ideal but it will have to do. Send for Fiedler.”


On Titanic's bridge a close watch was being kept on their much smaller escort.

“The U-boat seems to be using a pump, sir,” the Officer of the Watch reported observing water flowing from a hose protruding from the forward hatch, its contents spilling over the side.

“Manderson, how many pumps do you suppose a U-boat like that would have?”

“I... don't know, sir. Two or three?”

“Right.” Andrews came to a decision, turning to address everyone on the bridge. “When we are in port I shall speak to Captain Hartenstein with a view to all of you taking a tour of U-156. I want you to see and understand how the other half lives in tiny, cramped quarters. Their engine room is barely half the size of this bridge. While we live high on the hog on this great, old vessel they risk their lives every day to protect her - and do a damn fine job of it.”

There was a general chorus of acknowledgement.

“Sir, they appear to be bringing a lamp on deck.”

“Radio out then. Get ready to reply.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

Captain Thomas Andrews watched carefully, his eyes following the signals from the U-boat.

“As I thought,” he muttered. “A slow boat to China.” He nonetheless read the message that was subsequently handed to him.

“Take this down: Andrews. Will report fate of U-217. Half speed it is. Ready to receive your passenger. Signal if assistance required.”

As he continued to watch, his signal was acknowledged. A dinghy was shortly launched from the U-boat and a single passenger – the rescued captain, he realized – was rowed across. He would personally see to it that the young man was well looked after.

He had felt a great sadness at the sudden and violent passing of the newly arrived crew. He knew in his heart that there was nothing he could have done about it, nonetheless he grieved for the unnecessary destruction. He was also grateful for the protection afforded by U-156. Without it his own vessel would have sustained much more damage than scratches on the paintwork and a few cracked portholes. Smiling, he watched the smaller vessel get under way. He owed a debt of gratitude to Hartenstein and the brave Mortimer. No matter the circumstance they never let the old girl down and now their own vessel had sustained obvious damage protecting her. As a cruise ship's master he had made many acquaintances over the last thirty years but he had never had better or more loyal friends. He felt a kinship with them that was beyond mere words. He had watched, heart in his mouth, as Mortimer dove into the icy water to rescue a crew member blown overboard; watched as Hartenstein didn't hesitate to dive in to help his struggling first rescue the drowning crewman. Finally, he had watched, greatly relieved, as all three men were hauled aboard and the unconscious sailor coughed his way back to life. No doubt plenty of passengers had got a bit of a fright – he had himself - but thank heaven no one had been injured in the initial explosion. While the U-boat had taken the full force of the explosion all he had had to do was have a few passengers moved to new quarters and some temporary repairs made to the cracked portholes. High time his own officers had a better understanding of U-boats.


When the day crew came on duty, Hartenstein, realizing that he had been on duty all day and most of the night, placed Rostau in charge and headed for his quarters. He had already ordered his first officer off duty and now, as he closed the door behind him, he gave a sigh of relief. He doubted that he would sleep much with the noise of the pump and the ongoing repairs but he was so tired that perhaps even that would not keep him awake. The deck was damp throughout the vessel with crew members tramping up and down from the leaking radio room. He picked up the bed's red drapes and tied them back to keep them dry. Earlier, he had noticed Wechler looking curiously at them. Yes, they were very far from regulation in the old reich. In fact they were a distinctive sign of just how different things were here. Another sign of that difference was the man sprawled all over the bed as was Mortimer's usual habit. Rolling him over, he gathered the drowsy man in his arms.

“My bravest one,” he whispered. “You never hesitate to save a life even if it means danger to your own.”

To his surprise, Mortimer answered.

“You keep me safe.”

“Ja, meine liebe. My German arms will always keep you safe.”

A shared kiss, all the sweeter for their recent danger, led to the sharing of far more, soft whispers and quiet moans of pleasure inaudible to all but themselves.

Later, their heated bodies cooled, once more they settled down for sleep.

“Our collaboration is safe,” Mortimer whispered, feeling soft lips on his ear. The words “Always” drifted on a gentle breath as shared dreams overtook shared passion.

* * *