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STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets

This is the place where we will be posting snippets of soon-to-be published works!
STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by Duckk   » Wed Jun 01, 2011 11:55 am

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Reserved for official HFaF snippets. Please refrain from commenting in this thread.
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Jun 02, 2011 10:23 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 01

How Firm A Foundation
By David Weber


February,
Year of God 895

.I.
Castaway Islands,
Great Western Ocean;
Imperial Palace,
City of Cherayth,
Kingdom of Chisholm;
and
Ehdwyrd Howsmyn's Study,
Delthak,
Kingdom of Old Charis

Nights didn't come much darker, Merlin Athrawes reflected as he stood gazing up at the cloud-choked, stormy sky. There were no stars, and no moon, through those clouds, and although it was summer in Safehold's southern hemisphere, the Castaway Islands were almost four thousand miles below the equator on a planet whose average temperature was rather lower than Old Terra's to begin with. That made "summer" a purely relative term, and he wondered again how the islands had come to be named.

There were four of them, none of which had ever been individually named. The largest was just under two hundred and fifty miles in its longest dimension; the smallest was barely twenty-seven miles long; and aside from a few species of arctic wyverns and the seals (which actually resembled the Terrestrial species of the same name) which used their limited beaches, he'd seen no sign of life anywhere on any of them. He could well believe that any ship which had ever approached the barren, steep-sided volcanic peaks rising from the depths of the Great Western Ocean had managed to wreck themselves. What he couldn't figure out was why anyone would have been in the vicinity in the first place, and how there could have been any surviving castaways to name the islands afterward.

He knew they hadn't been named by the terraforming crews which had first prepared Safehold for human habitation. He had access to Pei Shan-wei's original maps, and these miserable hunks of weather and wind-lashed igneous rock, sand, and shingle bore no name on them. There were still quite a few unnamed bits and pieces of real estate scattered around the planet, actually, despite the detailed atlases which were part of the Holy Writ of the Church of God Awaiting. There were far fewer then there'd been when Shan-wei and the rest of the Alexandria Enclave were murdered, though, and he found it fascinating (in a historical sort of way) to see which of them had been christened only after dispersion had started shifting the colonists' descendants' Standard English into Safehold's present dialects.

He wasn't here to do etiological research on planetary linguistics, however, and he turned his back to the howling wind and examined the last of the emitters once more.

The device was about half his own height and four feet across, a mostly featureless box with a couple of closed access panels, one on each side. There were quite a few other similar devices -- some quite a bit larger; most about the same size or smaller -- scattered around the four islands, and he opened one of the panels to study the glowing LEDs.

He didn't really have to do it, of course. He could have used his built-in com to consult the artificial intelligence known as Owl who was actually going to be conducting most of this experiment anyway. And he didn't really need the LEDs, either; the storm-lashed gloom was daylight clear to his artificial eyes. There were some advantages to having been dead for a thousand standard years or so, including the fact that his PICA body was immune to little things like hypothermia. He'd come to appreciate those advantages more deeply, in many ways, than he ever had when a living, breathing young woman named Nimue Alban had used her PICA only occasionally, which didn't keep him from sometimes missing that young woman with an aching, empty need.

He brushed that thought aside -- not easily, but with practiced skill -- and closed the panel with a nod of satisfaction. Then he crunched back across the rocky flat to his recon skimmer, climbed the short ladder, and settled into the cockpit. A moment later, he was rising on counter-grav, turbines compensating for the battering wind as he climbed quickly to twenty thousand feet. He broke through the overcast and climbed another four thousand feet, then leveled out in the thinner, far calmer air.

There was plenty of moonlight up here, above the storm wrack, and he gazed down, drinking in the beauty of the black and silver-struck cloud summits. Then he drew a deep breath -- purely out of habit, not out of need -- and spoke.

"All right, Owl. Activate phase one."

"Activating, Lieutenant Commander," the computer said from its hidden cavern at the base of Safehold's tallest mountain, almost thirteen thousand miles from Merlin's present location. The signal between the recon skimmer and the computer was bounced off one of the Self-Navigating Autonomous Reconnaissance and Communications platforms Merlin had deployed in orbit around the planet. Those heavily stealthed, fusion-powered SNARCs were the most deadly weapons in Merlin's arsenal. He relied on them heavily, and they provided him and the handful of human beings who knew his secret with communications and recon capabilities no one else on the planet could match.

Unfortunately, that didn't necessarily mean someone -- or something -- off the planet couldn't match or even exceed them. Which was, after all, pretty much the point of this evening's experiment.

Merlin had chosen the Castaway Islands with care. They were eleven thousand miles from the Temple, eighty-seven hundred miles from the city of Tellesberg, seventy-five hundred miles from the city of Cherayth, and just over twenty-six hundred miles from the Barren Lands, the closest putatively inhabited real estate on the entire planet. No one was going to see anything that happened here. And no one (aside from those arctic wyverns and seals) was going to get killed if things turned out . . . badly.

Twenty-four thousand feet below his recon skimmer, the device he'd just examined came to life as Owl obeyed his instructions. No one looking at it would have noticed anything, but the skimmer's sensors picked up the heat source immediately.

Merlin sat back, watching the thermal signature as its temperature rose to approximately five hundred degrees on the Fahrenheit scale Eric Langhorne had imposed upon the brainwashed colonists almost nine hundred Safeholdian years ago. It held steady at that point, and if there'd still been any human (or PICA) eyes to watch, they would have noticed it was beginning to vent steam. Not a lot of it, and the wind snatched the steam plume to bits almost more quickly than it could appear. But the sensors saw it clearly, noted its cyclic nature. Only an artificial source could have emitted it in such a steady pattern, and Merlin waited another five minutes, simply watching his instruments.

"Have we detected any response from the kinetic platforms, Owl?" he asked then.

"Negative, Lieutenant Commander," the AI replied calmly.

"Initiate phase two, then."

"Initiating, Lieutenant Commander."

A moment later, additional heat sources began to appear. One or two of them, at first, then half a dozen. Two dozen. Then still more, scattered around the islands as individuals and in clusters, all in around the same temperature range, but registering in several different sizes, and all of them "leaking" those cyclical puffs of steam. The cycles weren't all identical and the steam plumes came in several different sizes and durations, but all of them were clearly artificial in origin.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
*
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jun 05, 2011 9:51 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 02

Merlin sat very still, watching his instruments, waiting. Five more minutes crept past. Then ten. Fifteen.

"Any response from the kinetic platforms now, Owl?"

"Negative, Lieutenant Commander."

"Good. That's good, Owl."

