Empire Of Steam: Chapter 23

Chapter Twenty Three: Kirby’s Last Stand

 

“We will break out of London.” Kirby said. It was only him, now. He now knew that, somehow, the other land ironclads must have been disabled, because they were not following him along. It had taken him some time to see that they were not there.

Nor had he seen any other sign of the column of land ironclads which should have come from the warehouse in the East End. It did not occur to Kirby that there might have been a radio transmitter in one of those hulking war machines.

Kirby would not have got an answer, anyway. He did not know that all four of the land ironclads had come to a stop; one of them stopped by the heroic police constable called Davis, the other three stopped by the British Army.

Kirby still had the idea that he could win – or, at least, escape. He was not going to give up. But the army seemed to be everywhere now. It was almost as though the army knew where they were going. And Kirby did not see how that could be.

Had Kirby looked up out of the hatch in the turret, and directly up into the sky, he would have seen a military airship – one designed by Sir Edward Monk – hovering and keeping watch on the movements of this land ironclad.

 

The land ironclad turned the corner of a street, to see that, further down the street, there were soldiers. They were not armed with rifles, but were setting up an artillery piece. It was a piece designed to try and take out armoured vehicles such as land ironclads.

“We are not going to get out that way.” said Grummett, the driver of the land ironclad. He quickly turned the land ironclad around, and went back the way that they had come. He had become quite proficient at driving this metal beast, in only a very short amount of time. It was his quick thinking which saved the life of the three men, as a shell was fired in the direction of the retreating land ironclad. By now there were no other people on the streets of this part of London.

The shell from the army’s artillery piece slammed into the frontage of R D Melhuish, Sons, & Co. Scissors were sent flying into the air. But Kirby did not notice. He did not see the shell hit; and he was too caught up in his own thoughts to even hear it.

Kirby tried to think. Everything was going wrong. He had been betrayed by the people of London. They had not risen up behind him to form an army of revolution. Those apathetic fools deserved to live in poverty, rather than the ideal state which he had planned.

It was boiling hot in the tank. If it had not been so hot he might have been able to think what he should do next. After all, he was in charge, and these brave revolutionaries would obey his orders. But he could not think.

Sweat dripped off the brow of Kirby. The droplets fell unseen in the hellish, twilight world of the land ironclad. They sizzled as they hit the metal floor of the land ironclads. The metal floor, at least close to the engine, was literally hot enough to cook eggs on.

 

Grummett, the driver, was now in charge as much as Kirby, at least for the moment. He was basically concentrating on finding some street where the army was not. Grummett did not want to test the armour of a land ironclad against an artillery piece. He did not even want to test the land ironclad against a mortar. For the moment all that he could do was to try to keep moving, while Kirby tried to come up with some plan to get them out of their current fix.

A few more minutes along a street, then another turn… and more soldiers waiting for them. But, this time, Grummett could see a land ironclad rumbling into position behind the soldiers. This was not a land ironclad of the rebels.

“Kirby, we cannot go that way. The army is too strong! What are we going to do?”

Machine gun bullets deflected off the front of the land ironclad as Grummett spoke, as though to reinforce his statement. One bullet came through the viewing slot, and ricocheted around the inside of the tank, somehow managing to miss all three men. Grummett saw that the army land ironclad was raising its cannon slightly to fire.

Kirby fired first, though, firing the penultimate shell. There was now only one shell left in the land ironclad.

The shell hit neither the soldiers nor the land ironclad, however. Kirby had still not got the hang of the cannon. It smashed into the wall of a building, sending bricks tumbling down on top of some of the army men; and sending brick dust into the air. It was a temporary fog of war which cloaked the position of the land ironclad enough for Grummett to turn away from the army position, and get out of there, before the other land ironclad fired on them.

Suddenly Kirby had an idea. He knew what to do next. One last gesture which would inspire the people to rise up against their masters…

Kirby excitedly looked down at the map. He barked out orders to Grummett of which turns the man should take.

They managed to follow Kirby’s orders without seeing any more soldiers. For a while Kirby thought that luck, or fate, was with them, as they went down Whitehall, and then into Victoria Street. Kirby was still unaware of the airship overhead, watching their every move.

From Victoria Street they turned into Buckingham Gate. Kirby’s target was Buckingham Palace. He would fire his last shell straight at Buckingham Palace.  Then he would have Grummett drive the land ironclad through the walls of the building, trying to bring the whole thing come tumbling down.

Grummett could now see Buckingham Palace in front of them. But at the end of the road there were three land ironclads, with their guns turned towards them. They were waiting for them.

“Kirby! We must turn back!” Grummett shouted.

“No! Full speed ahead!” Kirby shouted. This was to be his last stand, and it would be beautiful. People would talk about it with wonder for years to come. He would go down in history as one of the great, tragic heroes.

Kirby did not bother trying to fire the cannon. What was the point? He had only one shell, and there were three land ironclads. He could not destroy all three of them.

Instead Kirby grabbed a revolver, for all the good that such a peashooter would do. But Kirby was not going to die inside the land ironclad. He wanted to be out in the open air, where people would be able to bear witness to the fact that he was a hero.

“Kirby? What are you doing?”

“Keep going!” Kirby shouted. “Full speed ahead!”

Kirby climbed up the ladder to the turret. He could have stayed there, with only his torso and head visible. But that was not enough for him. He climbed out of the turret, to balance on the main body of the land ironclad as it charged towards the other three.

At last he was free of the devilish heat inside the war machine, out in the cold air of London. At last he could breathe again. He laughed, as though standing on a charging land ironclad was the most natural thing in the world.

He fired with the revolver, shot after shot at the land ironclads, as he continued laughing like a maniac. He wondered what his mother would say if she could see him now. She would not be able to say, any longer, that he would not amount to anything in the world. Yes, this really showed her!

The bullets bounced harmlessly off the armour of the land ironclads. They hardly even made the smallest scratch.

The three land ironclads returned fire.

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