Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 19
The young Balboan tribune – short, brown, and stocky – answered through a Zhong-descended Balboan interpreter. He was as level-voiced as possible given the stresses inherent in his very vulnerable position. “A very important person – no, sir; they didn’t tell me who but my guess would be the corps commander – wants to talk with you under a flag of truce with an eye to negotiating an end to this battle.”
“We will not surrender.” That was a surprise to Wu, himself, because he had been contemplating just that for some time. When faced with the reality though, I just can’t; my men deserve better than to march into foreign captivity.
“They didn’t tell me to ask you about surrendering, sir,” the Balboan replied, “just to enquire whether you would or would not see our man.”
“A trap?” wondered Sergeant Major Li, aloud.
Wu laughed at that. “Top, we’ve been in a trap since we boarded the landing craft to get here. What’s one more?” More seriously he said, “Relax; they’ve played it amazingly straight, so far. I don’t see them tossing that away for a trivial advantage. And besides, Sergeant Major, it’s not like we’re hurting them any here. If they had them they could use nukes to obliterate us and all it would matter to them is that they’d have to decontaminate that part of the island we hold to use the beaches for tourism someday.”
“So you will see our man?” asked the tribune.
“Sure; what’s to lose? Let’s work out the details.”
“Dea’ Buddha,” Wu said, “it you! Your messeng’ did’n give hin’…”
“He didn’t know,” Carrera said. “My intel chief insisted on keeping it to ourselves. Silly man thinks it might be worth risking having your troops massacred to the last man to get rid of me.”
Wu smiled, chewed on his lower lip for a moment, then answered, “A’ one time…migh’ ‘ave been, to terr tluth. Now? I no see rot of diffelence now.”
“See? That’s what I said.”
“I no sullend’ even so,” Wu insisted.
Carrera shook his head. “Not going to ask you to. Oh, hell, no; the courage of your enemies honors you, so the gallant stand of Task Force Wu is going to enter the ledger of our national mythology, too. Surrender would ruin that. But we’re also not going to give you back any of the trickle of deserters who’ve been feeding us intelligence, either. That’s all very fair, isn’t it?”
“So you wan’?”
“A permanent cease fire, in place. We’ll even stop shelling the shit out of you nightly. But no improvement of position. No bringing in ammunition. Medical supplies unlimited.”
“We won’t dig in further, not that we need to, and you don’t dig in any more than you have. No sniping. Prisoner exchange but not to include deserters.
Carrera decided to toss in the sweeteners, the things he was pretty sure Wu couldn’t turn down. “Since it would be safe enough to do so, I’ll move a couple of four hundred and fifty bed field hospitals up to the front. You can send your men to be treated and they’ll be allowed to go back to you unhindered. Oh, and we’ll give you enough oil and poison to take care of the mosquitoes. They’re a plague on us, too. Plus we can give you quinine or an equivalent prophylaxis for the malaria, and a flock of trained trixies to start to get rid of the antaniae that are probably plaguing you.”
“I nee’ as’ mah boss,” Wu said. “This no’ smarr t’ing.”
Carrera nodded. “If he accepts and you accept, send a parlementaire under flag of truce to this spot. I won’t be here, but a messenger will. The local corps commander has my authority to end the fighting.”
“Why you do t’is?” Wu asked.
“I’m sick of killing people whose only fault is being born to a hostile government,” Carrera answered with an unfeigned sigh. He didn’t say, but thought, Especially if I can save them to use as a weapon against that hostile government.
“If no aglee?”
“I’m either going to have to destroy you to free up my troops here for something else or destroy that something else to free up troops to deal with you. Please don’t make me do the former. Maybe then I won’t have to do the latter, either. I certainly don’t want to.”
“Me,” said Wu, “I jus wan’ go home wife.”
Carrera had his driver take him to a particular fortified position, a concrete hangar, of sorts, carved deep into the central massif of the island. He was met, just past the entrance, by Tribune Aguilar, the commander of the most deeply held secret of the entire Balboan war effort. Aguilar was shorter than Carrera, and much darker, but also broader in the shoulders and with arms that were about the size of most people’s legs.
“We’re fucked, Duque,” were Aguilar’s first words. “The fucking shuttle won’t work anymore and we don’t know why. And the goddamned ex-High Admiral and that cunt of a marchioness of Amnesty don’t have the first clue, even after I tied them to crosses and left them for a day and a half.”
“Lead on while we talk,” Carrera ordered, then, when they’d resumed their march into the bowels of the island, he asked, “What are we doing to get it up again?”
“Even the fucking commander of the island doesn’t know about the project,” Aguilar replied, “so we can’t go to him for help. I’ve actually had the boys kidnap one software guy, and we’ve hijacked both a fuel truck – the thing can get by on helicopter fuel or gasoline, in a pinch – and a mobile machine shop. Oh, and an aircraft mechanic who works on the corps’ remotely piloted vehicles. I figured that, as long as there’s no chance of them getting out – and I have them sleeping in cells – I could read them in partly on the shuttle, if not the mission.”
“They have any clues?”
“Not really. I took the fuel on principle, but it has an almost full tank. The software guy says it’s a physical issue; the machinists and mechanic say it’s software. Me, I wonder if it isn’t both with one covering for the other.”
“Shit, shit, shit! I can’t even begin to tell you how important this is, Aguilar.”
“Duque, my men and I have given years of our lives to this, years without women, years without rest. You don’t have to tell us how important it is.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Scientists? Do we have any scientists that might know about this kind of thing?”
Carrera shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know. Fernandez will know, though; I’ll ask him to find us somebody. For now, though, show me what we’ve got?”
“Inspect the troops, sir?”
“That, too. I want to look at everything.”
The twenty-four space suits hung in a row, each on its own special rack. The base material was a kind of off-white. That could only be seen in spots though, as each was covered with some black silk for camouflage’s sake.
Carrera walked down the line, fingering here, poking there, and generally trying to look like he knew something about the suits.
“We can barely move in them,” Aguilar offered, “and we’re not weak men. We have to load the EVA modules on the shuttle, then load ourselves, and then rig up for extra-vehicular activity under low gravity. It’s a massive bitch, like inflight rigging for a jump, only worse. But, once we’re inside we can dump most of the weight.”
“Best we could do,” Carrera said. “I sure didn’t trust the Federates States to sell us any and keep quiet about it. Show me our weapons.”
“Yes, sir. Over this way, please.”