There was no response from the computer this time. Merlin hadn't really expected one, although Owl did seem to be at least starting to develop the personality the operators' manual promised he would . . . eventually. The AI had actually offered spontaneous responses and interpolations on a handful of occasions, although seldom to Merlin. In fact, now that he thought about it, the majority of those spontaneous responses had been directed to Empress Sharleyan, and Merlin wondered why that was. Not that he expected he'd ever find out. Even back when there'd been a Terran Federation, AIs -- even Class I AIs (which Owl most emphatically was not) -- had often had quirky personalities that responded better to some humans than to others.

"Activate phase three," he said now.

"Activating, Lieutenant Commander."

This time, if Merlin had still been a flesh and blood human being, he would have held his breath as two thirds or so of the thermal signatures on his sensors began to move. Most of them moved fairly slowly, their paths marked by twists and turns, stopping and starting, turning sharply, then going straight for short distances. Several others, though, were not only larger and more powerful but moved much more rapidly and smoothly . . . almost as if they'd been on rails.

Merlin watched the slower moving heat signatures tracing out the skeletal outlines of what could have been street grids while the larger, faster-moving ones moved steadily between the clusters of their slower brethren. Nothing else seemed to be happening, and he made himself wait for another half-hour before he spoke again.

"Still nothing from the platforms, Owl?"

"Negative, Lieutenant Commander."

"Are we picking up any signal traffic between the platforms and the Temple?"

"Negative, Lieutenant Commander."

"Good." Merlin's one-word response was even more enthusiastic this time, and he felt himself smiling. He leaned back in the flight couch, clasping his hands behind his head, and gazed up at the moon that never looked quite right to his Earth-born memories and the starscape no Terrestrial astronomer had ever seen. "We'll give it another hour or so," he decided. "Tell me if you pick up anything -- anything at all -- from the platforms, from the Temple, or between them."

"Acknowledged, Lieutenant Commander."

"And I suppose while we're waiting, you might as well start giving me my share of the flagged take from the SNARCs."

"Yes, Lieutenant Commander."

* * * * * * * * * *

"Well," Merlin said, several hours later as his skimmer headed northwest across the eastern reaches of Carters Ocean towards the city of Cherayth, "I have to say, it looks promising so far, at least."

"You could've told us when you started your little test."

Cayleb Ahrmahk, Emperor of Charis and King of Old Charis, sounded more than a little testy himself, Merlin thought with a smile. At the moment, he and Empress Sharleyan sat across a table from one another. The breakfast plates had been taken away, although Cayleb continued to nurse a cup of chocolate. Another cup sat in front of Sharleyan, but she was too busy breast-feeding their daughter, Princess Alahnah, to do anything with it at the moment. Depressingly early morning sunlight came through the frost-rimed window behind Cayleb's chair, and Sergeant Edwyrd Seahamper stood outside the small dining chamber's door, ensuring their privacy.

Like them, Seahamper was listening to Merlin over the invisible, transparent plug in his right ear. Unlike them, the sergeant was unable to participate in the conversation, since (also unlike them) he didn't have any convenient sentries making sure no one was going to wander by and hear him talking to thin air.

"I did tell you I intended to initiate the test as soon as Owl and I had the last of the EW emitters in place, Cayleb," Merlin said now, mildly. "And if I recall, you and Sharleyan knew 'Seijin Merlin' was going to be 'meditating' for the next couple of days. In fact, that was part of the cover plan to free me up to conduct the test in the first place, unless memory fails me. And in in regard to that last observation, I might point out that my memory is no longer dependent on fallible organic components."

"Very funny, Merlin," Cayleb said.

"Oh, don't be such a fussbudget, Cayleb!" Sharleyan scolded with a smile. "Alahnah was actually letting us sleep last night, and if Merlin was prepared to let us go on sleeping, I'm not going to complain. And frankly, dear, I don't think any of our councilors are going to complain if you got a bit more rest last night, either. You have been a little grumpy lately."

Cayleb gave her a moderately betrayed look, but she only shook her head at him.

"Go on with your report, Merlin. Please," she said. "Before Cayleb says something else we'll all regret, whether he does or not."

There was the sound of something suspiciously like a muffled laugh from the fifth and final party to their conversation.

"I heard that, Ehdwyrd!" Cayleb said.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're referring to, Your Majesty. Or, I suppose, I should say 'Your Grace' since you and Her Majesty are currently in Chisholm," Ehdwyrd Howsmyn replied innocently from his study in far-off Old Charis.

"Oh, of course you don't."

"Oh, hush, Cayleb!" Sharleyan kicked him under the breakfast table. "Go on, Merlin. Quick!"

"Your wish is my command, Your Majesty," Merlin assured her while Cayleb rubbed his kneecap with his right hand and waved a mock-threatening fist with his left.

"As I was saying," Merlin continued, his tone considerably more serious than it had been, "things are looking good so far. Everything I could see on the skimmer's sensors, and everything Owl can see using the SNARCs, looks exactly like a whole batch of steam engines either sitting in place and working or chugging around the landscape. They've been doing it for better than seven hours now, and so far neither the kinetic bombardment platform nor whatever the hell those energy sources under the Temple are seem to have been taking any notice at all. So if the 'Archangels' did set up any kind of automatic technology-killing surveillance program, it doesn't look like simple steam engines are high enough tech to break through the filters."

"I almost wish we'd gotten some reaction out of them, though," Cayleb said in a far more thoughtful tone, forgetting to glower at his beloved wife. "In a lot of ways, I would've been happier if the platforms had sent some kind of 'Look, I see some steam engines!' message to the Temple and nothing had happened. At least then I'd feel more confident that if there is some command loop to anything under the damned place, whatever the anything was, it wasn't going to tell the platforms to kill the engines. As it is, we can't be sure something's not going to cause whatever the anything might be to change its mind and start issuing kill orders at a later date about something else."
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by Alistair   » Wed Jun 08, 2011 1:37 am

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Draks late... I hope he and Duckk don't mind me putting it here.


“My head hurts trying to follow that,” Sharleyan complained. He gave her a look, and she shrugged. “Oh, I understood what you were saying, it’s just a bit . . . twisty for this early in the morning.”

“I understand what you’re saying, too, Cayleb,” Merlin said. “For myself, though, I’m just as glad it didn’t happen that way. Sure, it’d be a relief in some ways, but it wouldn’t actually prove anything one way or the other about the decision-making processes we’re up against. And, to be honest, I’m just delighted we didn’t wake up anything under the Temple with our little test. The last thing we need is to throw anything else into the equation — especially anything that might decide to take the Group of Four’s side!”

“There’s something to that,” Cayleb agreed, and Sharleyan nodded feelingly.

