Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 17
—Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age
Estado Mayor, Sub camp C, Ciudad Balboa, Balboa
Carrera didn’t really listen to the Quartermaster as he droned on about how many shipping containers had been packed with which arms and what ammunition. It was too soon for it to be that many, anyway. Instead, his eyes focused on a chart behind the Legion’s Chief Quartermaster, showing ships, how many Taurans they held, how food was aboard, whether they’d taken over feeding themselves, and who, specifically, was in charge.
He held up a hand to stop the briefer, then said, “Look, I know it’s too early for there to have been any real progress. So tell me, do we have enough shipping containers?”
Clearing his throat nervously – Carrera rarely asked pointless questions or let thoughtless answers get by – the QM answered, “Think so, Duque. Even if not, thought, we don’t need the Parilla Line or the fire support area any more and there are tens of thousands of them there to take at need.”
“Redeployment of First, Second, and Third Corps to face the Zhong; where are you establishing the main log base?”
“We’re keeping what we have; Duque; it’s well enough situated already.”
Carrera spared those three corps commanders a set of sidewise glances. They nodded agreement.
“Fourth Corps; Xavier, how many days’ food on hand?”
Xavier Jimenez, Fourth Corps commander and long-time best friend of Carrera, stood, as propriety demanded. “Days, Patricio? Tons of Tauran rations – tons? More like seven thousand tons – have fallen into our hands. I haven’t started issuing it – hell, we’ve barely started inventorying it – but with that and what’s left of our own, we’re good for maybe two months. If you want it all to feed the prisoners, though, I’ve got maybe a dozen days left. More if we tighten our belts a little.”
“QM?” Carrera asked.
“It’s a question of transportation, sir. We’ve got plenty of food to feed the Taurans. Oh, it may not be what they’re used to, but if it’s good enough for our men…anyway, we can feed them from our stocks near the capital. I need the trucks we’d use to exchange food with Fourth Corps to move everything else, especially the artillery.”
“Moving the artillery” really meant moving the still impressive stockpiles of ammunition. No battery or battalion in the force had enough trucks for all they might shoot. At best, they had and could carry enough for immediate needs in the expectation that more would be delivered.
Carrera nodded, answering, “Right. Perfectly sensible. Xavier, eat Tauran.”
“Wilco, Patricio. I will ask for a couple of tons of legionary rum; most of the Taurans didn’t include any with their combat rations. In fact, only the Gauls did…”
“That much we can do, Duque, though we may have to issue by the barrel. For some reason, though they flattened damn near everything else they could, the Taurans never bombed the distilleries.”
“Professional courtesy,” was Carrera’s pronounced judgment. “That, and they wanted booze to celebrate victory with.”
Hospital Ship Mary Ann Ball, Muelle 81, Ciudad Balboa
The mildly rocking ship had just as strong an odor of antiseptic and blood as any hospital Carrera had ever visited. “How is he?” Carrera asked of Bertram Janier’s attending physician.
The doctor gave a shrug. “As you commanded, he’s our number one priority. We’ve set all the bones that we could….some…well, there’s no way and no point. I am worried about three things, pneumonia, concussion, and infection. He’s conscious if you would like to…”
“Yes, I would.”
“Well, as I said, I am concerned with infection. Do you mind scrubbing…?”
“Does this hospital gown make me look fat?” Carrera asked of the prone and largely cast-covered Gaul on the hospital bed.
“I think you have lost weight, actually,” answered Bertrand Janier, late commander of the late Tauran Union Expeditionary Force, Balboa. “What can I do for you?”
“Nothing really; just stopped by to see how you’re doing?”
The briefest hint of a smile crept onto Janier’s face. “Yes, of course. Nothing subtle or suspicious in that, is there? No sneaky plans hidden from view. Only the…”
“Tsk, Bertrand; you wound me.”
“Not as much as I tried to.”
Now it was Carrera’s turn for a slight smile. “That was just business; nothing personal. I took no offense, of course.”
“Of course. But you still haven’t answered me. Or, at least, you haven’t answered me honestly. You are here for something and I’d like to know what it is.”
“Really, Bertrand, no subtlety or obfuscation here; I wanted to see for myself and hear your prospects from your doctors with my own ears.”
“‘Infection, concussion, and pneumonia,'” Janier echoed. “Well, for that, I do get a little nauseous from time to time. I don’t think it’s from the big bomb you set off more or less under my feet. What are they called? And how did you set them up?”
“They’re called, ‘Volcanos,’ and they were on a seismic trigger with a timer to prevent them from going off prematurely.”
Janier nodded. “Ah. Well, that turned out to be clever. I’ve heard there are Tauran POWs who are convinced they’ve got radiation sickness from artillery-delivered nuclear weapons. I don’t suppose…”
“We have no artillery-deliverable nuclear weapons,” Carrera answered, careful to keep his voice completely without inflection.
“Interesting how you phrase that and what you don’t say,” Janier observed. “In any case, I think the concussion is from landing on that lake and being skipped like a flat stone for a quarter of a mile…or however long it was.
“Pneumonia? My lungs feel fine, really. Oh, it could happen, but so far it doesn’t seem likely.
“Infection? Your country is a cesspool of infection for those who are unlucky or not careful. Careful I was, but lucky I was not; I may succumb to that. Some of my broken bones, after all, did break through the skin.”
“I remember. I also remember you refusing care so that your troops would be taken care of. The citation will follow but…” Carrera reached into his pocket and withdrew a silver cross on a ribbon and hanger. This he clipped to Janier’s pillow.
“I might be a whore,” Janier said, glancing at his newly awarded Cruz de Coraje en Acero, “but I am not a cheap whore. It will take more than a medal to buy me.”
“Then call it a down payment,” was Carrera’s retort. He began to turn to go, then thought better of it. “I’ll have one of my personal staff check on you daily. For reasons I don’t think you need to know yet, it is very important to me that you get healthy again.”
“Why does this newfound care and concern for my person not fill me with joy unstinted?” Janier asked, rhetorically, as Carrera actually did turn to go.
“Probably because you’re a bloody frog,” he answered over his shoulder. “Be seeing you.”
“Before you go, could you check on the disposition of my aide?”
“Malceour, wasn’t it?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
It was dark by the time Carrera left the Ball. Already, three moons were showing and the constellation of the Tap was filling the Beer Glass Galaxy, overhead.
“Where to, boss?” Soult asked as Carrera reached the sedan he used for the city and highways.
“Let’s go back the Estado Mayor, Jamie. Kuralski and the 1a are supposed to have a plan for dealing with the Zhong out on the island.
Headquarters, Task Force Wu, Isla Real, Balboa
A medal hung on a concrete wall in between two citations. One was personal, to the Zhong commander, for leadership and valor. It shook with the concussion of a near impact. The other, a unit commendation, was addressed and covered the entire command.
The Zhong lodgment on the fortified island was thin. In no place was it more than three kilometers deep and it was less than one deep for more than half its length. Of course, at the ends it trailed off to nothing where sea met shore. Indeed, sometimes the tides made the troops on the very edge of the shore displace inland.