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The Civilized, Chapter 34 - English Translation of Les Civilisés

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To the dead of Tsushima

The enemy was directly ahead.

And onboard the 412 shouted orders yelled out sent them into a buzz of activity.

"Carefully - the two motors, 120 rotations. Torpedo men, cock the hammers.

Quiet, the rest of you!

Five to the left! Set the helm to zero! Do you see it, quartermaster? Yes? Advance like that, two quarters ahead of the line.

"Machines - ready to manuver!"

The hull cut the water silently. Noiselessly, the 412 lunged forward. On the grey horizon, the English battleships were massive, indistinct profiles. How many miles were left to go!? Two? Three? It was impossible to know, the dark night and they couldn't see for sure. They had to go stealthily: watch out for any lights, watch out for the noise of the motors that might be heard far away! And they had to get close, very close, since the right range to launch was 400 meters, and that was when you could see clearly during the day and you knew the target's speed, but during a night attack it was useless to fire beyond 200 meters. Fierce knew it, and quietly, without letting his eyes strey from the prey, he murmured "I'll fire when I see the whites of their eyes."

To the right and to the left, the other torpedo boats had disappeared, melting into the distant inky blackness, the brave 412 charging alone the enemy squadron.

How many miles left? Two? One? Five minutes perhaps, before the first cannon shot rang out. The battleship in front, the closest one, was doubtless the King Edward - it was the admiral's position. Fierce, for a second, thought about Hong Kong, and to the Nordenfeldts engraved with roses, and he muttered "irony" to himself, then his thoughts ran back to to the important thing at hand - "I will fire when I see the rights of their eyes."

"When I can touch them." The moon, high above, cast its light upon the battlefield below. They saw clearly... too clearly. The torpedo boat must be all too dark on this sea of milk...

The silhouette of the battleship grew larger and larger. Not a shot, not a light, from the dark machine, not a noise: it was like the palace from Beauty and the Beast. How many meters were left now? Fifteen hundred? And yet the English had eyes after all! They saw them like it was full day! Ahh, the waiting, the horrible waiting expecting the first shot to ring out at any second, letting loose the thunder of battle!

Fierce, in the terrible silent, felt the blood pounding in his head - pounding so hard that the enemy in front of them had to hear it too, and he barely bared to breath, suffocating. And then! The nightmare burst into existence, the calm smashed into a thousand pieces, as rays of brilliant light shot out from the King Edward and transfixed the water with dazzling illumination, stunning the transfixed torpedo boat, ensnaring it, haloing it with a tragic final glory of light - and then, all at once, the unmuzzled cannons flamed with red flame and screamed with voices of thunderous wrath.

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Fierce was blinded, sightless by the electric searchlights that had stabbed into his eyes. Too bad. Forward still! He shouted at at the top of his lungs to calm himself, "motors to four hundred rotations!" And now, every muscle straining towards the goal of coming to blows with the enemy, he repeated it again and again to himself the single sentence that filled his mind, the mantra of death - "I will fire when I see the whites of their eyes. The whites of their eyes. The whites of their eyes. The whites of their eyes."

The shells sent up huge splashes of water and shrieked through the air around them. They blew up with hot pillows of air, throwing up walls of water that towered into the air and then fell to drench them - liquid ghosts, entirely white underneath the moon, that lived and died in the blink of an eye, straddling closer and closer the torpedo boat. A shrinking circle of iron spectre closing in on them, clad in their shrouds of frothy shrapnel foam, every fragment death. The gauntlet tightened and grew ever closer. But the 412 was screaming forward at 30 knots now. Through the waves and the shells it advanced forward fearlessly, as unstoppable as the will that drive it. The sea churned up by the hull and propellers thrashed and raged, and the water ran off the submerged bridge like a waterfall. Massive flames spewed forth from the smokestacks, that the speed of their assault curved back and cut up into glittering fragments of fire.