None of them felt the least bit happy about the energy signatures Merlin had detected under the Temple. The nativeborn Safeholdians’ familiarity with technology remained largely theoretical and vastly incomplete, but they were more than willing to take Merlin’s and Owl’s word that the signatures they were seeing seemed to indicate something more than just the heating and cooling plant and maintenance equipment necessary to keep the “mystic” Temple environment up and running. As Cayleb had said, it would be nice to know that whatever those additional signatures represented wasn’t going to instruct the orbital kinetic platforms which had transformed the Alexandria Enclave into Armageddon Reef nine hundred years before to start killing the first steam engines they saw even after it had been told about them. On the other hand, if whatever was under the Temple (assuming there really was something and they weren’t all just being constructively paranoid) was “asleep,” keeping it that way as long as possible seemed like a very good idea.

“I agree with you, Merlin,” Howsmyn said. “Still, as the person most likely to catch a kinetic bombardment if it turns out we’re wrong about this, I have to admit I’m a little worried about how persistence might play into this from the platforms’ side.”

“That’s why I said it looks good so far,” Merlin replied with a nod none of the others could see. “It’s entirely possible there’s some kind of signal-over-time filter built into the platforms’ sensors. I know it’s tempting to think of all the ‘Archangels’ as megalomaniac lunatics, but they weren’t all totally insane, after all. So I’d like to think that whoever took over after Commodore Pei killed Langhorne at least had sense enough to not order the ‘Rakurai’ to shoot on sight the instant it detected something which might be a violation of the Proscriptions. I can think of several natural phenomena that could be mistaken at first glance for the kind of industrial or technological processes the Proscriptions are supposed to prevent. So I think — or hope, at least — that it’s likely Langhorne’s successors would have considered the same possibility.

“For now, at least, what we’re showing them is a complex of obviously artificial temperature sources moving around on several islands spread over a total area of roughly a hundred thousand square miles. If they look a little more closely, they’ll get confirmation that they’re ‘steam engines,’ and Owl will be turning them on and off, just as he’ll be stopping the ‘trains’ at ‘stations’ at intervals.” He shrugged. “We’ve got enough power to keep the emitters going literally for months, and Owl’s remotes can handle anything that might come up in the way of glitches. My vote is that we do just that. Let them run for at least a month or two. If we don’t get any reaction out of the platforms or those energy sources under the Temple in that long, I think we’ll be reasonably safe operating on the assumption that we can get away with at least introducing steam. We’re a long way from my even wanting to experiment with how they’ll react to electricity, but just steam will be a huge advantage, even if we’re limited to direct drive applications.”

“That’s for certain,” Howsmyn agreed feelingly. “The hydro accumulators are an enormous help, and thank God Father Paityr signed off on them! But they’re big, clunky, and expensive. I can’t build the things up at the mine sites, either, and if I can get away with using steam engines instead of dragons for traction on the railways here at the foundry, it’ll only be a matter of time — and not a lot of that — before some clever soul sees the possibilities where genuine railroads are concerned.” He snorted in amusement. “For that matter, if someone else doesn’t see the possibilities, after a couple of months of running them around the foundries it’ll be reasonable enough for me to experience another ‘moment of inspiration.’ I’m developing quite a reputation for intuitive genius, you know.”

His last sentence managed to sound insufferably smug, and Merlin chuckled as he visualized the ironmaster’s elevated nose and broad grin.

“Better you than me, for oh so many reasons,” he said feelingly.

“That’s all well and good,” Sharleyan put in, “and I agree with everything you’ve just said, Ehdwyrd. But that does rather bring up the next sticking point, too, I’m afraid.”

“You mean how we get Father Paityr to sign off on the concept of steam power,” Howsmyn said in a considerably glummer tone.

“Exactly.” Sharleyan grimaced. “I really like him, and I admire and respect him, too. But this one’s so far beyond anything the Proscriptions envision that getting his approval isn’t going to be easy, to say the least.”

“That’s unfortunately true,” Merlin acknowledged. “And pushing him so far his principles and beliefs finally come up against his faith in Maikel’s judgment would come under the heading of a Really Bad Idea. Having him in the Church of Charis’ corner is an enormous plus — and not just in Charis, either, given his family’s prestige and reputation. But the flipside of that is that turning him against the Church of Charis would probably be disastrous. To be perfectly honest, that’s another reason I’ve always figured keeping the emitters running for a fairly lengthy period doesn’t have any downside. Now that we know — or if we decide we know — the bombardment platforms aren’t going to kill us, we can start giving some thought about how we convince Father Paityr not to blow the whistle on us, as well.”

“And if it turns out the bombardment platforms are going to kill the ‘steam engines’ after all,” Cayleb agreed, “nothing but a bunch of thoroughly useless, uninhabited islands gets hurt.”

“Useless, uninhabited islands so far away from anyone that no one’s even going to realize ‘Langhorne’s Rakurai’ has struck again if it happens,” Sharleyan said with a nod.

“That’s the idea, anyway,” Merlin said. “That’s the idea.”
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Jun 09, 2011 9:19 pm

DrakBibliophile
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1550
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Alistair, thanks for the Wednesday help. [Smile]

How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 04

.II.
HMS Destiny, 54,
Gulf of Mathys

"Well, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk?" Lieutenant Rhobair Lathyk called through his leather speaking trumpet from the deck far below. "You do plan on making your report sometime today, don't you?"

Ensign Hektor Applyn-Ahrmahk, known on social occasions as His Grace, the Duke of Darcos, grimaced. Lieutenant Lathyk thought he was a wit, and in Aplyn-Ahrmahk's considered opinion, he was half right. That wasn't something he was prepared to offer up as an unsolicited opinion, however. And, to be fair, whatever the lieutenant's failings as a wellspring of humor, he was one of the best seamen Aplyn-Ahrmahk had ever met. One might not think a young man not yet sixteen would be the best possible judge of seamanship, but Aplyn-Ahrmahk had been at sea since his tenth birthday. He'd seen a lot of sea officers since then, some capable and some not. Lathyk definitely fell into the former category, and the fact that he'd had an opportunity to polish his skills under Sir Dunkyn Yairley -- undoubtedly the finest seaman under whom Aplyn-Ahrmahk had ever served -- hadn't hurt.

Nonetheless, and despite all of Lieutenant Lathyk's sterling qualities, Aplyn-Ahrmahk thought several rather uncomplimentary thoughts about him while he struggled with the heavy spyglass. He'd heard rumors about the twin-barreled spyglasses which had been proposed by the Royal College, and he hoped half the tales about their advantages were true. Even if they were, however, it was going to be quite some time before they actually reached the fleet. In the meantime youthful ensigns still got to go scampering up to the main topmast crosstrees with long clumsy spyglasses and do their best to see through haze, mist, and Langhorne only knew what to straighten out a midshipman's confused report while impatient seniors shouted putatively jocular comments from the comfort of the quarterdeck.

The young man peered through the spyglass, long practice helping him hold it reasonably steady despite HMS Destiny's increasingly lively motion. A hundred and fifty feet long between perpendiculars, over forty-two feet in the beam, and displacing twelve hundred tons, the big, fifty-four-gun galleon was usually an excellent sea boat, but there seemed to be something about the current weather she didn't care for.

