A Monster In The Sky_Part 4

by Steven Mohan, Jr.

Mikasa‘s guns opened up with the fury of hell itself. For a moment there was nothing—and then the sea exploded a few hundred yards in front of the leviathan’s shadows. Too high, Togo thought. The gunners have trained their guns too high.

His fleet had the best gunners afloat. They would determine their error.

The admiral stood stock still, enemy shells raining down all around his ship, drawing closer, the Russian fire drawing closer. An enemy shell hit amidships, the dull clank of the impact rising in the cold air. Billowing smoke and flame blossomed from the port side. Then there was another hit. And another. One of the enemy gunners had found Mikasa‘s range at last. Clank-clank-clank. Now the enemy shells were pounding his hull like a hard rain.

Togo drew a deep breath and ran to the ladder, climbed down, ignoring the shouts of his aides who must’ve thought he’d gone mad. He climbed quickly, past the bridge, hand over hand, jumping the last four feet to the wood deck and landing in a crouch. Ignoring the flash of the enemy’s fire, he ran to the side of his ship and peered over the safety railing.

The black of burnt paint and spent explosives streaked the gray hull. There were ugly dents all along the port side where the armor was beginning to buckle, but the nine-inch steel plates had not been pierced.

The Krupp armor had withstood the full fury of the enemy’s assault. Which meant that Mikasa could not be defeated.

Togo stood, satisfied to return to the forecastle. As he turned, he saw Mikasa‘s forward twelve-inch guns lower a few degrees.

And then they spoke.

He turned back, just in time to see the massive shells hit. One moment he was looking at a Berkut gunship, maybe a third the size of the Nevsky and her sister, and then suddenly the sky was filled with fire.

It started just behind the leviathan’s main guns, an explosion, orange flame leaping twenty feet into the air, debris raining into the ocean, and then there was a second explosion, a massive whump that seemed to rattle the world. Secondary explosion, Togo thought. Forward magazine.

All at once the sky was gray and hazy with debris: cinders glowing bright orange and jagged pieces of wooden paneling and long, uncoiling lengths of rope, and a million fluttering pieces of paper like a flock of geese startled into the air by a gunshot.

And bodies.

Some still and falling with a dead man’s weight, some screaming, some burning, no more than a black silhouette against the flames devouring their flesh as they plummeted toward the sea.

The ship itself, broken and burning, spiraled out of the air as eletroid leaked from its hull.

All this Togo saw in an instant.

Before the next blast from Mikasa‘s guns.

#

One moment Kozlov was standing there, watching the fleet’s gunners find their range, shells starting to smash into the battleship’s hull. Given a few more seconds Baratinsky‘s gunners would find the right angle and his eight-inchers would—

God’s hand reached down and grabbed Kozlov, hurling him across the bridge and smashing him against the starboard bulkhead. The polkovnik lay there for a moment, stunned. He had the impression that there had been a huge noise, but in fact there was silence, total silence, and for a second he thought he might be dead.

He looked up and saw one of his junior sergeants standing over him, the left side of his face masked in dark blood from a gash just over his left eye. The man was screaming at him, his mouth wide open, muscles standing out like cords in his neck, but Kozlov could barely hear.

He touched his right ear and his hand came away stained crimson.

Kozlov scrambled to his feet. If he were dead, he must be in hell. The glass in the forward windows had shattered and the blue tile deck was littered with thousands of blue-green shards of glass and streaked with blood. One of his men, young Golubev, lay on the deck.

Kozlov crouched by the poruchik‘s still form, feeling for a pulse.

Nothing.

The boy was dead.

The polkovnik stood, trying to understand what had happened.

He looked out the opening on the port side of his bridge that had once contained glass, and what he saw was one of his gunships sinking through the air. The little vessel had taken position directly outboard Baratinsky, no more than three hundred yards off the cruiser’s port beam.

Now he was a collection of twisted and burning wreckage. The main gun turret was gone, just gone, and the deck after where it should’ve been was blackened and burning. The scorched steel had opened up like a blooming flower.

“Secondary explosion,” Kozlov whispered.

The terrible explosion had also taken the ship’s pilot house. As Kozlov watched, the vessel heeled over. The Berkuts carried two eletroid spheres along their keels. The forward sphere must have been destroyed in the explosion, releasing the eletroid and with it losing the positive buoyancy needed to keep the gunship’s corpse in the sky.

With its rear sphere still intact but its forward sphere crushed, the vessel fell toward the sea bow-first, like a sinking ship plunging toward the ocean floor.

Kozlov’s hopes fell with the Berkut. This was the worst possible outcome. He was sacrificing his skyships, but there was no chance of slowing the main Japanese force. He would lose his men and his ships and the Baltic Fleet.

Kozlov turned and met the eyes of the junior sergeant whose face was a half-mask of blood. Can you hear me? Kozlov shouted.

He couldn’t hear himself, but the sergeant nodded vigorously.

Good, said Kozlov. Signal the fleet. All skyships break formation. Withdraw. Attack the main body of the Japanese fleet. Commanders select targets at will. Just slow them down. Slow them down.

#

From his perch on the topgallant forecastle Togo watched the Russian leviathans break and run. It was a glorious rout, and he wished the whole world could see it. A fleet of skyships beaten by a single battleship.

And then he saw that it wasn’t quite a rout. The Russian vessels were withdrawing, but they were withdrawing in good order and they were running toward his fleet. Togo’s eyes narrowed. The Russian commander must be mad. Beaten by a single battleship, the man now chose to engage a fleet of cruisers and battleships.

No matter. Some men demonstrated difficulty in learning the realities of the world. If it was his fate to instruct them, so be it. He turned to Taniguchi. “Signal the cruisers Kasuga and Nisshin to retrain their guns on the leviathans. All other vessels are to concentrate their fire on the Baltic Fleet.”

His aide ducked his head. “Hai, Togo-sama.”

This was one fight Togo didn’t intend to miss. He gave new orders. “Captain, left full rudder, come to new course two four nine. All ahead flank. It is time for Mikasa to rejoin her fleet.”

To Be Continued…

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