Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 31
Land the landing force.
An IM-71 shuddered and hopped on the pick-up area of the rear deck. Into it shuffled a short line of cadets with one or two adults for leadership. Another waited at the top of the ramp that led down to the helicopter storage and maintenance deck, while a third had just taken off. Toward the shore, the peaks of the island just now becoming visible, seven attack helicopters, Volgan build IM-53Bs, screened inward. If there were hidden laser of missile defenses, these would have a chance, at least, of taking them out.
“Turns out we lost the drone crews from the intelligence platoon,” Cano told Ham once he had navigated his way back to the stern. He could only be heard over the loading, taking off, or winding up helicopters by shouting at the top of his lungs. “I didn’t know before because they weren’t part of the landing force. We’re going to be going in blind.”
Oh, joy, thought Hamilcar. He felt, however, the same mental and emotional detachment that he’d had when thinking about replacing the lost company of cadet infantry. “Are the drones, themselves, all right?”
“Yes,” Cano said, “and the launch crews are fine, too. It was the operators who got caught in the blast. Well, them and the control station.”
“Is there a backup control station?”
“I don’t know. Johnson or the captain would have known, I suppose.”
“Where do I find the launch crew?”
Cano pointed to the superstructure, forward of the helicopter loading deck. “They’re up there. One deck down. They lost a lot of friends and are pretty dejected.”
Carrera found them where he’d been told. These were adults, rather than cadets, full members of the legions.
“We don’t have a lot of time for commiseration,” he said. “Yes, I’m sorry you lost friends. I’ve lost friends, too. But we have a job to do and we need to do it. Now is there a back-up control station for the drones?”
The half dozen men of the launch crew looked pained. None of them said anything at first. Then one spoke up. His name tag read “Wilson,” which Ham took to mean he came from Cristobal.
“Not as such,” Wilson said. “But there is a simulator about five layers of containers down. Maybe we could rig something up with that. It’s got everything we need except wireless.”
“What do you need for it?” Ham asked.
The crewman considered. “A frequency hopping radio, AM. Some wire. Some time.”
“We don’t have a lot of time,” Ham said. “Who can fly a drone?”
Everybody looked down, sheepishly. Finally, the same man put up his hand and admitted, “Probably any of us. We weren’t supposed to but we used to use the simulator whenever the regular flight crews weren’t using it.”
The hand was still up. When Ham asked who was senior, it stayed there. “But that’s not much. I’m a private first class and the rest of these shitheads are privates. That’s how we ended up on the launch detail.”
“How many drones can the simulator handle?”
“No more than two.”
“Two is better than nothing. Here’s what I want you to do? First, I want you to get out and set up two recon drones…no, make it three in case we crash one. Second, though preferably simultaneously, I want that simulator modified or whatever needs to be done to it so it can control two recon drones. Third, I want them in the air, over the sea, above the island, and feeding us intel. Oh, and you’ll need another radio for that and another antenna, and the radio has to be on our hopping schedule, our code.”
Nobody moved. They all just sat there.
“Umm,” said the man who had been the only one to speak, so far, “just who the hell are you, sonny boy?”
“I’m Hamilcar Carrera, son of the Duque, and right now…”
He never did get the sentence finished, as the launch crew, like a single man, exploded into action.
And still I find I’m dependent on the old man’s name. Someday I’ll have my own name to reckon with.
UEPF Spirit of Peace
Wallenstein seemed to wilt in her office chair, to sink in upon herself. On the desk’s monitor, little mushroom clouds spouted over craters, large and small, over ruined buildings, and over smashed and bleeding bodies.
Now where, she asked herself, just where have I seen something like this before? Aloud she muttered, “Be all my sins remembered. He, at least, has never forgotten them.”
“We have skimmers from the base over the enemy ship now,” Khan, husband, announced. “Putting it through to your monitor, High Admiral.”
Wallenstein looked at the screen and gasped. True, the enemy ship was still smoking and, in a few places, burning. But the smoke seemed to be lessening even as she watched, while one section of flame disappeared over the course of a minute.
They’re not going to sink now.
The damaged ship, though, wasn’t the cause of the gasp. Rather, it was the steady stream of helicopters, hovercraft, and smaller amphibious vehicles departing the ship for the shore. Indeed, already some of the helicopters seemed to be on the return trip.
“How many?” she asked Khan, male.
