Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 26
UEPF Spirit of Peace
Ensign Esmeralda Miranda sat on a chair in a corner of the high Admiral’s plush quarters; plush, at least, by the standards of the United Earth Peace Fleet. Xingzhen, Empress and de facto, if not de jure, ruler of the Zhong, lounged against pillows piled against the bulkhead that did double duty as the head of the bed. The empress was covered only by a light sheet that came no higher than her waist. Not young and yet still aetherially beautiful, she enjoyed the effect her half nakedness had on the high admiral, who was also her lover. Also in the suite were Commander Iris Khan, the fleet’s sociology officer, plus the high admiral herself, the tall, blonde, and svelte Marguerite Wallenstein.
“They did what?” demanded Wallenstein, slamming her hand down emphatically onto the top of her Silverwood desk.
“They’ve declared war on us, war on the Earth,” answered Iris, also known as “Commander Khan, female” or “Commander Khan, wife.” “That barbarian Carrera’s wife announced it in the World League. Formally. In the middle of the battle they assembled a quorum of their senate and got a formal declaration of war. Ordinarily, I’d say we could just blow it off, a little pissant country declaring war on a planet they can’t even get to. But…”
“But, no, not in this case,” said Wallenstein. “In this case, if they say something, we need to take it seriously. Where’s your husband?”
“Hunched over a monitor, scanning inputs from every ship, every skimmer, every embassy…”
“The embassies!” Wallenstein’s blue eyes flashed. “They can get to us through those!”
“He’s also had his assistant ask all the host countries down below with help providing security, from the ground and the air. They’ve put out a general alert for all our personnel planet-side to get to the nearest embassy or, at least, to vacate their normal quarters, if they’re not staying inside an embassy, and to go hide somewhere.”
“That’s sound, I think,” Wallenstein agreed. “How long before our local security is augmented?”
Khan sighed, looked away, and then returned her gaze to the admiral’s face. She shook her head slowly, then said, “A day, say most of them. But a surprising number of the barbarians down below refuse to answer. Some have answered and said, ‘no.’ How did we sink so low that the ground-dwellers down below can just tell us, ‘no’?”
I know the answer to that, thought Marguerite, and so do you.
Khan, female, not normally the boldest among the Peace Fleet’s officers, still found it within her to ask, “What are we going to do now, High Admiral? The Taurans are gone as a power. The Federated States hates us beyond words. The Spanish-speakers will probably follow Balboa’s lead from now on.”
“We still have the Zhong,” Wallenstein said, firmly, casting an adoring gaze at the Xingzhen. “As long as we have them then we are not without friends.”
“I am with you, as always, baobei,” the empress assured the admiral.
Marguerite nodded gratefully. Then, turning to Esmeralda she said, “Esma, honey, go find Commander Khan, husband, and tell him I’d like to be briefed on the security down below at his earliest convenience.”
“Yes, High Admiral,” said the girl, standing and hurrying from the room.
Condor One, Over the Mar Furioso
A small string forward of the cockpit told Leon something of the wind direction and speed. It was quartering, from ahead, and not too bad. But, with every meter the Condor descended, the nature of the ground got a little more plain… and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like his options, either.
Try to pick up a thermal? A quick glance around suggested not, and pretty strongly. Extrude and crank up the jet for another go-round? No, noisy and, frankly, we’re already too obvious. Another patch of ground. No, too low. So all I can reasonably do is…
“Hang the fuck on; this is going to suck Meg cock!”
The glider touched down, rather, it should have. Instead of touching down, however, Leon discovered that “solid ground” was, in fact, “tall grass.” The glider went past the heads of that and kept on sinking. Indeed, it sank deep enough to completely obscure any view of the ground. Then it hit bottom and bounced several feet in the air.
It didn’t bounce up evenly, though. Instead, the portside wing came up a lot higher then the starboard one. That meant that, when they came down again, the starboard one hit the ground, first and hard. The Condor began a clockwise spin.
“Shiiitttt!” screamed Cherensa and Leon, together, as the world spun around them. Leon had a vision of the starboard wing snapping off, and then they were back down in the grass, acting for all the world like a very large lawnmower, but spewing great swaths of grass in all directions, rather than through a chute.
“Ffffuuuckckck!!!” Leon screamed, as the Condor bounced up again, this time letting the port wing down. It sheared off, too, leaving them wingless but at least killing their spin…in one direction.
“Ohjesuschrist!” Cherensa managed to pray – it was clearly a form of prayer – as the glider’s tail hit ground and broke off about a meter from the end. All things considered this would have been a non-event, except that the main body was descending as the remains of the tail bounced upward. When that main body hit it was nearly nose on.
Fortunately, the manner of building the things, thick foam over carbon fiber and resin, allowed the nose to absorb the impact. The glider hung in that position, almost vertical, as if deciding which way to fall. It finally did fall, and backward, so that its belly ended up more or less on the ground with the canopy facing roughly skyward.
After several long moments of silence, Leon asked, “T-t-t-Tribune, i-i-is there an-an-an-ny ru-ru-rule against ha-ha-having-ing-ing hav-ing having…having a fucking drink?”
