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Novella: Convoy Duty Part 2 of 3

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1942 A/U
Word count this section: 5,430
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters, some violence and angst
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 is in a dangerous situation and Mortimer is in peril.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: This is a direct sequel to "Not a Hollywood Movie".

In the Third Realm the first thing Mortimer noticed was the complete change in the weather. The Atlantic Ocean went from smooth to rough in the space of a second, the sky from blue to heavy, grey clouds, the wind from a gentle breeze to a gale. The other thing he noticed was the all-encompassing depression he felt. It was more than just the knowledge of how many people were dying on both sides but the sheer loss of life that filled him with sadness. He couldn't help but remember his own grief at the news of the loss of his own family. Briefly, he considered that, since he was from the 4D Realm, perhaps he felt it more acutely than the others. He dismissed the thought when he saw the grim expression on Hartenstein's countenance. The captain had spoken to the crew, and all were aware that their role was be a silent one. They could run interference but on no account were they allowed to use weapons of any kind. All they really had for protection was the radar which could project their presence anywhere they wished within a fifty nautical mile radius to other ship's radars while hiding their real position. Such was the loyalty of the crew that all had volunteered to take part in the mission to support their commanding officer.

As for U-156, she had been painted in her old regalia and was allowed to use her old colours. Indeed when her commanding officer had seen her he was sure his life was happening in reverse.

The crew of U-156 found themselves positioned one nautical mile north of the convoy. In the conning tower they were utilizing their binoculars. Many of the ships were now visible. They had been given an image of the Stockton Guild and they were just able to pick it out. It was one of the largest and carrying a cargo or raw steel. In the foreground they could see one of the American cruisers armed to the teeth.

Hartenstein, studying it, thought how once upon a time not that long ago he could so easily have put a couple of torpedoes in her then finished her off with the guns before going to work on the convoy. Ah, but those days were long gone now and he was merely an observer. He smiled a somewhat ironic smile and caught Mortimer looking at him. The latter winked at him and Hartenstein nodded in acknowledgement of his first officer's uncompromising support before both returned to their binoculars. As the convoy travelled east Hartenstein ordered them to get underway, staying parallel to the Stockton Guild which was positioned towards the rear of the group. So far only the ships of the convoy were all that was showing on the radar and they silently prayed that it would stay that way.

"Captain, radar reports the cruiser is turning, sir."

As three of the men in the conning tower once more trained their binoculars in the direction of the American cruiser they saw that it had indeed turned - and in their direction.

"Well, well. Her crew is alert," Hartenstein observed, promptly ordering a dive. As the alarm sounded throughout the vessel the men quickly scrambled below deck and the hatch was secured, U-156 silently disappearing beneath the Atlantic waves just as the first shot rang out from the cruiser.

Once out of sight the vessel proceeded underwater to the midst of the convoy while its radar allowed the US vessel to think it was proceeding north-east. Hartenstein was pleased but reminded himself that it would take another ten days of this duck and dodge procedure before the mission was over.

In the centre of the convoy they came up to periscope depth directly to the rear of one of the convoy vessels. As luck would have it, the name clearly emblazoned on the stern turned out to be 'Stockton Guild', and there, on the stern, stood a somewhat podgy figure and even though he was wearing rough clothing, boots and sporting a beard and moustache he was unmistakable. Hartenstein beckoned Mortimer to the periscope, directing him to look at the stern. The latter had a good look before handing it back to the captain. As their eyes met his look of recognition was unmistakable.

"He should not expose himself like that," Hartenstein muttered sotto voce.

"He's very stubborn," Mortimer murmured. "Of course we don't know anyone like that, do we."

Their eyes met, Hartenstein unable to keep the amusement from his eyes, his first officer pursing his lips in an effort to hide his smile but not quite succeeding.

Four days passed, the U-boat's sophisticated radar able to either project their image elsewhere to keep the American cruisers on their toes, or simply shield it as they remained submerged behind the cargo vessel they were assigned to protect with the American cruisers unable to detect their presence.

On the fifth night the U-boat's radar detected not one but two unknown vessels, one to starboard and one to port of the convoy. The two cruisers broke off to engage them. On U-156 Hartenstein was following developments closely. The cruiser to port was laying depth charges but they could see on the radar that it wasn't close enough to harm the U-boat. Meanwhile to starboard the cruiser had apparently lost track of the U-boat when it had performed a deep dive and was circling in a hopeless effort to find it. After some twenty minutes its commander apparently gave up and rejoined the convoy.

