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ATST Snippet #3

This fascinating series is a combination of historical seafaring, swashbuckling adventure, and high technological science-fiction. Join us in a discussion!
ATST Snippet #3
Post by runsforcelery   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 5:46 pm

First Space Lord

Posts: 2425
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

And just to show that I can post snippets in proper order:


Lieutenant Commander Truskyt Mahkluskee nodded, trying his best to keep his unhappiness out of his expression. It wasn’t that he doubted the capability or courage of his crew, but the Royal Dohlaran Navy had learned the hard way that crossing swords with the Imperial Charisian Navy on its own terms was almost always a bad business, and the fellow chasing him wouldn’t have been if he wasn’t confident he could engage on his terms.

Mahkluskee clasped his hands behind him, spyglass tucked under his right armpit, and gazed back across the taffrail at the schooner-rigged sails sweeping steadily closer. The wind was almost directly out of the northwest at about twenty miles an hour, with six-foot waves —what sailors called a topsail breeze — but it was steadily strengthening, and cloud banks rolled down upon it. There was rain in those clouds. Mahkluskee could almost smell it, and he would have vastly preferred for that rain to have already appeared, preferably in driving squalls that cut visibility to nothing. That wasn’t going to happen, however. Or not until long after the vengefully pursuing schooner overhauled Serpent, at least.

Oh, stop being an old woman! he scolded himself. Yes, they’re Charisians and they’re chasing you. Is there some reason that should surprise you? Any Charisian warship’s going to be out for blood after Hahskyn Bay — hard to blame them for that! — so this fellow may be pissed enough to run risks he wouldn’t otherwise. And Charisians or not, they aren’t ten feet tall and they don’t pick their teeth with boarding pikes. Best you remember that . . . and don’t let any of the lads think for a minute you ever doubted it!

“Actually, I think it’ll be closer to two, Karmaikel,” he said judiciously. “Pity nobody’s had time to get us coppered.”

Achlee grunted in agreement. The RDN had learned how to copper ships to protect them against borers and weed only after they’d captured a few Charisian ships and taken them apart to find the bronze fittings below the waterline. No one knew why that worked, but they did know every attempt to attach copper with iron nails had been a dismal, disintegrating failure. Yet even after they’d discovered the secret, coppering a ship which had been put together originally with those same iron nails was a significant challenge. New construction was one thing, but simply pulling all the iron from an existing ship and replacing it with bronze was a time-consuming — and expensive — proposition. Eventually, however, the shipwrights had figured out how to sheath a ship’s hull first in an additional layer of planking, well coated with pitch and fastened to the original hull with bronze, before screwing the sheet copper to it. It was still expensive as Shan-wei herself, but it worked, and any trifling speed which might have been lost to the additional beam was more than compensated for by the copper’s immunity to the long, dragging tendrils of weed which started cutting an un-coppered hull’s speed within five-days after it was scraped clean.

Serpent, unfortunately, was a lowly brig. The Navy realized ships her size needed speed even more than larger ships, but they were also more expendable, and the galleon fleet had been given a much higher priority. Then the screw-galleys had been added to the mix, and they took priority even over the galleons.

Which had left Serpent sucking hind teat.


“How do you think they’ll go about it?” Achlee asked after a moment.

“They’re bringing the wind down with them,” Mahkluskee said, and shrugged. “They’re faster, they’re schooner-rigged, and they’ll have the weather gauge. Unless they screw up — and when’s the last time you heard about a Charisian screwing up in a sea fight? — they’ll be able to choose the range. The question, I suppose, is whether this fellow’s a dance-and-shoot type or a drive-straight-in type. To be honest, I’d prefer the latter.”

“Me, too,” Achlee agreed.

There wasn’t much to choose between Serpent’s armament and that of a typical ICN schooner. The brig mounted twenty 25-pounder carronades, with a pair of 18-pounder long guns in her forward ports to serve as chasers. Depending upon its class, the schooner pursuing them might mount anywhere from sixteen to twenty guns, most probably 30-pounder carronades, although some of the larger schooners had reduced the number of their guns by as much as half in order to replace them with 57-pounders. A 57-pounder’s 7-inch explosive shell was devastating — well, so was its round shot, to be fair — but he could always hope this one had retained her 30-pounders. Both sides had now equipped their broadside weapons with shells, although the RDN had decided there was little point developing shells for anything lighter than a 25-pounder, given how small the explosive charge would be, and it didn’t make a lot of difference to something the size of a schooner or a brig if the shell that hit it was technically a 30-pounder or a 25-pounder. The effect on its frail timbers was pretty much the same.

In a fight like this one, however, it would probably come down to who hit whom first, and while Mahkluskee had enormous faith in the quality of his crew, the Charisian Navy had invented naval gunnery. They were still the best in the world at it, too, and no shame to admit it. But that meant a “dance-and-shoot type” was likely to stand off until he’d gotten that first hit or two, then close in only if he had to and settle it with cold steel.

“He’ll have to be at least a little careful,” Mahkluskee mused. “We’re a hell of a lot closer to home than he is. If he gets banged up, he’s likely to be easy meat for anybody else he runs into.”

