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The Improbable Captain - A Victory Belles Story


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It gets harder now. Last chapter I had to come to know Pensacola so that I could write her. Now I have to face Desolation. Reflective of her name, like all Morgana she's still lacking substance for us captains. Whatever I do will certainly fall apart in the face of later canon. I have to dance around details while still making the battle interesting. This is perhaps the greatest conundrum I've faced as a writer, so Ch 3 will take some time.

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  • 10 months later...

The Improbable Captain
Chapter Three: Mutiny

To the east of Hawaii
August 31, 1939, 8:10 pm Hawaii Time (evening twilight)

“I need your expertise,” I heard with ears and mind still struggling to keep pace with the unreal dialogue unfolding on the bridge. “Pensacola can’t do it without the crew. I can’t do it without you. Support me and we’ll get the civilians out of here safely. Support him, and women and children die.”

Despite the urgency of the action outside the thick glass panes and steel walls of the bridge, everyone in the nerve center of the USS Pensacola stood frozen…statues witnessing a battle between god and the devil. The oily yellow haze and the pervasive sense of dread that had come with it deepened the sense of unease shared my all the men as they…we…struggled to figure out which was which.

‘Like a moth to flame’ my peers warned me when I started dating the shameless Dorothy Esther MacGregor. ‘Mark my words,' one salty old Captain played the role of Cassandra, ‘she’ll be a career ender someday, Stirling.’ Truth be told, I always suspected that they might be right.

I don’t think anyone imagined it would happen like this, though…

“You,” my wife pointed to Signalman Jimmy Lott, “have the duty signalman order Cassin to fall back and assist Downes. They are to flee in the opposite direction of wherever we go. Make best speed and don’t look back. Wireless the Navy as soon as they can.”

“Belay that order!” Captain Miller’s voice boomed again.

Regulations told everyone aboard that God just spoke. A Captain’s word was law. To reject it meant only one thing.


I felt myself sidle over to stand by the men who had all consciously or unconsciously collected near the helm, away from the warring deities. The pungent smell of smoke from the still-smoldering boathouse filled our nostrils. I could see the sweat on their faces and drenching the armpits of their uniforms; even a few eyes with tears as they faced not only a battle seemingly out of mythology but also an absence of clear leadership. More than a few smiled nervously as I joined them, a sense of confidence in me that I certainly didn’t share.

Was there such a thing as strength in numbers in a situation like this?

“Pensacola, don’t!” the little slip of a girl I had married interceded before her…friend?...could muzzle my commanding officer again.

Uncertain what my role should be when the two most important people in my life started dueling to the death, professional or otherwise, I still knew my duty to the ship and its crew…not to mention the collection of innocent passengers who never gave an oath to put their lives between their country and whatever might threaten it. While these two duked it out, we were still in grave danger. Someone had to make sure there was still a ship left to command once the battle of wills was over.

“Dory,” I implored before either Captain Miller or his improbable adversaries could launch another salvo. “Can you at least have…Pensacola?” my voice tripped over the name as I raised my hands in exasperation. “However it works please have the ship weave a bit! We make an awfully easy target going in a straight line.”

Captain Miller glared at me but didn’t argue this time. Dory nodded to her associate who smiled again. I could feel the ship jerk hard to starboard despite Andy Lentz doing nothing at the helm.

“See,” the captain struck back, turning to face the men standing with me. “Whatever delusions this hysterical woman is under, she’s still a girl with no sense of warfare. She’ll get us killed! Frank,” his voice raised as he addressed the senior-most petty officer on the bridge, “get these women off my bridge. And you, commander,” a glare likely familiar to the men of the Pequod drilled into me, “either assume your duties or place yourself under arrest.”

“But sir,” Helmsman Lentz interrupted as the ship righted herself impossibly quickly this time, “the ship is moving itself!”

