The shells exploded overhead splintering the trees raining burning branches on a very startled Lieutenant James as he hurriedly dropped down into his leather command seat, slamming the Tanks turret hatch closed above him. On the way down he yelped in pain as the hard metal of the cupola slammed into his elbow; not even the thick padding of his leather tanker jacket stopped his bone from aching.
“Move out!” he yelled at his driver and then repeated the order to the Signal Corpsman; who hit the signal flash button – sending the order up the light pipe to the other tanks under his command. He was then rocked violently back in this chair as the driver opened the valves sending the Steamtank crunching across the forest clearing. The boxy vehicle known affectionately to the crew as Iron Annie was a tribute to right angles, rivets and good solid Victorian engineering, with three inch thick front armor and a large caliber howitzer embedded into its square turret there was little on the ground that could hurt her. The vehicle belched steam from its rear stack and pistons as it picked up speed, the ground churning in its wake; the other three tanks in the squadron lurched forward to keep up with the command vehicle.
“Gunner, call out if you see anything, I want to know what just dropped shells on us,” ordered James as he grabbed at his vehicles periscope and started to scan the terrain.
“Yes sir!” shouted the Gunner squinting through his gun sights, the tank jolting as it ran across the gnarled clearing.
“Driver head into those trees make a gap if you cannot find one.”
Suddenly the tank was filled with the thunderous boom of a howitzer firing from one of the other tanks, “What is Hoxter shooting at now?”
He snapped his periscope around in time to see another of his tanks fire. He then gulped as he caught sight of their opponent.
A large iron leg of a Dominatia Gargantuan walker filled this vision and then disappeared again; to be replaced with an equally large explosion as tank number four ruptured under a stream of shells from the giants arm cannon. The shells danced up the front armor before penetrating the tanks boiler releasing the pressurized steam with devastating effect direct into the crew quarters. James shuddered as he imagined the crew’s screams as the steam parboiled them alive.
“Hells-teeth! Driver push us into the red line…” shouted James trying to make himself heard over the clanking tank. “Forward damn it! Cover isn’t going to help us now… We have to close with it… Get under its gun… Corpsman signal flash general advance! All tanks fire at will!”
A sickening crunch punctuated his words, a glance through the periscope showed the Gargantuan level a kick at the front of tank number three, he watched as the iron shod foot splintered the inches thick sheet metal like paper, instantly killing the driver. Defiantly the stricken tanks commander tracked the howitzer back until it pointed straight up and fired. For a moment the scene was shrouded by smoke from the large bore cannon and James hoped the shot damaged some vital system on the huge walker. He held his breath as the smoke cleared and then let out a colorful curse as the giant stomped down on the stricken vehicles turret, crushing it under its broad feet. Destroying the tank, but tangling its legs up in the wreckage of the turret.
Gritting his teeth James knew this was the best chance they were going to get to stop it, “Driver bring us around 45 degrees right. Gunner when you have your target fire!”
“Sir! I could hit number three,” said the Gunner his face pale.
“They are already dead… Hit that thing in its knees… If we don’t bring it down now we are next!”
Iron Annie’s tracks dug in as it traversed to bring its gun to bear, the Gargantuan heaved, slowly pulling itself out of the wreckage of number three tank. The iron giant jolted free just as the Gunner Annie’s howitzer. James watched helplessly as the shell arced past the space the walker was in splintering the trees behind it.
“Reload! Driver swing us around… Track it… Track it!” shouted James chewing his helmet strap in frustration, if they lost it now they were as good as dead.
No matter how fast the tank turned it couldn’t keep up with faster moving Gargantuan, and James watched helplessly as its clawed hand reached down grabbing the vehicles armored skirt tilting Iron Annie up. The tanks free track dug into the earth canting the vehicle’s angle higher. James was thrown from his seat as the tank was rocked up and down; then with a final heave Iron Annie was pushed onto her side. Seemingly content to leave the tank helpless, the Gargantuan moved off to engage the last tank in the squadron; that was reversing quickly into the woods making steam to cover its retreat.
“Sir?” called out the Corpsman, stiffly picking himself and grabbing the signals table, “Are you all right?”
James ached all over, but knew complaints would do nothing to enhance his image as a tough tank commander. “I’m alive,” he said flatly, wondering if there was any part of his body that wasn’t bruised.
“Very good, sir,” the Corpsman acknowledged. “Before… Before we were tipped over I decoding a signal flash from Lieutenant Moore.”
“Great,” said James sitting down on loose cartridge box, “What did our little Lord Flashard want now?”
“Message reads; driven a Gargantuan towards your position stop… Form a battle line using available cover stop… Want to hammer it on the anvil of your tanks stop… Victory is near stop… Gargantuan damaged and crew demoralized stop… That’s the entire message sir.”
James removed his helmet, scratched his head and laughed, “Well, looks like that damaged demoralized Gargantuan he lost just stomped us into horseshit.”
Iron Annie is the bonus tale from Fabula Zero Exposition the Graphic Novel Mash up of Narrative and Comic book images. It is taken from my developing Steampunk world of old fashioned Victorian engineering and totally mad Jules-Vern science. The illustration is quick sketch by Dan Nokes, the artist for A Teddy Bear Tale