Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Fic: One of Our U-boats is Missing

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex and some violence
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Total word count: 7,820
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 newly arrived freighter poses a danger to the Fourth Realm.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: This is a direct sequel to "To Save a Queen". If you haven't yet read that fic then you really need to go back and read it first as this won't make a lot of sense otherwise.

It was after sunset and Captain Werner Hartenstein and his first officer Thomas Mortimer were returning from a long walk along the coastal cliffs from their small villa in Spain. Now thoroughly exhausted they finally made it home. Titanic was still being repaired and their friend Captain Andrews was busy supervising it, so the crew of U-156 had been given a week's leave. The two men had been swimming every day, as well as cycling to the nearby village. Both were lean, fit and sun-tanned.

As they entered the house they found an envelope which had been pushed under the front door. Puzzled, both looked at it before Mortimer picked it up. It was addressed to Captain Hartenstein who duly opened it, promptly frowned and swore before handing it over to Mortimer who read it aloud.

"'You are both needed urgently. Your crew have been recalled. Sending transport. Strong.' Damn!" he muttered. "We've only been here for five days and I had plans for tonight."

"So did I, meine liebe, starting with dinner."

Just then the telephone rang and Hartenstein went to answer it. "Yes, Admiral, we just found your telegram. Yes, we will be ready." He hung up. "Get changed and pack. The car should be here any minute."

Quickly, they changed into their uniforms once more. Mortimer was running around closing windows and turning off appliances as they heard the sound of a vehicle outside.

"Sheisse! They're not wasting time," Hartenstein muttered as they heard the sound of the driver running up the steps.

On the drive to the airport and in spite of their inquiries little was forthcoming from the driver. All he seemed to know was that there was some sort of flap on and it might be due to certain scuttlebutt doing the rounds with regard to missing U-boats and, no, he did not know which ones but there were rumours.

Sitting in the back of the car the two U-boat officers turned to each other, their concern visible even in the dim light of the dashboard dials. In silence, they drew closer, hands brushing, then holding.

They dozed a little on the two hour flight and on arrival were taken straight to headquarters where Admiral Strong greeted them, a grim expression on his face.

"Gentlemen, I'm sorry to interrupt your leave but it's become imperative. I'm calling a meeting of all the U-boat commanders in port tomorrow. In the meantime, tonight, I ask you to ready your boat to sail with the tide tomorrow." He paced up and down. "Gentlemen, in the past week a U-boat went missing. We sent two U-boats to search for it but now one of them has also gone missing. Frankly, we don't know where they are or what's happened to them."

"And no other vessels saw anything?" Hartenstein inquired.

"Nothing. Nothing at all. As to the rest, I'll be briefing everyone tomorrow at 0800."

On arrival at the boat they found most of the crew already aboard and all keen to know what was happening. Hartenstein informed them they would have to be patient until the morning and in the meantime they had to prepare the boat to sail.

Some two hours later captain and first officer were satisfied that all was in readiness and they had enough stores aboard to last for some three weeks at sea. Rostau, having tested the engines and checked the batteries, declared them to be in good working order. After that, exhausted and muscles sore from their long walk that day, Hartenstein put Mannesmann in charge of the final details and he and Mortimer retired for what was left of the night, falling asleep the moment their heads hit the pillow.

The following morning at the briefing the U-boat commanders were all given the last known co-ordinates of the missing U-boats and told to exercise the utmost caution. They were to report any remotely suspicious activity prior to investigating including and especially any unknown vessels they happened upon. All eight U-boats were given set courses to follow and the smallest deviation from course was to be reported immediately. Each vessel was to check in with headquarters every thirty minutes without fail. For now and until they knew the cause, the mission was to remain in strictest confidence.

Shortly before departure Hartenstein received a call from Andrews.

"Look here, old boy, what's this I hear about missing U-boats and a whole fleet being sent out to find them."

"You know how it is, my friend. Admiralty orders."

"Wish I was coming along but Titanic will be tied up for another three weeks with the refit."

"How goes the hull?"

"Excellent. She'll be back in the water in another two days and my chief engineer reports the engines are looking shipshape too."

Hartenstein smiled at the clear note of pleasure in his friend's voice. "That is good to hear, my friend. Auf wiedersehn."

"God speed and good luck."

Shortly after, Andrews watched as a fleet of U-boats led by U-156 left the harbour. A crewman delivered the morning papers to his quarters, one of which purported to have the scoop. 'U-boats Missing' it proclaimed. 'Two U-boats missing feared lost'. "Let us pray no others go missing," he muttered, already worried for his friends and they had barely left the harbour. If the story was correct, clearly there had been a major leak at Admiralty headquarters. These things never stayed secret for long.

