“I said open fire, damn it!”
The unfeminine voice on the radio crackled with distortion as the Lord Admiral shouted.
Captain Jim Keery stood beside the helm of the airship Powdered Maiden, a swift but lightly armored cruiser. The leather of his gloves groaned as he tightened his grip on the radio transmitter. Despite the overcast weather, light poured through the ballistic glass at the fore of the bridge, but the brim of Keery’s peaked cap cast shadows below his brow. They melded into the trim brown beard that followed the contours of his jaw from temple to temple.
From behind him, a man in a similar, though less adorned, dark blue uniform stepped forward, his boots echoing on the steel floors. “Orders, Captain?”
“Commander Doget,” Keery said, hesitating with a command.
After a moment, Doget prompted him, “Sir?”
The words fell out of Keery’s mouth like lead weights, “Order the forward battery to open fire.”
“Aye, sir,” Commander Doget said. He stepped to the back of the bridge and lifted the mouthpiece of the ship intercom to his mouth. “Forward battery, fire at will!”
Keery stepped toward the ballistic glass at the front of the bridge and raised a gloved hand to his chin. The bow of the ship stretched dozens of yards ahead, but the bridge was situated high enough to treat Keery to a stellar view of the massacre. Fifty feet below the iron-sided airship, a beautiful sea of green foliage surrounded a sizeable encampment of refugees from the Azurian countryside.
A few moments passed before the forward guns rotated toward their targets, but soon shockwaves from the muffled blasts shook the ship and delivered death upon the civilians below. The canvas tents erected by the refugees erupted in flames, while shells tore people apart. Some were lucky to be struck directly, while others received terrible wounds from shrapnel as the ordnance exploded into thousands of shards. Keery hand slide to his mouth to hide the horror on his face.
A few minutes of carnage were enough. Keery turned to Doget, “Cease fire.”
“Aye, sir,” Doget responded, and relayed the command to the ship. The firing stopped.
Keery grabbed the transmitter to the radio, “The main camp has been destroyed, Lord Admiral.”
The voice came through the receiver with more clarity than before, “Excellent, are there survivors?”
“Some, my Lord,” Keery said, trying to maintain his composure.
“How many are there, Captain?”
“A few hundred remain, my Lord. They are scattered, but most are dead or dying.”
Without a delay, the Lord Admiral ordered, “Notify the Army of their location and return to Laurel for debriefing.”
“Aye, my Lord. We’ll return at once.” Keery hung the transmitter on the side of the radio then turned to Commander Doget.
“You heard him, Commander. I’ll be in my quarters.” Keery did not wait for acknowledgement.