Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 26 – Arrival At Ceraunius

Chapter 26 – Arrival At Ceraunius

We continued on to Ceraunius, leaving the horrific scene of carnage behind us. We did not tout our action as a victory, because our enemy never really had a chance. We caught up with two more columns that day and treated them in a similar manner. The results of these two engagements were not as complete as the first, however. This was because these columns were already on the move and I do not believe the men’s hearts were in it as much as in the first attack. Still, we achieved the desired results. The dust clouds heading for the city dissipated for a bit and when they appeared again, they were moving in the opposite direction.

By late afternoon, the city of Ceraunius appeared on the horizon. A haze enveloped the city, but at this range, we could not determine the cause. As we closed on the city and the sky darkened, it became evident that several areas of the city were on fire. Ironically, the fires gave me hope that our men were still at their posts. We increased our elevation so that we might better determine where the fires were burning. From the greater height and with the aid of the captain’s glass, we determined that the post in town was surrounded by fires. There were no fires near the fort, but this was explained by the fact that the fort was outside of town.

“It looks like Borlak and his associates are getting the worst of this conflict.” Kumlik said.

“Alas, but I believe you are correct.” I said. “We will definitely have our work cut out for us rebuilding once we are rid of Reytik.”

“You are confident in victory, then?” said Jordak.

“Oh yes.” I said. “We will not be denied. My men have held out this long. Our arrival will initiate the beginning of our offensive. If Reytik’s army is made up of the tribes we engaged today, a surprise aerial assault and a determined push from the ground will dislodge his troops.”

“So, what is your plan then?” Jordak asked.

I explained, “We will arrive at Ceraunius after dark. Then we will pass high over the city to ascertain the enemy troop positions. I suspect that the noise of battle will cover the sounds of our engines and the darkness will conceal our movements. Once we have completed our reconnaissance, we will drop down briefly over the fort and deliver to them our plans for the morning.”

With that, we lowered our altitude so as not to attract attention. Soon we were enveloped in darkness, with the eerie glow of the burning city highlighting our destination. I had the ship cleared for action, in case we were discovered. I then spoke briefly to the men, explaining the importance of secrecy in our maneuvers so as not to spoil the element of surprise for the battle in the morning. As we approached the city, we gained altitude again. Our plan was to be low enough to determine the situation on the ground while being high enough to remain uhad been detected.

The outskirts of Ceraunius appeared dark and quiet. This was the housing for local farmers,
and while they were generally against the government, they were not troublemakers and so were left alone. As we penetrated deeper into town, we began to see buildings glowing dully. These had been burned out days before. Ahead of us we could see newly lighted conflagrations, marking the advance of the government’s troops.

Next we passed over the central part of the city. This was the government sector. It was well lighted, but by their light globes not building fires. The scene below appeared somber yet determined.

I turned to Chronto and said, “It looks as though things have not been as easy as Reytik expected.”

“No, but fighting an insurgency is never as easy as expected. The bright lights below signify that Borlak’s agents are causing problems for Reytik and his men.”

“Why is fighting Insurgents so difficult?” Professor Edgren asked.

“For one thing,” I said “you cannot recognize your foe. They look like the common people”

“Also, the battlefield is not conventional.” Chronto said. “While Borlak has defined defensive lines, his troops can attack anywhere in Reytik’s area.”

As we looked over the city, an explosion occurred on the edge of the lighted area defining the government sector. We saw a building collapse into flames, then Reytik’s soldiers running about, shooting wildly. We could also see flashes in the dark where the pro-democracy men were shooting back.

“As I said, Borlak’s men can strike anywhere.” Chronto commented.

“Let us move toward our outpost and fort, so that we can begin to formulate a plan of attack.” I suggested.

With that, we continued on our mission. As we crossed the merchant sector, we could see that the damage to this part of the city was extensive. Here, fires blazed hotly within the rubble of recently demolished buildings. As we came up to our station in town, we could see that the surrounding buildings had been leveled but not set alight.

“Why are not the buildings here burning?” Professor Edgren asked.

“The Flames and smoke would obstruct the field of fire towards our station.” I said. “Also, any attacks would be funneled through a narrow corridor which could be easily defended by our men.”
“I see.” Said the Professor.

We passed over our station and saw only a faint glow within the courtyard of the compound. Everywhere else in the area was cloaked in utter darkness. I knew that there would be lookouts on each of the corner buildings and the watchtower. Hoping to hear any sounds of enemy movement. Expecting to see anything in the blackness of the Martian night seemed to be folly.

