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Fic: To Save a Queen Part 2 of 2

A sequel to "Smoke on Water"

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: PG-13 for some violence
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count this section: 4,460
Total word count: 8,250
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters, some violence
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Characters borrowed from BBC strictly for playing with, not profit. No offence intended. This is purely a work of fiction.
Summary: A thunderstorm heralds a race against time to prevent a disaster.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.

In the morning, the crew were back aboard, however, U-156, without Titanic to escort, was, at least for the time being, going nowhere. Dockyard Security telephoned to say that they had captured the U-boat which had succeeded in committing what the morning press called 'An act of heinous sabotage on an international treasure'. Hartenstein smiled grimly at that. Dockyard Security had kept the press away during the night but no doubt this morning Captain Andrews would be besieged by them.

He requested that he be allowed to interview the commander who, along with his crew, was being held in a secure area of the docks. As he and Mortimer left the boat they observed a large crowd of people who had come to see the tugs moving the wounded Titanic from her berth. A salvage crew were aboard and her pumps were working hard, great gushes of water streaming down her listing hull as she was slowly turned to be towed the half mile distance to the dry-docks.

"This time her watertight doors saved her," Mortimer remarked, watching the tugs deftly manoeuvring the huge vessel.

"It always was a good design - witness all the vessels which have it today - but nothing is foolproof where the ocean is concerned."

"True, even in this realm," Mortimer agreed.

"Andrews says his chief engineer is tearing his hair out over the damage the salt water will do to his precious engines. He says he told him he was lucky to have engines at all."

Mortimer chuckled and Hartenstein smiled at him as they made their way to Admiralty headquarters where the crew of U-423 were being held. Hartenstein was wearing his old leather jacket to show the other U-boat captain that he was indeed who he said he was.

The two men entered a suite replete with pastel furniture and overstuffed cushions, a well-stocked bar and a view of the harbour.

The two men already occupying the room rose to their feet as Hartenstein introduced himself and his first officer.

"Doppelmeier, U-423. My first, Jan Bodendorf."

"Come, let us be comfortable. It's a nice day. We'll sit outside."

"You're not afraid that we'd escape?"

"Of course not. Where would you go?" Hartenstein replied rather nonchalantly.

Mortimer poured drinks and they repaired to a large verandah to sit under a wide pagoda on comfortable cane furniture.

"Ah, this is nice," Hartenstein remarked. "I trust that you've been treated well since you were brought here."

Doppelmeier, a tall, thin man with sallow cheeks and sandy blonde hair, nodded. "I confess we have been treated far better than I expected."

"And your crew?"

"The same. I have been allowed to see them. They wish to know where we are. So do I."

"Where do you think you are, Captain?"

To Hartenstein's keen gaze the man seemed uncertain.

"I confess I... I'm not certain. This harbour is vast, at least what I've seen of it. There are ships here that... that I've never seen before. Many appear quite old and... and there are so many of them. I have seen U-boats too, but they don't appear to be sinking any of the ships, yet I'm certain many of these ships are not German, or even Italian."

"Very good, Captain. See down there in the main channel..." he indicated with his eyes, "...there is a U-boat leading a liner. Looks like the St Anne. What do you think, Mortimer?"

"Yes, it looks like her, and there's another one following. That could be her sister ship St Marie. They're very much alike."

"Notice how they're both being escorted out of the harbour by U-boats?"

Doppelmeier found himself staring at the numbers on the U-boats. "Mein Gott! I remember them. U-190 and U-186! I knew their commanders," he gasped. "But what...? What are they doing? Why are they escorting those vessels?"

"Because they go to hunt. Oh, not as you might imagine, Captain. They are not ships of war. Here, we are all warriors of peace. Those vessels are going to hunt for survivors; survivors such as yourselves and your crew who have made the transition to this, the Fourth Realm."

Bodendorf, who had thus far remained silent, now spoke up.

"The 'Fourth Realm'?" he asked somewhat uncertainly.

"Yes, the Fourth," Mortimer replied. "And we all seem to have got here the same way. Same goes for all the vessels out there."

Doppelmeier stared from Mortimer to Hartenstein and back again.

"Ja, meine colleague," Hartenstein answered the unasked question gently.

The two newcomers froze, their expressions saying plainly what their lips could not; a scream of denial, followed inevitably by the question: could it possibly be true? Followed by more denial. No, it couldn't. It couldn't possibly be true.

"You were sunk, were you not?" Hartenstein asked quietly.

"Of course not," Doppelmeier replied without hesitation. "We were damaged, yes, but that's all. These people have my U-boat and they are holding it without my consent."

