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Fic: Deadly Cargo Part 1 of 2

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: PG-13 for suggestiveness, violence and death of OC
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count this section: 2,460
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: An old sailing vessel off the coast of Newfoundland is not all she seems. The events in this story were inspired by the movie Sealed Cargo (1951) and the character of Captain Quint is based on the character of Captain Skalder as played by the wonderful Claude Rains.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: This is a sequel to "One of Our U-boats is Missing".  If you haven't yet read that fic then you really need to go back and read it first.

Titanic, accompanied by her escort, U-156, was returning to Homeport from the western Atlantic.  The autumn weather was dreary with thick fog blanketing the night necessitating all vessels to sound their horns at regular intervals.  Titanic was carrying survivors from four different vessels, all of which had been taken under tow.  She was also carrying their friends and families.  Hence she had close to six hundred passengers of various nationalities aboard, all of which were having a merry old time from the sounds of it.

On U-156 the mood was much more subdued.  Captain and first officer were in the conning tower keeping a close eye on the fog, its damp tendrils clinging to them and leaving small drops of moisture on Hartenstein's beard.  The U-boat's stern light was shining brightly, marking her passage for the huge liner to follow in the thick mist and darkness.  Even Titanic's myriad lights, bright as they were, were barely penetrating the surrounding miasma.

Mortimer did not like fog.  It muffled sound and often you could not tell the direction the sounds were coming from.  Hartenstein liked it even less.  Fog with its accompanying lack of visibility was the cause of multiple accidents on land and even more so at sea.

On Titanic's bridge Andrews and his officers were taking no chances and two crewmen had been posted as lookouts on the bow.  He watched as they paced up and down, the penetrating cold and damp causing them to rub their gloved hands together.  It was the wrong time of year for icebergs but god knows what else the fog might be hiding.

Of a sudden one of the lookouts, who was scanning some degrees to port spotted something.  He shouted to the other one and they both trained their binoculars in the indicated direction.  Many people on the bridge also looked to port, but they were too late.  Only the two lookouts had spotted it.  One now ran to the Officer of the Watch to report.

"Captain, it appears that the lookouts spotted the masts of a sailing vessel, sir," the Officer of the Watch reported to the bridge.  "One swears it's a square rigger and her sails were ragged."

Andrews swore, his gaze directed towards the U-boat ahead.  There wasn't much to be seen through the mist but there seemed to be no sudden activity there.  "Doesn't look as though our escort spotted it, but then we do have a better view."  He turned to an officer.  "Put me through to U-156."

When he reported the find to Hartenstein it was the German commander's turn to swear as he took the call on the bridge.

"Sheisse.  A square rigger you say?  Shouldn't be many of them around.  And ragged sails?  We have had no bad storms yet this season.  She may very well be from the Third.  We will have to investigate.  You say she was off the port bow?"

"Yes, about three minutes ago.  Some fifty metres away and she's not showing on the radar at all."

Hartenstein consulted the radar operator who reported nothing besides Titanic. He consulted his charts before picking up the radio microphone once more.  "Thanks to the fog very little is on the radar.  Now let me see...  That should put her... there."  He made a mark on the chart.  Mortimer, too, had climbed down to the bridge and Hartenstein now glanced at him, shaking his head in frustration.  "Andrews, I cannot abandon Titanic but, equally, I must investigate this vessel.  These are dangerous waters, however, the fog should keep you safe for now.  I want you to remain here."

"Very well, old boy.  Have to admit I'm curious myself as to what a square rigger is doing out here."

"Indeed, and if her condition is as your men reported we may have to give her a tow.”

In thick mist and with the radar barely working it took almost half an hour for U-156 to locate the old square rigger.

"There, Captain!" Mannesmann exclaimed.  "She's off the port bow."

"Slow ahead.  Bring us alongside," Hartenstein ordered.

They tried repeatedly to hail the vessel, to no avail.  If there was anyone aboard they were not answering.

On boarding her they discovered that she was in even worse shape than she appeared with much of her rigging tangled on the main deck.  Above their heads, her tall masts with their ragged sails disappeared in wisps of fog. A shiver went through Mortimer as he gazed up at them.

They began to search in earnest, however, all they found was a cargo of Jamaican rum in the partially flooded hold.  This was confirmed by her manifest.  She was Norwegian.  She also appeared to be deserted.

