Helios (Alternate Universe)
by various authors

Dutifully taking care of the countless safety checks demanding immediate attention, Ursula Davis, heart brimming with excitement innocent as a child’s found it almost impossible to believe the time was virtually upon her…Ten Years – Ten long, painful, beautiful years of determined endeavour literally against the odds Finally transforming what many dismissed as a reckless foolhardy dream into reality; realized at last.  Cradled atop a virtual time bomb, Helios stood ready to reach for the stars, writing the first tentative words of a new chapter in Humanity’s quest to journey beyond the confines of their world,  or,  more realistically , several  experimental low Earth orbits under nought but sail.

Project Helios began its life as little more than an impossible, romantic fancy fueled by an undeniable enthusiasm possessed by its creator. Newly graduated from a prominent British University having received qualifications in both the fields of Astro-physics and aeronautical engineering, a bright future awaited its latest novice. From the beginning, Ursula faced obstacle after obstacle, her dream of a “true ship of the stars” laughed off as so much folly – the product of little more than an over-active imagination combined with far more science fiction than could possibly be healthy. Nonetheless, soldier on she did, with  only a plan and the zeal to some day see it realized.

From her earliest years, Ursula harboured a keen interest in all things celestial. Many a cold night saw  the young astronomer gazing in wonder at the starry firmament above – a treasure-chest of jewels spilled across a velvety sky  brimming with possibility. Being hooked from  her childhood,  future events were all but unavoidable. Excellent  formative academic results led naturally to pursuits at a higher educational level whereby this passion could well and truly be indulged.

Time was when a career in space seemed a certainty. Unfortunately though, Ursula’s need for corrective eyewear rendered her unsuitable in NASA’sview– Unsurprisingly, she consoled herself with the fact their in-house politics and agenda would not have  produced satisfaction anyway. So it was, then, that  the scientist beavered away in her field of expertise happily though not quite contentedly for a European space association. It was therefore of little surprise when, two years after commencement with her employers, Ursula found herself literally swept off her feet by the arrival of another new face – that of Dr. Tony Davis. Much to the shock of friends and colleagues alike, at twenty-four  years of age (Tony being ten years her senior), after only courting for twelve weeks, their lives were pledged in matrimonial unity (Ursula gladly taking his name) – two hearts so alike, driven equally by a singular passionate dream joined in the striving for this quest.

Inspired by the elegant simplicity of past technologies, especially that of the power of wind and sail, Helios took flight. Carried along by her husband’s almost fanatical dedication to the cause,  she lost no ground conceptualizing, researching, developing and finally presenting the opportunity of a lifetime – the very real possibility space proper could be explored with the power of nothing more than light – Too fantastic to be real, no. From  that fabulous day in the lab, when both gazed in awe at that first  fragile prototype, the game was afoot. Receiving little more than mocking derision from US and British government bodies, this storm of a duo swept from entrepreneur to entrepreneur with their history-making vision, never too proud to beg for funds. Finally such humble cap-in-hand visits paid off with the granting of their wishes, thanks to a rather eccentric  Scotts descendant venture capitalist with more money than sense ( or so people thought; Lord Maxwell Kennedy),   uncharacteristically happy to lavish the collateral upon such insane schemes. Sharing their love of the stars, he, seeing nothing inherently wrong with forking over the dollars, agreed to fund this most outrageous of missions. You see, dear readers, others had considered the possibilities of a space-faring solar sailing ship; Ursula however, was the only one brave (or insane) enough to jump right in with the intention of Helios’s maiden voyage being manned.

Events thus followed their natural course as the years progressed. Well into its construction, Ursula,   influenced by her husband’s promptings, found herself inclined to include an expert in Sail technology as part of the team – indeed, to oversee final developments of such a crucial element of the craft.  In short order, her investigations led to a talented young woman possessing unique experience with this bygone mode of transportation. Duly impressed, it was that Ursula welcomed Clarissa Horton  to Helios’s little family three years prior to the proposed launch date. Swiftly, Clare, as she preferred to be known, became a vital spoke in a most wonderful wheel – the creation of what could only be considered a true starship. Far from being blind toward any potential good which such an illustrious partnership could add to her career and reputation, Clare saw this not merely as a golden chance to push her knowledge of sail to the very limit, but indeed, the perfect opening to present it anew to a world crying out for cleaner forms of transportation, bringing with it a new take on age-old methods.

Snapping back to reality, jolted from her reverie by one final safety check, Ursula, looking across at Clair (similarly busy attending to the solar sail’s systems) could not stifle a bitter pang of grief. Barely twelve months had elapsed since her husband, struck down by illness tearing him from the side of his wife had been laid to rest tragically before time. Stricken with grief, her singular manner of coping found all members of “Project Helios” deeply concerned for her welfare, as Ursula almost manically, stifled her bereavement through a frankly unnatural dedication to the task at hand. Nonetheless, she hung on, fighting both a deep sense of loss, not to mention the Russian Aerospace establishment (similarly hesitant as to Ursula’s suitability for space travel (and its accompanying training regime). Naturally, she won over (stubbornness combined with financial incentive enough to seal the deal) leading to this poignant moment, our two intrepid travelers on the verge of re-writing the book with regards to voyaging the stars.

Chapter 1

As Ursula ran through helios’ launch sequence, ; or the safety checks…actually, to be truthful, Clarissa (who preferred to be known by the less ostentatious appellation, Claire) didn't quite know exactly what Ursula was doing,  simply assumed craft’s  imminent launch   lay behind her  almost feverish  manipulation of it’s controls.   Lacking sufficient understanding of the procedures, Claire  returned to her attempts to forget that she was sitting on top of a giant firework, about to leave not only land, but the Earth.
  Many was the occasion on which Claire had left the land; the sod; the soil and innumerable other analogies,  one lone destination above all others in mind and heart;  the horizon - a thin line above the blue (occasionally green, sometimes grey) waters of the world.  Her life was the sea, not the land and most certainly not space. Many others in Claire's position  may well have begun earnestly  to contemplate their own sanity at this point, but she herself, although  far from calm, did not question that to agree to this venture had been the only sensible option.
  Claire was not an astronaut, nor a scientist.  Of course, she had to satisfy  any mandatory  physical and psychological prerequisites  prior to approval as a 'passenger', but her job would essentially come once they were out of the planet's atmosphere.

  Claire was, in fact, a Sailing Master.   She had  laboured with dedication to  achieve her position, but there had never been any other ambition for her.  Her father had taken her aboard a Tall Ship, once; the name of which they could not even recall, as a little girl  - the experience leaving an indelible impression.  Afterwards, she had handed over a few coins from her grubby hands to the dockside Tourist Information Centre for a book about Tall Ships,  their history and the Age of Sail. Thereafter, , few options   apart from a career aboard one of these fine replicas would do.
  Of course, she had contemplated a  modern alternative - perhaps the Navy, and while  Clarissa tentatively commenced  studies at the Dartmouth College, she had left before the more serious learning truly got underway; caring little for the computer systems, or the chain of command (although the idea of giving orders was not wholly unpleasant), neither did she show much interest in the protocols and standards expected of an officer in Her Majesty's Royal Navy; therefore  it was considered better for all concerned if employment was sought elsewhere.
  And so she had.

Remaining in Portsmouth  Claire applied for posts  aboard every replica ship which had a website devoted to it, carefully listing her experience in Historical Re-enactment societies, her degree in British Naval History; the various adventure holidays, volunteering, work experience and exchanges she had filled her life with  eventually finding herself accepted to fill a gap in the crew of TS Guinevere.  Within a year, she was one of two master's mates aboard TS Guinevere and after a further three years, she was Master of TS Merlin.
  Luckily for her, an interest in Tall Ships was complemented by a skill for the work; she could navigate, she could tell changes in the weather at sea, she knew how and when to set and furl sail; how many reefs to take in, how to rescue some stranded landsman from the rigging, and give orders to men twice her age and many times her means, who had 'paid for this goddam it' and didn't see why they should go below decks for an approaching storm.

  It was her knowledge and experience of sail-handling which had prompted Ursula to seek an interview with her, and the notion of a ship travelling through space in much the same manner as a ship  ventured through the sea appealed immediately.   The Sailing master’s expertise was wanted during a test flight to establish how to handle the sail of a solar-spacecraft.  Claire agreed readily  seeing this as too good an opportunity for a potential murgure between maritime past  and hi-tech future to be passed up. Rather than Tall Ships  viewed simply as an historical relic, the potential from such a scientific breakthrough could well open up endless opportunities for nothing short of a sail revolution.  The preservation of this piece of past suddenly became invaluable to the undiscovered future.
  In short, Claire considered her trip beyond the Earth as the greatest publicity stunt it was possible to pull off.  Of course, while the promised advertising and interest in old sailing techniques was foremost in her mind, she was also aware of the personal opportunity.

  How many people went into space?  How many people went into space as one of the innovators of what could be the travelling methods of the future?  What fool ignored the challenge, not just to preserve history, but to create it?  Who would deny themselves the chance to say "I was one of the first?"
  Of course, the sail was currently stowed away; and it didn't look much like the sails she was used to, having an appearance closer to that of an umbrella.  However, the principles of photons striking the reflective material and pushing the space-ship along was the same as the wind striking the canvas and pushing the sea-ship along.  And it had a mast.  Of course, that was actually called something along the lines of the 'Solar-sail Main Conductor Array' or other such technical nomenclature, but it was also the pole that supported the sail, which made it as close to a mast as could be done.
  The spokes to which the sail fabric itself was stretched across also had a very technical term to its credit, but did well enough as yardarms and spars to Claire.  Their capsule; 'Helios' itself, might be considered the hull.

  Claire did not have any particular animosity towards computers, and had been taught efficiently
enough how to operate and manipulate the sail once it had been unfurled (terminology that was the same in space as on water).  This flight would record every single alteration to the sail, and how it affected Helios would all be analysed to within an inch of its usefulness back at the Centre.  She would also assist with that, but nothing could give her the experience required other than her observing it for herself.  Claire supposed she would look out of the window more than she would look at the computer readings.

  She would also be the first to ever manipulate a solar-sail in actual space, and not a simulator.  Previous flights had just furled and unfurled; never 'reefed' or adjusted 'rake' or 'bent on'.  There were technical terms for all these adjustments, but she didn't know what they were (or rather, she had been told, but had since forgotten), but so far as Claire was concerned, that was what the computer was there for.   And, ironically, they were to perform a water-landing!

Chapter 3

Apart from a momentary   power fluctuation about half way through the flight, Ursula could not have been more pleased withHelios’s fantastic performance; especially the solar sail under Clarissa’s expert handling.  pleasantly surprised  by the extent to which it’s actions mirrored those of  more conventional sail technology, The little craft (guided by its intrepid crew)  fairly skimmed  above the outer limits of Earth’s atmosphere and gravity, safely in orbit driven along by nothing more than light itself.

Both women could not help but be deeply moved by the sight spread below them – Land Sea and cloud revealed in stunning beauty, the whole scene fringed with the faintest of blue borders where earth and sky met upon a gently curving horizon. How fragile and alone did their world appear when viewed against the vast blackness of the great beyond.

Satisfied    her vessel had well and truly been put through its paces,Helios was prepared for re-entry. Having appropriately readied the sail, and radioed both the ground crew and retrieval team with no response forthcoming from either, she tried again. Still no response. Both women becoming rather concerned, additional communications through personal devices and even email were sent, proving fruitless. Assuming a malfunction had occurred within  Helios transmitter,  the task of locating possible faults commenced. , surprised to find everything in perfect working order only to be confronted with a new problem –all but half an hours’ air supply remaining,  both women agreed the safest option, indeed, their only option, was to  come in to land and worry about communications after setting down – at least lack of anything to breathe would be one less  issue to deal with.

Matters quickly escalated from bad to worse when, to Ursula’s horror,  all shipboard instruments systematically  began to fail, including those responsible for deployment of   the landing parachutes. Frantically, she worked to release a majority of the solar sail’s locking clamps enabling its configuration into a crude parachute itself, being positioned  barely  moments before the entire  capsule became, for all intents and purposes dead in  space. Careering uncontrollably through the heavens, the two women hung on for grim life, bracing themselves for what could only be a sickening collision with the sea, as the rigged sail fought vainly to brake their descent. If the situation were not critical enough one of the most violent thunderstorms either spacefairer had witnessed in years  seemed to have spontaneously winked into existence,   going about its tempestuous business directly in their path. All that could be done was to hope and pray.

Miraculously, Helios emerged through the lower cloud deck still in one piece; shooting like some dark meteor towards the watery deep, visible only when eerily silhouetted by brilliant flashes of lightening punctuating the surrounding gloom.

 Touchdown proved nothing short of  explosive. Amazingly neither of Helios’s crew were injured, nonetheless, the two women though badly shaken were blessedly thankful their lives had been spared. Darkness shrouded the cabin, as Ursula rummaged around for a torch. Having found it at the bottom of her toolbox, at least some illumination was forthcoming. Prizing open a utility hatch, there spirits sank as the sight of fried power relay circuitry greeted them.  Upon seeing this, Ursula cursed quietly, exclaiming it would take hours to repair. As if on cue, yet another unwanted problemclammoured for attention– Helios appeared to be going under – dragged down by some unknown force; The Sail!         

Activating  an emergency beacon that would hopefully alert any vessel within several hundred miles of their location, Ursula tried repeatedly to raise the retrieval team via satellite phone. “Damn! Where the hell are they? And why can’t I get a bloody signal on this thing?!” Now listing dangerously, against her colleague’s somewhat vocal protestations, Clarissa explained it was vital she exit the ship in order to detach the sail which by now was literally  behaving like an anchor pulling Helios down with it.

Reluctantly, Ursula agreed, opening the main hatch thus permitting the storm’s frigid blast to intrude upon their fragile sanctuary. Clambering out, Clarissa grimaced as icy wind and rain mercilessly assailed her. Partially closing it upon Clair’s departure so as to afford a little protection from the elements,  the remaining woman set about the grim task of working  on repairs, all the while persisting with the unresponsive satellite phone whilst  keeping in constant communication with Clarissa,  agreeing hesitantly to every suggestion offered walking  her through the steps necessary to separate sail from ship.

It didn’t take long. Not fifteen minutes into their plan, Ursula – Indeed Helios itself was violently thrown across the sea as an almighty flash of lightning blindingly illuminated the cabin. Adrenaline coursing through her veins,  Gripped by fear, she quickly exited the craft herself only to be  confronted by a  frightful image –the twisted wreck of metal and sailcloth   rapidly being swept away, caught ferociously in the ocean’s icy grip. For one terrifying moment,  she panicked, unable to see Clare through sheeting rain driving relentlessly between the two,  only to glimpse an orange flash  out of the corner of her eye. Relief however was short lived as hale after hail  went unanswered. Possibilities too grim for  contemplation were best left unexplored for the time being.  With not a moment’s hesitation, tethered to the ship via means of an improvised safety line   she dove into the brine, desperately attempting to reach her fallen comrade. Such efforts nonetheless proved fruitless as Ursula, weighed down by the heavy flight suit, stood no chance of even remotely reaching Clarissa, being swept further away with every heartbeat.                    Shattered and fast becoming chilled, her only choice was to haul herself back to Helios and wait; wait and pray somehow, some way, they would both survive this nightmare.

Chapter 4

CLARISSA'S RESCUE

Somehow the water didn't feel like a threat to Claire; it was, after all, where she spent most of her life.  Of course, the vast majority of that was spent on a deck, or within her tiny berth as opposed to actually in the sea, but she knew how to survive most conditions, having drilled again and again and again.
  As the sail came free, with herself on top of it, she had been thrown about by the rough conditions before she could separate herself from the assembly, and eventually used what was now her only knife to cut her way free.  Two hours later, she also had to balance whether the scant warmth provided by the flight -suit was worth its weight,  threatening to drag at her even further.  Besides which, it was a claustrophobic piece of work; Claire eventually deciding that it was a problem she could do without.

   Clarissa kept the tools in their pouch, including the flare gun (which she hoped was not too wet to use) and reeled in the line, just in case.  Just in case of what, she wasn't sure but one never knew  when line might come in handy.  There was blood on the inside of the suit as she flung it clear of herself.  The bright splay of orange sat on the  water’s surface for a few moments before itself sinking: so it appeared she had made the correct decision.  However, she was too cold to feel how she might have been injured.
  She hoped Ursula had the sense to stay in the capsule.
  The storm raged around her; there were no stars to guide her way and the moon was quite invisible.  If she recalled correctly, it should be three-quarters full, but no glimmer showed.
  How long could she last?  Claire had really expected rescue by now; surely the satellite had watched Helios' trajectory as it plummeted to Earth.  A helicopter shouldn't have any great task to cross the distance between herself and the capsule, even though she couldn't see any sign of either, but she was at sea level; not a couple of hundred metres above.
  Claire considered her situation. She was injured but didn't know where or how.  Her arms and legs were all working to keep her afloat, even in this maelstrom, ergo, it couldn't be that bad.  She was cold, but while she could not even begin to make an estimate of the temperature, there were no signs of ice forming, and she still felt cold, which in turn meant that hypothermia was not a current danger; neither was she sleepy (in fact, quite the reverse).  None of this told her precisely how long she could expect to live, but it did indicate that barring accidents and vicious marine wildlife, the end was not immanent.
  A wave pulled her across several feet and she tried to quell the feeling that it was dragging her away from Helios .   Clarissa couldn't know that; and there would be very little point in trying to strike out and swim in any given direction as she couldn't be sure of her starting point, or which way the capsule had drifted.  It was very frustrating to have to keep afloat and wait for rescue, rather than trying to help oneself .
   A few moments later  yet another flash of lightening revealed sails!
  Claire felt a burst of jubilation and didn't even pause to wonder what sail was doing out in this weather; as Sailing Master, she would generally take in all sail, ride out the storm and correct their course when it cleared: certainly a Tall Ship didn't go anywhere with sufficient sense of urgency to warrant carrying any more sail than was necessary to stabilise the vessel.  However, sail would mean rescue, if she could just attract their attention.
  Using  this new hope to boost her strength, Claire kicked furiously with her legs so she could extract the flare gun from her kit over head,   doing all she could that it may remain dry as necessary.   Holding it aloft the first flare was fired.  She counted one hundred and twenty seconds carefully, and thought the ship looked just a little closer before firing again.