“Hard to say, High Admiral, but there are at least twenty cargo helicopters and some of what they call ‘gunships, six or seven of them. That’s a one lift capability of six hundred or so. I would think the hovercraft could carry two hundred men, each, though these seem to be each carrying a brace of armored vehicles instead. The little ones that plunged into the water…there are twenty-four of those we’ve seen and they can probably each carry eight men. So they can put in about a thousand men or so per lift. Now as to how many are aboard the ship; that I can only guess at. Several thousand, anyway, I would think. And quite possibly a lot more armored vehicles. Maybe artillery…well, probably artillery, given their national taste for it.”
“And we have what to resist them?”
Khan scrunched his eyes, as if thinking and remembering hard. “Stretching a point, after the destruction of von der Leyen Caserne, maybe two hundred men and women, most of them more on the order of a police force or gendarmerie than a combat organization. They probably don’t have anything – yes, I have one of my people trying to find out – to fight a tank or even a lighter combat vehicle. Against Balboa’s – I assume these people must be from Balboa; anyway, against Balboa’s hardened regulars they won’t stand a chance. They probably wouldn’t stand a chance if the Balboans were using spears, and they most certainly are not using spears.
“These are not, after all, real Marines; those are almost all at the embassies or were caught at von der Leyen caserne.”
As if in punctuation, on Marguerite’s monitor the first of the hovercraft ran itself up on the shore, coming to a fast stop amidst a cloud of sand, and dropping the ramp. Within mere moments, all securing straps apparently undone, two tanks slithered down the ramp, then churned sand to take up station facing inland. The hovercraft then lifted off, again in that huge cloud of blown sand, twisted around its axis, then moved back to the shoreline. Its only obstacle was a second hovercraft, for which the first yielded right of way.
Khan, the wife, corrected her husband. “They’re not regulars, actually. Or very few of them are. They’ve mostly reservists and cadets. Their leadership tends to be regular.”
Marguerite had a sudden thought, prompted by Iris’ mention of cadets.
“He’s used children to humiliate our allies down below before. What does it do,” she asked, “to your estimate of the enemy force, if most of it is composed of kids?”
Khan the husband, looked down, plainly thinking hard. After that moment’s reflection, he raised his head and answered, “Maybe increase it by a quarter or so, High Admiral.”
Wallenstein wilted internally still more. All my sins remembered and the punishment poetic in form. In aiding Martin to help Mustafa attack those buildings all these years ago, I indirectly killed children. Some of them were Carrera’s children. Now the child cousins of those murdered children come for me and mine and the families of mine.
It would be so comforting to just surrender, but I can’t. It isn’t in me. I must still try – I have to – even when all the odds are, as they are now, all against me. And even when I deserve what I’m getting. I deserve it; my people – most of them, anyway – do not. Their families surely do not. So I will try.
Where for a moment she had been a wilted flower, Marguerite seemed then to grow in her chair. “We fight,” she said, as if answering a question someone had actually asked.
“I want three things to happen. First, loot the ships of the fleet’s arms rooms and cannibalize ship’s personal. Second, use the landers to get as many down to defend the perimeter of the base as we can get down there. Third, get our ambassador in Hamilton, in the Federated States, to request an emergency meeting with their president. Tell him I will speak to their president via communicator. Fourth, get three nuclear weapons – who’s in the best launch position?”
“Spirit of Brotherhood, I think.”
Wallenstein buried her face into cupped hands. It had to be; elder gods, why did it have to be Battaglia? No help for it now.
Looking up again, she ordered, “Get Battaglia on it, then, tell him to get three ready for launch. Pick the ones most likely to have a reliable guidance package. They are not to be armed. I’ll explain to the FSC that this is an attack in defense of our homes and families…
Quarters Twenty-one, Atlantis Base
A maid, now in middle age, scrubbed a polished marble floor on her hands and knees. Sometimes, in the course of her lowly duties, the maid wept.
Once upon a time, Irene Temujin had been an important functionary in Amnesty Interplanetary, a subsidiary of the Marquisate of Amnesty, based on Old Earth. Then she had been tricked and publicly humiliated, so publicly that her value to Amnesty had been reduced to, essentially, nothing. Following that, after a series of very pointed and utterly credible and totally frightful promises, Irene had asked for sanctuary from the UEPF. She’d gotten that but, rather than being whisked off to a life approximating the one of privilege in which she’d grown up, she’d found herself deposited on Atlantis Base as a mere menial, indeed, legally an indentured servant, one step above a slave. Her immediate family, likewise, had been found work, and that no better than her own. She saw them only on her one day a month off, and then only when schedules coincided.