Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 11
“This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, Kris,” Ayres said. “They’re treating us like guests, not enemies. No threats and no attempts to bribe anyone into cooperation. What the hell is going on? Is this because they think the war’s over?”
Hendryksen laughed softly. “You want my personal opinion? Okay, no, they know the war is still on until it’s officially over. As to what they’re doing…they’re turning us into weapons.”
Ayres’ quizzical look prompted the addition, “Wait until the education sessions start.”
“Aha, so it’s going to turn nasty after all.”
“Sadly not, RSM; you could resist that. Indeed, it will all be most civil, and in ways that are hard to resist. You won’t even have to attend. And, if you do attend, you can sleep in the back and no one will mind as long as you don’t snore too loudly. The only restriction is that you won’t be allowed to prevent anyone else from attending and you won’t be allowed to prevent those who do attend from talking. Other than that, they don’t really care what you do except that they’ll prevent escapes.
“Indeed, the only enticements they’ll use to get people to come and pay attention are boredom – there won’t be much to do aboard ship except education, refreshments offered during the instruction and…well…turn around and look for the very tiny and very beautiful girl. That’s Marqueli Mendoza. The man standing next to her is her husband, Jorge. Both fine folks and she, in particular, is both a great instructor and an extremely nice woman. Your men are going to love her more than they do the Queen, and in very short order. I watched it happen with your paras, some of whom are going to be her and her husband’s assistant instructors.”
“Treason,” Ayres growled.
“Nope; they will never say a word against the sovereign of Anglia, the Anglian Parliament, or Anglian law, and will reserve judgment on Anglian food. Instead, they’ll be talking about history, right and wrong, the Tauran Union, undemocratic rule by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, and against a great number of things one doubts you or any of your men swore or owe allegiance to. Moreover, if you or anyone should claim it’s treason they’ll simply change the subject until they can decide if it is or isn’t. But that’s not going to happen, I don’t think. They despise traitors and have very strong – I mean absolutely frightful – laws against treason which they apply impartially to their own and us. For example, there are some hundreds of Taurans who came here trying to become hostages for the Balboans. The Balboan courts duly sentenced the lot to death and threw them out of the country with the warning that, should they ever return, they’ll be stood against a wall and shot.”
“Very strange people, these are,” observed Ayres.
“More than you know, RSM, more than you know.”
Assembly deck, MV Clarissa, Muelle 81, Ciudad Balboa
An open area had been left amidst the tall piles of neatly stacked containers. There were containers below it and only a tarp and a large number of large, slow-moving fans between those and the open sky, above. About a thousand folding chairs were laid out in rows, with a cruciform of wider spaces dividing the whole assembly into four parts. At the three far termini of that cross on the deck, Balboans, part of the legionary educational directorate, passed out cans of beer, one per man who wanted one, to the incoming Tauran prisoners.
Toward the front of the area, which was also toward the bow of the ship, a wooden platform had been raised by about five feet. On it were several chairs and one microphone on a stand. Behind the stand, on a wall composed of the ends of yet more containers, hung very large versions of a crucifix, a Star of David, and a star and crescent.
Seeing those, the men typically moaned and said something like, “I joined the bloody army to get away from the holy joes” or “rabbis” or “imams.”
It was due to the non-trivial numbers of Moslems in the Anglian forces that the first one to speak, after the RSM has quieted the men down, was Achmed Qabaash, the Sumeri sent, with his brigade, to help Balboa against the Taurans.
He wore his Sumeri uniform, the insignia of which was plainly recognizable by any Anglian. Qabaash, himself, being partially Anglian educated, simply ordered them, without the usual flourishes, to, “Take seats.”
“Gentlemen,” he began, “I am Liwa Achmed al Qabaash, commanding Forty-third Tercio, Legiones del Cid, also known as First Brigade, Sumeri Presidential Guard. I think this is our first chance, this war, to get to know each other, since we played in somewhat different circles during the war.
“Moslems among you, of whom I know there are some; if you look behind me you will see our own star and crescent. You may remain here, with your old comrades and you will be treated the same as anyone else. Alternatively, I have received special permission – no, do not ask about the intricate legalities behind this and behind why you are the only exceptions granted – to sign you up with my own brigade. I have taken serious losses, so you will be welcome. However, in all honesty, I must confess that the pay is not as good as you are used to. Still, the cost of living is less in Sumer, we have a lot of fun and, after all, we were smart enough to be on the winning side.”
That got a mass groan, though not an angry one, from virtually all the men in the assembly deck.
“Please make your decision quickly, for our airship home comes for us the day after tomorrow, tomorrow being our victory parade with the other tercios of the legion of which we were a part…”
Unheard, Marqueli quietly asked her husband, “Just what are the special circumstances that allow them to leave and give up on their own army?”
Leaning over slightly, he whispered, “There are two I am fairly sure of, love, along with one guess. One is that Qabaash is leaving, so anyone who crosses over won’t be sticking around here to potentially have to fight their own armies. Thus, our laws against treason shouldn’t kick in. The other is that nations are inherently suspect, under Islam, so the Duque felt it was questionable if the Moslems even could have legitimate loyalty to the Anglian state. The third, my guess, is that the Duque is planning something for which he doesn’t want Qabaash here and doesn’t want to ever send the Moslems back to Taurus.”
Still at the microphone, Qabaash missed that interplay, but announced, “and so, let me introduce to you your two primary instructors for your upcoming course in History and Moral Philosophy, Warrant Officer Doctor Jorge Mendoza, and his lovely wife, Marqueli.”
Jorge came to the microphone first, while Qabaash backed away, then walked down the side stairs to the back of the assembly area. About thirty swarthy men in uniform awaited him there.
“I was a healthy private once,” Jorge said. “Then I was a crippled private. Let me tell you about that. I was in a tank, serving as a driver, in Sumer, during the invasion there. We were all brand new then, fighting, among others, the same man who just stepped down. The reputation of Arab armies is quite bad, of course, but there’s an exception to every rule. The men Legate Qabaash fought alongside were that exception.
“My tank was hit from above by a gutsy son of a bitch with a light anti-tank weapon. The ammo went off; the fuel went off; and I was blown bodily out of the driver’s compartment. My last sight for many years was of my own legs being snipped off as I was propelled upward on a column of fire. And that’s when and that’s why I went blind. There was nothing wrong with my sight; after seeing my own legs crudely sliced away my brain simply shut down and refused to admit to seeing anything my eyes sent it.”
Jorge then bent over and began to roll his uniform trouser legs up, first the left one then the right, exposing his very high tech prosthetics, all black carbon fiber and wiring. “For a legless man, you know, I could probably outrun two thirds of the men here, today.
“I know it’s going to be hard for you to believe, coming from a continent where soldiers are not only not very high priorities, but are actively despised and hated by the transnational ruling class, that a crippled soldier from a poor country like ours should get the very best in medical care and the very latest is prosthetic limbs. Well, as my wife will explain to you, there are reasons for that…”