. During a storm, Captain Sir Edward Pellew  preferred having two officers on deck,  plus an additional two midshipmen, rather than  leaving Indifatigable to the care of only one allowing   him a chance  to invite the other two to his cabin; on this occasion for a disappointingly cold supper.   Such arrangements ensured only one messenger need be sent to alert the captain and other officers of any problems, or fetch them should they be needed.  During this storm, his rolling, pitching ship was in the care of Bracegirdle and Kennedy; the first and the most junior of his four lieutenants, respectively (circumstances necessitating Lt. Bracegirdle pitch in with watch).
  "Yes?" he called in response to the knocking at the door,  Pelu’s marine guard  granting Lieutenant Kenedy entry. Clinging almost vainly to the doorway as the vessel heaved,   (, Hornblower and Bush  also experiencing some difficulty  in finding their balance ),  it appeared  this  storm had  grown worse or they were trying to make headway into it!
  "Sir, Mr Bracegirdle's complements.  Two flares have been sighted and he has altered course," Kennedy reported.  "We believe they came from a small boat, in distress."
  "Very well," Pellew accepted, indicating to his supper companions that he  required their assistance as well.  "What happened?"
  "Mr Bracegirdle and I both thought we saw a flare, so I kept a look out, counted and almost exactly two minutes later another flare went up from just about the same position."  The report  explained Kennedy's sodden uniform, the telescope clutched in his grip and his lack of hat.  One of his less endearing habits was to continue to behave as though he were a midshipman, at times.
  "You acted as lookout?" Bush enquired.
  "Aye, sir.  Mr Calder can't swim and Mr Edgerton is afraid of heights.  I didn't think it was the right opportunity to challenge their courage.  Besides…I had the count."
  Hmm, thought Pellew, his continuing to coddle the younger midshipmen was also a flaw in the young man, but he let it pass this time.  If it turned out that this was a false alarm, and they did not need to heave to for rescue, he would speak to Mr Kennedy, then.
  They heard Styles report as they came out on deck.  "Sir!  Sir - there is someone in the water!"
  "Throw him a line, Styles," Hornblower shouted back.
  Kennedy trotted down to the deck, unhindered by the heavy weather gear the rest of them had adopted, to see the situation for himself.  "Not a boat, sir!" he called back.
  Pellew frowned; so did the others, and Bracegirdle voiced the one thing they were wondering; "then how did he fire a flare?"
  "Perhaps if he were sinking, it was the last thing he could have done," Pellew responded.  "Perhaps while he still could, rather than because we were sighted."
  "We're very far out for a boat," Bush pointed out.  "And we haven't seen another ship for days."
  The line was being thrown out, and Pellew went down to the main deck to attend their guest.  Bush - ever practical,   readied a weapon in case it turned out to be an enemy who required arresting, but they were only likely to face a knife if that were the case.  A sword was too heavy to retain, plus pistol and shot would be too wet to use.  Styles was putting his back into the work of hauling the refugee aboard, although he seemed to be pulling himself onto the deck quite well by himself.
  Finally, Kennedy helped him over the rail, and threw a blanket over him.
  Or rather, her.
  On the instant she was recognised for what she was, his crew began to expect her to swoon on the deck, and Kennedy gallantly called for another blanket.
  "Madam," Pellew addressed.  "I must welcome you aboard Indefatigable."
  "Thank you, sir," she said, despite shivering and clutching the blanket to her.  "Can you continue on this heading?  My friend is still out there."
  After a few moments of quiet, save for the howling gale, Pellew replied, "if you hadn't noticed, madam, we are in the middle of a storm, and struggling to remain hove to as it is."
  "There's no-one else in the water 'ere, sir," Styles confirmed.
  "No, she wouldn't be - we were separated when I had to disengage the sail assembly.  It was going to drag as down, and somehow the storm pulled us in opposite directions."
  "How far?" Hornblower asked.
  "There was no point of reference," the woman answered.  Then she consulted a device on her wrist.  "We were separated about five hours and thirty-seven minutes ago…" she must have seen their reactions, and correctly assumed them to be unfavourable, as she immediately went into another speech.  Not a female prone to fainting, Pellew thought, and wondered whether the swooners or the arguers were the worst type of women; he always wished to deal with the other, when one was in front of him.  This one was an arguer.  "She stands a better chance of survival than I do; she can swim just as well and she's still in the capsule…erm…ship.  She has all the survival gear with her, Captain and if I'm still alive, then the odds are very much in her favour."
  "Your companion is another lady?" Bracegirdle asked.
  "Yes," their guest responded, as though the question were very strange indeed.
  "Then we must search, sir!" Kennedy exclaimed.
  "Thank you, Mr Kennedy," Pellew snapped.  "I must consider the lives of the  men aboard this ship."
  "Fine," the woman retorted.  Kennedy tried to wrap her in the second blanket, and her frustrated response was to thrust both back at him.  "Then give me a boat and I'll do it myself."
  It was not so much her words as her appearance that had them gaping at her.  She was wearing an indecently tight vest-like article, which defined her figure (not even clad in corset) only too well.  Her trousers might have been quite loose when dry, but clung to her legs over a pair of very plain boots that were not generally worn by ladies.  The 'vest' was bloodstained, and the mark was fresh, not old.  She was about to take exception to their lack of response, but then followed their eyes down to her side.  As she felt the stain, her hand came away bloody, but she only looked worried for a moment, and then set her jaw.
  "It makes no difference," she said, firmly.  "If you won't go after her then I must; and I damn well will, one way or another."
  "Mr Kennedy," Pellew addressed icily.  "My complements to Dr  Astone and would he kindly attend our guest in my cabin, where you may escort her.  Mr Bracegirdle - we shall continue on this heading and search for a ship in distress."
  For the first time, the woman smiled, and he was pleased to see that it softened her hard face.  "Thank you, Captain?"
  "Sir Edward Pellew, Madam."
 The way the colour and smile drained from her face however  did not enhance her appearance  one iota.

Chapter 5

Clinging to the capsule, Ursula fought to contain   an all-encompassing shock which threatened (if not kept well and truly under control), to fully take over.  To her utter horror, Clare, torn from Helios whilst endeavouring to release THE solar sail (lest the vessel be drawn under by ITS dead weight),  was  herself dragged beneath the raging sea. Darkness surrounded all, broken only intermittently by the storm’s formidable display of light and power. Another rolling wave left Clare and sail assembly lost from view completely. Fruitlessly,  repeated attempts to hale her fallen comrade via personal communicator were made, but to no avail.  Growing deeply worried (though succeeding for the most part in stemming the onset of panic), Ursula hauled herself back inside the capsule where at least some protection from the elements was forthcoming.

Two hours had passed since their landing. To her surprise,  no hint of rescue had thus far materialised. Ursula ran through the chain of events leading to this very point. Even though Helios had indeed lost all power, repeated messages had been sent prior to re-entry through a multitude of different avenues; radio,  satellite phone, even email. Furthermore, upon touchdown, the emergency beacon was immediately activated, alerting not only the ground-crew and landing team, but any sea or air going vessel within several hundred  miles of their position.  Surely, even if by some remote co-incidence too outrageous for contemplation both retrieval team and ground control were “otherwise indisposed”, someone had to have picked up the distress-signal beaming out to all in earshot. Furthermore, why on earth wasn’t the satellite phone able to tap into the network? Permitting no time to be lost through worry, Ursula, partly in an effort to take her mind off current circumstances, partly because the job required attention, set about repairing the damaged power-relay, a hand-held torch her only source of illumination. Even this task, unfinished,  was complicated by the storm’s chaotic squall intruding upon her refuge, the hatch (for purposes of providing an air supply) being left ajar. Eventually, the very real threat of water damage to Helios’s vast array of electronics and computer equipment left but one avenue open – that of exiting the capsule, shutting the hatch and taking her chances on the outside. To be sure, Ursula could have donned an environment suit (containing both an independent source of oxygen and thermal protection). This did however, even in the face of current circumstances, seem just a little extreme. So, fully aware of the risk inherent in such a decision, Ursula braced herself, exited into the storm (ensuring she was well tethered) flare gun and satellite phone at the ready and waited. Time seemed to crawl by at a dirge-like pace. Long frustrated by the deluge pelting at her spectacles, they were removed and stowed safely within her flight suit. Chilled to the bone, sleep descended upon a lone smudge of orange, drifting helplessly somewhere out to sea.

Waking some hours later, temporarily disorientated, the storm’s constant onslaught soon reminded Ursula where she was. Shivering now almost uncontrollably with cold, upon managing to don her glasses, a quick glance at the sat-phone’s clock indicated four hours had passed. Where were they?! Rapidly overcome by fatigue, she surrendered into its icy embrace again. The following nineteen hours passed in similar fashion, tormented sleep broken periodically by spells of wakefulness. Gradually, , to her growing horror, Ursula found the cold bothering her less and less, barely noticing it while being unable to feel her extremities. Praying Clare’s fate might be just a little more merciful, well aware hypothermia‘s deadly grip fastened about her minute buy minute, hour by hour, she, dumbstruck by this revelation, did not care a wit. Raving now, conversations, even arguments were had with mission specialists, her flight director (a dour little man Ursula could never truly abide) and even dearest Tony, their collective presence real as the very storm itself. Fast surrendering to the Hypothermic stupor taking control, one particularly bright flash of lightening illuminated a ship? Yes! (even to poorly focusing eyes), A ship! In the distance through the storm. What on earth was a sailing vessel doing out in weather like this? Almost certain it was yet another facet of her delusion, through slurred ramblings, enough coherence  was mustered for a flare-gun to be reached and pointed skywards, discharging its scarlet  ball of flame for anyone mad enough to be searching. Strength fast slipping away, Ursula managed to fire it a second time before losing her grip,  dropping the gun into the deep,  the scientist herself suspended above the waters only by her improvised tether as unconsciousness finally claimed its prize.

On the deck of Indefatigable, for the second time during this damnable storm, Lts Kennedy and Bracegirdle served the watch allotted to them. Sending  the  Indi deeper into  such danger seemed little more than sheer lunacy especially considering the chances of finding this supposed second survivor, and a lady at that, were admittedly virtually impossible. Nonetheless, many years of trusted service had taught Bracegirdle at any rate, his captain’s judgment on such matters was never mistaken. Additionally, to leave a member of the fairer sex stranded in open waters upon a night such as this was unconscionable. And so, nearly twenty four hours after the first survivor hauled herself aboard, the unmistakable glow of a flare once more illuminated storm-ravaged skies. Again, a second flare followed. Kennedy was first to catch sight of the form, helpless in the turbulent seas– a metallic craft of sorts, stranger than anything he’d ever seen in his life, riding high in the water, it’s occupant clad in a most  extraordinary suit of brilliant orange, motionless, held above the  surface by nothing than what looked to be THE  FLIMSIEST OF ROPES. Passing the word for Captain Pelu’s presence, orders were quickly called as the men prepared to lower a boat. Clare, upon learning what was going on, to the consternation of the ship’s surgeon, Dr. Francis Astone, with a concerted effort, rose to her feet, making her way topside.

Uncertain whether this new rescuee was actually alive or not, upon the jollyboat   coming alongside Helios, Styles  got in close enough to reach her. One finger placed beneath her  nostrils did indeed reveal the breath of life, so, with great care, he cut the line attaching   Ursula to the vessel, successfully gathering her into the boat’s safety. Ursula’s countenance was deathly indeed, hair drenched, falling like strands of  weed about her shoulders, an already pale complecsion now  a ghostly white seemingly bereft of life.  Very briefly, emerald green eyes fluttered open to stare in mute disbelief upon her rescuer, before the faintest of words were spoken and unconsciousness once more claimed its victim…”Please Save my ship, you must save my ship” was barely audible above the commotion. A quick word to Matthews, seated beside him, his expression one of grim concern was followed by a series of orders and a resultant hive of activity as a sturdy line was secured about this otherworldly little craft, safely attaching it to the larger vessel.

“Good God!” more a sincere prayer for mercy from the Almighty rather than an inappropriate curse, was all Captain Pelu could utter upon seeing the poor lifeless being Styles carried up onto the deck. Even Bracegirdle’s usually  steady nerves became a  tumult of grave   concern mingled with deepest compassion upon catching sight of this wretched creature, barely clinging to survival, plucked from the deep just in the  nick of time. Ordering Dr. Astone’s attendance upon their newest arrival, styles followed him down to the sick birth, Ursula still unmoving in his arms. Upon erecting a makeshift screen before one of several coal braziers,  a cot usually reserved for officers was moved into place. Clare, having followed behind, though still in a good degree of pain as a result of her own injuries, was charged with the task of removing the flight suit and coverall. Drying her thoroughly, then dressing her in a clean white shirt donated  by one of the crew, she drew several blankets about her comrade before also laying down on the cot, holding Ursula close in an attempt to  impart additional warmth.  Slowly, painfully, the glow of life crept through  the woman’s frozen body. Dr. Astone periodically entered the add-hock cubical to check Ursula’s pulse and  gauge her temperature  whilst attending to Clarrisa’s own injuries at the same time. Satisfied both were progressing as well as could be expected (especially considering Clare  was proving a most stubborn and difficult patient), he by and large left them in peace.

Wakefulness hit Ursula like an all-out assault of war! Terrible pain wracked every inch of her weary body, thirst assailed her and complete disorientation overwhelmed her. Where was she?! Gentle rocking indicated she must be on a ship of some sort, then it hit her. Helios, the disasterous landing, clare, Clare! To her relief, clare sat right beside her, donned in similar attire as was she, softly reassuring her nothing untoward had taken place. “Where are we?”, “We’re somewhere safe”, Clare answered, ( uncertain as to Ursula’s ability to accept what could only be deemed impossible). Thankful for the lantern’s gentle illumination, Ursula was certainly not thankful for the pervasive odor of below decks somewhat more pronounced in their current location (mingled with other “scents” she rather wished would remain unidentifiable. Gaining the attention of a small, scrawny boy no more than perhaps nine or ten years of age, Clare requested Dr. Astone be called to have a look at this latest turn of events. In but a few moments, a heavy set , darkly complexcioned man, midnight curls pulled back into a cascading pony-tail, dark eyes penetrating yet tender,  somberly attired,  entered their little sanctuary, bearing a puter cup steaming with fragrant spice; Chai? After a quick introduction and a more thorough examination of her condition he assured Ursula she was safe, gently reassuring her she had nothing to fear, before passing the cup into eager, yet  trembling hands. Supporting her head and shoulders thus allowing her to sit a little and drink, he answered her questioning eyes “Yes, this is tea with a little cinemon, cloves, lemon and honey, oh, and a little drop of something which will help any pain”. Upon taking her fill (feeling so much the better for it, his lips curved up  into a gentle smile as he handed Ursula her glasses “I expect you’ve missed these”. Able to properly focus at last, she scanned the parts of the room visible to her, before placing them beside her cot and falling finally, into a peaceful sleep.     

Chapter 6

Ursula Awoke, her surroundings not simply a dream borne of delirium, rather the ship’s gentle rocking, soft illumination and frankly   unpleasant odour, larger than life, were there to greet her once again; as was Clarissa, still by her side watching with concern over her friend and colleague.  Wakefulness proved less traumatic a second time around, a thousand questions tumbling through her mind as she fought to gain control of her situation. Looking bewilderedly upon Claire, Ursula enquired as to how long she had been asleep – only to learn (not without a good degree of shock) a day and a night had run their course.

Requesting, with a tinge of embarrassment, assistance to   the convenience, to Ursula’s astonishment, she was informed that such as she was used to didn’t exist (Clare motioning to a humble chamber pot off to one corner of their little cubical.  Commenting, with not a little humour in her voice that  these sea-faring recreationists certainly left nothing to the imagination  concerning an authentic old-world experience, her colour fast drained completely upon learning this (as ludicrous as it seemed) was not in actual fact an historical tall ship but the real thing; that somehow beyond all logic,  their return to Earth was no mere plunge into the heart of a raging sea storm, but a plunge back in time approximately two centuries – Furthermore, they had the pleasure of being rescued by none other than the famed Capt. Sir Edward Pelu himself and were now safely aboard His majesty’s Britannic Ship Indefatigable.   Her pallor lifting, Ursula’s face broke into a broad smile as she congratulated Clarissa for very nearly succeeding  to convince her of this clearly ridiculous story. Obviously, the storm’s ferocity had disabled all communications both from Helios and their personal devices. Divine providence placed an historic  ship in their path and as soon as she made a short call upon the satellite phone, the flight team would send a retrieval boat or helicopter to pick them up - they’d all be counting their blessings over a curry that evening, sleeping comfortably in their beds that night.

Seeing Clarissa’s sober expression clearly remaining, Ursula’s cheer quickly evaporated to be replaced by an eerie sickening feeling deep within her.

“You’re not joking are you Clare”, “Are you!”

Clarissa, vainly searching for any words appropriate for their situation slowly shook her head in mute confirmation. Requesting she be given her phone, it seemed this too would not be possible – it, along with all their hand-held technology being kept under lock and key by the captain. Fast becoming agitated as a result of their grave situation, Ursula made to rise and confront this Pelu directly, clearly aggrieved by this perceived act of hostility against her person. No sooner had she made to stand than an overwhelming dizziness forced  her to sit back down upon the cot. At this moment, Dr. Astone entered, introducing himself properly  and taking the opportunity to examine both women, pleased with their progress; Ursula’s especially. Promising some refreshment and a basin of hot water for a rudimentary bathe, he vanished, said articles being brought some minutes later, to the relief of both ladies.

