A Monster In The Sky_Part 3

by Steven Mohan, Jr.

Kozlov stepped to the port bridgewing. He wanted to see the Japanese coming with his own eyes, unfiltered by glass. It was dangerous on a skyship’s deck when underway, buffeted by heaven’s angry winds, and Kozlov had published a standing order that required all officers and ratings to clip their safety lanyards to the steel padeyes bolted to the ship’s superstructure when outside.

But this was war.

Speed was important. And more was at stake than Kozlov’s meager life.

As he watched, the Japanese flagship Mikasa fired, simultaneous with his turn. His forward guns belched billowing flame, molten orange and yellow mixed with tendrils of sulfurous black, pumping out a pressure impulse so powerful that it churned the cobalt water white; for a moment the sea next to Mikasa‘s hull was hollowed out before it came rushing back in to reclaim what it had lost. A second later, the sound came to Kozlov, the crack of a close lightning strike, so close you can feel the hair rise on your body and you jump, even as everything around you rattles and shakes with the terrible blow.

Holy God.

So these were the Japanese guns.

And if the guns were terrible, the gunners were even more fearsome. As Kozlov watched, white water geysered a scant twenty-five yards astern of a fleeing Russian destroyer. A near miss, fired at range, by a ship moving at flank speed in the middle of a turn.

Mikasa‘s guns spoke again, sooner than he would have thought possible. And this time there was no escape for the doomed destroyer. One moment the little ship was sprinting for his life and the next—

The twin shells smashed into the little ship dead astern, instantly sending up a column of spray and orange fire and debris and men. A terrible palsy rippled the destroyer’s hull. He suddenly veered starboard and then stopped.

Kozlov could not swallow.

Steering casualty. The little ship was not under command. The last hit had robbed him of the ability to flee.

Kozlov had grown up in Novosibirsk in Asian Russia. As a boy he’d hunted deer with his father in the dark Siberian forest. On one such trip he’d somehow managed to become separated from his father. He trudged through an early spring snow, cold, miserable, lost, the dead weight of his old rifle cradled in his arms.

Suddenly he looked up and saw a deer. It was a big doe, maybe one hundred-twenty, one hundred-thirty pounds, tawny coat, ears pricked, nose twitching.

Liquid brown eyes looking right into his.

Young Misha knew he should shoot the deer, but he was only eight and not yet used to killing things. He didn’t know why the doe didn’t flee, but for a long time the two of them stood there unmoving, staring at one another.

And then an orange-and-black terror erupted from a thicket not six feet from where Misha stood. The tiger launched itself into the air, expending all the power stored in its legs in one leap. Its jump missed the doe, but the animal still landed a blow at the last second that broke the deer’s right hind.

The little creature tried to drag itself away, bleating with pain, barely moving but still fleeing, because that’s what its instincts told it to do. The tiger didn’t even bother to run. It loped after the deer, brought it down.

Ate it alive.

And that was exactly what was going to happen to the destroyer.

As Kozlov watched, the Japanese battleship fired again, this time hitting amidships.

It took less than a minute for the little destroyer to slip completely beneath the waves.

Kozlov turned and stepped back into the bridge. If he did not act, the fleet’s fate would be the same as the destroyer’s. In addition to their devastating advantages in gunnery and armor, the Japanese were much, much faster than their Russian counterparts. The Japanese battle line would stab through the center of the Russian formation like a blade, battleships and cruisers firing withering broadsides until no targets remained.

The Baltic Fleet would never reach the shelter of Port Arthur’s shore batteries.

Unless the skyships could slow the Japanese.

Kozlov turned to his deck officer. “Pass the signal to all ships: target the lead Japanese battleship and fire.”

#

Togo looked up at the line of warships hovering over the sea, not more than four or five thousand yards from his position. He did not like having the enemy above his head, but then, they’d been there before, hadn’t they? Off the coast of Port Arthur, the Russian leviathans had tried to turn the tide.

And failed.

Oh, they had damaged ship superstructures and they’d killed some of his ratings. And they’d plagued the Japanese infantry, earning the name Rairyuuha–Thunder Dragons. But those accomplishments were not the same as punching through the Imperial Navy’s fine Krupp armor.

And if a ship’s armor could not be breached, she could not be sunk.

Suddenly the leviathans’ guns erupted into orange flame. Togo stood firm. If today was his day to die, he would face it like a man.

For a moment the air was filled with the whistle of falling shells, and then the sea erupted in towering fountains of white water, drenching the men standing behind him. He heard their startled gasps. Togo remained impassive. He watched.

The leviathans were firing at range, their three- and five-inch guns barely able to reach Mikasa with any kind of accuracy. The enemy could do very little to hurt him. But the reverse was not true.

Togo leaned toward the voice tube. “Captain, come to new course three four eight.” His battle line was steaming directly for the leviathan line, like a spear thrust at a shield. By turning ninety degrees he was presenting his port side to the enemy, but sacrificing his pursuit of the fleeing Baltic Fleet.

Togo turned to his signal officer. “Signal ‘All Ships Continue Pursuit of Enemy.'”

The officer bowed. “Hai. All Ships Continue Pursuit of Enemy.”

Strictly speaking, the order wasn’t necessary, but Togo wanted to be absolutely sure that his battle line did not follow him into the turn. His main force would continue its pursuit of the Baltic Fleet, and Mikasa‘s heavy guns would smash the leviathans from the sky.

A grim smile touched Togo’s lips as he gave his next order.

“Captain, redirect fire at the line of leviathans. All port batteries. You may fire at your leisure.”

#

Kozlov allowed a smile to touch his lips as he watched Mikasa turn. The Japanese were taking the bait. He was drawing them off their pursuit. And then the smile froze.

The second battleship did not turn. He watched the golden chrysanthemum on the warship’s bow, the emblem of the Japanese emperor, waited for it to slide right. But the second battleship never wavered. Nor did his two brothers behind him. All three battleships knifed straight through the water and past their flagship, which was slowing and steadying on a new course.

The main Japanese battle line would not be drawn off. They were going straight for the Baltic Fleet while Mikasa dealt with the skyships alone. And he could do it, too. Kozlov had twenty-two Berkut gunships and two Nevsky-class cruisers, but Mikasa’s port side bristled with guns—seven six-inch 38-cals, five three-inchers, and of course, the monsters: a quartet of Elswick twelve-inch 38-caliber heavy guns. More than enough firepower to knock his little fleet out of the sky.

And as Kozlov watched, the great ship’s guns elevated, his superior gunners taking aim.

To Be Continued…

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