A Monster In The Sky_Part 6
by Steven Mohan, Jr.
Like a sea captain who lashes himself to the forward mast in the face of a hurricane, Kozlov clung to his precarious perch on the shattered bridge of the Prince Baratinsky. The storm raged all around him, but he thought he could see the lightening of the clouds that signaled the coming dawn.
His skyships were taking the battle to the Japanese. It was nearly impossible for a skyship to deliver a knock-out blow to a sea ship, but in this battle, they didn’t have to. All they had to do was stay above the enemy’s withering fire and keep them occupied.
Every minute the Japanese spent swatting at the bees buzzing around their heads brought the Baltic Fleet a minute closer to escape.
Despite the death and destruction all around him, Kozlov felt a comforting warmth in his chest. He had done the impossible. He had saved the Baltic Fleet and preserved his skyships.
“Polkovnik,” said the deck officer.
And Kozlov heard it, softly, garbled, and with only one ear, but he heard it. “Da, Deck Officer.”
The boy was staring at the sea with his binoculars.
“Sir, Mikasa is approaching from the northeast.”
Kozlov turned and saw. The Japanese battleship was coming in fast, the ensign at his stern, the Rising Sun, flapping madly in the breeze. The polkovnik raised his binoculars. The Japanese flagship was racing toward his cousin, the battleship Fuji, who was trying vainly to strike back at Aleksandr Nevsky, hovering directly overhead.
Kozlov saw the danger at once.
Fuji was swerving all over the place, his wake churning a huge swath of ocean a frothy white, turning right and then left, running in a half-circle. Coming to all-stop and drifting, then putting on a quick backing bell with rudder. Trying everything to get a clear shot at Nevsky.
But the skyship was more nimble than his opponent. Nevsky couldn’t swoop and glide like a bird, but neither did he have to fight his way through water. The sky cruiser was managing to keep his opponent directly beneath him. Fuji occasionally landed a blow, but the battleship couldn’t manage the sustained barrage that would pull Nevsky out of the sky.
But if Mikasa pulled alongside his cousin, his guns would most certainly reach.
Quickly, Kozlov tracked his binoculars left to right. Japanese vessels were pulling out of their battle line and forming up into pairs, an arrangement that would enable each ship to elevate his guns enough to strike at their brother’s attacker.
The quiet sense of victory he had felt now turned to ash. In slowing down the Japanese battle fleet he had saved the Baltic Fleet.
And for that he was about to pay the ultimate price.
Kozlov shouted for his signalmen to order Nevsky to withdraw.
But it was already too late.
Disaster had stolen upon Togo with quiet feet. The Baltic Fleet had been in his gun sights, literally in his gun sights, and the leviathans had managed to fling themselves in his path to save their more powerful sisters.
For that they would pay.
“Right full rudder,” ordered Togo into the voice tube, his voice arctic cold. “Steady up on new course three four seven.”
He was coming to a course that paralleled Fuji. At five thousands yards abeam of the other battleship, his guns would have sufficient room to target Nevsky. If he missed the shells would pass harmlessly over Fuji. But they would not miss for long. Togo’s gunners would find their target quickly and destroy it. And if the skyship tried to run, she would find herself the target of two battleships’ fire.
Togo had not delivered the knock-out blow he had planned to the Baltic Fleet, but he had crippled Russian power in the Pacific. And now he would finish the world’s flirtation with leviathans with one last, devastating blow.
He would still have a kind of victory.
“We’re drawing in range, Togo-sama,” reported Taniguchi.
“Hai,” barked the admiral. He leaned into the voice tube. “Captain, target the Russian sky cruiser. All port batteries. Commence fire.”
“Hai, Togo-sama,” answered Mikasa‘s captain.
Shells tore into the cruiser, flaying the light armor from her hull, ripping away the turrets that housed her three- and five-inch guns, blasting men off the ship so they fell like pieces of debris.
When Togo had been a boy, he’d gone to sea on a whaling ship. What he saw now precisely mimicked the moment when a harpoon plunged into the flesh of one of those great beasts. The sky cruiser lunged right, trying to free itself from its attacker, all the while bleeding black smoke and eletroid like a minke whale pouring its life into the cruel sea.
The leviathan drifted over Fuji‘s centerline, then lurched further right, and suddenly the other battleship’s guns opened up. Fuji‘s frustrated gunners found that Nevsky had wandered into their gun sights; they poured into her all their rage and hatred.
Eight twelve-inch guns and twelve six-inch guns tore into the staggering leviathan and she seemed to just dissolve, her carcass plunging toward the sea.
A jubilant cheer rose behind Togo, his men jumping up and down and pumping their fists into the air, yelling for all they were worth. And as what was left of the Russian sky ship rained down, Togo allowed himself a broad smile.
On his crippled bridge, Kozlov watched Nevsky die. One minute the mighty cruiser was there, and the next he was just not. At that moment, Kozlov finally understood the terrible price that he and his men would pay to save the Baltic Fleet. He had always understood that price in the dry, analytical precincts of his mind.
But now he understood it in his gut.
“Helm,” Kozlov barked. “Come to new course zero four six. Descend to one hundred feet. Lee helm, all ahead flank.”
“Polkovnik,” said the deck officer, panic edging his voice. “That will take us—”
“DO IT,” he roared. “All battery crews, stand by your guns.”
“Stand by your guns, yessir,” repeated the young deck officer, who now had a life expectancy of between five and ten minutes. If Kozlov was going to be defeated, if his men and ships were going to be destroyed, he was going to take as many as possible of the bastards below with him.
Starting with that unholy devil, Mikasa.
“Answering all ahead flank, Polkovnik,” said the lee helm crisply.
“Steady on new course zero four six,” added the helm.
“Very well, gentlemen,” said Kozlov, folding his arms across his broad chest. He made himself ready to meet his death as the wind howled through his bridge.
Baratinsky lumbered toward Mikasa to avenge Aleksandr Nevsky‘s death.
To Be Continued…