“At my command, I might add,” Dory added with her trademark confidence. “This ship goes where I tell it to go and shoots at what I tell it to shoot. She’s got a mind of her own now, Captain Miller, and I think she’s made it clear just what she thinks of you.” Just then the deck shuddered followed moments later by a mist of water across the windows along the right side of the bridge.

“Near miss off the starboard side, Ma’am,” commented the impossible girl who had sucker-punched my commanding officer. It wasn’t lost to any sailor on the bridge that it would have been a hit if not for the impossibly smart course adjustment moments earlier. “No damage. The crew is getting very anxious, though. I hope you two settle this pissing contest quickly. I’m still happy to shut the little prick up for you, Captain.” The brightly-dressed Indian girl menacing the older, taller white man standing in his perfectly pressed blue uniform was a sight to behold.

“Commander,” Frank Warren, the bridge’s senior petty officer turned to me, “what do we do?”

I could see Dory look at me, her face that of someone in complete control of the situation. Not a hint of sweat on her face, a clear departure from the glistening mantle on Captain Miller’s forehead and cheeks. Her blouse, while wrinkled, was immaculate. She didn’t smile…her expression betrayed nothing to anyone who hadn’t known her intimately over a decade. This was the face of a woman who could stare down the Speaker of the House. While I could sense doubts beneath her carefully constructed façade, her unspoken words to me were clear.

When push comes to shove, her eyes demanded, the crew respects you more than their putative Captain. The ball’s in your court, Doug. Whether you like it or not, it’s time to crap or get off the pot.

“Captain Miller, you stand relieved of duty for the duration of combat. James,” I called out one of the junior enlisted who was there to carry messages if needed, “please escort the captain to his stateroom and detain him there.

“Captain,” I looked my commanding officer straight in his angry green eyes, “when this is all over I will place myself in the brig for mutiny, but until then please let me fight this ship to the best of my ability.”

Captain Miller looked around the bridge. He could tell who held the cards for the moment even before another hard turn to starboard from a helm untouched by human hands.

“I’ll see you shot, Doug,” he spat even as he started for the hatch. “And you,” he stopped not a foot from my wife, looming over her slight frame to look her in the eye, “will never see the marble halls again young woman. You know you just flushed your daddy’s legacy down the crapper, right?”

“My career makes no difference if I don’t survive tonight, Captain Miller.” The woman didn’t back away even a fraction of an inch from the larger man. “I won’t stand by and watch you piss away the futures of everyone on board…or those on the Cassin and Downes. Once we make it through this, I’ll join my husband in the brig and I’ll face the ‘morrow with him and share his fate. Until then, I have voters and future voters to keep alive.”

All I could do is shake my head at her choice of words, punctuated as they were by another near miss to port that would have been a hit were it not for the mysterious force moving the ship.

Leave it to Dory to somehow bring everything back to politics.

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An unexpected update with an interesting development and an understandably stubborn Captain. I enjoyed it, but it's pretty clear that you skipped your proofreader this time. You made a few spelling and grammatical mistakes.

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Yeah, I chose to post without a net. I'm working to jump-start a muse who has been dormant for eleven months. It's a weaker chapter than I am capable of, but I'm sure I can come back and improve on it later once I'm back in my groove. I needed to get something going or I'd still be suffering "blank page sickness" come '46... :P

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I know what you mean. My chapter 3 should be ready soon but I had a long period where I couldn't think of anything so it's been delayed for a few months. Today I might be able to give it a good kick in the pants.

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A very welcomed surprise. It feels good to see Stirling and Pensacola back in action once again. I feel that once the battle is over we'll be seeing not just Stirling's mutiny actions coming back around, but also the captain having to eat some humble pie. In the words of the Captain Phillips movie: "Look at me, I'm the captain now!"

I'm also curious to see how you take on a battle scene and how Dory handles combat and people dying. Hypothesis: Not well

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  • 3 weeks later...