The eight U-boats ranged far and wide, each searching a designated quadrant close to where the boats had last been located. On the third day Hartenstein received a report that one of the missing U-boats, the second one to disappear, was found some twenty nautical miles off the Cape Verde islands. However, there were no clues as to its fate or that of its crew. The report stated that all the vessel's electricals had been shorted out and a salvage tug was on its way to tow the unfortunate vessel back to Homeport.

U-156 ranged far into the South Atlantic and two days later the other missing U-boat, the first to disappear, was spotted on the radar. After repeatedly trying to contact it by radio and hailing it, all to no avail, a boarding party was sent over to the quiet vessel. However, like the first, it appeared to be abandoned with no sign of its crew. Rostau reported that none of the vessel's electrical systems were working. Again, it appeared that they had all been shorted out. Hartenstein pored over the vessel's charts carefully in an effort to ascertain its recent course. The captain's last log entry had been only two days earlier. The chronometer had stopped at 1545 and Hartenstein wondered what kind of calamity had befallen the vessel. He subsequently ordered a salvage tug to tow the drifting vessel to port.

Alone in the captain's quarters Mortimer remarked, "Well now we've found both the missing U-boats."

Hartenstein's expression was grim. "But what has happened to their crews? We must find out."

Mortimer reached out to tilt the man's bearded chin so that he could gaze into his troubled eyes. "Patience, my captain. We will find the answers. It may take time but we will find them."

Gazing into the blue eyes of his first officer always buoyed Hartenstein's spirits, and he reached out to briefly grasp his hands. "Mr Mortimer, you always give me reason to believe."

Mortimer smiled, his mouth turning up at the corners in the way he knew Hartenstein loved. "Merely my duty, sir."

Hartenstein smiled. "Carry on, Mr Mortimer.'

That night they lay side by side, fingers intertwined.

"You are wise beyond your years," Hartenstein murmured, moving closer to kiss a nearby cheek.

"Mm... Do that again," Mortimer murmured.

His request was forthcoming and he turned his head to meet the tender mouth with his own.

Both sighed with pleasure at the intimate contact, but...

"It's late..." Mortimer muttered.

"...and the radar operator might spot something at any time," Hartenstein continued. "Besides, meine liebe, did we not have enough sex on leave?"

Mortimer grinned. "No such thing."

Hartenstein chuckled softly. "Agreed, meine feinen Britischer, but we must sleep now. We know not what tomorrow may bring."

"I have a feeling we'll be all right."

"Sehr gutt."

They curled up together on the small bed, their breathing becoming even as their thoughts merged into dreams.

Dawn came later than usual due to a thick sea fog which had descended in the night. In fact it was so thick they had slowed to a crawl and were sounding the horn regularly. By this time U-156 was far into the South Atlantic. The sea would have been smooth but for a rolling swell which the vessel rode gently at one quarter speed.

When the object showed up on the radar at first they thought it to be a U-boat. It was fairly small, approximately the size of one. However, on contacting headquarters, Hartenstein ascertained that there were none registered in the area except for themselves. Also, no known vessels should have been at those co-ordinates.

Hartenstein ordered the horn silenced as they slowly crept closer, the fog shielding them from view but, equally, shielding the object from their sight. Several attempts to contact them by radio failed and, apparently, the vessel's radar was also not working as no one seemed to have spotted them - a sure sign that they were from the Third Realm, Hartenstein thought. They were able to come within mere metres of the stern, close enough to identify the vessel as Santa Maria out of Genoa and showing the tricolour. She was a freighter of approximately 14,000 tons and she was listing heavily. However, headquarters had never heard of such a vessel. Hartenstein was to approach with extreme caution. He ordered a boarding party.

At some five metres from the stern still no crew members were visible aboard so, utilizing grappling hooks, six members of U-156's crew led by her captain, boarded the unknown vessel, clambering up onto her stern and crouching down. All were armed.

All of a sudden a crewman appeared and spotted the intruders as they crept forward. However, before he could sound the alarm he was quickly subdued and incapacitated by a blow to the head. His limp body was dragged out of sight. They moved forward again, this time making it to the open main deck where there was no shelter. Hartenstein beckoned and they ran quickly forward, splitting into two parties to take the bridge from either side.

At the sight of the armed intruders the men on the bridge had no choice but to drop their weapons which were in turn confiscated.

Hartenstein identified himself and was surprised to find that the captain and crew, far from speaking Italian, spoke German.

"Who are you and what is this ship? Identify yourself."


"You are German." The man did not deny it. "And your vessel?"

"Since you are Kriegsmarine I will say that my mission is secret and I am not at liberty to divulge it."

"I see. Mortimer, check the ship's log and see what else you can find. The rest of you, tie them up and search the ship." As the rest of the men got busy he turned back to Kuntsler. "What is your mission?"

