The Captain awoke in the air, thrown from his bunk by a sudden lurching of the ship. His ears were full of a crunching sound, groaning, a horrific tearing that could only be the hardwood of the hull coming apart, followed by rushing water. As soon as he could keep his feet, he dashed for the ladder.

The sunlight blinded him momentarily at the hatch. He clung to the ladder-top and yelled, "Report!"

"We hit something, port side below the waterline." Rinceley's voice was eerily calm. "The hull is cracked open."

He could see, now, barely. The men were lowering lifeboats. "Who ordered the 'abandon ship'?"

"I did." Again the first mate spoke without emotion. "Go look at the hole, man, she's doomed."

The Captain clambered unsteadily up on deck, made for the rail, leaned over: sure enough, a gash big enough for a man to step through was torn into the side of the ship, stretching down and out of sight below the waterline.

"Where is Harpagos?"

"Out of sight to the East. She caught better wind just before dawn; we haven't been so lucky."

The Captain willed Kyllaros' wound to heal, but of course it didn't, and never would. He had known she was destined for the bottom the moment he looked over the railing. "What was it?"

"What do you think?"

He'd seen a Bua, just once, when he was a young officer. An immense forked tail had burst out of the water and swatted a cutter to kindling after no greater offense than firing off a signal flare. Ships over deep water go as quietly as they can, or risk a similar fate. Everyone knows this.

"Who was making noise?"

Rinceley shrugged. "Masts creak. Ships come down hard in the water. Men yell while at work. Who knows? It only gave us a glancing blow."

The Captain watched the men wrestle with lines, settling the lifeboats into the water. Soon they were tossing down bags of food, provisions. It might be some time before Harpagos turned to investigate why her sister ship hadn't caught up.

"Go on."

Rinceley shook his head solemnly. "I had the wheel."

"We risked crossing deep water on my order. I am Master of this ship." He nodded towards the lifeboat. "Go."

Rinceley made no more argument, surrendered the wheel to the Captain, and went to take his place on the lifeboat.


I can feel him. He's just on the other side of the wall.

I know there's a wall because he's leaning against it, feeling the cold brick against his back. It's not comfortable, but it's more comfortable than standing up straight, and he'll have plenty of warning before he has to return to attention. He'll hear… a buzz, from the security door, and then footsteps for a bit before anyone even came into view. Plenty of time to look alert and official.

He hates me.

He hasn't been told who I am, or what I'm supposed to have done, or really much of anything except that I'm dangerous, and that's enough for him. If that buzz sounded and the footsteps approached and he was ordered to open my cell and put a bullet through my head, he would do it unquestioningly. He cares deeply. He's a team player.

The buzzer sounds, the footsteps begin. I hear it with his ears. He wonders if he's about to be ordered to kill me. He's excited at the prospect. He straightens up.

Someone very important speaks to him. I can't tell who it is. The face means nothing to me because it means nothing to him: my guard only thinks of the person as a rank, as a source of authority. He is being given additional information about me.

He is re-deployed to the other side of the hall, facing the cell door. He now knows that I am bound and blindfolded, immobilized and robbed of all my natural senses, but he is more afraid of me than before. He suspects that he is under-equipped for this responsibility; he wishes he had a shotgun instead of a pistol.

The footsteps move away, the buzz sounds again and the security door swings closed. My guard feels as if he's had a brush with greatness. When all is silent he creeps back across the hall, reaches out with an unsteady hand, and — sliding the observation window open — he peers in.

It is amusing to see myself through his eyes, to feel his revulsion at the sight of me, his fear, his outrage. He is angry that he hasn't been given permission to kill me, though that anger soon gives way to a satisfaction that his commanders know better than he.

He returns to the other side of the hall, believing himself safer there. It is what he has been told, after all. The precautions are guesses, but they are educated guesses. He does not think of himself as 'expendable', and surely, neither do they.

His mind wanders: there's a girl. There's more than one girl in there, knocking around, flashing in and out, but there is one girl in particular, special, one of perhaps permanent significance. He relaxes his mind with her, he comforts himself with her memory. He plans to return to her, if he gets a weekend pass. There is a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he will not.

SF Drabble #393 "New Ardennes"

No supply ship for nearly three weeks, not with the flare activity. Word came in from the CP, deep underground, to save charge packs: no more covering fire, no more harassing fire. Every charge is a dead Woolie or we're through. Then the orbital bombing. Not of us; of them. Woolies started approaching our lines to surrender. The pounding must have been absolutely hellacious.

A couple hours after the bombing stopped a 2nd Louie with a clean uniform walked up. "You men are the 7th?"

"…Who's asking?"

"The Ninth. We're rescuing you."

"Fuck off, Ninth, we don't need no rescue."