Saturday, 12 August 2017

World Elephant Day

Today is World Elephant Day!

So here's an extract from my seventh Ulysses Quicksilver Pax Britannia novel Anno Frankenstein...

Amiens, France, 1943 
General Sir Henry Stamford Raffles raised a large pair of brass-rimmed binoculars to his eyes and scanned the enemy lines in front of him on the other side of the battlefield.
            A low mist drifted across the black water craters between the barbed wire lines. Beyond the pitted, churned-up grey muddy mess of No Man’s Land the men and machines of the Third Reich were arrayed; everything from standard troopers and Jotun-class tanks to clanking units of bipedal Landsknechts and even the occasional remade abomination.
            The Nazi menace was persistent, he’d give them that.
            Raffles lowered his binoculars, placing them on the silver tea tray his batman was holding out ready beside him and picking up the cooling cup of tea next to them. He took a sip, the leather armchair creaking as he eased his bulk back into it, crossed his ankles on a footstool in front of him and took in the Magna Britannia forces, of which he was commander-in-chief, with a proud, rosy-cheeked grin.
To his left stood the massed ranks of the Galahad and Gawain regiments, ten thousand automata strong. To his right were arrayed the combined might of Lancelot and Percival; another ten thousand head of robo-infantry. Supporting them were the gigantic land battleships Samson and Atlas, their arms replaced with mighty cannon and mortars, Gatling guns and iron spear-firing ballistae. He could hear the mighty roar of their engines as their crews stoked their boilers, thick black smoke and geysers of white steam rising from their towering smokestacks. The land battleships of the Wellington Dreadnought Brigade were indeed a sight to behold, the Britannian flag snapping from the banner-poles in the chill autumnal wind.
And there were men of flesh and blood amongst the forces too – weapons crews, engine teams, stokers, droid handlers, engineers, tacticians, not to mention the trusted Tommy foot soldier and those men piloting the stalker tanks and Trojan support vehicles that followed the automaton infantry – but there weren’t many. Only a couple of hundred compared to the twenty thousand grunt-bots. And, as General Kensington Gore, the oft quoted First Great European War general and all round hero, was famously remembered for saying, “Give me one hundred droids or, failing that, a thousand ordinary men.” But then he had been virtually half-automaton himself.
It was a sign of Raffles’ status and rank that he had been afforded the privilege of leading the Magna Britannian forces at Amiens into battle from atop his own personalised pachyderm-droid Hannibal. Before freedom-threatening war had come to the heartlands of Europe for a second time, he had served in India, where the vision of the monstrous robo-phant charging the gates of Bombay had sent many a revolutionary fleeing for his life.
The howdah shading Raffles and his batman from the weak rays of the milky sun – the commander-in-chief’s command post might have looked out of place, had it not been for the Magna Britannian iconography that had been worked into the ornate scrollwork of the giant droid’s flanks.
Raffles eased himself back into his chair. He could feel the comforting rumble of the boiler bubbling in the guts of the metal beast as its own engines were stoked with coke, ready for action. He was going to enjoy this. It was going to be a walk in the park, but he was looking forward to it anyway.
Putting the china cup to his lips at last, he took a sip. He grimaced; the tea was cold. With a flick of the wrist he sent the contents of the cup raining down over the side of the pachyderm onto an unsuspecting automaton below. He rattled the teacup and its saucer back onto the tray.
“Is the pot still warm?” he asked of his batman, without once taking his eyes from the battlefield vista in front of him.
            He could see sinister airborne shapes – something like birds and something like flying bombs – circling and wheeling above the enemy lines. He was comforted by knowledge of the fact that above his own forces the Darwin Corps’ tamed Pterosaurs hung from the airborne eyries of the airship Harridan, ready to swoop down and rend any enemy aerial forces wing from wing.
Lister put a hand to the silvered teapot sitting on the small stove at the back of the howdah, testing the temperature. “Yes, sir.”
“Then poor me another cup.”
“Right away, sir,” Lister replied dutifully.
            “Do you think we’ll win, sir?” Lister asked as he passed the general a steaming cup. It only remained for the general to add the cream or lemon as he saw fit.
            Raffles turned a withering gaze upon his batman.
            “The Germans are losing this war, Lister, their resources are stretched to the limit and this is a last ditch attempt devised by the F├╝hrer and his lackeys to hold back the inevitable. Show some backbone, man! Whatever happened to your stiff upper lip, and all that? Mark my words, we’ll have this all wrapped up in time for Tiffin. Then we’ll be in Paris in time for cocktails and Berlin for a little hair of the dog tomorrow. You mark my words!”
            General Sir Henry Stamford Raffles took a sip. “Ah, that’s much better.” Satisfied, he placed the cup carefully back on its saucer on the tray, exchanging it for the speaking tube hung on its trunk-like hose in the bracket on the other side of his chair. He raised the speaking horn to his mouth.
            “Men and automatons of the Magna Britannian Fourth Cybernetic Expeditionary Company, we march to war, that we might eradicate the Nazi menace once and for all. We march for Queen and country! We march for freedom from oppression! The command is given, and that command is – atta–”
            But Sir Raffles’ command to engage was drowned by a scream of burning air and boiling mist as a beam of retina-searing light, like fire from heaven, streaked down out of the sky. It hit the front row of Galahad regiment which vanished in a blinding flash of concentrated sunlight. The crump of the explosions that followed in the wake of the beam’s unkind caresses reached Raffles a moment later.
The flaming spear vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving Raffles blinking grey supernovae from before his eyes and seeing nothing of the automaton infantry line but a mass of fused and burning wreckage that might once have been man-shaped droids.
            The beam came again, a sustained blast this time, taking out the entire front line of Lancelot to his right.
Raffles was out of his chair now, panic rendering him silent.
The giant Atlas was the next target of the devastating death ray, the British colours cooking off its hull plating under its fiery fury, the Britannia flags flapping from its exhaust stacks reduced to blackened cinders that were then carried away as glowing orange embers on the firestorm wind following the beam’s onslaught.
Two seconds later, the shells inside the giant’s right arm cannon touched off.
The force of the explosion flattened almost all of Gawain regiment and even threatened to send the Hannibal crashing over onto its side, but the pachyderm stood firm, all ten tons of it.
“By all the saints!” Raffles spluttered as he picked himself up off the floor of the howdah, his ears ringing. The tray beside his seat was swimming in hot tea now, the cup tossed over by the force of the explosion. “What the blazes was th-”
            His sentence remained unfinished as the super-heated death ray found its next target.

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