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THE REPUBLIC OF ARGENTINA




OSORNO, CHILE

"Right then, off we go." Lieutenant Fernando Niembro called out, tapping his driver on the shoulder to set the half-track lurching forward down a lane turned to mud by a recently arrived summer monsoon. Behind him, half hidden by the unexpected downpour, he could make out the shapes of the limbers as they revved their engines and began to drag the 5.5 inch guns from their positions and toward the road.

Ahead of the halftrack a small recce car, its back marked with a bright orange square so they would not lose it in the rain, struggled to navigate the mud. He could make out two miserable helmeted heads hunched over behind the pathetic excuse for a windscreen and suddenly found himself very glad for the heating system in his own vehicle.

The view he had enjoyed a week ago of Osorno was blotted out by rolling squalls now; but even the rain was not enough to completely dampen the fire that burned furiously to the west where an ammunition dump had been hit; it appeared as some nightmarish red glow, ever shifting beneath the curtains of rain, and constant reminder of the savagery that was hidden beyond.

Little remained of the once picturesque town; savage shelling had been followed up with a full scale assault that had degenerated into bitter hand to hand fighting. Niembro, having never bombarded a town before, had been flabbergasted at how many Chilean soldiers had somehow survived the near constant rain of artillery and tank shells. Up on his hilltop, well away from the barn that had become the focal point of enemy artillery, he had watched the attack advance on the town.

The lane through which his half-track now rumbled cut through the Eastern portion of the battlefield and the shattered hulks of vehicles loomed up and then passed in the rain, the steady drum of rain on their steel hulls like some demented orchestra. It wasn't until they had gone the better part of a kilometre that he saw, for the first time in his life, the enemy dead; he had seen a few men killed on the ridge of course, but never a Chilean; he was about as junior as an officer might come after all.

There was a small cluster of them, splayed out in a fan shape around a crater in the ground where an artillery shell had exploded. Their light grey uniforms were shredded and their wounds were horribly white, cleansed by the pouring rain. Most were mangled beyond any recognition but one lay with his face turned toward the lane and, despite the rain, Niembro thought he could feel the accusing gaze "You did this to me. He turned away uneasily and looked Westward to where the fire raged. Never had he ever been so close to a battle and its aftermath. Before taking his position on the ridge top he had never ordered any rounds fired except in training; to see the real effect of it was something new to him.

Mud turned to concrete as the column of guns turned onto the main highway leading into town. It was a fine two lane affair that had once served as the main artery between north and south Chile. Somehow it had largely escaped the actual shelling of both armies, but the ditches were filled with discarded equipment, destroyed vehicles, and the bodies of the dead. The steel beneath his hands suddenly felt terribly cold despite the fact he was sweating beneath his rain coat and he turned his gaze toward the first of the broken buildings appearing out of the rain.

Ahead of him the little orange square abruptly pulled over to the right shoulder, so close to the edge he thought they might slide into the water filled unknown below. His driver followed suit and the guns behind them did the same. He leaned forward, eyes probing the rain, until he could make out the military policeman who had waved them over.

"Anything sir?" Sergeant Menem asked from the back of the half-track, half a headset still hooked over his right ear. He, as well as the rest fo the gun troop, was only too aware of how this same stretch of road had been bombarded the day before by retreating Chilean guns.

"Military police have waved us over..." Niembro paused to rub his eyes for a moment, trying to clear the water from them as it dripped down from his helmet. "Hang on, vehicles coming."

Large flat bed trucks loomed suddenly out of the rain, so large that he could hear their sides scrapping against the house across the road even as they missed his half-track by inches. Perched on the back, its barrel twisted impossibly skyward, was the imposing bulk of a medium tank. More trucks came, each with a damaged vehicle on its bed, until the night filled with the roar of their engines and Niembro wondered if they had any functional tanks left at all. Some of the drivers waved, others nodded, the majority however kept their eyes glued to the road. The sign he had seen a hundred yards back came to mind:

[i]ROAD TO THE FRONT. DAMAGED OR BROKEN VEHICLES ARE TO BE PUSHED INTO THE DITCH. DO NOT BLOCK THE ROAD.[I]

When the last of the trucks passed by, its deck occupied by an armoured car whose front tires were gone, the military police officer waved them forward. The rain had begun to slacken now - he was already soaked through - and for that he was glad. He cast a long eye down the road behind them and saw that the delay had created a back log of vehicles that disappeared beyond his sight; countless supply vehicles, artillery pieces, and trucks filled with infantry.