Hartenstein shook his head, ordering coffee for himself and Mortimer as the crew changed over for evening mess. He watched as the new crew were briefed on the situation as he and Mortimer stayed at their posts. Later, they took a brief break to have a bite to eat, Hartenstein leaving Mannesmann in charge with instructions to notify him of any changes to the status quo.

Meal over and feeling rejuvenated Mortimer slipped his arms around his lover and they hugged a little in the privacy of the captain's quarters.

"We will be well," Hartenstein assured the other man.

Mortimer, gazing into his eyes, nodded. "Remember, no matter what happens, we'll be together."

Hartenstein briefly squeezed him before they separated once more, straightened their uniforms and headed back on duty.

On the bridge the radar operator announced that the U-boat to starboard was now at periscope depth.

"Sir, she's launched a torpedo!"

"Sheisse! At which vessel?" Hartenstein demanded.

"A small one on the outside of the convoy, sir."

In silence they counted the seconds before shortly feeling the shockwave of the torpedo strike. The nearest American cruiser was on the U-boat's tail, however, the U-boat dove and proceeded into the convoy where it was difficult for the cruiser to follow because of the danger of a collision. Meanwhile the other cruiser was now chasing the other U-boat which seemed to be leading it away from the convoy.

Hartenstein appeared grim as they followed the progress of the first U-boat which had now slowed and was once more at periscope depth. In less then ten minutes the Stockton Guild would pass right by it at a distance of less than half a mile. He ordered the helmsman to take them to port of the vessel, placing U-156 directly between the unknown U-boat and the ship.

At periscope depth he watched. At seven minutes he gave the order to surface.

"I am counting on the U-boat commander not to fire on another U-boat," he muttered.

The moment the conning tower was above water he climbed onto it followed by Mortimer and a helmsman. They were approximately fifty metres from the Stockton Guild as they searched for the German U-boat off the port bow.

Close by Hartenstein spotted a periscope and pointed it out as it was trained on them.

"We've been seen. Let us see what her commander makes of us," he remarked, imagining the conversation taking place and the questions being asked such as what U-boat was this and what was it doing in the middle of a convoy while apparently making no attempt to sink any of the ships. He smiled grimly wondering what he himself would make of such a sight if he were in their place. He decided he would observe, at least for a while, before deciding that this must be a decoy; perhaps a captured U-boat now commanded by the Allies and he would attempt to sink it. Let them try, he thought. Although he had neither guns or torpedoes to protect the convoy he had been told nothing about the hull of the boat itself and, if necessary, he could use it as a buffer to protect the cargo ship. Indeed should the situation become dire he saw no reason not to utilize it to ram another vessel especially since the hull was now much stronger than the hulls of the two U-boats currently stalking the convoy.

The U-boat which had spotted them launched yet another torpedo hitting another ship. The first ship had now sunk though it appeared that the crew had launched a boat and the nearest American cruiser was now picking up the survivors. Hartenstein shook his head at this procedure as it left the cruiser vulnerable to the U-boats. In his opinion they should have waited until the U-boats were either sunk or disabled before picking up the crew since they were in a boat and not in any imminent danger.

As Mortimer watched the second vessel was now also sinking rapidly and, like the first, he prayed that everyone would manage to get off it before it went down. He found he had to remind himself that those who went down with it would be rescued in the Fourth Realm. However, nearby as they were, the desperate cries of the men jarred his nerves for they had no way of knowing that, in this realm or the Fourth, they would live and be rescued.

All of a sudden everything seemed to happen at once. The radar operators reported that nearly a mile away on the other side of the convoy the other American cruiser had managed to sink the other German U-boat though not before it, too, had launched torpedoes and hit another vessel in the convoy. After that it had sunk out of sight, disappearing from the radar. As Hartenstein digested this bullets rang out from the Stockton Guild as her crew fired on them and they all ducked down in the conning tower; all, that is, except for Hartenstein who was watching for torpedoes coming from the other direction. He knew that they would get warning from the radar operator but he preferred to trust his own eyes.

"Torpedo headed for the cargo ship, sir!" the radar operator shouted. "Headed for the bow, sir!"

