1637 No Peace Beyond The Line – Snippet 25

Larry’s definitive reply was two-fold. Firstly, contacting the indigenous people was a crucial part of the mission because Grantville had made its cooperation with oil extraction contingent upon recognizing the innate and inalienable rights of the peoples who were native to those lands. Secondly, Larry was in charge and had the letter — with Gustav’s seal — to prove it.

Captain Haraldsen ceded to that authority with about as much grace as could be expected; in other words, some anger but not everlasting hatred. And so the mission to coast-follow along to the mouth of the Mermentau was cobbled together as the crew of Courser began realizing that if they wanted to be sure of eating until the tide moved the sandbars out of the way, they’d better get hunting and start rationing carbohydrates. That last operational caveat came from Larry, who had been given the Army’s full spiel on how protein isn’t enough; that would put you in full ketosis in a few weeks and render the affected person at least temporarily useless.

So with her almost non-existent draft, the 180 Sportsman was able to cruise back out and follow along the coast, hopping from bay to inlet. They made fine progress for the first two days. In retrospect, Larry damned himself for not having seen that fine weather as a dire harbinger of things to come. After all, he’d been in the military and had learned as only soldiers can that when everything is going according to plan, that means it’s just about to come apart. Spectacularly.

And so it did. A storm that must have been following in the wake of the hurricane came up out of the southeast really quickly the day they put in at the Calcasieu River, which in this time, was not a reliable inlet to the large inland lake of the same name. The storm was certainly not a large one, but it was enough to do to Larry’s mission what the hurricane had done to Courser: it deposited silt in the narrow inlet. Enough to lock them into the Calcasieu Lake area the same way that Courser was still stuck in Galveston.

They took shelter on Monkey Island the only high ground nearby and from which they could watch for signs that the silt was washing away — if you could call a meter above the water “high ground.” But that was higher than anywhere else. At least it wasn’t summer, so the bugs were bearable. Barely.

The team’s frustration with their circumstances was aggravated by the fact that it was just sixty-five nautical miles back to Galveston Bay and comparative safety. But it might as well have been Pluto. At least the commercial radio on the Sportsman had enough range to trade squelch breaks, albeit barely. 

Fortunately, the raised waters had also removed their potentially greatest problem: a camp of indigenous peoples on the other side of the Calc (as they came to call it), near the mouth of the river on the north end of the bay. And since the best information they had from Grantville was that the only tribe they were likely to encounter here was the Atapaka, that would have meant having cannibals for neighbors. Almost as bad as college kids who were all-night partiers, as far as Larry was concerned,

The real and unrelenting problems were food and firewood. The water a mile upstream the Calcasieu River was okay for drinking, but where it entered the northern end of the lake, the flow was too sluggish for Quinn’s comfort: bacteria just loved warm, slow moving water. So getting water meant rowing upsteam (thank God Quinn had insisted on retrofitting oar-locks) which in turn meant risking a chance encounter with — whatever. Bears, snakes, natives, boar, and probably a dozen other things that could and would kill them deader than Elvis. So keeping the risk of such an encounter — and therefore, discovery — low meant minimizing the number of trips they took for water. That was further problematized by the limited number of containers they had. All in all, retro-fitted oar-locks notwithstanding, Larry Quinn was less than impressed with his own mission preparations.

One of the Hibernians, Winkelman, was so dissatisfied with his water ration that he decided to try the water from where the Calcasieu entered the lake of the same name. Seventy-two hours of misery later, he repented his decision — and was the object of considerable resentment: rehydrating him cut deeply into their supplies. Of course, they would have boiled the local water, but then there was that pesky firewood problem. So in order to ensure his recovery, they’d had to lean heavily into their only reserve of truly palatable water, that which they’d taken with them from Courser. It still tasted of the purification tanks, but now, they barely noticed it.

Fortunately, there was another source of truly clean water: rain. And it just so happened that, according to the almost encyclopedic references that had been compiled for the mission, the Calcasieu/Sabine area was the eighth rainiest region in the continental US. It had precipitation 104 days out of the year, with an average total of about fifty inches. And as luck would have it, January was the rainiest month of its year.

Except, this time, it seemed that the hurricane and the storm behind it had exhausted the rain until February. They also had the additional problem of how to catch it. And that just happened to coincide with the most ominous sign of all: Courser went off the air. No more daily squelch breaks. For Larry, the steam destroyer was no longer as far off as Pluto; it was well past Alpha Centauri.

Fortunately, no one speculated on the cause of the sudden silence because, as far as Larry could tell, they were all experienced or insightful enough to realize that if they started down that path, they’d go mad with it. Despondency would follow when they realized that there was no reassurance to be gained in that pointless exercise. Not the path you want to be on since it was when things got the worst that you needed morale at its best.

Thankfully, fate seemed willing to repay them for that minimum wisdom and unflagging determination to survive and believe that all was not lost. Shortly after Courser went dark, their fishing skills began to improve, as did their experiments in sun-drying and salting any excess catch. A week after that, the rains finally arrived, better late than never. And, after a silence of more than a month, Courser resumed her daily squelch breaks.

Once the emergency codes for breaking radio discipline were exchanged, Larry discovered that although Galveston’s sand bars were beginning to shift and recede, they still had Courser locked in. Fuel to keep the condensers running and radio’s batteries charged had run low, so Captain Haraldsen took the necessary step of sending out foraging parties. They found food and water occasionally, but never more wood than what they needed to cook the game they managed to bring down.

Once they reached the 10% mark in the fuel bunkers, Capt Haraldsen made the hard but inevitable decision to keep the burner cold until they were ready to attempt to navigate out of Galveston Bay. And since fully draining the charge in their primitive chemical batteries was inadvisable, he made the hardest decision of all: to suspend all radio use until he had enough wood to run the engines, and thereby generate power for the batteries and the squelch breaks.