Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 32
She never saw her husband. Indeed, she avoided seeing him. In the first place, unlike her, he had some skills considered valuable by their owners. Hence he had a much better job at an office building on the base. She found this humiliating, for she had always been the major breadwinner for the family. Far worse, though; as an indentured servant, she had lost the right of refusal, hence had to accept the sexual advances of anyone on the estate who outranked her, which was almost everyone but the outright slaves. She’d tried to refuse, at first, but the subsequent whipping had also beaten any sense of defiance out of her completely. When she let her guard down she could sometimes still feel the short whip the house overseer had used on her naked, lacerated, bleeding flesh, as she hung by her bound wrists from a hook set in a basement ceiling.
She could not bring herself to face her husband after so many violations.
Her daughter, much younger and also rather prettier than Irene had ever been, never talked about her life as a servant. Irene assumed, correctly, that the daughter’s life was even more degraded and degrading than her own.
Worse, one of her sons, Arpan, having seen what the system of Atlantis Base really was, and understanding what that said about old Earth under the Consensus, had spoken a little too freely. Him, she had not seen in two years, ever since his indenture had been converted into actual slavery. Her last, tear-filled glimpse of her boy had been as he was led from the auction block in the center of town. It was then that she’d realized that old Earth’s masters, the high caste sons and daughters of the Consensus, didn’t keep slaves because they needed to; they kept them because they preferred to.
If I had known then…what? This: If I had known then what I know now, when Esterhazy came to see me and threaten me, I’d have joined forces with the mercenaries – or ‘auxiliaries,’ as they insisted they were – to fight old Earth and Amnesty to the death. It would be better than this living death.
Feeling tears begin to form, Irene wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her shapeless, course garment. Esterhazy was right, she thought, right to threaten me and even mine then, for I was a pompous, self-important ass, serving evil and hiding from my sight the evil I served, so long as I was admired and my life very, very comfortable.
And then she heard something unlike anything she’d heard since leaving Sumer under a cloud, years ago. It’s not a shuttle, not even the High Admiral’s Barge. I wonder…it’s a rocket, a war rocket.
She gasped and caught her breath. What could it mean, a war rocket here? Is the place under attack? Be still me heart. If it is, I must find the attackers and offer them my aid, whatever little bit an indentured servant can hope to give.
A small group of soldiers, some adults, some cadets, some bearing radios and others only small arms, clustered about Ham, waiting for the currently loading chopper to take off and the next one, refueling at a pad a bit forward, to come over. The helicopters were moving as much logistically now as they were in terms of tooth. Long lines of sailors pulling loaded carts waited for the helicopters to come for their loads.
Up the ramps also came the first of two SPLADs, Self Propelled Laser Air Defense systems, plus four of the non-laser armed versions, the ones with the quad cannons and radar. These began to take up stations around the ship.
Inside the circle of men and boys about Ham, a package sat on a light amphibious vehicle, a Volgan Model 967, from which both the roll-guard rails and windshield had been removed. It was almost exactly sixty centimeters across and close enough to one and one-third meters long. Silvery steel in color, it bore both markings in Hangul as well as two symbols indicating radiation danger. The yield wasn’t listed but Ham knew that it, and its brother device, were rated for at least one hundred and sixty-five kilotons.
Next to the nuclear weapon sat a small metal box, a Faraday cage, about the size of a box of heavy machine gun ammunition.
“That’s half the force ashore,” Cano said to Hamilcar. “Time for you to go, too. I’ll see things from here.”
“I’ll go with this first bomb,” Ham said, “next chopper. Send the second right after. Also…”
“Yes?” Cano asked.
“I want the wounded evacuated to shore. Moreover, I want your wife moved soonest.”
“I can’t argue with those orders.”
UEPF Spirit of Peace
“I have no choice, Mr. President,” High Admiral Wallenstein said to the image on her monitor. She’d delayed the call for the few extra minutes it had taken her communications people to set up a teleconference. “Those people are attacking our base, our families, our innocent non-combatants. Every minute I delay means more of them get ashore. I cannot delay much.”
The face in the monitor, that of the President of the Federated States, Walter Madison Howe, seemed quite serious, indeed. Marguerite couldn’t tell that crossing his mind was the key and critical thought, I wonder if she swallows.