I have a question for everyone reading this.  When I started writing this, I really wanted to do it from first person perfect.  I felt an eyewitness view of the events would be really cool.  That said, I am also going for a "Winds of War" feel with different people viewing the events so that we can be everywhere things are happening.  As such, I am wanting to write from both the viewpoint of Dory Stirling and that of her husband.  On the other hand, I've never read a book that was written first person perfect that shifted viewpoints.  I'm beginning to see why that might be the case.  I'd be curious what others think of the shift from Dory to Doug?  I realize a reader assessment is further complicated by the overall weakness of the first Doug chapter (Chapter 3).  Still, how jarring was the shift in viewpoints for the reader and do you think now that I've established that viewpoints may shift, do you think it could work?

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Personally I'm all for it. I've done some swapping over to VADM Holland, but then again I'm writing in the third person where its easier to do so. Perhaps make it a little easier to tell which perspective it's from, either telling us outright or something of the sort.

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A good story shouldn't have to tell us outright what perspective it's in, as we should be able to easily glean that information from context clues.  As for the shift, it wasn't particularly jarring for me, but I think that's because I hadn't read the first two chapters in such a long time and the third was so different, it felt like a different story altogether.  I would recommend staying in first person perfect as dory.  You might be able to intersperse doug because they know each other so well that she can make a damn good guess of his thoughts, or read his expression or tone perfectly.

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  • 1 month later...

The Improbable Captain
Chapter Four: Cat and Mouse

To the east of Hawaii
August 31, 1939, 8:15 pm Hawaii Time (fading evening twilight)


My back itched terribly and there was no one to scratch it.

Damned fire. 

No matter.  The Muskogee endured far worse when driven at gunpoint to faraway Indian Territory…

I straightened my brown, lambskin aviator’s jacket and shook my long, colorful Muskogee dress with its nod to the five flags which had flown over my namesake, willing myself to ignore the irritation. 

 “Desolation is gaining on us, Captain,” I broke the silence after the relieved Miller departed my bridge.  “Commander,” I swiveled my head to face the executive officer who had wisely suggested to my captain that I begin evasive maneuvers earlier, “I may not have time to dodge as effectively if she gets much closer.”

The theatrics on the bridge had been kind of entertaining, for what it was worth.   Seeing the pompous ass get justice was oddly satisfying.  Bastards like him belonged in the Army, not the Navy.  But the time for play was over.

“Doug,” my captain addressed the XO, her husband, “you know this ship better than I do…”

“Until five minutes ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that even in doubt,” the taller man retorted with an irritated grimace.  Still, I sensed no malice in it so I chose to stay silent and observe.  “Just what is…that…” he gestured toward me with a sideways nod of his head.

“Like I said, Doug, she’s Pensacola.  I don’t know why or how, but she’s your ship.”  I could sense my captain’s exasperation, but she kept it well in check.

“So she says,” the commander added pointedly.

“My baby…”

The voice was haunted, the words pining.  Barely a whisper, they echoed across my deck and through my corridors.  The sense of loss moved even me.  Images of the US Army’s privations on the people native to what was now the Florida panhandle flashed through my mind.  I could instantly feel the change in the crew’s mood.

“What…was that?” my captain gasped into the sudden silence, her recent frustration entirely forgotten.

“Desolation, sir,” I answered with the defiance of those same victims one hundred years ago, willing resolve into every man or woman within earshot.

“Desolation is right,” CDR Stirling muttered.  “It makes me think of…” his words broke off and the married pair shared a look that seemed to say volumes but only to them.  I didn’t like my captain’s newfound uncertainty.

The men in my aft tripod mast stared dumbly at another salvo incoming and I did my best to shove to port in the hopes that Desolation was still toying with us. 

If she gets serious with things as they are now…

My sudden, conscious maneuvers jarred nearly everyone from their reverie, as I had hoped might happen.  I righted course just as suddenly to continue the effect.  Most of the crew shook themselves from the shadow that had come over them.