A shell hit them, the first one. It blew through the metal like paper and spewed out a storm of metal shrapnel. Fierce, his head turned aside for a second, saw a man cut in half, his guts spilling out. A second shell hit them now, even worse: the rear torpedo tube and its torpedo blew up, taking out half of their chances for victory. Three sailors, cut to pieces, melted into chunks of watery red on the deck. And they were still so far away, too far to fire!

"When I see the whites of their eyes!" Battle rage had seized control of Fierce, and his eyes were red with anger and the fog cleared from his mind. It was there, in front of his torpedo - his last torpedo - civilization! She had killed and tortured him, she was going to kill him - she had chewed him up and spit him out, she laughed in his face and destroyed his life again and again! Ah, Fierce felt so week! But also powerful, enraged. A scream jumped from his lips, a cry of a duel, stabbing a rival on horseback "I'll win, filthy creature!" And enraged, his eyes fired with anger, his mind absorbed by rage, he held the torpedo sight straight, desperately straight, straight to the foe.

The weight of his body weighed on his hands, strangling the barrier. Suddenly, his body slid out from under him, and he fell forward: a shell had slashed through the steel of the guardrail and taken a bit of flesh with the steel. At the end of his arm, Fierce saw a red thing hanging - the hand sliced away from his bodily, messily. It didn't hurt, not yet. But blood was jetting out, and Fierce understand that he was going to die. He hauled himself up with a brutal leap, and with all of his force, he screamed "fire!"

The torpedo shot out of its tube dived into the water and thrust towards the enemy. And in the second following, a shell slammed right into the tube, smashing it, cut cleanly through the torpedo boat from front to back and blew up in the machine room. The connecting rods, the men, the cylinders were pulverized, and the screams, explosions, the whistling of scaping steam mixed together as the stricken 412 let loose vast jets of steam that the electric searchlights lit up with a brilliant light, clouds of apotheosis.

Shredded from his calf to his shoulder, stunned like a cow smashed by its execution blow, lying in a sea of blood, of blood that poured out like water from a fountain, Fierce, even still, heard the hurrah of the victorious English gunners, and the realize that he had been defeated without being able to kill the enemy filled his heart with a terrible despair, save for that he was dying and it would soon all be gone.

Across the waves, on the victorious enemy ship, the cannons still thundered and fired at the stricken French ship. Now that they were so close, it was an incredible orchestra of fire where every artillery piece bellowed out its note again and again at the top of its lungs. The rat-rat-a-tat-at of machine guns, the dry scale of the three inch guns as a mad arabesque, the deep roar of the medium artillery that relentlessly played fiery cords without break that echoed forever above in the tumult of the concert.

The shells landed everywhere around them. It was an incredible storm of fire and steel. The bridge of the sinking 412 was nothing more than a red coffin, where shreds of flesh washed with blood started to fry in the flame.

But, the insolent and triumphal fanfare of cannons was joined by a dull explosion, mournful like the first shovelful of soil thrown upon a coffin. A spout of water burst up from the side of the battleship - and then nothing. But, as if some massive lightning bolt had pulverized the gunners at their weapons, the cannons, entirely, stopped, muzzled.

And in the sudden silence, an immense cry of agony was thrown out from the battleship hit in its turn, echoing out into the night in horror.


French Text

Chapters

  1. Chapter 1
  2. Chapter 2
  3. Chapter 3
  4. Chapter 4
  5. Chapter 5
  6. Chapter 6
  7. Chapter 7
  8. Chapter 8
  9. Chapter 9
  10. Chapter 10
  11. Chapter 11
  12. Chapter 12
  13. Chapter 13
  14. Chapter 14
  15. Chapter 15
  16. Chapter 16
  17. Chapter 17
  18. Chapter 18
  19. Chapter 19
  20. Chapter 20
  21. Chapter 21
  22. Chapter 22
  23. Chapter 23
  24. Chapter 24
  25. Chapter 25
  26. Chapter 26
  27. Chapter 27
  28. Chapter 28
  29. Chapter 29
  30. Chapter 30
  31. Chapter 31
  32. Chapter 32
  33. Chapter 33
  34. Chapter 34
  35. Chapter 35
  36. Chapter 36

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