Neither did Aplyn-Ahrmahk, when he thought about it. There was a strange quality to the air, a sultry feeling that seemed to lie heavily against his skin, and the persistent, steamy haze over Staiphan Reach made it extraordinarily difficult to pick out details. Which was rather the point of Lieutenant Lathyk's inquiry, he supposed. Speaking of which . . . .

"I can't make it out, either, Sir!" He hated admitting that, but there was no point pretending. "I can barely make out Howard Island for the haze!" He looked down at Lathyk. "There's a couple of sail moving about beyond Howard, but all I can see are topsails! Can't say whether they're men-of-war or merchantmen from here!"

Lathyk craned his neck, gazing up at him for several moments, then shrugged.

"In that case, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk, might I suggest you could be better employed on deck?"

"Aye, aye, Sir!"

Aplyn-Ahrmahk slung the spyglass over his back and adjusted the carry strap across his chest with care. Letting the expensive glass plummet to the deck and shatter probably wouldn't make Lathyk any happier with him . . . and that was assuming he managed to avoid braining one of Destiny's crewmen with it. The way his luck had been going this morning, he doubted he'd be that fortunate. Once he was sure the spyglass was secure, he headed down the shrouds towards the deck so far below.

"You say the haze is building?" Lathyk asked him almost before his feet had touched the quarterdeck, and Aplyn-Ahrmahk nodded.

"It is, Sir," he replied, trying very hard not to sound as if he were making excuses for an unsatisfactory report. "I'd estimate we've lost at least four or five miles' visibility since the turn of the glass."

"Um." Lathyk gave the almost toneless, noncommittal sound which served to inform the world that he was thinking. After a moment, he looked back up at the sky, gazing south-southwest down the length of Terrence Bay, into the eye of the wind. There was a hint of darkness on the horizon, despite the relatively early hour, and anvil-headed clouds with an odd striated appearance and black, ominous bases were welling up above that dark line. Back on a planet called Earth which neither Lathyk nor Aplyn-Ahrmahk had ever heard of, those clouds might have been called cumulonimbus.

"What's the glass, Chief Waigan?" Lathyk asked after a moment.

"Still falling, Sir." Chief Petty Officer Fhranklyn Waigan's voice was unhappy. "Better'n seven points in the last hour, and the rate's increasing."

Aplyn-Ahrmahk felt his nerves tighten. Before the introduction of the new Arabic numerals it had been impossible to label the intervals on a barometer's face as accurately as they could now be divided. What had mattered for weather prediction purposes, however, was less the actual pressure at any given moment than the observed rate of change in that pressure. A fall of more than .07 inches of mercury in no more than an hour was a pretty high rate, and he found himself turning to look the same direction Lathyk was looking.

"Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk, be kind enough to present my compliments to the Captain," Lathyk said. "Inform him that the glass is dropping quickly and that I don't like the looks of the weather."

"Aye, Sir. Your compliments to the Captain, the glass is dropping quickly, and you don't like the looks of the weather."

Lathyk nodded satisfaction, and Aplyn-Ahrmahk headed for the quarterdeck hatch just a bit more swiftly even than usual.

* * * * * * * * * *

Lieutenant Lathyk's sense of humor might leave a little something to be desired; his weather sense, unfortunately, did not.

The wind had increased dramatically, rising from a topgallant breeze, little more than eight or nine miles per hour, to something much stronger in a scant twenty minutes. The waves, which had been barely two feet tall, with a light scattering of glassy-looking foam, were three times that tall now, with white, foamy crests everywhere, and spray was beginning to fly. A seaman would have called it a topsail breeze and been happy to see it under normal conditions. With a wind speed of just under twenty-five miles an hour, a ship like Destiny would turn out perhaps seven knots with the wind on her quarter and all sail set to the topgallants. But that sort of increase in so short a period was most unwelcome, especially with the barometer continuing to fall at an ever steeper rate. Indeed, one might almost have said the glass was beginning to plummet.

"Don't like it, Captain," Lathyk said as he and Captain Yairley stood beside the ship's double wheel, gazing down at the binnacle. The lieutenant shook his head and raised his eyes to the set of the canvas. "Don't usually see heavy weather out of the southwest this time of year, not in these waters."

Yairley nodded, hands clasped behind him while he considered the compass card.
*
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
*
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jun 12, 2011 9:51 pm

DrakBibliophile
Vice Admiral

Posts: 1550
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 05

As the acting commodore of the squadron keeping watch over the Imperial Desnairian Navy's exit from the Gulf of Jahras, he had quite a few things to be worried over. Just for starters, his "squadron" was down to only his own ship at the moment, since Destiny's sister ship Mountain Root had encountered one of the Gulf of Mathyas' uncharted rocks three days before. She'd stripped off half her copper and suffered significant hull damage, and while her pumps had contained the flooding and she'd been in no immediate danger of sinking, she'd obviously needed to withdraw for repairs. To make bad worse, HMS Valiant, the third galleon of his truncated squadron (every squadron had been "truncated" in the wake of the Markovian Sea action), had reported a serious fresh water shortage two days before that, thanks to leaks in no less than three of her iron water tanks, and Yairley had already been considering detaching her for repairs. Under the circumstances, little though any commander in his place could have cared for the decision, he'd chosen to send both damaged galleons back to Thol Bay in Tarot, the closest friendly naval base, for repairs, with Valiant escorting Mountain Root just in case her hull leaks should suddenly worsen in the course of the three thousand-mile voyage.

Of course, a single galleon could scarcely hope to enforce a "blockade" of the Gulf of Jahras -- Staiphan Reach was over a hundred and twenty miles across, although the shipping channel was considerably narrower -- but he was due to be reinforced by an additional six galleons in another five-day or so, and that wasn't really his true task, anyway. It wasn't as if the Desnairian Navy had ever shown anything like a spirit of enterprise, after all. In point of fact, the Imperial Charisian Navy would have welcomed a Desnairian sortie, although it was highly unlikely the Desnairians would be foolish enough to give the ICN the opportunity to get at them in open water, especially after what had happened to the Navy of God in the Markovian Sea. If, for some inexplicable reason, the Duke of Jahras did suddenly decide to venture forth, it wasn't Yairley's job to stop him, but rather to report that fact and then shadow him. The messenger wyverns in the special below-decks coop would get word of any Desnairian movements to Admiral Payter Shain at Thol Bay in little more than three days, despite the distance, and Shain would know exactly what to do with that information.

In the extraordinarily unlikely eventuality that the Desnairians decided to move north, they'd have to fight their way through the Tarot Channel, directly past Shain's squadron. That wasn't going to happen, especially since Yairley's warning would ensure Shain had been heavily reinforced from Charis by the time Jahras got there. In the more likely case of his moving south, down the eastern coast of Howard to swing around its southern end and join the Earl of Thirsk, there'd be ample time for the ICN's far swifter, copper-sheathed schooners -- once again, dispatched as soon as admiral Shain received Yairley's warning -- to carry word to Corisande and Chisholm long before the Desnairians could reach their destination.