Much revived, looking somewhat more put together than she had upon being brought aboard the Indi, Ursula enquired as to how she might arrange to see the captain of this admittedly unbelievable ship. Upon Dr. Astone deeming her fit enough to leave sick birth, word was sent to Capt. Pelu; himself eager, if not a little unsettled, to meet this most unusual of rescuees.Thus, accompanied by a lad no older than thirteen or fourteen; apparently a midshipman by the name of Grey,  she made her way to Pelu’s day cabin. Clearly astounded by the sights and sounds of what increasingly resembled an actual early nineteenth century naval frigate, not a word  passed between parties. Arriving at her destination, Ursula, now more than a little wary, upon being introduced, made her entrance

Suddenly feeling very small indeed,  she surveyed the room and its occupants. Seated at a finely crafted desk sat a man of about forty, attired in the uniform of  a Regency naval captain. With formidable countenance bespeaking many years of service (Not to mention an expression which left no doubts he easily figured the measure of a man – missing nothing),  introductions were made  whereupon  he  introduced a somewhat stoutly built fellow, his uniform immaculate as it must have appeared upon the day of its  first wearing also  rising to greet their guest, a first lieutenant as it turned out, going by the name of Bracegirdle”.   Estimates put him also around forty, perhaps a little older. His expression though  likewise reflecting the gravity of  their situation possessed  qualities of the eternal optimist, kindly blue eyes containing a look of gentle reassurance. Introductions over, the captain bade Ursula be at her ease and sit down before offering his guest all proper hospitality.         

Beating back an overwhelming feeling of utter disbelief, Ursula, fearing herself at a significant disadvantage took the initiative, offering sincere thanks to pelu for not only coming to the aid of herself and her colleague, but also placing both themselves and their ship in considerable danger whilst undertaking the rescue. Her words interrupted by the return of Pelu’s steward, Doughty,  pouring a much appreciated cup of tea  for their guest, Pelu, himself very nearly matching her astonishment at the strangeness of their situation –finding it difficult to come to grips  with the two refugees of the sea now aboard the Indi, began asking the first of a great many questions.

Upon giving the full names and titles of  she and Clarissa, Ursula, determined to deal with the situation in the only way pheasable – that of complete honesty, slowly began detailing her own mission. Stunned into disbelief, several times throughout her telling of what could only be the most ridiculous tale both Pelu and Bracegirdle had heard throughout their entire naval careers, the captain made to cut this woman short;  fair infuriated by her outlandish ramblings. After all, only someone completely delusional would even dream of concocting a story even the most inebriated of sailors would  never dare pass off as truth to their brethren, let alone a captain in His majesty’s  finest. Unable to withstand being made a fool of any longer, lady or not, Pelu  (barely able to contain his own rage) ordered her stop this pointless charade immediately and perhaps try a less embellished, more truthful explanation for how the two ladies really found themselves drifting out to sea off the  British coast  slap bang in the middle of the English channel. Only a quiet word from Bracegirdle prevented Pelu from throwing not only Ursula but her partner in crime into the brig that instant as potential spies – the captain viewing anything but the most conventional of seagoing craft (including those who piloted such) with  deep mistrust. Experience after all had taught the British navy these ships could only spell secrecy, sabotage and underhanded tactics (a certain American campaign, despite its failure, striking fear  within the heart of every captain to this day). Furthermore, news had filtered down through British intelligence Fulton had been colluding with none other than napoleon himself; attempting to lead the charge in the production of a truly successful submersible – Helios herself resembling rumoured designs of just such a ship.

Thinking quickly for a solution to this dilemma, Ursula requested her hand-held devices be returned instantly, thus once demonstrated   providing validation of her story, implausible as it was.  Upon this request being respectfully denied (for fear such articles were indeed as yet unknown experimental weapons) she requested the garment she was wearing upon her rescue be brought in. Pelu, unable to come up with any suitable reason why this could not be so agreed. In but a few moments of being summoned, Doughty returned bearing the requested article of protective-wear, it’s brilliant orange contrasting sharply with the more somber tones adorning both cabin and occupants. Rising to her feet, allowing the  suit to unfold in her hands, she offered it to Pelu for a closer inspection. Examining it closely, Ursula all the while described its properties to him– the fact, though no oilskin, rather a synthetic or man-made fabric, the suit was not only waterproof but airtight upon gloves, boots and helmet being donned by its wearer. Drawing his attention to both the mission patch, ESA’s insignia and the union jack prominent upon its right upper sleeve, the  façade of disbelief seemed to shift though barely. Bracegirdle on the other hand was taking in proceedings with an air of observant curiosity. Nonetheless,  Pelu’s reply of “This is all  very well, but…”, successfully sank ursula’s spirits. Struck with what seemed to her a brilliant plan, the scientist once more requested her effects be returned with the added protection of the sentry’s presence  she’d noticed upon entry “ensuring the safety of all concerned”. Agreeing upon the proviso she not try anything improper, the captain himself disappeared into another  cabin adjoining their present location returning to her delight with the satellite phone, two small personal communicators and a slim metallic cylinder (a rescue beacon. Placing all upon the table visible to everyone, Ursula requested the satellite phone Showing apparent disinterest  toward everything else offered (resembling, to the gentlemen present, an unusually fashioned powder compact. Flipping it open however, all three men’s jaws dropped as the device was activated – text, yes text, and pictures! Lord have mercy, Pictures!  Appeared inside a small lighted square covering the inside of what seemed to be  its “Lid”. Upon Ursula speaking into the machine then playing back  her words as if by magic, all present were awestruck. To their astonishment, this unfathomable woman went on to hold the back of the compact out, sweeping it carefully from one side to another, capturing not only the  voices but  images of all three men and their surroundings for all to see. Pale as ghosts, none could  take in the evidence  large as life– too wild  for belief! Yet there it was, embodied in the  form of Ursula Davis seated before them, her personal keepsakes as  gift offerings presented to a disbelieving tribesman whose own reality was a continent and  time apart from the present – two worlds colliding with  ramifications none could predict.

Managing to hold his composure, Pelu dismissed his guest free to return to sick birth for the moment, adding the presence of both women would be requested later that afternoon. Alone with his first lieutenant, door safely shut behind the retreating Ursula, both men took a little while to gather their thoughts, a shot of brandy easing the process somewhat. Minds railing against what their senses clearly observed, the question now arose  concerning what on earth to do with these most unique of travellers. For a certainty their true origins could not be shared with any but the most trusted of senior staff, let alone the Indi’s rank and file crew. If Admiralty even thought they were catching wind of this one, Pelu would find himself committed or court marshaled – or worse. As if this were not serious enough, there would be no way whatsoever the two women could ever share their true identity with any but the  Indi’s   highest ranking officers and even then the les the better. Additionally, all present unanimously agreed their guests continue aboard their new home for the foreseeable future as two  women galavanting about England possessing neither connections nor living, from their backgrounds would, as Pelu himself put it, be highly inadvisable for all concerned. Aware of recent developments with that folly later to be known as the hot air balloon, both captain and first lieutenant decided upon the only solution open to them; a  further meeting of Pelu’s  inner circle deeming, for the sake of the crew,  the women Aeronaughts – eccentric , poorly prepared aeronaughts. For the moment however, the captain needed to be absolutely sure there could be no shadow of a doubt concerning the true identity of his rescued ladies. Thus, that very same afternoon, Ursula found herself sitting across from her host once again, requested (politely of course) to provide further evidence as to her   background. Learning Helios  itself had been stowed in the ship’s hold, nothing could be done but reveal its secrets – if they believed themselves able to be confronted by technology and engineering feets which would dwarf those of her  personal effects earlier that day. Somewhat tentatively agreeing to this plan, pelu assigned both Bracegirdle ( on account of his rank and years of experience) and Hornblower (on account of his unwavering logical approach to all that he found himself presented with) to escort and supervise this operation – two officers “just in case”.

So there they were, standing within the Indi’s depths, Helios’ other-worldly image softly reflecting dim lantern light upon its metallic grey surface – a tear-drop from heaven no greater than twelve feet in length, seven feet across and approximately six feet in height, tapering conically into precision point perfection boldly proclaiming its name and mission insignia for all to see; tiny windows at the narrowest end of the craft revealing nothing. Humbly introducing her life’s work, the  two officers accompanying her could not help but draw a sharp intake of breath, never before even imagining such an unusually beautiful craft could exist, let alone be thought up! Fighting back the tears even now making themselves known, Ursula could not but be moved upon witnessing Helios’s beaten state, the scars of re-entry clear upon its exterior – precious solar sail nowhere in sight. With a voice barely louder than a whisper, Ursula enquired whether a sail assembly   fashioned from similar metal to her  ship had been retrieved, an answer of no threatening to plunge her spirits deep indeed, for without the solar sail, even dreaming of a return into space (and perhaps to the anomaly responsible for casting both women back two hundred years) would be utterly unthinkable.

Bracegirdle, mindful of Ursula’s imminent distress quietly suggested they could return tomorrow or a few days hence; perhaps when she felt more able to take in what lay before them only for this lady to  prove  herself imbued with greater determination than ever. Making their way to the far side of the craft, Ursula reached out her hand, touching a small patch to the left of what appeared to be a hatchway or door, prompting a whir of commotion as it proceeded to open completely free of human assistance! (Helios’s hatch being of course independently   powered). With a theatrical gesture, she bade both men draw closer to examine for themselves what lay before them, to touch this magical ship which itself touched the very stars. With much caution, they did so, taken by its satiny smoothness. Requesting some additional lantern-light, Hornblower obliged as Bracegirdle  attentively watched every single move  the woman made. Requesting permission to entre the craft, , she climbed within Helios’s interior, kicking her toe against  a tool box which had been disturbed upon the ship being  transferred into the hold. Stifling a curse, she asked for some additional light – Hornblower passing in a lantern, barely bright enough for the job,  hardly enlightening the indi’s Lieutenants to Helios’s hidden secrets. After some hours  spent repairing her vessel’s most critical  systems - peppered with several poorly stifled exclamations no lady should have ever been caught uttering, a glorious whoop of excitement rang forth as brilliant white light lit up Helios  luminous as a fireworks display! Her countenance one of sheer joy, Ursula stood at the hatchway, her own face almost as radiant as her ship’s glow, humbly inviting  one of the  officers to come aboard and see for himself. As room for three was an obvious impossibility, Hornblower (in deference to the first lieutenant’s rank)  waited dutifully at the entrance. Upon clambering inside, but a few steps led  Bracie into Helios’s tiny cramped bridge or “cockpit” as Ursula referred to it. Slack-jawed with astonishment, he wordlessly took in his surrounds, taking a seat to ursula’s right, mesmerized by panels before and above of countless tiny devices, some resembling buttons, others defying comprehension, others still labeled with letters of the alphabet into some sort of board  in front of a  square expanse perhaps fifteen inches by fifteen inches. Two tiny windows one either side of this square were Helios’s only openings to the outside world. With the expertise of a concert pianist, Ursula’s hands flew across the controls as one by one  ship’s systems came to life. Overwhelmed by the sight  confronting him, Bracegirdle looked on as the square lit up with brilliant words, characters and even pictures flashing across its surface at breathtaking speed. Suddenly, as if peering through a window into a far distant fantastical land, Ursula herself stood, clarissa by her side  accompanied by several gentlemen (though their dress certainly resembled that of no gentleman Bracie had ever met in his life), exuberant with joy, going on about years of  tireless effort against all odds finally bearing fruit – project Helios to be launched “tomorrow” as at least one familiar sight appeared – that of a Champaign bottle being duly opened, its contents ecstatically poured out into rather plain looking flutes, all raising their glasses “to the mission”. Fingers skipping across the instruments, Ursula seemed to be racing through image after image till she stopped at the most extraordinary site the man beside her had ever witnessed in his life – a rocket – an enormously powerful rocket pulling away from the ground  with devastating speed. If this were not terrible enough, to his utter shock, the very earth itself retreated as though startled below it till finally (after jettisoning the spent portions) it slowed to a halt, the  planet itself  resplendent  beneath  - a breathtaking gem of unparalleled beauty – seas, clouds,  geographical features visible before them! Gazing upon   these super-human images, Italy with it’s Cicilian companion could be seen drifting below as the Mediterranean coast visibly passed by. Moved  virtually to tears , Bracegirdle reached out as if to touch the very  spectacle itself, exclaiming, as God was his witness, such  visions could  not  surely be of this world; unearthly forces their ownly possible origin. With gentle reassurance, Ursula softly, a look of awe upon her own face, affirmed this was indeed nothing more than the result of science and invention, adding there was nothing to fear. Still in play, a new image appeared, that of a majestic silver  “canvas” opening out against the blackness of space – the solar sail, carried along by nothing more than the gentle pressure of sunlight. All of a sudden,  a glowing flourish  with the appearance of static electricity flashed across  ship and canopy before vanishing almost as quickly as it sprang up, A glance back at the image of Earth revealed a cloud mass spanning the channel simply not  present moments before. This was Ursula’s turn to become  shaken as, for the first time following their spectacular re-entry and rescue, a tantalizing clue as to the nature of their mishap lay  revealed before our now stranded space pioneer; simply   confirming what she’d already begun to suspect  concerning the cause of their present predicament – some type of space-borne phenomenon impossible either to capture or reproduce.

Ursula’s  demonstration complete, she requested an opportunity to bring several pieces of technology and tools above, in order Helios’s power supply or at the very least that of the “window” referred to as a “notebook” could be worked upon, stressing once again Captain, officers and crew had absolutely nothing to fear.  Upon such being passed along the chain of command to Captain Pelu ( tentatively agreeing( work began concerning the disassembly of above said components to be joined by several sheets of solar paneling (stowed in case of mid-flight emergency repair) , not forgetting that infamous toolbox. Turning to exit the craft,  Bracegirdle’s eye was caught by what appeared to be a small frame, face down upon the floor. Stooping to retrieve it, an exclamation of shock escaped him upon beholding a portrait showing the scientist adorned in an elegant gown of brilliant white, chestnut tresses cascading freely below  the finest of gossamer veils, besides whom stood a striking man, sharply turned out (a good foot taller than his diminutive companion) Offering the find with all due discression, he dby no means missed the shadow of grief flickering across her visage. Enquiring as to the fellow gazing back at him, Ursula, fighting for composure, quietly let it be known It had been twelve months since he’d gone – her beloved Tony, whose heart and soul for the work carried them to the stars – tragically cut down before his time.  handing the picture to its owner without a word, she carefully tucked it away amongst the paraphanalia taken from her craft; all three going above  shrouded in an air of silent contemplation.     

Returning to Pelu’s cabin, confirmation as to the validity of their guest’s story was indeed irrefutable – Bracegirdle still visibly moved by what he had witnessed. Immediately Pelu called a snap meeting of senior staff, whereupon agreement was reached with regards to his planned explanation as to the obvious differences plainly visible to all who spent even a short time speaking with either lady. Well aware suitable accommodationns were a point of necessity, Pelu offered his private quarters for exclusive use by Ursula and Clarissa, opting to rough it in the chart room. Protestations of causing such an inconvenience on Ursula’s part were quickly brushed aside,  the scientist , upon just a little more thought, seeing the sense of such hospitality, admittedly very happy Daughty’s services formed part of the bargain, as did those of a marine assigned sentry duty – safety of course at the fore. Additionally, the  provision of a sunny out-of-the-way place up on deck where Ursula could quietly work without disturbing ships routine or crew served to brighten her spirits markedly.

Deeply apologetic as to an obvious lack of attire or amenities suitable for the fairer sex, Ursula spared nothing in expressing her relief to be alive and well – and not in “enemy hands”. As she put it, “lack of convenience”  is a small price to pay for one’s survival”. Relief clear upon the faces of all present, Ursula graciously accepted an invitation to dine later that evening with Pelu and his officers; a first step in aquainting our ladies to their new life in very different times indeed.     

Chapter 7

Up on deck, a lone figure,  perched upon a coil of rope, engrossed in the task at hand  reviewed the calculations for what seemed the thousandth time.  Fatigue  weighing heavily upon her mind, barely able to stay focused on the small screen  in front of her, Ursula ran the sequence yet again, hoping despite the odds for an answer other than that which had  revealed itself once more in mocking defiance.

 Having all but wasted the past fifteen hours in pursuit of this vain folly, utter dejection advancing unstoppably as the very tide itself  engulfed Ursula’s shattered spirits.

Wearily resting her head in her hands, approaching footsteps broke in upon  this melancholic reverie, as Clarissa, standing impatiently before her, demanded answers.   

Barely able to respond, left with little choice in the matter, she spelled out the truth of their situation   in all its grim finality.

“Oh Clare, I’m so very sorry”, “It’s useless, I’ve gone over these  damnedable figures for the past two weeks and come up with nothing”.   
“Even if I could isolate the event, you know full well there’s no way on earth I could correct it”

…” Anyway, what would be the use?” “Without a launch vehicle you know as well as I that breeching the atmosphere is about as likely as me jumping over the side here and walking on water!”

“You haven’t even tried!” “All you’ve been doing is   tapping away on your beloved laptop!”, “Not once have I seen you even attempt to  begin working on a sail”.

“You know as well as  I the impossibility of even dreaming about building a new assembly, let alone the sale itself!”.

“Face it Clare, as ridiculous as all this seems, we’re here now, and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do about it”.

Gathering up the notebook, Ursula rose to leave finding herself abruptly halted mid-step, Clarissa preventing her exit, furious with mounting rage.

 “You really don’t care do you!”; “Do you call two lousy weeks a fair go?”
 “I’d rather not talk about it at the moment; can’t you see I’ve been working myself into the ground here for what?” “For nothing!” “For an answer neither of us wants”. “Figures don’t lie, Clare” …you know that “, “Do you think I’m any happier about this than you”?

At this point, their argument was beginning to attract attention from those within earshot; not least of all two familiar crewmen. Styles, growing somewhat interested. Turned to Matthews, working quietly beside him, (attempting in vain to dissuade his shipmate from any unwanted social commentary), the temptation however proving irresistible.

“eh Mattie, it’ll be on soon, you just wait and see”. “Poor girl’s been slaving at that thing for weeks”. “Shouldn’t ‘ave even gone up”, “bloody madness if you ask me”, “What, and ‘em being women and all …It ain’t right,”.

   One look from Matthews proved sufficient to silence him, begrudgingly returning to the task at hand.

Refusing the bate, drained and exhausted, Ursula hurried below, barely able to contain the tears threatening to gush forth at any moment. Bursting into her cabin all but knocking over the poor sentry on duty, grief coupled with fatigue finally had their way as she threw herself onto the bunk, weeping bitterly – crushed beneath an eternity of melancholy, guilt and responsibility.

