than the sum of the parts.
The bigger the gun, the greater the intelligence. Pistols and muskets were barely sentient, sending an empathic "purr" of pleasure and eagerness to the person who fired them. The 12-pound cannons were like puppies, sending a telepathic, dog-like yelp of fierce delight that registered clearly in the firer's mind. But the 24-pounders were something else entirely. Melville and his crew had boarded and captured the Fang , complete with her cannon. Later, when they were the ones manning the 24-pounders in combat, they were stunned by the bloodlust that emanated from these huge cannons when they were fired. A bloodlust that was a distant echo of the savage spirit of the Ship herself.
In one critical battle Melville had learned how to harness the savage malevolence of the cannon with the deadly computing power of the Ship. This was a technique that the Guldur had never developed, and the Fang s had gone out of their way to keep it a secret.
With few exceptions, only a Ship's captain was in true telepathic contact with his Ship. Melville had learned, almost by accident, how to use this telepathic contact with Fang , while firing the 24-pounders, to make a supernaturally accurate and deadly combination. In essence the young captain became a human circuit, an organic relay, between his Ship and the cannon, guiding, directing, and channeling the alien, malignant spirits of both the gun and the Ship into a fell, fey, and phenomenally accurate killing team.
In one way they were like a horse, a dog, and a rider, all telepathically linked into a deadly killing team. From another perspective, Melville, his Ship, and his 24-pounders could be viewed as a human, an alien AI, and a sentient alien gun, all acting as one, in a fierce, feral totality of extraordinarily accurate death and destruction.
Thus, the accuracy and power of the their 24-pounders when the captain was directing them gave the Fang a tremendous advantage in combat. Their other major strength was their ability in a boarding action. Melville's tactical creativity and leadership skills, his crew's ferocity and combat experience, his subordinate leaders' experience and competence, and their enemy's persistent inflexibility, all combined to give them an edge in a boarding operation. So, at close quarters Melville preferred boarding to battering, and at a distance he preferred the fine-work of exact, very carefully aimed gunfire. His crew knew this, and they prepared carefully for either eventuality.
The scene was the same on both the upper and lower main decks. The members of the gun crews were at their cannons, each man (or Guldur or Stolsh) in a place he knew intimately well, each with his own particular handspike, crow, ram, bed, quoin, and train tackle all neatly at hand.
Swords and pistols were in racks close to hand. Each gun crew was ready to swing into close combat at an instant's notice, acting as an organized squad under the command of their gun captain, either to repel boarders or to form a boarding party.
A supply of carefully selected and inspected roundshot, canister and grape was standing by in the shot garlands beside each gun. The precision cannon fire that their captain intended to use required a glass-smooth roundshot, and the shot was always rusting, or it had small clumps of packing grease still on it. The job of chipping, cleaning and polishing the round shot was like cleaning a kitchen or sharpening a knife. It was a job that was never really completed, and now the gun crews were dedicating their attention to this task with renewed vigor.
The petty officers, midshipmen, and officers stood out at intervals on the deck, blue-jacketed markers in the chain of command. The master gunner, Mr. Barlet, stalked the gun line on the upper deck, checking his guns and their crews. Gunny Von Rito did the same on the lower deck.
To Asquith's uneducated eye it seemed as though the Ship had magically transformed itself in a brief instant of