“You selfish, self-important bastard!” Konrad the navigator cried. “You’d put the lives of our entire crew, and their families, in the hands of that…thing? That computer? I refuse to have any part in the dismantling of my bridge!”

“Please, Alik,” Captain Lebedev said. “There’s no need for this.”

“There is!” Konrad roared, stabbing a finger at Berenty. “Surely there is! We’ve put up with this bully for too long, all of us! Now the safety of this ship—of your families—is at risk! Who else will stand up with me?”

Berenty said nothing; there was a curiously neutral expression on his face.

“Step down, you fool,” Lebedev hissed at Konrad.

“No, I will not!” continued Konrad. “I’ve seen enough! Good men turned into lapdogs, just like in the old days, armed men down every corridor, and the stink of fear for everyone. You, Grisha Sergeyevich Berenty, will be the death of everyone aboard.”

“You are correct,” Berenty said, suddenly. He shrugged.

“What?” said Konrad.

Lebedev later theorized that Berenty’s shrug must have been a prearranged signal, for the next moment Korenchkin had unlimbered his AKS and leveled it at Konrad. He snapped off a tight burst of shots, filling the room with a deafening report and an overwhelming stink of gunpowder. Konrad’s chest was reduced to a swamp of frothy blood; the navigator toppled to the floor without a sound.

“No!” Lebedev cried. He rushed to his fallen officer and tried to step the flow of blood with his own crumpled captain’s jacket, but it was too late. Konrad had bled to death and the light had gone out of his eyes after no more than a few seconds.

“Yes, he was correct!” Berenty shouted. “I will indeed be the death of everyone aboard if they do not do as they are told! I will be the death of every traitor, every malcontent, every wrecker the miserable lot of you has to offer! We are engaged in a great work here, and every one of us is expendable to further the cause!”

Thick hands seized the captain’s collar and hauled him upright. “You and your crew will be retained as advisors in case of a temporary malfunction of the Elbrus,” said Berenty. “Unless, of course, any of you feel some solidarity with the late Officer Konrad?”

Burning, seething hatred bubbled at the captain’s temples and threatened to turn his vision red. But with great effort, he restrained himself—it would do no good for anyone if he were to end up like Konrad. “No, colonel,” Lebedev said, almost in a monotone.

“Are you sure of that, captain?” asked Berenty. “You seemed rather emotional a moment ago when your man got his nine grams ten times over.”

“I have never lost a man under my command,” Lebedev said. “I fear for how his rash actions will reflect upon me.”

Berenty grinned. “Worry not, captain! Your own conduct has been exemplary. Get yourself cleaned up.”

“Yes, colonel,” said Lebedev, and he slunk away to his quarters—beaten, but alive. From his window, he saw Mikoyan and Korenchkin fling Konrad’s body into the sea, and bitter, helpless tears burned on his cheeks.

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In the aftermath of the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, an extratropical cyclone that had caused twelve shipwrecks and more than 250 deaths, the lakes had given up what they had taken slowly, reluctantly. Five of the ships were never found; some bodies washed ashore days or weeks later. One ship, the Charles S. Price, was found floating upside down near the mouth of the St. Clair and was not identified for weeks (even then requiring an ex-crewman to identify the dead).

Of the many unsolved mysteries in the wake of that storm, the Tawas Bay Hulk is perhaps the most puzzling. On November 12, 1913, as citizens of the small lakeside town of East Tawas were digging out of the more than 24 inches of snow that had fallen during the storm, a ship was spotted out in the bay, presumably having been swept in by the gale and partly grounded on one of the shoals near the Tawas Light.

The Coast Guard was busy with rescue operations elsewhere and hampered by downed telegraph lines, so enterprising citizens and members of the lighthouse station crew made their way to the ship. They found it completely abandoned, with no bodies or personal effect onboard. Curiously, they also found that the ship lacked a name, registration, or any other papers. Despite being a 40-foot craft which would have required a medium-size dockyard to construct, there were no maker’s marks, plaques, or other clues that could even establish where the ship had been built.

When the Coast Guard was able to respond, they found that there was no mention of any such craft in what records they could uncover, and their Canadian counterparts were equally puzzled. Despite the fury of the storm and the haste with which the ship must have been abandoned, its crew seemed to have been very thorough at removing all traced of their presence; only a few scraps of paper with illegible scrawls and mass-market navigational charts remains. The cargo hold contained nothing but empty crates and broken glass.

Stymied, the Coast Guard seized the ship and auctioned it off to pay the costs of the recovery operation. Commissioned as the John Doe by a Saginaw navigation company with a sense of humor, it was unpopular with crews who regarded it as a cursed vessel. It sank in a 1967 storm, and remains an item of mild local interest to this day.

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Companies and governments “seeded” vast sectors of space with remotely-piloted drones and the infrastructure to support them–automated repair stations and a network of tiny, cheap hyperspace relays. They took advantage of the fact that propulsion and communication technologies had evolved far faster than the ability to put a human in the driver’s seat. A person traveling at speed in one of the remote drones would be reduced to chunky salsa even if they’d had air to breathe.

But with the relays in place, a person with a decent connection on Earth could pilot a remote drone nearly in real-time, doing surveying and exploration work that completely automated probes couldn’t. And they could sell the minerals they found and potentially habitable sites for future colonization, if the technology ever appeared.

Cam had cashed in his college fund to buy a rattletrap of an RPD, and he spent close to ten hours a day hooked up to its interface, exploring places he’d never see with his own eyes and scraping together just enough cash from what he found to keep the operation going.