"Sheisse!" Hartenstein muttered before ordering full speed ahead. U-156, being shorter in length than the Stockton Guild, the cargo ship's bow and stern were vulnerable to an accurate torpedo strike and the nearby U-boat's commander was indeed accurate. Silently, Hartenstein could not but admire his skill even as he ordered the boat's bow to be level with the ship's. However, as the U-boat ploughed through the water to better protect the defenceless cargo vessel he knew they were in for a heavy shock. "Brace for impact!" he announced over the boat's intercom.

When it came the explosion lifted the narrow U-boat into the air, the concussion knocking people off their feet, the noise deafening. People were still picking themselves up when Mortimer happened to spot a second torpedo. In alarm he called out to Hartenstein who once again ordered all to brace for impact. It was with some relief that the torpedo passed harmlessly by to stern, also passing by the Stockton Guild. Mortimer found himself praying that it wouldn't hit any other convoy ships. He also noted that the crew of the cargo ship seemed to have ceased firing at them, at least for now, and he wondered if they realized that they had been saved by the very vessel they were firing on.

As Mannesmann and Waldemar took over the conning tower captain and first officer went below to inspect the damage. Rostau reported cracks and seepage but only one serious leak which was now in the process of being sealed and the water mopped up. Satisfied with the work, Hartenstein was heading for the bridge when he collapsed right in front of Mortimer who managed to grab him just before he hit the deck.

"Captain! Captain, what's wrong?" he demanded.

In silence, Hartenstein held his hand up to his shoulder as Mortimer called out for help and carried his fallen comrade into their quarters.

Quickly, he undid the man's leather jacket which was concealing a considerable amount blood which was soaking his chest from a bullet wound below the collar bone. Horrified, Mortimer immediately sent for Remmert and waited while he examined Hartenstein who was now clearly in pain. The verdict was not good: The bullet was lodged deep in him and he needed an operation to remove it.

"How bad is he bleeding?" Mortimer inquired frantically..

"Bad enough."

"It's vital we carry on with our mission. Do we need to remove the bullet right now?"

Remmert was grim. "In my opinion, sir, yes. He's losing too much blood."

"No. No operation," Hartenstein protested weakly. "Must complete... mission."

Mortimer ignored him. "Can you do it?" he asked Remmert.

"I believe so, sir. I have instruments and sufficient anaesthetic. However it would be better if he was on the bench in the mess. The light is much better there."

Together, they moved the captain to the mess, Mortimer now worried sick as he carried his lover in his arms. He put him down gently on the long table as Remmert went to fetch his instruments.

Mortimer took his lover's hands and whispered in his ear "You'll be well, my captain. Don't try to talk. Save your strength." When Remmert returned he informed him that he had to take command.

Quickly, Mortimer checked on the repairs, which were proceeding well, before heading for the conning tower where Mannesmann reported that for the moment all was calm. The remaining U-boat was still being chased by the American cruiser so had not launched any more torpedoes for the time being; the Stockton Guild's crew were no longer firing on them, merely observing.

No doubt wondering what to make of a U-boat which took a torpedo meant for them, Mortimer thought grimly, desperate to be with his commanding officer as he was being operated on. Giving orders to inform him if anything changed, especially if the cruisers changed direction to come after them, he went below.

Remmert had already administered the anaesthetic and Hartenstein was unconscious as Mortimer watched an instrument being gradually inserted and manoeuvred. As he watched anxiously Remmert continued to gently manipulate the instrument.

"I think I have it."

Slowly, much to Mortimer's relief, Remmert extracted the bullet from inside the flesh.

Mortimer found himself sighing with relief. However, a fresh gush of blood poured from the wound and Remmert and his assistant helped to mop it up while applying pressure.

At that moment there was a call on the intercom and Mortimer went to answer it only to be informed by Mannesmann that one of the American cruisers was heading directly for them. Risky as it was with their new repairs, Mortimer had no choice but to order an emergency dive that would take them directly beneath the Stockton Guild. At least they would be safe there. They could still keep an eye on the ship and the remaining U-boat while using their radar to throw off the American cruiser. He had hoped not to have to perform a dive until the leaks were all fully repaired but there was no choice now.

An hour later Hartenstein, now back in his quarters, was stirring but he seemed to have trouble waking from the anaesthetic. Mortimer took his hands. "Captain, wake up. Come, my love, wake up." He kissed a bearded cheek. This produced an "Mmmm..."

Finally, large, sleepy, hazel eyes opened to focus on him.