"I am not at liberty to divulge that, Captain Hartenstein." He gazed curiously at Hartenstein. "Hartenstein... Do I not know your name? Yes, you were given the Knight's Cross! I... I do beg your pardon, Captain. I would ask permission to divulge my mission to you but the radio is out of order and all attempts to repair it, I regret to say, have been in vain."

Mortimer, who had been reading the captain's log and perusing maps for its recent movements, turned to Hartenstein.

"Sir, their course for the last week has taken them to the exact coordinates where the other U-boats disappeared. The log records that they forced the crews to disembark before attempting to destroy their vessels."

Hartenstein turned back to Becker, his expression stern. "You attacked German vessels? What madness is this?"

Becker shook his head. "Please understand that I cannot say, Captain Hartenstein."

"You will tell me the truth! Where are the crews? What have you done with them? Have you killed them?"

However, at that moment Rostau entered the bridge to report that they had found the missing U-boat crews below and they were being released even as they spoke. At that moment the two missing commanders entered the bridge and saluted Hartenstein. It turned out that he was acquainted with both men.

"Werner, it's good to see you! My colleague and I are most grateful for your timely rescue. May we speak in private?"

"Of course." Hartenstein led them outside onto the deck.

"Captain, we both tried, alas in vain, to explain to Captain Becker that he is no longer in a war zone, but he is most stubborn. From what we have gathered he was sent by Admiral Dönitz on a mission to test a top secret weapon. It appears that when he got no response from our U-boats because of course his radio wouldn't work in this realm and he was still too distant for us to signal him, he decided that we must have been captured by the Allies and fired the secret weapon on us. Our vessels were disabled and all the electricals shorted out. Also leaking badly. We could not call for help but at least when he saw we really were German he rescued us and took us aboard."

"Bit of a turnaround," the younger captain remarked. "I mean we're supposed to be rescuing them. Instead we end up prisoners."

Hartenstein shook his head. "It was the same for both of you?"

Both men nodded, the younger one replying. "The same. It seems he has been testing this new weapon developed by the Nazis which they seem to think will win them the war. So how they ended up here in this realm I'm not sure. Nor can I understand how it is that their secret weapon still works here."

"Captain Hartenstein, if I may...?" the older one interrupted. "Although the ship's engine worked and the damned weapon, nothing else is. The food had to be chucked and we're all pretty starving. Also, I've heard them say they are out of fuel which is why they're going nowhere."

"And why were you all kept hidden? After all, you are German."

"They told us they had to hide us in case of bombing raids by Allied planes."

"So he did not want you killed. Decent of him. I will arrange for a tow. In the meantime I have a plentiful supply of food aboard and I will see to it you are all fed as soon as possible."

The rescued U-boat crews were pouring out from below decks where they had been kept hidden in case of Allied planes, or so it had been explained to them. Hartenstein stepped back inside the bridge, leaving the two commanding officers with their crews.

Mortimer, who still had the log book, spoke up. "Captain, I think I know what happened to the ship. It says here they had an accident with a new weapon they were testing and it blew a hole in the starboard hull. I believe they were sunk as a result."

At his words Becker hung his head. "I have failed in my mission. Something happened to the weapon. It exploded two days ago and can no longer be used. It was the only one of its kind. It was to win us the war. Now what will the admiral say when he sees I have failed?"

"Cheer up, Becker," Hartenstein remarked. "You have come to a realm of peace where your diabolical weapon will not be needed, but tell me this: how is it that your weapon still worked when your radio and radar did not?"

"It has its own power source which amplifies the special inbuilt batteries. It is insulated from all other power sources on the ship and also waterproof."

"Sehr gutt. We will allow the scientists to examine it, or what's left of it. Mortimer, send for a salvage tug and see if there are any cruise ships in the vicinity which could accommodate our friends. In the meantime, ask Dengler to prepare food for as many as he can and get crew members to help him."

Mortimer acknowledged the order and departed the ship's bridge.

Some time after that a steady stream of pots of food was being hoisted aboard the Santa Maria to be eagerly devoured by all aboard. A salvage tug was on its way but would take some eight hours to arrive. The liner Orford was also on its way and would rendezvous with them about the same time. Her commanding officer informed them that he had plenty of accommodation for all and no one would go hungry.

That night the two U-boat commanders dined with Hartenstein and Mortimer aboard U-156.

Dengler arrived bearing a tray with a large pie dish, a soup tureen and a dish of carrots.

"Ah, that smells good," Hartenstein remarked while ladling soup as Mortimer poured the wine. "And what do we have for tonight?"

"Potato and leek soup, sir, fish pie and carrots."

"Sehr gutt. And the men on Santa Maria?"

"Soup, poached shark with carrots and potatoes."

"Excellent. That should fill their hungry bellies."

The older man, Captain Willdermann, also expressed his gratitude. "I am most grateful for your hospitality and your kindness, Werner. It is most pleasing to know that my crew will not be going to bed hungry."

