Nanadyt 28, 14343 (Day 5)

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“Two, three, heave!” Reinvo’s back ached, and his legs wobbled but he forced his hands to hold the wooden wall they’d built. It smelled of pitch, and his skin clung to the surface. A wave crashed against the side of the ship, vibrating the wooden patch. In spite of being waist deep in the cold ocean, water and sweat ran down his face, tickling his nose and getting in his eyes. His vision was blurry, and he wasn’t sure if it was due to fatigue or the water in his eyes.

By controlled flooding of some port compartments and pumping the water out of the starboard compartments, the Vibrius held steady, listing at sixteen degrees to port. As such they’d managed to lift most of the damaged hull out of the water. They couldn’t right the ship ‘til they’d sealed the breaches, and he had no false hopes of doing that at sea.

Salty ocean leaked around the edges as they pushed. Men at both sides worked furiously with the jury-rigged clamps to lock the patch in place.

Another wave hit, and the patch pushed out, letting some of the water to slosh in.

The pressure on the piece jumped up a notch, and Reinvo grunted, leaning into it along with the rest of the men. A series of splashes came from his left.

“Lin passed out.”

“Get him out of the water, and someone take his place!” Reinvo ordered.

“On it, sir,” a voice Reinvo couldn’t place came. That told him he was more tired than he cared to admit. He knew every soul aboard personally.

The pressure let up slightly as another crewman took up Lin’s position holding the patch.

“Urded hold it steady.” Boatswain Trennon’s voice was crisp and sharp like a cracking whip.

Reinvo leaned into the wooden wall with his shoulder. Next to him, the cook’s mate struggled, his arms and legs vibrating more than Reinvo’s.

“It’s tight,” Trennon finally said, and everyone relaxed.

Reinvo stepped back and grabbed the cook’s mate’s shoulder. “Jirnal, you’ve done enough for now. Go up top, get some fresh water, and take forty winks.”

The cook’s mate looked defiantly at him for a moment.

“That’s an order,” Reinvo said.

Jirnal nodded and moved away.

Ardlee came down and jumped the last few rungs into the water. He pulled a water bag over his shoulder and handed it Reinvo.

“Sir, you’ve been up for nearly twenty hours yourself,” the commander whispered to Reinvo.

“Five days. Those men have been working ‘round the clock for five days, keeping the engines running to save us. I can do no less to save them.”

Ardlee nodded. “And Empresses be blessed; we have to get to those engines to save us all.”

“There is that too, Commander,” he said, handing the water bag back. “We just have to open the machine shop, and then we are to engineering. A few more hours. Then I promise I’ll get some sleep.”

The patch was fully sealed, and the men stepped back to inspect it.

“Get the pumps in here and remove this water,” Reinvo ordered.

The men set to pumping the water out.

Ardlee leaned in close. “We’ve cleared the far galley.”

Reinvo frowned at his tone. It was far from optimistic. “And?”

“The pantry lockers were not entirely secured for the storm. We’ve lost over half our provisions.”

“Order the cook to take everyone to quarter rations immediately.”

“Aye.” Ardlee’s eyes looked far away.

Reinvo thumped Ardlee’s back. “We aren’t dead. Might lose a few pounds. We only need to open that hatch,” he said, indicating the sealed watertight door next to the hull. They’d worked a full day to make the path to it. It was half above the waterline, and they’d built a sealed bath that’d let them open it and not flood the recently dried out compartments. “Once we get to the machine shop, we’ll have the tools needed to fix the rudder. Even at this distance from shore, we can be back to the Split Queendoms in a week. Maybe less with these engines.”

Ardlee leaned against the wall with Reinvo as the pumps cleared the water. The men brought in the waist-high half tub they’d built to hold the water, letting them climb into the machine shop once the water was evacuated. It took over an hour to brace it in place with chains and ropes. The boatswains gave it an extra coating of tar to seal the edges.

Their tiredness was forgotten, and all eyes were on the machine shop hatchway. Reinvo stepped across the room.

“Tools, men. We’ll have all the tools now.” He smiled wide for the first time in days.

With a triumphant surge, Reinvo climbed over the edge of the tub and leaned into the hatch-wheel. It turned, and as the screws released, water pushed the hatch open in spite of Reinvo’s pushing to keep it closed.

