Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 15
San Juan del Norte, Cordoba
When Tsarist-Marxism and the notion of the planned economy had finally gone under, in Volga, and the Cordoban government had lost its deathgrip on the breast and nipple of international socialist aid, the government had turned to the Tauran Union as the next best alternative. The loss had been a bitter blow, for that government had only thirty or so years before been installed as a result of victory in its own revolution.
That Taurans’ aid had been fairly generous, even before the troubles with Balboa. In return, when the time came, Cordoba, almost uniquely among Spanish-speaking states, had sent no soldiers nor any other kind of aid to help Balboa in its struggle with the TU.
On the other hand, Cordoba had a long memory, deeply engrained in which was the fact that they’d been under the bootheel of the Federated States for several decades over the past century, and hadn’t liked it a bit. “Poor Cordoba,” ran the local saying, “so far from God and so close to the Federated States.”
They wished the Taurans well, both in Balboa and in neighboring Santa Josefina, but not enough to violate their neutrality in any way that risked, even potentially and even that slightly, the appalling prospect of more Federated States intervention. A good deal of that fear came from the fact that the Federated States was almost completely unpredictable; a bug or a feature, the observer could take his pick, of their peculiar political system.
But this, thought customs inspector Debayle, waving Stefano del Collea’s convoy through, is no reason for me to take note of the fact that of the fifty-five trucks, all but twelve bearing civilian license plates from Santa Josefina, and the remainder likewise civilian, every one is driven by a man wearing military boots, and assisted by one or two others, also wearing military boots.
“Thank you, Inspector,” said Collea, sincerely. “Would you perhaps accept a small gift, purely a token of our esteem, naturally, for expediting our passage?”
“I wouldn’t say no,” answered the inspector. He was a neat man, uniformed, short, and mildly olive-skinned. Del Collea noted, while passing over an envelope containing about two months’ worth of salary for a Cordoban customs inspector that, while immaculate, Debayle’s khaki uniform was also growing a bit threadbare. It was things like that, the sheer inability of a government to collect enough in taxes to properly pay, cloth, and equip its servants, that led so many of those servants to have to rely on “gifts.”
“We’ll probably need to do something like this a few more times,” Collea said. “Will there be…?”
Debayle was no fool; he knew exactly what was going. “You want a suggestion? One that will keep my government from having to officially notice what’s happening?”
“Keep the trucks,” said Debayle, “and the ‘civilian‘ drivers here. Don’t cross the border with them. You can board them at hotels. Or you can leave a few or your people to supervise and hire some of our people to drive. I can show you half a dozen spots you can use to unload near the border, safe enough from most prying eyes.” He cast his own eyes spaceward, though whether that meant the UEPF or the Federated States was anyone’s guess.
Collea had a shopping list to go with the safe full of money turned over to his care by Marciano. He asked Debayle, showing him the list.
“Food in those quantities…not local. You need to go to the provincial capital of Rafaela Herrera. There are warehouses there for what you need. Lumber…mmm…let me think. Would raw, untrimmed wood do?”
“It would be fine.”
“Tapatipi, west of the capital.”
“Barbed wire? I need about fifty thousand fifty-meter rolls.”
“Of course, we use barbed wire, raising cattle and all. But the stuff lasts a long time and needn’t be replaced often. I doubt there are fifty-thousand rolls for sale in the entire country. But for what there is, look in the capital.”
“I’ll do that, one way or the other. How did you…?”
Debayle smiled, white teeth gleaming in the olive and tanned face. “What do you suppose I did, young man, during the revolution, that got me a job at customs?”
“You know, sir,” said del Collea, “that sparks a thought. Your economy is for beans, right?”
“Sadly, revolutionary promises aside, yes,” Debayle admitted, suddenly conscious of his threadbare uniform.
“And you have a great many people experienced in war and even fortifications?”
The chest swelled in that threadbare uniform. “Yes, quite a few. Older now, but some things you never forget.”
“I wonder if we couldn’t hire about five thousand of them to help put in fortifications.”
“Organization of Revolutionary Veterans, in the capital,” Debayle said. “You might even get some volunteers to fill your ranks. And they won’t be like the Santa Josefinans who were notionally on your side.”
“More like the ones who were against us?” del Collea asked.
“Almost exactly like them.”
Road to Santa Cruz, Santa Josefina, Task Force Jesuit command post.
The first trick had been to figure out that there was a pattern, or at least a timing, to the aerial attacks. It wasn’t necessary for Marciano and Rall to know exactly what went into assembling a strike package of converted crop dusters operating from an aircraft carrier. They only had to note that the attacks seemed to come in at intervals of either about forty-five minutes, give or take five, or about twice that. The ones that came in less frequently were invariably quite a bit larger.
The other trick was to note that, though they could have provided close air support to the pursuing tercios of former guerillas, now the official Santa Josefinan Army, this never happened. It never happened because, between seizing and destroying transportation, blowing up or burning bridges, and cratering roads, Task Force Jesuit had largely succeeded in breaking contact with their equally weary pursuers.
“And that, Rall, is why they’re concentrating on trying to slow us down, to give the enemy a chance to catch up to our retirement.”
Rall just nodded. That retirement had effectively stopped for a few hours, while three dozen machine gun teams formed a ring around what was hoped to be a very tempting target for the next Balboan strike, half a dozen trucks held up in column by an apparent accident between two more on the road. They were centered in an oval bowl, of sorts, of about three kilometers by four.
There were no soldiers on the trucks; at the typical range the aircraft had been using for this terrain, there was little chance of a soldier being noticed, though groups of them could be.
Marciano, about a kilometer from the trucks, consulted his watch. As he did, air raid sirens began to sound all around. “If you can’t count on a Balboan air strike,” he asked, rhetorically, “what can you count on?”
“You suppose it’s something about the clockwork precision required to even operate an aircraft carrier?” asked Rall.
In reply, Marciano just pointed to his Ligurini – mountain soldier – insignia. How the hell would I know, Rall?
“There,” Rall announced, pointing at the latest attack inbound, just appearing over a ridgeline to the north. There were two aircraft coming in, as before, and, as before, they were in echelon left. This time they were closer.
The range of the rockets was actually fairly impressive, at about fourteen kilometers. The effective range, however, was much less so, under a fifth of that. So far, the Balboans had used terrain – and pretty well, Marciano admitted to himself; I suppose being infantry-oriented even in their air crew has something to do with that – to get close enough. They’d never before, though, had to come so close in to a target.