The younger man, Captain Bronnhorst, also expressed his thanks. "I am also most grateful, Captain Hartenstein. I would not wish to think of my crew going hungry tonight."

Hartenstein smiled at the young U-boat commander. "Call me Werner. After all, we are all colleagues and friends here. It is good to know that all will go to bed with full bellies tonight, is it not. Do we not dine much better now than we did in the old realm?"

Willdermann spoke up. "Indeed. Many times there we had to make do. We counted ourselves lucky if we could catch fish."

The others chuckled ruefully in agreement.

The officers of U-156 ate sparingly leaving extra servings for the two hungry men in their midst and silence reigned whilst the latter devoured the first meal they had had in days.

Later, the conversation inevitably turned to how a British officer came to be serving on a German U-boat.

"Back in the Third Realm Captain Hartenstein sank me," Mortimer answered blithely, taking a sip of his wine.

At the perplexed expressions on the other men's faces Hartenstein explained. "I sank his ship."

"But he rescued everyone he could," Mortimer added.

"But... But did you not hate Captain Hartenstein for sinking your ship?" He shook his head. "Forgive me. I have no right to ask."

Mortimer grinned. "Oh, I tried to, but I found him to be..." he turned his gaze to Hartenstein who turned to him, "...an honourable man. Even though he kept me as a prisoner of war he was kind to me."

"And in the Third Realm, where we were still enemies, Mr Mortimer saved my life twice over."

As their gazes met, the other occupants of the room had the momentary feeling that they did not exist. However, it was only for a moment and the conversation soon turned to other subjects, especially how to convince Captain Becker that he was in a new realm now where the Third Reich no longer existed. Since the other two commanders had already tried, with no success, to explain to Becker that he was no longer in the Third Realm, Hartenstein decided on the direct approach. The others agreed. Becker was duly summoned.

When Becker joined them he was offered scotch and a cigar.

"Captain, thank you for joining us," Hartenstein began. "We have been discussing the best way of informing you that you are no longer part of the Third Reich."

Becker froze, his drink halfway to his mouth. "You... You mean that I have lost my position already because of my failure? You have heard this? Mein Gott, what can I do?"

The young man was clearly distressed at the idea of losing face amongst his contemporaries, if not being outright demoted, or worse.

"Nein, nein, Becker. None of us are part of the Reich any more. Do you not notice our new uniforms?"

"Yes, I have seen your uniforms. I merely thought them a new design. We are all part of the Reich. After all, we are German," he stated proudly and with some conviction.

"Yes, we are German, but have you not noticed the colours? The flag of the International Admiralty?"

"I saw that you fly some strange blue and white flag which is unfamiliar to me but I assume it is a new arm of the Kriegsmarine. I have never heard of the International Admiralty. The Kriegsmarine rules the oceans."

Hartenstein glanced at Willdermann who now addressed Becker.

"Becker, you will listen to us and understand. Your ship was sunk with all aboard, apparently because of some accident with that top secret weapon you carry."

"Nein, nein! That is impossible! If my ship had sunk I would be dead and... I am not dead. I am very far from dead," the young commander stated with determination.

"Actually, we're all dead," Hartenstein remarked casually.

"But that... that is... What you say is impossible," Becker protested.

"Becker," Bronnhorst began, "we were all sunk." Becker was shaking his head in denial. "Yes, every single one of us. Our vessels were all sunk. None of us survived. Fortunately, we all arrived here, in this peaceful realm, the Fourth Realm. There's no war here at all."

"Nein, this can't be true! I have to test this weapon for Admiral Dönitz. That is my duty. I must fulfil my duty..." He squared his jaw. "I do not believe you. You are lying, all of you!" he accused.

Hartenstein leaned forward in his chair. "To what purpose? Explain to me why we would lie to you, young Becker? We are all German. We were all once loyal to the Fatherland. We served the in the Kriegsmarine. We sank many Allied vessels all in the name of a glorious victory for the Fuhrer and the German people, but that is now long gone." Becker was staring at him.

Bronnhorst continued. "All of us were lost, our vessels sunk by the Allies. We, all of us, have had to accept this and move on with our lives here in this new realm."

Willdermann spoke now. "Becker, when we boarded your vessel we tried to explain to you but you would not listen. You must listen to us now. Believe us when we say we mean you no harm. No one here will blame you for the failure of your secret weapon. Indeed, you are a loyal young commander and we are pleased to have you join us. However, you must believe that, for you and your crew, the old realm and the Third Reich, are no more. That is over and done with. This whole new realm awaits you. Please join us."

Of a sudden Becker's bravado seemed to deflate. "Are you saying that we're all... dead?" The others nodded. "That there is... no war here?" Again they nodded. "Mein Gott! Mein Gott, what...? What am I to do? How do I tell the crew? They are good men." He shook his head mournfully and downed the rest of his scotch.