Next, we made our way to our fort. It too was blacked out. Around the fort, well out of the range of the Gatling gun were small fires. These marked the camps of the besieging forces. The ring was fairly complete outside of town. However, we could not determine the situation where the besiegers would be in town.

Chronto, Lieutenant Griffin, and I surveyed the situation, then we rose high into the air so that we would ensure secrecy.

“They appear thinnest opposite town.” Griffin said.

“Yes,” I said, “That would appear to be the best place to break the line. But we need to do more than just break the line. How long is it before dawn?”

“Three hours.” Chronto said.

“I do not think we have time to set down and scout enemy lines.” I said.

“Not and have time to make any sort of plan.” Chronto said.

“Very well.” I said. “Let us set down to the south of the fort, behind the siege lines and disembark the men, except those that will man the Gatling and the Martian artillery. As the sun comes over the horizon, we will mount an aerial assault on the east side of the enemy lines. With this attack, I hope to draw in troops from the south flank as well as some out of the city. After our first pass from the east, we’ll turn to the south and hit the line there. At that point, we will follow the enemy lines back around to the east, to create as much confusion as possible. As we turn back to the east, Chronto, you and Mister Griffin will lead the troops into the backs of the blockading force and punch through to the fort.”

“Then what?” asked Lieutenant Griffin.
“Then we sweep away the rest of the besieging force.” I said. “After that, we relieve the station.”

“That is an ambitious plan, Mr. Roosevelt.” Chronto said.

“Ambitious perhaps,” I said, “but not wholly unrealistic. It is my belief that the besieging force is made up of the desert tribesmen we’ve already met. So the combination of an aerial attack and ground assault will drive them off fairly quickly, especially with the added support from the fort. It is the enemy troops within the city that are the major concern. They will be of higher quality and fighting from cover.”

“Your reasoning is sound, Mr. Roosevelt.” Chronto said. “But a street fight, even for the short distance to your station will cost you many more men than you can afford to lose.”

“That,” I said, “is my major concern. We must reach the station as well. If nothing more than to evacuate the men and unite our forces. It may require us cutting a path of utter destruction through to the station. I do not wish to take that course, but it may be our only option.”

“With luck,” said Lieutenant Griffin, “Borlak will deduce our plan and render us good service.”

“He has been a good friend for us,” I said, “but our plan cannot rely on that now. I am sure he will do what he can, but we must only count on what we know we have.”

With that, I wrote out our plans and tied the note to a stone so that it could be dropped into the fort. I called up Sargent Walter Cash, a minor league pitcher before joining up, to do the honors of delivering the message. We were heading south and dropped down over the fort with the engines off, so as to make as little noise as possible.

“Drop it into the center of the courtyard.” I said.

“No problem, sir.” Cash replied.

As we passed over the fort, Sgt. Cash let fly the stone. We then rose abruptly, but could still make out the crack of the stone hitting the gravel in the courtyard. This was followed by a flurry of activity as we spotted men moving around the area with the Martian light globes. Before we hurried south to disembark the men, I saw one of our men taking up an object from the ground and calling the others over to examine it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 25 – Raid On A Desert Camp

Chapter 25 – Raid On A Desert Camp

We spent the afternoon rigging the Gatling gun in the bows of the Iska Mahayi. We built an elevated platform so that the gun would be over the bulwark and trained on the ground in front and to the sides. This would provide mobile firepower, in case we needed to fight our way in. While we were working on our gun, Kumlik brought to pieces of machinery that he assured me were weapons.

The first had a bellows which charged a canister with pressurized air. Above that was a hopper that contained baridium, a mineral used as a propellant in their weapons. Next to the hopper was another cylinder. This one contained water, the catalyst that ignites the baridium. Coming out of the front was a tube with a widened mouth. When fired, an amount of the baridium powder is blown out of the barrel, sending a rolling smoke ring down range. Next, a jet of atomized water is released. This ignites the baridium in a massive fireball.

The second machine looked more like a weapon. It had a cannon barrel. Atop this, were two more cylinders. One contained water and the other baridium. Pipes ran from the front of these to another cylinder mounted on top of the other two. Finally, a pump handle protruded out the rear. To shoot the gun, a cannonball was put down the barrel. Lifting the pump handle dropped a quantity of baridium into the combustion chamber. Finally, depressing the handle injected water into the chamber, igniting the powder and sending the ball to its target.

The next morning, the day before our projected arrival at Ceraunius, the ship rose high above the surface of the planet. This was to survey as much of the area as possible so as to ascertain if warriors were moving toward the city. As we searched the horizon, we saw clouds of dust in many directions, that appeared to be moving toward the city. This was very disconcerting, as it showed trouble was brewing, if not already started.

