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Cancer

Random fiction bits from various RPG sessions

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(From a Deadlands campaign; this piece was written about a year ago, but I seem never to have posted it anywhere.)

 

Kammuschel raced along, the long plume of the rocket motor streaming behind in the general direction of the pursuing steam gunboat Jíxiáng Qǐzhòngjī. The latter's bow chasers fired every now and then, raising a splash sufficient to remind Kammuschel's crew of the gunboat's hostile intent, but never close enough even to inconvenience them. The rocket boat clearly had much greater speed than the sternwheeler, and a couple of minutes should see them safely out of the other's range.

 

Manfred, at Kammuschel's helm, cursed in German suddenly and loudly, far in excess of what the situation seemed to call for.

 

"Is there a difficulty?" asked Jim Soong, coming next to Manfred and shouting over the roar of the rocket.

 

"Ja. I made der wrong turn five minutes ago. We now run toward Stockton Bight, which leads only into Lodi Cove. From there our only choice is to run onto the shore."

 

"That is most inauspicious," replied Jim.

 

"Ja." Manfred lifted the speaking trumpet and bellowed into it. "Herr Moon! Come at once!"

 

The black man made his way down the pitching deck. "Yessir!"

 

"With your assistant please go to the combustible locker and bring out two of the large red bell motors. Put one on each stern side, near the mounting bracket. Signal me when this is done."

 

"Yessir!"

 

"Esteemed Mr. Soong, I need you to take the helm for a few moments."

 

"Mr. Steissbrenner, I am in no way a competent enough pilot to steer this boat in battle."

 

"I must insist, Mr. Soong. Only I can deploy the extra rocket motors. Besides, all you need do is maintain speed, and make gentle touches at the tiller every minute or so, just enough so their schweinvergewaltigung bow guns cannot good target on us draw. This can you do, even at speed as we are."

 

Jim took the helm gingerly, feeling the resistance of the tiller against the water the boat raced over. A bit of a quiver in the boat's course resulted, but Jim was able to keep her on an even keel.

 

"Miss Fan! Join me there!" Manfred bellowed as he went to the iron bar six feet to his left, where Isaac and Ken had left one of the large red-painted motors. The strong woman, with a bit of aid from the fat German, manhandled the engine up to the iron, and Manfred spun the clampwheels rapidly, securing it in place, and then adjusting its pointing to his satisfaction. Two minutes saw them repeat the operation on the starboard side.

 

As Manfred laid the start lines from each rocket to the helmsman's post, he bellowed again. "Mr. Moon! Fetch four pairs of rockets -- the ones with the steel cone tips -- from the weapons locker and bring them and two launcher racks to the aft port rail!"

 

"Yessir!"

 

Jim kept Kammuschel weaving gently, if irregularly, for the additional two minutes while Manfred supervised the arrangement of the launcher racks and the loading of rockets into the racks. By then the bluffs on either side of the mouth of Stockton Bight were looming in front of them.

 

"EFFRYONE TIE THEMSELFS IN!" Manfred roared into his speaking trumpet as he took the helm back from Jim. "BRACE FOR COLLISION!"

 

"Are we really going to crash?" asked Jim as he buckled straps around himself as he sat at the aft rail.

 

"No. But das boat might break apart," answered Manfred, looking back at their pursuers. He throttled back the main rocket engine, reducing speed. "Especially if dose schweinhundts ven ve are slow hit us. It vill a near thing be." He glanced rapidly from the pursuing gunboat to the looming bluffs to the wake behind Kammuschel, obviously calculating repeatedly. "Herr Soong, if you can some strength into our poor little boat magic, now is de time for it. Kammuschel may not the Gefechtskehrtwendung survive."

 

"The what?" asked Jim futilely.

 

The water ahead of them churned as opposing currents came together in the constricted channel under the bluffs. Three columns of water sprang into being ahead of them: their enemies had counted on them going through the narrow channel and fired a three-gun salvo into where they had expected Kammuschel to be, but they had not reckoned on Manfred slowing the boat as much he had.

