Turning away from the periscope, Melbourne spoke first. “If all the units have gotten here on time, Younghusband should be on the left flank and Kemball on the right.”
“I watched some film my mech-pigeons recorded yesterday—it seems Younghusband attempted to relieve Kut. He’ll need our help today. We will have to cross the river and attack at the base of the U formation of the city.” Nettie scribbled calculations into a small notebook as the tank lead The Court and British soldiers to the point of conversion. There was no other way to the besieged soldiers than through Sheikh Sa’ad.
Melbourne looked out the small window to find Kanishka rumbling along beside them in the armored carriage, steam billowing behind him like a banner. Melbourne mused that despite the carriage’s delicate gold inlay, it was still a ferocious sight to behold based upon the two flame guns mounted on each side.
Craning his neck to see behind their tail, Melbourne made out the figures of Court members on motorcycles. The Ride of the Valkyries, playing on loop, propelled the machines onward. A few of Melbourne’s men operated Spiders, and every so often an aluminum leg would crash down to the side of the tank. Melbourne and Nettie took turns popping out the hatch to scold the inexperienced drivers to mind their way.
“Crescent tank, dead again.” Nettie peered through the periscope and gripped the controls in front of her. Ophelia rippled, convulsed with a low grumbling noise followed by the smell of acrid steam. Popping the hatch just enough, Melbourne caught sight of the enemy tank, now a flaming shell.
“Take the controls a moment.” Nettie shifted past him, her rosewater-smell was enough to erase the steam. He continued firing, this time at a line of Spiders now forming on the horizon. Melbourne quickly looked to his side to find Nettie crouched in the corner, a wooden box of wires between her knees. She wound a lever on the side and placed a black receiver to her ear and another to her mouth.
“Hello—Kanishka? Get the men to spread out. We’re sitting mech-pigeons all bunched up like this.”
Melbourne heard a muffled response from the receiver and turned back to the periscope to find a Spider directly in their path. Ophelia’sabrupt swerve sent Nettie flying into him. The pack set box tumbled from her grasp.
“Blast! I thought you knew how to drive this thing!” She pushed herself away.
“Sorry! What’s happening?”
Nettie climbed the ladder to the hatch and positioned her elegantly heeled boot to the right of his ear. Explosions contorted the sky, sent the flat ground into motion. A shot ricocheted off the hatch and snapped the door closed. Nettie ducked.
“Are you trying to get killed?” He yelled, firing at the entrenched guns.
“We’re nearly into Sheikh Sa’ad. Looks like Younghusband’s having some trouble breaking through on the left.” She pressed her goggles against the window before signaling Melbourne to relinquish his position.
Contentedly hitting the controls, Nettie began to hum along with Ophelia’s Wagner theme that was no doubt being heard by the enemies. “How do you like that, Goltz?” She bared her teeth, wolf-like.
- - - Nichole Beard is in the process of earning her MFA in Creative Writing at Rosemont College. She is a little too obsessed with Star Wars and most other things deemed nerdy. She is working on her first novel, a historical fiction piece.