Story Fiction

Like all of Catalyst's Worlds, Leviathans has a plethora of fiction written and planned. Watch this space for short tales of adventure from the decks of leviathans in 1910!

"Story fiction" includes novels, novellas, short stories and so on; fiction that puts the reader inside the heads of the characters that populate the universe.

What Prices Paid_Part 5

by Jim Rapkins

House of Commons

Parliament House

London, Great Britain

12 February 1909

“The Germans!” Spittle flew from the rotund man’s lips as he spat out the words, as if they did him physical harm. His outburst did not go unnoticed. Parliament was more full than it had been in weeks, evidence of the anticipation—and dread—that many of the MPs were feeling as to how Jackie Fisher would extricate himself from this one.

“Order! The Member for Stoke-on-Trent will resume his seat or be removed from the chamber!” The gavel accompanying the Speaker’s words was lost in the cacophony of voices that exploded in contest. The Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, the Right Honourable Kelvin Harris, MP, waved the newspaper in his hand menacingly at the man seated opposite the chamber before the Speaker grudgingly acknowledged him.

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What Prices Paid_Part 4

by Jim Rapkins

HML Philopoemen

80 miles off the Danish Coast

Baltic Sea

12 January 1909

Ratings spoke quietly into the speaking tubes before them as Christian continued giving rapid-fire orders. “Helm, bring us about, make sure those buggers can’t get a good shot at the boats.” Crippen nodded. Admiral Jellicoe’s plan was for the larger leviathans to shield the lighter, more nimble vessels with their bulk, whilst opening up their broadsides at the Germans arrayed against them. The Edward VII-class leviathans were well armoured enough to take whatever the Krauts could throw at them. In this fight, the Germans were simply outclassed. Even with a decade’s worth of neglect, the ocean-going vessels of the Royal Navy were still a match for any navy in the world—whether augmented by Levs or not.

As if to illustrate the point, the Philopoemen heaved under his feet as the designated batteries opened fire. The thundercrack of each gun was largely absorbed by the mass of steel and wood that served as the Philopoemen’s superstructure, and only the wavering of the pegs holding aloft from his map board the wooden blocks that served as representations of the various fleet vessels gave any indication of the Germans’ return fire.

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What Prices Paid_Part 3

by Jim Rapkins

HML Philopoemen

80 miles off the Danish Coast

Baltic Sea

12 January 1909

“This is a fool’s errand, lad. Mark my words. Bloody Admiralty thinks the Krauts will back down after this little display.”

As always, Petty Officer Alun Crippen struggled to understand exactly what his captain was saying. He knew his own Welsh accent was hard for some of the lads to decipher at times, but Captain Christian’s thick New Zealand brogue was nigh impenetrable. Especially when he was irritated, as he was now. But one didn’t have to be a linguist to understand the snort of derision that followed the words.

In any case, the captain was right. The Philopoemen was classified as a Battleship, a behemoth of the air; battle-hardened in the skies of the Dutch East Indies. And the Edward VII-class leviathan was not alone in the low clouds. Crippen knew there were another twelve of the Sky Fleet’s workhorses in the sky with them. But it was the rest of the vessels accompanying them that caused a looked of disgust to settle over the captain’s craggy features.

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What Prices Paid_Part 2

by Jim Rapkins

HMS Excellent

Whale Island

Portsmouth, England

4 June 1908

“No matter how many times I see it, John, it still takes my breath away.” First Sea Lord John Arbuthnot Fisher, the ubiquitous “Jackie” Fisher, glanced up at the stoic figure standing next to him on the small jetty attached to the Commandant’s Quarters. Admiral John Jellicoe grunted in agreement. He followed Fisher’s steely gaze back towards the floating behemoth hovering languidly in the air as it moved away from its moorings, the newest addition to the Royal Sky Fleet taking its place with its brethren.

It truly was a breathtaking sight—thousands of tons of steel and wood filling the air with the crackling static of discharging electroid tanks. Jellicoe felt the exposed hairs on his rough hands come to attention; a familiar feeling for those that rode the Devil’s Breath. It might be a magnificent sight, but the leviathans were still beasts to be feared more than respected. Whale Island was dotted with the brass plaques bolted onto concrete pylons commemorating the “glorious sacrifice” of some poor farm boy who didn’t understand what a tether was for. Amongst other losses.

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What Prices Paid_Part 1

by Jim Rapkins

Chatsworth House

3 miles outside Bakewell

Derbyshire, Great Britain

10 April 1908

“Damn them, Spencer. Damn them.” The younger man threw his cane onto the Chesterfield suite in disgust, the ivory handle bouncing lightly on the taut leather of the lounge before coming to rest on top of the printed pages that had elicited the action. Sir Devon Cavendish, MP of Riding, blew a snort of disgust as he sat down.

The other man in the walnut-paneled room took a deep draught from his snifter, savouring the brandy’s smooth aroma, before responding to the other’s outburst. The fire in the corner crackled as the log recently placed upon it shifted slightly. After several moments’ silence, he turned to address the figure on the chaise.

“And who, pray tell, are “them”, Dev?” Sir Spencer Cavendish, heir to the Duchy of Devonshire, was nearly two decades the senior of his younger brother, but even now he felt the familiar pull of his brother’s fiery rhetoric. If only he could channel that energy…

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A Monster In The Sky_The End

by Steven Mohan, Jr.

Togo scanned the horizon and saw Nevsky’s sister turning. She was maybe ten, twelve thousand yards to the south-southwest of Mikasa at an elevation of two hundred feet. The leviathan was wreathed in smoke and she was burning amidships, a yellow flame throwing a column of black smoke into the blue bowl of the sky.

But she was moving.

Togo watched her for a second.

The leviathan’s squat bow was swinging left.

Togo’s hand tightened on the binoculars. She was coming left, coming left and picking up speed.

And descending.

Togo dropped his binoculars. Fuji and Mikasa were bow-on to the skyship, most of their batteries masked by the angle of the ships. Togo’s mouth suddenly went dry. He felt time and distance ticking away as the Russian sky cruiser picked up speed.

He leaned in to the voice tube. “Captain, forward gun mount acquire the cruiser. Fire at the cruiser.”

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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.”

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A Monster In The Sky_Part 5

by Steven Mohan, Jr.

Wind tore at Kozlov’s clothes, buffeted his body, assaulted his face until tears streamed from his eyes and were carried away. The polkovnik wrapped an arm around the center framing of his shattered windows, holding himself up against the wind, against the treacherously blood-slicked deck, against the nausea roiling his stomach and the ice-pick agony throbbing in his ears.

“Fire,” Kozlov roared.

Baratinsky shook with the recoil of his eight-inchers. Water exploded on the far side of the Japanese destroyer.

“Bracketed,” Kozlov called out. The last shot had been on the destroyer’s near side. His gunners had found their range.
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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…

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.
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