Captain Sir Geoffrey Matheson slogged through ankle-deep mud that pulled at his boots with each step. He dragged his ship’s small boat onto the beach and crouched within the cover of the trees. He glanced up, thankful for a cloudy sky, which helped to obscure the light from a waning gibbous moon.
Night creatures supplied the soundtrack as Matheson listened for any hint of his discovery. Cicadas buzzed, frogs croaked, and night birds called. Mosquitoes buzzed hungrily but didn’t try to taste his blood. They must have sensed he didn’t belong here—in this time.
Matheson ignored them all. The foul smell of the bayou mud, though, was oppressive, reeking of decay.
Pausing to catch his breath, he pressed his earpiece. “Gunner, do you copy?”
“Do you have it?”
“Negative, sir. They’re taking it to the command ship.”
“Bloody hell. That complicates matters.” He pounded his fist against his thigh and gazed across the dark water of the bay where the ironclad warship, Tennessee, sat at anchor amid what looked like the entire Confederate Navy. His vessel, the Royal Navy Frigate H.M.R.S. Orion, was at the bay’s opposite side, a thousand yards away, shields activated to keep it nearly invisible in the dark.
“Where are you, Gunner?” he asked. “Can you follow?”
Gunner’s response came as a low whisper in Matheson’s ear. “No. Too many rebel troops. Four sailors have the stone. They’re loading it onto a boat.” He paused. “Sorry, sir.”
“Not to worry,” Matheson considered his options, and sighed. “I’ll fetch it myself.”
“It’s my turn. Can’t shirk my duty.” Though I’d much rather not do this, he thought, and said, “Make your way back to the ship. I’ve got this.”
“Yes, sir. If you insist. Be careful.”
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