The great naval powers of the Mediterranean are Venice and the Ottoman Empire, followed by Genoa, Naples, Spain and the pirates of the Moslem Barbary Coast and the Christian Knights of St John in Malta. Florence has never been a maritime state, but as its strength and ambitions grow, it is beginning to lay the keels for a new kind of vessel, the screwship. Powered not by wind or oars but by gears, slaves or springs driving underwater propellors, these ships promise to make other vessels obsolete, not least by offering a flat platform for naval artillery, and so Florence’s rivals are duly concerned. On the other hand, they tend to scoff at the suggestion that the rising power is also working on a sommersibile, a vessel able to travel beneath the waves…
Story Seed: The Hunt for Red Ottavio
This prototype sommersibile was named Red Ottavio after Ottaviano de’Medici, an enthusiastic young scion of that line, who appeared a fervent champion of Florence’s underwater ambitions. He appeared to have thrown his lot–and his fortune–in with the Republic, but this now seems to be in doubt.
The Red Ottavio is a small but exquisite confection of carved wood and burnished brass, its propellor and air pumps powered by a pre-coiled springs, supplemented by a hand-crank. Crewed by a dozen stalwarts and captained by the doughty Capitano de’Marchi, it set out secretly from Marina di Pisa at dawn yesterday on its third shake-down cruise. On it was Ottaviano himself: having plowed so much of his personal fortune and energy into the project, he could hardly be refused.
It ought to have returned from at dusk. It is now the day after, and there is still no sight of it. Is it now languishing on the bottom of the Mediterranean, having sprung a leak? Did it become lost, perhaps dragged off course by an unexpected current, and is it now becalmed at sea, its springs unwound? Or was Ottaviano a traitor all along, and is the sommersibile now on its way to a foreign port, to be turned against Florentine vessels or sold to the highest bidder? And what can be done about it? Already, Florence’s small navy is sending two fast galiots out to hunt for it, and the war galley La Riga is being signaled to quarter the waters off the Tuscan coast, but what if it is headed to those pirates at Genoa? Or those murderous hypocrites in Rome? Maybe it is time some trusted people were sent up and down the coastline for any sight of this marvel, while others quietly made their way to Milan to listen for any rumors that Ottaviano was working for his kin there…?