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Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: NC-17 for sex
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count this section: 3,840
Total word count: 7,105
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: Hartenstein is suspicious when a fishing boat maintains radio silence.
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: Sequel to "The Man Who Wasn't There".

The two vessels arrived back in Homeport to headlines bigger than mountains, was how Mannesmann put it - ‘Titanic in Grave Danger as Torpedo Explodes' screamed one, ‘Titanic Near Blown Apart' shouted another, ‘Titanic Close to Sinking', boomed another, ‘Horror at Sea, Great Liner in Danger' howled another, ‘Titanic Near Sinking - Where Was Her Escort?' shrilled yet another. Her master had quite a collection of them, each with headlines bigger than its predecessor. He sighed. He was not taking telephone calls until after the Admiralty had had its say and that was in one hour's time. God knows how long that was going to take and after that there was a press conference. In the meantime he vowed that he was going to enjoy his breakfast. He hoped that his friends aboard U-156 were doing the same.

U-156's commander was also refusing to take telephone calls and he was definitely not looking forward to a lengthy Admiralty inquiry though he knew it was mandatory in the circumstances.

"We can thank our lucky stars Titanic wasn't badly damaged," Mortimer remarked, dipping his toast into yoke of egg.

Hartenstein sipped his coffee. "Ja. Another six metres and she'd have needed a lot more than a bit of paint and a few new plates and portholes. Andrews says there's a little seepage into the double hull so the engineers are going to check her plates."

"She hit that boat pretty hard. She might have bow damage too."

"Ja. It will be the drydock."

Mortimer shook his head. "M. le Gonville will not be happy. He says she ties up the docks."

At the thought of the dockyard's excitable chief engineer Hartenstein shook his head.

"M. le Gonville should be a happy man with the invention of the new anti-fouling paint."

Mortimer munched some more toast. "I read that. It said sea creatures can't stick to it and it's durable. Will last for five years which will mean less leave for us."

"These inventors are too efficient," Hartenstein muttered. "If she won't need her bottom careened for five years there'll be no rest for us."

Mortimer was reminded of the previous night and grinned. "You mean no rest for the wicked. Speaking of which, aren't you hungry? Sex always makes you hungry.

Hartenstein could not keep a straight face. "You know me too well."

Mortimer grinned. "Besides, you're going to need fortitude for staring down all those admirals."

Hartenstein made a face and sliced into a sausage.

The inquiry was in session at Admiralty Headquarters and had been for over two hours now. The arguments were continuing.

"But do we know the origin of this damned boat? We have to know where it came from. We have to make sure there are no more."

"Look, Bill, I have it on good authority that there should be no more. Plainly, that one should not have come to this realm at all."

"Well then why did it? Plainly, it was sunk in the Third."

"Yeah, and that's unusual for such a powerful craft."

"Well, obviously, they didn't realize they were in another realm where there isn't a damn war."

"Beg pardon, sirs, but I believe they did," Hartenstein ventured.

"Captain Hartenstein, just what do you mean by that remark?" Admiral Strong inquired.

"Gentlemen and ladies, I believe that, although it was originally sunk in the Third, more recently it had unfortunately become a vessel of the dark."

There was silence around the large table.

"Stone the bloody crows," the Australian admiral muttered after a while.

"Sacré bleu!" the French admiral exclaimed. "We have not seen them for a long time now."

"The good captain's right you know," the Irish admiral remarked.

"Now how do you know that, Liam?" Admiral Strong queried.

"The little people said so and they don't like it."

"Oh, don't they," Strong muttered.

"No, and they'd like it if there were no more around."

"And did they happen to mention if there were any more around?"

"Oh, for god's sake, this is ridiculous!" the American admiral exclaimed. "We have no proof of any such thing. They came here from the Third, fixed up their boat and set off in search of Allied ships. Titanic just happened to be the first one they came across."

"With all due respect, Admiral, I beg to differ," Hartenstein responded. "We watched the vessel approaching on the radar. Where did it come from? It should not have had enough diesel fuel for such a lengthy trip, yet we encountered it mid Atlantic. How could that be? It was the first thing that made me suspect it was not a fishing boat at all. Add to that the fact that it was maintaining radio silence..."

"We all know that radios from the Third don't work here!" the American admiral interrupted.

"...and did not respond to signals either," Hartenstein continued smoothly. "That is why I moved to intercept it."

"But you did not suspect its speed." Strong phrased it as a statement.

"I... regret that I did not. Its speed, from the time it appeared on the radar, had been consistent with that of a fishing boat."

"Which it was disguised as. If you had suspected its true speed, what would you have done?"

