(I imagine that Sahdi, the Nubian Queen in my steampunk short story coming out from DAW Books in 2011, is as beautiful as Tyra Banks (pictured above) and as powerful of personality as Oprah Winfrey. For those of you who don't know, steampunk is a sub-genre of science-fiction and fantasy. It has Victorian sensibilities, steam power, and is often set in an alternate history Earth. I loved writing this story and can't wait for it to be published.
Here's the first scene.
The Nubian Queen
By Paul Genesse
Lower Nubia, 1854 A.D.
Queen Sahdi gave the command to destroy the tracks ahead of the armored train as it steamed through the savannah beside Lake Nubia. She stood behind the thick ramparts of Gebel Adda, an ancient fortress situated in the hills that marked the border, wondering how many of her brave soldiers, and how many of the Egyptian emperor’s, were about to die.
Through the telescopic sight on her rifle, Sahdi inspected the canon barrels and machine gun turrets that bristled from every car on the train. The emperor’s generals would use the railcars to spearhead their attack for as long as they could. Her artillery hidden in the hills and the big guns at Gebel Adda would kill everyone who remained in the flatlands and leave the train a burning wreck.
A puff of white smoke, then a thunderous boom echoed from the bottleneck canyon that led to the train yard at the base of Nubia’s largest fortress. Boulders tumbled and covered the iron rails and the handful of unfortunate Libyan scouts inspecting the tracks for sabotage or explosives. The war train screeched to a halt a hundred yards away from the rock fall as dust filled the air.
Queen Sahdi lowered her rifle as General Kemani waited for her signal to open fire on the invading army now that the first part of their trap had been sprung. Five thousand Egyptian infantrymen in green tunics and tan trousers marching in columns behind the train formed firing lines, and some took cover beside the elevated train bed. The two dozen rhino mortar and machine gun trucks stopped rolling forward on their spiked metal wheels, smoke from their flash-boilers mixing with the dust, as they took aim at the hills on either side of the canyon.
A flag-bearer exited the train.
“A white flag?” Sahdi quickly looked through her scope as a group of men exited the second car and walked ahead of the locomotive carrying what appeared to be a folded up shade tent and poles—in addition to the unexpected truce flag.
“Your Majesty, shall I send our terms?” General Kemani asked, his weathered face bearing little emotion.
Sahdi sucked in her breath as far as the ivory corset in her dress would allow and got a mouthful of chalky dust as she beheld the face of the man standing beside the flag-bearer. It was General Nahktebbi himself. Seeing the man who had humiliated her when she was a girl stoked the kind of rage in Sahdi reserved for the cruelest criminals. The vile man had harmed her in a way no one else could. It had been so many years, but she could neither forget nor forgive. She rested the gun on her shooting tripod on the rampart wall, trying to calm herself and slow her pounding heart. She applied a subtle amount of pressure to the trigger. It was a far shot, but with the scope and her years hunting on the Nubian savannah, Nahktebbi would be a dead man shortly after she pulled the trigger.
“Your Majesty,” General Kemani said. A note of alarm had crept into his voice. “They’re under the white flag and I’ve noticed you’ve released the safety on your rifle.”
Sahdi let our her breath, taking very careful aim at the general’s broad chest and noting the slight westerly wind. “Yes, but it is Nahktebbi.” She corrected her aim. “When he falls, send the signal for the artillery to open fire. Then contact the Meroë Cavalry Division and have them cut off any escape. Our spies must cut the telegraph lines at Abu Simbel immediately. I want the first message the emperor gets in Luxor to be Nahktebbi’s head in a reed basket.”
The general cleared his throat. “Your Majesty, please ask yourself why the emperor sent General Nahktebbi to fight this battle. He knew you would be here. He knew how you would react.”
Kemani stepped closer, his boot heels scraping on the stone. “Word of this breach of protocol will reach every court in the empire. What chance will we have then against the emperor?”
Sahdi pulled away from her rifle, slowly regaining control. She was the ruler of Nubia, not some barbarian queen like Victoria from the British Isles who executed enemies with her own hands. Sahdi had studied for nine years at the Library of Alexandria with the greatest philosophers, historians, and scientists in the world, then spent a dozen years ruling her own country. The blood of Cleopatra the Great flowed through her veins. Despite all of this, Sahdi had almost taken the bait. Emperor Demetrius had known how to make her blood boil. In a fit of blind rage she had almost pulled the trigger, dishonorably killing an enemy general under a truce flag and guaranteeing a long and bloody war with her portrayed as a criminal. Her reputation would be smeared like Cleopatra’s had been by Octavian and the Roman senate.
Sahdi turned around, her long tan dress fringed with a lion’s mane swirling about her. She stood tall, a full head above most of the men behind her. Nubia’s brightest generals, ministers, soldiers, and servants would spring into action once the words of command fell from her lips. She was so proud of what they had all accomplished during her reign. These women and men had helped guide her sweeping social reforms, built up Nubia’s massive industries along the Nile, and established Meroë as the dominant center of trade in the entire Sahel. These few could accomplish anything, and Sahdi’s fierce dark eyes, full of pride, passed over all of them. Their skin was dark brown like hers, but she could see into their souls like they were wearing the sheerest linen. Not a coward or incompetent fool was among her inner circle.
How could she have allowed herself to come so close to destroying what they had accomplished together? Sahdi would speak to the leaders of the Holy Coptic Emperor’s army and give them one final chance to leave her country in peace. Words could be more powerful than bullets. Sahdi rested the butt of her rifle on the ground. She would give it up for something much more intimidating. Queen Sahdi gave her order with the confidence only someone in her esteemed bloodline could muster. “Bring me my crown.”