The Waltzer had been captured with the twin cities. Its entire crew now worked in a prison detail on the plains, despite generous offers to any who would defect. So it had laid unused until the call had gone out for practice targets the wings could sink. Its weaponry had been judged outdated for the Southern navy, but all useful components had been stripped and it sailed toward its resting place with a skeleton crew. For the trials it was to have been powered up to full stream and steered on a random course by a clockwork mechanism in the wheelhouse.
Now the crew were blessing the left behind propellant and shells for the two and a half span main gun- intended to produce more spectacular explosions for the newsreel. There were just enough of them to load and fire the one gun, with barely enough people left for the engine room and bridge. The clockwork steerer had been thrown aside and engineer Arron Null had suddenly become a captain in the Southern navy.
The main gun on the Waltzer was vastly oversize for the ship, and had a limited arc of fire to prevent the recoil capsizing the vessel. To bring the gun to bear the ship had to face the enemy. It was heeled over as hard as possible as it turned. The spotter shouted contact and Null began twirling the wheel back. By the time they straightened out they would be aligned as nearly as necessary for the first shot.
“Two combat vessels, making speed for us. Eight transports or merchant ships.” the spotter reported.
“I see aeroplanes from landward!” the second spotter announced.
“The wing.” offered the radioman, “and two other planes.”
They were lined up with the attacking ships now. “Range to the transport ships?”
The spotters read off bearings and the radio operator calculated the distance. “We shall be in range in two hundred counts. Extreme range.”
There was an explosion to the left and the spotter was knocked off his feet by the water it threw up. “Sir. We are being fired upon.” It was a redundant comment, but he was still dazed. “We could return fire.”
“We could, but that ahead of us is an invasion fleet. We do more harm if we sink the supply ships than if we go for the glory shot.” There was another explosion, behind them. They might not get to do any harm if their range was found.
A giant silver crescent passed overhead, little higher than Waltzer’s lookout nest, and banked toward the attacking ships.