Big scores happened all the time–just never to him. So when he saw that a promising system already had a drone in orbit, he wished for the thousandth time that his tiny ship had some kind of offensive weapons.

Lightoller adjusted the picture to try and cut out some static. “Come on now, Navy boys, come on. Don’t want to lose the feed.” He’d promised good, hard, stolen Navy intel for the Zouaves, and he intended to deliver.

“…thanks to the availability of cheap cigarettes and rotgut where I grew up, I’ve gained a lifelong fondness for both,” the interviewee—Peg, wasn’t it?—said. “Plus, they make me look cool, and having a nasty, smelly cigarette in between your lips makes it less likely a guy’s going to stick his tongue in there.”

“Wonder if that’s really the sort of thing the Zouaves are interested in?” Lightoller muttered, raising an eyebrow. “Well, they weren’t specific.”

“Not that I have to worry so much; I don’t make as many trips ‘down south’ as most of the writhing hedonists my age,” Peg continued. “And honestly, when my last memory’s of Darren Winston, filtered through a whole lot of drunk…well, I’m glad for both of us that he must’ve been shooting blanks. After I left home, I never saw him again, and that’s a good thing in my book—he had exactly one virtue, and it wasn’t his wit or sparkling personality. Not exactly husband or father-of-my-children material.”

“Look, miss, if we could just get back to the-” one of the Navy men began, clearly uncomfortable that his interrogation had been hijacked.

He was cut off. “Then again, there are precious few that are qualified for that job opening. The benefits are great, but you’ve gotta have a top-notch resume and be willing to relocate. There’ve been some promising candidates, but the last prospective hire decided to pursue opportunities elsewhere. We didn’t…gel…on an ethical level, which is to say that he accused me of having none. I’m of two minds on the subject of reproduction anyway; while it’s obvious the universe could use another such as me, the same gene pool spawned my dumbass cousin. I figure that’s one bridge to cross when I come to it, hopefully in the arms of a well-sculpted Adonis.”

The barrage was so precise that, when the powder-smoke cleared, the Ineffable‘s gunwhales and ports were clean, with nary a living soul to be seen. Those few survivors visible were rigging the sails for a getaway tack.

“Chain shot!” roared Black Ned.

“Chain shot!” the cry was taken up below, where the gunners of the Merciless Anne loaded their cannon with the lethal mixture of ball and chain. The deadly links exploded outward moments after, sundering the fore and aft masts of the Ineffable and leaving her dead in the water. Normally, a privateer with such a prize would be loath to destroy her–there were men who would pay good coin for a lightly-used frigate still in Royal paint–but Black Ned wasn’t interested in prizes.

“Hooks and planks!” he cried. “Make ready for boarding!”

Grappling hooks sailed out, drawing the two ships closer until Black Ned’s crew scrambled across, cutting down all in their path with ball and cutlass. Ned himself was at their fore, flintlocks blazing, and led the charge belowdecks. He burst into the captain’s cabin like an elemental force, unloading a miniature broadside of shot into its occupant, leaving him slumped across a Spanish treasure chest.

Black Ned kicked the man’s corpse aside and sundered the lock with a dagger. His eyes grew wide as he beheld the golden figure inside.

“Let that be a lesson to all who’d steal the captain’s rubber ducky!” he bellowed, holding the prize aloft and giving it an exultant squeak.

“My contact was very clear on this: the gold, mined from Tanganyika colony, was real, and substantial,” said Harrison.

Joy shrugged. “What of it? Any gold the Germans had would long since have been seized after the war.”

“Not quite. Gustav Bernhard, the German Colonial Secretary, was in the midst of retrieving that trove when war broke out in 1914. They say that it went to the bottom of the ocean when his cruiser was lost with all hands at the Falklands, but I have reason to believe they secreted the gold on a Pacific island during their trans-Pacific voyage.”

“Not this again,” Ishi moaned.

“The way I see it, we can either cut anchor and head out now–when no one else would think to look–or we sit on our hands and wait for the Japanese to sweep in. Unless you’d prefer that.”

“I was born in San Francisco, ass,” said Ishi. “To the Imperial Navy, I’m as American as Douglas MacArthur.”

We’ve been good friends for years, he and I. I would’ve followed him anywhere. To Hell and back, as it were.

Well, he hasn’t been the same since the accident. I really can’t blame him, but…

When I he came here, I followed him. “Here” is out in the middle of nowhere. Hardly anything for me or he to do.

He doesn’t mind.

It’s what he asked for.

For all our talking, I don’t even think my old friend knows I’m here. His mind’s elsewhere.

I’m not unhappy here…it’s quiet, relaxing. But I can’t help feeling that I’m needed elsewhere. I’m a healer of men, and I don’t play golf. Always hit the sod farther than the ball. And somewhere out there, there must be people in pain.

Injured, suffering, or worse.

If I weren’t out here, could I be helping them? I don’t really have much of a chance to help people anymore. Healing is God’s work, and it’s just not needed much here.

Are my gifts going to waste?

I wonder, should I leave? Abandon my friends here, my old friend, and go? Try to seek out those of greater need, and help them? See my family, my children more often, perhaps? I don’t hate it here, and occasionally my skills are needed. A lot of people depend on me–psychologically. I don’t have the training, but I know how to listen. I know how to coax out a smile with a little joke. And I have enough years under my belt to have advice to spare.

So should I leave, and try to use my God-given gifts to help as many as I can?

Perhaps I should, but not right now, not yet.