"I would have taken up a position that would have put my vessel between it and Titanic."

"And how could you have done that when the other vessel was not only far faster but highly manoeuvrable? For instance, it could have run rings around Titanic and attacked from the opposite side."

"It would have been difficult but the vessel, fast as it was, would still have had to slow to successfully aim and launch a torpedo."

"So, theoretically, you think you might have succeeded?"

"I believe so."

"And that's about as likely as finding a wombat on an iceberg," scoffed the Australian admiral.

"Oh, for god's sake, all this is academic!" the American admiral exclaimed. "The fact is you underestimated the speed of this vessel until it took you by surprise and outflanked you."

"I realized that Titanic was its target."

"Quite. And you were only able to circumvent its attack at the last minute. This won't do." Strong shook his head, his expression grim.

"Sacré bleu, if there are any more such boats out there..." the French admiral shuddered.

"I believe not," Hartenstein responded. "Such a boat would be rare as they are very fast and also armed with torpedoes and a machine gun. Therefore they are rarely captured and very seldom sunk as they can easily avoid capture with their sheer speed."

"Let us hope you're right," Strong replied. "We simply cannot afford to have this happen again."

"I should damn well say not!" the American admiral interjected. "The press are screaming for our heads and they have every right to. This was a disgraceful display of incompetence."

"Now, now, Bill," Strong admonished. "Titanic was saved and the vessel destroyed and in the end that's all that matters."

Shuffling some papers in front of him, he turned to Andrews.

"Captain Andrews, I believe you had a riot on your hands."

All heads turned to Andrews including Hartenstein who could not remember his friend mentioning a riot of any kind.

"As usual the press exaggerates. It was a case of the passengers wanted to watch the torpedo approaching. For the sake of their safety I gave orders to keep them away from the starboard side of the ship but, in spite of the crew's best efforts, they were dying to see what was happening and became uncontrollable when someone shouted that the torpedo was coming very close. After that, no amount of warnings of danger could stop them as they watched the torpedo approaching. Of course when it was successfully detonated by our very brave escort they all cheered."

All shook their heads and someone muttered, "Civilians have no idea of danger."

"Bunch of galahs," the Australian admiral muttered.

"Oh, but the little people protected her," the Irish admiral interjected.

"And what is Titanic's current status?" Strong inquired.

"I've been informed by M. le Gonville that some six plates are slightly buckled, therefore weakened and in need of replacing. Unfortunately several are below the waterline therefore she will be taken into drydock tomorrow morning. Her bow will also be checked. Her cracked portholes have already been replaced with new ones. A lick of paint and she will be ready to put to sea once more."

"After she's tied up the largest damn drydock once more," the American admiral muttered. "We have to put an end to this ridiculous charade of pretending that Titanic is suited to rescue missions. She clearly isn't and needs to be retired from the fleet. When the war in the Third Realm is over and we're no longer being inundated with half-sunken ships and highly dangerous U-boats, she can go back into service with White Star."

"D'accord," the French admiral replied. "She should be retired - and at once!" he added.

"Too bloody right!" the Australian admiral replied. "She's about as manoeuvrable as Uluru."

The Italian admiral shook his head. "Speak the English, Brian," he admonished. "What is this Uluru? Is it a ship?"

"I will not stand for it!" Andrews interjected, jumping to his feet. "Titanic may not be very manoeuvrable but she's fast and can get to the site of a newly arrived vessel faster than most. She carries all nationalities and by the time she docks they are all getting along like old friends and promising to keep in touch in their new lives, especially the British and Germans. And you all know what a superb healer she is. Most of you have cruised on her and did you not come back feeling wonderful? For this reason alone, she is exactly what is needed on rescue missions. I... will admit that after her first somewhat perilous mission I had some doubts, but I have none now. None whatsoever. She is exactly the type of vessel needed in these dire circumstances and, as I always say, she's a tough old bird and can take her lumps with the best of them.

"Gentlemen, there is something you may not be aware of. On the return voyage I conducted a poll of the crew. I asked two questions: First, do you think Titanic is suited to dangerous rescue missions? Second, do you still wish to serve on her in her continuing role as a rescue ship? The answer was one hundred percent yes to both questions and many crew said that they would serve on her no matter what which makes me very proud to have such a loyal crew.

"Lastly, I would just like to say that we all do our bit to rescue those from the Third who have met with misfortune at sea due to the terrible war there and I am proud to say that so can Titanic and I trust that, with the continued protection of her escort, U-156, and that vessel's brave commander," he nodded to Hartenstein, "she will continue to do so." He resumed his seat.

