Hans ran down the length of the 30.5 cm guns to get a better look, but the strangers had already disappeared into the ship's main observation tower.
Could it really be Ella? The servant girl he grew up with in his grandfather's manor. He hadn't seen her for almost four years, even before the war started. She had left on a train to work in some household in Romania, but all he could remember was a night of passion he shared with her. Even that was hazy because he was drunk. He didn't regret it , but found it clouded his more simpler memories of her, like studying his grandfather's lessons with her, or even horseback riding and sword training.
Hans considered hopping off the cannons to pursue them on the main deck, but paused as the klaxons once again rang through the ship. Hans cringed at the sound. The last time he heard it, the Markgraf was under attack in Jutland, and he felt his ethereal skin shiver as he vaguely remembered the biting cold of the waters that had engulfed him.
Though his senses of reality were dulled, especially at a distance, Hans recognized the alarm as a general abandon ship signal. Most of the still living sailors did not question this odd alarm and reacted with typical German efficiency as they began to file orderly off the ship and onto the dock. They were in harbor and he guessed there were still eight hundred odd sailors still stationed on the ship, but it took under five minutes for the entire evacuation to occur.
Hans saw Captain Seiferling on the main ramp with several burly sailors, keeping order, assuring all it was just a drill, and most importantly making sure everyone left. A few officers appeared to question the need or the purpose of such an alarm, but the Captain silenced them with his commanding presence. Hans noted most of the officers nodded knowingly, probably suspecting the purpose of the strangers aboard and the need to be discrete. He could sympathize, since it would be a career ending move if Admiral Scheer of Vizeadmiral Hipper found out Seiferling emptied his ship because of rumors of ghosts and specters.
As Hans watched the exodus, a thought occurred to him. While Otto had not attempted to destroy the ship since his failed attempt in one of the diesel engine rooms, one of the reasons for this were the guards that the Captain had placed. Otto couldn't manifest into the physical world or manipulate objects when the living were about, or at least not easily. With the crew gone, the ship was once again in danger.
Hans hopped off his cannon and landed squarely onto the steel deck on his knee. An impossible maneuver if he was still alive. His descent was slower as a spirit than normal and though the deck was solid to him, his unnatural form easily cushioned the blow.
"Jolly show chappy," applauded Lee. The Englishman was on the edge of the ship, standing roughly thirty feet from the main stream of exiting sailors. Hans knew early on that Lee had a greater tolerance of the living than most of his fellows, but still kept a healthy distance.
"It seems that Seiff..Seifferlang or whatever that bloke is called, has this all planned out. Those strangers I take it are the mediums we've all been expecting, and I guess they can't do their mumbo jumbo jobs with prying eyes about. Not a bad idea on the Keptan's part but seems like a big waste of time to me," shrugged Lee.
"I doubt their ability to 'exorcise' or drive us out as well, but regardless of their abilities, the ship's in danger. Without the guards, Otto might try to destroy the Markgraf again," said Hans.
Lee sighed," I suppose you're right. I'll go tell Herwig, Walther, Helmut, and that funny looking guy with the severed head."
"Herwig and Rutger,"corrected Hans," aren't at their posts, they were with me when the strangers came aboard and they're probably on the main deck somewhere, most likely by one of the other ramps watching the evacuation like us. I'll find those two while you alert Helmut and Walther. Though I suspect they already know something is happening, given the alarm and those strangers," said Hans as he waved at the last group of evacuating sailors.
Lee nodded and then his face turned to a grin. "Speaking of the strangers, one of them was a little guy, a yank I think. The other was some big knuckle dragging bloke, and the last was some tall pretty bird. A senorita I think with olive skin, and long dark lashes. A weird bunch altogether, but I guess in the phoney occult business you have to look unusual to keep your credibility so to speak. I doubt anyone would take normal looking ghost chasers seriously. Throw in a veil or maybe one of those crystal orb things and you've got your reputation made," he said with a chuckle.
"Anyways, I'll go tell Helmut and Walther, thought Helmut still gives me the cold shoulder sometimes. I'll tell them to alert the guards and watch out for those charlatans and more importantly Otto. "
Hans didn't share the Englishman's humor and looked down. "You know Lee, a couple months ago if someone mentioned mediums and exorcists, I would have laughed as well. In fact, I would have invited him to my poker table in Kiel to explain it in more detail all the while seeing how much I could fleece him for. However, given our current conditions, don't you think there's a chance they might be legitimate. Don't you think there's a chance they could be authentic? After all, we're ghosts, and I suppose we are real. If ghosts are real, don't you think ghost hunters or whatever you call them are real as well?"
Lee stopped and shrugged as his grin grew wider. "I told you about the gypsy woman I met once, right? One of the spirits, some hairy little frog eater named Pierre, went a bit daft and was haunting a local church near the battlefield. It was harmless really, but was bad for morale for the living. Anyways, the top brass got dozens of these loon priests, psychics and card readers from Paris and beyond, to attempt to get rid of him, but it was all a big show. Big enough that several of us ghosts snooped around just to watch the farce. Only that gypsy woman I mentioned didn't do anything at all, and all she did was annoy us. She had a larger and stronger…umm…interference I guess would be the best word, but for all we know that could have been because she was fatter. Anyways, she didn't drive Pierre out, he eventually left voluntarily. All I'm saying is that if that fat old gypsy was the best they could get on the ally side, I doubt they'll do better here. It's all just a big confidence scheme to bilk the German navy out of a few marks," he laughed.
