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Fic: The New Assignment

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count: 5,850
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: U-156 escorts a vessel with a very green crew and mishaps abound.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: A christmassy sequel to "A Dance on Water”.

As the passenger ship Miranda left Homeport escorted by U-156 Werner Hartenstein looked over to the enormous port’s drydocks to see Titanic there. Raised up out of the water, she stood taller than ever, dominating her surroundings. He could imagine her captain fretting about the work to be done on her.

Silently, he pointed her out to his first officer who looked through the binoculars.

“Ships in drydock look like giant beached whales,” he remarked.

“She will be back in the water soon enough, and we will be back to escorting her. In the meantime...”

Both men turned to stern to see the vessel they were now escorting, the passenger ship Miranda. An older vessel barely one quarter the size of the huge Titanic, she was recently relaunched. Her master, Captain David Trelawney, was young and inexperienced. Hartenstein had met with him prior to departure and emphasised the importance of following orders and keeping the newly arrived survivors in good spirits.

The weather, at first calm, soon took a turn for the worse with stiff winds, grey skies and seas to match. What was surprising to Hartenstein was that, although the seas were getting rough, they were far from the worst he had ever seen. However, the Miranda seemed to be having trouble steering and repeatedly went off course when following the U-boat.

“Sir, she’s off course again,” Mannesmann reported as the bow of the Miranda strayed once more.

“Sheisse! What is wrong with their steering?” Hartenstein exclaimed, exasperated. “Fiedler, get me the bridge.” He waited - and waited. “Well?”

“It’s ringing, sir,” Fiedler reported as they waited. Finally, “I have First Officer Murray, sir.”

“Murray, this is Hartenstein. What is wrong with your steering?”

“Uh, nothing, sir.”
“Then why are you constantly off course? Again, your bow is two degrees off.” He waited, listening to Murray telling off the helmsman.

“It won’t happen again, Captain Hartenstein.”

“See to it!”

“Watch her,” Hartenstein ordered. “If she strays again blow the horn and keep a note of it. I want to know how many times this happens.”

However, it happened three more times in the next two hours. A fed up Hartenstein found himself longing for Titanic which could at least follow orders and almost never strayed off course.

Since this was the Miranda’s first rescue mission she had been given a simple one: rescue five crew members from an overturned cargo ship. The survivors were perched precariously on its hull which sported a large hole. Hartenstein’s guess was that it had been part of a convoy and been picked off by a U-boat.

After checking out the wreck Hartenstein ordered Captain Trelawney to lower a boat and pick up the survivors. However, it turned out that this was easier said that done.

The first attempt at lowering a boat proved hopeless as without warning one of the lines gave way and the boat, halfway to the water and carrying two crewmen, plunged bow first, its two crewmen falling into the water with cries and splashes and the boat left to hang vertically, swinging in the wind and banging against the ship’s hull.

Aboard U-156 they shook their heads, Hartenstein swearing.

“At this rate we’ll end up rescuing the rescuers,” Mortimer remarked.

They watched as a good deal of shouting ensued and first lifebuoys then lines were thrown to the helpless men who were duly fished out of the ocean shivering wet while other crewmen hauled the dangling boat up to the deck.

Hartenstein ordered them to lower another boat immediately.

While two crew members scratched their heads and tried to work out what had gone wrong with the first boat two more got to work on a second one which was duly swung out on the davits.

“Sir, if I could?” Mortimer inquired, as Hartenstein passed him the megaphone. “Make sure it’s properly secured!” he shouted.

They watched as two more crew members boarded the boat and it was lowered, somewhat unevenly, but at least it was working, that is until it was about three feet above the water when it seemed to run out of rope and suddenly dropped into the water with a large splash provoking the two crew members aboard it to shout abuse up at the crew on the boat deck.

The Miranda’s passengers, mostly consisting of family and friends of the survivors, laughed hilariously at the crew’s mishaps.

Well at least the boat was safely in the water, Mortimer reflected, even if the crew were not very good at rowing.
“Don’t dig the oars in so much!” he called out.

Finally, the Miranda’s lifeboat made it over to the heaving carcass of the cargo ship, the survivors having to time it carefully to jump into the lifeboat.