Admiral Strong placed a sheaf of papers into a folder. "Thank you, Captain Andrews. We will certainly take your views into consideration." He glanced at the clock. "And now, gentlemen, let us continue this discussion later. Right now I propose that we adjourn for lunch. Meeting will resume at 14:00."

On meeting up with Mortimer, Andrews insisted that they come aboard Titanic for lunch.

In the captain's quarters aboard Titanic the mood was pensive. Both captains had thought that the proceedings of the tribunal would be completed by lunchtime. The fact that it was going to continue into the afternoon did not bode well.

Mortimer tried to lighten the mood.

"Mm, these pancakes are delicious," he decided, adding more maple syrup before slicing into another one.

The compliment brought smiles all around especially to Andrews who was always proud of his vessel's cuisine. Hartenstein stared at his plate as though seeing it for the first time and decided to dig in.

"Mm, excellent."

"Let us eat a hearty lunch, gentlemen," Andrews urged. "We may need our strength this afternoon."

"You don't really think that they'd ground Titanic," Mortimer ventured.

"They could," Andrews replied.

"But let us hope that cooler heads will prevail," Hartenstein added.

Mortimer raised his glass. "To cool heads."

All three drank, their conversation ranging over the latest news on the rescue mission.

"The oceans are becoming even more dangerous," Hartenstein remarked.

"Yes, definitely," Andrews agreed. "And as far as I'm concerned it means that Titanic is needed even more now."

"She embodies the rescue movement," Mortimer added.

"You're right, Mortimer," Andrews replied. "She may have come to it later than others, but she's become a symbol of it. They cannot deny that and therefore they cannot take her out of service."

"To take her out of service would be to admit that the seas are too dangerous," Hartenstein agreed. "It would be tantamount to admitting defeat."

"And the souls of the fallen of war must be retrieved and rehabilitated," Andrews said.

"And Titanic is the best there is at rehabilitation of the fallen," Mortimer concluded.

The other two smiled.

"I can see why you keep him around," Andrews said with a wink at Hartenstein.

Hartenstein, finishing his coffee, smiled at the compliment. "Oh, Mortimer has many talents." His hazel eyes met the blue ones of his first officer, a glance as intimate as any that they shared. "That's why I keep him around."

Andrews noticed the look between them, as always pleased that they felt free to be themselves when in his company.

After lunch they took their wine and went up to sit on the Boat Deck for a while, smoke cigars and watch the comings and goings on the busy harbour, Andrews naming the ships and Hartenstein the various U-boats and their commanders. Finally it was time to return to the tribunal. This time Mortimer was invited to join them.

"Captain Andrews," Strong began, "I have to inform you that we have serious doubts about Titanic's role in the rescue mission. While it's true to say that your good self and your crew do a superb job for which we are always grateful, it's also true to say that your vessel is highly unsuited for it, a fact about which we had serious doubts from the beginning, as you know. You may remember that we delayed her entry into the rescue fleet for more than a year..."

"I remember it well, sir," Andrews interjected. "An unnecessary delay that afforded nothing."

"Nonetheless it kept her safe and back in ‘41 there were far fewer U-boats we could utilize as escorts," Strong continued. "However, she is very far from being safe now."

"She is no more at risk than any of the other rescue ships, especially the larger ones like her sister ship and Lusitania," Andrews argued.

"I have to disagree, Captain. She is a far bigger target as she has become the international face of the rescue mission. Everywhere she goes people see her and know that she is doing important work. Nonetheless it has become apparent to all of us that this work is far too dangerous for her to continue. If two U-boats were to attack her at once, she could not be adequately protected and it would result in severe injuries. This possibility is one that we cannot afford to contemplate any longer. We have therefore, most reluctantly I might add, taken the decision to withdraw Titanic from the International Rescue Fleet."

Before Andrews could protest he continued.

"Now I know what you're going to say. If Titanic is a symbol of the rescue missions then how can we withdraw her? It's simple - the risk of danger outweighs the symbolism and we are prepared to explain this to the public."

