The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars is now available!The original publication of Canal Priests Of Mars cut slightly over a third of author Marcus L. Rowland's manuscript to fit GDW's adventure format. The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars restores the cut material, features all new artwork by Paul Daly, and adds many useful player handouts. Enjoy the "author's cut" of a classic Space 1889 adventure, or experience it for the first time!
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The colonel didn't match my expectations: from the stories related by the newspapers, I had developed the image of a strong, six foot Goliath, but MacDunhill was only five foot two and exceedingly lean. Yet -- as we soon found out -- he seemed taller than he was; like many small men he was full of energy and restless, and when he wasn't engaged in combat, he was developing new schemes against the Oenotrians. Nevertheless, this man had one burning passion: the venerable game of cricket.
"Name's MacDunhill," he welcomed us, continuing, "We have the best cricket team of the whole British Army over here, but there's no single bit of flat ground larger than my cap."
He went about his business the rest of the afternoon, arranging soldierly matters with us running after him like a king's entourage, while he barked out orders to his subordinates and smilingly received the deference of the enlisted. On the few occasions I got the colonel's attention and tried to explain my problems to him, he would listen for a few seconds, then interrupt to complain about the cricket facilities here at Ratapooxla.
When MacDunhill returned to his cricketers and I had to confess to him my utter lack of talent for the game, he seemed to reject me altogether. Obviously, as I was neither an exceptional soldier nor a cricket player, he deemed me unworthy of his attention. Things didn't change when Hambley announced that he had played with the Eton team in 1874 and the two of them indulged in a vast discussion of the game which drew on until evening.
The men had their mess on the makeshift cricket field, which we had the honour to attend. In fact, MacDunhill and his officers hadn't moved at all, chattering away about that blasted game, while the orderlies had arranged dinner around them. I was seated far from the colonel between a young lieutenant who had just bought his way out of a boring Indian station and into MacDunhill's Legion and an elderly Major who had been with the colonel since both, discontented with the small achievements of their superiors against the Oenotrian forces, had left their regiments to form this special unit. Most of his troops were old cavalry who had traded in their horses for liftwood flyers, and went dashing around Mars looking for trouble. MacDunhill called this force his "Airborne Cavalry", and had conducted an excellent campaign against the Oenotrians last summer. He ambushed enemy supply trains, raided their cities, and led surprise attacks that gave the British possession of key forts on the Oenotrian front.
While eating, MacDunhill and Hambley continued talking about the one and only important subject, proceeding from famous cricketers to cricket fields on Mars. Hambley had gone into a long narration about a certain Martian prince who had an affliction for the game, and with whom he had played with before the advent of the war, at which point the prince joined forces with the Oenotrians.
"Incidentally," he said, "one of these excellent fields was at the prince's summer residence at Khaaxtopaal, not fifty miles from here."
MacDunhill nearly dropped his spoon: "There is a cricket field not fifty miles from here?" he inquired.
"Why yes," Hambly replied.
"Then we'll play there tomorrow!" the Colonel announced.
"But sir," Captain Barker, the Colonel's adjutant objected, "Khaaxtopaal is heavily defended. There are at least two Oenotrian regiments and a large number of guns. Johnny Martian will swallow us whole!"
"Johnny Martian doesn't play cricket!"
Early the next morning, we boarded MacDunhill's steam launches and gunboats to the sound of a lone piper's "Men of Harlech". As the last men climbed aboard, MacDunhill waved his hand to the flyers' captains, the helmsmen turned the valves, the trimsmen worked their levers, and in the increased clamour of the steam engines and airscrews, the ships lifted from the ground and began their journey to Khaaxtopaal.
I had boarded the staff launch and seated myself on the deck beneath the open bridge. Watching the intricate patterns of the flyers in the sky above and beside us weave through their complex dance, I listened to the soldiers sitting near me. They knew people would die today, and they must have known that they were going to die on MacDunhill's whim. Yet they seemed oblivious to those ghastly truths, speaking only of recent battles, comrades long dead and the prospect of sleeping in the houses of Khaaxtopaal tonight. But as the battle drew nearer, their faces became grim and the talking died away while each soldier checked his weapons and gear.
Hambley had done better than me. He was allowed to witness the attack
at MacDunhill's side, sitting in a splendid swiveling chair behind of the
steam flyer's officers. I could barely hear them against the din of the
engine; they had stopped their talk of cricket, and now the Colonel was
explaining the battle plan to Hambley:
"We'll come in low, out of the rising sun, and about a mile out, we'll play the music..."
"Yes! Pipers aboard all ships! It scares the hell out of Johnny Martian and my boys love it!"
With the sun just clearing the horizon, the armada crossed a low line of hills and we could see Khaaxtopaal before us. "General quarters! Battlestations!" the flyer's captain roared, and between the soldiers crowding the deck preparing their weapons I could see a couple of pipers. "Sound off!" MacDunhill cried, who had excitedly jumped out of his chair and leaned over the railing. The pipers began to play above the terrible noise of the accelerating steam flyers, with all the ships' pipers settling into "Scotland the Brave" while the flyers dropped low above the uneven ground and hurtled at breakneck speed towards the city.
Khaaxtopaal was a small affair, less than five hundred years old, and not much more than the prince's palace, parks, and a small settlement surrounding them. Yet in the past few months, the Oenotrians had dug themselves in well, throwing up walls and numerous gun emplacements. Now the Martian soldiers rushed out of their barracks and mounted the battlements, but too late: We were already on top of them!
To the sound of the bagpipes, the main guns of the flyers opened up, ripping holes in the earthworks, destroying guns and enemy soldiers. Then we were above the enemy's defenses and every soldier began firing with his trusty 'Tini while the Nordenfelt and Gatling gunners dealt out red death to the Oenotrian soldiers. Scores of them toppled from the battlements, but the survivors kept shooting. Bullets whizzed about us as the helmsman threw the ship around to make another run at the walls. Just then, a Martian gun scored a hit on one of our small steam launches, which crashed amid a white plume of steam from its ruptured boiler.
"Kill that damned gun!" screamed MacDunhill, and a signalman waved his semaphores at the Legion's ships. Two broke away from their formation, which was bombing the Oenotrian barracks, and rushed towards the sole remaining Martian gun, firing their Hale rockets at it. Gun and crew vanished in a bright explosion which tore the battlements apart.
The flyers landed in groups in the palace park, spilling their troops. They lifted again to lay supportive fire with their Nordenfelts and Gatlings while the soldiers went about their business clearing the city of the Oenotrians house by house. The whole assault had lasted only minutes, but already Johnny Martian was fleeing Khaaxtopaal by the hundreds, running off into the desert with flyers firing at their rear to make them go faster.
The Colonel was pleased. The cricket field was in the middle of the park and had only suffered a minor crater on the south end. While his men rammed in the wicket, he stood before the blaze of the burning palace, oblivious to the heat, listening to the fading sound of his pipers. He took a deep breath, smiled as he exhaled, and said "I love the smell -- you know, that newly-mown grass smell -- it smells like cricket!"
Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:51:17 EDT