All aboard the U-boat heaved a sigh of relief when they were all in the lifeboat and watched carefully as it was rowed across the rough water to the ship. However, when it came to retrieving it there was more shouting as the first two lines lowered were too short to reach the boat.

“Of course they’re too short. They’re the same ones they used to lower it!” Mortimer complained.

“Fetch fresh lines from another boat!” he shouted.

Hartenstein shook his head, thoroughly exasperated. “They need to get the survivors aboard.” He shouted to Fiedler to get Captain Trelawney on the radio.

“Trelawney, this is an order. Open your gangway door, lower a ladder and get those survivors aboard!” He hung up.

Some minutes later the gangway door opened and a crewman shouted “Over here! They’ll have to climb up.” However, as the crewmen positioned the boat below the gangway entrance the necessary ladder failed to materialize.

“Where’s the ladder?” one of the crewmen in the boat shouted.

“We’re looking for it,” was the reply.

“Well get a move on, will you,” was the response.

“All right, all right! What’s your hurry?”

“It’s cold and wet down here!”

“Whatcha mean ‘wet’?”

“I mean the ruddy boat’s leaking, so hurry up, will you!”

Hartenstein put his bearded chin in his hand. Never had he seen such a display of utter incompetence even on a merchant vessel. It was painfully evident that no one had bothered to train the crew in rescue procedures.

Mortimer hid his face in his hands in despair. After all, this was a British crew but even for a merchant vessel they were simply appalling.

Eventually, the ladder was found and secured before being dropped over the side. However, getting the survivors onto the ladder was another matter altogether and, again, had to be timed precisely as the bobbing lifeboat endeavoured to stay in position against the ship’s heaving hull. Finally, some ten minutes later all five survivors were aboard and grateful to be out of the cold. The ladder was hauled up and the gangway door banged shut. The two men manning the lifeboat repositioned it and waited for lines of a suitable length to be lowered, which they eventually were and subsequently fastened to the boat. However, raising the boat presented more hazards with the bow going up faster than the stern. More shouting ensued.

“Oy, watch it up there or we’ll be in the drink too!”

“I think I’ve broken me thumb!”

“Well get someone to help you!”

“Oh mein Gott!” Hartenstein muttered, shaking his head. The whole operation, which should have taken no more than ten minutes, had taken just over thirty-five minutes. If this had been an emergency situation and a newly arrived U-boat had been in the area they could all have been in jeopardy. Where were the ship’s officers anyway? And why was it that no one appeared to be supervising the boat crew? He resolved to have a serious talk with the Miranda’s commanding officer - and soon!

“Fiedler, contact the Miranda. Inform them that I require the presence of their commanding officer at...” he consulted his watch, “... 15.00.”

At 14.50 the officers of U-156 watched as the Miranda lowered yet another boat. This one, again manned by two crew members, managed to make it almost all the way to the water relatively smoothly before stopping with a foot to go.

“What’s the matter up there?” shouted one of the crewmen in the dangling boat.

“It’s stuck.”

“Whatcha mean it’s stuck?”

“There’s knots in the line.”

“Well bleedin’ unknot it!”

“We can’t, not with the line pulled taut like that. Can you unhook the boat?”

“No, we bleedin’ can’t unhook the ruddy boat!”

“Then stay put.”

“Where else would we go, you bleedin’ dolts!”

The men in the boat had no choice but to wait.

After a while there was another shout.

“We’ll have to bring you back up.”

“Could’ve told you that!” was the reply.

Mortimer pretended to yawn. “This could take all afternoon.”

Hartenstein shook his head. “I believe Captain Trelawney will be late for his appointment.”

The boat was slowly hauled back up to the boat deck, the davits swung in as the men climbed out of it.

Meantime the gangway door swung open once more and Captain Trelawney stood there waiting for a boat to take him over to U-156.

The crew on the boat deck moved towards the stern and started work on yet another boat. It was swung out on the davits and the same two men climbed into it.

“Now you watch how you lower it!” one threatened. “I don’t wanna end up in the drink!”

“Me neither!” his companion chimed in.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got the hang of it now. We’ll let you down real easy,” they were assured.

