Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. grew up in the United States and Canada but he prefers to think of himself as British. He attended the University of Waterloo where he earned an Honors B.A. in English with a Minor in Anthropology. He has lived on Prince Edward Island, met the sheep on Hadrian’s Wall, eaten at the first McDonalds in Moscow, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm whale autopsy. Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War and Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether are the first three installments in his new steampunk series, The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin. He currently resides in California. Find out more at hos website and follow him on Twitter as @RichardEPreston
Captain Buckle hurdled over tentacles, moving beneath dozens more that lashed back and forth in the darkness overhead. “Have at the monster, mates!” he shouted into the teeth of the wind, and slammed his axe down upon the joint of a thick, writhing arm. The blade sank deep into the jellyfish muscle beneath, sending up gouts of yellow blood. The tentacle snapped back reflexively, nearly tearing the axe out of Buckle’s hands as it whiplashed away.(From Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.)
In Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War, the second novel in my Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin steampunk adventure series, the airship launch Arabella is caught in an ice storm and attacked by a flying alien beastie which resembles a mythical kraken. Kraken encounters with airships are rare but zeppelin crews, operating in earth’s alien-creature-filled post-apocalyptic skies, understand the tactics needed to handle of this kind of situation.
What follows is an airship vs. flying kraken battle primer, complete with Crankshaft Air Corps tactical notes, employing the Arabella incident an example.
Please Note: a gorgeous illustrated schematic of this battle sequence is featured inside the new Steampunk User’s Manual by Jeff VanderMeer and Desirina Boskovitch. The artist is Locus Award winner Jeremy Zerfoss. TOR.COM has an exclusive look at the illustration and an exclusive FREE ROMULUS BUCKLE SHORT STORY, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” on their website here.)
The 200 foot long airship launch Arabella, Captain Romulus Buckle commanding, is caught by a massive ice storm as she descends from a rescue mission in the Tehachapi Mountains. Sucked into the maelstrom, the crew has no choice but to ride it out. Other than the airship’s fragile envelope and frame being ripped apart, the biggest danger to the vessel is the weight of accumulating ice. Captain Buckle leads two axe teams, one fore and one aft, up onto the envelope to chop the ice away.
Powerful updrafts hurl the Arabella above the whirlpooling center of the storm. The zeppelin regains an even keel but struggles in a snowfall buzzing with lightning strikes. This is the world that the kraken inhabits. Kraken sightings are so rare, however, that the Arabella‘s crew and axe teams take no precautions regarding an attack, occupied as they are with the threatening layers of ice.
TACTICAL NOTE: Descending from behind and above is the kraken’s preferred angle of attack. These creatures are ancient and highly intelligent and understand that an airship’s tail is its most vulnerable point: the maneuvering equipment of the tail assembly and rudder can be immobilized here and are usually defended by minimal armaments. However, complete destruction and a plummet to earth are not part of the kraken’s strategy. The kraken is ground-shy: its goal is to eat the crew, gobbling you up one by while it pries the airship open in the sky. The kraken’s slow grapple-and-hunt method gives your crew time to organize a defense, but your chances of survival are slim.
The huge kraken appears over the Arabella‘s tail and lands on the vertical stabilizer fin, immediately swamping the stern axe crew in tentacles. The first crewperson victim, Hector Hudson, is caught by the kraken, ripped in half and eaten. Knowing what he must do, Captain Romulus Buckle leads the bow ice team aft in an attempt to rescue the stern crew, attacking the slithering tentacles with axes. To make matters worse, the axe blades are not sharp, being blunted in order to avoid cutting the fabric envelope skin while hacking ice away from its surface.
TACTICAL NOTE: When a kraken attacks a zeppelin the crew’s only response is immediate and spirited aggression with blades and numbers. Time is stacked against the defender in this situation. Do not allow the flying beastie to completely latch on, nor focus its attention on one person at a time. Attack, attack, attack. The armor-scaled kraken is nearly impervious to firearms. Get in close and cut its eyes. Die moving forward, not moving back.
Captain Buckle and the bow axe team manage to extricate the surviving stern team members but the kraken drives them back. The kraken forms a tentacle wall, effectively blocking advances upon its face while picking off crewpersons with arching snaps of its secondary arms. Another crewperson, Carmen Steinway, is snatched away and gruesomely masticated.
The Arabella‘s First Mate, Sabrina Serafim, arrives on the airship roof with reinforcements. A musket volley and grappling iron are fired to no effect, but Buckle takes advantage of the distraction to charge the tentacle wall. The kraken grabs hold of Buckle, momentarily lifting him into the air, but the crew manages to cut him down.
TACTICAL NOTE: If the kraken has settled in enough to form a tentacle wall, then your situation has degraded from perilous to near-doomed. Gun volleys will force the beastie to clamp its armored eyes shut and this momentary blindness must be exploited. It is your only hope to charge its head, employing the largest tentacle trunks as bridges to surmount the wall, and deliver a mortal wound to the eyes by use of axe, sword or pistol.
With the situation now desperate, Captain Buckle rushes the tentacle wall and, running up the trunk of a massive arm, launches himself up high enough to hurdle the wall and land on the kraken’s face. The kraken slams its center eye shut but Buckle pierces two of its six smaller eyes with his axe. The kraken reacts by clenching its arms, severely crumpling the stern section of the Arabella‘s s airframe.
TACTICAL NOTE: It is assumed but not verified that many of the airships and crews lost to flying krakens had perhaps actually succeeded in mortally wounding the great beast during their defense but perished at the point of victory when their zeppelin was torn apart by the great monster’s death throes.
The kraken captures Buckle in a tentacle coil and opens its eyes as it lowers him into the grinding beaks of its mouth. Buckle shoots his pistol into the kraken’s central eye, killing it almost instantly. Fortunately for the crew of Arabella, the kraken’s corpse slides off the stern without further crushing the airship, but it very nearly drags Sabrina Serafim over the side with it. The kraken is defeated and the Arabella limps home to everlasting fame.
FINAL TACTICAL NOTE: if you do manage to survive an encounter with the nefarious flying kraken, the entire staff of the Crankshaft Air Corps Tactical Manual team congratulates you. We also fervently hope that you shall appear at our office for an interview so that we may update, embellish and further inform our section describing Flying Kraken tactics, which up until this time has been proven woefully incomplete due to a lack of surviving eyewitnesses.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: this steampunk airship vs. flying kraken battle sequence is a direct homage to the Nautilus vs. Giant Squid (polyp) battle in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and its 1954 Disney movie version starring James Mason which is forever a vibrant part of my childhood.
The books in the Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin series are:
- Book 1: Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders
- Book 2: Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War
- Book 3: Romulus Buckle and the Luminiferous Aether (Coming January 2015)
Please remember to visit TOR.COM and pick up the FREE new Romulus Buckle short story, “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Amazon U.S. has the eBook versions of the first two Romulus Buckle novels — Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders and Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War — priced at only $3 each through November 15th.