Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 28
There was apparently not a consensus among the passengers about whether the Queen should shoot.
There was motion on several of the galleys, and a shout hard to hear in the distance. Four of the rigs on the galleys went into action, flinging burning jars of something. None came near the guns, but one reached the Promenade Deck and two hit windows below the Promenade Deck. The windows both cracked, but neither broke. However, the passengers watching from the Hoi Polloi Lounge got a much closer view of the fight than they were expecting.
The results of the one jar that reached the Promenade Deck were much more serious. Twelve people hit, with everything from minor burns to two who were burned to death, and one who went over the side on fire.
As soon as that report came, Captain Floden lost all interest in waiting. “Sink those bastards, Lang. Sink every last one of them.”
* * *
“About damn time,” Romi Clarke muttered when they got the orders. He’d been wanting to shoot this thing since they built it. He took careful aim, using the camera’s rangefinder and the little program that adjusted the sights automatically based on range and input windage. Then he pointed the camera at the sucker banging the drum and fired.
As it turned out, either the programming was off or he had guessed wrong about the wind. The wide-angle camera recorded the round hitting the water forty feet to the right of his target. The shot didn’t even hit an oar.
Romi adjusted and fired a burst of five. The “potato gun” used steam to propel a heavy object down a four foot long barrel and fired a forty millimeter round that weighed about half a kilogram. They had a muzzle velocity of three hundred meters per second. It took the bullets a second and three quarters to reach the target and the first burst didn’t seem to do much. It had hit the trireme but the ship hadn’t slowed. So Romi tried again, raking his fire from one end of the ship to the other.
* * *
When a one pound lead bullet hits a thin piece of wood, it doesn’t slow much. And if the wood is thin enough, all it does is poke a hole. That was what had happened to the first five-round burst. They had poked five neat holes in the bottom of the galley. The displaced water from their exiting the boat had actually done more damage.
The longer burst hit the rowers on the port side of the galley. The same one pound round that went through the boat’s planking like it was paper, went through the chests of men like they were so many watermelons. Then it went on through the man behind, and the man behind him. The steam cannon weren’t silent, but they weren’t all that loud either. Besides, the pop pop pop of the cannon was over well before the men started to die.
Captain Heron saw the slaughterhouse that the port side of his ship had become and turned away from the battle. He didn’t have a lot of choice. He had lost a third of his rowers on the port side, and the rest were trying to get away from the bloodbath.
Gorgias didn’t see what had happened to the lead galley. He did hear the screaming but he ignored it. Screams, cries of rage and fury — those were inevitable in a battle. Gorgias was an experienced Macedonian soldier. He had been in battle many times and was not a man to run from a fight. He gave orders to speed up the beat. The remaining triremes raced for the big ship as though their life depended on it.
* * *
“Get us moving, Elise,” Captain Floden said. “I don’t want to be a sitting target if any of those triremes get through.”
The huge ship started to move. They had been anchored with plenty of sea room, as much for the comfort of the locals as because they needed it. Now they moved landward to keep sea room from the attackers. And they continued firing the steam cannon.
Two more ships pulled away from the fight after being raked by the stern port steam cannon. But the sonar was showing shallowing. And another, if smaller, volley of Greek fire was flung at them.
“Enough,” Captain Floden said. “Reverse engines, Elise. Run over those idiots.”
The engines on the Queen of the Sea ran generators which, in turn, powered huge electric motors located in turnable nacelles. This allowed the Queen to travel forward, backward, or at need, sideways. But even so, it didn’t happen immediately. The Queen was a massive ship. Even though they had barely started moving, it took them a minute to slow and reverse. But Elise Beaulieu, First Officer Navigation, was a skilled ship handler and no more pleased to be the recipient of Greek fire than her captain.
It took Gorgias a bit too long to realise what was happening. When the Queen started slowing, he thought he had won. He was unable to give up that belief in time to dodge. His flagship was run over by a 150,000 ton cruise ship traveling backwards at four knots.
* * *
Gorgias leapt over the side just as the Queen’s stern contacted the flagship’s port quarter. He was a good swimmer and thought he had a chance. He hit the water hard and had both the wind and the sense knocked out of him for a few moments. He managed not to inhale the water. His fingers worked desperately at the leather straps holding his armor on, and piece by sodden piece, he got it off. By that time he was deep in the water. Deep enough that the water pressed on his chest, making his lungs feel even emptier than they really were.
He swam desperately for the surface, but he was disoriented and confused by oxygen deprivation. He had to breathe, but he couldn’t.
It didn’t really matter. Though he would never know it, Elise Beaulieu had shifted the nacelles and an Olympic swimmer in top form couldn’t have competed with the riptides produced by those massive props. Gorgias never saw the propeller blade larger than he was turning at full speed.
It squashed him like a grape.
* * *
The reason for Elise Beaulieu’s adjustment of thrust was because the trireme behind Gorgias’ was rowing with great desperation to try and get out of the way of the Queen of the Sea. But like Alice in Wonderland, running as fast as they could barely kept them in place, for the currents of the massive motors caught them and pulled them toward the big ship even as the motors of the big ship pushed it at them. The Queen backed over them to the noise of cracking timbers and screaming men. The heavy wooden ribs of the triremes broke like so many toothpicks, and men in those ships were masticated between the Queen and the unforgiving sea.
There were no survivors. Not off the flag ship trireme, or the two others that hadn’t been able to get out of the way in time. The rest ran for shore. Of the nine triremes that had actually taken part in the attack, four made it to shore. None made it without massive casualties.
The two that had peeled off to go after the Reliance had better luck. After an hour of rowing, they gave up the chase. The worst thing that happened to them was the crew of the Reliance leaning over the back rail, yelling taunts at them.
* * *
Sound carries over water, even for miles. Metello of Carthage, admiral of Attalus’ fleet, heard the battle. He heard the strange noises — to him — of the Reliance at full power forcing her way through the waves. He gave orders for the fleet, six triremes, to spread out and to douse all lights. And to row quietly. When he saw the lights from the Reliance, he ordered his trireme to get to that ship, but as it happened, he wasn’t the closest.
Closest was that idiot, Ithobaal. And Metello knew what that meant. The motherless jackal would try to claim the whole ship. Metello leaned over to the aulates, whose job it was to play the rhythm for the oarsmen and whispered to increase the pace. He would rather have Ithobaal get there first than have that monster of a ship warned.
* * *
The first Dag knew of the new trouble was when he heard a crashing sound on the port bow of Barge 14. He looked back and saw the black outline of a mast and rigging. The Reliance was attached, slotted into Barge 14. That was important because it meant that the people who were scrambling onto Barge 14 were going to have no difficulty reaching the Reliance.