Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 27
“Wait! Wait!” Cherensa reminded them. “Let the debris fall.”
After a slow count of ten, by which time Leon had the pack frame with the rest of the demo back on his back, Cherensa ordered, “Let’s go!”
All four jogged forward in a shallow V. Leon went to the door and began to affix to it a large charge of plastic explosive, but flat this time, rather than shaped. Cherensa watched over him as he made his preparations. Meanwhile, Carrasco shone a light into the hole made by the shaped charge and determined that it had, indeed, gone completely through the wall. Dropping the light, he put the nozzle of the flamethrower into the ragged hole, braced himself against the long, slow, but hard recoil, hit the electric priming trigger, and fired. He gave everything the flamethrower’s two tanks had to the tower, and only regretted he didn’t have four more tanks, just to make sure.
From inside came a horrible heartrending screaming, as if from dozens of damned souls. Some of it came through the hole and around the nozzle, but more of the sound seemed to come through the very walls of the tower.
“Poor bastards,” Carrasco muttered, with Moya nodding silent agreement.
Fortunately, the screaming from inside died quickly, presumably from lack of oxygen.
About the time Carrasco’s tanks were exhausted, Leon gave the thumbs up. Cherensa looked around, to determine Moya’s and Carrasco’s locations, then told Leon, “Blast it.”
“Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!”
The tribune waited for the two fuses to begin to bubble. Then, grabbing Leon by his pack frame, he physically pulled him away from the door and around the tower until they were safe from, at least, direct blast. The whole time Leon counted down, “fifteen thousand…fourteen thousand…twelve thousand……two thousand…one…”
That rocked them all.
“Come on! Form up! Monocles down. IR flashlights on.”
Running to flatten themselves against the tower wall to either side of the blasted door, Cherensa took point on the right, and Moya on the left, with Leon and Carrasco behind them. Reaching up to his harness, the tribune pulled off a fragmentation grenade and flicked off the safety clip. He held it up for Moya to see, but Moya already had one out.
“On four,” the tribune mouthed, holding the grenade to chest level with his left hand and putting a finger through the ring from his right. “One,” he and Moya both pulled their rings. “Two,” they let the spoon fly off so the striker could impact on the cap to start the fuse. “Three, “they waited to let the fuse burn down slightly. “Four,” both grenades went flying through the smashed door and into the room beyond.
Then Cherensa and Moya, crouching low, burst into the room, screaming and firing like maniacs, with Leon and Carrasco standing tall and doing the same until…
“Cease fire! Cease fire!” Cherensa had to practically scream to be heard after the beating all their eardrums had just taken. Looking around he said, wonderingly, “Moonbats; just fucking antaniae.” The antaniae were winged, genetically engineered, sceptic mouthed reptiles, left by the Noahs who had seeded the planet, and hated by every intelligent being on Terra Nova.
Through their monocles, in the scene illuminated by the flashlights, the foursome saw hundreds of burnt, blasted, shot antaniae…and nothing else. If any of the creatures were still alive, they gave no sign, not even their characteristic cry of “mnnbt…mnnbt…mnnbt.”
“What the…? Carrasco, Moya, find the door down and clear. Leon, follow me.”
All that led up was a ladder that reached to a simple square opening. Cherensa again pulled a grenade from his harness, flipped off the safety clip, and pulled the ring. This time he didn’t count aloud, no real point to it. Instead, releasing the spoon, he mentally counted off to three, then tossed the grenade overhand to sail through the opening and past into the dome. A muffled wham followed and then echoed from the walls. At the ladder, Leon bent and cupped his hands together. Cherensa slung his weapon into the crook of his arm, grabbed the ladder, and put his right foot into Leon’s cupped hands. The junior stood and lifted, even as the senior pulled with both hands and explosively straightened his leg. The result wasn’t so much a lifting as a launching, with the tribune disappearing into the dome almost in an instant. A long flourish of automatic fire followed, then devolved into single shots. As Leon hurried up the ladder, he heard more muffled shots and explosions from below.
What he saw, though, at the top of the ladder, was stunning. Beyond some number of dead and dying antaniae, there were two cranks, large, though looking hand powered. In the middle, on a kind of crude stand, was a large pipe. Yes, it may have looked like a weapon at a distance, but it was only a pipe. A smaller crank on the stand may have been connected to the pipe; Leon couldn’t be sure without closer examination.
“Fake,” Cherensa judged. “The whole goddamned thing is fake. This is not high-tech defense against the Federated States missiles; this is a fucking bluff.”
As if to prove the point, the tribune went to the smaller of the wheels and began to turn. Slowly, with much squealing and creaking, a straight crack appeared in the dome’s face. The more Cherensa turned, the wider the crack grew, until eventually it was about a half a meter open at the bottom. That let in enough light to see a piece of glass, a lens of sorts, in the end of what was still, after all, only a pipe.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here. We need to report to the ALTA.”
Barco de La Legion ALTA (Armada Legionario Transporte de Assalto), Mar Furioso
The Ic, or intelligent officer for the missions, said, “Two were fake, two were real, but only one seemed to be powered and capable of working. The other had obviously not been maintained in a long time; it was loaded with antaniae.”