Waking into darkness, cold and spent, the cabin was veiled beneath evening’s gloom. A brief glance revealed she was alone. Two bells chimed softly through the night. Having lit an overhead lantern, Ursula sat down next to a table strewn with piles of handwritten computations trying to gather her thoughts. Ten years. Ten years of relentless labour for what? To drag herself and another into space only to plummet back to earth with their lives barely intact? Who did she think she was, defying all advice, ignoring the legions of critics for the sake of a dream – a foolish stupid dream! Her spirits lifting no further,  she shrugged on a coat, gathered up a fresh supply of paper and trudged out into the companionway, looking for a quiet place other than the four walls of that cabin to clear her head and finally show  once and for all exactly why, all doubts cast aside, , they could never return home. She would demonstrate, down to the minutest of details, each step essential for one to design, build and launch a craft such as Helios to the final  jot if necessary. Only then could Clarrisa’s stinging claims be truly refuted.
    
Over the insuing weeks, what could only be described as an icy stalemate settled over the two women.  To be sure, expected civilities were upheld; nonetheless, barely two words at any given time passed between them. Oh yes,  social conventions were honoured out of respect for their gracious hosts, but that, as they say, was that.

Determined to vindicate herself, as a woman possessed, Ursula attacked this latest project with zealous ferocity unmatched since the passing of her beloved husband. Her husband – that dear, sweet soul – Memories, raw and gnawing, flashed across the vista of her mind. Now, more than ever, she simply could not risk giving reign to such demons, which, if left unchecked would easily break her completely.  Shaking off such sentiments, Ursula pressed forward relentlessly – a slave to her muse, submitting to its every demand.    

Solely focused upon committing to paper the rise and subsequent demise of her little ship, this most obsessive of women fell into an almost comfortable routine eerily resembling its  forerunner but twelve months earlier, immediately following her bereavement. Day after day, Project Helios was rising like a phoenix from the ashes, scattered across half the table in the officers’ wardroom ((her adoption of this new workplace grudgingly tolerated by those who frequented it). Timing her schedule so as to cause the least amount of disruption to its more conventional occupants, the Indi’s senior staff watched on in bewildered amazement as a single page very rapidly multiplied into dozens. Retiring only sparingly to stave off exhaustion, catching sleep whenever she could, Ursula’s world became the science of the solar sail.. Gathering up any clutter when company was forthcoming, no sooner had polite greetings been exchanged, then back to work she’d return – a universe of separation between the two.

For their part, the Indi’s senior staff regarded Ursula with mixed sentiments ranging  from passing curiosity to downright mistrust– completely unable to understand either she or the world from which she sprang. Yes, the occasional question would be asked, only to be met with an explanation so utterly unknowable one may as well not even have bothered. For instance, upon completing one such description  concerning basic aero dynamics,  ship production and launch, even Horatio’s countenance became glazed.

Gradually, these early steps progressed into elaborate draftings(every new design  sketched up in intricate detail),  foundational equations  central to space-flight, including of course, the work necessary to send Helios and her ship’s compliment above Earth’s atmosphere and a raft of technical points too numerous for mention slowly  coalesced into tangibility.

On the whole, Ursula remained uninterrupted; her counterparts going about their  business with barely anod.  Such manic labours had , however not
gone unnoticed by  Indifaticable’s first lieutenant,  following the progress of  these two since their rescue, viewing them with suspicion (after all,
their flimsy story was completely ridiculous - and impossible, of course) till this same woman had afforded him the privilege of seeing
with his own eyes, there in that cramped little vessel too fantastical to be real, sights unimaginable in even the wildest of dreams.

Having largely kept his distance since  the arrival of these most peculiar of outsiders, unimpressed with  the senseless way  relations between the  women had plummeted -  especially the manner
in which Ursula resolved to deal with the situation, Bracie  could exercise restraint no longer believing
it only right to intervene.  Notwithstanding the fact her work genuinely unnerved him, her behaviour in general  long since had crossed the boundaries of acceptability (regardless of the time from  whence she came). Intruding shamelessly into the private sanctum of Indefatigable’s senior officers  Ursula’s presence remained only barely  tolerable by  an apparent pall of obliviousness to the goings on about her either unaware or clearly indifferent towards any impropriety. Quiet requests to adopt a more appropriate  work location  fell upon deaf ears, met with a reply nowhere else suitable below decks was available.  

And so, after  several weeks of unabated dedication to this task , Ursula, one evening, upon completion of  an element crucial to Helios, tantamount to little more than  folly in the eyes of most, became slowly aware of another watching her, seated at the opposite end of the table. Unable to shrug off this new source of scrutiny, Irritated by   yet another interruption. Placing aside her pen,
 Ursula rose to meet their gaze only to find Lt Bracegirdle studying her intently, his countenance one of questioning disapproval. Resigned to the fact  her
   chances of quietly slipping away were, well, none and none, Ursula dared silently will  him to just get it over with and  speak his mind.

Chapter 8

Leaving no opportunity open for her  counterpart to catch her on the back foot, so to speak, Ursula dove in first.“I should have named her Icarus”,  her features a picture of resignation and defeat. What do they say Lieutenant, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, all is a chasing after wind”? How could I have been so arrogant as to think the ether could be tamed?” Capitulating to her own tumbling self contemplation, she continued, “Look at this!” (the woman gesturing to a chaotic assortment of drafts, equations and other such  scribblings spreadout before her. “What hope is there? Have I been so blinded by my own self assurance and wish to prove myself right that I’ve missed the entire heart of the complaints leveled against me? My dear Lieutenant, see for yourself, a sorry sight indeed;  the fool thwarted by her folly.”.

With no adequate reply to hand, Lt. Bracegirdle  took a seat a little closer,  deciding it  best to simply let this obviously troubled soul finally lay down her burden rather than add any more potential fuel to the fire.

I, Indeed, we thought we were invincible”; how we believed in our own abilities, despite everybody’s warnings and cautions.” Ursula went on,“It’s simple, my false sense of self-assuredness caused me to fly too close to the sun and my wings melted, didn’t they. Motioning somewhat dramatically to her audience of one, this painful confession continued. “It wouldn’t have been so awful if I’d been alone; after all, I claim the responsibility”. Instead , good sir, it’s a whole lot worse; I’ve caused another to be placed in great peril through my mistaken over-confidence – not to mention  you and the entire crew of this ship. You didn’t have to come for me, you know, I was virtually done for. Why endanger   the lives of all aboard for  one remaining stranded voyager who ought to have known better, it wasn’t exactly the   safest move in the book”.

Seeing an avenue open, Bracie matched her  distorted  sense of  ethics with his own straight forward yet undeniable reason. “…Because it was right. You yourself would have acted in exactly the same manner to save your friend, would you not?”

“Yes, well, but that’s not the point!” “I’ve brought the both of us crashing into this world…this time…where both our lives literally hang in the balance – I’m responsible”.”Lt. Bracegirdle, I don’t think you can fully grasp the gravity of our situation. You see, in our time, we are able to do what is necessary to survive and carve a niche for ourselves. In this time, we cannot even open a bank account in our own name”. As a widow, I have little power. Now, I know ladies are already active within my area of expertise, Hershel and Somerville being just two which come to mind”. Nonetheless, even they  are championed by a sponsor, Somerville by her husband, and Hershel by her brother”.  You may be asking what on earth such has to do with my current circumstances? The answer is, well, everything., For, my dear man, the very lives of myself and my companion  are under threat, we having no such protector; both being so alien to the way of  things in your time. I trust you may find yourself with just a tiny glimpse of the  turmoil besetting me at this point- Ruling out, of course Dr. Astone  deeming  Clarissa and I  lunatics  to be locked up for the rest of our lives!”

At this comment, Bracie looked just a little indignant. Nonetheless his ability to understand the hearts and souls of others filled him with a deep sympathy for Ursula’s rather unique plight. After all, he had witnessed first hand a similar type of self-criticism and guilt in another individual all those years ago when first assigned to the Indi,  definitely not surprised to see it in a lady similarly  talented, sharing that same steely determination of spirit. It was, this similarity, he concluded, which led Ursula to spend most of her encounters with Horatio arguing with him, as both intellects inevitably locked horns, well and truly causing the sparks to fly. To be sure, no real animosity existed between them, rather a lively exchange of ideas and opinions. In the end, each always parted amicably, respecting their mutual differences.

Unasuaged by his words, Ursula continued railing against herself inwardly, a myriad of troubled expressions flashing across her face, eyes ablaze with emerald fire.  Acutely aware of  her pain, wishing to aid her troubled heart but  limited by conventions of propriety, he  requested his  companion take a turn up on deck, stifling  her protestations of being an inconvenience yet again with a reassuring smile. Politely offering his arm, the two made their way above, greeted by a brilliant night at sea, the moon’s silver crescent suspended in a  cosmos more beautifully adorned than Ursula could possibly imagine. Pointing to the vaulting heavens, her countenance lost in thought, words, for once, temporarily failed her.

Strolling upon the deck, Ursula’s gaze drifted SKYWARD.Lost in awe at this night’s picture ,  she waxed lyrical. “Oh, Look above us.” It never ceases to fill me with wonder, even after gazing  at it as long as I can remember”..”

Looking thoughtfully  upon her, wishing  to alleviate just a little of her grief, Bracegirdle enquired of Ursula’s world, what it was like, indeed, if mankind had learned anything at all over two hundred years. He had, of course, seen first hand, Helios’s miraculous interior, not to mention the unbelievable instrumentation she possessed. Bracie however wished to actually try and understand the  place from which  this most remarkable of women came – the world which formed her.

“Where to begin, Lieutenant”, “, In short, one could say absolutely terrifying”. “Our world is one of paradox, incredible, heart wrenching paradox. We have conquered so much, yet achieved so little. Our age is one which may be best described  as  an era in which most technological hurdles have been overcome.”My dear man, you cannot imagine the awesome pangs progress will very soon visit upon the people, as for the first time, (through the harnessing of steam) we truly begin to shape our world. Why, you YOURSELF would be aware of the fact folk are fighting against this technology, even now casting its shadow across the land. It will, however prevail, and out of it, will come a world you could only dream of. Luxuries now only the  domaine of the very rich will become commonplace. Nonetheless, two worlds exist in my time that of great privilege side by side with that of great poverty”.  The hearts of men, too, have become a paradox. Acts of incredible selflessness are mirrored by sheer greed and brutality unmatched in this age.”

“Do you consider yourself a woman of faith?” This question caught Ursula a little unexpectedly. “Yes, Indeed I do. In our generation, faith as you would be familiar with it is comparatively rare – In my field of work, I would be lying if I claimed to have suffered no derision as a result.” “Nonetheless, I see the laws which underpin our universe, from the tiniest particle, smaller than an atom, to the vastness of the cosmos itself as clear evidence of our Creator’s power”.

“Yet you yourself chose to go beyond the Almighty’s calling for the fairer sex to pursue your goals”. “Indeed, sir that is doubtless a certainty”. “Understand however, my late husband’s blessing was always with me. He himself was more zealous even than I for the work, being almost solely responsible for inspiring me to continue in the face of both universal criticism and penury.”

 

    

 

“Still you chose to go, rather than leaving it to another”. “Yes, Lieutenant, I did. If he had lived, Tony would be the one standing here, not me”. “Tony?” Yes, my dear late husband. It’s been barely more than a year since he passed away – do you not remember the picture you found upon the floor of my ship?”  a shade of pain briefly  passing across her features. In little more than a whisper she continued, “Oh, Lieutenant, there is a  hurt still within me almost unbearable even now. One must carry on though, and so I do, allowing it no freedom to have its way”... Already aware of Ursula’s situation, Bracie found himself nonetheless shocked  upon being reminded of her loss. “Should you not still have been in mourning?” Quickly reining her threatening emotions under control, Ursula  ventured still further, “lt Bracegirdle, that it were so simple. In my world, death is a thing we find very difficult to deal with, having so effectively distanced ourselves from it. Let me try to explain this a little more clearly. Many infirmities and injuries   which would kill someone in this time are preventable in mine. Furthermore, public health, cleanliness and better diet have all acted together to extend our lives, at least for some. Frankly, we find it  difficult to deal with a necessary stage of life, as it were, which we are unable to control in a world where we think we can control virtually everything else. Indeed, folk can show much cruelty and lack of understanding to their fellows who are bereft or in need. Why do you think I threw myself at my work so fanatically?”

The implication of  such foreknowledge left this normally steady-as-a-rock officer of His Majesty’s Britannic Navy  reeling against these revelations; nightmare images of a world gone mad Hurtling  through his thoughts. Noticing his vexation, Ursula sighed, emerald eyes  softly aglow in the lantern light. “Yes, it is insanity, I guess, but there is little I can do for it now. It will be a miracle if I am able to salvage any semblance of my former life at all, more difficult still for Clarissa. Nonetheless, I must put one foot before another and walk the walk of faith and trust”.

“My dear Ursula, how ever do you manage it?” “Manage what?” “Your heart, your thoughts. One moment you tell of your time, only to crush your grief whenever it dares show itself, to continue right on”. “Any woman would be inconsolable at the loss of her husband.” “Maybe they would, Lieutenant, maybe they would. Fact is, I have not allowed it. You see, I fear if I start weeping, I’ll never stop, so great is the  hurt within.”

Moved by this most candid of admissions, Bracegirdle could not help but muse upon a grief of his own; he himself having lost his wife not much earlier than Ursula’s own bitter tragedy. For a certainty, he could not fault the warmth and understanding shown by Captain Pelu, breaking not a few naval protocols to ensure he could be back in England as soon as possible, upon learning of  her worsening illness. Furthermore, he had generously extended much leave following the funeral. Yes, a portion of the edge had been taken from his pain; however, upon hearing Ursula’s tale, that familiar ache was awakened within – the ache of loneliness, loss and hurt TRULY known only  TO the widowed. Nonetheless, he found himself strangely sympathetic towards Ursula’s ways, having to suspend his own grief TO SOME EXTENT  that Duty may not be left unattended.

With the ship’s bell toll, his thoughts were brought back to the present, to the Indi and to Ursula. Surprised at the lateness of the hour, unaware of time’s passing, he thought it best if they turn in for the evening, half the night already spent. Genuinely touched by her companion’s care and tact, Ursula gave a  discrete bow of the head before allowing Bracie to   ESCORT her  back to her cabin whereupon he thanked her for  providing such  agreeable company, gently taking her hand and bestowing the lightest of kisses thereupon, Ursula   glad  for the dim illumination of the companionway which effectively masked the rising colour in her cheeks. Well wishes for the night thus given,  she entered, quietly shutting the door behind her, listening to the lieutenant’s retreating footsteps, the tiniest of sparks kindled deep, deep within her heart, almost too frightening for contemplation.             Having laid down upon the bunk, it was all  she could do not to think of he who could quite easily unhinge her universe.

Chapter 9

Sunrise at sea never ceased to fill Ursula with absolute awe – pinks, purples and the softest of greys giving way to golden brilliance, the ocean bespangled with a hundred thousand shimmering diamonds. Having seen to life’s necessities and taken a light breakfast, she made her way above for what had become a routine walk of theIndi’s  length(as far as possible) from bough to stern. Able now to collect her thoughts in the cool light of day, her mind drifted back to the previous evening’s revealing conversation with Lt.  Bracegirdle. How could she have been so blind? It was only natural for Clare to harbour resentment towards her concerning the disaster which had so completely and unchangeably altered both their lives forever; the most thorough redrafting of project Helios powerless to change a thing.  After all, she had not signed up with a view to being flung two hundred plus years into the past with no possibility of return – Indeed, such dramas as had befallen them were purely the stuff of fantastic science fiction the world over.  This knowledge simply further aggravated the woman’s sense of guilt and responsibility mingled with a helplessness too burdensome for contemplation. Nonetheless, Ursula would be lying to herself if she imagined feelings of pain or even a wounding of her pride did not exist as a result of Clare’s unflagging view that any efforts to formulate a return back into their time were far from satisfactory. What had she been slaving over for the past fortnight, indeed the past month? It seemed nothing short of  a miraculous appearance of rescue helicopters upon the horizon would alter Clarissa’s hurtful attitude towards the scientist. And what of Lieutenant’ Bracegirdle’s kindness, not to mention his insight into her very thoughts which rarely missed its mark. If not careful, she could very easily find her heart reeking havoc, imagining things which were simply not there at all.

Approaching the quarterdeck, Ursula saw Hornblower had the watch. Smiling, she bade him good morning, not wishing however to distract him from his duties. “A Fine Morning, Lt Hornblower”, “That it is, Madam Ursula”. Continuing upon her course, Ursula’s gaze ventured upward, only to discover both Clare and Kennedy at one of the tallest points upon the Indi’s masts. A wave and smile going unnoticed. She figuring them too pre-occupied to have seen. Resting against the ship’s side, leaning upon the rail, she  thought upon the vast differences between herself and her colleague. Ursula though possessed of an iron determination and volcanic temper if pushed, was the quintessential dreamer – far more content with the never-ending study of the heavens and pursuit of knowledge, balanced against what many would consider the paradox of faith (she herself however seeing no paradox, rather the brilliant and often breathtaking order of the cosmos as a confirmation, not a denial of the Almighty’s ever powerful hand). Coupled with a deep love of music and the visual arts, extending to a natural talent in these fields, the dreamer gave voice to the dream. Clare, though a devotee of times past, in particular, naval history – her life revolving around such, (from whence she made her living) was for all intents and purposes a practical soul, shooting straight and brooking no nonsense from anyone; attributes which stood her in good stead as a vital member of “project Helios” – that damned folly which led to the both of them winding up upon a naval frigate in the early nineteenth century! If it weren’t a matter of such dire import, there present circumstances, Ursula mused, would almost be a cause for humour. Lost in meditation, Lt Bracegirdle thus quietly stole upon her completely unnoticed.” The morning is indeed lovely, my dear Ursula”,”. Starting Visibly, Her introspection promptly broken, an apology was given before she bade him greetings also. “I’m surprised you’re about  so early Lieutenant”, her features softened by a gentle smile. “. It would have been a crime to waste  a morning such as this idling below”.” I wonder, would you care to join me for a turn about the deck , Madam?” Attempting to hide a shy smile, Ursula thanked the lieutenant for his thoughtfulness, quickly adding she’d be honoured to do so. No sooner had they  made to go than clare sidled past (Kennedy in toe) half whispering a most inappropriate comment as to Ursula’s intentions  towards the Indi’s first Lieutenant containing the words “selfish”, “lazy”, and “Gold digger” (with not a few snipes as to her moral fortitude and ancestry). Mistakenly pitching this little volley not quite softly enough to escape Bracie’s notice, he shot her a withering look whilst gently guiding his companion out of the firing line. No sooner had they headed back below some time later  than the entire vessel seemed to spring into action as a living creature preparing to take its prey. It would appear a hostile enemy vessel spoiling for a fight had come across their path. Engagement immanent, without a second thought, Ursula, opting to be of use rather than simply an obstacle in the path of  any fray  hurried to the sick birth, whereupon Dr. Astone, always in want of more hands, assigned Ursula her duties (relieved to know she possessed at least basic first aid skills.