In effect, his "squadron" was essentially an advanced listening post . . . and better than three thousand miles from the nearest friendly base. All sorts of unpleasant things could happen to a small, isolated force operating that far from any support -- as, indeed, what had happened to Mountain Root and Valiant demonstrated. Under the circumstances, the ICN had scarcely selected that squadron's commander at random, particularly in light of the delicate situation with the Grand Duchy of Silkiah. Silkiah Bay opened off the Gulf of Mathyas just to the north of Staiphan Reach, and dozens of "Silkiahan" and "Siddarmarkian" merchantmen with Charisian crews and captains plied in and out of Silkiah Bay every five-day in barely sub rosa violation of Zhaspahr Clyntahn's trade embargo. Anything so blatant as the intrusion of a regular Charisian warship into Silkiah Bay could all too easily inspire Clyntahn to the sort of rage which would bring a screeching end to that highly lucrative, mutually profitable arrangement, and Yairley had to be extraordinarily careful about avoiding any appearance of open collusion between his command and the Silkiahans.

In theory his single galleon was sufficient to discharge his responsibilities in the event of a Desnairian sortie, but in the real world, he was all alone, totally unsupported, and had no friendly harbor in which he could take refuge in the face of heavy weather, all of which had to be weighing on his mind as the implacable masses of angry-looking cloud swept closer. If he was particularly perturbed, he gave no sign of it, however, although his lips were pursed and his eyes were thoughtful. Then he drew a deep breath and turned to Lathyk.

"We'll alter course, Master Lathyk," he said crisply. "Put her before the wind, if you please. I want more water under our lee if this wind decides to back on us."

"Aye, Sir."

"And after you've got her on her new heading, I want the topgallant masts sent down."

Someone who knew Lathyk well and was watching him closely might have seen a small flicker of surprise in his eyes, but it was very brief and there was no sign of it in his voice as he touched his chest in salute.

"Aye, Sir." The first lieutenant looked at the boatswain's mate of the watch. "Hands to the braces, Master Kwayle!"

"Aye, aye, Sir!"

* * * * * * * * * *

The glass continued to fall, the wind continued to rise, and lightning began to flicker under the clouds advancing inexorably from the south.

Destiny looked oddly truncated with her upper masts struck. Her courses had been furled, her inner and middle jibs struck, storm staysails had been carefully checked and prepared, and single reefs had been taken in her topsails. Despite the enormous reduction in canvas, she continued to forge steadily northeast from her original position at a very respectable rate of speed. The wind velocity was easily up to thirty miles per hour, and considerably more powerful gusts were beginning to make themselves felt, as well. Large waves came driving towards the ship from astern, ten feet high and more and crowned in white as they rolled up under her quarter to impart a sharp corkscrew motion, and lifelines had been rigged on deck and oilskins had been broken out. The foul weather gear was hot and sweltering, despite the rising wind, although no one was optimistic enough to believe that was going to remain true very much longer. Their current position was less than three hundred miles above the equator, but those oncoming clouds were high and the rain they were about to release was going to be cold.

Very cold.

Aplyn-Ahrmahk would have been hard put to analyze the atmospheric mechanics of what was about to happen, but what he saw when he looked south from his station on Destiny's quarterdeck was the collision between two weather fronts. A high pressure area's heavier, colder air out of the west was driving under the warmer, water-saturated air behind a warm front which had moved into the Gulf of Mathyas from the east three days earlier and then stalled. Due to the planet's rotation, winds tended to blow parallel to the isobars delineating weather fronts, which meant two powerful, moving wind masses were coming steadily into collision in what a terrestrial weatherman would have called a tropical cyclone.
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:06 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 06

Fortunately, it was the wrong time of year for the most violent form of tropical cyclone . . . which was more commonly called "hurricane."

Ensign Applyn-Ahrmahk didn't need to understand all the mechanics involved in the process to read the weather signs, however. He understood the consequences of what was about to happen quite well, and he wasn't looking forward to them. The good news was that Captain Yairley's preparations had been made in ample time and there'd been time to double check and triple check all of them. The bad news was that the weather didn't seem to have heard that this wasn't hurricane season.

Don't be silly, he told himself firmly. This isn't going to be a hurricane, Hektor! Things would be getting worse even faster than they are if that were the case. I think.

"Take a party and double check the lashings on the quarter boats, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk," Captain Yairley said.

"Aye, Sir!" Aplyn-Ahrmahk saluted and turned away. "Master Selkyr!"

"Aye, Sir?" Ahntahn Selkyr, another of Destiny's boatswain's mate's, replied.

"Let's check the lashings on the boats," Aplyn-Ahrmahk said, and headed purposefully aft while Selkyr mustered half a dozen hands to join him.

"Giving the lad something to think about, Sir?" Lieutenant Lathyk asked quietly, watching the youthful ensign with a smile.

"Oh, perhaps a little," Yairley acknowledged with a faint smile of his own. "At the same time, it won't hurt anything, and Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk's a good officer. He'll see that it's done right."

"Yes, he will, Sir," Lathyk agreed, then turned to look back at the looming mass of clouds rising higher and higher in the south. The air seemed thicker and heavier somehow, despite the freshening wind, and there was an odd tint to the light.

"I thought you were overreacting, to be honest, Sir, when you had the topgallant masts sent down. Now" -- he shrugged, his expression unhappy -- "I'm not so sure you were."

"It's always such a comfort to me when your judgment agrees with my own, Rhobair," Yairley said dryly, and Lathyk chuckled. Then the captain sobered. "All the same, I don't like the feel of this at all. And I don't like the way the clouds are spreading to the east, as well. Mark my words, Rhobair, this thing is going to back around on us before it's done."

Lathyk nodded somberly. The predominant winds tended to be from the northeast in the Gulf of Mathyas during the winter months, which would normally have lead one to expect any wind changes to veer further to the west, not to the east. Despite which, he had an unhappy suspicion that the captain was right.

"Do you think we'll be able to make enough easting to clear Silkiah Bay if it does back on us, Sir?"

"Now that's the interesting question, isn't it?" Yairley smiled again, then turned his back on the dark horizon and watched Aplyn-Ahrmahk and his seamen inspecting the lashings which secured the boats on the quarterdeck's davits.

"I think we'll probably clear the mouth of the bay," he said after a moment. "What I'm not so sure about is that we'll be able to get into the approaches to Tabard Reach. I suppose" -- he showed his teeth -- "we'll just have to find out, won't we?"