“Yeah, well hurry up. His nibs is waiting.”

“Yeah? What’s he gonna do - keelhaul us?” one of the men on the boat deck sneered - to general mirth.

Mortimer noticed Hartenstein glance at his watch, his lips set in a thin line. It was now 15.00. The U-boat’s first officer decided that he did not envy those men, nor their commanding officer; a dose of German discipline was definitely what definitely what they were going to get!

Finally, the boat made it into the water with no further mishaps to cheers and applause from the onlookers on the ship and sighs of relief from the crew on the boat deck.

Some ten minutes late, Captain Trelawney was rowed over to U-156 and ushered to the captain’s quarters for a meeting with its commanding officer. The U-boat’s first officer was also in attendance.

After the customary introductions Trelawney looked around the small room, noting the red velvet drapes around the bunk. Odd, he thought. Somehow he had expected more austerity from a German captain.

“Some tea, Captain?” Hartenstein offered cordially.

“Thank you. That would be nice,” Trelawney answered, still somewhat wary of Germans after his recent experiences in the Third Realm.

The first officer called out for tea to be sent in and it appeared promptly. The two U-boat officers went about setting out the items on the tray including a mysterious plate covered with a serviette that, to Trelawney, had a very familiar smell to it.

As tea was poured he watched these two men who were obviously very familiar with each other for a German and an Englishman. Briefly, he wondered about their relationship, however, he did not have long to contemplate it as the captain lifted the serviette and there was a plate of freshly baked scones which smelled perfectly delicious.

“Oh, my! I say, this is top stuff!” he exclaimed as they each took one.

“No cream I’m afraid,” Mortimer said, “but we have butter and some nice strawberry jam.”

The scones were still warm from the oven and the butter melted into them as the Miranda’s captain spread strawberry jam on his. He was most pleased that his hosts had offered him this delightful treat and these were definitely better than the ones on the Miranda.

“Captain, if you don’t mind my saying so I had not expected something as English as scones on a U-boat,” he remarked, taking a second bite and licking jam from his lip.

“It’s my British first officer. He has a strong influence on us.”

“I confess that I also had not expected to meet a British officer on a U-boat.”

Mortimer grinned. “To cut a long story short Captain Hartenstein sank me.”

“I sank his ship,” Hartenstein clarified.

“But then he rescued everybody,” Mortimer explained, “and we became friends.”

“I... see.” Trelawney took another sip of the strong, hot tea, deciding that these two were a curious pair.

“And you, Captain?” Hartenstein inquired.

“The Miranda’s master was wounded so I was promoted to captain, but then we were sunk and...” he shrugged “...here I am.”

“Hm. Well it is of no matter how you came here, the fact is you are here and you have a ship to command. Rescue missions can be most hazardous. Mortimer and I have dealt with a good many situations in the time we’ve been here and one thing we’ve learnt is the necessity of being able to take action at a moment’s notice. It requires attention to duty and most of all discipline.”

“I... I agree with everything you say, Captain, and I want to apologize for the lack of discipline on my own vessel today. Fact is the crew have never had to lower a boat before.”

“Never?” Hartenstein inquired incredulously. “You never conducted lifeboat drills?”

“Not under the previous captain and I simply haven’t had the time.”

Hartenstein shook his head. “Then it’s high time you made time. Why is no one in charge of your boat crew?”

“Uh, well, I was assured that they knew what to do.”

“Plainly, they do not!” Hartenstein snapped. “I have never in my life seen such slovenly conduct even for a merchant ship. I think you will agree, sir, that your crew’s lack of preparedness was shocking.”

“Now look here, Hartenstein, I’ll grant you we may have had a bit of bad luck today, perhaps a case of murphy’s law, but I’m sure it’s nothing that can’t be ironed out and...”

“Trelawney, you don’t seem to understand your situation,” Hartenstein began. “If an unknown U-boat turns up nearby, fresh from a war they have no way of realizing they’re no longer a part of, if they still have a torpedo left, if at all possible they will use it to try and sink your vessel.”

Trelawney gulped. “I say, old boy, that’s a bit rough. I mean I was told there might be some danger but... but torpedos? I mean I was told that there’s no war here.”

