Every lobster knew the drill from infancy, a dance as old as the Eye. There were no palisades, because red clay rendered those useless, and no wall could have as many access points as the Eye needed. If battle came to the city, civilians, were expected to beat an orderly retreat.
It had not happened in three hundred years. The first try was not going as planned.
Kragn headed for the Pupil tower through the traffic flowing along the northern highway. The bridges over this road were so wide lobsters held markets on them. Now they huddled underneath them for shelter. A ruddy lobster, carrying a roll of dyed cloth, staggered through the shade toward a massive carriage: hitched with four keening crabs, crammed with family, and obstructing a third of the road.
“Sorry. One trip left,” the man grunted when he caught Kragn watching. Kragn took the cloth from his back and shredded it.
The lobster gawked. “That was my great-grandfather’s mat!”
“Have you forgotten the drill?” This one had slept through more than one lesson. “No valuables. No vehicles longer than two paces. Remove yourself and your family to an agreed-upon spot in the desert. It’s law for a reason.” He rapped his claw on the carriage. “If this is not out of the street when I next look, I’ll overturn it. Understood?”
“Look here. You can’t insult my family.”
“You’re endangering your family.” Kragn pressed on. “The sea will judge who’s at fault.”
From rooftops and balconies above the chaos–lobsters whipping crabs or summoning them with “come to me”s, lobsters pulling sleds or walking in dirty mobs–a few of Kragn’s yelled orders to flustered lieutenants standing in the tide. Swords drawn, the subordinates sorted out knots in the evacuation as best they could.
On a high tier under the tower, able to breathe, Kragn cursed his lack of preparedness. He’d warned the council about the attack. His scouts had brought reports of the Field’s new projectile weapons. Yet his plans had been scuttled. All because Crane and Xander chose that day to antagonize four-fifths of the population.
The council flagship moored in an arch at the base of the Pupil tower: twenty-five paces bow to stern, with a fully appointed aft cabin. Kragn boared by ladder, watching the governors file up a gangplank. As Crane stepped onto the deck, followed by Xander, one of Kragn’s soldiers appeared.
“General!” The lobster saluted. “The northern highway is too clogged for the council to depart, sir. The people of the Whites and the Iris are still backing up traffic.”
“Then we’ll delay,” Kragn said. “Forcing them aside now would condemn them.”
Crane turned on the spot, blocking the cabin door. “Kragn, do you mean to sacrifice us instead?”
“In a military situation, you will defer to my judgment, Governor.”
“Yet you have made no provisions to engage the Field in combat.”
Kragn betrayed no emotion. “If you cared for the Eye as much as you claim, you would understand it’s not built to withstand siege. We teach every child the evacuation procedure so we can counterattack while our enemy squats on his laurels.” He took his place at the helm. “A bit of looting and vandalism is a small price to pay for an advantage.”
“I want you to know,” Kragn added, “if we lose the day, it will be your fault. You let your lackey draw the militia from the desert.”
Xander only heard one word. “Lackey?”
Graphus, at the bottom of the gangplank, spoke without turning around. “The general only means we’ll have to wait and see what’s on your conscience tomorrow.”
Xander headed for Graphus, claws raised, but drew up short when Kragn stepped into his path. “In the cabin,” Kragn said, face close enough for Xander to count the scars on his thorax. “Now.”
“I plan to live to see tomorrow.” Xander tried to sound brave. “We can worry about conscience then.”
He led Crane, still quivering under the thought of his fair city vandalized, into the cabin. “The road is clearing,” Kragn called down to Graphus. “If you wish to board…”
Graphus shook his head. “I’ll be departing from the stables. Two siblings of a friend of mine are under my care. Neither of them can drive a sled.”
Kragn had always regretted Graphus not being High Governor, but never more than now. “Take care, Governor.”
“You too, General.” Graphus sped around the tower as fast as his old legs could go.
He’s well beloved. A lieutenant shoveled clay into the engine, and the grand ship’s blade began to scrape. It’s a shame he’s determined to die.
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