Ciaran was a terrible swimmer.
To be fair, the Saa weren’t really designed for swimming – large bodies of water were rare on the planet where their species had evolved, and while colonization of more watery worlds had forced them to learn how to make themselves neutrally buoyant, it was a real chore.
Ciaran’s efforts were at least made easier by the fact that he wasn’t fully-grown; older dragons were denser, and thus harder to keep afloat. Even so, he had to breathe almost every ten seconds, to make sure he maintained enough air in his mighty lungs to keep himself from sinking straight to the bottom of Francois Bay.
And it was a very deep bay.
Of course, the depth made it all the more important that neither U-552 nor Sackville sank, so Ciaran put up with his dislike of being submerged for the sake of both craft. Being wet for a worthy cause was hardly the worst fate someone had suffered on this stretch of coast in the past twenty-four hours.
“We’re ready, Mister Ciaran,” Captain Jim Reddy was on the bridge wing of the Canadian corvette, looking over the rail at the veritable sea monster who was floating grumpily alongside his ship.
From nose to the tip of his tail, Ciaran was nearly as long as Sackville – he was over three years old now, after all – so it was rather dramatic when he rolled onto his side in the water and held up his hand in acknowledgement. If ever the Royal Canadian Navy had to fight the Kraken of legend, the young dragon would be a welcome addition to the battle line.
For now, though, he was being asked to serve as a sort of mobile dry dock.
“Alright then,” Ciaran’s collar bubbled and hissed with the reply. The silver band around his neck was officially waterproof, but he got the distinct impression it was going to need a good sanitization after he dried off. The alloy it was forged from technically wasn’t supposed to be vulnerable to salt water… but he’d gathered that, in Newfoundland, anything could rust.
Before he worried about his translator, though, other metals needed to be looked after. Turning his head away from Sackville, Ciaran started waving his tail back and forth in long ‘s’ patterns to push himself towards one of the steep sides of Francois Bay. Because the bay was in fact a glacier-cut fjord, the granite walls were very steep, but it hadn’t taken the young dragon long to find one spot where a narrow ledge gave him a handhold.
“Ahead slow,” Reddy passed the order down to his wheelhouse, and in a few seconds, Sackville was following the dragon – not that it had to go far. Just a hundred yards later, the skipper called off the speed, and let his corvette coast until Ciaran reached up and caught its bow.
Sackville was a sturdily-built patrol craft patterned after a whaler, so unlike his handling of the fragile-seeming submarine, the young dragon felt he could get a good grip on the Canadian vessel’s keel. Very carefully, he pulled the ship closer to him, then positioned it so that it was parallel to the sheer rockface. The men on deck watching him do this seemed very young, so as they gaped at him, Ciaran paused to wink reassuringly.
Well, he thought it was reassuring… they were sixteen though, so perhaps they should have been reassuring him? But he was a dragon… who knew what all that really meant?
Much more importantly, he gripped the ledge he’d chosen, placed his free hand under Sackville’s keel, then looked straight at Reddy on the bridge wing, “Let me know when.”
The Captain nodded, then spent a moment confirming his crew was in position. The repair team waiting in the fo’c’sle was most important: a dozen men had assembled, controlling two ropes tied to a board that would serve as a seat when it was dangled over the port bow. Also ready was a man with a welding mask on his head and a rope around his waist, plus a welder and a large steel plate that were each tied to separate lines.
It wasn’t a dry dock, but this wasn’t the Royal Navy. Canadian sailors – even (or especially) victorious ones – knew how to make do.
When the Buffer waved up to the bridge confirming all was prepared, Reddy turned his gaze back to Sackville’s new wet friend, “Whenever suits you, Mister Ciaran.”
“Let’s get this done fast, Captain,” the young dragon wasn’t quite as charming when he was wet, but he tested his grip ofSackville’s keel – careful not to squeeze hard, or extend his claws – and lifted.
Because the crewmen of the Canadian ship were used to being at sea, the sudden pitch the deck assumed wasn’t too shocking… though it was disconcerting when the ship lifted partway out of the water, just as it had the day prior when it ran up on the U-boat. Nevertheless, as the bow rose far enough from the sea, the welding man climbed onto the makeshift wooden seat, and a dozen hands began to lower him over the side.