Mortimer poured him another drink. "It'll be all right," he murmured reassuringly in English, then repeated it in German.

All of a sudden Becker stared at him. "You are British! How can this be? How can a Britischer serve on a U-boat? That is impossible unless you are a traitor to your country."

"Mortimer was never a traitor and he serves me very well as first officer," Hartenstein responded.

"But a British officer serving on a German vessel in a time of war is treason and..." Becker abruptly stopped, gazing uncertainly at the faces around the table. "But you say there is no war..."

"Correct," Hartenstein replied. "No war here, ever, and that is how I can have a British first officer serving on my boat."

Becker remained silent, digesting Hartenstein's words.

"This is not a realm of war like the Third," Willdermann began. "This is a realm of peace. All vessels of war that arrive here from the Third Realm are destroyed. The exception is U-boats which are needed to protect merchant ships especially cruise ships which are used to fetch all the souls who end up here."

"Souls such as yourself and your crew," Hartenstein added. "Which reminds me, the Orford is coming to rescue you and take you to Homeport."

"The Orford? I seem to know that name," Becker replied somewhat uncertainly.

"She was destroyed in a raid in 1940 at the port of Marseilles," Mortimer explained.

"Yes, that is where I know the name. It was a great German victory." He shook his head as his mind tried to grapple with the conundrum of a ship that was definitely destroyed in Marseilles somehow being here now. "But how is it possible?" he queried plaintively. "How can it be?"

"There are hundreds of ships here that were sunk in the Third Realm," Bronnhorst replied. "Some very famous ones too."

This apparently caught the man's interest. "What famous ones?"

"You've heard of Lusitania?"

"Oh, yes! She was sunk in the last war. She is here?" His eyes lit up.

"Oh, yes," Willdermann replied. "Lusitania and many, many more."

"You've heard of Titanic?" Hartenstein queried.

"Titanic? Everybody has heard of Titanic, the poor ship sunk by an iceberg. She is here too?"

"Large as life and twice as elegant," Hartenstein replied

"We know her captain well," Mortimer added.

"I have been to a ball on Titanic," Willdermann remarked conversationally to Hartenstein and Mortimer. "I met you both there."

"We have been to more than one ball on Titanic," Hartenstein confessed, a grin on his face, "but I do remember you, my colleague."

Willdermann smiled at the acknowledgement. "Yes, they are most enjoyable, are they not? And the costumes, they are wonderbar," he enthused. "I must confess I was shocked to hear she was sabotaged. May I inquire if she is out of dry-dock yet?"

"Indeed she is but her captain tells me the refit will take a while longer. Everything has to be just so with her."

Willdermann smiled. "Quite so."

"Captain Hartenstein, if I may ask, you mentioned a home port?" Becker inquired.

"Homeport," Hartenstein answered. "You would not believe the sheer size of the harbour."

"Or the number of vessels in it," Bronnhorst added. "You will love it."

"And my ship? What will happen to it?" Becker inquired.

"I cannot say with certainty," Hartenstein replied. "It's up to the authorities. Whatever they decide you and your crew will lead good lives in this realm. A great many of them will already have friends and family here, yourself included."

"Family?" Becker inquired. The others nodded. "Oh, my. I'm not dreaming? I'm... really dead. This is hard to believe."

"You're not dreaming," Hartenstein confirmed. "It has been... a revelation for all of us to realize that our lives in the old realm ended but, as you can see, we all survived and we are the better for it, are we not, gentlemen?" The others nodded. "We all lead useful lives now. We have all agreed to serve the International Admiralty in our current capacity for the duration of the war in the Third Realm. So, far from sinking ships, we escort them."

"Becker, you must listen to Captain Hartenstein," Willdermann urged. "He is most wise and he speaks the truth. You will have a good life here and there will be people to look after you and your crew and help you make the transition to your new life in this realm."

As Captain Becker gazed around the table the others gave him encouraging looks and he nodded a little uncertainly. He had no idea how he was going to explain to his crew that they were no longer at war, let alone actually dead, but he would do it.

Squaring his shoulders and expressing his gratitude, Captain Becker declined all offers of support from present company and departed for his vessel to inform his crew that they were in another realm now and would shortly be boarding a civilian ship.

Provision was made for the two U-boat commanders to spend the night on U-156. Lamps and torches were sent over to the disabled and blacked out freighter and all aboard were able to make themselves as comfortable as possible on her listing decks.

That night Hartenstein and Mortimer lay quietly in bed together.

"Quite a day," Mortimer remarked after a while.

"We have become old hands at this, have we not?" Hartenstein mused.

"It will all be over in the morning when Orford arrives with the tug."