"'These people' are the International Admiralty," Mortimer explained, "for whom we all work now and they have every right to confiscate your boat since you entered the harbour illegally and proceeded to conduct a raid."

Doppelmeier didn't bother to deny it. "I have never heard of such an organization," he replied. "Where is the Kriegsmarine?"

"Here, they do not exist. Tell me how your boat was damaged," Hartenstein coaxed.

Doppelmeier shook his head. "Damned American destroyer. They have good sonar. They tracked us and tracked us. Tried laying low in silence but after five hours when we moved again there he was, and the depth charges started again." He took another swig of his scotch.

"And what is the last thing you remember?" Hartenstein asked.

"The midsection was breached and the tanks were damaged. We closed the hatches but we were getting flooded... and we were sinking. I was sure that all was lost." Again, he shook his head.

"And then?" Hartenstein prodded.

"And then... I... I can't seem to..." He turned to his first officer. "Bodendorf, can you remember what happened then? I... I seem to have a gap in my memory."

However, Bodendorf shook his head. "I remember the same as you, Captain. We were sinking to the bottom... and then somehow we were on the surface, but I don't remember how we got there."

Hartenstein gazed into the troubled U-boat commander's blue eyes. "My friend, do you know how many times I've heard variations of that same story? Those who come here are spared the memory of their actual sinking. They know only that somehow, by some miracle, they were not sunk when they were certain that they would be." He shook his head. "I, too, suffered the same fate." He took a deep breath. "Look at that peaceful scene. Look at it. Do you see any evidence of war? Do you see the Third Reich? Do you see the Kriegsmarine? No, and you won't find them here. U-boats are used only for protection. They are used to guard the rescue ships from newly arrived vessels fresh from the war in the Third Realm who are likely to torpedo them as they don't yet realize that they've arrived in a realm of peace."

"Are you saying that we...?" He could not bring himself to say it.

"Died?" Bodendorf asked, his troubled eyes betraying his fear.

Hartenstein and Mortimer nodded in silence.

"Nein, nein, nein! I can't be dead. I can't be," Doppelmeier moaned. "If I was dead I would not exist any more."

"And yet you do. We all do," Hartenstein responded quietly.

"This is impossible. If it's true... what you said, then I should not exist any more. Death is supposed to be the end. It has to be! It has to be the end!" he said hopelessly.

"Listen to me, my friend," Hartenstein began. "It is no more the end than the tide turning. There is no 'end', as you think of it, for any of us. Look around you. You have come to a wonderful place. A place where there is no war, no Third Reich and no Allies, no fighting day and night for your very life; no constant danger of being sunk; a place where you can wake up in the morning and look forward to the day ahead. Is that not something to be anticipated?"

"But... but I wanted to win the war for the glory of the Reich." Doppelmeier shook his head mournfully as tears began to run down his cheeks.

"We all did, my friend, but, for us, it's over. No more fighting and dying."

Bodendorf noticed his commanding officer's distress. "Captain?" Hesitantly, he reached out to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Captain, please," he pleaded softly, not knowing what he wanted to say, only knowing that somehow he had to reach out to this man whom he respected and admired.

However, Doppelmeier shrugged away his help. "Do not touch me!" he exclaimed.

"It's all right to feel grief," Hartenstein continued. "It is... a wrench, is it not? One minute you're in a war and desperate to win it, and the next you are told you will have no further part in it."

Doppelmeier continued to shake his head in a gesture of hopelessness.

"Think of it not as an ending but a new beginning," Mortimer encouraged. "For you, one life is over, but another is beginning, and it will be a great new life where you can do as you wish. If you don't wish to go back to sea you don't have to. Captain Hartenstein and his crew chose to go back to sea in U-156 and we escort a very famous ship - by coincidence the very same vessel you tried to sink last night."

Hartenstein gazed into the man's eyes. "My first officer and myself were aboard last night when your men attacked. Early this morning the ship was towed to drydock for repairs. Your men did a good job, my friend. Fortunately, that vessel is probably the most unsinkable in the whole harbour, though you were not to know that when you chose it." His expression changed to one of curiosity. "And just how did you come to choose that particular vessel, Captain?" he added.

"I... We... It was one of the first ones we saw and it was by far the largest."

"And do you know the identity of that vessel?" Hartenstein asked, his expression quizzical.

"I saw the name but I thought it was some kind of trick." He shrugged, wiping his face. "Titanic sank many years ago."

"Thirty one years ago to be exact. That is when she came here, broken in two. She has been made far stronger, her hull and bow reinforced so that for all practical purposes she is indeed unsinkable now, as you and your men proved last night."