Water pressure won the fight. The ocean rushed in so fast Reinvo’s feet were swept out from under him as the men cheered. He swung on the door, getting stuck between the tub’s edge and the door. The door was heavy, and it knocked the wind out of him as the hatch-wheel added to his rib’s bruising painfully. Still, he hung on to the hatch-wheel. In moments, he was once again up to his waist in ocean water, and the door’s pressure released him.

“Captain, are you all right?” Ardlee called concerned.

Getting his feet back under him, Reinvo stepped around the hatch. “Yes, just a bit more bruised.”

Something soft bumped his leg. A dark shape was floating in the tub halfway through the door. Reaching down and expecting to feel scales, he felt soft cloth with cold flesh underneath.

Adrenaline surge, and he let out a weary, “Oh no.”

“What?” Ardlee leaned over the edge of the wooden retaining tub to look.

Reinvo used both hands to pull the body through the door to the surface. It was First Machinist Pulthin.

“Careful, lads, his flesh is a little loose. Respectfully, respectfully.” Reinvo directed as the men helped lift Pulthin’s body over the edge of the tub to lay him gently on the floor.

“Get a stretcher and take him up to Father Baenali. We’ll have a proper burial at sea for him,” Reinvo ordered.

“Let’s have a good look,” Reinvo said after they had taken Pulthin out of the room. He grabbed an oil lantern and braced himself on the doorway to lean out into the cavernous machine shop room. At first, he only saw dimly reflected daylight coming up through a hole so large he knew the men in this room had been killed the moment they’d hit that reef. His eyes adjusted to the light, and he was glad to see the hole in the hull here was the end of the breach. That meant the engineering compartment would be fully intact.

The listing of the ship made footing difficult. So he moved in cautiously. The water swirled in the room far more than it should have given the breach was mostly out of the water. The water was littered with flotsam that moved around the wide chamber at a significant speed.

Something large moved past him. Holding the lantern high, he could see it was another body. Reaching out to grab the body, he dropped the lantern as his feet slipped. Grabbing the doorway and the body, he pulled himself and the body back through the hatch.

This time, it was Machinist Whalen. A surge of guilt passed; Whalen didn’t want to come on this voyage, he was already past retirement age and wanted to relax at the commune. Reinvo had strong-armed his old friend into joining him on this, as he had put it, extraordinary adventure. Keeping a stoic face, he helped the men lift Whalen out of the water.

Ardlee gazed at Reinvo for a moment before quietly saying, “Sir, maybe the rest can wait ‘til you get some rest.”

“No, it’s just that Whalen was only aboard at my insistence. This is on my scroll. Hand me another lantern. I lost the last one.”

Ardlee lit and handed a new lantern to him without comment. A gesture Reinvo appreciated beyond words at that moment.

Taking a calming breath, Reinvo waded back into the machine room. The waters there still swirled. He waited for his eyes to adjust and held the lantern high. A hook by the door for a lantern was open, so he hung the lantern and brought in more, finding the hooks above water. When he had four lanterns, the room was finally lit well enough to see.

Through the murky water, he saw there was a second breach. A section of the machine room’s floor had been ripped away, leaving a hole easily fifteen feet wide. There was no chance they could repair that underway. Near the second breach, almost out of sight underwater, another body was tangled in some ropes caught on a workbench.

Reinvo’s eyes lifted from the body, he focused on a glorious site. At the opposite side of the room, above the waterline, was the watertight hatch into the engine room. The stern doorway was half a deck higher than the forward hatch he stood in, and the elevation placed it a full six feet above the water with the iron grate stairs intact.

“Get me some safety lines,” Reinvo said stepping back into the room where Ardlee and the men waited. “Ardlee, help me.”

Ardlee climbed into the water basin with him. “What are we doing?”

“Recovering one more body.”

Moving back into the machine room, Reinvo waited for Ardlee’s eyes to accustom to the light and then pointed at the body.

“What about the hole?” Ardlee asked.

“There is a current but not a strong one from how things are moving in here. Just don’t swim out it.”

Ardlee nodded and took several breaths as he pulled his knife out of its sheath on his belt. Reinvo drew his own knife and took the same deep breaths.

Together they dived and cut at the tangle of ropes holding the dead crewman in place. They had to make three dives before the body finally floated free. This one had been chewed on by something in the water. They had no way to immediately identify who it was.

With the body taken care of, Ardlee joined Reinvo in swimming across the room to the steel stairs that led up to the engine room compartment. They tied the safety line to the railing to allow the crew to pull themselves across the chamber without having to swim freely. They climbed to the door they’d been working to get to for five days.

