The atmosphere in the wardroom of the old Asiatic Fleet “four-stacker” destroyer USS Walker (DD-163) was no longer animated; it was more… subdued and sickened than anything else. The sultry, rotting breeze off the unknown atoll to windward entered the portholes and swirled in the cramped compartment, resuscitating an all- pervading aroma of mildew and sweat. beings sat stiffly, tiredly, uncomfortably behind the green linoleum-topped wardroom table, facing aft, waiting for the final prisoner to be brought before them. It had been a long day, in many ways, and the fiery, righteous passions that had inflamed the earlier proceedings had finally dwindled to mere disgusted embers of their former selves. The aversion, horror, and anger the “court” felt toward the prisoners they’d judged was still very real and palpable, but it had become an exhausted, mechanical thing by now, and everyone- the judges, prosecutors, and even the defense-just wanted the whole thing over at last.
Captain Matthew Reddy, High Chief of the American Clan, and Commander in Chief (by acclamation) of all Allied Forces united under the Banner of the Trees, stared through the porthole at battered Achilles, anchored alongside. They’d nearly lost the Imperial steam frigate to damage sustained in the battle against the “Company” ships. She’d suffered even more sorely in a vicious little storm that brewed up shortly after, before they made this unexpected landfall that afforded some protection while she and the rest of the little fleet performed emergency repairs. Now the two “prizes” that Achilles and Walker had taken intact-the HNBC (Honorable New Britain Company) flagship Ulysses and the pressed Imperial frigate Icarus -were already practically ready for sea. Ulysses had fled the action and been only lightly damaged, and Icarus had been wrested from her Company commanders by loyal sailors and hadn’t participated in the fight. Achilles was mauled by HNBC Caesar, but ultimately sent her to the bottom. Even Walker, with her comparatively long-range guns, had taken a beating, and throughout the court sessions her old iron hull had reverberated with the sound of clanging blows from inside and out, as punctured plates were replaced (they could do that now, at least) or heated, bent back in place, and reriveted.
Walker wasn’t new anymore by any possible definition, but after her resurrection and rebuilding, she’d at least looked almost new for a while in her fresh, darker shade of gray that the Bosun finally approved. Her appearance had certainly been a far cry from the shattered, half-sunken wreck she’d been after the Battle of Baalkpan. Herculean work had been accomplished to return her to duty and, ultimately, to ready her for this particular mission. It was really a miracle that she’d ever floated again, much less steamed so far, fought yet another battle, and arrived safely at this place. Sometimes, when Matt gazed at her, he had difficulty believing she had.
Neither Matt nor the Bosun had participated in her refloating and rebuilding; they’d both been off aboard Donaghey, leading the Singapore Campaign. They hadn’t witnessed the unending hours of wrenching labor, ingenuity, and tireless dedication that resulted in her gradual but almost complete restoration. They’d returned home from the war in the west prepared to embark on literally anything available to chase the Company criminal Walter Billingsley, who’d abducted Princess Rebecca, Sandra Tucker, Sister Audry, Dennis Silva, and Abel Cook. Kidnapping the princess was bad enough. She and her “lizard” friend Lawrence-who’d also been taken-were heroes of the Alliance and the Lemurians held them to their hearts. But Sandra’s abduction was even worse, if that was possible. Not only was she a much-beloved heroine who’d saved literally thousands of lives with her own hands and her medical and organizational skill, she was the woman Matthew Reddy loved. They weren’t married or even officially engaged, but that made no difference to the Lemurian “ ’Cats.” To them, she was their Supreme Commander’s “mate.” Nothing, not even the all-important war, could or should interfere with his pursuit of her captors.