"Well I'm not!" Andrews replied vehemently. "Titanic is the one ship that, above all others, is ideally suited to rescue missions. You said yourself that she has become the symbol of the International Rescue Fleet. If that makes her a target, then so be it. She is as unsinkable now as she's ever going to be for a vessel of 46,000 tons. I recently asked my chief engineer to calculate as best as he could how many torpedoes it would take to sink her in her present condition. He came up with a figure of eight; that is four torpedoes either side flooding most of her watertight compartments. However, as you know, it is much more difficult to sink a ship in this realm so he was unsure if even that would sink her although she would certainly ride much lower in the water. Now I ask you, gentlemen and ladies, is that scenario likely to happen? I think not. One torpedo, yes, I admit it's a possibility; even two is not beyond the realms of fantasy, but eight? She is not going to be sunk and that's that. In the morning she will be in drydock for a quick replacement of a few plates, a little paint job and she'll be putting to sea once more. She is very strong and I will not allow her to become a victim of headlines of gloom and doom when she is doing the best work of her life, work she is entirely suited for as she is such an excellent and gentle healer which is exactly what is required by the poor souls washing up in this realm after enduring hardships we cannot imagine. I therefore ask - no, I demand - that Titanic be allowed to carry on the best work of her life. I never knew it back in 1912 in the Third Realm - could never have imagined such a situation - but this, her current role, I now believe is what she was created for. To deprive her of that, to restrict her to port or mothball her in any way, would be a complete denial of not only everything she has come to symbolise to the public but everything she is."

He paused. "Gentlemen and ladies of the Admiralty, I will not pretend that the work is always easy. Indeed I have seen things I never thought to see and I will admit that at first I had my doubts. We of this realm are gentle souls and the number of deaths at sea in the previous war in the Third, what they called the Great War, was as nothing compared to this one. But this war? I cannot imagine what people are suffering there. When they come here they are sorely in need of healing and I am proud that my ship and my crew are needed. Indeed they are necessary. To deprive those in dire need of the healing that my vessel can provide would not only be unfair it would be cruel, and I know that you, ladies and gentlemen of the Admiralty, are not cruel. I now realize that the sorrow of her grand misadventure in the Third, as I like to call it, prepared her well for the present. She is a symbol not only of the Rescue Fleet but of survival. I therefore request that you allow Titanic to continue in her present role and let her be the healer that she was always meant to be."

Andrews sat quietly after that.

Mortimer could not help but notice that there were tears running down the man's cheeks. In fact while listening to the ardent speech he had become highly emotional himself. Beside him, he knew that his commanding officer was feeling the same. Under the table he squeezed his hand, promptly feeling the gesture returned.

Around them there was silence until, finally, Admiral Strong cleared his throat.

"Captain Andrews, we thank you for your heartfelt words and we will give you our decision later."

"Och, why can't we vote on it now?" the Irish admiral inquired. "After all, she's a lovely old Irish vessel designed and built in that great little country and the little people look after her don't you know and between them and the good Captain Hartenstein and his lovely first officer she'll come to no serious harm, you mark my words."

Strong peered around the table. "Anyone else want to have a vote now rather than later?" Several hands went up around the table. "Very well. Could I have a show of hands for Titanic remaining in her present role in the International Rescue Fleet." He counted the raised hands. "Very good. Now could I have a show of hands for Titanic remaining safely in port for the duration of the war in the Third Realm." Only three people put up their hands including himself, the American and French admirals.

Hartenstein could not keep the smile from his face, nor could his first officer. As for Andrews, he had a grin a mile wide.

"Very well, ladies and gentlemen, the matter is settled in the affirmative. Titanic will continue in her present role in the International Rescue Fleet." He thanked all for their attendance and the meeting broke up.

Outside, the press pounced with a million questions so that it was another half hour before the three men managed to escape.

"Come!" Hartenstein decided. "We could all do with a drink. Andrews, will you join us on the boat? I have a special vintage I want you to try."

"Ah, why not. We deserve it."

There was only a skeleton crew aboard as Weber saluted Andrews.

"None of that. This isn't official." Andrews winked at the crewman and carefully climbed down the ladder into the vessel's interior. Once more he was struck by the U-boat's meagre proportions, the sheer narrowness of it and the low deckhead. It was just as well Mortimer reminded him to duck as he nearly banged his head walking through a hatchway. My god, but the things were cramped, he thought. Hartenstein had once told him how foul-smelling U-boats once were with poor ventilation and fifty sweaty men dwelling in close quarters. Of course that had been in the Third Realm. He couldn't imagine fifty men on a vessel this small. They must have been tripping over each other. At least it was clean and smelt it, he reflected.

As they seated themselves in the small captain's quarters Hartenstein opened a bottle of vintage cognac and poured for everyone.

"You're a lifesaver," Andrews praised, examining his glass and giving the fine beverage a good sniff. "Ah, a fine vintage indeed if I'm not mistaken." He examined the bottle. "1893! My, my."

"Mortimer found it when we took our leave in England last year. We brought back four bottles. He has an eye for a bargain."

"He certainly does! Well then, let us drink a toast." The three men raised their glasses. "Gentlemen, to victory over bureaucracy!"

All agreed that the fine old beverage was a rare and delightful treat. Andrews, who was used to the best aboard Titanic, pronounced it impeccable.

* * *