"Mortimer? Is that you, meine liebe?"

"Of course it's me." Mortimer squeezed the man's hands tight. "It's all right. Remmert has removed the bullet. You have stitches and a big dressing on you so you must be careful. You mustn't start bleeding again. You've lost some blood but you were very lucky the bullet didn't strike an artery. How do you feel?"

Hartenstein gingerly felt the dressing on his chest. "I don't seem to be in pain," he said slowly.

"That's because you've had a shot of painkiller. You're probably a bit woozy from the anaesthetic so just take it easy."

Hartenstein gazed into his lover's eyes. "You promised me."

"Yes, I did. I said we'd be together and I meant it."

"What's happening now?"

"Mannesmann is in charge. The leaks are ninety-nine percent repaired and I ordered a crash dive. One of the cruisers came after us. We are currently at fifteen metres running directly below the Stockton Guild while the radar is misleading the cruisers. So don't worry - your boat is safe."

Hartenstein smiled for the first time since waking. "You are taking good care of my boat."

Mortimer returned the smile. "Always, my captain."

"Meine liebe, lie down beside me. I would hold you."

"Let me check on our status first."

Hartenstein nodded as Mortimer slipped out of their shared quarters. However, all was as before and he informed the crew that the captain was now awake before returning once more and divesting himself of cap, jacket and shoes before lying down and taking his lover in his arms, careful not to put any pressure on the wound.

"Just for a short while," he murmured, kissing a pale temple. "Feel better now?"

"I will - when you give me a real kiss," Hartenstein demanded as Mortimer leaned over to kiss him thoroughly but gently, causing the the wounded man to sigh with pleasure and relief.

He lay quietly for a few minutes until Hartenstein was deeply asleep before gently extricating himself and covering him up. Quickly, donning full uniform again, he went to check on the boat's condition. Much to everyone's relief the leaks had now all been sealed and the excess water mopped up. The radar was maintaining their invisibility to other vessels and the two American cruisers seemed to have lost track of the German U-boat and were back on escort duty. As for the U-boat, it was maintaining a more or less parallel course with the convoy some four nautical miles away but slowly falling behind. Mortimer found himself wondering if the U-boat was damaged, or if its commander had an ulterior motive such as picking off ships one by one at the rear of the convoy; that way they would be far more difficult for the cruisers to spot. He sighed. There was no way of telling with the radar. This mission was not over yet and the captain had already been wounded. He promised himself that when this was all over he would take him away where they could be together, just the two of them - and to hell with Dr Benson and the whole damned Admiralty.

For now Mortimer had managed to doze a little beside his captain who, he was relieved to see, was sleeping peacefully with no outward signs of disturbed sleep. At one stage the captain had partly woken, whispered "My Mortimer," and promptly fallen asleep again. Mortimer smiled, cuddled him in his arms, and dozed off again beside him.

Alas Mortimer's fears in regard to the second U-boat turned out to be well-founded as some two hours later came news that it had launched torpedoes at two more ships, this time at the rear of the convoy. One of the cruisers chased the U-boat as the other rescued survivors, however, both cargo ships shortly sank without trace. The Stockton Guild, now travelling at the centre of the convoy, remained safe.

Hartenstein awoke and dragged himself out of bed. Mortimer found him trying to dress and clearly in a lot of pain.

"Captain! Captain, you shouldn't be out of bed. You've lost a lot of blood. Everything is under control. Now get back into bed and I'll send for Remmert."

"Nein. I am getting up. I cannot command from my bed."

"It's our bed and the boat is well. I'm taking care of it, remember?"

Hartenstein gave a sigh and collapsed to sit on the bed.

"Forgive me, Mortimer. I know you are a good second-in-command. I... I don't know what's wrong with me. Ever since I've been in this realm... I... It seems to have affected me strangely."

Mortimer put his head out the door asking for Remmert before returning to his distracted captain.

"Shh. It's all right. I've been depressed ever since we came here. It feels... It feels so different. Like somehow..." He shook his head, searching for the right words to describe the intangible. "Like somehow... heavier... darker... a meaner world."

"Yes, like that. Only here, in this realm, would I have a nightmare in which you were about to be executed for treason."

At that moment Remmert arrived with some more painkiller, telling the captain that he should be in bed as he could easily pass out.

Remmert departed and Hartenstein reluctantly sat on the bed once more.