Whatever he might have been thinking, Howe’s answer was fairly rote, “I cannot permit…”
Wallenstein’s blue eyes flashed. “Let me make this clear, Mr. President, I am not asking you to permit a fucking thing. I am going to drop three packages on that ship. If you want to make war over it, be my guest, but Earth and the Consensus can build a new fleet. Where are you going to find a new country?
“Now, if it’s any consolation or help to you, they’re going to be inert. My people are taking the nuclear weapons out of the shells now and filling them with scrap to increase the kinetic energy. So you won’t have to worry about trying to explain away three large mushroom clouds to your constituency, nor why you didn’t go to war over them. But I am launching and I am putting my fleet on alert to turn your cities into green glass if you attack us over it.”
Except for his harridan of a wife, Howe was used to more compliant and submissive females than this High Admiral chick. His earlier thought changed to, I wonder if she bites. Best not to find out the hard way, no pun intended.
Howe turned his attention to his military aide, Major General Jeff Lamprey. Lamprey, who had reasons for detesting Carrera that went way back to Sumer, and was a petty, priggish sort, even before that, wrote down, This doesn’t threaten or damage us. I think you should let them do it.
Howe read the note and then said, “All right, Admiral Wallenstein, three inert packages delivered to the vicinity of your base, in self-defense. I’ll stand our forces down.”
Lamprey thought, And I finally get to pay that motherfucker back. Sweet!
Wallenstein cut the connection, then said to herself, All that acting practice fucking my way up the chain of command seems to have paid off. How many lies was that I told? Three? One thing’s not a lie though, those things are going down inert, if only because I don’t want the Federated States sending one of their submarines to recover them. Who knows what one of them might tell about whether the rest are likely to work or not?
Of course, armaments are among the weakest departments in the fleet. Nobody’s taken them all that seriously in the last seventy years. I don’t know…hmmm…as a matter of fact, I don’t know…
“Computer, get me Captain Battaglia on Spirit of Brotherhood.”
A distracted looking face appeared on the screen. “Yes, High Admiral?”
“What’s status in getting those packages ready to fire?”
“I’m not sure…”
“Never mind. Put me through to your gunnery officer.”
There was a brief delay before a lieutenant commander’s face showed on the monitor. Behind him some sweating cursing non-coms and yeoman could be seen trying to crack open a metal casing. The lieutenant commander seemed terribly flustered.
“Yes, High Admiral?”
“How long before we’re ready to launch?” Wallenstein asked.
“I could launch now,” said the officer, “except you want the nuclear packages removed and we’re still trying to figure out how. They were made to be maintained in situ, and apparently nobody ever considered we might want to send down the shell alone.”
“Keep me posted. Indeed, keep me posted directly.”
Marguerite broke the connection, then ordered the computer to, “Get me flight operations.”
The monitor changed scene to the flight deck of Peace, where a couple of dozen nervous looking crewmen were lined up to board one of the landers.
“High Admiral?” answered one of the hangar deck crew.
“Have we any weapons we could mount on a lander to provide ground support?” she asked.
“Nothing comes to mind. We have some machine guns on the ship, yes, but there are no mounts and, even if we had something like that, no controls that penetrate the hull and nothing I can think of for remote control that wouldn’t take a couple of days to gin up and test. Why do you ask, Ma’am?”
“There’s a delay in rendering the nuclear packages inert. I need something to attack that ship.”
“We can land on it.”
Now why didn’t I think of that?
While a good many of the members of the crews of the Peace Fleet looked in their twenties and could measure their years in centuries, Spaceman Bethany Wallace, brunette and a bit too thin for current tastes, really was in her twenties. Following orders to draw a weapon – but no ammunition – from the arms room and report to the hangar deck, she didn’t expect to get much older, either. She was also one of those pulled by High Admiral Wallenstein from the academy, back home, to fill up the ranks in the Peace Fleet.
“Wallace; over here,” said Petty Officer, Third Class Christopher Robin, light skinned, bearded, and a little bit stout. Robin was fortunate that no one on Old Earth even remembered the stories of Winnie the Pooh anymore, nor had for generations, or his childhood, over a century ago, would have been a misery.