“That’s correct,” Mortimer replied. “There is none, but it bleeds over from the Third Realm in the form of all those we have to rescue and their vessels as well.”

“Good god,” Trelawney muttered quietly, scratching his head.

“Now do you see why discipline and good order are essential?” Hartenstein inquired, his eyes boring into Trelawney’s.

‘Uh, yes, I certainly do. I will call a meeting when I return.”

“You will do more than that!” Hartenstein snapped. “I will be accompanying you on the return voyage as will my chief engineer. I intend to see to it that your vessel is run efficiently from now on. Is that understood? If this morning’s display by your boat crew is anything to go by then I fear the worst for your vessel and your passengers, not to mention the survivors you will be rescuing in the future.”

“Captain Hartenstein, I...” Trelawney swallowed. “Of course you, and your chief engineer, will be welcome aboard the Miranda. If I might contact my ship I will see to it that accommodations are prepared for you and...”

“That can wait. Right now I wish to inspect your vessel.”

Trelawney swallowed. “Uh, yes, of course.”

“I will see you on deck.”

Trelawney was escorted to the conning tower and Hartenstein sent for Rostau, explaining to him that they would be spending the return trip on the Miranda.

Rostau stared at his commanding officer in dismay. “Five days on that old piece of shit?” he complained.

“Ja, on that old piece of shit, Rostau, and by the time you are finished with it it will no longer be a piece of shit! Understood? You will give them the benefit of your experience starting with their engine room. See if you can’t get more speed out of it. After that you can check the bilges, waste disposal, ventilation and everything else and make sure they are clean and running like clockwork. By the time we return to Homeport I expect everything on that slovenly vessel to be in perfect working order. Now go and pack whatever you need.”

Hartenstein turned to Mortimer, his expression softer now as he gazed fondly at his companion.
“I know it’s an inconvenience, Mortimer, but I had no choice. Forgive me?”

Mortimer was in his arms. “Of course. In your place I would have done the same, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss you.”

“I know, but it’s only five days back to Homeport...”

“And we’ll have our dreams.”

“Ja, meine liebe. Our dreams.”

“And we’ll be back for Christmas.”

“We will,” Hartenstein assured his lover, holding the warm, slender body close as they shared a lingering farewell kiss.

On deck, Hartenstein gazed around as he prepared to depart.

“Mr Mortimer, I leave the boat in your capable hands.”

“Aye, sir. I’ll take good care of it,” Mortimer assured his commanding officer as they exchanged salutes.

Thomas Mortimer watched as his captain, chief engineer and Captain Trelawney were rowed away to the Miranda to embark via her gangway door.

With some trepidation he waited as the boat was raised out of the water and rose somewhat jerkily to the deck. He found himself sighing. Maybe they’re improving, he thought. He found that he already missed Hartenstein. It would be lonely in bed tonight, he reflected. Still, they’d be together for Christmas.

Shortly after that U-156 received a message from the Miranda to say that for the next two hours they would be conducting lifeboat drills - and for the next two hours they watched as boats were lowered and retrieved, the boat crews now being supervised by an officer. By far the worst mishap was the boat which simply fell into the water upside down accompanied by a good deal of cursing.

Good job it was empty, Mortimer thought, watching as the crew tried to use grappling hooks to retrieve the drifting boat - to no avail. Eventually, a crew member was forced to dive in and attach a line to the boat’s bow, after which it was hauled vertically out of the water to much applause from the passengers and the U-boat crew.

One by one all six lifeboats on the port side were lowered and retrieved until most were declared in working order and those that were not were set aside for repair. For now, Hartenstein decided that this was the best they could do for the day. The boat crews were getting tired, especially considering their earlier mishaps, and the starboard ones could wait until tomorrow. For now it was high time they got underway.

The U-boat was reduced to a speed of fourteen knots, the maximum speed of the Miranda. Not for the first time Mortimer missed Titanic and her speedy twenty-four knots. However, all appeared to be going smoothly.

That evening Mortimer received a radio call from Hartenstein.

“Where are you? Can you speak?”

“Ja. Trelawney has given me his quarters but I fear the bulkheads listen so we will speak in German. How are things on my boat?”

