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Authors: S.G. Schvercraft

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BOOK: The Zeppelin Jihad
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Our carrier stopped and we dismounted with the other SIO officers. It was fully dark now. I couldn

t see our trailing pocket zeppelins anymore. The Triclops remained behind while Speer, myself, and fifteen other men fanned into the woods.

We moved parallel to the road. Silently crossing a mile of broken ground, we finally came to a tall, wooden stockade.

Speer quietly ordered his men to dig beneath it with their pack-shovels, and once they had, we slipped under it.

The industrial airship yard was larger than even the airport, with only a few electric lights dotting its expanse. Still, I could make out hangars like low mountains in the distance. Far from us, there were a few airships anchored in the open.

Nearby was a squat, brick office building. It looked kind of like an aboveground bunker, which made sense given the tons of flammable hydrogen lying around. The lights were on, and I could see movement in the windows. According to Khaliq, Mohammad Talib was hiding there.

Stacks of shipping containers and I-beams lay here and there about the yard, but nowhere near the building. It was the only structure in the immediate area. Nothing else to offer cover for a hundred yards around it.

Speer gestured to his men. Two squads moved across the grass towards the building, silent as ghosts while Speer and I hung back with the third squad.

Then an explosion shattered the quiet.

It took me a second to process what my eyes had just seen: one moment, a squad leader was halfway across the field. The next, there was a fiery plume of dirt, hurling the man into the air and blowing off his leg below the knee.


Minefield!

one of them yelled.

Fall back, fall back!

Blinding floodlights hummed to cruel life atop the building. The field was suddenly brighter than Miami at noon.

Speer

s head swung around, looking at the stockade that would block any escape, and yelled to his squads:

No, it

s a trap! Switch to mercury rounds, shoot out a path through the minefield, and keep moving forward!

The advance squads stiffened at Speer

s command, pulled the standard-round clips from their rifles and loaded red-tipped cartridges.


Smoke
grenades!

he yelled.

Conceal
our
advance
!

Men pulled white canisters from their bandoliers and tossed them in an arc towards the building. They hissed as they hit the ground, spewing out thick white smoke.

Speer ordered someone to launch a flare. It rocketed into the air before bursting.

The smoke was starting to rise, obscuring the building. Speer and I, along with the squad we

d attached to, began moving towards the stranded men. Everyone that could began shooting into the windows to discourage anyone from firing on us. Mixed volleys of regular and explosive bullets punched into the building, the sharp
ping
of empty clips being ejected from SIO rifles punctuating the gunfight.

The suppressing fire didn

t work, though. From one of the smoldering, bullet-shattered windows there was a terrifying
BOOM
, and a plume of smoke. I perceived more than saw something cut across three men before they fell to the ground, their upper bodies detached from the bloody stump of their lower halves.


A cannon?

I dumbly asked no one.

Over the ringing in my ears, I heard Speer shout to his men that it was chain-shot. My mind grasped for the only time I

d ever heard of chain-shot

a guy I was dating droning on about some Aubrey/Maturin novel he was reading.

For a second the smoke cleared. It was then I saw another large object being rolled into position at one of the windows: a Gatling gun.

The 19th century

s version of a machine gun, it had six rotating barrels and fired each one in turn as fast as you could turn its crank. I hadn

t seen anything like it except in westerns.


Speer!

I shouted.

They

ve got some kind of Gatling in there!

I spoke quickly, trying to warn him. I didn

t have time to mention that its barrels looked larger than the .50 BMG I

d been allowed to shoot at Quantico.

The Gatling opened up, shooting blindly into the concealing smoke. But it was brutally effective, punching through men where they stood. Even a grazing shot ripped an arm from one man.

There was something else about these bullets

after a certain distance they exploded, sending shrapnel in all directions, cutting more men down as they dove for cover.


They

re too strong!

I screamed to Speer.

As if in answer, I heard the cannon
BOOM
again, and more screaming from the wounded nearby.

From above, rockets rained down. It took me a second to realize they were coming from our pocket zeppelins. These weren

t anything so sophisticated as heat-seekers or wire-guided missiles, probably just point-aim-shoot, but they did the job, blowing apart the room from where the cannon had been firing.


We

ve got to get these men out of here,

Speer said, standing up. His revolver was in hand, the golden cylinder in it. The cannon and Gatling fire had shot through the stockade behind us, taking chunks of the thick wood with it.

Speer fired two mercury-tipped rounds into the most-damaged section of the fence, blowing open a hole large enough for two men to run through at a time.