“Here’s hoping he bears that in mind, Sir!” Achlee grinned.

“Couldn’t hurt,” Mahkluskee agreed, then drew a deep breath. “We’re coming up on lunch in about two hours. Tell the cook to bring that forward. Let’s get a good meal into the lads before it gets lively. And tell Fytsymyns I want a word. After they’re fed, I think we need to do a little rearranging.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“I think it’s about time to clear for action, Zosh,” Lieutenant Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk, known on social occasions as His Grace, the Duke of Darcos, said thoughtfully.

At eighteen, the duke was technically old enough — barely — to command an imperial Charisian warship. He was also the adopted son of Emperor Cayleb and Empress Sharleyan, and there were at least some who suspected that that lofty connection explained how he happened to be the commanding officer of HMS Fleet Wing at such a tender age. None of the people who thought that, however, had ever served with “the Duke,” as he was almost universally known in the fleet, as if there’d never been another Charisian duke. He’d been at sea since he was ten years old, his king had died in his arms when he was only eleven, and he’d earned a reputation for fearlessness second to none over the past half decade. Despite his youth and the crippled arm left by a near-fatal wedding day assassination attempt, any man in his crew would have followed him in an assault on the gates of hell themselves, and he’d learned his seamanship from Sir Dunkyn Yairley, Baron Sarmouth. There might — possibly — have been two ship handlers in the Imperial Charisian Navy who were better than Sarmouth; there damned well weren’t three. And unlike too many skilled seamen, the baron was one of the best teachers to ever walk a quarterdeck . . . which went quite some way towards explaining why Aplyn-Ahrmahk handled his fast, sleek command with the confident skill and judgment of a man twice his age.

He’d also served for over a year as Sarmouth’s flag lieutenant. That gave him an insight into the Navy’s strategic needs which was vanishingly rare in an officer of his youthfulness, which was how he’d ended up picked for the task of examining Chelmport on Trove Island.

Chelmport had served Admiral Gwylym Manthyr as a base during his ill-fated foray into the Gulf of Dohlar, and Trove — on the southwestern corner of the Dohlar Bank — was about equidistant between the ICN’s current forward base on Talisman Island and Gorath Bay, the maritime heart of the Kingdom of Dohlar. Five months had passed since the Battle of the Kaudzhu Narrows, and although Dohlar had unquestionably “won” the engagement, both navies had suffered heavily. At the moment, the RDN was as busy repairing, rebuilding, and commissioning new construction as Charis, and they’d had an advantage in the number of new galleons almost ready for launch at the time of the battle. Charis, on the other hand, had a much, much greater existing fleet, including some new construction of its own, from which to draw reinforcements. In Baron Sarmouth’s opinion, that meant quite a few of those reinforcements were undoubtedly en route to join Admiral Sharpfield at Claw Island. As soon as they did, Sharpfield would just as undoubtedly look for ways to use them as aggressively — and as far forward — as possible, and a base at Chelmport would be well placed to allow those galleons to dominate the Mahthyw Passage, the Hilda and Trosan Channels, and the Fern Narrows. That would effectively blockade the eastern end of the gulf, sealing the RDN — and all the kingdom’s carrying trade south of the Dohlar Bank — into Hankey Sound and Salthar Bay and threatening any coaster rash enough to dare the Gulf of Tanshar, as well.

It seemed . . . unlikely that as canny a fox as the Earl of Thirsk would be less aware of those possibilities than any Charisian, especially since Manthyr had used Chelmport to do exactly that during his incursion. The question in Admiral Sarmouth’s mind was what Thirsk had done to preclude a repeat of the Manthyr treatment, and that was what Hektor had been sent to discover.

The answer, he’d found, was quite a lot, actually. It was clearly impossible for Thirsk to fortify every potential port along the sixteen thousand miles of the Gulf of Dohlar’s coastline, not to mention the scores of islands where a raiding squadron might temporarily drop anchor. He could eliminate quite a few of those potential ports on the basis of depth of harbor, availability of fresh water, exposure to prevailing winds, and all the other factors which would weigh in the mind of a professional mariner, but that still left far too many possibilities for him to have any hope of protecting all of them.

Chelmport, however, had received special attention. The harbor entrance was now covered by a powerful battery of 40-pounders. There were no more than twenty guns or so, but they were well sited and protected by heavy earthen ramparts, and new positions were being prepared. From their locations, it seemed likely they were intended for some of the new Fultyn Rifles, the banded, rifled cannon the Church’s foundries were rushing into production. Defenses on that scale were more than capable of dealing with any unarmored galleon. And that, since the Royal Dohlaran Navy currently possessed the only ironclad in the Gulf of Dohlar — HMS Dreadnought, which had retained her Charisian name after her capture — meant Chelmsport was useless as a forward base.

That was always subject to change, however, and Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk and Sir Dunkyn Yairley had certain advantages when it came to predicting the future.

