BREMERHAVEN GERMANY

SEPTEMBER 2003

For Mississippi bred Pride of America, Germany was a huge culture shock. The young orphan never expected to be taken in by NCL either but since United States Lines was no more, she considered herself fortunate to be alive. But the youngster still had at least 2 years to grow before she was considered an adult and ready for service. Thus she needed a mother. The ship chosen for the task was the only one in Norwegian's fleet not doing anything. An old, decrepit and badly injured cruise ship with a strong Le Havre accent. She lay against the dock, breathing harshly as she tried to recover from her tow here. It had been a long roundabout voyage from Miami. She looked like death. Her blue hull was pale gray. She was so narrow and thin in the beam that nearly all her ribs showed. Thick black smoke belched from her two funnels as her propulsion plant continued to cry out its suffering. Lord only knew the state of her boilers. And as Pride got closer she noticed something else. A fresh cut on her flank, newly stitched and still bleeding. She'd just had surgery for something, probably within the last couple of hours. When Pride put her nose to her she felt her fever. The surgery had done nothing to stop the infection that raged within. "What happened to you?" She breathed, mostly to herself at this point as her chosen surrogate mother was in no position to answer at the moment. It was another vessel who answered and Pride recognized her as the one who was always playing with the shiplings in the harbor, she had a pair herself who followed her around. "Your majesty." But regardless of her kindness, all ships bowed to the Queen.

QE2 was as gentle as ever. "Relax, young one. I stand not on ceremony." She said. "It's still polite." Pride defended her actions which earned her a small smile. "To answer your question, I can state it simply as boiler explosion." QE2 said and Pride, despite being a modern diesel-electric boat, couldn't help but wince. A boiler explosion was beyond painful and was usually fatal. The sharp bits pierced the internals causing massive bloodloss as well as infections. "She'd been off for days. Wouldn't eat, was snappy with everyone including me. I should've reported it earlier." QE2 sighed and looked away. Pride knew when a ship was guilty, the scents they gave off were immediately obvious. "It wasn't your fault." She whispered. It felt weird, comforting such a regal vessel but even the mightiest of their kind needed help sometimes. "You will, be kind to her I hope." QE2 begged. "She is, special, to all of us." Pride nodded, not understanding why she would do so but when the Queen of ships requests something you damn well do it. "What is her name?" She asked. QE2 met her gaze with a flash of hazel-green that reminded her much of a certain speedy former fleetmate. "Norway." The British queen said. "Her name is Norway."

Norway remained out of it for most of the day. Nonetheless Pride stayed at her side. She did so partly out of the fact that this harbor was unfamiliar to her and she needed a guide. But also out of respect. QE2 had given her the rundown on Norway's history. She was sitting next to the last of the purebred ocean liners. And if these were to be her final months then Pride would damn well make sure they were good ones. When she started to come around, Pride gave a loud bark to alert QE2 who immediately came over. Pride backed away, knowing that Norway would want to see a familiar face when she opened her eyes. The former French liner had her teeth bared past the gumline. As the painkillers wore off, she was feeling the full effects of her injuries. "Maman..." Norway's pained whisper caused QE2 to nose her harshly. "It isn't Liberte' on the other side of those eyelids sweetheart." She said in a low growl but Pride saw the pain in her eyes. "Open them now, someone wants to meet you." Norway's eyes were the most gorgeous shade of sky blue Pride had ever seen. They fell on Liz almost immediately. "I dreamed, Liz. I dreamed, Liberte'..." Her voice was quiet and strained. "Shh." QE2 nuzzled her. "Isle de France, grand-me're. They were all there Liz, waiting for me." Norway gasped. "I know, cousine, I know." QE2 soothed her. "Why? Why am I still here?" Norway whispered. "I want to go home, Liz." "You still have a purpose my old friend." QE2 nodded to Pride, indicating that the youngster should approach. Pride did. Norway looked confused. The white hulled young-adult was not yet full grown. Why had she left Mississippi? "Her line's no more." QE2 said. "Not possible. United States Lines has always been..." Norway was shocked. "In these last few decades of change, it was only a matter of time." QE2 said sadly. "She needs a home, Norwegian gave one to her." "And now she needs a mother." Norway sighed and focused her eyes on Pride who did her best not to squirm under that strong gaze. All her parts were in place. Her radar mast had just finished growing in, the little bar rotating constantly. But she was still small and needed to fill out by at least another 15000 tons before she was ready for service. "What's your name child?" Norway asked. "Pride of America." She replied with a slight bow. "And a pride you will indeed be, one day." Norway turned to QE2 who looked a little uncertain. "You sure?" She asked. "I'll be fine here." Norway assured her. "You know where to find me should that change." The British ship said. Norway nodded and QE2 left. Once she had gone, Norway looked at her new charge. Pride of America was no ocean liner, that much was already abundantly clear but she had the potential to be a great cruise ship and a valuable asset to Norwegian. Norway would be remiss if she didn't try to help the line that saved her life all those years ago.

