The story of a naval battle.
⁓The Voice before the Void
The Last American
John Ames Mitchell
An icy wind from the northeast with a violent rain. Yesterday we gasped with the hot air. To-day we are shivering in winter clothing.
The same as yesterday. Most of us are ill. My teeth chatter and my body is both hot and cold. A storm more wicked never wailed about a ship. El-Hedyd calls it the shrieking voices of the hundred millions of Mehrikans who must have perished in similar weather.
It is many days since I have touched this journal. A hateful sickness has been upon me, destroying all energy and courage. A sort of fever, and yet my limbs were cold. I could not describe it if I would.
Nofuhl came into the cabin this evening with some of his metal plates and discoursed upon them. He has no respect for the intellects of the early Mehrikans. I thought for a moment I had caught him in a contradiction, but he was right as usual. It was thus:
Nofuhl: They were great readers.
Khan-li: You have told us they had no literature. Were they great readers of nothing?
Nofuhl: Verily, thou hast said it! Vast sheets of paper were published daily in which all crimes were recorded in detail. The more revolting the deed, the more minute the description. Horrors were their chief delight. Scandals were drunk in with thirstful eyes. These chronicles of crime and filth were issued by hundreds of thousands. There was hardly a family in the land but had one.
Khan-li: And did this take the place of literature?
Nofuhl: Even so.
Once more we are on the sea; two days from Nhu-Yok. Our decision was a sudden one. Nofuhl, in an evil moment, found among those accursed plates a map of the country, and thereupon was seized with an unreasoning desire to visit a town called “Washington.” I wavered and at last consented, foolishly I believe, for the crew are loud for Persia. And this town is inland on a river. He says it was their finest city, the seat of Government, the capital of the country. Til-lah swears he can find it if the map is truthful. Ja-khaz still eats by himself.
This afternoon we reclined upon the deck, the Zlotuhb drifting gently in a southerly direction. Land could be seen on the starboard bow, a faint strip along the western horizon.
It was about the middle of the afternoon, while passing the ruins of a gigantic tower—perhaps a lighthouse—that Nofuhl, of a sudden, clambered hastily to his feet and looked about him. Then he called to Til-lah, asking how many leagues we were from the harbor of Nhu-Yok. Til-lah’s reply I forget, but it filled the old man with a gentle excitement. I observed an unwonted sparkle in his eyes, also a quivering of the fingers as he pointed to the ocean around about, and exclaimed: “Beneath us, the bottom of the sea is covered with iron ships—the wrecks of stupendous navies—the mightiest of all human history!”
At once we all became interested.
“What navies?” I inquired. “And what compassed their destruction? Was it a battle?”
Nofuhl: A battle of whose magnitude no Persian has conception; a conflict in which the sea was tossed and the heavens rent by thunderings of iron monsters. Any one of them would have blown to atoms a fleet of Zlotuhbs.
El-pate: Verily! A tale easier told than believed. But I would readily venture my head in the Zlotuhb against any of these nursery-tale wonders.
Nofuhl: And with wisdom. For the loss of thy brain, El-pate, could not affect the nature of thy speech.
Whereupon there was laughter, and El-pate held his peace.
Khan-li: But tell us of this battle, O Nofuhl. I remember now to have read about it at college. These details of ancient history I am prone to forget. How came it about?
Nofuhl: I have spoken of the Mehrikans being a greedy race. And their greed, at last, resulted in this war. By means of one-sided laws of their own making they secured for themselves a lion’s share of all profits from the world’s commerce. This checked the prosperity of other nations, until at last the leading powers of Europe combined in self-defence against this all-absorbing greed. They collected an armada the like of which was never imagined, neither before nor since. Then, across the ocean, came the iron host. And here, upon this very spot where we are floating, they met the Mehrikan ships.
Khan-li: How many ships in all?
Nofuhl: The Mehrikans had eighty heavy ships of iron, with a number of smaller craft. The allies had two hundred and forty heavy battleships, all of iron. They also had smaller craft for divers purposes.
Khan-li: Allah! A bad prospect for our greedy friends! And being a nation of traders they had no liking, probably, for the perils of war.
Nofuhl: As to that historians differ. According to the Mehrikans themselves they were mighty warriors. But certain writers of that period give a different impression. Yt-ahl is sure they were cowards, weak in body as in spirit, but often favored by fortune. In my opinion, this battle throws considerable light upon that matter.
A day like this, it was, also in June, as the Europeans, coming northward along the coast to seize Nhu-Yok, met the Mehrikan Admiral R-sai-di with his eighty ships. And the struggle was short.
Khan-li: Verily, I can believe it! With three ships to one I would give the Europeans about half a day—a summer afternoon like this—to send the greedy ones to the bottom.
Nofuhl: Thy guess is good, O Prince, as to the hours of fighting. It lasted just one summer afternoon. But the Mehrikans it was who sent their enemies to the bottom. And the sea beneath our feet is strewn with iron hulks.
Khan-li: Bismillah! If that be a true tale—and I doubt it not—these greedy ones were not so contemptible, at least when there was profit in it.
El-Hedyd: At what period did this occur?
Nofuhl: Early in the twentieth century. I cannot recall the date, but it was never forgotten by the Mehrikans. Surely a just pride, for on that day they accomplished wonders. The Admiral R-sai-di on his ship the Ztazenztrypes was at one time surrounded by a dozen German men-of-war. And lo! He demolished all! And of Frank and Russyan vessels he put an end to as many more; also sundry Talyans and British.
El-Hedyd: Bismillah! But that was good! What, O Nofuhl, is the Persian of that name Ztazenztrypes?
Nofuhl: None can tell with certainty. To the Mehrikans it signified victory, or something similar.
Other miracles were achieved by the Mehrikans that day. Fli-zon-mee, a little craft with a pointed prow, jammed holes in nearly a score of monster ships, and the waters closed over them. There figured also a long and narrow boat of Mehrikan devising, the Yankyd-Oodl. This astonishing machine sailed to and fro among the foreign ships upsetting all traditions. Much glory befell her commander, the Captain Rai-boiz.
Til-lah: And how many ships did the Mehrikans lose?
Nofuhl: Reports are contradictory. According to one of their own writers of the period they suffered no loss whatever in vessels. Yet at the same time he asserts, “We gave them Haleklumbya,” which must be the name of a ship.
Khan-li: A gallant fight! But can you explain how such an inferior people could become heroic of a sudden?
Nofuhl: According’ to ‘Ardfax, an early British historian, they were addicted to surprising feats upon the water. And this statement is borne out by a Spanish admiral, Fulbad-shoo, who maintains that the Mehrikans, being a godless people, were aided by the devil.
We are on the river that leads to “Washington.” Til-lah says we shall sight it to-morrow. The river is a dirty color.
Continued in part 6.