“Do try to remember you have to get home to make your official report,” a voice said dryly in his ear, as if to remind him of those very advantages, and his lips twitched as he suppressed a smile he couldn’t very well have explained to Lieutenant Hahlbyrstaht. Suggesting to his executive officer that he “heard voices” probably wouldn’t be a good idea, even if the voice in question belonged to Admiral Sarmouth. And it would be an especially un-good idea since it happened to be true.

And it’s also entirely unfair that the Admiral can natter away at me when he knows damned well I can’t say a word back.

Not that Sarmouth didn’t have a point. The truth was that he and Hektor had known exactly what Hektor would see at Chelmsport long before his lookouts started calling reports down from aloft. The orbital SNARCs provided far more detailed information than he’d ever be able to include in his official report, but there was no way — or, at least, no non-demonic way — to explain how he might have come by that information. And if he was so careless as to get himself killed or his ship sunk so his written report never got back to Talisman Island, there’d still be no way Sarmouth could act on their knowledge when the reinforcements they both knew were already en route actually arrived.

On the other hand, I have no intention of getting myself killed, he thought dryly. Quite apart from not getting the Admiral’s report back to him, Irys would be really, really pissed.

“I think it behooves us to tread a bit cautiously, Zosh,” he told Hahlbyrstaht for the benefit of the SNARC he knew Sarmouth had focused upon Fleet Wing. “I’m not too concerned about our ability to take this fellow, but we’re a long way from home, and I imagine the Admiral would really prefer for us to report back.”

“Probably a safe bet, Sir,” Hahlbyrstaht acknowledged wryly. “Matter of fact, I’m sort of in favor of the idea myself, now that you mention it.”

“In that case, let’s pass the word for Master Zhowaltyr.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.”

Hahlbyrstaht put two fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly. It wasn’t exactly the official Navy technique, but a midshipman popped up out of the after hatch almost instantly, like a rabbit from its hole, with his index finger holding his place in the navigation text he’d been studying with the sailing master.

“Yes, Sir?”

Ahlbyrt Stefyns was the junior of Fleet Wing’s midshipmen. Two years younger than Lawrync Dekatyr, the only other midshipman the schooner boasted, he was actually two inches taller and quick-moving. But whereas Dekatyr was an athletic sort, Stefyns was never happier than when he was curled up with a good book. He was also a Tarotisian, which remained a rarity in the ICN, and, as authorized by regulations, he wore the traditional kercheef headgear of his homeland instead of the Navy’s standard three-cornered hat.

“I believe the Skipper would like a word with the Gunner,” Hahlbyrstaht told him, and waggled his fingers in the general direction of the foredeck.

“Aye, aye, Sir!” Stefyns acknowledged with a grin and went thundering off.

“You really could have used your speaking trumpet to get Bynyt’s attention, you know,” Hektor observed quietly.

“True, Sir,” Hahlbyrstaht acknowledged, forbearing to mention that Hektor could have done the same thing. “But it does a midshipman good to know he’s needed. Besides, it’ll keep the lad occupied instead of worrying.”

Worrying? Ahlbyrt?” Hektor shook his head. “You’re sure we’re talking about the same young man?”

It struck neither him nor Hahlbyrstaht as odd that he should use the term “young man” for someone less than four years younger than himself. For that matter, Hahlbyrstaht, who was actually on the young side for his own rank, was three years older than his captain.

“Probably ‘worrying’ was a mite strong.” Hahlbyrstaht shrugged. “How about ‘thoughtful’?”

“That might be fair,” Hektor agreed, then looked up as Stefyns returned with Bynyt Zhowaltyr, Fleet Wing’s gunner, in tow.

At thirty-five, Zhowaltyr was one of the oldest members of the schooner’s company, and he’d learned his trade as a gun captain in then-Commodore Staynair’s first experimental galleon squadron. Fleet Wing was damned lucky to have him, and Hektor had wondered occasionally if that was more than simply a happy coincidence. Zhowaltyr had been transferred into the schooner about the same time Hektor assumed command, and it was entirely possible Admiral Sarmouth had had just a little something to do with that. He’d certainly insisted that Stywyrt Mahlyk, his personal coxswain, go along to “keep an eye on” Hektor!

“You wanted me, Sir?” the gunner said now, touching his chest in salute.

“Indeed I did, Master Zhowaltyr. You see that fellow over there?” Hektor pointed with his good hand at the Dohlaran brig Fleet Wing had pursued for the last five and a half hours. She was still doing her best to avoid Fleet Wing, but little more than three thousand yards now separated them, and the range was falling swiftly.

“Yes, Sir,” Zhowaltyr acknowledged.

“I’d like to make his closer acquaintance . . . on our terms, not his. And it occurs to me that you’re the man to make that happen.”

“Do my best, Sir.” Zhowaltyr grinned broadly. “The fourteen-pounder, I’m thinking?”

“That certainly seems like the best place to start,” Hektor agreed. “And I’m sure that the fact that you’ve been looking forward to playing with your new toy has nothing at all to do with your choice.”

“No, Sir! O’ course not!” Zhowaltyr’s grin got even broader.

“I thought not. So, now that we’ve cleared that up, what range would you like?”