“Captain,” I interrupted the unspoken wordplay between the two, “Commander,” I added as I looked both alternately in the eye, “The last salvo was a very near miss to the stern.  Her aim will only get better as she approaches.  The next shot might foul my rudder.  I can only make 22 knots with the amount of steam I have to work with right now.”

Truth be told, I felt downright anemic at that moment and longed to have my pipes full to bursting with power.  The commander, a decisive man whose judgement I was coming to appreciate in combat, made a quick decision.  I was relieved to see how quickly his duty had won out over Desolation.

“Engineering,” the XO ordered into a voice tube, “bring up full steam as quickly as you can.  We may need it very soon.”  He then turned back in our direction, looking toward my captain.  “If we’re drawing it out, Dory, we need to speed up now.  If we’re going to engage that thing, we need to turn before we add more speed.”

“The faster we are going, the longer we show our broadside and a bigger target when we turn?”  My captain asked as she knocked back an unruly strawberry strand of hair that had wandered into her eyes; eyes that seemed now to be holding back tears with only limited success.  She sniffed loudly; none of the crew on the bridge failed to notice.  The difference between the two Stirlings could not be missed by anyone present.

Not good…

“A bigger target, yes,” the commander explained, his words both gentle and confident, “but we can bring all our turrets to bear too.  At this distance it’ll become a brawl pretty quick.  Pen…Pensacola,” the man tripped over my name again, “do you have any idea what that thing can bring to close combat?”

I thought about the question.  I still had no idea how I knew the enemy was named Desolation or that it had combat power enough to challenge me.  The details…

“I just know she has similar abilities to me, Commander,” I replied with a creased brow.  “I…I don’t know how I know even what I know.”

The commander looked annoyed.

“I only just woke up, you know,” I added curtly.

“It’s okay, Penny,” my captain soothed with a smile.  Her eyes were still haunted, but she seemed to have returned to the present.  Finally she was breaking out of her funk.


The word finally registered.  A nickname.  I knew the concept.  Most of the crew had one or more nicknames, some not mentionable in polite company.  They even had some for me.  But to hear my captain use a nickname, and one so…familiar…

“Doug,” my brief reverie was broken by the determined sound in my captain’s voice, “I want whatever that thing is as far away from the destroyers as possible.  I don’t think Downes could take another hit, and I doubt either one of them could even scratch Desolation.”

“They couldn’t,” I added when the commander looked ready to possibly argue. 

I watched silently as the man grimaced but closed his mouth.  He sighed, and then shrugged.  “Pensacola, make best speed with whatever steam you have.  Helm,” he turned to face the man at my wheel, “turn 45 degrees to port.  Whichever of you two controls the ship,” he looked back at me before turning again to the helm, “keep course erratic to make us harder to hit.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” the man said crisply as his eyes met mine.  “All ahead full.  Forty five degrees to port then evasive erratic.”  I nodded to the man and allowed a smirk to grace my lips.  The man’s eyes widened, then he allowed himself a nervous smile.  The ship increased speed with no human intervention but the course changed with the motions of the wheel.  Without a word we had reached an understanding.

The feeling of steam through my veins, my boiler heart pumping, and the wind in my rigging hair was exhilarating. 

This was what I was born for!  Now if only…

“Assuming that thing keeps following us and doesn’t turn back for easier pickings, that’ll put more distance between us and the others.  May we at least return fire with the aft turrets, Dory?”

The man read my mind…

I could feel my captain’s gaze fall on me but she said nothing.  The steam filling me, the fire driving me, the power I felt within me, gave me the confidence to push the matter.

“Sir, I would very much like to answer Desolation’s challenge."

My captain hesitated. 

Normally she’s so decisive, much more like her husband.  Why is she wavering in middle of combat?