"A Norwegian square rigger sunk in these waters," Hartenstein mused.  "We've not heard anything about Norwegian sailors being rescued yet her boats are gone.  We can therefore safely conclude that her crew must have survived in the Third.  So why is there something about her that bothers me?" he mused, rubbing the short hair at the nape of his neck.

"There's something not quite right about her..." Mortimer agreed, stepping carefully over the detritus on deck, "but I don't know what."  He shook his head in frustration.

Hartenstein summoned Fiedler who, as always, had a camera with him.

"Fiedler, you have taken pictures?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good.  Contact headquarters, give them the name of this vessel, get all information they have.”

Fiedler acknowledged the order and disappeared smartly. He was not gone long.

Hartenstein subsequently decided that no news was not good news. There was no information at all about the vessel.  She was unknown as were so many of the vessels that came to the Fourth Realm.

"Damn!"  Hartenstein paced up and down, removing his cap and running his hand through his hair.  Taking a deep breath, he replaced it and made up his mind.  "Very well.  Before we take her under tow I want another search made.  Mortimer, I want every inch of her searched.  Every inch."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Mortimer turned to give the order to the men on deck but as he did so, his foot tangled in some fallen rigging and he crashed heavily onto his side, his head hitting the deck in a hatchway.

"Mortimer!" Hartenstein exclaimed, leaning over to help his first officer to his feet.  However, as he did so, there was an odd noise; the distinctive whirr of an electric motor while in the hatchway a side panel slid open.

As Mortimer regained his feet, rubbing the side of his head, both men stared at the open hatchway in surprise.  In the dim light of their torches they could see steps leading down to another hold.

Hartenstein led the way, Mortimer following.  This was definitely not the hold with the casks of Jamaican rum, but a different one altogether.

Wide-eyed in dismay, their torches illuminated the neat racks containing row upon row of torpedoes stored in the upright position.

"Mein Gott!  So this was her real cargo," Hartenstein exclaimed.

"Then this was for U-boats," Mortimer decided.

"Clearly, the Reich has found new ways of supplying the U-boats without them having to return to port," Hartenstein observed.

"And who would suspect an old sailing vessel with a legitimate cargo of rum."

Hartenstein shouted for Fiedler to come and photograph their unusual find.  The young crewman's eyes turned to saucers as he beheld the hidden extra hold, nonetheless he documented the many rows of deadly torpedoes.

After he had left Mortimer noticed the rack containing one particular torpedo seemed to be sticking out somewhat more than the others.  Thinking that it was odd he checked it.  However, when he tried to push it back into line yet another panel slid open - and this one contained a small cabin – and the cabin was occupied.

The two men stared at each other in surprise and dismay, Mortimer noting that the other man held a revolver pointed straight at him.

"And who might you be?" the other man, who was wearing a captain's stripes, inquired in German.

"Thomas Mortimer, First Officer U-156.  And you?" Mortimer responded also in German.

"Thaddeus Quint, commander of this sad excuse for a vessel, but I see you've found her real cargo."

"Indeed we have and I would appreciate it if you would put down your weapon."

Hartenstein, who was at the other end of the hold, overheard the conversation and came to investigate.

Quint kept his gun trained on Mortimer.  "You don't look like, or sound like, a U-boat officer.  I don't know what your uniform is but your German is oddly accented. So what are you?"

At that moment Hartenstein arrived to stand beside his first officer.

"Mr Mortimer is as he said he is," he responded.  "And you, Captain?  You do not sound Norwegian yet this is a Norwegian vessel and you speak fluent German.”

"I have no accent," the man replied.

Hartenstein sized him up; in his fifties, grizzled, his skin weatherbeaten and tanned; his uniform dishevelled.

"And you are?" Quint queried.

"Hartenstein, in command of U-156, an escort vessel of the International Admiralty.  That is quite a cargo you have, Captain Quint."

"Now you're definitely German!  I assume you'll be wanting torpedoes?  Well you're welcome to them for the usual price."

"Captain, I think it would be best if we adjourned to your quarters, don't you?" Hartenstein suggested.  "And put away your weapon. We mean you no harm.”

Quint clearly was not happy but he acquiesced and the three men left the hold and climbed on deck, making their way to the captain's quarters where Quint placed his gun on a desk and poured them each a brandy.