“How do we know the one they said was working was actually working?” Legate Terry Johnson asked.
“The team said, ‘It looks like it would work; it had power; and it was manned with seven Earth Pigs, five of them among the recently deceased and the other two insisting it was real.'”
Johnson shrugged an eloquent maybe.
“That doesn’t really help us that much does it?” asked Hamilcar Carrera.
“No, we still have to blast all the towers. But, then again, we always intended to do so, the same as we’re going to blast everything that remotely resembles a military installation. Unless the fakes were a trap and they’ve got hidden defenses we might not be able to deal with…”
Ham thought furiously. It wasn’t like Johnson to hesitate or equivocate. But he had a point, even if he wasn’t stating it. If they lost here, ultimately the war, the important war, was lost as well. I’m glad this is his job, though, not mine.
The operations officer for the mission, currently down below with the landing troops, was David Cano. He was married to Alena, the beautiful, green-eyed “witch,” so called.
Alena the Witch then spoke up. “No. That’s not what’s going on.”
Johnson directed her an inquisitive glance.
“If they had better defenses, they’d almost certainly not have bothered with weaker ones like those domes that ring the island and have had both the Federated States and everyone else, including us, bamboozled since the Great Global War.”
“But what if they have them hidden, rising from the ground, maybe?” Johnson asked.
“No,” she insisted. “The defenses of Atlantis base were never meant to defeat an attack so much as deter one. If they’d intended to defeat an attack all those towers would have been capable, manned, and ready. On the other hand, when you want to deter, you put it all on the line. Even – no, especially – if it’s a bluff.”
“She’s right, Legate Johnson,” said Hamilcar. But you know what? Even if she’s not right, I know my old man. He wants this done. This must be done. At any cost. Now will you do it?”
Johnson nodded, solemnly. Then he repeated, “It must be done.”
“Captain, are the rockets unmasked?”
“Yes, sir, unmasked but still under the tarp. Shall I have the tarp pulled back?”
“Do it. And bring her around to fire.”
The tarp wasn’t set up to be withdrawn mechanically. Erected by the men it also had to be taken down by the men. Even the ship’s gantry crane was useless, rolled back as far sternward – against the superstructure, actually – as it would go.
To this end, several times more ‘sailors’ than a container ship ought even to have had swarmed on deck to begin pulling on the ropes that furled it. Meanwhile, the ship, itself, began to swing in a wide arc to starboard to bring the port-facing rocket launchers generally to bear. There were over seven-hundred long range rockets, in clusters of twelve, carrying a mix of warheads: high explosive, sub-munitions, fuel-air explosive, and mines. As the tarp pulled back, these were revealed, in several banks, elevated to as much as twenty-eight degrees, though the bank of launchers furthest from the ship’s port side seemed to be raised to no more than perhaps twenty. The launchers twisted, indeed, almost writhed, as they changed azimuth and elevation, under the control of gunnery, in order to bear on their assigned targets.
“This is the only part that actually frightens me,” Johnson admitted, still standing on the bridge, along with his immediate and primary staff as well as the necessary naval crew. “Once we launch then either the Earthpigs defenses are destroyed or we guessed wrong and we get destroyed. Both of those are out of my control, so no need to worry about them. Sort of like whether Valparaiso commits some of their air force to us. I can’t do a damned thing about it except make sure the airfield here isn’t attacked or mined by us.”
“Firing solutions set,” announced the ship’s gunnery officer.
“We’ll zig-zag,” the captain said, “with the rockets firing as they bear…ummm, when they’re pointed in the right direction. Guidance only carries us so far.”
“Standing by to fire.”
“No!” shouted Alena. She raced to the launch control station as if physically prepared to stop the firing button from being pushed. “Hamilcar must fire! It is written…was written, long, long ago. One of the seven signs…’Iskandr shall strike the snake in his den.'”
Gunnery looked at the captain who shot an inquisitive glance at Johnson.
“Wouldn’t do to mess with old prophecy, especially when it’s been scarily accurate so far. Hamilcar?”
“Stand by at the launch station. Gunnery officer?” he asked, further, as Hamilcar walked the deck.
Anything special he has to do?”
“No, sir, it’s all automated from here.”
“Show him what to push and explain when he’s to push it.”
The gunnery officer simply lifted a green plastic cover from over a red button and turned a dial to an engraved number “1.” Pointing, he said, “You’ll push this, son. I’ll tell you when to fire…and…ready…FIRE!”
Ham’s thumb mashed the button. In that instant the ship began to belch flame and shake like a whale in a Meg’s mouth, as the rockets of the starboard-most battery all launched themselves at the nearest targets and at a combined rate of a dozen every second.
Blow-out panels on the starboard side of the ship flew off wildly, spinning through the air before slicing into the sea with enormous splashes. Flame and smoke, bright orange and red and dark gray and black, shot out that side twenty meters or more.
Gunnery removed Ham’s thumb, then twisted the dial to “2.” “Fire now, Ham.”