The Aqueducts were an intimidating sight to behold. A marvel of the last generation's engineering. It stretched from horizon to horizon, like the blanket of lights travelers called 'the night sky'. It was made of powerful sandstone and granite. They had large, looping arches reminiscent of the aqueducts of old.
Unlike the aqueducts of Paorr, however, this one used modern technology, not gravity, to work its magic. Instead of miles of open air troughs for the water to run through, these structures were closed off, and inside them they housed massive pipework, traveling miles and miles and miles out to White Haven.
Enormous pumps, a marvel of engineering, in Gearford and Argenstrath pumped thousands of gallons of seawater west. The water was useless, polluted, and salt water. However, that wasn't what people cared for. They wanted the water heading east. Clean, distilled, fresh water. Processed in White Haven.
And that water was what these bandits were here for. Even as Sandoval watched from his perch atop the pump station, he could see their forward scouts with their binoculars.
Sandoval stood, spyglass in hand, within the pump station's observatory. This small lookout area was at the top of the aquaducts, and right by one of the massive pipes. From here, he peered out of the observation windows, just over a foot high, and could see the surrounding land on either side of the ducts.
"I knew it," he whispered, slowly pulling the spyglass back behind the curtain to not rustle it and give them away.
"I don't believe it," mumbled Manfred, "The Wet Bandits... Why would they be so stupid as to attempt this?"
"Desperation," said Sandoval, "And boldness. They made an obvious line west, they knew outrage would spark and I would come hunting. Logic dictates we follow them west... but I guess their leader is smarter than the average dust-monkey."
"A gamble... but I am glad it paid off." said Manfred, "I can call up the Inquisition and have her read-"
"No, no," said Sandoval, "We cannot afford hitting the ducts themselves. The damage could be untold! Besides, the Inquisition is intimidating. It's a sure way to blow the rouse before it is time. Arnett, we are on our own for this one."
Manfred nodded, "How long do you think?"
"How long do you think?"
"Honestly? Not long. If they haven't spotted us, than they will assume they, too, haven't been spotted. Without a police or military Airship in the sky, they might feel they are in the clear. Therefore if they want to act with as much time before the alarm is raised... they will need to do so soon."
"I concur, Deputy Arnett," said Sandoval, "I think now might be the time to prepare our men."
Manfred slowly made his way down the small chamber and to a narrow ladder- corridor. He checked to make sure no one was on their way up, and he began the climb downward. It was dark and cool. Something Manfred appreciated, given the massive furnace that powered the machines keeping the pipes working.
After some time, Manfred found himself at the bottom and climbing into a larger room. However, the claustrophobia didn't stop. He was also assaulted with a blast of heat which was sent up the ladder shaft.
The room was mainly full with a massive machine. This was a control system regulating the steam pressure for the pumps that helps keep the water pressure to White Haven going. Dials and gauges littered the machine above a complex variety of valves and levers. The engineers had yelled at the men several times for playing with them. There was a small room that created a makeshift workshop/ common room/ dining room/ and locker room with a small alcove acting as an indoor bathroom and bunks space for the engineers.
However, none of this mattered as all the furniture and anything non-essential was outside under a canvas tarp. The space was now packed with armed Bobbies and a group of Antifordian Soldiers. The Soldiers were borrowed from the Astam Junction barracks and agreed to take part in this operation under the command of Department Chief Sandoval.
They stood. Some squatted or sat cross-legged. They were crammed. The heat from the furnace caused them all to sweat, and it smelled worse than onboard the Inquisition.
A few eyes turned to Manfred, but it was clear a few were losing steam and trying to nod off in the heat.
"We spotted them," announced Manfred, getting some attention.
Sergeant Montgomery was the first to approach Manfred, his cigar still smoldering in his mouth. He wore the kaki uniform of a soldier. Shiny brass buttons. A thin blue line down the side of the brown pants. The usual cape that helped keep them warm through the nights was removed. His kepi was the new style, floppy and had stitching denoting his rank of sergeant. The regular soldiers still wore the rigid shakos.
"This is going to be a tough fight," said Montgomery, "These men have been baking in here for hours. If these guys don't give up, our men might collapse."
"Have their canteens been filled?"
"A little while ago."
"Alright," Manfred said, "There's nothing we can do for the boys outside. Everyone in here? Fill the canteens, and tell them to dip their heads. It's the least we can do. They need to be ready to move as soon as we can."
"Can do," said Montgomery, "Is it time to send a team up the ladder?"
"Who are your best shots?" said Manfred, "I know Jennifer and Rupert are a crack shot."
"Corporal Boon and Private Hill aren't bad," said Sergeant Montgomery.
"Sergeant," said a soldier sitting on the ground nearby, "May I suggest something?"
