Men Not Afraid: The Spanish-American War

  1. Chapter 4: War Powers
  2. Men Not Afraid
  3. Chapter 6: The Owl and the Snake
“We see how we may determine their forms, their distances, their bulk, their motions, but we can never know anything of their chemical or mineralogical structure; and much less, that of organized beings living on their surface. We must keep carefully apart the idea of the solar system and that of the universe, and always be assured that our only true interest is with the former… The stars serve us scientifically only as providing positions.”—August Comte, Course of Positive Philosophy, 2589

The Florida shores were lined with all the cannon the army and the populace could muster. The flags of a dozen militia fluttered in the growing wind. The normally busy harbor was empty but for five ships—all with wings unfurled.

Laura walked past a battery of three artillery and its crew, towards the Athena’s Horn.

Some of the crew watched her as she went past.

“What in Hades is a woman doing out here?” muttered one of the men at the artillery.

“Stay away from that one, she’s part of the Horn’s crew.”

“I’ll give ‘er a horn,” another said, and laughed.

“What’s she carrying under her togs?” their captain muttered, and then, “Careful, men, she’s a wizard, and a good one from all I’ve heard. If there’s druids around, we’ll be needing her, for sure, and I’d not make light of her presence here.”

“Now back to work,” he said.

One of the men nudged another and smirked. “Cap’s got a crush on a horn girl,” he said, and laughed.

Laura heard only parts of the mutterings, but could pretty much guess the rest. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. She put it out of her mind. She climbed down the steep beach and hailed the Horn by waving frantically. A dinghy dropped into the water, two sailors clambered over the side of the Horn and into the dinghy, and rowed it to the beach. She took the time to survey the rest of the ships.

Captain Joshua Harding’s ship, the brightly colored Liberty’s Maiden, took to the air. Harding was a flamboyant patriot, and the Maiden and the Horn had crossed paths on more than one occasion, in service of country and pursuit of happiness. The respective crewmembers knew each other well.

The wind was whipping her hair now. She’d made it just in time. A few of the more ships were rising, and she knew the rest would within the next few minutes. The sky to the east was a deep, boiling grey.

The bright red, white, and blue sails of the Liberty’s Maiden dipped as it went above her. She waved at the ship. The flagboy relayed a message from the Maiden’s captain.

“Victory celebration tonight. Full crew. At the docks.”

The signals weren’t just for her. They were also aimed at the Athena’s Horn, and her flags waved back in agreement.

The Horn’s dinghy beached. Laura climbed on board.

“Hello, Brian,” she said to one of the crew. “And,” she said, trying to remember the other’s name, “Tommy?”

“Aye, Mage,” Tommy replied.

“Good Morning, Laura,” Brian said. “Sam’s been going half-crazy waiting for you.”

“I’m sure.”

She looked at Tommy as the pushed off shore.

“You’re new with us, aren’t you, Tommy?”

He jutted his chin proudly.

“I’ve been with the Horn for six months now. I’m no tenderfoot.”

He couldn’t have been more than seventeen. Brian pretended to suppress a cough.

“I don’t think we’ve been in battle in that time, have we?” she said.

He lowered his eyes.

“Don’t feel bad about it. We try to stay out of fights. It’s bad for the ship, Sam says. But we’ll certainly get into more than enough scrapes for you if you stay with us.”

“I’ll make you both proud of me. You know, people make fun of us ‘cause we’re serving under women, but I’ll say right now, Captain Smith’s the best damn ship’s captain in this fleet, and you’re the most personable mage I’ve ever met. I spent a month under Mad Harry before signing on with you two—”

Brian signaled for him to stop.

“—What I’m saying is, I’m ready, and I’ll do my share and more.”

I’ve heard bad things about Harry’s command, she thought.

“You make sure you stick with Brian here,” she said. “He’s been around a few tight spots, and he can show you the ropes.”

“A few tight spots?” laughed Brian, “You and the Captain always manage to hit every ‘tight spot’ between departure and destination.”

Laura looked wistfully at the darkened sky.

