Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 21
All action takes place, so to speak, in a kind of twilight, which like a fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are.
–Clausewitz, On War
Santa Cruz, Santa Josefina, by the Cordoban Border
“Sir…sir…I think they’re gone.”
The speaker was Oberst Rall, gently nudging the body of his napping commander, Claudio Marciano, with the toe of his boot. Some generals might have taken offense at that. Marciano was, Rall thought, as Sachsen as a Sachsen, no matter that he was a Tuscan. He wouldn’t be upset by the familiarity in the field.
“Wha’…what’s that? What time is it?” Marciano asked needlessly; he’d already bared his sleeve to consult his watch. He was dimly aware of three things. One was the sound of saws, mattocks, picks and shovels coming from all around. The other was the absence of both the drone of aircraft engines and the pulse of explosions, coming from anywhere at all. The third was the rather pleasant aroma of terribly deadly tranzitree fruit, hanging from the trees overhead.
“You’ve been asleep a grand total of three hours,” said Rall, equally needlessly. “And the reason for that, the reason you were able to sleep, is that the aerial attacks appear to have been called off. The observation posts you left behind to keep us informed also report that there’s none inbound. I think they’re gone.”
“Okay…okay, good. Now what else have I missed?”
“The Cordobans appear to have put two battalions in on our flank, between the lake and the border. They’re digging in like busy little beavers. I had a chat with their commander, across the border, and he says he’s purged his regiment – yes, there’s a third battalion coming, plus an artillery battalion, an engineer company, and a battalion of air defense – anyway, he’s purged his regiment of the few veterans of the legions it contained. So that flank, at least, we don’t have to worry about.”
By this time Marciano had sat up straight and cross-legged, rubbing sleepers from his eyes. Any chance of…”
“Absolutely none,” Rall replied. “The commander of that regiment, a Colonel Alfaro, said, and this is exactly what he said, ‘Not just no, but fuck no. I’ll defend my own country’s borders and turn a blind eye to the smuggling you’re going to have a do just to stay alive. At least I’ll turn a blind eye until the legions turn on me, at which point you’re on your own. But start a fight? Not in my portfolio.”
“He sounds a sensible man,” Marciano observed.
“Yes, far too sensible for our good. On the other hand, though, he struck me as someone we really can count on to make sure the enemy doesn’t outflank us through Cordoba. Have to take the bad with the good, I suppose.
“And speaking of the good, Stefano…”
“Yes?” Claudio asked, suddenly alert and tense.
“He gave me the report. He’s come through, everything we asked for except barbed wire, either here, stockpiled on the border, or enroute. Oh, he has some wire, a few thousand rolls of single strand, zinc-coated, and maybe twice that on order. It will help, at least. But what he has brought or assembled is better than I really hoped for, rations for twenty days, lumber enough to dig in everyone to the ninth degree, medical supplies, fuel, mostly in drums. He’s even managed to come up with a few thousand rifles, surplus to Cordoban military needs, and a couple of million rounds of ammunition. Plus some mortars and ammo for those. I understand the arms and ammunition came pretty dear, mostly because of bribes.
“We’re shunting it from the places he’s stockpiled it, right by the border, and distributing it where needed.
Something in Rall’s tone brought a glare and raised eyebrow from Marciano.
Rall continued, “There’s a small delegation that wants to see you, Santa Josefinan politicians and such. They want to leave and cross the border to safety.”
Marciano, fairly neutral at first, had acquired a considerable distaste for Santa Josefinan politicians, for Santa Josefinans, generally, in fact, over the course of the guerilla war there.
“Fuck that;” he said. “They’re our only rationale for still staying here, to protect a government in being inside the country. Put the lot of them under arrest and under cover. They speak to nobody.”
Rall, sharing his general’s feelings on the matter, simply gave a broad grin, raised and lowered his eyebrows a couple of times, and said, “Already done.”
The two heard the sound of cows, mooing as they were herded down the road.
“I did mention, sir, that Stefano has found us twenty days of rations.”
“Yes,” Marciano agreed. “Now, if you would, take over the command post. I am going to go back to seeing that the troops are digging in properly. That, and thank God for the breather.”
Marciano turned away to go, then twisted back. “How close are our pursuers now?”
“At this point still maybe three or four or even five days until the points of their main columns close with our forward trace. They don’t have enough vehicles to really move any faster, not with everything we did to the roads and bridges as we passed.”