The private lifted the Gatling Gun on his lap, tapping the barrels, "There's an old steam port up there, I believe that can make more use of this gun then my cranking it to my death down here."
"That isn't a bad idea," said Manfred, "If it comes to it, I'd prefer more bullets raining down from above."
"Corporal Reinhart is on to something," said the Sergeant, "I was going to have him leave it behind in fear he'd collapse."
"Well, let's prioritize him and that gun."
A Lieutenant from the police department filled the basin, a tub connected with the fresh water pipes. The basin filled and soldiers and Bobbies eagerly dipped their canteens into it and splashed water on their faces.
Manfred nudged the Sergeant, "Might not hurt to pass around some liquid courage. Even if it doesn't amount to a fight, could keep them from getting too rowdy."
"That would be against regulation," said the Sergeant.
"So you don't have-"
"Don't go that far," said Sergeant Montgomery, pulling a bottle of bourbon from his kit.
Manfred turned around, "Peterson, take Malloray's equipment. You're a better shot. Malloray, take his grenades and be prepared."
After a dip, Corporal Reinhart lifted up his Gatling Gun and awkwardly began the climb up the ladder. Private Peterson followed him up, awkwardly holding to boxes of ammunition for the gun as well as his rifle. Other soldiers quickly prepared for a battle. Manfred confirmed the plan with the Sergeant before ascending the ladder himself followed by another rifleman.
At the top, Manfred found the two soldiers already setting up the Gatling gun to Sandoval's disproval. Sandoval looked up to see Manfred and he shook his head.
"Smoke on the horizon," whispered Sandoval, "They are coming."
"Smoke? How much?"
"A Rumbler," said Sandoval, "Perhaps a landship. Can't tell with these low lives."
"They need to take away enough water to make all this worth it," said Manfred, "Can you imagine what they would need?"
"A water wagon," said Corporal Reinhart.
"Like the pioneers?" asked Sandoval.
"Not exclusively," said Reinhart, "Some military forts way out still use them. There's water merchants that rely heavily on them as well. Not to mention anyone who can get ahold of enough scrap metal or an old carriage can make a decent enough one."
"If it's basically a Paddock's carriage, it could explain the quick get-away," added Manfred.
Sandoval extended the spyglass and carefully peered out again, before he snapped it closed again.
"Showtime boys," yelled Sandoval, "Set up that gun!"
Sandoval grabbed a scoped lever action rifle. Manfred picked up his own rifle and ripped down down the curtain over the windows. One of the soldiers had just finished screwing a hose into an old steam port for the Gatling Gun.
Manfred looked out the window. In the distance, he could indeed see a small trail of smoke going into the sky. Below it, he could see a dust cloud being tossed up. Below it, a small group of vehicles were quickly making their way across the desert towards the pump station. In the front was a a large vehicle with a massive front wheel. As it rattled and smoked, one could see it as a powerful steam ram. Behind it, the carriage it pulled was rounded and large, with no windows. It appeared to be longer than a normal carriage, as well.
Behind it, more vehicles were emerging. A stage coach being pulled by four engines was roaring behind it. Behind it, another elongated trailer that was rounded with no windows. Two more Paddock's Carriages roared along with the strange carriages. Behind them appeared to be a steam bike or two, with side cars with weapons attached.
"It's a small army," said Manfred.
"And they just blew past our trap," said Sandoval, "Give the marching order! Dig in and fire at will!"
As Manfred turned to shout down the ladder opening, Sandoval stepped up and fired a shot from his rifle. Manfred put a Bobbie Whistle to his mouth, and he blew, forcing the noise down into the pump room. In response, two more whistles from below blew, telling their men to fight.
The soldiers raised their rifles, and began to fire. The corporal pushed one of the aside, and set down his great Gatling gun. Manfred saw that no steam power had been running through the line. Before the corporal could articulate this, Manfred had already moved over to the steam port, picked up a wrench lying there, and turned a nut further down, opened the valve to the steam power generated by the pump boilers.
The Gatling gun began to spin, and the Corporal aimed it down below to the now close bandits coming steadily forward. Manfred was now ready to join them at the openings, taking a spot furthest down and raising his rifle.
The Bobbies and soldiers below had burst from the pump room. They quickly poured out into the dirt beyond and spread out. Their rifles were raised, and the whistles of the officers carried over the sands as it forced them to be ready.
If the bandits noticed them being fired upon by Sandoval, they didn't show it. When gunfire erupted from the approaching vehicles it was sporadic and focused on the group of policemen and soldiers forming below.
The soldiers raised their rifles, almost in unison, and at the command of their Sergeant, they began firing their rifles in measured, practiced volleys.