“Routine. Nothing reported but our own vessels on the radar, Dengler is cooking fish and the crew are arguing about where to put the Christmas decorations.”

“All is well then.”

“And there?”

“Mortimer, never in my life have I seen such laziness in every department. Even the galley is filthy. Mortimer, if it’s the last thing I do I will have this vessel clean and in good order by the time we reach Homeport.”

Mortimer smiled. “I have no doubt of it.”

“I do have a bit of good news. Rostau reports he should be able to get some more speed out of the engine. Says it was not tuned efficiently.”

“That is good news. After Titanic’s speed I feel like we’re sitting still in the water.”

Hartenstein smiled. “We both miss her.”


“Then I will bid you goodnight, Mr Mortimer.”

“Goodnight, Captain Hartenstein.”

Smiling, Mortimer put down the radiophone.

That night Thomas Mortimer dreamt that his captain was in bed with him.

“You came to me!” His face was being kissed all over.

“But of course. Where else would I be. You don’t think that I would dream of being alone.”

“Mm... I missed you, my wicked German. God, but you smell good!”

They were kissing enthusiastically.

“Mm, ja. What is that expression about missing someone and the heart grows bigger?” His lover’s lips were on his neck.

“You mean absence makes the heart grow fonder?”

“Ja! And that is not all that grows!”

“Evil German! I’ll show you!” Mortimer threatened, rolling them over and rubbing his own hardness against that of his companion’s, treasuring their closeness.

When a short time later he entered the wonderful heat and tightness it was to savour the fires generated whenever they were together, his lover’s soft whimpers of ecstasy goading him to greater heights...

When he awoke in the morning he realized that they had spent the whole night making love. They had come three times!

Alone in the bunk they normally shared he discovered that he was soaked. Thank heaven he had taken the precaution of utilizing a towel.

“My God!” he sighed, checking the bed. Well at least it was dry but the towel certainly was not, as he discovered when he arose to cleanse himself of last night’s dream activities.

Just as it was back in the Third Realm, he sighed. The only difference was that back then he would awaken to a visit from crew members sniggering at his embarrassment. Well not any more by god!

The crew did, however, wonder at his appetite that morning.

On the return journey both vessels were aware of various rescues in their vicinity but, as per their original orders they were not called on to participate.

Hartenstein reported that on Miranda things were improving. The ship was being scrubbed from bow to stern, the air reeking of disinfectant. Another improvement was that Rostau, together with the ship’s engineers, had considerably improved the engine’s efficiency to the point that it was now two knots per hour faster and the U-boat had had to increase speed accordingly. In the galley, the ovens and benchtops gleamed and food storage had been improved as had the ship’s ventilation system, which was the original forty-year old design, merely by cleaning out the vents.

As for the lifeboats, the boat crew had been put to work repairing the leaky ones and were now proficient at raising as well as lowering them.

The crew had also hung Christmas decorations all over the vessel so she was looking and bright with tinsel and lights.

Most of all, the German U-boat commander was pleased that the young Trelawney had truly taken command of his vessel, the officers and men now displaying a new respect for him where before they had ridiculed him behind his back. Where Hartenstein had been stern with him at the outset, as he got to know the man he came to understand his doubts about his own abilities and encouraged him to have confidence and take pride in his command. Yes, she was an older, slower vessel but there were many others like her and she was quite adequate as a rescue ship.

On their last night at sea over scotch and cigars in the captain’s quarters he decided to broach the subject of the healing properties of ships.

Trelawney appeared flummoxed. “I... I have read a little of this, but... I confess that I know nothing about it and it would seem exceeding strange that something made of metal and wood could have any properties at all - I mean beyond the ability to float.”

Hartenstein smiled. “Tell that to my boat which can - and does - an excellent job of healing when necessary.”

“Uh... forgive me, Captain, but you said ‘when necessary’. I mean how...?”

“How does it decide when it’s necessary? That I know not, but it does. You may find that your own vessel has similar properties. As I understand it they all do.”

Trelawney shook his head, running a hand through his fair hair. “That... is astonishing. I... I don’t know what to think.”

“There are many things in this world which are different to the old. At times they may seem strange, but after a while you’ll find you grow accustomed to it.”