 

"… Drei! Zwei! BRACE!" Everyone else on board clutched whatever railing they were next to.

 

Manfred squeezed one mounting clamp lever on the rocket engine mount and flipped the roaring flames upward and forward, blasting over the boat, barely clearing his own head. The lurch of suddenly reversed thrust made everything lunge forward across the deck, partly mitigated by the bows pitching steeply upward as the downward rocket thrust drove the stern into the roiling water, coming within inches of swamping it.

 

Ducking and releasing the lever, Manfred plunged to port, torquing the tiller at the limit of his strength. The crew strained against their lashings again as the bows turned madly around and the boat rolled. Around swung the bows, straining against the leverage of the rudder, and the bluff to their right loomed into their trajectory and then out of it, drawing nearer and nearer as the turn consumed steerage way.

 

"HA!" Manfred yelled, and made three sudden movements. First he slammed the rocket throttle back to idle, so the flare overhead diminished to a nearly silent ghost of its full-power inferno. Second he scooped up the two rings that ended the lines connected to the clamped-on bell rockets at the corners of the aft railing, and clutched them in his left hand. Finally he stood up as the violence of the turn eased, and he brought the tiller amidships as Kammuschel completed the sudden reversal in course.

 

When Jíxiáng Qǐzhòngjī's belching funnel rose dead over Kammuschel's prow, Manfred yanked the control lines of the extra rocket motors.

 

The bell rockets were short-term auxiliary power units of immense thrust, burning Manfred's own recipe of pulverized ghost rock, bitumen, powdered aluminum and iron oxide, and for twelve seconds each of them burned brighter than the noonday sun. Everyone and everything aboard was slammed sternward as Kammuschel was kicked to speed by the enormous recoil. In the last couple of seconds of that burn, Manfred redirected the main engine back nearly level aft, and throttled it back up to full power.

 

Kammuschel was still intact when the bell rockets burned out, but now on a reversed course and at a speed exceeding that of their previous flight.

 

"HERR SOONG! Hold our course! Ve haff only seconds!" Manfred released the buckle holding Jim to his safety, put both of the old Chinaman's hands on the tiller, Kammuschel's bows now aimed only slightly to the right of their pursuer.

 

Small arms fire erupted as Jíxiáng Qǐzhòngjī's marines fired at them, and Isaac and Ken fired back. Manfred went to one rack of rockets -- the one directed forward of the beam -- and at a range of twenty yards pulled the lanyard sending all of them into the hull of their opponent. With a deliberation that might be mistaken for nonchalance, he picked up the firing lanyard for the other rack as the fireball from his first salvo flared on the ironclad's hull -- now abaft of Kammuschel's beam, and coming under the second rack's direct line -- and launched the second quartet of rockets into the area struck by the first.

 

The second set of explosions seemed distinctly smaller than the first, and Jim commented on it as Manfred returned to the helm and took the tiller again.

 

"How did you miss the second time?"

 

"Miss? I have not missed," Manfred replied, staring forward, assessing their heading. He veered Kammuschel suddenly away from Jíxiáng Qǐzhòngjī, and sent her racing back along the waterway on which they had previously fled from the now-stricken warship.

 

"The second salvo was through the holes in the armor made by the first to pass," Manfred explained. "It is the hope, that the fire her magazine reaches or her boiler bursts … once we are not so close."

 

The stern paddlewheel stopped revolving as Kammuschel sped away, and smoke started rising from gunports and portholes rather than the ironclad's smokestack.

 

As the rocket boat's prow raised sheets of foam to either side, more smoke emerged from their adversary. Splashes erupted off the gunboat's sides as members of her complement leaped overboard. Manfred steered Kammuschel around a bend so they lost sight of Jíxiáng Qǐzhòngjī, but shortly thereafter they heard an explosion echoing down the fretted canyon walls.

 

"Sollten wir for home port machen, Herr Soong?" Manfred asked as he reduced the motor power, relief apparent in his voice as his English diction collapsed.

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