Sackville had survived the ramming of the submarine surprisingly well, but there was one gash in her hull that warranted attention before she made her way back to St. John’s. Instead of sealing off the compartment, or trying a patch-job from within, Ciaran had offered his services, and Reddy couldn’t turn down the unusual opportunity to right his ship. Even if only for the story – to be able to say that Sackville had partnered with a Saa dragon for repairs – it’d be worthwhile.
But as Ciaran hung onto cliff and ship, and felt his tail and legs sink down into the dark depths of the bay, he had to admit he was second-guessing the wisdom of his idea.
“Not really enjoying the water, are you?” Reddy asked after a couple of minutes, when the welding commenced.
Ciaran looked to the Captain with narrow eyes, and his collar gargled: “What gives you that idea?”
“I’m pretty well-versed in sea monsters,” the Captain replied. “But I also know how disgruntled a puppy looks if you drop him in the bath.”
“I’m not as adorable as a puppy,” the young dragon countered, and Reddy smiled.
“But you’re much more adorable than the average sea monster.”
“I didn’t think you actually had those,” Ciaran rotated his head slightly.
Reddy shrugged, “Of course we don’t. But if you feel any tentacles wrapping around your ankles, just don’t drop my ship too fast, please. She’s had a rough twenty-four hours.”
Ciaran found the Captain’s sense of humor commendable, but also entirely unfunny: “That’s not funny. I hate tentacles. Have you ever seen a SShsshhsshhshhnansnnnsthe?”
When his collar failed to translate the word, Reddy’s eyebrow climbed, “I have not.”
“Be glad,” Ciaran didn’t notice the translation failure. “They are terrible dancers, and very clingy.”
Deciding his past twenty-four hours had been eventful enough without a lesson in other extraterrestrial beings, Reddy chose not to ask for clarification, or details. Fortunately, an interruption arrived by dory at just that moment.
“I tried to stand in the prow, but apparently I’m not meant to be George Washington.”
Soon-to-be Colonel Horrocks was sitting in the bow of a dory which was being rowed towards Ciaran by a few of the Newfoundlanders from his assault company. As they laid on their oars and the boat drifted gently towards the young dragon’s shoulder, the Briton looked from the soggy Saa to Sackville, “Keeping the navy afloat, I see?”
The friendly inter-service barb was meant for Reddy, and the Captain was more than capable of defending the honor of his service: “He is, Major. Unlike our friends in the army, we’re not full of enough hot air to remain buoyant when full of drink.”
Horrocks grinned, “A shortcoming I will gladly teach you to address, Captain, should we have a drink upon our return to Jimmystown. If you can find your way back without hitting anything.”
“We only hit what we’re aiming for, Major,” Reddy retorted, and the men on Sackville’s deck cheered. Horrocks was in a boat, so he knew better than to contest any further… until he got back onto dry land… so instead he bowed his head.
“So I’ve seen. Might I speak with your alien dry dock, then?”
Reddy’s smile grew at the navy victory, “By all means.”
Ciaran’s eyes were darting from ship to dory and back during the exchange, and before Horrocks could even address him, the young dragon proved his grumpiness: “Okay, two points. One: I’m right here so asking permission to talk to me is dumb. Two: your inter-service rivalry is cute, because we all know that dragons are the best. Even when wet.”
Right. Perhaps that was a good compromise to end on, and with glances at each other, Horrocks and Reddy seemed to agree that their duel was done.
Looking back to his Scourge-slaying partner, the British soon-to-be-Colonel therefore smiled, “I wouldn’t argue, old chap. First class! Now, I must take a party aboard the U-boat to see whether, in their haste, our American friends failed to bring back anything of import. Is it likely to sink while we’re aboard?”
Ciaran had given the submarine a cursory once-over, looking for any sign of bubbles bleeding from its hull, but hadn’t spotted anything dramatic.
“Don’t think so,” he answered. “But if it does, I guess I’ll be keeping the army afloat too?”
“Ha, indeed!” Horrocks laughed sportingly, then shifted his gaze back to Reddy. “Any advice for a soldier boarding a submarine, Captain?”
Reddy frowned thoughtfully, “Duck. And watch out for scuttling charges. If they tripped one and it’s on a slow timer…”
Horrocks raised an eyebrow, then glanced back to the young dragon, “How many lives did I use up on the new world, again?”
“It’s more fun if you don’t keep count,” Ciaran replied. “Good luck.”
With a nervous laugh, Major Brian Horrocks called for his oarsmen to turn his dory back towards the U-boat. Perhaps they’d find something interesting.