They reached an abandoned trench where bloody sand covered the marred bodies of British, Indian, and Turkish. They stood for a moment of the precipice of a potential fate. Melbourne felt Nettie sway against him. She turned and pointed suddenly to the left side of the trench. The armored carriage lay on its side, wedged between the banks.
“Kanishka!” She called, but rubber distorted his name. She haphazardly dropped into the trench, stepped around the bodies whose mouths spilled foam and vomit. The men who had not been prepared against a Spider attack. Melbourne followed, tried to help Nettie with the door of the carriage. He pushed the sand and dirt from the window, only to be met with darkness on the other side. He knocked on the glass. Nettie rested against the filigreed door, her small form now convulsing with dry heaves.
The hum of a zeppelin lulled overhead; provided a voice for the disembodied soldiers as if it were really their lost souls now hovering above them. Obviously shaken by the sound, Nettie returned to her task. Taking the butt of her rifle, she began ramming the window. A sunken face emerged from behind the glass and caused Nettie to stop, motion it away, and then continue. Kanishka’s eyes appeared nearly swollen, thin lines of blood traced the curves of his cheekbones. He shook his head. Melbourne thrust his hands out to catch Nettie’s arm, stopping her from breaking the glass. He pointed to his own mask, then hers, then at Kanishka and shook his head. He must have lost his mask amidst the chaos.
The gas would kill him instantly if Nettie were to break the window. She slung her rifle over her back and turned to the bodies spread before them. Frenzied, she began pushing upon limbs and ammunition boxes with her boot. She stopped and knelt to a fallen Indian solider. One dark hand loosely held an unused mask. He’d only been a few seconds too late from salvation. Nettie’s head drooped as she pressed a gloved hand to the man’s chest before. She gently took his mask.
Melbourne nodded when she turned back and signaled Kanishka to move back. The Captain pulled a low-impact detonator from his ammo-belt and fixed its sharp, crab-like legs to the glass. Setting the timer, he grabbed Nettie’s hand and raced out of the trench to take cover behind Ophelia.
After the bang had rippled down each side of the trench, sending gray smoke to mingle with the yellow, Melbourne and Nettie returned to the wreckage. Nettie plunged within the smoking cavern of the carriage and affixed the mask over Kanishka’s swelling and reddened features. Melbourne pulled him out while Nettie supported from below.
Kanishka’s tarnished body lay contrasted against the unchanged filigree. Melbourne supported his head while Nettie examined the limp wrist for a pulse of life. His eyes, nearly sealed, stared desperately out at them.
After several minutes of rest, the rain began again. The gale came quick and heavy—sent steam curling from the ripped guns, tank shells, and vanquished Spiders. The putrid yellow clouds began to slink away, a defeated monster of man. The auburn-maned wolf pulled the mask from her face.
Scanning the area that had cleared of smoke, Melbourne found that the battle had ended. Only discarded bodies and broken machines lay mangled in the wet sand and dirt. Shaking, Kanishka’s hand rose. Nettie grabbed it abruptly, not wanting him to remove his mask just yet. But he released her grasp and held out his wrist flat as he stared at something behind Melbourne’s shoulder.
A nearly charred mech-pigeon landed on his wrist. It smudged his skin with ashes. One eye bulb hung loosely from its aluminum head by an almost uncoiled spring. Melbourne pressed the flashing red light at the base of its neck and a British voice escaped the now skeletal jaw of the contraption.
“Kemball has secured right flank. We have run the Turks out of Sheikh Sa’ad. They are fleeing via the left flank and drawing back toward Kut. General Alymar orders are not to pursue. I repeat, do not pursue until all forces have reconvened.”
Melbourne stared at the charred messenger. He didn’t recognize the voice, although it was probably one of his men who had rendezvoused with the rest of Alymar’s forces.
Kanishka carefully sat up as Nettie supported his frame. He pulled the mask off slowly. His eyes still brightly bore the damage. Nettie took a silk bandage from her coat pocket and gently wrapped it around her brother’s head. He moved his wrist perch toward Melbourne. The Captain was not certain if a fragment of a smile was spreading across the man’s lips or not.
Nettie shook her head in disbelief and amusement. “He thinks we should pursue.”
“We can’t go without the rest of The Court and my men.” Melbourne started.
“We’ll send this pigeon out to find your men. Ophelia has a tracking device. The Court will be here soon, I’m sure of it.”
Melbourne paused, took the pigeon from Kanishka’s wrist and pressed a button on its belly to erase the message. Pressing the top button once more, he spoke. “Men, report to left flank. Follow The Court here if you see them. We are in pursuit toward Kut.”
He released the button and propelled the pigeon skyward from his cupped palms. Turning his gaze from the fleeting skeletal contraption, Melbourne returned to Nettie’s surprised expression.
“Disobeying orders? I must be a bad influence.” Nettie grinned through her teeth.
“Let’s ride with the Valkyries.” Melbourne grabbed his rifle and motioned toward Ophelia.
- - - 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.