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.”