In an instant all hell broke loose as the horror of battle wrought its destruction upon life and limb at all points  about Indefatigable. The sheer aural assault, not to mention terrible impact of iron upon timber shook Ursula to her very core, the ship lurching and bucking with each pounding step in  this most horrible of dances. Within but a short time, the relative quiet of sick birth resembled, in hur mind, to one never faced with the gruesome  reality of warfare, little more than a butchery as a steady stream of men and boys, cut down in their prime, awaited the meager assistance available to them. The stench of blood mingled with gunpowder and numerous additional unmentionables overpowering, Ursula, not for the first time, heaved into a slop bucket on the floor beside her, feelings of utter repulsion and helplessness threatening to render her useless to the good doctor currently doing what he could for his crew. Time for contemplation would have to wait however, Ursula being most pre-occupied co-ordinating the efforts of several lob lowly boys –those brave little souls witness to carnage which would cripple the spirit of the  strongest of men. Yelling for yet another bucket of clean salt water to be brought, Ursula, in an attempt to ensure some semblance of sterilization took place, managed to convince Dr. Astone to part with his beloved tools for blanching in her improvised saline alcohol brew, not to mention ordering every man and boy to clean their hands thoroughly before attending a new patient. In the time since the two women had first come aboard the Indi, Dr. Astone, already considered fanatical about the cleanliness and sanitary conditions of his realm, listened, his mouth agape in disbelief at the accomplishments two hundred years had brought to the field of medicine. Viewing such with considerable skepticism, he nonetheless rose to the bate upon Ursula’s challenge to tighten his standards still further – astounded at the marked changes even such simple introductions made to the lowering of infection amongst his patients. Viewing her as an almost loveable yet eccentric aunt, Astone’s boys hung upon Ursula’s every command, almost unable to believe another human being other than the doctor treated them with respect, affording them the intelligent consideration they deserved – Captain pelu himself even taken at the improvements of this usually most  grizzly of quarters upon any ship, let alone a ship of war. With no time to think, however, Ursula soldiered on; cleaning a wound here, splinting a broken limb there – offering quiet words of calm assurance, even a prayer if asked, to those   injured whilst carrying out their duty. Almost imperceptibly, amid the chaos, it dawned upon Ursula a change had taken place- quiet – the Indi’s guns no longer hurling forth iron. Looking across to Dr. Astone, he himself meeting her gaze, she could not help but notice a smile of admiration crease the corner of his mouth as he finished work upon yet another wounded sailor. Finally allowing her nerves to uncoil ever so slightly, the shock of what happened next impacted all the more. Engrossed in her work, Ursula had masked out much of the battles noise, including the shouts and verbal exchanges between opponents, unaware a number of French had successfully made it onto the indi. Furthermore, it would seem they were as yet still at large, for, no sooner had she turned back to the task at hand then the sounds of a small yet fierce fight echoed down the corridor, growing nearer and nearer to their location. The unmistakable clash of metal upon metal was clearly audible, as was the stream of invective sprouting forth from one of the warriors – a woman’s voice – Clare! Backed into the very doorway of the sick birth, Clare fought valiantly, three of the enemy attempting to wear her down and strike the decisive blow. The leader, upon attempting to enter with the apparent desire to take this portion of the ship however underestimated Clare’s power, falling to her sword. Pumped with adrenaline, she turned her attentions to the next one in line, seemingly being unaware of the third’s lunging weapon bearing down upon her. In mid thrust, almost in slow motion, his advance was promptly cut down – the sound of a single shot ringing out for all to hear as the final enemy dropped to the decd, obviously killed by the well-aimed strike. Downing tools, Ursula ran to clare’s side, her eyes brimming with tears, devastated by the scene which had so brutally played out before her. All animosity having promptly dissipated, she embraced her colleague, unbelievably thankful for her well-being. In an instant, Kennedy (obviously the marksman responsible for saving Clarissa’s life) hurried forward, eternally grateful both women, not to mention all those within the sick birth were unharmed (any more than otherwise “necessary”).

Within half an hour, Success was confirmed. Ursula, having worked like a Trojan at Dr Astone’s side for the duration of the battle was given her leave as the situation at her post was brought under control, an opportunity to clean up and don a fresh change of clothes well taken  her bloodied shirt and sailor’s trousers clearly past any point of redemption cast into the flames of the sick birth stove. Making her way above, her face paled upon seeing for the first time the true extent of damaged suffered by their vessel, realizing all too plainly, the devastating implications of such an engagement. However, upon seeing the sorry state of the enemy, her heart truly sank, wondering if the ship was indeed even seaworthy. Upon asking this of a nearby rating, to her amazement, she learned it would, with a good deal of work from the carpenter’s mate and men assigned to ferry her to the nearest British port, well and truly make it. Spotting the jollyboat carrying the captured ship’s prize crew to their latest acquisition, she smiled inwardly, seeing Hornblower on his way to his latest command.    

Chapter 10

"Might I join you, Miss Haughton?" came Kennedy's voice from behind her.

Claire turned a little from her position on the yardarm as Kennedy rose smoothly beside her, and tried to wipe the scowl from her face.  If it were up to her and she were still aboard her own ship, then she would be free to say what she thought, which was; No, you can't bloody join me - bugger off and leave me alone.
  "Good morning, Lieutenant," she addressed, which was about as polite as she got before her second coffee of the day; a coffee denied her at her usual time (about 15 minutes after the first) because the stores were not hers, and aboard ship one did not deprive another of their stores.  She had fallen back into old shipboard protocols as a matter of habit.
  "I received a letter from home on yesterday's packet," he said, conversationally.
  I don't care.  "That must have been very welcome, Lieutenant."
  "Yes," was the tentative reply.  "It is always pleasant to hear from home, and to stand assured that all is well there.  However, recent missives have been opened with less enthusiasm; my family have very set ideas about my future."
  Go write a soap opera.  "Family pressure must be the worst, Lieutenant."
  "It also put me in mind of some of the points you made the other week," he continued.
  For god's sake, can't you go babble about your problems to Hornblower?  "Oh."
  "I may be in a position to solve our respective problems," he offered.
  Not unless you've a TARDIS stowed in those indecently tight breeches, you haven't.  "It's a century too early for women's liberation, I'm afraid."
  Kennedy laughed, and Claire wanted to say something offensive, the second word of which would have been 'off'.  She heard the rustle of paper and decided that if he were about to read out his letter to her, then she was going to commit suicide by jumping off the yard-arm.
  "My father, my sister, my brother and my mother have all made the comment that a respectable man ought to be married," he said.  "By design, of course - this would be on my father's instructions."
  Go shoot him, then, you chicken.  "He must have a great deal of influence over them."
  "I recalled that you were…concerned…over your own position in society.  Indeed; you have no living or connections."
  Have you any idea how irritating you are?  "Yes; apparently that hasn't changed, Lieutenant."
  "I considered that as I am apparently in want of a wife, and you are in want of a living; our union might provide a mutual solution."
  Are you insane?  "Are you insane?"
Kennedy shrugged, apparently not offended by her disinterest and sarcasm.  Had he even noticed her attitude?  "It is not as I pictured my future, either," he confessed.  "But on my marriage, I have a trust that will be released.  I should inherit some property from my mother's family, and of course my wife would be able to collect half of my pay while I am at sea.  Since that would be most of the time, we should be able to interfere with each others lives as little as possible.  You would be able to live in reasonable comfort, since you are a sensible woman, and my family would stop pressing the most unsuitable matches upon me.  In essence, Miss Haughton - we would both be free, which I gather is what we both want."
  Claire was aware that she was staring, but couldn't seem to help it.  Her choices were either not to believe what she was hearing, or laugh at him.  Disbelief seemed to be winning, and by coincidence, it was also more polite.  The last she had heard of their respective situations, they didn't really like each other that much.  Actually - she didn't like anyone in this century much…she hadn't liked most people from her own century, either, when she came to think about it.
  Or rather, she tended not to form attachments, because her lifestyle meant that the vast majority of contact with others was necessarily fleeting.  As Master of the ship, Claire had never been required to associate with the passengers or guests very often (which suited her just fine), as her principle concern was the ship.
  The ship (whichever of the vessels she was on) was her friend.  The captains were usually her friends, too; because they all shared her enthusiasm for the subject, her love for the sea, her devotion to the vessel and because she was diplomatic enough to realise that the captain was not an enemy one wanted when under his orders.  She had to admit that there were some people who had known her most of her life with whom she retained a connection, too, although she did so reluctantly.
  But above all things, friendship required respect; respect for a person because they were a human being was the most basic; respect for a person's knowledge and skills, because they demonstrated achievement; respect for differing opinions as the world would be a dull place if everybody thought the same.
  Here, she had respect because the crew seemed to think she had the benefit of a good birth.  The officers, who knew the truth of her origins, respected her because she was a woman and a human being, but that respect came with an equal amount of disdain for her opinions, knowledge and skills, and to her that rendered what respect was shown utterly meaningless; the respect was false - a lie.
  No respect, therefore no friendship.
  "Miss Haughton?" Kennedy asked.
  "The whole idea is ridiculous," she told him.
  "I don't expect an answer instantly, but I would appreciate your consideration of the matter," he insisted, more firmly.  "I believe that you would be the greater beneficiary of this arrangement, and while I would not suffer for the match itself, you must acknowledge that I take a measure of a risk should your…ah…situation be discovered.  I don't believe I demand too much of you when I ask you to give my offer it's due attention."
  Claire moved down the ratlines with practiced ease, and Kennedy followed her with at least equal skill (though she was reluctant even to give him that complement).
  "Lieutenant - what exactly do you think your family is going to say when you turn up with some unknown woman you dragged from the water as your bride?"  Claire tried to escape along the rail, but Kennedy followed her.  Ursula and Bracegirdle were standing on the deck and she was forced to move past them, but she didn't give up on trying to prove how foolish Kennedy's idea was.
  "I haven't any family…I haven't any connections; your father is going to say: 'She's a…' " she searched for appropriate words as she sidled past Ursula.  "…'Gold-digger: a selfish, lazy, base-born whore trying to claw her way into the good opinion of a respectable  officer of His Majesty’s Navy who's daft enough to keep the woman in comfort and cash for some reason unknown to the rest of the rational world!' "
  "I'm sure nothing of the kind would even be considered." Kennedy tried as he pursued her.
  Ursula and Bracegirdle were looking after them resentfully, but Claire could not bring herself to be sorry for interrupting their conversation.  She half-hoped to be challenged over her rudeness, so they could persuade Kennedy of his own foolishness.  It would spare her the trouble of doing so herself.
  "Beat to Quarters!" came the frantic call.
  "Thank god for that," Claire remarked to herself as an enemy vessel opened fire and Kennedy rushed off to his station.
  She was irritably instructed to the hold if she were determined not to help in the sick-   berth by Captain Pellew as he rushed towards the quarter deck.
  "Aye-aye, sir," she acknowledged sweetly, and indeed reported herself to the hold.  She reported herself to the hold for two reasons; the first was because she could truthfully claim that she had indeed gone there, and there were men there who could confirm her presence.  It would be their job to keep the vessel afloat rather than work the guns during the engagement, and they would be waiting to be told where first to go to repair some equipment or plug a leak.  If it came to it, she would offer her assistance there.  She could be of more use in healing the ship than she ever could in healing a person.
  Wood was more real than flesh, especially in this alien, backwards, sexist and downright irritating period.  What had it been that attracted her to study this time, anyway?  Ah yes - the Wooden World.
  But she did not believe there would be much more than a few exchanges of canon fire.  The enemy was to windward and bearing down on them fast - unless she missed her guess (and with a
foreknowledge of history, she had a better than average  chance of guessing correctly), the French intended to take the Indy by boarding.
  And she was just in the mood to kill someone.  The French would do nicely.  So would one of the large, sharp carpenter's axes.  Perhaps all those hours at medieval re-enactment, playing a marauding axe-wielding heathen hadn't been wasted after all.  And when she pulled her hair back and in slops, she blended in quite well enough with the parties who put up boarding nets, and everybody was too busy to notice her presence; she was merely another pair of hands holding a weapon and ready to defend the ship, and for the time being, that was all she needed to be.
  The axe was long, heavy and swung well; Claire was strong from a life at sea, and most of the enemy realised they were facing a woman before she struck them down.  Nearly all made the mistake of believing she would be weak, and nearly all had something quite different to battle on their minds when they closed with her; matters that made them somewhat reluctant to kill her and so they didn't defend themselves as they ought. The fight was made considerably easier for her, and she eventually buried the axe beyond retrieval in the rib-cage of a French officer.  Having lost her weapon of choice, she picked up his; a good solid sword - not one of these fine rapiers which were more use to decorate a uniform than for fighting, but a real sword.
  Re-enacting battle aboard ship had also been useful.  She didn't have as much practice with the sword, but she knew enough to keep herself alive, and dispose of her share of the boarders.  They were severely outnumbered by French, but they were holding them on the main deck, even though fighting had got to the quarterdeck, and the captain was engaged.  Her French was sketchy, but she understood the order from the senior officer surviving that a party of them head for the sickberth to 'take care of the wounded'.
  She heard Kennedy's voice repeat the danger to the captain, and a Frenchman's head hit the deck directly in front of her, and, skull smashed, he lay still.  The last invader of the quarter-deck had thus been disposed of, and the captain looked down to survey his handywork.  There was no way he could not have seen and recognised her, even as she dispensed with the officer who had given the despicable order, so she offered Pellew a mocking salute and ran aft before she could be stopped.  If they wanted the wounded, then they were going to have to go through her, and her temper was still high enough to welcome the fight.
  Knowing the ship better than the French, she was able to overtake them using the carpenter's walk, to the curses of that gentleman's mates who were busy trying to remove a shot from the hull without sinking Indy in the process.
  She met the enemy not far from the doorway, but that suited her well since they could only come at her, properly, one at a time.  If they tried to come at her by twos, then they often tangled with each other, and made her task simpler.  Before she knew it, Claire found herself yelling and swearing at the enemy, cursing her fortune and spilling blasphemes that would, a century earlier, have had her burned at the stake.
  Then it came; although the floor was kept well sanded for Dr A to do his work, the sand was not spread so far as to the door, and it was inevitable, with the movement of the ship, that blood would reach here.  Claire slipped in it, kept her aim on the Frenchman before her, but the second one was nowhere to be seen as she clumsily regained her feet and planted all the steel toe of her anachronistic doc Marten boot in the face of the next when he leaned down to reach her.
  She was standing in time to hear a ringing shot and feel the passage of a ball close to her.  The second man had come up on her port quarter as she turned to kick the previous man and his long knife was ready to slide beneath her ribs and up.  He was frozen, his face slack and mind occupied with whatever it's last thoughts were when the bullet tore through it.  That last one was in front of her, clutching his bloodied nose; she dispensed of him quickly and thoughtlessly, then turned to ensure nobody had got through her guard.  Kennedy stood behind her, sword dripping with gore, hair in disarray (though somehow not one crease in his uniform), and a smoking pistol held by his side.
  She nodded.  "Thanks for that," she said, not sure whether she meant it or not.  Great; now she was in his debt and if he made a second proposal, this was an excellent argument in his favour.  On the up side, she was still alive.
  And considering the filthy state she was in, he wasn't likely to repeat his proposal.
  She would also have considered that Ursula would be reluctant to touch her, in the state she was in, but the other woman engulfed her in a glad embrace she couldn't escape.  Not that it mattered; Ursula was in much the same bloody state she was.

Chapter 11

Peace once more descended upon His Majesty’s Britannic Ship Indefatigable, another  victory won, another enemy subdued  - claimed as a spoil of war. Ursula leant exhaustedly against the ship’s side, her mind reeling as a result of this most traumatic of experiences. Shaken to her very core, she thought in horror upon her own times – of the millions of individuals killed  as a result of world conflicts year after year, their tragic images beamed into family homes across England (not to mention far flung corners of the Earth at large)night after night to be taken along with the evening meal by countless viewers  detached, distant, removed, desensitized . For a  certainty the internet’s   increasing influence offered differing  alternatives if one found
themselves   inclined to search but nothing, not even the new millennium of fear could prepare our unassuming scientist for the horrors of Battle. Lost in contemplation, the words of a retired war correspondent whom Ursula had occasion to hear  participating in an interview for BBC radio only weeks  prior to  the mission came to the fore.- “One has never truly experienced  warfare until they’ve  smelled it”. Only now could she  fullyunderstand the far reaching implications of such – its indescribable stench seared into her brain forever more.

As captain Pelu presided over the service for the fallen, poor midshipman Grey’s body committed to the deep, her grief became overwhelming. Discretely slipping away, Ursula sought refuge within Helios’s sheltering safety, only there free from this most painful of realities. Locking the entrance, alone and hidden(deeply thankful this little craft survived the carnage), a  soul, fairly crushed beneath a mountain of unresolved grief heaped upon grief finally crumbled into dust, shattered into a thousand shards  desperate racking sobs pouring out into the quiet darkness like water,  the name of her lost  love bitterly wailed as a lament into the gloom; feeling more so than ever in her life utterly bereft and on her own.  A slave to her breaking heart, unaware of time’s passing (unbidden tears refusing to be quelled),Ursula remained completely oblivious to another accessing her realm,  her state in no way hidden to anyone peering through either view port into the cockpit.

