Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 14
His ship was already listing badly and down by the stern when Liu’s smudge-faced, filthy, and apparently singed damage control chief reported in. He was wet nearly to the waist, which was another very bad sign.
“All the fucking hatches in the area are warped, Captain. We can’t seal off enough of the ship. We’re wading through burnt fetus-looking corpses and the fires are out of fucking control, too; so we can’t stop the leakage at or near the source.”
“And so?” Liu asked.
“Skipper it’s time to abandon ship.”
Liu looked heavenward. Will this be enough, he wondered, to save our families? Being sunk in action? How can it not be enough?
He caught out of one eye a brilliant flash, presumably from a missile he hadn’t seen, hitting the Chengdu. He looked in time to see the ship simply disintegrating.
The magazine, they must have hit the magazine. I wonder how, since the magazines are so low. Angled down a bit I suppose, or maybe some idiot failed to close an ammunition lift door or…what difference does it make at this point in time?
“Give the order,” Liu said, resignation and pain in his voice. “Abandon ship.”
BdL Dos Lindas, Mar Furioso
Beepbeepbeep. “They’re both down, Admiral,” Cortez informed Fosa. “A lot of survivors from one, but I don’t think anyone got off the second destroyer. It’s just an oil smudge on the ocean surface.”
“Roger,” Fosa replied, then said, “Dispatch the Jaquelina Gonzalez to search for survivors. Tell the Trujillo to cover both sectors. Then signal the fleet, heaving Zero-nine-zero. We’re going Tauran hunting.”
Some two hours later, Dos Lindas steamed through an oil slick and passed by the inverted hull of the Changsha. The Gonzalez was still busy picking up survivors, no easy thing amidst the thick but spreading, tar-like oil slick from the ruptured tanks.
He thought about it for all of fifteen seconds before ordering over the ship’s public address system, “All hands on the flight deck not engaged in immediate launch or recovery operations, assemble to port.”
Once they had, he stepped out onto Vultures Row, a kind of balcony platform overlooking the flight deck, carrying a microphone with him. As the capsized hull came parallel to the carrier’s island, he ordered, “Present…arms,” before rendering his own hand salute to the ships that, however badly outnumbered and outclassed, still had bravely stood against them.
Road to Santa Cruz, Santa Josefina, Task Force Jesuit command post.
General Claudio Marciano stood by the side of the dirt road, filthy, like his men. He was just as dog-tired, too, but, nonetheless, kept up a confident smile, encouraging the weary and dispirited Tauran soldiery as they trudged past, their backs bent under heavy packs. Worse than dirt and fatigue, short rations had slimmed out his once stout frame, leaving his now threadbare uniforms to hang about him, “like an old lady’s loose garb.” Not only had the rations grown scant but his duties had often prevented him from eating regularly.
He’d lost a great many trucks, already, or the job would have been easier and rations more plentiful. It wasn’t just breakdowns, either; unexpectedly – though I should have expected it, I can see that now – a swarm of light attack aircraft, wave after wave of them, had scoured the road pretty much free of wheeled transport.
Some of his Hordalander-manned tanks though, made of tougher stuff than mere cargo trucks, were still keeping up. Of course, being better suited to rough terrain, they could take the back roads and keep under trees, for the most part.
Task Force Jesuit had made good quite a bit of their loss in wheels by commandeering as many trucks and other wheeled transport as could be found, sending them well – well! – forward under Stefano del Collea. The sales hadn’t been entirely voluntary, no, but Marciano’s people had paid a twenty percent premium over the real value of the transport, so the tears from the dispossessed had been as much feigned as real.
The more genuine storms of tears, though, had come from those who had not had their vehicles seized. In most cases, for these, the Taurans had taken only the carburetors, poured sugar into the gas tanks, and set the wheels on fire, then paid the one hundred and twenty percent of that amount of damage.
The worst, though, had been the draft animals and the wagons they pulled. Some of those they’d been able to pay for and take, however, the number of Tauran soldiers who knew how to deal with animal transport had been very limited. Many of the animals, horses and oxen, both, had simply been shot and left to rot and bloat by the sides of the roads.
One such, a horse, legs up, belly burst, intestines bulging and crawling with flies, stank up the area near where Marciano stood.
I should have expected it and sunk that fucking carrier at its moorings. Did Fosa know the plan? Of course he did, that smug, smiling bastard. But he, at least was doing his job, honorably, if sneakily, for his country. No hard feelings. Well, not much, anyway.
“What was that, sir?” asked Oberst Friedrich Rall, Marciano’s Sachsen chief of operations. Rall was just as mud covered and sweat-stinking as his boss. “No hard feelings toward whom?”
“Was I thinking out loud?” Marciano asked. “I guess I must have been. No hard feelings for the enemy, Rall, the enemy.”
“You, sir, maybe not. But I hate losing, so I have plenty of hard feelings. Though…well…have to admire the dirty bastards even so.”
Whatever Marciano was about to say was lost under the swell of hand powered air raid sirens. Rall instantly dived into one of the muddy ditches lining the road. Marciano scorned taking cover but just stood there and watched the attack come in.
He saw that first as a pair of aircraft, popping up over a hill in left echelon. Those modified crop-dusters the carrier was stuffed full of.
At the first note of the sirens, a few dozen men started tossing fire at what they hoped would be where the incoming aircraft would meet it. Most of the rest of the troops lining both sides of the road dove for cover just like Rall had. Those were just barely in time to avert the twin volleys of rockets – probably seventy-six in total – launched by each of the enemy aircraft.
Some of the rockets, maybe five or six, seemed to explode in mid-air. He knew what those meant; Marciano saw a half dozen men go down, not so much bowled over as melting from the inside amidst what looked like a storm of flechettes striking the ground all around them. The rest came hard on the heels of the flechettes, blanketing the area with high explosive and whistling shards of metal. Screams and calls for medics followed instantly on the explosions.
As far as Marciano could tell, not a single bullet hit.
They turn too sharply. They don’t have to pass over us except to drop bombs, and they’re not dropping any bombs. All our techniques are useless. And the bastards are too daring because they know they don’t have to fly over us.
I need to inflict some highly desirable caution on them, and for that I need a trap…
“Rall! Get your Teutonic posterior up and help me. We have an odd kind of ambush to plan.”