"Is there no other road...?" He asked to no one in particular. Menem replied, as he had half expected he would; the man spent as much time as he did staring at maps.

"No. There is a single lane railway to the west but I think it's been blown up by now."

"This is a fucking death trap..."

No one responded to that, but all were desperately glad of the rain that hid their movements from prying eyes. The last word was of Chilean forces withdrawing to prepared positions north of the Bueno River - The Good River - that name would soon be an ironic footnote in history.

No shells fell on the long column as it navigated the broken town, and the rain returned with such a vengeance that even the shattered Cathedral, upon whose proud but broken spires he had gazed for so many weeks, was invisible to the passing Argentine soldiers. The road had been bulldozed clear by tanks fitted with blades and the shell holes filled with crush that had once been houses. Few bodies were visible either, it seemed that most had been pushed aside with the rubble and Niembro found himself glad of that.

Their new position was a big field bordered on the west by the highway, the north by a small country road, and creeks on the other two. Everyone else halted on the roadway while the regimental officers made their down to assign space. Neimbro remained in his half-track and stared down at the map in front of him, tracing his finger over the new grid coordinates he would have to memorize.

Somewhere ahead of him, hidden by the rain, was the Hamlet of San Pablo, and beyond that the Bueno River. His war was just beginning.


THE REPUBLIC OF ARGENTINA




GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

"Whooooooo!" The lookout gave a whooping cry as the bow of the ARA Independencia hung for one long moment in space, nothing beneath it but air and sea spray, before it began to plunge downward into the trough between waves. "Get some!"

The bow of the heavy cruiser slammed into the oncoming wave and the ocean boiled hungrily along the steel hull, engulfing the forward triple 11-inch gun mount before battering the bridge windows with a bone crushing force. For one awful moment it seemed as though the ship was going to turn into a submarine until natural buoyancy took hold and it shuddered its way free of the oceans grasping depths.

Under normal circumstance an officer might have called for some sort of decorum on the bridge but the enthusiastic lookout was one of only a dozen men out of the ships complement of 900 that wasn't currently violently ill below decks. Being one of the only ones on your feet and able to do your job gave you a certain latitude when it came to enjoying a pacific typhoon.

Beyond the salt stained windows of the Independencia, the rest of the patrol group could be seen battling the storm and no one onboard the flagship would dare complain about their own experience today as destroyers rolled and bucked in the waves; the even smaller minesweepers tossing about like corks on an ocean of champagne. Only the submarine, some hundred feet below them, was likely to be having what could be considered a normal day.

"Wind is slackening sir!" A sonar operator, his face so pale he looked like paper, shouted from his station. The man had thrown up everything he had ever eaten and yet gamely clung to his station; a true sailor.

The officer of the watch, a ruddy faced Lieutenant of some seniority, nodded his receipt of the message. He alone among the crew had been untouched by the storm and even now he stood, feet braced shoulder width apart, and swayed with the violent motions of the ship, one hand occasionally reaching out to grasp a nearby console to prevent pitching head first into the bridge windows.

Gradually the wind did shift, no longer screaming down from the north and battering the ships, it suddenly began to blow gently from the west. The seas began to calm from waves nearly sixty feet high to little more than three foot swells that patted the sides of the grey hulls as if in apology for the stress they had undergone. It was certainly a great relief to the crews of the six ships that now made their turn westward toward the Galapagos Islands.

"Commodore on the bridge!" A sharp eyed helmsman made the call and those on watch stiffened to attention as the white uniform appeared. Commodore Teodoro E. López Calderón waved them back to work and turned to the Lieutenant who had seen them through the past twelve hours.

"Luis, get these men relieved and then all of you get something to eat, and grab some rack time. You're excused from landing party duties."

