The petty officers sat in a huddle in the back of the bar, and I managed to slide into an end chair before of them noticed me, and then noticed who it was. Luckily for all of us I managed to keep them from saluting....
I clustered up, and told them my plan. They had only been leaving a single automaton on the pier after 10 PM, and the alert crews only left one or two men back on board the active watch ships. Each petty officer would lead a section to storm the alert boats simultaneously originating from a different direction. 4 ships, 6 teams. The "Charger", one of the Kotetsus I bought right before the occupation was moored in back, next to the "Stonewall" a Lavanco we traded a rum smuggler a load of machine parts for. The "Tarheel", my Cuthbert ram was next, and a Vanguard that was being used as a harbor boat was at the end of the slip. If we were lucky, the Vanguard would be ready to sail which would allow us to sail her out of the way and hopefully get the rest of the ships moving. If we were really lucky, more than one of them would be under power, and that would let us tow the rest out. Or they could all be cold, or gone. We agreed on the recognition signal (blue rocket followed by a blue light) and that I wanted the guns double-shotted with canister (since I wanted to discourage followers from on-shore). They all looked at each other, comparing notes, asking about hatch combings, doodling on the counter working out figures for gun crews...
"Boys, this is going to be dangerous, and not without some degree of personal risk to you should we fail." I looked at each of them in the eyes as I went around the table, and while I didn't know all of them by name, I knew their faces, and the looks they returned to me made me feel a bit more confident. I picked up a glass, and raised it. "Gentlemen, to you. Fortune favors the bold." I put the glass to my lips, and before I could drink, Tommy Malone, the gun-captain of my #1 guncrew reached over and touched my arm. Tommy was a ruddy faced little Irishman who was possibly the best shot in the fleet. He was another one of those sailors who managed to keep showing up on my roster, commission after commission.
"Lads, to the Rock!" He lifted the glass towards me, and the assembled knot of men responded in kind. I wanted to tell him to stop it, or tell him that was a long time ago, when I was a green Lieutenant Commander with something to prove. I drank my drink, nodded to the boys and headed to my place at the docks.
The park benches at Navy Pier were comfortable, and offered a clear view of the port. I sat down and took a long hard look at the docks, and was slightly surprised at what I found there. The Vanguard was gone, and the other three were preparing to get underway. The only thing that would save us would be if the alert crew had not arrived and only the engineer and stokers were aboard. A group of men in Obolensky's naval uniform walked across to the "Tarheel", and boarded. I could only hope now that the second division would be lucky enough to get to cover or scatter before the cannons opened up. She pulled away, sliding into the darkness when I saw the star and the light. One away, 2 to go. The division slated to take the "Stonewall" crossed the pier from the Arcade, and I could see something being tossed onto the pier as she lept forward into motion. Two away, one to go. A line of men ran out from near Loner Lane, and even in the dimness of the street, I could see the braid on the cuff of the leader. Palmer's division. My men. They should have been on the "Tarheel", and I figured at that moment that I would be curious to inquire once we were underway and not while we were still in town. They swept onto the ship, and for one long moment, all I could hear was the sounds of the town. Then two things became very obvious--that the Smashington at the opposite end of the pier was finally curious as to what was afoot, and the last two divisions would be needing a ride. I kicked out of my skirt to expose my boots and breeches, pulled the holster belt out of my handbag and headed to the pier at a run. I had to stop the "Charger" or I would not be able to carry the remaining men on the gunboat I had hidden in the canals. I crossed the last stack of crates onto the pier proper as the last two groups of sailors emerged from their hiding places and swarmed around me. Once again, luck smiled on our venture, as out of the shadows came the missing Vanguard. I quickly gestured for the men to hide where they were. This would again be another gamble, but I felt as if it would work...
The coxswain of the Vanguard shouted from out of the turret hatch "Ahoy the pier! What's afoot? Where is the fleet?"
He continued on his arc from the Vernian, drawing closer to the end of the pier....I could only hope he wouldn't recognize me in the light of the streetlamp.
"The port's under attack! We need help!"
At this every hatch flew open and most of the crew bounded out onto the deck, agitated but quite unarmed. The Vanguard touched the bumpers of the dock, and there was only one thing left to do. I drew my Colt, screamed "Boarders away!" and leapt onto the deck. The sailors followed, and within a few minutes were able to secure the little ironclad. I sent part of the remaining men to the "Charger" and sent both of them on their way. I crossed back over to Abney Parkway, and made my dash for the canals and the security of the patrol boat. I swept out onto the Vernian at speed, and saw the lights and heard the sirens. We were away, and at least now we could fight on our feet.
I signaled Officer's Call at dawn to assess what we should do next. Since Obolensky had taken the town government, we were technically outlaws by the strict letter of the law. Exiles, with no home. I laughed, so long and so hard that some of the boys got worried. There was only one place for the New Babbage Exiles Fleet to go.
(this should have been done a while ago, but I was stuck with a dose of real life. More follows, so read 'em in sequence)