BdL Dos Lindas, Mar Furioso
The ship churned through the water at a fair clip. Under the figurehead, a representation of Carrera’s first wife, Linda, murdered, with their children, by terrorists, the bow wave was barely noticeable. This was the result of the retrofitted bulbous bow, unseen under the water, put in when the ship was retrofitted by the legions’ classis, or fleet. That retrofit had included the addition of nuclear power and AZIPOD drive, which had made it, in the first place, of nearly infinite operational range, while the second had given it a maneuverability pretty much unknown among surface warships of that size on Terra Nova.
The retrofitting had not stopped there, with renaming, figurehead, bow, nuclear power, and drives. Oh, no; in addition, the far in excess of needs nuclear plant also powered three quite powerful lasers, one each forward and aft, and another above the island.
She’d carried different armaments loads over the years, too. Initially, she’d been more of an amphib, carrying a demi-cohort of commandos and the helicopters needed to move them to shore to combat pirates, to ferret out their nests, and destroy their infrastructure. Since the infrastructure was almost entirely blood-based, this had meant virtual extermination of the clans engaged in piracy. The lesson was not lost on any other clans that might have been thinking about it, either.
Along with the helicopters and commandos, back then the ship had carried only enough fixed wing aircraft for reconnaissance and close support, a bare twelve of the latter. Later, the pirates pretty much extinct or having acquired a new and profound sense of caution, she’d lost her infantry back to the ground forces, and picked up more significant anti-submarine and anti-surface capability.
Fosa, standing on the bridge of the Dos Lindas, kept his eyes on the computer screen. This, continuously updated, showed the plots from the reconnaissance screen spread out forward and to starboard of the classis, at a range of a couple of hundred miles.
The nearest segment of the screen consisted of one modified Cricket, an extraordinarily effective STOL bird, essentially hovering above and five miles to starboard of the carrier at an elevation of twenty-four hundred feet. The Cricket was linked to the carrier by a tight beam, along which travelled information garnered from the drones. Those, an even dozen of them, were flung out in an aerial picket line forward of the classis. The drones flew a preplanned course, though one which could be, on a case by case basis, modified in flight by the Cricket.
As the drones passed over the shore inside the Zhong lodgment, over the channel between Isla Santa Catalina and the mainland, and over the island, itself, and the mostly artificial port, one thing became clear:
“Where the fuck is their fleet?” Fosa fumed. “Have we been able to get anything on satellite?”
Balboa owned no satellites, but did have a very limited ability to tap into and use the satellites of others. The ship’s communications intelligence officer shook his head no, then said, “Against people who aren’t looking or don’t care we can sometimes get in, Skipper. But whatever the merits and demerits of the Zhong political system, sir, give them their due; they’ve got no masters at fucking with satellites and shutting us out.”
“Yes, yes; the dirty bastards.” Fosa scowled, then said, “And, of course, they’ve got the fucking peace fleet on their side, the best satellite reconnaissance system in existence that we know of. We could fool it on land, and the Duque has, several times. Not so much as sea. They know exactly where we are, all the time, on visual. Only reason even to try to hide ourselves is to make terminal guidance for a missile tough. But where we are, generally? They know that, and in real time.”
“So where do you think they are, skipper?” Comms asked.
Fosa filled his cheeks with air and blew them out, in exasperation. “They went to sea, maybe not so much to get away from us as to get away from land-based air, now that the TU is out of it. They may even be headed to Atlantis, though I doubt it.
“So what are we going to do?”
That took all of three seconds thought: “We’re going to entice them back in by bombing the shit out of their lodgment and anything that supports it.”
Fosa chewed his lower lip for a bit, then ordered, “Orient our screen out to sea two hundred miles. Pass to the Kurita they’re to take point. Also shunt them control of four drones. And send the all clear to raise the submarine fleet.”
“Skipper!” intel exulted, pointing at the screen. “The Zhong fleet isn’t entirely gone. We’ve got visual on two freighters, one airship, and a bunch of lighters.”
“Ready a strike. But not until Kurita has done for their air defense umbrella. Ops?”
“Recommendations on strike composition in twenty minutes. Oh, and coordinate with the Legion Jan Sobieski to provide cover for the strike, again, after Kurita takes out the air defense.”