"Do you think they'll try again?" Mortimer asked.

"If they know who the special passenger is they will be back."

"We have already taken one hit; we cannot afford another one in the same place."

"I know."

Dengler arrived with lunch for two which included Yorkshire pudding.

Hartenstein managed to stand and make his way to the table to join Mortimer. He decided it smelled delicious. "Ah, the British influence on this vessel."

"You love it and Dengler has mastered the art of a good Yorkshire pud with beef. It's just what you need so get it down you."

After lunch Hartenstein got drowsy and Mortimer helped him back to bed where, still weak from loss of blood, he simply fell asleep.

That night, off the south coast of Ireland, the convoy was once more under attack, this time from three U-boats. The cruisers were busy attacking them with depth charges, however, the cargo ship had fallen back to the rear of the convoy whether from engine damage or some other reason Hartenstein didn't know, but it left her especially vulnerable to attack. One U-boat in particular was to starboard of the Stockton Guild and Hartenstein, now back on duty, ordered the U-boat to surface immediately to starboard of the ship in order to protect it.

When the radar operator called out that there was a torpedo incoming several crew members were on deck checking on the security of the guns. They had identified a problem with the forward gun and Mortimer had descended to the deck to ascertain how long it would take to remedy it. When the captain called out to brace for a torpedo strike all three men scrambled for the conning tower, Mortimer in the rear.

As the blast from the torpedo hit knocked everyone on deck off their feet it was Mortimer, who had not yet reached the conning tower, who was blown overboard by the concussion. Hartenstein, like the others, was picking himself up and the crew members who had been climbing up to the conning tower resumed their climb when somebody noticed that the first officer wasn't with them.

Hartenstein gazed around in alarm. He looked at the men who had now climbed into the conning tower. "Where is the first officer?" he demanded.

"He was right behind me, sir," one answered.

Everybody looked then, but there was no sign of the first officer on deck. Hartenstein immediately ordered the boat to come about and reverse course to search for the first officer.

By this time U-156 was well over one hundred yards from where Mortimer was last seen and as she turned and reversed course all eyes now searched the sea for him, Hartenstein's heart in his mouth as he used binoculars. However, in the darkness and the rough, choppy water he could see nothing. The convoy and the cruisers had now moved on and he ordered the search light on deck. Crew members were now lining the deck using torches and calling out. The addition of the strong searchlight helping to illuminate the darkness of the surrounding water.

Hartenstein found himself pleading for Mortimer to be all right, but where was he? Was he knocked unconscious by the concussion of the torpedo hit? If so, had he drowned? God, no! He felt ill at the thought and he could feel a blackness opening up to claim him, his mind crying out for his loved one. Where was he? He had to be here. He had to find him.

The search continued, the U-boat now making ever wider circles in the hope of finding the missing first officer.

He can't be dead, Hartenstein pleaded. He can't be! Please, please let us find him alive. Please, God, send him back to me.

Finally, after some ten minutes of frantic searching one of the crew members thought he spotted something floating in the water.

"There! There!" he cried, pointing to port. The searchlight and all torches were pointed at the designated area.

"Yes!" somebody cried. "There's somebody there!" someone else cried. "That's him!" another person said.

Hartenstein ordered all stop and even before he could climb down from the conning tower two crew members jumped overboard. Frantically, they swam the short distance to the object in the water.

"It's Mr Mortimer!" one cried.

As best they could they manhandled their burden back to the boat, the choppy waters washing over them.

The limp body of U-156's first officer was pulled aboard to lie helpless on the deck as the two crew members were also pulled aboard.

"Mortimer! Mortimer!" Hartenstein called out, lifting him to a sitting position and slapping his cold face gently - to no avail. He turned him over to lie on his stomach and began to manipulate him to press the water out of his lungs. "Come! Come, meine liebe! Breathe! You must breathe! Breathe for me!"

Suddenly, the body heaved and began to cough, water pouring out of Mortimer's mouth.

"Yes! Yes, meine liebe, yes! That's it! Cough it all up! Get it all out of you!"

Mortimer gasped for air, his body wracked with coughs until finally it eased off, Hartenstein helping him to sit up.

"Come, meine liebe! Let me get you below and warm you up."

Mortimer, still gasping, nodded, as Hartenstein helped him to his feet. Leaving Weber in charge with orders to get them back to the rear of the convoy, he helped Mortimer below, taking him immediately to his quarters.

