1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 02

Eddie met Svantner’s frank, dutiful eyes for a moment before smiling and shaking his head. “No, XO. If the wind holds, we can save the fuel and move to Objective Bravo by canvas alone. Send the word.”

A crisp “Aye, sir!” accompanied Arne’s equally crisp salute, which was followed by a sharp step toward the speaking tube down to the intraship comms cubby, just beneath Intrepid’s flying bridge.

 Eddie watched and listened to Svantner pass the orders smoothly, efficiently, smartly down to the Master’s Mate, then respond to an unheard question from the Comms Master in the radio room. Svantner was a solid officer, a good sailor, enjoyed the respect of the crew, knew Intrepid in all her particulars. He even understood how they functioned in relation to each other: no small feat, given the complexities of a ship which incorporated steam, a new hull type with new sailing characteristics, and several electronic systems. He was an eminently capable tactical XO, and had even displayed good-natured flexibility when that designation officially replaced the title which he, like his colleagues, had grown to manhood coveting: First Mate. He might even make a fine post-captain one day, but he would never truly grasp that the new technologies did not merely improve performance statistics, but signified a complete transformation in the calculus of how war at sea would now be conducted.

This had nothing to do with any intellectual want on Svantner’s part, but what the machinery and its application implied about the increasing reliance upon intelligence reports. And of course, research. Often mind-numbingly meticulous research, such as the kind that Eddie had conducted for the mission to the New World under the direction of Admiral John Simpson.

Long before today’s operation could have even been envisioned, it was understood that even with balloons and radios and the improved signaling of Aldis lamps, the USE’s formations would be at pains to gather a timely and expansive knowledge of their battlespace. Fortunately, Simpson had known there was another advantage the up-timers could count on, at least for a while: precision charts. Compared to the mostly approximated shapes and distances on down-time maps, up-time cartography was nothing short of miraculous in its precision and quality of render. What that meant to a commander in terms of projecting travel times, rendezvous points, or — in the current case — patrol areas was difficult to overstate.

Eddie smiled and glanced south. Out there, well over the horizon, was a small, swift Dutch jacht. And beyond her view of the southern horizon was yet another, similar ship. And another beyond that, and so forth. To the north, a similar but shorter daisy chain of fore-and-aft rigged pickets waited at the same intervals. And because they were able to maintain relatively constant positions by periodically triangulating on the landmarks behind them, the actual interception net that Eddie’s recon mission had cast was almost three times the width of the observation diameter from the balloon. Or in other words, slightly more than two hundred miles. Because if their target had approached from further to the north or the south, the captains of those yachts were prepared to fire long-barreled launchers that would send magnesium-tipped flares high into the night sky. Flares which the adjacent picket-ships were sure to see and relay, since — again because of the precision charts — they knew exactly what part of the sky they had to keep under constant observation.

 Eddie felt his smile grow rueful as he recalled the monotonous labor which had led to the creation of those charts. After recovering from the loss of his left foot and ankle and arriving at his new naval posting in Magdeburg, he was made Simpson’s aide and line-officer-in-training. And creating the precision navigational charts he was now relying upon had been his first job. And the only way to accomplish it was to pull the needed information from materials that had come along for the ride when the Ring of Fire swept them from Twentieth Century West Virginia to Seventeenth Century Germany.

The first step was to explore and catalog every relevant source in Grantville, a tedious task compared to the one he would have much rather been embarked upon: exploring and cataloging all the characteristics of his beautiful new wife’s mind and body. Albeit not always in that order.

However, one visit to Grantville revealed that the high school was not going to be the convenient mother-lode for this particular data mining operation. It had plenty of maps of every region of the globe, but they were the kind with which you teach geography, rather than navigate. Instead, upon going to the house of a recently deceased up-time boater, Eddie discovered the where he would find the actual treasure trove of nautical maps: in the personal collections of naval buffs.

What followed next was a little detective work and a lot of socializing. Specifically, finding out which of Grantville’s citizens had known about the community’s other devotees of all things maritime, and then getting cooperation from those individuals — or, in almost half of the cases, their heirs’. It seemed that a yen for the tales and technologies of the high seas was heavily correlated with older folks — not because of their advanced years, Eddie realized, but because of the topics that had inspired and sparked young imaginations back when they had been kids.

He sent a preliminary report of his findings to Simpson. It produced two results: a request to Ed Piazza for a half-dozen individuals — drawn from the State of Thuringia and Franconia’s bureaucracy, if need be — to search for useful documents and images in the houses of those who had agreed to cooperate. Secondly, the Admiral ordered Eddie to return to Magdeburg at once with the greatest treasures he had unearthed so far: books that provided not only details, but diagrams, of the construction of various Civil War era vessels. Most notably, both the Union ships Hartford and Kearsarge: the vessels that the USE’s steam cruisers and steam destroyers had been patterned upon, respectively. Eddie had telegraphed back: what was he to do about the growing pile maps? Simpson’s response came back so quickly it was a wonder that the electrons had been able to keep up with it: “Transshipment to Magdeburg not your concern. Process as they arrive HQ.”

And so Eddie did. Crate upon crate of personal collections that had belonged to people who’d been fascinated by all things nautical. However, the thousands of books did not actually make the most decisive contributions to Eddie’s cartographic quest. Rather, it was what had been found slipped in amidst them, at the back of  bookcases, lurking even in the pages of well-worn manuals: maps and navigation charts of places to which their starry-eyed owners would never go. Happily, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico had been their preferred stuff of dreams, perhaps because their comparative proximity made those regions seem more accessible, more easy to imagine going to one distant day. 

A would-be mariner’s mind is a strange thing, Eddie had decided as he catalogued countless charts that had never been used. Indeed, actual boaters would not have had use for the majority of them unless they had made a project of sailing to the most obscure ports of the Greater and Lesser Antilles. And yet those charts had been poured over. Their edges were crinkled and yellowed from the lustful touch of those whose longing to set the sails and man the wheels of tall ships had never gone beyond sitting hunched on the thwart of a square-bowed skiff, motionless upon an inland Appalachian lake, fishing rod in hand and high seas in their minds’ eyes.

Sorting through the water-stained cardboard boxes was often complicated by the age of the would-be captains’, the sad chaos of encroaching dementia wreaking havoc among what were already erratic filing systems. But by the time he finished categorizing and collating and assembling, Eddie had compiled an extraordinarily detailed picture of most of the Caribbean and much of the Gulf of Mexico: the area to which he and his flotilla — Task Force X-Ray — had been dispatched not quite a year earlier.

The ship’s bell rung once. Eddie didn’t listen for the other two he knew were coming. It was 0530. The watching and waiting was over.

Now it was time to move.