The gunner glanced up at the sails, then cocked a thoughtful eye at the sea. The breeze had continued to freshen — enough that Hektor had been forced to take in a reef in the big foresail which was actually Fleet Wing’s primary working sail — and the waves were approaching eight feet in height. Bursting clouds of spray glittered around the schooner’s bow in the early afternoon sunlight as she drove through exuberantly through the sea, and the wind sang in the rigging.

“Bit lively underfoot, Sir,” Zhowaltyr said thoughtfully. “I’m thinking a thousand yards, maybe eight hundred.”

“He’ll probably have a pair of long eighteens forward,” Hektor pointed out. In fact, he knew exactly what Serpent carried, although he couldn’t exactly share that with Zhowaltyr.

“Aye, Sir, he will. An’ they’ll be smoothbores an’ he’s a Dohlaran.” Zhowaltyr didn’t spit, but that was only because the Navy frowned on people who spat on its spotless decks. “Won’t say they couldn’t hit a barn if one happened to float by, Sir. Not going to hit us at much over six hundred yards, though.”

“Fair enough,” Hektor said. He had a bit less contempt for Dholaran gunnery than Zhowaltyr did, but the gunner still had a valid point . . . probably.

Under ideal conditions, both the Dohlarans’ 18-pounders and Fleet Wing’s long 14-pounder had a range of over two thousand yards. The carronades which constituted the primary broadside weapons for both ships were shorter ranged, although Fleet Wing’s had been rifled. It didn’t increase their maximum range, which was still about twenty perecent less than that of a long gun of equivalent bore, but the improved accuracy definitely increased their maximum effective range. So, in theory, both ships should have been easily capable of hitting the other at half that range.

Theory, however, had a sad way of failing in the face of reality, especially when one was trying to fire accurately from one vessel underway in a seaway at another vessel underway in a seaway. Moving targets were challenging enough even when the gun trying to hit them wasn’t moving simultaneously in at least three different directions itself — forward, up and down, and from side to side —at the moment it fired. Under present conditions, any gunner would be doing well to mark his target at anything much in excess of five hundred yards.

Charisian gunners were still the best trained and most experienced in the world, however. Other navies, even the Dohlarans who’d demonstrated they were the ICA’s only true peers, concentrated on maximum rate of fire at the sort of minimal ranges where hits could be expected.

Desnarian doctrine had relied on engaging at longer range and shooting high, trying to cripple the other side’s rigging, but that was because Desnarian captains (and quite a few Navy of God captains, if the truth be told) had always concentrated on getting away from any Charisian warship they met. Dohlarans, on the other hand, were perefectly ready to fight whenever the odds were close to even, and like the ICN,they wanted decisive combat. That was why their doctrine relied on getting in as close as possible — to within as little as a hundred yards, or even less, if they could manage it — where missing would be extremely difficult, and then pouring as much fire as they could — as quickly as they could — into their enemies’ hulls. It was a technique they’d learned from the Charisians themselves, but the ICN’s gun crews exercised with their weapons for a minimum of one full hour per day. And unlike navies who drilled solely for speed, going through the motions of loading and running out again and again without ever firing, the Charisian Navy also “wasted” quite a lot of powder and shot shooting at targets it intended to actually hit. Its rate of fire at least equalled that of any other navy in the world, when speed was needed, but its gunners were also trained to aim their pieces and to allow for their ships’ own motion.

Hektor intended to use that advantage as ruthlessly as possible. The last thing he wanted was to enter Serpent’s effective range for a broadside duel, and for a longer-ranged engagement, what really mattered were the opponents’ long guns. Although Serpent’s 18-pounders were heavier and she had two of them, Fleet Wing’s single 14-pounder was pivot-mounted, able to fire in a broad arc on either broadside. And unlike Serpent’s guns, it was rifled. The “long fourteen” had been famed in Charisian service for its accuracy from the moment it was introduced. Rifling only made it even more lethally accurate . . . and increased the weight of its projectiles. The schooner had received the new weapon only three months ago, and Hektor knew Zhowaltyr was eager to try its paces in action.

“I believe we can have you in range in the next, oh, thirty minutes,” he said. “I trust that will be satisfactory?”

“I think I can make that work, Sir,” the gunner assured him solemnly.

“Then I suppose you should go do your noisy, smoky best to make me a happy man.”

“We’ll do that thing, Sir.”

Zhowaltyr touched his chest in salute once more, then turned and cupped both hands around his mouth.

“Ruhsyl! Front and center!” he bellowed.

The tallish petty officer who answered his gentle summons had a sharply receding hairline. In fact, he was well along in the process of going bald, although none of his subordinates would be rash enough to describe it in precisely those terms. The hair fringing that gleaming expanse of bald scalp was worn very long and pulled back in a braided (if somewhat moth-eaten) pigtail that hung well down his spine. As if for compensation, he also sported a full, bushy beard and a magnificent specimen of what would have been called a “walrus mustache” on a planet called Earth. Both arms were liberally adorned with tattoos, a golden hoop dangled from his right earlobe, and there were strands of white in both that beard and pigtail. Not surprisingly, perhaps. At forty-seven, Wyllym Ruhsyl was close to three times Hektor’s age and the oldest man in Fleet Wing’s company.