Lieutenant Griffin, Chronto, and I watched the slow progress of the dust clouds as we cruised through sky.

“We will beat the lead column to Ceraunius by a full day.” Chronto said.

“I would like to give them a taste of our firepower.” Griffin said,
“As would I,” I said “but I fear any delay in supporting our men in the city.”

“If the situation there is still calm, perhaps we can come back out and head some of these troops off.” Griffin said.

“I will consider it.” I replied.

If we defeat Reytik tomorrow, those columns will melt away before they arrive.” Chronto said.

“So, do you think the battle has begun then?” I asked.

“I do.” Chronto said. “These men are coming from the frontier of his territory, so Reytik has enough men on hand to wear down our defenses. When these men arrive, he can finish the job.”

“Then it is imperative that we make haste and break the siege.” I said.

With that, we pressed on. As the day progressed, more plumes of dust appeared. Some were closer to our path. Still, I dared not delay our return. So, we silently continued. The desert plain made it nearly impossible to judge our progress. Finally, darkness fell and I could quit trying to judge our speed. I knew that tomorrow evening would begin a long, sleepless night and a strenuous day to follow. Therefore, I tried to get the men to rest as much as possible. I too tried to rest. Though I laid in bed most of the night, sleep evaded me. I got up before dawn and made my way to the deck.

I walked up to the bow of the ship where I found Chronto. To my surprise, Jordak was there as well.

“Good morning, ma’am, it is a pleasure to see you about.” I said.

“I am feeling much better,” she said, “and I just had to get some fresh air”

I looked out over the bow and noted several campfires directly in front.

Chronto said, “We will be passing over that camp just after sun up. Perhaps, Lieutenant Griffin can give this group a taste of our firepower.”

“I think that we can give them a volley as we pass.” I said.

I called the watch and asked him to rouse the Lieutenant and have the men prepare for action. Within a few minutes, the men were on deck. All were in a jovial mood.

“Men!” I said “We are about to embark on upon some serious business. One should never go lightly into battle. While we may have the element of surprise, remember that we are engaging a dangerous foe. Carelessness on your part could result in injury or death to you or one of your fellows. We will be engaging an enemy camp shortly. We will not stop our progress toward Ceraunius, so you must make your mark upon them in one pass. If we hit them hard, perhaps their support for Reytik will wane.”

The men gave a hurrah then manned the bulwarks of our vessel. Three of my men took charge of the Gatling gun. The rest of the men took up positions, kneeling behind the bulwark on the starboard side. Chronto’s men took up positions on the port side and the ship’s crew manned their artillery. I took a rifle for myself.

I called for the company bugler. I would have him sound the call to action before we commenced firing. Lieutenant Griffin asked me why I was going to announce our presence and spoil our surprise. I explained that I wanted to bring the men out into the open, in case there were women or other non-combatants in the tents.

At one hundred yards from the camp, I ordered the bugle sounded. The desert warriors came rushing from their tents. They looked around bewildered, trying to ascertain the source of the noise. Then the Gatling gun opened fire. On the ground, all was confusion and fear. Then my riflemen popped up and with their fire added to that of the machine gun, the camp was enveloped in utter chaos.

The men on the ground ran towards what cover they could find as we passed slowly overhead, raining down death from all sides. I watched as the ship’s gunners trained their vortex cannon on a group of men hiding in the rocks. The machine made a loud huffing noise, then a red dust ring rolled quickly towards the rocky outcropping. As the ring reached the rocks, the trail of dust burst into flame as a water mist was injected into the cloud from the gun. The flame traveled down the cloud, igniting the dust ring which engulfed the rocks in a terrific ball of fire. Burning men came running out of the rocks screaming, then fell silent to the ground. It was a gruesome sight.

We continued our pace over the camp with guns blazing. The Martian cannon was firing grapeshot with devastating effect. The few shots that the tribesmen on the ground fired were ineffectual. We finally moved out of range of the camp and the shooting ceased. Looking back at the camp, I saw a scene of utter destruction. Dead and dying men and animals littered the ground and the smoke of burning tents filled the air.

Chronto came up to me and said “That should make the other tribes think twice about throwing in with Reytik.”

“Indeed,” I said “but it is a terribly brutal message.”

Jordak approached us and said “It was brutal, but brutality is the only diplomacy these tribes understand.”

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 24 - My Interview With Jordak

Chapter 24 - My Interview With Jordak

The next morning found us making good headway back toward Ceraunius. I asked my officers to inspect the men and make sure all of our equipment was ready for battle. I felt sure that we would be flying into a combat situation very soon. After I had breakfasted, I called on Professor Edgren and Chronto to accompany me for a visit with Jordak.