Hans considered his words and relented in agreement. He didn't know about the other two, but he knew Ella as well as anyone could. She was a bright girl, and he surmised she took all that useless lore and mythology his grandfather spouted and plied it into some type of occult credentials. Hans attended the same lessons as she did, but he didn't really pay attention let alone believe that nonsense. It was well enough to scare the locals and small children, but no sane adult would actually take it as fact.
If people like his grandfather really did know about the secret inner workings of ghosts and the supernatural then they would use it to their advantage. He could well imagine using Opa Karl or others like him using spirits for reconnaissance or sabotaging the enemy. There was the matter of their general lethargy and the disruption when the living were close, but those were minor problems. The biggest obstacle would be communication. Hans guessed some type of apparatus could be rigged up to allow spirits to talk to the living. Given their semi ethereal nature, it was impossible to use a pen or something of that nature, but Hans guessed some type of writing instrument on a pendulum stick, or maybe a Ouija board type instrument where you can point at letters instead of writing on them. On further thought, something as simple as pushing balls towards a yes , no, or maybe response could work as well. All of this would have to be set up well away from the living, but they could plausibly work. Hans thought that if he could think of such simple ways to communicate with the living than someone else could have as well. All it would take was someone living who understood the situation.
"I suppose you're right Lee," relented Hans as the last of the sailors left. "If someone really believed in us and could communicate with us, than they already would have done so. "
Hans awaited Lee's answer, but there was none. The normally talkative Englishman remained silent as he nudged Hans towards the main control tower.
Hans looked and stopped. While most of the hatches and doors were closed and secured after the last sailor left, one bulkhead remained. Standing in the portal, was the smaller stranger that had boarded the ship earlier. He was staring directly at them.
Hans slowly approached the small stranger with Lee closely behind him. The Lower Leutnant saw that the man's eyes seemed to track their every motion. As they approached, both spirits winced as they entered the man's disruptive aura. Hans noted that this man's radius was more intense and had a slightly larger radius than a regular person's but nothing out of the ordinary. Hans wanted to push forward, but felt Lee's grip on his shoulder. While the grip was far from material, and Hans could literally pass through it, he stopped at his warning.
"Maybe we should try talking to that bloke from here. If we get closer it'll be hard to think. We won't be making any sense," whispered the Englishman.
Hans nodded. "Guten tag! Hello! Bonjour! " he shouted. While Lee was adamant the man was an American, Hans couldn't see any difference.
The stranger did not respond and simply stared and studied them.
"Can he actually see us?" asked Lee.
"I'm not sure. You mentioned we had to be …how did you put it…emotionally charged for us to manifest visibly for the living to observe. When I was struggling with Otto, some of the crew thought they saw wisps. A blur of white I think they said. Maybe there is something to this particular medium. Maybe he's more sensitive to our ..condition.. and can actually see our wisps. Or maybe he can't see us at all and just ….feel our presences like we can feel his," shrugged Hans.
"Perhaps. Let me try something," said Lee as he broke off from Hans and walked twenty paces off to the side. The pair watched the small stranger and saw that his eyes followed Lee briefly before turning his attention back to Hans.
"Well, he can differentiate between us," commented Lee. "He's probably too scared to say anything right now. I bet he was expecting an easy job from that daft captain, and now he's shatting himself when he realized he's aboard an actual haunted ship."
"Hey you dumb yank! Can you hear us! " shouted Lee again, satisfied with his version of events. "We don't want any trouble, just say something if you can understand us or even see us!"
Once again the man remained silent, and simply stared at the two spirits. Hans shook his head at his earlier suspicions were confirmed. If this man was the best medium in Germany, and all he could do was watch their general movements, than there was probably little chance of actually talking to him.
"We're not getting anywhere with this guy. Even if he can see us, we can't communicate with him. We should just find the others and tell them to watch out for Otto. He should be our main concern, and not this farce of a psychic, " sighed Hans.
"I'll tell Helmut and Walther to be on the lookout then," agreed Lee.
As the pair began to break up once again, a voice sounded from the lower decks. "Carter! I hear a few down on the mid-levels. I've never seen so many spirits in one place. Do you see anything?" came the deep but clearly feminine voice in German.
As a spirit, Hans experienced a definite distortion of his senses. Things seemed blurry at a distance, smells were nearly nonexistent, everything he touched seemed dull, like it was coated with a film of water, and sounds were generally muffled except for the speech of his fellow spirits. Despite this, Hans recognized the voice immediately and he felt his spectral heart jump slightly. It was Ella. Undeniably.
Hans waved for Lee, but the Englishman had already stopped at the sound. Lee simply smiled broadly and walked towards Hans once again. "I bet it's that senorita with them. I admit I feel nothing below the waist these days, but I still appreciate a pretty lass," he joked as the pair silently decided to approach closer.
As they drew nearer to the small stranger, the man finally spoke. "I see two of them," he said in English with a distinct American accent. " They've been watching me for a while. One's dressed like a German naval lieutenant the other looks like a British foot soldier oddly enough. "
Hans froze as his excitement at the prospect of seeing Ella again was replaced with the shock that the stranger could not only see him, but clearly.
"Do you need help? Do you want me to send Frank?" asked the unseen woman.
"No, not yet. They're talking but they don't seem particularly violent. They seem more curious if anything. They've been walking back and forth to see if I can track them. Oh, and Ella, the German one looks like Herr Werner's grandson," the stranger added as he stared directly at Hans.