He was also the schooner’s senior gun captain and effectively Zhowaltyr’s assistant gunner, with an uncanny kinesthetic sense.

“Aye, Master Zhowaltyr?” he rumbled in a subterranean voice.

“You’re on the fourteen,” Zhowaltyr told him. “Don’t miss.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“’Vast heaving, there!” Oskahr Fytsymyns bellowed.

HMS Serpent’s solid, muscular boatswain stood with his hands on his hips, scowling at the sweating party of seamen. Shifting heavy weights about on the deck of a ship underway was often a tricky proposition, and just the tube of a long 18-pounder weighed well over two tons. With the carriage added, it topped three and a half, and that much weight could inflict serious damage — less to the hull of the ship, though that could be quite bad enough, than to the fragile human beings of her crew — if it got out of control on a moving deck.

Fytsymyns had no intention of allowing that to happen, and he’d watched with a king wyvern’s eye while the second carronade in Serpent’s starboard broadside was transferred to her larboard broadside and replaced by thelarboard 18-pounder chase gun. Now he stalked forward to inspect the fruit of the sweating seamen’s labors, and they watched him with rather greater anxiety than they did the oncoming Charisian schooner. The Bo’sun’s formidable temper was a known danger, after all.

“Aye, that’ll do,” he growled, then turned to Tohmys Prytchyrt, Serpent’s third lieutenant, who’d hovered in the background while the true professionals got on with it. “I think you can tell the Cap’n she’s ’bout ready, Sir,” he said.

“Very good, Bo’sun,” Prytchyrt acknowledged and gestured to one of the waiting gun captains. “Best get your people stood to, Klynmywlyr.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.” Jyrdyn Klynmywlyr touched his chest in salute and jerked his head at the two waiting gun crews. “Y’ heard the Lieutenant, you idle buggers! Let’s get these bastards loaded!”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Guns’re ready, Sir!”

“Good!” Truskyt Mahkluskee nodded in satisfaction.

He remained far from in favor of engaging the Charisian, especially after he’d gotten a good look at her through his spyglass. Although she showed only ten ports per side, she was very nearly as big as Serpent, she was eating up the range between them with greyhound grace . . . and she’d cleared away her midships pivot gun.

Mahkluskee would have dearly loved a pivot of his own. Unfortunately, that was another thing he didn’t have, so he’d done the best he could to compensate by shifting both 18s to the same broadside. Unless he missed his guess, the Charisian captain intended to stand off and peck away with that 14-pounder from well up to windward, and as long as he retained the weather gauge, he could prevent Serpent from closing to bring her carronades into effective range. On the other hand, that told Mahkluskee exactly where to find him when the shooting started; hence the rearrangement of his own battery.

Now all I have to do is keep them pointed in the right damned direction, he told himself. Shouldn’t be all that hard, especially if the bastard doesn’t want to get in close. Of course, the Writ does say the road to hell is paved with ‘shouldn’t be’s.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Another quarter point, I think,” Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk said calmly.

“’Nother quarter-point larboard helm, aye, Sir,” Senior Petty Officer Frahnk Seegairs acknowledged, easing the wheel, and Fleet Wing swung three degrees farther to starboard, taking the wind almost directly on her starboard beam. The Dohlaran brig lay to the southwest, starboard-side to, and the range continued to slide downward, albeit far more slowly than it had.

“Whenever you feel best, Master Zhowaltyr!” Hektor called out, and the gunner waved his hat in acknowledgment.

He stood close enough to the pivot gun to supervise, but he had no intention of joggling PO Ruhsyl’s elbow. At the moment, the balding, pigtailed petty officer was totally focused on the 14-pounder. He’d waved the rest of the crew back out of the recoil path, and his eyes were almost dreamy as he crouched behind the mount, peering along the barrel.

“You heard the Skipper,” the gunner said, just to be sure, and Ruhsyl nodded.

“Aye, so I did,” he murmured back, and waited a moment longer, feeling the rhythm of the schooner’s motion in his brain and bone. And then thirty years at sea, coupled with five long years of intensive gunnery training and an inherent sense of movement no mere training could have imparted, came together behind those dreamy eyes, and he stepped smartly to the side and jerked the lanyard.

The friction primer worked perfectly, and the 14-pounder bellowed, spewing out a smoke cloud that shredded instantly on the wind.

* * * * * * * * * *

Truskyt Mahkluskee pursed his lips as dark brown gun smoke spouted from the Charisian’s pivot gun. She’d opened fire at a greater range than he’d hoped for, but at least he’d been right to anticipate that she’d come to a southwesterly heading to hold the wind and the weather gauge. Barring some catastrophic damage aloft, Serpent should be able to keep her opponent in the play of her starboard guns — and both of her 18-pounders. Of course, at this range and in these seas, the chance of actually hitting the bastards wasn’t especially good. Still . . . .

“As you bear, Klynmywlyr!” he called to the sandy-haired gun captain crouched over the aftermost 18-pounder’s breech, firing lanyard in hand, and —

Something punched through the brig’s jib. It plunged into the water forty yards off her larboard bow.