2003 gave way to 2004 and as the long winter came to an end its toll was calculated. Winter had always been a season of great beauty but also of great pain. Its lure hid danger that drew in the unsuspecting, winter demanded a price from those who survived and this year was no different. Pride never left her mother's side. In the 6 months they'd been together, she and Norway had grown incredibly close. Pride barely remembered her true mother. What she did recall of Patriot was that she had been kind and despite the concern at the time of Pride's birth that their line would fail, she never faltered. Even when Pride's sister passed away, she remained strong. It was a mindset that Pride also witnessed in Norway and QE2. And she wondered, not for the first time, if it was something that was part of the ocean liner mentality. Her mother was not a liner, but she had the lineage of one and it wasn't any ordinary lineage either. Patriot was the direct descendant of Holland America's first flagship, Rotterdam way back in the 1870s. And now Pride was the last of that line. There were no others. "You are aptly named." Norway had told her, when they first met. Pride had not known her true heritage then but Norway did. As she too was one of the last descendants of a powerful ocean liner family. Pride did not know which one, she had never asked.

She rubbed her muzzle along Norway's flank, wincing at each shudder the other ship gave. Several weeks ago, Norway had developed a harsh cough and now it had taken a turn for the worst. Like most liners from her era, she had been quite fond of the cigar in her youth. Now she was paying the price. Her lungs were failing her, she could barely breathe. Norway spluttered as she struggled to expel the phlegm coating her throat. "Head up mother." Pride got her nose under her chin and raised Norway's bow. The ocean liner was too weak to fight her. She let Pride do with her what she wanted. With her head raised, the fluid in Norway's throat began to drain, causing her to cough even more. Her whole body shook with the effort. Pride used her position to rub her chest, massaging areas to help encourage the fluid out. But there was only so much she could do and after several weeks of this her efforts were minimal. Norway was dying. As her coughs died down for now, Norway settled on her side and Pride let her go, praying her rest would be uninterrupted this time. As she backed off, Pride realized she should've been more careful about what she wished for. The entire rhythm of Norway's breathing had changed. Her body jolted every few breaths and each time the wound on her side tore a little more. Pride had tried bracing it but that had only slowed the inevitable. Successive surgeries after the first had weakened Norway's fragile old hull and it was coming apart. And Norway knew it too. She stared at her daughter, no fear in her eyes only resigned determination. "I can patch it again." Pride offered and she shook her head. Norway had lived with this pain for nearly 2 years now. It was cruel and unfair to make her endure it any longer. "Do you want me to find Oriana?" She asked, speaking of P&O and Cunard's healer. Norway shook her head, nostril's flared as though she thought that would help her breathe. It was looking like she would suffocate before her hull ruptured. Pride couldn't bare to see this. For the second time in her life, her mother was being taken from her. A low whine issued from her throat that sounded into a full cry. A shipling's cry. Norway's maternal instincts demanded she respond and her bow raised just enough to where their noses touched. Then her illness forced her back down again and she erupted in coughs. Pride literally held her together as she shuddered. She gave the whine again, pleading with Norway to rise. And once again Norway tried but she couldn't lift more than her bow.

At last she stopped trying and sighed. "Why not let me go Pride?" She asked. "You're my mother. I need you!" Pride whimpered. "You don't need me." "Yes I do!" "You do not. You never did." Norway's blue eyes flickered open and closed as she struggled to say what she needed to. "You were old enough. Large enough. Strong enough to find your own way in the world. You did not need me to raise you." "Then why take me in?" Pride asked sharply. Norway ignored her tone and smiled, one of her wires finding one of Pride's and giving it a gentle squeeze. "Because I, needed you." She rasped. Her statement brought a fresh round of tears to Pride's eyes. "Go now." Norway let go and shoved her back. "I can't just leave you here!" Pride gasped. "I will die in the way of my ancestors. Alone, unwanted and forgotten." "You are not forgotten nor unwanted! Least of all by me!" "Oh you are sweet child. But it is not our way to have others witness our pain." Norway smiled. "Go now and let me find peace on my own terms." A loud horn sounding caught Pride's attention and she turned to see who it was. QE2 was entering the harbor. "She is coming to honor me. Stay with her Pride. She is your mother now." Norway whispered but Pride shook her head. "You are my mother, you always will be." She pressed her muzzle to her cheek. Norway sighed and brushed her daughter's cheek with one of her wires. The other, Pride noticed, was clutching something tightly and that was when she understood. "Go now." Norway whispered. "And take my love with you." Pride nodded but before she did, she embraced her. One last time breathing in her sweet scent, committing it to memory. Norway had no intentions of letting her hull rupture before she died. As hundreds of liners before her who had been given a choice, she would go on her own terms. Norway returned her embrace, hull shaking as she used the last of her strength to give her love to her child. "Je t'aime."

QE2 saw Pride racing up to her, generating a massive bow wave as she did so. She was still very much a child, keen and eager to greet the guests but this was no happy meeting. The British liner could see the tears in her eyes and she also knew what Pride was going to do seconds before she did. QE2 had expected it but that didn't mean it hurt less when Pride slammed into her, burying her bow in her flank. Immediately, the older ship curled around her, holding her tight. "She's gone Liz. She's gone." Pride sobbed. QE2 had skill. She held her while simultaneously finding a private berth where she could address the grief stricken child. "She's at peace now, Pride." "But I won't be. Not until I join her." "I know. Believe me, I know." QE2 sighed, her gaze looking out over the harbor. She spotted the motionless form of her friend, her cousin. Just two ships knew that Britain and France's two flagships were related and one was now gone. The Line of Olympic had died today. The line of her sister and the lineage of that entire family now rested with QE2. The old liner sighed. "Watch over her grandmother." She prayed. She brought Pride closer to her, readjusting her position. Taking one last look around the harbor she finally surrendered to her own grief and joined Pride in tears.