The memorial service long since over, Capt. Pelu extended an invitation for his senior officers and guests to join him for refreshments – a time of revival and comradery for all concerned. Upon  everyone gathering in Pelu’s day cabin (this not being the one currently occupied by our two heroines), exclamations of surprise arose upon Ursula’s absence being noted, Pelu assuming she’d heard his invitation upon the memorial’s conclusion, Bracegirdle (who had observed her quietly leaving upon Grey’s burial assuming someone else had passed on the word). Commencing without her,  several minutes  elapsed with still no sign. Mindful of her troubled state upon steeling away, Bracegirdle excused himself from their company in order to seek her out and encourage her attendance, noting it was certainly out of character for Ursula to pass up any type of social gathering. A quick reconnaissance up on deck revealed nothing prompting him to go below. Below decks likewise revealed nothing till bracie made his way into the hold softly aglow with Helios’s cabin  illumination shining out from within. Peering inside he had found her. Overflowing with sorrow at her sight, his heart  ached with profound compassion. Having witnessed this stubborn soul’s pent up grief simmering below the surface for quite long enough, he would put an end to it, once and for all.  Being appraised of entry procedures into Helios when locked (to Ursula’s disquiet, at Pelu’s insistence – himself also  demanding similar clearance) the lieutenant made his way inside the little ship unnoticed. Without a word, any questions of propriety considered utterly redundant by one usually so cautious , he  enfolded her trembling form tenderly to his breast, caressing her chestnut tresses, allowing her uncapped pain to run its course offering refuge deep within his embrace – hidden away within the cleft of the rock all the while consoling this most fragile of creatures with  softest words of comfort.

** ** **

Inconsolable, Ursula remained ignorant to another having entered her quiet sanctuary. To her fleeing surprise her entire world became  encompassed by this great man, a soothing balm to her shattered spirits. Ever so slowly, times passage immeasurable to either of them,  all this pain, all this loss, all this  grief gradually subsided. Looking up into the face of her companion (showing no signs of letting go), Ursula quickly looked away,  acute embarrassment suddenly taking hold. Aware of such, Lieutenant Bracegirdle quietly assured her that all was well; adding it was   time she started giving air to her torment before it crushed her…  that to do so was completely natural and understandable – and necessary, lest it consume her entirely. Composing his thoughts, he further went on, sharing his genuine admiration of  one he most  definitely considered a lovely courageous woman, victorious in the face of circumstances which would  almost certainly have undone many a Regency contemporary in his opinion. To Ursula’s shock, she found herself drinking in the lieutenant’s affection as a parched desert traveler partaking in those first precious sips of water upon rescue from imminent death. Eventually disengaging from one another (Ursula finding herself still lost beneath the lieutenant’s sweet gaze), they made to exit Helios upon Bracegirdle’s suggestion she may like to join the others.
Arriving at their destination, both entered Pelu’s cabin (its occupants silently aware Ursula must have been weeping some time not too long prior), Pelu greeted his most recent guest – congratulating her for her invaluable assistance during battle before offering a very welcome brandy; graciously accepted.

 The necessities of shipboard life ever calling, some  time later officers and guests  alike   brought their gathering of comradery to an end  thus returning to more pressing duties and demands. Making her way back to helios, upon descending into the hold, to  ursulas mounting concern, several inches of water  covered the deck;  the scientist grateful her little craft had been set up on planks. Making haste above, troubled by her discovery, ursula  informed Lieutenant Bush, current officer of the watch.having passed word,  at Pelu’s request, he followed her back down below– definitely not happy with what he found. It very soon transpired procedures had not exactly gone as planned for our poor carpenter and company, their repairs having failed to that gentleman’s fuming irritation. Water slowly but surely rendering the narrow passage between ship’s outer and inner hull inaccessible, Captain, officers, crew and guests faced death by degrees – the sea seeping  intrusively into the Indi’s very heart – slowly enough to pass undetected till almost too late;  quickly enough to hinder (and as it turned out) currently prevent interior repairs. Ursula’s mind clammouring for some type of workable solution either contemporary or futuristic, an admittedly far fetched plan coallessed piece by piece within her vivid imagination. Advising Bush it was  essential she speak to Pelu immediately, no time was waisted in trying to relay it to this officer However Bush, frustrated by the unknown (and placing grave doubts upon the capabilities of a mere lady) quietly discounted her inane ramblings, even one intriguing as  she who ran before him) frantic to reach their captain. Catching sight of this fellow apparently deep in conversation with Bracegirdle upon the quarterdeck, Ursula took the steps two at a time breathlessly screeching to a halt before them…protocol thrown to the wind, implored by the first lieutenant to be calm their guest suggested they might wish to step inside. Having seated themselves, Ursula appraised the two men of their discovery – to Bush’s mounting irritation; displeased his thunder was being stolen by… this incredibly infuriating woman. Pelu, his  countenance growing more grave by the second was open to any suggestion on offer. Tentatively, Ursula  put an idea to the floor so outrageously insane no naval captain in his right mind would even contemplate it, let alone authorize it, that which the scientist  smilingly referred to as an “Extra Vehicular Activity”!

…”Under no circumstances will I even consider sanctioning such, madam!” wasPelu’s resounding response having never been privy to such  sheer lunacy in all his years aboard ship. Determined, ursula rose to meet him, stating he had little choice  unless he wished for himself and all aboard to find themselves  swimming home minus said frigget. In no mood for suggestions from a woman so talented in her chosen field her maiden voyage proved nothing short of abominably disasterous,, Ursula’s  dark smile coupled with the retort he had little choice in the matter exhasperated him no end – reducing Britain’s finest to admitting as God was his witness, she’d do his head in before the  mission was up. Having  successfully gained his attention (if somewhat melodramatically), Ursula set about explaining her plan.

And so it came to pass, set  before the beautiful backdrop of afternoon at sea, sunlight shimmering as liquid gold  across its surface that a most unlikely sight indeed  could be beheld upon the Indi’s deck, screned from view as far as possible from prying eyes, that of a rather delicate lady being assisted into a fully self-supporting environment suit or “Walking coffin” as its wearer amusingly refered to it, her humour apparently lost on everyone. Though outwardly confident, Ursula made it clear to Pelu, Bracegirdle and remaining officers (not to mention Clarrisa (drafted to co-ordinate the exercise topside) such a venture was exceedingly risky at best – a complete lack of information pertaining to even the most basic aspect of ship’s  repairs being all she possessed. Logic may well have dictated Clare undertake the job – her maritime knowledge an obvious advantage . Unfortunately however, her expertise with regards to the “space” side of things roughly matched her colleague’s skill out at sea. Therefore the matter was settled to a satisfactory degree with clare directing her cohort every step of the way.

Upon hastily retrieving all necessary equipment from helios immediately following Pelu ascenting to this folly (certain he would regret it for the remainder of his career…if it indeed lasted), the two lieutenants and ladies headed straight for their makeshift centre of operations. Quickly vanishing into   Pelu’s day cabin wherein a measure of privacy was afforded to the scientist, she  donned the  purpose-made undergarment (resembling a full-length jumpsuit) followed by another in the form of a one-piece vest and overshorts which contained a delicate network of superfine tubing through wich fluid could pass acting either as thermal or coolant protection. Tucking her hair beneath it’s hood, she made her way outside (acutely aware of the attire’s somewhat revealing nature). Not  impervious  to several stifled exclamations of shock,  she explained its purposes before seating herself  on the deck whereupon Clare and  Bush assisted her in maneuvering into the environment suit’s lower half. The scientist supported by Bush and clare, Bracie lifted its upper section down over Ursula’s head, marveling as to how she could   tolerate the protective-wear’s considerable bulk .All the while, Pelu looked on, slack-jawed over the unearthly tableau currently playing out upon his vessel. Having set up comms through her notebook prior to dressing for action, last minute AV checks were run through and run through again. All systems go, Pelu and Bracegirdle escorted their guest, helmet in hand, out from behind the screen – mute shock descending upon the few crew witness to this extraordinary vision before them. After hasty instructions were given, heart pounding within his chest,  the first lieutenant inspected the suit’s seals.suddenly consumed with profound emotion, it dawned upon him he was the first man privy to such a spectacle ever in Britains – indeed the world’s history (not to be repeated for another century and a half. Holding her gaze,  his hands resting upon her shoulders, he bade her be careful prior to fastening a rope about her. Associated paraphanalia  plus Tools slung safely from her utility belt, Pelu, struck by her unflinching courage and potential sacrifice, commanded her do her duty (adding she spend no more time beneath the surface than was absolutely necessary). Offering a salute of genuine respect, Captain and first officer assisted her to the rail, whereupon (with a prayer for protection) ursula Davis took the second largest leap of faith in her life (the first  stepping foot aboard the Russian launch vehicle responsible for setting into action a chain of events altering everyone’s lives forever. Quickly heading back behind the screen, all looked on in absolute amazement upon the view revealed before them. Effectively seeing as if through ursula’s own eyes (thanks to a tiny helmet-mounted camera), Pelu, struck mute upon witnessing such out of this world technology in action inconceivable even by the finest minds of his generation,  observed the damage wrought by that blasted shot to the indi’s outer hull. Serious but not beyond saving, Pelu and Clare stepped her through each stage necessary that repairs may be  carried out in order  Indifaticable  could continue upon its journey. Surprised with the manner in which the scientist took to the task. With a smile in her voice Ursula stated all those hours of 0 G training were not for nothing after all. Met with bemused expressions from Captain and officers alike, Clarissa added they pay no heed to her jargan. Some hours later, dusk  descending upon ship and ocean, Ursula’s challenge drew to a close – mission accomplished.More than satisfied with her workmanship, Pelu’s first and second lieutenants  quickly brought her to the surface, assisting the scientist back over the side onto the deck. Wearily  removing her helmet,  falling  heavily to the ground, Ursula allowed Bracegirdle to set  about quickly releasing her from the suit’s confines his countenance brimming with silent admiration. Rushing to clare, sweeping her up into yet another thankful embrace, clare herself simply relieved this exercise had run its course successfully, she retreated descretely changing back into more suitable attire. Returning outside, Pelu, backed up resoundingly by his officers, thanked his guests for nothing short of miraculously (in his opinion) saving his ship and all aboard her from a fate too dark for contemplation. The day’s incredible events having taken their toll upon all concerned, Kenedy taking the watch, a quiet retirement for the evening was agreed upon. The hold finally free of water, with Bracie’s assistance, ursula carried her environment suit bak down to helios’s waiting protection, whereupon her gear having been stowed, both finally turnd in for the night.   

Chapter 12

Gazing into the night sky, Ursula  considered the  manner in which events had played out over the past few days since  their encounter with the enemy – very nearly costing  Pelu his vessel, not to mention the lives of all aboard (rescue at sea in this era being a matter of sheer luck).

Deeply relieved concerning the apparent thaw in relations between herself and Clarissa, the scientists contemplation turned towards a very uncertain future indeed. Inevitably,  Pelu’s current tour of duty would come to an end, Indefatigable would put into port  leaving Ursula and Clare to  face a very different life to that in which they were familiar with ; the only one either of them had known. For a certainty, the captain and his senior staff, admittedly navigating uncharted waters themselves, took every opportunity to acquaint their guests with the  way of things in early nineteenth century England, especially with regards to the station of the fairer sex . Nonetheless, penniless, not even truly owning the clothes on their backs, little attention was given to their long-term futures.   To be sure, overtures of  marriage had been offered by Kennedy – Clarissa, remarkably unimpressed still yet to decide whether she’d  deign to accept (regarding her  suitor withindiffereince); Notwithstanding, Ursula found herself at a complete loss. Stifling  any thoughts of marital union, let alone romance as impossible and unrealistic (discounting the first lieutenant’s attentions as little more than compassion from one to another finding themselves in an extraordinary situation – promptly trampling upon any thoughts to the contrary),  she simply assumed her beginnings would be modest indeed, imagining Pelu or even Lieutenant Bracegirdle  might find it within themselves to act as sponsor,  recommending a suitable   solicitor able to manage her affairs, a next step being that of  introducing herself to her fellow scientists of the day.   An eventual collaboration (all parties, of course being willing) would be the best possible outcome open to her. Failing this, any other alternative looked very grim indeed. Spotting an out of the way corner towards the ship’s bough, the scientist settled herself, instrument in hand, seeking  solice in the eternal constant of music. As a talisman of good fortune, prior to launch,    ursula had set her heart upon bringing a token of Tony’s unswerving dedication – to both his wife and their mission along on this most momentous of journeys. Settling upon the object which most faithfully encapsulated love and the creative spirit, silencing protestations from her flight team as  to issues of payload capacity and weight, a beautifully crafted mandolin ( Dr. Davis’s fifth wedding anniversary gift to his beloved) ventured with the two women skyward. With a fatalistic smile, the scientist mused upon just how much luck her instrument had indeed brought.   Quietly humming to an old Gospel standard, the arrival of another went completely unnoticed. To her surprise, an entreaty to continue upon her   conclusion of the humble tune  caused a  smile to  illuminate her features as  Lt Bracegirdle took a seat beside her. Having just concluded his share of the day’s responsibilities,, a walk about the deck brought him past Ursula’s little refuge where he could not help but be drawn by her quiet song of meditation (clearly meant for none but herself).

 For some time, both sat in silence, allowing the sounds of shipboard life during the night watches to course  over them as  a gentle lapping of waves upon   a distant shore. Enquiring as to her musings , he left open the opportunity for her to speak her mind.

Relating her most recent train of thoughts, Bracie listened patiently as Ursula wondered upon the future, what it would bring, where she would find herself once back in England, indeed, how she would live – admitting the last six weeks or so had been nothing short of  overwhelming, virtually everything  of her existence having vanished in an instant;  never to be returned to, not ever. This thought in and of itself gave rise to a melancholy so deep it threatened to consume her completely as a soul in exile fought for its very survival.

Mindful of Ursula’s vulnerable state, not wishing to seem presumptuous in any way, let alone  giving the appearance of taking advantage of a lady in dire circumstances, once more, this usually most reserved of gentlemen weighed up such considerations against a solution it would bring him genuine pleasure to offer, if she would indeed agree. Additionally, the last thing he wished was for her to feel pressured by  situation or obligation to accept.

Thus deeming such risks well worth the taking, acutely aware of his own heart – sorely fond of an otherworldly angel fallen from the sky literally at his feet, as it were, Lieutenant Antony Bracegirdle, for the second time in his life, asked the ultimate question of one of heaven’s jewels, to share her future with him within the bounds of marriage.

As if hit by a freight train, Ursula sat stunned, completely speechless, open-mouthed as an idiot, her mind unable to register the words her ears had just taken in, Hastily fighting for composure. Admitting her surprise at this most unexpected of proposals, she gave voice to a myriad of concerns – what of his family and their thoughts upon the matter, what of her complete lack of standing within respectable society, what of her passion for the work which filled her, what of her complete inadequacy as a match, what of her endless eccentricities…what of this, what of that. Her argument merely cleared an opening for  Bracie to counter each and every question with positive responses, calmly and quietly put forward duly rendering  any fears of  unsuitability as chaff driven before the wind. Overcome by the utter   surrealness of her current situation, well knowing the serious  implications of accepting an offer such as this in her new time, Ursula overwhelmed by a sudden rush of emotion – tears welling up in those eyes of emerald, plunged headlong into the unknown with a simple “yes”.  Facing yet more miraculous, incredible and admittedly daunting consequences resulting from her choice, this latest turn of affairs  resembling another log on the pile, sent a multitude of  feelings whirling  about her mind. Without a chance to mull this over further, Ursula found herself drawn into the first lieutenant’s embrace, his tender affection staying her tears, both   managing to somehow maintain a modicum of reserve for the sake of the crew, it being most improper to express themselves passionately in view of all – Bracie not wishing to bring any murmurings of  ill repute upon his new fiancé.

Retiring to her cabin for the evening, head in a spin, Ursula found Clarissa lying sullenly upon her bunk soft lanternlight illuminating Tolkein’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ (Claire’s own keepsake of good fortune), her grim countenance  permeating the entire room. Angry at the age, angry at her own circumstances, angry at the damnable mission responsible for stranding both women back in Regency times -  especially angry at that upstart Kennedy  too unbearably condescending for even a moment’s company to be enjoyable, she bemoaned her life, the world and everything within it. Battling an almost irresistible urge to lash out at her colleague for simply being there, a sigh, grim and fraught formed her only greeting. Carefully resting her mandolin upon a side table, Ursula found herself mute,  words of amelioration seeming naught but flippant and glib. Clarissa, braking the silence,  born of a sheer need for diversion offered a sincere apology for her apparent rudeness towards the scientist and Lt. Bracegirdle the day of the battle (warmly accepted) whereupon she revealed Kennedy’s proposal, her opinions of both him and this infuriating time in which she now found herself, along with endless fears as to the type of future awaiting her if she did not accept. Admittedly knowing neither where to start nor means by which she may placate her friend, Ursula gave the reassurance she would in no wise forsake her; adding she would do all within her power to see things right – after all, it was her infernal  venture which caused this disaster in the first place.

Putting her head well and truly into the noose, so to speak, Ursula dared suggest Clare give serious consideration to Kennedy’s offer, commenting as to its merits, not smallest amongst these being the fact she, for the most part, would be left to her own devices, free from her future husband’s presence most of the time – not to mention, provided for in the event of his demise. Yes, such was by no means comparable to her former life, but, as Ursula so clearly stated, things could have been a whole lot worse, possible alternatives too bleak even for thought remaining unsaid. Suggesting Clare’s  experience as Sailing master may well be useful after all,  the scientist encouraged her to perhaps consider a career as author of “historical” naval fiction following in such esteemed footsteps as those of Forester and the like (actually bringing a smile to Clare’s face). Nonetheless,  her countenance with unbecoming rapidity waxed gloomy all too quickly as she, in the manner of one  destined  for imminent execution, resigned herself to her fate – an unbearable life yoked to the third son of an earl. Tentatively, almost timidly, Ursula  revealed her own change of fortune (stunned disbelief even now tingeing its telling) concerning Lt Bracegirdle’s unexpected proposal of marriage. Dutifully offering congratulations, not surprised in the least, Clare admitted her suspicions considering the attention he’d been paying her this past while – to be honest, the attention he’d been paying her   in one way or another virtually since their arrival confiding Pelu himself had reportedly been overheard discussing such matters with his first officer gladly approving, letting it be known “the girl ought to feel privileged at the prospect of such a union with perhaps one of the most upright men in His Majesty’s navy”. Unsure whether to offer sympathy or  admit envy, Clare left it at that, dimming the lanterns before seeking the sweet escape of sleep. Left to her own thoughts, ursula lay in silence, the Indi’s gentle rocking soothing her harried mind till she also found peace within slumber’s realm.  

