There was chaos on the shore. Practically every citizen of Nutooka was pressed into the confines of the harbor. Some screamed. Some cried. Some waved to get the attention of the battleship off shore. No doubt all of them would have piled into small boats and rowed out to the ship, if Captain Mould had not already had all of the local boats scuttled. Even so, some of the people on shore jumped into the water, trying to swim out to the ship. The city of Nutooka itself was almost completely empty. This was not surprising, once one looked at the size of the army advancing upon it. For more than three years, the followers of the Ape god Guma and their allies, the antiforeigner Red Sashes, had built up their strength. Now they were ready to eliminate the Brechs, whose single naval installation was, they felt, the greatest blight on their great land of Enclep.
On the bridge of the battleship H.M.S. Superb, the captain and his first officer watched the locals’ panic, while several other officers hunched over a map of the region surrounding the port. Captain Mould was the youngest captain in the Royal Navy of Greater Brechalon, and looked every inch like a man capable of rising quickly in that prestigious service. His sharp nose and neatly trimmed beard gave him the look of a predatory bird, which his black eyes did nothing to diminish. He turned on his heel and looked at the men hunched over the map.
“Where are they exactly, Wizard Than?”
One of the officers, dressed no different than any of the others save a blue bar on the sleeve of his stiffly starched white uniform, waved his hand over the map and said, “Uuthanum.” A hundred tiny red dots appeared grouped in three large bunches on the map, indicating three massive arms of the approaching army.
“Whenever you are ready, Commander,” said the Captain.
Commander Staff seemed almost the polar opposite of his captain in some ways. Light blond and clean-shaven, his freckled face made him look far younger than his twenty-nine years. His small nose and well-formed mouth made him almost too pretty. For all that, he seemed nothing less of a naval man of action than his superior. He leaned over the ship’s phone.
“Sixteen degrees, eight minutes. Twenty-two degrees, five minutes. Elevation, make it five thousand yards. Load high explosive.”
The entire ship shook slightly as the two massive front facing turrets, each with three twelve-inch guns, turned into position. Once they were in place, Staff leaned back over the phone.
“Lay down a pattern of fire.”
Six giant guns fired, rending the air with a sound that thunder could only envy. Huge gouts of flame and monstrous clouds of acrid smoke shot across the bay. As soon as the flame was gone and the great sound began to die away, the guns fired off again. And again. And again. Three hundred massive shells were fired into the advancing army on the far side of the city of Nutooka.
“Hold fire,” said Staff into the phone. The thundering of the cannons ceased.
“Are they getting the message, Wizard Than?” asked the Captain.
The wizard and the other officers watched the red dots across the map. They began to spread out from the three masses of their original formation into an even dispersion throughout the jungle.
“Just what we hoped for, Captain,” said the wizard.
“You know what to do, Mr. Staff.”
Once again, Staff leaned over the phone. “Raise elevation to seven thousand yards. Load anti-personnel.” Then turning back to Captain Mould. “Ready, sir.”
“At your discretion, Mr. Staff.”
“Lay down your pattern of fire.”
The six giant guns began firing again. While the first three hundred shells had just grazed the advancing forces’ front, this extended volley fell right in their midst. The raised elevation spread the falling shells throughout the army. The first wave of fire, laid down with high explosive shells that had blown up upon impact, created huge craters in the jungle battlefield and knocked down thousands of trees. This second attack was made with anti-personnel shells, which burst upon impact releasing tens of thousands of flechettes, needle-like bits of iron, which then flew in all directions, slicing through the warriors on the ground and their terror-bird mounts, like hot tacks through butter. Captain Mould and Commander Staff stepped back to lean over the officers and look at the map. The red dots, indicating the cult fighters and the Red Sash terrorists were disappearing from the paper. The red dots were fading away not in ones and twos, but in hundreds, in thousands. By the time three hundred shells had been fired, only a tiny fraction of the symbols representing the enemy remained.
“All right Mr. Staff, hold fire.”
“Hold fire,” called Staff into the ship’s phone. The great cannons became quiet.
“Mr. Rise.” The captain turned his attention to the man inside the nearby wireless room. “Signal Major Black to advance.”
Captain Mould stepped stiffly back to the other officers watching the map. A line of blue dots began sweeping across the map from the far right side. These dots represented the contingent of Royal Marines, whose job it would be to finish off the enemy and who ironically enough were dressed in their bright red coats and white pith helmets. The captain nodded in satisfaction at the outcome of the operation. With any luck, it would be a permanent blow to the forces of instability in Enclep. If not that, at least it would set them back years.
“Commander Staff, it looks as though you will be able to make your rendezvous with the S.S. Arrow.”