There was genuine concern for the other hostages too. Sister Audry had few detractors, despite her heretical teachings. Quite a number had even converted to her church. She was considered by all to be an honest, pious female, if just a bit odd. Abel Cook wasn’t well-known, but he was “one of theirs.” Dennis Silva was a genuine hero, and though unqualifiedly deranged, he’d almost come to symbolize the human Americans in some indefinable way as far as the Lemurians were concerned. He was big, noisy, and irreverent, but in an almost childlike, inoffensive manner. He was brave to the point of recklessness, but tender with younglings. He’d sacrificed much for a people and cause he barely knew, simply because it was right -and he was capable of unparalleled violence toward anything that posed a threat to his new friends. His ongoing affairs with human nurse Pam Cross, as well as the equally rambunctious Lemurian Risa-Sab-At, were also a source of much gossip and amusement among the Allied ’Cats, even though-and perhaps because-the affair seemed to cause such consternation among his “own” people.
For whatever reason, the Lemurians wanted all “their people” back, and therefore, somehow, they and a smattering of Matt’s own destroyermen, who’d been left in charge of salvaging his ship, not only did so but had her ready for him when he needed her most. Matt rubbed his eyes. It had been a miracle, sure enough. But he’d almost begun to expect miracles where the Lemurians and his destroyermen-all his People-were concerned.
He shook his head. Time to get back to business. Despite his misgivings, he’d agreed to serve as President of the Court at Commodore Jenks’s request. His ship had been attacked without warning and he knew he couldn’t be entirely objective, but Jenks had argued that his was the only ship without either a Company or an Imperial Navy presence aboard. Since all the Company and Imperial Navy crews and officers were potential defendants, prosecutors, or witnesses to the primary charge of “Knowingly and Deliberately Attempting the Foul Murder of Princess Rebecca Anne McDonald,” heir to the Governor-Emperor’s throne, in the false certainty that she was aboard Matt’s ship, the trial would conclude if the accused were guilty of high treason, not a deliberate act of war against a sovereign state-or USS Walker. Attacking Walker was merely the means by which they’d demonstrated their treason. Matt’s crew was aggrieved that the guilty wouldn’t hang for murdering the shipmates that had been lost, but as long as they hung for something, the crew was partially mollified.
Again, because they’d agreed that no Imperial personnel should sit on the court, Matt had been forced to choose the other two judges himself. On the surface, Bosun’s Mate 2nd (and Captain of Marines) Chack-Sab-At was an easy choice. The young Lemurian’s honor and integrity were beyond question, as were his physical courage and sense of justice. Of all the ’Cats Matt had come to know, Chack was, in many ways, the most remarkable. He’d literally been a pacifist before the war against the Grik, but he’d since become a consummate, skilled, and resourceful… Marine. He always reverted to his “old” status of bosun’s mate aboard Walker, the ship he now fully considered his Home, but he’d become much, much more.
That was part of the problem. The young Lemurian, once able to take such innocent and childlike joy from the grand adventure of life, had become a virtual killing machine. Fighting the Grik was one thing, however. He’d been able to keep that separate, apart. He’d built a wall between his soul and the things he’d done to save his people. The battle they’d been forced to fight against other humans had apparently loosened a few of the stones in that wall. He clearly didn’t understand it, and he was confused. Lemurians simply didn’t fight other Lemurians-with a few notable exceptions. He’d known and accepted from the start that humans did fight other humans, and he’d even helped fight the Japanese humans who aided the Grik. But These humans, these “Imperials,” were the very descendants of the ancient “tail-less ones” who once came among his people and gave them so much in terms of technology, culture, and even knowledge of the Heavens. Essentially, Matt supposed Chack felt as if he’d met the ancient saints of his people and discovered they weren’t saints after all.
Matt knew Chack’s feelings weren’t unique. The very voyage they were embarked on had done much to undermine some fundamental tenets of Lemurian dogma. Even the fact that they’d traveled this far without falling off the world had been sufficient to do that to a degree. Lemurians knew the world was round, but apparently only those now aboard USS Walker really understood the simple truth that gravity pulled down, no matter where you went. This didn’t come as a basic physics lesson to Walker ’s now predominantly Lemurian crew; it challenged many fundamental “laws of things” as far as they were concerned, including such mundane things as where the water came from that fell as rain from the Heavens.
Chack-and all his people, ultimately-had a lot of stuff to sort out, and as essential as it had become for them