image from the book The Brittle Sea

Disaster.

A disaster at sea was every sailor’s nightmare, but when the disaster happened to someone else and you have failed to give assistance, that would have repercussions. It was as plain as the red blush on the radio operator’s face, a disaster was unfolding before Captain Richard Blackmore’s eyes.

“A message, you say. A distress call, no less, that has taken,” the Captain paused and looked at the top of the notepaper, “almost two hours to reach us?” Captain Richard Blackmore slammed the paper onto his desk. “This is the second time in as many days, Mr. Archer. And this is now an emergency and I have no doubt people have lost their lives due to your stupidity. A ship is in distress, maybe even sunk by now, and we are but miles away. Anyone plunged into these freezing waters will last mere minutes before they die. Minutes, Mr. Archer! You said you were fully trained on the new radio equipment.”

“I am sir, fully trained, but…”

“But what?”

“The engineer said I must conserve battery power and turn the system off for several hours every night.”

“Out and out nonsense, even I know that, and I don’t even work for Marconi. Mr. Archer, you, as an employee of Marconi, must understand you only answer to me on my ship. You are not part of the crew, but an employee of Marconi. Our esteemed engineer is a bully who preys on naive young men. Since when is our brandy-soaked chief in charge of this vessel?” Blackmore’s fist had by now crumpled the message and was sore from the pounding his desk was taking.

Lord save us from stupidity.

“Get out of my sight,” Blackmore shouted at the young man, who seemed close to tears.

As his cabin door shut quietly, Blackmore grabbed the voice-tube that connected him to his bridge and blew in it.

“Bridge,” a tinny voice shrilled back at Blackmore.

“Mr. James,” Blakemore said into the mouthpiece, “get a heading from the radio operator who is on his way back to the radio room and change our course. We have a rescue mission on our hands, so full steam please. But, be aware we are perhaps heading into an icefield, not to mention debris from a sunken ship, so all available lookouts to their posts.”

“Aye, Sir, do we know the ship?”

There was a brief pause and James waited patiently.

“It’s the Titanic.” Blackmore heard a brief intake of breath. He knew his first officer well enough to know he would take that news well, despite the fact he also knew James’ nephew was a part of the Titanic’s crew.

“And Mr. James.”

“Aye, Captain?” James’ Scottish brogue always had a calming effect on Blackmore.

“Lives are at stake, so full speed as soon as possible and if the engineer gives you trouble, throw him in the brig. In fact,” Blackmore paused for thought.

“Sir?”

“Throw him in the brig anyway and get Mr. Lawrence to take over engineering.”

“Sir!” James’ incredulity was evident.

“Our esteemed colleague’s drunken stupidity may have killed people this night. I’ll make sure he never works a ship again. Blackmore out.” Blackmore sat back and ran his fingers through his dark hair and short beard. He felt the need for sleep but knew full well that he and his crew were not going to be sleeping any time soon. Blackmore picked up his binoculars and cap, placing the cap precisely on his head, a quick glance in the mirror in his cabin ensured he was correctly attired. He was experienced enough to know his men looked up to him for leadership, and a shoddily dressed ship’s captain made for a shoddy ship’s crew. Blackmore’s cabin was immediately below the bridge, on the ship’s boat-deck and as he climbed the short way up to the bridge, he looked out at the bright starlight embedded in the inky blackness of the night sky. Blackmore entered the bridge, nodding to his first officer, Mr. James. Blackmore stood on the bridge of The Lady Jane and waited for his ship to approach the designated co-ordinates before scanning for any signs of a ship in distress.

“Are you sure of the heading?”

“Aye, sir and all hands are at their stations,” Archer confirmed.

“Very well.”

The steady throb of the engines and the calming effect of the sea washing round the prow had mellowed Blackmore somewhat.

“Mr. James, did you take care of our chief drunk?”

“Aye, Sir. We took a little haranguing from him, but he’s safely locked up.”

Mr. James explained the engineer had paid no attention to the first officer explaining the Captain’s orders, other than to shout at him, drool and dribble running down his chin.

Blackmore’s chief was drunk again, and he cursed himself for not insisting on a replacement. But the chief, though younger than Blackmore, was nephew to The Lady Jane’s owner, Gordon Bellagon, and he was subservient to his sister, the chief’s mother.

“What a tangled web we weave,” Blackmore muttered.

“When we practice to deceive,” the radio operator muttered in a low, absent-minded way.

“You like poetry, Mr. Archer?”

“Not really, sir. I just remember the line for some reason.”

“Yes, me too. But it is true. A lot of lives could be lost this night and it’s all down to a tangled web of stupidity, as opposed to deceit, brought on by others. Take my advice, young man. Stand your ground when you know you are in the right.”

A voice, strong and clear called out into the cold night. “Debris!”

The first-officer, standing just outside the bridge shouted the obvious question. “Where away?” and looked up into the main mast area. After a second or two looking to the port side, Mr. James shouted, “Ten degrees port captain and its quite a distance…”

“I see it, thank you. Helm, new heading.” Blackmore’s bridge crew had been with him a long time and they knew the ropes. Without needing any help from him, The Lady Jane changed her heading and Mr. James barked orders to the crew. The steamer’s prow spray was now visible as dawn approached and the little steamer changed direction. Fate had taken a hand in human affairs and was also shaping Blackmore’s future.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

Please use the menu system below to read further chapters in The Brittle Sea saga

Chapters

MARCH 15, 1931

APRIL 15, 1912

DISASTER

DEBRIS

THE LOSS

MAGGIE

MISSING

NEW YORK

GORDON BELLAGON

THE TWO MINDS OF MAGGIE

A PARTING OF THE WAYS

VENEZUELA

THE DAYS GROW LONGER

CROSSING THE LINE

MAGGIE’S FALL

STORM WARNING

HARKER’S SEARCH

A BOX OF TRICKS

REBELLION

BALLANTINE LEARNS THE TRUTH

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

As a English expat author living in Cyprus, you may think my life revolves around cocktails by the pool. You would be wrong. In ten years on the island I’ve had my fair share of adventures and interesting experiences.

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