"Now, gentlemen," he began, "how many torpedoes do you need?  And what's this International Admiralty business? I have never heard of such an organization.”

"And now, Captain Quint," Hartenstein responded, "I need to apprise you of your situation.”

"My situation?  Oh, I'm well aware of that," the man remarked with some sarcasm.  "Crew deserted and ship a wreck, but at least her cargo is intact though god only knows how."

"That is as may be, Captain, but my first concern is you."

"Me?  Why should I be of any concern to you?  If you do not require torpedoes I would appreciate it if you could supply me some crew for repairs and to get my vessel under way.  I'm sure you realize that my work is vital to the war effort."

"Captain, let us speak frankly.  What calamity befell you?"

"Oh, you mean the storm some four days ago.  Blew us far north.  The ship was sinking, or so I thought, and I gave the order to abandon ship.  The crew took to the boats and..."

"And you stayed behind."

"Yes.  I hoped to the end that a U-boat would find us and at least I would be able to offload some of the torpedoes, but the ship was sinking..."  He shook his head.  "I admit I don't understand it.  It was sinking, but then somehow... not sinking."  Frowning, he took a swig of his scotch.  "Not sinking," he mused.  "How is that I wonder?"

Hartenstein scrutinised the man.  "Captain, you would be surprised if I told you how many times I have heard that story.  Here, it is most common."

"'Here'?" Quint queried.

"Yes, here, Captain, in the Fourth Realm, which is where you've ended up."

"What are you talking about, man?  Talk sense!" Quint demanded.

"Captain, you're ship was wrecked by the storm and it sank no doubt some four days ago, which leaves us with the problem of what to do with it.  I fear I shall have to destroy it."

"Destroy?"  Quint was clearly outraged.  "Are you claiming salvage?  Because if you are I will not surrender it!  The ship's cargo is most valuable, but you know this.  What's your game?  Planning on selling the torpedoes to the highest bidder?"

Hartenstein smiled.  "Not in the least, Captain.  I plan on destroying them.  However, I must contact headquarters and..."

At that moment Quint grabbed his gun once more.  “Oh, no, you don't, Captain!  I cannot allow you to destroy my ship.  Even her regular cargo of rum is valuable."

"Captain Quint, put away your weapon.  You must understand that in this realm of peace her existence poses great danger.  Her function is not needed here.  Captain, you are now in the Fourth Realm where there is no war.  I am happy to rescue you and take you aboard my vessel whence you will be transferred to a luxury liner for the voyage home.  However, we cannot leave your vessel here.  She is a great danger to shipping and I fully anticipate being ordered to destroy her."

"What is this Fourth Realm nonsense?  And what kind of German traitor are you?  In it for the money, is that it?"

Mortimer spoke up.  "Captain Quint, there is no war here and for you the war is over.  You can take no further part in it.  Your life in the Third Realm is finished and you and your vessel have come here to the Fourth."

Quint sneered.  "More nonsense.  You're clearly traitors to the Reich.  Both of you!  You make me sick.  At least I'm honest.  I'm in this war to make a profit and believe me I do - on both my cargoes.  I'm doing very well thank you and you're not going to ruin it."

All three men were on their feet.

"You are a war profiteer, Captain, and stop you I will," Hartenstein responded.  "Now put down your weapon and come aboard my vessel.  I assure you you will be well treated."

Quint, his gaze steely, slowly shook his head.  "Not on your life, Captain.  You cannot claim salvage and you have no authority over me or my vessel.  I will not abandon it."

"You can and you will, Captain.  I order you to come with us."

"By whose authority?" Quint demanded, clearly outraged.  "And please don't tell me you have the moral authority, sir, because that would only make you a liar.  We all profit from this war in one way or another," he sneered.

"By whose authority?  The authority of the International Admiralty which I represent.  Now come with us, Captain Quint.  I will add that you have no choice in the matter."

"Typical damn German.  Always giving orders, aren't you.  Well I do not recognize your authority, sir, and I refuse your orders.  I refuse."

Abruptly, and with no warning, a shot rang out, the charge filling the small room and momentarily deafening the occupants as blue smoke rose from the muzzle of a gun.  Concurrently, a figure fell to the floor, mortally wounded.