* * * * * * * * * *

Lightning streaked across the purple-black heavens like Langhorne's own Rakurai. Thunder exploded like the reply of Shan-wei's artillery, audible even through the wind-shriek and the pounding, battering fury of waves approaching thirty feet in height, and ice-cold rain hammered a man's oilskins like a thousand tiny mallets. HMS Destiny staggered through those heavy seas, running before the wind now under no more than a single storm jib, a close-reefed main topsail, and a reefed forecourse, and Sir Dunkyn Yairley stood braced, secured to a quarterdeck lifeline by a turn around his chest, and watched the four men on the wheel fight to control his ship.

The seas were trying to push her stern around to the east, and he was forced to carry more canvas and more weather helm than he would have preferred to hold her up. It was officially a storm now, with wind speeds hitting better than fifty-five miles per hour, and not a mere gale or even a strong gale, and he suspected it was going to get even nastier before it was over. He didn't like showing that much of the forecourse, but he needed that lift forward. Despite which he'd have to take in both the topsail and the course and go to storm staysails alone, if the wind got much worse. He needed to get as far east as he could, though, and reducing sail would reduce his speed, as well. Deciding when to make that change -- and making it before he endangered his ship -- was going to be as much a matter of instinct as anything else, and he wondered why the possibility of being driven under and drowned caused him so much less concern than the possibility of losing legs or arms to enemy round shot.

The thought made him chuckle, and while none of the helmsmen could have heard him through the shrieking tumult and the waterfall beating of icy rain, they saw his fleeting smile and looked at one another with smiles of their own.

He didn't notice as he turned and peered into the murk to the northwest. By his best estimate, they'd made roughly twenty-five miles, possibly thirty, since the visibility closed in. If so, Destiny was now about two hundred miles southeast of Ahna's Point and four hundred and sixty miles southeast of Silk Town. It also put him only about a hundred and twenty miles south of Garfish Bank, however, and his smile disappeared as he pictured distances and bearings from the chart in his mind. He'd made enough easting to avoid being driven into Silkiah Bay -- probably -- if the wind did back, but he needed at least another two hundred and fifty miles, preferably more like three hundred -- before he'd have Tabard Reach under his lee, and he didn't like to think about how many ships had come to grief on Garfish Bank or in Scrabble Sound behind it.

But that's not going to happen to my ship, he told himself, and tried to ignore the prayerful note in his own thought.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Hands aloft to reduce sail!"

The order was barely audible through the howl of wind and the continuous drum roll of thunder, but the grim-faced topmen didn't have to hear the command. They knew exactly what they faced . . . and exactly what it was going to be like up there on the yards, and they looked at one another with forced smiles.

"Up you go, lads!"
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Jun 16, 2011 9:14 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 07

In the teeth of such a wind, the lee shrouds would have been a deathtrap, and the topmen swarmed up even the weather shrouds with more than usual care. They gathered in the tops, keeping well inside the topmast rigging, while men on deck tailed onto the braces.

A seventeen mile-per-hour wind put one pound of pressure per square inch on a sail. At thirty-two miles per hour, the pressure didn't simply double; it quadrupled, and the wind was blowing far harder than that now. At the moment, Destiny's forecourse was double-reefed, shortening its normal hoist of thirty-six feet to only twenty-four. Unlike a trapezoidal topsail, the course was truly square, equally wide at both head and foot, which meant its sixty-two-foot width was unaffected by the decrease in height. Its effective sail area had thus been reduced from over twenty-two hundred square feet to just under fifteen hundred, but the fifty-five-plus mile-per-hour wind was still exerting over seventeen hundred tons of pressure on that straining piece of canvas. The slightest accident could turn all that energy loose to wreak havoc on the ship's rigging, with potentially deadly consequences under the current weather conditions.

"Brace up the forecourse!"

"Weather brace, haul! Tend the lee braces!"

The ship's course had been adjusted to bring the wind on to her larboard quarter. Now the foreyard swung as the larboard brace, leading aft to its sheave on the maintop and from there to deck level, hauled that end -- the weather end -- of the yard aft. The force of the wind itself helped the maneuver, pushing the starboard end of the yard around to leeward, and as the yard swung, the sail shifted from perpendicular to the wind's direction to almost parallel. The shrouds supporting the mast got in the way and prevented the yard from being trimmed as close to fore-and-aft as Destiny might have wished -- that was the main reason no squarerigger could come as close to the wind as a schooner could -- but it still eased the pressure on the forecourse immensely.

"Clew up! Spilling lines, haul!"

The clewlines ran from the lower corners of the course to the ends of the yards, then through blocks near the yard's center and down to deck level, while the buntlines ran from the yard to the foot of the sail. As the men on deck hauled away, the clewlines and buntlines raised the sail, aided by the spilling lines -- special lines which had been rigged for precisely this heavy-weather necessity. They were simply ropes which had been run down from the yard then looped up around the sail, almost like another set of buntlines, and their function was exactly what their name implied: when they were hauled up, the lower edge of the sail was gathered in a bight, spilling wind out of the canvas so it could be drawn up to the yard without quite so much of a struggle.

"Ease halliards!"

The topmen in the foretop waited until the canvas had been fully gathered in and the yard had been trimmed back to its original squared position before they were allowed out onto it. Squaring the yard once more made it far easier -- and safer -- for them to transfer from the top to the spar. Under calmer conditions, many of those men would have scampered cheerfully out along the yard itself with blithe confidence in their sense of balance. Under these conditions, use of the foot rope rigged under the yard was mandatory.

They spread themselves along the seventy-five-foot long spar, seventy feet above the reeling, plunging deck -- almost ninety feet above the white, seething fury of the water in those fleeting moments when the deck was actually level -- and began fisting the canvas into final submission while wind and rain shrieked around them.

One by one the gaskets went around the gathered sail and its yard, securing it firmly, and then it was the main topsail's turn.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Keep her as close to northeast-by-east as you can, Waigan!" Sir Dunkyn Yairley shouted in his senior helmsman's ear.

Waigan, a grizzled veteran if ever there was one, looked up at the storm staysails -- the triangular, triple-thickness staysails set between the mizzen and the main and between the main and the fore -- which, along with her storm forestaysail, were all the canvas Destiny could show now.

"Nor'east-by-east, aye, Sir!" he shouted back while rainwater and spray ran from his iron-gray beard. "Close as we can, Sir!" he promised, and Yairley nodded and slapped him on the shoulder in satisfaction.

No sailing ship could possibly maintain a set course, especially under these conditions. Indeed, it took all four of the men on the wheel to hold any course. The best they could do was keep the ship on roughly the designated heading, and the senior helmsman wasn't even going to be looking at the compass card. His attention was going to be locked like iron to those staysails, being certain they were drawing properly, lending the ship the power and the stability she needed to survive the maelstrom. The senior of his assistants would watch the compass and alert him if they started to stray too far from the desired heading.