"It can't be the real Titanic," Doppelmeier stated emphatically.

"As I stated previously, my friend, not only people come here but vessels too. Titanic has been restored to her former glory and is by far the most popular cruise ship here. That reminds me - your U-boat is a larger model and it, too, will be repaired and upgraded. Who it will be crewed by is up to you and your men. If you do not wish to undertake escort or patrol duty it will not be held against you and you may take up other occupations as you please."

"Mein Gott, we tried to sink Titanic," Bodendorf moaned softly.

"Her master is a good friend. I'll arrange a tour if you like."

Doppelmeier was silent. It was Bodendorf who spoke up.

"I would like a tour. I would like to apologize to her master for trying to sink his famous ship."

Doppelmeier nodded. "Quite right, Bodendorf. You are more courageous than I, and it is I, most of all, who owes her master an apology."

"I'll see to it," Hartenstein assured him. "Like all the other vessels, when she is on a rescue mission she carries friends and families so that when the survivors board her they see familiar faces. Yours is the first U-boat from the Third to enter the harbour. You must have been sunk very close by."

Doppelmeier nodded. "We were just off the coast hoping to find a safe cove where we could hide from the American destroyer, but instead..." His voice trailed off before he gazed curiously at Hartenstein.

"Captain Hartenstein, I seem to know your name, but I can't remember..."

"I was given an award."

"That's it! You were awarded the Knight's Cross! Then later I heard that your boat was lost with all hands."

"Yes," Hartenstein answered simply.

"I have also heard of you, Captain Hartenstein," Bodendorf said. "You were well respected."

Doppelmeier turned his attention to Mortimer. "Mr Mortimer, your accent is not German."

"That's because I'm British," Mortimer answered with a smile.

"Yet you serve as an officer on a German U-boat?" Bodendorf inquired, astonished.

"Captain Hartenstein sank my ship, the Laconia - she, too, is here - but he rescued as many as he could. We became friends."

"A Britischer serving on a U-boat? Now I truly know that I'm somewhere else," Bodendorf decided.

"I'm not the only one," Mortimer responded. "There are many others of different nationalities. Women too."

"Women?" Doppelmeier inquired incredulously.

Hartenstein and Mortimer nodded.

"On U-boats?" Bodendorf asked.

Again, their hosts nodded. It was Mortimer who explained.

"In many cases after coming here and being repaired they are abandoned by their former crews who have no wish to put to sea in them again. Others have to be found to crew them. Women work on them in all capacities including commanders and engineers."

"Mein Gott!" Doppelmeier exclaimed softly. "What kind of world is this?"

"A world at peace," Hartenstein answered quietly.

"And where all are equal," Mortimer added.

"You... You said friends and families of survivors...?"

"Captain Doppelmeier, Mr Bodendorf, I'm pleased to tell you that we have found family members from both your families; friends too, and," he paused to check his deck watch, "they are waiting for you now downstairs in the reception area. Your crew will also be there along with their friends and families."

Both men stared at Hartenstein.

"Can this be true?" Doppelmeier asked, slowly beginning to hope.

Hartenstein smiled, rising to his feet. "Come and you shall see."

The large reception area was brimming with people as the four men entered it to find themselves in a sea of happy faces. Hartenstein farewelled the newcomers as he saw the captain reunited with his mother and others that he knew. Bodendorf, too, was surrounded by people who were hugging him.

The two U-boat officers looked at each other and Hartenstein winked as they left the emotional scenes behind them and made their way outside into the late afternoon sunshine.

Later, they caught transport around to the huge drydock area to see Titanic, now sitting high and dry in her cradle at Drydock No. 1. It was sunset now and her upper decks reflected the pinks and golds of the sky as the lights came on. Brightly illuminated, her enormous hull clearly showed the damage the bombs had caused, her plates bent outwards to show two gaping holes below the waterline. Pumps were still working and water was gushing down her hull as the salvage crew worked on removing the remaining water.

"Mein Gott, she is like an iceberg," Hartenstein mused. "So much of her is normally underwater."

"She's like a giant, beached whale," Mortimer observed as they walked along the nearby dock seeing her bare hull from her high bow to the stern with its enormous triple screws. The bow was the most surprising. Captain Andrews had told them how he had had to have it reinforced due to the vessel's propensity for hitting icebergs but that part was normally concealed underwater. Now it was clearly visible and jutted out to form a bulbous point that could easily break an iceberg in two.