Those still on the bridge grinned and the quartermaster, his knees aching from nearly thirteen hours of fighting the ships roll, hurried below to roust out the watch that should have relieved them six hours ago. The Commodore stepped across to the starboard bridge wing while they waited and pushed open the door, allowing a draft of warm air to swirl into the space. He inhaled deeply, his own skin was as white as any of the crew, and some of his colour returned with the fresh air.

He raised a set of binoculars and scanned the rest of the patrol group. The two destroyers were already back on station, along with the supply ship and one of the mine sweepers, the other however...

"The Heroína has lost her deck gun." He said to no one in particular as he continued to scan the minesweeper, noting that almost of all of its port guardrails and life rafts had been torn loose, likely by the passage of the gun when it came loose. Most deck guns were held in place by their weight and any extreme movement of the hull, or violent rolling sensation, could shook them loose. He reached up and pulled the radio phone from above his head.

"Heroína from Commodore. Report, over."

"Heroína reporting the loss of a deck gun, four life rafts. Two turbines damaged. All personnel accounted for. Will need to reduce speed to prevent damage to our remaining turbines, over."

With only two turbines now functional, the decidedly slow minesweeper would quickly fall behind. Already the effort of trying to bulldoze the sea was opening a gap between the Heroína and the rest of the fleet.

"Commodore acknowledges. The Espora will be tasked to escort you in. Out." He waited several seconds and then spoke into the radio phone again. "Espora from Commodore. Reduce speed to escort the Heroína into port, over."

"Espora acknowledges, over."

"Commodore, out."

The lean greyhound shape of the destroyer began to alter shape at once as it came to port and looped back toward the limping minesweeper. There was little chance of any enemies out here but after the recent debacle between the ARA Ironia and the USS Isherwood, one could not be to careful. How a shooting match had started when the two countries weren't at war was beyond him.

The watch changed around him as he eyed the fast approaching Galapagos Islands. Isla de San Cristobal was the closest now, uninhabited save for a defensive fortification with early warning radar and a naval gun battery that could sweep the ocean across to Isla Santa Fe. The ships passed well south of the San Cristobal, the shoreline was treacherous here and a rocky shelf extended far out into the ocean. More than one wreck could be seen half submerged in the emerald blue waters.

Isla Santa Fe came next in the chain of fortifications built to protect Puerto Ayora Naval Base. Men, released from the hellish conditions of the past thirteen hours, clustered at the railing to gaze at the huge tortoises that swam in the sea and the massive iguanas that sunned themselves on the rocks that bordered mine filled beaches. Gun batteries bristled at every point of the compass and the barrels of anti-aircraft guns jutted skyward. Several low lying platforms, barely a dozen feet above the water, showed torpedo launchers that could sink a ship up to twelve kilometres away.

Puerto Ayora itself was nothing fancy. An old Colonial town of a thousand or so fishermen and naturalists, swollen to four times its size by the presence of the Navy. Two other ships, the remainder of Calderóns command, rode gently at anchor in the space that passed for a sheltered harbour. Both were light cruisers, one swarming with sailors as its hull was repainted, the other riding high in the water as it underwent a resupply. Beyond them, the grassy runway currently empty, was the aerodrome. On one side, protected by several metres of concrete and neatly covered with grass and small shrubs, were the military hangers that housed some thirty fighter aircraft, anti-submarine patrol planes, and a pair of long range reconnaissance craft. Opposite them gleamed two civilian aircraft, both of them large four engined planes, the only kind big enough to make the journey from Argentina to the Islands in one flight.

"You may begin your preparations to anchor, Captain."

As the Commodore, he commanded the squadron, the Captain was responsible for the operation of the Independencia. The man saluted and barked out orders. The huge engines began to slow and signal flags soared up the halliards to let all watching know that the ship intended to drop anchor. Similar signals appeared on the remainder of the fleet.

"Now, Captain." The Commodore gave the order and the flag at the top of the mast dipped once. Four anchors roared into the ocean with a splash and the squadron slowed to a rest, their sterns swinging toward the sea as the tide exerted its strength against them. A hundred yards away the conning tower of the submarine broke the surface as it cruised toward its own small jetty ashore. The squadron was home.

SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS



Basseterre - SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS

Inspector Runako Morton of the Royal St Christopher and Nevis Police Force ("RSCNPF") reclined in a heavy leather chair and sipped at a glass of whiskey, condensation beading the sides despite the fan that rattled away diligently in the corner of his office. The room was luxurious by Caribbean standards, more than one book shelf, a big desk, and even small second desk with a type writer where his he could dictate memos and the like to a clerk. Unlike most of the island, his office had electricity, one of the few perks to being in a police department that suffered from little funding in almost every other fashion.

The pages laid out before him fluttered gently every time the fan managed another turn and, judging by the noise it was staring to make, any turn might be its last. He had a dozen employment applications on his desk, most of them young men from the island who saw a better way of life in the police service. The pay wasn't amazing, but they could live in the barracks and when they bought their own home, they would not have to pay any land tax.

This particular application however was dramatically thicker than the others, twice the size of the other dozen put together. Unlike those applicants however, he had no say in the hiring of this man. Rather he had been informed that the newcomer would be arriving by plane that afternoon and it was Mortons job to make sure he was made welcome before meeting with the Commissioner the following day.

He reached out a finger, gently turning back to the first page and the picture that had been clipped to it. A white face, unusual in the past twenty years, stared back at him. The man wore a redcoat, tall brown boots, and blue pants with a yellow stripe up the leg. Blues eyes set above a white/blonde beard seemed to challenge him even from even from the picture.

Name: Thomas John Clarkson
Rank: Staff-Sergeant
Agency: Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Years of Service: 24
Experience: General Duty, Major Crime, Drug Interdiction, Counter Intelligence, etc.
Qualifications: Firearms instructor, police defensive tactics instructor, boat operator, crossed pistol, crossed rifles, diver, counter intelligence
.

The list went on and Morton could not help but be impressed by the mans resume. He had no doubt that St Kitts and Nevis was going to come as a rude shock to someone used to an agency that had any sort of budget at all, but the man had skills that the RSCNPF needed, badly. The military budget was even less than that of the police and the defence of the island was increasingly falling on the shoulders of men like him. No one could ignore the sudden uptick in Mexican, American, and Argentinian warships in the region.

Languages: English, French, Spanish

Well, that would be damn useful. If the man was willing to learn, maybe he could pick up the local creole quickly enough. It was a mix of those three anyway. It suggested a man of intelligence, but then why would anyone making a good wage and living far from the troubles of the Caribbean want to move into the middle of it.

Marital status: Widowed

There it was. Nothing to tie him to the homeland. Morton tossed back the rest of his whiskey and set the paper down. There had been a time, twenty years ago, when white police officer arriving from Britain had been common enough as they rotated through, an upper echelon that had been resented by the local, and primarily black, constabulary. Now the only white faces left in the department were the Commissioner and the Inspector in charge of the Nevis detachment. The island itself, by and large, was still split into two distinct economic groups, the wealthy white patriots from Britain, France, Spain, and America, and the poor sons and daughters of the slaves who had once worked the islands plantations.

Granted, a few of those plantations still existed, but everyone knew that the true money these days was coming from the tourists who were flocking to the white sand beaches as the world economy boomed and a thriving middle class began to emerge. Morton himself had attended the University of Oxford, learning the art of business, before returning home to serve his community. He had risen quickly in the ranks and made a name for himself as a resourceful and intelligent leader. Would this new Staff-Sergeant begrudge him the position? Racism was very much alive and well in the former Empire, no matter that slavery had long been abolished.

The phone on his desk jangled and he picked it up quickly. "Inspector Morton."

"Afternoon sir. The Staff-Sergeants plane is due in thirty minutes."

"Right, have the car brought round and I'll go meet him."

The car. It was literally just that, THE car. There were only two in the department and he had one, the Commissioner the other. Otherwise everything was conducted with old paddy wagon vans donated by various police forces in Britain. The last one had arrived ten years ago, about the same time the British government decided it wasn't going to return letters from St Kitts anymore. He would have to do something about that. Maybe Clarkson would prove helpful.