Chapter 13

 Several days following  the receipt of Ursula’s unexpected proposal of marriage (Clare remaining undecided as to whether she could in actual fact accept Kennedy’s offer) both women’s spirits lifted markedly upon the news Indefatigable  would be stopping over in Gibraltar for much needed shore-leave and revictualling..  With unwelcome haste, however, Ursula’s buoyant heart  grew heavy. Landfall carried with it  final confirmation  this exile within Regency times (her  engagement ineffective in lessening the blow) was indeed permanent and utterly irreversible. Additionally, having gradually grown accustomed to life aboard ship, finding such offered safety, security and yes, even comfort, the thought of exposure to  early nineteenth century society proved completely overwhelming. With no exception other than the Indi’s captain and senior officers, ,   the scientist found herself forced into    the necessity  of fabricating  a new identity for all intents and purposes upon participation within virtually every level of public and private life   if she were to survive.  In reality however, every fibre of her being yearned to  spill forth  the truths she knew;  their wholesale suppression most definitely a point of some vexation.  

Leaden skies greeted Indefatigable as she made her way into Gibraltar harbour, the city’s  outline rendered drab and grey   beneath a veil  of steady, unceasing rain. Claire and Kennedy having gone ahead with a number of the indi’s junior officers and crew, Ursula  remained aboard for the moment whilst Pelu and Bracegirdle saw to last minute details  prior to going ashore themselves. Assisted into the jollyboat by her fiancé,  the scientist briefly cast her mind back to previous memories of time spent in such a craft – an obvious mistake as this simply served   to  reinforce the finality of her unalterable circumstances . Shuddering  with recollection  beneath the wet-weather gear wrapped about    her diminutive form, she huddled more deeply into its confines, cowering from both mounting  apprehension and the incessant downpour. Noticing  his beloved’s discomfort, Bracegirdle tenderly drew her close.  Offering words of gentle reassurance  he reminded her there would be nothing to fear, that he would take care of her and see that no harm would befall her.. Resting her head against the first lieutenant’s shoulder, Ursula  mused upon the sea of difference between she and Clarissa concerning matters of the heart. Clare would have been repelled  by the mere thought someone – a  member of the opposite sex no less – deemed it  their highest moral responsibility to act as her protector. Ursula, in sharp contrast, regardless of the fact she too had been raised in the  ‘age of equality’, openly accepted  such protection – seeing no shame in doing so. Though outwardly troubled by her friend’s ready  acquiescence  to their new and to her,  grating gender roles,  Claire could not help but secretly admit the obvious; that Bracegirdle, though  a  man of his times through and through, showed absolutely no qualms over accepting Ursula’s intellect and strength of Character – his care a source of healing and profound comfort to the scientist being the one remedy capable of soothing her tormented soul, indeed binding up her broken heart as could never have happened in her own time.  clarissa Could not easily understand  the apparent paradox that was Bracie – a man witness to years of unspeakable carnage wrought by war – himself having taken lives balanced against a profound understanding of the human condition and compassion which by rights ought not to have existed in one who had seen battle as had he. Additionally, he shot to pieces  any pre-conceived notions Clarissa possessed concerning the manner in which officers of his  era treated those under their command; showing respect for all aboard ship whilst amply fulfilling the responsibilities of his station. Yes, he remained uncompromising as to the expectations he had of those under his authority, but these qualities made him a leader, not a tyrant (having seen all too frequently the grim results of their example upon men – being left on more than one occasion to repair the aftermath during over twenty years of service in his majesty’s Britannic navy. To her Chagrin, Clare  found herself reluctantly admiring Pelu’s first officer, just a little envious over her friend’s good fortune.

Having reached their destination, Captain pelu, his first lieutenant and company set foot on not-so-dry land for the first time in several months; welcoming with anticipation the luxuries their leave would afford. Ursula,  feeling the effects of this cool damp weather (not a little waterlogged; the rain managing to work its way beneath her protective wear through any opening it could discover) , pressed close to Bracegirdle’s side in a desperate effort to find warmth. Peering through rain spattered spectacles, she managed a smile as introductions were quickly made with those awaiting their arrival prior to the group’s hasty departure to ‘The Crown’ in search of shelter and relief from the elements. Despite her own concerns,  she could not help but notice Hornblower’s  all too apparent unease around the lady introduced as his wife, Mariah (Horatio, following delivery of the prize,  having himself taken leave upon the island, his family   having lodged for the previous weeks in this new and additional residence thereupon,). Sighting Clarissa with Kennedy in toe, Ursula dared wink slyly  in the direction of her friend, wondering if the sailing master would in fact retain the good manners not to throttle him there and then before all assembled ( her thin veneer of civility  obvious to anyone paying attention, plain as the cold currently rendering the scientist’s toes numb  in their boots).

Soon enough the party made  its way the short distance to the inn. To her genuine surprise, Ursula could not help but be impressed by the city’s unexpected level of cleanliness and general good repair  pre-supposing its standards perhaps to be more in keeping with modern Cairo, Deli or  Manila,  relieved by indications to the contrary. Struck by the aroma of countless  wood and coal fires (mindful such constituted the sole  source of fuel for heating and cooking alike, Ursula’s  anxiety lessened its grip. Entering, the proprietor, a jolly man amiably bade them welcome suggesting they may like to take a seat by the hearth, several logs well alight within. Offering to take the ladies’ cloaks, a note of puzzlement crossed his features upon being politely declined. Nonetheless unperturbed, no time was wasted in taking their orders, Ursula eagerly awaiting her first truly decent meal in   many weeks (with all due respects to Doughty’s talents).  Having Received a much appreciated pot of tea (choosing to presently forgo anything stronger) her face visibly shone with delight when presented with a lovely dish of beef pie and potato noting to herself it would definitely be free of the myriad of  chemicals and pesticide residues all too prominent in the food of her own time – no genetic modification or cancer-causing preservatives here – come to think of it, a choosy  connoisseur of   her generation’s slow food movement would be in their element! Eyes twinkling in the firelight, she made no secret of her enjoyment, pleasantly relieved to have detected no hint of  taint in one single bite of this delectable fare. Everyone in good spirits, Pelu took it upon himself to introduce his guests, several unfamiliar folk having joined them at table; Bracegirdle’s son (a young man of eighteen recently commissioned in his own right – the very portrait of his father in his younger years) and Bush’s eldest sister respectively.  Intrigued  with the incredible tale of good fortune   which constituted the women’s rescue at sea, all listened enraptured, not a little shocked if truth be known concerning  the fairer sex brazenly engaging in such follies (little aware an experimental hot-air balloon flight paled into insignificance compared with the true scale of their adventure). Though initially critical of Ursula especially as mastermind of this ill-fated voyage,  Mariah soon found herself warming towards the scientist upon learning of her recent loss, supposing  such to be the cause of  this rather unsettling indulgence in the form of their mission – a most unsuitable  endeavour for two ladies who ought to have known better. For her part, upon learning Mariah continued to teach two mornings a week (leaving her young son in the care of her mother  also resident on Gibraltar), Ursula offered to speak in class over the coming days upon mathematics and astronomy;  a kindness eagerly accepted by Mrs. Hornblower.  From then on both women became engrossed in conversation, sharing ideas and  making  appropriate plans . Horatio  upon noticing his wife for once did not seem lonely or out of place (as was so often the case  whilst attending such gatherings) actually allowed himself the luxury of relaxing just a little, easily slipping into conversation with Bracie’s son Julian, offering sincere congratulations with regards to  this fellow’s recent  promotion to lieutenant recounting his own nerve-wracking experience upon   subjecting himself to that same ordeal.

Some hours later, accommodation arrangements  now confirmed for both travelers , the party broke up as the press of life ashore called. Glad for the feminine company, Mariah happily  extended all hospitality to Ursula, Bush’s sister  offering likewise to Claire. Prior to stepping out into the street, the first lieutenant discretely  drew Hornblower and his wife aside, expressly informing them all Ursula’s needs would be gladly met out of his own purse, admittedly to their uncharacteristic open relief. Following the couple the short distance to their home, a simple  yet pretty villa only a few blocks back from The Crown, Ursula was shown inside, visibly touched by the kindness of  her host and hostess, humbled at their unreserved openness to share their simple dwelling. After being given a tour of the home, Ursula retired to her room, Mariah making arrangements for a much welcome bath to be drawn (Hornblower’s fortunes  during preceding months allowing the hiring of a housekeeper; an invaluable help indeed). A quiet knock upon her door announced all was ready as Helen (the  woman whose services had been recently acquired) brought in the  tub and associated paraphernalia, her nervousness set at ease upon Ursula’s quiet politeness – a pleasant change from the treatment dealt out routinely by Horatio’s mother-in-law, she introduced herself; adding if there was anything  Ursula wanted, all she  need do was ask.

Luxuriating in the warm waters, a good hour must have passed unnoticed before another knock quietly sounded. Rising from her bath, wrapping a towel about her,  she requested they enter. To her pleasant surprise, Helen bustled in carrying a great pile of clothes,  exclaiming her previous attire would simply not do.  Ursula sat by the hearth, still wrapped in her towel as Helen fussed about, laying out the garments upon the bed – chemises, bloomers, stockings, petticoats, dresses modesty-pieces and wraps all present. Assuring the guest these were perfectly serviceable articles – merely no longer wanted by Mariah, Ursula felt a little less guilty concerning  any thoughts of unfairly robbing her hostess’s  own wardrobe. One item however, the  all but essential corset worn during this era, was notably absent – Ursula’s slight frame not necessitating  its wear in this instance; stays being most definitely a custom-fitted affair. Giving her a few minutes to dress, Helen offered to return that Ursula’s flowing hair may be arranged a little more appropriately, to which she agreed. Impressed with the selection, the twenty-first century scientist    step by step found herself replaced  by a magnificent Regency princess. Experiencing little difficulty in donning the multitude of small clothes; only stumped by an inability to reach the myriad of tiny buttons fastening her gown in the rear, Ursula was spellbound at her new appearance visible in the corner mirror. The sensation of silk and finest cotton against her – not one thread of synthetic in sight proved wonderful indeed. Crafted from a most delicate pink muslin, edged with tiny fucia flowers    its borders similarly tinted,  this new dress, though a little large, not to mention not being quite complimentary of her complexion was nonetheless absolutely beautiful. Upon returning, Helen  let out an excited gasp of approval, her tender face aglow with genuine happiness  at the sight of her guest’s improved  appearance. Twenty minutes later, chestnut braids and cascading curls elegantly  falling about  Ursula’s face ,   one final concession to modernity remained; that of a pair of rather plain black boots that would simply have to do until more suitable footwear became available. At last deemed acceptable to be seen in polite company,  Ursula, filled with humility, presented herself before the lady of the house offering  sincere thanks to Mariah for her wonderful generosity, Hornblower’s wife adding it was the least she could do for one finding   themselves in such unfortunate circumstances. With the arrival of late afternoon so came the arrival of a gentleman caller. Admittedly having well and truly missed  the proper time, he was nonetheless readily accepted – ushered into the small parlour without Ursula gaining even a glimpse. Bustling about preparing refreshments, these now being ready, Mariah accompanied her guest into the little sitting room whereupon Ursula’s jaw dropped at the sight    that met her.  Seated by the fire, attired in his best shore-going uniform (nothing short of spectacular in  her opinion)a mischievous twinkle in his eye, Lieutenant Bracegirdle rose to greet  both hostess and traveller, completely taken with his fiancé’s   truly    brilliant transformation.  Having seen to their needs, , Mariah tactfully excused herself, adding if they  required  anything, she would be nearby. Beholding his love, gazing adoringly  upon her, he complimented her  on possessing such  wondrous beauty before enfolding her in his arms, stealing a passionate kiss – Ursula certain she would surely swoon there and then,  her heart  brimming with emotion. Gathering himself, Bracie (his hands resting gently upon her shoulders) made no secret of his feelings, admitting happiness such as this he’d all but banished any hopes of ever finding again. Continuing, he exclaimed only God in heaven could have answered his grief-stricken prayers in the form of the    treasure now standing there, radiant and lovely, impossibly falling to Earth in his path, as it were.. Taking a seat once more, from an inner coat pocket   he produced a tiny ornate lacquered box, presenting it to his angel, bidding her open it. Ursula, blushing with embarrassment at receiving something so beautiful in and of itself obliged, its contents eliciting a sharp intake of breath as, safe within its velvet confines, a most delicate band of gold  sporting thre glittering diamonds clear and bright shone up at her. Lost for words, tears of joy   coursing down her cheeks, a breathless “thank you” was all she could muster. Offering the beautiful ring to her fiancé, Ursula silently asked that special question, the request clearly written upon her countenance as the first lieutenant obliged, gently taking her left hand within his, adorning her ring finger with the seal of their betrothal. Tears threatening to well up within his own eyes of blue, Antony Bracegirdle once more held his love close, another kiss interrupted only by a  quiet knock on the door. Quickly  collecting themselves, Mariah shortly entered; the couple’s  affection for one another clearly visible within their expressions, bringing a smile to Mrs. Hornblower’s own face. Taking a seat with them,  offering seconds to her guests before pouring out a cup of tea for herself, she could not help but notice Ursula’s new accessory, noting the first Lieutenant must have been busy indeed since lunchtime. Smiling warmly, with profound happiness he announced their recent  engagement whilst still at sea – this revelation bringing about not a little shock to Mariah. Nonetheless, knowing Bracegirdle’s impeccable principles ,  this news was not too troubling. The little group had not been assembled five minutes when who should come through the front door  but Horatio, greeting his wife and paying respects to their   visitors before announcing their invitation to dinner that evening with Captain Pelu and company. Upon quietly informing her husband his mother in law would most definitely not be  thrilled by the prospects of looking after her grandson for the evening whilst  they gallivanted around, she nonetheless accepted, resolving to sort out any ensuing fallout if and when it  occurred. Wishing to intrude no further, Bracie politely took his leave not before adding  the pleasure of Ursula’s company would be most welcome also, providing an excellent opportunity for  their new change of circumstances to be officially made public.

Wishing to afford the couple a little privacy, Ursula retired to her room to read prior to the evening’s engagement.  Barely ten pages into the book, she could not help  but notice raised voices down the hall just low enough for any actual words to remain masked. Mariah, it would seem, had found herself caught in a rather robust argument with another woman, nagging and shrill of tone soon identified as Mrs. Hornblower’s mother. Engrossing herself a little  more deeply in the volume currently being read, this  somewhat unsettling altercation soon became masked.. With nightfall came another knock at her door as Helen entered (relieved for a brief moment of respite tending to  the scientist) carrying yet more articles of apparel. Readying the guest for her upcoming engagement, the maid touched up Ursula’s coiffure to her satisfaction before starting on her nails, trimming and filing them into delicate neatness. Having finished this, she gestured towards a couple of bonnets enquiring as to which the guest would prefer. Unable to choose between them, Helen settled upon one in deep burgundy, its matching cape more suited to Ursula’s stature. Equipped with gloves and reticule,   she accompanied Ursula back to the parlour    to await the others whereupon Mariah’s mother wasted no time in making her acquaintance – her guest not blind to any airs of supposed politeness, well aware of any true sentiments lying beneath the proffered welcome. .

In due time, Mr. and Mrs. Hornblower joined Ursula, Horatio attired in his best uniform, Mariah  in a gown of soft grey with bonnet and cape  of matching charcoal. Offering their good-byes, the little group stepped into the damp evening air, a soft drizzle having replaced the steady  rain of some hours previous, walking the ten or so minute’s distance to captain Pelu’s Gibraltar residence and the night ahead.

 

             

Chapter 14

The evening’s entertainment well underway, guests and hosts alike mingling freely over pre-dinner drinks, Ursula quietly took in her surroundings; the trappings of a highly successful career as captain  of His Majesty’s Britannic navy not  completely lost upon her. No sooner had the Hornblower party entered than were they welcomed by Captain Pelu, eagerly drawing them into the assembled group’s merriment. Formal introductions made, Ursula lost no time in seeking out Claire,  currently in the company of Kennedy, Hornblower and Bush, attired in a gown of  apricot cotton not dissimilar to her own. Presently excusing herself from Lt Bracegirdle, Ursula wandered over; the sailing master’s black expression clearly evident.  Enticing her friend away  from the three officers she couldn’t help but smile; whispering  conspiratorially into her waiting ear.

“Come away with me, my pretty”!

“That’s not funny Ursula!” “I  don’t think I can stand  one more moment stuck in this time!” “Everything about it is infuriating. Yes, I know everyone’s trying to help and being awfully polite but, It’s completely unbearable, and if being marooned here wasn’t   horrible enough, Kennedy has not let up  all afternoon virtually demanding an answer”. If he’s still breathing at the end of the night, It’ll be a miracle!”

“…and I suppose it’ll be my job to   spring you from prison prior to your upcoming date with the gallows after you’ve been found guilty of murder”.

“They could always transport me”.

“Then what will I do?...hijack a ship of the line and  orchestrate your jail-break on the open ocean?” I can see that lot over there really rallying behind me on that one”.

Ursula’s dark smile coupled with a somewhat futile attempt to lift Clare’s spirits fell completely flat.
Clarissa continued;

“Anyway, when was the last time you saw me in a dress –Femininity doesn’t exactly rank as one of my strong points”.

“You’ll not wish to hear this but, honestly, it does suit you”.

“How can you even be so light hearted?”  “It’s all right for you; you can still practice your profession – still carve out some type of life for yourself. Sure, it’s nothing compared to the possibilities you enjoyed back home but it is still something”. “I can’t even set foot on deck even as ship’s cook let alone sailing master – I’ve lost everything Ursula, absolutely everything!”