Yairley gave the canvas one more look, then swiped water from his own eyes and beckoned to Garaith Symkee, Destiny's second lieutenant.

"Aye, Sir?" Lieutenant Symkee shouted, leaning close enough to Yairley to be heard through the tumult.

"I think she'll do well enough for now, Master Symkee!" Yairley shouted back. "Keep her as close to an easterly heading as you can! Don't forget Garfish Bank's waiting for us up yonder!" He pointed north, over the larboard bulwark. "I'd just as soon it go on waiting, if you take my meaning!"

Symkee grinned hugely, nodding his head in enthusiastic agreement, and Yairley grinned back.

"I'm going below to see if Raigly can't find me something to eat! If the cooks can manage it, I'll see to it there's at least hot tea -- and hopefully something a bit better, as well -- for the watch on deck!"

"Thank you, Sir!"

Yairley nodded and started working his way hand-over-hand along the lifeline towards the hatch. It was going to be an extraordinarily long night, he expected, and he was going to need his rest. And hot food, come to that. Every man aboard the ship was going to need all the energy he could lay hands on, but Destiny's captain was responsible for the decisions by which they might all live or die.

Well, he thought wryly as he reached the hatch and started down the steep ladder towards his cabin and Sylvyst Raigly, his valet and steward, I suppose it sounds better put that way than to think of it as the captain being spoiled and pampered. Not that I have any objection to being spoiled or pampered, now that I think of it.

And not that it was any less true, however he put it.
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Jun 19, 2011 10:06 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 08

.III.
HMS Destiny, 54,
Off Sand Shoal,
Scrabble Sound,
Grand Duchy of Silkiah

"Master Zhones!"

The miserable midshipman, hunched down in his oilskins and trying as hard as he could not to throw up -- again — looked up as Lieutenant Symkee bellowed his name. Ahrlee Zhones was twelve years old, more horribly seasick than he'd ever been in his young life, and scared to death. But he was also an officer in training in the Imperial Charisian Navy, and he dragged himself fully upright.

"Aye, Sir?!" he shouted back through the howl and shriek of the wind.

"Fetch the Captain!" Zhones and Symkee were no more than five feet apart, but the midshipman could barely hear the second lieutenant through the tumult of the storm. "My compliments, and the wind is backing! Inform him it --"

"Belay that, Master Zhones!" another voice shouted, and Zhones and Symkee both wheeled around to see Sir Dunkyn Yairley. The captain had somehow magically materialized on the quarterdeck, his oilskins already shining with rain and spray, and his eyes were on the straining staysails. Despite the need to shout to make himself heard, his tone was almost calm -- or so it seemed to Zhones, at any rate.

As the midshipman watched, the captain took a turn of rope around his chest and attached it to one of the standing lifelines, lashing himself into place almost absently while his attention remained focused on the sails and the barely visible weathervane at the mainmast head. Then he glanced at the illuminated compass card in the binnacle and turned to Symkee.

"I make it south-by-west, Master Symkee? Would you concur?"

"Perhaps another quarter point to the south, Sir," Symkee replied, with what struck Zhones as maddening deliberation, and the captain smiled slightly.

"Very well, Master Symkee, that will do well enough." He turned his attention back to the sails and frowned.

"Any orders, Sir?" Symkee shouted after a moment, and the captain turned to raise one eyebrow at him.

"When any occur to me, Master Symkee, you'll be the first to know!" It was, of course, impossible for anyone to shout in a tone of cool reprimand, but the captain managed it anyway, Zhones thought.

"Aye, Sir!" Symkee touched his chest in salute and carefully turned his attention elsewhere.

* * * * * * * * * *

Despite his calm demeanor and deflating tone, Sir Dunkyn Yairley's brain was working overtime as he considered his ship's geometry. The wind had grown so powerful that he'd had no choice but to put Destiny directly before it some hours earlier. Now the galleon scudded along with huge, white-bearded waves rolling up from astern, their crests ripped apart by the wind. As the wind shifted round towards the east, the ship was being slowly forced from a northeasterly to a more and more northerly course, while the seas -- which hadn't yet adjusted to the shift in wind -- still coming in from the south-southwest pounded her more and more from the quarter rather than directly aft, imparting an ugly corkscrew motion. That probably explained young Zhones' white-faced misery the captain thought with a sort of detached sympathy. The youngster was game enough, but he was definitely prone to seasickness.

More to the point, the change in motion had alerted Yairley to the change in wind direction and brought him back on deck, and if the wind continued to back, they could be in serious trouble.

It was impossible even for a seaman of his experience to know exactly how far east he'd managed to get, but he strongly suspected it hadn't been far enough. If his estimate was correct, they were almost directly due south of the Garfish Bank, the hundred and fifty-mile-long barrier of rock and sand which formed the eastern bound of Scrabble Sound. Langhorne only knew how many ships had come to grief on the bank, and the speed with which the wind had backed was frightening. If it continued at the present rate, it would be setting directly towards the bank within the hour, and if that happened . . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

The wind did continue to swing towards the east, and its rate of change actually increased. It might -- possibly -- have dropped in strength, but the malice of its new direction more than compensated for that minor dispensation, Yairley thought grimly. The rapid change in direction hadn't done a thing for the ship's motion, either; Destiny was corkscrewing more violently than ever as the waves rolled in now from broad on her larboard quarter, and the pumps were clanking for five minutes every hour as the ship labored. The intake didn't concern him particularly -- every ship's seams leaked a little as her limber hull worked and flexed in weather like this, and some water always found its way in through gun ports and hatches, however tightly they were sealed -- but the wild vista of the storm-threshed night's spray and foam was even more confused and bewildering than it had been before.

And unless he missed his guess, his ship's bowsprit was now pointed directly at Garfish Bank.

We're not going to get far enough to the east no matter what we do, he thought grimly. That only leaves west. Of course, there are problems with that, too, aren't there?

He considered it for a moment more, looking at the sails, considering the sea state and the strength of the howling wind, and made his decision.

"Call the hands, Master Symkee! We'll put her on the larboard tack, if you please!"

* * * * * * * * * *

Sir Dunkyn Yairley stood gazing into the dark and found himself wishing the earlier, continuous displays of lightning hadn't decided to take themselves elsewhere. He could see very little, although with the amount and density of the wind driven spray, it probably wouldn't have mattered if he'd had better light, he admitted. But what he couldn't see, he could still feel, and he laid one hand on Destiny's bulwark, closed his eyes, and concentrated on the shock-like impacts of the towering waves.

Timing, a small corner of his brain thought distantly. It's always a matter of timing.

He was unaware of the white-faced, nauseated twelve-year-old midshipman who stood watching his closed eyes and thoughtful expression with something very like awe. And he was only distantly aware of the seamen crouching ready at the staysails' tacks and sheets in the lee of the bulwarks and hammock nettings, taking what shelter they could while they kept their eyes fixed on their officers. What he needed to accomplish was a straightforward maneuver, but under these conditions of wind and weather even a small error could lead to disaster.