He rose, pulling on his white uniform coat and reaching for the pith helmet that was balanced on the edge of his desk. The mirror by his door caught the reflection and he paused for a moment. His own hair was salt and pepper now, a strong chin was clean shaven, and his dark skin showed the wrinkles and marks of age. Still, he was a strong man, his chest straining at the uniform buttons, and he had managed to keep the stereotypical gut from growing to large. He pulled the gold coloured chin strap into place, ensured the helmet was seated properly, and stepped into the heat of the outer office. Outside he heard the squeal of the cars brakes; not from an abrupt stop, just old age. Just another thing he would need to try and fix around here.

*Combined with Argentina Sheet*

THE REPUBLIC OF ARGENTINA

July, 1955



REVOLUTION: PART II

BUENOS AIRES - Presidential Golf Course

There were some men in power who changed the score when it suited them, President General Dictator for Life Hipólito Yrigoyen however, preferred to actually be good at things, even golf. He had a sixteen handicap, better than virtually his entire staff, and never missed his Friday afternoon game. Those who were invited to play knew well to play their best for Yrigoyen suffered no fools. A Colonel had once let him win and paid for it with a posting to the Antarctic.

On this particular day, clad in a pair of black slacks, a plain white collared shirt, and swinging a custom made set of American golf clubs, he was waiting for a visitor. His toe scuffed at the sand beneath his feet as he glanced toward the pin held by a uniformed caddy. Thirteen or so yards with no wind, barely any slope on the green, and only the twittering of birds to distract him.

"Pitching wedge." He called back to a second caddy and hid a smile as the man tossed him the club he had been holding already. He appreciated a good caddy; it saved a lot of grief. Not so different than having a good advisor in politics.

A small knot of uniformed officers, their shoulders a blaze of golden lace, stood off to one side. None had been invited to play today, but all of them knew that being close at hand would ensure job security. Beyond them, manned by patiently sweating guardsmen, were a dozen white golf carts; their appearance made grotesque by the weapons strapped to the sides.

He eyed the ball again, touching the edge with the face of the club, like a lover kissing his lady. Then a quick twist of his body, flex of his elbows, and a short follow through shot the ball up onto the green. It bounced twice and rolled to a stop a foot from the hole.

"Damn..." He tossed the club back to his caddy and climbed from the sand trap.

"Still a fine shot, sir." The caddy wiped the club head clean with a silk rag and slid it back into the white bag; Yrigoyens named was monogrammed onto the side in black lettering. "You'll be under par at this rate. Might even best your handicap."

Yrigoyen nodded but didn't reply. His caddy, Paco Gomez, had been with him for six years now and was as the subject matter expert when it came to golf. Once a year he was permitted to play against Yrigoyen and if he won, he received a years pay that same day. In six years he had beaten Yrigoyen twice.

"Incoming vehicle!" The word was quiet but firm from a nearby guardsman and four of them unlimbered their weapons, gazing down the long fairway. Two more golf carts were racing toward them along the cart path. Nobody, and that meant NOBODY, drove on the Presidents grass. They slipped beneath the shade thrown by handsome trees along the edge of the fairway and over a small stone bridge. A manicured creek banked with imported marble burbled happily into a small pond that held at least one alligator.

"Friendlies." The guard commander growled and everyone relaxed.

Yrigoyen ignored them completely as he took a putter from Paco and walked onto the green. The surface had a slight spring under foot and the shadows of clouds raced across the lush surface. He stepped up to the ball, eyed the hole for a short second, and then tapped the ball forward. It dropped into the hole with the satisfying plastic clatter that he found so rewarding. He scooped the ball out before handing it, and the club, off to Paco and turning to where the two carts had finished their journey after pausing while he took his shot.

The lead two were guardsmen, while the second two were different entirely. One was male, and was most certainly a secret policeman of some sort. The third was a woman, her hands cuffed behind her back and what looked like underwear shoved into her mouth. Her eyes were wide as they stared at him and he could feel the fear. No matter how old he got, he found it intoxicating and very attractive; now was not the time to indulge his desires.

A nod to the policeman and the girl was dragged from the cart and across the grass toward Yrigoyen. She was pushed to her knees at the edge of the green, her head turning wildly from side to side before finally fixing on his face again. She had gone quite white with terror. Yrigoyen held out a hand and Paco passed him a water bottle that he slowly drained, his throat bobbing as he held her eye contact. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes and he could see a bruise starting to form on her temple.