“You mean besides no war.”

“Indeed. It is a much more instinctive world. People use their inner knowing and after a while you will find that you do too. To give an example, you might have a feeling of danger. It means be on the alert. Be ready for whatever comes. Ignore it at your peril.”

“I... see - I think. Er, I was surprised that the authorities were able to find family and friends of the five people we rescued - I mean before we even set sail. How...? I mean how do they do that?”

“They do it all the time. The ability to gather the loved ones on the rescue vessel prior to departure is another wonder of this world. There are those who have this ability.”

“Captain Hartenstein, may I ask...? I heard that you normally escort Titanic. Is this true?”

Hartenstein chuckled softly, the first time Trelawney had seen this serious man laugh.

“Ah, yes, Titanic. My boat has been assigned permanently to her. However, she was damaged on our last voyage so she is currently in drydock, as my first officer says, looking like a giant beached whale.”

It was Trelawney’s turn to laugh as he added some more scotch to their glasses.

“You say she was damaged; not by a torpedo I hope. I wouldn’t want to see her sunk again.”

“Oh, most vessels here don’t sink; another strange property of this realm. Besides, her internal design has been improved and, as her master is fond of saying, you could saw her in two now and the two halves would still float. So you could say that she is now quite unsinkable. But, to answer your question, no, it was not a torpedo, merely severe weather.”

Trelawney appeared puzzled once more. “You said that most vessels here don’t sink. If... If the Miranda were to take a hit from a torpedo, wouldn’t it sink?”

Hartenstein shook his head. “Nein. No doubt it would be severely damaged but it’s unlikely that it would sink unless it was broken in two for it does not have watertight doors. However, on rescue missions you will always be escorted. Older, slower vessels such as yours will be escorted by two U-boats from now on. This is a new order. There are now sufficient U-boats in this realm for it to be feasible. So you will be well protected.”

“That’s reassuring to know.” He appeared thoughtful. “Perhaps I’ve found my calling after all. I never really wanted to join the navy, but you know, it ran in the family.”

“So it was expected of you.” Trelawney nodded. “And now?”

“Well they told me that I didn’t have to take command of this old scow if I I didn’t want to and I could do anything I wanted in civilian life, but I thought I’d give it a go. You know, see if I was up to it. I’m sure you realize that I had a lot of doubts. In fact I’d been thinking of quitting and perhaps taking up a different career altogether.”

“But now?”

“Now that...” He swallowed. “Now that you’ve shown me how a ship should be run I believe that I can do it. You set a high standard, Captain Hartenstein, but I will do my damnedest to live up to it.”

Hartenstein smiled warmly at him. “I am most pleased to hear that, my friend.”

Trelawney smiled. “Thanks to your engineer the old dear’s even running faster.”

“Extra speed can make all the difference on rescue missions.”

Trelawney finished his scotch. “I thank you for your help and advice, Captain Hartenstein. You have set a fine example and I intend to follow it.”

The following day when the Miranda reached Homeport it was a happy lot of passengers who disembarked. Hartenstein and Rostau said farewell, the ship’s master thankful for the U-boat commander’s example and sage advice and her engineer grateful for the U-boat engineer’s assistance to bring the ship’s systems up to scratch.

Dawn was approaching, the first streamers of gold streaking across the eastern sky as the vessels approached the entrance to Homeport’s vast harbour complex.

Hartenstein found himself checking for Titanic’s whereabouts, only to find that she was not in her accustomed berth which sat empty. He soon spotted her high and dry and still in drydock. He shook his head. No doubt M. le Gonville would be tearing at his immaculately manicured moustache. Apparently, it must have been more work than they originally estimated.

After submitting his report to the Admiralty he headed for U-156's berth and a reunion with his crew who were assembled on deck for his return.

Below, while listening to the crew welcoming back Rostau and the latter’s tales of life aboard the Miranda, he received a hearty homecoming welcome from his first officer.

“Now I know that I am truly home,” the U-boat commander declared, his heart overflowing as his lover embraced him.

After catching up on routine Hartenstein telephoned Titanic only to find that her commander was still staying ashore.

“And we know just where to find him!” exclaimed Mortimer.