"Ja. Then we go home."

"But in the meantime..."

Hartenstein turned to his companion. "In the meantime there is a young British officer in my bed... and he tempts me..." He leaned over, allowing their lips to meet. "Mm... sehr gutt... but not enough..." The kiss deepened into a thorough exploration of lips and tongue until both men were breathing heavily.

It was Mortimer who worked his way down the firm body of his commanding officer, adoring it with hands and mouth until sheer need overwhelmed them and the other turned. Together, they devoured each other's wonderful hardness, their loving movements bringing only delight.

Afterwards, they lay quietly for a while.

"The day I stepped aboard this vessel the last thing I could have imagined was that I would end up in the arms of the enemy; arms that held me tenderly as I cried. It may have been only a dream but I fell for you that night."

Hartenstein grinned. "You were meant to."

Mortimer chuckled and they settled themselves, his captain wrapping his arms around him as he had done that night in his dream. How long ago that seemed now for so much had happened to them since that time. He knew that that dream where he had unburdened himself to the enemy would never be forgotten by either one of them for it had cemented their relationship, especially when later the captain had confessed that he had shared the intimate dreams.

Smiling, Mortimer closed his eyes.

Barely half an hour later both men were awoken by Waldemar. They blinked and stared at him.

"Forgive me waking you, sirs, but I was with Fiedler in the conning tower and we heard gunfire from the Santa Maria."

"What?" Hartenstein muttered impatiently. "What now?"

"I thought I should wake you."

"You did the right thing, Waldemar. Return to your duties."

After quickly dressing, captain and first officer made their way to the conning tower. The ship's power was still out but the lamps they had provided were still shining in the darkness. There was also a third quarter moon overhead to provide further illumination.

"What is going on over there?" Hartenstein demanded as he was handed the binoculars by Fiedler.

"Seems to be some kind of disturbance, sir."

Mortimer was also peering through binoculars. All could hear muffled shouting and banging. However, before they could do anything a figure ran onto the deck of the vessel and jumped overboard heading in their direction.

"Mein Gott, what is going on there?" He turned to the two crewmen. "Fiedler, fetch some blankets while we help him aboard."

As they helped the lone man onto the deck of the U-boat, he collapsed, panting and shivering. He was helped to his feet and wrapped in a blanket.

Hartenstein and Mortimer were surprised to discover that it was the Santa Maria's first officer.

"First Officer Waldenstein of the Santa Maria reporting, sirs," he panted.

"What on earth is going on, Waldenstein?"

"The crew have mutinied," the half drowned man gasped. "The captain was explaining that we were no longer part of the war but they said he was lying and that your U-boat was somehow in league with the Allies. They armed themselves and locked me in my quarters and the captain in his but, as you can see, I escaped to warn you. I regret I could not free the captain. He was too well guarded.

"What of the U-boat crews aboard?"

"They said the captain was telling the truth but they were unarmed and locked up. Some managed to escape and are now in a battle with the ship's crew."

"Sheisse! Come, come. We must take control of your vessel. You will come with us?"

"Of course, Captain Hartenstein, and I am most grateful for your help, but... may I ask is it true what Captain Becker told us about being in a new realm where there is no war?"

"Quite true. How else could I have a British first?"

Waldenstein turned to Mortimer, openly staring at him.

"I am British," Mortimer said in English, accompanying his words with a cheeky wink.

Waldenstein noticed the captain's affectionate glance at his first officer. He shook his head. "Now I know there is no war."

Hartenstein ordered Waldenstein taken below to be given dry clothing and something to warm him. Mortimer, too, went below to organize the boarding party.

The boarding party were aided in their quest by the moon going behind a heavy cloud as they launched dinghies. One dinghy paddled around to the far side of the Santa Maria as fast as they could, staying in close to the hull while the other headed for the stern.

Three men were already aboard, Mortimer in the lead, when an armed crewman saw them and fired. One bullet ricocheted off the ship's railing, hitting Weber in the leg and he fell to the deck, gasping in pain. Mortimer was able to get a clean shot at the man who collapsed, moaning in pain and clutching his stomach.

Mortimer leaned over the injured Weber who was helped to his feet. "Weber? Can you manage?"

"Yes, sir. I'm all right, sir."

"Good. Let's go."

Quickly, they spread out, meeting up with the captain's party. However, as soon as they went below they were fired at continually.

"Waldenstein, we must rescue the captain," Hartenstein shouted over the sound of gunfire.

"This way," the man shouted back.

It took some time but once the captain was released and two of the mutineers were captured, the rest soon surrendered whereupon all those being held prisoner in the half-flooded hold were released. The wounded were given medical attention after which Hartenstein assembled all aboard on the open deck. Beside him were Mortimer, Captain Becker, First Officer Waldenstein as well as the two U-boat commanders who had insisted on being included in the boarding party, Willdermann and Bronnhorst.