Deftly, he stripped the shivering man, Mortimer now gazing at him with such love that it brought tears to his eyes.

"I knew you'd find me. I knew you would," he wheezed through chattering teeth, helping as much as he could.

"I had to find you, meine liebe. Now let me get you under a hot shower before you freeze to death."

"Wait! I think I'm going to vomit," Mortimer gasped, running naked for the head.

While he was gone Hartenstein ordered Dengler to warm up some broth.

"Better now?"

Mortimer nodded. "Must have swallowed half the ocean."

"It's good to get it out of you."

Hartenstein turned on the shower, making sure the water was steaming hot before a shivering Mortimer got under it, staying there for several minutes until he was comfortably warm. He emerged to be swathed in warm towels and dried vigorously before being helped into pajamas and robe.

When the steaming hot broth came he watched indulgently as Mortimer spooned some of it into him before dipping some crusty bread into it. It smelled so good he ordered some for himself too.

Mortimer consumed two dishes of the beef broth and three slices of bread, complaining that a good drowning gave him a hell of an appetite.

Hartenstein poured them both a brandy before calling the bridge to see what was happening. They were back at the rear of the convoy once more, the radar fooling the American cruisers, the Stockton Guild was still in one piece and there were no signs of U-boat activity. He told them to wake him at the first sign of a U-boat.

Hartenstein smiled indulgently at his first officer. "You were so pale but now the colour is back in your cheeks," he observed.

"Probably because I was frozen stiff, not to mention having a gutful of the Atlantic."

"I was so afraid that we wouldn't find you," Hartenstein confessed.

Mortimer reached out to cover the man's warm hand. "You will never lose me."

Hartenstein undressed and climbed into bed beside his lover so he could simply hold him. For now, he needed no more. He felt like a man reprieved from the gallows. However, some hours later he awoke from a nightmare; one that was so real it left him shaken; one that wakened him screaming, alarming Mortimer who grabbed onto him, calling his name repeatedly.

"Mortimer! Mein gott!"

"What? What is it? What did you dream?"

"Meine liebe, I was so frightened for you. You were going to be killed."

"Who? Who ordered this?"

"The British."

"You dreamt... that the British were going to kill me?"

Hartenstein nodded. "In my dream we were prisoners of the British. They said you were a collaborator and they had the evidence. They... They said that they had a witness that you were a Nazi collaborator and they ordered a firing squad and I... I begged them not to kill you. I said that you were never a collaborator but they wouldn't believe me and they put you before a firing squad and I was begging them not to shoot you, and you said 'Don't worry. We'll be together always', but they aimed their guns at you and I was still begging them not to shoot you but to kill me instead."

"Shh. It's just a bad dream. You saved me and we're together."

"But the dream seemed so real, almost like one of our shared dreams, but it was a nightmare. Such a nightmare."

"Perhaps it's a side effect of our being back in the Third Realm. Don't worry about it."

"No doubt you're right."

"Sleep now. Sleep in my arms."

"Will I be safe in your British arms?"

Mortimer smiled. "Always, meine feinen deutschen Kapitän. My British arms will keep you safe."

Gently, he kissed the tender mouth as Hartenstein's fingers fluttered over his face.

From a discrete distance they observed the Stockton Guild enter the port of Liverpool knowing she was safe now and could discharge her secret passenger. Even as the thought entered their minds, in the blink of an eye things changed. One minute the sea was grey and wind-tossed, the next it was sunny and calm with an azure blue sky overhead, the U-boat quite alone now, all other shipping having disappeared from the radar. Almost immediately there was a message on the radio from Admiralty headquarters welcoming them back. This was followed shortly by a second message, this one from Captain Andrews saying how glad he was to hear of their safe return and how he looked forward to their escorting the old girl once more. Hartenstein chuckled at this.

The men, forced to spend so much time below decks with the boat submerged, all climbed on deck to enjoy the fresh sea air and sunshine. In the conning tower captain and first officer had grins on their faces. Mortimer discretely squeezed Hartenstein's hand to find the gesture returned wholeheartedly. He wasn't sure if it was the constant tension brought on by the war in the Third but suddenly he felt lighter all over, his heart rejoicing at being back in a world at peace where he could live openly with his lover and not be brought before a court accused of the heinous crime of homosexuality. Even in his own country, in the Third Realm he could go to gaol. He could only wish that it would change soon.