General Sir Arthur Lloghov, 5th Baron Lloghov, watched as the second hand snapped into position. The Baron closed his ornate pocketwatch–a personal gift from Her Majesty the Queen Regent. A steam whistle in the marshaling yards outside confirmed the Baron’s impeccable timing, and he sat at the head of the ornate table drawn up in the Admiralty building, medals jangling as he did so.
“This session of the Landships Commission will now come to order,” he said.
An aide rolled out the usual map, with a bold line drawn through the middle to represent the front between the hated enemy of Almain and the noble forces of Loegria.
“I am sure you have all seen our latest casualty statistics from the Battle of the Verge,” said Baron Lloghov. He took a calm puff from his pipe before continuing. “They are staggering. Seventy thousand casualties yesterday alone.”
There was a muted response; most of the commission members’ faces were shrouded, sphinxlike, in gaslight shadow. One of the attendees, an attaché named Wilkes, spoke: “Isn’t that cause for concern?”
“I should think not,” harrumphed Baron Lloghov. “Our troops have already gained one and a half miles of ground in the Verge, and my sources inform me that Almainian casualties were one and a half times as great as ours.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” said Wilkes.
“So long as we have the last 10,000 troops, it doesn’t matter how many bullets we’re forced to block with the breasts of brave men,” said Lloghov dismissively. “We’ve a greater population and greater resources to draw on. Attrition.”
“Nevertheless, I must again point out that if the Landships Commission were allowed to do its work, such casualties would not be necessary.” Lt. General Emanuel Hobart had been the prime mover behind the Commission’s existence, and had pressed for the construction and testing of landships against Baron Lloghov since the very first. The old man was only on the Commission as a result of heading the Admiralty, but he had used his rank and prestige to monopolize its time and block its work.
“Nonsense, the Commission is doing its work splendidly,” Lloghov retorted. “The Queen Regent has confided in me that we must thoroughly talk out such foolishness, lest our enemies profit from us following a rash course of action. What have you brought us this time, Hobart?”
Hobart unrolled a set of detailed schematics and production designs. “Fresh off the proving grounds at Columb. Three centimeters of armor, four eighty-millimeter high-velocity cannons, eight rifle-caliber machine guns, and two flamethrowers. Impervious to any small arms or artillery in the enemy inventory, and capable of speeds in excess of ten kilometers an hour with a crew of thirty.”
“A destroyer with tank treads!” laughed Lloghov. “Oh, won’t the Almainians laugh when they flank it with their horse cavalry? It might win the war for us by sheer humor.”
Wilkes the attaché reached out and took the plans. He examined them for a moment before folding them up and placing them in his case.
“See here, Wilkes, what are you-” Baron Lloghov’s words died in his throat as he saw Wilkes remove a pistol from his satchel. “Guards! Guards!”
The Loegrian guards responded, but they were barely able to draw their ornate and engraved single-action revolvers, let alone cock them, before Wilkes opened fire. He was using an automatic pistol, magazine-fed, that had been rejected by the pre-war Loegrian government and not being conducive to the principle of individual marksmanship. Acquired personally from the maker, along with plans for its manufacture, the weapon proved devastating in the close quarters of the conference room.
Wilkes handily dispatched the guards before indiscriminately spraying the room, holding the pistol sideways so that its action fanned out the bullets, which shattered the ornate stained-glass windows and buried themselves in the luxuriant carved panels.
When the magazine emptied, Wilkes dropped it to the table and slapped a fresh one home. Baron Lloghov, at the far end of the table, feebly raised his pistol. Wilkes answered with a single shot.
“W…why?” It was Hobart, gravely wounded beside the table.
“They are trying to fight a gentleman’s war in an industrial age, a war of horse-power in an age of diesel and coal,” responded Wilkes. “I am putting the implements of change in the hands of those who would use them.”