“Wait’ll the storm blows over. Then you’ll see a storm. And if you’re looking forward to it now, you’ll be addicted soon enough.

‘Riding in battle in the skies…”

They came up to the Horn. Two crewmembers up top lowered the fall from the boom dinghy. Brian and Tommy hooked the dinghy up, and the crew up top cranked it up out of the water.

“Captain,” one cried, “Brian’s back with the Mage!”

Captain Sam jumped down from the wheel deck.

“Laura! Where have you been?”

Another crewmember hastily grabbed the wheel.


“Raise the wings! Flier, to the skies!”

She pulled a long spyglass from the folds of her heavy toga.

“Found one, Sam.”

“Of course you did, Laura.” She paused. “But how much did you have to pay?”

The Athena’s Horn lifted out of the water as her wings unfurled. The ship rocked gently in the rising winds.

“Four denarii.”

“That’s getting off cheap!”

“And the promise of a spelling when we return,” Laura continued.

A sudden gust tipped the Horn slightly. Sam and Laura grabbed the railing.

“Do I want to know what spelling?” Sam asked.

“Hermes’ Hidden Folds. She’s going to—”

“No, Laura, sometimes I worry about the people you deal around with.”

“—rob the Indian Bureau.”

“You bought a spyglass from an Indian? An Indian woman?”

Sam looked over the spyglass.

“This is Oriental script.”

“She’s a refugee from the ki mines in Nippon California.”

“I’d like to meet her when we return.”

First Officer Daltrey walked over.

“Laura, there’s something going on in your cabin.”


“Strange noises,” he said. “Like a trapped animal? I wanted to check with you before we investigated.”

“The moon man!” she cried. She rushed to her cabin.

The little grey moon man jumped up and down on Laura’s cabin table. It moved its mouth inaudibly as if screaming.

Sam followed Laura into the cabin.

“It probably needs to be fed, Laura.”

“But what does it eat?”

“You brought it back. You figure it out.” She looked back at Daltrey and shrugged her shoulders. “I need to see to our arms. You’re ready with the morphincant and threadbare, right?”

“Yes, I have the spellings,” she said, looking at the moon man. “Now what the hell could these things eat?”

“See you in a bit, Laura.”

“Sure, Sam.”

Sam walked out of Laura’s cabin.

“I didn’t see any plants on the moon,” said Laura to herself. “There wasn’t anything except dust and…”

She rummaged through her travelling chest.

“…And this gritty lake water,” she completed, holding up the vial she’d retrieved from the moon lake. The moon man looked at it hungrily.

If I were in San Francisco, she thought, this would be pay dirt.

The five fliers were arrayed above the storm in a flying “V”. Lightning crackled in the white, roiling clouds. The waning moon cast long shadows on the white plains.

The ships’ sails fluttered in the wind, and their wings moved slowly up and down, the wind rippling across them. The gaudy markings of the Liberty’s Maiden at the center of the port wing of the formation, commanded attention. Her wings were a brightly colored Liberty Enlightening the World, her torch glittering in copper and silver. Her sails were one each of red, white, and blue, camouflaging the U.S. flag that flew above her own flag, a torch against three horizontal bars of the same colors.

At the point of the formation, however, was the Admiral’s ship, a huge four-master. There were twelve guns down each side, black in the moonlight. The Maiden’s colorful markings drew attention, but the John Paul Jones was clearly the master of the scene.

The Horn’s own wings were brown. Her insignia was a hunter’s horn, raised, below a swooping owl. Her flag, the swooping owl alone, flew below the red, white, and blue flag of the United States, her thirty-three stars rivaling the stars of the night. She flew as the final ship on the starboard wing of the formation.

Florida’s coast was hidden completely by the clouds.

The clouds roiled below the flying ships, moving relentlessly west.

The ships hovered in the sky, motionless, the winds whipping around them.

The wind whistled about the masts.

And then the clouds broke.

  1. Chapter 4: War Powers
  2. Men Not Afraid
  3. Chapter 6: The Owl and the Snake