Collect the wounded and retreat through the breach!

A breeze cleared the smoke for a moment, and I again saw the building relatively clearly. The zeppelins fired another volley, but the rockets were off-target, exploding in front of the building. The Gatling had been withdrawn from the window, and I almost convinced myself that the bad guys had run off.

Then I saw the Gatling

s bullets ripping out of the building

s upper wall and roof, firing at our zeppelins. I could see sparks in the sky as the shrapnel rounds exploded.

One of the small zeppelins came crashing down. It had taken a direct hit, its pilots already a red smear before it hit the ground. Another drifted down more slowly, some of the shrapnel having apparently burst its helium bags. The two pilots in the open gondola were frantically trying to maneuver it beyond the stockade when the Gatling reappeared in the window. I watched it draw a bead on the crippled mini-airship. The smoke reasserted itself, covering the scene, so I only heard the rip of the Gatling firing.

Speer grabbed my arm and dragged me to my feet.

Get out of here!

I nodded, wanting badly to get out of that hell, and glad that no one would think less of me for doing so. Then I saw Speer turn back towards the building.


What about you?

I asked.


Some of the men from the advance squads may still be alive!

he said, and dashed into the smoke.

Through the stench of cordite, burnt earth, and blood, I followed.

I was just a few steps behind him, firing my Glock blindly towards the building, more to give me courage than in the hope of actually hitting anything. Speer was firing mercury bullets into the ground. Two exploded harmlessly. Two more managed to set off mines, knocking us back before we pressed forward again.

We reached where the advance teams had first been cut down. The man who

d lost an arm was lying inert on the ground. We turned him over to check if he was still alive. Covered in blood and dirt, at first I didn

t recognize him

it was Abernathy.


Hello, Charlie, how are you doing here?

Speer asked, forcing a smile.


Better now that you brought me a nurse,

Abernathy said, weakly gesturing towards me.

I would have preferred her in a white dress and longer hair, but beggars can

t be choosers, right?

He wore a brave face, despite the tear
stains
on
it
.

Speer holstered his revolver, pulled out a pocketknife, and cut the sleeve from his own suit.

Make
a tourniquet,

he told me.

I did as he said.


There

s someone else out there,

Speer yelled. I could hear it too, the delirious moaning of a wounded man calling for someone named Rebecca.

You help Abernathy through the stockade

I

m going after that other man.

I looked towards the building.

There

s no time

the smoke

s clearing!

I shouted.

He paused.

Do you feel that rumbling?

he asked, so calmly I thought he had lost his mind.


What?

I asked.


We

re going to be fine.

Then he disappeared into the smoke.

I couldn

t feel any rumbling outside my own jackhammering heart. That and the Gatling gun drawing a bead on us were the only things my senses could process.

So I barely perceived it when the Triclops came crashing through the main gate, two hundred yards from our position.

The Gatling

s operator saw it before I did, swinging his barrels around and opening fire. The heavy rounds pinged off the tank

s armor as it advanced, leveling one of its three cannons.

The left-most cannon fired, and an artillery shell smashed a hole into the structure the size of a bowling ball.

I would have expected the entire building to explode, taking us with it. Instead, there was a seconds-long pause before all the windows and doors blew out, sending papers, bodies, and even the Gatling gun flying from the building. The building

s floodlights cut off. A rush of hurricane-strength air blasted over us, clearing what remained of the smoke.

Now I could see Speer again, just fifteen yards from me. He had taken off the remains of his suit coat and was using it to compress a man

s chest wound.

See? I told you we were going to be fine,

he called wearily.

Wish I could say the same for everyone.

The Triclops
drove towards us, guns trained on the building, with the two personnel carriers chugging behind. From the carriers, medics rushed out to take over care of the wounded. They took over from Speer on the man with the chest wound.

One of the Triclops

hatches popped open, and Sgt. Baylor and several of his men climbed out. He joined us near the ruined office building.


Thanks for not going with nitro shells there, Lawrence,

Speer
said
.


I figured we might have men close-in, so a hyper-compressed air shell was the safest wager,

Baylor said.

Of course, the downside is that some of these animals might still be alive. Shall we?

He pulled his long-barreled service revolver from its holster.

Speer removed the empty golden cylinder and replaced it with the black one.

Yes, let

s. Care to join us, Special Agent Hoff? Let

s see if your man is living or dead.

I loaded a fresh magazine.

Sounds lovely.

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