And exploded.

Both 18-pounders fired as one, like an echo of that explosion, but Mahkluskee felt the blood draining out of his face as the water spout rose on the far side of his ship.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Not so bad, Sir,” Stywyrt Mahlyk remarked thoughtfully. Admiral Sarmouth’s coxswain — who’d somehow become Lieutenant Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s coxswain — stood in his customary position, festooned with pistols and cutlasses, arms crossed, watching Hektor’s back. “Mind, I’d not be telling Wyllym that. Man’s head’s already too big for his hat!”

Hektor snorted, but Mahlyk had a point. In fact, that first shot had landed remarkably close to its target, and he smiled thinly as the SNARC’s remotes projected Mahkluskee’s reaction to it onto his contact lenses.

Instead of the 14-pound round shot or 8-pound shell the smoothbore 14-pounder had fired, the new, rifled weapon fired a cylindrical solid shot that weighed almost forty-five pounds . . . or a 30-pound explosive shell packed with just over five pounds of black powder and an improved version of Edwyrd Howsmyn’s original percussion fuses. It was longer ranged, heavier, and far, far more destructive than the old “long fourteen” had ever hoped to be.

Serpent’s forward gunports flashed fire, belching their own smoke clouds, and he watched the round shot slash across the wave crests in explosions of white. Like the 14-pounder, they had more than enough range to reach their target. What they didn’t have was Petty Officer Ruhsyl, and the Dohlaran gun captains hadn’t fired at exactly the same moment. One shot actually plowed into the water fifty or sixty yards short of Fleet Wing’s side. The second, fired at a different point in the brig’s roll, went high, whimpering across the ship without hitting a thing and plunging into the sea at least two hundred yards beyond the schooner.

Not good enough, Commander Mahkluskee, Hektor thought coldly.

* * * * * * * * * *


Unlike Mahkluskee, Lieutenant Achlee couldn’t hide his reaction as the Charisian shell threw up that telltale column of water. He wheeled around to his commanding officer, eyes wide, and opened his mouth, but Mahkluskee’s sharp headshake shut it again before anything else came out.

“See if you can edge a little closer to the wind,” the lieutenant commander told the grizzled seaman on the wheel, and showed his teeth in a thin smile. “I think we’d best get as close to her as we can.”

“Aye, aye, Sir,” the helmsman acknowledged, but he was an experienced man. His eyes met his captain’s with the knowledge that Serpent was getting no closer to Fleet Wing than Fleet Wing chose to allow. No square-rigged vessel could match a schooner’s weatherliness at the best of times, and Serpent was slower, to boot.

“Get forward, Karmaikel,” Mahkluskee continued, turning back to his first lieutenant. “I want you as far away from me as possible in case something . . . untoward happens. Besides —” his smile was even thinner than the one he’d shown the helmsman “— it can’t hurt to have your presence encouraging Klynmywlyr’s efforts. Just don’t joggle his elbow.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“That’s right, lads,” Wyllym Ruhsyl encouraged as the fresh charge went down the barrel and the loader indexed the shell’s studs into the barrel’s rifling grooves. It took a fraction of a second longer than simply inserting a round shot or a smoothbore shell, but this gun crew had fired well over a hundred rounds since they’d acquired their new weapon. The loading number could have seated the rifling studs in the dark in the middle of a driving rain — in fact, they’d practiced blindfolded to simulate doing exactly that — and the shell slid smoothly down onto the bagged charge. A gentle stroke with a rammer settled it against the charge, a fresh primer went into the vent, and Ruhsyl reached for the lanyard.

“Clear!” he snapped, and waited long enough to be sure every member of the crew was safely out of the way.

Then he bent over the breech again, lining up the dispart sights which only the Charisian navy used, watching the muzzle of his gun rise to point only at sky, then slowly dip until it pointed only at sea. The trick was to catch it at precisely the right point in the cycle — the point at which the inevitable delay in the charge’s ignition would coincide with the moment the muzzle aligned perfectly on the Dohlaran brig. It helped immeasurably that Edwyrd Howsmyn’s quality control assured such uniform burn times on the primers supplied to the fleet, but the best quality control in the world couldn’t guarantee truly uniform times. There was always some variation, and the only “fire control” available was an experienced human eye and sense of timing.

As it happened, Wyllym Ruhsyl had both of those.

* * * * * * * * * *

Fresh smoke blossomed from the Charisian’s waist, and a second shell screamed through the air. This time, the gunners had fired a little high, however. The projectile made a sharp, flat slapping sound as it punched through Serpent’s main course and exploded at least a hundred yards clear.

Maybe that first shot was a fluke, Mahkluskee told himself. It could’ve been.

He told himself that very firmly . . . and never believed it for a moment.

* * * * * * * * * *

Shan-wei!” Ruhsyl snarled as his second shot went high.

“Told you not to miss.” Zhowaltyr had to raise his vooice, but his dry tone came through Ruhsyl’s protective earplugs quite well. “Not like those shells grow on trees out here, y’know!”

The gun captain glared at him, but wisely didn’t reply.