The press photographers were still there but far fewer than before. As the sunset began to fade the last of them left and the two U-boat officers were given permission to board the vessel.

A tired-looking Captain Andrews was very glad to see them, greeting them and taking them to his private quarters. "I'm afraid half the electricals are out including the galley. We can manage coffee and sandwiches. Unfortunately, the galley staff are having to dispose of tons of food that's going bad. The engineers say it will be another forty-eight hours before power is back on throughout the ship."

"That is bad news," Hartenstein sympathized.

Andrews sighed. "They say the breaches in the hull will be the easiest parts to repair. They simply have to replicate the damaged plates. The reinforcing will take a bit longer; so their best estimate is about a fortnight. What will take longer is repairing and refurbishing the waterlogged sections, especially the engines and electricals. My chief engineer is moaning about the damage salt water does to turbines and delicate parts and it will all have to be drained and cleaned out and it will take weeks even with help from the dock engineers." He shook his head and threw up his hands. "I'd take a holiday but I can't possibly leave the old girl when she's in this state. Besides, I have to oversee the refurbishing."

"Come, come!" Hartenstein rose to his feet. "You will come with us and we will have some dinner and then you will feel better."

"You haven't had any sleep either, have you?" Mortimer queried.

Again, the man shook his head. "Too much to do."

"Time you had a break. Come with us," Hartenstein urged.

Andrews was hesitant. "I suppose I can take a small break." He made up his mind. "Very well. A word with the first."

He was at least relieved when the first officer reported that the salvage crew had almost finished pumping out the flooded sections of the ship.

When the three men left the ship it did not take them long to find a restaurant and settle down to a fine meal of freshly caught fish after which the two U-boat officers insisted that Captain Andrews accompany them back to their boat.

"No, no, no. I have to get back to the ship."

"And we insist," a determined Mortimer exclaimed as the two men took him by the arms as they procured transport back to the boat.

"But I must know what's going on," Andrews protested.

"You can call Titanic from the boat," Hartenstein replied.

"No, no. I really must..."

"Too late. We're here now," Mortimer said somewhat smugly.

Andrews gave up as they led him down the gangway and onto the boat.

Mortimer unlocked the hatch, climbing down to turn up the lights and air circulation as the others followed.

"Watch your head, Captain," he warned.

Each time he came aboard Andrews never ceased to be amazed at how compact the vessel was as he gazed around the small, empty bridge and compared it to his own spacious one.

Hartenstein contacted Titanic and handed him the telephone receiver.

The conversation was brief. "My first says they're mopping up."

"There! All is well," Hartenstein declared.

"As well as it can be in the circumstances." Andrews sounded resigned to his fate.

"Captain, you have never had a tour of the engine room, have you," Hartenstein realized.

Andrews frowned. "Why, no. There was never time."

"Allow me," Hartenstein said with a flourish.

Andrews was surprised by how small the whole vessel was, especially the engine room. Why the size of the shaft was so tiny compared to Titanic's that it was like a tinker toy. It's a wonder the vessel moved at all, he thought, picturing Titanic's gigantic shafts and screws.

"Small, isn't it?" Mortimer remarked as they showed him the even smaller galley.

So small that he was amazed anything at all got prepared there.

"Crew's quarters this way," Mortimer said.

They must live in each other's pockets, Andrews reflected, but they were neat and tidy. Finally, they entered the captain's small quarters.

"It's not big but it's home," Hartenstein said with a smile as they sat down.

How little these men had, Andrews realized, and yet they never complained. Their work was often hazardous too - witness last night - yet they were content, even happy, with their lot, and here he was complaining when he had his own spacious quarters to go to, he chastised himself.

"Forgive me, my friends. I... I complain far too much. I forget how spoiled I am."

Mortimer poured them each a cognac.

"You have good reason to complain, Captain. After all, your ship was sabotaged. Let us drink to a speedy repair."

"To a speedy repair," Andrews repeated.

They raised their glasses.

"Mm, good cognac," Andrews praised.

"We have our little luxuries," Mortimer said.

"Titanic will be all right," Hartenstein assured. "And I have no doubt that security will now be stepped up around the docks."

"Yes," Mortimer agreed. "They can't afford to have this happen again."

Andrews nodded. "I wouldn't want to see this happen to any other vessel. Titanic was only saved because you were able to find the bombs below decks."

"And thanks to her excellent design," Hartenstein added.

"Nonetheless, you saved my ship - both of you - and I will never forget this."

They finished their brandy.

"And now, my friends, I really must go," Andrews said, rising.

"Oh, no!" Mortimer exclaimed.

"Definitely not," Hartenstein agreed.