The Bobbies, on the other hand, fired wildly towards the approaching vehicles. A few were good shots and knew what they were doing, but there were also a few who were wilding firing, switching targets, and waving their guns shooting trough their ammunition as fast as they could.
The engines roared, and a steam whistle blew. The steam ram was picking up speed, and bearing down on the ground forces. The bullets ricocheted off the armor of the beast as it approached.
Until Corporal Reinhart pressed the trigger of his Gatling Gun, and the space inside the pump room's observatory was filled with the repetitive sound of bullet after bullet being fired in a steady stream. The rain of fire streaked through the sky, and immediately began pelting the steam ram in the lead. The other vehicles veered off, creating an approaching wall. However, the steam ram was already taking the brunt of the assault. The Gatling gun's fire from above pelted into the top armor, and it streaked down onto the rider and a passenger desperately firing at the pump station. The two bandits were quick to fall under the onslaught.
The stage coach doors opened, and three bandits emerged, two climbing onto the roof. They held rifles, and they began to fire up at the men above in the pump room.
Manfred was quick to focus on them. The soldier next to him ducked as a bullet struck a little too close for comfort. Manfred zeroed in on one of the men, quickly aimed just in front of his foot, and fired. The shot worked, and the bullet hit squarely in the gunman's shoulder as the vehicle moved into the shot. He fell back, falling off the back of the coach and underneath the wagon it pulled behind.
The ram began to list to the side, and it began to slow down without the driver pushing more steam into the wheels. But it did not have to go far, as the band of thieves were upon the pump house now.
The rifles fired on both sides. Manfred found himself needing to lean over slightly. A grenade was tossed from below, and it landed underneath the steam ram. The explosions sent one of the from wheels careening off, while the other bent and warped under the weight of the dying ram. It came to a halt, and the stage coach screamed to a halt behind it, the front engines hitting the back wagon.
The other Paddock's carriages pulled around in front of the damaged vehicles, crisscrossing to provide cover. Bandits exited the stage coach, pistols firing.
But they were outnumbered now. The gunfire had wounded drivers and picked off gunmen before they could disembark. One of the steam bikes accelerated out of control, flying past the line of soldiers and police and crashing with a screech into the wall of the aqueduct.
The stage coach was already reversing, the driver giving up on firing on the Bobbies and soldiers. Once he managed to turn the coach around, he began firing again, shouting to the men. Whatever he was yelling could barely be heard over the din, but a few outlaws sprinted from their firing positions or hiding spots and ran for the stagecoach. A few were easily gunned down by the riflemen in the pump room lookout.
"They're running," yelled one of the soldiers.
"Hold the line," yelled Manfred, knowing his voice was unlikely to drift down to the men below, "Remember the plan!"
The driver of the stagecoach was shot in the arm, dropping his pistol. Even as he manned the controls, other outlaws began dumping the bodies of the downed passengers to make room. A few turned and tried to increase the covering fire to protect their allies boarding the stage coach.
In a moment or two, the stage coach was speeding away, leaving behind bodies of the fallen and a single man who turned to chase after it only to earn a bullet in the back. The second steambike also sped off after it, trying to keep pace.
However, the trap had been set. The rest of the Sergeant's men as well as another group of Bobbies were hidden just past the aqueduct over a small hill not far away. In fact, the placement had been ingenious, as they were so close to where the outlaws sprung their charge on the pump station they could've been seen or even squished by their vehicles. Springing from their sand-and-dirt covered blankets, they had set up firing positions behind the charging outlaws, and now that they were retreating, they were in the perfect position to cut them off.
Their rifles burst in an almost unanimous volley, and the ambush was almost perfect. Bullets riddled the two retreating vehicles, and the stagecoach driver and the steampunk rider were down in a moment. By the time the second volley peppered the engines and the stagecoach they were already sputtering to a halt from the punctures in their steam lines and damage to their mechanisms.
Even as the outlaws returned fire, the police and soldiers fired shot after shot into the stage coach. The bullets shredded the woods and weakened the armor. The haphazard plates of metal fell one by one, exposing the occupants even further.
And then it was over. Empty hands were raised to the sky. Shouts to cease fire rang out. The Gatling gun next to Manfred went silent as the Corporal released the trigger, but the barrels still hissed and span with the steam power coursing through them. Sandoval didn't look up from his rifle.
Shouts and order left the mouths of the officers on the ground. They approached the bullet riddled vehicles with weapons drawn and trigger fingers eager to fire. One outlaw crawled out from his cover, bloodied hands in the air.
"Go," said Sandoval, "Oversee the arrest."
Manfred went to a satchel on the ground near them and pulled from it a signal stick. Quickly lighting it with a match, he tossed it with all his strength out a separate window away from the aqueducts. He then took two of the soldiers with rifles and they descended the ladder.