The waves rolled in, and he felt their rhythm settling into his own flesh and sinew. The moment would come, he thought. It would come and --

"Starboard your helm!" he heard himself bark. His own order came almost as a surprise, the product of instinct and subliminal timing at least as much as of conscious thought. "Lay her on the larboard tack -- as close to south-by-west as you can!"

"Aye, aye, Sir!"
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Re: STICKY: How Firm a Foundation Snippets
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Tue Jun 21, 2011 8:54 pm

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How Firm A Foundation - Snippet 09

Destiny's double wheel turned to the left as all four helmsmen heaved their weight on the spokes. The tiller ropes wrapped around the wheel's barrel turned the tiller to the right in response, which kicked the rudder to the left, and the galleon began turning to larboard. The turn brought her broadside on to the seas still pounding in from the south-southwest, but Yairley's seaman's sense had served him well. Even as she began her turn, one of the crashing seas rolled up under her larboard quarter at almost the perfect moment, lifting her stern and helping to force her around before the next wave could strike.

"Off sheets and tacks!" It was Lathyk's voice from forward.

Yairley opened his eyes once more, watching as his ship fought around through the maelstrom of warring wind and wave in a thunder of canvas and water and a groan of timbers. The next mighty sea came surging in, taking her hard on the larboard beam, bursting over the hammock nettings in green and white fury, and the galleon rolled wildly, tobogganing down into the wave's trough while her mastheads spiraled in dizzying circles against the storm-sick heavens. Yairley felt the lifeline hammering at his chest, heard the sound of young Zhones' retching even through all that mad tumult, but she was coming round, settling on her new heading.

"Meet her!" he shouted

"Sheet home!" Lathyk bellowed through his speaking trumpet.

Destiny's bow buried itself in the next wave. White water exploded over the forecastle and came sluicing aft in a gray-green wall. Two or three seamen went down, kicking and spluttering as they lost their footing and were washed into the scuppers before their lifelines came up taut, but the sheets were hardened in as the ship came fully round on her new heading. Her bowsprit climbed against the sky, rising higher and higher as her bows came clear of the smother of foam and gray-green water, and Yairley breathed a sigh of relief as she reached the top of the wave and then went driving down its back with an almost exuberant violence.

Showing only her fore-and-aft staysails, she could actually come a full two points closer to the wind than she could have under square sails, and Yairley watched the swaying compass card as the helmsmen eased the wheel. It gimbaled back and forth as the men on the wheel picked their way through the tumult of wind and wave, balancing the thrust and set of her canvas against the force of the seas.

"South-sou'west's as near as she'll come, Sir!" the senior man told him after a minute or two, and he nodded.

"Keep her so!" he shouted back.

"Aye, aye, Sir!"

The ship's plunging motion was more violent than it had been running before the wind. He heard the explosive impact as her bow met each succeeding wave, and the shocks were harder and more jarring, but the corkscrew roll had been greatly reduced as she headed more nearly into the seas. Spray and green water fountained up over her bow again and again, yet she seemed to be taking it well, and Yairley nodded again in satisfaction then turned to look out over the tumbling waste of water once more.

Now to see how accurate his position estimate had been.

* * * * * * * * * *

The day which had turned into night dragged on towards day once more, and the wind continued to howl. Its force had lessened considerably, but it was still blowing at gale force, with wind speeds above forty miles per hour. The seas showed less moderation, although with the falling wind that had to come eventually, and Yairley peered about as the midnight murk turned slowly, slowly into a hard pewter dawn under purple-black clouds. The rain had all but ceased, and he allowed himself a cautious, unobtrusive breath of optimism as visibility ever so gradually increased. He considered making more sail -- with the current wind he could probably get double or triple-reefed topsails and courses on her -- but he'd already added the main topgallant staysail, the main topmast staysail, and the mizzen staysail. The fore-and-aft sails provided less driving power than the square sails would have, but they let him stay enough closer to the wind to make good a heading of roughly south-southwest. The further south -- and west, of course, but especially south -- he could get, the better, and --

"Breakers!" The shout came down from above, thin and lost through the wail of wind. "Breakers on the starboard quarter!"

Yairley wheeled in the indicated direction, staring intently, but the breakers were not yet visible from deck level. He looked around and raised his voice.

"Main topmast, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk! Take a glass. Smartly, now!"

"Aye, Sir!"

The youthful ensign leapt into the weather shrouds and went scampering up the ratlines to the topmast crosstrees with the spyglass slung across his back. He reached his destination swiftly, and Yairley looked up, watching with deliberate calm as Aplyn-Ahrmahk raised the glass and peered to the north. He stayed that way for several seconds, then re-slung the glass, reached for a back stay, wrapped his legs around it, and slid down it to the deck, braking his velocity with his hands. He hit the deck with a thump and came trotting aft to the captain.

"I believe Master Lathyk will have something to say to you about the proper manner of descending to the deck, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk!" Yairley observed tartly.

"Yes, Sir." Aplyn-Ahrmahk's tone was properly apologetic, but a devilish glint lurked in his brown eyes, Yairley thought. Then the young man's expression sobered. "I thought I'd best get down here quickly, Sir." He raised his arm and pointed over the starboard quarter. "There's a line of breakers out there, about five miles on the quarter, Captain. A long one -- they reach as far as I could see to the northeast. And they're wide, too." He met Yairley's gaze levelly. "I think it's the Garfish Bank, Sir."

So the ensign had been thinking the same thing he had, Yairley reflected. And if he was right -- which, unfortunately, he almost certainly was -- they were substantially further north than the captain had believed they'd been driven. Not that there'd been anything he could have done to prevent it even if he'd known. In fact, if he hadn't changed heading when he had, they'd have driven onto the bank hours earlier, but still . . . .

"Thank you, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk. Be good enough to ask Lieutenant Lathyk to join me on deck, if you would."

"Aye, aye, Sir."

The ensign disappeared, and Sir Dunkyn Yairley bent over the compass, picturing charts again in his mind, and worried.

* * * * * * * * * *

"You wanted me, Sir?" Rhobair Lathyk said respectfully. He was still chewing on a piece of biscuit, Yairley noted.

"I apologize for interrupting your breakfast, Master Lathyk," the captain said. "Unfortunately, according to Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk we're no more than five miles clear -- at best -- of the Garfish Bank."

"I see, Sir." Lathyk swallowed the biscuit, then bent to examine the compass exactly as Yairley had.

"Assuming Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk's eye is as accurate as usual," Yairley continued, "we're a good forty miles north of my estimated position and Sand Shoal lies about forty miles off the starboard bow. Which means Scrabble Sound lies broad on the starboard beam."
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Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
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Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
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