"Gentlemen, those of you who were instrumental in this rebellion, I don't need to tell you that your actions are punishable by death - or they would be if you were still in the Third Realm. How fortunate for you that you are no longer in the Third Realm. Equally fortunate that you're already dead. Your captain speaks the truth. In the Third Realm your ship was lost due to the weapon you have aboard, but you know that. Parts of her stern, engine room and hold are still flooded now, and yet, mysteriously, she still floats. Have you not wondered about that? Did you not find it strange? How do you explain it? It's one of the unusual properties of the Fourth Realm that ships - well most of them anyway - don't sink. Many, many ships and U-boats destroyed in the very war you came from end up here in the Fourth Realm, as indeed have you yourselves. However, this realm is one of peace. There is no war here and never was. It's not that people don't have their differences, it's merely that they manage to settle them without making war on their neighbours. We all found that hard to believe when we came here, but we've all discovered that it is indeed true. No war. Never was. Never will be. Your captain has told you the truth. You are now, all of you, in the Fourth Realm. A rescue tug is on its way to tow your vessel and a cruise ship which will take you all aboard. Until they arrive you will conduct yourselves in an orderly manner. Do not make us board your ship again. Do I make myself clear?"

There were some sheepish nods from the assembled crew members.

"Sehr gutt. I will now leave you in the capable hands of your captain and first officer. We will see you soon."

Becker dismissed his crew and turned to Hartenstein.

"Danke, mein colleague. I confess I had not expected them to mutiny. I must not have explained things sufficiently to...."

Hartenstein grasped the man's shoulders. "Nein, nein, my friend. It is merely a lot for some people to take in. I have always found that the more dedicated the men, the harder it is for them to accept that, for them, the war is over. You have a good crew. I will take my leave now."

Hartenstein saluted and Becker returned it.

Back on U-156, captain and first officer were sitting down to a brandy when Fiedler reported that they had had a message from Orford to say she had been diverted to an urgent rescue.

"Sheisse," Hartenstein muttered. "Is anything else going to go wrong this night?" he muttered to no one in particular.

"Sir, they said another ship was on the way and will be here soon."

"What ship?"

"They didn't know, sir, only that the Admiralty was sending another ship and it was a fast one."

After Fiedler left the two men turned to each other and Mortimer began to chuckle.

Hartenstein glowered at him. "You British. What's funny now?"

"This whole day. We haven't had such an eventful one for a while now and just when we thought it was all over it wasn't."

Hartenstein had long ago learnt that he could not keep a straight face when Mortimer was laughing. He grinned, shaking his head. "We haven't had a mutiny before, have we."

A grinning Mortimer shook his head. He put down his glass and rose to stand behind his captain, his hands resting on the seated man's shoulders, squeezing them a little. As the other man covered one of his hands with his own warm one and turned toward him Mortimer leaned over to press soft lips to a bearded cheek.

Hartenstein pulled him around until he was leaning on the table and he could lean back in his chair and gaze up at him, taking in his slightly dishevelled appearance. He looked down at himself, deciding that they were both somewhat the worse for wear.

"Shall we go back to bed?" he asked, his voice soft.

Mortimer nodded, however, as the other man rose to his feet a muffled sound reached their ears - the sound of three blasts of a ship's horn - a very deep ship's horn.

They stared at each other. They well knew the sound of that horn.

"It can't be," both men protested. They raced up to the conning tower.

"I was about to call you, sirs. Vessel approaching."

All watched keenly as the vessel, still a good mile away, slowed. The moon was setting now, shining brightly on the ship's port side.

"But she looks like..." Mortimer started to say before being interrupted by a message.

"Sir, Titanic sends greetings."

A grinning Hartenstein shook his head. "Sheisse, what is she doing here? I will talk to her." He picked up the radio microphone. "Hartenstein here. We were not expecting you."

"Andrews here. Heard you were in a spot of bother."

"I confess you're a sight for sore eyes, my friend. We were starting to run seriously low on food."

"Glad to be of service, old boy, and well-provisioned too."

"But what of the refit?"

"Oh, it's going well. The carpenters and electricians are still aboard working and enjoying some Titanic hospitality."

Mortimer grinned at that.

"And the engines?"

"The chief tells me they're purring nicely." Hartenstein grinned at his friend's reassuring words. "In fact, they've just had a good workout. It was full speed ahead to get here - wherever here is."

"That is good to hear, my friend."

"And what is that sad-looking freighter over there?"

"Let us meet at say 0700 and I'll tell you all about the Santa Maria."

"Good. The tug is here now."

Mortimer, listening to the conversation, indicated the presence of the tug which was now approaching.

"That is good, but where is your escort?" Hartenstein inquired.

"You're looking at it."