Conceding her point,  any reply would merely have  further inflamed Clarissa’s frustration. The two women now quite apart from the others, Clare, desperately miserable made no pretence of holding back. Noticing Ursula’s latest acquisition , she let fly.

“Nice ring.”, “I can see that fiancé of yours hasn’t wasted any time claiming his pries”.

“That’s uncalled for.”, “Antony’s a good man; you’re  perfectly  aware of his character”.

“But are you?” “Two months at sea isn’t  all that long, you know”.

“and three months on land was?”

“Tony is no comparison; he shared your vision, , he drove your dream!” “Come to think of it, if it weren’t for him, I’d still be aboard ship somewhere off the coast of England living  my dream – and being respected for it what’s more”.

“Are you suggesting Antony  does not respect me?”

“how can he? After all, if you do go ahead and marry him, everything yours, , even you yourself become his under law!” “how could you possibly  accede to that, regardless of what he’s like” “it’s nothing more than treachery against a century of what  we as women have fought for”.

“Oh come on Clare!” “Look at Pelu’s wife, Bush’s sister or even Mariah for heavens sake, they don’t seem repressed or hard done by for that matter”.

“how can you sell out so quickly?” “ I can see living a lie for the rest of your life doesn’t trouble you, does it”.

“You’ve overstepped the mark on that one”. “There is nothing  either of us can do in order our situation may be overturned; nothing.” “Also, though you’ll probably find this difficult to accept, I can’t help but love him”.  “If  more men were as he, the world would be a better place, let me tell you”.

At this point, clare appeared as if she were about ready to explode. Tears threatening to burst forth, the sheer emotional  toll wrought by her unearthly experience over the past  six weeks     proved uncontrollable.

Keenly aware of her imminent distress, Ursula discretely guided her friend out the door leading into a long hallway out of sight. Discovering one of the many doors  along this corridor in fact  opened into a small sitting room (unoccupied), its lighting muted and hearth softly aglow, the scientist gently helped her friend, now weeping, to a seat by the fire. Clarissa, crushed with grief, allowed  Ursula gently to  sit her down whilst  kneeling close beside; offering what comfort she could as Clare finally let go. Ever so slowly her sobs subsided as this terrible pain found escape, leaving  her weary, shivering ever so slightly. Turning briefly that the  coals may be tended,  Ursula once more turned to face the exhausted woman, taking both Clare’s hands in hers, repeating a promise made not so long ago, that she would, no matter how this whole thing played out, truly do all within her power to see things right, wearing the responsibility for their current circumstances.  Finally  relieved of  this  terrible burden, Clare mustered enough strength for a weak yet genuine smile; the first  to brighten her  features since their rescue

Eventually rejoining the others, Kennedy spared no time hurrying to Clare’s side, visibly concerned over her absence, his fussing merely raising her ire once again. Seeing where this was leading, Ursula caught his eye, casting an expression his way  silently indicating he might  do well to stand  down just a little, duly heeded. Taking their leave, returning to Bracie’s side, any questions were quieted with a simple “later” prior to the announcement dinner   would shortly be served.

From here on in, the night improved markedly for Clare, seated between Ursula and Mariah, her friend offering quiet encouragement when it all seemed too much. The fine meal drawing to its conclusion, Lt. Bracegirdle  finding the perfect opportunity, formally announced   their engagement, Ursula beaming radiantly despite a few unsettled murmurings from clarissa (intended solely for the scientist’s ears)).  Following a toast to the  happy couple’s good fortune, Captain pelu’s wife suggested everyone  may wish to repair to the drawing room for a little musical entertainment,  forgoing the usual separation of men and women at this point, to which all concerned (Hornblower notwithstanding) heartily agreed.

Barely able to contain her excitement (helped along by perhaps  a little more indulgence than advisable – Pelu’s wine  selection proving irresistible), Ursula eagerly awaited the opportunity to participate, her overactive imagination coupled with a truly twenty-first century eclectic musical ability cooking up all sorts of ideas. Her fiancé, perfectly aware of her  likely train of thought – remembering all too plainly Ursula’s recent  and somewhat inappropriate performance of ‘John Henry’ aboard ship not five days ago, quietly counseled her upon the merits of restraint;  emphasizing this time simply did not  accept such excesses, especially from a lady. Confidently assuring Bracie she would behave herself, they found a place near the impromptu performance space – a dozen  or so chairs placed  about a forte piano. The scientist’s eyes  sparkling wickedly, Pelu’s first lieutenant knew his battle was already hopelessly lost – aware his angel possessed talent not merely concerning stringed instruments  such as either guitar or mandolin, but    could prove herself  equally before a keyboard. Requests put to the floor, mrs. Pelu as hostess was first up. Upon performing a few contemporary items,  excecuted beautifully, to the applause of all present, Mariah was invited to take her turn; nervously obliging. Having timidly strutted her stuff, Bush’s sister now took  centre stage. Seated  by her friend’s  other side, Clarissa, likewise high spirited, nudged Ursula from time to time , offering quiet snippets of commentary. Aware of the scientist’s  gift – witness to a performance at an ESA Christmas party a few years back well capable of putting Bob Brozman out of business,  (despite  the former’s rather traditional English background, she called for Ursula to have a go.  Surrendering to this badgering, she reluctantly took to the floor; Bracie’s expression becoming somewhat worried. After acclimatizing herself (to the instrument in front of her via means of a little Purcell, with the excitement of a child, she announced one final piece, a modest work by her reckoning. Mindful of Bracie’s deepening concern, Ursula forewent her first option in  favour of something gentle and beautiful yet intense and telling. Aware  of the instrument’s lesser range and spying a harp to one corner she requested its use, gratefully permitted. Tuning complete, strains of a soft, sad yet intense song filled the room as the classic ‘Bridge over troubled water’ rang out one hundred and sixty years before its first note had been laid to paper.  To  surprisingly rousing applause, Ursula took a bow, returning to her seat  aware that not a few members of the audience stifled tears; Lieutenant Bracegirdle just a little moist eyed following his love’s performance.     The Evening’s entertainment finally at an end,  all parties bade their respects to their wonderful hosts  taking their lieve directly, making their way homeward through the moonlit streets glittering on account of the night’s earlier rainfall.

Chapter 15

Morning over Gibraltar dawned clear and bright, the miserable weather of  the past few days having more or less blown itself out  . Ursula awoke with a start; for an instant unable to recall  in whose home she was (Indefatigable’s  gentle rocking no longer offering its familiar grounding). Barely having taken care of necessities,  Helen entered, bidding the traveler good day; happy for the pleasant diversion of fussing over  their guest ;  assisting with attire, setting  a riot of chestnut into  some semblance of order, (Ursula yet to master these new styles for herself). Finally deemed ready, Helen suggested she may wish to join the family for breakfast an offer she duly accepted. Following Helen to the rear of the house, the scientist happened upon a scene of casual family intimacy as three generations sat about a simple scrubbed table in a modest yet welcoming kitchen. Set into the far wall, a generous, serviceable hearth glowed softly, a griddle and camp oven sitting upon the coals as a pan of water  simmered atop the embers  in preparation for another pot of tea (Horatio’s coffee pot set  to the side), it’s aroma  wafting deliciously throughout the room. Having taken  a seat at table, both Helen and Mariah set about  busying themselves making last minute preparations to the morning meal; eggs, bacon , lamb kidneys; not forgetting toasted bread made fresh over the fire sparking Ursula’s appetite indeed. All in good spirits (Horatio’s mother-in-law now happy to tend to her little grandson – a marked change from last night’s sentiments) conversation turned to the matter of Ursula’s plans; she having made known her need to acquire clothing and other personal items prior to  continuing on for England. Soon enough, a list of reputable proprietors was settled upon; breakfast drawing to a close. Everyone with  rather busy schedules, The local school being in session this day, Mariah  offered sincere apologies for being unable to be of help, whilst Horatio it turned out would be away well into the night assisting Lieutenant Bracegirdle  in the coordination of Indifaticable’s re-supply.Mrs Mason  thus occupied with caring for her grandchild, it fell to Helen to accompany Ursula upon her various  engagements.

Having set out, Ursula found herself carried along by the hive of activity afoot all along the high street; pedestrians, defense personnel (both Navy and army, she noted), carriages carts and horses, the morning was alive with the business of just another typical day  within  a Regency English outpost. Sighting Clare in the crowd accompanied by Bush’s sister, she smiled and waved, attempting to attract the other’s attention; successfully as it turned out. Having greeted one another enthusiastically, to Ursula’s joy, it transpired both  women shared the first destination in common – a dress-maker by the name of Clyde. Quickly locating this business, all four women filed into the tiny reception area set up in the front room of Mrs. Clyde’s home. An older, industrious-looking woman, she was more than happy for the  sizeable commission; though not a little displeased with the speed in which this order was required. Nonetheless  agreeing, she wasted no time in ushering Ursula through a door to the side of the parlour into  the fitting suite. Her breath literally taken away,  she looked about her, agog at the chaos that  formed the heart of Mrs. Clyde’s business enterprise.  Set upon shelves reaching from floor to ceiling lay countless piles of folded cloth, from simple cotton prints to exquisite hand-woven silks embellished with pure gold thread, velvets, damasks, sturdy linens and hemps for more serviceable garments alongside exquisite satins and brocades. Baskets overflowed with all manner of accessories; lace, ribbons, fringing, buttons beads – the selection seemed endless. Beneath a generous window stood the inner heart of  operations as it were; Mrs. Clyde’s workbench all but hidden beneath several panels of fabric  in the process of becoming a stunning violet evening gown. Taken by the sheer beauty of its craftsmanship, the scientist found herself greatly admiring the seamstress; all too aware each and every stitch  was made by hand - , the first sewing machine still a good fifty years away. Perhaps the most intriguing site to catch Ursula’s eye was a smaller desk to one corner whereupon stood the mannequin of what appeared to be a woman’s torso rendered  in flexible wire – it’s shape malleable to any measurements required.  Stretched taught  over this unusual fixture sat a pair of unfinished stays – measured with mathematical precision so as to fit their wearer perfectly. To its side stood a basket filled with numerous bundles of corset supports of varying length and width, depending  on where they would be located within the garment or the stresses to be placed upon such. Far off in a world of her own, Ursula  snapped visibly from her musings at Mrs. Clyde’s request  to commence taking her client’s measurements so as to  begin work as soon as possible. A good hour later, she emerged, having provided the required information, along with choice of fabric, cut and decoration; the order standing at two dresses along with two sets of under garments and one pair of stays (thankfully an unwanted commission upon a few minor alterations fitting the bill perfectly – Ursula’s dimensions virtually identical to those of the woman who, for some reason, simply could not abide  their colour –fickly deciding  pale spearmint would simply not do at all! Arrangements having been made for  another appointment the following afternoon, Clare proceeded behind the closed doors of the fitting room; the other three finding a perfect opportunity to partake of a little window shopping, leaving a message with Mrs. Clyde’s assistant directing Clare to rondevou about noon at ‘Smith’s tea rooms’ a few doors  up the street. With the light-heartedness common to all feminine shopping expeditions regardless of time and place, the women eagerly perused all manner of wears from accessories to jewellery, from shoes to stationery and books. Noon fast approaching, ursula having made several necessary acquisitions, they entered Smith’s  wherein Clare, seated at a corner table,  beckoned them over. Somewhat out of sorts following her “ordeal”.  tea  thus having been ordered , two steaming potfuls along with sweet and savoury dainties plus the luxurious addition of a rather delicious fruit compote and cream arrived in no time, Clarissa’s spirits lifting upon partaking of this genuinely excellent fare.  Our little party  now enjoying their refreshments, discussion freely flowed with regards to their latest finds, offering numerous suggestions to Clare concerning the best bargains. Luncheon complete, the four made their way back into the street, investigating a few more retailers prior to calling it a day and returning home; our voyagers arrangeing to meet the following day prior to their appointments with Mrs. Clyde. Thus departing, ursula, accompanied by Helen, both women weighted down beneath a profusion of parcels hailed a passing cab, the coachman more than pleased with his remuneration. Struck by a  flash of inspiration, the scientist alighted outside the local one-room schoolhouse wherein Mariah plied her profession (sending Helen and  shopping on ahead). Noting  lessons were still in session, ursula caught her hostess’s eye through an open window, a smile all the invitation she needed to entre. Introducing ursula to the eager students seated at their desks,   their guest proceeded to captivate her enthrawled audience for the next hour, spiriting them away upon a marvelous voyage through  the solar system and beyond – mindful not to  unwittingly introduce as yet undiscovered heavenly bodies. Receiving hearty applause from teacher and students alike, class finally concluded for the afternoon,  the two women casually  making their way back to the villa. Upon entering, ursula excused herself, retiring to her  room for a little  while; finding  the perfect opportunity to become acquainted  with her new purchases; in particular,  an irresistible (yet sensible writing set. Cracking open the untouched journal,  she commenced  noting down her first entry, documenting the incredible events which had transpired over the past two months – upon dedicating it to print finding herself somewhat stunned by its telling to no small extent.

All too soon, ursula’s time ashore came to an end; Indefatigable finally prepared for  the run back to England, our travelers in possession  of their first Regency belongings. Waiting  down by the waterfront, the scientist attired in one of her new dresses (a soft cream cotton trimmed in chestnut velvet (matching the curls cascading from under a practical yet elegant straw bonnet – a  shawl of deep gold wrapped about her shoulders, she offered sincere thanks (plus a little gift of appreciation) to her generous hosts who had left nothing to chance in making her feel settled this past week. Mariah, Mrs. Mason,the little lad, Helen and others besides  bade their goodbyes; a basket of treats to soften the trip home happily received. Seated beside their respective consorts,  our two voyagers headed out in the jollyboat  to the waiting vessel, at once both thrilled and terrified at the future ahead.

Epilogue

Seated at her desk, late Autumn’s golden afternoon light streaming across its pages, Ursula once more found herself deep in thought, working upon another day’s journal entry. Barely six months had passed since the scientist had set foot upon her home soil for the first time since Helios’s ill fated mission. On the one hand, the accompanying loss of  virtually all she had ever known bore down with unbearable severity. On the other hand however,  she could not deny an equally profound sense of thankfulness for her life. Indeed, upon just a little more consideration, circumstances could very easily  have turned out far worse than they were.

Not a fortnight after stepping out onto an England she  could have only dreamt of, any sense of culture shock became consumed in a mad flurry of activity as a fleet of helpers from Capt. Pelu’s able wife to Mariah made preparation for Ursula Davis’s upcoming wedding day. Thankfully (and to her genuine surprise) Regency weddings on the whole were far simpler affairs than the monstrosities of the twenty first century. From experience she well understood the advantages of simplicity. The small, seaside country church booked, the services of its minister confirmed along with any attendant necessities the day grew near. Adding to the surreal nature of affairs was the news of Clarissa’s shock acceptance of Lieutenant Kennedy’s own marriage proposal. Furthermore, their own wedding date was set for the week following Ursula’s (shore leave being at a premium).  Lodging with surprised yet nonetheless kindly members of Bracie’s extended family, the big day finally dawned. Arrayed in a simple gown of cream silk, Claire agreeing upon the twelfth hour as it were to act as bridesmaid and with Captain Pelu himself giving her away, Ursula walked the walk she never imagined taking twice (not least of all virtually two centuries prior to the first). There he was, a vision of wonder arrayed in his finest dress uniform seen through tear-filled eyes, (his own countenance brimming with emotion) this  dear man to whom she would remain pledged for the remainder of her natural life. Ursula  would not for one moment  entertain the possibility a second chance for true happiness could be cruelly snatched away (nor would it be).

   That wonderful day having passed, Clarissa’s own wedding swiftly following upon its heels, Ursula settled down into the adventure of newly married life once more (glad for her husband’s extended leave whilst he decided upon an  opportunity for a command of his own having recently come to light. Settling close by, Clarissa visited often. The comradery of these two souls fast  grew into a deep and abiding friendship. To the scientist’s  genuine surprise what had commenced merely as a marriage of convenience between Clare and Lt. Kennedy unexpectedly blossomed into a deeply romantic relationship. The flower of love served to soften the blow of displacement for Clarissa, imparting a glow and lightness of spirit as yet unseen in the former sailing master (a venture into the sphere of writing being most appropriate for her for the time being).

Her new life having become more manageable, Ursula made tentative enquiry into the scientific circles of her day finding unexpected acceptance and warmth of kindred she honestly never thought would be captured this side of the mission. As it turned out, the secure transport of Helios itself was no mean feet; Capt. Pelu calling in many a favour to secure this most sensitive of exercises. Safely stowed within a small building erected for  this very purpose upon the Bracegirdle’s’ land, many an afternoon would find its loving owner tinkering and maintaining her one connection to the world of twenty-first century Earth. Limiting her use of its systems (upkeepable due to their solar technology) to a minimum, Helios became a quiet shrine to  her life of the future (or was that the past?). Ursula understood a day would come when some critical system would fail – irreparable during this era (despite any promising research Volta may or may not have been undertaking).  Reviving her profession’s manual skills, soon after a most fortuitous week spent in the company of none other than Hershel, Somerville, Rugierri and  Volta himself, Ursula Bracegirdle thought it high time she  turned her hand to something ‘creative’ as she put it. Upon receiving letters    of commitment from the abovementioned individuals, following a lengthy discussion with her husband, in light of the state of play in France Admiralty were approached with a ‘grand plan’ as she called it. Their desire for supremacy (not to mention the illustrious names accompanying  these so-called schemes) overrode any misgivings held on account of the fact their want-to-be  technical advisor was a woman. When addressing skeptical audiences, it was agreed Bracie would act as front man thus rendering any outlandish innovations more acceptable. Dr Ursula, it would appear, was back. Any possibility of Bracie accepting command of the Grasshopper evaporated. It seemed  a mere dream would soon become possible for Clarissa also. One aspect of Mrs. Bracegirdle’s work entailed the creation of a cutting edge proto-type vessel lighter, stronger and faster than anything currently on the water. A new ship would require crew including a sailing master. Clarissa took all of a few seconds to nail her colours to the mast (Kennedy also earning a lieutenant’s commission in the process). Concurrently, early work upon an experimental  submercible  craft sure to push the very limits of men, materials and mathematics was  underway.

 

To be Continued…