"No, my friends, I really must be going," Andrews protested.

"You're not going anywhere, Captain, except to bed," Hartenstein ordered.

"Look here, Hartenstein, I know you mean well but..."

Andrews found himself firmly held as Hartenstein removed his jacket and Mortimer proceeded to undo the buttons on his shirt.

"You'll never get any sleep on the ship, Captain, so you're sleeping here," Hartenstein stated firmly.

"Look here, you two, you know I can't sleep here. Now give me back my clothes," Andrews demanded.

"Too late, Captain," Mortimer said as they removed his trousers and made him sit down so they could remove his shoes.

He was now down to underwear and socks.

"In you get," Mortimer ordered.

"And no more protests," Hartenstein said as he turned down the bed.

"Oh, really, my friends, this isn't necessary."

"We'll be the judge of that," Hartenstein replied as both he and Mortimer also undressed down to their underwear.

Andrews stared at them. "You... You're coming to bed too?"

"Of course," Mortimer said.

"But... But there isn't room," Andrews protested.

"There's plenty of room," Hartenstein said. "Move over."


"There. You see?" Mortimer said as the two men slid into bed. "Plenty of room."

"Don't worry, Captain. We're just going to sleep," Hartenstein assured him. "Your virtue is quite safe with us."

"Besides, you're in between us so we can't get up to any hankypanky," Mortimer, too, assured him.

"Well I suppose that's true," Andrews grudgingly admitted.

"So go to sleep," Mortimer urged.

"I confess I do feel sleepy," the tired man admitted. "So much has happened... and..."

"And you were very brave," Hartenstein whispered.

"Yes, Captain, very brave," Mortimer agreed.

Thomas Andrews slept.

When he was sure Andrews was sound asleep Mortimer got out of bed to notify Titanic's first officer where his commanding officer could be found and under no circumstances was he to be disturbed.

He put down the phone and slipped back into bed, leaning over their guest to share a goodnight kiss with his captain. They turned their heads to gaze on the peaceful countenance of the young, fair-headed man in their bed and smiled, knowing their work was done. They settled down for the night, each with an arm around him.

Thomas Andrews slept soundly for several hours wrapped in the arms of two U-boat officers. When he awoke he had no idea what the time was. Damn U-boats had no portholes, he thought. Unfortunately, that was his last coherent thought for the next five minutes as his head began to ache and throb so badly that he could not form a coherent thought. He was vaguely aware that his companions were also awake and their presence soothed him as one rubbed his temples and another placed a damp cloth on his forehead. He had been through this once before and he knew it was the U-boat's way of healing. Indeed he had once described it to the newly arrived young German commander as being 'rough and ready'. How long ago that seemed now, and how much they had all been through since then.

Finally, the awful headache was gone and peace reigned.

"Better now?" Mortimer asked solicitously.

He nodded. "I do feel better. Much better," he realized. "And I must get back to my ship." Belatedly, he noticed a nearby clock on a bulkhead. "Oh, my god, is that the time? I must go."

He hopped out of bed and began to dress in a hurry.

"Ah, but on your ship you can only have a cold breakfast and the captain is cooking you a hot breakfast," Mortimer announced just as Hartenstein walked into the room carrying a tray. "And here it is."

"Look here, Hartenstein, you two are really spoiling me."

"Sit down, Captain, and enjoy your breakfast. It's not every day I slave over a hot stove."

"Oh, dear, I have to confess that a hot breakfast does sound good - and smells even better!"

After a decent, hot breakfast washed down with a large mug of strong coffee he farewelled them and thanked them for their their kindness.

"I really do feel so much better thanks to you and your great little vessel. How can I thank you?"

On deck, he hugged them both and raced off across the gangway, his lone figure rapidly disappearing towards the nearby transport hub which would take him back to his vessel.

The two U-boat officers also departed headed for Admiralty headquarters.

As they walked along Mortimer glanced across the busy docks to Titanic's own special dock, now empty of the vessel's presence. "When we're berthed she's always there."

Hartenstein followed Mortimer's gaze. "She will be back in the water soon enough. Meanwhile we must meet with the admirals and then there is the good Dr Benson."

Mortimer rolled his eyes. "The good doctor won't be happy. She'll say we've been indulging in violence once more."

"But we know how to handle her, do we not?" Hartenstein winked.

Mortimer laughed at his grinning lover, throwing an arm around him as they strode along in the bright sunshine.

Two women walking in the opposite direction gave the laughing men more than a passing glance.

"Told you!" one of them said. "All the best-looking men are in U-boats."

* * *