Leave preparations having already been arranged, the boat was left in Mannesmann’s hands as the two officers departed, heading for their apartment.

On arrival, they sneaked quietly in the front door. It was still very early, the sun only just up as they ventured into the living room. There were newspapers on the coffee table and some washing up in the kitchen but otherwise the place was tidy.

Quietly, they made their way to the spare room. The door was open and a single figure could be seen sleeping soundly on the bed.

“Time he was up anyway,” Mortimer whispered mischievously.

However, before they could wake him, Thomas Andrews woke up with a start, staring at them in surprise.

“Hartenstein! Mortimer!”

“Ja, we thought we would surprise you,” Hartenstein answered, sitting down on the bed. “You have slept well here?”

“Yes! Yes, very well and I thank you both for the use of your apartment. It’s been great and I think I would have gone mad without it. And how are you both? You’re looking well,” he observed, sitting up.

“We are well,” Mortimer answered, smiling down at him.

“And you’ve timed it nicely,” Andrews continued. “Titanic’s repairs should be finished this morning and she is due out of drydock this afternoon.”

“Ah! No doubt M. le Gonville will be pleased,” Hartenstein remarked.

“Don’t mention the man, old boy. Don’t mention him! He has been demanding every day when is the work going to be finished and they’ve been at it twenty-four hours a day. Unfortunately, besides missing rivets they found a few loose ones as well, so a few more had to be replaced. But never mind. She’ll be sound now for another thirty years. M. le Gonville says never again. Next time no more rivetting, her plates will be heat-sealed like a modern ship and that will be the end of it. I told him she wouldn’t look like Titanic any more, nor would any of the older ships without all their rivets, but he is adamant - no more replacing rivets.”

“Never mind. It’s all over now, so let us have some breakfast.”
“Yes!” Andrews agreed. “And you can tell me all about your adventures with the Miranda.”

The three men enjoyed a hearty breakfast at which Mortimer’s tales of the mishaps of the Miranda’s crew had Andrews in stitches.

Later they journeyed to Titanic’s drydock to see the final touches of new paint being applied to her hull. M. le Gonville was also in attendance to witness Andrews signing off on the repair work.

“Merci beaucoup, M. le Gonville. The repair crews have done an excellent job.”

“Considering the little amount of time they had,” the diminutive Frenchman sniffed. “All this wasting time rivetting in the name of history is nonsense.”

“But, Monsieur, Titanic is part of history,” Andrews protested.

“M. le Capitaine, when you have to replace...” he glanced at his paperwork, “...257,472 rivets, then you may defend ‘history’ to me. No, no, no, Monsieur, I will not have my men endure the abuse of local residents because they have to work twenty-four hours a day on ‘history’. And the noise? Bang! they are pulled out; bang, bang! they are pushed in. You can hear the noise of it all over the city! No one has any sleep because of your precious Titanic. She is over-sized and over-engineered. Worst of all she has three million rivets!”

“M. le Gonville, if welding had been invented when I designed her believe me I would have used it, but rivets were all that we had to hold steel plates together.”

“Precisely, Monsieur, and that is the very reason they should be replaced on all old ships. Rivets are a thing of the past yet we still have to employ men to handle red hot rivets.”

“For your information, M. le Gonville, one day I spoke to those men at the end of a shift and they said that using rivet guns was tedious and tiring but they were proud to work on Titanic and they would not want to see her plates welded.”

“For your information, Monsieur le Capitaine, while those men were wasting time replacing your ship’s precious rivets there is far more important work they could be doing.” He shook his head and waggled his forefinger. “No, no, no, Monsieur, there will be no more of your historic rivets. I shall speak to the Admiralty about this. I bid you good day.”

As he swept away, accompanied as always by his two assistants, Andrews sighed.

“That man always gives me a headache,” he muttered to no one in particular.

At precisely midday the largest drydock in Homeport began to fill rapidly and some thirty minutes later its sole occupant floated free as tugs hauled the liner Titanic out into the harbour and back to her accustomed berth.

In the captain’s quarters the traditional Christmas toast was being held while in one of her decorative first class suites two U-boat officers toasted each other with champagne and were reacquainted under a sprig of mistletoe.

* * *