Near evening and the battle dwindling from motion, Kanishka’s crackling voice emanated from the pack set. Melbourne grabbed the receiver.
“Hello? Can you hear me?”
“Yes. Are you both okay?”
“Fine here, why?”
“I’m in a bind—I’m near Younghusband’s side. We can’t take the left trenches. We need you over here.”
Nettie grabbed the receiver from Melbourne, her gray eyes wild. “Kanishka what’s going on over there?”
“Half our Spiders have been taken out. Younghusband is maneuvering his men like they’re lining up for a retreat.”
Nettie squeezed the receiver tighter in her small hand, “Out of the question. We will press on. Stay put, Kani, we’re coming.” She placed the receiver back with surprising gentleness. For the first time that day, she pulled the snoopy cap from her head and let the dark auburn locks spill over her shoulders. Melbourne kept silent and held is concentration upon the smoke rising from the left flank. Ophelia’s control cavity had suddenly become quiet with the exception of Ride of the Valkyries, which now caused him discomfort and a twinge of embarrassment of Nettie’s behalf.
The Queen stood still, fixed her cool gaze to the murky horizon point out the top window.“The British just throw the Indians down here because they can.”
Melbourne didn’t turn, kept his finger ready at the firing trigger in case of ambush. His throat became hard and tight when he noticed her balled fist, rigid at her side.
“They don’t care about this campaign, why should they? We’re thousands of miles away from merry old England.” She turned to him, half-smiling half-wolf again. “To be honest, you and your men are the first actual British I’ve seen this far out.”
Melbourne swallowed, trying to formulate the most tactful answer. “I didn’t expect to be sent out here when I enlisted. But I’ll do my duty.” A wave of sour guilt coated his heart, made it beat faster when he recalled his detest of the place upon arrival. Even now he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.
Nettie looked back out the window and leaned against Ophelia’s innards. “I know you don’t care about this place, you don’t have to wrap yourself in a flag to convince me.”
Melbourne remained silent, gave a barely visible nod. He pulled the tank over behind a rock formation.
“What are you doing?” She made for the controls. He stopped her, braced his hands on her jacket-drowned shoulders.
“Nettie, I may hate this place, but I do care about helping those people.” He fought to keep her cold stare. Static from the pack kit broke their gaze. Nettie picked up the receiver and tried to make out the white noise. Simultaneously, a thunderous explosion ripped through the left flank.
“Oh my god. Go!” Nettie commanded. Melbourne hit the steam. When they arrived on the scene, Younghusband’s men were either scattered around the sand or nowhere to be found. He had already retreated. A few masked Court members battled the last of the Turks who were still holding the line. Flame pistols sparkled in the rippling air between them. Nettie pulled a helmet from a bag on the floor and made for the hatch.
“Wait! Spiders have been out there!” Melbourne pulled two narrow, alien-faced gas masks from his pack and handed her one. Her auburn hair radiated from the mask—an alien wolf. Melbourne retrieved two flame rifles and threw open the hatch.
Yellow fog swept over them like a tidal wave. Melbourne grabbed Nettie’s arm as they climbed over the edge the tank. Gunfire and explosions flashed off the man-made yellow clouds. They kept low, followed the rumbling of the guns still positioned within the Turkish trenches.
- - - 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.