He finished the water, passed the bottle back and then went and crouched in front of the woman who was weeping silently now. Some dictators, most of them in fact, were given to dramatic gestures and dungeons with all sorts of nifty tools. Yrigoyen couldn't be bothered with the theatrics. Not for this conversation anyway.

"María Laura Santillán. A Journalist. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that you are mixed up in some sort of plot against me."

Muffled protestations and furious head shaking greeted the comment. In that moment he wasn't sure what made him angrier, the noises she was making, or the look in her eyes that told him she had no idea what he was talking about. He reached out a gloved hand and pulled the underwear from her mouth, letting it hang from two fingers as he stared at her.

"Your Excellency, I swear to you I have no idea what you are talking about!" Her voice was several octaves above normal and he made a soothing gesture. He hated loud noises, especially while golfing. She brought herself under control with masterful skill and repeated what she had said.

"I believe you, I really do." Yrigoyen said and there was brief flash of relief followed by suspicion, and then fear once again. "However, I think you know someone who does."

The policeman handed Yrigoyen a photo and he held it up in front of her. Her eyes widened even more, and a dozen emotions fought for control of her features; he couldn't help a thin-lipped smile.

"Yes, our mutual friend, Lieutenant Osvaldo Soriano. I believe you and the young doctor have a bit of a, how did the Americans say, "Thing"?"

All she could do was nod.

"Good. So, this is how we are going to help each other today. I understand your parents are in poor health and you cannot afford their treatment?"

Another nod, and despair.

"Your brother, one Sergeant Menem Santillán, is currently serving in Chile?”

She simply stared at him now and he knew she would do whatever he wanted of her. People always did when you reminded them they had something to lose.

“I want to know everything your boyfriend gets up to. In return, I shall ensure your parents, who by now have already been transferred to a private hospital here in the city, get what they need to stay alive. I’ll even make sure the young men who I have sent to keep an eye on your brother do their best to keep him alive, where possible. Do we understand each other?”

“Yes sir…” She managed to whisper the words as the consequences of any failure slowly settled on her shoulders.

“So make our Doctor friend happy, let him do whatever he wishes to you, keep him close, and don’t foget to share the little details with us.” Yrigoyen nodded toward the secret policeman. “This fine fellow and some of his associates will keep an eye on you, for your safety of course, and you will report to them. The details can be worked out before they drop you off at home.”

“Yes Excellency.” There was no fight in the girl, and Yrigoyen found that a bit disappointing. He enjoyed a woman who had some spirit to her and he loved a struggle. It seemed there was neither here.

“Take her home. Make sure you don’t hurt her, and give her a decent cover story for that bruise.” He glanced at the purpling on her temple and the secret policeman had the good grace to look abashed. That was the issue with being an undercover thug; you sometimes got carried away in the moment. “Goodbye, Maria.”

The girl didn’t utter a sound as she was pulled to her feet, her face a mask of sorrow as she was led back to the golf cart. The two vehicles pulled away again and Yrigoyen turned his attention back to more important matters.

“Right, how are we doing?”

“Twelve under par and four holes to go, Excellency.” Paco didn’t miss a beat as he held up the scorecard. “I’ve got it noted down.”

“Excellent! Well, lets not let the day waste away. I’ll meet you at the next hole, gentlemen.” He paused, realizing he was still holding the girls underwear. It was frilly, the type of thing she might wear for a lover. If only she knew how close they would become for the next little while. It would be rather fitting in the end. He laughed and held them out to a guardsman that hurried forward to take them.

“Keep those. I will enjoy taking them off her another time.”
@Clever Hans, I cannot tell you how much I love Spain and its history. Count me in!


Day ???, Week ???, Cycle ???
Springtime, Deep Harbour


Riverjack squatted and studied the items that had been brought before him by several young Merdhrai. Among them, her face grave, was Streambattle. The group had been collecting mussels along the shoreline when they stumbled upon the first of the objects, a hefty cord of wood with ropes hanging from it. Such ropes! Nothing like the kelp lines that the Merdhrai used among their own kin for fishing and building. It was stronger, so much stronger. The four of them had conducted a tug of war before bringing it home and had been unable to break it.