“My baby…”

The words were barely a whisper this time, moaning through the ship like the creaking of timbers on an old schooner.  My captain grimaced at the sound although the crew in general seemed better able to fend it off this time.  Perhaps my own sense of purpose was helping them persevere.

“Earlier you said she’s playing with us.  Will firing back change that?”

I glanced at the commander who shrugged back.  I liked him…I had since he came first aboard…and honestly felt I understood his mind better than my captain’s.  Still, despite her current troublesome hesitation, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time and still cannot articulate well, I had no doubts up to and including that moment that I had made the right decision. 

“It might,” I admitted.  “But her latest shots have seemed more serious.  I don’t think she likes the chase.” 

“I get the sense that we can’t outrun that thing and even if we could, it could just double back on the DDs,” the executive officer kept the argument going.  “There’s a lot of sea between us and Pearl, Dory; a lot of darkness before dawn.  Eventually it’ll hit us, the law of averages if nothing else demands it.”

“The commander is right,” I added.  “Damn it all I think Desolation is slightly faster than I am.  She’s still gaining, however slowly, and I’m pretty much at my limit now.”

“My baby…”

“How long?”

“Maybe two hours.”

Another salvo arrived as she thought it over.  The latest had essentially bracketed my stern.  The fact she had us perfectly targeted was not lost on the commander…or the helmsman who had stopped wheeling about.  He’d recognized that the evasion itself could cause us to be hit.

“My baby!”

The words were more insistent now, almost demanding.  The women in my lower berths almost at once all grasped their children about them.  The fathers in the crew, the helmsman included, were suddenly possessed of a fierce protectiveness.  For most aboard, the mood shifted from a sense of loss to a fear of loss.

But the effect on my captain was different.  She looked like she’d been punched in the gut, and the commander seemed little better.

“Commander, please!” the chief petty officer, Frank, implored his uniformed superior.

Being chastened by the chief shook the senior professional from his counterproductive reverie.  “Numbers three and four turrets, prepare to fire!”

My captain didn’t countermand the command; instead she seemed lost in her own world. 

It was at that moment that I came closest to regret for my decision.  I felt rudderless, adrift.

“Pensacola, report!”

The commander’s command voice broke me out of my own tailspin.  I looked up into his eyes.  Whatever his uncertainty about me before, he now demanded my contribution.  Here was a true professional and I gave myself to him. 


“Sir, numbers three and four turrets armed and ready to fire on command,” I responded crisply from attention.

“Can you fire them?” he asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Absolutely, sir!  With the accuracy of your dreams, sir!”

The man shook his head with a chuckle and a wry grin.  “Why the hell not, then.  Fire!”

For the first time in my life, I fired my guns in anger. 

I had been created for this! 

A heady feeling consumed me.  I was a weapon and this man was wielding me!


A warmth grew within me.  I wanted more of this. 

I wanted blood.  I wanted him!

Moments passed, then a scream.

“My baby!!!”

The outraged cry seemed to shake my captain from her navel gazing.

“Lookouts report fires on the target,” I reported to whoever was interested.  “She just fired back!” I added urgently.

The XO didn’t miss a beat.  “Helmsman, evade!   Everyone, prepare for impact!”

The commander and I were thinking alike.  The rage in Desolation’s latest cry left no doubt for either of us that she wasn’t going to play with us anymore.

“Why did we fire on her?”  My captain’s dismay left me confused.  The uncertainty was contagious, made worse when the salvo impacted just forward of my stern.  My previous headiness evaporated like morning dew in the August sun.

“Dory, I love you but just shut up and let me fight this ship!  Pensacola, damage report!”

I looked to my captain and she just nodded miserably, gesturing with her head to her husband.  My look of disappointment bordering on disgust just made her shrink further.

“Damn it!” I vented aloud.  I then turned to the commander. “Rear tripod hit but I’ve mostly shrugged it off.  Several causalities among the spotters, however no fires.  Rear guns unaffected and ready for another salvo in about ten seconds.”