“None that comes to mind, Leon. Just one though; just one.”
Two and Three had a somewhat easier time of it, Two coming in uneventfully and Three careening into a hidden ditch before coming to a complete stop. Leon was still choking down his one permitted drink as he raced for Three, Cherensa double timing for Two.
It was the pilot of Three, Moya, who first voiced the common reason for jubilation. “They didn’t blast us out of the sky. Right up until we landed I was sure we were all dead men. But…”
“Yeah, I didn’t let myself think about it,” said Leon. Despite – or because of – the one drink, his voice was steady now. Come on now, out we go. Cut some camouflage for the Condor then follow my trail to One. Give me the extra pack; I’ll carry it.”
Moya’s passenger, Carrasco, undid his restraining harness and leaned down. When he straightened up again, he had pack frame to which were strapped a number of the components of a demolition kit, to include a very large shaped charge. Leon took it, pulled the straps over his shoulders, and began to trot away.
Both Moya and Carrasco then unloaded their packs and personal weapons, a suppressed submachine gun for the former and a suppressed sniper rifle in Hush fifty-one for the latter. Within a few minutes they had cut enough brush and grass to cover their glider from casual observation. Then, the pair of them headed in the direction Leon had followed. By the plan, their extra equipment would be there but Leon and Cherensa would be forward, reconnoitering the target.
“Nothing,” said the tribune, looking through his field glasses and what appeared to be the entrance. “No sign of life. Well, no sign of recent life anyway. And not even a fence around it.”
“You figure it’s automated?” Leon asked. “Maybe no fence because it’s mined?”
“Mined? That’s not how I’d bet it, no. Why not? Because mines especially have to be fenced. As for manned or automated, my gut tells me the latter, but we’re going to treat is as the former.
“Go get the others. I want the M-26 machine gun, the demo kit, the flame thrower, the sniper rifle, the Pound submachine gun, and two F-26s. Also the radio.”
“Roger,” said Leon, who them snaked backward on his belly until he was out of sight of the white – and that’ a little strange, too; why white? – domed tower. It wasn’t much of a tower, either, at about five meters across and maybe eight high.
Leaving the M-26 light machine gun and the sniper rifle in overwatch from his previous observation point, Cherensa and the remaining three men, one bearing the demo and another the flamethrower, crawled on their bellies through the grass, long and wild, that grew in the flatland between their observation post and the UEPF tower. Leon trailed a little, partly for carrying the pack frame loaded with demolitions and partly because he couldn’t help himself, every minute or so, from probing the ground ahead of himself with a stick he’d cut and sharpened.
About halfway to the UEPF’s position, they came upon a small stream, running low and with tall grass to either side. Thought Cherensa, while waiting for the glider pilot, If this goes where it looks like it does, it will get us close to rush range for the entrance. And then fucking Leon can stop probing for the mines that aren’t there.
Two minutes after the tribune and two of his men reached the stream, Leon showed up, looking apologetic. Before he could say a word about being slow, Cherensa hushed him and explained the new plan. Then, without another word, crouching low, the men began to splash their way – splashing at little as possible, actually – up the foot-deep stream. Finally, they came to a one vehicle-width bridge, from which a trail led directly to the tower, to the left, and off somewhere into the interior, to their right.
“Shaped charge ready?” asked Cherensa of Leon.
Leon was already taking off the pack. He leaned it against the stream’s steep bank, then knelt down in the water to undo the straps holding the shaped charge on. It was a twenty-kilogram version, with what someone on Old Earth, centuries prior, might have called “Octogen.” Explosives are ordinarily fairly cheap for the work they do, but the twenty kilos in this shaped charge had cost the Republic on the order of fifteen hundred legionary drachma. That was about eight times a private’s monthly screw.
There was also a covered ring around the diameter of the shaped charge, fixed with the best adhesive the legions could find. Leon slung his rifle across his back, checked that the two fuse igniters, their fuses, and the non-electric blasting caps were all in pace, removed the cover of the ring and announced, “Ready.”
Cherensa spared a glance for each man. “On three,” he said, then began counting, “One…two…three; Leon and Moya, go, boys, go!”
Like gazelles, the men fairly erupted from cover. Legs churning, each expecting to be mowed down like weeds but the presumed defenders. Thus, each was totally shocked to reach the door to the tower unharmed.
They’d rehearsed this part a thousand times over the previous several years. While Moya scanned left, right, and left again, Leon did a quick check, visual and by touch, of the door. Clean and smooth enough for our purposes.
The Cazador threw all his weight and strength against the shaped charge, obliterating the weak seal over the adhesive, thus spreading it out and squashing it between wall and charge. He held the charge in place for the full minute recommended.
“Get ready, Moya,” he said with more nonchalance than he felt. Reaching down he pulled first one pulled igniter, then the other. He was rewarded with two bubbling fuses, one of which ruptured to let smoke escape.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here!”
Huffing and puffing, both men raced back to the stream, and rather faster than they’d raced up to the tower. Moya almost overshot it, but Cherensa reached up to snag and arm and spin him into cover. The wait while they hugged the bank nearest the tower was short, and then Khawaam!