"All by the shoreline near the rocks?" Riverjack asked, raising an eyebrow at the groups ring leader, a fit looking creature by the name of Finbarr.

"That's right Skipper. This here was floating when we found it, half submerged." A paw, claws retracted, reached out to touch the broad swath of cloth that had been found attached to another cord of wood. "It's tough and quite large. Big enough to provide cover for several beasts.

Riverjack nodded as he pondered the pieces. Individually they meant little to him, but coming together as they had, it meant something new and unexpected had come to his corner of the world. He scratched the back of his neck as he tried to make sense of the wreckage. Yes, it had to be wreckage. The wood was broken with great force at the ends, and the rope had snapped, the cloth was torn. This was all part of something that had once been whole. Something large.

"We must discover more. Finbarr, take these three and scout the bay. There was a strong tide last night, the pieces may have come from further out to sea. Be careful and go armed. The Teeth of the Deep have been active with the new moon. You must return before nightfall."

Finbarrs chest swelled with pride as he placed a paw across his chest and bowed his head slightly. Streambattle glared at her father but repeated the gesture as the four of them withdrew. Riverjack watched them go, their quick bounding steps coupled with barks of excitement as they leapt to jackknife into the water. He turned his attention back to the pieces at his feet and stared harder at them wondering what they could mean.

* * * * *


Streambattle returned home swiftly, her cheeks burning from the humiliation of being overlooked for command of the little group. Deep down she knew Finbarr was older and more experienced, but she was the daughter of the Skipper of the Merdhrai! That ought to count for something.

"Been to see your father then?" Swiftpaddle, her mother, was seated just inside the small cave that they shared as a family along the riverbank. In one paw she held a white seashell, in the other a paintbrush that she dabbed in a rich purple colour. Like so many other Merdhrai, their small Holt, or family group, had one large communal space. Everything was done here, except relieving oneself of course. Two entrances, one above ground, and the other below water, provided access to a space made cozy with rush mats on the walls and floors. It wasn't much really, but it was home.

"I have." Streambattle snarled as she grabbed her sling and spear from the wall rack. Several other spots were empty, her fathers and four of her siblings, were already out. "He gave command of the scouting group to Finbarr."

"You're not surprised are you?" Swiftpaddles eyebrows rose as her daughter turned with barred teeth. "You challenged him and lost. By all rights, you ought to be dead."

"And that wouldn't bother you at all, would it?" Sarcasm was thick in Streambattles tone.

"No, the Merdhrai suffer no fools, girl."

The cold reply stopped Streambattle dead in her tracks and she stared at her mother with a mixture of horror and disbelief. The same creature who had given birth to her, nursed her, taught her to swim and to hunt in the shallows... How could she..?

"The strong survive among our kin. You should know this. Of the seven pups I have given your father, you are the only one who lived." Swiftpaddles gaze challenged Streambattle who suddenly felt very small. She could sense the tension in her mothers voice and it dawned on her how worried her mother had been about the fight, though she never said anything.

"Well, um, I guess that makes sense..." She scuffed the mud floor with her hind-paw and then darted forward to hug Swiftpaddle. The two shared a swift squeeze before she was pushed away and shooed toward the entrance.

"Go on. Make me proud."

Streambattle grinned and slipped quickly down the mud slide and into the current of the river that quickly pushed her toward the ocean. She surfaced briefly to glance around, catching sight of her friends nearby on the riverbank. They waved and dove into the water with her.

The four raced Northward, dodging and weaving among each other, the water rushing past, streams of bubbles marking their passage through the green water. Fish scattered before them and even the larger seabirds, some big enough to kill a individual Merdhrai, made good their escape. A hunting party was nothing to be taken lightly. The riverbed of smoothed pebbles and stones slowly gave way to sand and mud as the current slowed and the river widened.

The water turned to a turbid brown as they reached the ocean, the river current smashing into the ocean tide with such force that it churned up the sandy bottom and shortened visibility drastically. As they passed from fresh water to salt water it was easier to swim. No one knew why, but things floated better in the salt water than in the river.

"Keep within eyesight of each other. We will check the shallows first." Finbarr ordered and Streambattle nodded without argument. She did not see Finbarr blow out his cheeks in relief; he had been deeply worried about taking along the hot headed daughter of the chief.