“Load!” he barked instead, and his crew sprang into motion once more.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Fire!” Jyrdyn Klynmywlyr snapped, and the 18-pounders bellowed afresh.

The stinking cloud of gunsmoke streamed back across the deck, and he squinted through it, straining to see the fall of the shot. At this range, there wasn’t much time for the smoke to clear, but he saw the flash of white as at least one of the round shot went bouncing and bounding across the waves well astern of the Charisian schooner.

“Damn and blast!” He shook his head angrily. Problems in elevation were one thing; being that far off in deflection was something else entirely.

“I want that frigging ship hit, not the Shan-wei-damned water!” he snarled. “Anybody not understand that?!”

He glared at his own gun crew for a moment, then swiveled the same fiery eyes to the other crew and held them for a pair of heartbeats. Then he inhaled sharply.


* * * * * * * * * *


The 14-pounder lurched back on its slides, coming up against the breeching tackle, and the smoke cloud — not the dirty gray-white of conventional gunpowder but the dark brown of the much more powerful Charisian chocolate powder — blasted up and out. The shell shrieked across the water between the two ships and landed perhaps thirty feet short of its target.

* * * * * * * * * *

The deck jerked under Mahkluskee’s feet, and he threw out a hand to the compass binnacle for balance.

The Charisian shell had hit the water and continued forward. Its down-angle had been too sharp to actually hit Serpent’s hull below the waterline, but the fuse had activated just as it passed under the brig’s keel. Fortunately, it was too far away and the charge was too light to break the ship’s back or stave in her planking, but the caulked seams between those planks were another matter. Half a dozen of them started, and water began spurting into the hull. It wasn’t a dangerous flow — not yet — but there was time for that to change.


* * * * * * * * * *

The 18-pounders thundered again . . . and this time, Jyrdyn Klynmywlyr found his mark. A single 4.6-inch round shot slammed into Fleet Wing’s hull right at the waterline and continued onward through one of the schooner’s iron water tanks before it lodged in her timbers on the far side of the hull.

“Hands below!” the ship’s carpenter snapped, sending his assistants below to check for leaks. Hektor absorbed that information, but his attention remained fully focused on Serpent.

The only man aboard his ship more focused on the brig than he was was Wyllym Ruhsyl.


* * * * * * * * * *

Serpent bucked as a 4.5-inch shell slammed squarely into her hull, punched through her planking, and exploded in her cable tier. The tightly coiled hemp absorbed much of the explosion . . . but it was also flammable, and smoke began wafting upward.

“Away fire parties!” Oskahr Fytsymyns bellowed, and half a dozen men vanished down the forward hatch.

The Royal Dohlaran Navy’s firefighting techniques had improved radically over the last couple of years, especially once Earl Thirsk started contemplating the ramifications of explosive shells hitting wooden hulls. Serpent’s firefighters dragged a canvas hose behind them, and four more men tailed onto the forward pump, ready to send water surging through the hose when — if — they reached the source of that smoke.

The smoke rose through the hatch behind the firefighting party, rolling along the deck like ground fog, wreathing around the gunners’ knees before it topped the bulwark and the wind snatched it away, but they ignored it.


* * * * * * * * * *

The two ships forged through the water as the minutes dragged past and the artillery duel raged.

The carronade gunners on both sides stood watching, rammers and handspikes in hand, waiting until the moment might come for them to join the exchange. But Hektor Aplyn-Ahrmahk had no intention of giving Serpent’s shorter-ranged weapons the opportunity to fire upon his ship. Mahkluskee’s gunners were better than he’d anticipated, and they’d managed to hit Fleet Wing three more times over the past twenty-five minutes. In absolute terms, that was a dismal percentage of the shots they’d fired; in terms of gunners aboard a small ship in eight or nine-foot waves, it was a very respectable accomplishment, and the last thing he wanted was to let the rest of Serpent’s gunners join the fray.

Wyllym Ruhsyl’s gun crew, however, was even better. They’d fired barely more than half as many shots and hit their target five times. Fleet Wing had suffered six casualties, none of them fatal; Serpent had seven dead and eight wounded, and she’d been hit twice below the waterline. Her pumps had kept pace with the inflow handily . . . until six minutes ago, when one of Ruhsyl’s shells had landed with freakish perversity right on top of her forward pump.

With only the after pump still in action, the water was gaining, slowly but inexorably. The brig had also lost half the pumping capacity dedicated to her firefighting teams, and although the fire in the cable tier had been contained, it hadn’t been extinguished. It continued to smolder, and another shell had exploded in Mahkluskee’s cabin, starting a second fire. That one had been smothered quickly, but the Dohlaran skipper could feel his people’s growing desperation. They’d hit the Charisian several times — he knew they had — yet there was no external evidence of it, and that accursed pivot gun continued to flash and thunder with metronome precision.

“Hit ’em, lads!” he heard himself shouting. “Hit the bastards!

A rigging hit, he thought bitterly. That’s what we need — one hit on the bastard’s rigging!

