Episode 578: Rooks Take Pawns
The Warfields were not in the habit of waking to greet the dawn. Indeed,
their usual practice made the title character from Bram Stoker's novel
seem an early riser. But squidbats were in season -- according to island
legend, when the stars were right, their ancestors had risen from the deep
to sweep the world clean of some unspecified prey -- and promised to be
good sport. The Baron was checking his shotgun -- a Purdey side-by-side
with the baronial arms engraved in gold on the stock -- when Bludge
approached bearing a telephone on an embroidered cushion
"A call for you, sir, from the radio detection station," the butler
The Baron raised his eyebrows, set his gun aside, and picked up the
receiver. After a moment he nodded.
"What is it, my dear?" the Baroness asked idly,from where she'd been
inspecting the edge of a knife.
"It appears we have two airships approaching, bearing 340, at a range of
range 50 miles," the Baron replied. "According to our man, they'll be here
in three quarters of an hour."
"These would be our former allies, the Japanese and German nationalists?"
wondered the Baroness.
The Baron nodded. "I believe you are correct. Our agents reported that
they called at Buka Town for resupply and lifted ship yesterday morning, so
the timing would be right."
"They can hardly hope to take us by surprise or overcome our defenses," the
Baroness observed. "The Japanese built the instrument we used to detect
them, so they're well aware of its capabilities, and the Germans cannot have
forgotten that they left us four of Mister Krupp's very substantial L56
The Baron shrugged., then glanced toward the field, where the
Coup de Grace was riding from one for the masts. "Perhaps they
hope to divide our fire," he speculated. "They are unlikely to profit from
this plan. We'll instruct Captain Atherton to lift ship so he won't get
caught in the cross-fire, then invite the Governor to join us for a
Lothar studied the air station through binoculars. It was still too
distant for him to make out any figures, but he imagined crews were rushing
to man the guns his own people had installed to defend the place two years
"Those Herren will be preparing a reception for us," the watch
officer remarked from beside him.
"This will not avail them," Lothar observed. "From this altitude, our
gleitbomben have longer range than their cannon. Slow to half
power to give our aimers more time to engage and inform the Japanese of
"Half power on all engines," acknowledged the helmsman.
Signal lamps flashes as the sound of the engines dropped in pitch. To
starboard, the cruiser slowed to match their speed. Lothar watched to be
sure the two vessels remained in formation, then turned to the intercom.
"Bombenschütze, do you have a firing solution?" he asked.
"Jawohl Kapitän," came the reply. "Ready on Numbers One
through Four. Our targets are coming into range now."
"Very well," sauid Lothar. "Los!"
One after another, four sleek projectiles dropped from the weapons hold,
fell away to pick up speed, then leveled out for the long glide to the
distant station. In the fire control room, aimers would be hunched over
their viewfinders, steering the weapons with deft touches at the controls.
The bombardier counted off the seconds.
"Eins zwei drei vier..."
At einhundredtelf, four clouds on smoke and debris blossomed in
quick succession around the distant field. The observer called down from
the upper lookout station.
"Oberer Aussichtspunkt to Bridge, direct hits on all four guns."
"Good work," Lothar announced. "Ahead three quarters on all engines.
Bombenschütze, be ready to engage any additional cannon our
adveeraries might have hidden. Main battery, engage any targets you
The Warfields and the Governor stood by the eastern gun emplacement -- the
one closest to the Governor's mansion -- and watched the approaching
airships. From this distance they seemed entirely innocent, like a pair
of children's balloons
"It would seem they've chosen line abreast so they can both fire once
they're in range," the Baron remarked.
"This will not avail them," observed the Governor. "Our cannon have much
longer range than any weapon they could carry. Several minutes must pass
between the time we engage them and the time they can reply. Gunner, how
long before we can open fire?"
The gunner looked through his range finder, jotted down some figures, and
compared these with ones he'd recorded earlier. "Six minutes," he replied.
"They seem to have slowed."
"How curious," the Baroness remarked. "Have you any idea why?"
The gunner shrugged. "Perhaps the headwind has increased at their
Behind the party, Bludge cleared his throat. "Milord, Milady, might I
suggest the view would be better from the veranda?"
The Warfields exchanged glances of understanding. "I believe you may be
right," the Baroness replied. "Instruct the cook to prepare some tea."
With a nod to the Governor to wish him good shooting, the Warfields set off
for the mansion, followed by their butler. As they left they field, they
heard a swoosh behind them, like a flock of enormous birds. They turned to
see the gun emplacements consumed by explosions.
"Interesting," the Baron observed to his wife. "Did you anticipate such a
development, my dear?"
"Not in quite this form," she replied, "but our adversaries' peculiar
behavior did suggest they intended to present us with a surprise. Have you
a suggestion how we should respond?"
The Baron gestured at the motorcar parked by the track that led up into the
hills. "We will retreat to the laboratory on top of the volcano. We can
hold out there much longer than they can possibly afford to press an
attack. Bludge, instruct the chef to prepare a picnic hamper to accompany
The action that followed the destruction of the anti-airship guns might have
been the posted chld for `one-sided'. Taken by surprise, under fire from
the air, the ill-trained defenders were unable to prevent the airships from
deploying troops by parachute. Soon they'd been driven back to the tree
line. Lothar watched with disinterest as their fire began to slacken.
"That was easy," he remarked. "Signalman, Instruct Sergeant Walther to accept
their surrender, then interrogate the prisoners to determien where they have
hidden the refiner. I would like to complete this operation by nightfall."
The rating lifted a signal lamp, but before he could to flash a message, a
call came down from the obsrever.
"Oberer Aussichtspunkt to Bridge.."
Next week: Knights vs Rooks...
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