In the end, the search for the source of the strange pieces turned out to be easier than expected. They encountered a foraging party returning from the upper reef who said they had seen a strange thing, a great wooden shell dashed upon the rocks, tree trunks rising from its decks but instead of leaves, its branches had been covered with rope and cloth.

The four young Merdhrai turned their noses north and shot through the water, intent on seeking the mysterious arrival.



Day ???, Week ???, Cycle ???
Springtime, Deep Harbour


"Let the challenger stand forth!" The acclamation was greeted by the thunder of a hundred log drums as Merdhrai wielded wooden clubs with a steady and rhythmic beat. Seashell horns made from the corpses of massive sea snails droned out a haunting huuuuuun that echoed over the barbaric scene unfolding in the small clearing.

Deep amid towering trees and surrounded on all sides by a mighty river delta, the Challengers Circle waited the coming battle. A space some forty space lengths wide had been cleared in the deepest part of the delta. In its centre a deep hole had been dug and four trenches dug to channel water into it. A circle of black stone had been set four spear lengths from either side of the hole, leaving the rest of the space to be filled by the hundreds of Merdhrai who swayed and chanted with the beat of the drummers. To the humans who hunted the delta, the strange and menacing music was warning enough not to stray far into the watery expanse.

No torches existed here, not in this place of the Merdhrai, only the bright moon above served to light the space and the still waters of the centre pool appeared inky black beneath a surface turned to burnished silver. This was a battle of the strongest and most cunning of their kind, a struggle to be named Skipper of the Merdhrai, the highest position among their kind.

"Riverjack!" The roar came from hundreds of throats as a tall brawny male, nearly four and half feet tall, stepped from the crowd and into the black stones. His brown fur rippled as he flexed impressive muscles and expertly spun a long wooden spear shaft between his paws. The current Skipper of the Merdhrai was an impressive figure though greying fur around his muzzle showed he past his prime.

"Streambattle!" This cry heralded the arrival of a smaller female who bounded into the circle on all fours, her long tail slapping the ground with excitement. Fur nearly as black as night was pierced by a pair of savage looking eyes and white teeth flashed in the darkness.

There was no further need of an announcer, all present knew what must come next. The two would fight and the first to be killed, knocked unconscious, or thrown from the black stones, would be the loser.

Riverjack eyed his opponent carefully through half lidded eyes even as she circled toward him. The attack, when it came, was blindingly fast as she rushed him down low. Despite their ability to walk on two legs, the Merdhrai were most dangerous when they resorted to their most primal fighting methods. Dangerous, unless their opponent was more experienced.

The heavy stick flashed in the moonlight, its bone white colour easy to track, and the crowd roared their appreciation as it slammed into Streambattles shoulder to send the smaller Merdhrai sliding across the ground toward the silvery pool.

In an instant the bigger fighter dropped his stick and lunged, using his weight to tackle his smaller opponent into the pool. Water exploded into the air like a thousand small moonstones as the two shapes blew the clam surface apart.

Down into the blackness they went as Streambattle fought to regain her breath from the blow. Riverjack, wise in the ways of war, clamped his teeth over the back of her neck and bit down hard enough to pierce the thick fur. Streambattle opened her mouth to cry out and inhaled water at once.

The Merdhrai were meant for the water, they gloried in it, but even they couldn't live by breathing in water. In an instant the fight was forgotten as Streambattle struggled frantically to try and escape toward the surface and the moon directly above, a silver orb that seemed to grow smaller as Riverjack drove her deeper.

When she regained consciousness she was lying on the edge of the Challengers Circle, just beyond the black stones. The night was quiet, the crowds gone, the drums silent. Only her mother, Riverjacks first wife, remained crouched on her hind legs, watching her daughter intently for a moment before speaking.

"Well, did you prove your point?"

Streambattle rubbed the back of her neck, the terror of her near drowning fresh with the pain that still throbbed there. She nodded slowly.

"Aye, he's a tough old bastard."

"Next time, Streambattle, he will kill you."

She did not doubt that at all.
@Fiscbryne, no worries, thanks for the heads up!


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