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Preparations For War

From: The Fire People

The months that followed were the busiest, I think, of my life. I began by
a complete reorganization of this government of which I found myself the
head. For the doddering old councilors of the late king I substituted men
whom I selected from among those of the city's prominent business men who
cared to serve.

The personnel of the police force I allowed to remain, for I soon saw they
were inclined to act very differently under me than under my predecessor.
The various other officials of this somewhat vague organization I
subjected to a thorough weeding out.

The net result was chaos for a time, but, far more quickly than I had
anticipated, I had things running again. I made no radical changes except
in personnel. I attempted to do nothing that was outside the then existing
laws, and no new laws were passed. But from the very first I made it clear
that I was not one to be trifled with.

Within a few days after I was put into power I interviewed Fuero and his
scientific confreres. I found them a body of grave men who represented the
highest type of the nation. They made it plain to me at once that they
would not concern themselves in any way with government affairs. Two years
before they had recognized Tao's menace, and had been preparing for it by
the manufacture of large quantities of war material which, in case of
extreme necessity, they would turn over to the government. This armament,
as Miela had told me, they guarded themselves, not trusting it even to
their workmen.

The scientific men, I understood now, were among the richest in the
nation, owing to the widespread use of their industrial appliances. It was
only a portion of this wealth that they were expending in the manufacture
of armament.

I demanded the release to me of this war material. I explained them my
plans, and told them in detail of Tao's visit to earth. They held several
conferences over a period of two or three days, but in the end I got what
I asked for.

So much for affairs in the Great City. I recognized during these days the
possibility of an armed invasion from the Twilight Country. I was better
prepared to meet it now, should it come, and I at once took steps to be
warned as far in advance as possible. To this end I had girls patrolling
the Narrow Sea, not only on our shore, but over in the Twilight Country as
well; and I was satisfied that if Tao made any move we would be notified
at once. Simultaneously with all this, we devoted ourselves to the
unification of the nation, for in very truth it seemed about to
disintegrate. Here it was that the girls were of the greatest assistance.

We organized them into an army which consisted of fifty squads of ten
girls each, with a leader for each squad. All of these girls were armed
with the light-ray cylinders. With this "flying army" Mercer and I made a
tour of the Light Country cities. We wasted no time with formalities, but
rounded up Tao's men wherever we could find them, and transported them
unceremoniously back to the Twilight Country shore.

In two or three of the cities--the Water City particularly--there was a
show of rebellion among the people; but our light-rays cowed them
instantly, and in no instance did we have to kill or injure any one.
Through Miela I made speeches everywhere. It was not my wish to hold the
country in sullen subjection, and to that end I appealed to their
patriotism in this coming war against Tao and the Twilight People. This
aspect of the matter met with ready response, and everywhere our meetings
ended in enthusiastic acclaim.

We started now to raise an army of young men, which we proposed to
transport across the Narrow Sea for land operations in the Twilight
Country. Before a week had passed I saw, by the response that came from my
various proclamations, that conscription would be unnecessary. With this
tangible evidence of the coming war the patriotism of the people grew by
leaps and bounds. The fact that the girls of the Great City were not only
in favor of it, but were actually already in service--a thing
unprecedented in the history of the nation--brought the sympathies of all
the women with us strongly.

Through the governors of each city I raised a separate army of young men,
officered by the older men, most of whom had taken part in past fighting.
Each of these little armies, as yet without arms, was drilled and held in
readiness for orders from the Great City.

I had, during all this time, selected as many able men as possible from
among the Great City's population, and given them over to Fuero and his
associates for training in the use of the light-ray rockets, the larger
projectors, protective measures against the ray, and many other appliances
which I understood only vaguely myself.

It was after our return from the tour of the different cities, and before
the recruiting of the young men was fairly under way, when like a
bombshell came the news from our flying patrol that a fleet of armed boats
was coming down the river from the Lone City. The attack from Tao was at
hand, and our preparations were still far from complete. We had our army
of girls in active operation, and that was all. Tao's boats would reach
the Light Country shore in a few hours. There was no time for anything but
the hastiest of preparations. We decided then to call the army of girls
and meet the boats in the Narrow Sea, turning them back if possible.

I have now to explain the method of defense against the light-ray. In
theory I only vaguely understood it. In practice it was simple and, like
most defenses, only partially effective.

Bob Trevor, has already mentioned it--the suits of black cloth he saw in
the Mercutian camp in Wyoming. It was not, as he had afterward supposed, a
dye for fabrics. Instead, it was the thread of a worm--like our silk
worm--which in its natural state was black and was impervious to the ray.
By that I mean a substance whose molecules increased their vibration rate
only slightly from a brief contact with the ray.

It was only partly efficacious, for after an exposure of a minute or more
the intense heat of the ray was communicated. It then became partly
penetrable, and anything close behind it would be destroyed.

We had under manufacture at this time a number of protective devices by
which this substance might be used. Boats had, in the past, been equipped
with a sort of shield or hood in front, making them more or less
impervious to a direct horizontal beam of the light.

Tao's boats which now threatened us were so protected, I was informed by
the girls who reported them. Recognizing the probability of an attack by
us from the air, they also had a covering of the cloth, like a canopy
above them. But as may be readily understood, such protection could be
made only partly effective.

I had already manufactured, at Miela's suggestion, a number of shields for
our girls to carry while in flight. These consisted of the fabric in very
light, almost diaphanous, form, hung upon a flexible frame of very thin
strips of bamboo. It was some twelve feet broad across the top, narrowing
rapidly into a long fluttering tail like a kite.

There was nothing rigid about this shield. Its two or three bamboo ribs
were as flexible as a whip, with the veiling--it was hardly more than
that--fluttering below them almost entirely unsupported. In weight, the
whole approximated one-twelfth that of a girl, not at all a difficult
amount to carry.

Within two hours after the report came--it was near midday--we were ready

to start from the Great City to repel Tao's attack. Our forces consisted
of some six hundred girls, each armed with a light-ray cylinder and a
shield. This was the organization I have already mentioned, fifty squads
of ten, each with a leader; and fifty other girls, the most daring and
expert in the air, who were to act independently.

We had two platforms, protected by the fabric, and with a sort of canopy
around the sides underneath, over which the girls grasping the handles
could fly. Mercer and Anina rode on one platform, and Miela and I on the
other. All of us were dressed in the black garments.

On each of the platforms we had mounted a projector of higher power than
the hand cylinders, although of course of much less effective range than
those the Mercutians had used in Wyoming.

Thus equipped we rose into the air from the castle grounds in the Great
City, with a silent, awed multitude watching us--as strange an army,
probably, as ever went forth to battle.

Next: The Battle

Previous: The Water City

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