Note, I’ve posted a “What Has Gone On Before” for this book today.
Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 01
“Die hard, Fifty-seventh, die hard!”
–Lieutenant Colonel William Inglis,
Battle of Albuera, 1811
Cristobal Province, Balboa
But for the blasted skeletons of dead trees, the landscape resembled something of a moonscape. Fully half of the visible ground, and quite possibly more than that, was composed of craters, themselves now filling with poisoned water, seeping from traumatized soil. Repeated concussion from still impacting artillery sent ripples from the edges of the craters, across the water, to meet in the rough center and then roll back again.
Bodies and parts of bodies lay in every manner of undignified death and ruin. Some of those bodies were small, reptilian, and winged.
Carrera, standing on the lip of a large crater, closed his heart to the presence of so many destroyed bodies. At least, he tried to. They were just things, he told himself, from which all value had been taken, except for the memories stored in the hearts of their loved ones. He closed his own heart, too, to the future wailing of mothers, once the Tauran casualty lists had been collected and sent onward. He really didn’t want to think about the wailing of his own country’s mothers. Instead, he summed it up, indirectly, with a well-remembered quote from a king of Old Earth: An assegai has been thrust into the belly of the nation. There are not tears enough to mourn the dead.
Staring down into the reeking water, he mentally measured and thought, A one-eighty, if I had to guess. Then he looked up at the source of the water’s rippling, watching a battery of eighty-fives pounding away at some group of Tauran who simply refused to surrender, despite Janier’s orders. Several large piles of expended casings grew behind the guns, far more than they had managed to carry forward with them. Streams of gunners trotted between holes in the ground and their guns, carrying at least one shell under each arm.
Awfully decent, really, for the Taurans to stand guard on the fifty or so thousand shells we left behind against this day. And I have to give Fernandez’s crew credit, too, for digging into the Tauran manuals and figuring out how much ‘net explosive weight’ we’d have to put in each dump to make it against their rules to simply blow them in place without having shelters dug for everyone. And then, after a while, I suppose they must have just forgotten about the shells, what with more pressing concerns at hand.
The gunners’ ballet grew old after a time. Carrera signaled for his vehicle, an Ocelot Infantry Fighting Vehicle, driven by Jamie Soult, to come pick him up. The driver swung around the crater slowly, careful to avoid the uncertain lips of the larger hole, though he could not avoid the stinking muck of the smaller ones.
“Where to, Boss?” Soult shouted, over the roar of the engine, slowing down then to avoid covering his chief in muck.
Climbing on top, then beating his boot heels against the side of the Ocelot’s turret to remove the caked on mud, Carrera had a sudden idea. He eased himself, feet first, down into the turret, put on his own combat vehicle crewman’s helmet, and said, “Take me to the FDC for that battery,” pointing index and middle finger in the direction of the firing.
“Roger,” Soult said, taking off gently to avoid spinning his treads and maybe becoming stuck. The Ocelot was amphibious, but not, as they said, “Mud-phibious.” About one hundred and fifty meters shy of what looked to be the battery’s fire direction center, the craters mostly gave out, leaving relatively smooth and firm soil for the vehicle to negotiate.
At the battery, one officer – a Tribune named Ramirez – rushed over while pulling a protective – most would say “gas” – mask away from his face. Saluting, he reported in with his own name and his battery nomenclature.
Carrera jumped from the vehicle to the ground, then asked, “Why the mask, Tribune?”
“The fumes will get to you eventually, sir. And this area” – Ramirez gestured around with a circling finger – “is already about as thick with fumes as a man can stand.”
“Fair enough,” Carrera said, agreeably. “What are you firing at and for whom?”
“It’s a maniple-sized group of Anglians, we think, Duque. They’re pretty well dug in and disinclined to surrender. We shooting on behalf of a cohort from Second Tercio, Second Cohort.”
“Velasquez’s Cohort, Boss,” Soult answered immediately. “Want I should get them on the line.”
It took Soult perhaps seven minutes to find and set the radio on the pertinent set of frequencies and then get himself into the radio net.
“What’s the hold up, Jamey?” asked Carrera.
Frigging war on and better things for them to be doing, Soult thought. Rather than his having to answer Carrera, the Second of the Second answered him.
“Who do you want to speak to, Boss?” Soult asked.
“Velasquez or his exec or his sergeant major.”
Fifteen seconds after that, Soult announced, “Sergeant Major Cruz, sir. You’re in the green.” That last was a standard phrase for, your communication is encrypted so you can presume to speak freely. The warning really wasn’t necessary’ the encrypted radios gave off a notice that one could speak freely in the form of a beepbeepbeep.
Beepbeepbeep. “Cruz?” Carrera asked into the microphone, following several distinctive beeps that confirmed the encryption.
Beepbeepbeep. “Yes, Duque.“
Beepbeepbeep. “Who are you fighting and why won’t they surrender?”
Beepbeepbeep. “Anglians, sir, and some mixed in Cimbrians and Hordalanders, we think. Tough bastards, don’t know when they’re beaten.”
Beepbeepbeep. “How many are there and what are you doing to deal with them?”
Beepbeepbeep. “We’ve got them pretty well pinned in their position with artillery and mortars. While their heads are being kept down, we’re working our way around their flanks.”
Beepbeepbeep. “What kind of artillery and mortar support do you have?”
Beepbeepbeep. “A battery of eighty-fives and another of one-five-twos, five sections of mortars from the cohort and another battery of heavy mortars Fourth Corps has loaned us the support of.”
Beepbeepbeep. “Okay, I understand. But I put it in the order that we need prisoners, a lot of prisoners. Have you or anyone tried to explain to these guys that the battle is effectively over?”
Beepbeepbeep. “Yes, sir. They didn’t seem interested in listening, where disinterested is defined as fired a volley over the heads of the parlimentaires we sent to talk to them.”
Beepbeepbeep. “Right. Okay, tell your boss to pull your companies back and, as soon as they’re back, lift the artillery and mortars. I’m heading your way directly.”
Soult scowled while staring straight ahead through the windshield of the Second Cohort four by four he’d temporarily exchanged for the Ocelot. He muttered something unintelligible.
“What was that, Jamey?” Carrera asked, while tying a white cloth to a bark-covered pole picked up from the ground, likely the victim of some fast moving steel shard.
Changing neither his scowl not his focus, Soult snorted angrily and said, more distinctly, “I’ve seen you do some bone-headed things over the years, but this is just that one step beyond stupid all the way to insanity.”
“Oh, come on; I’ve done dumber shit that this.”
“Name one,” Soult demanded.
“Flew to enemy occupied territory to meet a girl?”
“That was defensible,” Soult countered. “This is just fucking ridiculous.”