“Are you affected by the loss of spotters?”

“No, sir!”

“Then fire at will.”

“With pleasure, sir!”


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Once again I am posting without a net.  You all get to read it straight from my keyboard. :-)

So, we now know that Penny is Amerind with raven black hair, ginger eyes, and skin "the color of redwoods".  She wears a naval aviator's lambskin flight jacket over a traditional Muskogee woman's dress.  She uses aviation terms like tailspin.  She has an impish sense of humor and doesn't seem to like the US Army much.  She has a complicated relationship with authority in general...

She's a woman of many passions.

I've pretty well fleshed her out so more details to come in future installments.

The first hour of the world of Belles.  A war starts with no planning or preparation.  No one ever said it would be straightforward...

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A little bit rough around the edges and some sudden changes in character dispositions, but in general, It's a better rough draft than last chapter.  I would also like to point out this is the first time I've seen you write a break from the story for a personal note when Pensacola says:


For reasons I didn’t understand at the time and still cannot articulate well,

It creates a bit of a 4th wall moment, as it seems she's talking to the reader, and pulls you out of the story.  It doesn't quite fit with how the rest of the narrative is told.  I have one or two more minor gripes, but I don't need to put them here.

And thank you, I needed motivation to finally finish my third chapter.

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Pac, thanks for the feedback. As far as the 4th wall I'll refer you to the second to the last paragraph of the first section on chapter one. Dory actually refers to the reader as "you".

EDIT: I'll add that I am happily re-reading Wouk's The Winds of Water and he often has his characters make editorial comment along the lines of what USS Pensacola makes in the chapter. 

Oh, and why the strikeout of Penny's name in your post, Pac?

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It's just me obviously pointing out who the chapter's POV is.  I figured it was minor spoilers, but very easy to figure out.  Therefore I covered it up, but didn't bother using a spoiler tag, as that would just clog my post.

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7 hours ago, Käpt'n Korky said:

I'm confused. Is her captain male or female? It feels like "him, her, he, she" appears randomly when the text refers to "the captain".

The Captain is female but the Commander/XO is male (and the Captain's Husband). For some reason the Captain (she) seems to have siezed up in this first engagment with the enemy resulting in the Commander (he) having to take command with Pensacola stuck in the middle.

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Yeah, I elected to write the story in first person past tense and then shift POVs with chapter breaks.  Likely a huge blunder but this is a fanfic and I'm going to keep digging experimenting with it.

Pensacola's chosen captain is a civilian woman, the wife of the ship's official XO.  She's on board because of a US Navy tradition called a tiger cruise (look it up), in this case part of the transition of home port from the mainland to Pearl Harbor in the days before ubiquitous air travel.  She is also one of 435 members of the US House of Representatives, a Republican from NW California (District 2).

As far as Dory seizing up, that will be fully explained in the next two chapters but for now note that she didn't seize because of the gunfire but rather something else.

"My baby..."


EDIT: Would it help if I used "Ma'am" when Pensacola is referring to her captain?

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1 hour ago, DrYuriMom said:

Yeah, I elected to write the story in first person past tense and then shift POVs with chapter breaks.  Likely a huge blunder but this is a fanfic and I'm going to keep digging experimenting with it.

Pensacola's chosen captain is a civilian woman, the wife of the ship's official XO.  She's on board because of a US Navy tradition called a tiger cruise (look it up), in this case part of the transition of home port from the mainland to Pearl Harbor in the days before ubiquitous air travel.  She is also one of 435 members of the US House of Representatives, a Republican from NW California (District 2).

As far as Dory seizing up, that will be fully explained in the next two chapters but for now note that she didn't seize because of the gunfire but rather something else.

"My baby..."


EDIT: Would it help if I used "Ma'am" when Pensacola is referring to her captain?

I gathered it was something targeted but I didn't want to jump the gun in case you didn't want spoilers.

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