That was the schooner rig’s one weakness as a man-of-war; it was more vulnerable than a square-rigger to damage aloft. If they could only bring down a mast, or even shoot away the foresail’s gaff! Anything to slow the Charisian, give Serpent a chance to break off. It would have to be a truly devastating hit to give the brig any hope of clawing upwind into carronade range, but at this point, he’d be more than willing to simply run.

I don’t care how accurate those bastards are, we could take them if they weren’t firing shells while we fired round shot! Who ever thought of fitting a gun that small with shells? And how did they get so damned much powder inside them? Why the Shan-wei can they do things like that, and we can’t? Which side are the Archangels really on?!

Something quailed inside him at the blasphemy of his own question, but that didn’t rob it of its point. Dohlar was the one fighting for God and Langhorne, so why was it that —

* * * * * * * * * *


Wyllym Ruhsyl yanked the firing lanyard for what seemed like the thousandth time. The 14-pounder bellowed, smoke blossomed . . . and HMS Serpent disintegrated in a massive ball of fire, smoke, and hurtling splinters as a 4.5-inch shell drilled straight into her powder magazine and exploded.

Lake City
Camp Mahrtyn Taisyn,
Tarikah Province,
Republic of Siddarmark.

“It would appear all is in readiness,” Captain of Horse Medyng Hwojahn, Baron of Wind Song, remarked. His breath rose in a cloud of steam as he gazed through the tripod-mounted spyglass at the formidable lines of snow-shrouded fortifications. They stretched as far as he could see, even with the spyglass, and he straightened and turned to the tall — very tall, for a Harchongian — officer at his right shoulder. “Whenever seems best to you, Lord of Foot Zhyngbau.”

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by Keith_w   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:21 pm


Posts: 959
Joined: Tue Apr 10, 2012 11:10 am
Location: Ontario, Canada

Thank you very much for this snippet RFC.
A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by Alistair   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:50 pm

Rear Admiral

Posts: 1280
Joined: Wed Dec 30, 2009 4:48 am

Yes thank you :)
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by Henry Brown   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:54 pm

Henry Brown

Posts: 909
Joined: Fri Dec 31, 2010 12:57 pm
Location: Greenville NC

I am kind of surprised a brig could survive 5 shell hits. It would be one thing for a large frigate or a ship of the line to take hits like that. But I would have thought 5 hits from 30 pound shells with a 5 pound bursting charge would have sunk a smaller ship such as a brig.
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by ksandgren   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 7:19 pm

Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 342
Joined: Tue Jun 14, 2011 5:54 pm
Location: Los Angeles, California

Thanks again, rfc. It took awhile to post this as I had to read the snippet first.
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by Undercover Fat Kid   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 8:44 pm

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Posts: 202
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2013 10:20 pm

This. This is why I compulsively check the forums.
Death is as a feather,
Duty is as a mountain
This life is a dream
From which we all
Must wake
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by n7axw   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 9:16 pm

Fleet Admiral

Posts: 5822
Joined: Wed Jan 22, 2014 7:54 pm
Location: Viborg, SD

Henry Brown wrote:I am kind of surprised a brig could survive 5 shell hits. It would be one thing for a large frigate or a ship of the line to take hits like that. But I would have thought 5 hits from 30 pound shells with a 5 pound bursting charge would have sunk a smaller ship such as a brig.

Probably the answer to this is where the shells hit. After all it was one properly placed shell in the ship's magazine that ended the game. The first four hits did damage but weren't decisive.


When any group seeks political power in God's name, both religion and politics are instantly corrupted.
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by bigrunt   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 9:21 pm

Lieutenant Commander

Posts: 117
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:34 pm
Location: St Augustine FL

n7axw wrote:
Probably the answer to this is where the shells hit. After all it was one properly placed shell in the ship's magazine that ended the game. The first four hits did damage but weren't decisive.



A hit to the rigging on an old sailing ship won't cripple her, but a couple of hits on the mast will. Same with modern ships. Some areas are made to take damage.
I am the runt of the litter (Granted it was a litter of really big pups)
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by 6L6   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 9:44 pm


Posts: 165
Joined: Sat Apr 26, 2014 7:37 pm
Location: Sourthern Md. USA

Thanks again.
Re: ATST Snippet #3
Post by dobriennm   » Wed Aug 24, 2016 11:09 pm


Posts: 169
Joined: Fri Sep 03, 2010 5:44 pm

runsforcelery wrote:
Lake City
Camp Mahrtyn Taisyn,
Tarikah Province,
Republic of Siddarmark.

“It would appear all is in readiness,” Captain of Horse Medyng Hwojahn, Baron of Wind Song, remarked. His breath rose in a cloud of steam as he gazed through the tripod-mounted spyglass at the formidable lines of snow-shrouded fortifications. They stretched as far as he could see, even with the spyglass, and he straightened and turned to the tall — very tall, for a Harchongian — officer at his right shoulder. “Whenever seems best to you, Lord of Foot Zhyngbau.”

So are the Harchongise planning a little winter offensive of their own? Or at least some raiding with their Sling-grenadiers leading the way? It's November, so things should be shutting down but it sounds like they're ready for some offensive action.

Any other suggestions?

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