"The tug? A tug is not a suitable escort for a liner. In fact it's no protection at all."

"The old girl is too fast to catch. Besides, she has you now."

Hartenstein found he could not argue with that so bade Andrews goodnight and turned to a grinning Mortimer. "Merchant navy," he muttered.

"May I remind you, Captain, that I was merchant navy when you torpedoed me?" Hartenstein rolled his eyes. "Anyway he's got you there," Mortimer continued. "Titanic is fast. No half-wrecked U-boats from the Third Realm are going to catch her."

"No," Hartenstein agreed. "But now we find there are secret weapons." His glance switched to the Santa Maria to their stern.

"A new and dangerous turn of events," Mortimer agreed.

Once more Captain and first officer turned in for the night, this time managing some four hours sleep.

They were only just dressed and had had no breakfast when Mannesmann informed them a boat was alongside to take them to Titanic.

Andrews greeted them cheerfully, inviting them to breakfast in his quarters.

"My, but you two look the worse for wear. Tell me all about it."

Together, the two U-boat officers informed Titanic's commanding officer of events to date.

"So you're saying that she's carrying crews of the two missing U-boats as well as her own?"

"Correct. There are over seventy people over there and they were starving. My food stocks were severely depleted feeding them yesterday evening. There is almost nothing left for the trip home."

"Good god, man, we can't have you starving!" Andrews exclaimed.

Just then breakfast arrived, a full English style, and the two hungry U-boat officers tucked in.

"I'll send over plenty of food for your return trip. Just give me a list of what you need the most and I'll see that it's prepared and ready for you before we depart."

Captain Andrews made good on his word and shortly a lifeboat arrived alongside U-156 laden with eggs, butter, flour, freshly baked loaves of bread, jam, beef, pork, salmon, fresh vegetables and fruit. There was even a large tub of ice-cream.

"There's enough here for two weeks!" Dengler enthused busy finding room to store it all.

Rostau grinned. "We'll be dining Titanic style tonight!"

At the sight of Titanic the crew of the Santa Maria stared at it. When they spoke it was in hushed tones.

"Is that really...? I mean can it be...?" one queried.

"They said she was here," another said.

"Look!" still another said. "The sun's up. You can see her name now. It really is Titanic!"

"Holy mother of god!" another muttered, crossing himself.

"We better pray there are no icebergs!"

"Amen to that!"

"Are we're really going to be travelling on... on that?"

"So they said."

The two U-boat captains they had captured assured them of Titanic's excellent safety record.

"We have been aboard her," Willdermann explained, "and she is as safe as it's possible for a ship to be."

"Oh, yes, she is wonderbar," Bronnhorst enthused. "We will all be looked after, you will see. Our trip will be a memorable one."

Thus reassured, when Titanic's lifeboats pulled up alongside, the crew of the Santa Maria climbed willingly into them to be rowed across to the huge liner now riding placidly on a calm ocean, the early morning sun's rays dissipating the morning mist around her and shining gold on her superstructure. After being welcomed aboard by her captain and officers they were ushered to one of the ship's many dining areas for breakfast. In truth all they could do was gaze around them in wide-eyed wonder at the luxurious old liner's fittings. However, the very hungry men soon turned their attention to the food that was placed before them.

When Willdermann and Bronnhorst arrived with their crews they, too, were greeted warmly.

"It is most kind of you to take us aboard your ship, Captain Andrews," Willdermann enthused, as he returned the British officer's salute.

"Yes, most kind," Captain Bronnhorst added, also returning the salute.

"Gentlemen, it's a pleasure to have you aboard. Do I not know you both...?"

"Ja, it was your spring ball last year," Bronnhorst said.

"Of course, of course. Glad to have you back again. You and your crews are most welcome. We have arranged accommodation for all of you and a hearty breakfast."

Back on U-156 Hartenstein was relieved to be able to get under way once more. The salvage tug, towing the partially-flooded freighter, could barely manage twelve knots, thus all four vessels were restricted to the same speed for protection. However, it meant that a trip that should have taken no more than three days would now take a week. Titanic was also carrying many friends and relatives of the Santa Maria's crew. Champagne flowed and the reunions were a delightful surprise for the newly-arrived men.

That night, as the moon rode high in the sky and a mist covered the calm ocean, the tug crew and the crew of U-156 listened to the strains of music drifting across the water amidst celebrations on the big liner, the revelry lasting long into the night.

Thanks to the generosity of Captain Andrews the crew of U-156 also dined very well that night. Later, her commander and first officer fell into bed to share a kiss and fall asleep in each other's arms, it being the first decent night's sleep they had had for several days.

Much later it was decided by the Admiralty that the freighter would be scrapped. As for the deadly weapon she carried, it would be dismantled, its individual parts never again to pose a threat to the Fourth Realm.

* * *