The professor and I met Miss Linton at the door to Jordak’s cabin. I asked if the lady was ready for visitors to which she replied that she was. So, we entered the cabin and found Miss Jordak sitting up in bed finishing her meal.

Miss Linton Introduced us, “Jordak, this is Mister Roosevelt, Professor Edgren, and Chronto.
They are the men primarily responsible for our rescue.”

“I am pleased to meet you both.” Jordak replied, is slightly broken English.

“The pleasure is ours, I assure you.” I replied. “How are you feeling?”

“I am doing quite well.” She said. “Miss Linton is a wonder.”

“Indeed she is.” I replied. “I understand that you have quite a story to tell us. Do you feel up to it?”

“I believe so.” Jordak replied.

“Bully.” I said. “Let us have a seat and you may begin.”

We sat down in a semicircle facing Jordak and she began her tale.

“I was originally from Amazonis, born the second daughter to the Queen.” She said. “My father was an Avatu from Arduenna.”

“What is an Avatu,” I asked “A king or a prince?”

“Neither,” Jordak replied, “an Avatu is a captive used for reproductive purposes.”

“Oh!” I said with a somewhat shocked expression.

“Please do not judge my culture so harshly, Mr. Roosevelt.” Jordak replied, “This is a practice left over from the time that Amazonis was the slave nursery for the Nagi Fej. It is a practice that has been going on for eons. We can no more change it than you can change your methods of selecting a mate.”

“My apologies, Miss Jordak.” I replied. “Please continue.”

“When I was a small girl,” She continued, “the Queen’s sister led a successful revolt against the palace. My mother and elder sister were imprisoned. I, on the other hand, was taken away by a Trinythioian trader.

Tregtar raised me as one of his own offspring. I trained in the martial arts alongside his sons and learned how to deal with the nomads from Tregtar himself. I learned reading and writing from Tregtar’s mate. She also tried to teach me to be a woman of the Trinythioian culture, but that did not go well.

It was a happy life. I learned to fight and I learned how to defend a caravan. I also learned about the desert nomads, who to deal with and who to avoid. Our main trade route was along the Liris canal, from Trinythios to Ceraunius. Occasionally, we would travel the Styx canal to Laestrygon to trade for medicines and spices. That trade was very profitable, but could only be made once a tau (Martian year).

By the time I was a young adult, I had become an expert trader as well as an experienced warrior. The taue (years) I spent with Tregtar were happy times. I became a well respected trader, in my own right. I led many caravans and always got the best deal for my goods. Unfortunately, it did not last.

The tyrants of Trinythios became jealous of our good fortune. We were soon being harried with trumped up charges and accusations of wrong doing. We were able to hold off the legal assaults for a while. Then, some how, a petty noble was able to get the tyrant to declare us outlaws. Of course, this occurred without our knowledge.

Our caravan was nearing the Ceraunian border when we were attacked. The tribe of Nulak and the retinue from a noble that I do not know ambushed us. We killed many of their warriors before we were overran. Tregtar and his sons were killed. I was wounded and taken prisoner with the other women.

I was given to Nulak as a concubine, a gift he soon regretted. He allowed me to recover from my wounds and regain my strength. That was his mistake, for when he tried to have his way with me, I killed him. Then I took over his tribe. I was able to make my new tribe prosperous until those dogs Reytik and Deyak double crossed me. And that brings us to today.”

“That is an amazing tale.” I said. “Why is it that Reytik and Deyak turned against you?”

“Trade works better in a democratic society, Mr. Roosevelt.” Jordak said. “Therefore, I supported the democratic movement. As you know, democracy is a threat to both Reytik and Deyak.”

“I believe most of your story,” Chronto said, “however, I have heard the tale of a lost Amazon princess told around campfires since I was young.”

With that comment from Chronto, Jordak flared with anger. She then composed herself.

“I am sorry,” she said, “I am not accustomed to being questioned by male servants. However, for your sake Mr. Roosevelt, I shall prove my tale.”

With that, she threw back her bed covers to reveal her half naked body. Fortunately, the bandages she was wrapped in provided the modesty that her actions lacked. Across her abdomen was intricately cut scaring, in the form of two inward facing snake-like creatures.

Chronto stammered, “That is the symbol of the royal house of Amazonis.”

“This pattern was cut into my body when I was an infant.” Jordak said. “It has been concealed for many taue. I shall conceal it no longer.”

“What are you planning to do?” I asked.

“Because we are heading toward Ceraunius,” she replied, “I will deal with Reytik first. Afterwards, I will take my revenge upon Deyak. Then, who can say.”