"Is this going to work?" The male person her own age wearing a Foot Regiment lieutenant's uniform neatly stripped of its insignia sounded concerned.
He wasn't the only one who felt that way. "I have no idea," admitted Saleetha. "I thought spring engines weren't supposed to blow up in the first place."
"They're not," he replied grimly. "They can be blown up, but I can't smell anything like the aftermath of explosives, and I know those taints."
Saleetha looked sideways at him and ventured, "The air's too clean, isn't it?"
"It is," he nodded, still grim. "I think we need to get what's left of this ferry over to the wharf, as quickly as we can." He glanced at what was left of the boat. "If we hadn't been behind the cargo, we'd be as badly off as everyone else. Do you really think we can get what's left of the engine to move us over there?"
"If we can get the end of the rope over there and get someone to secure it for us, yes." Saleetha looked at the rope her companion was holding and asked, "Can you throw it that far?"
"There's one way to find out." He started swinging the rope around his head, paying it out and then letting it fly. As it hit the wharf, one of the wounded ferry passengers screamed, and Saleetha muttered a prayer that someone in the stunned crowd on the wharf would think to grab the rope.
A man in a dark long coat did, and he competently tied the end around a tie off point on the end of the wharf. That done, Saleetha wrapped their end of the rope around the still oscillating drive arms of the spring engine, taking care not to get caught up in the rope or machinery, and watched as they began to take up the slack on the rope. The rope wrapped around the arms, and didn't break, and the remains of the boat began to turn back towards the wharf. Saleetha thought it was going to be a slow process, but her mind was jumping ahead to how they were going to get everything to stop once they were alongside.
"Now we're going the right way, I should see to the wounded," said her companion. "I'm Friedrin, by the way. And you?"
"You can call me Sal," she offered. "Are you a healer?"
"No, but the Army taught me how to treat a man so he'd live long enough to get to one." He still looked grim.
"I need to find us some fending poles or oars," she replied, still looking at the cat's cradle forming between the drive arms, "but I'll bring you anything I find that can be used for bandages."
"What are you thinking of?" He looked at her this time, a small female figure in boots, breeches, coat, and waistcoat.
"We're going to have to stop without breaking the wharf or more of the ferry, and I don't know how to turn off what's left of the spring engine," she admitted.
"You're not an engineer?" He sounded surprised.
"No. I can make things up as I go along, but no education in that way." She looked at him. "Is that a problem?"
"Making things up as you go is working so far, so no. Time for next tasks, yes?" He nodded at her.
She nodded back, "Yes." They set to work.
Friedrin found that those closest to the spring engine when it had exploded were dead, killed instantly as far as he could tell. The blood and body parts reminded him of a battlefield, except that the smell was too clean if you discounted the smell of blood and broken bodies. The broken, groaning, screaming survivors were further away from the engine or had been behind something. All he could do for most of them was make them more comfortable, pack what wounds he could, and make sure that there was no-one smaller under them. Sal brought him packs of cloth that might have been part of the cargo - they didn't look like expensive, but the contents were clean and they did the job.
The man in the long dark coat knew enough about the engine to tell Saleetha how to shut it off when they were close enough to the wharf, and they were able to use the ferry's momentum, the rope, and some able dock workers to get the remains of the boat safely alongside. Once the ruined ferry was tied up, people from onshore took over caring for the injured and making sure what was left of the ferry didn't sink. Saleetha and Friedrin simply sat themselves down on some unregarded boxes stacked along the wharf and collapsed.
After a while of watching busy, competent people going back and forth doing what needed to be done, Friedrin remarked, "I'm sure someone's going to want to talk to us about this, eventually."
"When they've got everyone safe and everything secure," agreed Saleetha. "You're sure you didn't get hurt in the blast?"
"I've had injuries I haven't felt till later," he admitted, "but I checked and didn't find anything. You?"
"I seem to be fine. Do you think they'll give us our bags back?" She looked at the stream of people moving back and forwards in front of them.
"Eventually. We might have to ask." He leaned his head back and asked, "Where are you heading to?"
"Away, mainly. I'm from Runhaven," Saleetha added by way of explanation.
"I heard what happened there," Friedrin acknowledged. "Was it bad for you?"
"The patch of streets I grew up in was levelled. Most of my family had been marked. I hope I never see a soldier in black facings again," she added.
"They used all First Regiments for the job then?" She nodded in response to his question, and Friedrin added, "I'm sorry for your losses."
"Thank you." Then, to be polite, she asked, "And where are you headed?"
"Home. Well, home-ish. When they dissolved the Battalion, they told us all that we had to go back to our recruitment locations to collect our final payments and, in the case of officers, have the purchases of our commissions refunded." He paused and added, "And then they tried to take our uniforms, with all our papers in our pockets, off us and give us workhouse issue instead. Which was a real cheek thing to try on the officers in the first place, because we paid for our uniforms ourselves. I'm still tossing up whether it was a bureaucratic accident, or a completely deliberate bastard act."
Saleetha replied carefully, "I would have thought that an officer would have money and, perhaps, a horse."
"While we were being told the Battalion was being disbanded and would have to travel to collect our final pay, our rooms were being cleaned out and our belongings bundled up to be sent off to our recruiting locations. We had military batmen, so they were in the assembly with us and there was nothing to stop those logistics thugs from doing whatever they wanted with our gear."
She looked at him as she asked, "Do you trust that your possessions and all your money will be waiting for you when you get to where you're going?"
"I think that depends on whether they think that I'll get there to collect." He turned his head to look at her and asked, "If you're not going anywhere in particular, would you like to come along with me? You're good in a crisis, have skills I don't have, and I'm not sure that I don't need someone to watch my back."
Saleetha looked at him as she thought for a moment, then said, "I'm not opposed, in principle. You've got skills I don't have, too, and I'm not sure I don't have someone following me to see who I meet up with, just so you know. Where are you going?"
"Wendorf, on the Eeglenn Peninsula. My mother's family is long established in the area." He gave her a wry smile. "I was the outlier in the Battalion, almost everyone else was from around Lonberry or Dean."
"If I'm looking for somewhere to go to, then Wendorf is as good as anywhere," replied Saleetha. "On the understanding that it's separate sleeping arrangements, and if you steal from me or betray me, then I'll take it out of your hide."
He nodded. "I accept on the understanding that those are my terms too."
"Fair enough and understood." Saleetha nodded in agreement. "So, when we have our gear back and we're free to go, what do we do next?"
This is now followed by "Comfort Zone."
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