Somewhere in northern Belgium…
The iron grey skies poured rain onto the seven Prussian Grenadiers as they squelched their way along a muddy defile running parallel to a thick hedgerow. Private Grossmann, bringing up the rear, pulled up short as Sergeant Huber raised a hand to halt them.
They had come to a gap torn in the hedge. The patrol hunkered down behind tread-scarred mounds of earth. There, across a small open field, next to a cluster of trees, stood a solitary farmhouse.
“There it is, lads – Position 103”, said Huber. He peered through his field glasses for a few moments, and then motioned his men. “Looks deserted, but we’d better go in slow and carefully…what was that?”
Grossmann heard it too. Over the hiss of the wind and the sullen rumble of distant artillery came a much more immediate sound – the wheeze of hydraulics, from just beyond the hedge.
But before Grossmann or any of his comrades could act, all hell broke loose.
A huge dark shape, clanking and hissing, suddenly erupted from behind the banking, burying Huber beneath its bulk. Grossmann yelled in horror as the metal monster, hissing and belching bilious green smoke from jointed legs, barrelled forwards. A storm of bullets followed in the beast’s wake as carbine-wielding infantrymen rose up and lashed the stunned Prussians with gunfire.
Grossmann snapped off three wild shots, but the rest of his comrades were overwhelmed. Seeing no alternative, he turned and, bent almost double, ran like hell; bullets whipping the air around him, the nightmarish metal monster filing his thoughts with dread…
Major Beauregard and Clockadile
The tall, rangy American officer stood on the packed earth, peering out in the direction the fleeing Prussian trooper had run. He took a drag on his cheroot as he manipulated the ornate control box in his right hand. Obediently, the clanking robotic reptile slithered over the banking and back to his side. “Good job, Louie”.
“Major Beauregard?” A Federal Infantry sergeant moved to join his commander and in the raised banking, stepping gingerly around the now-quiescent metal beast. “You want us to nail that last one, sir?”
Beauregard sighed and shook his head. “That’s a negative, Mason”, he drawled. “Can’t be runnin’ around open country like a bunch’a prairie dawgs for one guy…not with that stash o’ supplies we’re babysittin’. Got to get the Gats set up and sit tight. We ain’t seen the last o’ the spike-heads today.”
“Ach, Siegfried my friend, why so glum? This is a wonderful opportunity!” The tall, thin man with the shock of white hair emphasised his words with expansive hand gestures, the electrical sparks crackling and spitting from his elaborate gauntlets causing those soldiers walking nearest to him to flinch.
The crook-backed Siegfried, walking at his master’s side, sighed. Professor Gustardt was a generous man to whom he owed a great deal, but he had never gotten used to the eccentric scientist’s absolute lack of fear. “Sir, the patrol had only one survivor. He swore that the enemy has some kind of construct guarding their position – maybe an unknown form of Iron Man. I’m just…concerned…at what we might find.”
“Even if they have, it only proves my point,” Gustardt replied, heedless of the sparks playing over him. “And it makes our presence here more vital – our brave soldiers will take heart from our slaying this beast!”
Siegfried glanced at the Grenadiers and Luftlancers walking alongside them, all of whom looked somewhat nervous rather than inspired. As well they might, marching next to two men essentially wearing a live Tesla coil. He sighed again. “Very good, master.”
“Oh, come now Siegfried, where’s your sense of scientific adventure?” Gustardt chided. He cracked his knuckles, triggering yet another shower of sparks. “Besides, when we do kill the monster, think how much fun we’ll have taking it apart…”