The engines thrummed steadily through the wall, still running at full speed. A repeating steel on steel ringing came through the door that sounded familiar, yet Reinvo knew he’d never heard it before. After listening for a minute, he realized it had to be something on the engine; it beat a rhythm that matched the pulses of the high steam engines. Reinvo glanced at Ardlee before grabbing the hatch-wheel and turning it. Air that felt burning hot on their cold skin rolled out. It was dry and filled with coal dust carrying the unmistakable heavy sent of machine oil.

“Empresses bless us,” Reinvo said as he looked at his hands shaking of their own accord.

His eyes were immediately locked on the four bodies. They didn’t move, and they looked partially mummified. The engineers had known they were dying. They’d prepared for it and lay down together, purposefully close to the boiler where the heat would first render them unconscious before it baked the life out of them.

He wasn’t sure how, but he found himself standing at the feet of the men he’d known for their whole adult lives. Chief Malde, who never drank but still went to the bars to spend time with the men. First Engineer Mate Nithal, who would have failed out of the commune if Reinvo hadn’t bet him a silver cross he couldn’t finish top of his year; he never could pass up a bet. Engineer Kin’s dark hair had started going gray as he worked his way up from deck mate. And the new man they’d all been happy to get, Junior Engineer Logan. At twenty-years-old, Reinvo and Malde had overheard the upstart yard boy arguing with Lady Janali over compounding pressure storage tanks. Lady Janali had changed the designs the next day. The finest engineers in the merchant fleet.

To their credit, Lady Janali’s great engines roared with power around him, yet all he heard was his own heart, and his vision blurred as he fought back the tears.

“Captain, you have to see this,” Commander Ardlee said in a hushed tone as if in a church.

Reinvo drew his salty and soggy sleeve across his brow, letting it fall enough to wipe his eyes before he turned to the commander.

If Ardlee saw the tears, he didn’t comment. He led Reinvo around the massive furnace.

Scattered around the room were several damaged machines for secondary systems like the loading cranes. Except on his second more detailed look, he realized they were not damaged but stripped for parts. A set of plating had been bent into a funnel cut into the bottom of the coal tank. Coal spilled out of this like sands through an hourglass. A conveyor belt had been constructed to collect the falling coal and deliver it to another funnel bolted to the side of the furnace. And that funnel caused the coal to continuously feed the furnace’s never ending hunger. The entire contraption was powered by chains tied together and looped onto one of the slower gear wheels of the port engine. The chains had random links dangling down with various machine parts attached. The dangling parts were whipped into an empty grease barrel beating out a repeating pattern of tones.

The reason for the bits of debris hammering out sounds escaped Reinvo’s over-extended mind. But the sounds felt even more familiar, like something he should know.

“I can’t think clearly. I need some rest,” Reinvo said.

“Me too,” Ardlee agreed, “but I’m going far enough away, so I don’t have to listen to My Mother’s Ground ringing in my ears as I sleep.”

Reinvo choked. He should have recognized the rhythm. It was Chief Malde’s favorite shanty, and there wasn’t a single night in port that the song wasn’t sung by at least one sailor.

He couldn’t stop himself; he started singing. Before long Commander Ardlee joined him, and then he could hear the voices of the crewmen in the foreword compartment join them.

Fare thee well, my brothers,
and keep the lanterns bright.
We’re off from our mother’s grounds,
to see what we might.
We’ll sail the blessed seas,
and we’ll return once more.
Because I live in hope to see,
my mother’s ground once more.

It’s sailing the blessed seas I adore.
And yet I live in hope to see
my mother’s ground once more.

Oh now the storm is raging,
and we are far from shore.
The poor old ship he’s sinking fast,
and the riggings they are tore.
The night is dark and dreary,
we can scarcely see the moon.
But still I live in hope to see,
my mother’s ground once more.

It’s sailing the blessed seas I adore.
And yet I live in hope to see
my mother’s ground once more.

Oh now the storm is over,
and we are safe on shore.
We’ll drink a toast to the blessed seas,
and the families we adore.
We’ll drink strong ale and porter,
and we’ll make the taproom roar.
And when our money is all spent,
we’ll go to sea once more.

It’s sailing the blessed seas I adore.
And yet I live in hope to see
my mother’s ground once more.

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